Guest Blog Post: Finding Depth Through the International Experience

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I’m excited to introduce this week’s guest blogger, Paul, who is from Toronto, Canada. He took a detour from his original path of pursuing law by going halfway around the world to teach ESL in Korea. After realizing his passion for teaching, he pursued a degree in teaching and is currently teaching high school computer science at an international school in Dailian, China. It’s always refreshing to meet other educators who love what they do!

I wanted to take this opportunity to share a revelation I had in a ginseng tea shop at Incheon airport in Korea 5 weeks ago.  I was sitting there with my own cup of tea, passing the time on my laptop, when I observed a couple ordering some tea at the counter. Immediately, two things were apparent.  The first was that they were newly-wed and the second was that they were on a backpacking trip.  Accordingly, two thoughts ran through my head: the first was ‘it must be nice to be newly-wed’ and second, ‘I wonder how they enjoyed Korea?’  The latter thought made me reflect on my own time in Korea, and that’s when I had my ‘Eureka!’ moment.  I realized that the Korea I knew and had experienced for 4 years was nothing like the Korea this couple had experienced in quite possibly a few days.  As common-sense as it may be, I realized that the more time spent in a place, the more intimately one would come to know a place, and this got me to thinking about the breadth and depth of knowing things.

So here’s my pearl of insight:

We all have a finite amount of time and energy.  How we invest this time and energy results in increasing either our breadth or depth in knowing a thing.  For example, when we travel, the reason we visit different countries, even if it be for a couple of days, is to experience and see new things.  In this case, we are expanding our breadth of knowledge.  If we spend more than a year in the same place, we begin to drift away from breadth and begin to move towards depth.  Things are no longer new, and through repetition, we begin to delve deeper into becoming familiar with a thing.

To take an example, when I lived in Korea, I really went out of my way to try different foods.  Whenever I tried a new food, I would be expanding my breadth of knowledge in knowing Korean food.  However, it’s not everyday that I would be able to try a new food.  Rather, more often than not, because I would be working at school, I would usually eat common foods such as rice, kimchi, and doen-jang jjigae (bean-paste soup).  Through the repetition of eating the same food everyday, a depth or familiarity developed with that very food.

And do you know what happened to me last month when I visited Korea?  I was sitting in a traditional Korean restaurant in Kang-won province, with a bowl of rice, a side-dish of kimchi, and a bowl of doen-jang jjigae in front of me.  I went to taste the doen-jang jjigae, and I kid you not, my eyes began to tear.  It wasn’t just the taste, which in itself was exquisite (being in the country-side, it was as authentic as it gets), but it was also the depth surrounding the experience.  In that first taste, recalling the four years I spent in Korea, eating doen-jang jjigae day in and day out, I said to myself, “dang, that’s some good doen-jang jjigae.”  And the point here is that I knew it only the way someone who had lived in Korea for 4 years could know it.

You might be thinking to yourself, “So what? I’m glad you have a special relationship with doen-jang jjigae.  In fact, I think you and doen-jang jjigae should get a room…”  Okay, well…no need to be facetious.  I’m just trying to illustrate what I mean by depth.

One of the things that attracts me to international teaching is that it gives me a chance to develop this very depth that I’m talking about.  Whether it be working abroad as an international teacher, or living abroad in some other capacity, isn’t it fair to say that living in a place for 6 months is different from 1 year, which is still different from 2 years, which is still different from 5, or even 10 years?

I believe being a good international teacher is greatly helped if you have a love and passion for learning another place in depth, which includes embracing such things as different culture, language, and food.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of international teachers out there who have no interest in learning their new country of residence, yet still win my full approval for being a good international teacher.  However, I would make the argument that performing to your best ability requires being comfortable.  If we are comfortable, this means we are familiar, and if we are familiar, it means that at some point, an investment of time and energy has been made.

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2 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post: Finding Depth Through the International Experience

  1. Paul, There is nothing like the sense of taste and often smell to connect us unknowingly, viscerally to time and place. Familiarity takes times. Love this post!

  2. What an interesting perspective that I never thought about before. Thanks Paul! I chose to become an international teacher not just because I love to teach, but because of my love to learn about other cultures outside my own as well.

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