Eight Wary, Soon-to-be-Contented Travelers

Mike Picklesimer

Senior Pastor at Sidney United Christian Church in Sidney, Illinois

2012 Sejong Trip to Korea Scholarship Recipient

 

As I sit comfortably gazing out my window, my mind travels back in time and I find myself reliving the experiences of eight weary Midwestern travelers on their way to a distant land. The excitement we had felt only hours before in the St. Louis airport turned to frustration and anxiety when for reasons beyond our control we missed our connecting international flight to Korea. As a result, we were faced with a new and challenging life adventure. The names of my fellow travelers were Jacob, Paige, Jennifer, Aaron, Libby, Ellen, and Anne.

I imagine there are less desirable places in the world to be stranded than at New York's JFK airport. In Stephen King's horror story The Langoliers, passengers on a plane awake to find that most of their fellow travelers have vanished. Then they must try to figure out what has happened to them and where in the world they are.

I'm happy to report that no one in our group vanished except for Jacob who, by the luck of the draw, was allowed to board two days ahead of the rest of us. And how did Paige, the youngest member of our group, mysteriously disappear from the standby list? What matters is that her name reappeared, and after hours of waiting in line and playing hide-and-seek with our baggage, everyone of us eventually made it to Korea safe and sound. l must compliment my daughter Ellen for her take-charge attitude and resolve. Through her perseverance, we obtained hotel vouchers as compensation for our troubles and slept comfortably in New York.

Reflecting on our time in Korea, I now say, "So what if we arrived a few days late!” Being temporarily separated from the larger group gave us extra time to bond with each other. And we were sincerely touched to find the larger group eagerly anticipating our arrival as though they too had been incomplete.

Regardless of where we live in the world, we are never too old or too isolated to meet new people, make new friends, and l earn about other cultures. John Maxwell advised in his book Winning with People, "If you have a narrow view of people, go places you have never gone, meet the kind of people you do not know, and do things you have never done before:'

The Korea trip inspired me with our shared humanity and interest in each other.

The opportunity Sejong offer individuals to connect cross-culturally with others are a wonderful educational experience. It's not every day that an American pastor gets to participate in a traditional Korean wedding or a coming-of-age ceremony. And how many people do you know who have walked the grounds of an ancient Buddhist temple where monks have lived for thousands of years? As a Christian minister, I appreciate the monks' dedication and commitment. Regardless of our differences we do share one philosophical idea: "The unexamined life is not worth living"

I wish I had said something like that when the Zen Master asked, "Do you have any insight to offer?" My first response was that my muscles were sore from sitting in one position. I blame this partly on my new friend Brian who had made me laugh uncontrollably a few days earlier with his "my legs have gone numb!"jokes. Fortunately the Zen Master gave me another opportunity to respond, so I thanked him for his hospitality and added "You have Buddha, butt have Christ." He respectfully bowed and I returned the gesture. It would be wonderful to sit privately with this man and talk about what matters most in Iife. lt's not likely we'd come to the same conclusion, but still, what an experience it would be.

While we were in Korea, my daughters and I were able to spend time with our friends Professor NaeEung Lee, who teaches materials science and engineering at Sungkyunkwan University and his wife, Professor Myung Jin Kim who teaches at Sadi Samsung Art and Design Institute. It seems so long ago when my wife Phyllis and Myung first met at the University of Illinois. I am grateful to Nae and Myungfor making us feel as though we were family. Thanks also to Mrs. Jo and Mrs. Park for coordinating our visits and arranging these remarkable educational experiences.

As I've written this essay and relived our journey, something mysterious has happened. I now remember the contented voyagers at journey's end. We had made our way to a distant land where we gained a better understanding of its people, its culture, lifestyle, customs and traditions. We had also made new friends both at home and abroad.

One of us discovered a greater potential to lead; another learned how to cope with unfamiliar circumstances. One faced his uncertainty while another shared his discovery. One grew in self-esteem with her friend close by, and one ate food that she said she'd never try. As for me I discovered again that contentment isn't a product of our external circumstances that comes from inside of us.

Thanks for a wonderful trip!