Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So, I would never trade this-not for the world

This afternoon I witnessed something that everyone should see at least once in their life.

First, let me tell you about my student G., I noticed him my very first day here. His severe crew cut mirrored the precise way in which he stood at attention during the school assembly. He always bows when he passes someone older than him. He models the stereotype of an obedient, respectful Korean student.

In my class, he meticulously copies my board notes. He struggles with English, and during his speaking test, he read the assignment sheet, not to be cheeky, but because he simply didn't understand. In lieu of the misunderstanding, I talked with him about the weather and his favourite sport, so I had enough criteria to grade.

He is by far one of the sweetest and best students in my school.

Anyway, this afternoon, as I walked into rehearsal for tomorrow's school festival, I looked up on stage, and I saw G dancing. It was a little bit like "white man's overbite" coupled with "salt 'n' pepper shaker" with a little bit of a "Bartok Hi-yah." I chuckled, amused and proud to see him up there doing his thing.

Then, he opened his mouth and started singing with such angelic clarity and perfect pitch. He bent, heavy with music and meaning, and we locked eyes. He flashed this giant grin and continued to belt with such pride and charisma that there was nothing else in the auditorium but him.

It was in that moment I remembered exactly why I became a teacher. I saw this sliver of my student that I would never see in class. This boy, who shyly smiles at me whenever he sees me and all but refuses to speak, is a certifiable rock star on stage.

That, dear friends, is what makes being a teacher worth all of the bureaucracy and burdens- those ten seconds that you share with a sixteen year old boy in which you both know he is doing exactly what he needs to be doing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

So, this is Christmas...

As I am honing in on ten months of living in South Korea, I can say, without a doubt, that heated toilet seats in public restrooms are unsettling, albeit cautiously welcome when it is chillier in my classroom than it is outside.

I have spent the better part of my year growing up. I left the United States with two suitcases, one back pack, and an absurd amount of naïveté about how the world works. Since February, I have become more of a woman than I did in my four years at university and two years working in the States. While my family visited in August, we had a very poignant moment in which everyone at the table had a communal recognition that I am, in fact, an adult. There was a universal sense of confusion because I will always be the daughter, the little sister, but now, I get to be a grown up, too.

But, right now, I don't feel very grown up. I have never missed Christmas. I have only spent one Christmas morning away from my mom, and I am really struggling trying to balance emotion and logic.

Looking at my schedule the next two days, I am baffled as to how I will accomplish everything. I have a gingerbread house making party tonight; tomorrow, I have a mimosa Christmas breakfast, and  a Christmas dinner in the evening.

This is far too busy for my liking. I think I triple booked myself so that I can forget that I am not with my family. Or, maybe it is just the opposite.

Being in Korea is the first time I have allowed myself to be freely and unadulterated Kathryn. I have forged incredible, lasting friendships.

I am not cheating on my familial traditions, as I had felt last week. I am cobbling together a sense of self. I am Kathryn Marie Botsford. I bear the name and memories of the men and women who helped raise me. I am a product of so much love, so many hopes and dreams.

I came here with two suitcases and a backpack, but whenever I leave, I will do so with friends as close as family in my pockets and memories stitched on my heart.

The holidays are not a time to sit in my house and grieve what has been and what can no longer be. That is how I've approached these holidays. But then, I remember how much I love the song, 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel' and the Advent season. This time isn't about presents or Christmas trees, or even Christmas itself. It is about being with the people you love sharing presence and creating memories. I don't know when I will be home for the next Christmas, but I know that I send home everything I've learned, everything I know to be true on hope's blustery winds.

Today, my mother wrote to me, 'Merry Christmas Eve, my daughter of the future.' And, I realised that I've become the person my mother had always hoped I would be on the day I was born and my first Christmas, and all of them to follow. Each holiday spent as a family built compassion and dreams and adventure within me, so that one day, her daughter of the future would be strong enough to follow her heart.

So, my mother of the past and father from long ago, these holiday traditions you've instilled in me have been a bigger gift than I could ever fathom. You taught me to live. You taught me to love deeply and without abandon. You taught me to give of myself until there is nothing left, and then give some more. You taught me to love the simplicity of Christmas lights, as well as the complexities of Christmas traditions.

So, for you and for us,  I will be laying under the all of our past Christmas trees tonight looking up through the branches at the ornaments searching for the flying dove that will forever connect me to you.

So, with that being said, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

So, my life is actually a Mario Kart game

Several weeks ago, I got a sassy new scooter. For those of you who know me, dont worry, I am being very careful: following Korean driving laws, wearing a helmet, and never driving after drinking, even if it is just one. WL, please tell your mother all of these things. I dont want her to worry.

Last week Wednesday, I went to Open Mic Night with my friends K, H, and C. After a close, but ultimately victorious game of pool, some dancing, and a lot of hugs later, I walked back towards the main road where I parked Kyler.

I put on my helmet and gloves ready for the winters cold to seep through and freeze my hands to the steering column. I sat for a moment and let all of the things that have happened in the past week wash over me. Grief and disbelief battle for the most prominent thought in my head. Neither of which were proper driving emotions. So, I let it overcome me.

Then, I found that I really just wanted to drive.  There are many people who use driving as their think time. Personally, I find it tedious and gas wasting, and unless I can feel the weather rush around me, I cant use driving for an outlet.

So, you can imagine my surprise when that was what I wanted to do. So, I started Kyler, and pulled onto the street. As I drove, the thoughts Ive recently repressed surfaced. Concentrating on the road and not dying were my primary concern, so I needed to logically deal with them, as opposed to letting those pesky emotions in. I needed to drive forward to pull meaning out of my thoughts. Every turn shifted things and cleared the picture a little more.

I looked at the streets passing by, and I was in awe. I forgot what Busan looked like at night time. I generally try to catch the last subway, and it had been a while since I saw the lights. There are parts of the city that are so bright with neon that it looks like daytime, and there are parts that have no light shining down. 

It was late enough in the night that there were no cars. It was just the road and my thoughts. I felt like I was in a Mario Kart game. My brain shook about as the road twisted and turned. The alternating lights shaded my perception. If only I could hit a mystery box, I could get a star and be totally invincible. I could just drive through this course unaffected by anything. With that, the shells from home that sent me flying through the air discombobulated and the slightly annoying banana peels from Busan wouldnt impact me so much. I could just tra la la along with my star, and pretend as if I might win the race.

But, then I remembered a conversation I had with K: it doesnt matter. Even if I tried to repress my thoughts by being stoic and unaffected, the grief and anxiety will become a part of me, and I will have no idea how to deal with it.

As I passed Haeundae station and went through the underpass, I realized that life isnt about winning the race unscathed. It isnt about winning the race at all. It is the laps you take, the circuitry; you experience something once, learn from it, and do it better the next time. It is about knowing that you might slip on a banana peel, or get inked by Blooper, or even rocked by the turtle shells zooming every which way. One will always have your name on it. It is about the mushrooms that make you grow, or the bullet that will allow you to power through and focus on the tasks you need to do. And, yes, sometimes it is about the star, which makes you invulnerable. But, if you play the whole game like that you will never learn anything. You will plateau at mediocrity. The mystery boxes hold things that might temporarily affect your race, both positively and negatively. The star is just the middle, and that isnt enough. It never will be.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

So, I hear tell it is that December month.

It is funny, really. I have no idea where November went—sandwiched between the typhoons of Chuseok and the flurries of Thanksgiving. But, now it is the 6th day of December, and my hands nearly froze to the steering column of my sassy new scooter, Kyler. 

I have sat and tried to dissect my thoughts and feelings of this holiday season. It is not the graceful, clean process I feel I have to exude. It is rather messy, tearful, and all around unbecoming.

On Monday, I went to Nampo-dong (a large shopping district in Busan) for Thai food and Christmas presents. I went with my dear friend M, and met up with K and T. After dinner and shopping, the four of us, turned the corner to walk back to the subway station. And, after I allowed myself to relax, I took in the sights around me. The Christmas lights sparkled truth, innocence, and the beauty of humanity. 

The Christmas tree banners led one after another to the center round about. Lovers, children, and friends posed in front of a white spiral tree. Red and blue lights emerged from the tip, which created a mystical ceiling. It gave me the comfort of being home.

It reminded me of my early childhood, when my parents would bundle Sarah and I up in our winter boots, jackets, and night gowns, and they buckled us in the car. Dad would drive us down I-94, take the 894 bypass and exit on Oklahoma Avenue. And there, between blocks 92 and 96, is where, I assumed, Santa lived. Candy Cane Lane interwove with my hopes and dreams for years. The deep snow reflected the magic of this four-block radius.  Each house, magnificently decorated, looked like a Thomas Kincaid painting. My eager face, plastered against the window, took in all of the wonder and awe.

I saw that same look on so many beautiful children in South Korea. Their eyes glazed over with lights and joy in the very purest sense. The Christmas trees twinkled and their boughs, weighed down by ornaments and garland, reached through my memories and teased them out of me.

Last night, as I walked out of K’s apartment building, I commented, “Oh, wow. It smells like snow and Wisconsin.” My friends C and H agreed, and we look up to the sky to see little flakes blustering about in the wind. Busan had its first snowfall. Many of my friends changed their facebook status to SNOW or IT’S SNOWING or Take that, Busan never snowing. Boo-yah. There is something about the season's first snow that makes adults stop and appreciate what is around them with the same wide-eyed innocence as children.

All of my time here, I waited for the snow. Maybe if it is snowing here and snowing at home, then somehow we’ll be connected. Imagine if a flake formed over the Midwest and lazily drifted on the winds and seas all the way to Busan. I know that is childish to think that way. The degrees of separation between home and me feel insurmountable at the moment. But, what is December without childlike faith? What is December without the knowledge that Santa will always come on Christmas Eve? We believe what we have to for our brains to make sense of things. I need to know that, somehow, I am connected to my family right now. 

And, that, dear friends, is the beauty of Christmas. In this month, I am allowed to regress in age. I am allowed to be four and wanting to curl into my mother’s lap with shortbread cookies and know that all will be right in the morning. I am allowed to be 12 and play in the snow. I am allowed to be 15 and drink my first cup of coffee with my mother on a cold winter’s day, thinking that this must be what being an adult is like. I am allowed to be 18 and 21, and strong when my family cannot be. I am also allowed to be 25 and scared so far away from home.

But, with all of that said, I know that all of those memories are real. My family is real. The moon and stars that shine over Busan are the very same that twinkle over Wisconsin. And, Christmas will come, and it will be amazing, full of new traditions and faces. And, they too will be beautiful.