Tag Archives: Healing Trauma

Looking Back

19 Dec

It’s hard to believe it… but its been a year since I first arrived at Gyeonggi English Village!  It was July of 2012 when I first saw the posting for the job on Dave’s ESL Cafe.  I was in France at the time doing a work exchange at a bed and breakfast.  I knew that I wanted to keep traveling. A friend encouraged me to explore jobs teaching ESL (English as a Second Language).  I perused many jobs on the internet and I applied for one. The job here at English Village.  And here I am.

After I applied, it was a month or so until I heard from them.  I happily had a brief Skype interview at 4am my time. Shortly after I was offered the job and then began the quick rearranging of my world and life in the direction of South Korea.  This needed to include a return to the States for the lengthy Korean visa process. I quickly needed a new place to go as my current arrangement in France was nearing the end.  Thankfully and luckily, I made plans to do a work exchange with a family in the States through the website helpx.net.  I booked a cheap last minute flight with a German airline called Condor and within what seemed like the blink of an eye I was back in the States.  And so began the process of getting a Korean visa, which took me in total nearly 4 months.

When the visa finally came through it was almost a shock… so many months of preparation and planning and then… suddenly… I actually needed to BOOK a ticket to Korea!  I was exhilarated and nervous all at the same time!  As some friends and family know, I am not one of those laid back, calm, cool and collected travelers.  I get nervous. Really nervous.  And while my heart, mind and spirit truly love the excitement, adventure and experience of going to new places… the journey for me often comes with good helping of anxiety.

I can still remember the night before I was to leave for Korea.  I was at my parent’s house where I had been visiting for a few days prior to my departure.  Suddenly I had this thought that going to Korea was just a crazy notion.  I called my friend, Reiki teacher and often co-pilot on this journey and asked… “am I crazy?  Is this a crazy idea?” Her response, as it often is, was, “what does you gut say” and truth be told… my gut was really okay with it.  And so the next day I got on a plane and flew to Korea.

When I arrived I was also really nervous.  Happily for me the school arranged for me to be picked up by taxi at the airport to drive me the hour or so journey to English Village in Paju City.  At the airport the taxi driver held a sign with my name on it and took my hand as he led me to the taxi.  He was a friendly older man and I was grateful for his parent-like support.

My beginning at English Village was cold and  a little rocky.  My first day of work there was a major ice storm and I spent my day carefully walking up and down icy steps waiting for the HR staff to return to the office and direct me where to go.  But in time, slowly, I began to find my way and collect the people, places and things I needed to be warmer and more at home.

As I began teaching in the classroom I was also… really nervous.  With a background in higher education and professional experience leading students and workshops, I knew I was a good teacher.  But it had been over ten years since I had done that.  In the wake of that was a decade of personal challenges that had my confidence and nerves more than a little shaky.  In the beginning I did my best, I showed up, and I did the work even though I was scared.

In a short amount of time my confidence increased and I felt more satisfied and capable in the classroom.  I did my best to pay attention to the teachers I thought were good and adapted my technique accordingly.  In time I took on some additional projects creating curriculum for the program and continued to develop myself personally and professionally.

This past year has also been a big year for me in my spiritual development.  About three years ago I became a member of a Buddhist organization called SGI (Soka Gakkai International).  I discovered the practice when I still lived in New Orleans.  A Buddhist friend there introduced me to the practice and suggested that I explore chanting “nam myoho renge kyo” for things that I wanted.  Surprisingly, as I began to chant I found the things I was chanting for gently appeared in my life.  When I became a member, my life began to change quickly and within a few months I left New Orleans and had a ticket to Europe. I took this new practice with me on the road living in Germany and France.  I connected with a few local SGI groups while in Europe, but it wasn’t until I came to South Korea that I found an SGI group where I became a regular member.

With the support of English-speaking expat leaders in South Korea, I have learned a great deal more about the practice and about myself.  I have been inspired to increase my regular chanting, the foundation of the practice.  I see now more clearly that regular chanting is a bedrock I can rest on to continue to meet and overcome challenges in my life and to usher in new and good things for myself.  In my life as it is, with so much opportunity but also challenges and uncertainty, the foundation of a good spiritual practice makes all the difference in the world.  It makes the impossible… possible.

Here are a few photos from the year:

And so, a year has come and gone.  And now the question that beckons is… what’s next?  Well, as you can see, I am still at English Village!  I have learned on this journey that it is best to be open to and take action for new possibilities and then be prepared… for the unexpected.  Sometimes things stay the same but sometimes when you least expect it they have a way of changing on a dime.

Thanks for being a part of this journey in whatever way you may be… a friend or a family member, a curious reader or fellow traveler.

I am writing from my cold office in English Village, hesitant to take off my gloves to type on the keys as there is an icy cold lingering in the room. The snowy weather has quieted down the campus with fewer teachers, fewer students and less activity.  As the holidays grow closer, they will nearly be missed at English Village.  We will be working through it all.

Good bye for now from the cold and frozen land of Paju English Village.  Sending warm holiday thoughts your way!

Featured image at top, a snowy bouquet of flowers outside a Seoul subway station.

Cool Change

2 Sep

It’s a cool Monday morning here at English Village.  A little unexpected, I find myself relaxed and free in the mid-afternoon on a Monday. Why is that you say?  Is English Village closed today?  Have the hundreds of adolescent Korean students lost their way to English Village and we have the day off?  The answer to both of those questions is no.  The reason is quite simple.  Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, I will wear a new “hat” at English Village.  My new responsibilities come with a new schedule.  I will work from Tuesday to Saturday.  So today as I transition to the new schedule I have an extra day of respite.  Hooray!

What sort of hat will I be wearing you ask?  Well, beginning tomorrow I will be one of two teachers at English Village who will teach a regular afternoon book club/ school for young Korean students.  The teacher who had taught the program for the past year is moving on and as she prepares to leave I am stepping into her spot.  The job it seems is pretty simple and autonomous.  I will have mornings to prepare and afternoons of five 50 minutes classes with small collections of students mostly age 5 and 6.  We will read books, practice basic English and what else I suppose… remains to be seen.

I was asked just a few days ago if I would like to take the position.  In truth the offer came at a pretty good time.  Although there are many things that I like about the teaching I was doing – my co-teachers, some of the lessons, the joy of a good class, and the variety of students taught – in truth my mind, body and being were needing a break of some sort.  It was stressful for me and sometimes felt like a crazy ride that just wasn’t that fun anymore.  And so, while in truth there are things I was hesitant to leave… I am grateful for the opportunity for a change.

And so is my body.  By the end of last week my back and my neck… just didn’t work so well anymore.  When I went to my regular chiropractor appointment on Saturday, where he regularly works on my injured ankle, I sheepishly admitted that I could barely move my back and my neck.  As I laid there, I felt like a wounded soldier.  He flipped me over, took a look at my back and said in true form to his joking demeanor, “You need to find a rich husband.”  Translation, my back had been over stressed and I really needed to take it easy.  His suggestion for the week, wear a back support brace.  The rest, we will revisit on the next appointment.

Since then I have been doing plenty of yoga, Reiki and swimming and my back and neck are softening up a bit.  But still ultimately, my body is in need of some continued tender-loving-care.

I had a great time this weekend with a relaxing day in Seoul on Saturday.  I spent the night in Seoul at the home of friends from my Buddhist group.  Then Sunday morning we went together to our monthly world peace meeting.  This meeting is a gathering of members throughout our English-speaking chapter in Korea.  It was great to see some familiar faces that I haven’t seen in a while.  Afterwards a small group of us went to grab some wonderful tacos at my favorite local taco joint.  Yes I know when you think Seoul – you don’t think tacos… but there are some great tacos to be found. We went to Gusto Taco‘s newly opened second restaurant.  Great homemade tacos and burritos made with fresh ingredients and personal service.  We all ate to our hearts content and then continued on with our Sunday.

The weather in Korea it seems has made the tilt away from Summer and is now heading towards Fall.  It is unmistakable in the air and we are all enjoying the freshness of the changing of seasons.

Today I made a quick, okay not so quick, sojourn to the local Pharmacy to buy a back support for my poor aching back.  This was my first time going to the pharmacy and finding it wasn’t quite as direct as it looked on the map.  The journey there required a lot of asking directions on my part and the humbling experience of trying to express my needs when I cannot speak the local language.  With some good fortune and basic hand pointing I was successful on my journey.  On my way home I passed these lovely gardens.  Here are a few photos to share.

So for now I will continue my bonus Monday as I indulge in the cool change in the weather and the gentle shift in my work responsibilities. Ah, a good day to relax my body and mind and prepare for my first day of new work tomorrow.

How are things in your world?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Photo on top, a quick snapshot of pretty little flowers in a garden I discovered just around the corner from English Village in Paju South Korea.

Here Comes the Rain

14 Jul

It’s a Sunday morning here at the rainy English Village in Paju, South Korea.  I am slowly waking up preparing for a day of restoration before Monday arrives and a new work week begins.

It is rainy season here in South Korea.  As this is my first year here, it is also my first experience with rainy or monsoon season.  So far I have to say it is… rainy!  I am not sure how long rainy season will last, but the past few weeks we have been submerged in water with an occasional sunny day.  The upcoming weather reports show all rain this week and no sun in sight.  Sometimes it is a light misty rain and other times it is a serious downpour. The climate, while not that hot,  is crazy wet and humid.  I am running my air conditioner lately not because I am hot, but because the space needs a break from the humidity and dampness.

I continue on my recent mission of restoration after recently hitting a wall of  fatigue.  Wow…so tired.  This week I am feeling better.  I am still seeing my chiropractor in Itaewon who is assisting with lifting the tension and adjusting the tight spots in my body.  I spent the better portion of the day yesterday with my my Buddhist SGI group in Seoul.  So good for me!  We had our chapter meeting, always an inspiration.  Following I went with a few of the members to chant at one of the local SGI Community Centers.

We traveled to a center that was more on the outskirts of Seoul where I had never been.  When we arrived inside I felt my whole body heave a big sigh of relief.  There was something about the energy of the place that just felt like… home.  We took off our shoes  by the door and stored them in the provided cubby holes, standard behavior in Korea.  We then went to the second floor and headed for the chanting room.  The chanting room is a place where people come and chant for as long as they want whenever they want.  There are mats on the floor to sit on and chairs around the perimeter for those that don’t prefer the floor.  My fellow members where there for the long haul – 6 hours of chanting!  I stayed for two and left feeling more centered, restored, happy and energized.  What a relief it was to just take a break and chant… a time when I didn’t have to think about anything else or worry about whatever may be on my mind.

While chanting I was charmed by the graciousness and gentle hospitality of my fellow members…. making sure I was comfortable and at ease, bringing me a back rest to sit on, making sure I had water and knew where the bathroom was, offering a kind and gentle smile.  It is these things that truly make a difference for me and warm my heart after what sometimes feels like a rough and tumble kind of work week.

Today, I plan to continue to stoke the fires of gentle spirit, recovery and relaxation of the weekend before a new workweek begins.  I began my day with some chanting and yoga.  Later today I will take a swim at the English Village indoor swimming pool.  I have been swimming more lately and it feels so good to stretch my body and move and be submerged in water.

How about your life?  Any calling for restoration?  Any gentle offerings or practices to offer yourself as you prepare for a new week? Feel free to write, it’s always good to hear from you!

Image at top,  a soggy sunflower making its way in the persistent rains of the Korean monsoon season.

Adjustments

30 Jun

It’s been over two years now since I left New Orleans and took a leap and headed for Germany.  Who knew that original six week adventure would extend into a transformative journey… first in Germany, next in France and now nestled in the hills of South Korea.  You know what they say, wherever you go… there you are.  And here I am!  In Paju now for over 6 months! As my international escapade continues, with all the new people and experiences, new food, and new languages, the one common character cast in this odyssey is… me.  So it seems for my own good I had better pay attention and learn my lessons as I travel the road of this “Grosse Lebenscchule”, German for “big school of life”.

I went to the chiropractor yesterday.  My typical weekly appointment in the ebb and flow of healing my injured ankle.  But this week there was something a little different.  My neck… it was so tight!  I generally have a habit of holding my stress in my shoulders and my neck, but this was something a bit over the top.  I could feel myself holding on so tightly in my neck and feeling like I just couldn’t relax or let it go.  My chiropractor dug his hands into my neck, made a few adjustments and then expediently shot some sort of gun into my neck a few times.  He instructed me to put an icepack on my neck when I got home and then sent me on my way.

Immediately after I met a friend from my Buddhist group in Seoul for lunch.  I was still reeling a bit from my chiropractor appointment and preceding 30 minute massage.  As she asked how I was I found I couldn’t offer a cheery smile and say “great”.  My body wouldn’t allow it.  As we began to talk tears started to flow down my face.  You know the kind – the tears that are going to come out no matter what you do, the ones you can no longer hold back and that a fake smile just can’t hide.  How fortunate for me I was met by her kindness and compassion.  We continued to chat as we ordered the much-loved food at a local Mediterranean restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul.

As we talked the day continued to pour open.  We were joined by two other members of our group, both women, all of us about the same age.  We departed shortly from the restaurant and went to our local SGI community center.  We chanted together for about an hour and then gathered to practice a dance routine for an upcoming retreat.  Afterwards we sat and collected and talked.  It was all light-spirited conversation, but in light of my earlier tears and the tight kink in my neck it was also informative.

At the end of the day it was clear to me that I was in need of a little life adjustment.  On this journey of mine, it seems there are times of rapid growth, times of challenge, and times of relief and new territory.  There are also times when something needs to be done just a little bit different to continue the journey and take things, myself and my life to the next level.  After listening to the conversation mingled throughout the afternoon, I could see clearly that it was time for some change in my life and I could see what it was… I needed to get more exercise and I needed to chant more.

As you may know, chanting is the basic practice of SGI Buddhism.  Members chant sections from the Lotus Sutra and also chant “nam myoho renge kyo“.  Anyone can do it.  I was first introduced to it by a friend in New Orleans just over two years ago.  At the time I was selling organic mushrooms at the local outdoor farmers market.  She said “Chant for your mushroom sales”… so I did and you know what… my sales doubled quite easily and unexpectedly with no additional effort on my part. I began chanting regularly and shortly after my life set sail on this journey.

That afternoon in Seoul, I was so inspired to hear about the challenges of these women and fellow SGI members and how chanting has ushered them through it.  I heard stories of amazing growth and transformation in their lives and families. I saw living proof in front of me of obstacles overcome in the bright spirits and faces I saw.  The afternoon of sharing wasn’t directed towards me or intended to convince me of any correct action.  As I listened and rode the tide of its wisdom I was happy to go to its gentle conclusion.  It was time for a little adjustment for me, recognizing that little changes now in time can lead to big changes.

And so it continues… this journey of a thousand steps and little adjustments.  What about you and your life? Are there any adjustments that you need to make, big or small, as you continue on your way?  Any tiny shifts in your daily way that could add up to a big difference in your life?  If you like, please write and share!  It’s always great to hear from you!

Photos at top: A sea  of umbrellas at a local mall in Seoul.

Taking Time to Smell the Flowers

13 Apr

Its been another full week of teaching here at English Village in South Korea. Once again we have hosted hundreds of middle school S. Korean students. Once again we have spun in a maze of  English classes ranging from “Survival English” to Badminton (a favorite with Korean girl students, but not so much English taught here) to classes about Movies, Science, Drama, Culture.  I have handed out more stickers (a tool we use to increase student participation) than I can count.  And now it’s the weekend.

Teaching at English Village is a good challenge for me with the practice of being a good, interesting and compassionate teacher in the face of  many and varied new Korean students.  Some days, some classes I think… I am a pretty good teacher… and other classes with more challenging behavior… I feel less confident.

The volume dial of our work week has been turned up with the steady flow of hundreds of South Korean students. Generally we receive groups of good kids here at English Village but the fact remains that they are young adolescents (a phenomenon that has no cultural boundaries), they outnumber the teachers, we don’t speak the same language, and they are here at English Village as a field trip to have some fun… which is sometimes fun for the teachers, sometimes not.

As Friday drops in I find myself depleted from the week.  Once again, I find myself receiving the thank-you letters from the students at the end of the week which automatically lifts my spirits.  In the spin of so many students and the mixed behavior and challenges throughout the week, it makes a difference to be acknowledged and to be seen by the students as a “good and kind teacher.”

In the midst of the blessings and challenges of this week, I find it is important to return to the basics and take time to smell the metaphorical flowers.  For me that begins with gratitude. As I write from the chilly Winter-like Spring of Paju, South Korea pretty darn close to N. Korea, here is my ode to gratitude… and the simple things in life that I will now give my attention and thanks…  I am grateful for…

1.  Chocolate “pudding” made with greek yogurt.  This may sound a bit callous and overly simply, but as someone who is sensitive to sugar and must stay away from it, chocolate has typically been something I have to go without. Lately I have been purchasing homemade Greek yogurt from a local business in Seoul.  Their website is medfoodinkorea.com.  I recently acquired a new treasure from the local “foreigners” market… unsweetened Hershey’s cocoa for the bargain price of about 7.50 USD. The other night relaxing after work a new idea popped in… Greek yogurt, Hershey’s cocoa… Greek yogurt, Hershey’s cocoa… is it possible there is a place where the two can come harmoniously together?  And so I googled… and found a simple recipe of just Greek yogurt, cocoa, and a little natural sweetener (I used just a touch of honey).  Without hesitation, I went for it and easily created a simple and satisfying chocolate snack.  Did I mention I added fresh strawberries?  Ah, delish!

2.  Veggiehill.com.  I have mentioned them in my blog before.  They are a recent find that sources organic foods grown not far outside of Seoul.  What a treat it is to easily order my food online and have it shipped to my door.  Not only does this free up a little more time in my life, but it provides me with chemical-free vegetables that you just can’t find in the grocery store. The vegetables I receive look ten times better than what I see in the stores and taste great.  Hooray!!

3.  Quiet Relaxing Evenings.  I’m a sensitive soul and after the big energy of teaching dynamic middle school kids during the day it is highly needed and satisfying to have some quiet and private down time in the evenings.  I often treat myself to a good meal, an extended Reiki treatment, a little yoga.  Ah, just what the doctor ordered!  And before I go to bed?  Usually, a little shameless video watching… my recent pleasure is watching old episodes of House then some chanting before bed.  How grateful I am for this time and my spiritual practices to balance my being and my day and prepare me for the day to come.

4.  I am teaching a yoga class!  Wow, it is amazing to me that I am teaching a yoga class at English Village.  As someone who has practiced yoga for over 8 years, relying on it as a spiritual tool to move my body, mind and spirit through many challenging circumstances, it is a real treat to share it with others.  The situation sort of found me…it began with one of the head teachers at English Village asking if I would teach one yoga classes during the work week for teachers.  After that many teachers asked when the next yoga class would be… so we planned it.  Our first weekly yoga class was this past Monday evening.  We had a great turnout!  So many teachers were there that we almost need a bigger room.  Fabulous.

5.  I am at home.  This may sound overly simple, and isn’t necessarily referring to S. Korea or English Village… but it’s a growing sense in me that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am at home.  Not that I don’t sometimes feel “homesick” or  long for a life that might be more rooted…  But the challenges and blessings of life – losing all of my belongings to Hurricane Katrina, being dramatically uprooted, deciding to travel and the challenges and blessings of that life, have supported the development of my home within. It’s a spiritual place really and even thought I still feel and experiences successes and challenges daily, it is ever apparent in my life.

And with that… gratitude in the midst of challenges, growth and new opportunities in South Korea, I will say good bye for now.

In the meantime I am curious, what are you grateful for in your life?  I’d love to hear from you!

Photo above is a snapshot taken in Seoul of a road barrier… that has planters on it  filled with flowers.  Finding beauty in the most unexpected of places.

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.

The Road to South Korea Just Got Shorter

5 Dec

The scenery is starting to change.  The bright leaves of fall have given way to naked trees.  My laundry that has been scattered all over my room is now finding its way in an organized fashion to my suitcase.  And my Passport, previously mostly barren except for a stamp here are there from Germany and England, now has a Korean Visa in it.  Funny, it seems I am going to Korea…

I am in that busy hazy phase prior to making a life-altering shift.  You know the one, where you tend to the immediate details at hand preparing you for something that… hasn’t fully consciously hit you yet.  Yep, that’s me.  Although it’s starting to hit me… waves of excitement and anxiety are finding their way to my body.  I wake up before the sun rises, before the busy little bodies in the home where I stay rise.  I get up and I start to work… on whatever I can think of to do next to make sure I have everything cared for before I leave.

Bye the way, did I mention that I am leaving on Tuesday?  As in less than a week from today?  I was patiently riding on the slow visa train to Korea when all of a sudden, I switched tracks and landed on the express.  And here I am wandering in everything I want to make sure is complete and wondering about the little things I am not thinking about that still need to get done.

Last week it suddenly dawned on me… that I needed to buy a plane ticket.  I felt sort of like an expectant mother who had gotten so comfortable in the process of pregnancy that I almost forgot about giving birth.  And then one day, the alarms sounded… it is time!  It is time NOW!

So here I am bustling in the wake and energy of my plane ticket purchase preparing for my imminent trip to Korea.  My new place of employment, the Gyeonggi English Village (GEV),  is ready for me to arrive and to begin training for their new program.  I will be teaching English at a hands-on-learning campus created to immerse Korean and international students in the English Language.

Happily I will be making a brief stop in the mid-west to visit with my family – my parents and my sister and her family.  My gut says its important to spend some time with them before I leave, even for just a few days.  I will leave for Korea from there.

This is not something that happens for me every day – preparing to travel to Asia!  It’s my first time there.  I am grateful for a few little tokens of comfort like knowing that I will be picked up at the Seoul airport by a taxi driver sent just for me who will be holding a sign with my name on it.  It’s funny I have always seen that scene played out in the movies, but it has never happened in my own life… until now.  I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it!  From there I will be taken to my apartment on the GEV campus.  Yes, my own apartment – a luxury that I have not had the pleasure of since I have been traveling.

I am wrapping up my time here at the family residence in Philadelphia that I have called “home” for the past 3 months.  The youngest boy has been feeding me a steady diet of hand-made presents, since I won’t be here for Christmas.  Practically speaking, this home has been a perfect place for me to be at this time of transition and visa making.  I have been just a stones throw away from the post office, UPS office and other “city needs”.  Additionally I have been most fortunate to have use of a happy, thriving, macintosh laptop computer.  It’s a lovely toy, if even for the short-term, and especially with the expected death of my slow but well-loved PC laptop… hanging in there for now, but… it doesn’t look good.

I am trying to make the most of these last few days here… preparing the family as best as I can to transition to life without an extra set of hands.  I did my best to stock up on groceries and even cooked a few casseroles to put in the freezer for a little added comfort and joy when I leave.

And now, well,  I keep walking the walk of “what is there for me to do next?” on my road to South Korea… getting shorter and shorter as the days go by.  A busy and expectant time!

If you’d like to learn a bit more about my journey and trip to Korea, I invite you to view the video I created.  It’s on my Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/southkorea.  And while you’re there please consider a contribution of any amount to support the continuation of this long lovely journey and big school of life.

Thanks for joining me from time to time on the road.  Much more to come!


Photo of Forbidden Road, my favorite “getaway” in near-bye Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia, PA.

My Next Big Step!

28 Nov

Well the time has come… I just can’t keep it a secret anymore!  I am ready to share the NEXT BIG STEP on my journey.  After taking the leap and buying a ticket to Europe over a year and half ago and recently returning to the States for a few months of preparation, it is nearing time for me to depart on my next adventure.

Where am I heading you ask?  Well…I will be traveling to South Korea to live and work for a year teaching English as a Second Language!

Here is how this NEXT BIG STEP came to be.
While traveling in Europe, as I am sure you can imagine, I was always open to, looking for and wondering how I could earn some income to support myself as I travel.  I lived very modestly and simply but as time went on I was nearing the edge of my finances.  I needed to find a way to earn money and travel.  It was suggested I look into teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).  I explored this in a light and curious way about 6 months into my journey.  I searched online for jobs and schools.  I read blogs of others who had traveled and done the same. I met other travelers who were preparing for jobs teaching English.

My initial investigation was into jobs teaching English in Europe.  My inherent enthusiasm began to dwindle as I knocked on virtual door after door only to hear repeatedly that if I was not a citizen of the EU or did not have a permit to work in the EU, I would not be considered for a job.  This seemed like a catch 22 as the only way I knew for an American to get a work visa in Europe was to be sponsored by a company.  Alas, and so it goes…  I was sure there were Americans teaching English in Europe and that somewhere there were indeed jobs to be found, but how or where to find them was a mystery to me.

The next question that arose was certification.  I have a Master’s Degree in Education specializing in Higher Education, but with no experience teaching ESL. I wondered if I needed to get a certification in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  The programs vary widely from quickie on-line courses to in-depth courses where you get your certification on-location.  The better courses come with a price tag which didn’t help my initial call which was – replenish the well and earn some income.

Unsure of where this would lead, I did my best to take in information and stay open to new possibilities.  Later into my journey a trusted friend urged me to more seriously consider teaching ESL.  At this point it seemed pretty unlikely that I would get a job teaching English in Europe, especially without a TEFL or TESOL certificate, so I expanded my outlook and began looking into teaching in other countries.

When I opened the ESL door wide open I started reading about and looking into the best places to teach English for Americans.  There are many countries that easily welcome Americans to teach English and many are willing to hire you without a TEFL or TESOL certificate.  Still I wanted to be mindful as I was seeking a quality experience.

I was referred to a website called Dave’s ESL Cafe by a fellow traveler.  This site lists jobs teaching English in Korea, Thailand, Japan, and all over the world and is well-known in the ESL community.  I found it to be a simple and straightforward website with plenty of job listings primarily in Asian countries.  I scanned through them regularly, curious and yet nervous about working and teaching English.

One day I found a job listing that peaked my interest.  It wasn’t a typical teaching job, but in a learning environment created to be like an English Village.   Children came to the Village for a week-long experience in speaking English.  Teachers were more like facilitators and learning was active and hands on.  With my background as a leader in experiential education and creating workshops where students learn by doing, the seemed it may be up my alley.  The job was in Paju City, South Korea, about an hour outside of Seoul.  I was interested, but I ignored it at first and continued on with my day.

Later that night as I was going to bed, my intuition whispered to me “take a leap!” and apply for the job at the English Village in South Korea.  So, excited but nervous I submitted my resume.  Time passed by and I heard nothing… but still in the back of my mind I had a “feeling” that something may come of it. Then one day, just a few weeks before my time commitment was to end at my helpx exchange in France, I got an email from the English Village in Korea asking if I was still interested in a position.  Yes!  Yes I was interested!  I was scheduled for a Skype interview at 4:00 in the morning my time…ugh…  All went well and I was offered the position.  That was the beginning of a long process in preparing to work and teach in South Korea.

This news changed my travel plans and redirected me to the States.  The process of obtaining all the documents needed for a work visa would be much easier in the US.  Presently, about three months into the process of obtaining a visa… I am getting closer and nearing the final steps.  Yippee!  And Oh my God!….

The BIG LEAP of my NEXT BIG STEP
I am really looking forward to being in a learning environment again and strengthening some teaching muscles I have not used in a bit.  I am also grateful to begin a travel opportunity that will support my financial needs. In the meantime… there is a bit of a financial gap… between now and when I receive my first paycheck.  My staff contact in Korea reminded me recently that I won’t actually receive a paycheck until I have been there for a month.  With my extended time in the States preparing my visa and the continued gap of working in exchange for room and board and no income, I have some unmet financial needs.  This is what inspired me to … TAKE A LEAP…. and create a campaign on Indiegogo, the on-line fundraising resource, to raise funds to support myself during this time of transition and the continuation of my journey.

Please visit my Indiegogo campaign. Preparing this campaign has been fun and inspiring.  I have invested some time and created a video/slide show presentation called “Gypsy Woman: an unexpected journey”.  I would love for you to check it out. If you’re inspired… make a little donation.  No amount is too small… really…or too large.  I am excited to share my story and my journey with you through this campaign. Also… if you’re inspired… please share my campaign with others… maybe someone you know who might enjoy my story and mission.

And for now… the path continues.  I am not sure of the exact date of my departure to South Korea as the visa process seems to have a mind of its own.  But likely I am about 4 weeks away from leaving for South Korea.  Wow…my next big step!

Photo of Gyeonggi English Village in Paju City, South Korea.

Birthday Eve

21 Nov

It’s about 10:30 pm Eastern Standard Time here in the US. I am (mostly) shamelessly listening to the Carpenters (among other tunes) on my Pandora radio.  I have my space heater cranking in my brisk third floor room and am reveling in the simple joys of some time alone… you know, organizing and throwing away old papers, doing a little yoga, drinking hot tea.  Ah, the good life!  In a few hours I will usher in the day of my birth, less formally known as my Birthday.  This year I celebrate 42 years of living.  I am thrilled.  It’s a good time to be alive.

About three hours ago I took my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin, to the Philadelphia airport for her flight home to New Orleans.  She came to teach a First Degree Reiki class here in Philly and for a visit. Elizabeth first came to Philadelphia to teach about 6 month ago.  She has some family ties to the area.  She also has another Reiki student who lives full time in Philadelphia and coordinated a class for Elizabeth in June 2012.  She coordinated this most recent class as well.  There is now a budding community of Reiki students in the Usui Shiki Ryoho tradition initiated by Elizabeth blooming and growing in Philadelphia.

It was a real pleasure to have Elizabeth here.  It was like a wonderful burst of “home.” Much of our time together was spent in the Reiki class that she taught all day on Saturday and Sunday.  It is typical for me to sit on Elizabeth’s Reiki class.  Elizabeth is a wonderful teacher and after practicing Reiki for about 8 years, I always find it rewarding and beneficial to sit in on a class.  It’s also fun to be able to contribute in small ways… sharing my experience with Reiki, answering a few student’s questions, and giving assistance as they are learning to give treatments.  It is also a gift to be a in a Reiki class because I get to bathe in the healing energy of Reiki all weekend long.  It feels sort of like taking a vacation … without having to leave the city.  Also Elizabeth is a great caretaker and, when she is not busy teaching or tending to her new students, she always seems to have time to give a little extra TLC my way and make me feel like I am cared for, which is a lovely feeling.

Elizabeth has been my friend and mentor since I first became her student 8 years ago.  She has been there for me persistently and with great care.  We went through the great challenge and new adventures of hurricane Katrina when we were both uprooted from our home for an extended period of time. She has been there to support me through hundreds of big and little triumphs and challenges, including many of the joys and challenge of my latest adventures in travel.  As she went on her way back to New Orleans I felt grateful to have spent time with her and also strong in my on two feet to continue on my journey.

Elizabeth suggested once that I celebrate my birthday one day for each year I have been alive.  I have adopted that philosophy, exploring little ways to celebrate each day.  Tomorrow I will begin my birthday celebration by attending a yoga class and listening to my body and being and see what else my heart desires on this day.

Thanksgiving will likely be a quiet respite for me.  My host family here is traveling to be with their family in New York State.  I was wholeheartedly invited to join them but I have opted for a few juicy days with some time to myself.

And so, on this Birthday Eve and nearly Thanksgiving Eve, I will leave with the spirit of thanks and gratitude… for all the lessons I have learned on this amazing journey I have been on, all of the people I have met along the way and those who have loved and supported me in taking risks and having new experiences of myself… that I would have never had if I hadn’t taken a risk and bought a ticket to Europe a year and a half ago.  Yes I am grateful for the simplicity of living out of a suitcase, taking it one day at a time, and exploring the possibility of new adventures.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Photo of stunning Fall Colors in my Mt. Airy neighborhood.

Being at home

26 Oct

It is around 7pm on a school night.  I can hear the kids outside up to some sort of mischief with neighborhood friends.  I am seeking a bit of refuge up in my room on the third floor.  The chaos of full on busy family life has its interesting spins and for me, sometimes, it is exhausting.  I have to laugh as I find one of my primary roles here is the evening meal cook, a job I scarcely thought myself capable of holding.  But it seems that I am doing okay.  After spending 8 months in the busy but capable kitchens of the Seminar Haus in Germany and four months mostly a witness to the beautiful meal preparation of the kitchens of Les Battees in France, it seems, to some degree, I can cook.  This is a revelation for me.  Tonight as I was preparing dinner the oldest son, 7, said to me a bit sheepishly, “I have to say, I don’t know what recipes you’re using but… you sure are a good cook.”  From the mouths of babes.  No better compliment.

I am still finding my way a bit in this home…. As a “helpxer“, or living with folks in exchange for room and board, I find there is an ebb and flow to each new experience and my job is to learn to ride the wave.  I have found you can try to set parameters, do you best to set some boundaries, but in the end the experience is its own creature.  Here in this home in Philadelphia I am still exploring how to make the most of my trade in service to them in balance with my own independence.  Some days I feel that “I’ve got it” and other days… I wonder. It’s a dance and every new experience has its own rhythm.

In this home, in the midst of some chaos of a family of good people with “too much” on their plate right now, it seems being here is also a place of healing.  Living here I sometimes hear the cries and yells of children and parents doing the best they can in a stressful situation and I find my “inner child” shrieking and shriveling in response reminded of similar echos from my own childhood.  As my travels and experience are ultimately a journey of healing, it has been useful for me to get present when this happens, get clear that what is happening in this home at this moment is not about me… that it is not my “fault” and that while I can contribute to the well-being of this home, it is not my responsibility to “fix” what is going on here.  And so it continues…

Being here has also given me a profound new understanding of the complexities and challenges of being a parent…. up close and personal in a way I have never experienced before.  At the age of 42 with no kids, I had no true idea of what it takes to be a parent and the limits that children can stretch you to… even in their innocence.  I have a new perspective of my own parents and my own childhood.  I am now thinking that parents are miracle workers to do it all… even the basics of clothing, feeding and educating a child.  And if there are challenges in the environment, it is now easier for me to understand, while those “challenges” may not be an environment that is best for the child, that the parents are often doing the best they can.

And so I continue the syncopation of my gypsy ways currently in family life in Philadelphia.  As someone who has spent a lot of my adulthood alone and independent, I appreciate the ways it is stretching and growing me.  And that said, I also need and love my time tucked in my bedroom, or at the yoga studio, or strolling through the neighborhood.

Last weekend I had a wonderful adventure!  A few weeks ago at a neighborhood festival I heard a Samba group play and the drums just made me feel alive!  It turns out that they were from a local class taught just a few miles away from where I am staying.  Last Sunday I took a leap and joined the class… and I LOVED it!

It was so amazing, everyone playing there was filled with such joy, beaming smiles on their faces as they played.  As I became more familiar with my drum and my role, I let go of my concentrated effort and allowed my own beaming smile to join in with theirs… moving and grooving as we played collectively.  It was fabulous!  The teacher was a wonderful leader and I am welcomed back in the future while I am visiting in town.  It is so great!

I also discovered a BEAUTIFUL park just a few miles from here.  The park is called the Wissahickon and my hosts here guided me to a friendly and beautiful walk down a road in the park called Forbidden Road.  It was … amazing.  The fall leaves are in peak and the road runs along a gurgling river.  It was truly one of most beautiful parks I have ever been too.  The magesty of the surrounding trees just took me in and brought me home to that place where I feel nurtured.

The adventures continue, it’s fun, it’s beauty, complexity and simplicity… .  Life with a family… its blessings and its challenges.  I suppose its all just a part of learning to be…at home.

Photo just a little slice of Fall!

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