After suiting up in our best threads we were shuffled into an auditorium that could seat over 1000, where we were greeted by an eagerly-waiting audience of 15—our language teachers, our residential assistants, and anyone else the coordinators could round up. The “ceremony” was quick and followed a speech by the coordinator, Mrs Shim, who imparted upon us that “no placement is a good placement and no placement is a bad placement”. This year will be like learning how to breathe again, and no placement will spare me from this struggle and beautiful gift.
Over the four weeks I have been here, I have strived to be present. To hear the snapping of grease in a back-ally kitchen, to try and taste the soil that gave to every bite of kimchi I’ve taken, to see my reflection in the before pictures of the plastic surgery ads on the subway. My placement could be nothing but a chance to find verb in every stillness, eternity in every fleeting moment.
I will spend the next year teaching at a co-educational High School in Jeonju. It is a city of art and food, of bboy-cinderella stories and bi bim bap. It is the city where my lungs first felt the fullness of worldly air. I’d like to think I exhaled then and thought, not in English, but in the deep language of the world, now I know how to breathe.