Imagine walking through a town and everywhere you go people stop and stare at you. As you walk by you can feel their eyes on your back, so you glance around.....and sure enough they are still staring at you. Some people even get the courage to come over, say "hello" and ask you a few questions. The really brave ones will ask for your number....and no, they don't want a date. They just want to get to know you and have YOU as their friend.
Wherever you go you are instantly recognisable and everyone wants to know something about you. People will stop you and give free drinks and food....In fact when you are in the zoo just kickin' it, a bunch of old men come and purposefully sit down beside you just to offer you some tomatoes.
Every day as you are walking through a building, you hear people shouting your name and then the pitter-patter of their feet as they run after you just to get a glimpse. as you sit in this building, people drop in to say "hello", leave you snacks and have a few minutes chat.
Welcome to my life as a Rockstar.....well, not exactly. However, I am the Korean equivalent of a Rockstar....the Native English Teacher.
One of the first things I noticed on arriving in Korea is how much people stare at you. I have a sister who we used to tease when she was little for staring at everyone that passed by....but Koreans have her beat. I live in a town where there are several other foreigners or Waygooks (as we are called) so it never fails to amuse me when I walk into the train station, which pretty much every other Waygook in the town probably goes to at least once a month, and have every single person stare at me the entire time, I am buying my ticket until I proceed to the tracks. You would think at this stage, I'm "just another Waygook"....however, my brother did point out..."but you are REALLY short" even by Korean standards....either that or it's the hair!
I live in a small town but travel frequently to Seoul and Daejeon and more recently spent some time travelling around Korea to Chuncheon and Gyeongju. I have to admit this feeling of being famous has yet to wear thin. The amazing thing is, each of the images I have referenced above are my true life experiences. Admittedly the people shouting my name are my Kindergartners....but I never fail to get a kick and a smile out of it. Seriously, anytime I need an Ego boost I just think of my Kindys and how excited they are when they see me.
Another thing, that I have mentioned above is the kindness that I have met with since I have been here. Everywhere I have been, whether it is at school or at the zoo, someone is offering me food or drinks. My co-teacher was worried that I wasn't getting enough vitamins (I had a bad cold) so she went out and bought me orange juice.
Another day, a 5th grader (mind you I don't teach this grade), left a potato for me on my desk that they'd cooked in their Home Ec class...unfortunately I wasn't in School that day or for the next 3 soo...yeah it was pretty gross by the time I got it ...but the gesture was there. Whenever I am travelling on the Subway or on the train, someone will always stop me at least once to make sure I know where I am going. I'm not saying that you don't get this in other countries...but in the West we are so used to people from different cultures and countries that unless someone has a map and is looking extremely confused we don't really try to see if they need help. This isn't a complaint or a platform saying that you should start staring at everyone you see. It's an acknowledgement that even though Korea has become more Westernised in recent decades, a Waygook (as we are known here) can still stand out and get a much needed Ego boost :).
So do I want to trade in my life as a Native English Teacher in Korea "for fortune and fame"? You might think I'm mad but...hell to the NO!!!!!!!!! I get the fame but without the fortune, pressure or lifestyle of the Rich and Famous....honestly, who really wants their face and business in the Tabloids?
PS. The title of this post was inspired by Nickelback's "Rockstar" which peaked at number 2 on the Irish Charts a couple of years back.
PPS. The first pic of me is when I was in Korea just a week. The pic in the middle is from the TrickEye Museum that my brother and I went to one weekend. We'd great fun taking lots of pictures and looking, more than likely, incredibly silly. The pic below is from Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul which I have been to a few times. It's gorgeous.