Friday, August 28, 2009

65 Hours a Week

I teach reading and writing at a community college two evenings a week. All of my students are non-native speakers of English. Some of them immigrated to United States more than a few decades ago, some of them have lived here for a few years, and others have just moved to United States a few months ago.

I love my teaching job because I learn more from my students than what they learn from me. Their diligence, attitudes toward life and contentment with what they have teach me gratefulness. My students are hard-working people, many of whom do not get paid more than minimum wage: grocery store cashiers, restaurant servers, chefs, factory workers, construction laborers, nannies, etc.

Antelmo, one of my students, works 65 hours a week in a restaurant's kitchen. With two children and a wife, he says he is just grateful that he can provide for his family. When asked why he decided to come to school instead of resting at home, he says he can't stop growing. He always sits in the front seat and he isn't shy about asking for help for things he does not understand. During the break, he gets a 25-cent coffee from a vending machine so that he could stay awake for the rest of the class. He is serious about learning, and I feel very responsible and also privileged to feed his hunger for learning.

Some men choose to stay home instead of working to provide for his family, because they think they are too important or too higly educated to take 'such lowly jobs', even though those are the only jobs available for them. It's a pretty common phenomenon, especially, among first generation Korean American immigrant families. Their pride and need for face-saving disable them as a provider for his own family, which drives their wives out to workplace. This often creates tension and dysfunction in their marriage and in the lives of their children.

1 Timothy 5:8 says, 'If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever'. I don't know if Antelmo knows God, but in Antelmo, I see the strength of a man who wants to provide for his family. I also see the passion for life in Antelmo. He refuses to settle down for mere surviving, but he is preparing himself for a season to thrive.