“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
– “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
One of my favorite poems to teach during my tenure at Korea International School was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” especially during the year where the ones in charge came up with the theme of “Leave a Legacy”. I have always thought this poem gave a truth about life and the legacies that we leave behind, and I have been thinking about these things a lot during my last couple of months as I wrapped up my time there. Is it possible to leave a legacy behind? How long will it be before my name is no longer mentioned in the hallways of the school that I had spent four years at? Should I feel offended that as soon as the last students I taught there, I will quickly be forgotten?
It made it even harder as I packed up all of my stuff and took all of artwork off of my bulletin boards that everything was returning back to the way it was when I first arrived in Korea, stark, undecorated, and sanitary. My last look at my classroom, and the last look of my apartment had the same feel, all traces of my impact had been washed away so the next person that came in to take my place could start to make their mark. As I prepared to get ready for my next adventure in Thailand, I couldn’t help but looking at my time here and wonder if it had been worth the time and effort that I had put into it.
As far as the greater impact my presence had to South Korea as whole, it was hard to make me believe that I had actually done something. The society still moves on like a well-oiled machine. People continue to work jobs to try to get a little ahead, and students still work themselves hard to try to become a part of this cycle. Words of a madman to the north passes the lips of the people from time to time as they wonder how their relationships with larger nations from the west affect what is going on. Poor air from the east mingles with the exhaust of the big city to make some days unsafe to venture outside, but on the days you can, it is a beautiful experience to watch the blooming of spring, the green of summer, or the melancholy of autumn. The year comes and the year goes, and we get mixed into the grind.
Knowing all of this, how can I look at the empty classroom and the empty apartment and believe that I had an impact?
It was while I was riding away in the taxi to the airport, spending those last moments in South Korea that the answer came to me. I could not worry about making a huge change in society. What I did would eventually be returned to a state as if I had never been there. My legacy should not come from the programs I made or the mark I left behind; it should come from the connections I made with the people I came across. This is what made my time in Korea worth every moment. I do believe that every student that went through my class now has a different perspective on the world, and will think about what they witness more instead of just accepting it as the truth, while challenging the truths that I always believed to be true. I do believe that the colleagues that I worked with in my four years grew because of my influence almost as much as I have grown as a teacher because of their influence. And more importantly, I do believe that the society has felt a minor shock wave because of the slightly punk rock hippie that invaded their world for four years, as I learned to look at my world with a more international perspective.
It wasn’t all about my legacy. It was about their legacy as well. I hope the people I came in contact with during these four amazing years have somehow been changed by presence, because I know I have been changed by their presence.
Thank you Korea for four amazing years full of happiness and heartache. Each moment has allowed me to grow as a person, and even though I may no longer be living and working out there anymore, your legacy lives on with me.