Just when we were beginning to settle into life in South Korea, we were hit by a broadside from the parental body of the country. On Thursday, Kristen arrived at work to find that three of her regular students simply had not pitched up for school. Puzzled by this, she asked our supervisor where the kids were, and was solemnly led to the director’s office. She was there told that one of the parents had contacted the police because they believed that Kristen was physically abusing the children.
In South Africa, being accused of child abuse is a serious deal – it is not something you do lightly. It is something you do with proof. Apparently in Korea, it is something that can be done on a whim. The mother had no evidence (because Kristen would never hit a child) and yet she still went straight to the police. While the normal channels would be to first contact the school to attempt to address such a concern, one woman decided that her case was special enough to circumvent these channels. In reality, all she was doing was accusing the teacher least likely to abuse children, and causing her severe emotional pain.
While Kristen will not have any legal consequences come of the incident because she is entirely innocent, it was an utterly humiliating and embarrassing experience for her. She was questioned by four police officers. They could not speak English, so our director had to translate for her. Questions like “Do you know about child abuse?”, “Do you ever touch the children?”, and “Do you ever hit the children?” abounded. I am amazed at how strong Kris stayed throughout that whole day – while she did not look cheerful, she didn’t show how much she was crushed inside. And I admire her for that.
When we were walking home, she opened up, and I saw how truly shattered she was. Thursday was the first day after the first week where we have legitimately contemplated going home, and leaving it all behind. But we didn’t. We chose to keep going – we have a future in our heads, and not even some inconsiderate, mentally unstable woman flinging about wanton accusations is going to get in the way of that.
Luckily, the days since then have been relatively free of emotional stress. Friday was Easter, and was filled with the requisite amount of hunting for sweet treats (although the children were given candy as opposed to chocolate, which felt a little wrong to me), and passed without incident, although Kris’ missing children did not return. Today was mostly filled with relaxing, watching Glee, and losing more DotA. However, we broke out of our hermit cave twice, to hang out with one of our co-workers and to meet some people with whom we shall soon be playing Ultimate Frisbee. They both assured us that what happened to Kris was a freak occurrence, and that while parents were rarely positive, they generally let teachers do things their way.
These assertions and the return to relative normality helped ground us again, and give us some helpful perspective on the situation. Nevertheless, it will remain in the back of our minds as we go forward, keeping us aware of everything we do, lurking like an unwelcome guest at a birthday party, waiting for the right moment to make our experience unpleasant and awkward. Hopefully the circumstances never again arise, but if they do, we will be more prepared, certain in our innocence and resolved to put it behind us.