Category: international friends

Closing thoughts

Because I had originally bought my return trip from Lima, I had to return back there from Andahuaylas – budget airlines like Spirit don’t deal kindly with itinerary changes.  I flew into Lima early on the morning of Wednesday, June 18th.  But my flight out of the country didn’t leave until that evening, so I met my Pastor Mario (from Korea) one more time before I left.  I found it rather fitting that he was both the first person and the last person I saw on my trip.  I’m not really entirely sure why, other than the fact that he is Peruvian, and is part of the reason I thought about coming to Peru in the first place.

I left my backpack in a locker at the airport, and then he took me to the city center and we spent most of the day there together.  Had lunch at a wonderful historic old restaurant – Zamantha made such a mess, it was awesome.  We saw a diplomatic convoy arrive at the presidential palace, which was really cool.  Such pomp and circumstance!  For all of the times I’ve said that I dislike Lima, I have to admit…historic Lima is pretty incredible.  The architecture alone makes it worth the visit.  We went on a city bus tour that enabled me to see much more of the city than I would have on my own, or even if Mario was just driving me around.  We also went inside a few buildings – my favorite was the catacombs under the grand old church.  There were flocks of birds swarming the courtyard of that church outside, which would have make for a very quaint painting, but was kinda creepy in real life.  I guess it matched well with the catacombs underneath it…

But the entire day definitely has strong undercurrents of sadness in it for me.  Without looking for it or even expecting it, I was realizing that Peru, like so many other places, had stolen my heart.  Except Peru did it even more forcefully, and in even less time than other places had.  I know that I’ve said this before…but there’s something special about Peru.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, other than to say that I knew that God was with me there – it was obvious, and it was incredible.

So as I boarded the plane to head back stateside, I decided to try a different tactic to avoid reverse culture shock on my return.  If the thing I loved most about Peru was the fact that I could see God there…why not try to do the same in my day-to-day life in Atlanta?  Get away from the hustle and bustle, and take time to see God working all around me.  He is no less sovereign and no less loving at home than He is abroad.  It is just easier for us to get comfortable and miss His provision when we’re at home.  I challenge all of you to do the same – make a conscious decision to look for the ways that God is working in and guiding your life.  Ask Him to show them to you.  You may be surprised by what you find.

The diplomatic procession:

The birds that I mentioned in the cathedral courtyard:

Views from my last Lima bus tour:

Another world to fall in love with

After we finished our week in Pampachiri, and amid many tears of goodbye and countless photos and promises to keep in touch, we all headed back as a group to Andahuaylas.  Their flight was leaving early the next morning, so I only had that afternoon and evening in the city with them.  But my flight, which I had bought long before I ever thought about coming to Pampachiri, didn’t leave for another 4 days.  So I got spend a beautiful, precious three days with Ingrid and the 2 Carloses, who had also come back to Andahuaylas (Ingrid and Carlos own a restaurant there).  I had almost all of my meals with them at their restaurant, but they were obviously pretty busy during the day, so I spent a lot of the time during the day either on my own or with Carlos II and extended family.

Carlos II took me all over the city and its outskirts in the 3 days that I was there.  There was a little festival of sorts in the main plaza while we were there – that’s one of the things that I love about Latin American countries.  Every city always has its main plaza, and there is always something going on in it.  This time it was some sort of artistic exhibition – there were kids painting, and more sophisticated paintings and sculptures on display, and even groups of chefs or chefs in training or something like that who were making food art.  It was quite fascinating  – I sat there for a long time just watching them ply their craft.

I also went to a big market with Carlos II one day; we made a game of finding as many unusual fruits and vegetables and various other things for sale that we could.  I was losing until I realized that he was serious, and then I started looking in earnest.  We found spiky fruit, and vegetables that looked like little monsters – none of which I remember the names of – and alpaca meat and blocks of salt bigger than me and all sorts of fascinating things.  I particularly liked the emoliente, a hot herbal tea often sold by street vendors that is believed to have powerful medicinal properties.  It’s no wonder, too, as emoliente almost always has toasted barley, flax seed,alfalfa juice, honey or pollen, and lime juice, and sometimes plantains, aloe vera, cat’s claw and even horsetail , depending on the recipe. I’m glad I found that out after I tried it, because if I had known that I was drinking horsetail I would have been far less inclined to try it.  But I’m glad I did – it was delicious!!  Another favorite “unusual” thing that I found – and tried – was hidromiel, or mead.  If you had asked me what mead was before I came to Peru, I wouldn’t have had the slightest idea.  But now I’ll never forget – the Spanish name is much more descriptive.  It is translated literally as “honey water,” and that’s exactly what mead is – an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water.  I had hidromiel be naranja, or orange flavored mead, and it was truly quite good.  I was surprised at how much I liked it.  And of course, if I’m talking about strange new foods I encountered in Peru, I can’t leave out the chirimoya.  Chirimoya is a tropical fruit native to the Andean region, and if you’ve never tried it, it’s almost certainly unlike anything you’ve ever had before.  The white fleshy fruit fruit is soft and sweet, with an almost sherbert-like texture.  This is where its secondary name, custard apple, originated from.  I could have eaten a chirimoya every day I was there – I wish I’d discovered it earlier!  Why can’t we have exciting fruits like that in the States??

Carlos II took me to quite a few places in and around town, which various amalgamations of the extended family in tow, depending on who was able to come along.  My favorite would have to be a tie between the rocks of Campanayo, and Pacucha Lagoon.  Campanayo was pretty, but I really liked it because of its novelty factor.  There are huge rocks scattered all over the ground there.  But when you hit on them with other rocks, they ring as if you were hitting metal, not stone.  Apparently they are famous all over Peru.  But if I hadn’t gone there with a Peruvian, I never would have heard of them – that’s why I always prefer traveling with a local! 🙂  It was truly a fascinating and surreal place.  I’ve never seen anything like that.

But the other place, Pacucha Lagoon, was absolutely gorgeous.  Actually, I take back my previous comment.  It wasn’t a tie between the two.  Campanayo was unique, but it couldn’t hold a candle to Pacucha in terms of beauty or tranquility or happiness.  Pacucha Lagoon is largely considered one of the most beautiful lagoons in all of South America, and it certainly lives up to its reputation.  Vast stretches of pristine, multicolored water under brilliant blue skies, framed by gorgeous tropical foliage and punctuated either by a calm tranquility, or the peaceful chirping of birds or friendly chatter of neighbors shooting the breeze.  I went with Carlos II and a few other extended family members, and it was such a lovely and relaxing day.  They took me to a nice restaurant right on the water, and were just so kind and accepting of me.  I am sooooo grateful that I got to spend that time with them.

And just like that, my time in Andahuaylas was over.  Carlos II took me to the airport – my flight to Lima left too early in the morning, he wasn’t comfortable with me taking a cab.  He bought me emoliente to warm me up (it gets COLD in southern Peru!!), and then once we got to the airport we bought a quinoa tortilla for breakfast and manjar blanco (a sort of dulce de leche spread; very very tasty) for the road.  And then I was gone.  I actually ended up sitting on the flight next to another Peruvian who had also been on the mission trip.  So we chatted almost the entire way back; it was nice to reminisce for a little while longer about the incredible week that I had just had.  But I was definitely cognizant that it was almost time to get back to the “real world.”  This is yet another world that I am going to have to return to someday.  Hopefully much sooner rather than later.

Salt mines and ancient nurseries

After leaving Machu Picchu, we headed back to Cuzco to spend a few more days with our dear friends Yuri, Roxi, and little Matthew.  It feels kind of strange calling them “dear friends” when I’ve only known them for a week or so now, but I really do think of them as such. They’re the type of people whom I fully expect to stay in touch with, and when they invited me to come back to visit with my husband after I get married, I actually think that that may realistically happen one day.  Bonus points for the fact that they had me pray my first ever prayer in Spanish! (a skill that, as it turns out, I would need to have when I translated for the medical missions trip a few weeks later ^_^.  But that was still in the unknown future at this point…)

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Anyway, back to the story. The first day back in Cuzco was pretty chill – we got back from Aguascalientes around noon, had lunch with the family, and then spent the afternoon doing laundry, writing, and just relaxing. Yuri and Roxi are so nice and friendly…every time they’re home, we have such nice conversations about anything and everything, and they’re always willing to explain unknown Spanish words or specific Peruvian slang to us :).

A view of the entire city center from the top of a giant statue:

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Cuzco is one of the only cities in Latin America to have TWO cathedrals in its main square

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The next day, Wednesday, Roxi drove us into town and dropped us off at the handicraft market in downtown Cuzco. We had heard that they have very fair prices for their wares, and indeed they did – some of the cheapest I’ve seen in all of Peru. While there, we both made friends with some of the vendors – Caro had one guy give her a little magnet as a gift, and I met a man named Cristian who offered to walk with us and show us the city later in the week. I ended up not calling him, because we left earlier than we thought we were going to, but I was fully planning on contacting him. He was a very nice guy; I really enjoyed talking to him. Particularly since, even though I knew he was a vendor, I didn’t get the feeling that he only wanted to talk to me to sell me something. He actually wanted to talk to ME. That’s rare in Peru.

In the afternoon, Caro and I split up. I decided to walk around and explore the city center and visit the museums and such. During my wanderings, I struck up conversations with a few other people…most notably Hector, an employee at one of the museums I went to. He told me lots of history about the city, and then we moved on to more important topics like his family, friends, and faith.  That is what I love so much about traveling.  It’s not the cool sights or exotic foods or amazing pictures.  It’s meeting people with vastly different backgrounds from my own and seeing what makes them tick.  Hearing about their lives.  Learning about their passions and preoccupations.  That’s what makes life rewarding – it’s not just investing in yourself so that you have a bunch of cool stories, but rather investing in other and hearing their stories.

The day after, we went to see the Andean village of Chinchero, the salt mines of Maras and the experimental agricultural fields of Moray. Even though the day was grey and drizzly, that was still one of my favorite days of the trip so far.

We were supposed to take a tour with a big tour bus. But they overbooked the trip, and so we ended up on basically a private tour – just us, two Australian siblings who are traveling the word together for an entire year, and our fascinating driver, Rolando Santos. That was a wayyyy better deal than the big tour bus. The Australians, Matt and Emily, didn’t speak any Spanish, so I got to play translator for them, while also just getting to know them better throughout the course of the day. I really enjoyed that. They’re fascinating people, and I really admired their willingness to uproot their lives for an entire year. I don’t think I could do it, though. This trip of five weeks is about as long as I can go of continuous travel.

So anyway, on to Chichero.  Peru is known for their artisan handicrafts that are extremely popular purchases among tourists.  But one thing that I hadn’t realized is that each individual village that sells such handicrafts has slightly different patterns and slightly different methods employed to make the brightly colored and intricately designed fabrics.  Chinchero is one such village.  When we got there it was cold and rainy, but they took us to covered awnings and gave us hot tea, so it was all good.  We got to watch a few demonstrations of how they make the fabric – how they clean the wool, dye the yarn, and weave the designs.  It was very interesting.  Definitely not something that you get to see in the States!

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Nothing particularly symbolic about this plant. I just thought it was cool 🙂

When we were planning this trip (I use the term “plan” quite loosely, as in reality very little of it was actually planned), I had originally wanted to go to the famous salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia.  The largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni is (I’m told) one of the strangest places you’ll ever see.  However, in the end we decided that there wasn’t really time for that on this trip (although they’re definitely still on the list!!), so the salt mines of Maras was kind of a compromise. Although actually quite different from Salar de Uyuni, they were still fascinating, nonetheless.

The salt mines are fed by a subterranean mountain stream that is comprised of over 50% salt. That in itself makes it very unique, as almost all other salt water comes from the ocean. The salt water is fed into thousands of different pools; the pools are then left so that the water can evaporate, and the salt is then harvested. There are 3 different types of salt harvested in Maras – white table salt, pink salt, and then salt used for industrial or medicinal purposes. The different kinds of salt all have to do with different levels of evaporation that the pools have undergone before being harvested. It was really a fascinating, truly unique place.

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They stretched on forever!!

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This is an example of how the mines were fed with salt water – water ran continuously through the troughs on the right. When the mines needed to be filled with water, the little gullies were cleared, and when enough water had filled into the pool, the gully was blocked with rocks, as it is now. They then allowed the water to evaporate from the pool so that they could harvest the salt.

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Another fascinating place, albeit completely different from Maras, was Moray. Thousands of years old, Moray is comprised of a series of terraced levels of earth. Somehow, each level has it’s own unique temperature – there is a temperature span of over 20 degrees between the top and bottom layers. The Incans used this area as an experimental agricultural field, to see which seeds grew the best in which climates (in the video below I said I didn’t know what it was for, but afterwards I went and found out). They also used it as a sort of nursery – plants of different ages were put in different levels, and grown there until they were mature enough to be moved and put into a regular field.

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It’s amazing to me how much diversity there is in and around Cuzco.  In a single day, we saw salt mines, traditional weaving, and ancient agricultural fields.  And we weren’t even starting to scratch the surface of what is in and around the city.  However, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to move on from Cuzco.  Yuri and Roxi had actually invited us to stay the weekend so that they could take us to see the ruins and Sacred Valley in the outskirts of Cuzco, but at the end of the day we decided that if we stayed there any longer, we wouldn’t be able to go everywhere in the north that we wanted to go.  And so, onward we went…and then the REAL adventure began!

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!


You know that feeling that you get when something big is about to happen?  You bolt out of bed, you have butterflies in your stomach, you’re all tingly and excited??  That’s what happened to me this morning.  I bolted up out of bed, wide awake, way before 5:00 am.  And, since I have nothing to do before I catch my bus, I’ve decided to write one last blog from Korea.

Today is the day that I leave Korea, after living here for over a year.  And while yes, it is sad, at the same time, it’s exciting.  I remember when I left Costa Rica; it literally took about 3 minutes before I could force myself to step onto the plane, that’s how much I was dreading leaving.  But I don’t think it’ll be that way this time.  I’ve had a wonderful year here, and I’m so so grateful for the time that I’ve been given.  But I also know that God has more things in store for me – really big things.  And I can’t wait to see what they are!

I had more goodbyes this weekend – with Si-yeon, my wonderful language partner and friend; with Lorna, my dear friend from a neighboring city, who came to see me off and stayed the night with me on Saturday; with all of my church friends, who hosted a farewell church-wide lunch after the service on Sunday; and of course, with my host family, who let me cook for them and give them gifts one last time on Sunday night.  I will miss them all dearly…..but I’m also getting pretty stoked about Atlanta!  Studying, more languages, more new friends and plenty of old ones, dancing, and of course… season!!  I have all of that to look forward to!

I want to close this blog with a piece that I wrote for and read at my church on Sunday morning.  It’s a good representation of how I feel right now.  Also, lots of pictures and videos below!  Enjoy!! 🙂

Silence.  I try to will my lips to speak what my heart is telling them to, try to force my tongue to form the words that so desperately want to come out.  But all I get is silence.  My heart feels like a freshly scrubbed sky after a torrential storm.  It is clean and content…except that it has not stormed yet.  There is so much that I want to say, so many words that need to come out, that it simply overwhelms me.  And so I say nothing.  Silence.
How do I tell them, I ask myself, what they have meant to me?  How could they ever understand what worshipping and praying and fellowshipping with them has done for me in this past year?  How could they ever know how much serving them and being served by them; how much teaching them and being taught by them, has blessed me?
I want to tell them.  I want them to know how much I love them.  But I don’t know where to start.  Perhaps I should explain the sheer terror that overwhelmed me before my arrival to Korea.  As Sir Henly so aptly pointed out, “you are too young to be teaching in Asia all by yourself.”  And I cannot argue with him.  I had never felt more alone, more isolated, more scared, than when I arrived in this city last year, far from home, family, and all things familiar.  If they knew, if they knew how many times I cried myself to sleep during those first few weeks in Gyeongju, would they be able to better understand why it’s so amazing that I’m crying now at the thought of leaving? 
Perhaps I should explain my initial elation upon finally finding an English service.  Dr. Cho must have thought that I was an idiot when he gave me a ride that first Sunday, I was so excited.  But if I talk about my initial excitement, I must also talk about how that excitement faded into dull monotony after the first few weeks.  I traveled often, came to church when I was in town, and settled into my normal school existence during the week.  I never saw them outside of church.  Sure, I missed Christian fellowship like what I was used to back home…but here in Korea, there didn’t seem to be any other alternative.
And then, somehow….an alternative DID appear.  They became not just people that I saw for an hour every Sunday morning…they became my friends.  They became not just a sea of faces who sang from the audience, listened to the pastor, and then left, not to be seen again until the next week.  They became my teachers, my confidants, my friends, and my family.  I have laughed with them, cried with them, prayed with them, and learned with them. 
They have taught me more about the Lord, more about myself, more about loving and accepting others, than I ever thought possible.  They have taught me to truly love the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to always give Him everything that I have.  They have taught me not to be afraid of people who are different from myself.  They have taught me not to judge those who come from backgrounds different from my own.  To not shy away from cultural and linguistical barriers, but to embrace them.  They have taught me that a smile, a hug, a kind gesture or a caring word, will touch someone no matter what language they speak, no matter what country they were born in, what job they have, or how much money they make. 
Here in Korea, I introduce myself as an English teacher.  But I think a more apt description would be a life student.  A student of life.  My friends, my family here at Gyeongju Jeil church, they have taught me that.  They have taught me how to embrace every opportunity that comes my way, how to love every individual that God puts in my path.  How to laugh at my mistakes and learn from them; and how to teach others, so that they don’t make the same mistakes.  I wish that I could tell them everything that they mean to me.  I wish I knew the words that I could say to make them understand.  But I cannot.  My heart is content and scrubbed clean, but the thunderstorm of words has yet to arrive.  And so…silence.  I use my pen to convey what my lips cannot.  Maybe one day they will realize how much they meant to me.  How much I love them.  I can only hope and pray that that day comes soon. 

This video was actually from last week, but I was having trouble uploading it then.  Anyway, my church did a world rendition of Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” – English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Khmer (the language of Cambodia), and Tagalog (the language of the Philippines) are represented.  So beautiful!

A gift from a student on the last day of class.  Possibly the best gift I have ever received.  Absolutely incredible <3

Jeong-min surprised me with a goodbye violin performance on my last day at church.  I had been asking her to play for me all year.  So beautiful!!!

Pictures with some of my favorite students…

My last Sunday in Gyeongju I was the guest speaker at church!    

Pastor Mario praying over me before I left

Church goodbye lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant

Me and Lorna :).  She came to visit me one last time before I left….she’s such a blessing…. <3

Lorna, Lin, and Lauren! 🙂

Please note the size of Pastor Mario’s umbrella…hahaha 😀

Bittersweet goodbyes

There have been a lot of goodbyes in my life lately.  At church, at Bible study, at school, at teachers dinners and meetings, even in neighboring cities….it’s been a very sad week for me.  But I keep reminding myself that this is really a good thing.  I’ve been in Korea for over a year now.  I’ve invested a large percentage of my life into this place.  I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve poured out my heart and life and soul into this country.  The goodbyes are bittersweet, to be sure.  But how much more tragic would it be if I had lived here for an entire year, and WASN’T sad to be leaving?  How much sadder would it be if I had spent so much time here, but hadn’t plugged into the people here at all?  If I had just considered this year a “pause” in my real life, and just spent all of my time here looking to the future, waiting until I could get back to where I was comfortable?

The goodbyes are sad, of course.  I can’t say that I’m HAPPY that I’m leaving these people and places that I’ve come to love so dearly.  But I AM happy to be so, so blessed.  I am happy to have made wonderful friends here, to have such precious experiences and memories from the past year.  I am happy that a part of my heart has been embedded into the people and culture of Korea….for the rest of my life.  And, at the same time, I am happy to be returning to America.  Because I know that I have just as many blessings waiting for me back in the states, as I have in Korea that I am leaving.

So this blog is just a collection of photos, and also a short video, of some of my favorite goodbyes this week.  Captions explaining the pictures will be below the photos.  Enjoy!

School dinner with all of my teachers and Elizabeth, the Fulbright teacher from the middle school.  She said, “I feel like I’m crashing the high school party!”  Hahaha…

Goodbye ceremony at my school.  They presented me with an engraved plaque in appreciation of my work this past year.  It’s beautiful….and weighs a TON!!  Still trying to figure out how I’ll get it home… =/ 
Me taking on the world.  My farewell speech to the teachers of the school – completely in Korean.  I so love this picture :).  It’s also great being able to compare my first speech last year, with my last speech, and note how vastly much my Korean has improved :).  

Some of my favorite class pictures from this semester 🙂

We went out for dinner to celebrate Lin’s birthday

Me and Jeong-min

Check out Lin’s reaction below when I said happy birthday to her in Chinese!  It’s only about 19 seconds, but soooo worth watching!  Priceless!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

I took a bunch of my second year students out for dinner.  After the usual chaotic confusion of deciding where to go with a big crowd, we had a really good time.  And then the waitress gave us soft drinks on the house, because she said that “it’s so beautiful to see foreign teachers spending time with their students outside of the classroom.” (Highly paraphrased, since it was all in Korean, lol)  I’m really going to miss the generosity of Koreans….

An adorable little coffee shop in Pohang

Coffee and patbingsu – the best patbingsu I’ve ever had!!  Left to right – Da-seom (Korean), Yustia (Indonesian), Zack (South African), and Alejandro (Peruvian).  I love my life 🙂
A letter from a winter camp student: “Dear Lauren, today is the last day that I can see you in Korea.  I’m sad when I knew about your leaving… 🙁  It was so sudden, but it is fortunate that I know your leaving before you really leave!!  So I can write a letter like this <3.  Did you have a nice time in Korea?  It is best if every moment is full of happiness, but I think that you may have been sad or disappointed here.  Although it is real, do not fall into sorrow, Lauren.  Because you have even more great memories!  I know!! :D
I hope you take away good memories to your hometown, and make a smile every time you think about Korea.  Also, congratulations with back to America, have a nice time with your family :).  Oh!  Don’t forget to upload to Facebook.  Haha.
I have something to tell you.  Even if I told you before, I want to tell you again.  You really are such a great teacher!!  Your class is very lively and full of energy.  And I’m always looking forward to class.  Maybe other students, too.  (I think your energy must have been passed to them!!  Lol)  I’m convinced that you will be a wonderful teacher in USA, too.  I will support you!  Fighting! <3 <3
Whenever I see you, I think you’re great.  Cuz you came alone to a strange place, and you always smiled.  Thinking about, “could I do that??”
One of my hope is going to the USA.  I’ll let you know when I go to the USA!!  I wish I could see you again :).  The time with you was special, and it will remain good memories in my heart.  Thank you and love you, Lauren!!  Good luck in everything!!!  Love, from Chae-yeon.  

Church farewell party

I’ve been super busy these days.  The clock keeps counting down, but I try to ignore it, and just enjoy each day as it comes.  New deadlines at school have kept me hopping at work, and the litany of things that must be done to wrap up a year of living in a foreign country have assured that I’m never bored outside of work.

But in between the monotonous and the mundane, there have been some beautiful moments.  My favorite this week was undoubtedly Sunday.  My church threw me a going away party in the evening after church.  A large percentage of my congregation is from the Philippines, so they all got together and made a Filippino feast for us.  There was shrimp, and marinated beef, and flan (yummy!!), and lots of other stuff which I have no idea what it was called, but it was delicious, anyway.

About 20 people came (which, when you only have a church of maybe 35 or 40, is a really high percentage!  Lol…), and we ate together and talked and laughed, and just overall enjoyed each other’s company.  They surprised me with a cake (made me blow the candles out and everything!), and a slide show with pictures and messages saying things like “we’ll miss you, Lauren!” and “We love you!”.  I may have shed a tear or two.  It was beautiful.  I will miss them so much.

Oh, I almost forgot!  After dinner, we all gathered around and watched Courageous, the most recent production of my home church, Sherwood Baptist.  My friend James had sent it to me as part of a care package earlier in the year, and when I suggested that we watch it as a church, everyone agreed.  It was a nice end to the evening.  One of the Korea pastors liked it so much that he asked me how to get a copy.  I gave him mine.  I figured it was the best use of the gift that James had given me :).

My second favorite moment this week happened the next day, on Monday night.  A friend of mine from college, Emily, got a scholarship to come to Korea.  She arrived about a week ago, but has been spending most of her time in Seoul.  Well, this weekend her program came down to Gyeongju, and I actually got to meet up with her.  We went for a walk, and spent about 2 hours catching up.  It was great to see her, and also a good way to mentally start preparing myself for my impending new reality – the one in which I’ll be able to have fluent conversations like that with almost every single person that I meet.  It was a very nice ending to my day.  Thirteen days until touchdown!

Me and Emily <3

Where we ended up on our walk

See the projector screen?  **sniff, sniff**

My church family…. <3

Filippino food = sooooo good

The cake they got me – they made me blow the candles out and everything 🙂

Bachata, babies, and badminton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our table to display the kids’ cupcakes

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

This was right before the mass chaos started

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sand ‘n sun in Busan

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander the Great

Little Korean cuties!!

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

One of the artisans plying her trade – woodcarving!

They buried me!!  Haha 😀

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