The Ultimate Boon – Experiential Education Day 3

I love teaching the Hero’s Journey, not because it is really cool to see how many stories fit into the archetype, but because it is fun to think about how it applies to our lives. We all get to go through the journey so many times, and if we look at each adventure we have from this perspective, we can grow so much as individuals. But the only way that we can do this is by looking for that ultimate boon every time we leave our houses to go on one of these adventures. This is the thing that makes the experience worth our time. It is what we can look at as a symbol of how we have grown. Sometimes it is something physical that we can hold on to, but most of the time, it is held within a memory of how we were before the experience, and how we have changed because of it.

This is why the experiential education trip I went on with my student became so meaningful. It was an adventure that they needed to go on. They could not avoid the call to adventure, and there were many trials along the way that pushed all of them to their limits. I can’t remember how many times the students came up to me and told me that they had reached the apotheosis. Keep in mind that they are teenagers, and they all believe that they have reached that they have reached the moment when they have died, ready for the moment when they could experience their rebirth. And they all wondered when they would get to cross the return threshold and go back to their bed. But none of them thought about what they brought back with them. This is the thing that will last the longest from the trip, and for each of them, it was something different from the trip that allowed them to connect with the reality of who they really are. This is really applying what they learned to the real world. It is that ultimate boon that will make them resilient to the problems of they face in the future, and overcome them.

So as the trip closed down and we finished up the final moments, I enjoyed the fact that I got to see so many of these young men and women grow as individuals. I could see them make those connections as well, but that was because we framed the trip under the context of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. It forced them to look for meaning on the trip, and when you are looking for meaning you usually will find it. This is the type of education that transcends the traditional classroom, and should be implemented in more schools across the world.

So the next time you go out on your next trip, I challenge you to look for your ultimate boon. Like many heroes before you, what you find might not be what you are looking for, but it will definitely be what you need. It is what will make that adventure one of the most memorable ones you have ever been, and you will find a little piece of yourself that you never knew existed before. It will make your next trip, more than just a vacation. It will become an epic adventure.

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The Changing Weather – Experiential Education Day 2

One of my favorite memories from all the times I have been camping comes from when I was in my early twenties, and on a whim, a couple of friends and I decided to brave the outdoors. We quickly loaded up the car with what we thought was the appropriate gear, and headed up to the mountains of Colorado to find a place to pitch our tents. Unfortunately, our lack of planning and the fact that we did not look at the weather forecast closely left us in the middle of the woods without much of what we needed as we got rained on. But we were determined to make the camping trip a success and our motto for that experience turned into “Adapt and conquer”. We ended up using the strangest things from speaker wire to pulp fiction paperbacks to make it through the evening, and in the process had probably the best experience ever. It really proved to me that we are at our best when we are struggling. The same thing happened on the second day of my Experiential Education trip with my students.

The hurricane that hit Hawaii earlier in the week had traveled further in the Pacific and ended up hitting Japan, and even though it officially never hit the Korean peninsula, they were still experiencing a lot of rain that came from the storm. The first day of the trip, we did not see a lot of the rain, but the second day of the trip, we went through this cycle of nice dry weather, followed by rumbling thunder, followed by a torrential downpour. It meant that we had to constantly make adjustments with our plans in order to make the trip meaningful for the students that we brought with us.

There were many outdoor activities planned for the day. Students were to go through three different rotations where they would learn how to shoot traditional Korean bows and arrows, go through a series of challenges on a low ropes course, and battle each other through another series of challenges on boats made from recycled material. The kids were having a really good time at the rotations, and we were able to get through one and a half of them before the rains that we were promised started to arrive. We were able to wait out the storm and go to finish our final activity, but the rain pretty much washed out our afternoon activity, a hike up to the top of the mountain that overlooked the camp. It was time for that old saying of mine, “Adapt and conquer”.

Fortunately, I was no longer that foolish idiot that decided to go camping without bringing with me the supplies that I needed. I knew that there were rumors of terrible weather on the way, and I brought back-up plans to the back-up plans. I just needed to make sure that there were places where these activities could take place. I needed a group of people working with me that were flexible enough to make the sudden changes so the kids we brought with us could still have fun and get something out of the challenges. The trip would have been a failure if it wasn’t for those fellow teachers that were with me who took on the challenge that the weather presented. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them.

Even though I would have liked for the trip to have gone as planned, and we could have enjoyed the challenges that Boramwon has at its facility, I was still happy how the second day went. I did go through pretty much all of my clothes that I brought with me because of the on again/off again that I got experience that day, and I was through with always being wet, but the crew I was with was still able to pull off one of the greatest trips that I have been to ever since I was asked to put these things together in the first place. It turned out to be not only a hero’s journey for the students, but for all of us as well, and we all came through the day stronger people.

Getting Out of the Classroom – Experiential Education Day 1

Being a teacher, what I am about to say my be considered blasphemous to others in the profession, and there is no way that I will be sharing this post with my administrator because I am pretty sure that she feels the opposite way. But the classroom is a toxic place to the education of modern students. Tests do not teach anything except how to fill in bubbles. And in order to prepare these students to solve the problems that will grow in their futures, we need to quit thinking about the way that we have thought about education and need to move it beyond the confines of the four classroom walls.

Even though I say these things often, there are not many people in the profession who agree with me, or if they do, they are not willing to make that change to a messy form of education that might be more conducive to create the skills that their students will need in the future. I would even admit that during the belly of the school year, I fall into the same trap of going back to what is easy and more familiar. In others words, I do not always practice what I preach.

The school I do work at right now does recognize that it is important to move beyond the classroom in one of the programs that it does promote, and I love the fact that I am a part of creatine one of the experiences for the students at that school. Every year, three weeks after the first day of school, we pack all of the sophomores in the school into a bus and ship them out to the center of South Korea to a camp called Boramwon. There we have created challenges for the students that get them to think outside of the box more, and learn those skills that they will need to take on the challenges they will face later on in their lives. We structure the experience around Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and it has grown into a greater experience every year that we have gone out to this. There are still some holes in the story, but the fact that the evolution of the trip continues to grow, and the students get experience the hero’s journey for themselves shows that they start to internalize the experience more than just get ready to fill in the right bubble when it come up for them on a test.

The trip is designed to take the students out of their comfort zone, and learn about the real world. They start to learn that they do not learn from only their teachers but from every person they encounter, and every moment that they live. It helps to shape them into who they are. We started our first day by visiting various retirement homes around the Boramwon area. There the students put on a performance for the residents, and then they taught them about an American game that many of them had never experienced before, Bingo. This was a great opportunity for both the students and the residents. Because of the language barriers, and the teaching of this game, the students were forced to interact with the residents. There is a lot that they can learn from these interactions. The people that they are working with become the mentors to them, and eventually teach the students what it means to be a mentor in the first place.

We also were able to take students out to show them a little bit about their Korean heritage. The school I teach in is an international school with a predominately American curriculum, and sometimes American values and culture is prioritized over the culture of Korea. Not all of the students that attend the school are Koreans, but there is a huge portion of them that are, and they do not learn much about their history or culture. I believe the opportunity for them to learn a little bit about where they come from is essential and this opportunity becomes their special weapon that they can take with them into the future.

The cultural experience that we took them to on the first day was a pottery museum near Boramwon. Here, they not only got to look at traditional Korean pottery, but they got the opportunity to create their own piece of pottery using clay from the region. They were really able to learn about where they are from while getting their hands dirty working on a creative project. Yes, some of these same activities are available within my school, but students do not always look for the creative classes thinking that the ones that lead to a test that proves their worth with bubbles is more important. Sometimes, the act of creating something from scratch can be more rewarding.

It was the perfect set-up to the bigger adventure that these students would go on, and I am happy that I was able to be a part of it once again. It shows me what education can be and how the future of this world depends on educators getting their students out of the classroom more often.

Pyeongchang Olympics – Day 5

Yes, I have had an amazing time at the Winter Olympics. It has been a lot of fun and it is something I will never forget, but there is an ugly side to the Winter Olympics that I have not addressed yet. Large crowds descend on an area of the world that was not meant to have these large crowds, and after everything is said and done the community that hosted the Olympics is left with a bunch of stadiums, and features that the small community will never be able to support financially. I would go as far as to say that in the long run, it is bad for the community economically and leads to destroying the landscape for the chance to host the world for a couple of weeks. This goes for both of the Winter and Summer Olympics. I saw a report the other day that said the fabled Bird’s Nest in Beijing is now being used as a place where people can take tours around the track on a Segway. But I think it is even worse for places hosting the Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang is a series of towns with the largest one being about 200,000 people. It is situated in the mountainous area of South Korea, and there are not a lot of roads going between the locations where events are taking place. This means that there are insane traffic jams taking place as people try to make it to their events on time. The last event I saw took me just over three hours to get to and I only traveled 30 miles. These places cannot handle the crowds that come there. I am looking to you Colorado, because if you think I-70 is a mess now, imagine what it would be like if you added another million cars to the road.

This means that sometimes at the start of events the crowds are not up to capacity because it is just too hard to get there or people are still trying to make their way through the traffic. If you take an event like the ski jump that only takes a little over an hour to complete then people wonder why they should even bother with it.

And this goes back to the costs of hosting the Winter Olympics. This beautiful structure was not here a couple of years ago. It was built specifically for the Winter Olympics. What is going to happen to this thing after the crowds go away? Are there going to be enough people who want to come out here to try their hand at ski jumping? Or will Koreans start to take up the sport and during the next couple of Winter Olympics will we start to see them being a huge impact in this sport? Think about the five stadiums clustered together back in the Olympic Village. Is a town of 200,000 people ever going to have a use for one large stadium, let alone five, one of which was designed to house curling? Now I have been told that Pyeongchang took this into account, and they designed all of the structures so they could be torn down and transported anyplace that might have a need for such structures, like the next Winter Olympics, but it still comes at quite the cost that there is no way that they will ever see a profit with this event.

And think about the impact that the crowds and traffic has on the environment. Korea already has a problem with air quality. Do you think it is going to help things to have a bunch of idling cars spitting out exhaust? Where does all the trash and garbage go in a country that is not that large to begin with? What are they going to do with those large parking lots that they had to construct just to handle the amount of people that arrived? The Winter Olympics are definitely going to leave their footprint on Pyeongchang that is a lot bigger than a few memorials left behind that showed what life was like for the two weeks when the games were here.

But on the other hand, there is some positive that comes from all of this. For a couple of weeks, all eyes turn to see what a great place South Korea is. It is all about the people and the optimism that they put out due to their resolve and hard work. It shows the world a place that is usually associated with bad news can be about. It is not about some cartoon character to the north trading insults with another cartoon character across the sea. It is about the world coming together in harmony to show that they can be competitive and still get along with each.

It is about marveling at the athleticism of those that have a passion for the sport because this is the only time that they will be able to shine. It is about every country finding their hero, whether it is some insane mane who wants to see how far he can fly on a pair of skis or if it is a group of bobsledders showing a country in Africa that they too can compete in the Olympic games. It is not necessarily about winning. It is about just being there for that moment in time.

I have enjoyed my time at the Winter Olympics, and even though I have traveled to over thirty different countries in the world, it has showed me more about this rock I live on more so than all the travel I have ever done. Should the Winter Olympics continue? Definitely, but they need to figure out a way where it does not destroy the community it goes to while maintaining the spirit it had created.

Pyeongchang Olympics – Day 4

I will admit that I had booked for my fourth day at the Winter Olympics was the one I was looking the least forward to, figure skating. It is not that I do not think of these people as athletes. I am amazed at what they are able to accomplish on the ice, and I can see that they is a lot of preparation that they have to go through to make sure it goes off flawlessly. My problem with it has always been that it is way too subjective. Instead of having set goals that prove that one team has scored more than the other, there are a set of judges sitting on the sidelines voting for who they thought was the best and using some crazy rubric that decides how they came to that decision. It is almost like being an English teacher.

The one thing I did like about it was that it was during the day this time. I didn’t have to wait around until the late hours of the night to watch the event start, and afterwards I would be able to wander around the town at my own pace seeing the sights that have been put up to celebrate the fact that the games were here. What I was not expecting was the influx of crowds that came in this day as well. What was a ghost town of Monday had turned into a thriving community. Lines became long, food ran out again, and there was even traffic coming in from my pension. It was as if Korea started to wake up and take notice that the games were going on in their backyard. It could also be because Lunar New Year was the next day, and a lot of people had the time off to go and watch the games, so this might have been the busiest time of the whole games.

It could also have been the extra attraction of the North Korean cheerleading squad was also going to be in the area. They have been the golden goose that everybody has wanted to catch a glimpse of. I was hoping to see them to see if the reports that I have heard about how repressed the people of North Korea are is true. But the mere fact that they are so hard to see made me think that it might be true. They get shuttled around the area, and they are always separated from the crowd by a handler. They were even given their own section at the ice skating arena to watch the performance of the only two truly North Korean competitors, Ju Sik Kim and Tae Ok Ryom. They were almost as much fun to watch as the ice skaters were. They sat quietly through everybody else’s performances, and when their team was announced they got up and did a synchronized dance to show their support. Kim and Ryom gave a good performance, and after the judges scored them, they were in third place with eight more teams left to compete. This is when the North Korean got up and left. I wonder if they went back to their hotels thinking that North Korea had earned a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. A friend of mine who was also at the event happened to be in the bathroom when they all came in to use it. She told me that a guard sectioned off the bathroom from the rest of the cheerleaders and would not let them mingle with anybody else. It is this kind of display that makes me realize that all the news reports I have heard about North Korea are true.

Besides the North Korean circus, I also got to witness figure skating. I have to say that my trepidation going into the event was unfounded. Figure skating is really amazing to watch live. I hated it growing up because that is all they seemed to show when they aired the Winter Olympics, and I wanted to see things like hockey, ski jumping, and the bobsled. But after I have been to one of these competitions, I start to understand the power of it. These people are spectacular athletes and they can do things that I would never imagine possible in my mind. The loud music just adds to the experience making it such an amazing thing to see. I would highly recommend that if you ever get a chance to go see figure skating live you should do it because it is worth the experience. After every performance people throw stuffed animals and flowers out to the competitors to show their appreciation for what they had just witnessed, and it was fun to watch the young Korean girls skate out on the ice to collect all the accolades. It is also great to see such a huge representation of all the cultures of the world present at this even that it makes it the real sport that represents the Winter Olympic games.

And as for it being subjective, I can say with confidence that the way it panned out for who was first, second and third would have been exactly how I picked it. The Germans who won the gold medal put on a powerful performance that will stick with me for the rest of my life. They were graceful, yet they showed enough strength that they would be able to compete with the brute force of a hockey player. It was fun to even see the award ceremony at the end of the competition. It wasn’t the official medal ceremony, but each competitor that made it up to the stands received a stuffed version of Soohorang that they could hold up as it is was a medal.

I can also say that the team we are supposed to pretend isn’t from Russia also did not medal again. I think I am their bad luck charm because I keep on seeing a huge amount of Russians coming to the events in the hopes that they win, and they keep going away empty handed. And it wasn’t because they deserved to win, but the judges had something against them. They were ranked number one going into the competition, but because they fell twice it put them in fourth place.

All in all, as the crowds get bigger, the events get greater and it seems as each day beats the previous one out here. The Winter Olympics are a great event, and I wish I had more than just one more day to enjoy them.

Pyeongchang Olympics – Day 3

Welcome back from Pyeongchang, and my third day out here at the Winter Olympics. Things have started to pick up. The cluster, which was completely empty on my first day, has really seen in influx of traffic. There are more people running around, taking pictures of the sights, and getting ready for various events.

South Korea has taken advantage of the opportunity too to show the world what it is capable of. There are a lot of little corners all over the place that show off the culture of this proud nation. I have started to feel the spirit of the games grow as well. There is more excitement in the air. At first I couldn’t figure out why it took a few days for this excitement to get built up, but I believe it has to do with the level of competition. On the first days of competition, there is not a lot of medals handed out because most events are in the preliminary stage. Now that things have been going on for a few days, things have started to be figured out, and the bigger medals are being decided. This is what the people came for, and this is the real reason why the crowds have started to grow. There is still not a ton of people, but I suspect by the end of the games, the place will be packed.

I had another hockey game to attend, and this time it was at the hockey rink in the cluster. I wasn’t as excited about it even though there would be hits in this one because it was a men’s game. This match-up was billed as more of a blowout though. Slovakia was playing the team we are not supposed to call Russia, and that juggernaut would surely take over this small nation that was still trying to find its identity now that it was no longer under the shadow of the iron curtain. Even though, I was not excited about the match-up, I was excited for the event. I didn’t have a choice when I put in for the tickets because who was playing had not been decided yet, and if I had a choice I would have watched the other blowout planned for the night, U.S. versus Slovenia.

Despite the disappointment, I went into the game holding on to the small belief that Slovakia could somehow pull out the upset. It was only five minutes into the game before I realized that this was probably not going to happen. Slovakia was down 2 to nothing with only one shot one goal. This looked like it was going to be a bigger blowout than the women’s matchup I witnessed the night before. But the Slovakian did not give up, despite the crowd’s support for the opposite team.

It didn’t take long before the whole feel of the game changed. Slovakia patiently waited until the right moment, and ended up with two breakaways where they scored two goals, tying up the game before the end of the first period. This is when the Slovakian started to show their faces. There were pockets of them all around the stadium screaming in support of their team. The fans from the other side still cheered for the team, but you could feel their trepidation that things were not going well for them.

The rest of the game played out as a tense tie until the middle of the third period where Slovakia was able to squeak out another goal. You could feel that it was going to happen too, because they had three strong chances during power play opportunities from the team who likes to say they are from Russia. Slovakia was able to hold on to end up winning the game. It was one of the more exciting hockey games that I have ever seen, and I am glad that I was able to see it. By the way, the other game that I wished I had gone to also had an upset as well as Slovenia took down the mighty U.S., so it looks like I had the tickets to the better event after all. It makes me excited to know that each event has the potential to be great and makes me excited about the next two days out in Pyeongchang.

Pyeongchang Olympics – Day 2

Welcome back from Pyeongchang, not Pyeongyang, which I am finding out is a completely different place without so many happy cartoon characters walking around. From what I understand, it still has cartoon characters; they just aren’t that happy. And I need to start off this day by apologizing about the name of the cartoon characters around here. Yesterday, I called the white tiger by the name, Bandabi, and this is not correct. His name is Soohorang, which comes from the word, Sooho, which means protection. He is the official mascot of the 2018 Winter Games as I have been told due to my mistake yesterday. Bandabi is the name of the bear, and he is the official mascot of the 2018 Para-Olympic Games which will take place in two weeks at the same locations. I don’t know what his name means, but I am sure that as I am posting this, somebody will explain it to me tomorrow.

For those who don’t know, the tiger is a very important symbol in Korea. Its image is all over the place, much like Soohorang is all over Pyeongchang. Many Koreans believe that Korea started from a tiger, and if you look closely at the shape of Korea, you can see the shape of a tiger. I can imagine a lot of you googling the map of Korea right now to see if this is the case, and it might be hard to see. I have actually had to have my students draw it out for me before I was able to see it.

When I wasn’t thinking about tigers during my second day out at the Winter Olympics, I was going to a different location than where I was on the first day to attend a women’s hockey game, and this time, one of the teams was the team I was the most excited to see, the U.S.A. They were playing the team that we are supposed to pretend is not Russia, and I was super excited about this moment. I had watched Miracle a couple of weeks ago and this was reminding me of that historic game, except for the fact that it was women playing this time, and that it wasn’t really much of a competition. In fact, the U.S.A. killed those people without a country from Russia. The final ended up being 5 to 0, and the really indication how lopsided this game was happened when I looked at the shots on goal. The U.S. had over 51 shots on goal, compared to that other team who was wearing red and usually lived in the country known as Russia who only had 11. In fact the puck was hardly ever over on the United States side of the ice.

Even though the game was a blowout, it didn’t mean that I still couldn’t have fun at it. First off, it is always nice when your team wins. But there was enough entertainment going on to make the game just as fun. A band from the Netherlands showed up to play a few tunes. Apparently this same band has played at the Winter Olympics for the past thirty years, and they really got the audience pumped up before the action.

Also being at a sporting event in Korea means that there has to be cheerleaders. They also worked hard at pumping up the crowd while remaining neutral to the events taking place on the ice. I know there are a couple of teams in the NHL that also employ cheerleaders, but it is just weird to see them at a hockey game. But then again while I have been living in Korea, I have seen them at baseball games which is even weirder.

And it is not like if they weren’t there that I still wouldn’t have seen strange people wandering the crowd. This is probably the best part of the Olympics. People from all over the world come together to watch sporting events decked out in gear that shows what country they are from. I have never seen so many people wearing the American flag, and they weren’t the only ones here like it. I saw people dressed in Swiss gear, Canadian gear, and waving the unification flag for Korea out here. I even saw people wearing the Russian flag which I don’t understand why because they aren’t even at these Olympics.