Category: culture shock

Scars of Life

There is a song that I love that talks about how the things we suffer make us stronger. A few of the lyrics say something along the lines of “I would love to fix it all for you, but please don’t fix a thing whatever you do. Cuz these bruises make for better conversations.”  I’ve been thinking of that song a lot lately. But I think that it’s the scars, more so than the bruises, that show the lives we’ve lived. Bruises come and quickly heal, but scars stay with you for the rest of your life. Of course this means physical scars, like the one I’ve got on my knee from whitewater rafting, or the one on my ankle from the killer mosquitoes in Machu Picchu, or the one on my foot from too much dancing in cheap shoes. But the deeper scars, and the ones that show all the more life, are the ones under the surface, the ones that can’t be seen. The scars that have been left from my travels, from the places I’ve lived and the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. They don’t cause scars at first; at first they are wonderful, magical, and life-changing. But it’s that very life-changing aspect that causes scars later on.  It’s the separation, the tearing away from those things that I’ve grown so close to, that rips my heart and emotions apart and leaves deep, deep scars. 

It’s hard to cope with those scars. They are painful. They are there because something that touched me deeply is now no longer with me. But, as hard and as painful as it is to live with those scars, I would never choose to live life without them. Which scar would I give up? My precious host family in Costa Rica, who taught me not only about life there but about how to love others, love God, and be content with what I have? My dear students in Korea, who selflessly took time out of their insanely busy schedules to love on me, a sad and desperately homesick American very far from home? My beloved host parents in Spain, who cooked for me the best food of my life and with whom I know I’ll always have a home if I ever go back to Seville? Or perhaps I would choose to give up this most recent scar from Peru, in which the flexibility with which I came allowed me to meet some truly incredible people and see God work in ways that I have very rarely ever seen?

No, of course not. There is not a chance in the world that I would ever give up what I gained from those experiences in exchange for a pain-free, scarless existence. As the song says, they make for better conversations and richer lives. The fact remains, however, that it hurts to be always and forever separated from things and places and people that you love. But I don’t think God has given me these scars – or anyone, for that matter – to cause us pain.  If that’s what we think, we’ve just got to be missing something.  In fact, I wonder sometimes if reflecting on wonderful things from the past makes it harder for you to focus on the wonderful things of the present.  I know that’s something that I often struggle with.  The real question is not how to avoid the scars, but rather how to live life in a way that amplifies the beauty of the here and now, rather than focusing on the pining for a beauty long past.  The real question is figuring out how to use these scars of life, both the good and the bad, in a way that honors God and uses our talents and knowledge to their full potential.  Perhaps that’s where the true beauty of life lies – in learning to live in a way that does not eliminate losing things you love, but diminishes those scars because you have learned to find beauty and joy in your present state, no matter what it is.

Highlights and lowlights

Well, I am firmly settled into my life here in Atlanta these days.  Between my classes, TA job, church, and dancing, free time is in short supply, indeed.  But I’ve been trying to take at least a little time every week to do something relaxing and fun with friends.  Some of my favorite highlights include:

For their honeymoon, Rachel and Ryan went on a road trip, but they swung back through Georgia on their way back to Oregon, where they are living now.  So I drove up to Ellijay and got to see them for an evening.  It was soooo lovely to be able to just spend time with and enjoy each other, away from the stresses and pressures of wedding fever.

Ryan, Rachel, me, and Rachel’s sister Sarah

A few days later, I got to see some Fulbright friends!!  Adam and Leora had both renewed their contracts to teach in Korea, but they were visiting some friends in the states before they went back to Asia.  So we met up at a great little Greek falafel place, and then went to a state park and hung out for the afternoon.  It was wonderful seeing them, albeit a little strange – although we’re all Americans, up until then I had never actually seen them in America, so it was odd being together on our “home turf,” so to speak.

Leora and Adam 

My first weekend after moving to Atlanta, I was back in Albany again – for another wedding.  But this one I just attended – I wasn’t in it – so it was much more relaxing.  I got to spend some time with my family without the stress of preparing for Chris’ wedding….plus we got a great family shot in the process! 🙂

An old family friend, Phillip, came down to visit me shortly after I moved to Atlanta.  It’s been years since we’ve seen each other – one of us was always out of the country – so it was good to reconnect.  We went to Atlantic station and got gourmet ice cream and laughed at all of the country music blaring from the speakers….then, for dinner, we went to a place called Chow Baby, which is now officially my favorite restaurant in the entire city.  It’s like an Asian buffet on steroids.  You go down the line and pick all of the ingredients you want – meats, vegetables, sauces, everything – and then they cook it for you in a delicious stir-fry and deliver it to your table.  Absolutely excellent.  I had a blast :D.

To celebrate labor day, I went on a rafting trip with some old friends, some new friends, some old family, and some new family.  Myself, Chris, Julia, a friend from Berry (Emily), a dancing friend (also named Chris), and a new Tech friend (Sunny, who is also Korean, so she’s doubly cool!) drove up to Tennessee to go whitewater rafting on the Ocoee – the same river that they did the Olympics on in 1996.  It was threatening to rain the entire day, but never actually did, so it was perfect.  I had a blast.  It was a nice retreat from all of the stresses that I was having with my living arrangements at the time.  Bonus points for the fact that I unknowingly made reservations with the exact same rafting company that I had years ago gone rafting with as a part of a youth group trip with from Cornerstone Church in Americus.  So I was having a major walk down memory lane :).

Left to right: Sunny, myself, Julia, Chris, Emily, and Chris

After I moved out of my old house and into the new one, I went to a graduate student picnic.  Not only did I see some of my old housemates from the old house – and we were on great terms, spent the entire picnic together – but I also got to meet Fernando, an awesome guy from Panama.  He was dancing with the GA Tech Salsa club, and I went over and asked him to dance with me :).  Great dancing and great friends – how can you go wrong with that?….and it was also really nice to know that no one at my old house harbored any ill feelings about me moving out.

Seth, myself, and Shawn (lives in my old house)

Peace signs….I love my friends 😀

Also, speaking of housing, check out my new digs!  It’s nothing special, but it’s exactly what I need at this stage in my life.  I’m very happy here.  I also get along really well with all of my roommates, which is always nice.  We cook for each other, run errands for each other, tell each other to go to bed when they’re tired and to eat right, and just generally look out for each other.  It’s a splendid arrangement.

In celebration of Mom, Dad, and Chris’ birthday, the Albany family drove up to Atlanta to have a big family cookout.  Well, it was supposed to be a cookout, but due to torrential rains, it turned into more of a cook-in.  But when you’re with people you love, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re inside or outside.  I had a blast.  That was also the weekend that I acquired a bed, thanks to my incredible parents who drove up a second car just to bring me my bed from Albany, thus making me officially completely moved into my new home.

The next weekend was Tech night at Six Flags!  One night every year, Six Flags closes down their park to everyone except GA Tech students.  So I gathered 3 of my new friends, and we all headed down together.   It was myself, Fernando (the Panamanian that I met at the grad picnic), Seth (a Singaporean I randomly met at orientation), at my Korean friend Sunny.  Four people, 4 nationalities…..I was in heaven.  I love connecting with people who come from completely different backgrounds from my own.  We rode every single roller coaster :).  After it ended, everyone was starving, so I took them all back to my house and made them pasta (at like 1:00 in the morning….lol) before taking everyone home.  It took me the whole weekend to recover from it….but it was worth it.  Developing friendships is something that I’m really going to focus on doing while I’m here in Atlanta.

Seth, myself, Sunny, and Fernando

Soooooo scary!!!!!

Speaking of cultural experiences…..I had another one last Sunday.  I took my new Mexican housemate with me to church, and we went out to lunch afterwards.  Somehow, we ended up on Buford Highway (which, if you don’t know Atlanta, is known for having an incredibly high latino population), and randomly went to this little restaurant called La Pastorcita.  The food was actually really good – tasty, plentiful, and cheap – but I tell you what, the second I walked in, I couldn’t help but bust out laughing.  Not because I was laughing at anyone, per se….it was just a cultural shock, and I didn’t know what else to do.  I felt like I had walked straight into Mexico.  They had the Mexican music, the sombreros, the Mexican families and couples and groups of men shoved into the boothes, the menus in all Spanish….seriously, it was legit.  Absolutely fabulous…I loved it.  Atlanta is a city in which you can feel as if you were transported to almost any country in the world, if you go to the right place in the city :).  

Other notable things which don’t have any pictures attached to them, but deserve at least an honorable mention….I’ve found a fantastic Bible study that meets only 3 houses away from mine, I’ve been dancing to my heart’s content and then some, and I’ve finally started to gain my bearings around the campus and the city.  Can’t think of anything else at the moment….but I’m sure I’ll have more to say in a few days ;).

So there you have it!  Some of the highlights from my life over the last month or so.  It hasn’t all been rosy – classes are incredibly overwhelming at times, I still have lawsuit issues going on with my psycho ex-landlord, my hearts still pines for Korea and my students and friends over there….but overall, I am very blessed.  Blessed, indeed.  God is so good!

What happens when you return

There’s this article that’s been going around the internet lately called “What Happens When You Live Abroad”, by Chelsea Fagan.  It’s a great read, and talks all about the way that your heart is always torn into different directions and given to different peoples when you live in and invest in different countries.    I would highly recommend you read it if you get a chance.But what the article doesn’t really talk much about is what happens when you return.  What they don’t talk about is the culture shock that you feel all over again after you’ve gotten back on that plane and landed in your home country.  All of the confusion and unsettling feelings that swirl around you because of that culture shock – even more so, because you know that this is your birth country.  This was where you were born.  This is supposed to be your home.  So why does it feel so alien??

For me, it started off with little things, unimportant things.  My friends just laughed at my silliness, and I was too jet-lagged to really notice that something was different.  After all, it was just little things, anyway.  Like my excitement at finally being able to use a clothes dryer again, and snuggling up in the warm clothes right after the machine finished.  Or eating cheese and drinking milk after nearly a near of languishing in the desert of no dairy.  Or not having to think anymore about expertly aiming the shower head so that I don’t soak the rest of the bathroom.  Or being shocked when someone walked into the room with their shoes on.

But then the jet-lag wore off, and it got a little harder.  I started driving again, and was reminded how much I loved hopping on a bus and going somewhere exciting in Korea.  I kept noticing people giving things with 1 hand, and was reminded of how much I love the politeness of the Korean people, how cool it is that they always give or receive things with 2 hands as a way of showing their respect to the person they’re interacting with.  I noticed the large numbers of obese people in America, and was reminded of the Korean propensity for exercising and eating healthily, and how cute their fashion styles are.  I started cooking a few things, and was reminded of how much I love Korean food, and how loved and cared for I always felt in my homestay when my host parents cooked for me.  Even something as innocuous as being able to flush toilet paper, reminded me of the bathrooms at my school, in which you most certainly could NOT flush toilet paper.

And that, of course, reminded me of my students. And how desperately much I miss them.  And then when my students themselves started messaging me about how much they missed me, and how quiet school was without me, and how much they wanted to see me, things got MUCH harder.  I’m sitting here in America, in the middle of some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met in my life, among wonderful old friends and fabulous new ones, and all I can think about is how I don’t fit in.  How I don’t belong here.  How can it be that I can feel more alien in my own country, among some of my closest friends, than I ever did on the other side of the world??  How is it possible that I somehow feel more comfortable speaking Korean than I do speaking English??  Sometimes even now, I catch myself saying a few words or phrases in Korean….and every time I do it breaks my heart.  Because nobody here understands it.  And it reminds me all over again how very far from Korea I truly am.  

Living abroad is a beautiful thing, a wonderful thing.  And the fact that I am back is also wonderful, because it means that I have a family and friends whom I desperately love who have pulled me back to America.  But Chelsea Fagan was spot on when she said that living abroad tears your heart in half.  It is a good thing, a beautiful thing; but it means that you will for the rest of your life live with the knowledge that you don’t quite “fit in.”  No matter where you go, you’re always going to be missing people, traditions, foods, and customs from somewhere else.  That’s a fact that I think I can live with.  But I surely do hope that it won’t always hurt so much.  


My next stop around the world found me in Delhi, India.  India was the biggest cultural shock that I’ve ever experienced in my life.  Ever.  Including Korea, which took me months to really adjust to.  I’m not quite sure where to begin.  But as countless wise men have undoubtedly said over the ages, beginning at the beginning is probably the best course of action, so I will start there, shall I?I had reserved a place at a hostel in India in advance.  I had also given them my flight information (three times!), and they were supposed to come pick me up at the airport upon my arrival.  My flight got in around 8 in the evening, so it should have been a nice, easy night.  But unfortunately, life had other plans.  What actually happened was this: I arrived on time, exited the airport….and found no one waiting for me.  I waited for a while, with no luck.  If being stranded in the New Delhi airport wasn’t bad enough, I also couldn’t call my hostel to see where they were – there were no pay phones in the entire airport.  But even if there were, I wouldn’t have been able to use them, because I didn’t have any money.  I had brought a lot of Korean won with me to exchange on my travels into the local currency; however, the currency exchange counter wouldn’t take won, so I was left with a lot of useless money and no money that I actually could use.  So I asked a random stranger if I could use her phone to call my hostel, and she begrudgingly said yes.  Well, the hostel told me to just take a taxi and then they would reimburse me.  Which did me no good because I had no money.  However, I found a small police station and asked them for help, and they helped me find a cab driver who was willing to take dollars, of which I had a few tucked into my passport, just in case.

So I was finally on my way!  The drive lasted about 20 minutes.  We got about a block away….and then found out that the road had been closed, in preparation for Republic day celebrations that would be held the next day.  So I borrow my taxi driver’s phone to call the hostel again (I have GOT to get an international phone!!).  The guy at the hostel refused to meet me, but rather told me to go to a travel agency and find somewhere else.  Needless to say, I wrote a biting review of their establishment once I returned to Korea. I was soooo frustrated.  When I got to the travel agency, I found that because of the national holiday the next day, all of the cheap hotels were already booked.  At this point it was nearing 11:00 pm, so I finally told my taxi driver to just take me to the closest place that had an open room.  This ended up being about 10 times the price that I had originally anticipated spending…but I was so tired, I chalked it off as a learning experience, locked my door and went to bed.  It certainly wasn’t the welcome to India that I was hoping for, but even in the midst of all of that, there were bright spots.  The policeman, taxi driver, and travel agency worker were all super nice and helpful, and made me feel much more at ease.  They kept calling me m’ame, which I found amusing at first, but eventually came to realize that it’s just how they show respect to foreigners.

I must admit though, I was glad when a new day dawned.  I woke up singing “Journey to the past,” from Fox Animation’s Anastasia….”people always say life is full of choices, no one ever mentions fear.”  Hurrah for Fox, giving inspirational songs for people all over the world! 🙂  I had bought a trip with a travel agency so I wouldn’t be completely alone the entire time, so I headed out bright and early to the meeting point.  A bit too early, actually…the cafe wasn’t open yet, and so I had to wait outside for nearly an hour.  The leering stares of the men who also happened to be on the street at that time made the first time in my life, in all of my travels, that I have ever been truly honestly frightened.  It was a sensation that I experienced on multiple occasions over the course of my week in India.  At the risk of inundating you with my writings, I wrote a separate article reflecting on some of the thoughts that were going through my head when that was happening.  If you want to read it, just follow this link.

But anyway, at last the group met up – it was myself, our tour guide, and 4 Germans, and we started our tour of India.  We took a walk through old Delhi, dodging the taxi and motorcycle drivers that squeezed through the tiny alley streets with reckless abandon for pedestrian safety, walking past savory street-side food vendors and stalls stuffed to bursting with knick-knacks and tourist merchandise, and ducking under the tangled and frayed electrical wires that hung from the crowded buildings in unstable masses.  That afternoon, we headed to Agra, for the next leg of our journey.  The swirling mass of humanity seemed to multiply, if possible, once we got on the road.  Every moment we were stopped, people swarmed the car, trying to sell me something, asking for tips for simple tasks, or simply begging for money.  The worst was when we stopped for lunch.  I was the only patron in the entire restaurant, so I was naturally swarmed there too, but this time I had no car to protect me.  It was rather overwhelming, especially since many of the Indians didn’t seem to have a proper filter as to what were appropriate topics to talk to a stranger about and what weren’t.  I didn’t get to my hotel until late evening, and I promptly went to bed.

The oldest mosque in India
The streets of Old Delhi
Lunch with my German friends!!
A moqsue that offered free lunch to everyone.  Since they couldn’t pay for it, they volunteered their time to help make it.  Pretty cool….
My Delhi tour guide, Hirdesh….super sweet girl
The lotus palace, seen from the car on the way to Agra
Typical Indian traffic

The next day was The Day!  Really the only reason (or at least the main reason) I wanted to go to India was because I wanted to see the Taj Mahal.  And let me tell you what, it certainly didn’t disappoint.  The Taj is beautiful from a distance…but once I got up close, once I actually touched it….it sent a thrill up my and down my entire spine.  The Taj Mahal has 43 million individual gems in it, the carved panels inside took 2 men approximately 8 months to make – for each panel, and it took approximately 20,000 workers 22 years of intricate, detailed work to complete the entire building.  And all for the love of a woman.  It is such a timeless symbol of love and dedication – so much more so, I think, than Romeo and Juliet or Anthony and Cleopatra – that it was literally breathtaking to behold.  Sure gives all of the men nowadays some big shoes to fill :).

The main gate to the Taj Mahal
The “classic” photo of the Tj Mahal
The entire place was sooooo detailed

I spent the afternoon with Mehran, my tour guide – the Germans had opted to get a massage.  Mehran took me to some of his favorite sites in the city – the Agra fort, another tomb, the shop of some gem inlayers who use the same techniques as were used in the Taj Mahal, and the moon gardens, which lie across the river from the Taj.  The Germans actually told him to go spend time with me, and then told him you’re welcome for giving him the opportunity to spend more time with me, which I found highly amusing :D.  He was a good guide and a good friend, however, and I enjoyed the afternoon immensely.  He was also a rather good storyteller, and I thoroughly enjoyed the tales he told me about his escapades in college, such as when he cried “snakes” on a crowded metro just so that people would run away and give him more space :D.

The Agra fort
Another tomb….not nearly as impressive as the Taj Mahal, but far more peaceful and quiet
The gem-inlayers of Agra
Me ‘n Mehran 🙂

Day three, Mehran took me to Fatephur Sikri, a deserted fort about 45 minutes outside of Agra.  There I said goodbye to him, and headed to Jaipur.  Jaipur was my least favorite city in India.  The guide was cold and unfriendly, and the repeated warnings I got from locals about the danger of a woman being alone in the city made me nervous about even leaving my hotel room.  Although I did get to see an Indian wedding at my hotel, which was really cool.  I also went to a ton of famous temples and shrines and forts that I honestly don’t remember much about – they all seemed to run together after a while.  But I did get to ride an elephant!!  That part I remember quite clearly.  Those great big lumbering beasts do not make for the smoothest ride, but it was certainly fun!  I can’t imagine crossing countries on one, though!!!  I also made a point to go to a Bollywood movie in the evening.  It didn’t disappoint – the sumptuous costumes, intricate dance scenes, exaggerated fight scenes, overdramatized acting, and intermission so that people could go buy food midway through to sustain themselves through the excessive length – it was everything and more that I was expecting to see in a Bollywood film :).

An Indian wedding
The ladies’ quarters of Fatephur Sikri
Parcheesi – Indian style.  The pieces were concubines, and the winner got to spend a night with the emperor…
Yay for elephant rides!!!
The wind palace for the ladies of the palace – they could see but not be seen
The water palace
The Pink City
The peacock gate to the royal palace
The largest sundial in the world
The amber fort in Jaipur
My reflection in the hall of mirrors in the amber fort
The peacock restaurant!!

My last day in Delhi I went to a saree shop.  I was only supposed to look and play dress up, but I found one that I absolutely loved, and so I allowed myself a splurge.  I have no idea where I’ll wear it, but it’s beautiful, and I love it :).  On the drive back to Delhi, my driver decided to pick up some random people on the side of the road and take them with us for a few hundred kilometers.  This is very common in India, but I found it quite awkward, and I must admit that I was glad when we parted ways.  My driver also decided to randomly stop at his home before he dropped me off.  That was also awkward – we had tea, and just sat, not talking, for about an hour.  I asked why were there, and I was told “to kill time.”  But whatevs…when in Rome…  But honestly, even though it was awkward, I actually kind of enjoyed it.  I got a glimpse, however small, of the “real India,” which is what I always prefer to see in any country that I go to.  It was nice to see a slice of what really happens in India, away from the tourist centers.

Where they made the dyes for the sarees

So I checked into another hotel in Delhi (courtesy of my wonderful friend Mehran, who booked it for me, since I had originally planned on staying at the hostel that stiffed me), spent the night there, and then caught a taxi to the airport the next day.  I had quite a few takeaways from my stay in India.  The first one, is how very very blessed I am.  I was surrounded everyday by stark, raging poverty and pain.  And I couldn’t get over the fact that I am so very very blessed to even own a passport, to live in a country where I am financially able and also allowed to travel basically anywhere in the world that I please.  Also, a smile goes a long way.  As a solo traveler, there were lots of times when I really needed help, and I can’t tell you how much more willing people were to help me when I smiled and was nice to them.  They even said as much.  Another takeaway: I realized just how much I dislike head scarves.  Actually, head scarves aren’t bad…but I realized that the more of face is covered, the more I dislike it.  It dehumanizes the wearer.  On multiple occasions, I found myself wondering, “what happens if one of these women gets hurt in the street and needs help?  Her husband wouldn’t know it was her to help her, even if he was staring right at her.”  As the week wore on, I found myself growing progressively more and more impatient with people who homogenized me as a “rich foreigner,” and were unable or unwilling to see me as what I was – a person.  But I realized that a full head scarf does the exact same thing.  I know there are religious, cultural, and familial reasons for wearing them, so please don’t jump down my throat….I’m just saying that from my perspective, they seemed to dehumanize the women who wore them a bit.  They became just a pair of eyes, and by the end of the week I had grown to dislike full head coverings just as much as I disliked being swarmed by beggars every time I walked outside.  But overall, India was a great experience – if nothing else, a massive learning experience – and I’m very glad to have gotten the opportunity to go.  Oh, and one last takeaway….know the currency exchange rate before you go!  And make sure you have money!  It will save you a whole bunch of headache and trouble :).

Phase 3

There are several stages of culture shock when  living in a foreign country for an extended period of time that are pretty generally accepted.  The first stage is the honeymoon stage, when everything is new and exciting and exotic.  After that comes withdrawal and depression, when everything is hard and overwhelming and nothing seems exciting anymore, just difficult.  All you can think of are the days when you understood everything around you and always knew what you were eating.  My honeymoon stage lasted probably all of orientation and maybe the first day or two of living in Gyeongju.  But after that, the second stage hit me hard and fast.  No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do anything right, couldn’t understand anything.  It’s been like that for four long weeks. 

But the third phase is assimilation, when you finally come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to understand everything that’s happening around you, and that’s ok.  You’ve begun to find your own niche, regardless of the cultural differences.  I think that I’ve finally embarked on phase 3.  This has been a week of assimilation, niche-finding, and friend-making.

Over Chuseok, one of my adopted uncles had given Songi (my host sister) 50,000 won (roughly $50) to buy something for me.  So on Tuesday afternoon, Songi and her best friend took me shopping!  It was the first time that I had really hung out with Koreans outside of school or the homestay, and it was a blast.  They wouldn’t let me buy anything for them while we were shopping, so I insisted on taking them out to ice cream after.  Then we went to a norebang (Korean karaoke) – in the middle of the day!  It was kinda weird, but fun.  After that, we took sticker pictures!  Korea is famous for these – they’re like photobooths in America, except after you take the pictures you have to decorate them with stickers and cutesy designs before they are printed.  The place we went to was a tiny little hole-in-the-wall in which all of the signs weren’t even in Korean – intimidating enough – but rather, Chinese characters.  I would have never ever stepped foot in that place by myself, but it was alot of fun.

Songi singing Karaoke

Our sticker pictures!!

Thursday night was salsa night, but I didn’t go this week.  I was so tired, but I didn’t really want to stay in the house all night, so I was kind of looking for an excuse to do something other than salsa.  Well, lo and behold, I got what I wanted!  I got a message from another English teacher, Jennifer, who said that she was looking to make some more girlfriends, and would I be interested in sometime meeting up with her?  I said yes, and so we met up later that night for tea – we both got green tea lattes, yummm :).  Of course, neither of us thought to get each others’ numbers, and so we had a rather hard time finding each other at the tea shop, but we eventually figured it out – life in Korea, always an adventure!  The shop that we went to had some games in it, so we played Jenga while we talked.  We actually ran out of moves!  I’ve never seen a Jenga game come to a draw….I didn’t know what to do, lol…  But I had a really nice time.  It was good to get out of the house and spend some time with another girl.

A draw in Jenga??  How does that happen??  What do we do now?

That brings me to Friday – the big day.  So I had told my English teachers when I got here that I loved to dance.  Well, to them, that meant I would love to teach a dance class.  Oh, and just by coincidence, my principle studied danced in college.  The foreign teacher and the school principle dancing – publicity photoshoot match made in Heaven!  Oh, it gets better.  Not only did my co-teachers decide that I would teach a dance class, but they decided that it would be open to all of the students.  All 700 of them.  And their parents.  And all of the teachers.  And heck, while we’re at it, why not just invite the entire city of Gyeongju? (I’m not being facetious….they did just that)

On Thursday afternoon I had a photo shoot with my principle.  It was really awkward because, although he dances, he doesn’t speak English, so I didn’t know what kinds of dances he knew.  So I just kind of stood there and let him take a position, and then I arranged myself accordingly.  By Thursday night, our picture, accompanied with a flyer on my wonderful new dance class – was the new home page of the school website.  I’m not kidding.

Clowning around with Yeji during the photoshoot
Photoshoot with a Korean ballroom dancer?  Oh yes, I think so 🙂

Check out his shades.  My principle is awesome.
The current school home page.  Note my picture front and center….and the flyer on the right that they sent to all Gyeongju =/

So Friday evening comes around (it’s a 6:00 pm class), and I’m a nervous wreck.  I had no idea what to expect – not even a clue as to how many people would show up.  Well, I got my answer soon enough.  Forty-two students, plus about ten teachers, came to learn basic merengue.  Thursday afternoon I had sent a message to Anthony, asking if he would help me teach.  He agreed, and I am eternally indebted to him.  It was so nice to have a friendly face, a sense of solidity next to me in the craziness of the class.  And of course, all of the girls loved him :D.  At the end of the lesson, they asked us to do a demo – I really think that they believe that I’m far better than I actually am, but they enjoyed it.  After Anthony and I danced, we brought in some of the teachers and then danced with them.  The students really liked that.  It was really hard trying to teach over 50-something giggling high school girls, but it was worth it.  I had a blast :).

Me and my favorite student!  I know I’m not allowed to have favorites, but…she is.  She bought me cookies one day and always waves at me in the hallway <3 :)

A few of my English teachers hamming it up

I was leading him….he didn’t know what to do!  Lol 🙂

After dance class, Anthony and I went to get something to eat.  I had biked to school that morning, while he had taken a taxi, ergo – 2 people on a bike!  I had never done that before.  It took a while to get the hang of it, and we had a couple of spills, but we caught on pretty quickly.  I felt like such a local :D.  He took me to this tiny little Japanese restaurant in the center of downtown.  So we got some yummy food which I have no idea what it was called or what it was and just talked.  After I thanked him for the millionth time for helping me, he was like, “Lauren, you’re my sister in Christ.  Of course I’ll help you if I can.  All you have to do is ask.”  It was so comforting to know that I have someone looking out for me here :).

Friday was also one of the English teacher’s last day, so we had a cake and said goodbye to Borim.  It was really sad to see her go :(.  But she told me more than once that she really wanted to see me and hang out with me (she’ll still be in Gyeongju), so hopefully we’ll make that happen.

Saying goodbye to Borim 🙁

Oh, I also had an awesome teaching moment today!  Just before class, one of my students came up to me and started a conversation with me (which in itself is pretty rare…they’re all sooo shy to speak English).  She had written out a script beforehand, so she bumbled through it: “Teacher, I no speak good English, but I want talk more with you.  Is ok?”  She was so cute, and I appreciated her efforts so much.  Made my heart swell :).  I can’t believe how much I love teaching.  Sure it’s hard, and sometimes it’s frustrating, but I really really enjoy it.  That kind of hit me as I was sitting at the restaurant with Anthony.  I was describing to him the lesson that I had taught this week – it was about definite and indefinite articles (a/an/the).  These words don’t really exist in the Korean language, so Korean students have a lot of problems using them properly.  I told Anthony my topic, and he immediately asked me, “Wow, how did you make an interesting lesson out of that??”  A fair enough question, lol.  And so I started telling him….about the story that I introduced it with, and the schoolhouse rock song that we listened to, and the worksheet that we went through to check for understanding, and then the game at the end that everyone loved.  It’s true, articles is a pretty boring topic.  But it was one of my best lessons.  I think that was when I realized how much I love my job.

Well, the day’s a-wasting, time to get moving!  Sending my love as always!! 

So this is what they call culture shock

Well, another week is almost over.  I can’t wait until school settles down and I have some semblance of a schedule.  With the renovation of the new English building, I never know what’s going to happen or what’s going on.  Yesterday the computer in 2 of my classes just decided to stop working (I had checked it the day before and verified that it was working properly!), so I had to improve – again.  Can anyone say tongue twisters?? 🙂  Five of my regular classes were canceled, but I gained 3 different classes that I’m having to sub for.  I was told that I can do “anything” with them….which is almost worse.  What do you teach to a class when you have no idea of their levels, and you will never teach them again??  So ya, I’m looking forward to settling down a little bit, both at school and outside of it.

I think I’m finally experiencing this thing that everyone warned me about called “culture shock.”  I didn’t have any problems adjusting in Spain and, although I did in Costa Rica, that only lasted a few weeks.  It was nothing like this.  The constant, never ending struggle to adapt and understand is merciless.  All of the little things you have to remember – wear slippers to school, brush your teeth after classes, put your chopsticks over your bowl when you’re finished, bow to teachers, don’t bow to students, take your shoes off when you’re inside, 90 degree bows to principles, 45 degree bows to fellow teachers, turn off the hot water when you’re done showering, give and accept things with 2 hands….the list goes on and on and on.  And always working so hard to understand what people are saying leaves my brain a mushy, sticky, unhappy mess by the end of the day.  I’m told that the 3-month mark is usually the worst, and then it gets better.  I surely do hope so, because the thought of it getting worse than this – or being this bad the entire time I’m here – makes me want to curl up in a corner and never come out.  Alright, I’m done, sorry for the pity party. 

But ya, this week has been more or less adventure-less.  Except on Tuesday.  A new friend of mine, Harry, asked if I wanted to go hiking with him, so I left after school and we took a taxi to the base of the mountain.  Except we misjudged how far away the mountain was, and I had to make it home for dinner, so by the time we got there it was already so late that we had to turn around and start walking back :(.  But it was ok….instead of an intense hike, we had more of a leisurely stroll, and also got to visit some great historic sites that we walked past on our way back into town.

Our little Buddhist temple getaway.  We danced.  It was great 🙂

A bird’s eye view of Gyeongju

I’ve done a lot of scouting this week, and I think I’ve found Korean classes and a salsa place on Thursdays, and Ultimate frisbee games on Saturdays.  I’m going to try to check them out this week.  There’s a teacher’s soccer club at my school, but I’m not allowed to play since I’m a girl….lame :(.  Also, a deacon at my little church invited me to have dinner with him on Friday, so that should be fun.  Apparently he does this for every new foreigner in town – has them over for dinner, gives them rides, takes them hiking, etc.  Seems like a wonderful man.  Still no swing dancing, but I found someone who apparently used to dance in the Atlanta circuit (small world!!), and she said there’s some swing in nearby towns, so I’m hoping I can convince her to come with me sometime.  That’s next week’s project, though….it’s too overwhelming to do this week.

I know some of you are dying to see my school and the people I work with, so I’ve included a few pictures in this blog.  All of my classes were canceled today, so I had time to walk around and take some pictures :).  Also, in case any of you are ever feeling bored or just in the mood to send something to a homesick American living on the other side of the world, my mailing address is below.  Love you all!!

Lauren Fenner
경북 경주시 성건동

현수막나라 620-157
South Korea

If that’s too hard to copy, here’s the Romanization of that:
Lauren Fenner

Gyeongbuk Gyeongju si Seonggeondong
Hyeonsumaknara 620-157
South Korea

My daily transportation.  The seat’s too big…it bruises my butt :(.  But I’ll have legs of steel by the end of the year!! 🙂


Seondeok girl’s high school in all its glory

That’s the new English building there on the left
These are the normal classroom halls….

…and this is the English one.  I’m so blessed 🙂

One of my classrooms
The garden at the front of school.  It’s a lovely getaway 🙂


There’s also a pond at the end of the path.  It’s my favorite place on campus :).
Andddd….this is my least favorite place on campus.  Outside squat toilets, for the win 🙁

Some of the teachers I work with: Borim, Sang-a, Mrs. Jang, and Ye-ji (seated)
Some of my best students…this is why I love teaching <3