Life as an Expat, Living in Korea, More, Teaching English

The Beauty In the Ugly

Gajisan - Yeongnam AlpsWoody Allen is quoted saying, “Eighty percent of life is just showing up.” But after coming to teach English and live in South Korea, I’ve come to believe it’s about much more than that. One-hundred percent of life is about showing up with the best version of yourself.

Author of Living From Your Soul, Neal Walsh reminded me today, “you get to decide how you wish to show up in the world each and every day, so the circumstances of life no longer make you suffer or feel helpless.” Now, when specifically referencing teaching abroad, that last part about suffering and helplessness seems a bit overdramatic. I don’t teach with shackles around my ankles or retire to a dark, damp, windowless dungeon every night after work. But there are hardships and challenges about the experience that recurr with what Walsh calls “reliable repetition;” homesickness, culture shock, the language barrier, and fear of failing as a teacher, to name a few.

The aforementioned feelings and the circumstances that bring them to the surface are an inevitable and, for me, repetitive part of living and teaching abroad. I confront them on a daily basis and am constantly presented with the choice of whether to collapse on the floor in a pathetic heap of woe, resentment and despair or to rise to the challenge. More often it’s easier to do the former than the latter. But regardless of which version of myself I choose to “show up” as each day, my overall experience here is affected, so objectively it seems silly to ever willingly choose to be miserable. Still, the road to positivity, self-growth and improvement is a much harder one to follow, and it’s commonly riddled with potholes, detours, and ugly views. But, as Walsh points out, the beauty in the ugly repetition is that I have daily opportunities to improve upon my previous reactions. Some days I make great strides: a class gets cancelled or changed at the last minute and I don’t bat eye because it’s happened before and probably will again. Other times I regress to where I was a few weeks or months ago: I go the entire weekend without stepping foot outside my apartment so I can pretend I’m not 12,000 miles from home. Particularly in those moments of regression, it begins to feel like a game of “two steps forward, one step back,” but at least that’s still one foot left in the right direction.

To some degree, all aspects of life are predictable or repetitive: the good and the bad, the beauty and the ugly. Living and teaching abroad is no different. So it’s up to me, especially in the face of the “bad” and the “ugly,” to not just show up, but to find the beauty and make a conscious decision to show up every day as the patient, culturally-inquisitive, adventure-seeking, openminded and outgoing version of myself that inspired me to make this leap in the first place. Even if I don’t always succeed, the intention behind the effort is sure to reward me with the memories and experiences I dreampt about at the onset of this journey. And when I do succeed, I’ll have mastered a skill that will generate happiness in my life for years to come.

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