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! 🙂