Thursday, October 11, 2012

Not Karma

My friend and fellow ETA Monica recently said something to the effect of, "I believe in karma. I remember when, back during Orientation, I sprained my ankle. And I was like, 'This sucks. I'd better get a good placement!' And I did. Yeah, karma!"

We were eating lunch at the Shinsegae Department Store. Monica continued, "So it's okay when bad things happen to me, because that means that good things have to happen soon."

"That's not how karma works, Monica," I said.

"Yeah," chimed another friend, "I think it's when you do good things for others, then good things will be done for you in return."

"Oh, well," Monica didn't miss a beat. "Whatever. It's balance, anyway."

- - -

Thinking about this, though, I don't really have a problem with the idea that life has its natural ups and downs. Maybe, just as a rule, positive stuff always follows negative stuff; maybe the beneficial comes after the detrimental; maybe good fortune rides on the heels of bad fortune. (And I have obviously just finished teaching a lesson on pros and cons this week.) I believe that all things work for the good of those who trust in God, but I also believe that there is a chaotic force of entropy that physically affects our lives beyond its literal thermodynamic principles.

Before this gets too fluffy and long-winded, though, I just mean to say that not everything has been picture-perfect so far. During the one hundred-or-so days that I've been in Korea, life, teaching, and cultural adjustment have been mostly awesome and rarely unpleasant. Yet there have been times of unpleasantness.

And it was toward the middle of this past week when the various small un-pleasantries began to add up and I felt sort of like what Koreans call 답답해 (dapdaphae): stifled, cramped, burdened, and restless.

On the bright side, if you always stay rooted in mental and spiritual habits of positivity, it's never too long before something simple cheers you up and reminds you why you're doing what you're doing.

That simple something happened today, when a student asked to speak to me in private after lunch. I thought that something was wrong, judging by the tone of her voice. As it turns out, she only wanted me to write a short note in English for her friend -- another one of my students -- for the surprise birthday party they were going to throw her that evening. I thought that was sweet, but wondered why it was so important to have the random foreign English teacher sign a card. I mean, I was surprised that I could even conjure up our birthday girl's face when I was told whom the card was for; she tends to be very quiet in class, and I've proven to all of my students that I'm particularly awful at matching their names with their faces even if they do speak up more often.

The answer left me taken aback: "Actually, she hates English, but ever since you came she tries really hard and does all of her [extra credit] homework."

It's true. I assign homework only as extra credit in my classes, and this girl has done it every single time. I feel flattered, and I guess I just need to focus now on transferring the source of her enthusiasm for English class from myself to the language itself. Anyway, this was a definite pick-me-up for the day; it's like I finally have proof that I am actually leaving some kind of good impression on my students.

Despite the fact that I do not actually believe in karma, I'm going to cherish the small seeds of goodwill that I receive from my students, and I'm also going to plant as many of my own as I can around here, because the give-and-take of goodness can really only lead to more good.

And with that, it's off to Fulbright Fall Conference! I'll be away all weekend in Gyeongju (경주), known as the historic capital of Korea because it has (literal) mounds of ancient monuments and fantastic dynastic-era tourist attractions. You can expect tons of photos in the days to come! Ciao!

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