Category: Korea

Scars of Life

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

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

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


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.  

Baseball games and jjimjilbangs

The last time I went to a baseball game was 2 years ago, in Atlanta.  I remember being impressed back then with the “culture of the Braves,” as I put it.  The crowds, the advertisements, the entertainment….it was all quite an experience (you can read about that day here).  Definitely not something that you see on an average day in America.

But America has nothing on Korea.  A baseball game in Korea….is truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  I’m not really sure where to start.  I suppose I could start with the scalpers that swarm you when you try to buy your ticket.  Literally – they swarm you.  Like, so thick that you can’t even get to the vendors.  But then, I suppose there are scalpers in America, too, so that’s not such a huge deal.

Ok, well then maybe I could tell you about the cheerleaders.  About their cute little Korean dances that they perform in between every inning, or the mascot break-dancing competition that they had instead of the 7th-inning stretch.  But then, I suppose American mascots do silly things too, so many that’s not so impressive, either.

Of course, the way that they bring in their relief pitchers is pretty special – escorted onto the field in a souped-up mini cooper.  But even with that, the argument may be made that it can be found in other places.

The really unique part of a Korean baseball game would have to be the fans.  Like, when they did the wave – in super slow motion.  And it still made it around the stadium 3 times.  Or, how every player on the home team has a theme song that is played when they come up to bat – and the fans know  And they cheer, and clap, and sing along with  Or how they sing for their home team (the Lotte Giants), to the tune of the most random American songs.  Think along the lines of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” – Lotte, Lotte, Lotte Looooooootte!  It’s hilarious.  Oh, and those songs are also usually sung with the entire stadium standing with arms linked and swaying back and forth in unison to the music.  

And they bring handmade pom-poms and wave them with enthusiastic vigor….pretty much always.  The entire 3 hour game.  But my favorite part, by far, of a Korean baseball game, was the bags.  Yes, the bags.  Around the end of the 7th inning, park employees start walking around handing out orange plastic bags.  And people put them on their heads.  They do bowties, or headbands, or sometimes belts; but the most common adornment was simply a big ball of air that is then tied to one’s ears.  Bizarre, right?  Wrong.  Here in Korea, it’s….totally….normal.  And that, my friends, is why I love Korea…and why a Korean baseball game is an event that simply cannot be missed.

Following the game, I had another cultural experience.  I went to a…..drumroll, please…..jjimjilbang!!  A jjimjilbang is essentially a sauna and a cheap place to sleep.  There are usually 3 floors – 2 for the saunas (gender-segregated), and 1 common area for sleeping and relaxing.  But oh no.  A jjimjilbang is so, so much more than that.  

When I got there, I was given a locker key and a pair of unisex pajamas – nothing more.  I made my way to the women’s sauna, and found the lockers.  Into these lockers go all of your stuff.  And I mean everything.  Including all of your  clothes.  Every.last.stitch.  After you get good and naked, you head into the sauna part.  First, there are scrubbing stations.  And I mean that in a very literal sense of the word.  There were walls about 4 feet high, with faucets coming out of them, buckets in front of them, and mirrors on the walls in front of the buckets.  So you found a bucket, sat down, and scrubbed.  You scrubbed until you were squeaky clean, until you couldn’t scrub anymore.  After you had made sure that you wouldn’t contaminate the public pools, you could choose a pool to soak in as long as you wanted.  There were several pools, each of varying temperature – the hottest was like 56 degrees C, although I was only able to handle up to 40 degrees.  There were also showers of varying pressure and temperature that you could soak under.  

There was a pair of girls who unknowingly became my heroes that night at the jjimjilbang.  I had never been, so I had no idea what to do, and you can bet your boots that I’m not going to walk up to someone and fumble around in Korean asking them what I should do when we’re both stark naked.  So I just watched the girls out of the corner of my eye and did whatever they were doing.  I’m not a creeper at all…haha :).

Anyway, once you were tired of getting shriveled up like a raisin, you put on your stylish PJs (boys got blue, girls got pink; that was the only difference in them), and made your way to the common area.  There were no beds – just a big open floor, and piles of incredibly thin mats and strange brick-shaped pillows. When you got tired, you got a mat and a brick and set up camp in whatever area of the floor suited your fancy.  Until you got tired, however, there were plenty of other things to keep you occupied.  They had big TVs blaring – which was nice, until it got to be around 1:00 am, and then it got a little annoying.  There was also a restaurant with a simple menu, and massage chairs – although they were about as relaxing as a massage with a jackhammer – and actual masseuses, as well.  

My favorite part, however, were the sauna rooms.  There were 5 separate sauna rooms in the common area, in addition to the pools on the men’s and women’s floors.  These rooms, however, had no water in them.  They were heated rooms made entirely of different materials – the different materials were supposed to give out different medicinal effects.  There was a natural salt room, a wooden room, a rock room, a crystal room, and a coal room (that was the hottest), and also an ice room, as well.  It was pretty cool…no pun intended…haha :).

So the sauna part of the jjimjilbang was nice, but not much of the actual sleeping part really happened, so by the next morning I was pretty tired.  But, there is no rest for the weary!  I had promised Jeanine, my pastor’s wife, that I would help her that day.  She’s teaching an intensive summer course at the university, and also taking care of a newborn, and was feeling a bit overstretched, so I told her I’d come help with some of her grading.  So early Wednesday morning, I took a train from the jjimjilbang to Gyeongju; then from there, took a bus to Pohang, and arrived at her university around lunchtime.  I helped her with her grading, then had dinner at their house, and pastor Mario then drove me back to Gyeongju, where I was just in time to catch the Wednesday night Bible study at church.  Needless to say, by the time I finally fell into my bed that night, I was more than ready for a good night’s sleep.  Overall, it was definitely worth it, though :).  I had a blast, and I feel so much more Korean after having experienced both a baseball game and a jjimjilbang – on the same day, no less!!

The only picture I was allowed to take of the jjimjilbang 🙂

At the beginning of the game….they didn’t seem too crazy….

Me and my friend Jae

The cheerleaders strutting their stuff

OK, now it’s getting a little crazy….teenage guys bringing homemade pom-poms….

wait….EVERYONE has homemade pom-poms!!

The entire stadium with linked arms, lustily singing at every opportunity….
ok, now it’s getting really weird….
Just a shot of the moon and the stadium lights that I thought was cool…

Battle of the mascots 🙂

Korean relief pitchers come on in STYLE! 🙂

Oh yes….you are seeing this picture correctly

Here’s a few videos showing you the progression of the fans’ frenzied excitement as the game progressed:

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

Girl’s weekend and paragliding!

What a weekend I’ve had!  I decided that it had been a while since I had done anything truly crazy – running away to live in Korea for a year notwithstanding.  So, last weekend my friend Sarah and I decided to go…….paragliding!!  It was something I’ve wanted to do for years now, so when my friend Lorna messaged me saying that she was getting a group together to go, I jumped at the opportunity.  And Sarah, even though she lives really far away, decided to join me.

So Sarah got to Gyeongju around 8:00 pm on Friday night.  We had cake, exchanged gifts (we always give each other presents when we see each other), and stayed up late talking.  Then Saturday morning, bright and early, we caught a bus to Ulsan.  After meeting up with a few other people who were also going with us, we met up with our tour guide and headed up the mountain.

I tell you what, people do things differently in Korea.  When I went skydiving in America, everything was very well defined.  We went to a certain place, we had a certain launch time, there were numerous forms to fill out for legal purposes, blah blah blah.  When I went paragliding in Korea, we met this guy and his friend at a hotel, had some rushed conversation in Korean with them for a little bit, then got into their personal cars (I was certainly glad for safety in numbers!) and drove to the launch site.  Along the way we just randomly pulled over on the side of the road and hung out for a while, then got in the car and continued our journey.  No one knew what was going on, lol.  The actual jump was equally confusing.  The guides spoke almost no English, and we spoke almost no Korean, so there was a lot of pointing and grunting.  That’s one thing about Koreans that bugs me.  If you don’t speak their language fluently, they often don’t say anything when they want you to do something – they just use gestures and inarticulate sounds.  But in my experience at least, I’ve found that people make a lot more sense when they talk, even if you don’t really speak their language.  Even if you can only catch a word or two, you can usually piece that together with their body language and figure out what it is that they want.  But a total lack of words usually just makes for one very confused foreigner.

But anyway, we finally made it up to the jump site and got suited up and ready to go.  This was about the time that I started freaking out.  I’m not particularly fond of heights – just the opposite, in fact.  This fear of heights is exactly why I insist on doing so many things involving heights – I don’t like the idea of being beaten by a fear – but it also means that I always freak out just before the plunge.  The jump was terrifying – who originally thought that strapping a kite to your back and jumping off of a mountain was a good idea?? – but after that it was fun.  Not nearly as much of an adrenaline rush as sky-diving, when you’re free-falling from 15,000 feet.  But it was relaxing and soothing, and I got to observe the entire countryside from above.  Overall, a pretty awesome experience.  I’m glad I did it.

The jump site 
I was scareeeeed

Can you tell that that’s not a real smile? 🙂 

There goes Sarah!!

Our Charlie’s Angels pose – totally earned it after jumping off of a mountain 🙂

One of the paragliding instructors offered to give Sarah and I a ride to Gyeongju, since we lived on the way to his house.  So we accepted (once again, the whole safety in numbers principle), and I had a conversation with him in Korean all the way from Ulsan to Gyeongju – about an hour.  It was very empowering :D.  After we returned home, Sarah and I went for a walk, and took a nap among the hill tombs in town.  Our friend Art, another Fulbright teacher, was meeting us for dinner, and we didn’t want to go home before that, so we just curled up in the sun and went to sleep while we waited.  Oh, and got ice cream.  Yummy :).  Once Art arrived, we went to an Italian restaurant.  We realized as we ate, that we were the 3 youngest Fulbrighters, all together in one place.  We’re the only Fulbrighters who were born in 1990.  Just a little tidbit, but I thought it cool :).  After he left, we went back home and had a girls’ night – chick flick and painted toenails, for the win!

Fulbrighters reunite!  Yay for the young-uns 😉

Pretty ladies…. <3

Sunday morning Sarah went to church with me, and then we went to the cake decorating place.  Sarah had heard about it from when my students took me before, and really wanted to go, so I took her while she was here.  We had a blast.  The store owner seemed rather terrified when 2 foreigners walked in, because he didn’t speak any English, but we were fine.  He was really nice :).

She was a bit excited…hehehe

We took our cake home, and ate it in the evening with my host sister, In-suk.  It turned into a mini party of sorts.  In-suk was in a really playful mood – it was fun to see a lighter side of her.  She’s always at school or just super tired when I’m home.  But this night she was laughing, joking and cutting up.  The cake had 2 face cookies on them, and she ate one of them – which she decided was me.  For the rest of the evening, she was making jokes about how Lauren had died, and she was so full because she had eaten Lauren, yada yada yada.  She even printed out a piece of paper that said “Lauren died today.”  It may seem silly or even slightly morbid to you, but to me it was the humorous side of In-suk that I rarely get to see, and it was delightful to be around.

“로렌 (my name in Korean) is died today”   Lol…. 😀

So Sarah left me early Monday morning, and now it’s back to my normal life.  I miss her, but we had a lovely time together.  I met with a Philippine friend from church on Monday afternoon for a lesson in Tagalog (the language of the Philippines).  I’m not really sure why we decided to do that, since everyone in the Philippines also speaks English and I’ll never really have to learn Tagalog, but I had a blast, anyway.  I loveeeee languages :).  We decided after the lesson, kind of spur of the moment, to go see Men in Black 3.  It was a lot of fun, although we saw a TON of my students, all of whom are now convinced that I have a boyfriend, so I’ll have to deal with that next week when I go back to school.  I won’t see them this week because they’re going on a school trip, so I get a week off – woohoo!  Time to catch up on everything that was neglected while we were preparing for the performance :).  So that was my weekend!  Undoubtedly one of the best this year!!

Me and Henly after our Tagalog lesson, waiting for the movie to start

A week in their shoes

I have a new-found appreciation for what the average Korean student has to endure nearly every day of their high school careers.  Last Monday, my school participated in a “Good school 2012” festival, known as APEC.  It was a pretty big deal, with schools coming in from all over the province.  I had been volunteered to do a dance performance with some of the students at the festival.  So, since the students were only free during lunchtime and in the evenings after dinner, that’s when we had to practice.

And for 1 week and change, I lived the life of a Korean high school student.  I went to school at 7:00 or 7:30, and didn’t leave until 10:00.  I taught all of my regular classes, and then practiced dance in the evening.  Only one or two other times in my entire life have I experienced such bone-deep exhaustion.  I didn’t think such complete weariness was possible.  And I thought to myself….Korean students do this every single week for 3 solid years!  It’s truly incredible that they don’t all drop dead from exhaustion.

But we finally finished, the performance is over, and I can get some rest again!  I’ve included some pictures from the festival below.

Oh, also, in other news, I finally got my hands on the footage from the TV filming 2 weeks ago!  Here it is:  You’ll have to log in to see it, but one of my students has very graciously given me her log-in information so that you can watch the footage.  As the vast majority of my readers don’t speak any Korean, I’m not too worried about anyone using her information for nefarious purposes; please don’t prove me wrong!!  Her ID is tjr213, and her password is chaeyeon8524.  My school’s coverage starts around 38 minutes and 30 seconds.  You might have to watch it in Internet Explorer, so if it’s not working, trying switching browsers.  I can’t believe they were here all day for a 4-minute final product!!!

Some of the signs for APEC, as seen all over town….yeah, it was a big deal.

Getting ready for our dance

The stage that we performed at.  It was huge!

The massive tent and huge number of people at APEC

Our school’s booth – it was awesome! 🙂

We had a bunch of iPads set up that had pictures and videos from my school scrolling through them

Our school, Seondeok high school, was named after a famous Korean queen.  So we had a student dress up like Queen Seondeok and go around taking pictures with people.  It was cool :).  

Some random guy who asked to talk a picture with me.  I have no idea who he is, lol.

Hwacheon peace forum

This weekend I headed up to Hwacheon, for what was undoubtedly my last trip up there – possibly ever, and certainly during the remainder of my Fulbright grant in Korea.  Knowing that made the whole weekend a little bittersweet, but it was still a great time overall.  School’s been really stressful and exhausting lately, so honestly I really didn’t want to go – I would have much preferred to just stay in Gyeongju and rest – but in the end I’m glad that I did.  I think I really just needed to get away from Gyeongju for a little bit, and I got plenty of rest during the 6-hour 1-way trip there and back :).

So anyway, the purpose of my trip was the 7th annual Hwacheon peace forum.  It was a really unique experience.  Around 20 American English teachers are each paired with a Korean high school student, and we spend the weekend getting to know each other and promoting inter-cultural peace and understanding.  
I got to the meeting point around noon on Saturday, and had lunch and caught up with the other Fulbrighters who were participating.  It was really nice to see them.  I hadn’t realized how much I missed talking in fluent English to people, and not being interrupted and ignored whenever someone came along saying something in Korean.  So it was a nice time to re-charge my batteries, which had been sorely worn down from frustration at school.  
Sarah’s host brother, Eunchan.  I love that kid.  He reminds me of my own little brothers <3
Anyway, since we were short on time, we jumped right into the weekend’s activities.  We drove to the Hwacheon cultural heritage museum first, and that was where we met our Korean “partners.”  They took us through the museum, telling us about some of the stuff behind the cases.  We even got an opportunity to dress up in tranditional Korean clothes, and I convinced my partner, Gwang-sik, to dress up with me and take a picture.  It was fun :).  

Me and my partner, Gwang-sik

I think that Eunchan was jealous of the swing 😉
After that, we headed to the DMZ.  I had been to the DMZ before, during orientation, but it was much different this time.  We went to a different zone, one of the closest South Korean bases to North Korea.  I could literally see the North Korean guard houses across the 3 layers of barbed wire fence and land mines.  We were cautioned that, while we were outside and within visibility range of the North Koreans, to please “don’t do anything that would make them suspicious and cause them to shoot on you.”  Comforting words, no?  Aside from that, though, it was much more poignant experiencing the DMZ with Koreans.  I talked with several of them who had family in North Korea; hearing their stories, seeing their earnest desire to be reunited with their families, touched me in a way that a simple tour of the DMZ could have never done.
After the DMZ we headed to our lodging for the night – a hanok, or a traditional Korean-style house.  We got a couple of demonstrations before dinner – how to make ddok (Korean rice cake) the traditional way (basically, by just pounding the living daylights out of super sticky rice and constantly rubbing water over it), and also how the hanoks were constructed.  We got to try to put together a model of one of the corners of the house – it was fun, like an enormous puzzle.  We also got to try our hand at pounding the rice, and I’m happy to report that the carpenter’s daughter did not disappoint, and that I pounded it quite satisfactorily (thanks, dad!).  

Sarah smashing the rice

My turn….

….and Leora.  From her face, it looks like she had some inner aggression to work out 🙂

Telling us about how hanoks are built

Tada!  We did it!
That evening, the Korean students’ parents treated us to a Korean barbecue dinner, with watermelon for dessert.  Yummyyyyy.  We played lots of games outside until it got dark, and then we all moved inside and played more games.  I love group games, but I don’t often get to play them, so this was a lot of fun – the added cultural element of doing it with Koreans and Americans made it all the more interesting :).  
Barbecue!  Yummy!

Me and Hanna.  She was awesome 🙂

Playing games…..we were silly 🙂

The next morning we went to see the World Peace Dam and Bell.  I found the bell, which weighs around 35 tons and was made from the recycled shells and casings of wars that have been fought all over the world, very symbolic and moving.  That was also where we had our official “peace talk.”  We sat down in a group, and just popcorn-commented, each person sharing their feelings on peace, North/South Korean relations, the roles of foreigners in the Korean conflict, and whatever else they wanted to say.  It was a very moving, touching time.  I felt so honored to be a part of such a special time of cultural exchange and awareness.  

There are 4 doves, facing North, South, East, and West.  If you can see in the picture, the dove facing the North has a broken wing.  It will be repaired when North and South Korea are re-united.

Ringing the peace bell!

It’s hard to see, but the peace dam is behind us to the left

Peace talk
After the peace talk, we got to take a ferry back to Hwacheon – I was super happy about that.  I loveeee boats :).  And then, that was it!  Many Fulbrighters had traveled a really long way, including myself, so no one really wanted to hang out much after the weekend ended.  We all scattered and headed our respective ways, wanting to get home so that we could finish up our lesson plans for this week and get some sleep.  I finally made it home around 9:00 pm.  It was a long weekend, but I’m really glad that I went.  Now if I can only make it through this week, I’ll be golden!

School and stuff

Yesterday was teacher’s day.  It also happened to be the day that I was suffering from a cold, migraine, nausea, and only 4 hours of sleep the night before, and I was facing a 14 hour day at school, with 7 classes to teach, plus dance practice for a performance I’m doing next week.  So the small shower of little gifts, notes, and comments from students was perfect – it was just enough to get me through the veryyyyy long day.  I had no idea how I’d make it through the day when I woke up, but thank the Lord, He gave me just enough push to make it through! 🙂  Take this note, for example, that one of my students from winter camp left on my Facebook wall: “Hi Lauren!!  happy teachers day~~ 🙂 sorry for not giving present!!! but we will give you our heart <3<3<3<3<3 And thanks to your teaching ;-) we love u <3".   Priceless... <3  Here's a few other notes below:

I feel like the little engine that could this week – I keep saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”  I’ve learned to not even think about the entire day – just focus on what’s right in front of me.  Getting through a 50-minute class is much more manageable than worrying about 7 classes, 3 lesson plans, dance practice, and 12-14 hours at school every day.  So, I focus on the immediate future, and take naps as often as possible, and I’m somehow surviving this week.  It doesn’t help that I’ve been fighting a nasty cold – it’s finally started getting better this afternoon, but the last 5 days have been truly unpleasant.  
But anyway, onto happier things!  I had an open class today (which means that anyone who wants to can come in and watch me teach).  One of the other Korean teachers came in and filmed me, so I finally got some footage of me teaching!  I’ve been wanting some for a while, but always found it really awkward to ask someone to come to my class just to record me teaching, so I’ve never gotten any footage.  But yeah, I’ve included two clips below, if you’re interested.  I was teaching how to use the “If I could ____, I would ____.” construct, by talking about high schools.  What happened after, that’s not seen in these clips, is that students created their own dream high schools, telling us what would happen if they could have a perfect high school (i.e. School would start at 1:00 pm, there would be a club for sleeping, only handsome men would be teachers, etc – yes, these are real examples from the students! :D).  Each one is about 4 minutes long, so only watch them if you really want to! 😉

High School Musicals and the like

Life’s been busy these days.  I feel like I’m always saying that…but then again, it’s always true! I had an interesting week at school last week.  I’ve always thought that the impromptu singing and dancing from the High School Musical movie franchise was totally contrived.  No one actually does that, right?  Well, I learned last week that people do, indeed, to that.

A TV station crew from KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) came to our school on Tuesday to do a feature piece.  This of course meant that the school had to do something special for the camera.  So they recorded my dance class (and interviewed me – in English and Korean!!), a few other “normal” classes, and then a bunch of the students performed a song and dance in the middle of the English lounge.  Well, I suppose it was still contrived, just like in HSM….but that doesn’t mean that people don’t do it!  It was a stressful day, full of class cancellations, additions, location changes, and the like, but in the end it was fun to watch the TV crew at work.

The students’ performance.  This doesn’t look contrived at all, right? 😉

It’s amazing the things that people will do when there’s a camera watching them.


My dance class.  Still working on getting the video footage from it….

This week will be super busy.  I’ve got to stay at school every day until almost 11:00 pm, practicing for a dance that I’m performing with some students at the beginning of next week.  I’m fighting a cold, so hopefully I’ll be able to survive!!  I had a nice calm before the storm this weekend, though.  On Friday night, I went our for dinner and ice cream with my favorite co-worker, Ye-ji.  We had a nice chat, and it was lovely to just chill out and relax.

Me ‘n Ye-ji with our mango-banana ice cream <3

Then on Sunday myself, 2 other foreign English teachers – one from Canada, one from Hong Kong -, a Korean teacher, some Chinese friends from church, and some Korean students went out for a picnic after church (we’re such an international group! ;]).  After that, we took a bus for an hour or so to the beach.  It was actually the underwater tomb of the ancient Korean King Munmu, but you can’t get to the tomb – it just looks like a bunch of rocks in the water – so I’m just calling it a beach :).  We played in the sand, and climbed the rocks, and took lots of pictures.  I have a feeling that the wind and cold temperature had something to do with the cold I have today…but I’m still just trying to focus on how much fun we had! 🙂

And that’s my life these days.  I will be very happy when this week is over.  Please pray for energy and focus and health for me!  Many updates to come in the near future!

The whole gang….

Me and Lin, with the tombs in the background 🙂

It says, “I love you”

….I have no idea.  I think that was his impression of dancing the Tango 🙂