You’ve got my love to lean on darling, all the days

Before I left for South Korea three years ago, my older sister told me that she’s a little bit sad that I’ll miss some important “growing up” moments in my niece’s (her daughter’s) life in this next year that I’ll be in South Korea. Well, I’ve been here for three years and it really pains me that I’ve missed out on my nieces’ and nephew’s youths. What if they have their first kiss? What if they get bullied and don’t know who to turn to? What if they get in a fight with their parents and want to talk to me about it? All these what-ifs went through my mind, so I started writing letters to my eldest niece. I put them in a box, and I hope that when the time comes, she’ll pass it on to my other nieces and nephew, and that it will be helpful to them while I’m gone.

This was one of the letters:

To my little one,

There is so much that I want to teach you and tell you and learn from you. I hate to be absent for any part of your beautiful life, but while I’m away, I hope you remember some of what I’ve already tried to teach you.

Be patient and kind, to everyone, always. Including yourself.

Do not believe in luck. Believe in gratitude. Feel it all the time.

Treat every human being as exactly that: a human being. Show respect to everyone, even your enemies, and do not tolerate being disrespected.

Your feelings are YOURS and there is never a need to explain why you feel them.

When you learn something, don’t forget it. Intelligence is extremely attractive and invaluable.

Never, ever, ever, ever assume. Never assume that someone ignored you, or that someone is mad at you, or that something was your fault. Because anything can happen at any time, and we are not always aware of everything at once. Don’t disregard coincidence.

In confrontations and arguments, express only how you feel. Do not tell people what they did, but tell them how they made you feel.

Living well is the best revenge. Don’t believe in revenge.

Work hard. (Be lazy, but only sometimes.)

I once sat next to an old German man on a train and he asked me what my dream is. I told him that I want to travel, and he told me about how he moved to the U.S. from Germany as a young boy with nothing. He went to school, became a doctor, and now he teaches at a university in New York. He offered me this advice: “Keep a positive attitude. Don’t compromise your dreams and something will come and open up your universe. You younger generations need more confidence. Just know that us older generations believe in you. Let the universe come to you—invite it.”

Too much of anything can turn into a bad thing. The keys to happiness at its finest are balance and moderation.

Tell your parents goodnight before you go to bed. Tell the people you care about that you care about them. People need to be reminded of that.

Not everything lasts forever, and that’s okay. Look back and remember the goodness of all things, and be grateful for having it.

Ask yourself questions all the time. It is important to be able to answer to yourself, and be true to yourself.

The earth is a precious place, and you are just a visitor. Treat it well. Save as much life, energy, waste, and water as you can. Nothing is unlimited.

An excerpt from one of my favorite articles: “We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.”

Stories are gifts that we give to each other. They can be happy, or sad, or scary. They are real, and they are meaningful. Remember as many of them as you can, especially the magical ones. Hold onto them and don’t forget that they can be very, very real.

“You are responsible for the energy you put into this world.”

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to both realities and dreams. Always keep going.

Try not to raise your voice, and try to always smile. Try new things often.

Know that the world we live in is a big one. There are millions of different souls and perspectives out there. You should never feel alone.

Power comes in many forms. Music, stories, writing, expression, art, thought, knowledge. Power is from within. Use yours—you have so many!

Self-discipline and patience are very necessary strengths. Learn them as early as you can.

Avoid any and all feelings of jealousy. Never wish to be anyone else.

Never burn bridges because you never know when you might need to cross them again.

And most importantly, never doubt that you are loved.

Love always,

Auntie

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Things That No One Told Me About Teaching English in South Korea

Learning a language is a matter of persistence and motivation.

English is an extremely difficult language to both teach and learn. By teaching it, I’ve learned just how many exceptions to rules, irregular verb changes, and difficult words to spell and pronounce there are. Korean students are required to learn this language, and not all of them want to. Unless a student has a reason or inspiration to learn English, my class is not much of a class for them at all.

Korean is also a difficult language to learn. I’ve never had serious difficulties with the language barrier here, but I have learned that when you take language away, you are forced to interact, form bonds, and learn through the most basic form of communication—body language. Once I could read, write, and use basic verbs in Korean, my study of the language was put on hold until I realized that I’d never reach my goal of fluency unless I persist in practice.

Making Korean friends is harder than you’d think. 

Most Koreans are shy in personality, and shy to speak English. If they’re not either of those things, then you got lucky and should keep this friend for life. I have very few Korean friends, and I value the insights to their culture I get from our friendship.

Koreans can be very judgmental.

Physical beauty standards in Korea are very high, and many won’t be afraid to call you names that would be considered offensive in the U.S. Although Koreans often tell me that my “face is beautiful,” they don’t leave out that my “arms have hair,” my “skin is too tan,” or that my “feet are big.” They also think that I “eat too much ice cream,” but…isn’t there no such thing as too much ice cream?

Your mindset will evolve.

This is one of the most beautiful lessons I have learned since moving to Korea. From little things like my sense of fashion and my perception of beauty, to more significant ones like my taste in music and beliefs about people and the world, I have changed notably within my first few weeks of living here. I don’t judge people based on looks or fashion in the way that I used to, and I can now understand how or why people act the way they do. I have come to understand the phrase “To each his own” in a new light. Living in a society that was so different from the one I grew up in gave me insights to people’s choices, personalities, lifestyles, and principles that I never had before. The longer I live here, the more I find that the farther away I get from what I know, the more beautiful the world becomes.

Every single day will keep you guessing.

There is a thing we foreigners here call the “Korean surprise.” This is where totally unexpected things happen, in and out of school. From cancelled classes and surprise classes, to being forced to sing karaoke songs for the principal and teachers at my school, to strangers stopping you on the streets to speak English, the “Korean surprise” is very real. Each new day in Korea has something in store with the element of surprise.

Laziness is a terrible trap.

It’s easy to set goals, make to-do lists, and plans to explore and discover Korea, but it’s also easy to fall into the weekday rhythm of going to work, coming home to nap, meeting friends for dinner and drinks, and going straight to bed. I had ambitious goals of learning Korean, teaching myself to code, reading books, running, practicing yoga, and writing blogs left and right with all of my free time here. Soon, there were days and weeks that were exhausting and it required real motivation and a conscious effort to reach these goals. With the right balance of work and play, I can proudly say that my to-do list is slowly getting done, but it took some time to get here.

These kids are crazy.

“Korean students are very respectful,” they said. “Korean students love learning,” they said. “Korean students are very quiet,” they said. Yeah, well, they lied.

You will own a selfie stick, and your selfie count will skyrocket.

On our first weekend trip after moving to Korea, my friends and I kept asking people to take pictures of us in front of the sights we were visiting. At first, this felt very natural. I mean, how else do people take group photos while traveling? Throughout the day, as we kept asking people, we felt weirder and weirder each time. No one else was doing that—they all had selfie sticks. Within a matter of days, we each purchased our own, and before we knew it, that “Selfies” folder on our iPhone albums had more pictures in it than we ever wanted.

The black hole of music also known as K-pop will suck you in.

I remember watching my very first K-pop video during orientation nine months ago. It was BigBang’s “Fantastic Baby.” I looked around the room and wondered why so many people loved this. My initial reaction was that I couldn’t listen to music sang in a language I couldn’t understand, and that it was strange that the guys wore makeup and outrageous outfits, and that they weren’t even attractive. A few weeks later, there I was, singing, dancing, and screaming my favorite member’s name in Seoul’s Olympic Arena, one in a sea of thousands of BigBang diehard fans. I have listened to only a handful of English songs ever since.

The Korean education system that is so highly praised outside of this country is, in reality, quite flawed.

It’s hard to keep this short and simple, because there are so many aspects to Korean education that would be difficult to understand unless you witnessed it yourself. Around the world, Korea is known for breeding the brightest students, but what’s often missing and ignored is that these students are put under extreme pressure to succeed in school. For people aged 15-24 in South Korea, suicide is the leading cause of death. This is not to say that school and education is to blame for this statistic, but I do believe in the correlation between them.

Korean students, beginning in middle school, go to school for the majority of their days, sometimes not going home until 8-9 p.m., and even later for high school students. In my classes, kids are sleeping with their heads on their desks left and right, and sometimes they tell me lunch is their only real meal of the day because of their hectic schedules.

I once did a two-week lesson about high school in America, and after my first class I regretted it immediately. Seeing the shock and longing in my students’ faces when I asked them for their opinions about the differences between our educations systems broke my heart. Korean kids grow up very fast. By high school, their maturity level is that of American upperclassmen. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s my opinion that they should have more opportunities to have more fun, more free time, and more chances to feel young. Instead, they spend 12+ hours in classrooms turning pages and not feeling good enough or smart enough to pass their next test, or get into the school they want. With these things in mind, I’ve made it a goal in my English classes to give them a unique way of study—a little less bookwork and a little more fun and human interaction when possible.

It is not easy.

Before coming to Korea, I read countless pieces of advice from current and former teachers here. Many times, they would talk about the motivation that Korean students have to learn English, and how this would naturally make teaching classes feel more like an easy and fun experience than an actual job. I was lucky enough to be placed in a great all-boys middle school where the teachers are extremely strict, resulting in the forming of very respectful young men. However, students are students, and they are the same around the world—some smart, some sleepy, and some disrespectful. Every class has its own set of geniuses, its own attitude, and ultimately, its own troublemaker. Some classes are quiet and nonresponsive, while others are madhouses. Picture kids standing on desks and water bottles flying across the room. That was once my reality.

The blogs and testimonials I read also talked about how much easier it would be thanks to the help of the Korean co-teacher. Surprise! I have 7 co teachers and none of them stand in front of the class with me to “co-teach” with me at all. Two of them sometimes step in to help, and the keyword there is sometimes. Imagine how difficult it is to teach English when your students don’t speak English and you don’t speak Korean, all while there is a Korean teacher in the room who absolutely can but just does not stand up to help at all. It is, as they say here in Korea, no jam (no fun).

The bright side of this is that, by the end of each class and each day, there will always be certain students that I reached, classes that were successful, and moments in which I looked around and smiled because I do love this job. Despite the challenges, I feel like I have a unique power to teach these kids about worlds they don’t know, and I have strong hopes that my lessons inspires them to explore those worlds.

How Lucky I Am

I wake up every day and tell myself that I am lucky. Probably the luckiest. And I should have posted this blog when I wrote it a month ago. But I’m lucky, not perfect.

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2014 was a weird one.

January was spent doing a lot of reading, a lot of research, a lot of writing, and a lot of asking myself why I decided to write an honors thesis. This first month gave no insight as to how interesting the year would be.

I spent February through April reminding myself that life is short and so is college. It was the time it took me to get over a three year relationship, and also to lose a friend.

I spent the month of May doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Like indulging in ice cream, drinking lots of beer, and kissing a cute boy or two.

June through August were three months of wandering a new city, adjusting to the life of a college grad, and discovering a pure hatred for cubicles.

September was a month of beginnings, where I explored a new job, a new relationship, and a few new hobbies.

In October and November, I spent a lot of time thinking about trust and people and what it means to put the two together. In the end, I found that the process of learning never ends, and that it’s okay to feel things, especially pain.

And here we are now, in December. I’ve just spent the last two weeks traveling through Central America, and I came home to discover that once again, an entire year has come and gone.

It’s always a unique feeling to be in the last few days of the year, stuck between reminiscing the last twelve months and trying to imagine the next. Time moves fast, and we grow exponentially lucky with each passing second. I hope to remember that for the rest of my life. And I hope that I can look back on each year and find my own seasons within the months, instead of what the calendar tells me.

2014—Things I Did And What I Learned From Them:

I said goodbye to my first love. It was eleven months ago and I still think it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I learned how to love the fact that love for someone or something can continue even when it’s over.

I wrote a 200-page honors thesis. It wasn’t easy, but I loved it. And because I loved it, it was worth it.

I took up new hobbies and gained new skills. All it took was time.

I graduated college. We used to think it was cool to not do homework and be lazy in high school, but now I believe that learning is the best decision you will ever make.

I lost a friend over a disagreement and failure to understand each other. Not all friendships are meant to last, but all are meant to learn from.

I interviewed someone who inspires me. Dan Layus and I had a conversation about heartbreak in the most loving way because things are so good. “How could they be so good that it breaks my heart?”

I lived in a new city, and I learned that you can build a home anywhere.

I discovered a new love for running and mountains. There is something about the natural world that can make you feel more at home than four walls ever could.

I worked in an industry that I don’t really want to be in at all. I learned to learn what I don’t like. And that cubicles are the bane of my existence.

I welcomed a new life to the world, my first nephew, and remembered that life is precious.

I went to a TED conference. Ideas and people are more powerful than money.

I watched the sun rise and set as much as I could. This continues to teach me to never, ever take the familiar for granted.

I went bungee jumping. It was this surreal moment, in which I felt an unmistakeable combination of fear, adrenaline, and peace, all at once. During the free fall, I learned that this unnamed feeling is one that I need to chase forever.

I visited 2 new countries, 4 new states, 15 new cities. The world is big, and I will never get enough of it.

All in all, this year was one of discovery, and testing myself emotionally. While I learned plenty about myself, I also learned that there is much, much more to learn.

Once Upon A Time…

I’m in this New Year and soon-to-be-college-graduate mindset, and I have come to the following conclusion about life:

You know people by the stories they tell.

…if they have any at all.

I want to always be the person in the conversation who has a story to tell.  Whether it’s about love, life, or even death, I hope I can provide a little anecdote with a happy ending.

People who share stories are the ones who have lived.  They are the ones who we turn to when we need to form an idea of what’s to come.  After all, your future is someone else’s past.  Or so I’ve heard.

When I’m 100 (and I will be someday), I want to tell stories about the time I learned how to surf in Portugal, or the time I camped out under the stars in the Sahara Desert in Morocco after a four hour camel ride.  I want to share with people the memories from my high school and college years, and I want to say beautiful things about all of the incredible souls I have been so lucky to encounter in my lifetime.  Most of all, I just want to leave something behind for others to remember, so that they, too, can have a story to tell.

How to be a Super Intern

Today is my last day as an intern for CareerCloud, and I can’t believe it!  It’s been almost exactly one year since I first started, and boy has time flown.  I wrote my last blog, and it’s called How To Be A Super Intern.  Please give it a read 🙂

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Motivate me Monday

Guess what?

I’ve made a very bold decision.

To cross #65 off of my bucket list.

Run a marathon.

AAAHHHH.

Yeah I’m nervous.  And because I know myself too well and I want to do this the right way and take my time in doing so, I’m giving myself two years to reach this goal.  Yes, YEARS.  A marathon is 26.2 miles.  So by the end of 2015, I will have run a marathon.  At least that’s the goal.  If it doesn’t happen or as long as I am still working towards it by then, I think I’ll be okay.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading about running marathons and the training the comes with it, and what I’ve taken away from all of it is that this will be a long, hard process that I’m going to need to take seriously.  And I think I need something like that in my life right now.  A project, if you will.  I’m going to start by training for a 5k, then a 10k, a half marathon, and finally a marathon.  To start, I’m going to use Cool Running’s The Couch-to-5K Running Plan that I heard about a few years ago.

I started today, and I feel great about it.  About halfway through the workout, I felt amazing.  I was like what is this 60/90 second running/walking alternation?!  I could run that marathon right now!  And then I lol’d because that was a sick joke.  But it has never felt better to set such a huge goal for myself, and after just the first day of working toward it just a little, it already feels rewarding.

Here’s the thing about setting goals.  Slowly getting closer to achieving them is an incredible feeling.  Running (literally, in my case) towards what you want gets your life going.  And that’s how it should be.

After running I had a really super good awesome wonderful meditation.  I remember when I first started meditating (I don’t really actually know if I’m really meditating but that’s what I call it…) aka thinking only positive things for 2-10 minutes and doing some deep breathing.  Is that meditating…?  Cause that’s what I’ve been telling people that I do every morning.

ANYWAY.  When I first started, I remember thinking like 4 positive things and I thought it had been 2 minutes already but it was really only about 15 seconds… This morning I couldn’t stop thinking of all the good things.

I just had an awesome run.  I feel really good.  I’m out of breath in a good way.
I have an awesome family, boyfriend, friends, and there are good people in the world who are working to make it better.  Including me.
I get to see my nieces today.  They’re going to change the world in a decade or so.
I’ve been to more places than most people have in their lives.  I’ve seen countless sunsets.
The sky is blue today.
I am blessed, grateful, happy, deserving.

Literally I couldn’t stop.  And then my phone went off and I remembered that I have work to do.  But I stopped and also remembered that life is too good to me.  And it could be for everyone.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

Undress the Stress: Day 24

I forgot to blog last night because I just really wanted to go to sleep…

So now let me tell you what stressed me out yesterday.

NOTHING!

Somehow I went through an entire day without feeling stressed or worried.  I doubt that most people have ever experienced a completely stress-free day while they aren’t on vacation.  And I think I have this blog series to owe for that wonder.  By keeping track of the stressors in my life for the last 3 or so weeks, I’ve found patterns.  I know what stresses  me out, how I deal with it, and what I can do to de-stress.

Most people stress and they don’t know why, and I would absolutely recommend this process for them, and everyone else.  Finding the root of the problem is the first step in fixing it.  Having somewhere to go to and rant is also an effective way to express yourself.  Taking a few minutes to reflect on your day is extremely productive but it only works if you get into the habit.  It’s not something you can do at your leisure.  If you want to find the stressors and get rid of them, you have to commit.  Not forever, but as long as it takes.

It finally feels like I’m making progress in “undressing” my stresses.  I’ve learned so much about myself by reading my own blogs.  Some common stressors that I’ve found include money, relationships, and deadlines.  It’s nice to know how I can cushion the blow of incoming stresses since I know what to expect from myself.

I can only cross my fingers and hope that stress will stop choosing me as its victim now that I refuse to feel its presence.

In the words of Jason Mraz, “You don’t need a vacation when there’s nothing to escape from.”