What the 7-day black and white photo challenge was really about

I have mixed feelings about social media photo challenges. I appreciate the connection the person who tags me is making, and the challenges are a creative way to step out of the mundaneness of daily life. But they’re also a bit off-putting. I don’t like bothering people by tagging them, and I also have a hard time following the rules that usually come along with each challenge. It’s definitely an odd social phenomenon: creating connection and yet, creating a slight-annoyance.

I decided to take part in the 7-day black and white photo challenge (no words. no explanations… this is what irked my inner rebel) for two reasons: I think black and white photography is a worthy challenge (you need to find the right color contrast or the shot won’t have much impact), and the particular seven days this challenge fell on marked a major transition in my life that I wanted to chronicle.

A transition happens when one experience ends and another begins. It can be an exciting time, but it can also be intimidating or overwhelming. Transitions of varying degrees happen many times over the course of our lives. They can mark events such as a birth or death, and they can also mark events such as changing classrooms or educational communities – a topic I’ve written about in the past (see: transitions and group dynamics).  Of course, the magnitude of the impact isn’t determined by the event itself but by the person experiencing it. There is really no big or small transition. They are all worthy of acknowledgement and honoring. By honoring the transition we create space for the possibilities ahead, and we send appreciation to the experience we are letting go of.

At the end of these seven days, my transition point would look like this: I’d have started maternity leave knowing I wouldn’t return to the university I’d been teaching at for the past eight years; I’d have moved out of the apartment that saved me from commuting from our home in the countryside; and of course what would eventually greet me on the other end of all this is the uncharted world of parenthood.

So abiding by the rebel within, and my everlasting appreciation for transitions, here is my explanation of the pictures I took during those seven days.

Day 1 – Mother Nature Soothes

I took this picture at the end of our Sunday walk. At the start of the walk, I’d been feeling overwhelmed thinking of everything ahead. I had midterms to correct, final classes to teach, professors to guide as they took over my classes, a doctor’s appointment to go to, an apartment to move out of, a big baby bump to carry… While I knew it wasn’t true, it felt like I had to take care of it all then and there. But there’s nothing like a walk with Samsoon in the fresh autumn air to bust that all out of my head.

Since I’ve been pregnant, Samsoon seems to look back at me more often when she’s walking ahead. Maybe she feels my increasingly slower pace. She seems to show a loving concern for me that I never noticed before. She recently heard me slip on the gravel — thankfully I didn’t fall — and then rushed over, looked at me, and licked my hand. The combination of this sweetness and the sun shining on the falling leaves shifts my mood at the end of those walks.

Day 2 – The Waiting Room

I took this in the doctor’s waiting room during one of our now weekly Monday visits. It’s crunch time. The baby is shortly on its way, and doctor’s visits are becoming a bit tenser.

Day 3 – My Last Office Lunch

This was the last time I bought my office lunch chamchi (tuna) kimbap at my usual kimbap place. The owner always greeted me with a smile. The same goes for the owner of the Paris Baguette where I got my morning coffee. I’d like for them to know how they always set a positive tone for my day.

Day 4 – Student Appreciation

During the final moments of my last class, I received this “rolling paper” from my students. It was filled with words of support for the coming birth, and appreciation for the two years I had been their professor. They even gave me suggestions for naming the baby (still don’t have a name yet). It was hard to hold back the tears. So I didn’t. I couldn’t have finished my time at the university on a more positive note.

Day 5 – End of an Era

No more walking up and down these ramps to get to and from class.

Day 6 – Silent Celebration

The midterms are corrected and handed in. I’ve passed the baton to the professors who will replace me during my maternity leave. I’ve said goodbye to my students. We’ve moved out of my apartment. It’s been a full week to add on to my full belly. It’s time to rest.

Day 7 – On the Last Day the Dream Begins

Ceramic whales by Seo Byongchan

And like that, I take the first steps into a new life. A life that was first hinted to me nine months ago in a taemong (태몽) / conception dream. Many Koreans believe that before a woman becomes pregnant, she, or someone close to her, will have a vivid dream of either an animal, fruit, or other significant objects. The subject of the dream is supposed to predict the personality or the gender — or rather, genitalia — of the baby.

Since this isn’t part of my culture, I wasn’t really looking for a taemong, but one morning I remembered the comforting dream I had of a blue whale. I was on the deck of a large ship, enjoying the salty air and wind in my hair. Then all of a sudden half the body of a huge blue whale emerges, turned so that it’s looking at me with its one eye. We gaze at each other and have a gentle yet silent exchange. Nothing is said, but all is known. And then it submerges quietly into the depths of the ocean.

This was our baby’s taemong. We have yet to know what this will mean for our child’s personality, but the whale seems to be connected to wisdom, strength, and peaceful communication. Sounds good to me!

What transitions have you gone through lately and how have you honored them? Share your experience in the comments below, or send me an email by subscribing HERE.

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Connecting, Reconnecting, and Disconnecting in 2015

2015 was the year I learned that the path I have taken so far is leading me in a new direction. The fog is still too thick to see where it leads, but I’m directed by the voice I hear beyond it all. I’m working on trusting this voice, and I realize that to trust it, I need to understand its language. It is a language I once knew but set aside to make room for languages that offered safer passages. This voice is my Soul, my Inner Teacher, my True Self.

My desire to follow this path is very strong, and so I’ll use Throwing Back Tokens to light the way. This means I’ll write about topics that may seem unrelated to teaching. But as a wise friend told me recently, everything that is important to a teacher influences her teaching. If something feeds your heart and mind, it feeds what you do.

But before I start moving forward, my first entry of 2016 will be about looking back on the first part of 2015 to see where the path began to veer.

Connecting in the Beginning

The beginning of 2015 was all about connection, reconnection, and disconnection: connection and reconnection with friends and family, and disconnection with the work I had done for the previous 5 years.

After 6 years of being married, and never having had a wedding, Byongchan and I decided it was time to celebrate our connection by taking wedding pictures. It was fun to be glamorous for a day, and to share this joy with Byongchan and our family.

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Another significant moment included reconnecting with Kristina Eisenhower (a.k.a. the fabulous Krisellaneous), which now looking back, was probably when the path started appearing. This is bound to happen when you spend the night dreaming about what lights you up. Kristina is the queen of manifesting such dreams. Have you checked out her Experience Expedition yet? If not, please do.

This was also when I finally met Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe and Buddy the Frog for the first time. Juan’s enthusiasm for teaching from his heart to the heart of his students is contagious. He sparked within me a desire to keep teaching with meaning and love at the forefront.

What I didn’t know then was that the group of teachers Juan and Buddy met would be the last group in our teacher-training program. A few weeks later, during my visit home to Nova Scotia, I found out the Department of Education pulled funding, and that on my return, I’d have to create a new program. But before all this, it was time to play.

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The first stop during my visit back to Nova Scotia for the first in three years involved a Vanity Fair Hollywood cover shoot of the Thériault ladies. Ahh, it felt good to be back to the familiar silliness. We missed my sister, Louisette, but she was off accomplishing the exciting task of becoming a West Jet flight attendant. Go Lou!

IMG_1639I reconnected with dear old friends and and met their new additions (new to me at least). There’s no way I could have prepared for the heart jolt I’d get when their little faces greeted me at the door. Love is a wonderful mystery.

IMG_1790My visit home offered many types of soul food, one being pape’s famous seafood chowder. Yum! What was most fun about this was that pape could enjoy it with us without worrying about an allergic reaction. Lobster for everyone!

IMG_1714The other type of soul food of course was rappie pie. This picture recalls the last one I shared with n’oncle Gilles, my father’s brother. I feel very grateful this was the year I went home as we never could have predicted that a few months later he would pass away.

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And finally a road trip to Florida with my parents marked the end of my visit before my return to a new unknown in Korea. Seeing my parents’ youthful side come out as we danced the night away, traveled to manatee reserves, and relaxed on the beach is a memory I’ll always cherish.

Back to Korea

Once back to Korea, my colleague and I brainstormed ways we could develop a teacher-training program for pre-service teachers at Keimyung. After a few weeks of negotiating with the awesome folks at SIT Graduate Institute and World Learning (thank you Kevin and Lois!), we had the beginnings of what we’d call the KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Certificate.

From March until July, I worked on developing the program. While I learned a lot about what goes into creating such a course, I look back and see this as the time my soul started to speak up. My interests started to shift, or perhaps, amplify. Not being in the classroom during these months, I had the space to explore other avenues that light me up while listening to the podcasts of entrepreneurs I admire, reading the work of inspiring spiritual teachers, as well as engaging in soulful contemplation and creative expression. The series “Teachers Talking About Self-compassion” was born out of this space.

This time was also a sweet opportunity to reconnect with Byongchan and my home life.

So when we ran our the first TESOL certificate course from July to August, I sensed something was different. I wasn’t the same person who had started the creative process back in March.

The course, although small with only 6 participants, was a success. Everyone, trainers (thank you Robb and Jon!) and participants alike, learned a great deal about what it means to teach and learn and grow.  We were all intellectually, experientially, and skillfully stretched that summer.

But then things changed once again.

I’ll end my reflection for now. I’m way over my preferred word limit, and my inner critic is starting to make fun of my self-involvement.

As I write, I also notice many new insights arising. I need a little space to digest it all. I am grateful for this chance to throw back a few tokens once again. I forget how blogging offers refuge.

Turning Points & Right-handed Blogging with @AnnLoseva

Can you describe an important turning point in your life?

This is one of my favourite questions to ask, but it isn’t always a pleasant question to answer. It may require letting go of some barriers. It may require trusting the listener. And so, I finally sit here at my blog — the barriers were safely in position for 6 months — contemplating this trust. I want to provide a response because I want to record this moment. It was a turning point after all, and turning points are pivotal parts of one’s narrative.

6 months ago, right after I finished observing my last lesson of the semester, my body spoke loud and clear. It cramped up and it was sweaty when there was no logical reason. I felt dizzy and couldn’t breathe well. My body was asking me to do what my mind didn’t have the language to articulate: to take care of myself (body, mind, and spirit).

I don’t feel ready to write about the details of what lead to this turning point, but I am excited to share what came out of it.

I’ve been getting more sleep; I’ve been exercising more; I’ve been eating better; I’ve been meditating regularly; I’ve been turning off my computer; I’ve been letting go of the expectations I usually put on myself.

But the most exciting thing is this — I am in the midst of developing the curriculum I have always wanted to create: a curriculum based on helping teachers connect to their inner lives. I began the semester with language lessons based on helping teachers develop their emotional literacy (looking at feelings and needs vocabulary from a variety of perspectives and language skills, namely reading, and writing.) My goal here is to give them the time and space to connect to the challenges and celebrations of the teacher’s life, while also helping them develop their language skills. Six weeks into the semester, and I know I am on the right track. This feeds my soul in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

A turning point turns into another.

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I am grateful to Anna Loseva for coming to visit me this weekend, and for the right-handed blog party that ensued. Without her, I’m sure that this post would have been written much later.  This was my first time blogging with someone, and also my first time pressing publish without being totally satisfied with what I’ve written. Another turning point perhaps?

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Finding My Voice via Reflective Blogging

When I think back on when I started blogging, I am amazed at the changes I’ve gone through. It’s hard to pinpoint if I changed because of my blog, or if I changed along my blog. No matter what the case may be, I’ve changed.

Blogging helped me create my own voice. When I started teaching, like many teachers, I had low self-confidence. I wasn’t satisfied with my teaching, and I knew I could be a better teacher. As soon as I was introduced to the process of reflective teaching, I knew this was a remedy for my low self-esteem.

When I reflected, I gained courage. I realized that if an activity didn’t go well, I could try it out another time, and at that time it probably would get better. I knew this because I learned from experience. If I reflected, made an action plan, and tried that new plan, it was almost always a success.

I transposed this reflective process from private Word documents on my computer, into a public blog. The benefit of reflective blogging is that I had an audience to share my ideas and questions with. I could bounce around ideas with other teachers, whereas if I simply saved files on my MacBook, I would have been my only resource. Although I believe that the self is the most crucial resource in the reflective process, I also know the strength of reflecting in community.

Via reflection, I went from being a teacher concerned with low self-confidence to a teacher firm in her beliefs – not too firm to inhibit the natural process of change. If you look at my blog’s trajectory, to the amount of posts I wrote, and the content of those posts, you see a clear picture of that change. But the change didn’t come with ease.

At first, I was a fresh and excited reflective teacher eager to improve at her new job as a conversation teacher at Keimyung University. During this time, I wrote rigorous, in depth reflections. I couldn’t simply look at a small, significant episode that happened during a lesson. I had to examine the whole lesson.

Then when I moved into teacher training, the frequency of my posts dropped dramatically. My confidence wavered, and I wasn’t willing to let my vulnerability shine through. I was having huge doubts about my position as a teacher educator and couldn’t bear the idea of people seeing my weaknesses. Instead of writing, I just posted pictures, or my participants’ work.

This was where the blog as a medium for reflection fell short. Blogging is public,and I was in a bind. I wanted to blog because I needed a reflective community, but I also was afraid of being seen and judged.

Then something shifted. I realized I probably wasn’t the only teacher who felt weak and vulnerable. I also realized that if I wrote from a place of authenticity, intention and responsibility (professionalism), then no matter what anyone would say to me, I wouldn’t break. I knew that from this space I could take any comment that came my way.

Tonight I am still planning what I’ll say during my presentation, Blogging: Creative Interaction (scroll down to see my abstract), next Saturday. I’ve been feeling concerned about what I might say and how I might say it. Luckily my blog has saved me again. This entry just helped me find my voice. This voice has seen a lot of change, and realizes she is not alone. It’s time to share my voice.

Blogging: Creative Interaction

We all know the benefits of reflective inquiry: it brings clarity to our teaching practice and helps us define our professional goals. But how many of us really practice reflective teaching? At the end of a long week, the thought of writing a lesson analysis onto a stark white piece of paper, or a blank Word document can seem like an uninspiring task.

This is why the presenter began blogging. In the blogosphere, the canvas for reflection is colorful. The possibilities for creative interaction range from meaningful play with photography and video, to passionate personal dialogues with readers. It is through this multimedia, and through peer sharing that the presenter has been able to increase her teaching confidence, as well as develop a clearer vision of her pedagogical ambitions.

The speaker will present the evolution of her blog (throwingbacktokens.com), and how blogging can impact the audience’s reflective practice. The presenter would love to see her audience leaving her presentation with the idea that the reflective blogging community may be also be a circle they would like to join.