Category: exploring

Catching up on life

The past few months have been an absolute whirlwind.  A new marriage, lots and lots of birthdays and anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, a dance event, a skiing trip in Colorado, huge amounts of interpersonal drama, and new jobs for both Michael and myself have proven to be just about all that I can handle.

It is ironic that, although I have been writing more than I ever have in my entire life, I think it’s the longest I’ve been silent on this blog since I started it.  Most of my time lately has been taken up writing for my new blog, forgingsignificance.com.  Right after the wedding I spent several weeks working on some quillwork for an artists’ market at my church, but since about mid-December I have officially taken the plunge and started working full-time toward becoming a freelance writer.

Since then, my days have consisted of lots of website tweaking and beating the pavement trying to submit articles to other sites.  I’ve consistently written at least twice a week on my own blog for several months now, as well as already had 3 articles accepted in other places.  Sometimes it’s frustrating and feels like I’m not making any progress; but then I remind myself that I’ve really only been at this a few weeks, and that helps puts things into perspective for me.

This post is just a brief summary, both for your sakes and mine, of what I’ve been doing the past few months.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write more regularly on here now that I’m in the swing of things :).

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Michael and I had the opportunity to go visit my New Jersey grandparents in October, just a few weeks after we were married.  I was so grateful that Michael had the chance to meet them both, but especially my grandfather, as he ended up passing away just a few weeks later.  We all miss him a lot.  He left quite a legacy.

I was able to do a few fall-specific things, like carve a pumpkin with Michael, meet my friend Sarah in Ellijay for their Apple Festival, and go to the Perry fair with my mom and younger siblings.  That was a really fun afternoon.  Perry is about half-way between Atlanta and Albany, so we met in the middle and made a day trip of it.  It’s hard to develop a relationship with your siblings when you live far away and they can’t drive and don’t have cell phones, so I’m always grateful for the opportunities that we do get.

I once again hosted a Christmas party this year, except this time I did 3 days in a row of Christmas parties!  We took this idea from a friend, and the thought was to try to incorporate as many people as possible, while also making an effort to focus on different aspects of the Christmas season.  So the first night was “celebrating friends,” which was basically my normal Christmas party.  I made dinner, we played games, decorated gingerbread cookies, etc.  One of the games was a new one – I wrapped little treats in saran wrap and made people unwrap the ball with oven mitts on.  It was actually a lot more fun than I expected!  You can read more about that here.

The other 2 nights were “celebrating others” and “celebrating God,” where we wrote letters to troops and did a lessons and carols service, respectively.  We had almost a completely different group every night, and it was really a lot of fun!  I was definitely tired by the end of day 3, though :).

One of the highlights of the last few months was New Year’s Eve.  Michael and I spontaneously decided to go to Birmingham for the night.  And it was really so much fun!  We hung out, played games, watched the ball drop, and enjoyed a great breakfast the next morning with people we love.  Nothing different from what usually happens when I go to Birmingham for NYE, but considering how much drama has been swirling around Michael and I lately, it was a welcome and much-needed respite.  You can read more about that trip here.

I also really enjoyed my birthday celebration a few days later.  It was a pretty low-key affair, but I was surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world (including my mother-in-law, who had just had knee surgery and could hardly walk!  It really meant a lot that she made the effort to come out.  I have great in-laws).  We had a potluck dinner and then went to downtown Atlanta to see the Christmas lights in Centennial Park.  The lights were gorgeous, and we even got a funnel cake!  I suppose that was my pseudo birthday cake, haha.

Several of my friends also brought gifts to the potluck, and as I opened them, I was overwhelmed by just how thoughtful they all were.  These people who had come to celebrate me together really cared about me.  I know it seems silly, as most people would say it’s obvious that I’m cared about…but when it feels like you’re being surrounded by selfish emotional drama on all sides, it’s easy to lose sight of that fact.  It was a wonderful night to be reminded that I’m cared for.

We went on a ski trip 2 weekends ago – Michael’s first time!  It was bitterly cold, but a lot of fun.  Even though I’ve been skiing several times before, I actually ended up being a lot more sore than he was.  I think I was so scared from how fast I thought I was going that every muscle in my entire body ended up tensing up, lol.  But we both made it through the day in one piece, so I count that as a victory! 🙂

All that aside, Michael and I have been trying to focus on taking care of ourselves and getting into a regular schedule.  We’ve become connected with a small group at church that focuses on outreach to internationals in Atlanta.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them.  I’ve also started part-time work teaching a beginner ESL class twice a week.  It’s quite a challenge when you have Spanish, Chinese, AND Russian speakers, and there’s no telling how many people will actually show up!

Now that things are starting to calm down a bit, I’m hoping to be able to update both blogs.  But for the most regular updates, be sure to head over to my new site (forgingsignificance.com) and sign up for my newsletter!  I always post there on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The people in my life….

I love my life.  I love it.  And no, I’m not saying that everything is always wonderful and perfect.  But I am saying that God is faithful, and I am starting to actually feel at home here.  This week I’ve been able to hang out with a lot of previously un-hung-out with people, and it was wonderful.  I still barely speak to my host family, but I’m finally starting to find my niches and be accepted in other circles, and it’s a great feeling.

Anyway, last Saturday I went to the Gyeongju National Museum with some friends.  It was myself, another foreign teacher in Gyeongju, Harry, the other Fulbright teacher in Gyeongju (Elizabeth), and Art, a Fulbrighter living in Pohang, about 20 minutes away.  Art was the 1st Fulbrighter I’d seen other than Elizabeth since departure day, and it was lovely to see him.  So we went to the museum (Gyeongju has enough culture in it to last a lifetime of sightseeing!!), and then went for lunch.  We went to a little out-of-the-way Italian restaurant, and I got….lasagna!!!  I had been craving it for weeks, but had been told that there was nowhere in Gyeongju to get it.  I was in heaven :D.

Oh ya…we’re Fulbright scholars…
Harry, Art, and Elizabeth
I don’t know….we were really giggly that day

I had a dejá vu moment coming back from lunch.  I had my bike with me, so Elizabeth and I decided to bike together.  It was just like my ride with Anthony, except this time I was pedaling and she was on the back.  We had a couple of spills, but caught on surprisingly quickly, especially considering the fact that Elizabeth has never ridden a bike before, lol.  Now all I need is a picture to document it… 🙂

Sunday I went to church again (it was so good to be back after having missed it the week before because of Chuseok!), and then when out to lunch after with some guys from church.  I actually ended up singing on the worship team during the service.  I don’t even like my voice on a normal day, and I was still sick anyway (I’ve had a nasty cough for several weeks now), but I wanted to serve in the church, and that was what they needed, and so I found myself up on the stage.  Regardless of my nerves, though, it wasn’t too bad, and I’m looking forward to being back up there next weekend.

On Wednesday I went on an excursion with my friend, 효지 (Hyo-ji).  She’s another English teacher in my school, and was the first person to befriend me when I got there.  We went for a walk around a bunch of historic sites (our school sits smack dab in the middle of the historic district, so it’s very convenient).  She bought me a hot green tea latte, and then we meandered through the forests and walking paths and old tombs.  One of the tombs has been opened by the Korean government, and we were actually able to go inside!  Then, for dinner, she had heard about a great little traditional Korean restaurant (it’s located inside an actual traditional Korean house complex….pretty neat), but didn’t quite know where it was.  So we started looking for it, and finally stumbled upon it, hidden in the winding alleys of the backstreets of Gyeongju.  The meal was wonderful, and the company lovely, even if she is always chiding me for not taking care of myself – she has self-appointed herself as my 언니 (older sister), which to her means nagging me to drink water, and stay warm, and eat my vegetables, and all of that.  But I don’t mind, it makes me feel loved :).  And I’m sure that my mom’s grateful to hear that someone’s looking out for me over here!! 😉

The oldest astronomical observatory in Eastern Asia

Beautiful Gyeongju…those big humps are ancient royal tombs

The entrance to the tomb….also the only picture of Hyo-ji that I was able to sneak 🙂
The restaurant we went to

After dinner, the sun had set, and so we went to Anapji pond.  Anapji is (another!) famous landmark in Gyeongju.  It used to be part of the palace complex during the Shilla dynasty, when Gyeongju was the capital of Korea.  It’s absolutely breathtaking at night.  Check out the pictures below….

Thursday was dance night again.  I decided to hang out with Jennifer again, but this time we didn’t skip the dance.  We went out to dinner first – and met some new friends while there.  That seems to happen a lot in this town – you’re just more outgoing and friendly, and make friends with anyone who look like they’ll talk to you.  In this case, it was 2 guys – Jennifer had already met one of them, so we sat down with them and had dinner together.

The dance was lovely, as usual.  It’s fun, but every time I dance salsa it reminds me how much I miss West Coast Swing :(.  Oh well, WCS will still be waiting for me when I come home… In the meantime, I’m trying to make the best of things and just improve my latin dancing while I have the chance.  Oh, I also got 2 more requests from Koreans to be my boyfriend at the dance….my grand total is racking up, lol.

On Friday, I went to the Expo…again.  This time it was a school field trip.  I didn’t really do anything particularly new this time – saw a couple of different shows, bought a dress made in India (I’m an XL in Korean sizes…can you believe it??), had lunch there – but the best part about this trip (aside from the exquisite weather) was the people I was with.  I hung out with a bunch of co-teachers and students the whole day….and it was so.much.fun.  I adore my school and everyone in it :).

Some of the shows that we watched at the Expo

Oh, Je-hun…. 🙂
Me and my students… <3

An old teacher at school.  She always calls me 예쁘다 (beautiful).  That’s the extent of our conversations.  She just grabbed me here and insisted on a picture….

Me, Dae-seon, and Je-hun….three cool cats 🙂

Friday evening, the fun continued!  Through a bizarre and I would say God-sent series of coincidences, I heard about a Korean woman who’s wanting to learn Spanish.  She’s married to a westerner, so she speaks fluent English, and she’s really motivated to learn Spanish, but hasn’t been able to find any opportunities to learn here in Gyeongju.  So we met up for coffee, and worked out a time when we can get together and do a language exchange – I teach her Spanish, she teaches me Korean.  She was sooo motivated, I think it’s going to be a really good fire under me to get me learning.  Plus, I’ll get to practice my Spanish.  I’m super excited :).

After that, I went to an open mic / poetry night.  It’s the first one I’ve ever been to, and I really enjoyed it.  I loved seeing into other people’s hearts…it was really intriguing.  Besides which, the poems / songs / speeches / etc were all really well done.  I think I’m going to try to prepare something for the next one….

Looking over this, I’ve realized something.  In all of these stories, the focus has been on the people I was with.  I’m so grateful for who God has sent into my life.  It’s not where I thought I wanted to be, but I’m starting to see that it’s where I needed to be.  They are the reason that I’m so excited about what God’s going to do during the rest of this year…

Let’s have an adventure or two!!….or six…or seven…

Whew!  What a wild, crazy week it’s been!  The speed of life seems to have increased infinitesimally since I last wrote.  Where to begin??  Well let’s see, first of all, school this week was absolutely INSANE.  My school is in the middle of a really big change right now.  Over the summer they started construction on a new English building, in which all of the English teachers’ offices and classes will be held.  Well, it’s supposed to be finished by now – the Grand Opening ceremony is slated for September 2.  But it’s not finished yet.  So this week everyone was running around like a chicken with their head cut off, trying to get everything set up and ready for the big day.   
 And consequently, the entire English department has been in an uproar ever since I got there.  My office has moved twice.  There’s construction and welding going on in the middle of classtime.  Technicians are coming into classrooms while I’m teaching to set up the internet and such.  People are always running, always chattering away, and I never know what’s going on.  On Friday I didn’t know until 3:37 where my 3:40 class was going to be held.  Needless to say, I was seriously looking forward to the weekend by the time it finally came around.
I met up on Thursday night with another group of other English teachers.  We went out for dinner and drinks.  It was fun, I enjoyed it, but most of them are self-proclaimed heavy drinkers.  As I am not, I’m not sure how often we will end up actually hanging out in the next year.  But it was fun.  It was good to get out and meet new people and see the city.  
Friday afternoon I stayed late at school.  My last class didn’t end until 4:30, and by the time I got everything cleaned up and ready for the next week it was almost 6:00.  I was too tired to walk back (it’s almost a 40 minute walk to my house!), so I was going to take a taxi back – taxis in South Korea are super cheap; usually less than 5,000 won (around $5).  But on my way out of the school, the school owner noticed me leaving and asked where I was going.  So I told him, but to him, the idea of me taking a taxi was unthinkable, so he told me to hop in his car and he personally drove me home.  Just another way I’ve been feeling the love… 🙂
The weekend was amazing.  A perfect ending to a crazy week; it was just what I needed to unwind.  I would not change a single thing.  So there’s actually another Fulbright English teacher, Elizabeth, at the middle school that is attached to my high school, but I’ve seen almost nothing of her since we got here.  Well, on Saturday, we decided to go exploring.  The goal was to find the location of the English-speaking church service that I had heard about.  So we met at the school (the only place we both knew how to get to, lol), and just started walking.  We started off with a map to the church, but we quickly realized that that wasn’t going to be much help.  So we just kept walking.  
We walked through the historic district, and saw ancient tombs and huge temples and vast fields of flowers and street vendors and artisans.  We walked through off-the-beaten paths residential districts, the residents of which, judging from the stares we got while on our journey, very rarely – if ever – saw foreigners.  We walked through the bustling college district, grabbing kimbap (sort of a Korean sushi) and ice cream while we were there.  We crossed the river and explored the neighborhoods on the other side.  We walked through downtown Gyeongju, stumbling upon a huge outdoor market.  THAT was an experience, for sure.  The vendors and people crammed the streets so tightly that you could barely move.  Everywhere, people hawked their wares – fruits, vegetables, fish (both dead AND alive and squirming in the bowl)…you name it, it was there.  I saw one vendor selling peaches in big bowls, so I decided that I wanted to buy one for myself and Elizabeth.  So I asked for 2.  Well…it turns out that peaches are sold by the bowl, not individually.  Guess who’s teachers are getting lots of peaches this Monday!  Cultural lost in translation moment of the day….check! Korea, one, Lauren, zero :).
We ended our jaunt at Elizabeth’s house.  She lives 40 minutes away from me, and by then I was wayyy too tired to walk anymore – we had walked for about 4.5 hours.  So I took a taxi back, and told him where to go…in Korean….all by myself!!  And I didn’t just use one word, I used a whole sentence!!  It was exhilarating.  Actually, the more I hang out with foreigners here, the more encouraged I am with my Korean skills.  Most of the people I’ve met have been here at least a year, some two or more – and most of them can speak veryyy little Korean.  Some of them can’t even read the alphabet.  Granted, they all live in private apartments, and their jobs are English teachers, so they obviously don’t get much of an opportunity to practice much, but it’s still encouraging nonetheless to see how much I actually learned in just 6 short weeks of orientation.
Sunday was equally as epic.  Taking a meandering walk may not seem epic to you, but when everything is a struggle to find and ask for and understand, even the little accomplishments seem big :).  On our walk, I was also struck by how much of the city I really HAVE explored.  I’ve been feeling very isolated and lonely and lost the past week.  But as I was talking with Elizabeth and telling her what I knew of the regions of the city as we passed them, I realized that I’m really not as lost as I thought I was.  I told her about Metro, where there is a weekly poker game on Wednesday nights; dalk galbi is where many foreign English teachers congregate every Friday night for dinner; there’s the library that has a weekly English story reading program to Korean children on Saturdays, which I’m hoping to get involved in; the dance studio and Thursday night salsa club, which I still have to check out; softball or frisbee games on the University soccer fields on the weekends; free Korean language classes on Tuesday nights; the huge park that has free outdoor concerts during the summer; and of course, the English speaking church, which was the whole purpose of our walk to begin with.  Talking with Elizabeth about all of these things that I’ve found in the week that I’ve been here reminded me that I really can do this!!!  It was good to be reminded….I had almost forgotten.
But anyway, I was talking about how epic Sunday was!!  Even though we never did find the church on our walk, it turned out to not matter.  I also found a number to call to speak to someone in English for more information about the church.  I called it, and it turns out it was the cell phone of like a deacon of the church, who actually offered to pick me up and drive me to church.  So I gladly accepted, and by 10:30 Sunday morning I found myself weaving through the intimidating hallways of a huge Korean church to find the tiny English service.  The English service is super small – not even 50 people – and most of the people who attend are actually Koreans who want to practice their English.  But there were also some foreigners – mostly from South Africa, which is cool 🙂 – and everyone, Korean and foreign alike, were really nice.  It was sooo nice to be in a church again.  It was very low-key – just a guitar, keyboard, and acoustic hymns.  But it blessed me, nonetheless.  After the service, I was talking with some of the other people, trying to get to know them.  I may be an outgoing person, but since I’ve been in Gyeongju I’ve been putting myself out there FAR more than I normally would.  It’s been uncomfortable, but I feel like I need to do it now before I get stuck in a rut of isolation, so I’ve been really working overtime to meet people and get involved in the things that are important to me.  
So anyway, we were talking, and one of the girls I met, Andrea, mentioned that she was planning on going to Pohang (about a 30-minute bus ride) with her boyfriend right after church.  I had been really wanting to explore the bus system, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to do it with a guide and company, instead of having to do it by myself like I’d done so many other things.  So I timidly asked if I could tag along.  She said yes, and off to Pohang we went!  We had to take a bus to get to the main bus terminal, and then another one to Pohang.  We had lunch there, and then went to a few department stores – they had to get some things for their apartments.  After a few hours, we made our way back to Gyeongju and parted ways.  It may not have been a huge deal; but to me it was.  Getting out of the city, seeing another part of Korea, connecting with people who share my values, making a friend…it was really needed.  I didn’t really realize how needed until it happened. 
So I’ve explored, and figured out the bus system, and bought lots of peaches (!!), and most importantly, made Christian friends and found a church.  I would say this weekend has been a success.  Now off to lesson planning for tomorrow! 🙂