Art is Better in the Rain – Back to Busan Day 2

One of my favorite places in South Korea is a neighborhood that can be found in Busan, Gamcheon Cultural Village. I went to this place a year ago at the end of my trip to Busan, but did not plan for enough time to really enjoy it. This time, I planned to get there early enough in the day where I could really explore this neighborhood, and not worry about having to get back before it got too dark outside. I am glad that I planned for this because it made for a really fun day in an artistic corner of this otherwise very serious part of the world.

Gamcheon was built during the Korean War. Many people flocked to this corner of the country to escape the turmoil that was happening further north. The people of Busan put together this concrete village so the people would have some place to live, and the houses that are stacked on top of one another with tiny pathways in-between them still exist in this part of the city. When the war wore down and people could return to their normal lives, the village still existed, a mass of grey concrete that became a sore sight for the people of Busan. It remained this way until the art department of a local college saw something different in the village, and they brought paint, and art supplies to turn it into South Korea’s largest art project. People still live in the tiny buildings, but many of them have been turned into an expression of someone’s creativity, and what was once bland and boring is now a pastel masterpiece that draws many crowds.

Normally the little side streets are packed with people looking around to try and catch what they hope would be the perfect picture in this place, but a constant drizzle kept many of them away on this Saturday. It made for the perfect time to go and explore this place. Yes, it is neat to see all of these things without having to worry about getting wet, but the art seems to hold more significance when a cloud hangs over it all. Art was never born in a moment of happiness. All the best art comes from those moments that we are struggling against nature somehow, and the rain just added to this expression.

It also took away from the long lines of people waiting to get their picture at some of the more famous 3D art pieces that can be found around every turn. The art turns into something that you can appreciate when you do not have to fight with other cameramen as you try to look on to what could be something great. You also don’t have to feel bad that somebody else is waiting for you to get out of the way so they could have their 30 seconds with the piece of art. Because of the rain, we were able to laugh and really enjoy the art the way I think it was meant to be enjoyed.

It is a great experience to have a part of town like this to yourself. It makes the day contemplative instead of touristy, and I have to thank the rain for this experience. It is not everyday that this gets to happen, so the next time that I start to think that I should stay inside to avoid getting a little wet when there is an opportunity to see something great, I am going to take that chance and go out in the rain. I will get to have the place more to myself, and really get to experience the place the way it was meant to be experienced.

Escape – Back to Busan Day 1

Okay, I usually do not post things that are inappropriate, but this person I saw on the subway in Seoul the other day represents the way I feel about this big city right now. This guy on the subway and pushed his way through the people so he could position himself in a prime spot. I probably wouldn’t have noticed him because this happens all of the time in South Korea, but his coat brushed up against my hand, and I couldn’t believe that I had felt a fur coat in this day and age. But there it was, and when I saw what was printed on the back of it, I had to chuckle. I do not know if the guy knew what it said, or believed the sentiment. But he did pull out a fan, so he could cool himself off as he took the train back to his neighborhood. He was basically just trying to look good in front of a bunch of strangers. Why else would he show off the amount of money he was willing to blow on a coat that he could have easily taken off to cool down. He also wanted to highlight the fact that he was able to wear the trendy English that is all the rage in Seoul right now. I just shook my head at the absurdity, and realized that I needed to get out of town before the never-stop pace consumed me.

Luckily, there is a city a short two hour train away that has a completely different vibe to it, Busan. I was also given a couple of days off in order to celebrate an American holiday, Thanksgiving. I took this opportunity to get away from the I need to look good, I need to show off my money, and I need to make mark on society attitude that permeates through Seoul. Busan has a feeling to it that is more like a beach. If it happens today that is great, but eventually we will get around to it. In the meantime, let us enjoy the moment.

I am not quite sure if this is always the case here, but both times I have been down here, I have felt like this was the case. I instantly felt it when I got on the subway. Whereas, just two days earlier, I was pushed out of the way by some guy wearing an expensive coat that expressed how much he loved people, I was greeted by a Korean wearing a worn-down hoodie and greeting smile. People are not in a rush here. They are not trying to show everybody how great they are, or how much money they make. My sanity needed this change of attitude, and it allowed me to enjoy Black Friday the way that I know how, ignoring the shoppers, and eating at as many establishments as I can find.

Busan does not really buy into this crazy shopping day anyway, but I feel like I took something back from a society that demands that I spend money to make other people happy. I would rather get together with my friends and enjoy good beer and good food. The best way to do this if you do not have a stove big enough to cook a turkey in, or live in a culture that doesn’t even really sell turkeys in the market anyway is to hop from restaurant to restaurant, grabbing a bite to eat in each one. It allowed me to feel that there are more important things in this world than having a look that makes everybody turn their attention over to me. It is not about what others think about me, but instead of what I think about the moment, and I am going to make sure that it is a great one.

A Free Market Look at Education

I am going into my thirteenth year of being a teacher, and as the demand grows for teachers grow in the United States, I am amazed that the government does not try to make this job more appealing for people to pursue as a career. I know that many people think that teachers should not receive much benefits because they do not work as hard as other professions do. I could sit here and tell you that this is not true, but those people will not listen to me as they have already made up their minds that teachers are overpaid people that don’t work much to begin with. And if that is your perception of education then you are correct, teachers should not get the raises that they are begging for right now. So I have decided to look at this from an economic, free market perspective as this might be a better way of reaching those individuals who believe that we should not be taking care of our teachers better.

In order to make this argument, I first need to establish that education is important for the future of the country. Any community needs an educated workforce, and the more educated a community is, the more powerful its economy becomes. If there are a bunch of people that don’t know how to count money, communicate properly, or work the ever evolving complicate advances in technology. An educated workforce is the foundation for any thriving economy. Just look at South Korea. Here is a country that has no real natural resources, and because of their unique relationship with connecting nations, they are basically an island, and need to import most of the food and resources that they need in order to thrive. They do not have anything of significance to offer the world, yet they have the eleventh largest economy. How is this possible? They looked to the one resource that they had, and utilized it to their advantage, their people. They educated these people and then sent them out into the world in order to help their economy grow, and they created one of the biggest turnarounds ever with an economy, going from one of the world’s worst in the 1950s to where they are today. They did this through an educated workforce.

On the other hand, if a government wants to repress a people, the first thing they do is to take away their education. Hitler did this by burning all books he did not agree with. Pol Pot did this by taking the doctors, professors, and lawyer out to the Killing Fields and getting rid of them. Mao did this by promoting the reading of his red book and only that book. I don’t think that anybody would say that these societies weren’t repressed and the people under the control of these ruthless dictators suffered because of the lack of education. These leaders have gone down in history as some of the greatest killers to have ever walked the earth, and nobody within their societies were able to stop them from these atrocities because they did not have the mental capabilities to bring about the change needed. They were not given the education that was needed to start the revolution because revolutions are not started from gun but from ideas, and it takes an educated individual to create the idea that will inspire the masses into action.

I do not think that there would be many people that would argue that a basic education is needed for each individual, and because of that the future of our nation is dependent on the skills of the teachers that provide this education for our youth. There are numerous studies that show that this is true. In fact, it is not technology that produces great results in the classroom, but it is the strength of the teacher and the size of the class that does it. If you have a child and you want to make sure that he or she gets a good education, you want a skilled teacher leading a class of no more than twenty people, so that skilled teacher can give each student the attention that they need. In order to do this, money needs to be put into education to make sure that this happens.

None of these arguments are new to the person who does not wish to raise their taxes to make this happen. They still think that teachers are given enough money to perform their jobs, and they do not see why more money should be given to them to have them stick around. Well, there is one little trade secret that many of these people do not realize that is already have profound effects on the educational system in the United States, and it has to do with the principle of the free market.

To best understand this principle, think of it from the perspective of a teacher. They want to paid fair wages for the job that they are performing. They want a strong health insurance so they can take care of any medical conditions that might arise through their stressful job. They want to make sure that they are taken care of financially after they have retired from their jobs. They want a place with a diverse population that can add to the educational experience with the unique perspectives that the students bring into the classroom. If they could get this job with great working conditions, as well as somebody paying for their housing, and the added perk of being able to travel to exotic locations during their breaks, what would stop a teacher from doing this? Some people would have to ask about these teachers’ children and the opportunities afforded to them from such a place. Well, if those teachers had children, they would be provided with one of the best educations in the world because they would be able to go to that teacher’s school for free.

I know that there are many people out there that do not believe that a situation like this exists because if it did, many highly qualified teachers would be rushing to get one of these jobs. But I am here to tell you that these jobs do exist, and there are so many of them, that schools are desperate to get the best teachers to fill in those vacancies. It is a simple matter of supply and demand. Because of years of painting educators as greedy individuals who spend most of their time sitting around doing nothing more than babysitting children, many people have stopped going into this profession. Because of being vilified, many teachers that are still in the profession are looking to find a place where they can get the respect that they deserve. If the current practices are allowed to continue, it will only be a matter of time before there is a  serious brain drain in the United States concerning this field. The best in the field will take their skills overseas, leaving schools to scramble to find anybody to fill in the spots that they need to fill. There is already a struggle to fill in science, math, and special education positions because there are already other professions that pay better and are looking for these people to fill these positions. For those that truly love the passion of teaching and being able to connect with the future generations, there is now another option made available to them. And there is a huge demand for English teachers overseas because this is the language that most of these schools teach in and the students want to graduate with a strong grasp of its intricacies.

The best education will eventually come from schools that have been exported overseas. Colleges and universities will look to these same schools to find the students that they believe are worthy enough to attend their institutions, and the people that attend will take their education back to the counties that they come from. Some might claim that this is a slippery slope argument, and there is no way that we can predict the future in the manner, but the truth of the matter is that this is already happening, and as the other countries of the world continue to get smarter, Americans continue to discredit their own educational system, and not fund it to the level that it needs to be funded at. I have seen countries like Korea, Japan, and Cambodia take an active approach to education, and they have seen the benefits of this push already within their economies. America needs to take the same approach to their schools if they wish to compete in the future. Education is not about having a certain part of the population given the privilege of being smarter so they can gains the advantages of a capitalistic society; it is about making sure that we are all smart enough to maintain what needs to happen to make that society sustainable. We should not be sacrifice this aspect of our society because of the financial burden that it puts on us because it is a vital part of what makes America great.

It is the government that eventually decides how they fund their school, but it is up to the people to make sure that the government is doing the will of the people. So during this election cycle, pay close attention to the politicians that are looking to take over the positions of leadership and make sure that you choose wisely. The future of America should not be compromised because a few people do not find a value in it. We should all find a value in it because it affects us all.

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.

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.