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Saying Goodbye

February marked my return to the office, which feels ironic given that I’ve lost my job in Donghae and will be moving at the end of the month. In the meantime, I’ve attempted to plan lessons for a school I haven’t yet seen, and spent all my hours outside the office packing, planning, and meeting up with friends. (There was also a trip to Hong Kong sandwiched in the middle.)

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Most of this month feels like a blur. I gathered my things together slowly at the beginning of February, clearing out my cabinets and cupboards and collecting cardboard boxes. Even though many teachers like me were being made to move by the Gangwon Provincial Office of Education, we are expected to pay the moving costs by ourselves. The most cost-effective way to do this is to pack as many things as you can into boxes and mail them to your next school, then take the bus to your new town with whatever necessary things fit in your suitcase.

I got in touch with one of the teachers at my new school and received the address for my place, but I had little time to imagine what my new life would be like while I was saying goodbye to the old one. Many nights involved a get-together—dinner with friends in Donghae, or coffee at my favorite place, and, of course, goodbye dinners with the staff of the school where I’d been working over a year.

On groggy Monday mornings, trudging to school in the cold and dreading the day, I’d often imagined how it would feel to move away from Donghae: to get out of this claustrophobic town where everyone knows where I work, to move out of the apartment where my neighbors don’t scream at each other at 2:30 in the morning, to finally go out somewhere without running into my students…

What I hadn’t expected was how sad I’d be to go.

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Even my co-teachers were busy, so instead of a farewell dinner we had a farewell lunch. We went out to a restaurant for a duck version of samgyetang, and the principal and vice principal came to say goodbye. These dinners usually involve a speech, but when it was my turn to speak, I started to cry. I thought about the generosity of my co-teachers, the way they had invited me on their family vacations and hiking trips, and how I felt a little bit like I’d been part of a school family.

It’s hard to comprehend how much I’ve changed in the year and a half since I’ve moved to Donghae. I hadn’t thought I would be able to teach high school. I was worried about adjusting to life in a small town. And somehow, I’d been able to face those concerns and not only just scrape by, but be OK. 

On the last day of work at my old school, I moved out of my apartment and paid the last of my utilities bills. The school’s administrative office would take care of the furniture and renting out the place. I had just about enough time to look around the sparse rooms once more before I loaded my boxes into my co-teacher’s car and we went off to the post office.  

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The teacher at my new school told me that it was going to take the next day and a half to clean my new apartment before I arrived, so I stayed with a friend for two nights. Although I was technically homeless and unemployed, it was nice to have a little time during the day to wander around the neighborhood, especially after all that packing. Yesterday I picked up my bags once more, walked to the Donghae bus terminal, and took off for Gangneung with hopes for the best. 

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