July 11th, 2002

 

I still find it pretty amazing how life can change in just an instant. And usually that instant doesn’t provide much opportunity for reflection. For me, one phone call changed my life so quickly that before I could blink, it was July 11th, 2002 and I was standing stunned in an airport in South Korea.

It was graduation day. While I was getting dressed for my graduation ceremony, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d be graduating into a competitive world without a job or any money. I asked myself: “What do you want to do most in life?”

I want to travel. I want adventure. I want to get out of this culture of fear that has permeated New York all year. I never again want to see a person dressed in an American flag while her Muslim neighbors are being beaten up and shunned.

So I went to the computer and typed in “work and travel”. The result was page after page after page of recruiting companies looking for people to teach in South Korea. I clicked one at random. I had a diploma (or would, in a couple hours). I fit the minimal qualifications. They offered to pay the airfare and provide a room for me. I filled out the application form, sent it, and promptly forgot about it as I slipped into my light-blue robe and went off to my graduation. Later that afternoon, I had a phone interview and was immediately offered a job. “Can you leave next month?” “You bet I can.”

I was young and not so savvy. I looked up Korea on a map before I left. I won’t even tell you what I imagined, but just to give you a laugh I will tell you that I packed a box of matches and several packages of  ramen noodles. And a pot. Standing stunned in Daegu International Airport, waiting for my new life to start.

Ten years to the day have now passed and I’ve had plenty of time to reflect. Ten years ago I made a choice to leave behind the things I was expected to do and pursue the things that made me happy. I promised myself that when I stopped being happy, I would go home. I would find something else to do. As each July 11th came around, my boss asked me to sign a new contract and I didn’t have a reason not to. I was happy with the travel and the adventure, but even happier with the job. I like teaching.

Never in my life had it occurred to me that I might want to be a teacher. Growing up, I was too shy to talk. Coming out of my shell in high school and university (usually because I had no choice) left me drained. But there is something about the open hearts and honest love of children that is energizing and enriching. Those kids taught me more than I taught them. I learned about teaching because I loved the students. I owed it to them to do my very best. In the process, I became a teacher.

Now, I am checking in with myself once again. “Am I still happy?” My life has changed a lot again this past year. I’ve become focused on learning. I started a Master’s in Applied Linguistics. I became interested in reflective teaching. I began learning about non-violent communication. I edited textbooks. I started writing, which turned into blogging, which I had never intended.

Some days are dark. Sometimes I think I’m asking the wrong question (“Am I still me?” might be more appropriate on some doubtful days!). Other times I remember that “go home” doesn’t have the same meaning anymore, if it means anything at all. Sometimes the sacrifice feels heavier than the rewards.

For the most part, though, my days are full of light, laughter, love and friendship. While I’ve learned that I don’t know anything at all, I’ve also learned that a painful but necessary part of the quest is to unlearn – not to forget, but to let go of beliefs and be open to other ways of doing things. To admit that experience is not equal to expertise. That’s where I am now and that’s okay.

I will end by asking the final question: what’s next? One of the reasons I’m still here is that I’ve never had an answer to this question. I don’t know if I’m ready to answer it today either.

 

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Comments

  • Alex Walsh (@AlexSWalsh)  On July 11, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Thanks Anne, whatever is next I hope you keep writing 🙂

  • mikecorea  On July 17, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    This post is so awesome. It is something that I really connect to because much of it is/was true for me but also because you so clearly captured your own unique experience. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    ps- Matches and ramyon, huh? 🙂

  • eleni bousia (@elenired)  On July 23, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Breathless, I thought someone was keeping notes of my thoughts. Amazing how familiar it is to me, I am more glad that I connected with you. Unfortunately all of us reading your thoughts cannot give you the answer, it is within you.

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