Wednesday, July 25, 2012

newer sometimes really is better

I'm in New Orleans this week for a training conference courtesy of my new school. I haven't had much time to explore the city, but I have been able to get out and see a handful of touristy sites. The last time I was in Louisiana was spring break my sophomore year of college. Hurricane Katrina had hit a few months before, and I joined a few thousand other college kids who gave up their spring breaks to dig through moldy old houses and help put this city back together. Needless to say, the city has changed a lot in the last six years. And so have I.

My college roommates and I often say that if we could do college again, if we could share a house again, we'd so it so much better this time around. We'd be less selfish, maybe a little more patient, perhaps leave fewer dishes in the sink. The years that have passed since we moved out of that little house on the corner across from the elementary school have taught us far more than our just-out-of-high-school minds would have acknowledged possible. Simply put, we're better now than we were then.

I often think about this in regards to Korea. If I could get my hands on a Time-Turner and drop myself back on that airport bus that gave me my first glimpse of Seoul, I'd do it in a second. I'm not ashamed of anything I did in Korea, nor do I regret any of the choices I made. I just think I could do Korea better if I had another chance. I could have more grace with the kindergarteners who are struggling to learn an annoying new language. I could focus more of my conversations on what's going on in the lives of my friends instead of pining over a lost relationship that took up far too much of my energy. I could create more exciting activities to use in the orphanage rather than playing with the same flashcards every week. I could travel an hour by subway to see my friends just because I love them.

It's disappointing to think that in some ways I wasted my year in Korea. I didn't learn as much Korean as I should have, and I didn't spend as much time trying to understand the culture. Sometimes I wish I could write two-years-ago Nikki a letter and teach her a few polite Korean words before she even gets on the plane.

Fortunately, I'm not 100% a Debbie Downer. I also recognize that had I moved to Korea the day I graduated from college, I'd have crumpled like an autumn leaf under an elephant's shoe (elephants need to wear shoes for the sake of hyperbole. just go with it.) before I even made it to baggage claim. I'd never have been able to navigate Thailand as fearlessly as I did, and I'd probably have eaten McDonalds every day due to the sheer familiarity of it. When I moved to Korea, I was the best version of myself yet, and I experienced it the best way I knew how at the time.

I guess this is all rolling around inside my head because I'm starting my first "real" year of teaching in a few weeks, and I know I'm not going to be magnificent right out of the gate. I'm going to finish the year, look back, and think, "Man, I could have done a million things better if I had known then what I know now!" I'm going to make a lot of mistakes and I'm going to do a lot of things I'll have to forgive myself for. But as long as when I get to the end of the year, I'm better than the girl who is about to walk in the door in two weeks, I've done alright. It's only if I get to the end of a year and haven't changed even a tiny bit that I'm failing. Everything else is just a learning curve.

Author's note: If you've been around the blog for a while, you're probably wondering why I haven't posted in two months then come back with this weird blob of self-reflection. It's just been that kind of a summer, folks. But don't worry! I've found all kinds of spectacular story-making activities in California, not to mention my upcoming school year with a bunch of awkward middle schoolers. And who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and Cali will fall off into the ocean. That'd make one heck of a blog post, don't you think?