Month: August 2011

Let’s have an adventure or two!!….or six…or seven…

Whew!  What a wild, crazy week it’s been!  The speed of life seems to have increased infinitesimally since I last wrote.  Where to begin??  Well let’s see, first of all, school this week was absolutely INSANE.  My school is in the middle of a really big change right now.  Over the summer they started construction on a new English building, in which all of the English teachers’ offices and classes will be held.  Well, it’s supposed to be finished by now – the Grand Opening ceremony is slated for September 2.  But it’s not finished yet.  So this week everyone was running around like a chicken with their head cut off, trying to get everything set up and ready for the big day.   
 And consequently, the entire English department has been in an uproar ever since I got there.  My office has moved twice.  There’s construction and welding going on in the middle of classtime.  Technicians are coming into classrooms while I’m teaching to set up the internet and such.  People are always running, always chattering away, and I never know what’s going on.  On Friday I didn’t know until 3:37 where my 3:40 class was going to be held.  Needless to say, I was seriously looking forward to the weekend by the time it finally came around.
I met up on Thursday night with another group of other English teachers.  We went out for dinner and drinks.  It was fun, I enjoyed it, but most of them are self-proclaimed heavy drinkers.  As I am not, I’m not sure how often we will end up actually hanging out in the next year.  But it was fun.  It was good to get out and meet new people and see the city.  
Friday afternoon I stayed late at school.  My last class didn’t end until 4:30, and by the time I got everything cleaned up and ready for the next week it was almost 6:00.  I was too tired to walk back (it’s almost a 40 minute walk to my house!), so I was going to take a taxi back – taxis in South Korea are super cheap; usually less than 5,000 won (around $5).  But on my way out of the school, the school owner noticed me leaving and asked where I was going.  So I told him, but to him, the idea of me taking a taxi was unthinkable, so he told me to hop in his car and he personally drove me home.  Just another way I’ve been feeling the love… 🙂
The weekend was amazing.  A perfect ending to a crazy week; it was just what I needed to unwind.  I would not change a single thing.  So there’s actually another Fulbright English teacher, Elizabeth, at the middle school that is attached to my high school, but I’ve seen almost nothing of her since we got here.  Well, on Saturday, we decided to go exploring.  The goal was to find the location of the English-speaking church service that I had heard about.  So we met at the school (the only place we both knew how to get to, lol), and just started walking.  We started off with a map to the church, but we quickly realized that that wasn’t going to be much help.  So we just kept walking.  
We walked through the historic district, and saw ancient tombs and huge temples and vast fields of flowers and street vendors and artisans.  We walked through off-the-beaten paths residential districts, the residents of which, judging from the stares we got while on our journey, very rarely – if ever – saw foreigners.  We walked through the bustling college district, grabbing kimbap (sort of a Korean sushi) and ice cream while we were there.  We crossed the river and explored the neighborhoods on the other side.  We walked through downtown Gyeongju, stumbling upon a huge outdoor market.  THAT was an experience, for sure.  The vendors and people crammed the streets so tightly that you could barely move.  Everywhere, people hawked their wares – fruits, vegetables, fish (both dead AND alive and squirming in the bowl)…you name it, it was there.  I saw one vendor selling peaches in big bowls, so I decided that I wanted to buy one for myself and Elizabeth.  So I asked for 2.  Well…it turns out that peaches are sold by the bowl, not individually.  Guess who’s teachers are getting lots of peaches this Monday!  Cultural lost in translation moment of the day….check! Korea, one, Lauren, zero :).
We ended our jaunt at Elizabeth’s house.  She lives 40 minutes away from me, and by then I was wayyy too tired to walk anymore – we had walked for about 4.5 hours.  So I took a taxi back, and told him where to go…in Korean….all by myself!!  And I didn’t just use one word, I used a whole sentence!!  It was exhilarating.  Actually, the more I hang out with foreigners here, the more encouraged I am with my Korean skills.  Most of the people I’ve met have been here at least a year, some two or more – and most of them can speak veryyy little Korean.  Some of them can’t even read the alphabet.  Granted, they all live in private apartments, and their jobs are English teachers, so they obviously don’t get much of an opportunity to practice much, but it’s still encouraging nonetheless to see how much I actually learned in just 6 short weeks of orientation.
Sunday was equally as epic.  Taking a meandering walk may not seem epic to you, but when everything is a struggle to find and ask for and understand, even the little accomplishments seem big :).  On our walk, I was also struck by how much of the city I really HAVE explored.  I’ve been feeling very isolated and lonely and lost the past week.  But as I was talking with Elizabeth and telling her what I knew of the regions of the city as we passed them, I realized that I’m really not as lost as I thought I was.  I told her about Metro, where there is a weekly poker game on Wednesday nights; dalk galbi is where many foreign English teachers congregate every Friday night for dinner; there’s the library that has a weekly English story reading program to Korean children on Saturdays, which I’m hoping to get involved in; the dance studio and Thursday night salsa club, which I still have to check out; softball or frisbee games on the University soccer fields on the weekends; free Korean language classes on Tuesday nights; the huge park that has free outdoor concerts during the summer; and of course, the English speaking church, which was the whole purpose of our walk to begin with.  Talking with Elizabeth about all of these things that I’ve found in the week that I’ve been here reminded me that I really can do this!!!  It was good to be reminded….I had almost forgotten.
But anyway, I was talking about how epic Sunday was!!  Even though we never did find the church on our walk, it turned out to not matter.  I also found a number to call to speak to someone in English for more information about the church.  I called it, and it turns out it was the cell phone of like a deacon of the church, who actually offered to pick me up and drive me to church.  So I gladly accepted, and by 10:30 Sunday morning I found myself weaving through the intimidating hallways of a huge Korean church to find the tiny English service.  The English service is super small – not even 50 people – and most of the people who attend are actually Koreans who want to practice their English.  But there were also some foreigners – mostly from South Africa, which is cool 🙂 – and everyone, Korean and foreign alike, were really nice.  It was sooo nice to be in a church again.  It was very low-key – just a guitar, keyboard, and acoustic hymns.  But it blessed me, nonetheless.  After the service, I was talking with some of the other people, trying to get to know them.  I may be an outgoing person, but since I’ve been in Gyeongju I’ve been putting myself out there FAR more than I normally would.  It’s been uncomfortable, but I feel like I need to do it now before I get stuck in a rut of isolation, so I’ve been really working overtime to meet people and get involved in the things that are important to me.  
So anyway, we were talking, and one of the girls I met, Andrea, mentioned that she was planning on going to Pohang (about a 30-minute bus ride) with her boyfriend right after church.  I had been really wanting to explore the bus system, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to do it with a guide and company, instead of having to do it by myself like I’d done so many other things.  So I timidly asked if I could tag along.  She said yes, and off to Pohang we went!  We had to take a bus to get to the main bus terminal, and then another one to Pohang.  We had lunch there, and then went to a few department stores – they had to get some things for their apartments.  After a few hours, we made our way back to Gyeongju and parted ways.  It may not have been a huge deal; but to me it was.  Getting out of the city, seeing another part of Korea, connecting with people who share my values, making a friend…it was really needed.  I didn’t really realize how needed until it happened. 
So I’ve explored, and figured out the bus system, and bought lots of peaches (!!), and most importantly, made Christian friends and found a church.  I would say this weekend has been a success.  Now off to lesson planning for tomorrow! 🙂

Lots of class and lots of love

I can’t believe how blessed I am.  I am so unbelievably humbled that God has allowed me to see the things I’ve seen, and experience the things I’ve experiences, and meet the people I’ve met.  My life has been a wild ride, truly incredible – and I’m only 21.

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!! 🙂

First day of school

If you had asked me last night if I was nervous about school today, I would have said no.  I mean, it’s true that I knew I was expected to make a speech to the teachers, but I had been told that it could be in English.  That’s no sweat, I’m a pro at English :).  Well, I got to school bright and early Monday morning, and amid the hustle and bustle of hundreds of Korean high school and middle school girls trying to get to class, I was told that I would not be introducing myself in English, but in Korean, and it would not only be to the teachers, but to the entire student population.  Actually, I had to do it twice – once in front of all of the teachers at the morning assembly meeting, and once for the school’s TV broadcast!  Indeed…they stuck me in front of a camera who’s feed was being broadcast into every classroom, gave me a microphone, and told me to talk.  In Korean.  It was sooo nervewracking.  That would be unpleasant on any day, but the fact that I had not had time to prepare – mentally or physically – made it all the worse. 
But it’s over, and I survived.  Everyone is soooo nice here.  The teachers all clapped enthusiastically, and a few patted me on the back once I got back to my seat (yes, I had to stand at the front of the room and address them all as a group), and several who spoke English came up to me afterwards and commented on how amazing my Korean is.  Now, I do have to say, I am highly skeptical of anyone calling my Korean “amazing”, but I think the point was just that they recognized how difficult it was for me, and appreciated that I was making an effort to speak their language….however poor the effort might have been :).  I’m hoping, too, that the broadcast will give me some brownie points with my students in class.  They’ve heard me make mistakes in Korean, so maybe they will be more OK with speaking and making mistakes in English.  Korean students are notoriously bad at being unbelieveably shy when it comes to speaking English. 
I didn’t teach any classes today, but I did make a friend.  One of the other English teachers sought me out after my speech and we talked for a long time.  She just moved here a little bit ago from Daegu (about 45 minutes away), and many of her friends are still there, so she seemed glad to have a friend.  I know that I was.  She took me on a tour of the campus – we walked all around the school, and she told me stories about the school, and tips and suggestions, and things I needed to do or not do.  She gave me a schedule of classes, too, which was wonderful, since up until now I had no idea what the school schedule was like.  I’m looking forward to teaching, but at the same time, I’m really glad that I didn’t teach today.  Making 2 speeches in Korean AND teaching classes would have been too much for my poor nerves :).  Oh, I forgot to mention that I also gave gifts to my principle and vice principle – which required more Korean.  I’m wiped out :). 
This weekend was rainy and I didn’t go out much, so I did some digging on the internet for things to do in Gyeongju.  I had quite a bit of success.  I found an ultimate frisbee club, a dance studio (athough I’m not sure what kind of dance), an English speaking service (although no one seems to know where it is), a park, an outdoor concert hall, plus a random assortment of other things, too.  There is a group on Facebook called the Gyeongju Foreigner’s Association – I joined it yesterday and started talking to some of the members; I’m supposed to meet one of the girls sometime this week so she can show me around.  Also, my host parents own a bike shop, so yesterday while the weather was good my host father took me on a bike tour of the city.  It was lovely.  Even though we can’t communicate, we still have fun together.  It definitely motivates me to improve my Korean, though. He also showed me how to get to my school from my house on a bike, since that will be my primary mode of transportation. 
So, all in all, it’s been a good past few days.  It’s really hard and at times it’s overwhelming, but I kind of expected it.  I didn’t come to live immersed in Korean society and not expect a little culture shock :).  I’ve been going to bed incredibly early the past few days – my brain is constantly on overdrive, trying to undestand what’s going on around me, so my 8:00 pm or so I’m exhausted.  But I’m hopeful that that will pass as I get more adjusted to my new life.  More updates to come soon!

Out with the old, in with the new

Where does one start telling about their life when their entire life has changed in less than 24 hours?  How do you explain everything that’s happened, or all of the crazy, mixed-up emotions you’re feeling?  That is the dilemma that I face right now.  I will do my best to fill in as many gaps as possible :).

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! 

Seoul and DMZ weekend

The capital city of Seoul is a bustling metropolis of super-sized proportions.  The city, which over 10 million people call home, seems to extend forever.  It is exciting and overwhelming, diverse and homogenous, fancy and cheap, all at the same time.  My time in Seoul this past weekend did not disappoint in any of those categories.  But I suppose I am getting ahead of myself…

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.

Saturday, bright and early, I went out with a group of friends for breakfast in the morning.  After that, they went shopping at Costco (ahh, the pull of American stores in foreign countries, lol), and I made my way to the War Museum.  Technically it’s a museum on all of the wars in Korea’s history; but in reality, it’s about the Korean War.  Two floors of the three-floor museum are devoted to that war alone.  It was pretty incredible.  Considering the subject of the museum, I cannot really in good conscious say that I actually liked my visit; it was, however, very moving.  To see the sacrifice, the heroism that those men displayed – both Korean and foreign – made me realize just how detached I was from the Korean War, and how little of it I really about.  It was very eye-opening and sobering.  I think my favorite part of the museum, however,, was when I was standing in the room with busts of famous and gallant Korean soldiers.  I had stopped at a particular statue, and was reading in awe about an officer who had post-humulously been awarded the highest honor in Korea after he had thrown his body over a live grenade in order to protect his men.  An elderly Korean man came up behind me and tapped my shoulder.  In broken English, he managed to tell me that the very man whom I had just been so admiring – that man had been his captain before his death.  It was very  moving, to say the least.  And then he let me take his picture with the statue, which just made it even cooler.  
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
I had to rush out of the museum early because I had made plans to meet with some friends to go to the big shopping district in Seoul later that might.  None of us, however, are very big shoppers, so we didn’t stay very long.  We got some food, got lost a few times, I bought a pair of dress shoes because my friend informed me that the ones I was going to wear were simply not acceptable, and then we made our way back to the hotel on the subway.  I spent a lot of time on the subway this weekend 🙂

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!!

A little bit of everything

Wow.  I have so many things to talk about.  I’m not quite sure where to start….

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… 🙁

Teacher #1

The whole class

Teacher #2

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!!

Life, love, archery, and exploration

Well orientation continues to clip along at an astonishing rate.  Now that Camp Fulbright is over, we’re back to workshops every afternoon.  This week’s workshops were mostly cultural workshops, although the one on Friday was a series of mini-workshops run by some of my fellow ETAs about different aspects of teaching that they have had experience in – classroom management, creating a lesson plan, incorporating games, etc.  It was very interesting; I really enjoyed hearing tips from my peers and friends.

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!!
Kimchi pots

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!! 🙂

Teacher #1

Teacher #2

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!!