Category: misc

What happens when you return

There’s this article that’s been going around the internet lately called “What Happens When You Live Abroad”, by Chelsea Fagan.  It’s a great read, and talks all about the way that your heart is always torn into different directions and given to different peoples when you live in and invest in different countries.    I would highly recommend you read it if you get a chance.But what the article doesn’t really talk much about is what happens when you return.  What they don’t talk about is the culture shock that you feel all over again after you’ve gotten back on that plane and landed in your home country.  All of the confusion and unsettling feelings that swirl around you because of that culture shock – even more so, because you know that this is your birth country.  This was where you were born.  This is supposed to be your home.  So why does it feel so alien??

For me, it started off with little things, unimportant things.  My friends just laughed at my silliness, and I was too jet-lagged to really notice that something was different.  After all, it was just little things, anyway.  Like my excitement at finally being able to use a clothes dryer again, and snuggling up in the warm clothes right after the machine finished.  Or eating cheese and drinking milk after nearly a near of languishing in the desert of no dairy.  Or not having to think anymore about expertly aiming the shower head so that I don’t soak the rest of the bathroom.  Or being shocked when someone walked into the room with their shoes on.

But then the jet-lag wore off, and it got a little harder.  I started driving again, and was reminded how much I loved hopping on a bus and going somewhere exciting in Korea.  I kept noticing people giving things with 1 hand, and was reminded of how much I love the politeness of the Korean people, how cool it is that they always give or receive things with 2 hands as a way of showing their respect to the person they’re interacting with.  I noticed the large numbers of obese people in America, and was reminded of the Korean propensity for exercising and eating healthily, and how cute their fashion styles are.  I started cooking a few things, and was reminded of how much I love Korean food, and how loved and cared for I always felt in my homestay when my host parents cooked for me.  Even something as innocuous as being able to flush toilet paper, reminded me of the bathrooms at my school, in which you most certainly could NOT flush toilet paper.

And that, of course, reminded me of my students. And how desperately much I miss them.  And then when my students themselves started messaging me about how much they missed me, and how quiet school was without me, and how much they wanted to see me, things got MUCH harder.  I’m sitting here in America, in the middle of some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met in my life, among wonderful old friends and fabulous new ones, and all I can think about is how I don’t fit in.  How I don’t belong here.  How can it be that I can feel more alien in my own country, among some of my closest friends, than I ever did on the other side of the world??  How is it possible that I somehow feel more comfortable speaking Korean than I do speaking English??  Sometimes even now, I catch myself saying a few words or phrases in Korean….and every time I do it breaks my heart.  Because nobody here understands it.  And it reminds me all over again how very far from Korea I truly am.  

Living abroad is a beautiful thing, a wonderful thing.  And the fact that I am back is also wonderful, because it means that I have a family and friends whom I desperately love who have pulled me back to America.  But Chelsea Fagan was spot on when she said that living abroad tears your heart in half.  It is a good thing, a beautiful thing; but it means that you will for the rest of your life live with the knowledge that you don’t quite “fit in.”  No matter where you go, you’re always going to be missing people, traditions, foods, and customs from somewhere else.  That’s a fact that I think I can live with.  But I surely do hope that it won’t always hurt so much.  


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictures with some of my favorite students…

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

Pastor Mario praying over me before I left

Church goodbye lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant

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

Lorna, Lin, and Lauren! 🙂

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


There are so many ways to shapes ones’ hands.  
I have seen them lifted up in fists of anger against enemies.  
I have seen them comfortably clasped in the familiar bond of friendship.
I have seen them playfully shoving one another in good-natured camaraderie.
I have seen them, fingers intertwined, lacing lovers together.
But today, I have not just seen them.  I have felt them.  Hyeon-jeong’s hands.  
I felt her hands squeezing mine goodbye.  
I felt the strength, the love, the urgency in them.  
It was as if her hands knew that this was the last time they would be in mine, 
and simply could not let me go.
They stayed with me, her hands, while I bid fare well to other students.  
While I bowed solemnly to other teachers.  
They crossed the broad expanse of campus with me, 
as I slowly, painfully walked it for the very last time.  
They gently wiped my tears away as I struggled in vain to not cry.  
They stayed with me, her hands, even long after the bell had rung, 
summoning her back to her studies.  
And, when we reached the edge of school, 
when I crossed the line that her society dictates she must not cross, 
her hands reached out after me.
In that moment, the frizz of my hair or the slant of her eyes were no longer noticed.  
The color of our passports were longer a dividing line between us.
It didn’t matter if we couldn’t wax eloquently about politics or religion or philosophy.
All that mattered were her hands in mine – 
reaching out to me, connecting with me, loving me.
And in that moment, we were no longer foreigner and native.
We were no longer adult and child.
We were no longer teacher and student.  
We were simply….together.  Friends.  Sisters.  

10 Korean customs you should know about before you come

I found this post on a different website (, but I just had to share it.  Every word rings true.  Especially the last tidbit about Dokdo and the Sea of Japan….don’t EVER start an argument about those with a Korean!!!  Enjoy! 🙂

1. Kimchi is culture
Kimchi is sliced cabbage, fermented with red chili sauce and anchovy paste. It is pungent, spicy, and sour. Koreans love it and eat it with every meal – usually on the side – though they also use it as an ingredient in countless other dishes.
Kimchi is symbolic of Korean culture: it’s strong, distinctive, and defiant. Some foreigners can’t stomach it, but if you can, you will earn the locals’ heartfelt respect.
2. Shoes off
When entering a Korean home, you must remove your shoes. To do any less is a sign of great disrespect.  Koreans have a special relationship with their floor, on which they sit and often sleep. A dirty floor is intolerable in a Korean home, and they view Westerners as backward savages for remaining shod in our living rooms.
3. Soju
Korea is a drinking culture, and their national booze is soju, a clear, vodka-like drink.
Soju is drunk out of shot glasses, and like all liquor in Korea, it’s always served with food. Koreans drink in boisterous groups, regularly clinking glasses, while shouting geonbae! (cheers) and one shot-uh!  At night you will see men coming out of norae bang (karaoke rooms) and staggering through the streets, laughing, singing and arguing. Just be sure to avoid the puddles of reddish-vomit often left behind, which are also known as kimchi flowers.  Koreans have strict drinking etiquette: never pour your own drink, and when pouring for someone older than you, put one hand to your heart or your pouring arm as a sign of respect.
4. Rice
Like the Japanese, the Koreans eat rice with almost every meal. It’s so ingrained in their culture that one of their most common greetings is Bap meogeosseoyo?, or ‘Have you eaten rice?”
Unlike the Japanese, Koreans usually eat their rice with a spoon, and they never raise the rice bowl off of the table towards their mouths.  Also, chopsticks must never be left sticking out of the rice bowl, as this resembles the way rice is offered to the dead.
5. Do not smile
Koreans are a warm and generous people, but you would never know it from the sourpusses they paste on in public.  Sometimes, the chaotic streets of the peninsula resemble a sea of scowls, with everyone literally putting their most stern faces forward. This is NOT true of the children however, who will invariably grin and laugh while shouting “Hello! Hello!”
6. Beware of elbows
Korea is a crowded country. It’s a cluster of stony mountains with only a few valleys and plains on which to build.  The result is a lot of people in small spaces, and folks will not think twice about pushing and jostling in order to get onto a bus, into an elevator, or to those perfect onions at the market.
Don’t even bother with “excuse me,” and beware of the older women, known as ajumma. They’re deadly.
7. Protests
South Koreans fought hard to achieve the democratic society they now enjoy, and are among the top in the world when it comes to exercising their right to protest.
Dissent is alive and well. Koreans protest with frequency and they protest with fervor – on all sides of the political spectrum.  Protesters employ a variety of methods, from the violent (angry students regularly attack riot police with huge metal rods), to the absurd (cutting off fingers, throwing animal dung, covering themselves in bees).
8. Hiking
As Korea is mountainous, it should come as no surprise that hiking is the national pastime.
Even the most crowded of cities have mountains that offer a relative haven from the kinetic madness of the streets below.  Koreans are at their best on the mountain. They smile and greet you and will often insist on sharing their food and drink. Make sure to stop at a mountain hut restaurant for pajeon (fritter) and dong dong ju (rice wine).
9. Bow-wow
Yes, some Koreans do eat dog meat, despite some sporadic attempts by the government to shut down the boshingtang (dog meat soup) restaurants, in order to improve the country’s “international image.”
Dog meat is mainly consumed during the summer and by men, who claim that it does wonders for stamina.
10. Nationalism
Koreans are an extremely proud people, and sometimes this pride transforms into white-hot nationalism.
You see this nationalism displayed at sporting events, where thousands of Korean fans cheer their national teams on in unison, banging on drums and waving massive flags.
This nationalism especially comes to a boil whenever Japan is mentioned, as Japan has invaded them several times, and occupied Korea as a colony for almost the first half of the 20th century, decimating the country’s resources and conscripting thousands of their women as sex slaves.
Finally, please remember the two following things:
To a Korean, there is no such thing as The Sea of Japan. The body of water between Korea and Japan is known only as the East Sea.  Also, Koreans fervently believe that Dokdo – the disputed islets between Korea and Japan (known in Japan as Takeshima) – belong only to Korea.  It would be most unwise to attempt to disagree with either of these points, as Koreans don’t consider them up for debate.

Ten things I would like to tell the average American 20-something

In my 22 years, I’ve gotten around a fair bit.  I’ve been to 5 continents, 16 countries, and countless cities.  I’ve met people from all walks of life – rich, poor, old, young, bold, shy, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, married, single, the works.  And, while I’m certainly no expert on either success or people, I have learned a few things in my wanderings.  Here are 10 pieces of advice that I would share with America if I could.

10)  Learn your history and geography!  No one expects you to know everything about the past and present world – that would be rather excessive, and there are plenty of better things to spent your time on, rather than memorizing boring facts and figures.  But come on people, when a large percentage, perhaps even the majority, of young Americans can’t name most of the states that make up their own country, or don’t know that the Nazis oppressed the Jews in World War II, or think that Mexicans speak Mexican, you’ve got to admit that there’s a problem.  The single biggest reason that I have come across in my travels as to why foreigners dislike Americans, is because of their ignorance.  We are not the only people on the planet, and it’s time that we started acting like that!  Wake up, open your eyes and ears, and get informed about the world around you.  People will take you so much more seriously if you do.
9)  Travel.  Yes, I know that travelling is expensive.  I know that it’s time-consuming.  I know that it’s hard and puts you out of your comfort zone.  But that’s exactly why it’s so important.  You don’t have to go to the other side of the world, you don’t have to be gone for months on end.  You would be amazed how even just a week in a Latin American country could change you.  So skimp on the coffee.  Skip going to the movies a few times.  Walk or bike when you can instead of driving.  Look for scholarships.  Do fundraising.  Do whatever you have to do to get there.  Experiencing another culture is the best way to have an awareness of the big, beautiful world in which we live, the best way to fully realize that we are not the only country in the world.  It’s the best way – perhaps the only way, to have a balanced worldview, a worldview that accepts others for who they are, even if they are different from you.
8)  Be sensitive to cultural differences.  Of course, if you travel with the assumption that everyone else in the world is automatically inferior to you, that kind of defeats the purpose of traveling.  In Costa Rica doors are always left open, and people just walk into each others’ houses to greet them.  In Spain you could know someone your entire life and never be invited to their home.  In America there is no cultural protocol for giving gifts, but in South Korea it is considered enormously rude to give or accept something with a single hand.  Cultural differences exist.  And just because someone does something differently than you, that doesn’t make it wrong.  Instead of assuming that they should change their habits to be like you, maybe you should take a step back and give their way a chance.  Especially if you’re living in their country.  Probably the second biggest reason that foreigners hate Americans is because they often don’t care what the social protocol is; they’re going to do things their own way, period.  Come on, people.  You would want them to change if they were in America; you should do the same when you are in their country.  So be respectful, accept cultural differences, and don’t dig in your heels and insist on doing things your way. Even if you don’t understand why what you’re doing is wrong or upsetting, just accept that it is, and try to be understanding.

7)  Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something.  What you can or cannot do is a largely self-fulling prophecy.  If you are convinced that you cannot excel in school, then you probably won’t.  If you don’t think you can get a better job than working the customer service counter in Dillards, then that’s most likely as far as you’ll go.  However, if you go into it determined to succeed, then that’s probably exactly what you will do.  Make your goals way higher than you think you could ever possibly reach.  W. Clement Stone said this: “Aim for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  Humans have built skyscrapers, they have walked on the moon, they have cured countless diseases, they have created complex computers and solved impossible algorithms.  We were not made for small things.  So don’t limit yourself!  Pick a goal wayyyy higher than you think you could ever even hope to achieve, and then go for it with everything you have.  If you make it, good for you!  But even if you don’t, you’ll still have gone much farther than most people.

6)  That brings me to my next point.  Don’t stop.  The easiest way to get stuck in a rut is to stop learning, to stop trying.  Even if you don’t know exactly where you want to go in your life, do something.  Apply for college, try to get scholarships, go to trade school, travel, get a job, try out a new hobby….it doesn’t really matter what you do.  Just do something!  The more you do, the easier it will be to narrow down what interests you and what doesn’t.  Don’t think that if you follow a path that turns out to not be your cup of tea, that you will be stuck doing that for the rest of your life.  It’s much easier to change the direction of a moving ship than a stationary one.  As long as you are going somewhere, you will be able to find new doors that are more suited to your temperament and goals.
5)  Laugh things off.  When I was young, my mom would always complain that being around me was like walking on eggshells – I was so sensitive, no one ever knew what would set me off.  I always insisted that it wasn’t my fault – they were the ones who were always so rude!  If they would only stop being so inconsiderate, I wouldn’t get so angry and offended!  But as I grew up, I finally realized that I can’t change what other people do.  I am only responsible for myself.  And being happy is a far more pleasant way to pass your life than the opposite.  So get a thick skin – don’t get upset when people insult you, don’t yell when nasty stereotypes are thrown in your face, don’t assume people are always out to get you.  This way, you can be joyful regardless of what’s going on around you – your happiness won’t be dependent on others.  An added bonus of that is that people generally try to be nicer to happy people, which would make your laughing things off and staying happy even easier! 🙂
4)  Find good friends.  I’m often criticized by people who hear my philosophy on friendship.  Basically, I will be nice to you, I will do my best to not insult you (both intentionally and unintentionally), but unless our personalities “click” and our relationship is edifying to each other, we’re not going to become very good friends.  Many people say that I’m too judgmental, that I should be friends with people who are different from me.  And that I do.  But here’s the rub.  We are all only given 24 hours in a day, and many many things to do within that time.  If you don’t use your time wisely, you will end up wasting your life.  And you do not have time to waste on people who cause drama and worry and are always bringing you down.  Of course everyone has their moments; but if you consistently find yourself in stressful or uncomfortable situations with friends of yours, it’s probably time to find new friends.
3)  Develop good habits.  There’s a saying that says, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”  Busy people are busy because they have learned how to manage their time, and thus are able to accomplish a lot.  Lazy people get nothing done because they have no self-discipline.  Don’t be one of those people.  Go to the gym, eat right, manage your time, make to-do lists and check them off, learn a language, pick up a new hobby; whatever your method may be, find a way to develop good habits and become a disciplined person.  I don’t mean become a straight-laced dictator; but rather just someone who is able to get things done because they know how to prioritize and manage their time.
2)  Do uncomfortable things – often.  I have frequently been told by people who hear about my year in Korea, that they would never be able to do what I have done.  Living on the other side of the world for a year, not speaking the language, teaching almost 400 students with no prior teaching experience, eating strange foods, living with a family with whom I cannot communicate….it’s just too difficult!  Yes, it is difficult, no argument there….but that’s exactly why you need to do it!  Now, I realize that my situation is a bit extreme and not applicable to everyone.  But you can still find things to do that make you uncomfortable.  So enroll in a class to learn something that you’ve never done before.  Take a homeless person out to lunch.  Go on a random road trip with no plans and no map.  Befriend someone who has a different worldview or background than you.  Uncomfortable situations are how we grow.  If you are always in your own little bubble of comfort, then you will never progress to bigger things.  Plus, you’ll never know what you may like until you try it!1)  Get to know Jesus.  Ahh, here it is – I can’t keep a post entirely devoid of Jesus! 😉   At the end of the day, Jesus is what will give you true purpose in your life.  Really, it doesn’t matter what you know, what you do, or where you go; if you don’t know Jesus, it’s not going to matter in the end.  But don’t take my word for it – or the word of anyone else, whether they call themselves a Christian or not.  Get to know Him for yourself – search the scriptures, pray, and decide for yourself whether He’s someone that you want to have a relationship with.  Jesus is the best thing that will ever happen to you.  Don’t let some flawed human convince you otherwise.

Korean Students Speak

Many of the Fulbrighters have been working on a big project this year, called Korean Students Speak.  Most structured the activity around some sort of lesson on free speech or something of the sort, and then turned the students loose.  They were given a piece of paper and a marker, and told to write anything they wanted; anything that they wanted to share with the world.  Here are just a few of the things that they said.  Some are funny, some are sad, some are profound, all are real.  To see the entire project, go to  Transcripts of the signs are written in the captions under the photos.

Flying high is not hard.  But the burden you give make us fall down to the ground.

You should not give up so easily, no matter what you do.  

Bad math  bad brain
Be brave and express your opinion 
Cogito Ergo Sum

Competing with friends for grades makes me mad

Don’t ask me, “Are you Japanese?”.  I’m KOREAN!

Everyone is a precious child, a valued friend, and important person 
Hey guys.  Rise up!  And walk out on the world!  Whatever they say, you can change the world! 
I am who I am.  You are who you are.  Be yourself.

I hate to study English (because Americans have a leisure time while we study their English)

I really want to unify Korea.

I want Korea to be multi-cultural.  Why don’t you come to Korea?

I want a Korea where Korean students can have “real smiles.”

I’m happy now.  I’m quite satisfied in my life.  But if I say about my anxiety, it’s my mental pressure of the future.  I’m the first son of my whole family and all of my family have a lot of expectation to me.  I think I can’t make it, though.  What should I do if I fail to be a successful man?

I’m not your puppet

I’ll make this world better place

KE (Korean Education) is HELL.  KE have so many subjects.  There is NOT a vacation.  We must escape KE.  We don’t be slaves of time.  And our time is running out now.  Give us significant teenager.  

Korea, you must be changed.  I will change you.

Korean education is unfair because many students have own talents, but Korean education don’t admit their own talents.

Life is Beautiful.  Enjoy your life!

Love Yourself!

Please give us chances to fail and overcome.


I want to be a student of Seoul National University Department of Geography, and I want to be a Geography information system expert or Geography researcher.  **Please don’t laugh at me.

Studying is not everything!  BUT studying is everything in KOREA.

Teacher can make me smart.  However, teacher can’t make me happy.

Thank God!  It’s good to be HERE!

There is something more than what you can see

We can do better when we are united.

We can do it.  Impossible is nothing.

We want to study for our own dream.  Not for jobs.  

What we learned: Give up your dreams and you’ll achieve your goals. 

I think….Korean education is something wrong.  Many Korean students try suicide and suffer from study.  Korean students study 16 hours every day.  I can’t understand this education.  We need something to change.  

(Left) You’re not alone.  (Right) I’ll be with you.