The Big Picture

Now imagine the pitter patter of little toddler feet bumbling down the hallway. A baby out on a journey! Everything about that journey is glittered by the newness and amazingness of everything around us. This carpet feels funny. That wall makes a sound when I touch it. But that feeling fades with time, unfailingly, as we begin to conquer the tasks that hadn’t once seemed so easy. To maintain that amazement state we crave to conquer more and more difficult tasks. And with time our mind aligns with the way we spend our time, climbing higher on the staircase than ever before or learning how to roll forward on the floor. A wonderful process blossoms as we make our way through a system designed to both challenge and represent our desire to continue learning. But for some reason this blossom’s loss of color begins when we decide in our minds to get a job. What is a job? Is it a socially decided upon way of converting human energy into economic energy? And economic energy for the sake of what? To provide us with more presents? Presents, we all know sometimes, just don’t cut it. What we’ve always been looking for lies behind the only place one would never consider looking for. The place behind the Irises is indicated by the entrance to the now. Only in the now do presents become presence, an all becomes a one.

 

The Mute One and The Deaf One

I honestly can’t tell you how the idea for this blog came to me exactly. It feels like it came from my friend James because we were talking about some deep and interesting things last night, but in reality I can’t say. As soon as the idea came into my head, it felt right. So here it is:

The Mute one and the Deaf one:

For a moment, I’d like you to think about your thoughts. What are they really? Well, we can be sure that sometimes they’re words, sometimes they’re pictures, and sometimes they’re feelings. Well for the sake of this blog, lets think of them just as words. In order for there to be words, there must be a speaker. And in order for there to be one who speaks, there must also be one who listens. Right?

DeafMute

So pretend there are two people in your head, sitting next to each other in equal sized chairs. Only the Deaf one has the ability to talk. So all the “spoken” thoughts you have can be attributed to the deaf one. It does all the talking. The Mute one on the other hand, can’t talk at all. Listening is its greatest skill. As the Deaf one rambles on and on, the Mute one listens intently. So intently in fact that it always hears exactly what the deaf one means, as opposed to what it actually says. “I’m so unhappy right now! I just want this thing I have to do to go away. Ahhhhh!!!!” the Deaf one may say. In which case the Mutes one actually hears, “I am resisting the present situation right now because I’m afraid of uncertainty.” Upon hearing this, it knows that this turmoil could be put to rest if the Deaf one would only embrace uncertainty. For it also knows that only out of uncertainty can creativity thrive. It knows that every painting ever made started with a blank canvas. And yet, there is no way for the Mute one to help the Deaf one. Without the ability to speak, what can there be done?

And so this process goes on, for our entire lives. Then one day, the Deaf one notices the Mute one is there, and voices it, “Wait a minute, you’ve been here all along? You’ve been listening this whole entire time?!? Wow, you must have all the answers to my questions… Do you? Oh gosh I hope you do. I’ve been struggling for so long, everyday in fact. I just want to know the answers to my questions!!! Please can you help me? What do I need to do? Can you answer all my questions for me?” In response, the Mute one smiles from ear to ear, and simply says nothing.

A thick silence lingers, like after a heavy rain. And for the first time the Deaf one stops speaking and starts listening. Being Deaf, how could it ever have thought to listen to silence? But there, in that moment, it finally hears what the Mute one has been saying all along. As if telepathically, the Deaf one all at once understands the answer to all of its questions. The whole time, the one place it never looked was behind the question itself. The way to answer all the unanswerable questions is to never ask the question in the first place. For the first time, they sit in peace, together. Over time, they form a stronger bond, learning to communicate despite their disabilities. Soon they realize they are partners in this life and begin working together. When stress arises, they tackle it together. When negativity creeps in, they work to turn it into positive and therefore neutralize it. And when wonderful, beautiful things happen, together they revel in the silence.

THE TAKEAWAY: I wrote this blog this way to illustrate the relationships between the thoughts we have and how to make sense of them. Everyone thinks differently, but in essence, we all have had the experiences of these internal battles. Often we don’t even recognize that they are happening. And so we have no idea why we feel the way we do. It has been said that traveling can be a catalyst for understanding these battles. “In losing yourself, you find your self.” Well the “self” that you lose is the Deaf one. When we are traveling in a new place, we are in utter awe of everything we see. We can’t apply labels to everything and assume it is something we already know. Everything is so new we are speechless. And so we are forced to listen and observe. This is the “self” that is found. This is the Mute one. However, upon returning from that trip, we often lose sight of what we’ve found. We go back to our routines, complain, and find fault in ourselves and others. The Deaf one turns up the chatter and the more talking we do, the less room there is for listening. We get so caught up in what we’re doing that we forget about  being.

Remember, we are human beings, not human doings.
So be it.

We All Know Nothing is Perfect, but….

You have a project your supposed to do and you spend HOURS AND HOURS on it. You continue to revise, improve, fix, and slave over it. When its “done” you step away and all of a sudden realize 14 other things about it that still need to be fixed. Ever been in this situation? I sure have, and when ever I have been faced with it I usually settle down and remind myself, “Hey, nothings perfect.” Well, that is precisely the wisdom I would like to expand upon today.

If you have the desire to be perfect (or near it) in whatever you do, and you know that nothing is perfect, then why not be nothing? Maybe that seems strange to think about or for some reason it doesn’t click right away. But when you think about it, it is actually quite simple. If you’re anything like me, a bit of a perfectionist sometimes, then its likely that when you set out to accomplish a goal or task, you structure your action so that you can finish as close to “perfect” as possible. So in your mind, you believe that creating a perfect outcome will then project onto who you are. However, if I followed that logic, it would seem that because I am able to write these blogs about complex things, I must be perfect in how I execute them in my life. Well I hate to break it to you, that’s actually dead wrong.

Which leads me to the crux of this topic: That very discrepancy, between the things I write here and how I apply them in my life, is actually a manifestation of the “nothing” mindset. To reiterate, I saw that no matter how well I can put advice into words, I still make those very same mistakes, even after the fact. Earlier in my life, I wanted to be perfect at everything I did – and failed at it relentlessly. In essence, wanting to be perfect is equivalent to living in constant failure. So why not do the opposite? If you want to be ________ (read: nothing) then there is no failure. And if there is no failure then all that remains is success.

eye am nothing

 

THE TAKEAWAY: This may be hard to wrap your head around, and it obviously has been for me since it has taken me my entire life thus far to put into words, let alone practice. But it really is as simple as this: if we view thoughts as tools, then having the thought “I am nothing” can function as a way of creating the resulting mindset of permanent and constant success. Think about the person who runs a dog rehabilitation clinic in a small town and loves every minute of it. They probably don’t have the money to travel freely, drive nice cars, motivate masses of people, or experience success in the traditional sense of the word. And yet, because they realize they don’t have to be any of those things (in other words, nothing) they are free to see themselves in their current situation as successful. Success and failure are really one in the same. Steve Jobs will be viewed of by most as a success for his contributions to the technological world. And yet, he will be view by a lesser number of people as a failure for silent conversations at restaurants – iPhones in hand, or for not taking care of his family (he had a daughter out of wedlock with whom he spent very little time with), and the list could go on forever. So I ask that today, throw out your traditional thoughts about being successful. Stop trying to be something you’re not – in fact, stop trying to be something at all. Try being nothing for a change. After all, you really can’t fail? So what do you have to lose?

 

 

 

Your Life is a Reflection of You

Dear you,

As a young boy, I was extremely curious. Everything about the world around me facinated me because there seemed to be a reason for everything. There was a reason for the stop sign on the corner just the way there was a reason for the expiration date on the milk carton. For some reason or another, that made me so excited that I believe, even then, I set out to find all the reasons – the reason for everything.

Fittingly so, I learned to ask a lot of questions. I loved that behind every question, there was an answer too! How cool! All I had to do was connect the dots. And so I set out on my life’s adventure trying to connect all the dots. Well… a few days ago, I finally stopped trying; not out of exhaustion or frustration, but out of peace. That peace, is what I wanted to give you today.

Everything happens for a reason… right?

Not really.

Everything happens for many reasons. Which reason you see depends on you.

Every event in our lives thus far has had many many reasons for why it happened. I got into a car accident when I was 17 in which my younger brother and I could easily have died. I still remember the resistance of the steering wheel as it was spinning out of control. I can even remember trying to keep the car on a straight enough path to crash into the divider instead of rolling down the freeway. The car that hit us drove off. Why? Maybe the driver was taking his wife to the hospital and wasn’t thinking. Maybe he had just ended a 30 year marriage, couldn’t stand to deal with another traumatic thing, and so made the choice to drive off. Or, to pose another question, why did I survive? Maybe it’s so that I could meet my current girlfriend and one day have a child who is going to be the first president of the moon. Maybe its so that some child somewhere could see me playing basketball and decide to spend their life playing it too. Or maybe I survived so that the next day, when the man who hit us checked the newspaper, he would see that no one had actually died and he could go on living a life of service to others. One person survives, another serves…..

THE TAKEAWAY:

There are literally millions of reasons I survived – one of which you are reading right now. So which one is the real reason? Well, the answer is they all are. The only thing that is different is the person looking at the reason. We see whatever we want to see. And since wants come from inside of us, all we ever see is a reflection of what is already there. Although that may be scary or overwhelming at times, as long as that wisdom is inside you, you will always have all the answers you ever need. To those of you who read this, thank you for reading these blogs and listening to me. In doing so you have helped me to see into myself. You have helped me to see who I really am.

With great appreciation,

Chad

If we can only see what is already within us, the more you have inside of you the more you can see in others.

If we can only see what is already within us, the more you have inside of you the more you can see in others.

Reconcile the Reptile

Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors’ lives were very similar to any other animal. They spent most of their time grazing plains looking for food, hunting game, and watching out for things hunting them. When faced with danger, our natural defense mechanism, the limbic system, would send adrenaline to all the most necessary parts of our body so we could do one thing – STAY ALIVE! Most other living creatures on this planet also have this system. Fittingly, the part of the brain that controls the limbic system is commonly known as the reptilian brain.

Now, think for a second about the last lizard you saw. It was probably sitting on a rock somewhere, eyes wide, unmoving except for its breathing. If you’re anything like me and tried to get closer or even catch it, its likely that it ran away from you before you could even make up your mind to do so. This example highlights two interesting concepts – First, there’s no way to reason with the lizard and tell it you are only going to pet it. It just reacts. Second, the lizard responds so quickly that we hardly even have time to get close to it. This is because the reptilian brain, which we share, is specifically designed to get us moving and save our lives. Nothing else.

What is most interesting about this is that we no longer really “need” this brain to survive. Or at least, not nearly as much as our ancestors did. And yet, its still there in each of us – always watching out for danger, listening for overly loud noises and avoiding cliffs at all costs. Unless we really are in a life threatening situation and need to protect ourselves, the reptilian brain doesn’t have much to do. So instead it helps us to protect other things – children, friends, possessions, ego – from danger. It is responsible for the quick hands that catch your wobbling toddler and reminds you to keep your eyes on your wallet in a dangerous part of town. It’s always there watching out for us, which seems like a great thing. But what many of us often don’t realize is how overprotective it actually is.

Have you ever thought about starting something new, a project or company, only to talk yourself out of it before you start? Right now I’m in the process of building a company from the ground up and let me tell you, this happens almost everyday for me. But recently after watching this TED talk by Seth Godin, I realized that it wasn’t really “me” talking myself out those things. It was the reptilian brain watching out for me – steering me away from potential danger. “No Jeremy, you don’t need to learn how to use that new program. It will probably be too difficult and take too much time.” But, what the reptilian brain calls “danger” is really just risk. And if risk is a situation where it is possible to fail, then the reptilian brain only knows one way to help us – convince us to stop taking risks. For our ancestors, risk meant life or death. Today, risk means success or failure. So what is there to do?

THE TAKEAWAY: At first, I was a little angry at my reptile. I mean, how could it do that to me? Constantly knocking me down when I was so close to succeeding. Encouraging me to stay in my comfort zone where it could keep me safe. Well, now that I’ve wised up a bit, I’m not going to take it anymore. My reptile and I sat down recently to have a little talk, we laid everything out on the table and now, we understand each other quite well. He knows that I only need him to help with matters of life and death and that I can handle something as harmless as a little failure on my own. Have you and your reptile talked lately? If not, maybe it’s time you do. Trust me, in the end it will be less work for him anyway.

You Are a Child

Giggling to yourself when someone farts, playing imaginary games, and allowing yourself to get utterly excited over the simplest of things are just part of everyday life for a child. When I was around ten years old, me, my younger brother, and a few of our friends found a small orange pipe tip that had been cut off and left somewhere as garbage. We, on the other hand, saw it as the greatest thing that had happened to our lives thus far. We picked it up and rolled it down the hill, watching it to see how long it stayed up. After an unusually long roll down the hill, we decided that this piece of PVC pipe had a personality of its own and therefore deserved a name; Orange Wheel we dubbed it, ever so creatively. And for the rest of our lives, all of us will remember the stories of our times together in great detail.

Now let’s consider for a second how strange that story would sound coming from an adult. That person might be in danger of being forcibly checked into a mental institution and yet, if a child says it we encourage it. Why are we, as a society, so two faced? If a little girl wants to imagine she is a magical wizardress, with her spoon as her wand and her breakfast cereal as her magic potion, we think its perfectly fine! But if you’re boss came into work one day and told everyone that from now on her pen was a magic wand and anyone she waved it at would be transported to another dimension (insert “department” for a more realistic scenario) then what? The employees would literally have a LEGAL standing to get her fired. Where’s the disconnect?

On the contrary now, lets think about how ridiculous two people who are madly in love seem to outsiders. They make ridiculous nicknames for each other like smoopy woopy, rub noses together, and stand to make people around them either jealous or sick to their stomach. Well children do these things all the time, and once again, we don’t see it as ridiculous. In fact, we usually smile instead. You see, it is that love, and therefore feeling of fulfillment, that we lack in our adult lives that holds us back from expressing ourselves in our truest form. When we were children, we knew nothing about cars, expensive watches, sexuality, or weight loss. All we knew was all we had, and in that, we were fulfilled. So is it no wonder that when two adults are in the thick of love that they, inspired by that long lost feeling of fulfillment, are not afraid to display their childishness and thus, show themselves in their true form.

THE TAKEAWAY: The first step toward solving any problem is being aware of it. And if by now you are aware that you rarely allow yourself to act like a little kid, then that’s good – that means you have already taken the first step. Now that you are aware, you can pay attention to your actions – watching them as if you were someone else looking back at yourself – and actively ask the following questions: “Why am I being so serious right now? Does this situation really have to be this stressful? When was the last time I let myself have fun for the sake of fun?” The reason I wrote this blog today was to remind you that you’re natural state of being is that of a child. Child is to still water as adult is to white water. So if it is stillness in your life you are seeking – if you feel like there is room to add some more happiness and fun in your life – then start asking the little kid inside you what they want to do. I promise you, whatever it is, it’ll be a whole lot of fun.

It’s nice to let go sometimes

Fresh Eyes

Have you ever been digging through your closet and found an old jacket you used to love, only to put in on and instantly remember why you stopped wearing it? In the time that you hadn’t been wearing it you aged, your style changed, and it just didn’t suit you anymore. Well, that is very much how I feel now that I’m back to the same routine. Although this time, its not that the sweater doesn’t fit me, it’s just my style that’s changed.

When I was living in Korea, almost EVERYTHING was different. It was hard to get used to anything really. From the cute little jingle my school used for their bell to the way people cram onto the subway, everything was a chance to change my perceptions and attitudes. Take this situation for instance – where I lived, pretty much everywhere you went was about as crowded as Costco on a Sunday. Now remove the shopping carts and that’s how I felt every time I went grocery shopping or walked through the streets. There were so many times where I got frustrated with a person walking in front of me because they were too slow or taking up too much space. And this frustration turned into anger – anger which had no reason to be there. It was my own doing.

But slowly over time, I got used to it and realized that we were all sharing that space. I wasn’t entitled to any more of it than anyone else. Eventually, I didn’t even get angry anymore, no matter who was in front of me. And now that I’m back home in America, I’ll be honest, I don’t even mind going to Costco on Sunday! But of course, there are still other places I’d prefer to be.  😉

THE TAKEAWAY: Human beings are habit forming creatures. We do this because it helps us to improve ourselves and our surroundings and it helps us learn! But the downside of that is that there may be problems in our life that are a direct result of our routine – and we don’t even know it! I was causing myself stress for absolutely no reason. And it just took stepping outside my comfort zone and breaking my routine to change that. These types of changes allow us to see more clearly what benefits us and what doesn’t. And then, from there, we can choose what we want to keep. Sometimes it just takes a pair of fresh eyes to see what you really want out of life. So go out there and get some for yourself! Happy trails.

Photography by my wonderfully talented girlfriend.

Fall in Love with Yourself

These days you really don’t see too many romantic comedies where the main character has this long drawn out battle with him/herself and at the end of the movie, stands in the middle of a bridge on a rainy day and says, “I love myself!!!” with an orchestra playing climactic music in the background. Maybe it is for this reason that there aren’t many of us who ever really come around to loving ourselves. Recently my brother and I have been discussing a book called The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz and we came to a few conclusions I’d like to share here:

1. Virtually every relationship problem is caused by a lack of self love. When we are not in a relationship, we fantasize about finding the person that will one day make us happy because we don’t know how to be happy on our own. Then if we finally do find someone we eventually start to depend on that person to make us happy, but that’s not fair. Our happiness is our own responsibility, no one else’s. As soon as we start to depend on them, we place expectations upon them and set them up for failure. Then, when they finally do fail, we get angry at them, blame them, hurt them, and maybe even end the relationship with them (I know I have done this a few times in my life). And the saddest part of this is, this doesn’t just pertain to romantic relationships, this goes for all types of relationships.

2. The economy doesn’t want your self-love. As sad as it may seem, it is not in the best interest of mainstream media to help you learn to love yourself. The only thing that makes the gears turn in this capitalistic society we have are the dollars and cents that we put into it. If we suddenly all became perfectly content with two different outfits of clothing, a small home, and a garden in our backyard, then the economy would collapse almost immediately. Perhaps this really is why we don’t see any romantic movies about self-love. These days true self-love seems far more rare than its dual counter part.

3. You cannot love another until you love yourself. If you do not love yourself, then how is it possible to expect another person to do that? In essence, you are starting off the relationship with a MAJOR disagreement if you do. I think that this is the reason why true love seems to be so allusive for so many people. If we never learn to consider the concept of self love, then true love seems almost mythical. For me, I had to learn this the hard way. I had to make many mistakes, date the wrong people, hurt others, and learn that I must first love and accept myself before I can accept another. And it’s no coincidence that my soul mate learned to do the same at the same time in her life.

4. You are NOT your mind. You are not the internal monologue in your head. You are not your clothes. You are not your job, your friends, or your political beliefs. For a moment, please look away from your computer screen and consider the question, “Who am I?”

**********

If you started by saying something like, “I am a happy, loving, outgoing, man, friend, construction manager, scientist…” then you were not answering the right question. You were answering the question, “How do I define myself?” And these two questions are very different. When we use certain qualities, roles, or words to describe ourselves, we are limiting ourselves to what we believe those words to mean. For instance, if I say that I am a happy person, then does that mean I am never sad? If I say that I am a man, then am I implying to myself and others that I do not do feminine things? If I say that I am a writer, am I saying that that is the only talent I believe I have? Everyone is different in terms of how they define themselves, and that defining is the problem. The solution to this is not to define ourselves at all. We are nothing and we are everything at the same time. We are many and we are one. We are not our thoughts because we are the producers of those thoughts, we are the window through which they are shown. Ruiz beautifully depicts this point here:

 “You are life itself passing through your body, passing through your mind, passing through your soul. Once you find that out, not with logic, not with the intellect, but because you feel that life,  you find out that you are the force that makes the flowers open and close, makes the humming bird fly from flower to flower. You find out that you are in every tree, every animal, vegetable, rock. You are the force that moves the wind and breathes through your body. The whole universe is a living being that is moved by that force. And that is what you are. You are life.”

THE TAKEAWAY: I wrote this post today because I was sad. When I learned about how simple self love can be, it deeply saddened me to know that so many people live their entire lives without ever truly loving themselves. For most of my life, I disliked so many things about myself that sometimes I would even punish myself. “You don’t deserve a friend like that Jeremy, what are you thinking?” or “You’re probably going to screw this all up Jeremy, you might as well not even try,” are a couple of examples of things I can vividly remember thinking. If you can remember thinking something similar in your lifetime, then it is my sincerest hope that you ask yourself, what have you done for yourself lately? Do you love yourself? Your mind? Your body? If not, then maybe its time to take yourself out on a date and get to know you a little better. As for me, here I am after a long drawn out battle in my life, sitting on a bridge at the climax of my personal romantic comedy, saying (** romantic background music***) “I LOVE ME!!!”


I Found My Purpose

For the last few weeks I have been mentally preparing myself for the hospital bed I sit in now. By no means should this be alarming, because it was an elective tonsillectomy I chose to do based on my American Doctor’s recommendation. Last year I had strep throat far too many times to be considered normal, and since I have been here in Korea I have come close a few times if it had not been for my immediate action and regiment of excessive sleep. Nonetheless, this surgery represented something to me in my mind; it was a physical representation of the mental transformation I have been going through as of late.

Two years ago I held a position in my business fraternity under which I decided to get a team together to start a charity golf tournament. At first, many people advised me against it, saying it would be too difficult and was likely to fail. Regardless of what they said, however, I could not shake the feeling deep inside me that told me it was what I was supposed to do. Thankfully, the people whom I had selected for the team were the right ones, and if it weren’t for them, it was not have been as successful as it was. Fittingly so, one of the members of that team, Alla, went on to plan the second tournament, and one of the active helpers from that tournament, Megan, now happens to be planning the third. All things are connected.

Now, when I first decided I wanted to go to Korea after I graduated, I received a similar reaction from those around me. Lots of skepticism, some anger, and disappointment from those close to me. Many people advised against it, thought it would hurt my career in the long run, and saw it as a risky experience at best. However, there was a very similar feeling deep inside me that told me it was what I must do. It felt like my heart was telling me I needed to go. And since I have been here, it has been one of the most amazing experiences of my whole life. It has been both humbling, spiritual, eye-opening, and enlightening. And now, I have that very same feeling again… My heart is telling me what I must do.

A wonderful friend and mentor of mine, Alex, was the first person I mentioned this feeling to a month or so ago when it came to me. I told him that I wanted to be a public speaker. He has had extensive public speaking experience himself and gave me some great advice. One of the way he suggested I start, once back in San Diego, was to speak to kids. The teachers are usually open to having speakers, and the kids are usually a very challenging audience. He said, “If you can speak to kids, you can speak to anyone.” I mulled his advice around in my head for the following few weeks but it wasn’t until last week’s lesson about self motivation that I realized the connection between his advice, and what I am doing now. Not only am I speaking to kids… I am speaking to tired, over-worked kids in a language that most of them don’t understand about a topic many of them don’t even want to learn about! And yet, it has proven successful thus far.

So, from this hospital bed that I sit in now, I was compelled to sit up and write this. Perhaps again it was my heart that told me to do so, and forever I will heed it’s call. I never could have known what this experience had in store for me before I came here, and in fact, I certainly never guessed it would have been this. But now that I know, I will follow this step until the next step becomes obvious. When I get back to San Diego, I will start public speaking. I don’t know how or about what, all I know is why. Because I have learned to listen to the language of my heart, and it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

Passion Really Does Pay Off

When I walked into my second class today, instantly I could feel the carefully cultivated positivity being sucked out of me. There was something about this freshmen girl’s class that just wasn’t right. The usual chatter that preceded every other girls’ class was missing. There was something negative in there.

Rather than succumb to it, I tried something new that I have been doing lately. When a class is in a rather bad mood, I try to be as positive as possible to sway the balance. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. So I continued with the lesson about self motivation, which was entitled “How to be a Genius” because genius is a word they are very familiar with. The results were trivial at first, then slowed down toward the end like a car running out of gas. When I had finished the lesson there were probably only seven girls actually listening, seven sleeping, and the other ten with blank looks on their faces. I was disheartened to say the least, so I decided to be honest with them.

“Do you know that I only have four more months with you here? In four months, I will leave Korea and probably never see you again!” A few of the blank faces shifted. “I know, you’re life is not fair! You work too hard, and you are expected to know what you want to do in life right now and you are still so young! I didn’t know what I actually wanted to do until I came here and I am 24 years old!” There were no blank faces anymore. “In the time I have left, I want to help you as much as I can. So, I am going to teach you everything I know. Hopefully, something will help you choose your path in life… If you don’t want to listen, that’s you’re choice. I can’t help you if you don’t want to help yourself.”

After my CoTeacher Nora finished translating, there was a long silence. I sat down on a chair in front, facing the class, rested my chin on my hand and stared back at them with the same blank face they had given me. You see, in Korea, high school is by far the most stressful time in a person’s life. These days, students spend upwards of twelve hours a day at school, and sometimes even on Saturdays. They spend all that time studying for their SAT equivalent test, the SooNung. Korea takes this test so seriously, that on the day of examination, planes are not allowed to fly during school hours so as not to disturb the children. The score then determines what majors the student is allowed to choose from.  Those majors in turn decide what universities they are allowed to apply to. And literally their ENTIRE LIFE depends on what university they get into. So, most of them are forced to decide what they want to do in life at the age of… 14? 15? 17?

The bell rang and I simply waved goodbye. Slowly they shuffled their way out of the classroom. After all of them had left, I had started cleaning up and pushing chairs in when one of the girls, who had been listening the whole time, came back into the room. Even before she spoke I could feel the determination behind her words. Her grammar wasn’t very good but I could tell what she meant simply by the order of her words. If her English were perfect, what she said would have gone a little like this:

“Teacher, I want to say thank you. Before today, I chose a dream just because when I was growing up, adults always told me I had to know my dream. But now, I know that it’s okay if I don’t know what I want to do. If I don’t get into the best university in Korea, that’s okay. Now I know that what I learn is more important that where I learn it.”

Then, she did something that is very strange in Korean culture… She reached out and gave me a quick, awkward hug, as if she had never given one before, and walked away. As soon as she had turned the corner to leave, tears welled up in my eyes… I leaned my head against the nearest wall and cried tears of joy.