21 Sep Settling In Across the Ocean
I’m proud to say that Korea is my new home! The photo above was taken a few weeks ago in Jeonju, a traditional/historical district in Korea. While I did participate in the lion dance, the picture is not of me but of two friends instead. I guess I wasn’t good enough to have my picture taken!
My move to Korea has been the culmination of a two-year long process involving much prayer, research, preparation, and counsel from others. If you’ve been in my life over the past two years, you may have been a part of this process! While it is difficult to summarize all of my reasons for moving overseas, I can at the very least try to give you an idea.
When I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, four years ago, I moved there as a “missionary,” of sorts. I had joined Teach for America out of a desire to make change in communities struggling with systemic poverty, and I soon found myself living in Tulsa. Making change in this community was my “mission,” and this mission was strongly tied to my faith.
As a believer, I could not understand how so many Christians in Tulsa were turning a blind eye to the injustice oppressing their city, a city that is home to some of the worst racial baggage in the entire country, a city that proudly considers itself part of the “Bible”belt. In the course of my first year of teaching, I became all too familiar with just how far systems go to marginalize entire communities and pretend that nothing is wrong. If you’re wondering what I mean, I’ve blogged on this topic at length in other posts. Please feel free to browse.
After finishing my two-year commitment with Teach for America, I realized I wasn’t ready to leave. I stayed for a third year and then a fourth year, and during that time I worked with some of the strongest, most resilient people I have ever known, people working under the most impossible conditions, who labor for their students to the point of exhaustion week after week, who take care of their own children at home, work part-time jobs in the evenings and on weekends, and yet who still come to school with a smile on their face everyday and tell you that things are gonna get better. I can truly say that I’ve worked with heroes.
As a Christian, I’ve always believed my mission is to be the hands and feet of Christ. It was this impulse that led me to join Teach for America in the first place, and it was this impulse that prompted me to stay in Tulsa for as long as I did. But during my last two years, I became more and more convinced that Tulsa was not my home and that God was leading me elsewhere.
Leaving Tulsa at the end of my fourth year was bittersweet, to say the least. I had grown to love this little city, a city that broke my heart every day yet somehow filled me with so much hope, so much excitement for the possibility of change. And yes, Tulsa has so much promise. I wanted to stay. I wanted to be a part of achieving that promise. But I also knew that God was leading me elsewhere. I knew it was time to leave.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live outside of the States. I take seriously the command of Jesus in the great commission to “go,” which is why I left home to go to Tulsa in the first place. I guess you could say that the same impulse which brought me to Tulsa also brought me to Korea. But what I’m doing in Korea is vastly different from what I was doing in the U.S.
I’m a teacher here, so at least that’s the same. But I’m teaching at a vastly different kind of school. My high school attracts the top 5 percent of students from around the country, most of whom speak multiple languages (as in, three or more). While many of my students have parents or grandparents who grew up in abject poverty, most of them have never experienced poverty for themselves. I am worlds apart from where I was in Tulsa. Both literally and figuratively.
So what am I doing here?
Towards the end of my first year in teaching, I took two days off to visit different schools in better situations than my own. Even though I worried about my students incessantly, those two days gave me true vision for the first time — something I had never enjoyed in the stress and defeat of my first year of teaching. While observing those classrooms, I saw five year old children writing paragraph-long stories and essays, reading books, and even completing division problems independently. From that moment forward, I knew what could be achieved. It didn’t matter if those classrooms had better resources than mine. It didn’t matter if those kids had more privilege. I finally had a solid picture of where the bar was set, and I knew my students deserved to be there too.
It’s hard to imagine what the world looks like in the sunlight when all you’ve seen is darkness. So I guess you could say that, towards the end of my first year of teaching, I stepped into the sunlight for a brief two days, and that single visit gave me vision for the next several years.
So what does that have to do with Korea? I like to think that I’m doing something similar here. I’m gaining fresh perspective and new vision for what is possible. I’m learning. And I’m preparing to launch into the next season of my life, which I know will take me back to communities in poverty, quite possibly communities that are outside of the United States. I hope that during this time I can grow both as an educator and as a follower of Christ.
I’m also not naive regarding Korea’s own blindspots when it comes to education (a topic that Korean students LOVE to talk about). In that vein, perhaps while I’m here I can also do some good, if only for the students that I teach. I’ve already made many mistakes in the few short weeks that I’ve been here, and I know that I will make many more. My prayer is that God’s grace will cover my faults and that I will learn to become more like my savior in the coming years.
Really, my hope for this season of life is pretty simple — that I can better learn to do what all Christians ought to do in the first place. To quote from Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
God help me learn to do this.