Why?

Lots of people asked us before we left the states: “Why?” “Why are you going?” “Why South Korea?” Usually these questions were posed with a slight grimace. “Ewww” these faces seemed to say, though the words did not. Well, quite frankly when my first graders today decided to play the copy-cat game with me I was asking the same thing.

“Alright, you don’t have to repeat anymore!”
“Alright, you don’t have to repeat anymore!”
“Seriously!”
“Seriously!”
“I am not laughing.”
“I am not laughing.”

It took me sitting one of my students in the corner and giving a 5 minute lecture on the meaning of “disruptive” before I could do anything that resembled a lesson. It was rough. But then there is my seventh period of fourth graders that seem to soak up every word I said that reminded me why I came and why I want to be a teacher.

Truthfully, Lindsay and I share lots of reasons for why we are here. One is experience. Let this be a warning to all that this is Lindsay’s most manipulative manuever. It is why in one year of marriage we have been to Mexico twice, Thailand, California and South Korea. “Think about the experience,” she will plead when trying to get you to agree to a weekend jaunt to Uganda. But in all honesty I am always after an experience too. Good or bad it doesn’t really matter. Before we came we talked about experiencing life as a minority. Experiencing a world where we do not know the language. Experiencing teaching students that understand about one-third of what you say. Experiencing going into a restaurant and having no idea what you ordered. Maybe even experiencing eating dog (a kid stone-face told me Koreans love dog and no other kid laughed). We thought we could continue living the American dream in Black Mountain or Atlanta but we wanted to spend at least a year out of our comfort zone. Gwangju has provided just that.

Second, adventure. I am currently reading Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove that follows a band of cowboys leading thousands of head of cattle from Lonesome Dove, Texas to Montana. Often, when something bad happens one of the characters laments his ever leaving Lonesome Dove. But they can’t help but love the adventure of the drive or the fascination with the change in climate and place. We can’t help but long for Black Mountain but we also can’t help but love it. Everyday we wake up to something new. Every walk to school promises a new sight. Every jog in the afternoon is an adventure. How will people respond to me? What will I do today that the students or teachers will question? For years now I have put my pen behind my ear when not using it. The kids think this is the strangest thing they have ever seen. Last week I looked up to find one of my third graders with 2 pencils behind each ear mocking me. They cannot believe I do it. They are as surprised by me as I am sometimes by the food.

But really why not come to South Korea? We live in a world where our ability to communicate with each other is unbelievable. In fact, Lindsay and I feel close to home sometimes with your comments and e-mails. Yet still it seems the world lacks the ability to communicate and understand each other. We still find ourselves at war and suspicious of any undemocratic government. I am not saying we are right or wrong in either case, but I do think our lack of communication and understanding leads to wars and suspicion.

It has been interesting living the life of a minority unable to understand what people are saying. Sometimes it makes us resentful of our co-workers (who rarely speak English to us), but we try hard to understand them. We also try hard to teach. Hopefully, somehow, we can make ourselves better people while making our students better communicators. After all, understanding is our ultimate goal.

One thought on “Why?

  1. Summer says:

    JP here – Glad to see you are reading “Lonesome Dove”…a wonderful story and personal favorite. In Texas, it is required reading in fifth grade. Just kidding! We were in Oxford this past weekend and got to see Danny and Lauren (who are doing well). I also made the mistake of going cycling with Lauren to Clear Creek Landing on Sardis Road. I didn’t think I was going to make it back alive! This jogs my memory to a conversation from Chattanooga about Whit being able to keep up with Lauren on a bike…while I’m not going to say it is impossible, you better have your A game ready. I am enjoying the posts, so keep ’em coming. Also to Whit – I hope you win your first round playoff game so I can beat you in Round 2. Adios.

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