Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Forging New Paths

It is becoming increasingly clear that despite my fleeting ambitions otherwise, I am most likely going to end up teaching ESL for the rest of my life. It's been my safety net, my fallback plan, often my main career, for the past 6 years. I'm good at it and I enjoy bonding with students and watching them improve. That look that plays across a person's face when understanding dawns is priceless, especially when the thing being understood is useful in daily life or more complex than the person expected to be able to understand. Many ESL teachers treat their adult students like children, which often doesn't go over well. I aim to learn as much from them as they learn from me, and I show them the respect they deserve for working hard to learn another language. I could build many good relationships and be content as an ESL teacher. I guess that's all I can ask for in life.

I have started working a little at an organization called AACI (Asian Americans for Community Involvement). It's a non-profit community service provider, not necessarily limited to the Asian community but mainly helping immigrant and minority communities. I have been volunteering at their senior center as an ESL teacher twice per week, and will start getting paid for it this week. I am also volunteering as an ESL tutor for a woman from Syria who doesn't know any English. She needs to know some basic English to be able to join a class, so I'm trying to get her to a functioning level. I might get another class of refugees soon. I don't know if that will be paid or not and I don't really care either way. It's very selfish of me, but I feel proud of myself when I volunteer so much of my time to help people who have nothing. I guess that makes me selfless, feeling that I'm selfish for helping people. It doesn't really matter what my motives are, though. What matters is the grateful expression I get every day when my students can speak and understand just a little bit more, or when I search around for books in Arabic and drive a mother and her three children to a library a little far away so they can check out books and DVDs in their language. The drive to be on the receiving end of that gratitude, to be able to make that kind of impact on someone's life, that is what makes me think I could do this for the rest of my life.

My experiences in Korea help me relate to the immigrant community here. I guess that goes without saying. Today, I was teaching my senior class and one of them was trying to think of the word "southern" and said it in Chinese. The word is exactly the same in Korean, so I understood and translated for her. The whole class looked shocked because they know I don't know Chinese. I laughed and explained that the word is the same in Korean, and they all laughed, too. Those little moments create a bond between diaspora, despite the fact that I'm a diaspora returned home. While tutoring my Syrian student today, I explained to her that in Korea I had trouble cooking because when I went to the grocery store I couldn't read and understand what things were. She had chosen a few cookbooks in Arabic because she loves to cook. Because of my experience in Korea, I told her to try translating a recipe from Arabic to English using a picture dictionary she checked out that has both English and Arabic. She said it was good homework. I felt useful. So far I've been teaching her things she needs in daily life, like time and dates and making plans, prices, basic family words, etc. She can ask, "Where is my son?" and "What time is it now?" She's very determined and a fast learner. She reminds me of myself in Korea.

In other news, one of my housemates and I have been thinking of moving out together for a while now, and were half-heartedly looking for places. We couldn't afford a decent 2-bedroom place in this area and were okay getting a 1-bedroom place although the idea didn't excite either of us. I met a guy on July 2nd and have seen him every day since. We started dating a couple days after we met and I haven't slept alone a night since then. I know it's fast and probably stupid, but we practically live together anyway and I don't see this ending anytime, at least not anytime soon, so the three of us are moving in together on August 1st. My boyfriend and I will take one room and my housemate will take the other in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment. It's closer to work for all of us when compared to the house we're in now (further from my boyfriend's place, but he doesn't actually live there anymore; he just showers there and keeps his stuff there).

I feel like doors are finally opening here. They're not the doors I expected, but they are good doors nonetheless. For the past few years, I envisioned myself in a high-powered corporate role earning a more than comfortable amount of money and impressing everyone. I wanted to carry a briefcase and wear Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs on international business trips. I wanted to be impressive. I wanted to be my mother (but she doesn't wear designer clothing, although she could afford it). I'm realizing now that all I've ever wanted to do is help people, and while I was chasing corporate success I only made myself miserable or basically tried to destroy myself being "happy". I could have all the material things in the world and still be missing a sense of accomplishment and purpose. I'd much rather worry about money a little and make a visible difference in others' lives. My mother feels that my mostly giving up on finding a "real job" is evidence of my rejecting everything she stands for and therefore showing that I don't respect her. On the contrary, I respect her immensely because she has accomplished things most people wouldn't venture to try because it's too much work or too difficult. I can't do what she's done. I'm not cut out for graduate school; I don't have the concentration or respect for authority. And it's just not what I want for myself.

In many societies, respect for one's parents and obedience to them are one and the same. Following in a parent's footsteps is seen as the proper thing to do that will be good for everyone. But I happen to believe that the best way to show respect for my parents and everyone who has had an impact on my life is to be happy. If I am happy, there is no reason for me to harbor resentment for having my dreams stifled. If I am happy, my parents need not feel guilty for holding me from what I really wanted. If I am happy, I show in my everyday life that I am thankful to my parents for creating me. If I do what they want and am miserable, will anyone really be happy with that?

It's taking me a long time to figure out, and it's a rough road. But I have confidence again that I will find my niche and I will be content, and finding that is worth the wait in my eyes.

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