April 4, 2013 by travelinggrits
Day two, and I’m staring down the barrel of an IQ test with a slight fear that my hard-earned 4.0 college GPA will be put to shame.
During my winter break from my teaching position, I took on a month-long internship with a Korean professor who previously pursued a Fulbright grant in the States. I worked with a venture company that develops cognitive development programs for children from low income families. My work began with the same diagnostic test used for the children.
Thankfully, the mild bout of test anxiety was resolved by a satisfactory score. The professor then handed me some research articles to read to familiarize myself with the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment Program used by the company. As I sat down with the tall stack of academic literature, I blew the dust from my academic machinery and flexed my intellectual muscles.
In just a few months, I will be lifting the scholastic heavyweights again as I pursue a master’s degree in public health following my return home. Perhaps it will take a little while to get back into my routine, but I don’t think my mental force will have atrophied.
But when I chose to put off graduate school, here were some at first who expressed concern that I would lose momentum. How does it really build off of your background in public relations or further your career goals in the field of public health to take a year off to teach English in South Korea?
I felt a strong sense of purpose in coming to Korea–a gut feeling that the experience would test and train me in new ways outside of the classroom atmosphere. But I couldn’t always adequately define what I stood to gain.
Funny that I had to return to the academic world, as I perused a stack of research papers, to give this power a name.
Loosely paraphrasing Feuerstein’s definition, it is the ability to adapt to new circumstances. It is the ability to creatively solve problems in order to survive, and an openness to new information and experiences.
That’s why, in order to gain this power, his cognitive development program had students completing challenges that didn’t necessarily drill set concepts, but just trained them to think.
This is the power of intelligence.
And it is here, thrown into an entirely new environment and compelled to think on my feet every day, that I am developing this strength.
My undergraduate studies in public relations trained me to speak and write clearly and concisely. But teaching English has made me even more capable of keeping communication simple–out of necessity, a survival skill.
Countless essays, presentations and debates throughout my schooling taught me to analyze situations and defend my opinions. But it is here that a simple question like, “With all those guns, do you feel safe in America?” that I have truly mastered the ability to explain my view and reflect critically on my cultural norms.
As I grew older, an increased academic workload stretched my time thin and conditioned me to sidestep challenges with smart organizational skills. But it is here, where language barriers often throw up unforeseen hurdles, that I’ve attained the flexibility to run the distance.
I am in a constant state of deja vu and divination from the overlap between my journalistic experience, my teaching role and my future in public health; I can feel the sinews forming in my neural network. A classroom game is no fun if the instructions are too confusing for students to understand, just as readers will toss aside the most brilliant piece if the style and ideas are inaccessible for mental play. English grammar and vocabulary must engage students here and now so that knowledge can be quickly recalled in the future; public health messages must be framed to convey their significance even when the consequences or benefits are far away.
Perhaps I’m not slaving over textbooks and cranking out research papers. Perhaps teaching middle schoolers how to phrase a request for permission is inapplicable to the field of public health. Perhaps I haven’t even learned more about quantum physics or politics or history or any other subject that we associate with the most erudite. But I am developing intelligence, now that I know to define it as something more than the pursuit of knowledge through classroom education. It’s not about volume of information–it’s about the athleticism of the mind.