Tag Archives: English Village

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.

Just for Today

25 Mar

It’s a Monday morning at English Village in Paju, South Korea.  My work week is complete and I have a few days break before it starts all over again.

This past week was bursting with middle school students and a few extra surprises.  On Thursday morning I walked out my door to find a parade of serious looking Korean men wearing black suits and ties.  I didn’t think too much of it as I have learned to expect the unexpected here.  As I walked further into campus it was soon clear that something out of the ordinary was happening.  English Village is often a hot spot for an assortment of activity – wedding photo shoots, movies and television shows, commercial shootings.  What was the excitement today?  None other that EXO.

EXO

Who is EXO you may say?  In the land of Korean K-pop, in the company of top stars like Psy and his world-famous “Gagnam Style“, is EXO.  I know of EXO mostly by way of their doting fans, our adolescent Korean students, mostly girls.  On more than one occasion a student’s art project of the day has been dedicated to EXO.  From time to time as they map out their future life for a class assignment it includes a marriage to one of EXO’s members.  And there they were… at English Village.

The guys in the ties and black suits were security.  It was a good thing too as I am sure you can imagine what happened.  Many of our Korean girl students have a tendency towards high-pitched screaming  and excitability.  It was not uncommon throughout the day to hear bursts of girls screaming in enthusiasm as they leaned their bodies at the edge of the security barricade trying to get just a little closer.  During class break, and sometimes during classes, you could see their faces glued to the windows just hoping for a glance.

EXO was at English Village for two full days until at last… they left….returning to our regular irregularity. That is until two of the students were diagnosed with the swine flu.  This required a quick health check-up for the entire visiting student body.  Then mostly healthy and drama free, it was time to go home.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is an adjustment for me to return to the bustling world of our mostly adolescent young learners program after my brief hiatus in the more serene world of Book Club.  I am doing my best to have a relaxed attitude with myself and the students and classes but sometimes I find this challenging.

We have had to adjust our attitudes towards programs at English Village as they have morphed and changed over the past year.  What originally was a one-week program that was fun spirited but still had some academic intent has shifted into a two-night three-day program with more of a fun camp-like feeling. It was a necessary shift.  Our students arrived expecting and being sold a fun class trip. They were ready for a few days of fun and good times – not to study English. Also our students are tired and overworked from the rigors of school and academic expectations in South Korea.

It is easy to have compassion for our busy overworked students. As you may know, life for a student in Korea is very challenging. They are in school during what I would consider regular school hours.  Most students, however, also have a busy “after school” school life when they study English and possibly other disciplines.  They attend an after school, have dinner there, and stay well into the evening.  I have heard stories of parents typically picking up their child at the Library at midnight… on a “school night.”

When they come to English Village ready to have some fun, however, this is not always fun for the teacher.

This past week I had a group of students who were very challenging for me.  They pretended they didn’t understand or speak any English when I know for a fact that they did. They wouldn’t respond to even simple requests like stand up… and acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about and continued on with their own personal parties.  They wouldn’t answer questions. Didn’t participate. Not all classes are like this.  But it wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.

And so continues the busy spring world of teaching at Gyeonggi English Village.  It seems like a good time to visit some tools that I find useful to ease the mind with the ups and downs of regular life. They are the Reiki Precepts.

Reiki as some of you may know is a Japanese healing art and a practice that I have participated in for about ten years.  Once one attends a Reiki class and is initiated, what follows is a simple but powerful practice of laying ones’ hands on yourself or another and allowing the healing energy to flow through.  The precepts are sort of guidelines, or friendly reminders that support a life of happiness, well-being and balance.  It’s always good to revisit them.

I like to consider them one at a time, reintroducing them into my mind and life as a daily reminder.  Here is the first Reiki Precept.

do not worry

Just for today do no worry.
This is a great one.  Simple and true.  I often forget to be mindful of this basic but powerful precept as I go about my worrying ways.  Sometimes when I feel that my life is out of my control, I think I actually worry to give myself something “to do” about it.  Recalling this precept is a good reminder to let it go and just practice… just for today… do not worry.

I created original images for each of the five precepts. The image you see here is from that series. If you’d like to view them all and possibly purchase a print or card for yourself, you can visit my on-line gallery.

How about you?  What do you think of this precept?  Do you have any experience or related insight that would be fruitful to share?  If so, please do.  It’s always good to hear from you.

While it’s a day off for me, it is also the start of a new week at English Village and the next crew of students is arriving.  I can hear the wheels of their suitcases and happy voices rolling down the street outside my window.  And so begins another week at English Village.

 

Featured photo, a day off in Seoul strolling down a quiet street in Itaewon.

Adventures in Healing

18 Feb

It’s Tuesday at English Village.  The second day of my new weekday-weekend and my time off is quickly slipping through my fingers. I am spending a little time at home.  Quieting down.  Settling into my bones.  Enjoying a simple meal of a veggie filled omelette with some quinoa on the side.

Now that the Lunar Holiday has passed and I’ve been back to work, my life and job are quite different at English Village.  Gone are my intimate weekday classes with small collections of young English readers as the weekday Bookclub program is no more. The program continues on Saturdays only.  Wednesday through Friday I am back with the masses teaching the often bustling programs of our middle school students (and sometimes elementary, high school, university and adult students) here for just a week or a few days.  It has felt surprisingly good to return to teaching these classes.  While at times the sheer number of students in these programs can be overwhelming to me, it seems my more personal teaching time with a small group of regular young students has brought some benefit to me.  Returning to the older students I have noticed subtle changes in my experience in the classroom.  I feel more present with the students and a bit more at ease and laid back in the classroom. And while I enjoy and appreciate good content, it is clear to me that the first priority is simply to connect with the students.

Positive experiences aside, it was still good to return to teach Bookclub on Saturday.  I appreciate its simple nature of two regular teachers and a small collection of familiar faces. I enjoy the basic lessons we prepare for them newly each week. Two of my Saturday students who used to be in the youngest weekday classes have now “graduated” to the next higher reading level. It is really a delight to see their sparky little faces participating well in the class.

The weekend, now newly located on Mondays and Tuesdays, is of course still a welcome break. Earlier today I used some of my weekend time to take a bit of an adventure in healing with Korean traditional medicine.  I have heard from other expats and locals alike that acupuncture is very affordable here in Korea.  Even better, there is a clinic in Paju just a short taxi ride away.  So, in my earnest continued explorations for healing on all levels, most notably now my long-term pain from an injured ankle and a persistent stiff neck and painful back, I thought I would try it out.

For me, any excursion beyond English Village can turn in to an adventure.  While the clinic was just up the road, I took a taxi just to be sure I could find it.  I asked our security guard to call me a cab and when I hopped in the back seat I showed the driver a map on my smart phone of where I needed to go.  I pointed to it and used one of my small collection of Korean words, “yogi” which means, here.

With ease we skipped down the road and soon arrived at the clinic.  Upon entering I took off my shoes, put them in the cubbies at the door and put on the communal slippers available (which, notably all had “love” printed on them).  I was welcomed by a warm and friendly face greeting me with some basic English.  She asked just a few questions and within minutes I was escorted to the back of the clinic. There were an array of private cots with curtains drawn around them and a mysterious vent of some sort that looked suspiciously like the ones you see at Korean style barbecue restaurants.  I wasn’t quite sure what would happen next.

The doctor at the clinic couldn’t have been more kind and it was a comfort to me that he spoke some basic English.  We talked briefly about my health concerns.  He asked me if I had ever tried… and he used a word I did not recognize, but it wasn’t acupuncture. I smiled and said no and thought perhaps I was in for a bit more than acupuncture today. Shortly thereafter he began his treatment.

He began with needles in just a few points on my arm and my head and then continued later with additional needles focused more directly in the area of my injuries and pain.  It was after the acupuncture, however, that the real fun started. The practitioners removed the needles, pulled the vent overhead closer and then placed some smoldering coils on my ankle.  It was hard for me to see, but … interesting… I thought.  It was warm but didn’t hurt. Upon returning home I did a little google search and I believe the treatment was moxibustion.

When this treatment was complete, they flipped me on my stomach, and began again with acupuncture.  But that wasn’t all! Next they did what I think was cupping, an alternative medicine practice that I have seen but never experienced before. He filled smallish ceramic cups with gas or something and then cupped them on my back.  All over my back.  In truth, while the sensation was a bit odd… it felt pretty good!  And finally, the highlight of the day, they attached four or five suction-cup-like devices to my back that were hooked up to a machine.  When they turned it on it felt like there were tiny little feet running and pressing on pressure points on my back.  It was an odd and unexpected sensation, for sure.  But altogether, not bad.

When my treatment was complete, I was so grateful for the thorough care and experience I had.  All that was left to do was pay.  This was an unbelievable experience in and of itself.  My grand total for the extensive treatment?  Equal to about $10 USD.  Extraordinary. The doctor recommended that I return regularly to treat my concerns.  And so begins my new adventure with traditional Korean medicine!

I am back now at home enjoying the final hours of my weekend before returning to work.  It’s been a good day.  How about you?  Any new experiences or adventures to share?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Bye for now from the quiet winter lands of Paju and Gyeonggi English Village.

Featured image, dwindling snow and lingering winter days at Gyeonggi English Village.

Being at Ease

2 Feb

It’s been a great Saturday for me.  Nothing too exciting.  It’s the weekend and I spent the day taking it easy.  Cleaning my apartment, sorting things, going to the grocery store.  I gave myself a Reiki treatment, did some yoga and put some black beans in the crock pot.  Tonight I will watch a movie.  I have to say it has been a great day!  Just what I needed.

I realized today as I was walking to the grocery store that I am starting to move out of  “survival phase” in my integration to life at the English Village in South Korea.  I have been here long enough that I am now fairly content that my basic needs will be met.  I have a kitchen full of foods that are healthy and satisfying.  I have a fluffy pillow and warm blankets.  I order regularly from iherb.com to get the healthy foods I want and need but can’t get in South Korea (delivery only a flat fee of $4.00!).  I have some basic spices and seasonings in my cupboard and with the assistance of my lovely crock pot I am able to cook some yummy meals for myself.

I can also get myself to Seoul without too much distress and make my way around a bit on the subway.  I have overcome some simple, but necessary challenges of traveling by myself to and from Seoul… like making sure I exit the subway at the exit number where the bus stop for the bus home is located (this is very important!  A few times I exited at random exit numbers and emerged on the streets of Seoul and had no idea where I was, let alone where my bus was!) And I am now confident that I know my bus stop well enough that I won’t accidentally miss it or pass it by, even at night.  It’s the little things!  So I am starting to feel a more… relaxed… and at home.

I am very grateful for my connection to the SGI Buddhist group in Seoul!  They have been a wonderful respite and a place to connect and meet new people when I want on the weekends.  This weekend on Sunday I will be traveling to Seoul to join them for their monthly world peace chanting.  Afterwards I will join a few members to go grab a bite to eat.  Really nice.

It’s a quiet winter day here on the English Village campus.  The snow has mostly melted and today this sun is shining.  While it is warmer, there is still a descent bite of cold in the air.  Our busy month of January programming and teaching is complete.  We have had a few days of light teaching this week and I am told a light week to come before our upcoming 5 day holiday (It is the Korean New Year).

As you may know, I am in Paju, south Korea which is a small community of about 250,000 just an hour north of Seoul.  The surrounding area is pretty spacious… much wide open land with little clusters of business – stores, restaurants and other things I can’t tell what they are since I don’t read Korean.  I am told this area is agricultural  and has a Korean military base not far away.  Paju Premium Outlet mall is just a short bus ride away (shockingly similar name to the outlet chains in the United States) with American movies and some familiar brand names and shops.  We’ve had a few days of weather here where it’s not so cold that I am huddled into my own being like a turtle seeking its shell. I am actually starting to look around and notice my surroundings a bit more.

Picture 002

A quick look at the area surrounding the English Village in Paju, South Korea, the land still barren in the dead of winter.

The English Village campus is somewhat remote.  While we are located in the city of Paju, we are surrounded by much land and are a 5 or ten minute walk from the grocery store and a fifteen or twenty-minute walk to nearby restaurants, post office and other commerce.

We have pretty easy access to “getting around” with the bus stop just outside the English Village grounds and a bus that goes directly to Seoul.  There are other buses that take you to nearby shopping areas and cities and with the assistance of our friendly security staff, we can easily catch a cab when needed.

I was at a clothing swap earlier this week.  A staff member is leaving and she hosted a swap as an opportunity for her to give away clothes and other items that she won’t be taking with her when she leaves Korea.  When we were chatting she mentioned that living at English Village is like “Korea light”… which is true.  Nestled in the comfort of our English-speaking environment, we get to experience many of the comforts and ease of home.

That said, we don’t have to go far to be immediately immersed in the world and culture of  South Korea – just beyond the Hollywood-like sign of the English Village.  For me, I find it’s a nice balance… as I continue to ease my way into life and work in South Korea.