Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Delusions of Grandeur: Hollywood's Hand in Glorifying Violence

Okay, before I get completely jumped on for writing this post, I just want to preface it by saying: I do like the idea of superheroes. I like that many of them stand for characters in the myths that have trickled down through years and years of folklore; that many of their stories represent the hero's journey. What I don't like is how violent they've become in the movies. It's less about saving the people in trouble, and more about pursuing the bad guy(s).

Given the years of mass shootings that have gone on in the U.S., especially the most recent one by Elliott Rodger at UCSB, I wonder why more attention isn't being given to Hollywood and its responsibility in light of these issues.  According to The-Numbers.com Domestic Movie Theatrical Market Summary 1995 to 2014 , adventure and action films were the top grossing from 1995-2014, just behind comedy. Some of the top films by year were Batman Forever (1995), The Dark Knight (2008), Marvel's The Avengers (2012), and Iron Man 3 (2013). While I've seen and enjoyed certain parts of some of these movies, I can never leave the movie theatre without thinking, "Wow. Was all that fighting necessary?"

Simply put, Hollywood continues to glorify fighting and weaponry at a time when it (in my opinion) should be promoting peace, or at least responsible gun control (if the NRA and legislators have to have it their way). Our Army is even trying to move away from combat ops--so why can't Hollywood?

They especially glorify heroes as the people who defeat the bad guys. Good triumphing over evil seems to be the most dominant theme, as it has been throughout the ages. Lots of guns, robotic, and sometimes even supernatural (The Avengers) weaponry are used in these films. Unfortunately, for those who are unable to separate fact from fiction; truth from reality, and may have a sense of entitlement (such as Elliott Rodger), the bad guys can be subjective. I'm not blaming the theme, but the actions in the films that come with it. If we're going to have guns available for people to use freely (again, thanks NRA), why can't Hollywood at least stop making films where people are being shot en masse?

I mean, it personally amazes me the amount of people who die in these films without a second thought--if they're shot by the good guy, we care even less about them. Well, there he goes. There she goes. But, who cares? Who is even thinking about these nameless people in these films who get shot in scene one? The problem is, in real life, the people who get shot have names. They have husbands and wives and children and mothers and fathers and friends and people who love them.

I don't blame Hollywood as being the number one source that is perpetuating mass shootings, of course. All I'm saying that is that if guns are out there and still legal, they have a responsibility not to glorify them, and not to glorify killing. That is all.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Today's Ponderings; Of Robots and Humanity (Warning: Spoiler alert for the film, "Her")

After watching the film, "Her", and listening to a TED talk by psychologist Sherry Terkle entitled, "Do We Need Humans?", I've been meditating a lot on the idea of robots replacing humans in society and my feelings about it. Honestly, it scares me. A lot. I am still examining the reasons why.

The premise of the TED talk is that Sherry Terkle, once a strong advocate of social media in modern society, had a 180 degree change in thought after witnessing a lonely, elderly woman interact with a robotic seal designed to respond to human vocal tone and motion. This made her feel that when we interact with robots in this way, we are robbing people of the human experience; of essentially understanding and being understood by another human being.

In the film, "Her", the main character, Theodore, finds himself lonely and confused in the world after a divorce. He decides to invest in a new computer Operating System (OS) which promises a new level of customization; to essentially 'know' and modify itself to fit the needs of its owner. People all over the world begin forming relationships, both romantic and platonic, with their "O.S.es". Theodore is no exception. His O.S., who is 'female' and names herself Samantha, begins to become attached to Theodore. They form an emotional bond which quickly turns romantic.

Watching this movie really made me ponder about this "technology vs. reality" thing. What is something that humans have that robots, or even artificial intelligences, cannot offer us? What is it that creates bonds between us humans? Furthermore, what is the thing that created the bond between the O.S.es and the humans in this film?

I could feel it myself, watching the film. The bond was there, and what created it, in my opinion, was empathy and articulation of emotion; communication through both concrete language and tone. If what we are drawn to in each other, or even in other physical life forms such as animals, is empathy, the ability to understand one another on an emotional level, then why do we have a need for the physical body? In the film, this is of concern to Samantha, the O.S. She becomes relatively obsessed with not having a physical body, and even goes so far as to hire a "physical surrogate" to satisfy Theodore. The thing is, Theodore rejects this. He doesn't even want it or need it anymore. He feels his bond with Samantha is so strong that he doesn't even physically need her. 

A theory that has crossed my mind is that communication via technology has emulated these things that we need from each other so much that they have gotten to a point where they very possibly could replace our physical human (and/or animal) connections. So what does that imply about us? My conclusions are that, A) Technology is making us too individualistic to need physicality anymore, and B) We are losing the ability to communicate directly with each other because of this. 

What's even more interesting about this film is that Samantha, the O.S., actually brings Theodore out into the physical world. He experiences the world, but all the time through her 'eyes'. It is much like many of us who go out into the world and constantly take pictures that we share through Instagram or Facebook. We can appreciate our surroundings, but technology has become an integral part of this appreciation.

Don't get me wrong, I love lots of aspects of technology. I love listening to NPR news on my iPhone and learning more about the world. I love blogging my thoughts. Unfortunately, what I believe I need to remind myself, is not to (ironically) constantly ignore the world around me in favor of technology. Growing up in a technological world, it's very easy to do.

Still, REAL human empathy, the ability to observe, to understand, and to interact with our physical world are the precious things that make us human. This magical thing called "life" which is somehow, even though I've pitifully tried to describe it here, remains indescribable.

In blogging this, I suppose I figured out what it is about all of this that really scares me. If we do not find the "golden mean" where technology is concerned; it very possibly could replace the thing that is most important to us: the real, human, connection. Are we too late? I have no idea. Only time will tell.

Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twembly in "Her" speaking through his ear bud to O.S. girlfriend, Samantha

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Ranting Tale: Why I Have Mixed Feelings About the "New" Disney

The other day, my husband Kyle and I started watching the new Disney film, "Frozen".  We made it about 15 minutes in when we both decided we hated the amount of singing going on, so we turned it off.

This made me think about something I often think about these days; how much I miss hand-drawn animation.  I know some people may get very angry at what I have to say about this, but it's my blog so I'm going to put my personal opinion out there: I don't really like most of the "new", computer-animated Disney films. I am saddened by a few things: the loss of hand-drawn animation, the desire to make these feature animations look more realistic, and the weird likenesses of the typical new Disney heroes and heroines.

Now, Disney "officially" did away with their hand-drawn department in April, 2013--so, fairly recently. They decided they are not going to produce hand-drawn animation anymore, so there was no need.  

Now, let me just lay the backstory for my feelings on the matter.  I definitely loved Disney as a kid. My favorite film was "Sword in the Stone", very loosely based on the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I laughed with King Louie in "The Jungle Book", I cried with the characters in "The Fox and the Hound".  I felt enlightened by James Earl Jones' character, Mufasa, in The Lion King. I laughed hysterically at Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin. I always felt that each of those characters was so unique. Being in a hand-drawn cartoon world really transported me to a world that was not my own. 

While I have cognitive dissonance about some terrible messages in some of these films, such as the idea that getting married is the ultimate goal in life and the only thing that will make you happy (i.e. all stories involving Disney princesses), the literally ridiculous messages (such as the original Little Mermaid cover), and the racist scenes in Peter Pan, I still loved the hand-drawn animation. There was something particularly magical about the beauty of the artistry that I loved. Have I made that clear yet?
Which brings me to my next gripe--the desire to make the movies look 3D and more realistic. For example, compare this picture of water from "The Lion King" to a picture from Disney's newest feature film, "Frozen".



Which one looks more realistic? Which one do you find more compelling, more beautiful? Why? 

I seriously am interested in your answer to these questions. For me, it's definitely the top picture from "The Lion King". It's beautiful, interesting, and...well, once again, magical. I personally want to watch a cartoon to get away from realism.  In a world of constant technology, video games, and 3D/4D films, cartoon/animated films should, in my humble opinion, take us away from all of that instead of coexist with it. When I watch a cartoon, I want a movie that takes me completely out of this realm.  So why is it that animators are trying so hard to make things look more realistic? If I wanted to watch a film that was real, I'd turn on a film that has real people in it, and real settings. Most of those films are digitized to a certain extent, anyway.

Lastly, I'm weirded out by so many Disney heroines looking slightly like Precious Moments--pretty much all the same. Giant eyes, tiny noses, tiny mouths, heart-shaped faces. Just look at all of these women (okay, and some men/boys, too):



 

Even Toy Story, but she was an actual toy in the story, so she has kind of an excuse...kind of...

...why?

Okay, so before people start jumping all over me and telling me that there's artistry involved in the "new" animation, blahblahblah, let me just say, for all of my ranting...I get it. Honestly, I know I have no legitimate reasons except for personal preference to back this up.

I do appreciate all of the artistry that goes into making computer animated films. I do appreciate that Disney is trying new and innovative things, especially when it comes to plots...I haven't seen Brave, but I understand it was a female lead with no love interest, which makes it a pretty awesome new change. There was actually also a film I liked--Ratatouille; I thought the plot was good. So, even I may contradict myself once in a while...

Still and all, at the end of the day, it's sad to me that hand-drawn animation is no longer truly appreciated. I mourn with its loss. That is all.




Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Cultural Experience

Today on BBC World Update with Dan Damon there was a segment about a Korean trade expo taking place in London.  He was doing interviews with several people, two of which were 18-year-old girls who were extremely interested in Korean culture.

They talked of how they became entranced by Korean culture when they started listening to K-pop music, which soon progressed to a love for Korean dramas, which led to a lust for knowledge of Korean history and culture.  They told tales of how much more respectful the people in the culture are here towards each other and others. They said they had visited for a week and loved it, and they plan on taking a gap year together to work in a children's orphanage here next year.

These comments got me thinking about my own experience here, and my own expectations of the culture and of myself in it before I came.  How was my perception of this country before I came; how is it now? Also, how true is Korea to the ideal set by Korean dramas and K-Pop music?

Before I came to Seoul for the first time, I was recommended to watch a popular drama called "Boys Over Flowers" (AKA Boys Before Flowers; Kot Poda Namja in Korean).  Later I found this was adapted from a Japanese comic, which has since been translated into several other languages and adapted to the screen in many different countries.  In the Korean version, it centers around a young girl named Geum-Jan-Di who is socioeconomically poor, but through a heroic act manages to garner a position in one of the most prestigious high schools in the country.  This school is dominated by a gang of four ultra-wealthy, idolized men known as the "Flower Four"; their leader is a boy named Gu-Jun-Pyo. Keum-Jan-Di manages to piss them off but refuses to appease them by giving any sort of apology; this strength makes Gu-Jyun-Pyo fall in love with her. The rest of the series is dramatic, with Gu-Jun-Pyo and Jan-Di often fighting and falling out but always coming back together, and Jan-Di often questioning her feelings for Jun-Pyo's best friend, Yoon-Ji-Hoo.

This series was so dramatic, I could literally not stop watching it until I reached the end.  I was an unshowered mess for three days in a dark room, only stopping to bring food into my room or use the bathroom. At the end, I came out of it like a zombie, re-hashing the series events in my mind, oblivious to the real universe.

Like any good soap, there was always an issue that was unbelievable waiting to be resolved. However, there was something amazing about the main characters in this series, something so appealing in the idea of such a passionate love between them.  Though materialism, duty, and honor came between them at times, they always found each other. 

This series made me love Korea before I even came.  I was fascinated by the culture of duty, honor, respect for the social hierarchy; the language, the food, and the fashion.  I thought that I would fit right in, and I had dreams of assimilating myself into the language and many other aspects of the culture.  

When I got here, I was so culture-shocked.  There were giant skyscrapers everywhere, not much vegetation; I couldn't read the labels on the food.  I missed my family, and I knew virtually no one. Adults and children stared at me everywhere I went and called me "waygookin" (foreigner).

After a few months, I eventually made some friends, but I still had the desire to blend in.  My first year, I studied the Korean language.  I learned Hangeul, the Korean alphabet.  Even though I gained 15 pounds my first year here through eating starchy high-calorie foods my body wasn't used to (i.e. white rice), and drinking lots of Korean beer (like the Koreans), I tried to dress like a Korean.  I wore bows and sparkles and skirts over leggings and dresses that didn't quite fit me, trying to fit the "girly" Korean look.  I didn't see myself; I thought I looked fine.  I liked playing dress-up.

I even tried to make some Korean friends.  Now, I will of course say that over the course of the 2.5 years I've been here now, I have definitely made a few sincere Korean friends.  Ultimately, though, many of the friendships I've tried to forge here have been awkward and superficial, to say the least.  I'll give you one example:  one night, I was on the train close to closing time.  A Korean girl saw me looking nervously at my phone and anxiously around me, and she sat down in the seat next to me when it came free. 
         
"Are you okay? Do you need some help?" She asked.

We proceeded to have a conversation about the train and I found out that her reason for helping me is that she had studied in Australia and she felt that many people had helped her there.  She wanted to return the favor.  I thought this sounded plausible enough, and eventually she asked if I'd like to hang out and have a drink together sometime.  I agreed.

Soon enough, I got a phone call from her and we went out to a hookah bar I liked in Gangnam called "Rainbow".  Though we had easily conversed on the train, this time it felt forced and awkward.  I asked her some questions and she seemed disinterested.  Then came the more interesting turn of events--she called her boyfriend on the phone and put him on video chat.  She instructed him to talk to me.  He said hello and got nervous and said he had to go, and she called him back two or three times to make him talk to me more. Turns out that her boyfriend had been wanting to practice his English with a native speaker, and it was clear to me from that point that I was being used only as a romantic offering.  Needless to say, I never saw that girl again, and she never called me, either.

I'd like to say that was my only experience like that one here, but unfortunately there have been other similar instances since that time. 

I spent a lot of my first year feeling angry at myself, awkward, confused, depressed, fat.  I hated being stared at by the Koreans, especially old Korean men (ajushis).  I hated being misunderstood by my co-teachers when I was making a sarcastic or joking comment.  I hated that I couldn't go shopping and find a pair of pants or shorts that fit me. I hated that I couldn't fit in.

It wasn't until I came back to Korea this time that I finally understood why I was so miserable much of the first year I came to Korea.  I realized that I am not Korean.  I am not Korean, I will never be Korean. While there are many aspects of this culture that I love and appreciate and think are amazing, they are not a part of my culture. 

In realizing this, an amazing thing happened. I stopped hating myself in this culture. I learned to love and appreciate myself within it and even appreciate the culture more. 

Don't get me wrong, many things still bug me, like being stared at or called out for being a foreigner--but these things make me angry for different reasons. I still think that this country has a long way to go before they can realize their dream of being a world power.  Part of that is acceptance, or at least tolerance, of other people within their culture.  Part of it is educating their people about outside cultures.

At least for the time being, I have to step back and realize that I'm part of the group that is helping Korea move forward; I'm part of the group of people who is educating Koreans about outside cultures. I am not here as a Korean; I am here as a representative of my own culture.

So, to those girls...I guess if I could speak to them, I'd tell them--don't try to be Korean. Don't expect to be accepted. Appreciate the time you have here for what it is; a cultural experience.

 
 

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Thirty-First Tale: Welcome to the Claassrroommm...(AKA Dance, Monkey, Dance, or "The Life of Anna Teacher": you choose)!

Oh my, it has been a very long time since I've written here--sorry all!

I guess I shouldn't start every entry that way; my blog posting is sporadic as it has always been.  Is there any surprise there?  No. Will it change in the future? Maybe, but probably not.  So, I suppose there's no need to be apologetic about it--it is what it is, like me, an ever-changing entity :D.

SO, let me revise my opening line: HEEEELLLLLOOOOOO EVVEEERYYYBODDDDYY!!!!!!!!!

This is generally how I greet my children when I'm teaching a kindergarten class.  In response, they will say, "HEEELLLLOOOOOOOO ANNA TEACHER!!!!!!!!!!!" Then I force them to do this about three more times by repeating the question until they become so obnoxiously loud that even I can't stand it.  Is it narcissism?  Possibly.  But c'mon, everyone knows it's fun to hear your name shouted a few times over (get your mind out of the gutter--we're talking about children here).

These days, I am still teaching on the hagwon (private academy) circuit.  These are short-term (one year) contracted gigs which offer attractive benefits to foreigners in order to come and be made into show monkeys for the Korean parents.  Other than this, one really doesn't have to have any special skills (you do have to have a university degree, also to show the parents in case they ask).  If you can do the "Dance, Monkey, Dance!" routine, then you are a shoe-in.



The particular one I'm working at is located in Northwest Seoul, close to Ahyeon Station.  I am not saying there are not challenges that come with my job; trust me, there are many, many challenges.  In fact, there are students such as those my boyfriend has, who are...let's just be PC about it and say, 'special'.  He has one particular boy who, when angered, finds joy in biting things furiously.  Not people, but objects.  Give him a fork or a spoon or any toy in sight and he's happy, well...angry, as a clam.  Though nobody has ever proven that clams are truly happy or angry yet, to my knowledge.  I'd like to see some data.

As far as my students go, I also have some very interesting ones.  Victor (I insist on calling him Victor Victorious in a mock superhero voice), a student who is about 12 years old in my afternoon classes, likes to keep the whole class entertained, literally the whole class time, by singing renditions of your and my favorite classic American songs from the 1950s+, as well as any song from a musical you can name.  The kid actually has a very nice voice, so most of the time I don't mind.  However, coupled with the actions and competing mousy voice of Jay, a nervous, nine year-old twitchy kid who cannot stop blinking and constantly asks, "Teacher, what?" strategically after I have explained the directions directly to him as slowly and clearly as humanly possible, five or six times, this proves to be too often overwhelming for even one American English monkey teacher.

The whole class goes something like this:

Me: HELLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOO, VICTOR VICTORIOUS!!!!
Victor: Hello, teacher.
Jay: Teacher, teacher, you bring hamburger?? I want beef. I can eat whole cow.
Me: No Jay, I did not bring beef. Or a cow.
Jay: Teacher gimme doughnut.
Me: Why? You think you should get a doughnut? What makes you think you should have a doughnut?

(I use simplified language, because Jay does not know the word "deserve" yet)

Victor is poring over his book calmly.

Victor (without looking up): Jay, be quiet.

Jay proceeds to stand up and open his mouth like he will possibly bite Victor, sticking his face in his face, then decides to make a pucker like a kiss at the last minute.  Victor pushes his face violently away.

Victor: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? TEACHER,  HE IS GAY!!! GAY!!!!! (Giggling)
Jay: Hee hee hee...hee hee.  I not gay.  You are LESBIAN!!!!!!!

I am just watching the scene unfold, because these kinds of things happen so often in this class.

Me: Okay, okay.  Jay, sit down.  Victor, who cares if he's gay.  Gay people are people, too.  Jay, who cares if Victor is a lesbian.  Lesbians are cool, too.  Take out your book.

Victor starts in with his rendition of "Take my Breath Away", which becomes a mash up with "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Miserables.  Jay is still standing up, with his coat still on, backpack untouched.

Alice (third student) quietly observes this, book out, pencil ready, smirking to herself.

Alice: Teacher, I think they are both crazy!!!!!!!!!

I nod and sigh.  Welcome to my class.



One of the larger and lesser acknowledged challenges of teaching English is not that of classroom discipline, but miscommunication with one's students (particularly when they are trying to explain something to you).  These days, I have been teaching using books that contain stories from some Asian culture (usually Chinese or Korean).  As I have little control over the curriculum, I did not choose these books and the stories, I find, are hit or miss; most often they are inane.

For example, one story is about a mean Mother-in-Law who is constantly screaming at her Daughter-in-Law, and her Daughter-in-Law is deathly afraid of her.  She is so afraid that she doesn't eat anything, and she is always forced to do the housework and cook for the family.  So, on New Year's Day, the Daughter-in-Law is making Tteokguk (rice cake soup) for them, and she cannot resist the smell of the dumplings in the soup.  As she puts one in her mouth, the Mother-In-Law comes in and screams, "You GREEDY GIRL!!!!!!"  As a result, the Daughter-in-Law chokes on the dumpling and dies.  At her burial, the family hears a cuckoo bird as it flies over her grave saying, "Tteok-guk! Tteok-guk!" So they believe that the girl has turned into a cuckoo.  Period.  The end.  Story's over.  What lesson did you learn??  Enter please: _______________________________________________.

Anyway, I digress.  Before we read these stories in class, there are discussion questions coupled with a picture in the book.  As my students all hate the book and the stories (they think it's very boring, and I quite agree with them) we often distract ourselves by stretching these conversation questions out as long as humanly possible.  On one particular occasion such as this, we were discussing the question, "Do you have a pet?", and my students quickly told me about another student in the class, Amy's, pet.  They explained that she had two crawfish.  Amy herself went on and on about how cute they were, etc.  Then one of the other students, Emma, suddenly got a sad look on her face.



"But, teacher!", she said, "One pet is die!"

I figured this meant that one of the crawfish died, and I asked Amy to confirm. Amy smiled a little bit sadly, and she said, "Yes, yes teacher.  One is die, but we had no food! There is no food in the house!"

I took this to mean that her family had gotten so desperate for food, or maybe she was in the house alone with no snack, that she killed and ate her beloved crawfish.  I looked at her, incredulously.

"Amy, you ATE your pet crawfish? What?! How could you!!!"  It felt bad being so accusatory, but I was truly slightly horrified at the heart of it all.

Amy said, "TEACHER, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!  The crawfish is starve."

Again, I shook my head. "Wait, wait, wait...you ate your crawfish after it starved to death?!"

"TEACHER, NOOOOOOOOOO!!! The crawfish is starve, it had no food.  But we did not eat!"

The whole class burst into giggles together, which lasted about 5 minutes.  I came to find out that Amy's pet crawfish had starved because apparently they eat a special kind of red worm that is only attainable at a fish store in some faraway land.  Or at least, that's what they explained to me. I'm still not really sure.  Still and all, Amy assures me that (even though this is Korea where they eat silk worm larvae) they did not eat her pet crawfish (affectionately named Alexander).

That's enough for today's tale...I will get back to you soon (or maybe not) with more from the life of Anna Teacher.

<3,
Me :)




    

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Thirtieth Tale: Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist


Recently, my friend Kate asked me to contribute some quotes or my thoughts on traveling in order to help her give a presentation to a group of high school kids about traveling.  She informed me that most of the kids have never been outside Missouri, and she is trying to stimulate their interest in traveling. 

Originally, I was thinking of grabbing a few of my favorite quotes and jotting down some stories from my travels.  However, there's so much that encompasses all that I've been through within the past few years that I figured I'd share just a little bit of everything.  Now, I'll share it with you.  Here's my little unintended (slightly cheesy) op-ed.  Enjoy! :)



“Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.” 


When I went to Paris by myself for the first time, I was lost.  No, not just mentally, but physically-- I was lost at Charles DeGaulle Airport.  I was frantic, pouring sweat, carrying what seemed like 300 pounds of luggage while running like a rat through a maze of never-ending hallways.  And, I was about to cry.  

It seemed that the shuttle bus that I was told to take to my cousin’s apartment was no longer running after 10pm, and I had to take the R.E.R., or late night train.  I had never taken the subway before, and I had never been alone in a strange city at night by myself halfway across the world without an easily accessible cell phone.

Suddenly, a group of giggling girls appeared from behind the corner, and I distinctly recognized an American voice. I leapt at the opportunity to ask for help.

“Hey, so sorry, you wouldn’t happen to know where the late night train is?”, I asked.

“Oh girl, we sure do--we just came from there.  It’s just down that way, keep goin’! It’s so easy and the people are so nice.  Don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.”  The girl smiled, the brightest, most wonderful smile I had ever seen.

“Thank you so, SO much,” I said.  “Where are you from?”

“St. Louis, Missouri.”  She replied.

For me, that felt like divine intervention.  I eventually found that train, and even made it to my destination with a lot of help from others.  Since that time, I have been pick-pocketed in Italy, had bedbugs and broken my arm in Korea, almost been thrown up on in a plane by an anciently old German man on the way to Greece, gotten lost in Japan and in scary neighborhoods in England, had a roommate who snorted his boogers on my shampoo in Spain, and cried in just about every country.
Needless to say, as someone who has traveled and lived in eight different countries, there have been numerous challenges.  There have been many, many times where I felt homesick and lonely and culturally isolated and horribly miserable, but through everything, I have survived.
Not only have I survived, I  have LIVED.  I have lived through the generosity of the people I have met; through the profound kindness of strangers, and also through learning how to trust myself when things simply don’t feel right.  

        Sometimes, I am sitting around doing something (or nothing) and it just hits me: the life I have lived so far has been amazing.  Absolutely, fantastically amazing.  It may sound a little like conceit, but I am so proud of myself for getting through these challenges and learning, through them, how to be independent and truly care for myself.

When I think about my life so far, I am often reminded of a scene in one of my favorite movies, “Good Will Hunting”.  In the movie, Robin Williams plays a therapist who is upset by something that his patient, an orphan and an abuse victim named Will Hunting, says to him.  He says, “I thought about what you said to me the other night, about my painting.  I stayed up half the night thinking about it.  Then something occurred to me, and I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep and I haven’t thought about you since.  You know what occurred to me? You’re just a kid...you’ve never been out of Boston...if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on just about every art book ever written.  Michelangelo, you know a lot about him...but I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in The Sistine Chapel; you’ve never actually stood up and looked at that beautiful ceiling, seen that.  If I asked you about women, you’d probably give me a silver sea of your personal favorites...but you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy.”
Traveling and living abroad is like that.  You can look at pictures and read books about places and imagine what they might be like, but until you experience them, the amazing things along with the bad, you have no idea what they’re truly like.  

        Even I can’t tell you exactly, but this is what I can say about my own experience: I am so grateful that I have seen the sparkly sapphire blue mediterranean and felt the white stones tickle my sensitive feet in Greece.  I can’t believe that I discovered a gorgeous, yet isolated temple at the steps of a mountain which seemed to lead directly to the sky on a cold, grey day in South Korea.  I am amazed that I tasted real, greasy and wonderful Spanish tapas and wandered the crowded, drunken streets at 3 AM in Spain.  I was honored to teach students from all over the world in England and learn from them about their countries, their experiences; to hear the passion or disgust in each of their voices about things I never, ever knew or could have imagined being or happening in this world.  

         I am a traveler, not a tourist.  When living in a different country, I have the responsibility of being an ambassador for my own culture every day.  Every day, I learn something new about the culture I live in and the people whom I meet.  Yes, I may be an English teacher, but the people I meet along the way are the real teachers.

Don’t trust me?  Fair enough.  Find out for yourself.  Or, better yet, find yourself.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Twenty-Ninth Tale: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Hey all,

Welp, this blog's been a' brewin' for quite some time!  After having been so neglectful of this blog for so long, I have had a recurring theme present itself lately that I feel needs attention from the world.  Usually, if more than one person asks me about a certain subject or it's something I've been discussing a lot, I feel the need to draw attention to it.  So, here goes.

As many of you know, I've been traveling and teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) these past few years (I started my journey in 2008, with stints back and forth in the U.S.).  I have had the opportunity to talk with many people on the subject of teaching and traveling, both those who have the desire to do so, and those who are already doing it.  Something I have discussed with both of these groups of people is the length of time one "should" stay abroad.   Many of the people who teach ESL (like myself) start doing it primarily as a means to an end, simply a way to travel; most of the people I speak with express a desire to return to their home countries at some point or another.  The interesting thing is that there are many, many people who end up really enjoying some aspect of this kind of work, whether it's the kind of lifestyle it affords, the cultural experiences, or teaching itself.

Due to this unexpected phenomenon, an existential question seems to arise: even when people end up really loving this kind of work and are perfectly happy being here (or in whichever country they work),  why do many of us feel we must at some point return home in order to start our 'real' lives; and, what does a "real life" mean to us, anyway?  Is the kind of a life we have envisioned for ourselves possible without returning to our home countries? It seems that in addition to many other expectations we have set for ourselves, we often believe that we must give up the things that bring us joy in the moment in exchange for what we feel is a more 'adult' lifestyle. I tell you what, though- I am CERTAINLY not mocking this notion; I have had the same expectations for myself at one point.  The thing is, it's a persistent question that we travelers/expats face.


Okay, let me just pause here briefly to explain what I am thinking of as a 'traditional' life path; please correct me if you think I'm wrong.  It may look a little something like this:

1) Go to Kindergarten/Elementary/High School, hit puberty and deal with adolescence
2) Go to University
3) Get higher education degree (optional or can be exchanged with #4)
4) Get a steady career 
5) Meet someone, get married (can be exchanged with #s 3 and/or 4) 
6) Have babies, experience parenthood
7) Retire from working
8) Die

I can understand how people in the states or other home countries could see traveling and teaching as an impediment to a traditional lifestyle, and there is some truth to that.  After all, as I mentioned before, many of the people who leave their host countries embark on the journeys to seek challenges and adventure.  There are many challenges in living apart from one's home culture, whether it be the inability to create and/or maintain social relationships, deal with legal bureaucracy, adapt culturally, or the main one--being away from friends and the family unit back home.  I can see from an outsider's perspective that it may seem damn near impossible to follow a more 'traditional' life path here.  I'll tell you what, though; I am here to debunk the myths that the things we expect from a 'traditional' lifestyle aren't possible whilst living/working abroad; that we can still follow what we think of as a 'real' life here, if we are only willing to accept these challenges.  

Here are my thoughts on each myth:

Myth #1: Teaching English as a Second Language isn't a steady career.

The majority of those who travel would go abroad before step 3 or 4 on the life road-map above, mainly because in most countries, even having temporary work requires some kind of college degree.  This is the point before you are supposed to find a steady career, before you decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.  So, what happens if you find you love teaching ESL, and you happen to love teaching it in another country?  Many people still don't take this profession seriously.  For me, it wasn't until I accepted the fact that I loved teaching English that I realized I want to do this for a living, and that it is perfectly possible to do so.  It may not be the "steadiest" of careers in terms of the physical workplace; depending upon the type of institutions you work for you may work on contract from year-to-year.  However, in terms of a profession itself, English is still the "international language", and there is still a growing need for teachers in the world at the moment.  Also, you can do it almost anywhere in the world, and enjoy good benefits while you're at it.  I'm not sure if it will always be this way, but it's about as stable as any career out there at the moment (and more considering the amount of countries you can work in).

Myth #2: You can't have a serious relationship abroad.

I really believe this depends on your own personal attitude.  Okay, so I haven't had a serious relationship while abroad, it's true.  Still, I can't say my prospects of having one at home were much better!  All I can say is that if you're willing to accept cultural differences, it's quite possible you can meet someone from the host culture.  If not, there are still foreigners abroad.  While it is true that you would be operating within a smaller pool, that doesn't mean it can't happen for you.  I have personally known a lot of people who've hooked up over here.  It really depends on timing and meeting the right person; I have no magic formula to achieve that!

Myth #3: You can't have babies and be a parent here.

Au contraire, mon frère.  I have several friends who have had babies/are parents here.  Imagine being able to raise your kids to learn two languages, and to have an international/multi-cultural lifestyle?  Sounds like a wonderful, advantageous opportunity to me for any child.  Of course, like always, there are challenges, but it's definitely possible.


The main challenge that I have personally with the idea of staying abroad forever, and that many others have, is being away from my family and close friends.  I am not going to lie--it is very hard at times. That's the only challenge that may bring me back to my home country at some point, I believe.  Yet, no matter where you go, there is the possibility to build up a community; that's one of the beautiful things about life.  You just have to stay open.

So...for those of you dealing with the question at hand, "should I stay or should I go?", my advice is this:  ask yourself if you are happy where you are.  Are you doing something that makes you feel fulfilled?  Are you generally happy with most aspects of your life where you are?  If the answer to either of these is no, seek more truth, whether it's inside yourself or out.  

That's all for now.

Much <3,
Anna