Monday, July 21, 2008

Being Useful.

After rehearsing the "Runaround Sue" number on Saturday for a couple hours, especially the acting bits at the beginning, I was excited in a way I hadn't been since rehearsing A Midsummer Night's Dream two years ago. Min Gi and I were driving to go get a late dinner, and I tried to explain why I was so giddy.

"It was just like doing theater back home." He nods, listening. A sudden wave of homesickness hits me. "Acting. It's the thing I miss the third-most about America. I'm glad that swing dance can give me a bit of that feeling."

"Third-most? What are number one and two?"

I smile. "Number one is family and friends, of course."

"And number two?"

"Being useful."

"Useful? Being useful?" English is his second language, and sometimes he has to check that he heard me right. I find it reassuring. I don't think anyone has listened that carefully to me in a long time.

"Yes. It's hard to explain." I pause, trying to find the right words. "In America, I was a teacher--a high school teacher. Here, I'm a teacher, too, but it's so different. I was needed there. Necessary. I talked to kids about their problems and lives. And they needed to know English in a much more significant way than they need to know English here."

"They need English here, too. To get good jobs."

"I know, but it's not the same. Sometimes here I feel like a very expensive, white, English-talking, life-sized doll. A novelty item. Frivolous. In my job--especially at a hakwon. I love the particular hakwon where I work--I'm supported as a teacher and treated as a teacher--but it's the nature of being a foreign teacher--of being a foreigner in this country."

"Maybe it will be better in your new job."

"I think so. I hope so. It seems like it will suit my philosophy and my talents better. Leah says that I'm useful in my life here as a kind of pro-American ambassador, which is true, but even in my life sometimes I'm useless. Like with that fight I saw this morning."

"What was different in America?"

"I knew what to do there, you know? Like I could call the police, or I'd know if I should step in or not, or even what the hell they were fighting about! And I used to work at the hotline and talk to people and really help them in a meaningful way. Here, sometimes... I just feel so lost. Useless."

He thinks about this for awhile. It occurs to me that I know him well enough now to know that he's thinking about what I just said in the silence that follows.

Later that night, he asks, "Would you need to be useful to stay in Korea?"

"I would."

I would. But there are many, many ways to be useful in this world.

1 comment:

  1. I think also you first have to learn somewhat the culture, language and community in order to figure out how to be useful. Du courage!



Related Posts with Thumbnails