Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Updates, updates, updates...

Hey guys! I'm sorry for the slow updates lately. The life of a teacher/traveler keeps me pretty busy, and badminton training usually tires me out (don't worry baby birds, there's a post coming on that one). Sometimes though, it's better to live life and make the adventures worth sharing than coming up with frequent content. I promise there's a lifetime's worth of stories here in Korea, and I fully intend to experience each and every one of them and share them with you. Check back here on a weekly basis, as I'm aiming for once-a-week content from the land of kimchi and awkwardly misspelled English advertisements. Till then, have a wonderful summer (or winter for my Aussie and Kiwi readers) and keep living life to the fullest!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Korea 2011 - Subways and Produce

A couple days ago I took a trip to Suwon Station, one of the many train stations in Korea. The place is a small city within the city. Ten stories of shops and malls straddle the tracks, and beneath the tracks is a sprawling underground city full of shops and places to go. I had just ordered an ice cream cone from Baskin Robbins…some kind of green tea yogurt that was extremely tasty. I'm walking through the miles of telecom shops towards the bus exit and on the steps going up to the street I see a series of people selling produce. These aren't carts or stands…these are people sitting on the ground with bags of various roots and peppers just trying to sell what they can. Most of the time I don't pay attention too much. The gentlemen heckle you a bit, and I do see people buy food from them so I don't feel too bad. Today, however, I couldn't avoid them. It wasn't the hecklers that got me but the older lady at the end of the line that decided to rip my heart out. 

I don't think I could ever forget that face. Unlike most of the women in Korea, her face was dirty and her skin was raw. Her hair was pushed back with bobby pins, but you could tell that she had been working in the fields that morning by the curls and frizzled strands sticking out of her bun. She wasn't old, but that youthful glow was taken from her a long time ago. She was staring off in the distance, as if she had been on the verge of tears for the past couple hours. While the other hecklers were selling their peppers and spices, her produce was still freshly piled up on the blanket.

I walked right by her, looking long enough to see her face. I would later go up the stairs and throw the wrapper from my ice cream cone away. The slogan "We Deliver Happiness" would sit on top of a trash pile. 

That bus ride home was excruciatingly long. All I could think about was that woman and why she looked so sad. Did she pick those peppers herself? Why was she selling them on the ground in a subway station? Did she have kids to feed at home? And why was she about to cry?

My heart cried out for her, but I knew my opportunity to bring her even the smallest gesture of kindness had passed. It didn't have to be much: just buy a handful of peppers, smile, and go on your way. Why did I feel that it was my duty to help her out? Hundreds of other people were walking right by her also…any one of them could have stopped. Why did I care so much? Why do I still care?

I don't know what it is about seeing another human being sad, but I cannot stand it. I remember the first time I was vindictive towards another person and wanted to see them emotionally hurt. I was 7 years old, and myself and all the other neighborhood kids didn't like these two boys. Their names were Andy and Jason, and they were brothers that lived a couple houses down. It wasn't for any reason in particular that we loathed Andy and Jason either…we always found a way to exclude them or take advantage of them. I remember one time they were fighting with each other and all the other kids were laughing and cheering as they threw punches. I was part of that group because, when you're 7 years old, you need to feel like you belong. To defend Andy and Jason would lead to me being grouped with them and facing the ridicule and torment that they faced. I wasn't ready to take a stand, so I made jokes. 

A couple months ago my sister and I talked about Andy and Jason. She told me how bad she felt for doing that. I did too. We wondered where they were now, and if they still remember the torture we helped put them through. Maybe they hated us now. I really couldn't blame them. I wish that I could speak to them again and let them know that I changed....or at least I tried.

That mentality, though, is something that many people don't grow out of. People spread rumors. People backstab and judge. People get jealous. Why do we want to inflict harm on an individual? Why do we want to be the cause of someone's sadness?

The question that was killing me was why I turned a blind eye to it all. I did it with Andy and Jason when I was 7 years old. I did it to a woman on the streets when I was 22. Am I really that good of a person? Have I changed? Am I any better than the person or thing that makes her so sad?

The only real solace I can take in this situation is that I felt something. I didn't do anything about it, but I know that my conscience is still there. It still remembers the times when I was bullied, or the times when I felt bad for causing pain. It still reminds me of times that I did stand up for somebody, and the friendships that I made because of it. My moral compass is that much straighter because of it.

Traveling has really forced me to take a new approach to what the words 'charity' and 'kindness' mean. It isn't giving money or giving things, it's as simple as sharing a moment with an individual in need. There are so many things wrong in this world. People are crying out…dying even. Kids are starving and yet people are obsessing over trivial matters like term papers and raising money for art projects or their own personal luxuries. At the same time, I know that there's always hope for humanity. People do care. People do love out there. And there are people who try to make everyone in their life a little bit happier. In the grand scheme of things, that's probably the greatest thing you can do for another human being: make them just a little bit happier. 

Thing is, you can't turn a blind eye when you have the opportunity to help. Don't walk by like nothing is wrong. Stop and smile. Connect. Love someone else for the beautiful person that he or she is. Count your blessings, because I guarantee you that you have many. You are alive after all, and the greatest gift life has to give you is a new day. We're all more similar than you think. Love…that's all that it ever comes down to. Can't ask more for that.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Korea 2011 - First Pictures!

Here's some of the faces and places from my new home.
So many places...so little time.
Field trip with the kids
Buddha's Birthday at a Temple
Respect for elders is very high here
Please tell me that this was intentional...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Korea 2011 - That time Ryan was on TV...

With the help of my co-teacher and one very nice cab driver, I was able to find a taping of a popular Korean television show called "Dreamteam." I honestly couldn't tell you what the whole premise of the show was (it is in Korean after all), but from watching a taping of an episode, this is what my interpreted synopsis is:

A bunch of heartthrob manly men dress up in costumes and compete in a variety of events for the prestige of winning some kind of tournament. Each week a new event is introduced, and the players carry on from week to week. Only one man can become a member...of the Dreamteam?

Yeah, I had no clue what was going on. The event this week was some kind of platform-battle. Each contestant had a pad, and they tried to knock the opponent off a platform into a giant pool of mud water. The crowd cheered for their favorite as the looser swam in a pile of filth. You can add insult to injury as a guy in giant panda suit ended up beating the crap out of Jack Sparrow. If only the producers didn't make me erase my images....that picture is gold.

It was an exciting afternoon, but after 3 or 4 matches I got bored of the actual competition itself and started looking at how they were filming the entire thing. I won't plague you with film jargon, but just know that these guys either had some pretty advance equipment or really didn't care that an unhealthy amount of cable was running through the giant vat of water.

Also, the guys were fighting like 2 feet above the water. I don't know about you, but after growing up with the Joust from American Gladiators (and seeing it live too), you have alot to live up to.
Oh, the glory days of competition. And spandex. 
I'm going to try to see if I can get a DVR recording of this show, as the jib operator knew that I was a foreigner and I caught him filming me alot. Also, having some guy in a bow tie yelling at the top of his lungs for a guy in a dinosaur suit to fight a ninja is quality programming. The ninja won by the way...the dinosaur was very top heavy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ryan's Guide to Living

I was going through some documents on my computer, and I found this list I started making shortly after graduating university. It basically outlined what I learned outside the classroom, and the philosophies that still guide me today. It's ever-expanding, and it's something that I thought might be share worthy as well. Feel free to add more in the comments below:

- Kindness goes a long way
- You'll need caffeine
- Have enough of an ego to trust yourself. Nothing more.
- No matter how much drama they may cause, always stick with the artists. They are the brightest, most interesting, and often most emotional people you'll come across.
- Fear is not for the weak, as long as you know how to control it.
- Take some risks. It's the only way to get what you want out of life.
- Always have a Plan B, just in case things go wrong.
- We all procrastinate. Just don't complain or brag about it.
- Take care of yourself when you don't have someone else to take care of.
- People are attracted to smiles.
- A hug can change a bad day to a good one.
- Treat members of the opposite sex with respect.
- There is nothing wrong with loving a stranger.
- Always kiss passionately. It's always the first and last one that we remember the most.
- Insanity in small amounts makes life interesting.
- Try your best to never ditch your friends.
- Choose socializing over staying at home. Most of the stuff you're doing there will be there when you get back.
- School isn't hard as long as you breathe.
- There is nothing wrong with a bath at night.
- Always have your favorite movie on standby. You'll never know when you might need it.
- You have the rest of your life to catch up on sleep.
- Wake up to your favorite song.
- Get pumped for the little things too.
- If you love something, never half-ass it.
- Making memories happens when you're waiting for the extra-ordinary.
- When your friends poke fun at you for smiling when a girl enters the room, just realize that they're envious of you.
- Find your special place at work, school, etc... just in case you need to escape.
- List your dreams out and put them somewhere where you can read them every day, just so you never forget.
- Don't worry about getting lost along the way. Chances are, someone else is lost too.
- You are never alone.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Korea 2011 - Trial By Fire

I was sitting at my desk this morning, drinking a cup of coffee and going over lesson plans for the following week. Via proxy server, I had my favorite Pandora station playing in the background. I stuck a pen behind my ear, keeping it there the majority of the day. Many of the kids found some of my habits funny. I had to remind myself that I was foreign…someone they aren't normally use to seeing. The way I say certain words, my mannerisms, my clothes: they pick up on everything. The bell tune rang, and 35 pre-teens came streaming into my classroom getting ready for their first lesson with me. I would get bombarded with questions, and would politely ask them to hold on till the lesson. With one last swig of my morning coffee, I stood up in front of the class and began my lesson.

This was day 4, and I already had a routine. Cue the panic air-raid sirens.

My first week in Korea has been a mix of a whirlwind of uncertainty and a steady pace of routine and monotony. It hasn't slowed once until tonight, and my insomnia kindly informed me the gravity of my situation. I am going to be here for an entire year…

To tell you the truth, being a teacher isn't that bad. I'm not pulling a "Dead Poet's Society" just yet, but I'm not super terrible either. The level of difficulty in my job is just enough to keep me on my toes, but definitely not out of reach either. It's hard to determine what exactly I'm suppose to be doing sometimes, which makes crafting lesson plans difficult. 

I don't know if I'm a teacher or more of a supplementary instructor. There are three Korean English teachers at my school, and their lessons are based around a curriculum and textbook. I have three grade levels, and I see each of their classes once a week. In total, there are 15 classes that I teach, with 3 different lesson plans for each grade level. The kids come to me to improve their English and learn on top of the curriculum that they're learning from their main teachers. My first week was dedicated to introducing myself and feeling out the level of English that these kids know, and next week we start with regular lessons. This format is very straight forward, yet I'm granted so much freedom in what I do that I don't know exactly what I'm suppose to be doing. 

Here's the thing though: I came here to learn by the 'trial by fire' approach. I'm not a teacher by trade (or I wasn't before), and I don't have any formal training. I'm learning as I go. At times, that's very liberating. I can roll with the punches without any expectations or demands. I can worry less and teach more. At other times, I can get paralyzed by the freedom of it all and shut down. I don't have a direction to go in and try to pursue multiple avenues at once. At the moment, I'm my only critic, and the voices in my head can only do so much.

The kids can be trying as well. They don't always respect you as a teacher. You can reach out to some, and those kids make even the worst days worth it. It's still hard enough to get to you, and you have to develop a thick skin. Right now, I'm a bit sensitive to it all.

I'll learn though. Trial by fire, and I'm stubborn enough to fix the stuff that's broken and continue on.

I just got back from a walk around the block, and I couldn't help but feel so alone. In reality, I'm far from it. I have a killer support system here with my co-teacher and my colleagues alone, and that's without meeting other foreign teachers. True, lasting friendships are already developing, and I know from experience that many more will come. If you find a way to combat the culture shock, you'll meet people. It's science.

Yet here I am, half a world away and sitting on my porch thinking about what I have in store for me. I feel at times like some kind of tried and tested cowboy. I have my trusted steed and guns at my side. Once the sun sets on town, I saddle up, light up a cigarette (kids, I don't condone smoking), and ride of into the sunset….alone.

In a way, that's why I keep this blog going. I want to share my experiences with others because I don't have that partner-in-crime to go on these adventures with. I mean, I have the orange sweater, but without my endowment it's only a piece of cloth. 

My co-teacher asked me a wonderful question today over pizza. She asked if there were any benefits to getting older. I couldn't think of any. I think that's why I'm doing what I'm doing. Getting older to me is putting on your running shoes and sprinting until your legs give out from old age or you find that one reason to settle. Why hang up the laces early? Travel while you're young…as job and settlement opportunities will always be waiting for you on the other end.

I'm not as alone as I thought I was…and this is going to be a great experience. Brush it off, because you're already one week in. You're settled in, you're in the mix. You're a local now. Time to find some meaning.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Korea 2011 - My First Day

I survived!

Yeah, that's basically all I can say about my first couple days as an ESL teacher at Wawoo Middle School. To tell you the truth, I'm a bit overwhelmed....not by the job, but by the emotions and thoughts running through my head about being a teacher. This is a very new, exciting, sometimes terrifying experience for me. I'll have to take some time to process everything, but for now know this:

  • The kids are amazing and downright hilarious. I love working with them.
  • My co-teachers and other teachers are very friendly and helpful, and have been my support system since coming here.
  • I have a classroom that I can do nearly anything I want with.
  • My after-school class has started off slow, but I think those classes will be the best part about my day. I also get paid extra for them, but money isn't an issue or my reason for coming.
  • It's only the first week. I still have much to learn, but I feel WAY better about my situation and think that I might be an alright teacher afterall!
I'll cover my first week more in depth...well, once my first week is done.