November 20, 2017
The morning after the American Music Awards, I decided to check out the previous night’s performances…especially after seeing a group that I knew nothing about trending on twitter.
That group was BTS.
I remember being alarmed at how amazing they were while being simultaneously aware that they were not singing in English and that awareness created a mental barrier that would soon come crashing down.
I watched their performance video multiple times and then clicked other videos as YouTube suggested. Eventually I found my way to “fan chants”, “fan cams” and YouTube reactions.
There was an entire world of content on YouTube that I didn’t even know existed.
I practiced and learned each member by name and face. I searched for news, followed their social channels and downloaded every single album on Apple Music. (I have a BTS drive home playlist that perfectly frames my 3 hour drive)
Their story of struggle from pre-debut to their global star status was intriguing and my new belief in the talents of these 7 young men that I could not understand, had completely changed the way that I interacted not just with entertainment but in my learning of culture and language.
I have never been pushed to learn any language other than English. I’ve traveled internationally but only to countries where English is spoken. I participate in global PLNs but only in English.
Heck, I’m even active in the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) but even those interactions are 95% American and in English.
Prior to BTS, I’ve only listened to English speaking artist and watched only American television and film.
What more did I need other than Beyoncé, Blackish, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones?
Turns out…a lot!
I was comfortable in my English only life…dealing with issues largely pertaining to western culture but upon realizing that I was living in a self-created barrier of the mind, I became extremely uncomfortable and obviously I needed to change this.
As a connected educator, I’ve absolutely interacted with peers internationally, but I never even tried meeting them where they were…in their language. I did, however, fully expect them to conform to me…in English.
It’s weird because I taught students who did not speak English, embraced and communicated in their language as much as possible…but it was never under the premise that I would become fluent in theirs. I knew that eventually our broken communication would lead them back to where I was most comfortable…in English.
I started learning Hangul, the Korean alphabet, about 5 months ago and have also embraced learning about a culture that is as exceptionally beautiful as the history that frames it. (I’m enrolled in an online course offered through a University that also teaches history simultaneous to language)
2 weeks ago, it occurred to me one day on Facebook that I could read the name of a Korean educator who happens to be in one of my global committees. I read his name as written in his language and said it aloud…for the first time. (It’s honestly a shame that it took this long and one of my greatest regrets. I apologized to him because clearly I needed to.)
BTS happened to come into my life during a time of personal reflection. I was on a break from my “traveling educator” life and perhaps that played a role in me being able to philosophically look at myself through the lens of their music, stories and my desire to listen and hear.
I believe that we all have some form of barriers or biases. What I hope is that as we encounter them, there is some version of a “BTS” to push those limits away for all who need it.
I’m still learning and growing.
The difference is that my world is no longer black and white. It’s much larger, many more colors and much more in depth.
This is bigger than language alone. This is about connecting to and embracing a world of stories that I didn’t even know existed.
(I once proclaimed that I would know Korean in a year. Learning a new language is hard and as far as I’ve come, I know that I have a long way to go but I am so excited to embrace this journey)