People talk about five-year plans like there's only ever one road--one path--you could take.
At midnight, I'm standing in the kitchen with my father, and my heart feels like breaking. He's not yelling, and he's not angry.
I'd just told him that I finished my time with my international school--that it was my decision not to go back for Spring Term. In response, he'd asked for my plans, and I'd shared them as gently as I could.
"I'm planning to do some online ESL tutoring and volunteering at the library," I'd started. "Looked at some grad courses in linguistics and a few writing courses with Gotham Writers, going to study Korean a bit more..." plucked up my courage, "finalizing my EPIK application."
He'd paused in pouring himself his tea.
"EPIK?" he'd asked.
"...yeah..." I'd raised my chin a bit, a small challenge. A defense.
That's how we landed into this now growing silence. Dad takes a slow sip of his tea and changes directions.
"What's with the linguistics?"
I try to explain, as simply as I can, that I want to take a few applied or theoretical classes. Just to see if it's something I'd enjoy in the long run. I'm interested in the mathematics of language--in the construction--and maybe it's something I should have actively pursued.
"Besides," I redirect us back to the real issue, "the class I'm looking at would be pretty useful for when I go abroad."
"Have you looked at getting the uh--what was it? The teaching license? For New York?" He's good at avoiding the problem.
"No," I reply honestly. "I figure I have Maryland certification right now, and if I want to continue teaching at this level when I get back from abroad I could apply for reciprocity then."
"Why abroad?" he finally presses.
"Why not?" I throw back.
And he's got his answers. They range, but he leans heavily on the fact that I can do what I'd do in Korea...in New York City, the city of 3-million foreign born immigrants (of which he is included in that count). He's right of course, but it's missing a few of the puzzle pieces that originally brought me to look at EPIK: Cultural immersion, visiting the country whose culture I'd spent so much of my life surrounded by via my neighborhood, friends, and taekwondo; even travelling, the gorgeous mountain hikes I'd heard from others, being on my own and seeing more than what I've already seen of the world.
The trouble is that I don't know how to share those thoughts with him. At least, I don't know how to share them without sounding like a cliche. So instead of talking about those details, I fall back on logic. Given my dad and his personality, an appeal to logos seems best.
"I'm debating getting my PhD," I start, "and I don't know if it would be English Lit or Linguistics. Or--because I finally can't lie to myself and am stupid--but maybe a Master's in Literary Reporting or an MFA, something...creative and writing." Before I can stop myself, I start to ramble. "And yeah, maybe I'll nix those and decide to continue secondary teaching. Maybe I'm looking at school again because I don't know how to not be in school. But either way, no matter what I choose, EPIK would help my career especially as an international professional, that I rise to challenges, asses problems with a critical view, employ strong organizational and communication skills with groups of varying abilities."
Then I cut myself off. My explanation doesn't sound finished, but I recognize the emotional knot in my throat.
He's quiet again, and I feel tense, and I almost wish he was yelling instead. I kneel down to pet our new cat and distract myself.
"What are you thinking?" I ask after some seconds pass.
"I'm just sad," he replies. "I'd miss you...I'd worry..."
My heart clenches, and I'm sad too, and I know I'll worry about them also.
But, despite it all, I still want to go.
The Next Step?
So yeah...there's my little update of sorts. I finished teaching at my international school, and that in itself is pretty bittersweet. There's so much I'm going to miss, and, strangely enough, the very commute I hated might be one of those sad goodbyes.
As a city-kid, I have a love-hate relationship with driving. I love it because the novelty of leaving on my own time is truly an underrated gift. I hate it, though, because I can't get work done if I'm driving. I'm so used to reading, editing papers, or studying on buses and trains that the 30-40 minute drive drove me a little stir-crazy. I wound up listening to podcasts in an attempt to feel productive. Still. Going to work often met me with lakeside views and the school's old architecture nestled among trees.
In June, I sat at the lake with another new teacher, and she shared with me the happenstance circumstances that brought her to our school. In August, I went for a run with a friend there after classes. Then in October, another friend and I sat, watching the birds after a day of pumpkin picking. I've got a tag on my tumblr called bring me home to the mountain air, where I tag anything that makes the nature-loving, wanderlust in my heart ache. This spot was often my simple fix to that ache.
Then, of course, my students.
I'd spoken with my supervisor, and we both agreed that it made more sense for me to pass off my duties after my last Friday class at 4. It was a shock--I thought I’d have another week--but I knew it was the best point of transition given the housekeeping and upcoming progress exam. I ended the class with a game of telephone, since it was a challenge they'd always had so much fun with, and then a lot of explaining as to what would happen next.
Considering their age--20s and teens and young adults--I'm not sure how sincere the "I miss yous" were, but I was particularly touched when one of them, a quieter girl, didn't approach me for a hug like the rest; instead, she grabbed my hands with both of hers and gave them a squeeze. "Thank you." Her arms dragged as she let go, as she reluctantly followed her friend who'd called her from the hall.
I'm still in contact with some of them, and have even planned to get dinner with one from my writing class. I'm also in the process of setting up online tutoring sessions, volunteering with the library, and nailing down a schedule for this blog. I've had more time to work on my novel, study Korean, and take the steps I need to pursue my goals--like teaching through EPIK, the government sponsored teacher-exchange English program in Korea.
It's strange, sometimes, how you can get so many different reactions towards those goals. Last week, the women of my extended family all squealed with excitement at my plans, encouraging me to teach abroad while saying "I wish I did that!" Their husbands were less enthused, especially one uncle who repeatedly said, "No. No daughter of mine would ever travel by herself. She should be home, learning how to cook, getting married!" (yes, he actually said that)
Some friends asked about visiting me if I were to go. Others asked about loneliness. Even one of my, now former, students has offered her advice, not only encouraging me but offering her perspective as a teacher in Korea. At taekwondo, a few of the younger kids talked about how they wanted to do something similar; or--my favorite--note that when I explain a topic, it's like hearing a college paper brought to life, the organization and citations and flair of style.
Maybe that's why, ultimately, advice doesn't matter half as much as knowing yourself.
There are going to be so many people telling you yes, no, maybe, definitely; and they will contradict one another. Most all of it will have sound reasoning.
Especially in your twenties, when everyone has a word or two on how to live your life. But you know yourself.
All you can do is take the advice, the hesitancy or the risks, and push forward. Continue the path you've laid out for yourself and discover the new twists or turns you'll need to take. Continue. One foot in front of the other. The next step to the next, enjoying the journey as you reach your goals.
Pedagogy and Reflection
We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience