August 27, 2012 by travelinggrits
They warned us during our orientation to expect the unexpected. Schedules change last minute, and you might be the last one to find out. Perhaps it is the language barrier that prevents me from catching on to any other parts of the decision making process before someone addresses me directly. Or it might just be the natural timing here. Nevertheless, I’ve already learned to go with the flow and laugh about it later.
In addition, a suggestion isn’t taken lightly. When someone says, maybe we should do xyz sometime, it’s not one of those vague promises like “keep in touch” that someone writes on a farewell letter. It’s essentially a promise to follow up on an appointment.
Today’s example is a combo of both of these lessons learned:
I brought some gifts from home to present to my principal and co-principal. This morning, I asked my co-teacher when the best time to give them to these representatives would be. We have a teacher conference this afternoon at 4:10, he said. You can bring them then.
That afternoon at the conference, the vice-principal gave some opening remarks and then I caught my name mixed in with his rapid Korean. He gestured for me to come forward and I was asked to make an impromptu speech. (Good thing we practiced this in my Korean class, although I gave a much-abbreviated version.)
Then, I caught my co-teacher saying something about gifts to the vice-principal, and he motioned for me to gather the wrapped packages from my seat. I felt vaguely like a wise man from the Christmas story as I came forward bearing gifts from afar and bowing to the head table.
The principal seemed very pleased—he held up the picture I brought for the room to ooh and ahh. (It was a copy of my homecoming queen headshot. I had included this trivia in a introductory statement I wrote for Fulbright, and this had been distributed to my principal to read up on me prior to my arrival. At the first luncheon we shared on departure day, one of the first questions this reticent man asked was, I heard you were a… homecoming queen. I do not know—can you explain what that means?)
It must have been a success, because not five minutes after I returned to my office, preparing to pack my bags to go home, the phone rings. My co-teacher answers, and I tune out the conversation as usual. But he places his hand over the mouthpiece and says, the principal wants to know if you want to play tennis. (An offer that had already been extended during the first luncheon, less than a week before.) When? I say. He says, at the tennis court behind the building. I say, now? Yes, he nods, and waits for my response. I look down at my dress and pantyhose, and I respond with, uhhhhh – maybe if I could run home and change clothes? And also borrow a racquet?
My co-teacher makes a few remarks and hangs up. They’ll be waiting for you.
The next two to three hours pass by rotations of doubles tennis sets with six respected older men. I’m definitely really rusty, and even though these guys have never taken tennis lessons in their lives, they hit the ball with impressive skill. Some of my shots are rather embarrassing since I am so out of practice. Fake it ‘til you make it, I keep whispering to myself as I try to maintain a confident air. I did receive some cheers and high fives for some of my efforts.
During one of the changeovers, I took a seat next to a man who I soon found out was the vice-president of the Korean Softball Federation. His English was hard to understand, but after sharing anecdotes from his travels using pictures on his smartphone, he invited me to eat traditional Korean food with the tennis crowd.
I guess that’s when I was accepted by the good ol’ boys, at least for the evening. We went out for kalgugsu, and I was even offered some makgeolli. We all clanged our cups together in a toast.
I’m learning a lesson about spontaneity and flexibility. It makes the unexpected that much more enjoyable when you go with the flow and fly by the seat of your pants sometimes. I’m starting to live by the mantra of why not? and no regrets.