Category: Korean host family

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

God’s love

Yesterday morning started off as a truly awful day.  I would prefer not to write about it at all; but I have to give you some back story in order for you to understand what happened afterwards, which is the real point of this story.

Anyway, to make a very long and dramatic story as short as possible, most of you know that for weeks now, I’ve been working hard to finish the English newspaper at my school.  I finally finished it, proof-read and error-checked it, and sent in the final file just before heading off to Jeju for my Fulbright conference.  When I returned on Tuesday, I found that they had printed it….but not before making a few changes.  Which wouldn’t have been a problem….except they didn’t proof-read it again before submitting it to the printers.  And, amid the changes, one student’s name had accidentally been erased from the article that she wrote.  This happened to be the front page article.  It also happened to be same student who the exact same thing happened to last year.  And that student also just happened to be my host sister, In-suk.  Yeah.  The plots thickens.

I figured it would be best that In-suk find out the bad news from me, so the next day at breakfast I told her about the problem.  I didn’t really anticipate just how bad the news really was.  She started bawling.  You know the kind of crying that’s so hard that you’re gasping for air because you just can’t stop crying?  Yeah, that’s what she was doing.  So then my host mother called 3 of my co-teachers (and also left work in the middle of the day to come directly to the school and talk to them!), In-suk was still crying, and everyone at work was grumpy.  All before 8:00 in the morning.  Yeah.  Really, really really bad start to my day.

Wednesday is also my longest day anyway – I teach 6 classes, don’t leave school until 7:00, and then lead Bible study at 8:00.  Needless to say, it was a rough day.  But then when I got home, everything had changed.  My host mother greets me at the door asking how I am, apologizing for me having to deal with all of this stuff at work – she kept emphasizing those “선생님 나쁘다” (bad teachers).  Now, on a good day, I really don’t think that my co-teachers are bad; but it was really nice to have an acknowledgement of my frustration.  She even hugged me; the only other time she’s done that was when I left for America for Christmas.

Later in the evening, I tried on a new dress and showed it to them.  They were ecstatic.  They kept calling me “우리 로렌” (My Lauren), and saying how beautiful I was.  I love my host family; but even so, I’ve never felt as close to them in the entire 6 months that I’ve lived with them as I did last night.  I felt embraced, truly accepted as a member of their family.

Then, the next morning, host mama hugged me again.  My host dad, in his sincerest Korean, apologized to me for the actions of “all Korean people” (모두 한국 사람).  That was the only time throughout this entire ordeal that I teared up.  I knew that I had not wronged anyone; but neither did I feel wronged by anyone – it was just a frustrating situation – and I was not expecting an apology.  The fact that he gave one anyway really meant a lot.  And In-suk even took the time to write me a letter!  I had put a little note and present in her room when I got back the night before, knowing that she would need a pick-me-up after such a bad day, so the next morning she gave a gift in kind, and a letter.  I’ve typed the letter out below:

To: 로렌 (Lauren)
I was very surprised for you!  When I had come back home, I saw your message and present!  Thank you.  Yesterday morning was very terrible day.  But I’m sorry that I don’t know well your frustrated mind for newspaper.  Because of angry, I don’t care about your mind.  One more time I’m sorry.  And always thank you.  I proud of you because you are my family.  Forget the newspaper, and then we smile!  Please, have a good sentiment every day.  

I like your smiling.  You are pretty when you smile.  Always thank you.  Despite of your tired, consider me.  Thank you always.  I love you!  ~In-suk

“I’m proud of you because you are my family.”  One of the goals of the Fulbright program is to foster cultural ambassadorship and exchange.  But forget about learning Korean or making friends from all over the world or teaching my students the electric slide in dance class.  That sentence right there is the one pocket of ‘cultural ambassadorship’ that I am far and above the most proud of.  In-suk really and truly considers me her family.  She loves me.

I didn’t want to mention all of the frustrations of yesterday morning.  But then, I decided that it was worth it, because through telling you about them, I could then tell you just how big and wonderful my God is, how His love and grace surpass any bad stuff the world can throw at me.  He took an awful situation, and turned it into a learning experience for me, and an opportunity to grow much closer to my entire host family.  Praise the Lord! 🙂

If you want to see the infamous newspaper, I’ve uploaded pictures of it below :).

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 🙂

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!

Things you can’t plan for

I’ve had quite a week.  Forget about all of the field trips and festivals and other exciting things I’ve witness during my 6 months in Korea.  This has been the type of fun that you can’t plan for. 

Last Friday was another open mic night at Grazie, the last one that Anthony and I would both be at.  So I asked him to accompany me on a song, as sort of a “last hurrah” for us, if you will.  So he did, and it was a lot of fun.  We sang “Painting pictures of Egypt,” which is a metaphorical song that alludes to the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the desert, which I thought was a very fitting song to sing in the presence of so many people who are in transitionary periods of their lives.  But the best part, for me, was that In-suk, my host sister, came with me!  It was so cool to be able to share this part of my life, usually so separate from the life of ordinary Koreans, with my host sister.  Check out the video of me singing below :). 

 Saturday night was the reverse – I was the foreigner on Korean territory.  Several of my students had asked me weeks ago if I would go out with them Saturday night, the night after their finals ended, when they would finally have some time to breathe.  I agreed, of course – I never turn down an opportunity to spend time with my wonderful students – so a date was made.  I was a little worried that they were expecting me to pick up the entire tab, but we went dutch the entire time, so that was good.  I was so proud of my students – they were trying to speak in English almost the entire evening, even with each other!  When just my presence gives them such an incentive to try and speak in English, how on earth can I begrudge them my time when they ask for it??  And besides, I had a blast – we went and took sticker pictures, and had coffee (or green tea, in my case), and went to dinner, and sang karaoke, and even bought matching phone dangles for our cell phones.  It was a blast, and an evening that I’m not likely to soon forget. 

The next day, Sunday, my friend Anthony invited me to a party after church.  It was a party hosted by the Filipino community for the Filipino community in Gyeongju…although I am not Philippina, Anthony is, and he invited me to tag along.  So mid-afternoon I met him (after being regaled by my host mother and sister on the piano for the past hour), and we made our way to the church that was hosting it.  We originally went to the wrong church, but we ended up meeting a co-teacher of Anthony’s who helped us straighten it out, so it was all good.  It’s good for me to hang out with Anthony – it teaches me not to worry if things don’t always work out as planned :).

So anyway, we finally found the party, and it was a blast.  I met a lot of cool people, was introduced to Filipino food, and even won a 6-pack of soap because my team won the balloon-popping game.  Plus, this may sound shallow, but I’m going to say it anyway….there were so many hispanic-looking men there!  I know they weren’t technically hispanic, but they looked like it, and I was very happy…I definitely go for the tall, dark, and handsome type.  I’ve been a bit deprived working at an all-girls’ school in Korea, lol.  Hearing Tagalog, however (the language of the Philippines), really threw me for a loop.  Tagalog is a mixture of Spanish, English, and a lot of its own unique flavor, too – constantly flip-flopping between understanding a bit and then not understanding left my brain really hurting! 🙂 In the end, though, I was really sad when I had to leave – the party was just getting started!

But the reason I had to leave was because I was making dinner for my host family!  I had asked them about a week ago if I could make dinner for them, and surprisingly enough, they had agreed.  My host sister, In-suk, really wanted to help, so I let her stay, but the parents we kicked out of the kitchen.  We made fajitas, with chocolate chip cookies for dessert, and it was a huge success.  Although I must say, the images of them staring with confusion at these empty tortillas and huge skillet of meat and vegetables, or trying to eat fajitas with chopsticks, or insisting on adding kimchi to the filling, are ones that will stick with me a long time :).  But overall, definitely a success and lots of fun.  I also gave them their Christmas presents, which they really seemed to like.  Afterwards, we went upstairs and sang karaoke (they have a karaoke machine in their house!!!) and then went to bed.

If I could, I would have weekends like this every single week.  Even though I didn’t go anywhere, I had more fun this weekend at Grazie, with my students, at the Filipino party and with my host family than I have in a very long time.  It was a wonderful way to end the first half of my stay in Korea.  The next few days quickly disappeared in a blur of final classes, tearful goodbyes and heartfelt sentiments from my students, and preparations for America.  Look for more about my stay in America on the next adventure of Sinbad! 🙂

Catching up

It’s been almost 2 weeks since I’ve written anything…I’ve been so busy I’ve barely had time to think, let alone breathe.  I should have more time next week, but rather than make you wait another week I’ve uploaded some pictures with captions under them, to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to.  Enjoy!!

I went to a Beethoven concert with Anthony and Yu-gyeong

Dinner and girl time with Nia

The cake that my lunch class surprised me with on our last day of class

My lunch class <3 
Going to Busan with Anthony to see a musical review

Killing time in the world’s biggest department store….

Musical review – “Love…hurts”

Lucy and Schroeder, from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”  Love it! 🙂

Host family threw me a “one-month” party, to celebrate me living with them for a full month 🙂

Host papa making kimchi….in his business suit.  Gotta love Korea!

A Christmas concert with Anthony.  There was something completely beautiful about hearing the old classics sung in a different language….
Decorating my church for Christmas.  We had so much loot!!

The whole decorating gang 🙂

My Christmas presents for my host family – their names are at the bottom.  Took me almost 4 weeks to make!!

A concert in Korea

I wish that I could explain to you the humor, the cultural insight, the very Korean-ness that is a community-wide performance in Korea.  Perhaps I would start with describing how my host mother ran from the car to the theater in a sort of strange waddle-run, hiding under her jacket to escape the slight rain that was so light that I wouldn’t even consider it rain – more like a gentle mist.  Or perhaps I would start instead with her insistence that I use both an umbrella and a rain jacket to evade said gentle mist.Perhaps I would start explaining what happened inside the theater, with my host mother on one side of me singing lustily off-key with the performers, while my host sister sat on my other side snoring away.  Or the spontaneous, auditorium-wide clapping that would start with astonishing frequency and coordination.Maybe it would be better to first talk about the Korean propensity to show off their “pet foreigners.”  I would talk about how my host mother used me as an excuse to get permission for her daughter to miss school so that she could come – apparently Insuk was allowed to come only on the condition that she translate for me….since I would be completely lost watching dance and listening to music if I didn’t understand all of the words, lol.  Maybe I would describe how I was paraded in front of all of my host parents’ friends, all of whom, after careful scrutiny, gave the same assessment of me – small face, very pretty!  Or how my host mother bought a bouquet of flowers for me to give to my host father, and then shoved me up on stage and made me give them to him before the performance had actually ended.  Yeah, that was awkward.  Or maybe I would skip that flower story, and just tell the one where my host mother walked up to the big flower arrangements that they had decorating the entryway and just started taking flowers out of them to give to me.  I don’t think she was supposed to do that.  But she wanted to give me flowers, so that was that.

I wish I could truly explain to you the night that I spent with my host family last Friday night.  But I think, in the end, that it’s something that you would have to experience yourself to truly understand.

My host papa.  Isn’t he adorable? 🙂
I truly am one of the family… <3
They’re the cutest 🙂
They gave me all of his flowers and had me put them in my room!  I can literally smell their love now… 🙂

Rice cake festival, Seoul, and Hwacheon

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

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

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

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

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

My first KTX ride ever!!

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

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

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

The Petra Palace 🙂

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

Beautiful Hwacheon

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

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

Chuseok weekend

Chuseok, commonly described as the Korean Thanksgiving, is a major holiday in Korea.  It’s so big, in fact, that it actually warrants 3 whole days off of work, plus Saturday.  But of course, they wouldn’t want to go overboard with the days off, so most people still have to work or go to school on Saturday.  Lucky me, I don’t work on Saturdays, so I had the whole day to myself.

I decided to go back to the International Expo with my friend Harry.  I was going to go explore Busan, Korea’s second-largest city (about 1 1/2 hours from Gyeongju), but Saturday dawned rainy and windy, so I nixed that idea.  The Expo was a decidedly different experience this time.  For one thing, I could actually talk to the company with which I was with, always a plus.  Also, because it was raining, we avoided a lot of the outside exhibits and tried to see more of the inside performances.  But it was still a lot of fun. 

There was a tent set up with stuff from all over the world – I got to wear a hand-made head scarf from Turkey, which was cool.  Then we went to see an exhibition on Dok island.  Dok island is a disputed land between Japan and Korea.  From the way that Koreans go on and on about Dok island, you’d think it was this huge land mass with massive amounts of natural resources….or something.  It’s a tiny piece of rock.  Seriously.  That’s it.  There’s nothing on it, no one lives there….you can’t even see it on a map.  But apparently it’s very important that everyone who comes to Korea knows that Dok island is Korean – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I know about Dok island.  It’s rather amusing, but at the same time kind of sad and ridiculous…

Turkish shawl, rain jacket, and backpack.  With a Russian woman.  Oh yeah, that’s awesome 🙂

The sign says “Dok island, our land.”  Over….the….top….

After Dok island, we made our way to the Spanish puppet show.  The vast majority of the audience was a third of our age, and the only thing “Spanish” about the show was that the puppeteer happened to be Spanish (gosh I love Spanish accents!!! <3), but it was still enjoyable.  I think I'll always be a kid at heart, anyway... 🙂  After the puppet show we went to a highly acclaimed performance called "Flying" - it was advertised as an acrobatic, break-dancing, rhythmic gymnastics extravaganza.  And it was - for the last 10 minutes.  The other 60 minutes was this bizarre combination of....I don't even know what.  I'm sure there was a plot, and I was just too dense to find it.  But all I could gather was that there was some little demon dude who liked to run around bopping people on the head, and when he did they turned into zombies.  And the only way to un-zombie them was to poke them three times and then whack them in the chest.  Complete with sound effects.  Oh and there was a time-traveling star.  And a cross-dressing cheerleader.  And a crazy guy who just growled at everyone.  And a fat girl who was always exercising.  I'm still pretty confused about the whole thing.... The most disappointing part was that they were really talented acrobats.  The last 10 minutes, when they really started to show their stuff, was incredible.  I really felt that they had sold themselves short by inserting all of this silly cartoony stuff.  But oh well, that’s Korea….  

Spanish puppets playing the violin… 🙂

The only picture I was able to take of Flying before the attendants scolded me

So we finished our romp listening to a performance by the Gyeongju youth choir.  Harry used to sing, so he can attest to the quality of their performance.  I never sang, so I cannot, but I do know that they sounded lovely.  Lunch was 감자탕 (gamjatang) – literally, hangover soup.  Apparently pig spine soup has the magical quality of curing hangovers… I ended the day going out to dinner with some friends from church and then playing games with my host sister.  The Christian fellowship was wonderful, and it was nice to spend some time with Songi – she’s always so busy studying, I never really get to hang out with her.

Gyeongju youth choir….incredible!!!

They said they needed pictures with “special people.”  So I asked for their picture, too.  Fair’s fair! 🙂

I don’t remember what the game is called.  But the end result is pieces flying all over the room…

Love my church friends <3....Martene, me, and Eric

Anthony, Lauren, and Priscilla

Sunday morning was the official start of Chuseok weekend.  We bundled off bright and early to go visit relatives.  First stop was a nursing home to see aging and sick grandma.  I have to say, nursing homes are not any better in Korea than they are in America, and I was glad when we left.  Next stop was Pohang.  Then, once we got there, only the cousin was there, so we just hung around doing nothing for several hours.  It was kind of frustrating, because I could have gone to church and come after and not missed anything…but oh well, c’est la vie.  The aunt and uncle finally showed up right after lunch, and we spent the rest of the afternoon cooking for Chuseok the next day.  We made tofu, and kebabs, and fish cakes, and basically alot of fun in which the general theme was to dip them in eggs and fry them in oil.  Eggs and oil make everything better…

My host sister, Songi

The result of our labors…lots of egg-and-oil fried food!!

Making 똑 (ddok), a traditional Korean rice pastry

Monday morning, Chuseok, dawned bright and early.  It’s true that, just like at Thanksgiving, Koreans eat a lot of food and gather with family at Chuseok.  But that’s where the similarities end.  We were up and out of the house by 6:00 in the morning, on our way back to Pohang.  When we got there, people were running around cutting up food and setting out platters and dishes in a very specific, elaborate arrangement.  I wisely planted myself in an out-of-the-way corner and waited for the ceremony to start.

And what a ceremony it was.  Although Chuseok does mean lots of food and family, the real purpose of the holiday is to give homage to your ancestors.  So they had a whole table loaded with food – all placed in multiples of 1,3, or 5, although no one could tell me why – and all of it was symbolically given to the ancestors – although we were the ones who actually ended up eating it.  While the women stood outside the room and watched silently, the men of the house did a very intricate series of bows, followed by pouring glasses of wine, which was then held over a stick of incense and then dumped out into a bowl.  Yes, the women were not allowed in the room….not sure what I think about that one =/.  The wine and incense was then followed by spooning some rice and other food into bowls and letting it sit for a few minutes – presumably to let the dead members of the family eat their fill before the live ones did.  Then they burned some little pieces of paper covered with Chinese characters, and that was it.  The ladies were then allowed into the room to clear the table, and then we set it with normal tableware (after all of this it was still only 8:30 in the morning!), and ate breakfast (로렌, 많이 먹어다! – Lauren, eat alot!…story of my life these days).  We hung out for a little bit afterwards, went back to the nursing home (definitely not any better the second time around), and then came home and all took naps for a while. 

The Chuseok spread

Cleaning up after the ceremony

Later in the afternoon, we were off again!  More family!!  This time it was the mother’s side of the family, and I don’t know where we went – I just know it was about a 30 minute drive.  This was far less formal, and much more fun.  I still didn’t know what was going on, but there was a lot more laughing – including impromptu K-pop lessons and walks in the rain – and far less awkward silences happening.  Maybe it helped that they were all drunk, I don’t know….  When we finally came back, around 9:30, I went out on my own for a trivia night with some foreigners.  But I was wiped out, and didn’t last very long before I headed home and to bed.

우리 할머니 – my grandmother 🙂

 So that was my first Chuseok.  Takeaways from the weekend: 1) wear waterproof shoes if you plan on walking in the rain.  2) Don’t expect Korean performances to have a logical or mature plot.  3) My church is awesome.  4) Nursing home creepiness crosses cultural borders.  5) Eggs and oil make the world go ’round.  6) You better tell people you’re full wayyyy before you actually are, because you’re still going to be stuffed with food, whether it will fit or not.  7) Koreans like to talk about you to your face, but act as if you’re not in the room.  Note to Koreans: just because I can’t understand everything you’re saying does not mean I’m deaf and dumb, and getting pointed at and and poked and prodded and paraded around as the pet American is really starting to get old.  Oh, and 8) apparently Korean ancestors like their wine, just as much as their living relatives do.  A very strange weekend, but overall a success.  A Korean Chuseok is not something that most foreigners ever get a chance to experience, and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to do so.

There’s nothing normal about normal life these days…

Well, another week has flown by.  Have you ever noticed that the days so often seem to crawl, but then the months and years fly by?  How does that work??  I’ve been sick this whole week (I think I got sick at the EXPO last weekend) and the hours have passed sooo slowly…but all of a sudden, it’s Friday!

Dr. Cho rescheduled our dinner from last week.  He called me and said “we will eat dinner together on Tuesday night.”  I wasn’t really given an option, lol, and so dinner was duly eaten with him on Tuesday night.  I was glad that no more last-minute teacher’s dinners were scheduled; canceling twice in less than a week would have been really awkward :(.

But ya, he took myself, and Anthony (another English teacher; he leads worship at church), and the pastor and his whole family (4 kids under the age of 5!!) out to dinner at a really ritzy upscale restaurant.  The Mundys came a little later than we did, so Dr. Cho and Anthony and I went for a walk around the lagoon that borders the restaurant.  The water was sparkling, there were swan boats floating gently on the lake, and the sunset was breathtaking.  I was kicking myself that I had forgotten my camera :(.  At dinner the kids were a little loud and distracting at times, but the food was wonderful, and the company excellent, and overall I had a lovely time. 

Wednesday night I went on an excursion with Elizabeth to Pohang, about 30 minutes away by bus.  After going to Pohang a few weeks ago, I felt like an old hand at the buses here, lol :).  So I was able to show her the ropes, and we spent the afternoon in Pohang.  Chuseok, the Korean version of Thanksgiving, is coming up this weekend, and it’s a common gift-giving holiday.  So we went to find gifts for our host families and co-teachers.  It was so hard!!  I love giving gifts, but it’s really hard to give a thoughtful gift when you don’t know the person to whom you’re giving the gift!!  But anyway, we found some small gifts – I settled on nuts all-around – and headed back to Gyeongju.  But it was worth it – I gave my presents on Thursday, and then on Friday I was showered by a flood of little gifts from my co-teachers.  I felt so loved :).

My little treasure trove of Chuseok gifts and notes 🙂

I came back from Pohang and found my host sister, Areum, in the middle of a mess in the kitchen.  She was trying to make fortune cookies, but had no clue what to do – had never even used their oven before!  She looked at me and was like, “Lauren…help me!”  So of course, I did, and we made homemade fortune cookies for the rest of the night.  It was fun :).

Thursday was an adventure, for sure.  The owner of my school, Dr. Choi, decided that he wanted to take Elizabeth and myself out for lunch.  It was really nice – he took us to a traditional Korean restaurant, and we had a huge spread of dishes, and it really was a lovely meal.  But it also made me 15 minutes late for my class when I got back.  Instead of letting the sub just teach the entire class, I rushed up as soon as I got back and finished the last 30 minutes.  It made the class a little stressful, because I hadn’t really had time to prepare, but I’m glad I did it.  I love my girls, I want to spend as much time teaching them as I can :).  It sure boosted my ego, too, when I showed up to class….they gave me a standing ovation.  This is why I love teaching… <3 🙂 Then Thursday night was salsa night!  I dragged Anthony along with me to go dancing – he told me that “he loves to dance and knows how to move his hips, but not much more than that ^_^.”  Well, that was enough for me, and so Thursday night found us rendezvousing on our bikes to head to the dance together.  We left early and went to a little Russian restaurant – the same one, in fact, that I went to on my very first excursion on my own into Gyeongju.  We were early to the dance, so we just walked around for a bit.  He showed me some popular places, helped me connect some of the dots between the places that I know and their relation to each other, told me stories about the city.  It was fun.

Me in front of one of the ancient Royal burial sites scattered around Gyeongju
Us and our bikes!! 🙂

At the dance, I was impressed with how quickly he picked things up.  I wish I had known more moves to teach him, because he is a fast learner.  But one of the Koreans there kind of made us his special project throughout the night, so I think Anthony was still able to learn quite a bit.  The club we went to seems to have several line dances that they do every night.  He picked them up almost instantly, while I was left fumbling along in the dust, lol.  But it was still fun.  Dances are always better when you have a friend to share the joy with :).

Oh, 2 more big events happened Thursday night!  First, I got my first proposition from a Korean man.  One of the guys at the dance knew a little English, so he was asking me about myself.  “How old are you?” he asked.  “I’m 21,” I said.  “Oh, wow, I’m 37.  Do you want a Korean boyfriend?  Koreans are alot of fun.  What’s your phone number?”  Don’t worry, I didn’t give him my number, but I found it rather amusing, nonetheless.  The other event was a little disconcerting.  As Anthony and I were heading home, a man crashed on his bike right near us, in the middle of the road.  We ran over and picked up his bike for him, but he wasn’t moving.  He just lay there in the middle of the road.  I couldn’t tell if he was drunk or perhaps mentally disabled.  But he didn’t really seem to want us to help him.  So after hanging around for a few minutes, we pulled his bike out of the road, said a prayer for him, and continued on our way.  I’m still not sure if we did the right thing.  I just didn’t know what to do…it was very disconcerting :(.

So that’s my life right now!  It’s starting to become the normal routine…but when I really look at it, there’s nothing normal about this life!  You know that you’re living a rather unique life when ritzy meals, homemade fortunes, random propositions and old men sitting in the street has become the norm :).