Month: November 2011

Relaxing and counting my blessings

This weekend marks the first weekend that I’ve stayed in Gyeongju – except for the weekend that I moved – in nearly 2 months.  I cannot even begin to express to you how excited I was to not be catching a bus or a train or a taxi this weekend.  Nevertheless, I found things to do, as always.  Saturday morning I went over to Harry’s house and helped him decorate his house for Christmas.  It was a little sad – Christmas decorations are not particularly easy to find in Korea, resulting in a rather small pathetic little pile of decorations.  But we played Christmas music and wore a Santa hat and did what we could, and still had a joyous time.

Saturday night I went to a party.  It was the first time I’ve been out among the foreign population in ages.  It was good to get out.  They catered dinner – and it was wonderful! – and I got to catch up with some people that I hadn’t seen in a while, and all in all it was just a nice relaxing evening.  I was one of the first ones to leave because I had to get up super early to Skype with my family the next day, but it was still a lot of fun.

I had to get up so early because my brother Josh’s blessing ceremony was at 5:30 am on Sunday morning my time, and I was able to Skype into the ceremony.  It was a beautiful ceremony.  Definitely bittersweet on my end, because I so wanted to be there in person, but in the end I’m just grateful for technology that allowed me to be there at all.

Josh’s blessing ceremony has got me thinking of all of the blessings I have in my life.  Actually, it had me throwing a pity-party because everyone else in my family was together and I couldn’t be there…but I decided that that wasn’t a good attitude to have about it, so I’m trying to adopt a different perspective.  So here goes – some of the things that I’m grateful for.  I suppose during this season of family and thankfulness this is a fitting way to end this post.

I’m thankful, first and foremost, for my Lord and Savior.  He has blessed me – and stretched me as well – in ways that I would have never imagined, nor could have ever planned for myself.  No matter where my life ends up, I know for a fact that Jeremiah 29:11 is true, and that He WILL take care of me.

I’m thankful for my family.  Whenever I get into one of those self-pitying moods, I have to remind myself that the reason I’m so upset is also the very reason why I’m so blessed.  So many people don’t have families that they’re crazy about.  So many people don’t want to go home.  The fact that that’s not the case with me is one of the greatest blessings that I will ever have in my life.

I’m thankful for the opportunities that God has given me.  I’ll be honest, sometimes I suffer from a severe case of “grass is always greener” syndrome.  I miss being home and comfortable – but God has given me an incredible opportunity to see things this year that most people will never have in their entire lifetime.  It’s an experience that I never thought I would have, and it’s one that I would do well to remember what a wonderful chance it truly is.

I’m thankful for my friends.  On a day like today, they also make me sad, because most of them are so very very far away from me.  But again, God has been reminding me that He has given me companionship all over the world.  No matter where my wanderings have taken me, He’s led me to people that will uplift me and challenge me.  What a blessing that has been.

I could go on, but the night grows long, and I still have much to do.  But above all, I want to remember what God has done for me.  It’s hard to be depressed when you sit down and really count your blessings. 

School festival

My school had a festival yesterday.  They had been preparing for it for weeks, and honestly, by Thursday afternoon, I was just ready for it to be over.  It was a huge deal, including the entire school and city, and preparations for it had everyone in the office stressed and on edge.  So Friday morning, bright and early, I showed up at school….and it was mayhem.  For the first hour or so, everyone was running around getting ready.  I didn’t know how I could help, so I just tried to stay out of the way.

The first couple of hours after the festival started was pretty rough for me.  A school festival in Korea means no classes and fun things to do, so of course all of the students had grouped themselves into their little knots of friends and were walking around together enjoying the sights.  Unfortunately, though, I didn’t have any of my friends to walk around with, so it was really awkward at first.  Everyone was really friendly and said hello, but waving in the hallway and actually hanging out together with someone are definitely not the same thing.

It was only about 10:30, and I was already contemplating leaving, when a few of my students came up to me.  They looked both excited and nervous, and I could immediately tell that something was up.  Eventually I figured out that they wanted me to spend the festival with them.  I emphatically said yes, and my festival experience after that took on a decidedly different character.

We ate food, and watched a movie, and hung out in their homeroom (and got lots of surprised reactions from other students who walked in and saw me there!), and watched the student and community performances at the end of the day, and overall just had a grand time.  I got dragged into a few rooms by random students – I have no idea who they were – and was always greeted with a chorus of cheers and cries of “TEACHER!!!” or something to that effect….I think the best room was the black room.  Which was actually a black-lit dance room.  And I danced.  And they flippedddddd outttttt.  My host father was there for a little while (I’m still not sure why), and he saw me interacting with some of my students.  When we got back home that night he told me that I was “인기 장” with my students – “most popular.”

I gave my number to a few of my students while we were hanging out, and they all texted me later saying what fun they had, and how happy they were to have spent the day with me.  One of my favorites, from Na-young, said this: “Hi I am Na-young.  Today I’m vary happy with you.  I’m awkward in speaking English.  but I think I have learned so much English becouse of you.  I am vary thankful about that.  See you next class and have a good dream.  byebye ^_^”

A lot of the second graders, the ones I subbed for last week, have also started calling me teacher.  Many people whom I can only assume are students, came up to me at the festival to say hello. It’s strange to me that these girls who I don’t really know at all can be so friendly with me…but I like it :).  Some of them even introduced me to their friends from the local boys’ high school!  They were super friendly…although one of them decided that I’m his girlfriend now =/.  Still, I had fun talking with them.  Overall, a wonderful day.  Enjoy the pictures and videos!

The entrance to the English department
Getting ready…
I still can’t believe I put that thing on my head….
Bomin – the student who wrote the letter to me a few weeks ago 🙂
Me and Na-young…
It’s me!!! 🙂
They were collecting cups.  They were really excited about it, lol…
Some of the second-graders that I subbed for last week.  They’ve already started calling me teacher <3
A local boy band.  They weren’t that good, but they were BOYS!  The girls went crazyyyy 🙂
Man, these girls can DANCE!
Some local high school boys.  Mr. Brown Jacket has decided that I’m his girlfriend now…. =/

I heart my students

Yesterday, Tuesday, I wasn’t supposed to teach my vocational students.  I have 2 classes, but the first period I was giving them an oral test, and the second period another teacher was supposed to be giving them a vocab review for another test that they have coming up next week.  So after the test, they were all sitting in the room waiting for class to start, and I packed up and tried to say goodbye.My students would have nothing of it.  I was met with a chorus of “Teacher, no go!!  We want you teach us!  Teacher I love you!”  Basically, the class had unanimously decided that they wanted me to teach them instead of their regular teacher.  So I told them that I would stick around and wait to ask her when she got there….but I didn’t really think she would agree.  Well, it turns out that she was very busy, and gave the class over gladly.  So I got to teach my wonderful vocational students – they’re some of my favorites, and I was honestly really bummed that I wasn’t going to be able to teach them.  I was also pretty grateful for my propensity to be over-prepared.  I had already printed out my handouts for my next class, so I just ran down and picked them up and taught that lesson to the vocational students, too.  We had a blast together, if I do say so myself….

Fast-forward to Wednesday.  I was told about 30 minutes before the class was supposed to start that I would be subbing for 2 second-grade high school classes, whom I don’t usually teach at all.  So I rushed around getting ready, and printed out the final handouts just before class started.  The first class was a vocational D-level, which is basically the lowest English level possible.  The Korean teachers are all convinced that they don’t speak any English at all, so the teacher for whom I was subbing came up and introduced me first to the students in Korean.  But I know better.  My co-teachers said the same thing about my vocational D-level students, but I have full conversations with them.  Short ones, granted, and their syntax is completely mangled….but these students know more than their teachers – or even they themselves – give them credit for.  They just need someone to help them open up…

So when the whole class started yelling in horror when the Korean teacher started leaving after her introduction, begging their translator not to leave, I wasn’t worried.  I had been through the same thing with my regular students, and we’ve never had a problem together.  Turns out I was right.  After 50 minutes, by the end of class, they were begging me to permanently replace their regular Korean teacher.  A similar thing happened with the other class, a vocational B-level class.

It’s days like today and yesterday that make the rough classes and long days and tedious hours spent lesson-planning all worth it.

A Seoul-ful Thanksgiving

I went to Seoul this weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving.  And yes, I know that it’s a week early, but apparently in Korea this is when they celebrate American Thanksgiving.  So off to Seoul I went, and man, what a weekend it was!!  In the span of 2 and a half days, I met the American ambassador to Korea, got a private tour through the most visited museum in Korea, talked with some guys from Uzbekistan for nearly an hour – in Korean! – went to a new church, talked to a waiter in Spanish, had a Chicago deep-dish pizza, went West Coast Swing dancing, and got my Indian visa.  Let’s start at the beginning….So Saturday morning, I headed to the bus station bright and early – and by that, I mean 10:00 in the morning.  Which admittedly is not really all that bright and early, but saying “dim and mid-morning” doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it…anyway, I digress.  The 10:10 bus was sold out, so I got a ticket for the 11:00 bus, instead.  While I sat there waiting, 2 men who were obviously foreigners came and sat down next to me.  I couldn’t tell where they from, but I could tell that it wasn’t Korea.  They kept staring at me, so finally I decided that it would be less awkward if I started talking to them.  “Where are you from?” I asked.  “Oh, no English, English very very little.”  Great.  “어느나라에서왔어요?”  (same question,  in Korean).  Well, turns out that they did speak Korean, although I don’t know how they learned it – my Korean vocabulary skills were not advanced enough to ask.  But they were advanced enough to have nearly an hour-long conversation with them about other things – augmented by frequent queries to the English-Korean dictionary on my phone.  It was hard, and most of the time I felt like and idiot – but we were still communicating.  It was fun, I really enjoyed it :).

So I finally made it to Seoul, and met up with some of my friends and went to the Thanksgiving dinner.  This was an event co-hosted by the Fulbright office, the American embassy, and the National Folk Museum of Korea – the most visited museum in all of Korea, and also our venue for the evening.  It started off with a private tour of some of the galleries – the museum was already closed, so we had the entire place all to ourselves.  It was crazy.  Other events during the course of the evening included speeches from embassy and Fulbright officials, performances by both traditional Korean folk artists and fellow ETAs, and of course, dinner!!  The performances were amazing….but I’ve got to say, the meal was probably what made me the happiest.  Turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, fruit, green bean casserole, pumpkin and apple pie, the works…I was one happy puppy :).  The only thing that was missing was my family.

National Folk Museum of Korea
Our adorable little tour guide
Traditional performers…they were sooo good
Yummy!! 🙂
ETA performances
They sang a traditional Korean folk song….or tried to, anyway 😀

Sunday morning I went to a church service with Leora.  The church, Julibee, is the largest independent English-speaking church in Korea…and it was awesome.  The worship, the sermon, the people, the building – all of it was wonderful.  I met up with my friend Dan for lunch, and we decided on a Mexican restaurant in Itaewon, the foreign district in Seoul.  The food was great, and the waiter spoke Spanish, which was even greater.  Ever since then, I’ve been listening to all of my Spanish music on repeat.  I love Spanish sooo much….I’m determined to not forget it while I’m here!!  Dinner was Chicago deep-dish pizza with Leora – they claimed to have invented the deep-dish pizza, which was a lie, but it was still good.

Leora is nothing less than adorable <3
I love my friends….
Jubilee church
Cardboard walls….so cool
Dan and I at “Los Amigos”
They said they invented the deep dish pizza….lies….

After dinner Leora had to head back to Hwacheon, but I was staying through until Monday.  So I made my way to the other side of town by myself, searching for a tiny little club in the corner of an alley.  The rumor on Facebook had it that this tiny little club had a West Coast Swing dance on Sunday nights.  So I got off at the right exit and started walking in the direction that I thought the instructions told me to go.  It soon became clear that that was NOT the actual direction I was supposed to go, and within a very short amount of time I was lost in the middle of Seoul.  I was about to turn around and just go back home, but in a last-ditch effort I asked a taxi driver to take me to the big wedding center that looked like was very close to the dance club, from what I could make out from the grainy, pixelated directions.  Well it turns out that I was right, and before I really knew what was happening I found myself in Tiffany’s Bar, watching people dance my baby, a dance that I haven’t seen in nearly 6 months.

Oh my goodness, I was in heaven.  Not only were the dancers incredible, but they were also all super friendly, and some of them spoke English, so I didn’t feel quite so alone and outsider-ish.  I finally had to tear myself away, for fear that the metro would close and leave me stranded on the opposite side of Seoul from my hostel (that would have been one EXPENSIVE taxi!).  But I had a blast.  It was definitely worth the lonely treck out there, and even the fighting off drunk people on the way back.  Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds…the metro was full of noisy drunk people on the way back, and the man sitting next to me happened to be so inebriated that he couldn’t sit up straight, and so he kept sliding and slumping over onto me.  It was uncomfortable and disconcerting, and I was certainly glad that we were in a public, well-lit place, but he got off before I did, and I didn’t have any more problems after that.

West Coast dancing….pure joy….

Monday was not quite so fun, but I suppose it was necessary evil to have fun later on.  I went to apply for my visa to India, so that I can go there during my Christmas break.  It took me a while to find the office, and I was tired and grumpy by the time I got there, but I finally made it ten minutes before my appointment.  I had a bit of a scare when my number was called – I was told that they don’t accept payment via ATM transfers, which is what I had done.  But because they had never actually said that on their website (and also, I think, God was with me), they decided to accept it in my case, and I am currently passport-less, waiting for my Indian visa to be put in and then mailed back to me :).

I finally made it back to Gyeongju late afternoon.  The rest of Monday was spent doing laundry, cleaning up, catching up on my blogs, and other sundry things like that.  But what I neglected to do is finish my lesson plan for tomorrow, so I suppose I should go do that.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!  You are loved!!!

A concert in Korea

I wish that I could explain to you the humor, the cultural insight, the very Korean-ness that is a community-wide performance in Korea.  Perhaps I would start with describing how my host mother ran from the car to the theater in a sort of strange waddle-run, hiding under her jacket to escape the slight rain that was so light that I wouldn’t even consider it rain – more like a gentle mist.  Or perhaps I would start instead with her insistence that I use both an umbrella and a rain jacket to evade said gentle mist.Perhaps I would start explaining what happened inside the theater, with my host mother on one side of me singing lustily off-key with the performers, while my host sister sat on my other side snoring away.  Or the spontaneous, auditorium-wide clapping that would start with astonishing frequency and coordination.Maybe it would be better to first talk about the Korean propensity to show off their “pet foreigners.”  I would talk about how my host mother used me as an excuse to get permission for her daughter to miss school so that she could come – apparently Insuk was allowed to come only on the condition that she translate for me….since I would be completely lost watching dance and listening to music if I didn’t understand all of the words, lol.  Maybe I would describe how I was paraded in front of all of my host parents’ friends, all of whom, after careful scrutiny, gave the same assessment of me – small face, very pretty!  Or how my host mother bought a bouquet of flowers for me to give to my host father, and then shoved me up on stage and made me give them to him before the performance had actually ended.  Yeah, that was awkward.  Or maybe I would skip that flower story, and just tell the one where my host mother walked up to the big flower arrangements that they had decorating the entryway and just started taking flowers out of them to give to me.  I don’t think she was supposed to do that.  But she wanted to give me flowers, so that was that.

I wish I could truly explain to you the night that I spent with my host family last Friday night.  But I think, in the end, that it’s something that you would have to experience yourself to truly understand.

My host papa.  Isn’t he adorable? 🙂
I truly am one of the family… <3
They’re the cutest 🙂
They gave me all of his flowers and had me put them in my room!  I can literally smell their love now… 🙂

The Korean educational system

This is a post that I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but simply haven’t had the time.  But now that travelling  has slowed down a bit, be on the lookout for more reflective posts!My first one is about the Korean educational system.  As an English teacher in Korea, this is obviously something that I have a lot of first-hand experience with.  And goodness, it really does break my heart.  As much as I love my students and teaching, sometimes I am just so burdened for them and what they go through.  I warn you, this is not a happy post.  I can think of no other world to describe it than tragic.  But please read it anyway.  Watch the videos.  It’s something that you need to hear.Korea is generally regarded as the most competitive educational system in the entire world.  But because of that, Korean students are under enormous, incredible pressure.  You think college stresses you out?  Worried about doing well on the SAT or GRE?  This is pressure like you’ve never experienced, and couldn’t imagine even if you tried.

Students start off in elementary school already with long days – usually from about 8:00 am-3:00 pm.  Middle school students get out a few hours later, around 5:00 pm.  Even in middle school, though, the pressure has started to mount.  My friend Elizabeth, another Fulbright scholar, says that her middle school host sister gets up at 2:30 or 3:00 am – every morning.  When asked why she does that, she said matter-of-factly, as if it were completely normal, that she could get in 1 or 2 entire online lessons before school started by getting up that early.

But it’s my students, the high school students, that really bear the brunt of the enormous pressure.  By the time you are a high school student, you spend an average of 15-17 hours a day at school.  Many students arrive at school by 8:00 am, and often don’t leave until 11:00 or 11:30 pm.  That includes weekends.  The better schools have dormitories for the top students, so that they can “have more time to study.”  I’m serious.  That’s a direct quote from my co-teacher.

In a sense, it’s gotten even worse for me since I moved homestays.  My old host sisters, to be quite honest, were not stellar students.  But my new host sister is.  And so, as wonderful as she is, living with her means that I also have to observe first-hand on a daily basis the amount of pressure that Korean students are under.  It manifests itself with her physically, in frequent nosebleeds, numerous sores all over her mouth, and constant exhaustion.  I’m not talking about the “oh-I’m-kind-of-sleepy-I-should-take-a-nap” type of weariness.  I’m talking about bone-deep, unequivocal, complete exhaustion, the kind that makes everything, even just getting up and going to the bathroom, a monumental effort.

High school students in Korea have no life outside of school.  They see far more of their teachers than they do of their parents.  Many of them even live at school in dormitories.  Almost all students eat at least 2 meals a day at school, and sometimes even the commuters end up eating all three there because of the long hours they put in.  They bring blankets and pillows to school so that they can catch up on sleep in class sometimes.  Boyfriends and girlfriends are virtually nonexistent.  Most of the schools are gender segregated, and even if they weren’t, who has time to hang out??  They’re always studying.  They have no friends outside of school, no outside interests, no hobbies…their life is studying.  Period.  I wish I could say that I was exaggerating, but alas, I cannot.  I probably shouldn’t do this, but I always give a little cheer (both inwardly and aloud) when I see my students out and about in town at a time when I know that they’re supposed to be in school.  I don’t care if they have to skip school to do it, these children need a life!!!

The pressure that they are under to perform is obvious.  I gave English oral exams last week to my students.  It was a simple exam, really – they were given 6 questions in advance, and then during the test I picked 2 of those 6 and asked them to answer me in English.  Students only had to answer with 3 or 4 sentences to get full credit for completion, and the questions were simple things, like “What will you do during winter vacation?” or “What is your favorite movie?”.  My students were in complete anguish.  Some were so nervous they were unable to say even a single word.  A few of them burst out crying.  All of them were pale and jittery and nervous beyond belief.  And that was just a simple test.  It was nothing like the suneng, the big test that seniors take at the end of high school (more on that later).

And the thing is, the test wasn’t even a real assessment of their skill levels.  They had the entire test beforehand.  I was instructed to not give the lowest score, even if students did not say a single word.  I was also told to grade on “effort,” not actual English proficiency, because “we want to encourage the students.”  It was one of the worst cases of teaching to the test that I’ve ever seen.

Speaking of tests…the “Big One” just happened here in Korea a few weeks ago.  All of those years of studying, all of the after-school classes and self-study hours and sleep deprivation that they’ve endured for their entire childhood, come to a head for the seniors on November 10th every year.  This is the day of the suneng, the senior exit test.  But this is no ordinary test.  This is the test that will decide their entire future.  The grade that they get on this test will determine their university, their job, their salary, where they live, even on occasion who they marry – many people will not marry someone who did not go to a university with a certain ranking.  On November 10th, the entire country stops to cheer on the seniors.  Planes stop flying.  Buses and trains stop running.  Many stores close for the day.  This test is, quite literally, their life.  It is what they’ve been working for for the last 12 years of their lives, and it is what will determine the rest of it.

The intense pressure to succeed has obvious affects on other areas of life.  The suicide rate in Korea is the highest in the entire developed world – it has more than doubled in the last ten years.  Nearly 10% of the entire young population considered committing suicide last year.  The rapid increase has caused crisis hotlines to pop up. But the operators receive no formal training on how to handle potential suicide cases, and the numbers remain heartrendingly high.  Elizabeth, who teaches in a middle school, says that several of her students have already confessed to attempting to commit suicide on multiple occasions.  Imagine that….a 13 year old child trying to kill herself because of a bad test grade.  It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Korea is a remarkable country.  For decades they have astonished the world with their nearly unheard-of economic growth rates.  In 50 years they have gone from a third-world country to one of the richest countries in the world, a global superpower.  Korean students consistently lead the global pack in test scores and academic performance.  But such success comes at a price.  And I can’t help but wondering if it’s too  high a price.

I want to conclude this post not with my own words, but with the words of a Korean.  This is a quote taken from the video below.  It’s about 20 minutes long, but so worth watching.  Please take the time to do so.

“I don’t know, there are lots of options or choices for them (Korean students who commit suicide).  But actually they chose to die.  Maybe they committed suicide because of their own expectations, or maybe they couldn’t see their parents because they believed that they had failed their parents…..but something is wrong.  Truthfully, taking tests and going to college – the reason for studying -…committing suicide just because you didn’t do that well, doesn’t make much sense to me.  But that in itself is a kind of representation of how there’s obviously a huge problem in our educational system.”

Cheonan and Suwon

I went to Cheonan this weekend to visit my friend Dianna, who taught at my school last year.  It was definitely a long weekend – I spent about 9 hours total on a bus – but it was a lot of fun, too.  So I got there around noon, and after eating lunch with Dianna, the two of us went with another Fulbrighter, Phebe, to see the ancient fortress in Suwon, about an hour away.  Phebe was really excited because the fortress wall is listed as a cultural heritage site or something like that – she kept reminding us that “We’re seeing so much culture!!”  For Dianna and I, who both have extensive experience with Gyeongju, the most historical city in all of Korea, her comments were a little bit laughable.  But it was still a beautiful wall, and I really enjoyed seeing it.  We got there during the day, and stayed until the sun went down, so we got to see the whole range of lighting.  So Dianna took hundreds and hundreds of pictures, and Phebe and I had lots of bonding time to get to know each other :).Sunday morning Dianna and I got up, made breakfast in her apartment, and then headed to church.  It was a great service, uplifting and encouraging, and I always love meeting new people! 🙂  We went to lunch with some of Dianna’s friends from church, plus a newcomer, Ronnie, from Zimbabwe.  ‘Twas a lovely afternoon, indeed.

After getting back from church, Dianna and I made a chocolate pudding in her rice cooker, played a board game while we waited for it to finish, and then I headed back to Gyeongju.  It was, all in all, far too short of a weekend, but I enjoyed it.  One more weekend of traveling, and then hopefully I’ll be done until the end of the semester! 🙂

The fortress during the day….
….and at night
The city of Suwon
I have no idea who they are.  I just thought it was cute 🙂
Dianna, me, Phebe
Some cool, weird-looking statue in the middle of the city.  That’s the extent of my knowledge 🙂
They plant cabbage like flowers.  They do it in Gyeongju, too.  Still trying to figure that one out….
Whisking with chopsticks….gotta love Korea 🙂

Pepero day

I would like to introduce you to the wonder, the joy, the incredible awesomeness that is….pepero day.  I mentioned in my last post that I made some pepero sticks with my host sister a few days ago, but I have yet to talk about the actual event!  I would be highly remiss in my duties as a blogger if I did not do that, so let me remedy the situation now.Pepero day, 11-11-11, was last Friday.  It’s supposed to be a day when students give pepero to teachers that they appreciate.  However, there were 2 things working against me – A) I’m the new teacher, the low man on the totem pole, as it were, and B) I had been told that pepero day wasn’t really celebrated by students in my school, so I wasn’t really expecting that much.  Most of the day went by with my assumptions being confirmed – by 3:30 or so, I had received 1 box of store-bought pepero, and that was it.  I was ok with that, no biggie.

But then it started coming.  And coming.  And coming.  By the end of the day, I had 9 boxes of store-bought pepero, and 4 bags of homemade stuff.  But the best part for me was the notes.  I got some of the best notes ever – the kind of notes that a teacher dreams of getting.  I’ve posted pictures of all of them here, but my favorite one is the one with the butterfly on the paper – she called me her favorite teacher, and thanked me for the work that I do in class.  Needless to say, I was on cloud nine, and her note is one that I will probably keep for the rest of my life.

I had so many wonderful interactions with students on Friday.  It was also dance class day, so that’s always fun.  I met a senior who asked me to help her with a French essay – I’m not sure how helpful I’ll be with that, but her English was really good, and she was bright and ambitious, and so we exchanged email addresses and hopefully we’ll be able to keep in touch.  Also, if you haven’t checked out the school blog lately, you should take a look at it!  Students have started writing, I’m showcasing some of their work, and overall it’s super exciting!!  🙂

Some of my favorite favorite students.  The girl with the red blanket wrote the butterfly note <3
This was apparently not just a note, but a “love note.”  That’s my name in Korean at the top…
For Loren teacher: Hi!  My name is …hehe Su-eun.  Today is peapearo day! (^_^) So I prepared that I give you peapearo and choco.  I hope you love
Dear Lauren ^_^,  Hello! Lauren.  It’s Bo-min Su in class 3 in the first grade.  I said hello to you several times before.  I don’t know if you remember me.  You are my favorite teacher. Your class was more helpful and much more fun!!! ^_^  Playing games with us, simple examples that you gave us really helped our understandings.  Every week, I just couldn’t wait for the A class on Friday.  I hope you also had fun with us, class A.  Then, don’t catch a cold.  Have a good winter. Many thanks for what you’ve done so far.  From, 1-3 Bo-min.
All of my Pepero day loot, minus 3 boxes that I gave away 🙂
My new high school senior friend! 🙂

Making memories

So I’ve been with my new host family less than a week, and already I’m dreading the time when I’ll eventually have to move out.  They are such a joy to live with.  I’ve made more memories with them in 5 days than I did in 7 weeks with my old family.  The night I moved in, Insuk (my host sister) and I went on a walk around our neighborhood.  We ran into some of her friends, and after walking around for a while, we decided to go to a coffee shop and play Jenga (that was my idea, actually….it was really cool to be able to show something new to Insuk about the neighborhood that she’s lived in her entire life :]).Then last night, one of her friends came over and we all made Peperos (basically a long straight pretzel dipped in chocolate and decorated with sprinkles and such) together.  Tomorrow – 11/11 – is aptly named Pepero day, so they wanted to make some to give to their teachers and friends.  It was hilarity the entire night.  First of all, Insuk comes in all in a tither, totally flipping out – she had just stepped up to her ankles in wet cement.  I felt bad for her, but at the same time her reaction was absolutely hilarious.  I couldn’t help but laugh…and then I helped her clean up :).  So anyway, after she got all of the cement out of her clothes, we finally got started on the Pepero – step 1, melt the chocolate.  I’m not sure how they did this, but their first attempt at melting it ended up in a gooey, burnt mess.

Around that time host papa came home, and he was all excited because the wireless router that he had bought for me had just come in.  And apparently, it was absolutely imperative that it be installed right now – actually, to be more specific, that I install it right now.  So he helped me a little bit, and we eventually figured it out, but I was left with a newfound appreciation for troubleshooting technology in a foreign language, lol.  All those people in India get a bad rap….    Anyway, right after we finished I had to leave for my Bible study – by the time I came back host momma had come home and taught the girls how to properly melt chocolate, and they had moved onto decorating – with a pile of failed attempts at decorating already on the table.  But I can’t make fun of them too much for that – the failures still tasted just as good!  Made for some yummy snack later on….

Tonight, my host mother brought home fried chicken (I tell you what, Korea sure does know how to do fried chicken, it’s sooo tasty!) along with about 20 pounds of spinach leaves.  So Insuk and I helped her lug it all the way up to our apartment – we live on the fifth floor and there’s no elevator.  I’m still trying to figure out what she’s planning on doing with all of that spinach…

I also had a personal victory today.  I’ve been putting off getting a haircut for months now.  I didn’t want to make a Korean friend come with me, but I was scared to go alone – I had heard too many horror stories of foreigners getting awful haircuts because they can’t communicate well and the Korean hairdresser don’t know what to do with their strange hair texture.  But today I didn’t have class, and so I decided that I also didn’t have an excuse anymore.  I looked  up how to tell them what I wanted, and spent a while memorizing it, and then bit the bullet and went into a hair salon near my house.  I left with an $8 haircut that looks amazing, 2 bottles of hair stuff given as a gift, and a new Korean friend.  I was so happy…. 🙂

Towards the end of my stay with the last family, I was REALLY struggling with my decision to move.  It seemed like such a drastic decision – was it really that bad?  Maybe it was my fault…would the new one be any better?  The epic drama on moving day did nothing to decrease my anxiety – it started with my host sister (Songi) coming into my room in the middle of the night sobbing because she had just found out that I was leaving, was punctuated with my co-teacher crying from stress at school, and ended with even my old host mother tearing up.  And all of that left one confused, emotionally drained, and very unsure little Lauren.

But I have no misgivings anymore.  Aside from the fact that this family actually feeds me (ah!  We already ate dinner and momma just asked me if I was still hungry!  I feel so loved!!!), they also just make me feel welcome.  No more yelling at me or around me.  No more ignoring me, either – I’m not sure which one is worse.  No more letting me fend for myself without ever asking me if I’m ok.  No more drastic mood swings where I am left wondering what the heck just happened.  I don’t think even I realized how much stress I was harboring until I was removed from the situation.  This new family doesn’t just allow me to live in their home – they treat like part of the family.  It’s absolutely incredible the difference that that makes.  And to make things even better, Songi (the only person from my old home that I’m going to miss) and I are still on good terms.  We’re planning on meeting up next week, after her big senior exam is over :).

Aside from the family…I even like where I live.  I really liked the location of where I used to live, and was struggling with leaving that, too.  And during the day and a half that I lived with my friend, I realized that that was a legitimate concern.  She lives on the other side of town, and I just felt so completely lost while I was there.  I didn’t know where anything was – it was like my very first few days in Gyeongju all over again.  But my new homestay is in the same neighborhood as my old one.  They’re about a ten minute walk from each other, but all of my old haunts are still easily accessible.  I feel so blessed that God looks out for even my smallest worries.  Really, where I live is a silly concern – I would have figured out a new neighborhood, too – but God allowed me to stay where I knew, while also giving me a family that welcomed me.  So here’s to making many wonderful new memories in the next 8 months! 🙂

Insuk is on the right….can’t remember her friend’s name right now :(.  Ji-won?  Something like that….
I finally have a real Korean family <3

School pictures

So I realized that, even though the reason I’m here is to teach English, I haven’t really showed you many pictures from where I spend so much of my time!  So here’s a few to remedy that!  Enjoy! 🙂

My school in the fall 🙂
Last week’s dance lesson was the electric slide.  Teaching the electric slide to Koreans….cultural ambassadorship, baby!
My lunch class