Last week I had a great experience in one of my classes that I hope will touch you as much as it did me. One of my classes is composed of seven girls; four of whom are quite the little all-girl Brat Pack, two of whom pretty much keep to themselves, and one very quiet girl named Susan. Susan is one of those students who has a very basic understanding of English which, combined with her shy nature, causes her to really struggle with vocalizing what she knows. Oftentimes it’s a struggle to get her to speak, and when she does it’s barely a whisper. In spite of this, she’s one of my favorite students because she is the epitome of a respectful kid.
Anyway, this was a class like any other. We were making painstaking progress through the lesson when I noticed Susan wasn’t really paying attention. In fact, she was knitting. I paused and said, “Susan, can you please put the knitting away? Thank you.” and kept teaching. Minutes later, as the rest of the class did an activity, I noticed she had the knitting needles out again. I walked over and asked her what she was knitting. She mumbled something inaudible and leaned over her project, so I squatted down and asked her again.
“Hat,” she replied.
“Who is the hat for?”
Oh, well that sounded nice. I assumed she was making it for a sibling or a relative of some sort.
I couldn’t help it. I just stared at her for a few seconds, unable to say anything. I felt so… proud. Proud that I get to teach a student like her. Then I said the only thing that came to mind. “Susan, you are a very good person.”
Seriously. While all the other students were horsing around with their friends, being noisy, or whining that they were too tired/sick/hungry to finish the lesson; this girl was knitting hats for children in Africa. Maybe I’m just becoming a total softy, but I thought it was one of the most simple yet poignant acts of charity I’ve seen.
What do you think? I know it made me look at myself, as well as the culture that I’m from. I thought about the Occupy Wall Street protesters with their gripes about the troubles our crippled economy is causing them. I thought of the embarrassing antics of Black Friday shoppers… the greed, selfishness and hypocrisy so clearly on display. And despite the troubles many people in the United States face I feel that, in most cases, we’ve got it pretty darn good.
So, as a belated Thanksgiving post, what have you got to be thankful for? Do you have family that loves you? Do you have good friends? Do you have a roof over your head, food and clean water, or a job? Do you have a hat or coat to keep warm?
And what have you done for others recently?
I’m going to link to a few charities that I really believe in just in case you feel particularly generous.
Compassion – You can directly sponsor children through this Christian-based organization in all corners of the world. They focus on education, health, safety, and ministry. And you get to write letters to and receive them from your sponsored child.
UNICEF – A huge global charity that focuses on children in poverty and terrible conditions around the world. They focus on safety, health, education, and combating HIV.
Invisible Children – A charity that focuses specifically on central Africa and ending the use of child soldiers in the conflicts that have plagued the region for the past several decades.
Anyway. Happy belated Thanksgiving. To my family and friends, I’m thankful for each and every one of you <3
So long Korea, hello Hong Kong!!!
No, I’m not actually leaving Korea. I am, however, going on a mini-vacation in less than two months! As some of you may know, the Lunar New Year is kind of a big deal in many Asian countries. Actually, in China, it is the most important public holiday. So, to mark the occasion, some of my English teacher friends and I are traveling to Hong Kong to properly usher in the New Year!
I finally got around to booking my ticket today; talk about a nightmare! We were trying to buy through www.cheaptickets.com, but I kept getting an error message saying the booking could not be completed and to try again later. Finally, I got a different message: one saying that the flight was fully booked. After a good old fashioned rage-fest, I decided to check my bank account… just to be sure. There I saw pending charges on my credit card for… well… a large amount of money. Queue rage-fest numero dos.
I realized I faced a cross-roads. Throw up my hands and have a nice, quiet New Years sulking in my apartment OR try something else.
I’m no quitter.
I bid farewell to the hell-spawn that is cheaptickets.com and said hello to my new favorite website Orbitz. There I found the same flight for $20 cheaper. Talk about a welcome surprise! Practically giddy with excitement (or maybe it was the massive amounts of caffeine from the copious amounts of coffee I’d guzzled) I proceeded to book the flight. That is, until I got the following message (or something like it): ‘Booking cannot be completed. Your bank has declined to accept the charge with the card details you’ve provided. Please try again.’
I started seeing red. I briefly entertained the idea of returning home, getting a degree from a prestigious university in the field of law, and single-handedly taking down cheaptickets.com in a beautifully re-enacted David vs. Goliath tale… but then I decided against it. Too much work.
Thinking quickly (the flight was filling up fast) I logged into my bank account, shuffled some funds, and whipped out my debit card. Searched flights, flight selected, booking details, payment…. HAHA!!!!
As I sat staring dumbly at the booking confirmation screen I felt the hot, numbing buzz of victory coursing through my veins. All right… maybe just adrenaline. Point is, I won. Take that cheaptickets.com!
I’m going to Hong Kong.
And I’m going to be watching that bank account, cheaptickets.com.
If I see charges… I’m getting that degree and you’re going DOWN.
The post for today is short and sweet. I taught my youngest class introductions today.
“Hello, my name is Nathan, what’s your name?”
“My name is ______.”
“Nice to meet you, ______.”
“Nice to meet you, too!”
I also taught them how American’s typically shake hands instead of bow. It was a very entertaining and laugh filled class session. Near the end of it, I had the students draw pictures of themselves. Then, for a little bit of a treat, I had them draw pictures of me.
This is what they came up with:
A big group of English teachers and I went paintballing about 40 minutes outside of Pohang. For 40,000 won; we got several rounds of paintball, a barbequed lunch, and transportation to and from the paintball course. Not too bad for a great day, eh?
This weekend, I finally managed to get outside the city limits of Pohang and make the long trip cross-country to Seoul. It’s not that I dislike Pohang – I really enjoy it here – but I need to see more of Korea! After all, I’m only going to be here a year. This was also a self-imposed test of my abilities to get places using the limited skills in Korean reading and speaking that I’ve picked up over the last month. Aside from asking for a few tips from my boss and Sehee (the friend I was meeting in Seoul); I was able to buy the bus ticket online, get to the station, find the subway, and take the right line to the correct stop. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Having figured out the Italian and French rail systems in the past definitely helped a little bit. The Korean bus and subway systems are so efficient and well orchestrated, it was a breeze compared to my experience with the Italian trains. Sorry Italy. I still love you.
Alright, alright… so I couldn’t wait until after the weekend to write another update. Since I obviously haven’t been to Seoul yet, this one is about something else. Basically just an update on the teaching situation so far; since, after all, it is the reason I’m in South Korea to begin with.
Teaching is something that took me a couple weeks to get used to. The training and structure at the school was minimal if I’m being generous with my description, non-existent if I’m feeling particularly… ‘truthy’. Nonetheless, once I figured out where the students were in the books, what their proficiency levels were in English, and got used to the amount of material I should attempt to teach in each lesson, it became quite easy. My style with homework, tests, and presentations has always been to skim the material beforehand and then wing it. It’s pretty much the same thing teaching. I have two basic class structures. Activity/worksheet based, and listening based. Each individual class is merely a variation. Once I figured that out, it’s easy as pie. Of course, one of the harder parts is coming up with fun and exciting games to finish up the class period with. Now THAT’S tough.
Tonight we said goodbye to Dan and Natasha. It was a great time: lots of good food, laughter, and fantastic company. And, we learned the awesomeness that is the cinnamon roll hug.
Hold hands in a line.
One person rolls in until the whole group is wrapped in a spiral.
Bask in your awesomeness.
So you want to live in another country. Awesome! You’re in for a life changing experience, it’s just a matter of making it happen. Here are some helpful hints on things to do before you leave.
- Research the country you are moving to.
Try and learn a little bit about the history of the country you’re planning on moving to. Find out what the citizens are proud of and who their heroes are. Know a little bit about the current political situation and who heads the government. Try and get a basic understanding of some of the customs (hand signs not to use, how to greet someone, whether or not to remove your shoes when you enter a residence, etc). Arriving in another country with a basic understanding of these things will not only prepare you somewhat for what to expect, but it also shows that you made an effort to understand the culture.
Now it would be very hard, if not impossible, to learn all the customs, traditions, history, and facts about a country before you get there. Chances are, in most countries, the locals will be able to tell pretty quickly that you’re not from the area. And you know what? They expect you to not know the customs. They expect you to make mistakes that may be disrespectful. Chances are they’ll laugh, tell you the correct custom, and then move on. At that point, all you have to do is share in the laugh, be gracious, and you’ve just learned one more custom from that country.
In summary? Do some homework, but don’t stress about it too much. You’re going to make a mistake, and it’s probably not going to be a huge deal. Just be gracious, respectful, and willing to adapt.
- Make contact with people before you make the move.
This can not only give you an idea of what to expect (good places to eat, the easiest way to get to the right city from the airport, areas in town to stay away from) but can also give you a small network of people to interact with as soon as you land. Moving to a foreign country can be exhausting, and one thing many people struggle with is getting out and meeting new people from the start. It’s certainly something I had a hard time with.
If you talk with a couple people in the area before you leave, try and find out where the local hang outs are. Find out if there is an active expatriate community. Maybe check out some sport groups if that’s your thing. If you can join a group, or a club, or an organization of some sort, chances are one, some, or all of the members will take you under their wing and show you the ropes of your new home.
If you can’t find a group to join, maybe see if there is a restaurant or bar that is popular among the expat community. Pop in there on a weekend night and you’re bound to meet at least one person who would love to talk with you about home. You’ve just got to be outgoing and willing enough to initiate a conversation.
In Pohang, I didn’t really meet anyone for the first 2 weeks or so. Then, I was introduced to one guy by one of my coworkers. Through him I met another group of people, who then plugged me in with the EFL community in Pohang. Now it’s simply a matter of picking some activities that I enjoy, and I’m meeting more people all the time.
The best things you can do? Be friendly, be active, be open to trying new things.
- Be prepared to leave friends and family behind with the knowledge it will be a while before you meet again.
This one is hard. Not everyone can move to another country, just because they can’t imagine leaving their friends and family behind. Thankfully, with the advances in technology, you can see and talk with your loved ones via Skype, Google Talk, or any number of other video chat services. Certainly no replacement for seeing them in person, but it’s much better than relying on letters and phone cards.
Still, it is by no means easy to leave your friends and family behind when you move to another country. Make time to see the people you love before you leave. Make sure you can contact them once you’ve left. Put together a mailing list, a blog, or get addresses so you can send postcards to people from each destination. Be certain that you leave an address or phone number that you’ll have access to once you get to your destination. Those letters and calls from home are things you grow to look forward to. Have your loved ones take pictures of themselves and keep them with you in your wallet or passport book. And most importantly, be diligent about maintaining contact once you’ve arrived.
- Set up someone you trust with the legal authority to manage your affairs back at home.
You’ll probably need a check cashed, or an account managed, or something done back home that requires you to be there during the course of your adventure. Set someone up as an account manager with your bank, utilities, cell phone, etc. Make sure that person also has a power of attorney, just in case. Make sure you TRUST THAT PERSON with handling all your financials. This will reduce the amount of headaches you have once you leave, and takes very little time to set up. Definitely worth doing!
- Try to learn survival phrases in the local language.
Just like learning about the culture, this not only shows respect for the new place you’ll be living, but it will make your life easier once you arrive. While English is widely spoken across the globe, there are many, MANY countries where it can be very hard if not virtually impossible to find someone with enough skill to communicate with you. If you know how to say hello, thank you, where is, how much is, and know the number system; you’re going to be in pretty good shape. If possible try and learn these things so you can recognize them in conversation. If you can’t? Get a phrasebook… that’s what they’re for.
- Pay off your debts and have some money saved up; even if you already have a job secured.
Just like starting a new job back home, it will probably be a couple weeks to a month before you get a paycheck. The last thing you want to have happen when you start your new life in another country is to slowly slip in to debt as you buy the things you need to settle in to your new place. Take care of your financial obligations before you leave. Have money saved and set aside. Notify your bank what country you will be in and how long you will be there. Get a foreign emergency number you can call in case your card is stolen. These things are essential. Financing your new life overseas with a credit card is a recipe for disaster, as any financial planner would tell you. PLAN AHEAD!
- Bring some of the local currency with you to get started.
You’ll probably get a better rate from a bank back at home and, chances are, you’re going to need some money at the airport for food, transportation, or a phone. And some vendors still only take cash 😉
- Know that you can’t possibly plan for everything.
Life is unpredictable. It always has been and always will be. There’s a fine line between responsible planning and over-planning. The easier you can accept that the unexpected will happen and the more prepared you are to take things as they come, the less stressful your experience abroad will be. The best thing you can do is to do your homework, make the preparations, and then let things happen. After all, part of the joy of traveling is living through all those amazing, unexpected experiences that come out of nowhere.
- Have fun!
Seriously, this will most likely be one of the most memorable, enjoyable experiences of your life. Keep an open mind, treat the people you meet with respect, and don’t be afraid to let new experiences take you by surprise. You only get to live once!