Life is what you make it

Get comfortable, dear reader. I’m in a contemplative mood and the writing juices are flowing.

I’ve been thinking lately how so many things about my situation here are things that I never would’ve chosen for myself had I known about them beforehand. Like, never ever in a million years.

To be perfectly honest, when I first learned that I would be teaching middle school rather than elementary (which was what I’d been envisioning for the past year) – and heard from the English teacher I was replacing that these kids had reputations as the worst kids in Daegu – my reaction was overpowering fear. At that point I seriously considered backing out and running away from the terrifying idea of dealing with middle schoolers in a foreign country. I was 100% convinced that I would enjoy elementary kids far more and would be far more comfortable teaching them.

Some small part of me held on, though, and refused to let myself give up – and I am so, so, so glad.

I’ve realized now that middle school is pretty much perfect for me. I wouldn’t trade my middle school kids (even the misbehaving ones) for any other elementary school kids, no matter how cute (and the elementary kids are mega cute).

Similarly, I originally applied to teach in Seoul – I thought that was what I really wanted; the capital city, huge and bustling and filled with beautiful, fashionable people – and when I was placed in Daegu, I wasn’t exactly disappointed, but I did worry that I wouldn’t like the city. It’s quite a distance from Seoul – about 4-5 hours by bus or 2 hours by the pricey KTX (Korean bullet train). I’d never visited Daegu during either of my previous two visits to Korea, and frankly I’d never even heard of it.

But it turns out that my heart has planted roots deep into the soil of Daegu in a very short amount of time. This city, and my small corner of it right in front of Apsan Mountain (so beautiful!), feels like home.

Side note: I often marvel at what a tiny microcosm I live in – just one small part of one city that, while it seems vast to me, is not even the largest city in Korea. To me, this little area of Daegu is my world, but there is so much beyond it that I still want to explore. In Daegu, in Korea, in the world.

If someone had come to me a year ago and said, “Hey, do you want to move to a lower income area of a city you’ve never heard of in Korea and live in a tiny one-room apartment with peeling wallpaper and suspicious-looking mold in the bathroom and walk 25 minutes to work each morning and teach English to 700+ rambunctious middle schoolers with low levels of English, juggling multiple levels and grades and planning seven lessons every week?” – I would’ve said hell no.

I guess it’s a good thing we don’t always know what’s coming next.

So… are there NETs living in bigger, nicer, newer apartments than mine? Of course. Are there NETs with kids speaking better English than some native English speakers themselves, who can easily introduce topics beyond the textbook and have higher level discussions with their students as a result? Yes there are. Are there NETs who only teach at one school, and who don’t have to teach even half as many lessons or students as I do? Yep.

But you know what? I still wouldn’t trade my current situation for any of those things. I think the key to living well is to find happiness wherever you are. Intrinsic happiness, based deep in the core of your own being rather than placed in and dependent on something or someone else.

I’m not a perfect practitioner of what I’m preaching here, but I try. Each day has to be approached with an open heart and mind, a spirit of adventure, a wonderment (yes that is a word, look it up) about what will unfold today. Up till about a year ago, I’d lived the majority of my life speeding ahead, hurry-up-and-wait style, wanting to get through this moment or day or year so I could move on to the next thing that would supposedly be better, easier, happier.

But now I’m realizing that no, this time that I’m living in right now is what I have to focus on. This time that I have right now is precious and beautiful, no matter who I’m with or what my situation. Do I always remember to think this way? Of course not (cf. the post I made right before this one). But I keep trying to nurture that intrinsic happiness and “come what may” spirit of adventure, and I find it’s a much nicer way to live.


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