After finishing up my charity work at FORDEC in Samrong, Thailand, I landed a job at CYJ Academy in Mok-Dong, Seoul, Korea. It was spring 2016, and this was my second job in Korea, and I was anxious to get back. CYJ is a growing, fast-paced after-school academy (or Hakwon) in one of the most ambitious neighborhoods for competitive studying in Korea. Mok-Dong is a reputable neighborhood for driven and high caliber students, but it doesn’t have the notorious reputation for Gangnam’s inhumane all-night classroom work and facilities that provide illegal 2am study halls with attached sleeping pods. Children in Korea don’t get to take after-lunch naps like the kids in Thailand. CYJ Hakwon kids take a test every day, in every class and get plenty of homework even though we send them home on little yellow buses at 7:30 pm every day. The classrooms are tiny and many, each with its own projector and PC for pre-planned PPT guided lessons. I had an average of 130 students in 16 different bi-weekly classes at this academy, with daily tests in each class. We also taught a special Saturday morning themed class every second week. For our Halloween themed event, I dressed up as The Hulk from the Avengers.
I was grateful for this opportunity and I built up my teaching skills with the heavy load of weekly teaching hours. CYJ helped me hone my skill as a teacher, which excellent management who trusted the teachers to do the best we could, and gave us space to make mistakes and sincerely learn our craft with some small, helpful suggestions. I also edited several promo videos for the CYJ website. These Academies are small businesses. Many Hakwons fail to stay afloat financially because they can’t impress the clientele, who are demanding parents that are sending their children into an increasingly competitive world. At some Hakwons, this financial stress resounds in the stress of the workplace, and the Korean bosses take out their anxiety on the hardworking teachers. My superiors at CYJ were gracious, and I never felt touched by this dynamic. Seoul is a study machine, and in neighborhoods like MokDong and Gangnam, the engine is cranking. I had so much fun with my students given the circumstances. I did my part as a small gear in that machine, and worked until I finished one year. After that, I was ready for a very different opportunity the likes of which I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. Two years of Korean Hakwons was interesting enough. My Hakwon career was over. More to come…
In late 2015 - after the launch of this website, I got on a a one-way flight all alone to Krabi, Thailand from a short visit home with no clear idea of what the future held - I just knew that the future for me was somewhere in Asia. I booked a retreat on an isolated tropical island. After a year in South Korea, I had a desire to push reality back as far as possible. I carved out some time and space alone for myself to decompress and process all of the incredible challenges and exciting adventures i'd been through during the past few years. Paradise was all it ever promised to be - for an epoch in time. Oasis Yoga, in Koh Lanta accepted on an art-yoga trade commission, so I delivered their wood-mounted drawing of the island and started to learn the natural healing ways of the Yogi. The stretching and core-strengthening poses have been the most difficult and rewarding treatment sciatica, stress, and the back pains that loom at 28. Furthermore, Farra and Kate at Oasis Yoga studio generously put three more of my pieces on display for sale at artist price.
It was just before Christmas Day that I landed in a concrete maze baking under the unrelenting heat of Southeast Asia. I began living in the slums of Samut Prakan, just outside of Bangkok, at a Daycare School run by FORDEC – The Foundation for the Development and Rehabilitation of Children and Family – a Thai charity organization dedicated to helping the poor children of Thailand get a start in Education, healthy nutrition and positive daytime activities. My goal was to give the children a start in a beginner English classroom education. Without this center, the children would be left to scavenge the dumps in the area and play in the streets with no real direction or any formal education. As a result, the entire community was served in many beneficial ways, and I became known as the “Farang Teacher” in the community. Introducing a curriculum, new activities and the foreign language was a real challenge for over 200 children. The Thai teachers were helpful, but there was an extreme language barrier. This experience was challenging and confidence boosting. I highly recommend a teaching experience at FORDEC to anyone interested in giving them a helping hand, and having a very exotic cultural experience.
After two months, the students were able to learn English communication skills through flash cards, questions, and having done the Hokey Pokey way too many times. On the final days, I jumped on the trampoline with the kids who were hanging out after school, receive hugs and high fives from kids with dirty, wet hands who lived in tin shacks, from a walk of life I couldn’t imagine. In an environment full of stray dogs, mosquito bitten legs, and unrelenting heat, the children were grateful for a morning snack and one meal a day, and were lucky to receive whatever toys and educational materials that were donated.
I let go, and let my hands get dirty in an environment where we swatted the flies away from hundreds of bowls of thai food and joined in feeling grateful for another day. I bonded with the children, and hoped my small gesture would inspire them to propel themselves into a better future. My activities helped bring more joy, activity and energy to a school that was a bit sleepy when I first arrived. I truly believe in the huge potential of any child who really wants to learn. For me, I started taking a Meditation class and learned how to sit in silence and observation for 20 minutes a day. It wasn't until after I had finished my charity work with FORDEC, that I got an e-mail that my most spiritual Thailand piece, Luang Phor Klai (or "The Monk/Buddha") had sold back at Oasis Yoga. Little did I know, I was in for a long stream of good news.
Thank you to everyone in Thailand who taught me, helped me and showed me around. It is a buzzing land of smiles encompassing a city of Angels of glowing gold.
“Helping the children will heal your soul” – Dusanee Tersch.
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