Month: September 2011

Last week before October

Well, life’s clipping along at a solid pace now.  This will be my last post before the month-long insanity that is October ensues.  I’m going to be traveling every…single…weekend in October, and a few times during the week, too.  I’m already tired, just thinking about it.Anyway, I spent Saturday helping my friend Harry move across town.  That evening, we went to a dance performance called Miso II with a group of people from church.  The performance was incredible, and the company wonderful…it was very enjoyable.

The cast of Miso II

Sunday I sang again at church.  I went with a Korean named Sea-reum (Rachel) to the service.  She actually asked me if I wanted to go with her; it was really nice to spend some time with a Korean for once :).  After church we went out for lunch and, through a series of strange events, ended up in the field by the river’s edge with 2 of Anthony’s Korean students dancing the Merengue.  Such things just seem to happen in Korea, lol….

I started a Bible study within the English church.  This Wednesday was our first meeting.  We met in a cute little coffee shop near where I live; six people (including myself) showed up.  It was really nice to chill and talk about God and get to know other believers in a friendly, relaxed setting, and I’m looking forward to this addition to my schedule.

Friday night I had dance class again – this time it was East Coast Swing.  That was INSANE.  Even more so than Merengue.  You try getting over 50 giddy girls who don’t speak your language to do a rock step.  But they all had a blast – I got several hugs and lots of smiles and laughter, so I’m happy :).  Anthony helped me again, and again, I was thanking him profusely.  He’s such a good sport :).  After the dance, my teachers wanted to take us out to dinner, so the entire English department + Anthony went out to dinner.  “We will eat chicken,” my co-teacher told me.  “Lots of chicken.”  And that’s exactly what we did :).  After dinner, I was thinking that we would go home.  But no, it was time for round 2 – norebang!  All of us except Anthony went – he had somewhere else he had to go.  It was really funny seeing my outgoing and slightly inebriated co-teachers singing and dancing all over the norebang room.  So that was fun – I sang a couple of songs that I barely knew (the selection of American songs is not the largest, lol).  So after norebang, I was thinking that THEN we’d go home, right?  Wrong.  Time for round 3 – rounds of drinks at a bar!  I went along for the ride, but didn’t drink much…but my co-teachers all respect that I don’t like to drink, so they didn’t push it.  I was grateful for that.

Anyway, overall a good last week of September.  Gotta go for now – gotta finish packing for Jinju! 🙂

The people in my life….

I love my life.  I love it.  And no, I’m not saying that everything is always wonderful and perfect.  But I am saying that God is faithful, and I am starting to actually feel at home here.  This week I’ve been able to hang out with a lot of previously un-hung-out with people, and it was wonderful.  I still barely speak to my host family, but I’m finally starting to find my niches and be accepted in other circles, and it’s a great feeling.

Anyway, last Saturday I went to the Gyeongju National Museum with some friends.  It was myself, another foreign teacher in Gyeongju, Harry, the other Fulbright teacher in Gyeongju (Elizabeth), and Art, a Fulbrighter living in Pohang, about 20 minutes away.  Art was the 1st Fulbrighter I’d seen other than Elizabeth since departure day, and it was lovely to see him.  So we went to the museum (Gyeongju has enough culture in it to last a lifetime of sightseeing!!), and then went for lunch.  We went to a little out-of-the-way Italian restaurant, and I got….lasagna!!!  I had been craving it for weeks, but had been told that there was nowhere in Gyeongju to get it.  I was in heaven :D.

Oh ya…we’re Fulbright scholars…
Harry, Art, and Elizabeth
I don’t know….we were really giggly that day

I had a dejá vu moment coming back from lunch.  I had my bike with me, so Elizabeth and I decided to bike together.  It was just like my ride with Anthony, except this time I was pedaling and she was on the back.  We had a couple of spills, but caught on surprisingly quickly, especially considering the fact that Elizabeth has never ridden a bike before, lol.  Now all I need is a picture to document it… 🙂

Sunday I went to church again (it was so good to be back after having missed it the week before because of Chuseok!), and then when out to lunch after with some guys from church.  I actually ended up singing on the worship team during the service.  I don’t even like my voice on a normal day, and I was still sick anyway (I’ve had a nasty cough for several weeks now), but I wanted to serve in the church, and that was what they needed, and so I found myself up on the stage.  Regardless of my nerves, though, it wasn’t too bad, and I’m looking forward to being back up there next weekend.

On Wednesday I went on an excursion with my friend, 효지 (Hyo-ji).  She’s another English teacher in my school, and was the first person to befriend me when I got there.  We went for a walk around a bunch of historic sites (our school sits smack dab in the middle of the historic district, so it’s very convenient).  She bought me a hot green tea latte, and then we meandered through the forests and walking paths and old tombs.  One of the tombs has been opened by the Korean government, and we were actually able to go inside!  Then, for dinner, she had heard about a great little traditional Korean restaurant (it’s located inside an actual traditional Korean house complex….pretty neat), but didn’t quite know where it was.  So we started looking for it, and finally stumbled upon it, hidden in the winding alleys of the backstreets of Gyeongju.  The meal was wonderful, and the company lovely, even if she is always chiding me for not taking care of myself – she has self-appointed herself as my 언니 (older sister), which to her means nagging me to drink water, and stay warm, and eat my vegetables, and all of that.  But I don’t mind, it makes me feel loved :).  And I’m sure that my mom’s grateful to hear that someone’s looking out for me over here!! 😉

The oldest astronomical observatory in Eastern Asia

Beautiful Gyeongju…those big humps are ancient royal tombs

The entrance to the tomb….also the only picture of Hyo-ji that I was able to sneak 🙂
The restaurant we went to

After dinner, the sun had set, and so we went to Anapji pond.  Anapji is (another!) famous landmark in Gyeongju.  It used to be part of the palace complex during the Shilla dynasty, when Gyeongju was the capital of Korea.  It’s absolutely breathtaking at night.  Check out the pictures below….

Thursday was dance night again.  I decided to hang out with Jennifer again, but this time we didn’t skip the dance.  We went out to dinner first – and met some new friends while there.  That seems to happen a lot in this town – you’re just more outgoing and friendly, and make friends with anyone who look like they’ll talk to you.  In this case, it was 2 guys – Jennifer had already met one of them, so we sat down with them and had dinner together.

The dance was lovely, as usual.  It’s fun, but every time I dance salsa it reminds me how much I miss West Coast Swing :(.  Oh well, WCS will still be waiting for me when I come home… In the meantime, I’m trying to make the best of things and just improve my latin dancing while I have the chance.  Oh, I also got 2 more requests from Koreans to be my boyfriend at the dance….my grand total is racking up, lol.

On Friday, I went to the Expo…again.  This time it was a school field trip.  I didn’t really do anything particularly new this time – saw a couple of different shows, bought a dress made in India (I’m an XL in Korean sizes…can you believe it??), had lunch there – but the best part about this trip (aside from the exquisite weather) was the people I was with.  I hung out with a bunch of co-teachers and students the whole day….and it was  I adore my school and everyone in it :).

Some of the shows that we watched at the Expo

Oh, Je-hun…. 🙂
Me and my students… <3

An old teacher at school.  She always calls me 예쁘다 (beautiful).  That’s the extent of our conversations.  She just grabbed me here and insisted on a picture….

Me, Dae-seon, and Je-hun….three cool cats 🙂

Friday evening, the fun continued!  Through a bizarre and I would say God-sent series of coincidences, I heard about a Korean woman who’s wanting to learn Spanish.  She’s married to a westerner, so she speaks fluent English, and she’s really motivated to learn Spanish, but hasn’t been able to find any opportunities to learn here in Gyeongju.  So we met up for coffee, and worked out a time when we can get together and do a language exchange – I teach her Spanish, she teaches me Korean.  She was sooo motivated, I think it’s going to be a really good fire under me to get me learning.  Plus, I’ll get to practice my Spanish.  I’m super excited :).

After that, I went to an open mic / poetry night.  It’s the first one I’ve ever been to, and I really enjoyed it.  I loved seeing into other people’s hearts…it was really intriguing.  Besides which, the poems / songs / speeches / etc were all really well done.  I think I’m going to try to prepare something for the next one….

Looking over this, I’ve realized something.  In all of these stories, the focus has been on the people I was with.  I’m so grateful for who God has sent into my life.  It’s not where I thought I wanted to be, but I’m starting to see that it’s where I needed to be.  They are the reason that I’m so excited about what God’s going to do during the rest of this year…

Phase 3

There are several stages of culture shock when  living in a foreign country for an extended period of time that are pretty generally accepted.  The first stage is the honeymoon stage, when everything is new and exciting and exotic.  After that comes withdrawal and depression, when everything is hard and overwhelming and nothing seems exciting anymore, just difficult.  All you can think of are the days when you understood everything around you and always knew what you were eating.  My honeymoon stage lasted probably all of orientation and maybe the first day or two of living in Gyeongju.  But after that, the second stage hit me hard and fast.  No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do anything right, couldn’t understand anything.  It’s been like that for four long weeks. 

But the third phase is assimilation, when you finally come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to understand everything that’s happening around you, and that’s ok.  You’ve begun to find your own niche, regardless of the cultural differences.  I think that I’ve finally embarked on phase 3.  This has been a week of assimilation, niche-finding, and friend-making.

Over Chuseok, one of my adopted uncles had given Songi (my host sister) 50,000 won (roughly $50) to buy something for me.  So on Tuesday afternoon, Songi and her best friend took me shopping!  It was the first time that I had really hung out with Koreans outside of school or the homestay, and it was a blast.  They wouldn’t let me buy anything for them while we were shopping, so I insisted on taking them out to ice cream after.  Then we went to a norebang (Korean karaoke) – in the middle of the day!  It was kinda weird, but fun.  After that, we took sticker pictures!  Korea is famous for these – they’re like photobooths in America, except after you take the pictures you have to decorate them with stickers and cutesy designs before they are printed.  The place we went to was a tiny little hole-in-the-wall in which all of the signs weren’t even in Korean – intimidating enough – but rather, Chinese characters.  I would have never ever stepped foot in that place by myself, but it was alot of fun.

Songi singing Karaoke

Our sticker pictures!!

Thursday night was salsa night, but I didn’t go this week.  I was so tired, but I didn’t really want to stay in the house all night, so I was kind of looking for an excuse to do something other than salsa.  Well, lo and behold, I got what I wanted!  I got a message from another English teacher, Jennifer, who said that she was looking to make some more girlfriends, and would I be interested in sometime meeting up with her?  I said yes, and so we met up later that night for tea – we both got green tea lattes, yummm :).  Of course, neither of us thought to get each others’ numbers, and so we had a rather hard time finding each other at the tea shop, but we eventually figured it out – life in Korea, always an adventure!  The shop that we went to had some games in it, so we played Jenga while we talked.  We actually ran out of moves!  I’ve never seen a Jenga game come to a draw….I didn’t know what to do, lol…  But I had a really nice time.  It was good to get out of the house and spend some time with another girl.

A draw in Jenga??  How does that happen??  What do we do now?

That brings me to Friday – the big day.  So I had told my English teachers when I got here that I loved to dance.  Well, to them, that meant I would love to teach a dance class.  Oh, and just by coincidence, my principle studied danced in college.  The foreign teacher and the school principle dancing – publicity photoshoot match made in Heaven!  Oh, it gets better.  Not only did my co-teachers decide that I would teach a dance class, but they decided that it would be open to all of the students.  All 700 of them.  And their parents.  And all of the teachers.  And heck, while we’re at it, why not just invite the entire city of Gyeongju? (I’m not being facetious….they did just that)

On Thursday afternoon I had a photo shoot with my principle.  It was really awkward because, although he dances, he doesn’t speak English, so I didn’t know what kinds of dances he knew.  So I just kind of stood there and let him take a position, and then I arranged myself accordingly.  By Thursday night, our picture, accompanied with a flyer on my wonderful new dance class – was the new home page of the school website.  I’m not kidding.

Clowning around with Yeji during the photoshoot
Photoshoot with a Korean ballroom dancer?  Oh yes, I think so 🙂

Check out his shades.  My principle is awesome.
The current school home page.  Note my picture front and center….and the flyer on the right that they sent to all Gyeongju =/

So Friday evening comes around (it’s a 6:00 pm class), and I’m a nervous wreck.  I had no idea what to expect – not even a clue as to how many people would show up.  Well, I got my answer soon enough.  Forty-two students, plus about ten teachers, came to learn basic merengue.  Thursday afternoon I had sent a message to Anthony, asking if he would help me teach.  He agreed, and I am eternally indebted to him.  It was so nice to have a friendly face, a sense of solidity next to me in the craziness of the class.  And of course, all of the girls loved him :D.  At the end of the lesson, they asked us to do a demo – I really think that they believe that I’m far better than I actually am, but they enjoyed it.  After Anthony and I danced, we brought in some of the teachers and then danced with them.  The students really liked that.  It was really hard trying to teach over 50-something giggling high school girls, but it was worth it.  I had a blast :).

Me and my favorite student!  I know I’m not allowed to have favorites, but…she is.  She bought me cookies one day and always waves at me in the hallway <3 :)

A few of my English teachers hamming it up

I was leading him….he didn’t know what to do!  Lol 🙂

After dance class, Anthony and I went to get something to eat.  I had biked to school that morning, while he had taken a taxi, ergo – 2 people on a bike!  I had never done that before.  It took a while to get the hang of it, and we had a couple of spills, but we caught on pretty quickly.  I felt like such a local :D.  He took me to this tiny little Japanese restaurant in the center of downtown.  So we got some yummy food which I have no idea what it was called or what it was and just talked.  After I thanked him for the millionth time for helping me, he was like, “Lauren, you’re my sister in Christ.  Of course I’ll help you if I can.  All you have to do is ask.”  It was so comforting to know that I have someone looking out for me here :).

Friday was also one of the English teacher’s last day, so we had a cake and said goodbye to Borim.  It was really sad to see her go :(.  But she told me more than once that she really wanted to see me and hang out with me (she’ll still be in Gyeongju), so hopefully we’ll make that happen.

Saying goodbye to Borim 🙁

Oh, I also had an awesome teaching moment today!  Just before class, one of my students came up to me and started a conversation with me (which in itself is pretty rare…they’re all sooo shy to speak English).  She had written out a script beforehand, so she bumbled through it: “Teacher, I no speak good English, but I want talk more with you.  Is ok?”  She was so cute, and I appreciated her efforts so much.  Made my heart swell :).  I can’t believe how much I love teaching.  Sure it’s hard, and sometimes it’s frustrating, but I really really enjoy it.  That kind of hit me as I was sitting at the restaurant with Anthony.  I was describing to him the lesson that I had taught this week – it was about definite and indefinite articles (a/an/the).  These words don’t really exist in the Korean language, so Korean students have a lot of problems using them properly.  I told Anthony my topic, and he immediately asked me, “Wow, how did you make an interesting lesson out of that??”  A fair enough question, lol.  And so I started telling him….about the story that I introduced it with, and the schoolhouse rock song that we listened to, and the worksheet that we went through to check for understanding, and then the game at the end that everyone loved.  It’s true, articles is a pretty boring topic.  But it was one of my best lessons.  I think that was when I realized how much I love my job.

Well, the day’s a-wasting, time to get moving!  Sending my love as always!! 

Chuseok weekend

Chuseok, commonly described as the Korean Thanksgiving, is a major holiday in Korea.  It’s so big, in fact, that it actually warrants 3 whole days off of work, plus Saturday.  But of course, they wouldn’t want to go overboard with the days off, so most people still have to work or go to school on Saturday.  Lucky me, I don’t work on Saturdays, so I had the whole day to myself.

I decided to go back to the International Expo with my friend Harry.  I was going to go explore Busan, Korea’s second-largest city (about 1 1/2 hours from Gyeongju), but Saturday dawned rainy and windy, so I nixed that idea.  The Expo was a decidedly different experience this time.  For one thing, I could actually talk to the company with which I was with, always a plus.  Also, because it was raining, we avoided a lot of the outside exhibits and tried to see more of the inside performances.  But it was still a lot of fun. 

There was a tent set up with stuff from all over the world – I got to wear a hand-made head scarf from Turkey, which was cool.  Then we went to see an exhibition on Dok island.  Dok island is a disputed land between Japan and Korea.  From the way that Koreans go on and on about Dok island, you’d think it was this huge land mass with massive amounts of natural resources….or something.  It’s a tiny piece of rock.  Seriously.  That’s it.  There’s nothing on it, no one lives there….you can’t even see it on a map.  But apparently it’s very important that everyone who comes to Korea knows that Dok island is Korean – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I know about Dok island.  It’s rather amusing, but at the same time kind of sad and ridiculous…

Turkish shawl, rain jacket, and backpack.  With a Russian woman.  Oh yeah, that’s awesome 🙂

The sign says “Dok island, our land.”  Over….the….top….

After Dok island, we made our way to the Spanish puppet show.  The vast majority of the audience was a third of our age, and the only thing “Spanish” about the show was that the puppeteer happened to be Spanish (gosh I love Spanish accents!!! <3), but it was still enjoyable.  I think I'll always be a kid at heart, anyway... 🙂  After the puppet show we went to a highly acclaimed performance called "Flying" - it was advertised as an acrobatic, break-dancing, rhythmic gymnastics extravaganza.  And it was - for the last 10 minutes.  The other 60 minutes was this bizarre combination of....I don't even know what.  I'm sure there was a plot, and I was just too dense to find it.  But all I could gather was that there was some little demon dude who liked to run around bopping people on the head, and when he did they turned into zombies.  And the only way to un-zombie them was to poke them three times and then whack them in the chest.  Complete with sound effects.  Oh and there was a time-traveling star.  And a cross-dressing cheerleader.  And a crazy guy who just growled at everyone.  And a fat girl who was always exercising.  I'm still pretty confused about the whole thing.... The most disappointing part was that they were really talented acrobats.  The last 10 minutes, when they really started to show their stuff, was incredible.  I really felt that they had sold themselves short by inserting all of this silly cartoony stuff.  But oh well, that’s Korea….  

Spanish puppets playing the violin… 🙂

The only picture I was able to take of Flying before the attendants scolded me

So we finished our romp listening to a performance by the Gyeongju youth choir.  Harry used to sing, so he can attest to the quality of their performance.  I never sang, so I cannot, but I do know that they sounded lovely.  Lunch was 감자탕 (gamjatang) – literally, hangover soup.  Apparently pig spine soup has the magical quality of curing hangovers… I ended the day going out to dinner with some friends from church and then playing games with my host sister.  The Christian fellowship was wonderful, and it was nice to spend some time with Songi – she’s always so busy studying, I never really get to hang out with her.

Gyeongju youth choir….incredible!!!

They said they needed pictures with “special people.”  So I asked for their picture, too.  Fair’s fair! 🙂

I don’t remember what the game is called.  But the end result is pieces flying all over the room…

Love my church friends <3....Martene, me, and Eric

Anthony, Lauren, and Priscilla

Sunday morning was the official start of Chuseok weekend.  We bundled off bright and early to go visit relatives.  First stop was a nursing home to see aging and sick grandma.  I have to say, nursing homes are not any better in Korea than they are in America, and I was glad when we left.  Next stop was Pohang.  Then, once we got there, only the cousin was there, so we just hung around doing nothing for several hours.  It was kind of frustrating, because I could have gone to church and come after and not missed anything…but oh well, c’est la vie.  The aunt and uncle finally showed up right after lunch, and we spent the rest of the afternoon cooking for Chuseok the next day.  We made tofu, and kebabs, and fish cakes, and basically alot of fun in which the general theme was to dip them in eggs and fry them in oil.  Eggs and oil make everything better…

My host sister, Songi

The result of our labors…lots of egg-and-oil fried food!!

Making 똑 (ddok), a traditional Korean rice pastry

Monday morning, Chuseok, dawned bright and early.  It’s true that, just like at Thanksgiving, Koreans eat a lot of food and gather with family at Chuseok.  But that’s where the similarities end.  We were up and out of the house by 6:00 in the morning, on our way back to Pohang.  When we got there, people were running around cutting up food and setting out platters and dishes in a very specific, elaborate arrangement.  I wisely planted myself in an out-of-the-way corner and waited for the ceremony to start.

And what a ceremony it was.  Although Chuseok does mean lots of food and family, the real purpose of the holiday is to give homage to your ancestors.  So they had a whole table loaded with food – all placed in multiples of 1,3, or 5, although no one could tell me why – and all of it was symbolically given to the ancestors – although we were the ones who actually ended up eating it.  While the women stood outside the room and watched silently, the men of the house did a very intricate series of bows, followed by pouring glasses of wine, which was then held over a stick of incense and then dumped out into a bowl.  Yes, the women were not allowed in the room….not sure what I think about that one =/.  The wine and incense was then followed by spooning some rice and other food into bowls and letting it sit for a few minutes – presumably to let the dead members of the family eat their fill before the live ones did.  Then they burned some little pieces of paper covered with Chinese characters, and that was it.  The ladies were then allowed into the room to clear the table, and then we set it with normal tableware (after all of this it was still only 8:30 in the morning!), and ate breakfast (로렌, 많이 먹어다! – Lauren, eat alot!…story of my life these days).  We hung out for a little bit afterwards, went back to the nursing home (definitely not any better the second time around), and then came home and all took naps for a while. 

The Chuseok spread

Cleaning up after the ceremony

Later in the afternoon, we were off again!  More family!!  This time it was the mother’s side of the family, and I don’t know where we went – I just know it was about a 30 minute drive.  This was far less formal, and much more fun.  I still didn’t know what was going on, but there was a lot more laughing – including impromptu K-pop lessons and walks in the rain – and far less awkward silences happening.  Maybe it helped that they were all drunk, I don’t know….  When we finally came back, around 9:30, I went out on my own for a trivia night with some foreigners.  But I was wiped out, and didn’t last very long before I headed home and to bed.

우리 할머니 – my grandmother 🙂

 So that was my first Chuseok.  Takeaways from the weekend: 1) wear waterproof shoes if you plan on walking in the rain.  2) Don’t expect Korean performances to have a logical or mature plot.  3) My church is awesome.  4) Nursing home creepiness crosses cultural borders.  5) Eggs and oil make the world go ’round.  6) You better tell people you’re full wayyyy before you actually are, because you’re still going to be stuffed with food, whether it will fit or not.  7) Koreans like to talk about you to your face, but act as if you’re not in the room.  Note to Koreans: just because I can’t understand everything you’re saying does not mean I’m deaf and dumb, and getting pointed at and and poked and prodded and paraded around as the pet American is really starting to get old.  Oh, and 8) apparently Korean ancestors like their wine, just as much as their living relatives do.  A very strange weekend, but overall a success.  A Korean Chuseok is not something that most foreigners ever get a chance to experience, and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to do so.

There’s nothing normal about normal life these days…

Well, another week has flown by.  Have you ever noticed that the days so often seem to crawl, but then the months and years fly by?  How does that work??  I’ve been sick this whole week (I think I got sick at the EXPO last weekend) and the hours have passed sooo slowly…but all of a sudden, it’s Friday!

Dr. Cho rescheduled our dinner from last week.  He called me and said “we will eat dinner together on Tuesday night.”  I wasn’t really given an option, lol, and so dinner was duly eaten with him on Tuesday night.  I was glad that no more last-minute teacher’s dinners were scheduled; canceling twice in less than a week would have been really awkward :(.

But ya, he took myself, and Anthony (another English teacher; he leads worship at church), and the pastor and his whole family (4 kids under the age of 5!!) out to dinner at a really ritzy upscale restaurant.  The Mundys came a little later than we did, so Dr. Cho and Anthony and I went for a walk around the lagoon that borders the restaurant.  The water was sparkling, there were swan boats floating gently on the lake, and the sunset was breathtaking.  I was kicking myself that I had forgotten my camera :(.  At dinner the kids were a little loud and distracting at times, but the food was wonderful, and the company excellent, and overall I had a lovely time. 

Wednesday night I went on an excursion with Elizabeth to Pohang, about 30 minutes away by bus.  After going to Pohang a few weeks ago, I felt like an old hand at the buses here, lol :).  So I was able to show her the ropes, and we spent the afternoon in Pohang.  Chuseok, the Korean version of Thanksgiving, is coming up this weekend, and it’s a common gift-giving holiday.  So we went to find gifts for our host families and co-teachers.  It was so hard!!  I love giving gifts, but it’s really hard to give a thoughtful gift when you don’t know the person to whom you’re giving the gift!!  But anyway, we found some small gifts – I settled on nuts all-around – and headed back to Gyeongju.  But it was worth it – I gave my presents on Thursday, and then on Friday I was showered by a flood of little gifts from my co-teachers.  I felt so loved :).

My little treasure trove of Chuseok gifts and notes 🙂

I came back from Pohang and found my host sister, Areum, in the middle of a mess in the kitchen.  She was trying to make fortune cookies, but had no clue what to do – had never even used their oven before!  She looked at me and was like, “Lauren…help me!”  So of course, I did, and we made homemade fortune cookies for the rest of the night.  It was fun :).

Thursday was an adventure, for sure.  The owner of my school, Dr. Choi, decided that he wanted to take Elizabeth and myself out for lunch.  It was really nice – he took us to a traditional Korean restaurant, and we had a huge spread of dishes, and it really was a lovely meal.  But it also made me 15 minutes late for my class when I got back.  Instead of letting the sub just teach the entire class, I rushed up as soon as I got back and finished the last 30 minutes.  It made the class a little stressful, because I hadn’t really had time to prepare, but I’m glad I did it.  I love my girls, I want to spend as much time teaching them as I can :).  It sure boosted my ego, too, when I showed up to class….they gave me a standing ovation.  This is why I love teaching… <3 🙂 Then Thursday night was salsa night!  I dragged Anthony along with me to go dancing – he told me that “he loves to dance and knows how to move his hips, but not much more than that ^_^.”  Well, that was enough for me, and so Thursday night found us rendezvousing on our bikes to head to the dance together.  We left early and went to a little Russian restaurant – the same one, in fact, that I went to on my very first excursion on my own into Gyeongju.  We were early to the dance, so we just walked around for a bit.  He showed me some popular places, helped me connect some of the dots between the places that I know and their relation to each other, told me stories about the city.  It was fun.

Me in front of one of the ancient Royal burial sites scattered around Gyeongju
Us and our bikes!! 🙂

At the dance, I was impressed with how quickly he picked things up.  I wish I had known more moves to teach him, because he is a fast learner.  But one of the Koreans there kind of made us his special project throughout the night, so I think Anthony was still able to learn quite a bit.  The club we went to seems to have several line dances that they do every night.  He picked them up almost instantly, while I was left fumbling along in the dust, lol.  But it was still fun.  Dances are always better when you have a friend to share the joy with :).

Oh, 2 more big events happened Thursday night!  First, I got my first proposition from a Korean man.  One of the guys at the dance knew a little English, so he was asking me about myself.  “How old are you?” he asked.  “I’m 21,” I said.  “Oh, wow, I’m 37.  Do you want a Korean boyfriend?  Koreans are alot of fun.  What’s your phone number?”  Don’t worry, I didn’t give him my number, but I found it rather amusing, nonetheless.  The other event was a little disconcerting.  As Anthony and I were heading home, a man crashed on his bike right near us, in the middle of the road.  We ran over and picked up his bike for him, but he wasn’t moving.  He just lay there in the middle of the road.  I couldn’t tell if he was drunk or perhaps mentally disabled.  But he didn’t really seem to want us to help him.  So after hanging around for a few minutes, we pulled his bike out of the road, said a prayer for him, and continued on our way.  I’m still not sure if we did the right thing.  I just didn’t know what to do…it was very disconcerting :(.

So that’s my life right now!  It’s starting to become the normal routine…but when I really look at it, there’s nothing normal about this life!  You know that you’re living a rather unique life when ritzy meals, homemade fortunes, random propositions and old men sitting in the street has become the norm :). 

Gyeongju weekend #3

Well, I found the Korean classes.  And the salsa club.  And the frisbee game.  But let’s start at the beginning….

Thursday night I set out armed with a picture of a hand-drawn map to guide me to the Korean lessons.  It was almost good enough.  I made it to the intersection that the building was on, but the building itself was tucked away and rather hidden, so in the end.  I had to call the girl who had given me the directions to help me.  But I got there, that’s what matters, right?? 🙂  The classes are taught by a Korean, as kind of a language exchange thing – she teaches us Korean every week, we take turns teaching her English every week.  The classes are super basic – way beyond my ability, and that’s saying something, lol – but I think I’m going to keep going, anyway.  It’s always helpful to have someone I can ask questions of, and plus I want to make a Korean friend.  Plus it’s something to do to get out of the house…..

So right after class, I headed over to the dance.  I did not even have a hand-drawn map to help me find this one, and I never would have stumbled on it if one of the other girls in class, Martene, hadn’t gone before and offered to show me where it was.  Through a shady alley, up two flights of windy stairs, around a few corners, and behind a tiny doorway….we found it.  But boy, once I got there, I SOOO did not want to go in.  I didn’t realize how intimidating it would be until I was standing in the doorway.  But by then, it was too late.  They had spotted me and were waving me in.  For all of the crazy or adventurous things I’ve done in my life….I’d have to say that stepping into that roomful of Koreans had to be one of the bravest things I’ve ever done.  

But it was so worth it.  They were in the middle of a lesson when I got there, so I jumped right in.  Even though I couldn’t understand the instructions, I just followed what all of the other follows were doing and got along pretty well.  It was also a pretty basic lesson, so the fact that I was familiar with the basics helped alot.  After the lesson, the free dancing started.  Even though most of them couldn’t speak any English at all, everyone was really nice.  I don’t think a single song went by without someone asking me to dance.  It helped that there were more men than women – a welcome change from my college, which is dominated by 75% females, so you can imagine how lopsided the ratios are at the dances.  A few times as I was dancing, I was struck by the fact that I was an American dancing to latin music with a bunch of Asians in South Korea.  I don’t know why, but I found that quite amusing :).  But ya, I had alot of fun, and I’m definitely going to become a regular.  It’s not West Coast Swing but hey, I’ll take what I can get! 🙂

Friday night I was supposed to have dinner with Mr. Cho, from my church – he was going to pick me up at 5:30.  Well, at 3:30, one of my co-teachers informed me that all of the English teachers were going out to eat dinner tonight, and that I would be eating with them.  It was not an option.  So, I had to cancel on Mr. Cho.  I was very disappointed :(.  I suppose it’s something I’ll have to get used to, though…in Korea, plans are made as last-minute as possible, and they tend to change even later than that.  So I called Mr. Cho, and regretfully backed out, and went to dinner with my teachers.  But it turned out alright in the end – Mr. Cho rescheduled, and I had a great time with my teachers.  They’ve decided that I’m going to perform a dance for the upcoming school talent show, and also that I’m going to teach all of them how to dance.  I’m more than a little worried, lol.  For such notoriously polite people, Koreans sure are good at getting their way when they want it… 🙂

But anyway, the reason we all went out for dinner on Friday night was because that was the first night we could.  Apparently they had wanted to take me out the first week I got here, but they were all so busy getting the new English building ready that they didn’t have time.  Friday afternoon was the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and so Friday evening everyone could finally relax.  I actually got to hold one end of the ribbon – it was fun.  I was glad when it was over, though – even though I didn’t really understand most of what was going on, everyone else was very tightly would, which made me nervous, too.  Hopefully next week will gain some semblance of normalcy to it…

The English hall all decked out right before the ribbon-cutting ceremony

Me and all my wonderful English teachers <3

Saturday had some crazy weather going on in Gyeongju.  There was a big storm or something on the coast, and so we had gusting winds and pelting rain all day.  In the middle of it, I decided to go on a bike ride.  Riding against the wind and rain – and then playing 3 hours of Frisbee – left me exhausted by the end of the day.  By the time I made it home, it was dinnertime, and there was apparently a mini family-reunion of sorts planned at my house.  So I got to meet all of my Korean cousins and aunts and uncles, and then after they left my host sister insisted on a Spanish tutorial lesson…by the time I finally slipped into bed, I was falling asleep on my feet.  But it was a good tired, a day well-spent. 

Sunday I went to church again.  Brought a few new friends with me.  After I got home, my host family took me to the International Expo.  It’s a huge cultural fair / expo thingy that tours around Korea – it only makes it to Gyeongju once every three years.  There were lots of music performances, dances, plays, a food court, traditional artwork, kiddy crafts, the whole shebang…it was a blast :). 
Well, tomorrow’s another school day.  I’ve gotta go work on my lesson plans for this week.  The Lord is good.  I love you all!!!
The International Expo
Reenactment of a traditional Korean wedding

The “Gyeongju tower”
A hip-hop / breakdancing performance

My cousin making her mask….
…and the finished product 🙂

An Argentine Tango performance.  I was happy 🙂

So this is what they call culture shock

Well, another week is almost over.  I can’t wait until school settles down and I have some semblance of a schedule.  With the renovation of the new English building, I never know what’s going to happen or what’s going on.  Yesterday the computer in 2 of my classes just decided to stop working (I had checked it the day before and verified that it was working properly!), so I had to improve – again.  Can anyone say tongue twisters?? 🙂  Five of my regular classes were canceled, but I gained 3 different classes that I’m having to sub for.  I was told that I can do “anything” with them….which is almost worse.  What do you teach to a class when you have no idea of their levels, and you will never teach them again??  So ya, I’m looking forward to settling down a little bit, both at school and outside of it.

I think I’m finally experiencing this thing that everyone warned me about called “culture shock.”  I didn’t have any problems adjusting in Spain and, although I did in Costa Rica, that only lasted a few weeks.  It was nothing like this.  The constant, never ending struggle to adapt and understand is merciless.  All of the little things you have to remember – wear slippers to school, brush your teeth after classes, put your chopsticks over your bowl when you’re finished, bow to teachers, don’t bow to students, take your shoes off when you’re inside, 90 degree bows to principles, 45 degree bows to fellow teachers, turn off the hot water when you’re done showering, give and accept things with 2 hands….the list goes on and on and on.  And always working so hard to understand what people are saying leaves my brain a mushy, sticky, unhappy mess by the end of the day.  I’m told that the 3-month mark is usually the worst, and then it gets better.  I surely do hope so, because the thought of it getting worse than this – or being this bad the entire time I’m here – makes me want to curl up in a corner and never come out.  Alright, I’m done, sorry for the pity party. 

But ya, this week has been more or less adventure-less.  Except on Tuesday.  A new friend of mine, Harry, asked if I wanted to go hiking with him, so I left after school and we took a taxi to the base of the mountain.  Except we misjudged how far away the mountain was, and I had to make it home for dinner, so by the time we got there it was already so late that we had to turn around and start walking back :(.  But it was ok….instead of an intense hike, we had more of a leisurely stroll, and also got to visit some great historic sites that we walked past on our way back into town.

Our little Buddhist temple getaway.  We danced.  It was great 🙂

A bird’s eye view of Gyeongju

I’ve done a lot of scouting this week, and I think I’ve found Korean classes and a salsa place on Thursdays, and Ultimate frisbee games on Saturdays.  I’m going to try to check them out this week.  There’s a teacher’s soccer club at my school, but I’m not allowed to play since I’m a girl….lame :(.  Also, a deacon at my little church invited me to have dinner with him on Friday, so that should be fun.  Apparently he does this for every new foreigner in town – has them over for dinner, gives them rides, takes them hiking, etc.  Seems like a wonderful man.  Still no swing dancing, but I found someone who apparently used to dance in the Atlanta circuit (small world!!), and she said there’s some swing in nearby towns, so I’m hoping I can convince her to come with me sometime.  That’s next week’s project, though….it’s too overwhelming to do this week.

I know some of you are dying to see my school and the people I work with, so I’ve included a few pictures in this blog.  All of my classes were canceled today, so I had time to walk around and take some pictures :).  Also, in case any of you are ever feeling bored or just in the mood to send something to a homesick American living on the other side of the world, my mailing address is below.  Love you all!!

Lauren Fenner
경북 경주시 성건동

현수막나라 620-157
South Korea

If that’s too hard to copy, here’s the Romanization of that:
Lauren Fenner

Gyeongbuk Gyeongju si Seonggeondong
Hyeonsumaknara 620-157
South Korea

My daily transportation.  The seat’s too big…it bruises my butt :(.  But I’ll have legs of steel by the end of the year!! 🙂


Seondeok girl’s high school in all its glory

That’s the new English building there on the left
These are the normal classroom halls….

…and this is the English one.  I’m so blessed 🙂

One of my classrooms
The garden at the front of school.  It’s a lovely getaway 🙂


There’s also a pond at the end of the path.  It’s my favorite place on campus :).
Andddd….this is my least favorite place on campus.  Outside squat toilets, for the win 🙁

Some of the teachers I work with: Borim, Sang-a, Mrs. Jang, and Ye-ji (seated)
Some of my best students…this is why I love teaching <3