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Transitions

21 Aug

I have been back in the States for over three weeks now.  It has been an unexpected time filled heartily with family, life transitions and passages. Saying that my father has passed away is still a bit of a shock to me.  I find I am aware that the first stage of grief is denial.

The busyness of life after a family member passing has started to subside and what remains is simple day-to-day living.  I am staying with my mother and we each have our own list of things to do at this time. Each day we tackle something new –  run a new errand, take a next step to resolve something on our list. Her list is much about the many changes that happen in life after a spouse has passed away.  Mine includes tying up loose ends from my time in Korea and preparing myself for “what’s next.”

Being back in the US is still new enough for me that I am enjoying the simple comforts and pleasures that come with life in the States – rides in cars, easy access to things I want and need, comfy couches and chairs, and bathtubs big enough for me to extend my legs in.  I find I cherish the Korean habits that still remain in my mind and body.  There is my habit of taking my shoes off when I walk in the door or my guilt if I still have them on while walking on carpet, even though no one minds.  My instinct remains to do the cute Korean two-handed wave whenever someone is leaving.  And of course, I cannot forget my tendency to bow in gratitude or respect… in a variety of situations, including to the lady at the customer service desk at the local department store.

The truth is I love all of these little habits and I cherish them like favorite souvenirs.  While I was only in Korea for a year and half, it became a part of me and I am delighted to carry a small piece of that as I move on.

As things have slowed down here, my time more recently is passed with long leisurely hours and neighborhood walks.  I particularly enjoy my time at the wellness center at my mom’s church down the street where they offer regular yoga and exercise classes.  Nearly daily, I get to enjoy the company of mostly senior members as we embark on yoga and strength classes together.  From time to time, we may even do a line dance or two.  The people are friendly and caring and it does my mind and body good to get out for a bit, connect with others and get some exercise.

I am just starting to catch up with myself after the recent whirlwind of experiences . The exhaustion is beginning to lift and my mind and attention are now turning to new things.

But for now I am here, in a small midwestern town filled with big skies, open fields and hot August weather.  I am surrounded by the everyday sounds of my mom and her life.  From the comfort of my mom’s guest room and her sunny back porch, I am also starting to take a look just a little further down the road.

 

Featured photo – sunny flowers on the steps of my mom’s back porch.

 

Simple Summer Pleasures

17 Jul

It’s the end of the day on Thursday, the last day of my “weekend” as I prepare to begin a new work week.  It’s been a somewhat relaxing weekend filled with the many familiar rhythms I have become acquainted with in my time in South Korea – the 2220 bus that takes me from English Village directly to Seoul; shopping for friendly and familiar food at2200 bus the foreign markets in Itaewon; riding the subway in Seoul while watching the sea of Korean faces mesmerized by their smart phones.  These are some of the things that have become the simple landscape of my life here in Korea.

I was thinking today that, aside from a few trips home, I have not lived in the United States for more than three years now.  That is amazing to me and it’s hard to believe it is true.  The other day I Skyped home to chat with my family and had the pleasure of receiving questions about being in Korea from my four very engaged nephews.  “What are the kids like in South Korea?” and “Why do they want to learn English?” were some of the sea of questions.  It was fun for me that they were interested and I was grateful that I could share this with them.

When I started this journey just over three years ago, buying a ticket to Germany felt like buying a ticket to the moon. Even still, a few years later buying a ticket to Korea felt like I was preparing to… I don’t know… travel through time.  While in earnest my international life has been quite modest, I am grateful for the “normalness” of it that has started to sink in over the years.  Buying or considering buying a ticket to visit a new country, while still exciting and sometimes a bit scary for me, is also something that feels totally available and accessible to me.  That is new.  And for that, I am grateful.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still “wonder” when I will return to the States and sometimes wish to swim in more familiar waters.  Occasionally I miss the accessibility I feel in the States simply because I can speak the language and read the street signs. But for now, I continue with my international journey.

My day today consisted of a quick trip to Seoul and some simple pleasures in the summer heat.  A little grocery shopping in Itaewon and also a little shoe shopping. The shoe shopping part did not take long as the shoes I liked were not available for my size 8 American feet. Disheartening… but not unusual in Korea.

I also treated myself to a therapeutic massage… doing my best to ease and tend to the tension I tend to carry with great commitment.  I went to a new place today called Create Wellness on the main strip in Itaewon.  My American conditioning is still disheartened when I walk into an office on a balmy summer afternoon and there is no air conditioning.  Even so, the staff was kind and friendly and the massage was excellent and my body heaved a sigh of relief as I exited the office.  I then easily made my way back to Paju and English Village.

We have a hearty handful of new teachers arriving lately at English Village.  As we haven’t hired in a while, most of the teachers here have been at English Village at least a year or longer.  It is good to have some new faces and energy around.  I see many of them observing with a timid or sceptic’s eye, adjusting to their new environment.  In many ways, English Village is a strange slice of life and it can take some time to adapt to its ways.

Good night for now from the balmy (but not yet rainy) lands of Paju English Village.  Thanks for reading and as you know, it’s always good to hear from you!

 

 

KSGI Escapade

10 Jul

They picked me up at 7:10 in the evening – just outside English Village in front of the giant Stonehenge replica, still an unexpected sight in the quiet hills of South Korea.  They opened their car door and ushered me towards them with a friendly wave. I hopped in and we were off!

Where were we going, you may ask?  To the local Paju City meeting of my buddhist group, Soka Gakkai International.  I am grateful for my English-speaking connections and SGI friends in Seoul.  But from time to time… I get invited to a local meeting in Paju and it is always an adventure.

When they pick me up, I am never quite sure where we are going… it is a simple act of trust really.  We make an agreement to meet at a certain time and then they take me… wherever it is we need to go… wherever the meeting is.  I get a small glimpse of feeling a bit more “normal” in Paju, traveling by car through the regular roads and life of local folks. On the way there we pick up one, no two more people, and now there are five of us tucked into the back seat like a bunch of teenagers out for the evening.

A kind face turns to me and offers some friendly words in Korean.  After a years and a half submerged in the all English world of English Village, I have nothing to offer her.  I smile.  I shrug my shoulders.  She talks more slowly and uses her hands.  While well intentioned, it doesn’t help. I still don’t understand Korean.

In no time we arrive at the meeting and I follow the rush of bodies loading into the elevator.  We find our way to a member’s apartment where most guests are seated on the floor, Korean style.  Koreans know that foreigners don’t do the floor very well and I am no exception. I am escorted to a prime seat on the couch and me, my knees and my back are grateful.

Mostly, no one speaks English at the meeting.  So I sit and smile and look and listen.  I watch with admiration as the meeting is run so efficiently, packed with information, intent and interest and not a moment wasted.  People stand, share and everyone laughs.  I turn to ask, “what did she say?” and realize there is no one there who can answer this.

A near-by member, also on the couch, offers an olive branch.  There is a small paragraph written in English that summarizes the reading for the evening.  He shares it with me, smiles and says, “understand.”  I nod and am grateful for his English word.

The message of the reading is a reminder to “pray as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood.”  I love it and have some inspiration to take home to my daily practice.

As the meeting neatly comes to an end, just a well-packed hour later, everyone stands and prepares to leave.  I am met by wonderful faces and smiles.  The leaders greet me with their kind eyes and tug onto my hand as we share in our own language our wish to communicate.  But still, in earnest, it is nice to communicate in other ways too… the silent ways of smiles and eyes and kind touch.

As we prepare to leave, my couch mate offers his friendly smile and we take a picture together.  Without hesitation, he zips it off to my phone electronically.  But there is no time to wait as my escort is shuffling me towards the door and I feel I must keep up or lose my ride.  And so, I keep my eyes on them like a hawk as they lead me out and to their car amidst the many bodies departing.

A few minutes and a comfortable ride later I am home after my brief immersion into K-SGI.  I offer thank you in Korean, among the few simple words that I know.  I depart and they are off… almost as quickly as they came.

I check my phone to find a copy of the picture from the evening sent via text.  I respond a quick, “thanks!” to which I receive the reply, “No problem.  We are friends.  We are SGI members.”

And so is the beauty of community.  Anywhere in the world.  Whether we do or don’t speak the same language.  While I am someone with hermit-like tendencies and often happy with huge helpings of autonomy, I am also grateful for these snippets of connection and community.  Like a warm light in the night-time sky.

I returned to my apartment… happy to be home but also altered in a small way after my interlude in connection and the shared joy and power of the people and practice of Korea Soka Gakkai International.

Thanks for reading!  … and feel free to drop me a line… it’s always good to hear from you!

 

Featured photo:  Enjoying a quiet moment before class surrounded by the morning light and summer green of the surrounding hillside.

Russian Students and Watermelon Popsicles

3 Jul

It’s my mid-week weekend at English Village.  Summer is finding her way to stay.  The heat is just a precursor to the impending Monsoon season, typically a month of practically non-stop rain.  Our slow work pace has picked up recently with a regular rotation of visiting Russian students.  When one group leaves, another arrives.

Our current bundle of students are overall really great.  They are mostly bright-eyed, friendly and engaged, traveling with supportive and interested teachers, parents and guardians.  At English Village, whenever we teach a class for the first time it is typical to invite the students to ask us questions.  Expected questions can include,”what is your favorite color”, “where are you from”, and of course… “how old are you?”.  But not this bunch.  Recent student questions have included, “why did you want to be a teacher” and “what do you think of the political situation in the Ukraine”… a bit daunting, but thoughtful and appreciated nonetheless.

One can’t help but notice cultural differences reflected in classroom behavior when teaching Russian and Korean students.  The biggest distinction I see is that our visiting Russian students typically have WAY bigger boundaries than our Korean students. For the most part, our Russian students talk more, ask more questions, and are more inclined to physically roam, try and test.  This can result in interesting and engaged classes. Sometimes it can also bring additional classroom challenges.

For example, a few weeks ago during our between-class ten minute break, a class of Russian students suddenly began playing frisbee in the classroom with about ten frisbees that seemed to appear from nowhere…  They were flying everywhere. Surprised, I did my best to collect them and asked… where did these come from?  It turns out they came from the English Village collection of sporting supplies, unlocked as typically students just leave them alone.  But somehow, they made a surprise appearance during class time break.

Despite the increased activity, life at English Village still seems laid back and slow.  Some days this feels like a wonderful gift.  Other days it has me a bit anxious, feeling like there is something I need to do.

I indulged and purchased a watermelon this week with my regular delivery of organic fruits and vegetables.  Some things in Korea are just more expensive than we are used to in the States.  Watermelon is one of them.  While it can be a bit daunting to pay sometimes twice as much for basic things… in general I have learned to just pay it and move on.  We refer to it as the Korea factor – some things are very expensive, but in exchange the lifestyle is simple, salary is descent and expenses are few.  Not a bad trade.

In an effort to make good use of my watermelon (I now have watermelon a-plenty!), I snooped around looking for watermelon popsicle recipes.  I used what I had on hand and easily concocted a basic watermelon brew and poured it into my popsicle molds to enjoy a frozen summer treat later.watermelon popsicles

Here is what I did:

  • Cut up some fresh watermelon and put it in my blender
  • Added a little lemon (lime would be better, but it is all I had on hand)
  • Added just a drop of vanilla

Voila!  Watermelon popsicles!  And not a drop of sugar!

How about you?  Any summer stories or refreshing recipes to share?  It’s always great to hear from you!

That’s it for now from Paju, South Korea.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

Slow Summer Beat

17 Jun

Life continues to be a bit strange and unpredictable in the recently altered and still mostly quiet land of English Village. As many of you know, work life suddenly and surprisingly changed after the tragic SEWOL ferry accident in South Korea. After so many students lost their lives traveling on a class trip, many schools, parents, and even the government responded by canceling class trips for… we don’t know how long.

With no students visiting English Village on their class trips, we now make our way following our leadership’s attempt to more actively engage our daily visitors.  The only problems is, during the week quite often… visitors are few and far between.  Often we sit at empty tents waiting for no one to come, or stand at the front gate ready to greet a handful of visitors.

There are still some students to be found at English Village.  The regular syncopation of my Saturday book club classes continues to beat consistent and strong.  But these modest Saturday classes teaching young Koreans to read are a tiny drop in a now quite empty bucket.

Despite continued change and a degree of uncertainty, there are still some things at English Village I can always count on. I can be sure, without fail, that if I give a package of crayons to my young book club students, before coloring can begin they will sort the crayons and put them in proper order.  If, after sorting them, they find they have two of one color or a color is missing, I know for sure that soon I will hear an innocent voice call “teacher” alerting me to their crayon situation that must be handled before coloring can commence.

I can also rely on my book club students laughing at the strangest things.  If I accidentally put the dot on my “i” to the right of its “base” when writing quickly, I know I will get a chuckle or two. Dropping something on the floor will merit ridiculous giggles.  And, shockingly, if they see my stomach when my shirt accidentally lifts up a little while describing something in an animated way, I can count on the laughter bringing down the room.  One time I even had a sticker on my butt… ridiculous chuckles.  Yes, some things will never change.

We have a small bundle of Russian students now visiting English Village.  Some of these students just visiting for a week or two have already come and gone.  What remains is the modest assembly of students here for 3 and 6 weeks. A handful them have our full attention with behavior busting boundaries on an hourly basis.  Others are sweet and somewhat engaged and ready for class.  When I see them move from class to class, the look on their face reflects a mixture of homesickness, heat exhaustion and perhaps just a bit of “English Village” fatigue.

Russian students typically visit English Village a couple of time each year.  It is undoubtedly a bit less “exciting” this year as the small group of students are the only ones on campus.  Typically they would be just a spot in a sea of Korean compadres.  Not this year.

We hear that our special programming in August is going to be hopping with students.  Perhaps after that a return to the regular craziness bursting at the seams with students.

In truth, aside from tragic event that caused this interruption, I am earnestly appreciative of a shift in intensity.  I was ready for a break from week after week and month after month of stampedes of Korean adolescent students.  A teacher mentioned recently that I look happier lately and in truth I think it is because I simply feel less stressed without teaching so many students in such an erratic schedule and system all of the time.

June weather has been kind in Paju so far as the humidity and heat continues to gently make herself known.  It is still nothing compared to the wall of heat and humidity I knew and sort of loved in New Orleans.

It is Tuesday, but also my “Friday” as I have a mid-week weekend.  It’s always nice to have a break for a few days, even just to have some simple time off to relax and do whatever feels good and fun in the moment.

How is summer settling in for you?  Thanks for reading and it’s always good to hear from you!

Photo of lush and green summer days at English Village.

Travel the World with Helpx

22 May

It’s a typical Thursday afternoon at English Village in Paju South Korea.  It is my “weekend” and I am busy sifting through plans and possibilities for myself and my life.  Spring is here and while it is finally lovely it is also a sad little season.  Here in Paju it seems bossy summer starts to fight its way in before Spring has even had a chance to settle.

Yesterday was a refreshing break from the land of Paju as I met with a young Korean friend from my SGI Buddhist group in the nearby city of Ilsan.  It is near by car I should say, as the meandering local bus is more than a short journey.  But it was worth it to connect with her and her friend visiting from Malaysia.  Both went to university in the States with very agreeable English and inspiring dreams and attitudes.  It is fun and fresh to spend time with both of them.

The highlight of our easy afternoon was a visit to Ilsan Lake Park featuring a stunning rose garden.  I had flashbacks of the many hours I spent in my favorite parks in New Orleans, playing among the live oaks dripping with spanish moss.  Ilsan’s park seems like a distant cousin to the parks of New Orleans as Korea does parks differently from the sultry ways of the South.  In Ilsan the park was open and spacious but complete with tidy boxes of flowers and neatly laid paths. The rose garden, however, was unexpected and off the charts.  To me it seemed like everything Korean.  Colorful.  Neat and tidy.  And utterly lovely in its never-ending patterns and displays of roses of all colors.

As I am poking away at my own travel plans, it has me thinking once again of helpful travel tips to pass on to you – tips that might open doors, ignite some excitement or stir up a dream or two.  In my past three years of unfolding international adventures, one of the best tips I received was being turned on to the website Helpx.net.

What is helpx.net?  Quite simply it is a network of people in locations around the world willing to provide travelers with room and board in exchange for work.  It is one of the best inventions in travel and can open up the world to people who have ruled it out because they “don’t have enough money.”  It can also be an economical way to “getaway” or have a change of scenery even in your own country.

Who are the hosts?  Helpx hosts are business owners, farmers and private people and families who want to open their doors to travelers.  Businesses may include bed and breakfasts, resorts, hotels, or farms.  I once stayed with a helpx family who ran their own business from home and were looking for a graphic designer.  You never know what you may find that is a match for your skills and interests!

How does it work?  It is quite simple really.  You can view the website without becoming a member, but if you want to contact a host you must pay the modest fee to join.  Once you are a member, contact a host or hosts that are interesting to you.  If they feel the same way, they will get back to you.  The length of stay can vary greatly.  Once an agreement is reached between you and the host, all you have to do is make your plans and show up!

How many hours do I work and what do I do?  This will vary by host.  Some hosts are laid back and are mostly interested in meeting people from other parts of the world.  Others really rely on the helpx work for the vitality of their business.  I would say average expectation is 5 hours a day, 5 days a week.  But some hosts will ask for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week with one day off.  And others may not set hours and just ask that you help as needed through out the day.

Work varies widely as well.  In my experience I have cooked, cleaned, mowed lawns, painted ceilings, chopped wood, taken care of children.  Some people need help with construction, caring for their farm in some way or teaching a language.  There are also unexpected little pockets or work needed that are best found through exploring the site.

How to choose a host.  I found it helps to be clear about what matters to you and screen hosts for those things.  How many hours do you want to work?  Do you want to be in a city or out in the country?  What kind of work are you willing to do?  Do you want to be around a lot of other people or do you like solitude.  Can you go with the flow with whatever your hosts cooks or do you have diet requirements?  How long do you want to stay?  Do you want to share a room with others or do you prefer privacy… the clearer you get, the easier it is to choose and shorten your list and start making contacts.

You will have more options if you plan at least a few months ahead of time as there is less “last-minute” availability. Additionally, I found it useful to contact more than one host for the same time period as some people don’t get back in touch or have changed plans.

Is it safe?  With all of my helpx experiences I always felt very safe.  There is a place for reviews on all helpx hosts and reading those is very helpful.  Once when I still had more questions, I contacted previous helpxers to get more information. If you’re still unsure if a host is right for you, its never a bad idea to get a second opinion from a wise and trusted friend.

Is it worth it?  Absolutely!  It provides intimate experience into a different life and sometimes different culture.  New experiences, new people, new skills.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is some hard work to do or relationships to be managed.  But that is all the depth and color of the experience!

Daytime is melting away on this quiet almost summer day in Paju. I am listening to English Village top 40 leaking through my window from the speaker outside.  Ah the sounds of life at English Village.

If you have any questions about Helpx, feel free to write!  Always happy to share my experience!

Photo at top. A bright array of flowers neatly displayed at Ilsan Lake Park.

Business as Usual

15 May

Well, it seems like it is back to business as usual here at Gyeonggi English Village.  Except that, for the most part… there is no business.  In the past weeks we have waded through questions of teachers going on paid or unpaid leave and the future of English Village. And now things have emerged with no major change… except that, for the most part, we don’t have students to teach.

While we whittle away our days away with no students, for the most part teachers are expected to spend their time preparing their lessons for August programs.  Additionally, there is a new emphasis on weekend programming for English Village visitors more in the vein of entertainment.  New responsibilities have a fun flavor and include things like face painting, mask making and English focused games.  Lately we find ourselves scheduled to work a few hours at our front gate welcoming visitors to English Village that are sometimes there… and sometimes not. Life is undoubtably strange… or stranger than usual as we adjust to new programming and dance an odd dance with our administration struggling to keep us busy during this mostly non-busy time.

This past week we had our first student programs in quite a while.  We hosted a group of university students visiting from Japan as well as an adult program.  While it was nice to have a little “life” here, this modest program hardly put a dent in our weekly schedule. In future weeks more students will arrive…. a group of Russian students here for 6 weeks among them.  As required by the local government, Korean students will not take student trips until after this semester ends which is in early July.  Even after that we are not quite sure if Korean students will return to their regular class trips at English Village.

Meandering in Seoul

This week during my regular week-day weekend I headed to Seoul for the day for a bit of an escape.  While I appreciate my home at English Village, the fresh air and quiet surrounding hills, it felt really great to get away.  I spent my day doing a little shopping, meandering the streets of a favorite neighborhood, and also getting a message.  At the end of the day I met up for the first time with the Seoul chapter of a spiritual group called The Art of Living.

I have been connected with the Art of Living since I took their first course in New Orleans about 8 years ago.  Led by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the group was in New Orleans to be of service to the community in the wake of the challenges from Hurricane Katrina.  As an organization they are committed to spiritual health, well-being and harmony through a unique set of practices and tools. They are also committed to being of service to humanity through good deeds and projects.  Their main teaching is something called the Sudarshan Kriya and is learned in the first course.  It is a series of hand movements and breathing techniques that support the mind and body in reducing stress, detoxing, and being more balanced. As an organization I have found them to be nothing short of lovely and inspiring and have benefitted from the continued use of their practices.

It was a real treat to connect with the group, meet some new people and take some time out for spiritual practice in community.  An Art of Living teacher was visiting Seoul this week, so she led the group in the Kriya as well as some yoga and chanting.  I came away from the evening with a renewed interest in my own practice and reminder of the simple joy that can be cultivated from the inside out.

As the sun begins to set and my weekend begins to wind down, I prepare for a new work week.  Returning to a new irregularity but still somehow business as usual here at Gyeonggi English Village.

Earn Your Living Honestly

30 Apr

The strange days of Gyeonggi English Village continue.  Quiet campus.  No classes.  It is clear that, at least for the short-term, Korean students will not be taking class trips anywhere as mandated by the local government after the Ferry tragedy.  How long will this continue?  We don’t yet know.  For now we plan lessons for programs that may not happen.  And we wait for our administration to formally announce their decisions regarding how they will handle this situation.

I am learning that life at English Village is never dull.  In the year I have been here I have seen financial challenges, shortened teacher contracts followed by mass teacher exodus, questioning if English Village would shut down, and now this.  Recently I asked a teacher how he was doing in the face of the current circumstances.  He just kind of laughed and smiled… and said, essentially, just another day in the life at English Village.  When he first arrived here a few years ago, there was an outbreak of swine flu.  For at least a month, teachers at EV were quarantined to their homes and no students could come.  And while this current chapter has its own complexities and is burdened with tragic events, it is possible it is just another dip in the bumpy history of English Village.

We hear news of possibilities developing… 6 week international programs in the summer, perhaps more international and military students coming soon.  But for now there are big gaps in the English Village calendar and a fairly large staff of teachers with no one to teach.  We hear our administration will likely offer leave to some teachers to soften the financial blow of paying teachers with no programs.  But that full story is yet to be revealed.

In the meantime, this seems like a great time to explore the 5th Reiki precept in my Reiki Precept blog series.  As I have mentioned, Reiki is a gentle but powerful healing and spiritual practice that has been part of my life for over ten years.  The 5 Precepts are simple guidelines to assist us on our path of life.  I explored the first four Precepts in earlier blogs.  They are:

1.  Just for Today Do Not Worry.

2.  Just for Today Do Not Anger.

3. Honor your Parents Teachers and Elders.

4.  Show Gratitude to Every Living Thing.

The fifth and final Precept  is Earn Your Living Honestly.Earn Your Living Honestly

I have always appreciated this precept and attempted to use it as a beacon when exploring how I earn my living.  For me, earning your living honestly isn’t about not lying and cheating.  It is about being honest with yourself and seeking to be in integrity with yourself and the world around you when it comes to earning your living.  In my life this has included seeking work that truly feels aligned with who I am and what I want.  At times it has meant simply stepping up and taking some action to support myself… even if the work at hand didn’t fit my ideas of what I wanted to do.  It has meant practicing being present and simply tackling the task at hand, whatever it may be…. when I was in Germany it was often cleaning up rooms for guests or tackling a mountain of dishes after a busy meal.  Somehow it seems like it is about seeing the truth in yourself and others and having the work you do be a reflection of that truth.

As my current work is bending and stretching in unexpected ways,this precept seems like a good place to land. Somehow there is comfort and strength in its message that can be like a fortress in the midst of a storm.

For this week, I will continue to lean on the spirit of this precept and see what wisdom it has to offer me. I invite you to do this same if you are inspired.  What does this precept mean for you?

Good-bye for now from the hushed campus of Gyeoggi English Village.

 

Featured photo on top from a favorite near-by walking path in Paju just outside Gyeonggi English Village.

Sound of Silence

23 Apr

It is quite a shock.  But… for now, there are no students at Gyeonggi English Village in Paju, South Korea.  In truth I didn’t see it coming. I imagine other teachers didn’t either.  But here we wait on the quiet grounds wondering what is next.

It all started with the tragic ferry accident in South Korea.  I am sure the news has made its way to you wherever you are in the world. A ferry holding over 450 passengers was on a regular route from the northwest coast of South Korea to Jeju Island, a popular vacation destination.  Who was on board?  Mostly it was a group of high school students from Ansan, a city just outside of Seoul. They were traveling to Jeju for their class trip. What followed is the tragic story of a slowly sinking ferry just hours from its destination with hundreds of people still trapped inside, mostly students.

Needless to say, the people and parents of Korea are insane with grief and outrage.  It seems true that a folly of errors, poor judgement and bad training contributed widely to the tragic outcome of these circumstances.

What was unexpected for me, perhaps as an American, perhaps as an outsider, was the government response that now has the streets of English Village in silence.  It is my understanding that the Gyeonggi Province government canceled all student trips for the upcoming semester.  Other provinces have responded in kind. I am told even China and Japan and considering the same.  And now schools in South Korea far and wide have canceled their three-day excursion to Gyeonggi English Village.

I can understand the compelling desire to protect oneself and your children particularly in the face of something so devastating.  In truth after reading about the accident my reaction was to plot and plan how I could avoid such a situation myself… should I stay off of ferries?  I am more than aware of the mind and body’s unpredictable response in the aftermath of a disaster.  I can recall shortly after Hurricane Katrina flooded my home city of New Orleans being in a second floor apartment in Texas feeling concerned if I left items on the floor they might get ruined by the flood.  However, it was still a surprise to me that the government responded in such a manner.

This is an event that Korea is taking very seriously and its people are still sifting through their rage, politics and confusion. The “no trip mandate” is just one way they are demonstrating that.  For us at Gyeonggi English Village, it leaves us for now with mostly no students (a few other more modest programs still operate lightly).  We are told programming for the next two months is practically vacant with no real plan for what is to come.  Our administration is twisting and bending itself in an attempt to recover or adapt to this new face of English Village.  There is talk of bringing in more international students and focusing on our one day programs which don’t require students to come spend the night.

In the meantime this leaves us in a great space of uncertainty.  Our work time this week has been occupied with planning our lessons for our month-long program in August that we assume will happen… but I suppose truly time will tell.  What is in store for us as teachers, foreign staff, and an institution is far from clear.

This circumstance leaves me in a humbled space.  While in some ways the quiet is a welcome break, it is also a haunting reminder. And so I pray… for all involved.  Those who survived the ferry.  Those who did not.  Those who are suffering and outraged by this tragedy. Those who are blamed.  And also quite simply for me and the other teachers at my place of work as we face some new uncertainty in our own lives.

That is it for now, writing in the unprecedented silence of Gyeonggi English Village.

It’s Alright

17 Apr

It’s a cool and grey day at English Village and the last day of my mid-week weekend.  I am at home listening to music, in part to drown out the English Village music leaking persistently through my windows. The music is featured songs from English Village Musicals and there are speakers all over campus.  While I appreciate the creativity and effort of these original songs, we hear them all day over and over again.   With lyrics like “being a hero takes HARD WORK!” and “you can beat the monster….” it can be a bit… haunting… to say the least.  If you work at English Village, feel free to sing along.  You know the words.

It has been an average week for me filled with the typical ups and downs of life teaching Korean adolescents.  Many of the students this week were truly great.  With varying levels of English ability, I met many students with kind attitudes and welcoming spirits in the classroom.  Inevitably there are also students who just wouldn’t respond not matter what I said.  This includes simple discipline requests… asking a student not to do something and they just stare at me and continue to do it or wait one second for me to leave and do it anyway.  I am practicing cultivating my more laid back attitude, aspiring to be of service and be a good teacher but also… to just not sweat it, whatever it is.

Middle school is known for being a time when many things are of the utmost importance, including physical appearance.  While this is an issue to many a young teen across the globe, it seems to be of particular importance here in Korea.  It is common place and often a distraction in the classroom to see young Korean girls with their own personal mirror looking at their face or placing their hair just so.  At first I thought this was very strange but now it is just part of regular life.  This focus on physical appearance, however, also extends towards the teachers.  Some students get surprisingly excited by attractive men or women teachers sometimes following after them like they are celebrities.  This lends itself to flattering comments to teachers when they like their appearance but also less kind comments when they think the opposite. Some days this feeds well on the ego with comments like “pretty teacher.”  Other days it can be a bit of a challenge when a less kind comment is said or over heard.  I have had my share of both experiences.  This week, however, on a day that I was feeling “less than beautiful” a student said something to me perhaps not intended to be mean, but truly less than kind and something I did not need to hear. Teaching in Korea at times… is not for the faint of heart.

As you may have noticed by now, this international escapade is not just my story of seeing the world.  It is really a spiritual adventure. I do my best to pay attention, learn and grow from the challenges I meet day-to-day.  I am currently practicing reducing my stress level in part through reducing my reaction to what is happening around me.  With this perspective I am considering how I may respond to ups and downs of life more like an wise observer.   This lighter hold on life creates the freedom to choose what to respond to and what to simply let be.  This is of course a practice. Some moments it seems available… and other times I find I am riddled and wrought in reaction.

This space that I explore is nicely echoed in a tune playing right now on Pandora.com.  It is a little Louisiana delight by Curley Taylor and the Zydeco Trouble as they simply coo “It’s Alright“.  Nothing like some Louisiana tunes to sooth my soul… and inspire my mind. Incidentally, the name of their album is Free Your Mind.  And so it seems perhaps that is what I am up to… little by little… step by step….

As I have done these past few weeks, I would like to continue my visitation of the 5 Precepts of Reiki . It has been good for me to review them and have them more active and present in my life.  They are good reminders that I can simply choose to not worry and not anger… and if I miss the mark, it’s okay.  I can try again in the next moment.  It’s not a rule, only a practice.

The next precept to explore is “Honor Your Parents Teachers and Elders“. Honor

I love this precept but I am earnestly still getting to know the truth of its message.  For me, the first step is to distinguish that honor is not the same as obey.  To honor one’s parents or teachers does not mean simply that you do what they say or wish.  It is perhaps more like an acknowledgment that values both parties. A healing-arts practitioner I visited with not long ago offered that the best way you can honor your parents is to be true to yourself.  To me honor feels like a loving gentle bow sending appreciation their way, appreciating them for who they truly are, and also doing your best to reflect the best things in them through your own actions.

Do you have any insight or experience to share about honor?  What does it mean to truly honor someone? And how is that distinct in your life?

My own music has quieted down and the English Village music is sneakily invading my apartment.  And so continues a day in the life at English Village.  The words of the song outside shout “Hard work”… but instead I will leave you with the cool easy message of the Zydeco Trouble… “It’s Alright!”

Featured photo, the gentle blossoms of Spring at English Village.

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