Teachers Are Students, Too

The other day I opened my travel journal and read what I wrote just a few days after I left Korea back in March. I cried at the rawness of my early reflections because I realized that there is always so much to learn. Below is the word vomit that I scribbled over 15 pages almost ten months ago:

Korea has been everything. Now that I can look back and see it as a part of my journey that is finished, it feels like I can grasp the meaning it had as a segment of my life. I can see who I was there, through my experiences and those I shared them with, the decisions I made and chances I took. At the end of it all I can say I’m proud of myself. For facing challenges and learning from them. For stretching myself in all kinds of ways — emotionally, physically, mentally, and in capacities I never expected to.

Lessons In Love
One of the biggest lessons I had during my time in Korea was through Sway. In the beginning of the relationship, I saw myself taking a risk, being open to new things, and blindly trusting. Choosing to do all of those things rewarded me with love, fun, and knowledge that I could choose the good assumptions over the bad ones. At the end of the relationship though, I learned something much more valuable. I learned pain. I’ve never hurt myself by hurting someone else before, and I didn’t know what that was like until him. It hurt me deeply to learn that I could be the cause of someone else’s pain and it took months for me to let go. I realized the inevitability of the fact that we will hurt the people we love, and vice versa, and that is a natural part of humanity.
After I came to realize this I felt refreshed and as if I had finally put down the burdens I carried from the end of that relationship. I let go of blame I put on myself by recognizing that self-blame is unfair and totally in our control. Guilt is a choice. And letting go is hard, but helpful. Forgiveness is a heavy responsibility; choosing it is not weakness but evidence of our strength.
When I look back now I can only remember the good things, and I’m thankful to know that the hardship that followed what we had was only because of the love we shared. Korea would not have been Korea without him.
On Energy
Another lesson I learned in the past few years is that my body is a powerful machine that I am lucky to have and know how to operate. I trained for a long time to run a full course marathon; it took literal YEARS. I lost focus many times but I never gave up. As I continued after each difficult phase I found that all I needed was a time commitment, a good support system, and a strong believe in myself that I could do it. I had all of these at different points, but until they lined up with perfect timing did it all come together. I learned that I can reach such big goals through little ones, one by one.
By joining the yoga studio I was able to make a commitment, and continuously work on a part of myself in body and mind. I dedicated myself to the mat, the practice, the growth, and the hardship. I worked. I reached. I learned so much, and I hope I never stop.
By joining Crewghost, I opened up in my running abilities and insecurities. Running with more support, and a crew who turned into family, made my first marathon even more of a passion and an achievable goal. I felt so proud to be a part of this team and I still am.
A few months after joining Crewghost, I signed up for the Vinyasa Intensive I teacher’s course and it changed me completely. I found myself more aware, more open, and more than ever, happy with myself. And that’s honestly what makes joy come from other avenues without obstacles or delays: self-awareness and self-love. Then I signed up for the Vinyasa Intensive II…and felt even better. I felt healthy, light, fit, strong, and in an incredible place where routine did the opposite of put me in a box or limit me. It brought me to myself.
Pushing my body’s limits and taking it to new ones changed me not just physically but mentally too. I needed no one but myself. And that is a feeling I wish for everyone to internalize and feel genuinely.
When I ran my full course, the pride and excitement was exactly what I thought it would be, maybe a little bit better because it was real. Until now I can’t believe I finished that race. I am proud of my focus, my hard work, and my perseverance, but also my body.
Teachers Are Students, Too
Above everything else, most of my time was spent at SOT. Working there taught me a lot, specifically about what’s important to me and how that affects others. At work I focused on the kids and that was a huge priority of mine. Yes, money was important, and yes, my work environment mattered, but at the end of the day, my job as an educator and leader is what I held close to me.
I learned that all of the little teaching moments I took the time to focus on (teaching about sharing, embracing differences, being kind, accepting and understanding others, knowing your own energy — yes, somehow I tried to teach this to seven year olds) were the things I valued most. I loved each and every one of my students and I wanted to teach them so much, but it turned out that they taught me more. I am so grateful that I learned from them, by watching them and figuring them out, and literally trying to navigate each of them as individual humans and the unique ways they learn. It was a blessing to be their teacher.
When work was hard, for various reasons, I kept this focus. And there were times (summer 2017) when I felt guilty. Looking back I know that was my choice. Why was I made to feel bad for not being angry? For not fighting? And for not choosing sides? It was unfair and complicated for everyone involved, but I look back and know that I should have never felt guilty about making a decision for my own reasons and sticking to it. Through that experience, I also felt pride, for standing my ground in the silence, and for facing those angry and frustrated with me. For handling things in a mature way. And for making a decision based on my own needs and no one else’s. For choosing to spend my last several months basking in the goodness of what I had.
On The Horizon of Change
At the end of last summer I decided to take a year off and dedicate to those I love. I made a plan to visit all the people I know around the world — to fulfill my need of movement and my craving for quality time with those who have been far away from me for the last few years.
So 2018 became a year full of dreams and adventure and travel. I looked at maps and flights and made plans to make no plans. I remember going on a long run one weekend morning and scheming so intensely in my mind about what I’d do in 2018, that the 3 hours it took to run 32k felt like nothing. All I wanted for 2018 was freedom and to be with who I care about. To surround myself with goodness and creativity. And to respark what lights in friendships might have dimmed with distance. This plan brewed in my heart and mind for months.
Then in the fall, something happened that changed me. I went to the yoga studio, and as I was leaving my teacher said to me, “See you tomorrow! Same time?” And I kind of laughed and said, “No no no. Same time tomorrow is pilates. I don’t do pilates.” She asked me if I had ever tried and I said, word for word, “No, but I’m scared.” Then I walked home and thought about it. Why was I scared? I had never even tried.
So I got home and made a list of all the things and experiences and ideas that I always say “no” to. And I wrote:
  • pilates
  • Game of Thrones
  • Tinder
  • working out at the gym
  • make up
  • 된장찌개 (doenjang jjigae – a fermented soybean soup stew thing that smells bad but somehow people think is delicious)
And everything changed.
I found a new practice: saying yes to more. Instead of making claims about what I don’t know, I should just say yes and try new things. So Jana and I watched season one of Game of Thrones until (spoiler alert) they killed Ned and I boycotted the season finale. I started BBG workouts with the intent of consistency instead of as supplements to my running regime. I ate the fermented soup whose smell had scarred me since my first week in Korea on my first Tinder date (two birds with one stone). I met some people I really connected with. I pushed myself. I made a commitment to learn about myself through all of the little steps I took outside of my comfort zone.
My “yes” project opened my eyes to the little changes we can make in our lives that, if we’re open to learning, teach us that we are capable of evolving and adjusting. Being able to say yes with the purpose of learning and knowing your boundaries opens doors through which acceptance and good giving and receiving can so easily flow, and I highly recommend it.
The Hardest Lesson
The end of my time in Korea came at the same time as the end of one of my life’s most treasured friendships. I would say that it started last summer when we talked about “us” for the first time. The “us” conversation was a conversation I never had with a friend before, and now I would love to have it with each of my friends. It was eye opening and heart-filling.
We discussed our respect for each other, what qualities we magnify and minimize in each other, and we talked very transparently about the difficult and unspoken parts of our friendship and feelings. Until this day I am so grateful for our exchange and how intimate and open our conversation was. I don’t think it’s often that people reach this level of introspective and unified closeness with others, and I consider myself lucky.
It’s difficult to explain how a bond forged so deep through shared experiences and how memories get lost in the chaos of pain, but it happens. There are so many differences between us, and there always have been yet we worked so well until we couldn’t. In retrospect, it might have been easy only on the surface, or to me. The tension wasn’t there in the beginning for me like it was for her; sometimes I wonder why I never felt it but she did.
The interesting thing about friendship that we don’t realize is no one on each side owes the other a single thing. Friendship is a commitment we make slowly and silently, and inevitably expectations build because over time we learn how to love this other human who has become so important to us. But in the end, and I hope to remember this in all of my friendships, we are just two people navigating life together. We can put as much love and understanding and support as we can for the other, and at the same time remember our own boundaries. Powerful friendships change you, and this one did from the moment it started
I can see so much looking back, and I know now that people come (and go) to show us what we can’t see on our own. I found a cherished companion and a great connection with a good person who brought out in me some needs I had to face. And I’m grateful for the fear and doubt and parts of myself that were brought out in me through our struggles. One day when we both have happiness I hope we can recognize that we did our genuine best.
But in this moment, in the end, as the sun sets on one of the brightest friendships to enter my life, I can’t help but hope that it might see another day. To walk through life is a gift, but to come across a person who becomes a friend, a teacher, and a mirror, is a treasure. For now I’ll look back fondly with a deep sense of gratitude and embrace the knowledge that it was what it was and what it did was move me. Tomorrow I’ll hope for the light to come again.
What Comes Next
I have just started the 2018 I dreamt of while running along a stream in the middle of Seoul last summer. I’m in China, next to the Great Wall. Tomorrow. I will wake up and walk for hours until I get enough of the path I find. And the next day I will find a new city and the day after, another. And that’s what this year will be about.
I imagine that it will be beautiful and that I will learn. And that I will look back and I will learn more. I will look ahead and I will have no idea what the future holds. There will be hardships and losses but also joy and brightness and good love along the way. I can’t wait.
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Moved by Moving

Leaving home gets harder and harder every time I do it. And I’m always asked, “Why do you like living abroad?” and “How do you do it?”

After years of thinking about it, I finally found some potential answers, thoughts repeated in my mind if nothing else.

I have developed a deep, deep passion for the world. I’ve had it for years, and I’m guessing I always will. It keeps me going and partly blinds me from the pain that I inevitably feel when I leave. This world just has so much to offer. There are so many people and lessons and activities and views to meet and learn and do and see. The fact that all of this is available and waiting is pretty insane to me and I can’t miss out. Long ago I told myself I would see as much of the world as I could and this goal is never-ending and doesn’t get easier the older I grow, but until that promise no longer serves me, I must go and go and go.

I look around and think to myself that the reason life is so wonderful is because we get to choose. Sure, there are some givens, but at the end of the day I hope we can all recognize that we have the power to change what surrounds, consumes, inspires, angers, and pushes us, simply by making different choices. Sometimes I look at the places I spend most of my time, at the things I own and use, and at the people I share my days with. When I see each of these truly, I am able to trace back to the moment I let them in, and more importantly, the moment I let them stay. Through this consistent practice I’ve come to the understanding that I am allowing what and who surrounds me. When I leave home, I recognize fully that it is my choice, and that there is no one else to thank or blame for what I see when I open my eyes.

I love home. I love coming home and I love being home. I love the place I get to call home, and the people from home that I get to keep in my life regardless of whether I’m physically there or not. I treasure this place so deeply because I only get to have it sometimes. At this point, many places feel like home, and I can’t afford to take that for granted either. But home has always been people for me. It just so happens that a large percentage of the people I love are in the same place, and for that fact alone, I love home.

I crave stories. How else would we learn and grow from each other if we didn’t share them with each other? Most anything we say or exchange in conversation, on social media, through music and film, while people-watching, and when we lie awake at night thinking about our day, is a story. They are being shared in different ways, selectively, and again we can choose and craft them how we want to. Anything that happens to us is one story, and the way we choose to see it once it’s done or tell it when it’s over, are other stories. Every place I go gives me another story to tell, and many to listen to. At any time I can draw from this archive, and I can learn.

I like being uncomfortable. I like placing and finding myself outside of the zone I would describe as “comfortable”. I like the rush of new environments and unfamiliar ground. I like how it feels to know that time is all it takes to adjust to most change and most difficulties. And I know from experience, that when we are uncomfortable, we are growing. It’s easy to stay, but I prefer a little bit of pushing my boundaries if it means expanding my growth as a human through the days I have been given. I don’t like leaving because it’s uncomfortable, I like leaving because of where it gets me. So, here I am again, getting through the uncomfortable changes to find what is waiting for me. And something always is.

Every time I leave home, I cry at the airport while waiting at the gate for boarding. It’s never because I want to stay, but because leaving doesn’t feel as good as arriving. The last few months I spent at home have been everything I’ve dreamt of and more. I am so grateful for all the time I got to share with so many people, all of whom I consider myself lucky to know and connect with. I’m thankful for all the food that I got to eat, and that I am always missing when away. I know that home isn’t everyone’s favorite place, so I know my luck for all that it is, to have been brought to a place that fills me with good love and good memories, each and every time.

 

 

A weekend of talking, traveling, and theorizing…

This past weekend I went to a Study Abroad Returnee conference in Boston, and it was just what I needed.

On the entire 3 1/2-hour drive up to Boston from NY with my friend Kerianne (fellow API Peer Mentor), we did not listen to a single song.  We talked literally the entire time and had so much much more to say by the end of the drive.

What’s crazy about our friendship is that we have actually only met in person one other time–in Austin during internship training.  From this one friendship and this one weekend trip we took together, I have learned more than I ever expected to.  We are the same in many ways and yet the life she has led is worlds different from mine.  Having her as a friend is helpful in the sense that I can learn so much from her, and so much with her.

What did I learn this weekend?

A new definition of “home”

At the conference, we participated in a session titled “The Only Constant In Life Is Change”.  Study abroad alumni talked about how the study abroad experience changed them, and what their experience meant in many contexts.  There were so many thoughts that I related to, like the feeling upon returning home that everything had changed in me as a person, but nothing had changed in the place where I left.

The definition of “home” came up, and one particular answer really opened my eyes.

“Home is a place where you grow.  And you can reach a point where you are done growing.”

The student who said that is going back to live in her host country, Spain, after graduation in May.  She feels as though she did not do all of the growing that she needed to in her short time there.  It’s really incredible to have heard what her perception and definition of “home” was because I had never thought of it in that sense before.  I have always known that home is not one single place, and that it has to do with the people around us, but I never thought about why or how exactly my role made a place “home”.

Even while we are all always growing, we can grow in different ways 

In the same discussion at the conference, a student opened up and said that when she got home, she felt like nothing had changed except for her.  Everyone was worried about the same old things, and it was as if no one had anything new to share while she had hours and hours of stories to tell.

We talked about how, unfortunately, experiences separate us from people–whether the experiences are travel or not.  Students often come home from studying abroad with a newfound sense and perspective on life and what it means to be alive.  Just like people who like animals tend to befriend other people who like animals, and people who like computers tend to befriend other people who like computers, people who travel tend to gravitate toward fellow travelers.

Growing apart from people can happen for an infinite number of reasons, but study abroad students know that this happens especially when one begins to have different life experiences from others.  The passion that we travel-addicts have is undeniably contagious.  We are relentless when it comes to seeing the world and passing the passion on, but of all people I think travelers are the most accepting and the most open.  I think we recognize that although there are differences between each of us–travel experience, likes/dislikes, interests, backgrounds–there is nothing that should keep two people from getting along.

We must maintain a sense of adventure in all environments

To help us cope with this falsity that home is boring and slow, or that life abroad is better, someone at the conference told us that there is adventure all around us, no matter where we are, whether we are somewhere new or familiar.

I grew up right outside of New York City and I still have yet to go to the top of the Empire State Building, or see the Statue of Liberty.  Why is that?  There are millions of people who have seen more of this city than I have…and I’ve been here for more than half of my life.

Thinking about this gave me a much needed wake-up call.  I think I need to be a tourist in my own city, every day.  I’m sure there’s a cafe, bookstore, museum, etc. close by, where I could do a little growing and a lot of learning.

Keeping a sense of adventure in the place where you are is just as important as finding a new sense of adventure in the place where you want to be.  Kerianne told me about her travel writing class, and how the professor always says,

“You don’t have to get on a plane to travel.”

I think we (as a society) need to reevaluate what travel means, and look at it in a new way.  Traveling means “making a journey”.  That could be done without moving an inch.  Our senses and our minds (and our technology!) can take us anywhere, and maybe traveling is more about the feeling we get when we discover new places and learn new things.  Maybe it’s more about the concept of newness, and less about the place we go physically.  Knowing that I can do it through my senses, I can be more grateful for travel and adventure–whether it be a physical journey near or far, or a completely imagined adventure.

I was driving in the car with my mom, and outside our window were mountains behind the river, and a sunset behind the mountains.  She said, “You know, I always look at flights to Switzerland and think about what the scenery looks like, but look–it’s just as beautiful right here.”

I’m on the way to finding what makes me happy

It is mind blowing how constantly ecstatic I feel whenever I’m doing anything related to international education/study abroad. The stories, the people, the constant learning,  and the genuine interest I have encountered in this field are unlike any other. I am fully aware of lucky I am to have had the opportunity to go abroad and not only to have caught the travel bug, but to have also had the international education open mindset instilled in me at such a young age.

There are certain subjects and fields which I have entertained to be where my future career might lie, but I think I’m discovering that I don’t need to think about it so much.  I believe that humans, sometimes subconsciously, drift toward the direction of their passions.

In the beginning, I didn’t know how much international education would influence me or mean to me.  I became a Peer Mentor with API because I wanted to tell people about my study abroad experience.  At the time, I don’t think I even realized how much my time abroad changed me.  It continues to change me for the better every single day, and I think my undying interest in this field has fueled that.

Maybe the way to be happy and stay happy is simply to share the things that make us glad to be alive.  That seems like a ridiculously obvious statement, but every day I see and hear people talking so negatively about how they spend their time.

It feels like most people do things that make them unhappy because they think in the end, they will be rewarded.  But there is no guarantee of that at all, so I am making it a point to consciously move toward happiness by doing things that make me happy–every step of the way.  And I am well on my way.

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Undress the Stress: Day 20

I’m starting to think that I’m just looking for stressful things about my day for these blogs because I kind of am.  The stress free streak that I’m having lately is wonderful.  When I sit down to write these entries every night I can’t think of much to write.  Never thought that could be a good thing til now.

The big stressor today (and it took me a while to figure this out) was my own self.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about too many things; thinking of solutions, trying to make plans, putting too much pressure on myself.  A lot of what I’m stressing about is personal and so I wouldn’t want to bring it up here but that’s part of this Undress the Stress series.  If I don’t address it, it will never be undressed.

Lately I’m not feeling confident in the relationship I’m in because the distance is making it increasingly harder for me to hold on to my feelings.  It feels like two lives are trying to be led together but truthfully I can only feel them growing separate.  But what I realized today is that this is about me.  I am the one who feels this way.  I am the one who is seeing this happen.  And I am the one who needs it to change.

The right thing to do would be to face this issue and talk it out.  And this will happen when I’m prepared but for now I’m just handling the stress one thought at a time.  Plainly and simply, I’m not quite ready for the worst scenario.  Sad panda.  Hope you are all having a better night.  I’m off to fix mine the only way that I can think of–with a late night snack.