Additional notes and tips:
My trip to Korea had the ingredients of a wonderful adventure: one part do-gooding, mixed in with one part spiritual journey. I’ve attempted to capture my experience in a brief summary, but know it’s a fool hearty attempt. Words don’t seem to adequately describe the sheer joy I experienced in Korea, or the love I feel for my Korean family. My experience was very personal and in hindsight seemed to be something I worked toward my whole life and didn’t even know it.
I continue to have an insatiable appetite for all things Korean. I loved their culture and I loved the people. While the Japanese culture gets the credit for Sumo Wrestling, Origami, Tempura, Sushi, Pagodas and fan dancing, the Koreans have their own similar versions which I found curious given the history. The Korean culture is more familiar that I originally anticipated and left me wondering if they conceived of some of these beloved treasures. Most important, I fell in love with the children I taught. They were bright, inquisitive, fun, sweet and respectful. Every day was great in Korea, which was probably why it was so hard to leave.
My time in Korea was a treasure I’ll be talking about for the rest of my life. The best part was all the things that happened that I could never have anticipated. When I told my friends whom are Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Agnostic and all different types of Christian about my journey, they were sincerely excited for me. They were interested in my trip, and enthusiastically supported me financially and emotionally. These friendships continue to make me feel special.
In addition, I wasn’t prepared by how honest people would be with me about their feelings about missions. For our church, Missions is about doing good things for others, not about imposing beliefs upon those we help. Many people, who spoke with me about the trip, felt that I was going on their behalf because they had too many obligations to go themselves. And they were pleased to be able to enthusiastically pray for me or support me financially instead.
Korea is an industrialized country with hard working people, efficient transportation systems and a strong economy. The country doesn’t have many natural resources but has been able to rebound economically after struggling to overcome the ravages from centuries of wars, and what the children simply described to me as their, “sad history.” Father Alexandros, the priest from the church in Busan, explained to me that their children are the best natural resource their country has. Anything they can do to improve their children’s success for their future is important. Learning the English language from a native speaker is a marketable asset for the church to offer and I was happy to help in any way I could.
I never expected to meet a family of friends in Korea. I walked my path to the church in Busan everyday with an amazing new friend. My fellow mission teammate was a warm, knowledgeable and helpful Theology student. She answered my questions about Orthodox theology, which helped fulfill an educational component of my journey. That, along with the devotion and love of the people I met in Busan helped to solidify my faith even more than I could have anticipated.
I was welcomed into this refreshing community, with bright smiles and open arms. The Busan church has a nucleus of members including Father Alexandros, his wife Presbytera Patapia, teachers at the school, children and other parishioners. They routinely attend church, share meals together, help one another, sing in the choir and all work toward the same goal: serving God through serving others. There is no pretense here, just goodness. These people go out of their way for one another happily and they did so for us. They came to trust us, and let us into their world which is a haven. I never wanted to leave.
Most of the people that I worked with at the church attended the daily services along with their families. They sang in the choir. They help their neighbors. After liturgy on Sundays they have a big Korean style family lunch the church provides. It’s a good opportunity for everyone to be together. Afterward there are bible studies for children and adults. And the smaller children are looked after. It’s all figured out.
Every morning we’d wake up, get ready, and go to church. The walk to the church was relatively short and checkered with many steep steep roads. Busan is built into a series of large mountains. Every time you walked you would feel your muscles come alive. There are stairs everywhere and it’s very hot and humid in the summer. I noticed people patiently, methodically work their way up these hilly roads, but I was always in a rush to get to church every day so by the time I arrived I was pink faced and sweating, even if it was only 7:30am.
At the church’s building, you could feel sustained all day, and never need to leave. There is the actual church on the fourth floor, a general recreation room on the third floor, classrooms for the pre-school on the third floor and a kitchen and dining area on the first. We would attend church in the mornings to start the day off right. When adults weren’t present to offer the responses of the “people” during the service, the older children would do so beautifully in Korean. Afterword, Presbytera would always have breakfast ready for us. She would go out of her way to get us bread from the bakery. It should be noted that rice, not bread is the starch of choice for Koreans and they eat it three times a day. But Presbytera wanted us to be as comfortable as we are when we are at home. It was unnecessary for her to do so, but made me feel so loved, every time I saw her running over to us at a meal to make sure we had some bread.
I felt so accepted by the Busan church, and so appreciated for simply being myself. What little I had to give they were happy to receive. I appreciated the opportunity to be a part of a close traditional Orthodox community. I’m enthusiastic about any opportunity to speak at length about the Korean Orthodox Church and the people I met and easily grew to love. I knew almost as soon as I arrived that I wouldn’t be able to stay away for long. I look forward to seeing my friends again soon and to help teach their children again.
The only concern I had about going on my trip was trying to determine what I had to offer to these people. This was a teaching trip, and I am not a teacher. I’m a businesswoman, and couldn’t immediately wrap my head around what my skill sets had to offer. But after I was there, I began to realize I was trying too hard. All I needed I had the whole time, and I am fortunate enough to have a lot of it. Since I’ve been given a lot of love, I had a lot to give. I could show my love by playing with the children, making them laugh and patiently teaching easy things like their letters, numbers, colors, etc. I could smile, laugh and give a big hug. I could hold their hand or play “Duck Duck Goose” with them. I could throw them up in the air and spin them around. And so I did. And that was enough.
The important thing to note is that everyone has something to give, even if they don’t realize it. Presbytera and I discussed this in detail and it provided me the encouragement I was looking for. She was so helpful and always gave wonderful advice. She’s like my Greek mother except of course, she’s Korean. When I shared with her that I wasn’t sure how my future career path would satisfy my desire to passionately serve our world in some grand way, she quieted me. She told me to remember that people can give in different ways including their time, talents or treasure. Each is important, and having a solid career can lead someone to provide a great deal to the world. She made me promise I would work hard to build my company, and is praying for me to do so.
Many people talk about fate as though it’s magic, or because we’re lucky. They think things seem to work themselves out in the cleverest of ways because fate made it so. As I get older, I realize that blessings are the only reason why things happen. By traveling to Korea, I was offered the blessing of a lifetime. I continue to immediately disregard any thanks that I am offered for going to Korea, because I was the one who benefited immensely from the experience.
My being in Korea allowed me to take a break from my day to day thoughts responsibilities. All I had to focus on was the children and church. It was perfect. And amidst that focus there were certain moments of clarity that I couldn’t deny. It was the push I needed to re-center myself. I feel more at peace with my life after going on this trip. Being halfway across the world provided me with an opportunity to reexamine my choices with a fresh perspective and I feel I have a renewed purpose and appreciation for the many opportunities I have in my life.