Sound of Silence

23 Apr Quiet GEV

It is quite a shock.  But… for now, there are no students at Gyeonggi English Village in Paju, South Korea.  In truth I didn’t see it coming. I imagine other teachers didn’t either.  But here we wait on the quiet grounds wondering what is next.

It all started with the tragic ferry accident in South Korea.  I am sure the news has made its way to you wherever you are in the world. A ferry holding over 450 passengers was on a regular route from the northwest coast of South Korea to Jeju Island, a popular vacation destination.  Who was on board?  Mostly it was a group of high school students from Ansan, a city just outside of Seoul. They were traveling to Jeju for their class trip. What followed is the tragic story of a slowly sinking ferry just hours from its destination with hundreds of people still trapped inside, mostly students.

Needless to say, the people and parents of Korea are insane with grief and outrage.  It seems true that a folly of errors, poor judgement and bad training contributed widely to the tragic outcome of these circumstances.

What was unexpected for me, perhaps as an American, perhaps as an outsider, was the government response that now has the streets of English Village in silence.  It is my understanding that the Gyeonggi Province government canceled all student trips for the upcoming semester.  Other provinces have responded in kind. I am told even China and Japan and considering the same.  And now schools in South Korea far and wide have canceled their three-day excursion to Gyeonggi English Village.

I can understand the compelling desire to protect oneself and your children particularly in the face of something so devastating.  In truth after reading about the accident my reaction was to plot and plan how I could avoid such a situation myself… should I stay off of ferries?  I am more than aware of the mind and body’s unpredictable response in the aftermath of a disaster.  I can recall shortly after Hurricane Katrina flooded my home city of New Orleans being in a second floor apartment in Texas feeling concerned if I left items on the floor they might get ruined by the flood.  However, it was still a surprise to me that the government responded in such a manner.

This is an event that Korea is taking very seriously and its people are still sifting through their rage, politics and confusion. The “no trip mandate” is just one way they are demonstrating that.  For us at Gyeonggi English Village, it leaves us for now with mostly no students (a few other more modest programs still operate lightly).  We are told programming for the next two months is practically vacant with no real plan for what is to come.  Our administration is twisting and bending itself in an attempt to recover or adapt to this new face of English Village.  There is talk of bringing in more international students and focusing on our one day programs which don’t require students to come spend the night.

In the meantime this leaves us in a great space of uncertainty.  Our work time this week has been occupied with planning our lessons for our month-long program in August that we assume will happen… but I suppose truly time will tell.  What is in store for us as teachers, foreign staff, and an institution is far from clear.

This circumstance leaves me in a humbled space.  While in some ways the quiet is a welcome break, it is also a haunting reminder. And so I pray… for all involved.  Those who survived the ferry.  Those who did not.  Those who are suffering and outraged by this tragedy. Those who are blamed.  And also quite simply for me and the other teachers at my place of work as we face some new uncertainty in our own lives.

That is it for now, writing in the unprecedented silence of Gyeonggi English Village.

It’s Alright

17 Apr Spring at English Village

It’s a cool and grey day at English Village and the last day of my mid-week weekend.  I am at home listening to music, in part to drown out the English Village music leaking persistently through my windows. The music is featured songs from English Village Musicals and there are speakers all over campus.  While I appreciate the creativity and effort of these original songs, we hear them all day over and over again.   With lyrics like “being a hero takes HARD WORK!” and “you can beat the monster….” it can be a bit… haunting… to say the least.  If you work at English Village, feel free to sing along.  You know the words.

It has been an average week for me filled with the typical ups and downs of life teaching Korean adolescents.  Many of the students this week were truly great.  With varying levels of English ability, I met many students with kind attitudes and welcoming spirits in the classroom.  Inevitably there are also students who just wouldn’t respond not matter what I said.  This includes simple discipline requests… asking a student not to do something and they just stare at me and continue to do it or wait one second for me to leave and do it anyway.  I am practicing cultivating my more laid back attitude, aspiring to be of service and be a good teacher but also… to just not sweat it, whatever it is.

Middle school is known for being a time when many things are of the utmost importance, including physical appearance.  While this is an issue to many a young teen across the globe, it seems to be of particular importance here in Korea.  It is common place and often a distraction in the classroom to see young Korean girls with their own personal mirror looking at their face or placing their hair just so.  At first I thought this was very strange but now it is just part of regular life.  This focus on physical appearance, however, also extends towards the teachers.  Some students get surprisingly excited by attractive men or women teachers sometimes following after them like they are celebrities.  This lends itself to flattering comments to teachers when they like their appearance but also less kind comments when they think the opposite. Some days this feeds well on the ego with comments like “pretty teacher.”  Other days it can be a bit of a challenge when a less kind comment is said or over heard.  I have had my share of both experiences.  This week, however, on a day that I was feeling “less than beautiful” a student said something to me perhaps not intended to be mean, but truly less than kind and something I did not need to hear. Teaching in Korea at times… is not for the faint of heart.

As you may have noticed by now, this international escapade is not just my story of seeing the world.  It is really a spiritual adventure. I do my best to pay attention, learn and grow from the challenges I meet day-to-day.  I am currently practicing reducing my stress level in part through reducing my reaction to what is happening around me.  With this perspective I am considering how I may respond to ups and downs of life more like an wise observer.   This lighter hold on life creates the freedom to choose what to respond to and what to simply let be.  This is of course a practice. Some moments it seems available… and other times I find I am riddled and wrought in reaction.

This space that I explore is nicely echoed in a tune playing right now on Pandora.com.  It is a little Louisiana delight by Curley Taylor and the Zydeco Trouble as they simply coo “It’s Alright“.  Nothing like some Louisiana tunes to sooth my soul… and inspire my mind. Incidentally, the name of their album is Free Your Mind.  And so it seems perhaps that is what I am up to… little by little… step by step….

As I have done these past few weeks, I would like to continue my visitation of the 5 Precepts of Reiki . It has been good for me to review them and have them more active and present in my life.  They are good reminders that I can simply choose to not worry and not anger… and if I miss the mark, it’s okay.  I can try again in the next moment.  It’s not a rule, only a practice.

The next precept to explore is “Honor Your Parents Teachers and Elders“. Honor

I love this precept but I am earnestly still getting to know the truth of its message.  For me, the first step is to distinguish that honor is not the same as obey.  To honor one’s parents or teachers does not mean simply that you do what they say or wish.  It is perhaps more like an acknowledgment that values both parties. A healing-arts practitioner I visited with not long ago offered that the best way you can honor your parents is to be true to yourself.  To me honor feels like a loving gentle bow sending appreciation their way, appreciating them for who they truly are, and also doing your best to reflect the best things in them through your own actions.

Do you have any insight or experience to share about honor?  What does it mean to truly honor someone? And how is that distinct in your life?

My own music has quieted down and the English Village music is sneakily invading my apartment.  And so continues a day in the life at English Village.  The words of the song outside shout “Hard work”… but instead I will leave you with the cool easy message of the Zydeco Trouble… “It’s Alright!”

Featured photo, the gentle blossoms of Spring at English Village.

The Students are Coming!

10 Apr Students Arriving English Village

It was a warmish Spring Monday at English Village.  The air was fresh and clean. It felt great to be outside for a bit before our busy day began.  I was lined up with around thirty of my fellow teachers awaiting the arrival of our newest group of students. Finally, there they were, coming down main street and around the bend.  The street filled with adolescent Korean bodies diminishing in the distance into tiny beings. As we watched them descend towards us, they kept coming and coming…as if an endless assembly of students, until, at last, they had all arrived.

Later that day when students were dressed in their informal attire, I couldn’t help but notice that many of them were wearing the same shirt.  It said… “The Sexy Face” in logo fashion similar to “The North Face,” a brand very popular in Korea.  “It’s a class t-shirt,” an English Village teacher informed me.  “Surprising,” I thought.  How strange it seemed for middle school students, boys and girls, to have a class shirt with that message.

“Sexy” easily drips out of the mouths of Korean middle-school students. It helps to consider, as I am told, that the word “sexy” has a bit of a different meaning in Korea than it does in the United States and standard English.  As I understand it, in Korea it means more like pretty with perhaps less of an emphasis on the “sex” part.  Even so, when I was teaching a smallish class of girls only and removed my clumpy brown coat revealing a more form-fitting sweater underneath, the response from the students was “teacher sexy.”  Such is life in Korea.

Perhaps “sexy” in Korea fits into a category of words known as Konglish.  Simply put these are English or English sounding words that have a different meaning here in Korea.  Many of these words, commonly spoken in Korea, would likely be misunderstood by most English speakers.  Here are some examples.  “Eye shopping” is Konglish for window shopping.  “Oil” is Konglish for gas.  And “cunning” is Konglish for cheating.  Here is a more complete list of Konglish words if you are curious.

In previous posts I have been revisiting the 5 precepts of Reiki, a spiritual practice that has been a part of my world for over ten years. The precepts can be thought of as guidelines to cultivate a higher quality of life and happiness. I brought them up because, in truth, I have felt stressed at work lately. Reminding myself of these precepts is a way to re-center myself and to keep my focus on a healthy and balanced path.  The first precept is “Just for Today Do Not Worry.”  The second is “Just for Today do Not Anger“.  Here is the third precept:Gratitude

Show Gratitude to Every Living Thing.
Ah, this one is a great reminder!  Particularly when one is faced with large groups of adolescent children who mostly just want to go wild in the classroom.  Like the other precepts, I see this as a call to be more mindful and refocus attention to showing gratitude to all living things in my life.  People, animals, plants.  It helps to restore an attitude of reverence and also helps me to take it slow and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of life.

For the coming week, I will be intentional about calling my attention to this precept.  Would you like to join me?

This week I am also revisiting creativity a bit.  With my regular pattern of busy days of teaching and my desire to just take it easy when I am not, I have found my creative life has gone to the wayside.  What is creativity for you?  For me it is writing, drawing, painting, poetry, playing and writing simple songs.  When I feel connected to my creativity, it seems these things just flow like a river.  I simply dip my toe in and there it is.  But lately, it has felt dry and my desire and willingness to visit the flow has been… slim… to none.  I read a post recently by writer Elizabeth Gilbert (author Eat, Pray, Love) offering the suggestion of spending just 30 minutes a day on whatever your creative project is.  This was a big help for me as it gives me a tangible and doable way to pick up the creative path in the midst of being exhausted or busy. When I am so tired and don’t want to do anything, I can say to myself “hey, it’s only 30 minutes!”  This simple strategy has already helped me pick up a painting I started months ago but have just been staring at for weeks.  30 minutes.  Very doable!

How about you and your life?  Any gratitude to share?  Creative yearnings or frustrations to express?  It’s always good to hear from you!  Bye for now from my regular irregular life at Gyeonggi English Village!

 

Featured photo, “The students are coming!  The students are coming!”  Hundreds of students arrive for their time at Gyeonggi English Village.

Cultivating Happiness

3 Apr IMG_20140402_135026

It is a grayish Thursday today at Gyeonggi English Village.  I am not working as my days off have shifted to Wednesday and Thursday.  Much to my relief, Spring is making herself known in more clear displays lately.  It makes a big difference to walk out to a fresh, warmish sometimes sunny day.

Here are some sure signs of Spring I captured in Paju and English Village!

This past weekend I took the day off on Sunday and traveled to Seoul to visit with my Soka Gakkai Buddhist friends. With the preceding cold winter months plus my weekends occupied by work, it has been a while since we have connected.  In their typical generous form, they set aside a portion of their day and we met in a member’s home to study, share and chant.  It never fails that our time together serves as an attitude shift and a wake-up call for me.  I arrived a little down and left feeling changed somehow.

My biggest insight of the day was when one of the members offered this perspective.  He said sometimes when a fellow SGI member hears you are going through a challenge or a hard-time their response may be, “Congratulations!”  Sound strange?  The teachings of SGI invite me to consider that challenges are truly the key to happiness.  They bring us new opportunities for growth and lessons. Additionally, they provide the circumstances to practice staying in the space of optimism, joy and persistence and build an unshakable foundation of happiness.  “Congratulations!” is a great reminder to me to shift my attitude, to not be faltered by whatever challenge or disappointment I might be facing, and to continue courageously on my journey.

My past three years as a member of SGI and particularly my time with my group in Seoul has helped me to reframe my ideas about happiness. While many good things have come my way, I have also faced and continue to face many challenges.  SGI helps me to have a grateful attitude regarding challenges and to consider within this pursuit is… happiness.

Are you facing some challenges in your life right now?  If so, congratulations!  Feel better?  I did.  Just this simple response helped me to shift the space from being a victim to someone who could handle whatever was presenting itself.  It helped me to feel my power.  And of course, chanting “nam myoho renge kyo” helps too!  Are you curious about chanting?  If so, check out this video that briefly introduces how to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

This past week we saw once again the big energy and more hectic Spring pace at GEV. We continue to receive busloads of students for their brief 2 night 3 day escapade in the land of English.  We also explore the balance of creating a fun and engaging environment for kids with the limitations of our current curriculum and program structure.

As Spring shows her face and life wakes up after the cold, quiet days of winter, it seems well-suited to continue to explore the Reiki Precepts.  As I introduced in last week’s blog, Reiki is a healing art that originated in Japan and has been a big part of my life for the past ten years.  There are Five Precepts in Reiki that are simply guidelines for happy living.  If you are curious about last week’s blog, you can visit it here. This week we will explore the second precept.

Do Not Anger

Just for today to not anger.

This one has always been a doozie for me.  Historically, anger has been my right hand man and a habit that can be easily triggered in myself and my life.  I think the message of this precept is to bring some mindfulness to our tendencies with anger. When I pay attention to this precept in my life, I can notice my inclination to turn to my friend anger in situations that may be frustrating or challenging and simply choose not to go there.  When I am mindful I am aware that I am the one brewing up the fire of anger in me.  I can turn up the heat and I can turn it off too.  This one is not easy for me, but like Reiki, it is simply a practice.  I may succeed one moment and fail another.  The gift is to continue to practice and do my best not to judge.

I think for a long time I thought that I needed anger to be safe and protect myself.  This precept is a gentle reminder that “do not anger” is earnestly for our own happiness and that as we continue to cultivate this awareness, it is our own selves who benefit most.

(A side note… While finishing this blog I got an interesting workout with this precept with a finicky internet connection and quirky blog program…)

The artwork above is one in a series I created on all five of the precepts.  If you would like to view them all or even purchase a print or card for yourself, please visit fineartamerica.com/profiles/nancie-teresa-biver.html.

My mid-week-weekend is winding down.  I went to Seoul today for my first dental visit in Korea.  Overall, it was a mostly non-traumatic experience.  The dentist spoke English.  The office was posh and inviting.  I was a little shocked when the hygienist threw something on my face that covered everything but my mouth during the cleaning… but ultimately, I recovered.  Just a restful evening ahead before I roll into a new week.

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

Just for Today

25 Mar Backstreets of Itaewon

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.

Awakening Spring

17 Mar EVSunset

It is a quiet Monday at English Village in Paju, South Korea.  The sky is somewhat overcast, but with my windows open and the birds’ calls leaking through there is a lighter feeling of Spring… or almost Spring.  I hope.  We’ll see…  Earlier today I heard the masses of students entering through main street past my apartment.  At about 350 students, they are the first of two groups this week beginning the restoration of the often busy pace and bulging student capacity at English Village.

As my weekend is on Mondays and Tuesdays, I will not teach the first busy round of students.  But as Wednesday arrives I will join the other teachers in greeting a group of 585 students.  That’s a lot.

English Village has been through some growing pains recently.  In the Fall they lost nearly half of their staff in a quick and unexpected exodus.  Until recently, there has been a hiring freeze leaving a smaller size staff to respond to regular size programming.  Recently they have hired a modest collection of new Korean and foreign teachers, but we aren’t yet at a place to easily meet the teaching needs of incoming programs.  Often this will mean larger and more classes taught by current teachers.

I continue to find my groove returning to the busy “young learners” (mostly middle-school students) week-day programs after a four-month hiatus teaching the little ones reading in our Bookclub program.  I still teach Bookclub students on Saturdays only, appreciative to return to the small simple programming and body of students after three days in busier programs and classes. Bookclub is indeed a different world filled with typical childhood shenanigans like nose picking, hiding behind doors, and the occasional biting (… the last person to be bit, by the way, was me… but I digress…).  This has challenges all its own, but in many ways it still feels like a gentle respite.

And so I am doing my best in mind and spirit to prepare myself for the impending busier season. In the meantime, I am lost in my own diversions of chanting, Reiki, yoga and the like.  Life has been simple and in many ways good but with the slow awakening of Spring I admit I am itching for something to be different.

What about you?  Is the arrival of Spring bringing anything new in your world?  Let me know!  It’s always good to hear from you!

Featured photo a little slice of sunset on the rooftops of English Village.

Save Money on Flights

12 Mar SpringSnowShower

Another few weeks have slipped by in Paju, South Korea.  Mostly it’s life as usual in the unusual world of Gyeonggi English Village. This week the ROK Military joins us for a break in their busy routine and a big dip in the pools of the English language.

The winter freeze is slowly melting away no thanks to an unexpected snow shower earlier this week. Nevertheless, Spring is still on the horizon.  As many of us are finding our way out of winter hibernation, it seems like an appropriate time to share some money saving travel tips.

Let’s begin with the basics for any good journey – an affordable flight.  Finding the cheapest rate and best flight schedule is paramount for me in creating my trip itinerary.  Tenacity is often your best friend when looking for the most suitable rate and flight.  But here are a few shortcuts I’ve discovered to save you some time and money.

Flight Search Engines
Not all search engines are created equal.  In the mission to find the best flight, I find it never hurts to peruse the gamut.  There are, however, a few search engines that are my go-to sites in the adventures of flight finding.  Let’s begin.

kayak

Kayak.  Kayak is a reliable search engine and a great starting point for a flight inquiry.  They offer a wide array of airlines with a good selection of budget-friendly flights.  You can choose a three-day date flexibility in their searching parameters allowing you to see rates and times on a variety of days.  This is a great way to find the best prices as they can vary daily.

whichbudget

Which Budget.  I learned of this search engine while living in Europe.  If you are on the hunt for the lowest price ticket, you should definitely check this out.  On Which Budget you can glimpse prices for a wide range of dates and easily investigate the cheapest flights over a period of time.  They include a broad spectrum of budget airlines making it a good source for finding the best priced flights. (Note:  For some reason, I have had less success using this search engine in Asia.)

cheapflights

Insanely Cheap Flights.   I think the name says it all.  I used this search engine to purchase my flight from the US to South Korea.  On several occasions I have found them to offer the cheapest flight I could find.  My flight to Korea was purchased and redeemed with no problems.  I easily bought the ticket, was able to speak to a real customer service person when I had a question, and arrived in South Korea at a price I could afford.

More Good Ideas

condor

Cheap Flights from Europe.  If you are in Europe looking to purchase a flight for the next leg of your journey, you must check out Condor Airline’s listing of their Longhaul Flights.   Condor is a German-based airline with a regular listing of discounted flights leaving from Frankfurt International to all over the world.  Cancun, Chiang Mai, San Jose, Lima… just to name a few.  No matter where you are in Europe, you can easily catch a cheap flight to Frankfurt and then save big bucks on your long distance flight.  I purchased my ticket from Europe to the States from Condor.  I saved some money and was happy with the flight and service.

travelzoo

Travelzoo.  Have you subscribed to Travelzoo?  If you haven’t you should!  They provide regular emails with travel deals for destinations all over the world and their offers often include flight sales.  I bought my first ticket from US to Europe through a flight deal I discovered through Travelzoo.  Worth checking out!

No matter where your next adventure may take you, some persistence and these resources will help you save some money and find that flight that best meets your needs.  Happy travels… wherever you are going!

Do you have any great flight finding tips to share?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Featured image a Spring snow shower at Gyeonggi English Village.

Path of Forgiveness

25 Feb Pathway at GEV

Good morning to you!  Wherever you are in the world!  It is a quiet Tuesday morning at Gyeonggi English Village and the second day of my “weekend”.  While I regularly teach the young readers of Book Club on Saturdays, on Sundays I now seem to be a “free agent” of sorts for weekend programming.  I never know what I might end up teaching!

This past Sunday was launched with a three and a half hour class teaching cooking to a room of about 30 Korean elementary school students.  And while, for the most part, they were a good bunch… I couldn’t help but think that this situation would be suitable for Jedi training.  You know, learning to keep one’s cool and center in the midst of a great deal of activity, distraction and sometimes… chaos.  It was nothing out of hand… the expected repertoire of elementary classroom behavior.  There was some hair pulling, a little physical fighting, crying… and we can’t forget the ceaseless cries out for “Teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher…”  Yes, that would be me.  And luckily, also the name of my competent co-teacher for the day.

We made cinnamon rolls.  First, we organized the students into tables and gave each student a number.  When their number was called they came up front to get their designated ingredients.  In the spirit of practicing English, each student has to ask for the ingredient in English before we hand it over.  For some students, this is a walk in the park. For these young students, sweet as many of them were, the basics of English were still very new to them.  As I was handing out ingredients, I had to laugh at my reverent nature and bend towards the serious… with the echo of my Catholic upbringing and twelve years of Catholic school.  When I met each student solemnly one by one, I felt like I was giving out communion.

This past week continues to be a defrosting of sorts as winter, while still a bit of a nag, is starting to back off.  I can’t help but notice the sweet return of the birds consoling us that, yes, it is still cold out but it is almost over… we hope! With the thaw out comes the personal desire to lighten up and shed some metaphorical skin!  And so I have been doing a bit of reading.

The book at hand is  The Forgiveness Habit.  It is written by a friend of mine from the Landmark Education community, Jo Anne Rotermund, and has been on my radar for years.  It was only recently, at the suggestion of the friend, that I made the extra effort to download the book and began to take a read.  Now two-thirds into it, I am impressed by its fresh, simple and practical approach to the much traveled topic of forgiveness.ForgivenessHabit

The book begins with a survey of the forgiveness landscape.  What is it that keeps us locked in anger and makes it so darn difficult to simply forgive?  She offers a smart analysis of the paradigms of external and internal power. When we swim in the paradigm of external power, she says, we are locked in the pattern that someone outside of ourselves controls our happiness. She invites us to take note of sneaky little habits like “blaming” and “being right” and to simply notice them.  I couldn’t help but see how these habits perpetuate the dynamic of external power which leaves me feeling… powerless. When we are blaming or being right, we are operating in the paradigm of external power which denies ourselves access to our true strength – internal power. In truth, after years of spiritual reading and exploration, it was the first time I really “got” how these habits perpetuated feeling like a victim.  It is only once we begin to dance in the construct of internal power that God’s grace can take a hand!

As the journey continues, she introduces lovely new habits including gratitude and reverence.  Anyone who has explored their own healing and spiritual journey has likely knocked on the door of gratitude before.  It was a true pleasure to find it again here… in the context of forgiveness.  It was a good reminder to restore an old habit for the benefit of cultivating forgiveness.  Additionally, she introduced the habit of reverence, which she suggests is most easily accessible through quiet daily time with nature and the outdoors.  This was a welcome invitation to come out of my winter hibernation and begin to reconnect with nature again if even for a few minutes a day. These two simple tools feel like stepping-stones that can lead one through any challenge, burden or bitter past.

Jo Anne offered so many rich explanations of the cultural context of forgiveness.  It was truly liberating to read and filled me with a whole mess of “aha!” moments. This book is just one element of the World Forgiveness Initiative supported in part by Reverend Desmond Tutu.  Worth checking out!

As my weekend has already leaked into Tuesday, I look forward to a quiet day of tending to things at home and around Paju before returning to work tomorrow.  Good-bye for now!  Wishing you a warm and wonderful day!

Featured image, the frozen waters and quiet pathways on the grounds of Gyeonggi English Village.

Adventures in Healing

18 Feb GEV City Hall

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.

Don’t Worry About a Thing!

10 Feb Snowy English Village

It’s a bright Monday morning at English Village, the second day of my weekend. There is a pleasing blanket of snow on the ground and sunny blue skies with a cool crisp air. I have to confess, at nearly mid-day… I am still in my pajamas.

The Making of White Bean Vegetable Extravaganza!

It is a typical day in many ways.  I began the morning with chanting, the foundation of my SGI Buddhist practice.  The morning has easily drifted into noon and I am enjoying some homemade soup for lunch.  It is delicious and just what the doctor ordered.  It was inspired by a recent Pinterest pin, Tuscan Vegetable Soup. But as I have been grocery-challenged lately, it really should be called “whatever I had left in the refrigerator” soup… or as I continued to add random this and that, “White Bean and Vegetable Extravaganza!”… you know how it goes.

Mmm!  Hot Steamy Soup!

Mmm! Hot Steamy Soup!

I have had some bad grocery mojo over the last three weeks.  With the Lunar New Year holiday, I forgot to order my weekly dose of organic veggies, dairy and poultry from veggiehill.com. Coupled with that is the mysterious closing of two major stores that I count on for groceries, Home Plus and Costco.  I am sure it isn’t as mysterious as it appears to me…but twice now I have made shopping attempts, once the Sunday before the lunar holiday and once yesterday. Both times, the stores and their surroundings were eerily quiet. It seems that everyone knew the stores were closed…. except for me. One of the challenges of being an expat in Korea – finding myself “out of the loop” about such things…

Yesterday was a great day for me.  I began the day early as I needed to make my way to Seoul for an 11am SGI World Peace Meeting.  This is a regular monthly meeting of my English-speaking chapter in Korea of the international buddhist organization.  At each meeting a member shares their experience of how chanting and SGI has benefitted their life and this month I was invited to share. It was a great exercise to revisit my journey in SGI over the past three years paralleled with my gypsy adventure and just take note of how amazing it has all been. Writing the story of the fulfillment of so many large and small unexpected gifts almost felt like telling a story seen in a movie or read in a book. I had to remind myself, no really, it all happened.  And it happened to me!

The basic understanding of SGI Buddhism is that we are operating within a world of cause and effect.  That is a cause (word, action, thought) creates the effects in our lives.  This is Karma.  And so truly, we are not victims in our lives but instead living out the effects of our past causes.  With this in mind, SGI Buddhism offers the opportunity for liberation from past causes through chanting “”Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” which, as identified by the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren, is the key to developing the Buddha nature.  As it says on the SGI website, “chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables people to unleash their hidden potential and unlock the courage and compassion to transform their lives and create positive value in their family, community and society.” I think of chanting like putting the most powerful pristine cause into creating a new effect in my life.  Or, in other words, changing my Karma.

I have only been practicing for three years now, but I have to acknowledge the very specific things I have chanted for on my journey that have found their way into my life in distinct and unpredictable ways.  I see my chanting practice as a tool for opening the door of the impossible and letting the possible in.

Sharing my experience to the group was really great for me.  It felt good to say out loud what I had accomplished and to take note of the many ways that chanting and SGI have been a pivotal part of my journey.  Additionally, it is said in the practice that any time you participate in an SGI activity or share your experience, it is another way of creating a powerful cause in your life (which brings a positive effect).  And I noticed that after sharing my experience to the group I felt transformed.  I spent the rest of the day feeling like I was in a sweet little slot of life.  It was as if my being just bypassed all the negative trappings of daily living and stayed for a bit in a crisp cool place.

And so, I continue the simplicity of my day.  As I find the considerations about “what’s next for me?” beginning to dance in my head, I will leave you with the message channeling through my mac speakers courtesy of Pandora.com… “Don’t worry about a thing.  Cause every little thing is gonna be alright!”  Have a great day!  And don’t forget to write, it’s always good to hear from you!

Image above, the  snowy greeting outside my front door on a wintery Sunday morning.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 485 other followers

%d bloggers like this: