Club day, jeong and on being magnae.

Ah, the coworkers. I'd add in loads of hearts if I was the kind of person who had the time or energy to type loads of hearts. Today was the first club activities day, which means we are free to go at three, to our own "teacher club activities". My chosen "club" is the "drinking coffee and gossiping about students and other faculty members (particularly higher-ups) who are not present" club.

Fuh-reaking out about the new principal. It's hilarious. And one of the aspects of Korean culture I find the most endearing. The fluttering. The fluttering that surrounds any new or different event that challenges the norm, even slightly.

It's not without reason, as I've already outlined. And today I was informed that the principal apparently sent out a puzzling message on the messenger service earlier this week. What about? About how he had imagined that the students should come into school early in the mornings and sit quietly in their classrooms reading to themselves until the morning sessions begin.

If you had ever been witness to what actually goes on in the period of time in the mornings between when the students arrive and when classes start, you would know how fucking hilarious this notion of his is. That is simply never going to happen. Ever. Even if God himself comes down from Heaven and spends thirty minutes explaining to each student individually why it should.

Afterward, I was insisting I had to go and get some errands done before my other "meeting" tomorrow night, which will see me getting in quite late, because I don't want them left until the Friday. But my co-teachers simply looked at me and said, "But you must eat....?"

Sigh. Yes, yes but quickly and then I have to go. Of course, we end up sitting and talking for another hour and a half. It's been way too long, and we're all far too busy at work these days to catch up. I told them it was really nice to be able to share some of the struggles currently going on with my family, because a lot of my foreign friends don't really understand. Why? Because my family lives Korean style -- three generations to a household, and all feeling responsible for each other's well-being. To them, the problem was natural. To my foreign friends, my family is a little odd and perhaps too entwined. Old Co fell back on my explanation to the students about the difference between "have to" and "should".

They also got a bit enraged when they asked how the temporary teacher who was having such a hard time adjusting last semester is doing. They know that I'm basically the only teacher who talks to her, and they were genuinely concerned. I told them she's doing much better, and getting along really well with the students, comparatively speaking, but that she feels a little left out from the other teachers. They were careful in how they responded to this until I went ahead and disclosed my own kind of struggle with her, which is that every single time she points out how she's left out, it's always in comparison to how I'm not. As in, I am a foreigner and she is a Korean, so why am I more included than she is? She doesn't mean it quite that way, but that is basically what she's saying.

My co-teachers flew into a rage. It has nothing to do with being Korean or foreign -- it's a character issue. She is closed off to the other teachers, and rejected their attempts to be close to her in the beginning, and is always blaming them for things or trying to make them responsible for her issues. Whereas I've been open and willing to socialize and be a part of the group from the beginning.

Korea doesn't take rejection of the group well. It didn't take me long to crack on to that. And, although it's contrary to my nature, I have often sacrificed my "wants" to put in the effort to become a part of the group.

A lot of foreigners hear Koreans say, "Foreigners don't have jeong -- Koreans have jeong," and kind of take it out of context a bit, I think. Of course, you can't characterize every statement of this kind as completely innocent. But Koreans are kind of bad at explaining exactly what jeong is. What foreigners hear when Koreans explain jeong, is that jeong is a kind of love and taking care of other people around you. And it is. But this kind of group building is also jeong. And foreigners do have a hard time understanding it. Why do I have to go to seventeen thousand hwaeshik a year where I can't even understand what the fuck is going on most of the time? That's a natural reaction for us. It's individualistic. But what we may not realize is, none of the Koreans want to fucking be there either. They've got to pick up their kids and do homework and housework and take care of their husbands or wives or whatever. They complain endlessly about it, in fact. But they go. Because it builds jeong.

Apparently, I have jeong. What my coworkers don't realize is that, actually, I don't have jeong. But I've learned how to act like I have jeong to be happier and healthier here in Korea. And maybe, in the process, I've actually developed some. I don't know. The whole jeong thing is still a bit fuzzy.

The point is, I had a great time tonight. And it's almost worth it that now I have to spend my Friday evening doing all the shit I didn't get done today. I love my coworkers. And I love that they seem to understand and support parts of my life that no one else around can or does. Like issues with my family, or the things that I'm considering now about my future. They're older, and they have loads of good advice and varied life experience to throw my way, without being judgmental or bossy. Being magnae among them is really nice.

Hearts and rainbows and shit. Right. I'm out.

1 comment:

HL said...

I am very, very glad that you are in the work situation you are in. I didn't have 1/4 of the relationship with the Korean staff at my hagwon like you do at your school.