Thursday, April 1, 2010

Single Mom in Korea

My principal told me I might be one of very few American single moms who chose to move overseas to teach English. Though it is challenging, it's no greater than what a single mom struggling in America has to experience. In the US, I was struggling to wait through the recession.  While job searching, I was working two part-time jobs, scrapping by on waitress tips, food stamps, medicaid and public housing. My job here provides enough for me to live while here, and pay off debts back home. Though I'm working harder, I can support myself. That said, I believe coming to Korea was a wise decision.

Because God's been so good to me, I want to help any other single moms who might be thinking of making the same move. Already, I have received a number of inquiries from moms who want to know the practical side of the romanticized adventure of going global. It is a wonderful journey to be sure, but I have to say my situation is so good because of God. It's been perfect, because He is perfect. Lots of things could have gone wrong and didn't; I know He moved stumbling blocks out of the way to ensure a smooth transition. Still, though it has been an awesome experience, it has not been easy.

Since everything is new, every day is an unexpected adventure, discovering what new store is around the corner, tasting new foods, riding the bus, the subway. Korea is very kid friendly - they adore kids here - and it is very safe. I don't feel afraid to walk home when it's dark.

I have been particularly blessed with my placement. It is a wonderful school (private, Christian,) and the staff and principal have gone out of their way to consider our needs. They found housing within three-minutes walking distance from the school. They gave me a considerable tuition discount for my daughter so she can attend the same school where I teach. I am right down the hall from her and eat with her at lunch. This is especially good when it comes time to comforting her if something happened that morning. I can also observe how she is being treated by other students, whether she is being accepted or marginalized, and see how she is accepting Korean customs. If I notice something, I can address it immediately or wait to discuss at home.

In my case, my daughter is African-American which is somewhat of an anomaly here. The children have yet to fully integrate her into their group. This is difficult to witness as a mother, but it would be even more isolating for her if she did not have me to turn to for comfort and affirmation. The caring staff and teachers are also making a concerted effort to reach out and educate the Korean children, using this as a teachable moment to learn about loving our neighbors, and acting as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I think the single parent should also take into account that you are even more single here. If you are willing to trust your child to the care of someone else, you might steal away for a mommy break. I have yet to do that, as it takes time for me to build trust. Accordingly, I have had no time to myself, which is much different from home. At home, I could count on at least one window of opportunity every day to spend alone. I could get some shopping done, run to the bank, or just take an uninterrupted break to breathe for a moment. This hasn't happened, and I still haven't worked this one out. Parents should keep this in mind. One possible solution is to connect with Korean parents of children around the same age as your child. This will be helpful support for you, and give your child someone else to play with besides you! Finding foreign moms has been somewhat difficult for me because of my location. Most foreigners live in Seoul which is an hour bus and train ride away.

Expect your child to need some extra leniency for sudden changes in behavior - mood swings, (clingy one minute, and "I can do it by myself" the next minute,) irritability, defiance, or acting out. You know your child, and if s/he does something out of character, be patient - she's trying to adjust to a major life change just like you. I think it's more of a challenge for the child because she didn't choose to come, the decision what forced onto her. Be prepared to console frequently, explain everything - even while you are still learning yourself. Much will depend on the age of your child. My daughter is five, so there was more behavior management and a lot more patience required.

Find some things that remind you both of home, a way you can connect to what is familiar and certain. For us, it was church and prayer. I also made sure she brought her favorite toys. I downloaded skype before I left so we could talk to family. We also had a conversation about "what was the same" since our arrival: "Mommy still works, you still go to school. We still eat toast for breakfast. We still read stories at night. We still watch Clifford the Big Red dog." This list will be a good reference when your child starts to feel like the change is too overwhelming.

When the child starts to miss family back home, don't try to brush the feelings aside. Acknowledge the sadness, let her cry. Hold her and admit that "this is the hardest part." Prepare them before arriving that missing family is going to be biggest challenge to overcome, especially if your child is particularly close to father/siblings/grandparents. The child may go through the anger phase; s/he might be angry with you for bringing her here and taking her away from her family. If this happens, try to focus on the good that you both are experiencing, and then work at creating more good memories so you can bring them up when s/he has another "I miss my daddy" moment. Expect thes"I miss..." moments to come regularly for as long as you are here.

It's a great challenge, and you have to be a certain type of person to manage it: patient, flexible, understanding, organized, possess nerves of steel and an open, compassionate heart. Get plenty of rest, take your vitamins (especially C and zinc). A great sense of humor helps too!

I have documented some of our holiday activities on video, plus daily living experiences such as a quest to the grocery store, and a tour of our apartment (the standard size for first year teachers!) If you have more questions, feel free to comment or send me an e-mail.


Anonymous said...

I made it! Wow, it's so good to know that you got there. I'm so proud of both of you.

I tried to send you a note, but I didn't have an ID.

I'm excited and telling everyone I know that my daughters have really gone out into the whole wide world because it's a big step for most Americans and us especially. But to take Rio too...that very special. She will never forget this and will have something in her that will make even more special than she is already.

"MASH" country...(from the tv series) I mentioned this before but I couldn't watch this right after Vietnam.

I have lots of questions like: Have you seen any of the "war babies" left by African-American GI's? How is Korean culture different from other Asians? Have you been able to make any tours? How did you find out about this opportunity? I vaguely remember sending you information on foreign opportunities some time ago, but gave up since I didn't hear from you about it.

Sorry things didn't work out with Mr. "Dreadlocked" I had hoped he would realize what a treasure he had in you two.

I have lots more to say but I'll wait and get your answer first. Love and kisses to you both. I never really doubted your judgement.

Abba Amishoov

dcohen said...

I'm impressed with the videos. Great documentation and excellent for memorabilia.

I know Rio will get a lot out of it later on. But she seems to be fully enjoying the moment now.

The apartment seem small but then Americans are so big compared to Asians.

I look forward to more. This is a great way to be with you when I'm not with you.

Love, Amishoov