Ah, nothing like fresh air in another country., I smile at the sky. Partly cloudy with a calm breeze on a Thursday. I step off my steps and begin my morning stroll through 빙빈 (BingBin).I wave and smile to the regulars on my walk, not everyone appreciates foreigners and I’m blessed to have some type of recognition from them. After 30 minutes I reach my internship, I like to say job. The 퀸 한 도서관 (Quin Han Library) is the only place where I feel connected to home, not that being in Korea isn’t awesome, it’s just good to know there’s something from America somewhere else. I was lucky to find a job here, I would have been stuck with some grocery or tourist guide gig, which was not how I was going to spend the 6 months I’m here.
I heartily bounce up the steps and into the main foyer of the library. It takes my breath every time I see it. Ha, you Americans with your energy, it is too early for all that! Even though Mrs. Swan is pointing her cane angrily at me, I can’t help but smile at her voice. 좋은 아침 백조 부인 (Good Morning Mrs. Swan) I say through a smile. Ugh get your red white and blue self to the back, books won’t get on the shelves by themselves! Mrs. swan is pushing me to the employee-only door behind the front desk, yes Mrs. swan, I reply. The lady might seem like a workaholic but all she does is sit and play Mon Jong. It’s like this every morning but I’m used to it. I keep thinking something will change, or something will happen, but all I’ve gotten is the timid questions on where books are. I won’t complain though, it cost my parents a fortune to fly me across the world and pay for my exchange student fee. I will always be grateful, I guess I expected more.
I hang my bag and jacket in my employee locker. Then walk to the back maze. That’s what I call the employee hallways. They lead to all parts of the library without being in the way of pedestrians. I work shelf duty, I’m the only one who looks forward to putting thousands of books back. The language is like a code, I know the alphabet so it’s a matter of matching and order. I work alongside 5 other kids, that also got a spot here. It’s an efficient order really. 수지 (Suzie) works in the front desk, starts off with bringing in the returned books and checking for any expired dates, damages, etc. 마이크 (Mike) sorts them by area, 엔, 에스, 이자형,(North, South, East, West). Then they’re put in piles of those who are assigned to that area. 마르코 (Marco) has the north wing, 처 (Sho) has south, me 금언 (Lema) east wing, and 윤 (Yoon) west. Since Suzie is always in the front of the library, I never really get to talk to her, I don’t think she likes me anyway. It would be nice to talk to another girl, the guys are a different story. There’s no avoiding them unless I get my books and hurry to my wing before they show up.
Mike doesn’t get here until later, but Suzie’s always here before me. I try to use this time to talk to her but she tries very hard to avoid me, so I just go to the back and read from the shelves until the rest get here. I’m the last though which is a relief. “Yo-yo lema good morning!“, I try to bury my face in my book, I don’t want to deal with Mike. “Morning Mike”, I say. It’s weird, he’s never said it but I know he likes it when I say his name in English. His smile gets wider and he rushes to put his stuff away, which was clue one. “I’ll have your daily feeding of books started”; he’s still working on his English. I shake my head, “you’ll have my daily dose of books ready, say that.” He does and it sounds better. He then leaves and I sigh. “Halo lema”, it’s Yoon. “Morning Yoon”, I reply. He waves and puts his stuff away. He’s the quieter of the group, but chimes in every once in and while. He takes his seat and starts on his street breakfast. A few minutes later Sho and Marco roll in with loud laughter. They’re always talking and making jokes. They’re always talking about the ” great place” and are star-struck when I have to explain the facts to them.
Mike already has some books on their carts which got them out quickly. I prefer the quiet in the morning. Things get into their spots and were all moving in the way we do, nothing unusual. Lunch rolls around and it’s break time. I eat a sandwich with Polly crackers. The guys never understand my lunches, which is some victory every time. Late evening rolls around and the crowds thin. The guys finish their stacks and leave for the night. Suzie leaves as well. “lock-up”, Mrs. Swan says as she leaves. I nod and say goodnight to her.
It’s me and the books now. No one else knows what Mrs. Swan has assigned me, the main reason for me being the last every night. There are thousands of books that haven’t been put back, and it would delay the library so much if we worked on those, so she has made a deal with me. If I finish putting back the books, she’ll sign me 100 credits. I have to have a certain number of credits when I leave Korea, extras can be added if you worked hours there. It would cover my failing classes and still have some extra for when I graduate. So, I agreed and I’ve dug my way through the supply closet since. I’ve put back 1/11 in 3 and a half months. Which isn’t a lot but I use the extra hours during the day to work. I try not to get overwhelmed, it’s a lot for one person, and I’m on a time crunch, so the pressure is there. I’ve built a strategy on how to make it effective and easy. Since the guys have their sections I use their carts. I fill each cart with the books that go in that wing, fill them until I can’t anymore, and that’s all the ones I put up for the night. I start with the south wing, it’s the farthest so I work toward the front. I knock out the east, and north wings. It’s almost midnight now that I’m in the west. I’m sweating and tired but every book I put away is one inch closer to those points…