Since Sunday morning, I’ve been so completely overwhelmed. In some ways, I’ve been overwhelmed in a bad way – lots of Korean, and teaching, and strange foods and new experiences and unknown places. But more than anything, I’ve been overwhelmed by God’s provision. Last night I met up with Nia, an English teacher from California who’s been here for a year. I had been talking with her on the Gyeongju Foreigners facebook group (ahh, the wonders of modern technology!), and we agreed to meet up last night so she could show me around. She took me to this great Russian restaurant, and introduced me to a few other foreigners living in the area. She showed me where the downtown area was, and the direction of the English-speaking church (to which I have since been given very exact directions, woohoo!! I’m so excited about Sunday!), and showed me where a dance studio is, and told me how to find more Korean classes at the University in Gyeongju, and told me about the festivals that go on in Gyeongju, and where all the great hotspots are (both foreign and Korean), and basically made me feel so taken care of that I could cry.
And she’s not the only one. There’s a softball game going on this weekend that another American invited me to, and she even offered to meet me by my house and take a taxi with me to the location. Someone else – another dancer, woohoo!! – sent me a message and said that if I found a place to dance to let him know, and he would gladly accompany me and be my partner. I found out that yesterday my host mother called the school and asked if someone could take me home after school, because it was raining and I hadn’t brought my umbrella. The ETA who was previously at my school called me today just to check up on me and make sure that I’m doing alright. My Korean co-teacher picked me up from my house and took me to school today because he didn’t want me to have to walk. My host sister showed me where a stationary store was after school today so I could get supplies for my classes. One of the other English teachers made a point to come to my desk today and tell me what a good impression I’ve made on everyone at the school. They loved that I tried to speak in Korean, and all of my students today enjoyed their class, and basically everyone was just super excited to have me there.
They are certainly not alone in their excitement. I love my school. ETAs are generally allowed to leave earlier than the other teachers, so I had 3 different teachers come up to me this afternoon and ask me why I hadn’t left yet. It was because I didn’t want to. I was having fun, and I really enjoy the atmosphere of the school. I also taught my first “official” class today! Actually, I taught 4 classes – back to back to back to back. Four straight hours of class – it was exhausting. And all of them by myself. Technically, ETAs are supposed to have a Korean co-teacher in the room with them for every class they teach, but my school could only spare a teacher for about 4 classes, so I requested that they give me more classes and don’t worry about a co-teacher. And they did. And it was hard, and it was alot of work, but it was also so much fun.
It was also a good introduction to the Korean educational system. Korean schools are infamous for having last minute schedule changes, class switches, and failed technology. Well, I had prepared a beautiful first-day powerpoint, with pictures, and animations, and everything. I got to my classroom, only to find that the computer has not been connected yet. So, I had to improvise on the fly. Of course, if I could have my druthers, I would rather have had everything work smoothly, but I made do with what I had, the kids had fun, and I grew as a teacher. So everything worked out alright.
Tonight I’m working on memorizing difficult Korean names and faces that all look and sound alike to me. I had my students made name cards today. They had their name on it, along with something about themselves, a hobby, what they did yesterday, and what they will do in the future (to assess their mastery of English grammar). Then I took a picture of them holding their signs, which they hated me for – they’re all super shy. But now their job is over, and I am left to learn ~150 Korean names and faces as fast as possible! Ambitious, I know, but that’s my goal. I’d better get back to it!! 🙂
Life was an absolute whirlwind after we got back from Seoul. We spent all afternoon on Tuesday packing to leave for our homestays, and then had an ETA talent show in the evening. On Wednesday we got to meet all of the renewing ETAs. Since they had already been through orientation once the year before, they did not have to come to Korea early like we did, so we hadn’t met any of them before. There are 25 renewees, and they’re all awesome. Wednesday was a sort of “meet and greet” day, so that the new ETAs could get to know the old ones, and vice-versa. We had group games, in which people were divided into teams based on the ETAs that were in their same province, and we battled it out to beat out the other provinces. There was a scavenger hunt that sent us to some of our favorites orientation haunts all over campus. We ended the evening with a dance – never a bad way to end a day :).
|They were doing a K-pop choreography at the talent show. It was amusing 😀|
|Our team was the “Beastly East”|
|Do I look beastly?? 🙂|
Thursday, however, was a very different day. Thursday was departure day – affectionately known by the ETAs as D-day – the day that all of the ETAs leave from the comfortable bubble of orientation, and go to their new home for the next year. The day started off super early, as we had to be all packed and dressed and checked out of our rooms before breakfast. After breakfast, we had a few hours before the departure ceremony started to say our goodbyes. I was OK until the speeches by the orientation coordinators started. Then I lost it and the tears started. I was not the only one. It was a very emotional morning. But, despite the tears, the show must go on, and so we all dried our tears and put on an extra layer of makeup and tried to make it look like we had not been crying.
|Some of my best friends in Korea – Adam, Dan, me, and Jake|
|My beautiful ladies Leora and Sarah…I love those girls|
|Daniel and Frank….they’re super awesome 🙂|
|Andy…he dances…need I say more?? 🙂|
|My adorable Korean RA, Lucy….sweetest girl ever!!|
|This was the day before D-day, when we tie-dyed t-shirts. But Alex is still awesome!! (He’s my other Korean RA)|
|Jini!! She worked at the convenience store, so I saw her alot. She gave me a necklace before I left…. **sniff, sniff**|
Once the ceremony started, however, the sadness went away. Every Fulbright ETA is assigned a Korean co-teacher to help them get through the year. All of the co-teachers were in attendance, as well as some of the principles and vice-principles of the schools. On more than one occasion, the co-teacher would run up and give the ETA a huge bouquet of flowers when their name was called. Probably about half of the ETAs were holding flowers or other gifts by the end of the ceremony. It was so cool to see how happy all of these people were to have these foreigners that they had never met come to their school for a year. Even though I didn’t get flowers at the ceremony, I was giddy with happiness at just seeing them given to other people.
After the ceremony, we all had lunch with our co-teachers and principles. Alot of ETAs had commented before D-day that they were worried about having a very awkward lunch, since they didn’t know these people at all. I don’t know if that actually turned out to be the case for them, but it certainly wasn’t true for me. My co-teacher and I clicked almost instantly. He seems like he’s really chill, really easy to work with, and super nice. His English is very good, too, which is always a plus :). My principle, who doesn’t speak very much English at all, was also at lunch. Even though we couldn’t communicate much, he seemed very nice and worried about my well-being. I found out later that he had studied dancing (I think in college), which instantaneously made him so much cooler than he was before :).
The ride to Gyeongju was long, but interesting. My co-teacher (his English name is Shane) and I talked for most of the trip. Well, apparently I talked for most of the trip – they took me to dinner when we got to Gyeongju, and he commented that I must be very hungry, since I had talked so much in the car. Woops. I guess I’ll have to learn to shut up sometimes, lol :). But ya, dinner was really cool. Several of the other English teachers came, and also the owner of the school (it’s a private school), in addition to the principle and Shane. They brought flowers for me to the restaurant….I felt so loved I could cry. There was alot of laughing at this giddy American girl, but I just laughed back, and I think that they really liked me – I know that I liked them.
After dinner, they took me to see the school. It’s beautiful. They have a brand-new English hall – as in, so new that it’s not even officially open yet – where I’ll be spending most of my time. It’s gorgeous. I’m so excited to spend my days there. There is also a lovely walking garden outside that is open for all of the teachers to spend time in. Between that and the English hall, I’m never going to want to leave my school.
Butttt….I also have an awesome host family to spend time with! After the visit to the school, Shane finally took me to my homestay. It was late and I had had a super long day and I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to start a precedence the first night of hiding in my room, so I made an effort to stay up some and visit with them. My host parents, although they don’t speak any English, are so so sweet. They told me, with the help of their daughter, Songye, that they want me to feel like I am one of their own daughters, and that they will treat me as such, as well. They quickly found out that I do not have a boyfriend (Koreans are very blunt about asking about such things), to which my host father said something to the effect of, “American boys must all be very stupid, if none of them want to date you – you are so beautiful!” To which I laughed and explained that I don’t have a boyfriend because I don’t want one right now, but it was still very cute.
|The flowers that my teachers gave me on the left, and the huge basket my host family had waiting for me when I got there (the ribbon says “Homestay family welcome!”)|
Today (Friday) many ETAs had to go to school, but I did not, so I’ve spent the day unpacking and catching up on emails and other necessary stuff. This morning I was talking with my host sisters (Songye and Arim), and they decided that they wanted to meet some of my American friends. So we Skyped with a couple of people who happened to be online at the time. They thought it was hilarious (and apparently ALL of my guy friends are super super handsome!!), and I got to catch up with some friends, so it was a win-win all around. I also have to prepare an introductory speech for the whole school on Monday – that’s a bit nerve-wracking =/.
So overall, life is very good. I’m very happy – much happier than I thought I’d be on day 1 of my homestay. First day of school is in 2 days!! Hopefully I won’t totally botch my speech – or my lesson! I’ll keep you updated. Love you buckets!
We left Goesan for Seoul bright and early Friday morning, around 5:00 am in the morning. On our way to Seoul, however, we made a detour – to the DMZ. I’ve always thought that the DMZ – which stands for Demilitarized Zone – is an ironic name for possibly the most militarized place in the entire modern world. As a part of our orientation, we were allowed to go as far into the DMZ as the actual border between North and South Korea. And let me tell you what, it was sooo tense. There were so many rules about how we should behave, gesture, or dress, or even where we should look. We were checked by South Korean soldiers for identification on more than one occasion. We had a security escort for the entire duration of the tour.
The thought that these two countries at war, these two mortal enemies, the thought that they were brothers and families at one point, and in many cases still are…..it broke my heart. War is always bad, but when it’s between families, it’s even worse. I realize that visiting the DMZ is a privilege that very few people have been afforded, but I have to admit that I was glad to leave it at the end of the tour.
After the DMZ, we went to eat dinner with the American ambassador to South Korea, in her personal home. At first it was supposed to be an outside pool party, but it got rained out, so it was moved inside. Because it was moved into her home, that also meant that it was shortened, which meant that by the time we got there we only had about an hour to mingle and eat dinner. It was a bit rushed, but I still got to eat a yummy legitimate American barbecue and talk with some really interesting embassy officials, including the ambassador. Plus apparently her home is really famous, and it’s a very big honor to be allowed inside it, so that was cool.
After dinner, despite our super early morning, some of my friends wanted to go out that evening. You’ve got to make the most of your time, right? 🙂 So we went out for ice cream, and then went to a 노레방 (norebang; basically a Korean karaoke) – it was my first time!! It was so much fun. At one point I looked around and thought to myself, “look how much fun you can have if you’re not drinking!” It made me happy to think that we were having a ball, and not a drop of alcohol was involved.
|Entrance to the War Museum|
|Flowers decorating the bases of the plaques containing the names of the Koreans who died in the Korean War – hundreds and thousands of names. It was very moving.|
|Korean soldier and his fallen captain|
Sunday, our last day of freedom, dawned humid and rainy. But we decided to go on an adventure anyway, and we made our way to Seoul tower, a huge tourist attraction that overlooks the entire city. I had heard that you could get to the tower by cable car, so I looked up directions online on how to get to the cable car pick-up point. However, because I didn’t have access to a printer, I had to simply take a picture of my computer screen with the instructions on it. I’m sure we must have looked a sight – 5 foreigners, huddled around a little camera, trying to find their way through the backstreets of Seoul :). But find it we did, and the ride to the top of the mountain was exciting, albeit gray and foggy. Once we got to the top of the mountain, we decided not to pay for the ticket to the top of the tower because of the weather. The view wouldn’t have been good, anyway.
|At the base of Seoul tower|
|Sarah and Leora got their portraits done 🙂|
But we certainly didn’t do nothing! Instead of going to the top of the tower, we decided to go to the…..Teddy Bear Museum!! It’s a museum about the history of South Korea, but all of the people are illustrated with teddy bears! It was really cute, I enjoyed it alot :).
|One of my favorite pictures at the Teddy bear museum. It reminds me of what Hope was doing on our walls while we were remodeling our kitchen 🙂|
After the Teddy Bear Museum, I went out with a few others to eat at, and I quote, “the best noodle restaurant…ever.” I must say, I think that was a pretty accurate quote. I was in absolute heaven. I have no idea what I ate, but whatever it was, it was incredible.
|One plate of heavenly goodness, coming right up!!|
After noodles, I went to the English service at Onnuri church. One of our orientation coordinators goes to that church, and so he took us with him. It was amazing. I have immensely enjoyed the Bible studies I have been a part of during orientation, but being in a large worship service is something that I had still been sorely missing. The message was challenging and very timely applicable to the new life that I am about to start. I was so glad I went. Worshiping the Lord with a body of other believers refreshes my soul like nothing else can.
|The inside of Onnuri church|
I was pretty tired after all of that, but in the evening some of my friends wanted to go to Insadong, the arts district, to get some rice cakes and other desserts. After much hesitation, I decided to go with them. I was super tired, but hey, you only live once, right? 🙂 It was alot of fun, I’m really glad I went. It was really nice to be able to spend one last night out with the people who have become so dear to me before we all leave for our placements.
|Green tea patbingsu….yummmm 🙂|
|I love my friends 🙂|
Monday had quite a different flavor to it. Monday was my official graduation from Korea University – that was the school with which my orientation Korean class were affiliated. It was a huge event. All of our teachers were there, as well as all of the Fulbright office staff and, of course, all of the ETAs. There were speeches, awards, and honors given. Each class performed some kind of final presentation – some did skits, some did movies, some did K-pop dances, some did speeches, all were very good. And after that….that was it! We said goodbye to our teachers and left. It was a very sad parting – certainly more than just a few tears were shed.
|My whole class with our teachers after graduation|
Well, that’s all of my adventures in Seoul this past weekend! Adventures in Gyeongju will be following shortly!!
Ok well, let’s begin at the beginning, I suppose. I’ve had quite a bit of changes and experiences over the past few days. Early last week, I organized a ballroom dance for the ETAs and Koreans who happen to be here at campus. About 15 people came – which was pretty good, considering how busy everyone was. They were all beginners, so it was basically just a big lesson, but it was still fun. Any dancing is better than nothing. I’m so looking forward to finding regular dancing places once I get to Gyeongju :).
Friday morning I had to give a 3-minute speech in Korean. It wasn’t very good, but a speech it still was. It’s astonishing to me how much Korean (relatively speaking) I’ve learned in just 6 weeks. To think that only a little over a month ago, I didn’t know a single word of Korean; and now I can have a basic conversation! It’s pretty exciting :). Speaking of Korean, today was my last day of Korean class. It was very sad. Yesterday we had our final, so today we just got the tests back and played games and pranked the other classes and watched K-pop (Korean Pop). I got a 93% on the test; considering the amount of material that it covered and how much I struggled understanding it at the beginning, I was quite pleased with that :). Class today was my first real experience with K-pop, and I must say that I’m hooked. The songs are so catchy, the music videos are awesome, and the whole genre is slightly ridiculous. It’s awesome, I love it :). You can watch a popular K-pop song by Super Junior by following this link. Also, check out the pictures and videos below of my teachers from class today….this is why I love them!!! I’m going to miss them so much… 🙁
|The whole class|
|Their mugs shots 😀|
Last week I also went to a traditional Korean tea ceremony. We sat on the floor, and got to make the tea, and pour it into the little cups, and had strange little rice cakes things of which I have no idea what the name is. It was lots of fun :).
|Practicing Taekwondo at the Tea Ceremony. I love it 🙂|
I also passed my yellow belt test in Taekwondo! There was a form test, and then we had to do a few kicks that we had learn, and break a board. That was exciting :D. We sparred with each other in class today. I guess the teacher got bored, though, because then he decided that he wanted to spar with me – a 5th degree black belt against a brand-new yellow belt. Let’s just say I’m hurting pretty badly now….I’ve got cuts and bruises all over my hands, my foot is bruised, and I can’t lift my right arm. But it was worth it :D.
|Me breaking a board – several of them at once, actually|
|The whole class|
|I shouldn’t be smiling that much after the beating he gave me….|
Well, we’re going to Seoul this weekend and we’re leaving at 5 in the morning, so I suppose I should go get some rest. I’ll update you on my adventures in Seoul soon! Love you!!
It’s also been a rather exciting week for me physically, although not one that I particularly would want to ever repeat. I’ve had a cough all week, but it hasn’t really affected my energy levels too much. But then on Wednesday, I randomly lost my voice. I felt fine, but you would have never guessed that from hearing me. I went from sounding like a dying frog to a terrified mice to a strange mixture of the two of them. By the end of the day, I had no voice at all.
So then on Thursday, my voice came back, but my stomach checked out. I woke up fine and went to class at 9 like any other day. But by 9:15, I was curled up in a fetal position on the bathroom floor. I had chills, and cramps, and nausea, and all sorts of other fun symptoms. Sooo….I got to experience a Korean hospital first-hand! I have to say, they are not any more fun than American hospitals. They ARE, however, much more affordable, and far more efficient – I got an abdominal X-ray, prescription medicine, spoke with the doctor, AND a shot of steroids, all within an hour – for about $35!! Needless to say, I was rather impressed. Plus, I’ve decided that steroids are AWESOME….after getting my shot, I felt like I could have run a marathon!! 🙂 It was pretty scary, though. It wasn’t simply the fact that I got sick – I’ve been sick plenty of times before. But it was the intensity and rapidity with which it came on that was so frightening. But it’s now Sunday morning and I haven’t had any other strange health issues, so I’m hoping it was just a strange fluke.
Let’s see, what else happened this week….oh, my little morning Bible study is growing. There are now 3 of us who meet together every morning. And our new member doesn’t have a roommate, so we get to go to her room and have a pajama party every morning! It’s been such an encouragement :).
Yesterday I went to an archery range. I got several bull’s eyes, and almost all of the arrows on the target. It was amazing how much my shooting improved once I learned how to hold the arrow and shoot properly, lol. After we shot, there was a demonstration by 4 archery masters. They used traditional Korean bows (made out of cow horns and sinews!), and shot at targets so far away we couldn’t even tell if they hit it – a light went on if they did, that’s the only way we knew. They hit it almost every time. It was incredible.
|The whole group|
|Do you see the arrow in the picture?? Sweet picture…. 🙂|
|I shot all of the arrows in the yellow!! 🙂|
|One of the masters….the targets are almost 400 feet away!|
Coming back to school, myself and a few other ETAs took the scenic route home. We found this little path by the river that runs through Goesan, and then followed a trail up a little hill that looked over the entire city. It was lovely. At the bottom of the hill, we came across a living history museum of a traditional Korean home, so we walked through it a little bit and explored. It was really cool.
|View of Goesan from above|
|The entrance to the traditional Korean home|
|I love the architectural lines!!|
Saturday night my whole class took our teachers out to dinner. We had samgyeopsal and patbingsu and went out for drinks afterward. I’m assuming they probably went to sing karaoke after that, but myself and another classmate of mine who also doesn’t drink bowed out midway through the visit to the bar. But it was a very fun night – my teachers are AMAZING!!! – and a great end to a hard week. I also came home to find a care package on my door from a fellow ETA. She heard I had been sick, and so she gave me oatmeal and medicine and a sweet little note to make me feel better. It completely made my night – I felt so loved!! 🙂
|My teachers are AWESOME! 🙂|
Well, all work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but all play and no work makes Lauren fail her final. It’s hard to believe that I’ve learned enough Korean to have a final in it, but I do – this Wednesday! Today’s going to be a solid studying day….wish me luck!!