Category: Georgia tech

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!

Passion begets passion

So I’ve been learning a lot these days.  I’ve been learning about statistical analysis, international relations theory, the interplay between varying national and multinational institutions, and how to teach 250 undergraduate students about comparative American government.  I’ve been re-learning how to dance, how to navigate Atlanta, and how to cook.  I’ve been studying new languages, making new friends, and creating a new life for myself.

But the thing that I’ve noticed, more than anything, since I came to Atlanta, is this: passion begets passion.  Brilliance begets brilliance.  Talent begets talent.  I’m surrounded every day by really, really smart students from all over the world.  And, while I often feel out of my league, they also make me want to do better.  They make me want to learn more, to prove myself, to do my absolute best.  This is not true in just an academic sense.  I’m surrounded by fantastic dancers, who make me want to improve myself daily.  The people that I’ve met from all over the world – from Germany, China, Korea, Columbia, Brazil, and England, to name a few – serve as a catalyst for me to become more culturally minded and informed about global issues.  The strong Christians that I’ve encountered encourage me to daily become closer to the Lord.

I suppose that the opposite form of this statement is also true – that stagnation begets stagnation, dullness begets dullness, and mediocrity begets mediocrity.  But the great part, is that no one has to become mediocre if they don’t want to.  There’s no reason to become dull if you want to stay sharp.  There are numerous opportunities for growth all around you, if you care to take advantage of them.

The Lord has certainly put plenty of those opportunities into my new life in Atlanta.  I’m only taking 3 classes this semester, plus I’m a teaching assistant for a fourth class (250 undergrad students – I’m going to die!!), but I think that those 4 classes will keep me plenty busy this semester.  Plus, I’m getting very plugged into the dance community here in Atlanta (I’ve gone dancing 3 times in a SINGLE WEEK!  I can’t remember the last time that I’ve done that!).  Actually, I recently met a guy who’s looking for a practice partner, so we might starting doing weekly practices together to improve our dancing faster; we’ll see if that works out.  I’m excited :).  In between classes, I’ve been staying busy familiarizing myself with the campus and Atlanta, making new friends and visiting old ones, finding volunteer opportunities, and trying to improve my Korean and Spanish.  Oh yeah, and doing homework occasionally :P.  One class alone has about 500 pages of reading every week, so homework will definitely keep me hopping :).

I still miss Korea desperately.  I still miss my students so much that it hurts.  I still crave Korean food daily.  I still compare public transportation systems between Korea and America – and Korea always always always wins.  Two days ago was the first day of class at my school in Korea; that was a particularly difficult day for me.  But I have been in this place before.  With Costa Rica, Spain, France, Morocco, Cambodia….it always hurts leaving somewhere you love.  But eventually, the pain dulls, and what you’re left with is just the wonderful experiences, the incredible friends, and the better person that your time abroad made you.  I have no doubt that that will also be the case with Korea.  Until that time, however, I can be content in the knowledge that the Lord has given me a beautiful life here in Atlanta, too.  I can’t wait to see what the next two years bring!

Seoul food

One of these days I’m going to learn how to give myself a break.  Or at least slow down.  It seems that for me, the only speeds are dead stopped or going way too fast – it starts to wear on you after a while, ya know?

I arrived in Seoul from Japan around 11:00 pm on Sunday, February 5th, and didn’t get to my guesthouse until well after midnight.  The very next day, my intensive Korean classes started at 9:00 am.  I think that my whirlwind travels had finally started to take their toll on me – I was so tired that my performance on the placement test put me in level 1.1 – the lowest class level offered.  I quickly realized once class started, however, that I was wayyyy beyond that class, and asked my teacher if I could move up.  Apparently that was a really big deal – most people who requested to move were flat-out denied, and even I was put on a “probation period” of 1 class period, after which my teachers would confer and decide if I could handle the newer class.  But thankfully, I was allowed to stay in the higher level.  It was hard, but not overwhelming.  I felt like I was right where I needed to be.

On a side note, I would just like to comment on what a difference a changed perspective can be to how you see the world!  I returned back to Korea after 2 weeks of travel twice within the span of a month.  The first time, it was after going to America for Christmas, and I was so upset.  I missed my family, I miss my home, I miss the warm weather in Georgia, and I wanted to be anywhere in the world other than Korea.  But the second time I flew into Korea, it was after traveling around southeast Asia.  And I’ve never been happier to see Korean soil!  I could read all of the signs, I understood the currency exchange rate, I knew how the metro system worked…and I even had my own metro card!  It was a wonderful thing, and as I made my way to my guesthouse, I found myself periodically breaking out into idiotic grins.  It was great :D.

Anyway, back to Korean classes.  Before coming to Seoul, I had all of these grandiose plans about all of the things that I would do in Seoul with all of my spare time.  I was going to complete all my Federal financial aid forms for grad school, work on my TEFL certification, write lots of blogs and journal entries, see the city, meet with friends, blah blah blah.  The only thing I would be doing was classes in the morning…I’d have tons of time, right??  Ha.  Wrong.  So, soooo wrong.  What my days actually looked like was something like this: I would wake up, have breakfast with Leora (we lived together while in Seoul, and it was wonderful!), walk to class together, then sit through 4 hours of Korean lessons, until 1:00.  Then I’d grab lunch, sometimes alone, sometimes with new friends, sometimes with old friends, and head back to my guest house to study.  For hours.  I usually studied after class about as long as I studied in class.  By the time I finished, it was already 5 or 6 at night.  That gave me just enough time to clean up and eat dinner before I headed off dancing!  I danced almost every night of the week – it was heaven.  And the nights I didn’t go dancing, I went to bed crazy early to make up for the sleep deprivation from the night before.  It was a fun schedule, but probably not the healthiest – it’s probably a good thing that I was only in Seoul for 3 weeks, lol.

My class building – yes, that is a building.  It’s entirely underground – the ground and stairs and walkway were built up around it.  Super creative architecturally…. super annoying if you’re trying to find your classroom.

Leora and I in our little abode!

Left to right: Mónica (from Spain), Ti-anna (from Canada), and Heidi (from Norway)

I did have time to do a few other things.  Our language program took us on 2 cultural excursions – one to see a comedic / taekwondo performance called Jump, and the other was to a Korean cooking class.  That was a lot of fun!  We made bulgogi (Korean-style meat and veggie stir fry) and bibimbap (a veggie and rice mix).  The best part was that at the end, we got to eat it!  Yummy!!!  I made some really good friends from class – particularly Heidi, a Norwegian girl, Ti-anna, a girl from Canada, and Mónica, who was from Spain.  Unfortunately Mónica was from my original lower level class, so I didn’t see much of her after I switched classes, but we still hung out some, and I’m hoping to connect with all of them again in Seoul before I leave the country.

Korean cooking class.  Check out her face.  Priceless 🙂

Look what we made!  Yummie!! 🙂

I also hung out with my dancing friends.  I spent a lot of time in particular with Jae, a Korean-American friend of mine.  I had met him when I went swing dancing in Seoul way back in November, and he promised that if I ever came back to Seoul and wanted to go dancing he would show me where all of the dance spots were.  He did not back out on his promise.  Jae was my personal tour guide of Seoul for the few weeks that I was there.  Not only did he show me where the dances where; he also introduced me to cute little restaurants, and to weird Korean food (anyone up for some cow intestine or fried silkworm pupa??), and to the international church service that he attends, and to a lot of his Korean friends.  He showed me little corners of Seoul that I would have never found on my own, like the underground museums dedicated to King Sejong, the inventor of the Korean alphabet, and Admiral Yi Sun-sin, whose brilliant military tactics saved Korea from the Japanese invasion in the 16th century.

Jae (on the right) and a mutual friend, John.

Jae and I in the underground museum.  He really liked the war machines, lol

Any of you at all curious about the principles behind the creation of the Korea alphabet?  Check out these signs 🙂

And then, just like that, my life in Seoul was over, almost before it had even started.  Finals were on Wednesday, the graduation ceremony was Thursday morning, and by Thursday afternoon I was on a bus headed back to Gyeongju.  I do miss the dancing, and even the intensive Korean studying.  But you know, I finished well in Seoul, and so I’m happy to be back in Gyeongju; I really have no regrets either way.  I was even given the honor (and the stress!) of being asked to give a little speech at the closing ceremony.  I found it ironic that I went from being bored in a level that was too easy for me, to giving a speech representing my entire class level!  I tried to upload a video, but for some reason it wouldn’t work…I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it! 🙂  I learned a lot in my classes and, even more importantly, my desire to learn Korean has been greatly spurred on, as well.  I will miss my newly-made friends from Seoul, but they have promised to come visit me, and I them, so I think that we shall see each other again before I leave.  And it’s soooo nice to be back in Gyeongju.  My host parents met me at the bus station, and then took me home and made my favorite meal for me.  I’ve spent today catching up on housekeeping stuff – laundry, blogging, journaling, unpacking, etc.  But even mundane things are enjoyable when you like where you are and who you’re with :).

Closing ceremony – class friends

Me and my teachers <3

Everyone all together!  We all passed, woohoo!!!

I’ve mentioned several times “when I leave Korea,” as if it were a certain thing.  The last time that most of you had probably heard, I was still on the fence about whether I would renew my contract for another year in Korea or not in July.  But my last day in Seoul, I got an email that solidified my decision.  I was accepted into Georgia Tech’s master’s of science program….not only that, but I was also offered a graduate assistantship, which significantly reduces tuition, and also pays me a large stipend every semester.  So, it looks like I’ll be headed back to Atlanta in the fall!  I want to study international relations, with a regional focus on Latin America.  I hope to write my thesis on the educational systems of Latin America.  It’s cool seeing how all of my random experiences are coming together! 🙂  Living in Seoul, even if for just a few weeks, has reminded me of how much I need a good church community and dancing.  They touch a part of me that nothing else can touch, and I’ve missed that enormously in Gyeongju.  I will miss Korea, too…but it will be good to go home.  God is so good, and I’m simply overwhelmed by His favor right now.  It has indeed been a very, very good past few weeks.  Hard to believe that I have less than 5 months left in my grant year!