Policy of Optimism

Typing away in a café in Sokcho, and I keep hearing people mention "that foreigner" over there, thinking I can't understand. The twist isn't that I can. The twist is that most of the time, when I turn my head to see who said it, all I find is someone tapping away on their phone or fumbling for change. The gossiping patron exists only in my head.

I took a long walk through the city today. Near a busy crosswalk, I had a troubling encounter with a taxi driver who was taking his smoke break. As I passed, the taxi driver tsked at me, turned to his buddies, and started cursing and moaning about how foreigners traipse around this country like it's theirs. This time, I knew I wasn't imagining his words. I saw a few bystanders shoot him a glare. I just walked on. Or maybe I traipsed on.

A Buddhist monk who spoke to our cohort yesterday told us that good and bad fortune always arrive hand in hand. A few miles past the taxi drivers, I asked a huddle of Jehovah's Witnesses in a lakeside park if the water in the fountain was drinkable. I had a lovely conversation with one of their members: he praised my Korean, asked me how I studied the language, and wished me safe travels. I filled up my water bottle.

Later on, I encountered a middle-aged man studying something beside the pathway.

"What's there?" I asked.

"Ants," he said. "A whole line of them, from here to all the way back there."

"Amazing." I followed his finger and found the anthill, some 40 meters away, connected by an unbroken stream of workers. I wonder how many years it'd been since I last followed a trail of ants to search out their hill.

Every day presents us with opportunities to become flustered and discouraged. But I don't want to waste my energy rehashing every failure, lest I miss the moments of kindness and human connection sprinkled in among the brash voices. Call it anything but naivety. It's a survival tactic, a policy of optimism.

As for the inhospitable: shake the dust.

Where I’ll Be

Our Fulbright cohort had its formal placement ceremony today. I'll be teaching in two middle schools in the city of Naju, located in South Jeolla Province! I'll be headed to Naju in mid-August to begin my new position.

This placement is especially exciting for me because I spent the summer of 2016 studying quite close by—at Gwangju's Chonnam National University. I can't wait to return to Jeollanam-do! More updates to come.