Category: Fulbright

Ringing in a quarter century

Well folks, it finally happened.  I am now officially 1/4 of a century old.  Michael planned a dinner at Red Lobster with some Atlanta friends the night before my birthday to celebrate, but other than that the actual day passed by fairly uneventfully.  The next weekend, however, I went to a dance event, and a couple weeks later I went to visit my dear friend Sarah in Houston.  I have decided that those were the rest of my birthday celebrations….your 25th birthday only happens once, might as well make it last the whole month, right? 🙂

The dinner at Red Lobster was nice, albeit quite low-key.  I was originally a little sad because a lot of my house church friends were still out of town, but that just meant that it ended up being a whole new group!  Chris and Julia, Michael’s parents, and my mentor from church and her husband were all there, along with several house church people who were still in town.  I felt very loved and cared for.  We were going to go bowling after, but instead we all went to my house to watch Million Dollar Arm, which had been given to me as a gift earlier that night.  I do so very much love having people into my home :).

The dance event, Sweet Side of Swing, is possibly my favorite event out of all the ones I’ve ever been to.  The leveled classes making learning easier for everyone, and every detail is attended to with such care that it makes it almost impossible to NOT enjoy yourself.  This year was even more special by the “Swing Literacy Development Training” course that I took.  This was an add-on that was offered in addition to the regular workshops and social dances….8 solid hours jam-packed with tips and techniques for teaching swing dance more effectively to beginner and intermediate dancers alike.  It was a really well-done workshop…I’m very much looking forward to implementing the things I learned at the weekly Atlanta swing dances!

But, as fun as Sweet Side of Swing was, the crux of the month was definitely my visit to Houston.  Aside from my brief dinner with her last year while I was in Houston for an interview, it’s been years since I’ve seen my dear friend Sarah.  We saw each other a lot while we were in Korea, and keep up regular phone conversations now that we’re both back stateside…but phone calls can’t hold a candle to seeing beloved friends in person.  I took advantage of the long weekend around MLK day to go see her…only got to spend a couple of days with her, but a couple of days is vastly better than nothing!  Sarah and Donnie are incredible hosts – possibly the best I’ve ever met – and also great friends….the two of those together made for one very happy houseguest!  Sarah picked me up at the airport, and then I was greeted at their home with a welcome sign and guest basket.  Over the course of 2 days, we managed to pack a lot in – game night, puzzles, church, a tour of NASA (Donnie works there), walking around an adorable little boardwalk and mini amusement park, and even a round of restaurant hopping (messy burgers in a sports bar with lots of character for dinner, and then drinks and cake at a gem of an establishment nestled right on the water afterwards).  And yet, somehow, I never felt rushed or overwhelmed.  I guess that’s what happens when people who care for each other a lot just get to spend some time enjoying each other’s company.  I have decided that, even though they’re short, weekend trips are much better than nothing, and I’ll be making every effort to make more of them in the future!  So glad to be blessed with friends all over the world with whom I can pick life back up when I see them, no matter how long we’ve been apart!


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!

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!!

A Seoul-ful Thanksgiving

I went to Seoul this weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving.  And yes, I know that it’s a week early, but apparently in Korea this is when they celebrate American Thanksgiving.  So off to Seoul I went, and man, what a weekend it was!!  In the span of 2 and a half days, I met the American ambassador to Korea, got a private tour through the most visited museum in Korea, talked with some guys from Uzbekistan for nearly an hour – in Korean! – went to a new church, talked to a waiter in Spanish, had a Chicago deep-dish pizza, went West Coast Swing dancing, and got my Indian visa.  Let’s start at the beginning….So Saturday morning, I headed to the bus station bright and early – and by that, I mean 10:00 in the morning.  Which admittedly is not really all that bright and early, but saying “dim and mid-morning” doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it…anyway, I digress.  The 10:10 bus was sold out, so I got a ticket for the 11:00 bus, instead.  While I sat there waiting, 2 men who were obviously foreigners came and sat down next to me.  I couldn’t tell where they from, but I could tell that it wasn’t Korea.  They kept staring at me, so finally I decided that it would be less awkward if I started talking to them.  “Where are you from?” I asked.  “Oh, no English, English very very little.”  Great.  “어느나라에서왔어요?”  (same question,  in Korean).  Well, turns out that they did speak Korean, although I don’t know how they learned it – my Korean vocabulary skills were not advanced enough to ask.  But they were advanced enough to have nearly an hour-long conversation with them about other things – augmented by frequent queries to the English-Korean dictionary on my phone.  It was hard, and most of the time I felt like and idiot – but we were still communicating.  It was fun, I really enjoyed it :).

So I finally made it to Seoul, and met up with some of my friends and went to the Thanksgiving dinner.  This was an event co-hosted by the Fulbright office, the American embassy, and the National Folk Museum of Korea – the most visited museum in all of Korea, and also our venue for the evening.  It started off with a private tour of some of the galleries – the museum was already closed, so we had the entire place all to ourselves.  It was crazy.  Other events during the course of the evening included speeches from embassy and Fulbright officials, performances by both traditional Korean folk artists and fellow ETAs, and of course, dinner!!  The performances were amazing….but I’ve got to say, the meal was probably what made me the happiest.  Turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, fruit, green bean casserole, pumpkin and apple pie, the works…I was one happy puppy :).  The only thing that was missing was my family.

National Folk Museum of Korea
Our adorable little tour guide
Traditional performers…they were sooo good
Yummy!! 🙂
ETA performances
They sang a traditional Korean folk song….or tried to, anyway 😀

Sunday morning I went to a church service with Leora.  The church, Julibee, is the largest independent English-speaking church in Korea…and it was awesome.  The worship, the sermon, the people, the building – all of it was wonderful.  I met up with my friend Dan for lunch, and we decided on a Mexican restaurant in Itaewon, the foreign district in Seoul.  The food was great, and the waiter spoke Spanish, which was even greater.  Ever since then, I’ve been listening to all of my Spanish music on repeat.  I love Spanish sooo much….I’m determined to not forget it while I’m here!!  Dinner was Chicago deep-dish pizza with Leora – they claimed to have invented the deep-dish pizza, which was a lie, but it was still good.

Leora is nothing less than adorable <3
I love my friends….
Jubilee church
Cardboard walls….so cool
Dan and I at “Los Amigos”
They said they invented the deep dish pizza….lies….

After dinner Leora had to head back to Hwacheon, but I was staying through until Monday.  So I made my way to the other side of town by myself, searching for a tiny little club in the corner of an alley.  The rumor on Facebook had it that this tiny little club had a West Coast Swing dance on Sunday nights.  So I got off at the right exit and started walking in the direction that I thought the instructions told me to go.  It soon became clear that that was NOT the actual direction I was supposed to go, and within a very short amount of time I was lost in the middle of Seoul.  I was about to turn around and just go back home, but in a last-ditch effort I asked a taxi driver to take me to the big wedding center that looked like was very close to the dance club, from what I could make out from the grainy, pixelated directions.  Well it turns out that I was right, and before I really knew what was happening I found myself in Tiffany’s Bar, watching people dance my baby, a dance that I haven’t seen in nearly 6 months.

Oh my goodness, I was in heaven.  Not only were the dancers incredible, but they were also all super friendly, and some of them spoke English, so I didn’t feel quite so alone and outsider-ish.  I finally had to tear myself away, for fear that the metro would close and leave me stranded on the opposite side of Seoul from my hostel (that would have been one EXPENSIVE taxi!).  But I had a blast.  It was definitely worth the lonely treck out there, and even the fighting off drunk people on the way back.  Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds…the metro was full of noisy drunk people on the way back, and the man sitting next to me happened to be so inebriated that he couldn’t sit up straight, and so he kept sliding and slumping over onto me.  It was uncomfortable and disconcerting, and I was certainly glad that we were in a public, well-lit place, but he got off before I did, and I didn’t have any more problems after that.

West Coast dancing….pure joy….

Monday was not quite so fun, but I suppose it was necessary evil to have fun later on.  I went to apply for my visa to India, so that I can go there during my Christmas break.  It took me a while to find the office, and I was tired and grumpy by the time I got there, but I finally made it ten minutes before my appointment.  I had a bit of a scare when my number was called – I was told that they don’t accept payment via ATM transfers, which is what I had done.  But because they had never actually said that on their website (and also, I think, God was with me), they decided to accept it in my case, and I am currently passport-less, waiting for my Indian visa to be put in and then mailed back to me :).

I finally made it back to Gyeongju late afternoon.  The rest of Monday was spent doing laundry, cleaning up, catching up on my blogs, and other sundry things like that.  But what I neglected to do is finish my lesson plan for tomorrow, so I suppose I should go do that.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!  You are loved!!!

Fulbright conference

So I got back from Hwacheon last Tuesday, had a few days to rest, and then was off again for the bi-annual Fulbright conference on Friday.  This is a big conference that Fulbright does every semester – every single Fulbright teacher in the country, plus the entire Fulbright staff, all congregate in one place to swap teaching and traveling tips.  Because Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient Silla dynasty for the entire 1000+ years of the dynasty, the fall conference is always held in Gyeongju.  Gyeongju is kind of a big deal :).  Which was nice for me, because I didn’t have to travel anywhere – while other people were coming in from buses, trains, and even planes, all I had to do was hop on a bus for 10 minutes and I was there.

My beautiful city 🙂

Friday night was pretty awesome.  I had been soooo excited to see everyone – most of them I hadn’t seen or even spoke with at all since departure day 2 months earlier.  So we all had a big reunion, started the conference workshops, and overall had a splendid time – I did, at least.  In addition to that, there was another open mic night on Friday in downtown Gyeongju.  I had signed up to recite a poem – IF, by Rudyard Kipling, a poem about what it takes to be a man – one of my all-time favorites.  I was planning on going by myself after the workshops finished for the night.  However, because everyone else was in a strange city with a free evening, I became the resident expert, and about ten other Fulbrighters ended up coming to the open mic with me.  It was alot of fun – I was nervous about reciting (I had never done anything like that before), but being there with my dear friends made it all worth it.

Saturday, though, was not quite as awesome.  I woke up with my voice sounding like a scratched up record.  I felt fine – didn’t have a sniffle, a sneeze, or even the smallest trace of a sore throat – but my voice sounded awful.  By Sunday morning it was completely gone.  I could not utter a sound above a whisper.  And, in the midst of an excited reunion over 100 people strong, that basically meant that I could not say anything, period.  No one could hear me when I tried, anyway.  Somehow I kept ending up next to another Fulrbighter who is partially deaf and mostly blind.  My inability to speak loudly and his inability to read my lips left us completely unable to communicate anything, try as hard as we might.  It felt like salt was bring rubbed in my wound, just adding insult to injury.

We went to a Russian restaurant on Saturday night
I loved playing tour guide for all of my friends 🙂
On the walk back from the restaurant

All day on Sunday throughout the cultural tour around Gyeongju, I felt more and more invisible.  It was even worse because this weekend was supposed to be my respite.  I had soooo been looking forward to having a weekend to just relax and not worry about the stresses of my homestay – the weekend was finally here, and I was forced to sit on the sidelines, unable to participate in any of the conversations.  By Sunday afternoon I couldn’t take it anymore.  I slipped away from the tour (it was optional, anyway), and had a picnic with some second-year teachers who had also opted to not go on the tour, since they had gone last year.  I still felt mostly invisible, but in the smaller group I was able to get some points across if I really tried.

Seokuram grotto
Bulguska temple
Wishing stones
A good luck pig
This random old Korean lady who decided to give us a tour.  It was awesome.
Fulbright picnic

Sunday night there was a goodbye dinner.  There was a wonderful meal, a beautiful venue, and sparkling conversation – and I was still mute.  It was unbearable.  I never realized how important it is to me to be heard until I wasn’t anymore.  I slipped away early and just started wandering.  I heard music somewhere in the city, and followed my ears (at least those still worked!) until I found a traditional dance performance of some kind.  I sat in the back and watched for a while.  Then I happened to glance over to my left, and lo and behold, there was Adam, my friend from Hwacheon!  He had gotten restless too, apparently.  He came over and asked if I was ok – I wasn’t, not at all – and so he suggested that we go on a walk.

Gyeongju at night….it’s pretty at any time of day!

There in the still night, with no huge crowd to drown out my whispers, was the first time I had been heard all weekend.  And I just let it out.  Adam’s a good listener, and if felt so good to release all of my frustrations that had been pent up over the course of the weekend.  When we came back I went to an informal Bible study that the Christians in the group had quickly organized by word of mouth.  I was so grateful to have my friends there around me, particularly Dianna, the teacher who was at my school last year.  She had come to Gyeongju early to visit, and we had spent the day together on Thursday.  I told her all of my frustrations with my homestay, my excitement about the upcoming conference, yada yada yada.  Well, at the Bible study she was able to relay those sentiments to the group so that they could pray for me.  My inability to do so myself frustrated me to no end, but I was so grateful that I had shared with her while I was able to, and that she was willing to be my voice when I had none.

Tuesday I woke up still voiceless, and with a migraine to boot.  Needless to say, that was a longggg day.  Although I must say, if I HAD to have a migraine, that was a good day to have it – since I also had no voice, I didn’t really teach, just showed a movie in class.  It’s killing me, though, because I really WANT to teach – I love it, it’s the whole reason I came to Korea in the first place!  And all of my students want to say hello and talk to me, and I can’t say anything to them!  It’s really quite depressing.  My co-teachers actually sent me home early today, telling me to rest.  Super sweet of them, but I don’t think they realized how very much I WANTED to be there.  Oh well, such is Korea – always trying to help :).  Anyway, that’s my life right now.  Voiceless and banished from school.  I’m sorry this wasn’t a happier post.  I’m one sad puppy right now :(.

Rice cake festival, Seoul, and Hwacheon

Whew!  What a whirlwind weekend I’ve had!!  I’m grateful for the opportunities to see so many things, but MAN I’m looking forward to not traveling every weekend!  I’m sooo tired….but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?Last week was fairly uneventful.  Classes and study went by as usual, with nothing particularly exciting to report.  The one exception to that would be Wednesday.  A bee got into the classroom in the middle of my lesson, and I quickly realized that ignoring it, my preferred choice, was not an option.  The girls were screaming and running away from it, and there was absolutely no way I was going to get them to pay attention to the lesson.  So I intended to just shoo it out of the classroom, but he wasn’t cooperating and time was a-wasting.  So I must admit, I was forced to sacrifice the poor bee in the name of education.  The response I got from my girls, however, was quite amusing.  I got a standing ovation, a chorus of “We love you, teacher!” and even “Teacher, you’re my hero!” a few times.  Almost makes me want to let bees run loose in the classroom just so I can kill them, lol…

The other excitement on Wednesday happened after school.  Songi, my host sister, had a test, so she got out of school early.  She actually asked me to walk home with her – at which I jumped at the opportunity – and then I suggested that we go to the Rice Cake and Wine Festival, which was happening in Gyeongju at the time.  She agreed, and we spent the whole afternoon hanging out together at the festival, even making rice cakes and eating dinner together.  With all of the stress and tension that’s been happening in my homestay lately, it was so wonderful to just be able to enjoy her company for a while.

Songi convinced me to dress up like the ancient Queen Seondeok (who my school is named after)
Making 똑 (rice cakes)!
Apparently she WAS smiling!  Lol…

I also have a newfound respect for her.  On our way back we decided to take a taxi, and long story short he basically totally ripped us off.  He went the ABSOLUTE longest way back home that he could, and our fare was about 3 times longer than it should have been.  Well, I knew what was going on but wasn’t really able to do anything about it.  But Songi?  She would have none of it.  First she called her mother (while still in the taxi) and starts complaining about how the taxi driver’s ripping us off, so that he could hear her.  Then she hung up and starting laying into him.  Then she called the taxi company and complained about him to them.  And THEN, when we finally got out of the cab, she warned the people getting in after us to find a different taxi!  This coming from the girl who’s normally so shy she won’t even let me put the camera on her face when we skype with friends back home!  I was so proud of her!!!!

So anyway, that was my week’s worth of excitement…now on to the weekend!  On Friday night, after my dance class, I went up to Seoul on the KTX (Korea’s super-fast bullet train) with my friend Harry.  THAT was an adventure before we even got to the train station!  My school took me out for dinner after dance class, but I had to leave early to make my train, so I took a taxi back home….and then I realized that I had forgotten my credit cards at school, so I had to take a taxi there to get them, and then another one back home; I got into my fourth taxi of the night to FINALLY head to the KTX, but then we had to turn around again because Harry thought he had forgotten something (which it turns out that he hadn’t).  So by the time my FIFTH taxi of the night brought me to the KTX station, we had to run to make our train – we did make it, but it was tight!  Not the way I would have wanted my weekend to start, but I guess it makes for a good story, right? 🙂

My first KTX ride ever!!

So Saturday we spent milling around Seoul.  There was an expat festival that we went to in the morning.  I met some cool people there, but the festival was all outside and they weren’t prepared to handle the rain that came, so we left a little bit after lunch.  We were contemplating going to Lotte World, which is like the Disney World of Korea, but the torrential rains kind of killed those plans.  So instead, we decided to go see…Cats!  Yes, the award-winning dancing and singing extravaganza has made it all the way to Korea!  And, while I’m sure some of the brilliance was lost on me, since it was all in Korean, I was still definitely able to appreciate the fabulous sets, talented singers, and incredible dancing.  Add to the mix smart phones, with which we could look up the synopsis of Cats during intermission, and we got along just fine :).

One of the performances at the expat festival
Left to right – Tony from Sweden, Yu from China, me, Harry, and Fabriccio from Italy.  I love traveling…….but man, I’m tiny!! 😀

Our evening was spent in the rain in Itaewon, the foreign district in Seoul.  We went to a Jordanian restaurant called Petra Palace and got hummus and falafel for dinner, and I was super happy :). Sunday morning we found an early English speaking church service, and went there together before we parted ways – he went back to Gyeongju, and I went up…to Hwacheon!!

The Petra Palace 🙂

My dear friend Sarah’s 21st birthday was this weekend.  And, it just so happened that I don’t have school this week, and I was already in Seoul, so all I had to do was go a little farther north and I was there!  She had a party on Sunday night with her host family, Leora’s host family, her co-teacher, and Adam, another Fulbrighter.  I stayed with her in her homestay both Sunday and Monday night, and went to school with them on Monday.  I got to observe some of both her and Leora’s classes, as well as be there for the party that Sarah’s co-teachers threw for her.  Her family took me on a walk around the town on Sunday night, and out for dinner on Monday night.  They were so amazingly loving and wonderful…her host brother, Eun-chan, who speaks near perfect English, took a liking to me.  We when on a walk after he finished school on Monday, while we were waiting for Sarah and Leora to finish.  Her host sister, Eun-song, is in high school.  So I didn’t get to see as much of her, but she’s super sweet (and also speaks English really well), so when she was around we had fun.  Her parents don’t speak much English, but they try, and you don’t have to speak the same language to see the love exuding from their pores.  They are all Christians, so I even got to read the Bible with them both mornings that I was there.  It’s a daily tradition that they have now – Sarah and the kids take turns reading, first in English, then in Korean.  It was so cool to be able to share our love of Jesus together :).

Beautiful Hwacheon

It was so hard to leave them, and the ride back to Gyeongju was very long, but I’m sooo glad that I went up there.  Meeting these wonderful people, getting to see Sarah and Leora and Adam, seeing what a real homestay family should be like…it was just so refreshing!  But now, I fear that I shall have to cut this short – this blog is getting long, and lessons for next week must me made!  I’m sure you’ll hear from me again soon… 🙂  Check out pictures from Hwacheon below!

Leora’s host sister
Sarah and Eun-chan, her host brother
Leora and co-teacher
Fulbrighters reunited!!
Eun-song (Sarah’s host sister), me, Leora, and Eun-chan
Leora’s host brother
Eating cake with chopsticks, gotta love it <3
Happy birthday, Sarah!!
Cuddling in the park….man it’s cold up there!!
Sarah’s host parents and Eun-chan
Me and the whole family.  I love them….. 🙂