Fresh perspective

I have to remind myself that even though last year I was starstruck and in love with my new life in Korea, there were tough times too. I’ve heard that the 2nd year can be more difficult as life becomes a routine, mundane thing and each day is just there, waiting for you to plow through it… in pursuit of the end of the day, in pursuit of the weekend, in pursuit of the next weekend and the next weekend after that, in pursuit of summer vacation…

Then I sort of internally shake myself because that’s not a good way to look at life. Always living for the next perceived break or the next perceived good thing/reward – which will probably never be as good as you think if you have that mindset anyway. It’s actually quite a depressing way to live because you just trudge along and never appreciate what’s right in front of you.

Last year I was all about appreciating each moment and all the little things.

This school year, I was off to a rough start, mentally and emotionally. Maybe it showed in my blogging as of late. A blackness had sort of settled over my heart in the last month or so as the bleak winter weather dragged on and on, and I’ve been allowing that blackness to stay there and rob me of finding the bright spots in my daily life.

Today, for whatever reason (maybe because it finally feels like spring outside?), I woke up and reminded myself of this. I poked and jabbed my inner joy which has been lazy and dormant for a while now. I yelled at it, “Hey, external situations are not the source of happiness, remember?”

Make a choice today. To find joy and happiness in whatever happens, or whatever doesn’t happen. Find the richness in life, even in the mundane, the stressful, the dull. Don’t wait for “good” things to come to you, but make the everyday things into the good things.

And even just making that choice, I can feel a little joy bubbling up in my chest. Because even if I’m not where I want to be now, I know I can get there. With God’s help.

Now, enough sentimental navel-gazing and on to updates…

Tomorrow, April 16, marks two years since the horrible Sewol Ferry disaster in Korea (in case you don’t know about it: click). Tons of political, cultural, and moral commentary has already been made about this tragedy, so I won’t say much other than that it was a horrific and 100% preventable tragedy – which is why it’s so infuriating and depressing. Because of the Confucian hierarchy [don’t get me started on Confucius…], horrible decisions, and lack of common sense, among other things, nearly 300 people died that day – the vast majority of whom were children. Children who were just obeying their elders as they’ve been taught to do. It’s unspeakably sad.

Note/Disclaimer: While the Confucian element is certainly specific to Korea / Asian culture, and it did play a role in the events on April 16, of course I’m aware that Western countries have also experienced awful and preventable tragedies due to poor foresight and decision-making. I’m not condemning all of Korea because of the Sewol disaster. I’m expressing outrage and sadness over a terrible chain of events.

Anyway, I was teaching class at 2nd period, when at 10:00 an announcement came over the PA for a moment of silence in remembrance. I was expecting it because I Google Translated the school-wide message about it this morning. As music played over the speakers, my co-teacher made all the kids stand up, and they stood there, eyes closed, heads bowed. At 15 years old, all of them are old enough to remember the day the ferry sank.

Two minutes later, it was over. As they sat down, I felt strange about continuing with the lesson – I’d been about to show them an OK Go music video, and that seemed such a stark contrast. Is it really okay to go back to having fun seconds after remembering how hundreds of children died?

Just so I don’t end on a sad note, something I’ve noticed for a while but particularly today: in my Friday 1st grade class full of 13-year-olds, some of them are noisy. Some of them have not-so-great attitudes. Some don’t want to practice English. Some struggle to write simple words, some use vocabulary beyond a middle school textbook.

There is one boy in this class who is particularly smart. Quiet and shy, but always knows the answers and can read, write, and understand better than most of the others. I’ve noticed him since our first class.

There is also a boy who has a learning disability. He is very friendly, always smiling, always waving extra big when he sees me in the halls with a huge grin. In class, he can’t do much but he doesn’t cause any disruptions. (Sadly, this is often the case with special ed kids in a NET class – the co-teachers often let them be rather than give them extra help. But that’s another issue for another day.)

The smart boy always sits next to this other boy. When we do our textbook work, he checks his partner’s work for him. When we do speaking practice, he writes Korean in his partner’s book under the English sentences and guides him through pronouncing the English words.

Today, I happened to catch Boy 1 raising his head triumphantly after getting Boy 2 to speak the entire dialogue with him. His expression was full of pride, not in himself, but in the fact that his partner had done so well. It was so sweet. He can honestly do more to help Boy 2 than I can, since I can’t speak Korean.

Secondly, I’ve been helping my favorite co-teacher with her English Reading Club. It’s a group of 11 3rd grade girls, 15 yr olds, and they read books and do projects. My role is merely to sit in their bright, airy classroom upstairs (in my experience, the top floor is always nicer than the lower floors), and if they have questions while reading or writing, they come to me. My ct brings me tea. I chat with her and with the girls. It’s absolutely the loveliest and most stress-free thing I’ve ever done in a school in Korea.

And these kind of things are what I want to focus on. A fresh perspective and a fresh season.


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