The “Power” of Korea Blog by: Lesly Levy
My excitement began about a week before my departure. Prior to that, I was far too busy to even give my trip a second thought, but all of a sudden it hit me – wow, I was flying half way around the world as a Regional Representative for Power Pilates and now, an International Teacher Trainer. This trip marked the first time I’d fly internationally without my husband and the longest we have ever been apart. Yet for me, just like at Apogee Wellness, it is all about the teaching, bringing Power to a broader spectrum, and about the start of something new. . .
In early July, I started to receive emails from the Power Pilates trained instructor Mimi, who although is currently living in New Jersey, is from Korea and speaks fluent Korean. Mimi was to be my interpreter and her emails reinforced my position and the importance that I was bringing to Seoul. Little by little, we firmed up our plans. Mikki and her co-studio owners, Anna and Eunjung were anxiously awaiting our arrival and my guidance in opening Korea’s first Power Pilates Regional Training Center in their capital of Seoul. My job was three fold – to teach the Beginner Mat and 12 Day Intensive Comprehensive to their group of hopeful students, to help the owners set up the studio as a Regional Training Center, and to guide Mikki and Mimi through the process of learning to become Power Pilates Teacher Trainers. Would my 19 day trip give me enough time?
I was delivered to JFK International Airport on July 11th by my tearful and worried 25 year old daughter, and into the open arms of smiling Mimi. As my husband and son had to both work that day, it was my daughter Samantha’s job to drive me to the airport. That’s when it truly hit her – her mom was in fact traveling half way around the world to Asia and would be gone for nearly 3 weeks. (In that moment, I was so praying that SKYPE would work!) We said our tearful goodbyes and Mimi assured my daughter that she would take good care of me and she did just that! I was immediately whisked off to check in where Mimi’s husband was patiently waiting with our many bags. I was never one to travel light, but wow I was even topped by Mimi and her “3” huge 50 pound each bags plus her carry-on. We had just enough time to have a quick cup of coffee (which I can never refuse), before going through security, heading for the gate and settling in for our 14 hour and change, long flight. After chatting away for the first 6 hours of our trip and tasting my first Bimbimbap (a signature Korean dish), I luckily settled in for a 5 hour nap. Refreshed and ready to go, we arrived in Korea at 4 in the afternoon. Much to my surprise, unlike the melting pot of New York City, Korea was a place where I was the only foreigner. Strangely enough – I felt very at home.
Hotel Sunshine, my home for the next 18 nights and days proved to be simple and although a bit smoky, it was very clean, comfortable, and within a short walking distance to the studio. Mikki, who picked me up from the airport, helped me check in. She also helped me secure a non-smoking room (no non-smoking floors at this hotel) and then took me out to enjoy my first Asian dining experience in Korea where I happily traded my American fork and knife for chopsticks. Thanks to my love of sushi, I am actually pretty accomplished at using chopsticks. Sushi and chopsticks however, are where the dining familiarities ended.
While in Korea, I ate sushi, octopus (cooked and raw), Bimbimbap (one of my favorite dishes), truly traditional style large dumplings, BBQ, cold noodles, tofu and rice soups, and Korean pizza. At these meals, I took my shoes off and sat on the floor around a table, where flames and cooking bowls where set into the table as part of the amazingly and wonderful experience. Every meal comes with a multitude of side dishes – kimchi being the most common. Korean food is typically pretty spicy, but boy that dish really packed a punch and left me filling my chopsticks with rice. (I gained a renewed respect for Anna Gu, one of the studio owners while watching her eat large bites of this dish without batting or watering an eye!) For breakfast, I was in my comfort zone with eggs and toast, or a bagel and cream cheese – and yes, of course, my ever beloved coffee. I would have to be honest and say that all in all, breakfast proved to be my least favorite and most uneventful meal of the day.
After dinner on the first evening in Korea, Mikki and I walked to the studio where I was amazed to not see one single garbage can on the street or any familiar graffiti. When I later asked about the garbage cans, Mimi explained that in Korea you have to purchases specific bags for waste and that each area had its own color code. The bags are very expensive, and you have to dispose of your garbage in your home or office. I learned that this is why the streets are incredibly clean (I foolishly wonder if this could be done in New York?). A few blocks into our walk, I was confronted by a beautiful building boasting a very prominent sign on the third floor that said “New York Power Pilates”. I never felt more honored to be a Power Pilates Teacher Trainer than at that moment. Pilates is a very popular practice in Korea, but this is the first true Power studio there. Mikki spoke proudly of her training years ago in New York and reminded me that I was one of the Teacher Trainers who taught her. She told me that I was one of the Teacher Trainers that she had specifically requested. Wow – I was speechless. I re-assured her that I would do the best job possible for her and that her teachers in training would gain a solid understanding of the Power Pilates method as well as the art of how to teach. The studio proved to be as lovely as those who own it. With Joe’s photos on the walls, Basil’s familiar and exceptional equipment, the Power Pilates manuals and a Starbucks nearby, I set off on my journey with one goal in mind – to get everything I had to accomplish all done in 15 days . . . and to teach it well.
I spent the first three days teaching the Beginner Mat program. I had 7 students and as always, I spent the first evening working on memorizing their names. Okay, so no “Susans” or “Karens”, but onward I went. My students were: Youn Ho, Gia, Esther, Euna, Anna, Moon Sung, and Simona. Simona from Sicily by way of New Zealand was in fact my only truly English speaking student. Mimi, my interpreter, and I soon got into a wonderful rhythm – I spoke, she spoke, the students asked questions to me through her, I answered to them through her and “boy do I hope I get all of my syllabus in”. As worried as I was about completing everything on my syllabus, I actually had little trouble. I attribute this to the focus and preparedness of the students. They were respectful, attentive and focused and although serious about the work, they didn’t take themselves too seriously. They accepted my instruction as well as my feedback like sponges. That, coupled with Mimi’s interpreting skills, my passion, experience and energy (I have been compared to one who has the energy of three), fostered an environment that was positive, lively and yes, “fun”. On evening two of the Beginner Mat, my younger students insisted on taking “Lesly Teacher” out for dinner. They heard I was a fan of sushi so off we went into the forever humid, rainy air to the same Japanese restaurant that Mikki and I went to the on first night of my visit. I don’t think that any of us knew what we were eating and although conversation was a bit strained (where was Mimi then?), it was one of the most memorable nights of my trip to Korea.
Within the blink of an eye, we entered into the 12 day. Here, I had 7 students as well: Anna and Eunjung (2 of the studio owners), Gia, Esther, Euna, Simona, and Yoojin. Anna, Eunjung and Simona over time banded together as my three Bridge students. For them, the intensive was very appropriately named as they were to test-out with me on the last day. As the days wore on, so did the pressure but nonetheless they remained as focused and compassionate with each other as ever. Barring the brief stomachache that passed from Ana to Mimi to Esther to Eunjung, everyone continued to teach, learn, laugh, smile, eat and, of course, drink coffee for the next 12 days. By day 6, Mikki’s fingers had to be numb as she sat quietly like a fly on a wall taking her many pages of notes on my teaching.
I would periodically wonder how I would be able to complete my syllabus in the time allotted (slow careful wording and translation does take up more time), yet with small adjustments and a few extra minutes here and there, we succeeded. During the weekdays, we would begin at 5pm and finish at 11pm (which was actually morning for me in New York and as such, worked well). On Saturdays, the program started mid-day and went into early evening. Without a complaint from anyone, we worked our time to its fullest. With only a half hour for dinner and 10-15 minutes extra most nights to practice more and only one additional hour added to the program, we were able to (with interpretation time and all), get through the syllabus . . . and very thoroughly I have to say. (We don’t call it the “Intensive” for nothing).
On my one day off, Mikki and Mimi took me “sighting”. We went to the “DMZ” (the Demilitarized Zone – the border of South and North Korea). Neither Mikki nor Mimi had ever gone there and I was their excuse to see it. We walked through infiltration tunnels with Mimi and I hitting our heads (thank goodness for hardhats) and I took photos from way closer than I was allowed to. We then went to an artist’s Heaven – a spot where art museums and cafes lined the roads. After dining there, we returned to Seoul at 9pm after the very full and wonderful day.
I also took a tour myself (a half day tour from my hotel), to a Buddhist Temple, a Palace, and of course to a Ginseng Museum where I purchased my one gift for myself – Korean Ginseng. Other “sightings” I had were to a BBQ lunch and spa with Anna and to a Korean Street-market with Mimi and Simona. Both proved to be true Korean experiences. The street market was loaded with bargains and small kiosks where the real estate is ridiculously expensive. There were even small food stations amidst the closed in, cramped quarters of the underground imported section where Korean women were cooking items like dumplings and cold noodle soup. As busy as the market was, I was still able to score some great Korean made gifts to bring back to the states. Mimi and two of her friends also took me out to another wonderful Greenwich Village-like area for more shopping and eating. (Still no graffiti or garbage there either –actually, high school age girls there were singing about how to keep the public restrooms clean!) Also, I failed to mention that there is no tipping in Korea! I learned this when leaving a restaurant earlier in my stay and the waitress ran after me in the street with the money I had left on the table!
Even though my schedule was quite full, by day three I was beginning to miss my family. Thanks to the help of one of my instructors who set me up with Skype before I left, even I (a computer illiterate), could keep in touch very easily. Almost every day I spoke to someone back home either via Skype, email or cell phone. My daughter and I Skyped daily, twice a day. My three weeks in Korea flew by and being able to communicate with those back at home was what helped me carry on my tasks with clarity and focus.
All in all, it really was the teaching that was the most satisfying. Mimi wanted to make me happy on my trip to Korea, and she asked the New York office what I like to do. After a lot of thought, they all seemed to be in agreement – “Lesly likes to teach”. I have to say, they are right about that! I got as much as I gave this time around, possibly even more. The experience that I had with the students and the culture is one that I will cherish forever and remember for as long as I live. On our last day, in our last few moments, I told them what an honor and privilege it was to be part of their process. I say this to all of the apprentices I teach at the end of each weekend, but never did my words ring more true. With all of the challenges of our language and cultural differences, it is clear that Pilates transcended all of that. As my time there was ended and tears were flowed, I left confident that I achieved my goal. I taught them how to see the body in front of them, to teach with clarity, to sing the words of the Power Pilates method, and to make their students dance.
I miss my Korean family. Since returning to the States, I have already received four emails from my students back in Korea. I look forward to our continued communication and hearing about the progress they are making. With any luck, I will see them again in the near future . . . maybe next time in New York!
Until then, Bae Nukko Ol-ligo!
PMA_CPT, Senior Teacher Trainer for Power Pilates and VBARRE as well as former owner of Mindful Moves Pilates Center and current Director of Pilates and Pilates Programming for Apogee, has been professionally instructing within the fitness field for over 22 years. Lesly brings with her a vast knowledge of Anatomy, Kinesiology, injuries, injury prevention. Lesly obtained her first Pilates certificate from the PhysicalMind Institute, her second from Power Pilates and is Gold Certified with the PMA. She has presented at both ECA and PMA as well as is a regular presenter at Power Conferences in NYC and has traveled both within the US as well as internationally to teach Pilates Training Courses. Lesly is an ACE certified personal trainer (1992) and ACE Group fitness instructor (1993) with certifications from Mad Dog Spin, Yogafit, Indo Row, TRX, VBARRE and Beyond Barre and specialties of recognition in perinatal fitness. Lesly is a wife and mother of 2. In her spare time, enjoys skiing, going to the theatre and reading.