acceptance into the Korean fold…

acceptance into the Korean fold...

This weekend, thanks to a passing remark about my sad-looking nail polish, I was invited to join the Korean women I teach with for manicures and lunch.

It was Friday, and we were all about to enjoy some cake to celebrate new beginnings for one of the school’s “desk teachers” (who, incidentally, sits at the front desk and acts as both a secretary and disciplinarian of sorts), and I made a remark about meaning to have polished my nails the night before. You see, that evening, we would also be holding a sort of “parent-teacher conference” for – you guessed it – the parents of our students. I had worn a nice dress to school and carted along an extra pair of shoes for the occasion, seeing as appearance here, as I’ve mentioned before, it pretty much a huge deal. And seeing as I wanted to look the part, I meant to have every part of my appearance as perfect as possible. What I had forgotten, however, was to touch up my nails… They really weren’t all that bad, but I wasn’t going to have the Korean mothers talk about “the blonde teacher” in any sort of negative light. So, in a moment of shock at my forgetfulness, I said to Brianna (my co-teacher) and Helena (our desk teacher), “Oh no! I forgot to repaint my nails!”

Now, unfortunately for me, there was no fix for this before the parent-teacher conference. However, these women (who I love and secretly have hoped don’t find me irritating or dull) invited me to join them for manicures the next afternoon. I clasped my hands in front of me in hopes to hide my shoddy home “mani,” only to be giggled at by Helena. She immediately took my hand and held it, as friends do here. I don’t know that she will ever know how much this simple gesture meant to me. You see, women here often walk hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm in public. It’s nothing more than a sign of close friendship. I’ve often thought it was a bit odd, but at the same time, it’s sort of endearing. I mean, having now spent ten weeks here, I’ve noticed lately that I have missed being “close” to other people. My mother may disagree, but in my transition into adulthood, I’ve become much more of a cuddler than I was as a child. And hence, I really miss just being close to someone else. Romantic stirrings aside, a friend holding my hand would be enough. In that moment I felt more accepted by my peers than any other moment since arriving in Korea. It was such a simple gesture, and yet it meant the world to me!

And so, hours later, after classes had ended and we spoke to what seemed like an endless stream of mothers (Well, Brianna spoke, I listened and tried to appear interested. Everything was in Korean, so of course, I had no idea what was actually going on or being said…), it was settled. I was to take the subway and meet Helena at the station, where we would walk together and meet Briana and the other Korean teacher, Allie, for manicures and lunch after.

[I’d spent some time a couple of weeks prior with Brianna and Helena at a coffee shop, where we sat and talked (or, I talked, anyway, they mostly listened and answered my questions) for a couple of hours. I had a marvelous time, but then thought, “You talk too much, Kristine…” I even said during our conversation to them, “If I’m out of line or if I’m talking too much, please tell me to shut up. I won’t be offended in the least.” They laughed, and answered my questions about women in Korea: dating, relationships, weddings, women in the workplace, family, and a myriad of other topics. I feel its important for you to know that this weekend wasn’t the official first time I’d spent with them outside of the office, but the decision to have this “coffee date” of sorts was a happy accident when the movie we had decided to see was incidentally nearly sold out, except for the second row seats. And really, who wants to sit in the second row?]

When I met Helena, we began walking to find the nail “salon” and she again took my hand. I suddenly knew, for sure, that she truly had accepted me as a friend! We found Brianna and then met Allie. Brianna and I talked; then Allie and I talked; we all laughed. They all spoke in Korean, then they would tell me what they were talking about (this is something I’ve become accustomed to, as it happens all the time). Then we shared three dishes at this adorable restaurant they said was “Italian” (though by my standards it would have been more of just a Cheddar’s, Chili’s, or other “American dinner” restaurant), and then we headed back downstairs to take advantage of Starbuck’s last day of Happy Hour half-price frapuccinos. We sat. We talked more. Brianna had a friend come. We all laughed. I had to have a picture of the stacked teacup sculpture near where we were sitting (see above photo). And then Helena and I went shopping for a gift for her neice.

Helena took me to a HUGE book store that I had been wanting to visit and steered me toward the rather small, and yet seemingly well-stocked, “foreign section” of English books. She said, “Choose one, I want to buy as a gift for you!” Again, I was completely overcome by her kindness and the gesture of the gift. I chose Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom – it’s on my list of books to read. Later, we parted ways after riding the subway back to our neighborhood and I walked home, so excited and relieved to not be the annoying American teacher in my office.

After arriving home, I sent a text to both Helena and Brianna thanking them for the day. Brianna and I then had a funny conversation where she also assured me; “Nothing to worry about,” she said. “You’re one of the best coworkers I’ve had so far.”  She also said, “I hope I will be your real friend.” I felt like my heart would explode with relief.

I don’t think these women will ever understand what their words and actions mean to me. It’s official: I’m not an outcast. I love these women and I love being with them. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends!

1 Comment

  1. Rebecca says:

    Hey Krissi – Glad you are feeling part of the teacher group! :) It’s definitely a wonderful feeling to be included!!! So happy for you!

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