Sometimes in life, you aren’t given what you want. Rather, you are given what you need to grow as a person. Sometimes, you don’t even know what it is that you need to grow. With this much being said, it’s not always going to be easy. Growth doesn’t come without challenge… without falling down… and although through struggle it’s easy to think about getting discouraged or having a heavy heart, or even to assign blame, it’s important to view all experiences—the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’—in terms of personal development in the long run and in terms of impact in all moments of life.
I’ve had my share of struggle—we all have our share of struggle. Personally, I have learned to accept struggle as a way to grow. A spring-board to better things. Adversity is no obstacle if you have a game plan of how to get through it (ie: coping strategies) and a positive mind set is the attitude of a winner. When people tell me what they think I can’t do, or things get tough: ‘mission possible’ and ‘challenge accepted’ are automatic responses igniting in my brain. If you believe in yourself hard enough, you can get through anything.
Disclaimer: Let’s get real. Believing in yourself is wonderful, but believing doesn’t give you the ultimate control of how life will pan out. Example A starts with none other than silly me. Fulbright Korea ETA 2015-‘16. I had it all mapped out. Here was my year: I would arrive; instantly bond with my co-teachers and students; become more an independent apartment-dweller; change the lives of North Korean Defectors and form steadfast bonds with other ETAs. BAM! Perfect year! Grad school here I come to pursue my Masters in humanitarian action/peace and conflict resolution… Haha, it was as if I held all the strings to every minute detail in my life story.
Thus, you can probably imagine, my reaction when I found out that I would be teaching in one of the most rural Fulbright placements and would have no access to the North Korean Defector program, I felt crushed. As it seemed, ‘planning things out’, as great as it sounded in my organization-geared brain, was the worst thing I could have done. #1- You can’t really plan life. You can pretend you have that power, but not everything is going to be within your control 100% of the time. (If you can assert the claim to have ultimate control over all things, we should chat more, because you are an amazing super-human I am dying to meet !!) #2-In planning things out, I had not given myself that cushion of flexibility, or the acceptance of an alternative.
There is no other way to put it. I was responsible for making myself feel like a failure. It was simply for not being able to make the impact I had initially imagined. Everyone else told me I was doing great things, but I myself didn’t believe it. I looked for any way possible to be involved, but, given my geography, things weren’t going as I had planned. Miles away from other ETAs and my co-teachers, I thought that I wouldn’t have any friends and worried that I was on my way to becoming a stagnant, depressed and/or uninspired person. An alternative version of myself I couldn’t bear the thought of…
During a certain month, the internet connection was spotty in my home stay. I didn’t have the heart to bring it up. Not having internet at home is not a real problem when I have internet connection at work. Not having internet is not a real problem when there are people suffering without food, without shelter and without family in the world. Not having internet is not a real problem when it gives me the opportunity to grow a greater appreciation for those around me.
When we lost internet, I found myself dedicating more time to my host family and to my school. I reached out to my host mom about how I had been feeling. She was so receptive, so loving and was able to empathize with me. She explained to me that although she can’t fully understand how the teaching side of things must be, she knows how difficult it can be to adjust to life in a different country, as she herself had to cope with cultural adjustment in moving to Korea from the Philippines. After hearing her story and the stories of others in my diverse community, I began to realize that this placement was perfect for me during my first year as a Fulbright ETA.
During my time as an ETA in Yuchon, South Korea, I have received insight into the struggles and reality of the immigrant community in a rural setting. As I hope to work with immigrants and refugees in the future, it’s a powerful experience to hear the stories of those around me and to share my struggles with my host mom who is always so receptive and supportive. I realize that if I can better relate to immigrants and refugees in my work, I have more of a chance to make an impact. Language and cultural barriers aside, no one is going to open up to someone who can’t validate their feelings or struggles. I better understand this struggle and feel more in-tune when others in the immigrant community ETAs and otherwise voice their concerns with me.
Maybe this year, I’m not teaching defectors in the classroom, but I’m bonding with my community in both an educational setting and beyond. I even have the chance to do a unit on cultural heritage and cultural tolerance in the classroom: two causes which are close to my heart and 100% applicable to life in a multicultural setting. I also had the opportunity to start a yoga club class for my co-workers. They are amazing people and there is nothing better than to see the transformative impact of yoga in the school community.
My school community is not the only entity that has seen change. I myself have certainly changed, but for the better. Being in my small community, I have learned to cherish the small victories, to listen, to be more patient to always assume positive intent. Living with a host family, I have cultivated a profound respect for Korean culture and traditions and have been involved in family activities most foreigners never will experience. Being a yoga instructor and public school educator, I have seen individuals in my community grow and shine as the most authentic, empowered version of themselves.
As long as you have heart and are motivated by love for those around you, you can make an impact wherever you go. Everything is of consequence and nothing happens by chance. Somewhere, someone knew me better than I knew myself. For, I now realize that I was put in the perfect placement without even knowing.
One thing that kept my going, even on the hard days, was the realization that I am not ‘stuck’. I am still moving in the direction of my dreams. My mantra for the year has been all about positive impact. I still have the chance to live my dream of working with defectors and being involved in Korean orphanages. But now, I have greater insight into the struggles and reality of life in Korea as a foreigner. Moving forward, I feel better equipped with more tools as an educator and as a mentor. For this reason, I want nothing more than to renew for a second year with Fulbright.
The ONLY thing I am asking for is for the opportunity to give back more. I want to work with defectors and children in the orphanage system here in Korea. These initiatives give me joy and purpose and being involved in programs that make such a positive impact would be an honor.
Korea is not a placeholder for me as I figure out my life. Korea has become a part of life, my dream and a part of myself. I am not here to find myself, but I am here to create myself and to impact the lives of others. No grass grows under my feet. The moment I feel stagnant is the moment that it will be right to move on. This year is only one part of my journey. I’m not finished yet.
Now that you have heard my story and my intent for the future (notice it’s ‘intent’ not a ‘plan’, mind you… 😛 ), I leave you all with a special parting message. Wherever you may be in the world or in your lives, brush the dirt off when you fall down and stand up strong! In the moment…in the now, things might seem difficult. You may feel like you are struggling, ‘the odds aren’t in your favor’ or that you have failed. We all have these moments. Remember that F.A.I.L is ‘first attempt in learning’. You are growing; you are more powerful than you give yourself credit for. The only fail is failing to believe. With this being said, if you are struggling, I promise it will get better. Air hugs and positive vibes your way. I am on your side!
Your ally against adversity and friend to the end,
Peace and love,