The Art of Travel

While looking for Stranger in a Strange Land, I found a book called The Art of Travel in a bookstore that just happened to be in the basement of a nearby subway.  It was like Fate.

What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.

And

Journeys are the midwives of thought.

Both Alain de Botton.  Great name.

After dinner I started thinking about cultural ambassadorship–what it means to be one, am I one, does it make my life worthwhile here to be one? 

I bought 떡 on the way back to the guesthouse, overheard the woman say the words that mean “to do Korean well,” which always makes me happy to hear.  And all because I said “This one, how much?” “Thank you,” and the word for “Goodbye” that the person leaving says to the person staying.  A good impression made.

A Korean teacher, of whom I’ve often written, said to me on our last teacher’s drinking night-out before I went back to the states that he was “very anti-American.”  He said, effectively, that had we met under any other circumstances, he would have hated me.  But he wrote on the opening page of a Korean travel guide that he gave me as a gift: “I like you.”  And he said to me then that he hated Americans, “but I like Sara.”  And I can’t decide if this is a success because it almost seems like he has made a distinction between me and “Americans” instead of changing his mind.

I thought that my time here would be all about the teaching, but I got to my school and found other teachers whose estimation of their students is low and whose estimation of their role as the teacher seems surprisingly low, and I found it difficult, with so few teaching hours to my name, to consider teaching my reason-for-being in Korea.  Which left me little reason-for-being except as a cultural ambassador.  But I have increasingly been asking myself if I am making my time “worthwhile.”  I think I could make myself crazy just trying to define “worthwhile.”  But if my primary success here is to give Korean people a good impression of myself and my country — is it worthwhile for me?  Maybe abstractly it is worthwhile for this to happen, but for me, myself, at this time, is it worth it to struggle here for that?  I know what’s not worthwhile — that line of thinking.

It reminds me of volunteering in Kolkata.  How much we mattered to those children but how little we actually did for them.

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