Family hiking in the Korean mountains

 

We’re going to the beach!

We’re going to the market!

We’re going to ride a train!

Poppy was confused on where actually we were going on this weekend trip since we’ve taken so many recently. But I reminded her again.

Oh, right! We’re going to the MOUNTAIN!!!!

We’ve recently discovered a newfound desire to explore on the weekends. Maybe it’s because, after 10 years, Korea is starting to feel like chartered territory and it’s time to start exploring again to fight that idea. Or maybe because both Whit’s and my job can be demanding during the week. Or maybe because the kids just love exploring so much. Either way, we hopped on AirBnB last week, found this charming pension in the mountains near Jirisan, and was booked and ready to go within an hour.

Designated as the first national park in 1967, Jirisan stretches out as the largest mountainous national park in South Korea, spanning three provinces. Its name means “the mountain of the odd and wise people.” Since ancient times, Jirisan has been known as one of the three legendary mountains in Korea, and it’s a hallowed ground of the nation’s faith.

We’ve been to Jirisan once before when Whit and I hiked the in its entirety – a 4-day, sun-up-to-sun-down challenging trek that remains one of our favorite adventures in Korea.

But, a decade and two children later, we were looking for a more relaxed and kid-friendly way to enjoy a weekend in the beautiful Jiri mountains. And this was it.

We hiked. We swam. We hammocked.We kicked a soccer ball across the yard.  We ate loads of sanjae bibimbap, loaded with local mountain vegetables.

Oh, and we potty-trained Poppy. (Who says you have to confine yourself at home for these types of training sessions? Not us!)

It was a weekend of laughs, adventures, and bonding beneath the hallowed shadows of Jirisan.

Poppy is already asking where we’re going next weekend. And we’ve got a great answer.

…TO THE BIKE PATHS!


 

Do it yourself!

Where: Jirisan National Park
Accommodations마폭포 – 다래골펜션
Family hike recommendations:
1. Just behind our pension (linked above), there was a trailhead that led straight up the mountain. It was steep, but our 6-year-old and 2-year-old both managed to walk/crawl most of it by themselves. (We had a backpack carrier for the toddler, but she demanded to walk the whole thing!)
2. Our pension was also conveniently located just a couple miles from the temple, Byeogsongsa. We drove down from the pension and parked at a parking lot just below the temple and hiked up the hill and through the woods around the temple. The hike up was steep and windy but once we arrived, our kids felt they had truly reached the heavens.
Where to eat:
There’s a lovely sanchae (wild vegetable) bibimbap place located at the bottom of the temple area of Byeogsonsa. If you walk through the restaurant there are tables along the outside deck with an incredible view of the rocky river below and mountains above.

A day at Guryongpo Beach


Yesterday, we set out in our car to Guryongpo Beach (구룡포해수욕장) in Pohang. An absolutely gorgeous day. Our drive was about as beautiful as the beach itself. We drove through Korea’s green mountains, passed green rice fields, and through a small village time has forgotten.

The beach scene in Korea feels new, but that is part of the charm. Towns aren’t built around the beach as much as the beach has been carved out of the town. That’s what I love about beaches like Guryongpo. There aren’t any cute coffee shops lining the boardwalk, just old ajummas selling cheap beer for cash only. Luckily, though, ajummas are enterprising women and we got to rent some patio furniture from one for the day. It was perfect.

 

Say Kimchi! Gimjang, a Korean winter tradition

When I think of winter, I think of snow blanketing the ground (or dreams of snow blanketing the ground). I think of decorating the Christmas tree, hanging wreaths around the house and on the front door, traipsing around the house with strands of garland and lights.

But here in Korea, as often is the case, it’s a very different story, and one that my children are learning every year as the days shorten and the air turns crispy.

Here, it’s Gimjang, or kimchi-making, season. It’s time to pack up and send the aprons and the hats and special ingredients to school so all the kids can work together to make kimchi.

Gimjang is an ages old tradition of preparing copious amounts of kimchi (Korea’s mainstay side dish) before the cold of winter hits. Before the invention of refrigeration, the fresh produce required to make kimchi would be harder to get.

Koreans, always the collective community, would certainly not partake in this activity alone, so traditionally, they would come together and make enough of the spicy side dish to last the whole winter. For everyone. Just imagine the buckets and buckets of kimchi!

These days, refrigerators are as common as coffee shops in Korea (read: very). Most Koreans even have a second refrigerator specifically for kimchi!) But traditions die hard on this peninsula, so Gimjang is still a regular practice every year, planned as soon as those beautiful and smelly yellow gingkos hit the ground.

I love that Finn and Poppy are learning these traditions from a different culture. And, don’t’ worry, there’s still a Christmas tree and enough garland and lights in their lives to wrap around our 17-story high-rise apartment twice.

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Poppy was scared of the kimchi at first, her teacher told me. But, once she got used to mixing the spicy and stinky cabbage with her hands, she got excited about and yelled “kimchi! kimchi!”

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Review: Trick or Trompe at Seoul’s Trickeye Museum

Trickeye Museum in Seoul

Dance on the beach with the woman in the red dress in Jack Vettriano’s Singing Butler. Climb a tall bamboo with a panda bear. Ride a bicycle through the clouds. Or ride a unicorn through the blue waves.

This is just a sampling of the cheeky fun available at Seoul’s Trickeye Museum, a place where art and optical illusions come together for an interactive exploration into art and 3-D thrills.

It’s a very fun place for kids. Though ours (ages 2 and 5) were a bit young to understand the optical illusions, they loved the freedom of touching and interacting with all the exhibits, climbing up and around and becoming a hilarious part of each exhibit.

According to the museum, the name of the place comes from ‘Trick of the eye’ and refers to the traditional art technique Trompe-l’œil, which  turns two-dimensional paintings into three-dimensional images through the use of optical illusions.

The museum has cleverly placed paintings on the walls, floors and ceilings, creating 3-D scenes perfect for photos and laughs.

It also boasts an ice museum, a love museum (no kids allowed there), and a carnival street area just as you enter the museum.

We’re always looking for something different to do while in Seoul, and Trickeye was the perfect addition to our weekend in the city.

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Trick Eye Museum, Seoul seoul-fall-2016-34

See for yourself

What:Trickeye Museum, which also features a love museum, ice sculpture museum, and a carnival-style play area
Where: Hongdae #B2 Seogyo Plaza 20 Hongikro 3gil, Mapogu, Seoul / Tel) 02-3144-6300
How much: Tickets are W15,000 for adults and W12,000 for children under 18. Group discounts available.
Learn more: http://trickeye.com/seoul/en

 

Dear America, a dispatch from abroad

I am a foreigner. And I was with Her. Many of us are – we’re just one of 8 million American expatriate citizens dotted across the globe. We have a strange relationship with America. It is our homeland, where we vote, where we visit family, and, sometimes, even where we vacation.

But my true home is on this small peninsula in the Far East, a place where the streets smell like kimchi and opportunity. Where the alphabet looks like hieroglyphics (at least, in the beginning) and the highrises cast long shadows from the sky.

When I moved here nearly a decade ago, a white face was as rare as wheat bread. Brave children would greet me excitedly with shouts of “Helloooo” and “Wow, foreigner!!!” A wrinkled and weathered old man once softly touched Whit’s arm hair in a bustling train station, just to feel something so foreign, yet present.

A lot has changed in the last decade. Modernization is fast in Korea, but their conservative social mores and fear of foreigners in a very homogenous land is still real.

We now have two children who were born and raised here. They are both completely immersed in the local culture, attending Korean schools and daycares and living in a small university neighborhood where even the baker knows their name (and spoils them rotten).

Most of our neighbors and community members have completely accepted us. They smile at us every time they see us, the “tomato lady” continues her sales pitch and unending words of advice on rearing our children, and my Korean mom friends have welcomed me into their tight-knit circles.

Recently, Finn and his best friend Abby – also a foreigner here – have been heckled by a small group of older kids in the park for being foreigners. “No foreigners allowed to play this game!!!” they shouted.

Whit and I were shocked at the rhetoric, words we always feared for our children who live as foreigners every day in this world. We wanted to jump in, to defend Finn, now 5 and completely fluent in Korean.

“I’m not a foreigner,” Finn shouted back. “I’m Korean. I  live here and I speak Korean, just like you do!”

His Korean buddy quickly interjected. “Yaaaaahhh! They aren’t foreign! They’re Finn and Abby!!”

My heart melted as I heard this 5-year-old girl shout at the older boys, completely barraging them for attacking her friends. My heart melted further as I thought about the last four years, and how this same girl’s mother was the slowest neighbor to accept us into the community.

We never had to interject for our son, who can certainly handle his own situations and with much more grace.

Whit and I are quickly offended any time the word  foreigner is hurled our way. It sounds so dirty, so mean, so exclusive.

But to my dear 5-year old? He was born and raised here. This is his world, and he’s damn sure going to own it.

I later asked him what was going on with the older boys, and he shrugged it off. He couldn’t have been more nonplussed. But I wanted him to understand the labels that people so often use to define a person.

You are not Korean, I told him. You are also not American, I explained.

You, my son, are a citizen of this world. And with that comes a great responsibility to do your best to understand everyone different than you.

Walk in their shoes. Learn their language. See how they live. Respect their Gods. And always keep your mind open.

One day – unfortunately, not today – the world will thank you for it.

Finn playing at the park in Korea today from Nash Photos on Vimeo.

10 Cool Biking Parents Reinventing the Wheel

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A big thanks to Red Tricycle for featuring us as “Wheely Cool” parents who bike with their kids.

If you can imagine jetting off with your partner-in-crime to a country halfway across the world, and then raising two kids as avid bikers while exploring a foreign culture halfway across the world, then you’ve got a good idea of how Lindsay Nash spends her days. As the marketing coordinator for Bike Tours.com, she helps spread the good word about the bike-travel company offering over 450 tours in 70 countries (check out the family-friendly tours here!). As a mom, she can be found exploring the over 1,000 miles of brand-new, dedicated bike paths with her two little ones (Finn, age five; Poppy, 18 months), and can now say she’s ridden along pristine coastlines, up mountains past hidden Buddhist temples, through verdant rice paddies, along fruit orchards, and through tiny towns; all on a bike, which in her opinion, is the best way to experience South Korea.

Read more! 

Ready For Contact-5 Ways To Prepare Yourself for Korea’s Dangerous Roads

By Whit Altizer

This morning, as I do every morning, I rode my bicycle to school. I was a little later than usual so I had to battle the between-classes-traffic that I usually try to avoid. Cars, bikes, buses and pedestrians all hurry to make up for lost time spent this morning drinking coffee, missing a bus or sleeping a little late.

I was going over my 9:00 class lesson plan in my head when I locked eyes with an oncoming biker riding in my lane. We looked at each other in the eye for what felt like a whole minute. Neither one of us slowing down or yielding. Then, like something off an episode of Jackass, we hit each other head-on at full speed (did I mention my brake pads need replacing?). The word that came out of my mouth right before contact? “DUUUUDDDDDEEEEE!” More in a “WTF” tone than a “you just did something awesome.” Maybe you would assume that.

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I’ve now fallen off my long-board and hit another bike head-on on the campuses I’ve worked. Check two things off the bucket list and pass me my helmet.

Bumping into people is part of life here. The amount of people here compared to the amount of space available makes Westerners like me uncomfortable, but it’s a part of life you just have to accept or go crazy. In my first few months of living here I had bumped into, been shoved by and seen more cars banged up and more people lying in the streets after collisions than I have in my whole life in America. Ever seen someone get hit by a car? I have. My wife has several times.

So you could also safely assume that it also has a reputation for some heinous driving. Google “Korean driving” and you’ll see video from people’s black boxes of cars getting in the most ridiculous wrecks. Koreans often drive too fast (bali, bali!!) or under the assumption that no one else is on the road. Which doesn’t work on roads that are choked with traffic.

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Look both ways. Then look both ways again.

When I got up after smashing into this other bike, I really didn’t know what to do. Luckily, it was just a couple of idiots on bikes and no one was hurt, but it reminded me of how ill-prepared some foreigners are for accidents in foreign countries. We have a tendency to forget that the law and the customs also apply to us, especially when we get into an accident. There are tons of resources in English to get you familiar with what to do. See links in my tips below.

Here are some things to consider before taking to the Korean streets.

  1. Be insured and be legal. If you are a driver or motorcyclist you better have a license and insurance. Though I have never had to show my license it is important that you have one. If it is a small accident you’re likely to come to terms on some settlement money(some expats call “blood money“) without police supervision. In 2007, a friend of mine t-boned a car that pulled out in front of his motorbike (a motorbike my wife was on the back of..yikes!). de200-driversThe car seemed at fault to me, but my friend had no recourse without a license or insurance. At the time at least he was like many others who decided just to gamble for a year and avoid the hassle of getting street legal. These are things we wouldn’t dream of driving without back home and shouldn’t be without in Korea. Fortunately, the man he hit didn’t come up with a giant number off the top of his head, but drove my friend with him to a shop for an estimate. The man also saved my friend from some problems with the police. However, this is something common in Korea, pay the damages, stay out of court and move on. If you are a cyclist, cycling insurance might help you with your own injuries or equipment but probably not with someone else’s.
  2. Call the cops. That is, if you are insured and legal and you feel like it will help the proceedings. The cops should help you get a fair settlement1851556_image_1, but it is common in the expat community to feel that the cops will never side with the foreigner. I am sure there have been some unfair judgments made by cops in Korea and will continue to be, but I’ve heard of more cases where cops have been fair to expats than not. Just be ready for anything. Click here for the Korean police website for foreigners. They have translators you can reach.
  3. Proceed cautiously. It’s crowded here and incidents where you think you’d be free from fault you aren’t. Take this example, where a cyclist hit a woman walking in a bike lane. The cyclist was liable for damages even though the woman was putting herself at risk by walking somewhere she shouldn’t. This happens all the time. Pedestrians walk into traffic certain you are going to stop. Old Korean ladies walk their oxcarts full of cardboard in the middle of the road. Pay attention. Be ready for someone or something to jump out in front of you. Seriously. It happens.

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    Fun while it lasted. Dumb in retrospect. Regardless, you should have your license and insurance while riding one of these guys.

  4. Get a black box or GoPro. Having a black box on the dash of my car or a camera mounted on my bike feels like overkill. In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t have either. But I should. It would be very difficult for me to use my limited Korean to explain to the cops what happened and a black box would make it infinitely easier. These things are becoming way more common and most new cars have them. Also if the kid wanted to make an issue out of our wreck this morning I could have had video evidence that he was in the wrong lane.
  5. Walk or Take Public Transportation. We relied solely on taxis, buses, subways,If I only knew this was still the beginning! our bikes and our feet before kids and it was dead easy. If you are only planning on being here for a year or two avoid the headache and walk or take public transportation. Korea has an amazing public transportation system that goes most places you need to go for cheap. Also, despite my experience today biking has always been my favorite way to travel around. But if you find yourself in a game of chicken with another bike. Move first. You might just save yourself some embarrassment and some money.

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I am Expat (And So Can You!)

By Lindsay Nash

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” ― Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

The American Dream has changed. It’s no longer owning your own house or staying in one job for the rest of your life. For millennials like me, it’s own less, experience more. An interesting article in Time Magazine says that millennials dream about travel and self employment–and staying far off the corporate ladder.

The article cites a poll that reports 38% of millennials say travel is part of the American Dream, well exceeding the 28% who name secure retirement.tandem

I have to agree. I held my first post-graduate job for three years before Whit and I left that world to explore the actual world. We haven’t looked back since. In the nearly decade that has followed, we’ve become comfortable American expatriates here in South Korea. We’ve traveled a good chunk of Asia, backpacking through India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, and China. And took family vacations in Bali and the Philippines.

The world is our house. Experiences are our possessions. And adventures are our dreams.

Even when we started having children, we knew we wanted to share this lifestyle with our little ones. And, while most parents would scoff at the idea, we’ve thrived in this world outside of America. Here are 8 secrets to our success of living an expat lifestyle, and loving it.

8 Secrets to an expat life of success

1. Get a job.
Teach in KoreaLet’s get real. As romantic as it sounds to just wander the Earth on someone else’s dime with no responsibilities, in the long-run, it won’t pan out. Plus, you won’t truly experience a culture without immersing yourself in it. To have experiences (your new “possessions”) you need to be able to afford them. Start at Transitions Abroad for ideas on how you can make your expat life a reality. Teaching English is a wonderful way to first make the leap.

2. Manage expectations.reading KoreanIt won’t be glorious, or glamorous, all the time. There will be days you want to scream your head off because a cultural tick gets on your nerves. Or times you get frustrated because you just want to be able to hold a normal conversation with your neighbor without sounding like a buffoon. But realize this is normal. Keep going. Keep studying. Keep accepting what’s different.

3. Keep an open mind.
dc05b-dsc_0215One of the best things about living abroad is how your perceptions of the world and everyday life change. Quickly. It’s important to keep an open mind, and to continue to grow and change the way you view the world. Otherwise, you’ll be left behind, or you’ll be left angry at why people can’t see the world as you do.

4. Make friends.Friends in KoreaFriends sweeten any deal, and living abroad is no different. Whether you want to move abroad with your family or by yourself, it’s important to make connections as soon as possible in your new home. Having someone to talk to, go to, and listen to will be one of your major keys to success.

5. Take advantage of the situation.
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Live in Korea like I do? Learn Korean. Learn how to make kimchi. Live in France? Learn French. Drink wine. Eat cheese. Live in China? Visit the Great Wall. The possibilities are endless when you live in a strange land. Take full advantage. Explore often. Learn constantly.

6. Share it with others. 
cameraselfieStart a blog and write about your adventures. Or post your pictures on Instagram. Or tell people about it on Facebook. When you look at your experience in a positive light, and are constantly sharing it, it will be contagious. To you on bad days, and to others who dream of doing the same thing.

7. Get involved.
running clubOne of the best things (if not THE best) about being an expatriate is the expat community. Just think: A whole group of people who think a little bit like you and value the same experiences. I guarantee, you’ll make fast friends in these communities, as expats are always up for meeting other expats. It’s also easy to create groups in these communities, such as a running club, book clubs, dinner groups, girls nights, the list goes on and on.

8. Become a citizen of the world.
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I tell my children this all the time. You’re a citizen of the world. With this citizenship comes great responsibility. Respect religion, any kind. Respect dress codes, any kind. Respect customs, any kind. We are all humans on this Earth, and the only way we’ll survive is to be kind and respectful of one another. Period.

The Line That Divides Us

By Whit Altizer

On Tuesday, the Koreas held a meeting at a infamous resort in North Korea for families separated by the Korean war. For some, this meant seeing faces and hugging people they haven’t seen in 65 years. Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons and daughters laying eyes on each other for the first time in an absurd amount of time.

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Credit: Yonhap

I don’t even know how to fully process this kind of separation. The piece by Choe Sang Hun (who, might I add, is an alumni at the school I teach at and just an overall amazing journalist that perfectly captures Korea and its culture for New York Times readers) is sad, emotional, sweet and even captures the hard-shells the older Korean generation sometimes wears; no doubt formed by the tough lives they’ve led.

In a culture that puts family first (they even write their family name first) this must be absolutely gut-wrenching for the parties involved. I could feel their pain by reading Choe’s excellent piece and watching the videos with it.. Even still, I sit millions of miles from that experience. The pain I feel certainly doesn’t touch what these people have carried for years.

Oddly, the more time I spend in South Korea the more I forget about the DMZ. Fighter jets whoosh over my office and apartment all the time and the news is filled with stories about North Korea and the fear that surrounds it. But, admittedly I’ve become desensitized to living in a country still technically at war. When I first arrived here I nearly ran for cover the first time a jet flew low overhead. Now if I am in class I pause, let it fly over and continue where I left off.

Then this piece comes out. The tears, the heartbreak, the forced separations brings the reality back. It reminds me how innocent people are victims of power and corruption. Many of these people were living quiet lives one day and then thrown into a mess not of their making the next. It also reminds me that even with these very real sad stories as cautionary tales, more will be written. That this will not be the last time something like this happens, I believe, is a real tragedy.

Who Wrote Your History Book?

By Whit Altizer

I’m finally putting my master’s degree to work this year teaching American history to international university students in Korea. I love it. I have Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian, and even an American student. They are active, engaged and ask interesting questions. This class has made teaching in Korea even more of a joy.

Homework for this group can be a bit of a challenge because, even though my students are exceptionally bright, asking them to read the same amount from the same texts an American college student might read for history class is unrealistic. So, instead I draw from primary sources through data-based questions, and keep the readings from secondary sources to a minimum.

I think I am finding what works best for them. They love looking at the documents I bring to class and analyzing what they mean for the event or person we are discussing. One of the most interesting classes we’ve had so far was looking at documents and photos from the Spanish-American war. They loved looking at the dawning days of modern American imperialism expansion diplomacy.

Interestingly, Korean government has caught flak this month because of their decision to take on the task of writing history books for the public schools in the nation. The current conservative government under President Park Geun Hye has found the current choices (about 8 in total from private publishers) to be too left-leaning. Their goal is to make one government issued textbook that is “balanced.” Is that even possible?

historytextbooksTo further complicate the story, Park’s father was Korea’s longest serving president. Her father, Park Chung Hee, took control in 1961 by military coup and turned Korea from one of the poorest counties in the world to one of the biggest financial powers. Growth that is fondly referred to as “the Miracle on the Han.” Truly a miracle for a country the size of Korea that was left in absolute despair after World War II.

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The elder Park remains a complicated figure in Korean history. While on the one hand he improved the lives and filled the stomachs of most Koreans, he didn’t exactly do so in the most democratic of ways. Koreans speak of him with tones of both admiration and fear.

Hence, a source of contention is about one of the current textbooks is that the term “dictator” is used 28 times when referring to the South Korean government during military rule(the bulk of which was under Park) to only 2 times when talking about the North Korean government in the same period.

So how will the new government textbook speak of Park Chung Hee? Will it admit that his legacy is complicated? Can the Korean public trust a panel of historians overseen by Park’s daughter to write a fair and balanced book on Korean history? We’ll see.

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“Our music, art and literature have been the lush plants that our flaws as a country have fertilized.”

This got me thinking about how we learn history, how much stock we put into what we read and how I teach my international students about my country. I think what many critics of history books forget is that thoughtful individuals learn and teach from these books. As teachers we may be charged with molding the minds of our students, but we are also charged with teaching them to think and question the sources from which they learn.

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City of Seoul Korea (above 1945 and 2015)

I remember reading a book from the 1950s on Robert E. Lee that read almost like a love letter to his legacy. In its own way this book served as a learning tool. Could a white author in the 1950s feel a little too nostalgic about what Lee stood for? Perhaps. These are the kind of sources worth cross-referencing. A reminder that every source you read should be thought about in the context in which it was written. When was it written? Who published it?

Korean history teachers, I hope, have taught from the current left-leaning textbooks with the understanding that they are biased. I also hope that whatever gets issued by the government also gets taught with a similar understanding. While good history books do exist, (and maybe Park’s will be a good one) there is inevitably going to be some personal bias in them and it is up to the reader to sniff it out. It is also up to the teacher to offer some balance to those biases. There are multiple ways to discuss a historical event and in those discussions some learning takes place.

So while I was a little stunned by Park’s decision to create one government-issued textbook, something that hasn’t been done since her father was in power, it has reminded me that history class is as much about teaching students to think for themselves as it is learning facts from a book. That one must understand who the source is and the flaws that it inevitably possesses. Knowing that nothing (or nobody) is perfect might help us grapple with our own country’s history a little more thoughtfully.

I find myself both proud and frustrated by American history when I teach it. It’s complicated and I kind of love that about it. What we are supposed to do with our history it is to learn from it and be better people. Hiding our flaws might make us repeat them. Additionally, I think our flaws have made us a more interesting country. Our music, art and literature have been the lush plants that our flaws as a country have fertilized. That’s something worth remembering. And in my opinion that is why we should embrace these flaws, write about them, learn from them and never forget they are there.