So this weekend as summer finally turned to fall I managed to catch a mild cold due to sleeping with my bedroom windows open. And of course, I’ve been fortifying myself with hot tea and vitamin C tablets and multivitamins and cough drops. (The worst part of teaching with a cold being that you still have to talk even if your throat is killing you.)
This morning I was teaching adults and had to pause to blow my nose a few times (which Koreans consider to be super disgusting, so I turned my back to the class and walked into a corner to do so) and eventually I started having a coughing fit. I was sweating a little bit too because my small fever seems to be breaking (good news!) and here I was patting myself on the back for being a diligent foreigner who scoffs in the face of sickness.
My students were kind of mortified by it all, however.
I think I’ve lived here long enough to understand that just showing up while sick isn’t enough. You also have to actively hide the fact that something is ravaging your insides. Put on a smile, even. Just getting through the day with a hacking cough and surrounded by sticky wet naps isn’t nearly good enough.
Granted, my adult students were showing genuine concern for a minor cold that happened to peak at the wrong time.
But the next time a foreigner tells you you should expect to work while sick in South Korea, also know that you’ll be expected to like it.