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Keeping one’s identity

Going abroad for any reason is quite a large challenge to face. The thought of the unknown will always be prevalent in the minds of anyone who will face the challenge of adopting to a new culture. How will one adjust to a new culture and basically a new way of life amidst all the new things one has to face is always an issue one has to bravely face. All of this plus the rigors of school life and just trying to keep pace with the requirements of the course. I started out my journey of discovery in China when I was travelled to gain additional academic knowledge.

From there, I set out to not only gain the knowledge that I could gain in my stay in the country. As a Korean national, since the culture of our two countries would be similar in many ways, I thought that the effort of integrating myself in the structure of the Chinese society would be just easy. To my surprise, that was not the case. In many instances, I would strive to just first understand the language and the usual customs and traditions of my new temporary country to call home.

More often than not, students like myself from foreign lands just try and go about the rudiments of language proficiency and not to intrude or dishonor any of the time-honored traditions of the country that we are coming to. Things like what language to stay away from, expressions that are taboo in the country, respect for any of the cultural and societal mores and norms existing in the society. Add to that the requirements of some of trivial matters, or things that we would consider trivial, restrictions that I must observe as a foriegner in the country.

So how does one adapt to a new country? In my experience, it was just being myself. But will not that tact bring me to more trouble if I do things in my country that would be considered offensive in the new setting? In my estimation then, a balnce had to be struck with keeping who I am and the needs to conform to the cultural parameters of my new environment. Variety add spice to life, as the saying goes. The new culture that I was exposed enriched my person as well as my appreciation of another distinct and rich erudition.

As I began to embrace the new cultural settings around me, I began to realize the importance of being inclusive in my approach to the new environment that I am in. In that sense, I would be able to appreciate the novel things that are inherent in this new culture. That would make it easier for me to adapt to my new station in life. But my journey did not end there. Foreign students are also apt to think that just by embracing the new culture, they would easily slide into the new culture. As I said earlier, the case of just being able to slide into the new culture is not easy.

For one like myself, a student in a foreign land, I thought that this was the easy part. But I was surprised that it was not so. Apart from the additional burden of adjusting to the new erudition, the requirements of my academic vocation also took on a accesory load for me. What was significant for me on this journey? It was the realization that what I was when I got here, was basically the same, except for a few positive additions. I say positive in the sense that what I gained was instrumtental in my appreciation of the Chinese people, especially in their societal norms and mores.

In fact, I came to China to teach, in return, I learned something more about myself and how I react to the surroundings around me. I realized it was not about imposing my self upon the society in which I had to move in, but to assimilate the values of the environment around me. Teaching Korean I had the task of teaching a new language, my language, to students at the Canadian Chinese School. Teaching a new way of communicating with a people whose culture seemed close to what I was accustomed did take a large amount of effort.

This effort, though, was not only confined to the students under my mentorship, but also to myself as their teacher. Aside from my academic responsibilities as a student in China, I was also teaching Korean. So, two sides were applying some degree of pressure on me, as a student and as a teacher to my students. How did I deal with these twin pressures in my stay in China? First, the responsibilities of being a student in a foreign land pressured me to attain at least a basic fluency in the Chinese language.

This had to be accomplished as I had to interact with other students who may not be knowledgable in my native tongue. Second, the importance that I gain the basic knowledge in speaking Chinese woukd serve me well in the area of communicating better with other people. I can say that in my six years that I have been staying in China, I could say that I have at least a working level standing in my study and speaking facility in the Chinese language. As a student, meeting requirements in school was of paramount importance.

School life usually revolved around the dealines and schedules that the professors and instructors gave as part of my academic responsibilties as a student must comply with to pass the courses in the university. Apart from the regular load of academic subjects, the professors would often include papers and projects that are also included in the course curriculum. Attendant to this would be countless hours spent in the library and/or on the computer spent on research and other pertinent school activities. Student life is in itself a hectic activity, but coupled with a teaching load at the Canadian Chinese School, it can be burdensome at times.

But this is not to say that I do not enjoy nor relish the opportunity given me to enlighten the minds of my students on becoming adept and knowledgable in their appreciation and utilization of the Korean language facility. I believe that allowing oneself to be able to share their knowledge is a great responsibility as well as an enormous gift. This is not to take away the great task that I have laid on myself to teach the language, but it must be considered a gift in the sense that it will allow the fostering of closer ties, be it at a low level in the area of international understanding.

Most of the activities at the school were geared towards the understanding of the language, but on a different approach. I designed most of the activities in my class towards not only gaining a working knowledge of the Korean language, but also a clearer view of what Koreans are all about. Therefore, in this sense, it can be said that what I did was to educate my students to understand us as Koreans more and appreciate our differences as well. This was particularly difficult for me, as a majority of my students were teachers themselves.

This situation gave me a stronger desire to be a good teacher to them, as what I would be able to impart to them would be passed on to their own students. As a student more than a teacher, I strove hard to be a good mentor to them, as I imparted what I knew to them. Mentoring, I believe, varies drastically with the conventions attached to the teaching norm of society. The latter involves not only indoctrianting them with the contents of a book; the former has to do with the teaching not only of what is in the books, but added to that, is the inculcation of other cultures as well, which is in this case, the Korean erudition.

It can be said that the student learns from the teacher, and the teachers gain new knowledge from their students. In my stay here in China, this saying can truly be demonstrative of my experience here. I learn from them the various intricacies of their culture, and I try to impart my culture to them, as well as my language. In the end, the nix of cultures will produce hopefully a better understanding of both peoples.

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