Mountain 1, Conquered!

So, my first month here in Cheonan has been quite eventful. Both as an accomplishment of a personal goal and as something of a marker, I climbed Mt. Taejo (Taejosan) and spent several hours traversing the trails on its peak (I took lots of pictures too!). The view up there was incredible, and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes a walk through the woods. Also, going hiking with a soundtrack is pretty much one of the best ideas ever. This past Thursday I also went with some friends to Daecheon beach on the west coast of South Korea, and that was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I was able to use an inter-tube provided at the beach to ride the waves into shore and I only wiped out a few dozen times before I got the hang of it. Hopefully within the next few weeks I’ll find an occasion to visit a beach on the east coast of South Korea and see how that works out.

View from Taejosan:

Image

View of the beach:

Image

Work has been quite interesting and fun, and I’m enjoying getting to teach these children. Many of them are quite the characters and it’s interesting to hear some of the English that they know versus the English that they don’t. They can ask for candy and talk about certain video games (like Minecraft) all day long, but can’t get themselves through a very basic airport setting (when they start). I’m still in training for a program known as TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages), which, once I get the certificate, should open up a lot of doors as far as teaching English in other countries outside of the U.S. and South Korea. (You only thought I’d come back to the United States once I left, but now I’m free! Free, I tell you! Muahahahahahahaaaaaaaa!)

I’m currently looking to expand my capabilities in taking photographs, if only because there a plenty of good pictures to take, but at my current skill level I’m not able to communicate what I’m seeing through the lens of my camera. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a photography class somewhere around here that will help me improve that and enable me to better share my experiences with y’all. Plus, I think photography would be a fun hobby to have, so there’s that too.

I’m getting a lot better at this whole scheduling time with people thing, which is not something that comes naturally to me, but it’s been very helpful in getting to know people better. There are a lot of interesting people teaching English here in Cheonan, and it has been wonderful getting to know them all. In spite of the culture shock that I still find myself sometimes struggling through, this is definitely shaping up to be one of the best times of my life. I’m working on finding ways to access the master’s program that I’d like, so hopefully I’ll have more to say on that next time I do a personal update. I’m finding that theological reflection is something that I enjoy, so you will probably be seeing more posts of the theological nature sometime soon. Stay tuned!

Peace and love unto y’all,

Andrew

Advertisements

Depression in Christian Life

As some of you reading this may know, the last year and a half have been a time of great frustration, disappointment, and drastic change in my life. I started that period of time heading into my first full-time, paid ministry position and am now living in Korea as an English teacher with no immediate plans to return to the United States (on a permanent basis) for at least the next five years and no plans on returning to vocational ministry within churches ever again (though as with all things, life brings change). I also started out that time period within the joys and frustrations of a happy long-term relationship that was moving towards marriage and am now single due to our mutual recognition that our conflicting life and career goals were too separate to form a lasting and healthy marriage. Needless to say, that even with the amazing successes at my job in Oklahoma City and the new opportunities to pursue my future in Korea, pain has been a bigger part of my life over this last year and a half than usual. I am now at a point where I am out of that particular valley, but if I were to apply a particular phrase to this past year and a half, it is that “the best laid plans of mice and men do so often go awry.”

Now to get to the topic of this post. When I started out this year and a half period, I did not have a very good handle on how to deal and cope with this kind of overwhelming pain and frustration. Whenever the topic had come up in the religious situation that I grew up in, the words “pray about it” or “give it to God” were usually the best I was given. I would like to, at this time, call all kinds of bulls*** on that. As Christians, we are allowed to feel pain, we are allowed to struggle, and we are allowed to look for ways to deal with that pain. (This is going to be a very broad address on that topic, especially as far as theology is concerned; if you would like to go deeper, take it to the comments section and I’ll do my best to respond)

I remember as a teen in youth group testifying that ever since I had become a Christian I wasn’t struggling with depression… and then when I began struggling with it again I was trapped by that same testimony because that would mean I wasn’t doing something right. I would agonize over whether or not that meant I wasn’t praying right or hard enough, that I wasn’t earnestly giving it to God, or that I hadn’t ever truly given it to Him to begin with. I now know better, having been given a more humane and realistic standard to live to as a Christian (a different topic for a different day), but at the time my depression was not just a threat to my sanity but to what I believed was the significance of my relationship with God. I could not be a true believer and a good Christian if I still struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Image

So, coming of the closet time: for those who don’t know, I still struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts (not having to worry about these things threatening your job security is a wonderful thing). In my year and a half period of particular struggle, there was a point in time in which I had a loaded gun in my hands and considered using it to take my own life. I have since surrendered that weapon into safer hands than mine and gone into counseling, but that’s exactly it. It took me pointing a loaded weapon at myself to begin telling more people than a few close friends and family that I still actively struggle with depression. Even though I had been able to tell myself that I wasn’t a terrible person for being depressed I still tried my best to hide it away and hope that it would leave and that if I told enough people that I was happy then I would be (protip: this is a bad plan). I felt that as a Christian and especially as a minister of the Gospel that I absolutely could not let people know of such a far-reaching and fundamental fault within myself for fear of rejection and accusation. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this assessment. After talking with many friends who struggle with depression, anxiety disorders, and a whole host of other psychological disabilities this has been a common consensus: many churches are not safe places to be that kind of broken. We are also aware that this is changing and that many developments within recent history are opening hearts and eyes to the struggles of those who deal with chronic depression and anxiety, but as it stands now, the fact remains that we don’t feel safe.

In light of this, I would like to say this to all of those reading and struggling with depression and anxiety. You are loved and worthwhile and incredible and strong and not only does God love you but there are people and family and friends who love you. There are safe places to talk about this, and as weird as it sounds, there are safe places to go be openly depressed.

As for advice on dealing with depression and anxiety, I probably don’t have much you haven’t heard before. Sunlight, exercise, proper diet, plenty of sleep, activities and people that you enjoy, but of course, I know it isn’t that easy. Sometimes it requires medication, therapy, and other specialized treatments, and with these things I would like you to know that the need for these things does not make you weak and it does not make you a bad person. Just like bandages help healing when we bleed, so therapy and specialized treatment help when our hearts and minds have had too much. Plus, it takes a certain kind of strength to address problems rather than ignore them (trust me, telling family members and friends that you want to stop living is awkward as all get out). I would also like to take this time to emphasize just how much your friends and family love you and can help you. You’d be amazed at the people who are willing to come around you even when you are at your lowest and have the functionality of a slug on morphine. They can be the quiet presence needed to help bring some light and life back into your situation. I highly recommend going and living with other people whom you know and trust, even if you’re feeling introverted as all get out. I still don’t think my friends who opened their homes, couches, and schedules to me during that initial summer and for all of the times afterwards realize just how much help they’ve been in keeping me alive and in helping me recover to functionality.

Image

So, for those reading who aren’t struggling with these things, I realize a lot of this probably sounded like lots of nonsense, and that’s ok, this wasn’t particularly for you. However, what I would like you to take away from this is that there are many around you who are struggling with these things, some openly, others not, and that you can make a difference by loving us, opening up your time, and by being present in a time when we no longer know what it feels like to be properly human or alive or hopeful if we even know how to feel anything at all (note – depression often functions far more like severe and uncontrollable apathy than it does severe sadness). If you would like a more in depth explanation of what depression is like, read this blog: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.kr/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

This is all I have for now. Peace unto y’all.

-Andrew

Mountains to Climb

 

 

So, this is my first update from Korea! I’m two weeks in and life is wonderful here and it looks like the wonderful will continue. There is so much good food here! Kimchi isn’t as bad as everyone said it was… but I’m still not a huge fan of it, so I eat it when I need to but otherwise I will leave it be. The barbeque is delicious and my favorite dish out of all of that is a marinated meat called bulgogi, which is this really sweat kind of marinated meat (usually beef).

 

I was amazed by all of the lights when I first arrived in Cheonan, the city where I’m teaching English. Apparently they like to stack all of their stores and other things on top of each other, so think of a strip mall gone vertical, and then engage in a practice where they compete with each other to see who can have the biggest and brightest sign and gain the most business. As it turns out, I live in an apartment building right on the main street of the downtown, so I get to see all of those lights whenever I look out my window. There is also a really nifty river walk that goes through town (right behind my apartment) that takes me out towards a lake in a different part of town. (Side note – the previous English teacher that occupied my apartment was the teacher I’m replacing at work and he left me his bike, so I HAVE A BIKE!)

 

Image

 

As for work, I’m teaching at the Cheonan Foreign Language Education Center (CFLEC) and have already been able to spend a week teaching there. The age groups I’m teaching are elementary and middle schoolers, and I have them for one week English immersion classes before sending them back to their usual schools. I’m currently going through TESOL certification classes, which stands for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Apparently it looks pretty nifty on a resume and should help open the door to any further adventures I’m planning on having in various locations around the world. At the end of this next week I’ll be heading back to work at CFLEC and finishing the certification through night classes. 

 

I’ve been making lots of new friends and doing lots of cool stuff (including finding lots of those nifty foods and food places I mentioned earlier). There are lots of hills/mountains in Korea and lots of hiking trails on those mountains and I’ve been able to take full advantage of the local hiking opportunities. There is a local mountain called Mt. Taejosan that has a really good hiking trail and has been very exciting to explore so far, though I’ve only made it about halfway up. There is a temple at the foot of the trail that has the largest statue of Buddha in Korea and it’s pretty nifty to look at.

 

Image

 

The weather has been incredibly humid, and therefore very hot. It’s no wonder that many Koreans think that Americans are smelly because we sweat like crazy when we’re outside in that kind of heat. The taxi and bus drivers are the resident maniacs behind the wheel (they take red lights as more of a personal challenge than a reason to stop) and are required by union guidelines to drive like they will be set upon by rabid weasels if they stay in the same lane for longer than a minute. It makes travel very interesting, though the public transportation system is wonderful and makes getting various places very easy. In fact, their cities are so well connected by train that if you get a ticket and accidentally go to the wrong platform because you don’t understand the language, you’ll wind up in an entirely different city than the one you were intending to go to! (Yes, this has already happened to me) Life is full of adventure when living in Korea! 

 

As far as difficulties and frustrations are concerned, living alone is the hardest. I’m not living in the same building as any of my fellow teachers and currently the hub of my social interaction is a 30 minute bus ride away from my flat at the campus of Korea Nazarene University (KNU). I’ve recently found out that I don’t have flexible vacation time, so it will instead be at set times during the year, which will make visiting family or even taking a few vacation days to extend a weekend and go visit places like Japan or Thailand over the weekend a little difficult. I’m still working on the language and the Korean alphabet isn’t as difficult to read as I thought it would be. I’m also working on deepening these new friendships and in still meeting new people. I’m coming into a situation where many of my fellow teachers already have lives and schedules and they have been amazing and friendly and extremely welcoming and helpful. However, it’s been very frustrating trying to develop deep relationships when you’re a few steps behind everyone else in terms of scheduling and keep dropping by or scheduling get togethers at inconvenient times. That will eventually iron itself out as I get more settled and acquire a cell phone. I’m also attempting to anticipate and prepare for the inevitable culture shock, though I’ve been encountering it some already as I comprehend just how physically and temporally far I am from my closest friends and family. I’m hoping it won’t be too bad, but physically living alone won’t help; I’m not well suited for the hermit life.

 

That being said, Korea is looking like it is going to be one of the best experiences of my life. There is so much potential, both for my personal situation and here in the country in general. I’m looking to stay here for several years as I pay for and take my master’s degree. Also, shortly before I came here I found that the university I’m working through (KNU) is pretty consistently looking for English speaking professors, and the minimum requirement is a master’s degree. This would allow me to get valuable job experience as a professor while then working on financing my doctorate which I’ll need if I’d ever like to become a professor full-time back in the U.S. or elsewhere. So thanks for keeping up with me and I’ll do my best to keep y’all up to date.