Tales From A Travelling Explorer

11896131_10153620108598824_5621426192016476020_nAs an Explore It! instructor since 2012, I am excited to return for a new Fall term with all of our students, schools, instructors and programs, but most of all, I am excited to be back in Toronto! After a year living and teaching English in South Korea, I can’t wait to integrate what I’ve learned abroad into the upcoming term with Explore It!

In August 2014, after 2 years with Explore It!, I secured a contract for a teaching position in an academy in Cheongju, South Korea and I was on my way into a whole new world – both literally and metaphorically. The experience of living abroad is so unique that it is difficult to summarize. It consists of amazing travel opportunities, a sense of accomplishment beyond belief, and the daily joys of working with children, as well as culture shock, homesickness and life lessons that you thought you knew, but really you had no idea. In the past year I have traveled throughout South East Asia and Europe, participated in cultural festivals throughout Korea, attended an ancient Buddhist temple-stay, experienced the beauty of cherry blossoms in their prime, and viewed art exhibits by greats such as Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali.

My kindergarten and elementary classes especially were both a joy and a challenge on a daily basis. There is nothing like trying to manage a troublemaker who can’t really understand a word you’re saying, or attempting to teach compassion to students whose working knowledge of English consists of “Hello, how are you?” Collectively, all of these classes allowed me to discover a level of patience and fortitude I didn’t know I possessed.  To be honest, they probably taught me more than I taught them.

Below are the most notable things I learned, about teaching and life; the lessons that I will bring back to Explore It! with me, and that I think are relevant to anyone, teacher or otherwise, around the world.

  • Always Keep Exploring. Whether that means going to new places or trying new classes, at the age of 5 or 85, never stop. We are learning more and more that novelty is one of the key components in brain development throughout life – not just in our youth. Exploring provides us with that novelty; with new experiences that will give a zest for life you never thought possible.
  • Creativity & Physical Activity are Key. In Korea, most students spend their time studying, doing homework, and focusing almost exclusively on sedentary, analytical tasks. Having a background in dance and coming into this culture was extremely difficult for me, so I took a risk and started implementing “dance breaks” into my classroom. This creativity and physical activity benefited my students’ academic work in the classroom to a great extent. I am excited to be coming back to a company that works almost exclusively in creative and physical ways with the children they teach – clearly it is to the students’ benefit!
  • It’s all about Perspective. Perspective was one of those life lessons that I thought I knew, but really I had no idea. In Cheongju, I was living in a microcosm. Working together with foreigners from all over the Western world in an environment that none of us truly understood was challenging to say the least. Add teaching children into that mix and you are in for a wild ride.  Perspective can save the day, especially when paired with compassion. Putting yourself in another person’s (or child’s) shoes can make or break an experience, a friendship, a journey or an adventure. Having some perspective on what other people are going through, or how people from a completely different culture are “experiencing” the “same” experience as you, can mean everything.
  • Teaching = Celebrating Individual Differences. Our differences are what make us special – what make each of us worth celebrating – and our job as teachers is to ensure that children know that. Many times in Korea, I felt as if the little gems of human beings I taught weren’t given a lot of opportunity to explore themselves outside of what was “accepted.” The creativity that was unleashed when I let them simply draw a picture with pencil and paper was outstanding, and yet they rarely had that chance. It made me sad at times, particularly as an artist, but it also made me value the opportunities I am given as an Instructor at a company like Explore It! I am truly able to help children to explore something new without forcing them to make too huge of a commitment. From there, they are welcome to further explore and to allow that interest to develop into a truly special part of themselves. It’s something that I am proud to be a part of, and beyond excited to be coming back to.

As I wrote this blog I was preparing to leave Korea, heading to London and then home to Toronto.  Three days after I arrive in Toronto, I will have my first Explore It! staff meeting – a moment that will truly feel like home, no matter the jetlag!   As I complete an incredible experience and realize that there are so many more travel opportunities in my future, I also know that Toronto is my home.  I have never in my life been more excited and yet simultaneously completely calm about coming home; home to my family, home to my friends, home to myself.  And all this would not have been possible without this experience; without this exploration.

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