I Will Never Be a Teacher

Very early on in my life, my father made the declaration that I was destined to work with children. Because of my general stubbornness and the fact that a large majority of my family members are teachers, I have always responded, “I will never be a teacher!!!” I have said “never!” to being an educator my entire life. In college, I studied Political Science, which, to me, was about as far from education as a person can get. And yet, four years later, here I am. Teaching.

One of the many goals I’ve had for myself has always been to live overseas. And after studying here, I knew Korea was where I wanted to be. When I began the EPIK process, teaching was just a way to get back to the country that I love so much. I figured I wouldn’t hate teaching. I figured I’d be good at it. I figured that if my grandpa, my parents, and various aunts and uncles could do it, some of their teaching talent must have rubbed off on me. But I completely underestimated how much I would love it.

I am now two months into this experience. I have spent my time going on plenty of adventures with great friends, usually involving soju. Overall, Korea is just as great as I remembered, and I love it for most of the same reasons that I loved it when I was here last summer. Which are mostly food related. But the difference is that this time around, I feel like I am doing something truly meaningful. I have a job that matters.

In Korea, teaching is one of the most respected professions. This country values education more than almost anything else. My students want to learn and my coworkers value my perspective. I get gratification everyday from the people who surround me at Onsan Elementary School. I have a job that I can get excited about. Though being in Korea is a great adventure, the greatest adventure is everyday when I see progress and excitement in my students. This might just be because I give out candy and stickers like it’s going out of style, but hey, I’ll take it.

As much as it pains me to admit it, I am beginning to see why my father saw this as my destiny so many years ago. I find myself using my mother’s teacher voice to get my students’ attention almost everyday. When my friends and I meet for the occasional after school drink, a large percentage of our conversations have to do with the hilarious things that happen to us during the school day. Just as I am becoming more acclimated to this culture and my small Korean vocabulary is beginning to grow, I am also becoming more of a teacher.

These last two months have flown by, but they haven’t necessarily been easy. In light of recent events, being away from home has been harder than I ever imagined. But no matter how far away from my home and my family and Amigos I am, having a career that gives me purpose makes it worth it.

The other day, I was sitting at my desk. A first grade student whose English is almost as terrible as my Korean walked up to me, said “jelly” and gave me a bag of gummy bears. In that moment, all of the loneliness, or dare I say homesickness that may have existed in me went away. Because it reminded me that I am doing something that gives me purpose. And having purpose makes any great adventure even greater.

Love You More

My greatest blessing was given to me the moment I was born. I was born a Heibel. Each day it becomes more apparent to me how special my family is. My weird, crazy, somewhat unstable family. Through everything and in everything one thing has remained: I have a support system like no one else’s. And I was lucky enough to be born into mine.

Growing up Heibel, everything had a theme. Every family gathering, whether a birthday party or hot dog eating contest, was meticulously planned by my grandma. Marj would send out invitations with hand written poems inviting us to whatever reason she had come up with to have a party. She obsessed over our relationships with eachother, doing everything she could to foster close friendships among the kids. This usually involved some sort of ridiculous performance or game. A personal favorite of mine was the time that she made us have a snowball fight with marshmallows because there was  no snow on Christmas. This cute and fun idea quickly turned violent as one kid held another down and pelted him in the face with the tiny white balls. My grandma claimed that up until the time she moved out of that house, some ten years later, she was still finding marshmallows.

Marj and Po were in the front row of every single choir concert, dance recital and basketball game. Which, between the eight of us, was a lot. I will never forget the sound of my grandpa’s booming voice as he’d enter the Lincoln Lutheran gym and yell out “SAMANTHA” in an equal parts attempt to embarrass me and and show affection. They believed in our talent so much that every Christmas we would have a talent show. Noteable performances include when my dad and a 3-year-old me sang “I Got Stripes” by Johnny Cash, when my sister taught Jesse ballet, and when, every year, my grandma and grandpa would sing the same silly duet together, always arguing over who would sing which part.

As we’ve grown older, things have changed. We no longer pretend to be olympic gymnasts on balance beams or compete to win little boxes of cereal. But through all of the noise and conflict of life, we have never lost the thing that Marj instilled in us so deeply: that family is something to cling to, and that no matter what, we need to love each other.

The last time I saw Marj she was the happiest I had seen her in years. It was the most of us that had been together in a long time, and she beemed with pride for all of us. Before I left, she told me how special I was, how happy she was for me, and how proud she knew Po would be. Though I never said it, I think she always knew, we were all so proud of her too.

I am what feels like one million miles away from my family, and the loneliness that comes with grief feels a million times lonelier. But I find comfort and cling to the security that she found in the word and with our family. Because the love that exists in our family, that she created, is a blanket that reaches all the way to South Korea.

I already miss her, but my own sadness is outweighed  by the knowledge that she has found peace. I will never forget the pride she found in watching us grow closer and in the ambition that took us apart. I will never forget the love that she and Po had, and how it overflowed into our parents lives and our lives. But more than anything, I will never forget how blessed I am to be a Heibel.

Rest in peace, Grandma. Love you more.