Category: Pohang

Homestay changes

Whew!  Where do I start??  This past week has been an absolute whirlwind.  I did have some fun cultural activities.  Art, a Fulbrighter from Pohang, came for dinner tonight.  So we found a cute little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant, and then walked around downtown some – even ran into one of my fellow Gyeongju-ites.  I went to listen to a youth orchestra on Friday night – that was cool.  They were very good, and the music was incredibly soothing to my tired soul.  After that, a bunch of foreigners got together and shot of some fireworks – I really enjoyed that.  They certainly didn’t compare to Busan, but it was still fun.  I taught my students the electric slide during dance class.  As I sat there, watching 40+ little Korean students and teachers doing the electric slide, all I could think was, “cultural ambassadorship for the win.” 😀  It was epic, lol.

Gyeongju youth orchestra choir.  I snapped a picture before they came and yelled at me 🙂
Can you say “cultural ambassadorship?” 🙂

But the biggest issue in my life this past week, by far, has been the subject of the homestay.  If you read my blog at all, you’ll know that I’ve had lots of difficulties with the host family these past few months.  Well, it all came to a head this week.  Amid a flurry of phone calls and tears from the host sister, co-teacher, and even the host mother, I was told on Wednesday that I would be moving – on Thursday.  So I rushed home that night to pack, and by Thursday evening I was in my Korean friend’s home.  However, to make an epically long story somewhat shorter, because it was not a full Korean home (her husband is Canadian) that could not be my permanent home.  So on Saturday, I moved again – into my third home of the week, and hopefully my last one of the year.  Needless to say, all I did after church on Sunday was sleep – I was so emotionally drained from everything that had happened that I didn’t have the energy to do anything.

Shi-yeon, Steve, myself, and Dryden, during the day and a half that I lived with them.

I was hesitant to get too excited about my host family.  They seem pretty cool, but then my last host family seemed pretty cool at first, too.  But gradually I think I’m being convinced that this situation will be different.  My new host sister,  Insuk, is really outgoing and talks to me a lot (when she’s not in school, lol).  Even my host parents, although they don’t speak any English, are trying really hard.

I got home today and my host parents fed me (a definite improvement from the last home) and complimented me on my Korean handwriting and told me to take lots of showers because my face is breaking out from stress (I know that means that they care, but I could do without the dermatological scrutiny, lol) and looked at pictures of my family in the states and informed me that the little ones simply must come and visit them – regardless of the price of airfare.  I feel more welcome here after just 2 days than I ever did in my old home.  I brought some famous Gyeongju bread home for them tonight, and we sat down and ate it together with banana milk and orange juice.  It was nice to spend some time with them :).  
So my mom (my real mom) said that if I’m exhausted for the next week or so, that’s a good thing, because it means my defenses have been let down and I feel like I can finally relax at home.  If she’s right, then I’m very relaxed, indeed – I’m completely, utterly exhausted.  But I’m happier and feel less stressed than I’ve been in a long time.  So that’s a good thing, I guess :).  But for now, I need to get some sleep.  I’ll have some pictures from school up soon!
My new room
This house actually has a living room, where the family can spend time together!  Super excited about that…
My favorite part of the house…a little balcony that overlooks the living room and has a window looking out over the city.  Best reading nook I’ve seen in Korea yet 🙂

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 :). 

Let’s have an adventure or two!!….or six…or seven…

Whew!  What a wild, crazy week it’s been!  The speed of life seems to have increased infinitesimally since I last wrote.  Where to begin??  Well let’s see, first of all, school this week was absolutely INSANE.  My school is in the middle of a really big change right now.  Over the summer they started construction on a new English building, in which all of the English teachers’ offices and classes will be held.  Well, it’s supposed to be finished by now – the Grand Opening ceremony is slated for September 2.  But it’s not finished yet.  So this week everyone was running around like a chicken with their head cut off, trying to get everything set up and ready for the big day.   
 And consequently, the entire English department has been in an uproar ever since I got there.  My office has moved twice.  There’s construction and welding going on in the middle of classtime.  Technicians are coming into classrooms while I’m teaching to set up the internet and such.  People are always running, always chattering away, and I never know what’s going on.  On Friday I didn’t know until 3:37 where my 3:40 class was going to be held.  Needless to say, I was seriously looking forward to the weekend by the time it finally came around.
I met up on Thursday night with another group of other English teachers.  We went out for dinner and drinks.  It was fun, I enjoyed it, but most of them are self-proclaimed heavy drinkers.  As I am not, I’m not sure how often we will end up actually hanging out in the next year.  But it was fun.  It was good to get out and meet new people and see the city.  
Friday afternoon I stayed late at school.  My last class didn’t end until 4:30, and by the time I got everything cleaned up and ready for the next week it was almost 6:00.  I was too tired to walk back (it’s almost a 40 minute walk to my house!), so I was going to take a taxi back – taxis in South Korea are super cheap; usually less than 5,000 won (around $5).  But on my way out of the school, the school owner noticed me leaving and asked where I was going.  So I told him, but to him, the idea of me taking a taxi was unthinkable, so he told me to hop in his car and he personally drove me home.  Just another way I’ve been feeling the love… 🙂
The weekend was amazing.  A perfect ending to a crazy week; it was just what I needed to unwind.  I would not change a single thing.  So there’s actually another Fulbright English teacher, Elizabeth, at the middle school that is attached to my high school, but I’ve seen almost nothing of her since we got here.  Well, on Saturday, we decided to go exploring.  The goal was to find the location of the English-speaking church service that I had heard about.  So we met at the school (the only place we both knew how to get to, lol), and just started walking.  We started off with a map to the church, but we quickly realized that that wasn’t going to be much help.  So we just kept walking.  
We walked through the historic district, and saw ancient tombs and huge temples and vast fields of flowers and street vendors and artisans.  We walked through off-the-beaten paths residential districts, the residents of which, judging from the stares we got while on our journey, very rarely – if ever – saw foreigners.  We walked through the bustling college district, grabbing kimbap (sort of a Korean sushi) and ice cream while we were there.  We crossed the river and explored the neighborhoods on the other side.  We walked through downtown Gyeongju, stumbling upon a huge outdoor market.  THAT was an experience, for sure.  The vendors and people crammed the streets so tightly that you could barely move.  Everywhere, people hawked their wares – fruits, vegetables, fish (both dead AND alive and squirming in the bowl)…you name it, it was there.  I saw one vendor selling peaches in big bowls, so I decided that I wanted to buy one for myself and Elizabeth.  So I asked for 2.  Well…it turns out that peaches are sold by the bowl, not individually.  Guess who’s teachers are getting lots of peaches this Monday!  Cultural lost in translation moment of the day….check! Korea, one, Lauren, zero :).
We ended our jaunt at Elizabeth’s house.  She lives 40 minutes away from me, and by then I was wayyy too tired to walk anymore – we had walked for about 4.5 hours.  So I took a taxi back, and told him where to go…in Korean….all by myself!!  And I didn’t just use one word, I used a whole sentence!!  It was exhilarating.  Actually, the more I hang out with foreigners here, the more encouraged I am with my Korean skills.  Most of the people I’ve met have been here at least a year, some two or more – and most of them can speak veryyy little Korean.  Some of them can’t even read the alphabet.  Granted, they all live in private apartments, and their jobs are English teachers, so they obviously don’t get much of an opportunity to practice much, but it’s still encouraging nonetheless to see how much I actually learned in just 6 short weeks of orientation.
Sunday was equally as epic.  Taking a meandering walk may not seem epic to you, but when everything is a struggle to find and ask for and understand, even the little accomplishments seem big :).  On our walk, I was also struck by how much of the city I really HAVE explored.  I’ve been feeling very isolated and lonely and lost the past week.  But as I was talking with Elizabeth and telling her what I knew of the regions of the city as we passed them, I realized that I’m really not as lost as I thought I was.  I told her about Metro, where there is a weekly poker game on Wednesday nights; dalk galbi is where many foreign English teachers congregate every Friday night for dinner; there’s the library that has a weekly English story reading program to Korean children on Saturdays, which I’m hoping to get involved in; the dance studio and Thursday night salsa club, which I still have to check out; softball or frisbee games on the University soccer fields on the weekends; free Korean language classes on Tuesday nights; the huge park that has free outdoor concerts during the summer; and of course, the English speaking church, which was the whole purpose of our walk to begin with.  Talking with Elizabeth about all of these things that I’ve found in the week that I’ve been here reminded me that I really can do this!!!  It was good to be reminded….I had almost forgotten.
But anyway, I was talking about how epic Sunday was!!  Even though we never did find the church on our walk, it turned out to not matter.  I also found a number to call to speak to someone in English for more information about the church.  I called it, and it turns out it was the cell phone of like a deacon of the church, who actually offered to pick me up and drive me to church.  So I gladly accepted, and by 10:30 Sunday morning I found myself weaving through the intimidating hallways of a huge Korean church to find the tiny English service.  The English service is super small – not even 50 people – and most of the people who attend are actually Koreans who want to practice their English.  But there were also some foreigners – mostly from South Africa, which is cool 🙂 – and everyone, Korean and foreign alike, were really nice.  It was sooo nice to be in a church again.  It was very low-key – just a guitar, keyboard, and acoustic hymns.  But it blessed me, nonetheless.  After the service, I was talking with some of the other people, trying to get to know them.  I may be an outgoing person, but since I’ve been in Gyeongju I’ve been putting myself out there FAR more than I normally would.  It’s been uncomfortable, but I feel like I need to do it now before I get stuck in a rut of isolation, so I’ve been really working overtime to meet people and get involved in the things that are important to me.  
So anyway, we were talking, and one of the girls I met, Andrea, mentioned that she was planning on going to Pohang (about a 30-minute bus ride) with her boyfriend right after church.  I had been really wanting to explore the bus system, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to do it with a guide and company, instead of having to do it by myself like I’d done so many other things.  So I timidly asked if I could tag along.  She said yes, and off to Pohang we went!  We had to take a bus to get to the main bus terminal, and then another one to Pohang.  We had lunch there, and then went to a few department stores – they had to get some things for their apartments.  After a few hours, we made our way back to Gyeongju and parted ways.  It may not have been a huge deal; but to me it was.  Getting out of the city, seeing another part of Korea, connecting with people who share my values, making a friend…it was really needed.  I didn’t really realize how needed until it happened. 
So I’ve explored, and figured out the bus system, and bought lots of peaches (!!), and most importantly, made Christian friends and found a church.  I would say this weekend has been a success.  Now off to lesson planning for tomorrow! 🙂