Language Learning: What’s the Point?

It’s no secret that I am obsessed with learning languages. I learn languages the way I eat food: constantly craving new sounds and sentences, enjoying a good conversation with friends. Unfortunately, languages seem to pass out of my system quite quickly. My Spanish ability quickly advanced to university level 3 in just a couple months and then was quickly forgotten when I went to study in Italy. Italian was forgotten as soon as I went to Korea. Somewhere deep in my brain, I am told the languages lie dormant but I digress.

Today I would like to ask you a question: What is the point?

Do you think it is worth learning languages in this era of google translate and AI’s? Is it worth putting in years of work learning something that a computer could tell you in a matter of seconds? For an English speaker I have a second problem. While solo traveling around hostels, I quickly realized that English was the language of travel; it is how someone from both France and Japan could connect, and it was the language that most people wanted to practice. So the question echoes again: is it worth learning a new language or is merely an inconvenience to other travelers who would much prefer to practice English?

If we merely want language to work as a tool, something we utilize to get what we want, the answer is simple. Languages are no longer worth learning. You can order a panini in Italy with a guide book or a translation app, no problem.

But let’s talk about one reason I really love language: communication. It is possible to communicate in other ways, of course. Body language is an obvious one, but other ways include art, music, and actions. With language we are given the words to communicate highly complicated abstract ideas in a way that art, music, and action cannot, or at least in a way that is unique from those ways. In turn art, music, and action can communicate in a way that words cannot. Language is merely one piece of a very large puzzle when it comes to human expression.

And yet, despite seemingly endless ways to display our inner hearts and souls, dreams and desires, it sometimes still seems impossible to communicate what we are feeling. I don’t know how to say this, we say. I know I’m not the only one who has struggled to find the right word. The more I learn, the more I find the words I have been lacking to paint pictures of the experiences and depth of the world around me. Perhaps that is why some of us turn to music and paintings. We need to bare our souls, pain, and joy through other measures.

I turn to new languages the way a musician turns to his instruments. They are filled with new sounds that have a new melody. People say German sounds angry. French has often been praised for the language of love. These languages have a melody of their own. I turn to them to play a tune, not just with the meaning that they are saying but also the sounds I can use to say it. I turn to new languages like a painter to his canvas, one who longs for new colors and light to paint. Through languages I am given new words or idioms which capture a meaning that I have inside that I desire to express.

“It is a heart color,” my friend told me decidedly.

“You mean it is blue?” I tried to clarify.

“No… I mean it is blue, but it is also that feeling of looking at beautiful scenery. It can be blue or green. It is more than just the color.”

Korean has a word for that color that I have so often felt looking out at the endless blue green sea.

Language learning is not only means for personal communication, it is also inseparable from cultural transmission. In Korea, a common greeting is “Have you eaten rice?” Perhaps it sounds a bit strange to someone who eats rice occasionally, but to a girl who has grown up not only eating rice but also learning that giving food is a way to show love, the phrase sounds very warm and caring. There is a new part of me I have a voice for, and I also am able to enter deeper into a larger culture filled with ideas of hospitality and even history.

Without the language of a given culture, that culture cannot maintain its full integrity. When learning a language, we are able to enter a new experience and tradition in a beautiful and meaningful way, and we are able to participate in keeping that culture alive. I have often wished that I had grown up learning the languages of my heritage, particularly Tagalog. It is a dying language so my Filipino grandmother thought there was no point to teach her own language to us. Instead she became an English teacher and is proud of our clear American English. But I am determined to go back and learn at least a bit of Tagalog some day. There is a part of me from there, and it is a part of me I would like to find. Perhaps through language, I can express just a little bit more of that side of my heart.

I would like to take a moment to explain that I am not genius when it comes to languages. I am deeply, deeply grateful for the gift I have to pick up languages more quickly than others, but it still takes hours of pen to paper and flash cards and painfully slow and often embarrassing conversations before I learn languages. And perhaps it is due to my laziness but I often lose the languages before I have really mastered them, as I mentioned before.

The point is not that we have to be hyper-intelligent, fluent polyglots–although that sounds lovely to me. The point is that no matter how globalized our world becomes… as long as we are humans filled with rich thoughts and pain and desires and joy we will need rich, deep ways of expressing ourselves. It is not about whether or not “they” can speak English or whether or not we will be able to “use” the language on a trip. It is about what we can do to give voice to ourselves. It is about the intrinsic beauty a language can hold.

So with that in mind I am going to study the languages I want to learn no matter how practical or rarely spoken. I am going to learn random beautiful phrases of languages I have no intention of learning extensively into, and I am going to delve deep into languages that capture my heart and give me the melody to express it.

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Leveling up Life 2019 Style

I have a confession to make: I am secretly SO excited that a new year is almost here!

I know, I know. I feel like it is culturally customary to shake our heads disapprovingly at January as it rushes at us in a most hurried and undignified manner. People turn their calendar pages and sigh about how quickly the last year past. They build conversations that have started bemoaning the passing of time.

I have to catch myself whenever I enter into this habit because the truth is, I’m not sad that it is almost 2019, I’m actually really excited! Like, jump up and down kind of excited!

Give me the news, people say (they don’t, but let’s pretend they do), why are you so excited for 2019? What happening?? Why is 2019 so exciting???

This blog post is me sharing why 2019 is going to be so exciting. So without further ado~

The reason I am so excited for this new year is because I have some epic resolutions! I can see the eye-rolls now. I know a lot of people think that New Year’s Resolutions are a joke, the few that do make resolutions don’t always take them seriously. I happen to love them. People remind me that January isn’t the only place you can have a new beginning. I know that. I know that someone reading this blog post on a random Tuesday in the middle October can decide that it is time to change their life and make their own resolutions and that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t save January as the only time to make a difference. And, I am not one of those people who makes a list of resolutions each January and then sticks with them for a few days before falling back into old habits (well… at least not usually).

But here is the thing. I love that seasons, holidays, and traditions have woven opportunity into our life. January is a very fresh clean start. You can get a fresh new planner with clean pages. You can see all 365 days that are pure potential and decide what to do with them. You can get a discounted gym membership.

I have been thinking about 2019 for a little while now and I just want to talk about 4 Resolutions that I think could be absolute game changers! ‘

  1. Achieve an Athletic Achievement. Let me clarify,  I do NOT mean lose 10lbs. Everyone wants to get in shape which why every gym is packed to the brim January 1st – 15th, but I’m not talking about “loosing a few pounds” or “getting more in shape.” Pounds can be lost in healthy or healthy ways and there are so many “getting in shape” advertisements the whole things just seems like a scam! People who merely “lose a few pounds” are stuck with old insecurities and often have a nutrition imbalance due to whatever diet they chose. Here’s a new idea: Pick something that you have always wanted to do. Look up a training plan. Start today. I remember the days I thought a 5K was impossible. This year, my goal is, God willing, to run a full marathon. I’m know I’m jumping some in-between steps but a half marathon just didn’t give me the same thrill and chill as a marathon did. And for good measure I would like to do a pull-up. Because that seems completely impossible right now.

I will run a marathon and do a pull up in 2019. It’s going to be amazing.

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2. Resolve to Read. There are a lot of people who have said this before me who can probably explain why better than I can but either way: books seem to make you a smarter, healthier, wealthier, better person. This alone seems like a good enough reason to add more reading to anyone’s list of resolutions but, personally, I read because it’s a wonderful adventure. I do plan on reading “practical” books but also a lot of fiction which sometimes teach us the most “practical” things of all. I like adding reading goals to my resolution because it challenges me to take time to do what I love.

I will read at least 24 books this year (2 per month).  

3. Give the Crazy Dream a Timeline. I feel like everyone I have talked to has some crazy off the wall dream that is absolutely wonderful! The people who follow those dreams are always fantastic people to talk to even if I have NO interest what so ever in that particular dream. I want to be one of those people! So what is my crazy dream? I would like to become completely fluent in Korean. I mean: no accent, know almost more words in Korean than I do in English, can get hired as a medical translator, kind of fluent. Great! Now that I have the grand goal I have to make it measurable: pass level 6 (the highest level) of the TOPIK test. What steps do I need to take to get there? I can break down each level and try to pass it till I reach the top. So what do I do today? I sit down and study Korean. Just like that, I have a game plan. Pick a dream, make a plan, start today.

I will become fluent in Korean in 2019.

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4. Transform the Life of One Person. This last resolution might just be the most important of all. It’s a sad truth that our society often views people as objects (What can I get from them? What can they do for me?) or numbers (How many likes did I get?). This kind of thought will and does have devastating effects on how we treat others, what kind of dignity we treat them with. But here’s a beautiful truth: one person can make a difference. And even if you only touch one person’s life, that is a life well spent. In the face of so much darkness, this gives me so much hope. I can make a difference. And I can start with reaching out to one person. I have a fairly low income at the moment (using most of your time studying tends to do that to a person), but we all have 24 hours in a day. I have been thinking a lot about how I can reach out and use at least a little bit of that time for someone other than myself. It doesn’t have to be drastic. It could be as simple as taking the time to wash the dishes for someone else, having a cup of coffee with them, writing a note. Time is a beautiful thing and we can transform another person’s life with it. I find it more difficult to write a measurable resolutions based off of this goal but that is the whole point. Also, as long as I have income, I intend to sponsor a child. I have been sponsoring a child through Unbound for a while and love it because it has a more personal aspect. I don’t send money to the “poor people,” instead, I build a relationships with someone who can use the money that honestly, I can do without. I sponsor a little girl from the Philippines (she is the same age as one of my sisters) and I feel honored to be apart of her life. She is such a cheerful hard worker and sends me the sweetest letters. I have not always been the best about writing back but I save all her letters and have her picture on my wall.

I will write more letter and be more intentional about using my time for my others and not just myself. 

So, that is why I am so excited about 2019: because every year is a freaking amazing gift. And for as long as we have time left in life, we get to decide what to make of it.

By the way, thank you so much if you read all the way to this point! I would love to hear about New Year’s resolutions or goals! I wish you all the best as you begin this brand new year.

Happy New Year!

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A Trip to Nepal~Life Changing

“It was well after nightfall when I realized we had gone the wrong way. The village I had been looking for was somewhere up the mountain. In my condition, it would be several hours’ walk up a rocky trail, if we could even find the trail in the pitch-dark. My two porters and I had been walking for thirteen hour. Winter at night in the mountains of northwestern Nepal is bitterly cold, and we had no shelter. Two of our three flashlights had burned out. Worse, we were deep in a Maoist rebel stronghold, not far from where a colleague had been kidnapped almost exactly one year before. I would have shared this fact with my porters, but we were unable to communicate; I spoke only a few words of the local dialect.”

Meet Conor Grennan. He had arrived in Nepal, just planning on getting a couple months of volunteering done at an orphanage so he had something impressive to tell the girls at the bar during later travels. While most volunteers aren’t able to stay or make it back after their short volunteer trip, Conor found himself being drawn back to Nepal. There he made the shocking discovery: the children he was working with were not truly orphans. They had been taken from their families by traffickers. The Irish-American decided something had to be done about it.

I picked up his story “Little Princes” because I was hunting for a quality travel memoir, and Conor’ vivid descriptions of rice paddies and trying to choke down boiling daal bhat did a fantastic job transporting me to the foothills of Nepal. I also really appreciated his sense of humor. However, it wasn’t just a quality “experience” of Nepal that made me love this book so much.

Conor tackles a difficult topic: child trafficking. He does not try to sugar-coat the sorrow and suffering surrounding the topic or his own mistakes when trying to make a difference. But reading the book, I felt more powerfully hopeful than I had in a long time because one man DID make a difference.

little princes

Ok, before you go on I have to warn you there are some mild SPOILERS ahead. I very strongly suggest you read the story because it is so wonderfully inspiring, humorous, and honest. AND if you buy the book you are actually already helping the children of Nepal since a portion of the proceeds go to their food and education.

But here are some spoilers. I just want to share a part of the book which deeply struck me:

Conor found seven children starving in a hut right before he returned to the US. While his own orphanage was already at maximum capacity he found another house that promised they would come pick up the children.

“Someone is coming,” he told the seven small trusting beings looking at him, “Someone you can trust.”

The child-trafficker, Golkka, found out about Conor and his promise. Golkka managed to make it back to the children and move them just hours before the orphanage was able to rescue them. Trying to rebuild his life in the States, Conor was horrified to hear that the seven children to whom he had made a promise had been taken. It was impossible to say where they were or what might happen to them.

So Conor pulled together money and resources. He created an organization and made the impossible promise to himself that he would search throughout Nepal until he found those seven small children. He carried a small printed photo of his children and began his search. No one had seen them. But along the way he realized that there were hundreds of children just like them, starving and in slavery.

One day, he heard a rumor. The only girl out of the seven, little Amita, had been seen in a nearby village where the trafficker’s wife lived. Perhaps she was living there. He took a bus and ended up in the village realizing he had no plan. He didn’t even know if the rumor was true. He hunted throughout the village realizing how ludicrous it was to search for seven tiny people out of millions:

“This was the first time I had searched–really searched–for the children on my own. If I doubted myself before, after that last two hours I felt pathetic, like an outright fraud for even trying. I took the path leading back to the main road and Godwari. I was going to find a way to make a different for the kids in Nepal. Just not this way.

Then I saw her.

The little girl stood on the path, twenty feet ahead of me, staring at me…. In each hand she carried a beat-up two liter plastic bottle, taken from the trash, used for collecting drinking water at the public tap.

I didn’t move. Then slowly I reached into my back pocket. I took out the worn, stained photo of the seven children, unfolded it, and studied it. The girl in the photo had a mischievous smile on her face; the girl in front of me was stone-faced. I walked to her, pausing between steps… In basic Nepali, I asked if she remembered me. She did not move, did not change her expression. I turned the photo around so she could see it. I saw her eyes drift across the faces, and stop at her own face, on the far right. I asked her again: Did she remember me?

She nodded and tears welled up in her eyes. I took the bottles from her and laid them on the ground. I took her hand and led her up to the road.”

He had found Amita. That was sometime late 2006. Like he says in the book, “There are tens of thousands of children still missing in Nepal” but Conor is proof that one man can make a difference, an incredible difference. It is powerful to watch how much he changed the lives of the children he worked with and how much they changed him. He is not the same human at the end of the book.

Neither was I.

While it is easy to see all that is wrong in the world, it is not always so easy to see the good combating it. This book was moving because it shows how completely one human can transform the life of another. It gave me a powerfully hopeful example of how one individual can change the world and it renewed my desire to try.

two monks walking between trees

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How Tradition and Art Challenge the Brevity of Life

“Do we really all grow old quickly? There is so little time” (340).

Asher is a brilliant Jewish painter whose family struggles to understand his artistic passions, particularly how they fit into the life of a devout Hasid believer. In My name is Asher Lev,Asher contemplates the brevity of life when he returns to his hometown in Brooklyn after a long art tour through Europe. He observes teachers with slumped shoulders and old mentors who are now frail. Despite the bleakness of his observations, I found his contemplation of life’s brevity strangely exhilarating and freeing; it raises powerful questions. But what about these themes of quickly passing time and death could make me feel suddenly free?

First of all, these themes fit beautifully into the overall narrative: Asher Lev is constantly reminded that he is just one part of a story that his larger than himself, an idea which comes from his Jewish understanding of tradition.  From very on early in the book we are told, “The Gemorra teaches us that a man who slays another man slays not only one individual but all the children and the children’s children that individual might have brought into life. Traditions are born by the power of an initial thrust that hurls acts and ideas across the centuries” (324). While the brevity of life can cause us to question why it must be this way, how it could be this way, and what we could possibly do about it, the book constantly whispers subtle answers. There is the strong sense that we are only a piece of the puzzle, a link in the chain, and a member of a family. Asher and his family are keenly aware of generation spanning culture. The rich tradition found in My Name is Asher Levchallenges modernity’s individualistic, live-for-now attitude. If our life is brief, perhaps it is necessary to look beyond one piece of our existence and impact; if our existence affects a wider sphere than our own individual selves, tradition and culture becomes utterly essential to a meaningful life.

I appreciate Asher Lev’s understanding of our role in a larger story but also his stunning honesty as he observes time passing before him. Asher is keenly aware of visible signs of aging, “I could see his round face and the streaks of gray hair in his beard” (93). Asher is not the kind of boy to paint someone young or beautiful; he will paint the sunken cheeks, the flecks of gray in the hair. Thoughts of age permeate the book. Jacob Kahn, Asher’s mentor, is constantly talking about what age he will or would live to: “‘I will make it past eighty,” he said, “if I can keep from thinking too much about the past.’” (262). Asher looks honestly at passing time and yet, in many ways, remained seemingly untouched by it.

The author, Chaim Potok, writes time as a force which changes the settings and expands his character but never to ruin the integrity of that character: age decays Asher’s surroundings but never touches what makes Asher Lev Asher Lev. Asher begins to explain who he is when he is four, where My Name is Asher Lev begins. It is almost a shock every time I learn that he has somehow grown up despite the fact that the narrator constantly reminds us that time is passing, that the days, and weeks, and annual Jewish holidays are going by. Somehow I am still surprised every time I learn that Asher is now as tall as his mother or that he is a man. Years may pass by Asher Lev, but he is still very much Asher Lev—perhaps more so than at the beginning of the book. This unmovable character who will remain himself, “who will not be a whore to himself,” is contrasted with an aging shifting world; but there is an additional nearly paradoxical contrast throughout the story.

Chaim Potok writes a consistent character but at the same time illustrates how inner changes can color the way we see the outer visible world. Asher’s street in Brooklyn is constantly re-colored by his different perspectives of it. While Asher may be always telling us what he sees outside of himself, always telling us the colors and lines that play before his eyes, the real action is all internal. He is a painter who is always looking out at the world and sees more of himself because he looks out to see what is within. This constant contemplative observation contributes to his greatness as a painter but also to his greatness as a human being. It is sobering to think of how many people are looking outwards and seeing just the surface. They see the food they eat, the clothes they wear and want to buy, they see the color and shape and weight and attractiveness of the people around them, they see basic color. Sometimes they see nothing more. Asher sees what is true beneath the physically visible and strives paints that. He paints his mother’s love in the curve of her face, the fear of death and torture into the snow, sketches the inner confusion and struggle with his Jewish tradition in the fiery expressions of his mythic ancestor. One of the joys of reading the book is the thrill seeing the truth painted in a way that is hard to express with words. (Although the delicious irony is the fact that the book lacks a single picture between the pages and is conveyed with words.) Asher does not say or paint anything because it is how it “should” be said or done; he says and paints what he feels to be true, utterly true, nothing but the truth, and certainly all the truth. Asher sees death and age the way that other people aren’t willing to.

To summarize, we have a character who is poignantly aware of how the changes within himself colors and lights the way his physical surroundings look AND yet, at the same time possesses an absolute honesty to who he is – past, present and future, no matter what ages, changes, or morphs in his city and those around him. It is with this ever-honest eyes that Asher Lev sees death and time. This is what I appreciate: it is freeing to face a truth that most people prefer to forget or run from as long as they are able. We are aging. Time is passing; we are dying.

If that is where the story ends then it would be best for humans to drink away our sorrows and rationality or perhaps end life as soon as it becomes painful. Try to forget or slow relentless oncoming age and pretend perhaps that the end will not come for you.

But what if we die? All of us?

Asher’s art is already a hint of the answer. An artist certainly does not end with death, nor does he start with himself. Asher understands and is captivated by those who came before; he understands he must know who came before. His art is one of, if not the, deepest part of himself and yet is not just himself; it is a large tradition that he is merely a part of. Chaim Potok is keenly aware of this throughout writing the story. He knows Asher must paint and yet he knows that painting is not just an individual act. He writes Asher going to museums every chance he gets; he writes Asher studying painters every moment that he can. And Asher’s deep understanding of the tradition of art is built on an even earlier culturally held tradition, that of his Jewish religion.

The previously, above-mentioned tradition that Asher sees constantly in his life hints: There is something outside of ourselves, more than ourselves that makes us who we are. We are not just ourselves but our ancestors and our offspring, our art and impact. Fleeting age is not a threat, it is a responsibility. What art will we leave behind? How will we shape what is here long after us? Time passes, and the art Asher creates becomes increasingly honest and earnest, it is a gift where which holds who he is past, present, and future.

Turning to look honesty on such things as these: tradition, integrity, age, death, and immortality, it is increasingly evident that people were not made to fit within time. Humanity expands beyond it.

So what if we die? All of us?

My Name is Asher Lev will not force an answer. But it will paint you a picture of integrity, tradition, and humanity that echoes with truth. It reminds us it that it may be worth asking ourselves honestly where we lie in the painting.

* * *

Post Script: Perhaps my favorite part of the question of the brevity of life and having something outside of ourselves is because it reminded me of one of my favorite answers that I read when I was a child:

“And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” If we are truly, wonderfully honest with ourselves here on earth, even within the bounds of time, we can watch the rate at which life evaporates. Perhaps that can turn a head or two towards what may lie beyond.

Five Ways to Spark Your Inner Genius

I just got finished reading a book called The Geography of Genius. Basically, the author Eric Weiner notices that clusters of geniuses have popped up throughout history around the world: Athens with a sudden outburst of philosophers, Florence and the incredible painting epidemic, Vienna and it’s music. Based on evidence that genius does NOT lie in genetics and not just made through hard work, Eric decides it’s time to travel to these genius spawning locations, study the people and culture there, and see if he can figure out what sort of things lead to pure genius.

Before I start spilling all the secrets about what creates a genius let me just mention that writing a book like this is my new DREAM JOB. It doesn’t even have to be a job, I would love to do it for vacation! The idea of hunting through time and space to find clues to learn more about a certain theory or question I have… UGH! So cool! (Especially when it means frolicking through Italy, Greece, and China!). I don’t really agree with all of Eric’s observations or thoughts about the cultures he was visiting, but I found his book highly entertaining and loved traveling vicariously a bit through it! I thought that it would be fun to pick out a couple of points made throughout the book that were really interesting and potentially helpful to anyone who is interested in becoming (more of) a genius!

So, what are the five ways to spark your inner genius?

  1. Diversity. Historically (and logically speaking), places that are rich with new cultures and ideas will support people who think outside the box. Athens was a bustling sea port and Athenians loved foreigners. They also loved taking foreign ideas and claiming them for their own. Hangzhao may not be quite as familiar to people in the West but it was a city port in China that had incredible amount of poets, painters, and inventors. If we look at Silicon Valley, a nice little hub for innovation and creativity in our time, we also see a lot of diversity as well. What are some good ways to incorporate a little more diversity into our life? One of my favorite ways is to travel, to immerse myself in new cultures and ideas. But in my opinion, an even more important way to incorporate diversity into our lives is to read. When reading we are able to not only travel through space but also time and come into contact with great minds that would otherwise be inaccessible.

    books on bookshelves

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  2. Failure. We all know about Edison and how many times he learned how NOT to make a lightbulb.”Geniuses… don’t have a higher batting average than the rest of us; if anything, they miss more often, but–and this is key–they are able to recall exactly where they missed and why” (p. 179). Geniuses failed more than normal people, they just fail better and they never fail the same way twice. I love the story of Filipo Brunelleschi who failed to win a contest to make the best baptistry doors for a church. He was so frustrated that he went on to make something people would really appreciate: the Duomo in Florence, something which has inspired architects for ages since. Failing effectively is no easy task, but perhaps a practical step is simply to work on changing our mindset about failure. Anything we struggle with is a fantastic opportunity! Another way is to engage in activities we know we are terrible at and work on building that unbeatable mentality on a daily basis: put ourselves in situations were we can fail and grow from that failure on a regular basis.
  3. Move. In a study Eric reads, he finds that, “Creativity levels were ‘consistent and significantly’ higher for a the walkers versus the sitters…’the Greeks walked everywhere, all the time'” (21-22). The study actually shows that creativity is boosted no matter where the person is walking (aka inside on a treadmill staring at a blank wall) or for how long (five minutes made a difference). I have read plenty of studies outside of The Geography of Genius that provided evidence that running also boosts incredible creativity, and I would be willing to guess that anytime someone takes a break from sitting and moves around, they boost their creativity. So a practical step I would like to take is to walk and run more.
  4. Chaos. “Might Beethoven’s slovenly ways help explain his musical genius? Most of us certainly hope so. After all, what slob hasn’t been heartened by that famous Life magazine photograph of Einstein’s desk with papers strewn everywhere” (230). Image result for messy desk copyright free photo There have been studies that a messy work environment boosts creativity; perhaps, because there is no dictated order, our brains have an easier time deviating from the beaten path. Leonardo’s workshop would have been a chaotic mess of wood, chickens, paints, stones, rabbits, and the sound of hammers. And it isn’t just chaos in the work environment that seemed to spawn geniuses, it is chaotic cities which seemed to get some of the best results as well. Athens and Hangzhao were chaotic crossroads of ideas and people meeting. Florence had it’s geniuses after the bubonic plague had all but destroyed the city and enemies were threatening to come it’s way. The life of a genius is marked with chaos, instability, and/or uncertainty. Perhaps the lack of personal or social restraints leads to new way of ways of thinking or perhaps it’s because geniuses have to think of new ways to bring order into their life. As a someone who really likes an orderly life, I wouldn’t wish a messy desk (or bubonic plague) on anyone but I also think that it’s an important point to remember. Just like failure which can seem to be such a negative piece of our lives there is power in learning to be flexible and work outside of social constructs or ideas.
  5. Renaissance. Geniuses are often what we would refer to today as a Renaissance man or woman: a person with many areas of talent. Einstein would play his violin (and play it well!) in between making discoveries as a physicist. China honored its poets for what they wrote but often those poets were also inventors and engineers, painters and politicians. Florence had people like Leonardo da Vinci. This idea of pursuing multiple interests is especially relevant today when specialization reigns supreme. “We mourn the death of the Renaissance man, oblivious to the blindly obvious fact that we killed him and continue to do so every day on college campuses and in corporate offices across the land” (77). Image result for leonardo da vinci copyright free photoReading The Geography of Genius made me want to take steps towards becoming more of a Renaissance woman and engage in a variety of interests, moving past rigid walled disciplines which are so familiar to us in academic settings today.

So there you have it: to awake your inner genius add a little reading and walking to your life, never fear failure or chaos, and pursue interests outside of your own discipline or normal hobbies.

And here is one last bonus point, perhaps the most important take away from this book.

“What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.”~Plato

Without Mozart’s audience, which demanded nothing but the best, we may never have been able to hear his best. Without the Medici’s spending lavish amounts of money on art, Florence would not hold the beauty it now does. Without the ancient Greek’s love of knowledge, there would be no rich philosophy which has shaped so much of western civilization. Without our love of technology there would be no rampant spread of cell phones made by modern celebrated geniuses such as Steve Jobs. What we love and cherish is NOT merely personal taste, it shapes the geniuses who live in our times. It impacts whether or not their voices, our voices, are heard. What we honor as a society can call to action and inspire greatness or stifle it.

While we may not be able to change the mind of a nation, we can certainly impact the culture of our community, especially the culture of our family. So what do we honor? What do we cherish? What do we inspire in those around us?

While there is a lot more information in the book than this, I felt like these were some fantastic starting points. If you are interested in reading it for yourself, you may be able to pick up the book here for less than $5!

What do you think contributes to being a genius? And what do you think is important to cherish as a society? I would love to know in the comments. Also, let me know if you know any travel adventure books like this! I want to read more! And, thanks so much for stopping by!

What You Need to Know About Traditional Korean Beauty

Hello friends! Today I wanted to take a teatime break to talk with you all about something completely random but pretty fascinating: a traditional side of Korean beauty. 

white ceramic teacup with saucer near two books above gray floral textile

Photo by Thought Catalog on


The words usually evoke thoughts of glistening beauty serums, lip tints, and plastic surgery. Perhaps milk colored foundations and a Kpop group also come to mind but today that’s not what we are talking about. So grab a cup of tea or coffee and let’s talk about old school K-beauty for a second. 

The art form we are talking about today is pretty darn old school, aka, it was popular well over 2,000 years ago! What is it? 

Korean Mother of Pearl Lacquerware! 

Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I till I went to Korea, but this simple art form embodies what traditional Korean beauty is, and offers some great food for thought on how to approach beauty. 

Basically, lacquerware trees have magical sap that people can coat on wood and it makes the wood beautiful and shiny and fairly resistant to fire, water, and acid. These lacquerware trees grow really well in Korea, yay!! People started realizing that the iridescent mother of pearl found in seashells around the Korean coast could be thinly sliced up and made into pictures which could then be inlaid into boxes and coated with a few more coats of lacquerware. While sap and seashells might sound like a kindergarten art project the actual boxes that old-time Koreans decorated were stunning. Around the early Josen Era (15th-16th Century), people started making incredibly elaborate words of art with traditional Korean designs and patterns.

Why are these lacquerware boxes so important? I agree experts who say that these boxes embody what traditional Koran beauty is: “Splendid but not extravagant.” There is a simplicity to the shell, wood, and the sap that isn’t over the top, in fact, it feels incredibly natural. And yet, it the natural iridescence manages to take my breath away every time. There is something incredibly rich about a simple powerful beauty like this which is often overlooked or perhaps even undervalued today. I like studying Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware and thinking about that sort of splendid beauty.

This little mirror is one that my friends gave me before I left. It is a modern rendition of the old traditional patterns which brings me to my second point about why traditional Korean lacquerware was so important. It not only embodies traditional Korean beauty but it also can be found on every day items. Back in the Josen Era you could find this art form on comb boxes or shelves. Artists took every day items and transformed them into the something spectacular. The mirror that my friends gave me is meant to be slipped into my purse and used. Yes, these pieces are luxury pieces, and yes, they are splendid but they are not over the top and they are not simply to look at, they elevate ordinary household objects.

I am fascinated by this idea of the elevating every day objects in the world around us. I love the idea of bringing stunning, breathtaking art into our lives and not keeping it at a distance, not thinking of art as something merely to observe but also as something to incorporate into our daily lives.

I’ve been reading about this art form for hours and feel like there is so much more I would like to say about it, so much more I want to know about it but for now here are the two most important take-aways.

  1. “Splendid but not extravagant” art is an incredible Korean beauty idea that creates rich art.
  2. I hope to not just think of beauty and art as something to observe at a distance but something which can be incorporated to elevate daily life.

Also, fun fact: I have started a Youtube Channel where I am excited to chat about stuff like this. If you like to share a cup of tea with me and listen to me talk about beauty, art, and culture feel free to swing on over and check it out! I would love if you shared in the comments there or below about ways you love to incorporate beauty into every day life!

New Beginnings…

I woke up in bed this morning cocooned in plush blankets and didn’t have that vague disconcerted feeling that sometimes comes from waking up in a new place. The familiar is slowly coming familiar again. I rolled over to find out why my alarm hadn’t got off. I felt slightly panicked; what if my phone died? But the screen lit up and showed 4:15am. I was had beat my alarm by a whole 15 minutes! Does anyone else get that sense of triumph when they beat their alarm clock? And I know 4:15 is kind of painfully early. I used to think that 7am was the earliest I could enjoy waking up but I guess a lot has changed since then!

I rolled out of bed, flicking on my light and silver desk lamp, the more light the better when the sun is still fast asleep and I have to look good on camera! I quickly complete an abbreviated 10-step Korean skin care routine (aka 3 steps) and try to make myself look as put together as possible. Unfortunately, I threw out most my makeup when I came back from Korea (stupid airport luggage restrictions! 50lbs is not enough when you are moving your entire life!) so I only have eyeliner and an incredibly glittering EtudeHouse highlighter but it makes me look awake so I’m happy.

By 5:30am I’m sitting down with my glass of water and flipping open my laptop. It’s time to teach! I still can’t get over how incredible it is. Click on the virtual classroom, adjust my headphones, and say Hello! And just like that, I’m doing what I love! I’m teaching English as a second language to adorable students and expanding my cultural horizons at the same time!

“Let me show you out my window, Teacher!” an incredibly enthusiastic student shouts, and the camera tilts sideways as he jumps to his feet. I find myself staring at a very shaky view of the ceiling and then the wall before the camera finally catches up and I see black outside window that is on one side of their living room. It’s late at night for my little student. The Beijing skyline suddenly lights up across the dark screen. I stare! Here I am sitting half in pajamas with my cup tea, still traveling the world in my own little way. (If anyone wants to know more about VIPKID please ask me and I will tell you anything you need to know about this amazing company!)

When I am finally done with classes and prepping for the next day I usually grab a snack: rice and tuna or a piece of avocado toast and sit back out down at my desk to begin phase two: I pull out stacks of Korean books and try to figure out how to cram as much information as I can into my head during the next couple hours.

What am  I up to? What am I planning in the future? Well, I have lots of plans in the future. But for now… I am doing what I like to call “Building Dreams.” It’s not always easy, or rather, it’s usually not easy. But it is almost always exciting.

So for now, back at home I am building dreams. And so grateful for the opportunity:)


5 Ways to Survive Winter in Minnesota

Since it snowed this year on October 10th, I have decided that we need a plan of action! Some of you may love the snow and the cold weather; if you do I am happy for you but also very confused. 

I struggle to endure anything less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit and am becoming more convinced daily that I am a solar-powered creature who thrives off the bright rays of the nearest star to function at my highest capacity. Surviving winter in a frozen, landlocked habitat is no easy feat for me. The first leaf falls to the ground and I often feel my insides shriveling up, fearful for the seemingly endless winter ahead. 

Disclaimer:I am going to try to not complain anymore this winter. I take full responsibility for being here. I am an adult after all, and that comes with the perks of being able to chose where I live my life. It’s just since I’ve chosen a rather snowy destination, I am coming up with a plan of attack! 

  1. Focus on nutrition. Not so fun fact: I have a lot of stomach problems, many of which seemed to go away in Korea after loads of kimchi, rice and veggies. So I plan on continuing to eat kimchi, rice, and veggies so that I will not have a stomach ache on top of all my other problems. I’m hoping that loads of fresh produce keep me high enough on Vitamin C (and whatever other immune boosting vitamins I need) to keep me safe from being constantly sick and groggy. On top of that, experts assure us that nutrition is more linked to our emotions more than we realize so in order to keep SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) at bay I will eat the best I can, take supplements, and approach holiday baking with the utmost caution. Oh, and I will drink lots of water! action adventure cold freezing
  2. Photo by Terje Sollie on

2.   Find a winter activity I enjoy. After having set the base with nutrition, I hope to expand by enjoying the winter itself. I have been given this advice before. Basically, the idea was that if I really loved snowboarding, maybe I would look forward to the never-ending snowfall. Which is a great idea except that I really am not interested in snowboarding at the moment. I think snowboarders are generally cool people but that’s not quite enough to get me bundled up and on a board. So what can I do? I intend to take snowman and snow fort building this year seriously. When that perfect fluffy wet snow falls I want to be out to enjoy it! Also I do love running… I know it’s not technically a winter sport but may I could make it one… more on that in the next point. 

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Photo by Luka Siemionov on

3. Work out consistently! Summer comes and I feel strong and alive. I love to run and swim and take long walks. Then winter comes and all I want to do is bury myself under a blanket. NOT this winter. I am going to build snowmen and do body weight workouts indoors, maybe even get a gym membership. I have invested in some heavy duty winter running gear and intend to make this beloved hobby of mine— running—a full-blown winter activity! 

4. Get together with people. I know it sounds cheesy but I like to look for warmth and sunshine in the smiles of my friends since there is no warmth or sunshine in the sky at times. While I have locked myself away in the past, unwilling to brave the cold unless I had to, I want to make more of an effort this year to keep up my social life, and I think that is going to make a huge difference. 

5. Invest time in new projects. I have a lot of goals at the moment—training for the next race, studying for the TOPIK (the Korean fluency test), and building up clientele at my online English teaching job, but on top of that I have some pretty fun projects lined up! I want to explore beauty, knowledge, and culture in a deeper and richer way through reading about it, writing about it, and talking about it. So stay posted because hopefully there will be a lot more blog posts popping up around here! And I’m hoping to be creating more than blog posts (Hint: I bought a beautiful DSLR camera and I’m pretty excited!!). More on all these projects in the future but I am hoping that this focus on things I am really passionate about warms up the winter and keeps my energy high!

two pink ballpoint pens on table

Photo by Jess Watters on

So this winter is really a gift! It is going to challenge me to step up my game and level up life! If anyone has suggestions about what they do when winter hits let me know in the comments! I would love to hear it! Thanks for stopping by and happy winter! Whoops, I mean happy fall! 

Not For Lack of Love

“We all left home cuz we were bored on some level, right?”

 I’m sorry, what??

While this may be true for the foreign teacher who said this; I couldn’t relate. Before I left Minnesota for my new life in Korea, I felt like life was pretty great. I had more rich deep friendships than I had time, I was getting in great shape, I was growing as a person, I had my room decorated exactly how I wanted it with my captain America poster on the wall and sea shells cluttering the shelves. I was living the dream life and there is no way “bored” was in ANY way a part of my life.
In fact, I remember one night asking myself why I would leave what was so completely perfect. It didn’t make sense, did it? I tried to imagine emailing the company I had been accepted to, “I’m sorry, I have decided to stay home this year.” It wasn’t right, because as perfect as “now” was, there was that tugging in my heart that knew for certain that Korea was the next step. I’m not trying to argue there were no hardships in my life back home but hardships make you grow and, really, you find them wherever you go. There is no outrunning yourself and the things you need to work on.
The point is sometimes goodbyes are hard even when they are the right thing to do. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I prepare to head back to Minnesota next month. I love my job teaching in Korea and often come home to my apartment happier than when I left. If I’m having a bad day my students can turn it around. They are adorable, hilarious, and I love them! The teachers I work with are phenomenal and always willing to help me and are super encouraging. I visit beautiful new places almost every weekend and have participated in fun races along the beach and under cherry trees. I feel strong, beautiful, and free here. And I am grateful for every second spent on Geoje island, my new home away from home. There is no place I would have rather been.
But I’m leaving.
woman walking on pathway while strolling luggage

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on

When people ask why I say it’s because I miss my family and I do, but it’s more than that. It’s that certainty in my heart that God is calling me to the next chapter, even though I don’t fully understand yet what that is. I guess this post is just my opportunity to say, “I have never left for lack of love.” And I have certainly never left from simple boredom. My life is a series of yeses to the next beautiful adventure which always ends up being right for that point in my life. My life is an ongoing story of new chapters with beautiful places and people who leave an deep impact on my heart long after we say good bye. My life is not always easy but I am grateful for it, more grateful than words can say. My choices are never simple reactions to a dull environment or a situation that’s too hard for me.
black and green desk globe

Photo by Artem Bali on

Today I had my last class with my 4th graders. I didn’t realize it was the last class until the teacher made the announcement to the students on Korean. I presented my little lesson and passed out the candy I had bought for them on a recent trip of mine. Afterwards they asked if they could perform something for me and began to play their recorders, heads bent as they focused on their music. As the sound of Edelweiss filled the room, my eyes filled with tears and I sat there trying to blink them away and stay professional. Pretty soon some of the students were crying, tears were rolling down my face, and even the teacher had red rimmed glassy eyes. Saying goodbye to something you are bored of sounds less painful. As heart wrentching as saying goodbye is, sometimes you still know with absolutely certainty it’s time for the next chapter. It’s time for something new, something also beautiful, probably hard, definitely the right thing for the days ahead.
I love you 사등초! And I will never forget all the amazing memories together! It’s time for the next adventure but as we say good bye remember it is never for lack of love.

photo of four girls wearing school uniform doing hand signs

Photo by u5468 u5eb7 on

Real or True

Image result for king arthur

In this modern era, we are all about the facts. One of my profs was speaking about how frustrating it was when people just try to figure out what stories from history are “real” and what was just “myth.” Sometimes they forget that myths teaches us a lot about the people back then as well. And I’m not saying that unconvering historical facts a bad thing. I’m just trying to point out a big problem: sometimes we forget the difference between real and true.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ~G. K. Chesterton.


Fiction is magic because we can reach people in a unique way. Bringing readers through a really painful  life through character can leave a much bigger impression then if you were to just tell someone that life is painful sometimes and you have to learn how to deal with it. You can inspire hope this way as well. You can show someone like them succeed. You can have them experience what it means to fail. Writers can also say things that people don’t want to hear and if they’re a good writer, people will often listen to them even if they don’t agree. Fiction can be powerful because it can go beyond beyond facts and transport us to a new setting. It can highlight unseen truths through new experiences. Like Chesterton says, a dragon may not be real but watching someone fight one can change your life forever because it points to unseen truths like bravery, honor, selflessness.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether he or she was a real person. It doesn’t matter whether they actually sailed that ship or fought that monster. They can still teach us truths that sometimes get muddled or lost in the reality around us, and they can teach us how to defeat the dragons in our own lives. Related image