In this piece, I am challenging readers to see and understand the entire world as a metaphor for a classroom as well. The motivation for me put forth this thesis lies not in vanity nor a power complex. The exigency that drives my proposition is love for the whole and love for the individual. Understanding the world around you as a classroom instantly allows you to see the world as a community of sorts. Just as activities play out in a formal classroom, cooperation is needed, respect is inherently beneficial, etiquette is important, and a common comprehension of goals is required. These communal ideals are necessary and beneficial in life as well—if not more so. Individual qualities are essential in both formal classroom settings as well as real world situations. Personal characteristics such as humility, courage, intellect, respect, decency, honor, risk-taking, cooperation, forgiveness, boldness, and empathy are quite necessary and beneficial in the real world just as they are in formal classrooms. I will now offer a personal antidote as evidence that understanding the “world as a classroom” is the best way to maneuver through life’s challenges.
Every now and then, it becomes useful to boost the morale of my students through sharing stories of my personal struggle with language acquisition. When my students seem to be feeling low about their performance, I share an actual experience in my quest to buy a hand-held mirror upon my initial arrival to Korea. I cut my own hair; and in doing, I use two mirrors. One mirror is the one usually installed in the bathroom—and the other mirror I use is a hand-held mirror. In my rush to pack and leave home, I forgot to pack a hand-held mirror. I had been in Korea for roughly one month, and my hair was in need of a cut. I began on a search through my 괴정동 neighborhood to buy a hand-held mirror. Despite having very low Korean-language skills at this point, I didn’t think it would be too difficult to communicate my desire for a hand-held mirror. Boy, was I wrong! I visited about four stores that day—and left with no mirror. Pointing at mirrors didn’t work. Repeating the word, “mirror,” in English at increased volumes didn’t work. Writing the word, “mirror,” in English didn’t work. I never knew accessing an item so small could bring me so much frustration and lack of confidence. After leaving the fourth store disappointed, ashamed, and tired, I began my journey back to my residence. As I walked home, I was engaged in a deep conversation with myself. I was so lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t realized I speaking out loud. A person passing by overheard my frustration and stopped to ask, “Do you need some help, Sir?” These words never sounded so good. So, happy to hear someone speak in my native tongue, I immediately smiled. “Yes!” I exclaimed. “I’m looking for a small, hand-held mirror.” The man replied, “거울.” I repeated the word with him a few times until I was confident in my pronunciation. He told me to walk into a certain grocery store and say, “거울주세요.” I repeated this sentence until I reached the grocery store. “거울주세요….거울주세요….거울주세요.” When I reached the store clerk, I said in the most natural Korean accent I could muster, “거울주세요.” Unlike all the confused faces I was met with before learning the request in 한국말, the clerk turned around and led me straight to a large selection of hand-held mirrors. I felt as if I had reached the Promised Land. The clerk smiled and walked away. Hallelujah! I would enter school the next day with nice haircut.
During the course of searching for the mirror, I experienced a flood of emotions. The most prevalent emotion was embarrassment. Here I was, a highly educated man, in my country—not even able to access and secure a small mirror. I realized that education meant little, if I couldn’t communicate the simplest actions. I felt incompetent. Being unable to accomplish this simple task, left me wondering what other menial tasks would seem gargantuan. I felt tired. With each successive attempt to walk into a new store and ask for a mirror, the effect of people walking away, looking confused, trying to help—but not understanding, or ignoring me, became harder and harder to stomach. But, similar to the magic that happens in formal classroom settings, someone recognized my frustration and was able to lend a helping hand. The feeling of success and triumph far exceed all the frustration and embarrassment I felt beforehand. In the learning process, we experience ups and downs. Sometimes lessons will come easy. Someone lessons will require more energy, more focus, more assistance, and more practice. That said, some of the toughest lessons are the best lessons. These are the lessons we won’t forget. From that day forward, I have decided to understand the mechanics of Korean language. Through maintaining this positive attitude, I have learned much more than I would have otherwise. In fact, viewing the “world as a classroom” has taught me a lot about surroundings—and a lot about myself.
Check out www.ghettogeekin.blogspot.com for more introspection and inspiration.
By Prof. eRic Durham
Dept. of English Language and Literature
eRic Durham -
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