I didn’t want to be like this. I didn’t want to be “The kid who can’t read.” The kid Derek Zoolander would have tried to help with no success, and I know that because a bunch of people tried to help me without success.
See I wish I’d been like the girls in my class who could just pick up anything they wanted and read what was inside. They could look at a math problem and just see the logical steps of what to do because they understood what the math symbols meant.
So my parents took me the public school to see what kind of facilities and specilized care they had. Turned out, they didn’t really have any for intermediate school kids. They had a class room and a teacher and they all tried their best to learn and catch up on the stuff they didn’t know, but if you didn’t finish the classwork by recess the teacher just said they’d keep you in and make you work on it longer instead of getting your wiggles out and having fun and making friends.
So, my parents weren’t real impressed with that. I wasn’t either. Recess was the only subject at which I was good at because I knew how to kick a soccer ball and I was faster than most the other kids. But to tell you the truth, I would have swapped being good at recess for being good at everything else, because I was tired of having teachers call on me and and asking me to read the next passage just in order for me to tell them I couldn’t.
When this first started happening it felt like, huh, weird, but now it wasn’t weird anymore because I was in third grade and everyone but me could read, so what was going on?
Well, my dad worked in Olympia a couple days a week, other than that he telecomputed which is normal these days, but back then it was really unusual because the internet wasn’t really a thing yet. My dad had, through his research about dyslexia found out about a woman who was an English learner specilist, which meant she taught English to people who couldn’t really get it–to people like me.
On Mondays I’d take the ferry from my privileged white-kid island over to the mainland and my dad would pick me up.
I arrived on Jeju Island on a cloudy night. I’d been traveling for hours but adrenaline kept me high. At the airport I was greeted by two Koreans. Koka and Jong-Hwa. Sister and brother. They owned the school together. Koka was the director of teaching. She organized what would be taught in each class, the tests and student placement in classes depending on their capabilities at English. Jong-Hwa was the business aspect of the company. I didn’t talk with him much in the first weeks of being in Korea so didn’t get to know him well.
They deposited me at my new apartment that they paid for. It was just a flat. One room, a small bathroom (though it had a bathtub which I found out later was a luxury) and a small kitchenette. Instead of a heater or vents like we have the States most homes have heated floors and it was no different in my apartment. If turned on high the Formica linoleum could get downright hot. Everything in that apartment was different shades of beige.
The first couple days and nights I had there were terribly restless. Getting over that much jet lag and that time change was very difficult. I had arrived a week before I would need to start teaching, so it wasn’t a big problem, just uncomfortable. I bought food at the local market, but couldn’t quite figure out what to eat yet. There were a lot of things I didn’t recognize and so didn’t buy. I wasn’t in the habit of eating much meat so stuck with rice and vegetables. Kimchi turned into one of my main snacks. It took my stomach about a week to get use to the food there, but I never got sick or anything like that.
Between naps and walking adventures I spoke with family and friends letting them all know I was alright, had made it and was settling in.
Five days in I went into work just to take a look at classes and meet some of the students and my fellow teachers. Koka and I looked over test scores of different students and talked about what they needed help with. Now I had never taught a class by myself and so I was terrified.
The next day I went into work again and Koka and I were talking when the phone rang. Koka was called into the office and then I saw Jong-Hwa gathering his things like The Flash and he was gone. Koka came back with a set jaw and pale. She informed me her father had just tried to commit suicide. She seemed more upset with him than concerned. She said this is something he had done many times before and it was always a cry for help. I had never dealt with anything like this and so was unsure how to react. I couldn’t concentrate on the work at hand knowing this was happening. The school I was a part of was small and I was the only native English speaker there. What had I gotten myself into? Then the phone rang again.