Teachers can have a tremendous impact anywhere, but I feel like I can make even more of a difference in Korea. The students are over-worked and stressed. Robbed of their childhoods, they spend just about every waking minute studying, from elementary school onwards. I feel like I am making the greatest positive difference when I foster an environment in which students forget they are learning because they are enjoying themselves so much, and that’s what I strive to do every class. I don’t always succeed, but I do a fair bit – and I’m getting better all the time. One thing I’m proud of as a teacher is my ability to challenge the class while at the same time setting the tone for a safe, comfortable environment, a state of “relaxed alertness,” to steal a term from my Secondary Content Methods class. I remember how insecure I was in high school and accordingly, I’m sensitive to the struggles teenagers endure. I remember what it’s like to feel over-worked and to have my choices in life constrained. I have re-discovered repeatedly how awkward it can be to adapt to new social environments. I invite my students to forget their stress, if only temporarily, to laugh at me, and then at themselves to show them that not everything needs to be taken so seriously.
My life as an expat has been a transformative experience. My friends in Korea may come from all walks of life all over the globe, but we’re also all teachers, all travellers, all foreigners in Korea. Such extensive common ground has provided the foundation for deeper friendships than would be possible elsewhere. I’ve made similar connections with my classmates during my intermittent return to student life, a life-changing experience that has incited a reflection on and refining of my teaching practices. My impulsive move to Asia and all the good things that have spawned from that decision have fundamentally changed who I am. I have become a risk-taker, much to my mother’s disappointment. I have a thirst for adventure, both recreationally and professionally. I climb mountains even though I’m terrified of heights, I experiment with new teaching methods even though they might not work for my particular set of students, I take yoga classes even though I can’t sit cross-legged. I scuba dive, I do Muay Thai, I study in Spain. I have become willing to force myself out of my comfort zone because I know that if I’m not willing to scare myself, I might rob myself of an opportunity to surprise myself.
Because of these choices, I’ve gained an interest in the world, and an openness to other perspectives that I didn’t always have. While constructing a more worldly perspective, I have paradoxically acquired a clearer and stronger identity as a Canadian and consider myself an ambassador to my country. Perhaps most importantly, I have developed and continuously fed my appetite for diverse knowledge and experiences, an appetite for discovery that I strive to demonstrate to my students. I know how it feels to make a genuine difference in someone’s life and for someone to make one in yours. I know I’ve met some incredible people with whom I’ve shared equally incredible experiences, and I’m certain I’ll have more. I know I’ve found my passion, and that my future is bright, and I plan to help others have a similar outlook on life.