Category: teaching

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.  

Thank you, students

I went to Seoul last weekend for the final Fulbright shindig dinner dealio.  More on that in my next blog.  But at the meeting, there was a plethora of speeches and presentations given – some boring, some interesting; some professional, some heartwarming.  However, there was one speech in particular that really affected me.  It was called, “Thank you, teacher”, and was an interpretation of what many of our students would say to us if they could, thanking us for what we’ve done for them over this past year.  Inspired by that, I have decided to write my own version, coming from the other direction.  Here is what I could say to all of my students, if I could.  This is my thank you letter to them.

Thank you, students

Thank you, students.  
Thank you for always waving at me and saying hello to me in the hallway, 
even if you’re unbearably shy and never say anything during class time.  
It’s nice to know that you know who I am.  
Thank you, students, for giving up your precious free time during meals to spend it with me.  
Thank you for always being so willing to share anything and everything that you have, 
and for feeding me from your own plates when you think that I haven’t eaten enough.  
Thank you, students, for putting up with me as I learned how to become a teacher.  
Thank you for slogging through the bad lessons with me, 
and for clapping after the good ones.  
Thank you for coming up to me after class and apologizing for sleeping through it.  
I know that you’re tired, but I appreciate you recognizing my efforts, 
even if you were too sleepy to stay awake for it.  
Thank you, students, for coming to talk to me in between your classes.
Knowing that you went out of your way, just to spend 6 or 7 minutes talking with me, 
warms my heart more than you will ever know.
Thank you, students, for translating for me when the other English teachers were too busy to help.  
Thank you, students, for telling me about your dreams, your hopes, your worries, and your problems.  Sometimes I have a hard time doing that in my native language, 
with people that I’ve known all of my life…..
I will never forget the courage that it took for you to do that in a second language.
Thank you, students, for trusting me with your secrets.  
Thank you for telling me about your secret crushes, or forbidden boyfriends, 
or days spent playing hooky, or arguments with your family.  
You have made me feel like not just your teacher….you have made me feel like your friend.  
And that has made all the difference.  
Thank you, students, for somehow always having the energy to greet me with a hug and a smile, sometimes even with a running start, regardless of your 18 hour days at school.  
You are an inspiration to me.
Thank you, students, for reminding me to smile when I was unhappy and frustrated, 
and for calling me beautiful when I felt like crap.
Thank you, students, for also being my teachers.  
Thank you for teaching me about your language, your culture, and your lives.  
I am so much richer because of it.
Thank you, students, for showing me your special corners of Gyeongju.  
Thank you for taking me to decorate cakes, and eat dumplings, and make cupcakes, 
and take sticker pictures, and sing karaoke.  
You showed me beautiful parts of your lives, 
that I would have never seen without your willingness to share it with me.

Thank you, students, for giving up your precious days off to take me to dinner, 
or go on day trips with me to other cities.  
Those are some of my most treasured memories from my entire year.

Thank you students, for not only sharing your lives with me, 
but being willing to hear about mine.  
Thank you for asking to see pictures of my family, and asking about my life back in America, 
and talking with my friends on Skype.  
Your interest in my culture made me feel so welcome, 
and I will forever miss your excited oooohhhhhs and aaaaahhhhs 
when I tell you something interesting about my life.
Thank you students, for not forgetting about me on teacher’s day.  
The flood of little notes and cards and gifts that I got from you simply made my heart soar.
I will treasure them forever.
Thank you, students, for writing random, “just because” letters to me.  
I know that some of you spent an hour or more on each letter, 
slaving over the proper grammar and drawing cute little pictures on the finished product.  
The fact that you worked so hard for me did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Thank you, students, for teaching me how to be a better person.  
Although I am the one with the title “teacher,” 
you have taught me more than I could ever hope to teach you.  
You have taught me about generosity, kindness, love, forgiveness, patience, and a host of other things.  You have taught me how to accept and include people who are different from me.  
You have taught me how to give more to people than I ever thought possible.  
You are the reason that I survived this past year.
You are the reason that I am in love with Korea.  
You are the reason that Korea is my home.    
So, my wonderful students, as I prepare to leave Korea, let me say one last time….thank you.  
Thank you, dear students.  I will love you for the rest of my life.  

A week in their shoes

I have a new-found appreciation for what the average Korean student has to endure nearly every day of their high school careers.  Last Monday, my school participated in a “Good school 2012” festival, known as APEC.  It was a pretty big deal, with schools coming in from all over the province.  I had been volunteered to do a dance performance with some of the students at the festival.  So, since the students were only free during lunchtime and in the evenings after dinner, that’s when we had to practice.

And for 1 week and change, I lived the life of a Korean high school student.  I went to school at 7:00 or 7:30, and didn’t leave until 10:00.  I taught all of my regular classes, and then practiced dance in the evening.  Only one or two other times in my entire life have I experienced such bone-deep exhaustion.  I didn’t think such complete weariness was possible.  And I thought to myself….Korean students do this every single week for 3 solid years!  It’s truly incredible that they don’t all drop dead from exhaustion.

But we finally finished, the performance is over, and I can get some rest again!  I’ve included some pictures from the festival below.

Oh, also, in other news, I finally got my hands on the footage from the TV filming 2 weeks ago!  Here it is:  You’ll have to log in to see it, but one of my students has very graciously given me her log-in information so that you can watch the footage.  As the vast majority of my readers don’t speak any Korean, I’m not too worried about anyone using her information for nefarious purposes; please don’t prove me wrong!!  Her ID is tjr213, and her password is chaeyeon8524.  My school’s coverage starts around 38 minutes and 30 seconds.  You might have to watch it in Internet Explorer, so if it’s not working, trying switching browsers.  I can’t believe they were here all day for a 4-minute final product!!!

Some of the signs for APEC, as seen all over town….yeah, it was a big deal.

Getting ready for our dance

The stage that we performed at.  It was huge!

The massive tent and huge number of people at APEC

Our school’s booth – it was awesome! 🙂

We had a bunch of iPads set up that had pictures and videos from my school scrolling through them

Our school, Seondeok high school, was named after a famous Korean queen.  So we had a student dress up like Queen Seondeok and go around taking pictures with people.  It was cool :).  

Some random guy who asked to talk a picture with me.  I have no idea who he is, lol.

School and stuff

Yesterday was teacher’s day.  It also happened to be the day that I was suffering from a cold, migraine, nausea, and only 4 hours of sleep the night before, and I was facing a 14 hour day at school, with 7 classes to teach, plus dance practice for a performance I’m doing next week.  So the small shower of little gifts, notes, and comments from students was perfect – it was just enough to get me through the veryyyyy long day.  I had no idea how I’d make it through the day when I woke up, but thank the Lord, He gave me just enough push to make it through! 🙂  Take this note, for example, that one of my students from winter camp left on my Facebook wall: “Hi Lauren!!  happy teachers day~~ 🙂 sorry for not giving present!!! but we will give you our heart <3<3<3<3<3 And thanks to your teaching ;-) we love u <3".   Priceless... <3  Here's a few other notes below:

I feel like the little engine that could this week – I keep saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”  I’ve learned to not even think about the entire day – just focus on what’s right in front of me.  Getting through a 50-minute class is much more manageable than worrying about 7 classes, 3 lesson plans, dance practice, and 12-14 hours at school every day.  So, I focus on the immediate future, and take naps as often as possible, and I’m somehow surviving this week.  It doesn’t help that I’ve been fighting a nasty cold – it’s finally started getting better this afternoon, but the last 5 days have been truly unpleasant.  
But anyway, onto happier things!  I had an open class today (which means that anyone who wants to can come in and watch me teach).  One of the other Korean teachers came in and filmed me, so I finally got some footage of me teaching!  I’ve been wanting some for a while, but always found it really awkward to ask someone to come to my class just to record me teaching, so I’ve never gotten any footage.  But yeah, I’ve included two clips below, if you’re interested.  I was teaching how to use the “If I could ____, I would ____.” construct, by talking about high schools.  What happened after, that’s not seen in these clips, is that students created their own dream high schools, telling us what would happen if they could have a perfect high school (i.e. School would start at 1:00 pm, there would be a club for sleeping, only handsome men would be teachers, etc – yes, these are real examples from the students! :D).  Each one is about 4 minutes long, so only watch them if you really want to! 😉

High School Musicals and the like

Life’s been busy these days.  I feel like I’m always saying that…but then again, it’s always true! I had an interesting week at school last week.  I’ve always thought that the impromptu singing and dancing from the High School Musical movie franchise was totally contrived.  No one actually does that, right?  Well, I learned last week that people do, indeed, to that.

A TV station crew from KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) came to our school on Tuesday to do a feature piece.  This of course meant that the school had to do something special for the camera.  So they recorded my dance class (and interviewed me – in English and Korean!!), a few other “normal” classes, and then a bunch of the students performed a song and dance in the middle of the English lounge.  Well, I suppose it was still contrived, just like in HSM….but that doesn’t mean that people don’t do it!  It was a stressful day, full of class cancellations, additions, location changes, and the like, but in the end it was fun to watch the TV crew at work.

The students’ performance.  This doesn’t look contrived at all, right? 😉

It’s amazing the things that people will do when there’s a camera watching them.


My dance class.  Still working on getting the video footage from it….

This week will be super busy.  I’ve got to stay at school every day until almost 11:00 pm, practicing for a dance that I’m performing with some students at the beginning of next week.  I’m fighting a cold, so hopefully I’ll be able to survive!!  I had a nice calm before the storm this weekend, though.  On Friday night, I went our for dinner and ice cream with my favorite co-worker, Ye-ji.  We had a nice chat, and it was lovely to just chill out and relax.

Me ‘n Ye-ji with our mango-banana ice cream <3

Then on Sunday myself, 2 other foreign English teachers – one from Canada, one from Hong Kong -, a Korean teacher, some Chinese friends from church, and some Korean students went out for a picnic after church (we’re such an international group! ;]).  After that, we took a bus for an hour or so to the beach.  It was actually the underwater tomb of the ancient Korean King Munmu, but you can’t get to the tomb – it just looks like a bunch of rocks in the water – so I’m just calling it a beach :).  We played in the sand, and climbed the rocks, and took lots of pictures.  I have a feeling that the wind and cold temperature had something to do with the cold I have today…but I’m still just trying to focus on how much fun we had! 🙂

And that’s my life these days.  I will be very happy when this week is over.  Please pray for energy and focus and health for me!  Many updates to come in the near future!

The whole gang….

Me and Lin, with the tombs in the background 🙂

It says, “I love you”

….I have no idea.  I think that was his impression of dancing the Tango 🙂

The 72 day update

I’m not sure why, as I am not particularly looking forward to leaving Korea, but I installed a countdown app on my phone a few weeks ago, telling me exactly how many days I have left before I fly home to America.  Perhaps it’s because I wanted to be reminded not to waste the precious time that I have left.  Anyway, whatever the reason, it’s there, and since I cannot think of anything clever to call this particular blog entry, it will also have to serve as the inspiration for my title.

No reason for this picture.  It just reminded me of my sister 🙂

According to my little app, I have exactly 72 days left in Korea.  My goodness, how the time flies.  I mentioned that to my host sister yesterday, and she got all teared up.  We then had a very heartfelt conversation about family, in which my host sister started crying as she told about how lonely she was growing up, because her brothers were so much older than her, she was always in school, and her parents were always working.  “I have no memories with them,” she said on more than one occasion.  It about broke my heart….and also made me so incredibly grateful for the love of my own family. (on a side note….I met said brother this morning.  They came down from Seoul late last night to visit.  The sight of them stumbling out of their alcohol induced stupor to come out and give me a deep, solemn bow, and then go back to bed, was amusing to say the least, and it was all I could do to stifle a giggle.  Oh, Korea, there’s always some new charming little cultural oddity about you to discover….)  But anyway, back to In-suk…we’ve been having a lot of conversations like that lately.  I feel like we’ve grown really close, and I’m really going to miss her when I leave :(.

Not too much to report on the school front.  Last week was midterms, so I didn’t have school.  Rather than do more traveling, I elected to stay in town and work on my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification, as well as other sundry things that needed to get done.  Not the most glamorous way to spend a week off, but I got caught up on a lot of stuff, and that feels great, so I am happy.  I also was able to finish an astonishing SIX units in TEFL (my normal pace is 1 a week), so I’m almost done with that!  Only 3 more units and I’ll be finished for life – super psyched about that!!  There were a couple of interesting things at school recently.  Yesterday was the 63rd anniversary of my school.  There was a big presentation that included all of the students and teachers (both high school and middle school), and lots of award giving and clapping.  Apparently the English department received an award, and I was sent up to accept it, although I’m still not quite sure what it was for….welcome to my life in Korea.  Lol…

Yeah….that was me up there.  So awkward, lol…

I was chatting with one of my students from winter camp on Facebook last night.  I told her that I missed teaching her, and she told me this: “We also always talk about you, Lauren :).  Lauren’s class was everything what I remember during vacation!!!  We were very enjoyed about your class :D.”  To which I replied, “Oh that makes me so happy I almost want to cry!”  And then she said, “It’s really what I’m feeling, too!  Lauren is a really good teacher. As we (who Lauren taught English to students) know~~~~”  Needless to say, any residual grumpiness that I may have had about Korea evaporated in that moment :).

Other than that, I don’t have much to report.  I haven’t done any traveling – going on 3 months now in the same city, closing on a record for me! 😉 – although I have been making a big effort to spend time with my friends in Gyeongju.  Check out pictures from some of our escapades below.

Lin and her husband, Pan.  I guess he’s camera-shy, lol… 😉

A student from school, Jeong-min.  She comes to the English service at church, and we often hang out together on Sunday afternoons.  She’s super sweet 🙂

Recently an English teacher from school from school, Mrs. Oh, has taken an interest in befriending me.  I’m not sure why, it kind of happened out of the blue – last semester we hardly ever talked.  I have a suspicion that it’s because she thinks I’m lonely – she was very lonely during her time spent studying English in Canada, and so I imagine that she thinks I’m having a similar experience.  While I am not, I am more than happy to be her friend.  We went to a little ceramics festival and then dinner in Gyeongju a few weeks ago, and then to the Silla Millenium Park last week (a sort of cultural activity theme park), and we have plans to go out together again this weekend.  At the millenium park, she bought me a set of blown glass earrings and necklace, which are really lovely.  We also got to see a wild horseback riding performance (they were doing all sorts of crazy flips and stunts with the horses running full speed!), but my favorite part was when the security guard allowed us behind the restricted area of the set of Queen Seondeok (an epic drama about the famous Queen of Korea who, incidentally, my school is also named after) and took our picture sitting on Queen Seondeok’s throne.  It was awesome :).  And now you know almost everything happening in my life these days! 🙂

Some of my favorite pieces from the ceramics festival 

Dinner with Mrs. Oh – Japanese shabu-shabu.  Yummy!!!! 
Millenium park – love the waterfall!

The set of Queen Seondeok

Behind the scenes!  Look at us being rebels!! 🙂

God’s love

Yesterday morning started off as a truly awful day.  I would prefer not to write about it at all; but I have to give you some back story in order for you to understand what happened afterwards, which is the real point of this story.

Anyway, to make a very long and dramatic story as short as possible, most of you know that for weeks now, I’ve been working hard to finish the English newspaper at my school.  I finally finished it, proof-read and error-checked it, and sent in the final file just before heading off to Jeju for my Fulbright conference.  When I returned on Tuesday, I found that they had printed it….but not before making a few changes.  Which wouldn’t have been a problem….except they didn’t proof-read it again before submitting it to the printers.  And, amid the changes, one student’s name had accidentally been erased from the article that she wrote.  This happened to be the front page article.  It also happened to be same student who the exact same thing happened to last year.  And that student also just happened to be my host sister, In-suk.  Yeah.  The plots thickens.

I figured it would be best that In-suk find out the bad news from me, so the next day at breakfast I told her about the problem.  I didn’t really anticipate just how bad the news really was.  She started bawling.  You know the kind of crying that’s so hard that you’re gasping for air because you just can’t stop crying?  Yeah, that’s what she was doing.  So then my host mother called 3 of my co-teachers (and also left work in the middle of the day to come directly to the school and talk to them!), In-suk was still crying, and everyone at work was grumpy.  All before 8:00 in the morning.  Yeah.  Really, really really bad start to my day.

Wednesday is also my longest day anyway – I teach 6 classes, don’t leave school until 7:00, and then lead Bible study at 8:00.  Needless to say, it was a rough day.  But then when I got home, everything had changed.  My host mother greets me at the door asking how I am, apologizing for me having to deal with all of this stuff at work – she kept emphasizing those “선생님 나쁘다” (bad teachers).  Now, on a good day, I really don’t think that my co-teachers are bad; but it was really nice to have an acknowledgement of my frustration.  She even hugged me; the only other time she’s done that was when I left for America for Christmas.

Later in the evening, I tried on a new dress and showed it to them.  They were ecstatic.  They kept calling me “우리 로렌” (My Lauren), and saying how beautiful I was.  I love my host family; but even so, I’ve never felt as close to them in the entire 6 months that I’ve lived with them as I did last night.  I felt embraced, truly accepted as a member of their family.

Then, the next morning, host mama hugged me again.  My host dad, in his sincerest Korean, apologized to me for the actions of “all Korean people” (모두 한국 사람).  That was the only time throughout this entire ordeal that I teared up.  I knew that I had not wronged anyone; but neither did I feel wronged by anyone – it was just a frustrating situation – and I was not expecting an apology.  The fact that he gave one anyway really meant a lot.  And In-suk even took the time to write me a letter!  I had put a little note and present in her room when I got back the night before, knowing that she would need a pick-me-up after such a bad day, so the next morning she gave a gift in kind, and a letter.  I’ve typed the letter out below:

To: 로렌 (Lauren)
I was very surprised for you!  When I had come back home, I saw your message and present!  Thank you.  Yesterday morning was very terrible day.  But I’m sorry that I don’t know well your frustrated mind for newspaper.  Because of angry, I don’t care about your mind.  One more time I’m sorry.  And always thank you.  I proud of you because you are my family.  Forget the newspaper, and then we smile!  Please, have a good sentiment every day.  

I like your smiling.  You are pretty when you smile.  Always thank you.  Despite of your tired, consider me.  Thank you always.  I love you!  ~In-suk

“I’m proud of you because you are my family.”  One of the goals of the Fulbright program is to foster cultural ambassadorship and exchange.  But forget about learning Korean or making friends from all over the world or teaching my students the electric slide in dance class.  That sentence right there is the one pocket of ‘cultural ambassadorship’ that I am far and above the most proud of.  In-suk really and truly considers me her family.  She loves me.

I didn’t want to mention all of the frustrations of yesterday morning.  But then, I decided that it was worth it, because through telling you about them, I could then tell you just how big and wonderful my God is, how His love and grace surpass any bad stuff the world can throw at me.  He took an awful situation, and turned it into a learning experience for me, and an opportunity to grow much closer to my entire host family.  Praise the Lord! 🙂

If you want to see the infamous newspaper, I’ve uploaded pictures of it below :).

Picnics, Pizza, and Pals

I seem to have finally been cured of my previously insatiable wanderlust.  While I spent nearly every weekend last semester traveling, this semester I don’t want to go anywhere at all.  Even my upcoming trip to Jeju Island, one of the most beautiful islands in the world, I’m looking at with more than a little bit of trepidation.  After going all over Korea and southeast Asia, it seems that both my wallet and my sleep patterns have had quite enough moving for a while.

But then again, perhaps I don’t want to travel simply because I like where I am.  I’m finally finding fun hobbies and wonderful friends….and of course, I love my host family :).  My host sister came to church with me on Sunday – that was cool.  And then we made dinner in the evening for my host parents – this one was an even bigger hit than the fajitas!  We made a chicken / pepper / bean / corn / green pumpkin / whatever else I could find concoction that was really really tasty, if I do say so myself.  In between church and dinner, I went out to lunch with some people from church.  We went and got Korean pizza (have you ever had sweet potatoes on your pizza before??), and talked and laughed – mostly in Konglish, with a little bit of Chinese thrown in there, just for kicks – and overall just had a great time.  I love my friends here <3.

From Left to right: Jeong-min, Hyo-jeong (both Korean), Pan, Lin (both Chinese), and me :]

Speaking of friends, Saturday was also a lovely day with friends.  In the morning, I had Korean class with Si-yeon – she bought me lunch at this superrrrr yummy Japanese noodle place.  Then in the afternoon, I met up with my Uzbekistanian friends for a picnic – they brought the fruit, I brought the drinks and kimbap.  At the kimbap restaurant, I ran into another foreign teacher here, also named Lauren, and I invited her to come along.

So the four of us trooped out to the royal tombs to eat – it sounds morbid, but it’s really not.  They’re just big hills dotted all over the city; make for lovely walking and picnic places.  So yeah, we found a nice spot, and had a lovely afternoon picnicing….I was so excited!  It’s been years since I’ve had a picnic, and I was literally giddy, lol.  Afterwards we were going to go take sticker pictures together, but the place was closed, so instead we elected to go to a coffee shop and buy something to warm us up – it was so windy outside!!

Aziz, Stan, and Lauren², having a picnic in the park 🙂

Our photos have been forever “Koreanized” by the eternal peace sign 😀

Stan and Lauren

Stan and Lauren…again 🙂

Me ‘n Aziz

<3 <3 <3 

So that was my weekend.  Additional noteworthy highlights include playing badminton with my host family – in the house (don’t worry, we were gentle, lol), and the taxi driver who gave me a Lolli-pop and a mix CD just because, totally brightening my really crappy day.  All in all, quite a lovely 2 1/2 days.  My following week has been comparatively lovely, too – much less stressful than the previous weeks.  As I had hoped, with the projects dying down at work, so has the stress.  Four days in Jeju start in a day and a half!

My angel taxi driver.  Please note the totally tricked out dashboard and CDs glued to the ceiling.  I just had to snap a picture 🙂

Aberrations from the norm

I debated even writing a blog today, because I fear that it will be very similar to the last one.  So I will try to spice it up a bit and give you some of the juicy details (ha!) of the life of an English teacher in Gyeongju.  Are you ready?  Let’s get going!

So the last two weeks have gone mostly as I expected they would in my last blog.  I left school at 3:00 on Mondays and Fridays so that I could go to Korean class with Si-yeon for 2 hours – our brains can never handle more than that at a time :).  Tuesdays and Wednesdays I was at school until 7:00 – I have the dance class on Tuesdays, and my special culture class on Wednesdays night.  Then on Wednesdays I also had the Bible study at 8:00, and on Thursdays I was able to leave school by 5:00.  So far so good, everything’s going according to plan.  What I did not expect was just how time-consuming all of my extra projects at school would be.

It seems like I’ve been barely treading water at school for the past 2 weeks.  If I wasn’t teaching or working on lesson planning, I was making name cards or writing letters or preparing for my special clubs or working on the English newspaper.  Most things were finished only a few hours before the deadline.  It was stressful and exhausting, and I find myself now on a Thursday evening with absolutely zero energy left.  I really and truly don’t know how I’ve made it through these past few weeks.

BUT, now onto the good news.  Almost all of my extra projects at school – the passports for the culture class, the name cards, the letters, the newsletter – are finished now.  At this point, all I have to do is my normal workload – teaching and lesson planning, and I’m highly optimistic that with all of the extra time I’ll have at school, I’ll be able to get a lot of Korean studying done.

Now onto the juicy details.  Well, I don’t really have that many, but I suppose I could tell you about the aberrations from the normal busy insanity that made these past few weeks bearable! 🙂  Hmm….let’s see…last Saturday I played ultimate frisbee.  It was great to get some exercise doing something I love, and also to see a lot of the other foreigners in Gyeongju, many of which I haven’t seen in close to six months.  I went and played again last Tuesday after dance class, but that was probably a mistake – I dove too many times, and have been stiff and sore ever since then.  However, if I hadn’t gone on Tuesday, I would have never met my 2 Uzbekistanian friends, so I still consider it time well spent.  Yeah, really random story there….so one of the guys, Stan, has started coming to my dance class on Tuesday nights, because he really wants to dance.  So anyway, I ran into him and another guy, Aziz, on my way to play frisbee.  We ended up talking for a while, and then they even gave me a tour of their college campus.  They’re really cool, I enjoyed their company a lot.  I think the three of us are going to try to go to a museum or something together this weekend.

Let’s see, what else is new in my life….church has really been growing.  The congregation is about twice as big as it was when I left December.  And now that my friend Anthony is gone, I’m leading the worship, so that’s been a new experience for me.  I’m really seeing a community starting to emerge.  All of us have been thrown together from all walks of life and countries – there are people there from the Philippines, New Zealand, Peru, China, South Africa, Korea and America, just to name a few.  But we have started to bond and become friends and create a real community, a real fellowship. Many of them also go to the Wednesday night Bible study, so we’re growing even closer.  It’s really wonderful and encouraging to see and experience.

Teaching has been going alright.  My school has given me a truly awful textbook to use with my lessons this semester, and I’m finding it difficult to make interesting lessons with it.  But I’m making do, figuring out my stride all over again.  My last class today was precious – they gave me 4 letters, including one scrawled all over the board (I took a picture of it before I erased it :]), and were the most wonderful, attentive, incredible students in class.  After a frustrating and stressful day (and week!) in my other classes and work, I really needed that.  I could have kissed them all :).  Oh, I also had a conversation with one of my Korean friends from Seoul a couple of nights ago.  That was fun.  We spoke in Konglish, and laughed often at each other’s mistakes…but I was just happy to be communicating.  It’s exciting actually seeing my Korean progressing in noticeable ways :).

So yeah, that’s my life!  Hopefully I’ll have stories from the weekend to tell you, and then next weekend I’ll be going to the famous Jeju Island for a Fulbright conference, so that’s sure to be interesting!  Thanks for being such faithful readers, I love you all!  <3

Making up for lost time

Sometime last week, I woke up and realized that I only have 4 months left in this country.  For over a year now, since long before I boarded the actual plane to come here, I have been telling myself that I had plenty of time left in Korea.  That has been both my solace and my distress.  Solace, because I convinced myself that I had a nearly inexhaustible amount of days to do everything here that I wanted to do….and distress, because I had so much time left to go before I was back in America.

Now, however, I have 4 months left.  Not even half a year.  Less than 1 semester.  Four months.  And I no longer have any disillusions about the length of my stay.  Ever since that morning last week, when reality hit me, I have been going non-stop.  I was worried last year that Korea was making me lazy – because I had convinced myself that I had plenty of time, I often put things off when I could have done them right then and there.

But if Korea made me lazy last year, last year’s procrastination has made me incredibly productive this year.  I have a list a mile long of everything that I want to / have to do before I leave Korea on July 14th.  And, to get it all done, I’ve been doing them non-stop since that rude awakening I had last week.

If they turn out the way that I’m hoping they will, my weeks from now until July will look something like this….Monday is a light day at school – only 3 classes.  So I’ll spend a lot of my time writing letters to the students – in an effort to get them to open up to me earlier than they did last semester, I’m writing a hand-written letter to every one of my new 250-ish students.  Needless to say, it’s a rather time-consuming endeavor that’s taken up every second of my spare time at school so far.  After work on Monday, I have a Korean lesson with my language-exchange partner, Si-yeon, followed by ballet practice in the evenings.  I’ve always hated ballet, but it’s one of the few ways I can improve my swing dancing without actually dancing, and my love for swing has been sufficiently spurred on by my weekend with Jordan and Tatiana, that it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make :).

Tuesday is a long day.  I have 5 regular classes, with the dance class in the evening, making for a 12-hour day at school – I get there around 7:30 am, and don’t get to leave until the clock has nearly completely flipped.  On the plus side, I’m not actually teaching that whole time, so I’ll have plenty of time to study Korean or work on my TEFL certification, another thing on my list.

Wednesday is equally long – I have 4 regular classes, with another evening class.  I asked for this one, though.  I was really missing my old students (I’m teaching all new students this semester), and many of them had come up asking for me to teach one of their classes, so I volunteered to teach an extra club class for any of them who are interested.  It should be a fun class – I’m calling it “English around the world,” and each week we’re going to take a different country and talk about it – its customs, traditions, symbols, etc.  But nevertheless, it’ll still make for a very long day at school :(.  And after that, I lead a Bible study in the evening.  I have a feeling that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are going to wear me out….

Thursday is a little lighter.  Only 3 classes, so I get to leave early – 4:30 pm, thirty whole minutes, woohoo! 🙂  I have also determined to start going salsa dancing again on Thursdays – I found someone who wants to go with me, and I think we’re going to make a tradition out of it.  She went with me last week, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I hadn’t gone in a while because I hadn’t liked feeling like the outsider….but then, when I went back, everyone remembered me and welcomed me – plus I could actually talk to them a bit!  So I definitely felt much more comfortable, and I really want to try to go more often.  I just wish it didn’t start so late, ugh :(.

Also, I feel more ok with staying out late dancing this semester, because I don’t teach any classes on Friday, other than a lunch class.  So I’ll lesson plan, work on TEFL, and study the ever-present Korean language.  I also have another regular meeting set up with Si-yeon to study Korean in the afternoon.  I really want to improve over  the next 4 months!

Saturday mornings will be spent at the public library, reading English books to little kiddos.  I started today and it was a lot of fun – they’re so adorably cute!! <3  And then Sunday mornings, since my friend Anthony (who used to lead the worship service at church) is gone now, I will be leading the service.  The afternoons will most likely be filled with ultimate frisbee or softball.  And that's it!  That's my life for the next 4 months!  Any free time that I have will be spent doing TEFL, Korean, writing notes to students, freelance writing, catching up on the endless emails that I have constantly pouring in, planning Rachel's bachelorette party, finding housing for grad school in Atlanta, or spending time with my foreign and Korean friends.  I've also worked out a strict budget for myself - unless some large unforeseen expense comes up, I should be able to pay off all of my students loans, AND afford a dancing trip to Seoul once a month, by the time I leave Korea.  I'm pretty stoked about that :). I know what you’re thinking: that I’ll kill myself with all of these activities!  But never fear, even with this schedule, I only stay out late on Thursdays, so I’ll get plenty of rest.  I’m also drinking more water and exercising more, and feel great.  Honestly, although I recognize that it’s a lot to do, I’m really stoked about it.  I feel motivated and driven again, like I’m actually going somewhere.  It’s pretty exciting.  And anyway, it’s only for a few months, and then….grad school in Atlanta!  Don’t worry, I’ll survive! 🙂