Month: April 2012

Ten things I would like to tell the average American 20-something

In my 22 years, I’ve gotten around a fair bit.  I’ve been to 5 continents, 16 countries, and countless cities.  I’ve met people from all walks of life – rich, poor, old, young, bold, shy, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, married, single, the works.  And, while I’m certainly no expert on either success or people, I have learned a few things in my wanderings.  Here are 10 pieces of advice that I would share with America if I could.

10)  Learn your history and geography!  No one expects you to know everything about the past and present world – that would be rather excessive, and there are plenty of better things to spent your time on, rather than memorizing boring facts and figures.  But come on people, when a large percentage, perhaps even the majority, of young Americans can’t name most of the states that make up their own country, or don’t know that the Nazis oppressed the Jews in World War II, or think that Mexicans speak Mexican, you’ve got to admit that there’s a problem.  The single biggest reason that I have come across in my travels as to why foreigners dislike Americans, is because of their ignorance.  We are not the only people on the planet, and it’s time that we started acting like that!  Wake up, open your eyes and ears, and get informed about the world around you.  People will take you so much more seriously if you do.
9)  Travel.  Yes, I know that travelling is expensive.  I know that it’s time-consuming.  I know that it’s hard and puts you out of your comfort zone.  But that’s exactly why it’s so important.  You don’t have to go to the other side of the world, you don’t have to be gone for months on end.  You would be amazed how even just a week in a Latin American country could change you.  So skimp on the coffee.  Skip going to the movies a few times.  Walk or bike when you can instead of driving.  Look for scholarships.  Do fundraising.  Do whatever you have to do to get there.  Experiencing another culture is the best way to have an awareness of the big, beautiful world in which we live, the best way to fully realize that we are not the only country in the world.  It’s the best way – perhaps the only way, to have a balanced worldview, a worldview that accepts others for who they are, even if they are different from you.
8)  Be sensitive to cultural differences.  Of course, if you travel with the assumption that everyone else in the world is automatically inferior to you, that kind of defeats the purpose of traveling.  In Costa Rica doors are always left open, and people just walk into each others’ houses to greet them.  In Spain you could know someone your entire life and never be invited to their home.  In America there is no cultural protocol for giving gifts, but in South Korea it is considered enormously rude to give or accept something with a single hand.  Cultural differences exist.  And just because someone does something differently than you, that doesn’t make it wrong.  Instead of assuming that they should change their habits to be like you, maybe you should take a step back and give their way a chance.  Especially if you’re living in their country.  Probably the second biggest reason that foreigners hate Americans is because they often don’t care what the social protocol is; they’re going to do things their own way, period.  Come on, people.  You would want them to change if they were in America; you should do the same when you are in their country.  So be respectful, accept cultural differences, and don’t dig in your heels and insist on doing things your way. Even if you don’t understand why what you’re doing is wrong or upsetting, just accept that it is, and try to be understanding.

7)  Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something.  What you can or cannot do is a largely self-fulling prophecy.  If you are convinced that you cannot excel in school, then you probably won’t.  If you don’t think you can get a better job than working the customer service counter in Dillards, then that’s most likely as far as you’ll go.  However, if you go into it determined to succeed, then that’s probably exactly what you will do.  Make your goals way higher than you think you could ever possibly reach.  W. Clement Stone said this: “Aim for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  Humans have built skyscrapers, they have walked on the moon, they have cured countless diseases, they have created complex computers and solved impossible algorithms.  We were not made for small things.  So don’t limit yourself!  Pick a goal wayyyy higher than you think you could ever even hope to achieve, and then go for it with everything you have.  If you make it, good for you!  But even if you don’t, you’ll still have gone much farther than most people.

6)  That brings me to my next point.  Don’t stop.  The easiest way to get stuck in a rut is to stop learning, to stop trying.  Even if you don’t know exactly where you want to go in your life, do something.  Apply for college, try to get scholarships, go to trade school, travel, get a job, try out a new hobby….it doesn’t really matter what you do.  Just do something!  The more you do, the easier it will be to narrow down what interests you and what doesn’t.  Don’t think that if you follow a path that turns out to not be your cup of tea, that you will be stuck doing that for the rest of your life.  It’s much easier to change the direction of a moving ship than a stationary one.  As long as you are going somewhere, you will be able to find new doors that are more suited to your temperament and goals.
5)  Laugh things off.  When I was young, my mom would always complain that being around me was like walking on eggshells – I was so sensitive, no one ever knew what would set me off.  I always insisted that it wasn’t my fault – they were the ones who were always so rude!  If they would only stop being so inconsiderate, I wouldn’t get so angry and offended!  But as I grew up, I finally realized that I can’t change what other people do.  I am only responsible for myself.  And being happy is a far more pleasant way to pass your life than the opposite.  So get a thick skin – don’t get upset when people insult you, don’t yell when nasty stereotypes are thrown in your face, don’t assume people are always out to get you.  This way, you can be joyful regardless of what’s going on around you – your happiness won’t be dependent on others.  An added bonus of that is that people generally try to be nicer to happy people, which would make your laughing things off and staying happy even easier! 🙂
4)  Find good friends.  I’m often criticized by people who hear my philosophy on friendship.  Basically, I will be nice to you, I will do my best to not insult you (both intentionally and unintentionally), but unless our personalities “click” and our relationship is edifying to each other, we’re not going to become very good friends.  Many people say that I’m too judgmental, that I should be friends with people who are different from me.  And that I do.  But here’s the rub.  We are all only given 24 hours in a day, and many many things to do within that time.  If you don’t use your time wisely, you will end up wasting your life.  And you do not have time to waste on people who cause drama and worry and are always bringing you down.  Of course everyone has their moments; but if you consistently find yourself in stressful or uncomfortable situations with friends of yours, it’s probably time to find new friends.
3)  Develop good habits.  There’s a saying that says, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”  Busy people are busy because they have learned how to manage their time, and thus are able to accomplish a lot.  Lazy people get nothing done because they have no self-discipline.  Don’t be one of those people.  Go to the gym, eat right, manage your time, make to-do lists and check them off, learn a language, pick up a new hobby; whatever your method may be, find a way to develop good habits and become a disciplined person.  I don’t mean become a straight-laced dictator; but rather just someone who is able to get things done because they know how to prioritize and manage their time.
2)  Do uncomfortable things – often.  I have frequently been told by people who hear about my year in Korea, that they would never be able to do what I have done.  Living on the other side of the world for a year, not speaking the language, teaching almost 400 students with no prior teaching experience, eating strange foods, living with a family with whom I cannot communicate….it’s just too difficult!  Yes, it is difficult, no argument there….but that’s exactly why you need to do it!  Now, I realize that my situation is a bit extreme and not applicable to everyone.  But you can still find things to do that make you uncomfortable.  So enroll in a class to learn something that you’ve never done before.  Take a homeless person out to lunch.  Go on a random road trip with no plans and no map.  Befriend someone who has a different worldview or background than you.  Uncomfortable situations are how we grow.  If you are always in your own little bubble of comfort, then you will never progress to bigger things.  Plus, you’ll never know what you may like until you try it!1)  Get to know Jesus.  Ahh, here it is – I can’t keep a post entirely devoid of Jesus! 😉   At the end of the day, Jesus is what will give you true purpose in your life.  Really, it doesn’t matter what you know, what you do, or where you go; if you don’t know Jesus, it’s not going to matter in the end.  But don’t take my word for it – or the word of anyone else, whether they call themselves a Christian or not.  Get to know Him for yourself – search the scriptures, pray, and decide for yourself whether He’s someone that you want to have a relationship with.  Jesus is the best thing that will ever happen to you.  Don’t let some flawed human convince you otherwise.

Spring has sprung

Wow.  The last few days have been such a blur.  Spring has officially sprung here in Gyeongju, and I’ve been making the most of the beautiful weather.  I shall have to go with the reader’s digest version, since I still have lesson planning to do tonight and sleep is closing in on me fast.

Last week I only taught on Monday.  Tuesday and Wednesday I had off – the students had some sort of test; I never really know the reasons for why I get days off when I do, lol.  But anyway, whatever the reason, I had no class, so I had 2 glorious days of nothing to do.  On Thursday I went to school, although I didn’t teach.  Thursday was the day of the school English festival – “Sunnies’ Festival,” as it is called here.  I shall forever refer to it affectionately as the Day of Mass Chaos.  All day, plans, locations, events, everything was constantly changing on the spur of the moment.  That would have been stressful enough; but the real problem was that all of the last-minute decisions were made after a flurry of hurried conversation in Korean.  Which means that I was left mostly in the dark.  Which wouldn’t have been horrible; except I was running a couple of the events.  Yeah.  Not cool.  But I managed, made it through the morning, and then was left the afternoon to simply enjoy the rest of the festivities.  There was a pop song competition that a lot of students performed it – that was really fun to watch.  Check out the top 3 dances in the videos below, along with some pictures.  The highlight for the students was when they dragged a bunch of teachers up on stage after the performances (myself included), and made them dance improv.  Hmph.  I’m still trying to figure out if I enjoyed it or was traumatized by it.  But judging from the number of comments I got from students afterwards, I would say that doing the robot with the principle was definitely a success ;).

Part 1: mass chaos

Part 2: mass chaos compounded

Part 3: random jump-rope competitions…what??

Thursday was rounded out by a parent-teacher dinner.  I was shocked to find out that apparently my host mother is the president of the parent-teacher association, and dismayed when she started pressuring me to sing karaoke – introducing myself in Korean in front of the entire room was just about enough cultural bravery as I could handle for one night.  But I got a good meal out of the evening, and was able to escape with a fellow teacher before the singing started, so it all turned out ok :).

Me with some of my co-workers

Friday was another school event, the annual school “picnic.”  This was another source of confusion, as we were originally going to all walk together to Gyeongju World (a small amusement park); for some reason the school had decided that it is a valuable tradition to make everyone walk the 2-hour or more walk to Gyeongju World for the school picnic.  But then Thursday night, it was decided by someone that we would walk to the Expo park this year instead; then we were taking buses; then we were going to Gyeongju world again, but this time taking buses instead of walking; in the end, it was finally decided the morning of that everyone would just meet at the theme park, using whatever method of transportation they wanted to use.  The last minute plans were difficult to stay on top of with my limited Korean, but in the end I was very grateful to not have to walk all the way there :).  And I had a lovely time, too – a group of students claimed me as “theirs” for the day, so we hung out together and rode all of the rides and everything.  It was fun :).

The view from the top of the ferris wheel

I don’t know these students.  They’re 3rd graders – I’ve never taught them.  But they wanted a picture with “Teacher,” so they grabbed me, and I obliged 🙂

Creeper shot….she was too adorable to ignore 😉

Some of my precious students from winter camp.  I don’t teach them anymore, so it was good to see them.. We rode the bus home together 🙂

Saturday, my friend Lin and I decided kind of last-minute to go cherry-blossom hunting.  Gyeongju is famous for its cherry trees – there are thousands and thousands of them scattered throughout the city, when they’re in bloom they really are extraordinarily pretty.  However, the blossoms only bloom for about a week out of the year, so once they start you’ve got to take advantage of it!  So we rented bicycles and just rode around the city, hitting all of the cherry blossom “hot spots.”  Apparently half of South Korea had the same idea as us.  The streets were jammed with cars.  I’m talking apocalyptic evacuation, city traffic after a GA Tech / UGA football game.  Major, major traffic.  I was exceedingly grateful that I was not stuck in a bus.  But we were on bikes, so we avoided the traffic and got to take lots of lovely pictures :).

Epic bikes!  Notice the basket in front :).  Also notice the pink frame, shirt, and pants….**facepalm**

One of my favorite shots… 🙂

Lover’s lane…absolutely gorgeous! 🙂

Festival time!

Yay for picnics!! 🙂

I’m throwing a handful of blossoms into the air…can you see it? 🙂

The only decent shot I got at night….

Sunday, to round out the weekend, I went to church.  I was joined by my friend Lorna, who I had met last year at the church retreat in Daegu.  We hadn’t seen each other for a while, but she came to town to visit this weekend, so we got to hang out for the day.  It was lovely.  We went to church, and played frisbee for a while, and then came back to my house for a while.  Lorna was actually the 1st person I had ever brought with me to my house!  It was very exciting :).  And then in the evening, we met up with Lin and her husband Pan, to have dinner with some friends of theirs.  It was a home church, so we had a scrumptious dinner with them, and then a little worship service afterwards.  It was wonderful to see such a passionate group of believers.  I’ll never forget, as we were leaving, the little 10-year-old boy started sobbing.  I asked him why, and he said it was because his mom had told him that he had to stop reading his Bible because he needed to go to sleep.  Really made me stop and think about my priorities in my own life…  But anyway, it was a lovely way to round out the weekend.  Plus they had a little 13-month-old daughter, who was absolutely preciousssss.  I asked to hold her, and she just loved me!  Was cuddling her head into my chest, and wouldn’t go with her parents when they tried to take her away.  It was adorable :).  And that’s it!  Monday came again hard and fast, with me jumping right into my regular classes and Korean studying, and being informed that I’ve just been given 4 additional classes starting this week.  As of today I have exactly 3 months left in Korea, and I really want to finish strong, no matter what they throw at me.  Wish me luck!

The house church assembly 🙂

My new girlfriend….soooooo precious!! <3

Jeju Island

I went to Jeju last weekend.  Everyone whom I happened to tell about my trip beforehand, was so excited (and in a few cases, possibly even a little jealous :]).  Jeju island is renowned as one of the most beautiful islands in the entire world.  An incredibly popular destination for honeymooners, both Korean and foreign, it’s commonly called the “Korean Hawaii.”  Needless to say, it’s a really lovely place.  And once I got there, I would have to agree with this consensus; although I must say, the getting there was a little rough.  There were huge amounts of wind when I flew in; the turbulence was so bad, in fact, that the first few landing attempts were unsuccessful, and we had to regain altitude and circle around for another try.  It was really scary, and not the welcome to the island that I had hoped for.  But we finally landed, safe and sound, and I made my way out of the airport.

Most of my time in Jeju, however, was spent inside a hotel.  The purpose of my trip was for the annual Spring Fulbright conference, which is always held on Jeju island.  So, over the course of a 4-day weekend, I spent a little over 3 days inside, listening to announcements, teaching workshops, and presentations from the Fulbright researchers, who were filling us in on the progress of their research in Korea.  It sounds boring, but I rather enjoyed it.  The research presentation topics were really varied – everything from traditional Korean architecture, to poetry, to astronomy, to economics, to human rights – and I also picked up a lot of teaching techniques that will be helpful to me in the class this year.

The one day that we did leave the hotel, however, was really lovely.  We went on a tour of the island, checking out all (or at least many) of the major sights that Jeju has to offer.  The first stop was Sunrise Peak, aptly named for the beautiful sunrises that can be seen uninhibited from the top of the peak.  It was quite a hike to the top, but the view from the summit made it all worth it.  Next stop was Ilchul Land and the Micheon Lava Caves.  Not knowing what to expect from Ilchul Land, I was more excited about the lava caves.  The caves actually turned out to be quite disappointing, but the lush beauty and fascinating attractions set up throughout Ilchul Land more than made up for the disappointment of the caves.  After the caves, we went to the Jeju Folk Village, a huge reconstruction of a traditional Jeju island village.  We were there for over an hour and didn’t get to see even half of it, but the parts that I did see were really interesting.  Our last stop was to Pyoseon Beach, one of the few sand beaches on the island – most of the shoreline is rocky.  We weren’t there for very long, but we were there long enough for me to curl up on the sand like a cat in the sun and take a short nap.  It was divine.

And then…poof!  The tour was over, and we were back at the hotel, ready for more lectures and workshops.  In the evening, some of the Christians got together for a little impromptu Bible study, which was really great.  And then Monday, I went to a few more lectures and then headed home.  I realized that this weekend will be one of the last times that I see the vast majority of these Fulbrighters, so please excuse me if I go a bit overboard on the pictures in this one.  I was getting a bit sentimental :).

Felicia and Sam, second-year ETAs

We got kicked out of the lobby for gambling.  We were playing Spoons, lol.  

Beautiful Jeju….the view from our hotel

Daniel and Crystalyn

Crystalyn, Daniel, Chris, and Frank

Meghan, Erin, and Sarah at dinner

Lisa, Elizabeth, myself, and Sarah at the base of Sunrise Peak

Sarah, myself, and Meghan, halfway up to the top of the peak

Me ‘n Adam 🙂

I think Meghan’s scared of whatever might be inside the cave 🙂

More friends!  Adam, Jake, Dan, Sarah, Ryan, and Elizabeth

Andddd….the view from the top of Sunrise Peak.  Isn’t it lovely??
Welcome to Ilchul Land!!

Sarah inside the lava cave – not really a very impressive cave, is it? =/

The best part of the cave – they had some sort of good luck dragon painted on one of the pillars.

Jeju’s famous statues

Sarah’s the beauty…I volunteered to be the beast 🙂

Now Jake’s the beast and I get to be the beauty! 🙂

Do you see Charlie in the background making some sort of goofy pose? 🙂
Jake pensively pondering at the Jeju folk village

A heart made out of rocks, seashells, and water…isn’t that just precious? <3
Pyoseon beach
Windsurfing at Pyoseon beach!  No, neither I nor anyone that I know went windsurfing.  I just snapped a creeper picture 🙂

God’s love

Yesterday morning started off as a truly awful day.  I would prefer not to write about it at all; but I have to give you some back story in order for you to understand what happened afterwards, which is the real point of this story.

Anyway, to make a very long and dramatic story as short as possible, most of you know that for weeks now, I’ve been working hard to finish the English newspaper at my school.  I finally finished it, proof-read and error-checked it, and sent in the final file just before heading off to Jeju for my Fulbright conference.  When I returned on Tuesday, I found that they had printed it….but not before making a few changes.  Which wouldn’t have been a problem….except they didn’t proof-read it again before submitting it to the printers.  And, amid the changes, one student’s name had accidentally been erased from the article that she wrote.  This happened to be the front page article.  It also happened to be same student who the exact same thing happened to last year.  And that student also just happened to be my host sister, In-suk.  Yeah.  The plots thickens.

I figured it would be best that In-suk find out the bad news from me, so the next day at breakfast I told her about the problem.  I didn’t really anticipate just how bad the news really was.  She started bawling.  You know the kind of crying that’s so hard that you’re gasping for air because you just can’t stop crying?  Yeah, that’s what she was doing.  So then my host mother called 3 of my co-teachers (and also left work in the middle of the day to come directly to the school and talk to them!), In-suk was still crying, and everyone at work was grumpy.  All before 8:00 in the morning.  Yeah.  Really, really really bad start to my day.

Wednesday is also my longest day anyway – I teach 6 classes, don’t leave school until 7:00, and then lead Bible study at 8:00.  Needless to say, it was a rough day.  But then when I got home, everything had changed.  My host mother greets me at the door asking how I am, apologizing for me having to deal with all of this stuff at work – she kept emphasizing those “선생님 나쁘다” (bad teachers).  Now, on a good day, I really don’t think that my co-teachers are bad; but it was really nice to have an acknowledgement of my frustration.  She even hugged me; the only other time she’s done that was when I left for America for Christmas.

Later in the evening, I tried on a new dress and showed it to them.  They were ecstatic.  They kept calling me “우리 로렌” (My Lauren), and saying how beautiful I was.  I love my host family; but even so, I’ve never felt as close to them in the entire 6 months that I’ve lived with them as I did last night.  I felt embraced, truly accepted as a member of their family.

Then, the next morning, host mama hugged me again.  My host dad, in his sincerest Korean, apologized to me for the actions of “all Korean people” (모두 한국 사람).  That was the only time throughout this entire ordeal that I teared up.  I knew that I had not wronged anyone; but neither did I feel wronged by anyone – it was just a frustrating situation – and I was not expecting an apology.  The fact that he gave one anyway really meant a lot.  And In-suk even took the time to write me a letter!  I had put a little note and present in her room when I got back the night before, knowing that she would need a pick-me-up after such a bad day, so the next morning she gave a gift in kind, and a letter.  I’ve typed the letter out below:

To: 로렌 (Lauren)
I was very surprised for you!  When I had come back home, I saw your message and present!  Thank you.  Yesterday morning was very terrible day.  But I’m sorry that I don’t know well your frustrated mind for newspaper.  Because of angry, I don’t care about your mind.  One more time I’m sorry.  And always thank you.  I proud of you because you are my family.  Forget the newspaper, and then we smile!  Please, have a good sentiment every day.  

I like your smiling.  You are pretty when you smile.  Always thank you.  Despite of your tired, consider me.  Thank you always.  I love you!  ~In-suk

“I’m proud of you because you are my family.”  One of the goals of the Fulbright program is to foster cultural ambassadorship and exchange.  But forget about learning Korean or making friends from all over the world or teaching my students the electric slide in dance class.  That sentence right there is the one pocket of ‘cultural ambassadorship’ that I am far and above the most proud of.  In-suk really and truly considers me her family.  She loves me.

I didn’t want to mention all of the frustrations of yesterday morning.  But then, I decided that it was worth it, because through telling you about them, I could then tell you just how big and wonderful my God is, how His love and grace surpass any bad stuff the world can throw at me.  He took an awful situation, and turned it into a learning experience for me, and an opportunity to grow much closer to my entire host family.  Praise the Lord! 🙂

If you want to see the infamous newspaper, I’ve uploaded pictures of it below :).

Korean Students Speak

Many of the Fulbrighters have been working on a big project this year, called Korean Students Speak.  Most structured the activity around some sort of lesson on free speech or something of the sort, and then turned the students loose.  They were given a piece of paper and a marker, and told to write anything they wanted; anything that they wanted to share with the world.  Here are just a few of the things that they said.  Some are funny, some are sad, some are profound, all are real.  To see the entire project, go to  Transcripts of the signs are written in the captions under the photos.

Flying high is not hard.  But the burden you give make us fall down to the ground.

You should not give up so easily, no matter what you do.  

Bad math  bad brain
Be brave and express your opinion 
Cogito Ergo Sum

Competing with friends for grades makes me mad

Don’t ask me, “Are you Japanese?”.  I’m KOREAN!

Everyone is a precious child, a valued friend, and important person 
Hey guys.  Rise up!  And walk out on the world!  Whatever they say, you can change the world! 
I am who I am.  You are who you are.  Be yourself.

I hate to study English (because Americans have a leisure time while we study their English)

I really want to unify Korea.

I want Korea to be multi-cultural.  Why don’t you come to Korea?

I want a Korea where Korean students can have “real smiles.”

I’m happy now.  I’m quite satisfied in my life.  But if I say about my anxiety, it’s my mental pressure of the future.  I’m the first son of my whole family and all of my family have a lot of expectation to me.  I think I can’t make it, though.  What should I do if I fail to be a successful man?

I’m not your puppet

I’ll make this world better place

KE (Korean Education) is HELL.  KE have so many subjects.  There is NOT a vacation.  We must escape KE.  We don’t be slaves of time.  And our time is running out now.  Give us significant teenager.  

Korea, you must be changed.  I will change you.

Korean education is unfair because many students have own talents, but Korean education don’t admit their own talents.

Life is Beautiful.  Enjoy your life!

Love Yourself!

Please give us chances to fail and overcome.


I want to be a student of Seoul National University Department of Geography, and I want to be a Geography information system expert or Geography researcher.  **Please don’t laugh at me.

Studying is not everything!  BUT studying is everything in KOREA.

Teacher can make me smart.  However, teacher can’t make me happy.

Thank God!  It’s good to be HERE!

There is something more than what you can see

We can do better when we are united.

We can do it.  Impossible is nothing.

We want to study for our own dream.  Not for jobs.  

What we learned: Give up your dreams and you’ll achieve your goals. 

I think….Korean education is something wrong.  Many Korean students try suicide and suffer from study.  Korean students study 16 hours every day.  I can’t understand this education.  We need something to change.  

(Left) You’re not alone.  (Right) I’ll be with you.