Month: March 2012

Picnics, Pizza, and Pals

I seem to have finally been cured of my previously insatiable wanderlust.  While I spent nearly every weekend last semester traveling, this semester I don’t want to go anywhere at all.  Even my upcoming trip to Jeju Island, one of the most beautiful islands in the world, I’m looking at with more than a little bit of trepidation.  After going all over Korea and southeast Asia, it seems that both my wallet and my sleep patterns have had quite enough moving for a while.

But then again, perhaps I don’t want to travel simply because I like where I am.  I’m finally finding fun hobbies and wonderful friends….and of course, I love my host family :).  My host sister came to church with me on Sunday – that was cool.  And then we made dinner in the evening for my host parents – this one was an even bigger hit than the fajitas!  We made a chicken / pepper / bean / corn / green pumpkin / whatever else I could find concoction that was really really tasty, if I do say so myself.  In between church and dinner, I went out to lunch with some people from church.  We went and got Korean pizza (have you ever had sweet potatoes on your pizza before??), and talked and laughed – mostly in Konglish, with a little bit of Chinese thrown in there, just for kicks – and overall just had a great time.  I love my friends here <3.

From Left to right: Jeong-min, Hyo-jeong (both Korean), Pan, Lin (both Chinese), and me :]

Speaking of friends, Saturday was also a lovely day with friends.  In the morning, I had Korean class with Si-yeon – she bought me lunch at this superrrrr yummy Japanese noodle place.  Then in the afternoon, I met up with my Uzbekistanian friends for a picnic – they brought the fruit, I brought the drinks and kimbap.  At the kimbap restaurant, I ran into another foreign teacher here, also named Lauren, and I invited her to come along.

So the four of us trooped out to the royal tombs to eat – it sounds morbid, but it’s really not.  They’re just big hills dotted all over the city; make for lovely walking and picnic places.  So yeah, we found a nice spot, and had a lovely afternoon picnicing….I was so excited!  It’s been years since I’ve had a picnic, and I was literally giddy, lol.  Afterwards we were going to go take sticker pictures together, but the place was closed, so instead we elected to go to a coffee shop and buy something to warm us up – it was so windy outside!!

Aziz, Stan, and Lauren², having a picnic in the park 🙂

Our photos have been forever “Koreanized” by the eternal peace sign 😀

Stan and Lauren

Stan and Lauren…again 🙂

Me ‘n Aziz

<3 <3 <3 

So that was my weekend.  Additional noteworthy highlights include playing badminton with my host family – in the house (don’t worry, we were gentle, lol), and the taxi driver who gave me a Lolli-pop and a mix CD just because, totally brightening my really crappy day.  All in all, quite a lovely 2 1/2 days.  My following week has been comparatively lovely, too – much less stressful than the previous weeks.  As I had hoped, with the projects dying down at work, so has the stress.  Four days in Jeju start in a day and a half!

My angel taxi driver.  Please note the totally tricked out dashboard and CDs glued to the ceiling.  I just had to snap a picture 🙂

Aberrations from the norm

I debated even writing a blog today, because I fear that it will be very similar to the last one.  So I will try to spice it up a bit and give you some of the juicy details (ha!) of the life of an English teacher in Gyeongju.  Are you ready?  Let’s get going!

So the last two weeks have gone mostly as I expected they would in my last blog.  I left school at 3:00 on Mondays and Fridays so that I could go to Korean class with Si-yeon for 2 hours – our brains can never handle more than that at a time :).  Tuesdays and Wednesdays I was at school until 7:00 – I have the dance class on Tuesdays, and my special culture class on Wednesdays night.  Then on Wednesdays I also had the Bible study at 8:00, and on Thursdays I was able to leave school by 5:00.  So far so good, everything’s going according to plan.  What I did not expect was just how time-consuming all of my extra projects at school would be.

It seems like I’ve been barely treading water at school for the past 2 weeks.  If I wasn’t teaching or working on lesson planning, I was making name cards or writing letters or preparing for my special clubs or working on the English newspaper.  Most things were finished only a few hours before the deadline.  It was stressful and exhausting, and I find myself now on a Thursday evening with absolutely zero energy left.  I really and truly don’t know how I’ve made it through these past few weeks.

BUT, now onto the good news.  Almost all of my extra projects at school – the passports for the culture class, the name cards, the letters, the newsletter – are finished now.  At this point, all I have to do is my normal workload – teaching and lesson planning, and I’m highly optimistic that with all of the extra time I’ll have at school, I’ll be able to get a lot of Korean studying done.

Now onto the juicy details.  Well, I don’t really have that many, but I suppose I could tell you about the aberrations from the normal busy insanity that made these past few weeks bearable! 🙂  Hmm….let’s see…last Saturday I played ultimate frisbee.  It was great to get some exercise doing something I love, and also to see a lot of the other foreigners in Gyeongju, many of which I haven’t seen in close to six months.  I went and played again last Tuesday after dance class, but that was probably a mistake – I dove too many times, and have been stiff and sore ever since then.  However, if I hadn’t gone on Tuesday, I would have never met my 2 Uzbekistanian friends, so I still consider it time well spent.  Yeah, really random story there….so one of the guys, Stan, has started coming to my dance class on Tuesday nights, because he really wants to dance.  So anyway, I ran into him and another guy, Aziz, on my way to play frisbee.  We ended up talking for a while, and then they even gave me a tour of their college campus.  They’re really cool, I enjoyed their company a lot.  I think the three of us are going to try to go to a museum or something together this weekend.

Let’s see, what else is new in my life….church has really been growing.  The congregation is about twice as big as it was when I left December.  And now that my friend Anthony is gone, I’m leading the worship, so that’s been a new experience for me.  I’m really seeing a community starting to emerge.  All of us have been thrown together from all walks of life and countries – there are people there from the Philippines, New Zealand, Peru, China, South Africa, Korea and America, just to name a few.  But we have started to bond and become friends and create a real community, a real fellowship. Many of them also go to the Wednesday night Bible study, so we’re growing even closer.  It’s really wonderful and encouraging to see and experience.

Teaching has been going alright.  My school has given me a truly awful textbook to use with my lessons this semester, and I’m finding it difficult to make interesting lessons with it.  But I’m making do, figuring out my stride all over again.  My last class today was precious – they gave me 4 letters, including one scrawled all over the board (I took a picture of it before I erased it :]), and were the most wonderful, attentive, incredible students in class.  After a frustrating and stressful day (and week!) in my other classes and work, I really needed that.  I could have kissed them all :).  Oh, I also had a conversation with one of my Korean friends from Seoul a couple of nights ago.  That was fun.  We spoke in Konglish, and laughed often at each other’s mistakes…but I was just happy to be communicating.  It’s exciting actually seeing my Korean progressing in noticeable ways :).

So yeah, that’s my life!  Hopefully I’ll have stories from the weekend to tell you, and then next weekend I’ll be going to the famous Jeju Island for a Fulbright conference, so that’s sure to be interesting!  Thanks for being such faithful readers, I love you all!  <3

Making up for lost time

Sometime last week, I woke up and realized that I only have 4 months left in this country.  For over a year now, since long before I boarded the actual plane to come here, I have been telling myself that I had plenty of time left in Korea.  That has been both my solace and my distress.  Solace, because I convinced myself that I had a nearly inexhaustible amount of days to do everything here that I wanted to do….and distress, because I had so much time left to go before I was back in America.

Now, however, I have 4 months left.  Not even half a year.  Less than 1 semester.  Four months.  And I no longer have any disillusions about the length of my stay.  Ever since that morning last week, when reality hit me, I have been going non-stop.  I was worried last year that Korea was making me lazy – because I had convinced myself that I had plenty of time, I often put things off when I could have done them right then and there.

But if Korea made me lazy last year, last year’s procrastination has made me incredibly productive this year.  I have a list a mile long of everything that I want to / have to do before I leave Korea on July 14th.  And, to get it all done, I’ve been doing them non-stop since that rude awakening I had last week.

If they turn out the way that I’m hoping they will, my weeks from now until July will look something like this….Monday is a light day at school – only 3 classes.  So I’ll spend a lot of my time writing letters to the students – in an effort to get them to open up to me earlier than they did last semester, I’m writing a hand-written letter to every one of my new 250-ish students.  Needless to say, it’s a rather time-consuming endeavor that’s taken up every second of my spare time at school so far.  After work on Monday, I have a Korean lesson with my language-exchange partner, Si-yeon, followed by ballet practice in the evenings.  I’ve always hated ballet, but it’s one of the few ways I can improve my swing dancing without actually dancing, and my love for swing has been sufficiently spurred on by my weekend with Jordan and Tatiana, that it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make :).

Tuesday is a long day.  I have 5 regular classes, with the dance class in the evening, making for a 12-hour day at school – I get there around 7:30 am, and don’t get to leave until the clock has nearly completely flipped.  On the plus side, I’m not actually teaching that whole time, so I’ll have plenty of time to study Korean or work on my TEFL certification, another thing on my list.

Wednesday is equally long – I have 4 regular classes, with another evening class.  I asked for this one, though.  I was really missing my old students (I’m teaching all new students this semester), and many of them had come up asking for me to teach one of their classes, so I volunteered to teach an extra club class for any of them who are interested.  It should be a fun class – I’m calling it “English around the world,” and each week we’re going to take a different country and talk about it – its customs, traditions, symbols, etc.  But nevertheless, it’ll still make for a very long day at school :(.  And after that, I lead a Bible study in the evening.  I have a feeling that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are going to wear me out….

Thursday is a little lighter.  Only 3 classes, so I get to leave early – 4:30 pm, thirty whole minutes, woohoo! 🙂  I have also determined to start going salsa dancing again on Thursdays – I found someone who wants to go with me, and I think we’re going to make a tradition out of it.  She went with me last week, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I hadn’t gone in a while because I hadn’t liked feeling like the outsider….but then, when I went back, everyone remembered me and welcomed me – plus I could actually talk to them a bit!  So I definitely felt much more comfortable, and I really want to try to go more often.  I just wish it didn’t start so late, ugh :(.

Also, I feel more ok with staying out late dancing this semester, because I don’t teach any classes on Friday, other than a lunch class.  So I’ll lesson plan, work on TEFL, and study the ever-present Korean language.  I also have another regular meeting set up with Si-yeon to study Korean in the afternoon.  I really want to improve over  the next 4 months!

Saturday mornings will be spent at the public library, reading English books to little kiddos.  I started today and it was a lot of fun – they’re so adorably cute!! <3  And then Sunday mornings, since my friend Anthony (who used to lead the worship service at church) is gone now, I will be leading the service.  The afternoons will most likely be filled with ultimate frisbee or softball.  And that's it!  That's my life for the next 4 months!  Any free time that I have will be spent doing TEFL, Korean, writing notes to students, freelance writing, catching up on the endless emails that I have constantly pouring in, planning Rachel's bachelorette party, finding housing for grad school in Atlanta, or spending time with my foreign and Korean friends.  I've also worked out a strict budget for myself - unless some large unforeseen expense comes up, I should be able to pay off all of my students loans, AND afford a dancing trip to Seoul once a month, by the time I leave Korea.  I'm pretty stoked about that :). I know what you’re thinking: that I’ll kill myself with all of these activities!  But never fear, even with this schedule, I only stay out late on Thursdays, so I’ll get plenty of rest.  I’m also drinking more water and exercising more, and feel great.  Honestly, although I recognize that it’s a lot to do, I’m really stoked about it.  I feel motivated and driven again, like I’m actually going somewhere.  It’s pretty exciting.  And anyway, it’s only for a few months, and then….grad school in Atlanta!  Don’t worry, I’ll survive! 🙂

A weekend with J&T

I spent last weekend in Seoul, at a West Coast Swing workshop with Jordan Frisbee and Tatiana Mollman, affectionately known by their admirers as J&T.  Jordan and Tatiana are the undisputed best WCS dancers….in the world.  They’ve won the US OPEN young adult championship once, US OPEN classic 8 years out of 11, USA Grand nationals 4 out of 5 years,  were named dance couple of the year 5 years in a row….the list goes on, but I think you get the idea.

Anyway, I took a bus up to Seoul after my first day of school on Friday (more on that in the next blog), and went straight from the bus terminal to the dance.  The next three days that followed were a whirlwind of dancing, occasional sleeping, and making lots of new friends.  I also was able to go to church Sunday morning before the workshops started, which was really good for me.

So yeah, I’d tell you all of the details, but I fear that they would bore you and start to become very repetitive.  Basically, the outline goes something like this: Friday night – open dancing from 8:00 pm to 1:00 am, then headed back to my hostel, checked in, and went to bed around 2:00.  Saturday: woke up around 10:00, did my Bible study, then met up with some friends for lunch before the workshops started.  Workshops from 2:00-7:30 pm, a quick dinner, then open dancing from 8:30 pm to 1:00 am again.  Sunday morning I got up earlier, around 8:00, so that I could Skype with my family and make it to church on time.  Then more workshops, from 2:00-6:30, after which I left and went directly to the bus station to head back to Gyeongju.  Got home around midnight, tossed my stuff on the floor, and promptly passed out.  It may sound awful to you….but it was absolute heaven for me.

Highlights of the weekend include: seeing Jae and John again, my Korean-American friends from Seoul.  Seeing J&T perform their most recent championship dance live!  Meeting Chloe, a French girl who speaks perfect English with an American accent (don’t know how THAT one happened! :]), lives in China, and is dating one of the top WCS dancers in the world.  Getting to dance a full three and a half minute song with Jordan Frisbee himself – EEEKKK!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Meeting a bunch of people from Singapore, who were really awesome and fun (and amazing dancers, to boot!), and I have now decided that a trip to Singapore is a must in my not-too-distant future.

It was a lovely, much-needed and long-anticipated weekend in which I learned a lot, and made tons of new friends and memories.  I must say, though, it’s probably a good thing that events like that don’t happen every weekend – such sleep deprivation and sheer exhaustion come Sunday night is not very conducive to teaching on Monday morning :).  Nor is the cost very friendly to one’s wallet, hehehe…  Anyway, enjoy the video and pictures below!  I’m sorry if the video doesn’t play – I’ve been having some issues with uploading videos recently.  If you can’t see it, suffice it to say that I’ve improved ALOT over the past year :).

Me with Jordan and Tatiana!  Such bliss!! 🙂

The whole class expectantly waiting for J&T’s most recent championship performance

Eugene is the guy on the left, one of the dancers from Singapore.

That’s Chloe on the left, along with some Korean dancers
Me and Ki-ryeong, one of my favorite guys to dance with in all of South Korea <3