The tale of two schools: Closing one door but opening another

When I got placed in Ulsan, EPIK assigned me to two schools. They're seemingly separate, with one located in a small village about 15 minutes away from my town, and the other a further 10-15 minutes past the first school, up through winding mountain roads and in the center of a truly rural environment surrounded by nature on all sides.

However, my schools are unique because the tiny mountain school is actually a branch of the first school. According to some of the teachers at the smaller school, it has been an absolute battle to keep the mountain branch open because the city of Ulsan has been working to condense the number of schools. If the branch school closed, that would be one less school in South Korea that offers education in a natural, low-pressure environment, and as anyone working here as a native English teacher knows, this kind of environment is already too rare.

Luckily, the branch school got word that it would be allowed to survive. However, the first school wasn't so lucky, and it's now on the chopping block, preparing to join two other small elementary schools in the area to make one big, centrally-located elementary school. So, yes, next year my main school will be shuttered, and my tiny mountain school will become an independent entity for the first time.

With that background story in mind, members of the Ulsan news television station came to film the ceremonies welcoming our new first graders at each school. Clearly, it's an emotional moment at the first school since this is the last first grade ceremony to be performed there, but it's quite celebratory at the second school.

As for me, I'm sad that the first school is closing because I really like it here and enjoy the surrounding community. It's great that I get to have so much one-on-one time with the students, and I get to know all of their names, their strengths and weaknesses in English, their hobbies outside of school, etc. Other English teachers I know who work at big schools are not given this opportunity because they have so many more students, plus the academic pressure is much more intense so there's less time to chat.

However, I'm extremely happy for my tiny mountain school. The students there will continue to get a taste of childhood that is sorely missing from students in the cities.