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March 8, 2013 / A Mindful Traveler

“The Joy of Less”: Perspectives From Korea

My 10th grade students began studying memoirs today.  During the seven week unit, which is bisected by their weeklong trip to Italy, they will be reading personal essays as mentor texts to help them develop their own work.  Over the course of the unit they will first prepare a portfolio and then choose one piece to refine into a personal essay.  By law, international schools in Korea may only enroll as students the children of foreign nationals and Koreans who have spent at least three years abroad.  All of my students fit into the latter category.  Thus, they have each both experienced expat life individually and share this as a collective reference point.

We began today’s class by reading Pico Iyer’s essay “The Joy of Less.”  It tells of Iyer’s decision to leave a materially rewarding journalistic career in New York for a simpler and more uncertain life on the outskirts of Kyoto.  Put another way, it’s a modern-day Walden in miniature. Iyer even self-consciously mentions that freedom from the distractions of technology and the modern world has afforded him the opportunity to reread Thoreau’s masterpiece.  After we read the essay, I asked my students to identify any parallels they noticed between their lives and Iyer’s.  As South Korea is the most wired country on earth and my students regard our school’s policy against phone use during class as a major inconvenience, I also gave them the option to completely disagree with Iyer.

“This reminds me of Korea,” one student began, surprising everyone in the room.  “Everything moves so fast and there’s so much pressure, especially with education.”  Heads turned.  “I used to live in Canada, that was kind of like Kyoto.  In a way, I want to move back.”  I commend him for reversing traditional East-West stereotypes.  My experience is consistent with his.  Compared to Seoul, New York feels quiet and slow-moving.  (Technology there also feels a few years behind.)

I asked another student, who recently moved back to Korea from India, to share her perspective.  “At my old school, we used to take trips to the countryside.  There was no electricity there.  For the first couple of days I hated it, but after a while I realized I had more time to do things, and I was really happy.”  I queried whether the villages where she stayed really had no electricity whatsoever.  “Well, not all the time,” she clarified,  “you couldn’t count on your phone, or computer, or the internet working though.”

I left class impressed by my students’ perspectives and also with a new understanding of the way that our possessions possess us.  Maybe it’s not our feelings of attachment that keep us bound to them, but rather our reliance upon them.

Beware of Your Valuable Possessions

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4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Won Seok Chung / Mar 8 2013 1:47 pm

    So inspiring… Thanks for sharing, Owen. This really helps me with my daily struggle at work and puts things at new perspectives

  2. A Mindful Traveler / Mar 8 2013 1:49 pm

    Thank you so much for your kind words Won! I’m honored that you find my blog helpful 🙂

  3. Ella / Mar 9 2013 7:01 pm

    “Beware of your valuable possessions” – love it!
    Thank you
    🙂

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