I am now a month into my second year of teaching in an international setting. It has been easier this year to make the transition into the teaching grove. By this time last year, I was still wandering the streets of Seoul with my eyes opened wide believing that I was on some magical vacation that would never end. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this foreign environment was now my home and I needed to figure out how to work within its confines. I struggled with this during my first year, and it felt as if I was starting my teaching profession all over again.
But then the second year came around. I touched down in Incheon Airport knowing exactly what I needed to do to get through customs. The bus to my neighborhood was now routine. I snickered and felt for the new teachers who wore the wide-eyed look that I wore the previous year. There was nothing that this country could throw at me that I couldn’t expect and handle. I was now a part of the team and I felt a sense of acceptance that I had not previously felt. The experiential education trip I was in charge of was going smoothly as the team the school had given me took on the challenge, leaving me to pick up some of the loose ends to make sure all the little details were accounted for. I could lace my fingers behind my head and lay in the tall grass without a care in the world. The trip would take care of itself, and there wasn’t much I needed to worry myself over.
Of course, you know that this isn’t that kind of story. Nobody wants to read about a man without any problems. There has to be a monster lurking around the corner the man doesn’t know about that will bring about his demise. My monster has a name and it called itself Complacency. This idea that you are in control of your destiny just because you have done something before could be the most dangerous idea that you can allow to possess you. First of all, you are never in control of your destiny. There is always somebody, somewhere that will create a problem for you that will delay the path you have laid out for yourself. Secondly, without any struggle you never grow as a person. It was this look for a struggle that caused me to give up my comfy home in the United States so I could grow as an individual and a teacher, and here I was in my second year already believing that I had everything under control.
I should have paid attention to the music industry’s warning about artists’ second albums. Critics always warn listeners about this album for any band or musician that exploded onto the scene after a successful first showing. They even have a name for it, the Sophomore Slump. These musicians who were so hungry for fame and finally got the chance to taste it, now had to create a follow up that lived up to what they had just done. They don’t know this though. After producing such a masterpiece, they believe they can do no wrong. They are invincible. They are creative. They are popular. Of course, all the drugs they are doing does not help them see what is really going on. What they eventually come up with does not come close to the fresh and original album they had just created. It falls flat because it is just a reproduction of what they had just produced earlier, and it is all because they became comfortable in the role that they were in, and chose not to challenge themselves to take a chance and move out of their comfort zone. They became victims of that beast, Complacency. Their devoted fans moved on because they felt the passion missing and no longer believed in the magic the band had produced on their first album.
This was the trap that I found myself falling victim to. The group I was working with had taken over so many aspects of the trip that I could rest and reap all the rewards when everything worked out beautifully. We had just been on this same trip four months earlier, and it was so fresh in our minds that we could not possibly think of what would go wrong. If television has taught me anything, it is when somebody starts to think this way, something inevitably will go wrong.
A series of logistical nightmares presented themselves to me two nights before the trip started. I soon found out that this was not going to be the same trip we were on last time. When we were at Boramwon last April, we had the whole facility to ourselves. This was not the case this time around. We were sharing the place with two other schools. I did not know all of the students we had taken with us because it was early in the school year, and I did not have the time to get to know them. Add into this mix a bunch of students running around from the other schools and I don’t know who I can discipline if I find them doing something out of line, and who I can’t.
This was just the first of our problems. Boramwon then threw another ruffle into the mix. Our perfect schedule did not work with them because they did not have enough guides to cover our events as well as the other schools who were also going to be at the place. I had to rearrange things quickly, and found out that there was this huge spot left over where we had no activities planned for the students. I had to come up with a couple of new things that fit in with our overall theme of ensemble on this trip. Luckily, I had a member on my team who was a P.E. teacher and he was able to come up with a bunch of activities that could fit into this empty time slot.
I thought even though we had a couple of minor bumps that things would be smoother from here on out, but that was not the case. The night before we left, I was told we had lost five of the dorm rooms we were going to use in order to house our students. I needed to quickly rearrange all of our dorms to make sure we could comfortably fit everybody into a room. Once again, another one of my group stepped up and made arrangements to make this work. There was nothing else this place could throw in my way to make things fall apart.
This is when mother nature took charge. There happened to be a typhoon hitting the shore of Japan the same time we would be having our outdoor adventure. Now I know where I was taking my students to was miles away from this force, but we were close enough that there was a steady rainfall coming down during the whole bus ride out to the facility. We were not going to be able to do all the activities we were hoping to do. The hike would be a little dangerous, and the mountain biking would be a muddy mess with the challenging courses maybe a little too challenging with the weather. In fact, as soon as we arrived at the camp, we huddled the kids in the lobby of the dry dorms and I went to talk to the director of the camp to work out plans to keep the students safe and get the keys to the rooms.
This is where a new wrinkle in the story comes along. We quickly changed our plans, and things looked like they would work out, but the place was holding our keys hostage. Apparently, just like United Airlines, they had overbooked. They needed somebody to give up some of their rooms, and we were the obvious choice. They wanted us to relinquish four more rooms on top of the five we had already given up. In order to make this happen, we were really going to have to pack these kids into the room, and at first, we were adamantly opposed to the idea. But then again, we couldn’t get into the rooms if they wouldn’t give up the keys. We had to work out a deal or put everybody back on the bus and take them back to the school. They had us more than we had them, and the only thing we could threaten them with was that we wouldn’t be booking any more business with them. With the struggle we had booking this place the first time around, this was not really a threat that they would consider. We eventually gave into their demands, and tried to make the most out of the experience we had designed for the students.
That is the thing I learned from this trip that I could apply to every experience in life. Even if I have done something before, and believe that it should be easier the second time around, there is still an element of an uphill battle that I will have to deal with. This is the problem with being complacent about each of these challenges. When you lie down, the hill looks like a gentle plain, and perception does not change the rules of gravity. You need to pick yourself up to take on the challenge because you will be able to handle it a lot better standing up than lying down.
Granted, even though I came into this trip thinking that it would be really easy, and the unsuspected troubles surprised me, we were still able to put together a great trip. I really want to emphasize the word “we” because this was not a solo effort. There was a great group of people behind me that never lost sight of the ultimate prize. They also were ready for the challenges thrown our way, and I am glad that they were able to pick me up to make sure that I contributed my share to solving all of these problems. I learned as much from this recent experience that my students did, and it makes this experiential education trip one of the most memorable ones I have ever been on.
My students got a lot out of the experience as well. The bus ride back to school was one of the quieter ones I have experienced. They were all worn out, and a lot of that was because we made sure that each moment was filled with adventure and excitement. Of course, there will be moments that they did not enjoy themselves, but when they look back at this weekend they will remember some of the fond ones, and they will realize how they have grown as an individual, just like I did.