Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Language Barriers

The students have been here for over a week now. Things that I would have thought would bother me just amuse me- their antics, their attitudes, their varying degrees of defiance and testiness.

I love it. I love their personalities, their quirks, their stories... though, sometimes their stories break my heart. They are a group of survivors- resilient fighters trying to figure out how to live in this world.

And sometimes, they're also just goofy bratty teenagers.

While discussing my daily schedule with my supervisor, I realized that I don't actually know when I'm working and when I'm not because what I'm "supposed" to be doing is stuff I want to be doing. I had a moment of utter disbelief... "Wait... What? Seriously? That's what my days are supposed to look like?" I mean, obviously there are going to be days where I retract everything I just said; however, after the purgatory that was my last job, even the hard days here will likely pale in comparison because here there's meaning. There are people involved- people who tell stories and speak in a language all too familiar to me. They speak in honest tones of avoidance and detachment that give away the depth behind the facade, and at the same time also speak with open sincerity and willingness to let you into their space. I was surprised by how quickly their affections surfaced with us. They hug, tease, test, challenge and inspire.

I feel lucky to be here in this beautiful place where I will be challenged to grow in ways I would have never imagined a year ago.

The intensity of the schedule and environment leaves me little space to process some of the tender areas of my life... so here I am, putting it out there into the safe anonymity of the internet.

About 6 weeks ago I decided to reconnect with the adoption agency my parents went through in efforts to find a translator to make communication with my biological father easier. One would think that after over 8 years of trying to communicate between English and Korean, I'd have learned that this process is never easy. This is a language I don't understand, and honestly, I'm not sure that I want to learn it for a multitude of reasons. There's a surreal element to my life- this whole other family, culture, and identity that almost was, but wasn't, but somehow still is. Pieces of myself are contained in this family literally a world away- and I don't even know how to speak to them. It's frustrating.

Years ago when I first initiated contact, the agency sent me a letter that my father had written 3 days after I was born. It sat in the archives for over 20 years. I learned that my parents intentionally wanted me to be sent to some place where I would stick out- where it would be clear that I did not belong so that I would look for them one day. And they succeeded. My entire life, I have not once felt as though I belonged anywhere, so I've traveled, wandered, and searched for the transient meanings of "family" and "home."

Here in the mountains, I'm exploring what those things mean. I'm exploring the concepts of identity and belonging with and through the students. I'm exploring parts of myself that I had to hide away because I wasn't strong enough to deal with them before.

Before I left Pennsylvania, a few people felt it necessary to remind me that I couldn't run from myself. I was never trying to run away from myself; I am giving myself the chance to know myself in a way I wouldn't have been able to without letting go of my comfortable routines- without facing my fear.

This year will be hard in a lot of ways, but as I'm finding, not in the ways I anticipated. Instead of learning to build walls and defenses, I will need to learn how to let them down while maintaining healthy boundaries.

There is much growing to do, and I'm looking forward to learning the language of it all.

As far as my biological family is concerned, I suspect that, like the rest of my life, the results will be something I would have never predicted.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What's Love Got to Do With It

In spite of being through various broken uncertain hells, the forefront of conversations are... 

Can you guess?

Relationships. The current loves of their lives. 

It's amazing that no matter how old people are, what they've been through, where they're from, what country or culture they belong to- relationships are so often front and center of what matters. 

Even if it's in the context of attempting to avoid them because it's "safer"... 

Why is it that someone can be abused, raped, neglected, and/or abandoned, and somehow, what still seems to matter most is a deep meaningful connection to another human being? 

It makes me rethink our society's tendency to champion complete and utter independence. Sometimes I wonder if that's just a facade to cover the insecurity and fear that prevents so many meaningful connections from occurring. Maybe what we need isn't sheer independence, but an acknowledgement that we are social creatures and there is no surviving, let alone thriving, without each other. 

I do it too. I try to pretend I don't need anyone or anything... but at the end of the day, all I really want is for someone to understand the language of it all- the sacred unspoken nuances of existing.

One of the most poignant messages I remember hearing in passing was "love changes everything." The more I thought about it, the more I realized how profound such a simple sentence was... Love does change everything- the way you see yourself, others, and life itself. It gives depth and purpose to existing- it changes how you live.

It only makes sense that people who have been through hell- lost their homes, cultures, identities, friends, families, loves, dignity, maybe even parts of themselves- would want another person to be there, to stand by them when the world is too much to bear because love makes the unbearable bearable. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Living Space, Work, and Elk

Into week 2, and I finally have some semblance of what I'll be doing here.

With my super useful bartending, waitressing, barista-ing experience, English degree, and 4 years in logistics, I will now be counseling teenagers.


Yeah. I thought about that today while I was discussing the next few weeks as the students arrive with my supervisor.

But in spite of my seeming lack of experience, I've never felt more grateful for my sometimes idiotic decisions, massive dysfunction, and complete and utter heartbreak and loss. My lack of academic experience is, thankfully, overcome by (some) life experience.

That said, I have no delusions that I'm at all fully prepared for what I will encounter this year. I know this year is going to be incredibly challenging (and I will likely want to cry at some points).

I'm learning to adjust to living with 11 other people fairly well. Unexpectedly, I don't mind the constant bustle. It likely helps that there's more space than I was initially anticipating in spite of the small campus.

Another thing I have a love/hate relationship with is the wildlife- it's mostly love, but the unexpected herds of elk sauntering across the street in the middle of the night has caused a few intensely startled moments.

The students began arriving today, so there will likely be much more to write in the coming days...

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Company You Keep (guest blog!)

Sooo... I submitted a guest post to The Creatives, and it was accepted! 

Check out my post The Company You Keep, and join in on the conversation!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Into the New Beginning

Day 3 of CORE training.

Day 3 of adjusting to living with 11 other people.

It's an eclectic, and so far, compatible mix of personalities (yes, I realize it's been 3 days, but I have hope/faith this is a good group). It's fascinating to hear about each person's path- how they've each come to the same location with a similar goal from incredibly different backgrounds.

Honestly, I'm a little overwhelmed. The students don't arrive for another 2ish weeks, so the Fellows are on task to learn the basics of the school and get to know each other. It is- like any other gigantic long-term very social commitment, daunting. I have all of the typical questions and fears: will these people like me? Will I like them? How will these relationships and personalities change over the course of the year? Will we be able to maintain our focus and not become the next reality TV show? Will I succeed with reaching the students in a positive productive way? Did I make a mistake? Will I be able to handle this year?

The list could really go on and on.

This year is going to force me to face myself in ways I've never had to do so before. I can already feel my insecurities attempting to creep in on suspecting prey.

I have to remember to simply do my best, take responsibility for the consequences of my actions, then let it go.

I can't believe I live here, in these spectacular mountains in a place some only dream of... The drive in from Boulder was incredible and I couldn't help but smile and laugh to myself. A year ago I would never have expected I had it in me to begin the journey, to quit my job, leave the place I've spent over 2 decades of my life, drive 30 hours away, live in a house of 12, and really give myself the opportunity to find out what it is that makes life worth living.

I am sitting in one of the living rooms of our house with 4 others... the windows are open, a cool breeze is flowing through, and we're all reading and writing with occasional bursts of conversation. After living alone for so many years, I actually enjoy being surrounded by people. Sure, there are moments when I pull back to find some solitude, but overall- I like having other like-minded people around me, living with me. It's another source of inspiration.

I'm here. I'm really here, and I'm really doing this. So amazing.

That's all for now- another meeting coming up in a few moments.