Month: June 2012

And so it begins….

I love to travel.  It’s exciting, invigorating, enriching, and rewarding.  But there’s an aspect of traveling that I always hate, always dread with every fiber of my being.  And that is the “lasts.”  When you’ve been somewhere for a long time, when you’ve made friends and gotten a new family and created a life for yourself…the “lasts” that come as you prepare to leave – last class, last church service, last dance – are always difficult.

My “lasts” in Korea started this weekend.  I went to Seoul for the Fulbright final dinner shindig.  It was an afternoon spent looking back over our last year with all of the other Fulbright staff and ETAs.  It was nice to see everyone again, but definitely bittersweet, as we were all acutely aware that it was the last time that we would ever see the majority of the people in that room.  But it was a great afternoon, albeit rather long.  There were speeches, and videos, and presentations, and reminiscing, and catching  up, and overall just a general air of celebrating our successes and the relationships made over the past year.  Although bittersweet, I really enjoyed it.  I always love being around the large Fulbright group.  They’re such a brilliant, dynamic group; I always feel more inspired and energized just by being around them.

A speech from Mrs. Shim, the head of Fulbright

A few of my favorite Fulbrighters….alliteration intended 😉
Me, Christalyn, and Sam

Meghan and me

Jessica, Jake, and me

The Gyeongju-ites – me and Elizabeth 😉

Me, Caitlin, Marlea, and Gina

Fulbright wasn’t the only “last” I had, though.  I didn’t have class on Friday, so I went up a day early and spent the day with friends.  Friday afternoon, I met my friend Max for lunch and fun-ness.  Max is actually Korean, but I met him while I was living in Atlanta a few years ago.  He’s back in Korea visiting family, so we got together and caught up.  We went to the Seoul Grand Park and saw the flowers – there was a rose exhibition there at the time.  It was lovely.  The smell was heavenly, the blossoms gorgeous, and for some reason there were gobs of adorable little Korean babies all over the place that I got to creep on with my camera all afternoon.  A perfect day ;).

Outside of Seoul Grand Park with Max

The rose garden!!

Babies and flowers…what could be better??

Some performances at the Park

Strange, strange dance performances….

We took a sky lift back down to the entrance to the park….so cool!

The view of the rose garden from above

After Max left, I met with a couple of my dancing friends for dinner and dancing.  We went to Johnny Rockets – for some reason I was reallyyyyy craving a western hamburger, and thankfully I was not disappointed – and then went dancing afterwards.  It was nice to see them, but also sad, because again, it was my last swing dance in Korea.  Oh, the nostalgia…..

Ki-ryong and Jae

Sarah, Leora, and Adam stayed in the hostel with me on Saturday night, for one last hurrah.  We “walked ourselves numb,” as Sarah put it, and then had a light dinner in a little cafe.  The next morning, bright and early, we said goodbye (more goodbyes!!), and I caught an early KTX back to Gyeongju, so that I could make it to church by 10:30.  I got back just in time – walked into the service at 10:32.  I was pretty pleased :).

After church, I went home with Mario, my pastor.  He and his wife had offered their kitchen to satisfy my craving to cook, and so I gladly took them up on their offer.  It was kind of funny.  I was there, in their kitchen, cooking up a storm and loving every second of it, and they were sitting in the living room just watching me bemusedly.  But I don’t care if that makes me domesticated; I had a blast.  I made taco salad and a pineapple upside-down cake.  The cake came out a little strange – I had to make a lot of substitutes for things you can’t buy in Korea, and the lack of an electric mixer made the batter a little grittier than it should have been, but it was still good.  By the end of the afternoon, they were trying to get me to move in with them for the remainder of my time here, just so that I would cook for them, lol.

Enjoying the yummy tacos… 🙂

So anyway, I finally made it bake home around 10:00 pm on Sunday night.  ‘Twas a long and emotional weekend, indeed.  I’m glad I went, but I was equally glad to be back.  With only 19 days left, the end has begun, and I’m determined to make the most of every second that I can!!

Thank you, students

I went to Seoul last weekend for the final Fulbright shindig dinner dealio.  More on that in my next blog.  But at the meeting, there was a plethora of speeches and presentations given – some boring, some interesting; some professional, some heartwarming.  However, there was one speech in particular that really affected me.  It was called, “Thank you, teacher”, and was an interpretation of what many of our students would say to us if they could, thanking us for what we’ve done for them over this past year.  Inspired by that, I have decided to write my own version, coming from the other direction.  Here is what I could say to all of my students, if I could.  This is my thank you letter to them.

Thank you, students

Thank you, students.  
Thank you for always waving at me and saying hello to me in the hallway, 
even if you’re unbearably shy and never say anything during class time.  
It’s nice to know that you know who I am.  
Thank you, students, for giving up your precious free time during meals to spend it with me.  
Thank you for always being so willing to share anything and everything that you have, 
and for feeding me from your own plates when you think that I haven’t eaten enough.  
Thank you, students, for putting up with me as I learned how to become a teacher.  
Thank you for slogging through the bad lessons with me, 
and for clapping after the good ones.  
Thank you for coming up to me after class and apologizing for sleeping through it.  
I know that you’re tired, but I appreciate you recognizing my efforts, 
even if you were too sleepy to stay awake for it.  
Thank you, students, for coming to talk to me in between your classes.
Knowing that you went out of your way, just to spend 6 or 7 minutes talking with me, 
warms my heart more than you will ever know.
Thank you, students, for translating for me when the other English teachers were too busy to help.  
Thank you, students, for telling me about your dreams, your hopes, your worries, and your problems.  Sometimes I have a hard time doing that in my native language, 
with people that I’ve known all of my life…..
I will never forget the courage that it took for you to do that in a second language.
Thank you, students, for trusting me with your secrets.  
Thank you for telling me about your secret crushes, or forbidden boyfriends, 
or days spent playing hooky, or arguments with your family.  
You have made me feel like not just your teacher….you have made me feel like your friend.  
And that has made all the difference.  
Thank you, students, for somehow always having the energy to greet me with a hug and a smile, sometimes even with a running start, regardless of your 18 hour days at school.  
You are an inspiration to me.
Thank you, students, for reminding me to smile when I was unhappy and frustrated, 
and for calling me beautiful when I felt like crap.
Thank you, students, for also being my teachers.  
Thank you for teaching me about your language, your culture, and your lives.  
I am so much richer because of it.
Thank you, students, for showing me your special corners of Gyeongju.  
Thank you for taking me to decorate cakes, and eat dumplings, and make cupcakes, 
and take sticker pictures, and sing karaoke.  
You showed me beautiful parts of your lives, 
that I would have never seen without your willingness to share it with me.

Thank you, students, for giving up your precious days off to take me to dinner, 
or go on day trips with me to other cities.  
Those are some of my most treasured memories from my entire year.

Thank you students, for not only sharing your lives with me, 
but being willing to hear about mine.  
Thank you for asking to see pictures of my family, and asking about my life back in America, 
and talking with my friends on Skype.  
Your interest in my culture made me feel so welcome, 
and I will forever miss your excited oooohhhhhs and aaaaahhhhs 
when I tell you something interesting about my life.
Thank you students, for not forgetting about me on teacher’s day.  
The flood of little notes and cards and gifts that I got from you simply made my heart soar.
I will treasure them forever.
Thank you, students, for writing random, “just because” letters to me.  
I know that some of you spent an hour or more on each letter, 
slaving over the proper grammar and drawing cute little pictures on the finished product.  
The fact that you worked so hard for me did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Thank you, students, for teaching me how to be a better person.  
Although I am the one with the title “teacher,” 
you have taught me more than I could ever hope to teach you.  
You have taught me about generosity, kindness, love, forgiveness, patience, and a host of other things.  You have taught me how to accept and include people who are different from me.  
You have taught me how to give more to people than I ever thought possible.  
You are the reason that I survived this past year.
You are the reason that I am in love with Korea.  
You are the reason that Korea is my home.    
So, my wonderful students, as I prepare to leave Korea, let me say one last time….thank you.  
Thank you, dear students.  I will love you for the rest of my life.  

Bachata, babies, and badminton

I had quite an eventful weekend.  So eventful, in fact, that it’s taken me until Thursday to recover enough so that I could write about it.  Anyway, here goes nothing!

My weekend started on Friday night, with a trip to Pohang.  Alejandro, who I had met at church the previous Sunday, invited me to go dancing with him at a latin club in Pohang….and of course, I said yes!  When the rubber hit the road, I actually almost didn’t go, because it was raining really hard, and I didn’t want to make the 40 minute trip to Pohang in the rain.  But I decided to go anyway, and I’m sooooo glad that I did.  After some miscommunications about where to meet, Alejandro finally found me at the bus terminal, and we headed over there together, followed shortly by friends of ours, as well.

My oh my oh my.  What an evening that was.  The grand total of amigos was 3 guys, and me.  So between them, and the other random Koreans who kept asking me to dance, I hardly sat down all night.  The dance was still going strong, but I finally had to tear myself away so that I could catch the last bus back to Gyeongju.  Latin dancing is not my favorite style….but in a pinch, it will certainly do, and it’s definitely a blast when you’re dancing with guys who know what they’re doing :).

The picture’s blurry, but you get the idea….we were having a blast

My 3 men <3  - from left to right, Prophet, Alejandro, and Erik 

Soooo, I got back to Gyeongju around 1:00 am, passed out into my bed….and then was up again by 7:00 the next morning.  I had promised to go observe my friend Henly’s Saturday “Happy English camp” for elementary kids.  They were so little!  After a year of high schoolers, they looked like babies to me, lol.  But anyway, I had to leave by 8:15, so I dragged myself out of bed and got there just in time to help setting up.

Our table to display the kids’ cupcakes

This was where the plan went to pieces.  The plan, according to Henly, was that I would just come and obverse his class, and then afterwards we would meet the rest of the worship team and practice for worship on Sunday.  The plan, in his own words, was that I would be able to “take a rest” and not worry about anything until practice started.  What actually happened was this: I sat in the back of the class as he prepared to start class.  Then he asked me what a good song / intro would be to use with a bunch of elementary kids.  Uh, oh.  I hadn’t thought about that.  Strike one.  Then he started playing “If you’re happy and you know it”….and made me get up in front of the class and sing and dance for the kids.  Strike two.  After I scurried back to my seat once the song ended, I lasted about 10 minutes before the entire class was in total mayhem.  The kids were yelling, confused, and wild, not listening to Henly at all.  Strike three.

This was right before the mass chaos started

Finally, I couldn’t take the chaos, and got up and helped Henly out with crowd control and explaining directions and such.  I guess it was fun…..some of the kids were really adorable :).  But overall it was just total insanity….definitely not what I signed up for, lol.  I told Henly that he owed me some ice cream….and maybe a steak dinner, too.  Hehehe….

So happy English camp finally ended, we practiced for church the next day, and I was able to go home and get some sleep to catch up from the night before.  Which was good, because I needed all of the energy I could get for Sunday.  The church leaders had been announcing for a few weeks that we would have a “church picnic” – and today was the big day.  So, silly me, I had a very light breakfast, because I assumed that we would be eating lunch right after church.

Worshipping the Lord under a canopy of lush green vines….beautiful 

Ha.  You’d think I would have learned by now that things are never prompt in Korea.  What actually happened was that we played sports all afternoon, and then had an early dinner together.  Kickball….soccer…….volleyball….badminton….it was like 5 hours of non-stop sports.  And I played them allll.  I was literally shaking from hunger by the time we finally ate….but it was so worth it.  I had a blast.  It was so lovely to be able to spend some fellowship time with my church family outside of the 4 walls of church.  Plus, I’ve been dying to get active again.  Was definitely the highlight of my week, although over the next few days my body payed me back for punishing it so severely on Sunday, lol.

And there you have it!  Alejandro stayed late after the “picnic” ended, and I showed him around Gyeongju some.  He left, I passed out in bed, and then faced another week of classes!  I was tired, especially on Monday and Tuesday, but it was great….some of my students I haven’t taught for a month, for one reason or another, and I so enjoyed teaching them again.  I’ve missed them soooo much.  Heading to Seoul tomorrow, for my last weekend trip while in Korea!  I’ll update you as soon as I can! 🙂

Love, love, love my church family here <3 <3 <3


Coming back from Busan on the train with Elizabeth last week, we started waxing nostalgic.  I asked her what she was going to miss most about Korea, and most looking forward to in America, and then she asked the same of me.  It was strange….both of us are really excited about returning to America, and yet with both of us, our lists of what we like in Korea are far longer than what we miss from America.  But I digress….

The point of that intro was simply to bring up a short story that made me laugh.  I was talking about my students, and how I would miss them.  “I’m really going to miss their outgoing-ness,” I said.  “Wait, outgoing-ness?  Is that right?  What’s the word I’m looking for?  Outgoitivity?”

Yeah.  Outgoitiviy.  That was definitely the word that I was looking for, lol :).  This is what a year of teaching English has done to my English.  I’ve also caught myself on numerous occasions dropping verbs and articles, just like my students do.  For example, I say “exciting” or “funny” all the time now, instead of “It’s exciting” or “It’s funny.”

Also, does “take a rest” sound strange to you people who have been in America this past year?  I remember thinking that it sounded strange when I first came here, but now I can’t for the life of me think of what a native English speaker would say in that situation.  Maybe “take a nap,” or just “go rest”?  **sigh** I have no idea.  I’m told, however, that this loss of one’s native tongue is a common side effect for teachers of other languages, so I take some comfort – albeit small – in that fact.

I’m sure my language lessons with Si-yeon don’t help.  Si-yeon and I have really kicked up the Spanish / Korean studying this past semester.  We meet every week twice a week for 2 hours, and do other homework and studying on our own during the week.  It’s been really helpful, and my Korean has improved by leaps and bounds.  But please, let me just explain to you really quickly what our study sessions consist of, so you understand why I’m so linguistically confused these days.

First, we correct each other’s writing – we both write at least one story in whichever language we are studying during the week, before class.  Then, we start on the flashcards.  I make flashcards written in Korean and English, and she writes hers in Spanish and English.  So I take her flashcards, and choose a Spanish word and make a sentence in Korean with it.  Si-yeon then has to say the same sentence in Spanish.  She then does the same thing in reverse with my flashcards, making a sentence in Spanish with my Korean flashcards, which I then have to translate into Korean.  (are you still with me? ;])  After that, we do guided dialogue.  We both have textbooks with practice dialogues in them.  So she takes my textbook, reads the Korean sentences, translates them in to Spanish, and then I say them back to her in Korean.  Then I do the reverse with her textbook.  After that we have a period of open dialog on a topic that one or both of us is studying at that time, first all in Spanish, and then all in Korean.

Whew!  It’s no wonder my brain is fuzzy these days!  A Peruvian guy, Alejandro, came to church last week, and I got to talk to him in Spanish for almost an hour.  On the one hand it was really fun – I still have a lot more of my Spanish than I thought I did after a year of no practice, and I had almost forgotten how I adore that language until talking with Alejandro reminded me.  On the other hand, though, I realized just how badly all of these languages have been mixed up in my head these days.  Almost every other sentence while talking to him, I would throw in a Korean or English word, and half of the time I didn’t even realize it.  I’m going to have to get better at mentally categorizing all of these languages, lol…

Well, I wish wish I had some pictures to show you, but things have been pretty quiet around here the last few days.  I’ll have some the next time though, I promise! 🙂

Sand ‘n sun in Busan

Last weekend was so much fun!  ALMOST as good as the paragliding weekend with Sarah the week before :).  Saturday afternoon I had practice with the worship team at church, and then we all headed out for dinner together afterwards.  It was literally 5 Philippinos….and me.  It was great, I loved it :).  We had a really precious time of worship and fellowship together, and plus I always love meeting and interacting with people from different cultures.

But the “main attraction” of the weekend, as it were, was Sunday.  I went to Haeundae beach, in Busan.  There was a sand festival at the beach, and so after church I headed down there for the afternoon.  It was originally supposed to just be me and a few friends from church, but I mentioned it to a student, and so it morphed into more of an outing with students, with a few church friends along for the ride.  But it was such a blast!!

We were supposed to meet at the train station at 11:30 to catch the 11:48 train, but church ran long.  So 11:46 saw us literally sprinting from church to the train station….we made it with about a minute to spare. Quite an inauspicious start to the day….

But we finally made it to Busan and got set up on the beach with our snacks and blankets.  The rest of the afternoon was spent playing in the sand, swimming, admiring the sand art, burying people in sand, looking at the vendors who had set up their booths, and just overall having fun.  The highlight of the day for me (or at least, one of the many highlights), was when my students gave me a Korean name, 태희 (Tae-hee).  In many cultures, giving a foreigner a native name means that the people there have truly accepted you into their culture.  While I’m not positive that it’s the same way in Korea, I do know that I’ve never met a foreigner with a Korean name, and I was very honored and happy to have been given one :).

So anyway, we had KFC for dinner (my students said it was expensive, but worth it, lol), and then headed back to Gyeongju.  I felt slightly chagrined, because we didn’t get back until after 10:00, and had to buy standing seats, so everyone was really tired in school the next day….but only slightly chagrined.  As one of my students said, it was worth it :).

Alexander the Great

Little Korean cuties!!

Some of my students – from left to right, Chae-yeon, Ye-bin, Na-yeong, and Yun-hyeon.  I’m a fan… <3 :)

One of the artisans plying her trade – woodcarving!

They buried me!!  Haha 😀

The whole gang (Minus Lin and Pan, who had to leave early).  From left to right: Henly, Chae-yeon, Ye-bin, me, Yun-hyeon, Su-min, Na-yeong, and Elizabeth