On July 13, I had my last day of working with the kids at Seomna Center. These are kids that I have seen almost every day for 10 months. We have spent incalculable hours playing ping pong, board games, soccer and playground games. We have eaten dinner together nearly every night. They have sat through my English classes, we have gone on some field trips together, and they have shared their life with me in ways big and small. These kids have been my main form of socializing, my Korean language teachers, and my most vivid glimpse into Korean culture and way-of-life. These kids have tough home situations, they are not privy to the resources of the Korean miracle, and some of them deal with things that I have no idea about. I love them.
My last day was bitter sweet. I feel relieved and proud of myself that I did it. I survived. I made it. There were days that were so boring, days that I felt completely helpless and foolish, and days when I just felt like giving up. But I didn't; I stuck it out the entire time and I think I did the best I could! This is made real to me by the fact that I know I will miss the kids a lot. There are some that I feel really close to, and just seeing them in the Center brought joy to my life. They could be snots, but they could also be breathtakingly kind, generous, and insightful. They are funny and energetic.
On my last day, the kids had all written me cards. Some were generic, but some are so sweet and heartfelt that they bring tears to my eyes. There was a cake and extra snacks. We had a karaoke session where the kids sang, and when it was my turn, they clapped, danced, and had a raucous good time, then screamed for an encore. The entire group, teachers and all, serenaded me with a sweet song about loving me. One kid, one of my pals, stood up and read a letter that was from the whole center. It made me cry, it was so wonderful.
The first graders singing karaoke.
After the jostling to see whom I would sit next to at dinner, we ate together, and the kids were sitting so close that I couldn't even put my legs down as we sat cross-legged on the floor. All day I had received constant hugs and kids wanting me to hold hands or even just touch them. After dinner, we took tons of pictures and I gave final hugs and promised the kids I would not forget them. I won't. They mean so much to me. They showed me their love that day, which was made even more powerful by the fact that I have often felt unappreciated and sometimes neglected at the center by the people charge.
I hope and pray that these kids lead happy, healthy, successful lives. They all deserve it. They deserve to move out of their depressing neighborhood and be given a fair shake. They deserve better schools, better clothes, and better toys. I am pretty sure I will never see any of them again, which breaks my heart, but I am simply honored by the chance to spend this year with them. They have given me so much. I'm grateful for them and for their friendship.
A few days later I had my going-away celebration with Rev. Kim and the foreign immigrant women. These women, though the individuals come and go, have all patiently put up with me learning Korean alongside them, teaching them English, accompanying them on outings and totally failing in craft projects. At the end of the year, all the women were Vietnamese, but we've had people from Nepal, China, and Thailand.
For our last gathering, we went to Daecheong Dam and out to eat. It was lovely. These strong women inspire me, and I hope they find my joy and success in their Korean lives.
My time at Seomna has often been a struggle, and I have had my share of frustrations and disappointments. But I have also done so much, learned things I never knew I never knew, and participated in a world of South Korea that exists in the shadows. This world is not the glitzy, commercial, up-scale world you see in a lot of the country. I worked in communities that never show up on brochures, and I learned to love people who are not the poster children of economic development. I know the experience of working at Seomna Center will stick with me for years to come, and though I may forget names, I will never forget the joy and the love I have been shown.