Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Teacher, I was wondering..."

HG is one of my quietest second-year students, and it's not just because of the language barrier. My co-teachers have remarked that he rarely speaks up in any other classes, too. He has an unusually low and slow voice and mumbles, and it's clear he's not exactly a shining star in my class.

But it only took one conversation for my appraisal of him as a student to come crumbling down.

He stayed after class following what I remember was a fairly boring lesson. While I was gathering my stuff and preparing to leave, HG came up to me and asked, straight up, "Teacher, I was wondering... what is your dream? Why did you come to Korea?"

I just stared at him, speechless.

"Good question," I finally replied. "Um, well, I came to Korea in order to find out if I can be a teacher. I don't know if I am a good teacher, but I am getting experience now."

I continued to ramble on in this manner, talking about education, graduate school, and my enthusiasm for Korean culture. I didn't check myself to make sure I was speaking slowly and in short sentences. I didn't even check to make sure I was making any sense. You know why? Because as I talked, I was silently panicking: "Holy cow, I have no freaking clue how to answer your question, kid! Where did you even come from?"

No freaking clue. Mostly because I was caught by surprise by this student, who hadn't spoken to me all year beyond asking me to correct his rough drafts.

What is my dream? I teach my students every semester to follow their dreams, to make bucket lists, to have grand aspirations to work toward. I have not often stopped to think about these things for myself.

As my first grant year draws to a close, I now have to think about what is coming next. Yes, in the short-term, a second grant year in Korea will follow. But I mean after that. Am I ready to apply to graduate programs in linguistics, as I've planned? Should I just look for a job instead? Will I end up wanting to stay in Korea for another year? Will I go to a different country, or many different countries, to learn languages? Or teach them? Or document them? My dream seems to be just as vague as ever.

I also have to think about calling. Last night I received a phone call from a friend that caused me to take a closer look at what I know and believe about the religious notion that one can receive directives from God. To that end, I'm looking forward to going home so that I can have a few heart-to-hearts with my close friends about how my faith should shape my future.

So I've got to thank HG, not just for pleasantly surprising me with his moment of insightfulness, but also for helping nudge me toward these necessary mental and spiritual preparations. This past week has been surprisingly busy, and next week will be even more hectic, but when the dust finally settles, I'll have a nice summer vacation with plenty of time to think, talk, pray, and plan.

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