Three girls rushed into the classroom for our club class. I was setting up the computer at my desk when I looked up to say hello.
“Teacher, when do you leave Korea?” asked Hyun Jeong, plopping down in a seat in front of my desk.
“Chil-wol,” I answered. “July.”
“Oh. Why are you leaving?”
As casually as I could, I said the answer I had been rehearsing since my co-teacher asked me to stay another year. “I miss my family, and I want to see them again.”
“Oh, okay. When are you coming back?”
Uh oh. I paused. Another student, Ji Hye, saw my hesitation and asked in a small voice, “…Never?”
That student guilt will eat away at me for the next three months. Avoiding eye contact with the girls, I quickly responded, “I don’t know if or when I will come back. But I am going back to live in the U.S.”
“Oh. I understand.”
Embarrassed, I went back to setting up the computer and trying to change the subject. Breaking the news to all of my classes will be hard.
Fulbrighters have the option to stay in Korea for a second year, though the majority of us choose to return to the US for further study, volunteering, or new careers. I wish we had the option to stay for another semester rather than a year, but because we do not, I decided that I will return home. Any bouts of homesickness have started hitting me late in the grant year–mostly after my co-teacher changed, my host family became too busy to come home before 11 PM, and my volunteer class was cancelled–but these are enough for me to decide to go back in a few months. Though I am still enjoying the work I do, I think I would feel differently if I spent another year here.
Though my departure is still a few weeks away, I know I’ll miss my students. I’ll miss my host sisters. I’ll miss my Fulbright friends. I know I have become a much better teacher in the second semester, and I will give my all to my students until the last day of classes.