Month: December 2011

There and back again

Well my nerdy book-worm friends will recognize the title of this blog as a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” which I suppose is rather fitting considering the fact that I’ve just spent the better part of an hour downloading dozens of free literary classics onto my Kindle to keep me occupied during my numerous upcoming flights.  But other than that, there is really nothing relating to Tolkien or Middle Earth or Hobbits in this blog.  This one is about Christmastime in America :).

The trip to America was long and boring, but I would not go so far as to say grueling.  It was uneventful, and marked mostly by sitting and watching movies, but not a particularly pleasant trip, nonetheless.  I started at 2 in the morning from Gyeongju, catching a bus to the airport in Seoul.  I met a girl from California while I was waiting on my flight who was doing the same thing I was, and we got some coffee and had a nice long chat.  It was a much better way to pass the time than just sitting in a corner of the airport :).  So anyway, 1 bus, 2 planes, 3 customs and security checks, 4 airplane meals, and 27 hours later, I finally found myself in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport.  My friend Sylvain met me at the airport.  We got some airport pizza, he got a good laugh at seeing me so completely jet-lagged, we caught up for a little bit, and then I took a shuttle to Columbus, where my family was there waiting for me.  Actually, I ended up waiting for them for a little bit, but it was ok, because I got to meet lots of interesting people while I waited.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy striking up random conversations with strangers I meet in my travels.  That’s not really something I can do in Korea, as usually there is a pretty large language barrier that makes communication of any depth really impossible.

So anyway, my first week in America was marked mainly by just spending time with family and friends, punctuated by Christmas, my birthday celebration, and visits from Grandparents.  I went on a picnic with my friend Tyler, saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie with James, took daddy to see Mission Impossible, and played lots and lots of games with my siblings.  I went to a Christmas Eve Eve service at my church on the 23rd, got a hair cut and a pedicure with my mom, and went shopping with my grandmother.  Christmas day was a relaxing affair – we waited to open presents until after church, and then just hung around and visited with each other.  It was also the only day that I got to see Chris, which was a nice treat.  Mom and I hosted a tea at our house with some of her lady friends who had been wanting to meet me, which was fun – I’ve been wanting to meet them, too, and I haven’t had a real tea in years.  Then my grandparents came down to visit on the 27th, and stayed until the 30th, so I got to spend a lot of time with them, too.  That was awesome – it had been close to a year since I’d seen them.

Josh’s birthday present – Joshua 1:7 in Korean

Tyler’s Christmas present – Kimchi!!  He was so happy 🙂

My first picnic in years 🙂

She’s such a cutie pie <3

The Fenner family, all together!  Such a rarity these days…

Merry Christmas!!!

I love, love this picture!!

Spreading the Korea love….

Yay for seeing grandparents!! 🙂

Tea with the ladies! 🙂

Haha we’re silly 😀

Christmas presents from the host family 🙂

On the 30th, we packed everything up and made the long drive to Birmingham, Alabama, to spend New Year’s Eve with our friends the Roberts’.  This has been an annual tradition with our families every year for as long as I can remember – we take turns hosting each other in our respective homes, and it’s always a lot of fun.  However, I haven’t been able to be present for several years for one reason or the other – usually it’s because I’m out of the country, lol – so it was especially nice for me.  So we had lots of fun, played lots of games, watched the ball drop in New York City (and for a special treat, watched the moon pie drop in Mobile, Alabama!  Gotta love the south, lol….), went to church, and then headed back home.

Games with the Roberts’ are always super intense, lol…

Happy new year!!

Friends… <3

On the way back to Albany, my parents dropped me off in Atlanta.  So that was goodbye to my family, and hello to Atlanta.  Bittersweet for sure, but it was good to see my friends in Atlanta.  So Rachel and her fiance Ryan picked me up from my parents, and we wasted no time.  That night was spent playing putt-putt with J-Parr, and then going to Jonathan and Jessica’s house and playing games until wayyyy too late at night.

The next day, January 2nd, was the day before my 22nd birthday.  However, since my 22nd birthday was going to be spent on a plane, the 2nd was the celebration day.  I got to watch the tournament of roses parade (my favorite parade…ever!) for the first time in like 3 years.  After that came lunch with David and the Knights and then more games.  And then the evening came.  What started off as a simple dinner with friends morphed, because of my fabulous friends, into a full-blown birthday dance.  They even had a steal dance just for me.  As I was looking around the dance room at all of these dear faces, half of whom didn’t even dance, but had come just to see me, I was overwhelmed.  I felt so loved.  It was a wonderful way to wrap up my visit to the states.

They were calling me the “princess” because of what I was wearing.  I think that’s why I was making that face, lol.  But…I did win the game!! 🙂

Soon-to-be newlyweds….love those guys

Jonathan and Jessica
Me ‘n David 
Old friends from Berry <3

again….spreading the Korea love.  What can I say?  It’s infectious 🙂

My friends are silly 🙂

Yay for sisters 🙂

So, armed with my suitcases and enveloped with the wonderful new jacket that they had bought me for my birthday, Rachel and Ryan took me to the airport early the next morning.  I was fighting a cold, but I sat next to a really friendly lady on the plane who made the trip a whole lot more bearable.  When I finally arrived in Seoul, the plan was to meet Sarah and Leora and Adam and go up to Hwacheon to see the ice festival.  So I met them and they gave me a little birthday party and it was great to see them.  But by then I was REALLY sick, so instead of going north to Hwacheon, I went south to Gyeongju.  I know my limits, and that would have been just too much.

Brand-new fiancees!  And I get to be in the wedding!! <3 

So I finally got home to Gyeongju…and my host father took one look at me and hauled me off to the hospital.  Within an hour, and after much poking and prodding, I found myself with an IV needle sticking in my arm and a bagful of medicine.  Add to that extreme jet-lag, and my host mom’s constant fussing and overprotectiveness was NOT appreciated.  All I wanted to do was sleep, and that was the one thing they didn’t seem to want to let me do.  Although I must say, sleeping with a needle in your arm is most certainly not the most pleasant sensation.

Today, the next day, was mostly spent in bed, with a short foray into town to swap stories with Elizabeth.  I’m glad I got to see her – I needed to get out of the house, and I think talking with her restored a sense of normalcy and acceptance to being in Korea again, which I had been lacking since my arrival.  So yeah, that was America!  Winter camp starts in 2 days – keep me in your prayers!!  I’m super nervous about it – I’ve never done anything like this before.  I’ll have my students for more time in the span of 2 weeks than I had them for the entire semester, and I’m terrified that I will run out of material.  I guess it’ll just be another chance for God to show His bigness!! 🙂

Things you can’t plan for

I’ve had quite a week.  Forget about all of the field trips and festivals and other exciting things I’ve witness during my 6 months in Korea.  This has been the type of fun that you can’t plan for. 

Last Friday was another open mic night at Grazie, the last one that Anthony and I would both be at.  So I asked him to accompany me on a song, as sort of a “last hurrah” for us, if you will.  So he did, and it was a lot of fun.  We sang “Painting pictures of Egypt,” which is a metaphorical song that alludes to the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the desert, which I thought was a very fitting song to sing in the presence of so many people who are in transitionary periods of their lives.  But the best part, for me, was that In-suk, my host sister, came with me!  It was so cool to be able to share this part of my life, usually so separate from the life of ordinary Koreans, with my host sister.  Check out the video of me singing below :). 

 Saturday night was the reverse – I was the foreigner on Korean territory.  Several of my students had asked me weeks ago if I would go out with them Saturday night, the night after their finals ended, when they would finally have some time to breathe.  I agreed, of course – I never turn down an opportunity to spend time with my wonderful students – so a date was made.  I was a little worried that they were expecting me to pick up the entire tab, but we went dutch the entire time, so that was good.  I was so proud of my students – they were trying to speak in English almost the entire evening, even with each other!  When just my presence gives them such an incentive to try and speak in English, how on earth can I begrudge them my time when they ask for it??  And besides, I had a blast – we went and took sticker pictures, and had coffee (or green tea, in my case), and went to dinner, and sang karaoke, and even bought matching phone dangles for our cell phones.  It was a blast, and an evening that I’m not likely to soon forget. 

The next day, Sunday, my friend Anthony invited me to a party after church.  It was a party hosted by the Filipino community for the Filipino community in Gyeongju…although I am not Philippina, Anthony is, and he invited me to tag along.  So mid-afternoon I met him (after being regaled by my host mother and sister on the piano for the past hour), and we made our way to the church that was hosting it.  We originally went to the wrong church, but we ended up meeting a co-teacher of Anthony’s who helped us straighten it out, so it was all good.  It’s good for me to hang out with Anthony – it teaches me not to worry if things don’t always work out as planned :).

So anyway, we finally found the party, and it was a blast.  I met a lot of cool people, was introduced to Filipino food, and even won a 6-pack of soap because my team won the balloon-popping game.  Plus, this may sound shallow, but I’m going to say it anyway….there were so many hispanic-looking men there!  I know they weren’t technically hispanic, but they looked like it, and I was very happy…I definitely go for the tall, dark, and handsome type.  I’ve been a bit deprived working at an all-girls’ school in Korea, lol.  Hearing Tagalog, however (the language of the Philippines), really threw me for a loop.  Tagalog is a mixture of Spanish, English, and a lot of its own unique flavor, too – constantly flip-flopping between understanding a bit and then not understanding left my brain really hurting! 🙂 In the end, though, I was really sad when I had to leave – the party was just getting started!

But the reason I had to leave was because I was making dinner for my host family!  I had asked them about a week ago if I could make dinner for them, and surprisingly enough, they had agreed.  My host sister, In-suk, really wanted to help, so I let her stay, but the parents we kicked out of the kitchen.  We made fajitas, with chocolate chip cookies for dessert, and it was a huge success.  Although I must say, the images of them staring with confusion at these empty tortillas and huge skillet of meat and vegetables, or trying to eat fajitas with chopsticks, or insisting on adding kimchi to the filling, are ones that will stick with me a long time :).  But overall, definitely a success and lots of fun.  I also gave them their Christmas presents, which they really seemed to like.  Afterwards, we went upstairs and sang karaoke (they have a karaoke machine in their house!!!) and then went to bed.

If I could, I would have weekends like this every single week.  Even though I didn’t go anywhere, I had more fun this weekend at Grazie, with my students, at the Filipino party and with my host family than I have in a very long time.  It was a wonderful way to end the first half of my stay in Korea.  The next few days quickly disappeared in a blur of final classes, tearful goodbyes and heartfelt sentiments from my students, and preparations for America.  Look for more about my stay in America on the next adventure of Sinbad! 🙂

Gumi orphanage Christmas party

I went to Gumi last Saturday.  Arriving in the city, it made me think of what the ancients said about Bethlehem – nothing good ever comes out of Bethlehem.  Gumi is a dirty industrial city, marked by chugging machinery, freight trains that stretch on for miles, and belching smokestacks.  But just like the ancients were wrong about Bethlehem, beauty can be found in Gumi, as well.

The reason that I went was to participate in the annual KKOOM Christmas party.  KKOOM, or Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission, was started by a bunch of Fulbrighters a few years ago.  Every year they host a Christmas party for the orphans in Gumi, and I decided to participate.  So I was assigned 3 children to buy gifts for, and then I made the treck to Gumi and helped out with the festivities all day.

My station was the arts and crafts / snack station which, I must say, was the best station of all :).  I got to play kids’ faces and hug and play with them all afternoon.  Then in the evening after dinner, we had a human decorating contest and handed out the presents.  Some of us went out to a bar after the kids were in bed, but we didn’t stay out long.  We had all had a long day, and several of us – myself included had volunteered to wake up early to make breakfast for the kids in the morning.

4:45 came darn early, but I enjoyed every minute of making breakfast.  I did not enjoy the trip home, but as I’m trying not to remember the bad stuff, let’s just say that I had….difficulties with the public transportation.  I was glad to finally be home again – 5 hours after I started my 1 1/2 long journey.

In other news, I’ve started to have “last days” with my classes.  Check out the pictures of some of my favorite classes – as well as what one of them wrote on the board for me before class started.  Yeah, I was bawling :).

I’ll be home for Christmas in 9 days!!!

What greeted me when I walked into class last week…로렌 is Lauren in Korean

Some of my favorite classes.

Gumi Christmas party….yay for seeing friends!! 🙂

Face-painting!!  I got the best job ever…

They decided that I needed to be painted, too.

I have no idea….I think Sarah was the reindeer and Adam was Santa…

The kids got to decorate the ETAs!  It took the boys some coaxing, but they finally warmed up and really got into it 🙂

ETA performances

Kid performances
One of the little girls that I bought gifts for… 🙂

Making breakfast at wayyyy too early in the morning….for 150 people.  Oh yeah, fun times 🙂

Catching up

It’s been almost 2 weeks since I’ve written anything…I’ve been so busy I’ve barely had time to think, let alone breathe.  I should have more time next week, but rather than make you wait another week I’ve uploaded some pictures with captions under them, to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to.  Enjoy!!

I went to a Beethoven concert with Anthony and Yu-gyeong

Dinner and girl time with Nia

The cake that my lunch class surprised me with on our last day of class

My lunch class <3 
Going to Busan with Anthony to see a musical review

Killing time in the world’s biggest department store….

Musical review – “Love…hurts”

Lucy and Schroeder, from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”  Love it! 🙂

Host family threw me a “one-month” party, to celebrate me living with them for a full month 🙂

Host papa making kimchi….in his business suit.  Gotta love Korea!

A Christmas concert with Anthony.  There was something completely beautiful about hearing the old classics sung in a different language….
Decorating my church for Christmas.  We had so much loot!!

The whole decorating gang 🙂

My Christmas presents for my host family – their names are at the bottom.  Took me almost 4 weeks to make!!