Category: Korean friends

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!

Silence

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…..wedding 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
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 😀

And so it begins….

I love to travel.  It’s exciting, invigorating, enriching, and rewarding.  But there’s an aspect of traveling that I always hate, always dread with every fiber of my being.  And that is the “lasts.”  When you’ve been somewhere for a long time, when you’ve made friends and gotten a new family and created a life for yourself…the “lasts” that come as you prepare to leave – last class, last church service, last dance – are always difficult.

My “lasts” in Korea started this weekend.  I went to Seoul for the Fulbright final dinner shindig.  It was an afternoon spent looking back over our last year with all of the other Fulbright staff and ETAs.  It was nice to see everyone again, but definitely bittersweet, as we were all acutely aware that it was the last time that we would ever see the majority of the people in that room.  But it was a great afternoon, albeit rather long.  There were speeches, and videos, and presentations, and reminiscing, and catching  up, and overall just a general air of celebrating our successes and the relationships made over the past year.  Although bittersweet, I really enjoyed it.  I always love being around the large Fulbright group.  They’re such a brilliant, dynamic group; I always feel more inspired and energized just by being around them.

A speech from Mrs. Shim, the head of Fulbright

A few of my favorite Fulbrighters….alliteration intended 😉
Me, Christalyn, and Sam

Meghan and me

Jessica, Jake, and me

The Gyeongju-ites – me and Elizabeth 😉

Me, Caitlin, Marlea, and Gina

Fulbright wasn’t the only “last” I had, though.  I didn’t have class on Friday, so I went up a day early and spent the day with friends.  Friday afternoon, I met my friend Max for lunch and fun-ness.  Max is actually Korean, but I met him while I was living in Atlanta a few years ago.  He’s back in Korea visiting family, so we got together and caught up.  We went to the Seoul Grand Park and saw the flowers – there was a rose exhibition there at the time.  It was lovely.  The smell was heavenly, the blossoms gorgeous, and for some reason there were gobs of adorable little Korean babies all over the place that I got to creep on with my camera all afternoon.  A perfect day ;).

Outside of Seoul Grand Park with Max

The rose garden!!

Babies and flowers…what could be better??

Some performances at the Park

Strange, strange dance performances….

We took a sky lift back down to the entrance to the park….so cool!

The view of the rose garden from above

After Max left, I met with a couple of my dancing friends for dinner and dancing.  We went to Johnny Rockets – for some reason I was reallyyyyy craving a western hamburger, and thankfully I was not disappointed – and then went dancing afterwards.  It was nice to see them, but also sad, because again, it was my last swing dance in Korea.  Oh, the nostalgia…..

Ki-ryong and Jae

Sarah, Leora, and Adam stayed in the hostel with me on Saturday night, for one last hurrah.  We “walked ourselves numb,” as Sarah put it, and then had a light dinner in a little cafe.  The next morning, bright and early, we said goodbye (more goodbyes!!), and I caught an early KTX back to Gyeongju, so that I could make it to church by 10:30.  I got back just in time – walked into the service at 10:32.  I was pretty pleased :).

After church, I went home with Mario, my pastor.  He and his wife had offered their kitchen to satisfy my craving to cook, and so I gladly took them up on their offer.  It was kind of funny.  I was there, in their kitchen, cooking up a storm and loving every second of it, and they were sitting in the living room just watching me bemusedly.  But I don’t care if that makes me domesticated; I had a blast.  I made taco salad and a pineapple upside-down cake.  The cake came out a little strange – I had to make a lot of substitutes for things you can’t buy in Korea, and the lack of an electric mixer made the batter a little grittier than it should have been, but it was still good.  By the end of the afternoon, they were trying to get me to move in with them for the remainder of my time here, just so that I would cook for them, lol.

Enjoying the yummy tacos… 🙂

So anyway, I finally made it bake home around 10:00 pm on Sunday night.  ‘Twas a long and emotional weekend, indeed.  I’m glad I went, but I was equally glad to be back.  With only 19 days left, the end has begun, and I’m determined to make the most of every second that I can!!

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

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!

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 🙂

The 72 day update

I’m not sure why, as I am not particularly looking forward to leaving Korea, but I installed a countdown app on my phone a few weeks ago, telling me exactly how many days I have left before I fly home to America.  Perhaps it’s because I wanted to be reminded not to waste the precious time that I have left.  Anyway, whatever the reason, it’s there, and since I cannot think of anything clever to call this particular blog entry, it will also have to serve as the inspiration for my title.

No reason for this picture.  It just reminded me of my sister 🙂

According to my little app, I have exactly 72 days left in Korea.  My goodness, how the time flies.  I mentioned that to my host sister yesterday, and she got all teared up.  We then had a very heartfelt conversation about family, in which my host sister started crying as she told about how lonely she was growing up, because her brothers were so much older than her, she was always in school, and her parents were always working.  “I have no memories with them,” she said on more than one occasion.  It about broke my heart….and also made me so incredibly grateful for the love of my own family. (on a side note….I met said brother this morning.  They came down from Seoul late last night to visit.  The sight of them stumbling out of their alcohol induced stupor to come out and give me a deep, solemn bow, and then go back to bed, was amusing to say the least, and it was all I could do to stifle a giggle.  Oh, Korea, there’s always some new charming little cultural oddity about you to discover….)  But anyway, back to In-suk…we’ve been having a lot of conversations like that lately.  I feel like we’ve grown really close, and I’m really going to miss her when I leave :(.

Not too much to report on the school front.  Last week was midterms, so I didn’t have school.  Rather than do more traveling, I elected to stay in town and work on my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification, as well as other sundry things that needed to get done.  Not the most glamorous way to spend a week off, but I got caught up on a lot of stuff, and that feels great, so I am happy.  I also was able to finish an astonishing SIX units in TEFL (my normal pace is 1 a week), so I’m almost done with that!  Only 3 more units and I’ll be finished for life – super psyched about that!!  There were a couple of interesting things at school recently.  Yesterday was the 63rd anniversary of my school.  There was a big presentation that included all of the students and teachers (both high school and middle school), and lots of award giving and clapping.  Apparently the English department received an award, and I was sent up to accept it, although I’m still not quite sure what it was for….welcome to my life in Korea.  Lol…

Yeah….that was me up there.  So awkward, lol…

I was chatting with one of my students from winter camp on Facebook last night.  I told her that I missed teaching her, and she told me this: “We also always talk about you, Lauren :).  Lauren’s class was everything what I remember during vacation!!!  We were very enjoyed about your class :D.”  To which I replied, “Oh that makes me so happy I almost want to cry!”  And then she said, “It’s really what I’m feeling, too!  Lauren is a really good teacher. As we (who Lauren taught English to students) know~~~~”  Needless to say, any residual grumpiness that I may have had about Korea evaporated in that moment :).

Other than that, I don’t have much to report.  I haven’t done any traveling – going on 3 months now in the same city, closing on a record for me! 😉 – although I have been making a big effort to spend time with my friends in Gyeongju.  Check out pictures from some of our escapades below.

Lin and her husband, Pan.  I guess he’s camera-shy, lol… 😉

A student from school, Jeong-min.  She comes to the English service at church, and we often hang out together on Sunday afternoons.  She’s super sweet 🙂

Recently an English teacher from school from school, Mrs. Oh, has taken an interest in befriending me.  I’m not sure why, it kind of happened out of the blue – last semester we hardly ever talked.  I have a suspicion that it’s because she thinks I’m lonely – she was very lonely during her time spent studying English in Canada, and so I imagine that she thinks I’m having a similar experience.  While I am not, I am more than happy to be her friend.  We went to a little ceramics festival and then dinner in Gyeongju a few weeks ago, and then to the Silla Millenium Park last week (a sort of cultural activity theme park), and we have plans to go out together again this weekend.  At the millenium park, she bought me a set of blown glass earrings and necklace, which are really lovely.  We also got to see a wild horseback riding performance (they were doing all sorts of crazy flips and stunts with the horses running full speed!), but my favorite part was when the security guard allowed us behind the restricted area of the set of Queen Seondeok (an epic drama about the famous Queen of Korea who, incidentally, my school is also named after) and took our picture sitting on Queen Seondeok’s throne.  It was awesome :).  And now you know almost everything happening in my life these days! 🙂

Some of my favorite pieces from the ceramics festival 

Dinner with Mrs. Oh – Japanese shabu-shabu.  Yummy!!!! 
Millenium park – love the waterfall!

The set of Queen Seondeok

Behind the scenes!  Look at us being rebels!! 🙂

Picnics, Pizza, and Pals

I seem to have finally been cured of my previously insatiable wanderlust.  While I spent nearly every weekend last semester traveling, this semester I don’t want to go anywhere at all.  Even my upcoming trip to Jeju Island, one of the most beautiful islands in the world, I’m looking at with more than a little bit of trepidation.  After going all over Korea and southeast Asia, it seems that both my wallet and my sleep patterns have had quite enough moving for a while.

But then again, perhaps I don’t want to travel simply because I like where I am.  I’m finally finding fun hobbies and wonderful friends….and of course, I love my host family :).  My host sister came to church with me on Sunday – that was cool.  And then we made dinner in the evening for my host parents – this one was an even bigger hit than the fajitas!  We made a chicken / pepper / bean / corn / green pumpkin / whatever else I could find concoction that was really really tasty, if I do say so myself.  In between church and dinner, I went out to lunch with some people from church.  We went and got Korean pizza (have you ever had sweet potatoes on your pizza before??), and talked and laughed – mostly in Konglish, with a little bit of Chinese thrown in there, just for kicks – and overall just had a great time.  I love my friends here <3.

From Left to right: Jeong-min, Hyo-jeong (both Korean), Pan, Lin (both Chinese), and me :]

Speaking of friends, Saturday was also a lovely day with friends.  In the morning, I had Korean class with Si-yeon – she bought me lunch at this superrrrr yummy Japanese noodle place.  Then in the afternoon, I met up with my Uzbekistanian friends for a picnic – they brought the fruit, I brought the drinks and kimbap.  At the kimbap restaurant, I ran into another foreign teacher here, also named Lauren, and I invited her to come along.

So the four of us trooped out to the royal tombs to eat – it sounds morbid, but it’s really not.  They’re just big hills dotted all over the city; make for lovely walking and picnic places.  So yeah, we found a nice spot, and had a lovely afternoon picnicing….I was so excited!  It’s been years since I’ve had a picnic, and I was literally giddy, lol.  Afterwards we were going to go take sticker pictures together, but the place was closed, so instead we elected to go to a coffee shop and buy something to warm us up – it was so windy outside!!

Aziz, Stan, and Lauren², having a picnic in the park 🙂

Our photos have been forever “Koreanized” by the eternal peace sign 😀

Stan and Lauren

Stan and Lauren…again 🙂

Me ‘n Aziz

<3 <3 <3 

So that was my weekend.  Additional noteworthy highlights include playing badminton with my host family – in the house (don’t worry, we were gentle, lol), and the taxi driver who gave me a Lolli-pop and a mix CD just because, totally brightening my really crappy day.  All in all, quite a lovely 2 1/2 days.  My following week has been comparatively lovely, too – much less stressful than the previous weeks.  As I had hoped, with the projects dying down at work, so has the stress.  Four days in Jeju start in a day and a half!

My angel taxi driver.  Please note the totally tricked out dashboard and CDs glued to the ceiling.  I just had to snap a picture 🙂

A weekend with J&T

I spent last weekend in Seoul, at a West Coast Swing workshop with Jordan Frisbee and Tatiana Mollman, affectionately known by their admirers as J&T.  Jordan and Tatiana are the undisputed best WCS dancers….in the world.  They’ve won the US OPEN young adult championship once, US OPEN classic 8 years out of 11, USA Grand nationals 4 out of 5 years,  were named dance couple of the year 5 years in a row….the list goes on, but I think you get the idea.

Anyway, I took a bus up to Seoul after my first day of school on Friday (more on that in the next blog), and went straight from the bus terminal to the dance.  The next three days that followed were a whirlwind of dancing, occasional sleeping, and making lots of new friends.  I also was able to go to church Sunday morning before the workshops started, which was really good for me.

So yeah, I’d tell you all of the details, but I fear that they would bore you and start to become very repetitive.  Basically, the outline goes something like this: Friday night – open dancing from 8:00 pm to 1:00 am, then headed back to my hostel, checked in, and went to bed around 2:00.  Saturday: woke up around 10:00, did my Bible study, then met up with some friends for lunch before the workshops started.  Workshops from 2:00-7:30 pm, a quick dinner, then open dancing from 8:30 pm to 1:00 am again.  Sunday morning I got up earlier, around 8:00, so that I could Skype with my family and make it to church on time.  Then more workshops, from 2:00-6:30, after which I left and went directly to the bus station to head back to Gyeongju.  Got home around midnight, tossed my stuff on the floor, and promptly passed out.  It may sound awful to you….but it was absolute heaven for me.

Highlights of the weekend include: seeing Jae and John again, my Korean-American friends from Seoul.  Seeing J&T perform their most recent championship dance live!  Meeting Chloe, a French girl who speaks perfect English with an American accent (don’t know how THAT one happened! :]), lives in China, and is dating one of the top WCS dancers in the world.  Getting to dance a full three and a half minute song with Jordan Frisbee himself – EEEKKK!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Meeting a bunch of people from Singapore, who were really awesome and fun (and amazing dancers, to boot!), and I have now decided that a trip to Singapore is a must in my not-too-distant future.

It was a lovely, much-needed and long-anticipated weekend in which I learned a lot, and made tons of new friends and memories.  I must say, though, it’s probably a good thing that events like that don’t happen every weekend – such sleep deprivation and sheer exhaustion come Sunday night is not very conducive to teaching on Monday morning :).  Nor is the cost very friendly to one’s wallet, hehehe…  Anyway, enjoy the video and pictures below!  I’m sorry if the video doesn’t play – I’ve been having some issues with uploading videos recently.  If you can’t see it, suffice it to say that I’ve improved ALOT over the past year :).

Me with Jordan and Tatiana!  Such bliss!! 🙂

The whole class expectantly waiting for J&T’s most recent championship performance

Eugene is the guy on the left, one of the dancers from Singapore.

That’s Chloe on the left, along with some Korean dancers
Me and Ki-ryeong, one of my favorite guys to dance with in all of South Korea <3

Seoul food

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

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

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

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

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

Leora and I in our little abode!

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

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

Korean cooking class.  Check out her face.  Priceless 🙂

Look what we made!  Yummie!! 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

Closing ceremony – class friends

Me and my teachers <3

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

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