Category: students

Passion begets passion

So I’ve been learning a lot these days.  I’ve been learning about statistical analysis, international relations theory, the interplay between varying national and multinational institutions, and how to teach 250 undergraduate students about comparative American government.  I’ve been re-learning how to dance, how to navigate Atlanta, and how to cook.  I’ve been studying new languages, making new friends, and creating a new life for myself.

But the thing that I’ve noticed, more than anything, since I came to Atlanta, is this: passion begets passion.  Brilliance begets brilliance.  Talent begets talent.  I’m surrounded every day by really, really smart students from all over the world.  And, while I often feel out of my league, they also make me want to do better.  They make me want to learn more, to prove myself, to do my absolute best.  This is not true in just an academic sense.  I’m surrounded by fantastic dancers, who make me want to improve myself daily.  The people that I’ve met from all over the world – from Germany, China, Korea, Columbia, Brazil, and England, to name a few – serve as a catalyst for me to become more culturally minded and informed about global issues.  The strong Christians that I’ve encountered encourage me to daily become closer to the Lord.

I suppose that the opposite form of this statement is also true – that stagnation begets stagnation, dullness begets dullness, and mediocrity begets mediocrity.  But the great part, is that no one has to become mediocre if they don’t want to.  There’s no reason to become dull if you want to stay sharp.  There are numerous opportunities for growth all around you, if you care to take advantage of them.

The Lord has certainly put plenty of those opportunities into my new life in Atlanta.  I’m only taking 3 classes this semester, plus I’m a teaching assistant for a fourth class (250 undergrad students – I’m going to die!!), but I think that those 4 classes will keep me plenty busy this semester.  Plus, I’m getting very plugged into the dance community here in Atlanta (I’ve gone dancing 3 times in a SINGLE WEEK!  I can’t remember the last time that I’ve done that!).  Actually, I recently met a guy who’s looking for a practice partner, so we might starting doing weekly practices together to improve our dancing faster; we’ll see if that works out.  I’m excited :).  In between classes, I’ve been staying busy familiarizing myself with the campus and Atlanta, making new friends and visiting old ones, finding volunteer opportunities, and trying to improve my Korean and Spanish.  Oh yeah, and doing homework occasionally :P.  One class alone has about 500 pages of reading every week, so homework will definitely keep me hopping :).

I still miss Korea desperately.  I still miss my students so much that it hurts.  I still crave Korean food daily.  I still compare public transportation systems between Korea and America – and Korea always always always wins.  Two days ago was the first day of class at my school in Korea; that was a particularly difficult day for me.  But I have been in this place before.  With Costa Rica, Spain, France, Morocco, Cambodia….it always hurts leaving somewhere you love.  But eventually, the pain dulls, and what you’re left with is just the wonderful experiences, the incredible friends, and the better person that your time abroad made you.  I have no doubt that that will also be the case with Korea.  Until that time, however, I can be content in the knowledge that the Lord has given me a beautiful life here in Atlanta, too.  I can’t wait to see what the next two years bring!


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 😀

Bittersweet goodbyes

There have been a lot of goodbyes in my life lately.  At church, at Bible study, at school, at teachers dinners and meetings, even in neighboring cities….it’s been a very sad week for me.  But I keep reminding myself that this is really a good thing.  I’ve been in Korea for over a year now.  I’ve invested a large percentage of my life into this place.  I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve poured out my heart and life and soul into this country.  The goodbyes are bittersweet, to be sure.  But how much more tragic would it be if I had lived here for an entire year, and WASN’T sad to be leaving?  How much sadder would it be if I had spent so much time here, but hadn’t plugged into the people here at all?  If I had just considered this year a “pause” in my real life, and just spent all of my time here looking to the future, waiting until I could get back to where I was comfortable?

The goodbyes are sad, of course.  I can’t say that I’m HAPPY that I’m leaving these people and places that I’ve come to love so dearly.  But I AM happy to be so, so blessed.  I am happy to have made wonderful friends here, to have such precious experiences and memories from the past year.  I am happy that a part of my heart has been embedded into the people and culture of Korea….for the rest of my life.  And, at the same time, I am happy to be returning to America.  Because I know that I have just as many blessings waiting for me back in the states, as I have in Korea that I am leaving.

So this blog is just a collection of photos, and also a short video, of some of my favorite goodbyes this week.  Captions explaining the pictures will be below the photos.  Enjoy!

School dinner with all of my teachers and Elizabeth, the Fulbright teacher from the middle school.  She said, “I feel like I’m crashing the high school party!”  Hahaha…

Goodbye ceremony at my school.  They presented me with an engraved plaque in appreciation of my work this past year.  It’s beautiful….and weighs a TON!!  Still trying to figure out how I’ll get it home… =/ 
Me taking on the world.  My farewell speech to the teachers of the school – completely in Korean.  I so love this picture :).  It’s also great being able to compare my first speech last year, with my last speech, and note how vastly much my Korean has improved :).  

Some of my favorite class pictures from this semester 🙂

We went out for dinner to celebrate Lin’s birthday

Me and Jeong-min

Check out Lin’s reaction below when I said happy birthday to her in Chinese!  It’s only about 19 seconds, but soooo worth watching!  Priceless!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

I took a bunch of my second year students out for dinner.  After the usual chaotic confusion of deciding where to go with a big crowd, we had a really good time.  And then the waitress gave us soft drinks on the house, because she said that “it’s so beautiful to see foreign teachers spending time with their students outside of the classroom.” (Highly paraphrased, since it was all in Korean, lol)  I’m really going to miss the generosity of Koreans….

An adorable little coffee shop in Pohang

Coffee and patbingsu – the best patbingsu I’ve ever had!!  Left to right – Da-seom (Korean), Yustia (Indonesian), Zack (South African), and Alejandro (Peruvian).  I love my life 🙂
A letter from a winter camp student: “Dear Lauren, today is the last day that I can see you in Korea.  I’m sad when I knew about your leaving… 🙁  It was so sudden, but it is fortunate that I know your leaving before you really leave!!  So I can write a letter like this <3.  Did you have a nice time in Korea?  It is best if every moment is full of happiness, but I think that you may have been sad or disappointed here.  Although it is real, do not fall into sorrow, Lauren.  Because you have even more great memories!  I know!! :D
I hope you take away good memories to your hometown, and make a smile every time you think about Korea.  Also, congratulations with back to America, have a nice time with your family :).  Oh!  Don’t forget to upload to Facebook.  Haha.
I have something to tell you.  Even if I told you before, I want to tell you again.  You really are such a great teacher!!  Your class is very lively and full of energy.  And I’m always looking forward to class.  Maybe other students, too.  (I think your energy must have been passed to them!!  Lol)  I’m convinced that you will be a wonderful teacher in USA, too.  I will support you!  Fighting! <3 <3
Whenever I see you, I think you’re great.  Cuz you came alone to a strange place, and you always smiled.  Thinking about, “could I do that??”
One of my hope is going to the USA.  I’ll let you know when I go to the USA!!  I wish I could see you again :).  The time with you was special, and it will remain good memories in my heart.  Thank you and love you, Lauren!!  Good luck in everything!!!  Love, from Chae-yeon.  

Sand ‘n sun in Busan

Last weekend was so much fun!  ALMOST as good as the paragliding weekend with Sarah the week before :).  Saturday afternoon I had practice with the worship team at church, and then we all headed out for dinner together afterwards.  It was literally 5 Philippinos….and me.  It was great, I loved it :).  We had a really precious time of worship and fellowship together, and plus I always love meeting and interacting with people from different cultures.

But the “main attraction” of the weekend, as it were, was Sunday.  I went to Haeundae beach, in Busan.  There was a sand festival at the beach, and so after church I headed down there for the afternoon.  It was originally supposed to just be me and a few friends from church, but I mentioned it to a student, and so it morphed into more of an outing with students, with a few church friends along for the ride.  But it was such a blast!!

We were supposed to meet at the train station at 11:30 to catch the 11:48 train, but church ran long.  So 11:46 saw us literally sprinting from church to the train station….we made it with about a minute to spare. Quite an inauspicious start to the day….

But we finally made it to Busan and got set up on the beach with our snacks and blankets.  The rest of the afternoon was spent playing in the sand, swimming, admiring the sand art, burying people in sand, looking at the vendors who had set up their booths, and just overall having fun.  The highlight of the day for me (or at least, one of the many highlights), was when my students gave me a Korean name, 태희 (Tae-hee).  In many cultures, giving a foreigner a native name means that the people there have truly accepted you into their culture.  While I’m not positive that it’s the same way in Korea, I do know that I’ve never met a foreigner with a Korean name, and I was very honored and happy to have been given one :).

So anyway, we had KFC for dinner (my students said it was expensive, but worth it, lol), and then headed back to Gyeongju.  I felt slightly chagrined, because we didn’t get back until after 10:00, and had to buy standing seats, so everyone was really tired in school the next day….but only slightly chagrined.  As one of my students said, it was worth it :).

Alexander the Great

Little Korean cuties!!

Some of my students – from left to right, Chae-yeon, Ye-bin, Na-yeong, and Yun-hyeon.  I’m a fan… <3 :)

One of the artisans plying her trade – woodcarving!

They buried me!!  Haha 😀

The whole gang (Minus Lin and Pan, who had to leave early).  From left to right: Henly, Chae-yeon, Ye-bin, me, Yun-hyeon, Su-min, Na-yeong, and Elizabeth

School festival

My school had a festival yesterday.  They had been preparing for it for weeks, and honestly, by Thursday afternoon, I was just ready for it to be over.  It was a huge deal, including the entire school and city, and preparations for it had everyone in the office stressed and on edge.  So Friday morning, bright and early, I showed up at school….and it was mayhem.  For the first hour or so, everyone was running around getting ready.  I didn’t know how I could help, so I just tried to stay out of the way.

The first couple of hours after the festival started was pretty rough for me.  A school festival in Korea means no classes and fun things to do, so of course all of the students had grouped themselves into their little knots of friends and were walking around together enjoying the sights.  Unfortunately, though, I didn’t have any of my friends to walk around with, so it was really awkward at first.  Everyone was really friendly and said hello, but waving in the hallway and actually hanging out together with someone are definitely not the same thing.

It was only about 10:30, and I was already contemplating leaving, when a few of my students came up to me.  They looked both excited and nervous, and I could immediately tell that something was up.  Eventually I figured out that they wanted me to spend the festival with them.  I emphatically said yes, and my festival experience after that took on a decidedly different character.

We ate food, and watched a movie, and hung out in their homeroom (and got lots of surprised reactions from other students who walked in and saw me there!), and watched the student and community performances at the end of the day, and overall just had a grand time.  I got dragged into a few rooms by random students – I have no idea who they were – and was always greeted with a chorus of cheers and cries of “TEACHER!!!” or something to that effect….I think the best room was the black room.  Which was actually a black-lit dance room.  And I danced.  And they flippedddddd outttttt.  My host father was there for a little while (I’m still not sure why), and he saw me interacting with some of my students.  When we got back home that night he told me that I was “인기 장” with my students – “most popular.”

I gave my number to a few of my students while we were hanging out, and they all texted me later saying what fun they had, and how happy they were to have spent the day with me.  One of my favorites, from Na-young, said this: “Hi I am Na-young.  Today I’m vary happy with you.  I’m awkward in speaking English.  but I think I have learned so much English becouse of you.  I am vary thankful about that.  See you next class and have a good dream.  byebye ^_^”

A lot of the second graders, the ones I subbed for last week, have also started calling me teacher.  Many people whom I can only assume are students, came up to me at the festival to say hello. It’s strange to me that these girls who I don’t really know at all can be so friendly with me…but I like it :).  Some of them even introduced me to their friends from the local boys’ high school!  They were super friendly…although one of them decided that I’m his girlfriend now =/.  Still, I had fun talking with them.  Overall, a wonderful day.  Enjoy the pictures and videos!

The entrance to the English department
Getting ready…
I still can’t believe I put that thing on my head….
Bomin – the student who wrote the letter to me a few weeks ago 🙂
Me and Na-young…
It’s me!!! 🙂
They were collecting cups.  They were really excited about it, lol…
Some of the second-graders that I subbed for last week.  They’ve already started calling me teacher <3
A local boy band.  They weren’t that good, but they were BOYS!  The girls went crazyyyy 🙂
Man, these girls can DANCE!
Some local high school boys.  Mr. Brown Jacket has decided that I’m his girlfriend now…. =/

I heart my students

Yesterday, Tuesday, I wasn’t supposed to teach my vocational students.  I have 2 classes, but the first period I was giving them an oral test, and the second period another teacher was supposed to be giving them a vocab review for another test that they have coming up next week.  So after the test, they were all sitting in the room waiting for class to start, and I packed up and tried to say goodbye.My students would have nothing of it.  I was met with a chorus of “Teacher, no go!!  We want you teach us!  Teacher I love you!”  Basically, the class had unanimously decided that they wanted me to teach them instead of their regular teacher.  So I told them that I would stick around and wait to ask her when she got there….but I didn’t really think she would agree.  Well, it turns out that she was very busy, and gave the class over gladly.  So I got to teach my wonderful vocational students – they’re some of my favorites, and I was honestly really bummed that I wasn’t going to be able to teach them.  I was also pretty grateful for my propensity to be over-prepared.  I had already printed out my handouts for my next class, so I just ran down and picked them up and taught that lesson to the vocational students, too.  We had a blast together, if I do say so myself….

Fast-forward to Wednesday.  I was told about 30 minutes before the class was supposed to start that I would be subbing for 2 second-grade high school classes, whom I don’t usually teach at all.  So I rushed around getting ready, and printed out the final handouts just before class started.  The first class was a vocational D-level, which is basically the lowest English level possible.  The Korean teachers are all convinced that they don’t speak any English at all, so the teacher for whom I was subbing came up and introduced me first to the students in Korean.  But I know better.  My co-teachers said the same thing about my vocational D-level students, but I have full conversations with them.  Short ones, granted, and their syntax is completely mangled….but these students know more than their teachers – or even they themselves – give them credit for.  They just need someone to help them open up…

So when the whole class started yelling in horror when the Korean teacher started leaving after her introduction, begging their translator not to leave, I wasn’t worried.  I had been through the same thing with my regular students, and we’ve never had a problem together.  Turns out I was right.  After 50 minutes, by the end of class, they were begging me to permanently replace their regular Korean teacher.  A similar thing happened with the other class, a vocational B-level class.

It’s days like today and yesterday that make the rough classes and long days and tedious hours spent lesson-planning all worth it.

Pepero day

I would like to introduce you to the wonder, the joy, the incredible awesomeness that is….pepero day.  I mentioned in my last post that I made some pepero sticks with my host sister a few days ago, but I have yet to talk about the actual event!  I would be highly remiss in my duties as a blogger if I did not do that, so let me remedy the situation now.Pepero day, 11-11-11, was last Friday.  It’s supposed to be a day when students give pepero to teachers that they appreciate.  However, there were 2 things working against me – A) I’m the new teacher, the low man on the totem pole, as it were, and B) I had been told that pepero day wasn’t really celebrated by students in my school, so I wasn’t really expecting that much.  Most of the day went by with my assumptions being confirmed – by 3:30 or so, I had received 1 box of store-bought pepero, and that was it.  I was ok with that, no biggie.

But then it started coming.  And coming.  And coming.  By the end of the day, I had 9 boxes of store-bought pepero, and 4 bags of homemade stuff.  But the best part for me was the notes.  I got some of the best notes ever – the kind of notes that a teacher dreams of getting.  I’ve posted pictures of all of them here, but my favorite one is the one with the butterfly on the paper – she called me her favorite teacher, and thanked me for the work that I do in class.  Needless to say, I was on cloud nine, and her note is one that I will probably keep for the rest of my life.

I had so many wonderful interactions with students on Friday.  It was also dance class day, so that’s always fun.  I met a senior who asked me to help her with a French essay – I’m not sure how helpful I’ll be with that, but her English was really good, and she was bright and ambitious, and so we exchanged email addresses and hopefully we’ll be able to keep in touch.  Also, if you haven’t checked out the school blog lately, you should take a look at it!  Students have started writing, I’m showcasing some of their work, and overall it’s super exciting!!  🙂

Some of my favorite favorite students.  The girl with the red blanket wrote the butterfly note <3
This was apparently not just a note, but a “love note.”  That’s my name in Korean at the top…
For Loren teacher: Hi!  My name is …hehe Su-eun.  Today is peapearo day! (^_^) So I prepared that I give you peapearo and choco.  I hope you love
Dear Lauren ^_^,  Hello! Lauren.  It’s Bo-min Su in class 3 in the first grade.  I said hello to you several times before.  I don’t know if you remember me.  You are my favorite teacher. Your class was more helpful and much more fun!!! ^_^  Playing games with us, simple examples that you gave us really helped our understandings.  Every week, I just couldn’t wait for the A class on Friday.  I hope you also had fun with us, class A.  Then, don’t catch a cold.  Have a good winter. Many thanks for what you’ve done so far.  From, 1-3 Bo-min.
All of my Pepero day loot, minus 3 boxes that I gave away 🙂
My new high school senior friend! 🙂

Teaching victories

I’ve had some great teaching moments this past week.  One of my classes with whom I was mute the week before (because I had lost my voice) gave me a standing ovation when I walked in and started talking to them.  Yesterday, when I felt like crap, I had about half a dozen students tell me, “Teacher, today you very very beautiful!”  And the fact that these comments came from some of my lowest level girls, whose English is really rough, made their efforts to speak to me all the more meaningful.  Two days ago a student came up to me in my office of her own accord and asked me if she could eat lunch with me sometime.  So I met her and her friend for lunch yesterday in the school cafeteria, and we just sat there and talked.  It was awesome.  Today a student gave me an origami bird that she had made for me.  Multiple students have started coming up to me after class or in the hallways to ask me to correct things for them, or just to talk.  A few days ago I sat down and started eating lunch by myself, and a group of second-graders (not even my students!) came and sat down with me and started talking to me.  I guess my new habit of walking the halls in between class periods and talking to the students that I see has started to pay off… :)I’ve been doing a lesson this week on the differences between Korean and American high schools, with a side tangent about homeschooling, since that’s what I have experience with.  My students have absolutely LOVED the pictures I included.  Every single one of them, even in my worst classes, has been glued to the screen and totally engaged.  Photos of boys from the homeschool group or men in my family have been met with entire roomfuls of gasps and cheers, plus comments like “Teacher, boy very very handsome!” and the occasional “Teacher, give me friend!”.  Hahaha….  I also threw in a few Korean words during the lessons, and they absolutely flipped out.  I’m pretty sure they’re convinced that I’m fluent now.  Maybe it’ll help me with classroom management if they think that I can understand them, hehehe… 😀  I don’t know if my kids paying more attention and getting more into the lessons means that they’re getting nicer, or I’m becoming a better teacher, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.

But my biggest victory came a few nights ago.  About 2 weeks ago, I started a new blogging website for my school.  I’m the primary poster, but the idea is that it be open for students to post on, as well.  Although the page count is steadily increasing, I was getting discouraged because none of my students had written anything.  Well, last night, guess what?!?  One of my students posted a message!!  I was sooo excited!  Check out the blog – and her post – by following this link:

School is a nice contrast from my homestay.  Yesterday, I was moved from my homestay to my friend’s house, amid a flurry of last-minute phone calls and tears.  She is Korean, but since her husband is not (he’s Canadian), it’s not going to be a permanent homestay, and I’ll be moving again within the next few days.  Lots of frustration going on on the home front right now.  But my school is doing their best to resolve things quickly, and I’m confident that it will all work itself out within a few days.  I’ll keep you posted on what ends up happening.  I sure am glad that God is in control of this mess, though! 🙂


Rice cake festival, Seoul, and Hwacheon

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

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

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

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

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

My first KTX ride ever!!

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

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

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

The Petra Palace 🙂

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

Beautiful Hwacheon

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

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

Lantern festival and Hallyu Concert

What an introduction I had to Korean festivals this weekend.  Elizabeth and I left midday on Saturday for Jinju, to see the lantern festival, and it was an adventure from the start.  We were going to leave earlier, but I had a “cultural trip” with my school in the morning, so we decided to leave a bit later.  I went to a pottery maker’s place with about 70 of my students.  We made pottery and had snacks and took pictures with each other and overall had a lovely time.  It was fun :).  The girls all seemed in total shock to see Teacher outside of class, lol :D.  After we finished, a few of my co-teachers took me out to lunch, so by the time Elizabeth and I left Gyeongju for Jinju it was well after noon.

Me and my girls at the pottery place

So anyway, we got to the bus station, bought our tickets, and were all set to get on the bus as it pulled into the station.  But then we noticed that something was wrong.  The bus was there, but no one was getting off, and the people waiting to get on outside were getting into an argument with the bus driver.  Well, apparently, the Korean bus system doesn’t believe in limiting ticket sales.  Even when the seats are all filled, they keep selling them.  The next bus wasn’t coming for another 2 hours, and we didn’t want to wait, so we boarded anyway, and sat on the floor in the aisle of the bus – for 3 hours.  It was the longest bus ride of my life.  I’m all for new experiences, but that’s one that I hope to never repeat.

Once in Jinju, we realized that apparently no taxi driver in the city knew where our hotel was location.  After asking close to half a dozen drivers, and wandering around some on our own, we finally found our friend Frank, who lives in Jinju, who guided us to the hotel.  But apparently, our hotel is super anal about only letting 2 people stay in a room, and we were planning on putting 3 in the girls’ room – Sarah and Adam came down from Hwacheon and met us :).  The hotel employee actually chased us into our room when he saw three people go up the stairs and told us that we could only have 2.  Everyone was stressed and on edge at this point, so I went in and talked to the guy (who mercifully spoke English!), and explained the situation.  He finally allowed us to pay a little bit extra (about $10) to have a third person stay.  I was glad that it worked out so easily; it could have been a pretty bad situation.  So the first night I slept on the floor and Sarah and Elizabeth in the bed, and the second night Sarah elected to sleep in the tub.  Ahhh, Korea, never a dull moment.

So buses and hotels finally figured out, we at last were able to enjoy the festival.  And what a festival it was!  Unless you’ve been to the lantern festival in Jinju, you’ve never seen real lanterns before.  These lanterns tower over people, depicting enormous scenes and animals with incredible detail.  When the lights turned on during the opening ceremony I literally lost my breath.  They looked like something from another world.  The lights reflecting in the water, the floating bridges bobbing gently between the lanterns, the fireworks and sparklers punctuating the air…the entire scene was simply magical.

Some pictures from the festival….

The next day was spent just relaxing and walking around Jinju.  We looked at the booths and tents that were set up, found a grove of bamboo to hide from the sun for a while (I love bamboo!!!), ate chicken on a stick and drank green tea lattes.  After the sun set, we went back to the lanterns that were floating on the river.  We bought pre-made “wishing lanterns” and set them out on the river, singing songs from the Tangled soundtrack the whole time.  I was feeling just like Rapunzel – if you haven’t seen the movie, check out the link below to see what I’m talking about.

Me in the bamboo grove
Me setting my wishing lantern afloat

After setting our lanterns afloat, we were actually able to make our own.  We made a turtle, and named him Frederico.  Unfortunately, the lantern making booth closed at 11:00, far before we were finished, so the last 30 minutes of the creation of Frederico were a little rushed, and our poor baby was finally hung up for display leg-less and face-less :(.  But oh well, he knows we love him :).

Making Frederico 🙂
Giving Frederico a kiss 🙂

We got back from Jinju just after lunch on Monday, and I spent the afternoon watching Tangled.  A fitting ending, I think, to the Jinju lantern festival :).

Monday night was another new adventure – my first live K-pop experience!  The Hallyu Dream Concert is the biggest concert in Korea, and music lovers fly in from all over the world to see their favorite Korean pop stars perform live.  They line up to enter the stadium hours and hours before the shows starts, and decked out in their best fan attire – I’m talking balloons, signs, shirts, headbands, even full-body animal suits (I’m assuming  they were Beast fans).  It was a great concert, but I was glad to finally be home – Jinju wore me out.  I also was able to spend some time talking and watching YouTube videos with my host sister after I got back, which was nice.  I’ve been having host family issues for the past few weeks, so it was great to be able to spend some amicable time with her.  All in all, a lovely weekend – I got to see Sarah, got to be Rapunzel, got to hear some great music and see some pretty amusing costumes, and got to spend time with Elizabeth and my host sister.  Next up: Andong and the Maskdance festival!!

THRONGS of people…..I’ve never seen so many screaming teenagers at once