Category: Seoul

And so it begins….

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

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

A speech from Mrs. Shim, the head of Fulbright

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

Meghan and me

Jessica, Jake, and me

The Gyeongju-ites – me and Elizabeth 😉

Me, Caitlin, Marlea, and Gina

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

Outside of Seoul Grand Park with Max

The rose garden!!

Babies and flowers…what could be better??

Some performances at the Park

Strange, strange dance performances….

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

The view of the rose garden from above

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

Ki-ryong and Jae

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

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

Enjoying the yummy tacos… 🙂

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

A weekend with J&T

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

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

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

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

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

Me with Jordan and Tatiana!  Such bliss!! 🙂

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

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

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

Seoul food

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

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

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

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

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

Leora and I in our little abode!

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

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

Korean cooking class.  Check out her face.  Priceless 🙂

Look what we made!  Yummie!! 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

Closing ceremony – class friends

Me and my teachers <3

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

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

There and back again

Well my nerdy book-worm friends will recognize the title of this blog as a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” which I suppose is rather fitting considering the fact that I’ve just spent the better part of an hour downloading dozens of free literary classics onto my Kindle to keep me occupied during my numerous upcoming flights.  But other than that, there is really nothing relating to Tolkien or Middle Earth or Hobbits in this blog.  This one is about Christmastime in America :).

The trip to America was long and boring, but I would not go so far as to say grueling.  It was uneventful, and marked mostly by sitting and watching movies, but not a particularly pleasant trip, nonetheless.  I started at 2 in the morning from Gyeongju, catching a bus to the airport in Seoul.  I met a girl from California while I was waiting on my flight who was doing the same thing I was, and we got some coffee and had a nice long chat.  It was a much better way to pass the time than just sitting in a corner of the airport :).  So anyway, 1 bus, 2 planes, 3 customs and security checks, 4 airplane meals, and 27 hours later, I finally found myself in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport.  My friend Sylvain met me at the airport.  We got some airport pizza, he got a good laugh at seeing me so completely jet-lagged, we caught up for a little bit, and then I took a shuttle to Columbus, where my family was there waiting for me.  Actually, I ended up waiting for them for a little bit, but it was ok, because I got to meet lots of interesting people while I waited.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy striking up random conversations with strangers I meet in my travels.  That’s not really something I can do in Korea, as usually there is a pretty large language barrier that makes communication of any depth really impossible.

So anyway, my first week in America was marked mainly by just spending time with family and friends, punctuated by Christmas, my birthday celebration, and visits from Grandparents.  I went on a picnic with my friend Tyler, saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie with James, took daddy to see Mission Impossible, and played lots and lots of games with my siblings.  I went to a Christmas Eve Eve service at my church on the 23rd, got a hair cut and a pedicure with my mom, and went shopping with my grandmother.  Christmas day was a relaxing affair – we waited to open presents until after church, and then just hung around and visited with each other.  It was also the only day that I got to see Chris, which was a nice treat.  Mom and I hosted a tea at our house with some of her lady friends who had been wanting to meet me, which was fun – I’ve been wanting to meet them, too, and I haven’t had a real tea in years.  Then my grandparents came down to visit on the 27th, and stayed until the 30th, so I got to spend a lot of time with them, too.  That was awesome – it had been close to a year since I’d seen them.

Josh’s birthday present – Joshua 1:7 in Korean

Tyler’s Christmas present – Kimchi!!  He was so happy 🙂

My first picnic in years 🙂

She’s such a cutie pie <3

The Fenner family, all together!  Such a rarity these days…

Merry Christmas!!!

I love, love this picture!!

Spreading the Korea love….

Yay for seeing grandparents!! 🙂

Tea with the ladies! 🙂

Haha we’re silly 😀

Christmas presents from the host family 🙂

On the 30th, we packed everything up and made the long drive to Birmingham, Alabama, to spend New Year’s Eve with our friends the Roberts’.  This has been an annual tradition with our families every year for as long as I can remember – we take turns hosting each other in our respective homes, and it’s always a lot of fun.  However, I haven’t been able to be present for several years for one reason or the other – usually it’s because I’m out of the country, lol – so it was especially nice for me.  So we had lots of fun, played lots of games, watched the ball drop in New York City (and for a special treat, watched the moon pie drop in Mobile, Alabama!  Gotta love the south, lol….), went to church, and then headed back home.

Games with the Roberts’ are always super intense, lol…

Happy new year!!

Friends… <3

On the way back to Albany, my parents dropped me off in Atlanta.  So that was goodbye to my family, and hello to Atlanta.  Bittersweet for sure, but it was good to see my friends in Atlanta.  So Rachel and her fiance Ryan picked me up from my parents, and we wasted no time.  That night was spent playing putt-putt with J-Parr, and then going to Jonathan and Jessica’s house and playing games until wayyyy too late at night.

The next day, January 2nd, was the day before my 22nd birthday.  However, since my 22nd birthday was going to be spent on a plane, the 2nd was the celebration day.  I got to watch the tournament of roses parade (my favorite parade…ever!) for the first time in like 3 years.  After that came lunch with David and the Knights and then more games.  And then the evening came.  What started off as a simple dinner with friends morphed, because of my fabulous friends, into a full-blown birthday dance.  They even had a steal dance just for me.  As I was looking around the dance room at all of these dear faces, half of whom didn’t even dance, but had come just to see me, I was overwhelmed.  I felt so loved.  It was a wonderful way to wrap up my visit to the states.

They were calling me the “princess” because of what I was wearing.  I think that’s why I was making that face, lol.  But…I did win the game!! 🙂

Soon-to-be newlyweds….love those guys

Jonathan and Jessica
Me ‘n David 
Old friends from Berry <3

again….spreading the Korea love.  What can I say?  It’s infectious 🙂

My friends are silly 🙂

Yay for sisters 🙂

So, armed with my suitcases and enveloped with the wonderful new jacket that they had bought me for my birthday, Rachel and Ryan took me to the airport early the next morning.  I was fighting a cold, but I sat next to a really friendly lady on the plane who made the trip a whole lot more bearable.  When I finally arrived in Seoul, the plan was to meet Sarah and Leora and Adam and go up to Hwacheon to see the ice festival.  So I met them and they gave me a little birthday party and it was great to see them.  But by then I was REALLY sick, so instead of going north to Hwacheon, I went south to Gyeongju.  I know my limits, and that would have been just too much.

Brand-new fiancees!  And I get to be in the wedding!! <3 

So I finally got home to Gyeongju…and my host father took one look at me and hauled me off to the hospital.  Within an hour, and after much poking and prodding, I found myself with an IV needle sticking in my arm and a bagful of medicine.  Add to that extreme jet-lag, and my host mom’s constant fussing and overprotectiveness was NOT appreciated.  All I wanted to do was sleep, and that was the one thing they didn’t seem to want to let me do.  Although I must say, sleeping with a needle in your arm is most certainly not the most pleasant sensation.

Today, the next day, was mostly spent in bed, with a short foray into town to swap stories with Elizabeth.  I’m glad I got to see her – I needed to get out of the house, and I think talking with her restored a sense of normalcy and acceptance to being in Korea again, which I had been lacking since my arrival.  So yeah, that was America!  Winter camp starts in 2 days – keep me in your prayers!!  I’m super nervous about it – I’ve never done anything like this before.  I’ll have my students for more time in the span of 2 weeks than I had them for the entire semester, and I’m terrified that I will run out of material.  I guess it’ll just be another chance for God to show His bigness!! 🙂

A Seoul-ful Thanksgiving

I went to Seoul this weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving.  And yes, I know that it’s a week early, but apparently in Korea this is when they celebrate American Thanksgiving.  So off to Seoul I went, and man, what a weekend it was!!  In the span of 2 and a half days, I met the American ambassador to Korea, got a private tour through the most visited museum in Korea, talked with some guys from Uzbekistan for nearly an hour – in Korean! – went to a new church, talked to a waiter in Spanish, had a Chicago deep-dish pizza, went West Coast Swing dancing, and got my Indian visa.  Let’s start at the beginning….So Saturday morning, I headed to the bus station bright and early – and by that, I mean 10:00 in the morning.  Which admittedly is not really all that bright and early, but saying “dim and mid-morning” doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it…anyway, I digress.  The 10:10 bus was sold out, so I got a ticket for the 11:00 bus, instead.  While I sat there waiting, 2 men who were obviously foreigners came and sat down next to me.  I couldn’t tell where they from, but I could tell that it wasn’t Korea.  They kept staring at me, so finally I decided that it would be less awkward if I started talking to them.  “Where are you from?” I asked.  “Oh, no English, English very very little.”  Great.  “어느나라에서왔어요?”  (same question,  in Korean).  Well, turns out that they did speak Korean, although I don’t know how they learned it – my Korean vocabulary skills were not advanced enough to ask.  But they were advanced enough to have nearly an hour-long conversation with them about other things – augmented by frequent queries to the English-Korean dictionary on my phone.  It was hard, and most of the time I felt like and idiot – but we were still communicating.  It was fun, I really enjoyed it :).

So I finally made it to Seoul, and met up with some of my friends and went to the Thanksgiving dinner.  This was an event co-hosted by the Fulbright office, the American embassy, and the National Folk Museum of Korea – the most visited museum in all of Korea, and also our venue for the evening.  It started off with a private tour of some of the galleries – the museum was already closed, so we had the entire place all to ourselves.  It was crazy.  Other events during the course of the evening included speeches from embassy and Fulbright officials, performances by both traditional Korean folk artists and fellow ETAs, and of course, dinner!!  The performances were amazing….but I’ve got to say, the meal was probably what made me the happiest.  Turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, fruit, green bean casserole, pumpkin and apple pie, the works…I was one happy puppy :).  The only thing that was missing was my family.

National Folk Museum of Korea
Our adorable little tour guide
Traditional performers…they were sooo good
Yummy!! 🙂
ETA performances
They sang a traditional Korean folk song….or tried to, anyway 😀

Sunday morning I went to a church service with Leora.  The church, Julibee, is the largest independent English-speaking church in Korea…and it was awesome.  The worship, the sermon, the people, the building – all of it was wonderful.  I met up with my friend Dan for lunch, and we decided on a Mexican restaurant in Itaewon, the foreign district in Seoul.  The food was great, and the waiter spoke Spanish, which was even greater.  Ever since then, I’ve been listening to all of my Spanish music on repeat.  I love Spanish sooo much….I’m determined to not forget it while I’m here!!  Dinner was Chicago deep-dish pizza with Leora – they claimed to have invented the deep-dish pizza, which was a lie, but it was still good.

Leora is nothing less than adorable <3
I love my friends….
Jubilee church
Cardboard walls….so cool
Dan and I at “Los Amigos”
They said they invented the deep dish pizza….lies….

After dinner Leora had to head back to Hwacheon, but I was staying through until Monday.  So I made my way to the other side of town by myself, searching for a tiny little club in the corner of an alley.  The rumor on Facebook had it that this tiny little club had a West Coast Swing dance on Sunday nights.  So I got off at the right exit and started walking in the direction that I thought the instructions told me to go.  It soon became clear that that was NOT the actual direction I was supposed to go, and within a very short amount of time I was lost in the middle of Seoul.  I was about to turn around and just go back home, but in a last-ditch effort I asked a taxi driver to take me to the big wedding center that looked like was very close to the dance club, from what I could make out from the grainy, pixelated directions.  Well it turns out that I was right, and before I really knew what was happening I found myself in Tiffany’s Bar, watching people dance my baby, a dance that I haven’t seen in nearly 6 months.

Oh my goodness, I was in heaven.  Not only were the dancers incredible, but they were also all super friendly, and some of them spoke English, so I didn’t feel quite so alone and outsider-ish.  I finally had to tear myself away, for fear that the metro would close and leave me stranded on the opposite side of Seoul from my hostel (that would have been one EXPENSIVE taxi!).  But I had a blast.  It was definitely worth the lonely treck out there, and even the fighting off drunk people on the way back.  Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds…the metro was full of noisy drunk people on the way back, and the man sitting next to me happened to be so inebriated that he couldn’t sit up straight, and so he kept sliding and slumping over onto me.  It was uncomfortable and disconcerting, and I was certainly glad that we were in a public, well-lit place, but he got off before I did, and I didn’t have any more problems after that.

West Coast dancing….pure joy….

Monday was not quite so fun, but I suppose it was necessary evil to have fun later on.  I went to apply for my visa to India, so that I can go there during my Christmas break.  It took me a while to find the office, and I was tired and grumpy by the time I got there, but I finally made it ten minutes before my appointment.  I had a bit of a scare when my number was called – I was told that they don’t accept payment via ATM transfers, which is what I had done.  But because they had never actually said that on their website (and also, I think, God was with me), they decided to accept it in my case, and I am currently passport-less, waiting for my Indian visa to be put in and then mailed back to me :).

I finally made it back to Gyeongju late afternoon.  The rest of Monday was spent doing laundry, cleaning up, catching up on my blogs, and other sundry things like that.  But what I neglected to do is finish my lesson plan for tomorrow, so I suppose I should go do that.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!  You are loved!!!

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 🙂
Hummus…..yummm

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….. 🙂

Seoul and DMZ weekend

The capital city of Seoul is a bustling metropolis of super-sized proportions.  The city, which over 10 million people call home, seems to extend forever.  It is exciting and overwhelming, diverse and homogenous, fancy and cheap, all at the same time.  My time in Seoul this past weekend did not disappoint in any of those categories.  But I suppose I am getting ahead of myself…

We left Goesan for Seoul bright and early Friday morning, around 5:00 am in the morning.  On our way to Seoul, however, we made a detour – to the DMZ.  I’ve always thought that the DMZ  – which stands for Demilitarized Zone – is an ironic name for possibly the most militarized place in the entire modern world.  As a part of our orientation, we were allowed to go as far into the DMZ as the actual border between North and South Korea.  And let me tell you what, it was sooo tense.  There were so many rules about how we should behave, gesture, or dress, or even where we should look.  We were checked by South Korean soldiers for identification on more than one occasion.  We had a security escort for the entire duration of the tour.

The thought that these two countries at war, these two mortal enemies, the thought that they were brothers and families at one point, and in many cases still are…..it broke my heart.  War is always bad, but when it’s between families, it’s even worse.  I realize that visiting the DMZ is a privilege that very few people have been afforded, but I have to admit that I was glad to leave it at the end of the tour.

After the DMZ, we went to eat dinner with the American ambassador to South Korea, in her personal home.  At first it was supposed to be an outside pool party, but it got rained out, so it was moved inside.  Because it was moved into her home, that also meant that it was shortened, which meant that by the time we got there we only had about an hour to mingle and eat dinner.  It was a bit rushed, but I still got to eat a yummy legitimate American barbecue and talk with some really interesting embassy officials, including the ambassador.  Plus apparently her home is really famous, and it’s a very big honor to be allowed inside it, so that was cool.

After dinner, despite our super early morning, some of my friends wanted to go out that evening.  You’ve got to make the most of your time, right? 🙂  So we went out for ice cream, and then went to a 노레방 (norebang; basically a Korean karaoke) – it was my first time!!  It was so much fun.  At one point I looked around and thought to myself, “look how much fun you can have if you’re not drinking!”  It made me happy to think that we were having a ball, and not a drop of alcohol was involved.

Saturday, bright and early, I went out with a group of friends for breakfast in the morning.  After that, they went shopping at Costco (ahh, the pull of American stores in foreign countries, lol), and I made my way to the War Museum.  Technically it’s a museum on all of the wars in Korea’s history; but in reality, it’s about the Korean War.  Two floors of the three-floor museum are devoted to that war alone.  It was pretty incredible.  Considering the subject of the museum, I cannot really in good conscious say that I actually liked my visit; it was, however, very moving.  To see the sacrifice, the heroism that those men displayed – both Korean and foreign – made me realize just how detached I was from the Korean War, and how little of it I really about.  It was very eye-opening and sobering.  I think my favorite part of the museum, however,, was when I was standing in the room with busts of famous and gallant Korean soldiers.  I had stopped at a particular statue, and was reading in awe about an officer who had post-humulously been awarded the highest honor in Korea after he had thrown his body over a live grenade in order to protect his men.  An elderly Korean man came up behind me and tapped my shoulder.  In broken English, he managed to tell me that the very man whom I had just been so admiring – that man had been his captain before his death.  It was very  moving, to say the least.  And then he let me take his picture with the statue, which just made it even cooler.  
Entrance to the War Museum
Flowers decorating the bases of the plaques containing the names of the Koreans who died in the Korean War – hundreds and thousands of names.  It was very moving.

Korean soldier and his fallen captain
I had to rush out of the museum early because I had made plans to meet with some friends to go to the big shopping district in Seoul later that might.  None of us, however, are very big shoppers, so we didn’t stay very long.  We got some food, got lost a few times, I bought a pair of dress shoes because my friend informed me that the ones I was going to wear were simply not acceptable, and then we made our way back to the hotel on the subway.  I spent a lot of time on the subway this weekend 🙂

Sunday, our last day of freedom, dawned humid and rainy.  But we decided to go on an adventure anyway, and we made our way to Seoul tower, a huge tourist attraction that overlooks the entire city.  I had heard that you could get to the tower by cable car, so I looked up directions online on how to get to the cable car pick-up point.  However, because I didn’t have access to a printer, I had to simply take a picture of my computer screen with the instructions on it.  I’m sure we must have looked a sight – 5 foreigners, huddled around a little camera, trying to find their way through the backstreets of Seoul :).  But find it we did, and the ride to the top of the mountain was exciting, albeit gray and foggy.  Once we got to the top of the mountain, we decided not to pay for the ticket to the top of the tower because of the weather.  The view wouldn’t have been good, anyway.

At the base of Seoul tower
Sarah and Leora got their portraits done 🙂

But we certainly didn’t do nothing!  Instead of going to the top of the tower, we decided to go to the…..Teddy Bear Museum!!  It’s a museum about the history of South Korea, but all of the people are illustrated with teddy bears!  It was really cute, I enjoyed it alot :).

One of my favorite pictures at the Teddy bear museum.  It reminds me of what Hope was doing on our walls while we were remodeling our kitchen 🙂

After the Teddy Bear Museum, I went out with a few others to eat at, and I quote, “the best noodle restaurant…ever.”  I must say, I think that was a pretty accurate quote.  I was in absolute heaven.  I have no idea what I ate, but whatever it was, it was incredible.

One plate of heavenly goodness, coming right up!!

After noodles, I went to the English service at Onnuri church.  One of our orientation coordinators goes to that church, and so he took us with him.  It was amazing.  I have immensely enjoyed the Bible studies I have been a part of during orientation, but being in a large worship service is something that I had still been sorely missing.  The message was challenging and very timely applicable to the new life that I am about to start.  I was so glad I went.  Worshiping the Lord with a body of other believers refreshes my soul like nothing else can.

The inside of Onnuri church

I was pretty tired after all of that, but in the evening some of my friends wanted to go to Insadong, the arts district, to get some rice cakes and other desserts.  After much hesitation, I decided to go with them.  I was super tired, but hey, you only live once, right? 🙂  It was alot of fun, I’m really glad I went.  It was really nice to be able to spend one last night out with the people who have become so dear to me before we all leave for our placements.

Green tea patbingsu….yummmm 🙂

I love my friends 🙂

Monday had quite a different flavor to it.  Monday was my official graduation from Korea University – that was the school with which my orientation Korean class were affiliated.  It was a huge event.  All of our teachers were there, as well as all of the Fulbright office staff and, of course, all of the ETAs.  There were speeches, awards, and honors given.  Each class performed some kind of final presentation – some did skits, some did movies, some did K-pop dances, some did speeches, all were very good.  And after that….that was it!  We said goodbye to our teachers and left.  It was a very sad parting – certainly more than just a few tears were shed.

My whole class with our teachers after graduation

Well, that’s all of my adventures in Seoul this past weekend!  Adventures in Gyeongju will be following shortly!!