Thursday, December 16, 2010

Countdown Continues

This week has been an emotional roller coaster.

Monday: had a break down after being told I had 200 second grade students to assess and 15 written reports of club students to write up. (I had to do it twice). They had forgotten to tell me they wanted me to do a speaking test for second graders (which takes three weeks to administer). Instead I made up SIX different tests for each second grade class which I administered verbally and then graded 200 of the written tests by today. Awesome.
Sobbed in the bathroom for like two hours and then escaped school into the rain for an hour. No heat, food, hot water in the homestay. Sweet. Hung out with Josh after school.

Tuesday: Had my second grade classes leave in silence after administering the written test...of which they were told, Grace is making you take a written test (the week after finals and I had promised them a movie). Who can blame them. Got sam gyup sal with josh and taylor after school.

Wednesday: Packed up all my stuff. Did my laundry. Sent out emails. Went with Josh and several of his coteachers. We went out for lunch and then visited Namwon, a traditional village built around the love story of Choonhyang. It was freezing but really beautiful. We went for dinner after and then one of his coteachers helped me Christmas shop for my school. I got an idea of how my idea of Korea and my experience here might have been really different given different circumstances.

Thursday: Long day. Spent the day writing evaluations and grading tests. Had the last Thirsty Thursday with the Naju Crew. I'm going to miss them.

Friday: Found out that the new subtitle file I had gotten still doesnt sync right. Had my students shouting at me to "minus, minus" even though that slowed them down and it was already slow. Was told I should have been teaching something important since an important visitor was at the school (they only told me this at the beginning of class).

This weekend I'm meeting James and some friends in Seoul. I hope this weekend fortifies me for my last few days here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Yea Im Over it

Second class in a row that left mutinous after the pop written test. No student said goodbye.

Hot water broken again.

Today blows.

Please Take Me Home

I went on a trip, a mini vacation if you will. It was great.

I began in Jeonju and spent some quality time with Sam. We visited Hanok Village and went ice skating and had a girls night talking in the quiet of the morning and watching Eternal Sunshine late into the night.

Yoon-Chan and I went to Busan for a couple days. We built a sandcastle on the beach and lounged around in our hotel. We both got sick and took subsequent days to require and take care of each other. We visited the aquarium full of ribbon eels and umbrella jellyfish. We went to a Buddhist temple by the sea. We ate Indian and Chinese food.

One night in Gwangju spent eating wine, brie, and cheese in the motel.

One day home spent without hot water or heat and teaching the kids via kPOP.

A weekend in Seoul in the Park Hyatt pretending to be richer than we can afford. Eating delicious food, enjoying my first good nights rest in weeks.

Now back to school and life in Naju. No heat most of the time, no food almost always, and no hot water since it's back to being broken. I forgot the difference between luke warm water and icy cold water. It's a big one.

Back to school where one of my teachers sprung 170 second grader assessments on me one week before the end of the semester, the week after the students take finals. I had promised them a movie, of which I spent time finding the Korean subtitiles, making 300 copies of a worksheet with different idioms, making a powerpoint to define and translate the idioms. Instead I spent all day making a verbally administered written test that takes the whole period. The teacher didn't explain to the class. All that good will I've been cultivating...culled in an instant with the words; Grace is giving you a written test (when she promised you a movie).

Fifteen Club Student assessments to write up, also which I didn't know about.

So much for an easy fun last week.

Only one week and two days until I'm out of here.
I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Final Countdown

Sometimes I feel like this country is a giant piece of sandpaper which is gradually rubbing me down to the bone. On those days, every thing, a students snide remark, a co-teachers rude comment, the old lady that knocks you down in the street, hits harder. I walk around feeling like my nerves are on fire, like my skin is rubbed so raw that I can't understand why I'm not bleeding. I'm surprised when I look in the mirror and see that on the outside...I still look fine.

I'm lucky here in many ways. I have friends to turn to, relative privacy in my home, outlets through writing and usually, solace in teaching. However, there are moments, days, weeks, where I just feel a screaming swelling inside of me, slowly filling me up until I'm scared that if the noise ever gets out, I'll deafen everyone around me. It's scary sometimes to walk around with this much rage, this much anger. I'm worried that one day I'll pop.

One more month until I'm home. I hope I can take the wait.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is it Friday Yet?

A schedule has arrived. I now find myself knowing which classes will leave me cringing at the end and which will buoy my spirits. I look forward to Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays with the crew and save my Korean language classes for lessons on Wednesday. I know that on Monday I'll get to spend time with my host brother and that every night at 11:30 (if I don't pass out) my host sister will check in to say good night when she gets home from school.

I have only three more solid weeks of new lessons to plan before break. I have Thanksgiving and a six day vacation between me and Christmas. I have two more weekends in Seoul and a school festival to look forward to.

I have all my tickets to the US, India, Bali and hotel rooms booked and paid for.

This last weekend I went to a wodnerful jazz club in Seoul called Once in a Blue Moon. The next day I ate in a restaurant that was almost exactly the kind of quaint place (with delicious food) that I would have frequented in Ithaca. I forgot how good its possible to feel when you're not fighitng against something all the time.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dongshin Festival

Last week was the Dongshin festival at the local university. It was the closest thing to a college experience I've gotten since I left school, and that's including the two months spent living at Jungwon University. All of the students congregate on a giant field outdoors. There was a large stage set up, complete with enormous speakers and lighting, at the front of the field. All around the perimeter are tents hosted by each of the college's different majors, some of the two lines thick.

Each tent was selling makgeoli, beer, and some were even spinning homemade cotton candy. There was jewerly for sale and one of the majors, which we're assuming was Music, had a full on dance party happening. We (the Naju crew- Linda) spent most of our time in the Physical Education tent. It was one of my favorite nights in Naju so far. I think all of us really needed the chance just to relax and forget that we were supposed to be cultural ambassadors and semi-adults.

Instead we jumped up and down and giggled like teenagers when Beast, an all guy K-pop group whose members went to Dongshin University, took the stage. We oohed and ahhed at the fireworks display come 4 months after our own missed Fourth of July, and made hurried trips to the bathroom, whooping as we ran through the cold.

All in All, victorious night.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Calm After the Storm?

So things were not great for a while. Meaning I woke up basically to the litany of F*** F*** F*** and sang the chorus all day until drifting off into the expletive lullaby at night.

However, in the last couple days things have started taking a turn for the better. I've accepted the 15 hour online English teacher class. I've wrapped my head around the 30 lesson plans for my Winter Break Class (less now because a friend has offered to teach 2 days--> I LOVE him) and I now have HEAT in my bedroom and no longer have to sleep in two sweaters, a hat, and watch my breath float in train sized clouds away from my mouth.

Walking away from my school yesterday, at a beautiful 3:30pm (much different than 5pm), I was able to appreciate the literal ducks lined up in a row on the bank of the sludgy river by my school. I could laugh at the little boys riding their bicycles, each one totally decked out in catalogue worthy outfits (leather jackets included), and calling out Korean taunts at the slow one in the back of the line. I now can successfully navigate out tiny Naju shinae (downtown) and was able to yell at the taxi driver enough that he drove me to my house through the directions I knew (it only took a ten minute wrong turn).

Maybe things are on an upswing? It's less than two months until I go home. I'm looking forward to it so much. Less than two months until I can sit in a warmth bath and bath in the english language and eat a tuna melt in Blairstown's own scrappy little diner. I think I can manage the 7 weeks (30 lessons) until then.

Tonight I have the Dongshin Festival to look forward to. Imagine a bunch of tailgating Korean adolescents with tents according to their college major, selling makgeoli (rice liquor) and beer. Beast, a famous Korean singer, is performing tonight and I'm planning on living up Thirsty Thursday with the Naju Crew before going back to my heated room and getting ready for another day by indulging in my stash of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Monday, October 18, 2010

OH Yeah, I'm in Korea

I've recently been traveling all over Korea. Thank god for midterm exams and school camping trips. However, much to my surprise, this trip has not been simply the carthartic break I was expecting.

After my classes on Monday, I hopped a bus to Busan, which quickly became one of my favorite Korean cities. The second biggest city in South Korea, Busan is located on the east coast towards the southern part of the country. I was hailed to Busan by the week long film festival. For a week, the biggest movie theaters in the city dedicate themselves to the showing of Korean and foreign films. The tickets can be purchased either in advance (over the internet or phone I believe)) or the day of the movies in person. Each ticket is an unbeatable five dollars. Five bucks buys you an assigned seat in some of the most moving and momentous movies of this year and the past. On Tuesday, I had one of my most wonderful days since arriving in Korea. Clint and I woke up early to purchase tickets. We had breakfast in a local coffee shop with two other friends and then promptly headed out to the beach, where I collected seashells while walking in water whose temperature rivaled that of Jersey waves in the height of summer. After the beach, Clint went back to the motel (haeinsa style--> sleeping on mats on the floor) to shower and I went off to buy new jeans. **fun fact- korean stores will hem your jeans for you in about thirty minutes right there in the store for free or for the nominal price of less than 2$.

We spent the rest of the day watching foreign films: Red Eagle: Thai Action film (we saw the main actor outside of the theater after the movie.
Rondo: German film set during the Holucaust about the relationship between a boy and his grandfather and the idea of the dead being restored to you and the idea of faith
State of Violence: South African film set in Johannesburg about the idea of revenge.

Finished up the night in the same coffee shop we started it in.

Wednesday found me in Jeonju. Had a picnic in the lotus garden with Yoon-Chan. **Fun Fact two: music comes out of unseen speakers and the fountains put on a show in time to the music.

Thursday I was back in Naju for a bit due to a lost cell phone.

Friday back to Kwangju where we went to a Jazz club that night.

Saturday--> off to Jeju, one of the most beautiful islands off the coast of South Korea. Stayed with my friend Shreya and her lovely host family and visited a beach and some beautiful waterfalls.

The traveling was amazing, but this was also some of my first time to come up for air since this whole Korea adventure started. I had more instances of forgetting I was actually in Korea than I could count during the last week...and I'm sad to say that the experience was a little relieving. Sometimes I was sad to come back to reality. It's strange this sense of limbo I feel here. I behave in ways I wouldn't in the states because I feel no allegiance to my life here or to the culture (weighed down by seven bags, standing by the gargage can, systematically squeezing ketchup into my mouth from the package while popping fries one by one). Even the way I dress and put myself together reflects my nonchalance within the Korean culture. I know it's only for a year, I've decided not to hold myself accountable by Korean standards (almost in defiance of the wide-held perception that my countenance marks me as Korean and therefore I should conform) and thus I stand apart, secure within a bubble of my own self-assured Americaness.

I've spent such a long time simply trying to get through that I haven't had much time for reflection or to take stock of where I've actually gotten in these last three months. Although there are certainly things I'm proud of; learning a modicrum of Korean language, the ability to scream a taxi into submission and make it to my host family's front door, being a part of a Glee club with students from the local University, there's still so much I have yet to do.

I sent in the first probing emails in the search for my family today. Sometimes, its easy to forget that that's the real reason why I'm here in the first place. However, with every big purchase I justify (sheets because after all I am LIVING here for a year), it becomes harder to ignore the fact that no matter how displaced I feel, this is both my life and my reality for the next 9 months. I think I need to start living it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

This Morning there was a Slug in the Tub

It finally smells like Fall here. It's continuously windbreaker weather (although it warms up in the afternoon) and my mind is full of images of hayrides and pumpkin carving and gourds and apple cider and jumping in giant piles of crunchy leaves. I think I would give my ride arm to cook smores by a giant bonfire and then walk around for days after in a sweat shirt smelling of campout's.

It's going on the third consecutive week that our house has been without warm water. Love me some military freezing cold showers in the morning. This morning I made friends with a slug in our bathtub. Sweet. Also, the internet is out at home...which helps with my writing since I don't have the options of immersing myself in trashy TV shows.

There's finally beginning to be a schedule to my weeks.
Wake up: 6am.
School: 7:30-5.
After school on Tuesday: Glee Club
Wednesday: Korean Classes
Thursday: Thirsty (Getting Crunk with the Naju Crew)
Friday: Usually busting out of Naju.

This weekend we discovered a new part of Kwangju while riding the 160 bus straight from our houses. We can arrive at the huge Lotte department store (second floor has a guy that speaks great English at the top of the elevator) and then walk five minutes to the HUGE downtown shopping area complete with Coldstone, Pizza Hut, Outback Steak House, and coffee shops galore (although a couple were definitely fronts for prostitution rings.)

It's nice to know civilization is only a 30 minute hop and fifty minute bus ride away ;)
And I got newsheets that don't have unidentified stains on them...slowly the nest building continues.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Just Around the River Bend

It's been almost three months since I first came to Korea...and there's 9 more to go.

It's strange to think how fast time has gone, is going right now, and yet when I look ahead to another 7 months minimum of doing what I'm doing...sometimes it does look a little bleak.

I continue to truly enjoy teaching; however, at times I wonder how effective I am as an English teacher. I know a lot of our role is to merely be an English cheerleader; you can only lead a student so far in a direction they don't want to go. Part of getting through the day sometimes is learning not to care so obscenely much about what happens inside the classroom, but at times the apathy itself makes me sad. Also it's hard hard HARD HARD HARD not to compare sometimes. There was so much I wanted for this year that the circumstances of my school make it difficult to make happen.

My host family is still incredible. They are kind and caring and truly go out of their way for me. Sometimes I wish we had more opportunities to bond through activities; my mom is often busy with church, housework, or teaching, my sister is always in school, and my brother cannot be peeled away from the computer screen (my hands have developed temporary carpal tunnel from two player games). I worry that there's a glass ceiling on how deeply our relationships can truly develop with both the language and cultural barrier in place. Maybe only time will tell?

Socially, the people in my life are a saving grace. They help me stay sane and keep me tethered to a world in which I can still see myself as culturally, socially, adept and independent. It's an identity that after being relegated to practically infant status (not understanding speech or being able to communicate), being unable to do things for yourself, etc etc that it can be easy to feel slipping.

I have an eight day break coming from the 12-20 due to school exams and a school camping trip. I'm not sure what I have planned yet...but I'm thinking maybe it should be really drastic? Shaving my head or journeying to Japan for a week or another tattoo or backpacking around Korea...something to shake off the doldrums.

Along those lines, I've begun to plan for my winter break: beginning December 23 and lasting until March 1st. Within that time, I'm fitting in a two week trip to the US, a week in Bali and India each, and maybe a three week language class in Seoul.

Maybe I'll spend my time living for tomorrow...but I can't help wishing I cared a little more about today.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I like Jane Austen and Red Wine

Today I started piecing together the room that will be my home for the next eleven months. On my daily trip to Dunkin Donuts (I'm so close to the free drink I can almost taste it) I purchased a holographic wolf poster from a vendor on the sidewalk for the American equivalent of $1.50. After taping it to the wall, I realized that this room suddenly doesn't feel foreign anymore; the 16 hour plane ride, not so apparent.

As I said while talking to a friend tonight, it's through the small idionsyncracies of a place, a person, an environment that one is eventually able to take ownership of and internalize. Along those lines, I'm slowly building up my sense of home at my homestay. It's contained in the smell of dwenchanchegae as I walk to my house, the 5 am wake up call from our dog, the way we have hundreds of crates of pears in our garage (straight from the pear farm my family owns).

Home is wrapped up in the obscenely loud rainbow colored clock hanging on my speckled bedroom wall and the large oriental cabinet behind my bed, where I occasionally hang my bathing suits (that's right kids, offending ancestors and traditional sentiment everywhere.)

At school, I've yet to find my perfect stride. Some days I stumble a bit, and yet it feels good to walk into the classroom, when I know my toughest challenges to date have been outside of it's walls.

Really, the thing I feel most blessed about has been the people in my life, either those whose words and advice and general conversation have followed me here through emails and texts and packages, or the new family I've begun to create within the Fulbright network. I've come a long way from fearing that there was no one I would truly connect with within our 73 person group.

What I'm looking forward to in the future:
-getting paid for the first time on Friday
-Chusuk: Korean Thanksgiving next week with the homestay family
-Oct. 1-4 First ETA Conference in Gyeongju
-Beginning a Glee (English) club at our local university in Naju
-Winter Break perhaps in India and Bali

...but mostly that free coolatta.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Intro: The Storming Period

Well, the honeymoon is officially over. I have exited out of the "Wow, I'm in Korea; it sure is neat!" phase and entered into the, "Man I'm craving a tuna melt and my own bed" phase.

This last week has been difficult for a multitude of reasons...all of which I feel it might be prudent not to post within the context of a blog. However, I'm slowly settling into both the routines and schedule of what will be my life in Korea for the next year.

Every morning, I wake up at 6 and walk over to the main house to take a military shower (shutting off the water while soaping up). I get dressed in the bathroom and slog back over to my room, where I put on my face and attempt to pump myself up by blasting the Music of the Day.

Drive to school around 7:20-7:30 with the host family and then get together my stuff for the first lesson plan of the day. One thing I have to say- between the hour walk home and the school cafeteria food, and my persisting ineptitude with chopsticks, Korea is the best diet plan ever.

Every day is at least four classes- usually the last and first ones of the day. After school sometimes I grab a burger with the rest of the Naju crew and sometimes I just come straight home. Truth be told, I'm exhausted by the time I fall into my bed.

I spend some quality time with the family; soon to be transferred to an hour of English tutoring for me every night.

I find myself living for the weekends here. I'm not sure if it's because it's the only glimpse I have of the freedom and independence (both socially and emotionally) that used to characterize my life, or whether it's just a much needed escape from having to be "on" all the time, into the much missed arms of friends that have already begun to feel like family.

There's really nothing that bonds you quite like either a 7 day trip into the wilderness or a year together as foreigners in a country where whatever you're doing, it's probably wrong.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Things that are different at Korean Schools (ironic because my second LP is about American High Schools)--> at least in my own experience
  • Students stay at school until 10 at the earliest in high school and sometimes as late as 11:30
  • Students are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the school
  • Toilet paper is thrown out instead of flushed
  • It's completely normal to brush your teeth during the day
  • You come to school whether or not you are sick (there are no excused absences)
  • For the death of a parent, spouse, child, you get less than a week off work
  • It's legal to punish students physically
  • Students do not drive until they are out of high school
  • Students either get a ride or walk to school
  • Students address teachers by their title, not their name
  • Bowing/Insa in the hallways
  • Group discussion is nonexistent
  • There are not many clubs and extracurriculars are nonexistent because there is no time
  • It is uncommon for students in different grades to mix or be friends
  • Boys and girls do not mix (this is also true of teacher dinners)

Something I noticed today: the Korean Anthropologie site has American Models, the US site uses Asian Models...everyone loves the exotic.

Monday, August 23, 2010

In the Naj--> Teaching my First Classes

I've been to my school three times now!

Yesterday I very unsuccessfully introduced myself to all the teachers before quickly reverting to English. We have a teachers meeting every Monday for an hour and a half. It's all in Korean. However, I now know where the coffee pot is in the gyomoshil so it shouldnt be a problem!

I spent yesterday formulating my lesson plan. Basically it's the most narcissistic thing I've ever a resume but with pictures. It's an hour of Grace time. However, I did get a little nostalgic while collecting pictures from the last 8 years...It made me miss everyone a lot.

After school (how high school are we), I met up with the Naju Crew at our old standby, Dunkin Donuts. We chilled for a while and then went to the Moonbangoo (stationary store). Oh the life and times in Naju. Afterwards I spent over an hour and a half trying to find my way home. It all ended with me being rescued against my will by three old men who didn't speak any English and my 13 year old host brother who had to walk for twenty minutes trying to track me down and bring me home...I gave him Godiva chocolates that night. I'm not above buying affection withn food.

Today I had my first lessons!

The first on was an all girls class and went really well. I had my students filled out a survey and many of them said the class was really fun and that they liked me. The second class was co ed (meaning there were fiveboys out of 27 students). The boys mostly sat by themselves and there was a much less comfortable feel to this class; a lot of the students were very shy. I still have one more class to go and I'm praying I end it on a high note.

At some point this week my principal and co-teacher are coming to my homestay for dinner. I'm a little nervous about the burden this may be on my homestay family and the fact that I don't know any Korean, a fact emphasized on my hour and a half sojourn into the abyss of unilingualism. This weekend the Naju Crew plus a few are going to travel to Gwangju to sample the sights and tastes of Korean civilization...namely Outback Steakhouse, wine, and American movies.

Friday, August 20, 2010

And the Not as Awesome

Okay so far things have been pretty amazing. While, they continue to be mostly positive, I'm allowing myself one post for the less than awesome.

The water here is brown. I'm talking brown brown, like I thought it was iced tea the first time they served it brown. Apparently it's because the water out in the Naju countryside has to be boiled first so that it's drinkable. Also they need to put iodine tablets in it. Delicious.

Also I'm pretty sure that when its very hot out my grandmother just sleeps naked in our living room. And by pretty sure, I mean that on my way to the bathroom last night I almost tripped over a very naked halmonee.

The common response when people here find out I'm adopted seems to be, "WHY?" I feel that this must be amusing to them when I try to answer in my limited Korean. It sounds a lot like, "agee (baby), ohMA (mom), upsighYO (not have), and a lot of smiling on my part and grunting on theirs.

Today, my host sister (who I love), and I went to town. We traveled from our house to my host school. All together the trip looks something like this. Walk for 15-20 minutes in the 100 degree weather. Start to get a migraine. Load into the bus with a card I don't have and am still not sure how to obtain. (My sister paid). Get off the bus at the edge of town. Make forty two left and right turns for approximately another twenty minutes. Climb two flights of stairs and arrive at my school a hot mess. Enter the school and find out I have no appropriate footwear. Borrow footwear which is size Godzilla. Walk around school to a constant litany of Korean, none of which I understand. Have middle school awkwardness flashbacks.

Then walk straight along the river. Nearly pass out from heat exhaustion. Catch a different bus back to the general area of my house and gear up for another twenty minute walk. Sweet.

I love my family an absurd amount but the mom works often and my sister is in school. I think it might be more of a homebody family. When I asked my host sister what she does on the weekends she Sleep?

There is (as of my current knowledge), one coffee shop in Naju which is located behind the hospital outside of town. There are a couple bars which are in front of these apartment complexes, also outside of town. I love having my own space but sometimes I wish I was a part of the household so I wouldn't feel as guilty leaving the house to spend time in my room.

Okay hopefully this will be the last slightly negative post. I'm off to practice Korean (or more likely watch American TV shows.)

Last Night I VideoChatted with a Future and Past Student with No Pants On


was rough. There's really no other way to describe. From the moment I woke up, muscles protesting as they complained about being put through their paces for the first time in weeks through the amazing race, to the moment I hit my head against the present my co-teacher handed me and then proceeded to drop it and trip, I keep on repeating the song "Where is My Mind". Very a la Garden State.

However, things started looking up after I inhaled the delicious spread at lunch...It reminded me of the times in high school when the trustees came and all the students had to walk around pretending they had lobster for lunch everyday. MY hands were still shaking so that I looked even more inept at using chopsticks than usual, but i was glad to discover that my host teacher is a kind and verbose woman who is more than competent in English.

I knew I was in for an awesome day when Jim, Josh, Taylor and I, were gifted both beer and snack food for the duration of our trip to Naju. The bus, a privately chartered luxury affair, was equipped with AC and a huge flat screen TV. We stopped in a restaurant known for their Kalbi on the way to our homestays and we parted ways and I stepped into the arms of a loving and wonderful host mother.

My family lives twenty minutes up the road to no where. However, there are perks to being out in the boonies. First of all, it is creepily similar to my home. Second of all, they live in a house and not an apartment. Third of all, I live in a separate structure with a bathroom and room to myself where they recently installed air conditioning and internet. Score. My room may be the biggest one out of all the rooms even in the house...

My parents are both artists. My host mother teaches art at a local university and my host father is gone for a year teaching near Seoul. My host sister is wonderful. She's basically fluent and she's one of my students at school. She's 17 and we bonded over mutual likes etc. The only downside is that shes at school until 10 pm every night...My hsot brother is also amazing. We already make fun of each other and have a good time being mutually frustrated over our inability to communicate. He has a scary knowledge of American movie stars and today he had me quiz him on Harry Potter trivia for around a half hour.


I awoke to a breakfast of cereal and yogurt. One thing it takes a little getting used to here is that all the water has to be boiled before you can drink it. That, and the fact that the water is brown because they put iodine tablets in it.

For lunch I ate pizza and sphaghetti that was strangely sweet. AND finally for dinner I did it up Korean style and ate kimchi and ham and curry and fish bulgoki...little fish that have faces. Generally I make a habit of never eating anything that can smile at me...but I guess when in Korea.

I successfully walked into town today to get the basic necessities, unpacked my room, gifted my host family with extremely badly wrapped presents, and sat through conversations where the only words I could pick out were gehriGO (and) and neh (yes). However, all that being said, I feel so amazingly lucky to be here in Korea and to have been gifted with such a wonderful family. I can already see that the biggest challenge will be to not let my relationship with my host family completely consume me whilst in Korea.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I heard the quote once that the "best and worst trait of humanity is their unflappable ability to adapt." Recently I've been taken aback by how even the most obscene situations are eventually normalized.

When telling friends back home about my weekend, indeed about this entire experience, I'm jolted into realizing how extraordinary this year has truly been. However, on a day to day basis, this is merely my life, complete with all the typical ups and downs that make it reality and not a made for TV movie.

This weekend we left at the crack of dawn from Jungwon University. We checked into our hotel, a Best Western in Seoul. That night we went to the US Ambassadors house for a reception and pool party. Yes, I swam in the US Ambassador's pool. It was awesome.

That night I went out with a couple people to a small bar in the wall on a random street in Seoul. A friend of mine continuously commented that he expected Seoul to be full of skyscrapers and hovercrafts. I'm sad to report that there were neither. However, in general I found it a much less imposing city than NYC. Although there is definitely a surplus of people, the streets are wider, the buildings shorter, and the subway cleaner than many of the other metropolises I've stayed within.

The next day we were given a private tour of the DMZ. At one point during the tour I was actually standing in North Korea; a building both North and South Korea use for tours straddles the two countries. I was awed and impressed by the gravity of the separation; the North Korean guard stood a mere 100 meters away (nicknamed Bob by our American soldier tour guide.) However, a lot of the other parts of the DMZ seemed to undermine the somberness of the location. There was a gift store where you could purchase North American goods, a museum and propaganda video where goats were touted as the "great living fossil" and the DMZ was said to be a nature preserve and a symbol of everlasting peace, and giant cartoonish figures of a South Korean solider. There were also big letters of the DMZ for photo opportunities. We got to walk all the way down one of the four tunnels that was created during the Korean War. However, I think many of us were more impressed by the blatant capitalization on commercialism by providing overpriced snacks and bottles of water at the top of the tunnel.

Saturday night found me and several friends at Chunnyun, a famous Jazz Club in Seoul. We sat in the upstairs area, drinking overpriced cocktails and watching as the rain beat down outside the two sides glass walls. Through one of the walls, a Charlie Chaplin movie was being projected on a nearby building, and living music serenaded us throughout the night.

The next day, Sunday, I navigated the subway system (ridiculously clean and efficient compared to those back home), with a friend to have a nutritious lunch of Pizza Hut and go see the American movie Salt. That night I ordered room service and happily ate a late dinner of a burger and french fries. Yea American day.

On Monday, my six weeks of Korean class officially came to a close. At Seoul University, we performed skits showcasing our Korean linguistic skills, and were presented graduation certificates by Mrs. Shim (the director of Fulbright Korea) and the President of Seoul University.

On Thursday I will be leaving my social support network and Jungwon University, and travelling to Naju. My host mom is a lecturer, my host dad, a businessman. I have an 18 year old host sister and a 6 year old host brother. I live in the same neighborhood as a friend from the program and I'm a 10 minute walk and 15 mnute bus ride from my school. I have a female co-teacher and I'm teaching grades 1 and 2 (out of 3) in high school. There's still so much here I feel like I want to hold on to...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The latest and greatest

The latest and greatest to date:

I've seen Inception twice now in theaters. It's beyond phenomenol. If you havent seen it yet, stop reading this and go see it immediately.

Yesterday we were given our placements for school in Korea. I will be in Naju, whose bird is the dove, and is famous for their fat Naju pears. There is a pear museum and a pear festival. Naju is located in the South western part of South Korea. It's about 5-6 hours from Seoul in the Shellenando (sp.) province. The closest big cities are Mokpo and Gwangju, both of which are a half hour to an hour away. The bus station in Gwangju is enormous and consists of shops and an iMAX theater.

Naju is a smaller city haha of 100,000 people. Gwangju has about 1.4 million in comparison. I'll be teaching at Naju high school, a co-ed school with about 483 students, around 160 in each grade. I'm excited to teach co-ed and even though I've had more experience with middle schoolers, I think I may be better suited to teaching high school.

Suddenly everything has become more real. I can envision what my life will be like for the next year; although big gaps, such as my homestay family, still remain. In Naju, there are three other ETAs, all guys. My friend Josh wanted to called as the Naju Namjas (guys), but I objected and now we're the Naju Crew. More than seven other ETAs are also nearby in the closest cities and we're a mere 5 hour ferry ride from Jeju (the island). The KTS, the fast paced train, will take us to Seoul from Gwangju in about three hours.

All in all I'm excited for the next year. There are friends of mine who were placed all over Korea, and while thats a little dissapointing, it does give me more of a reason to travel and see the country. As of yet, I haven't looked at my adoption papers to figure out exactly how far I am from the place I was born...but I will soon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sometimes I'm not Unified

IN Korean class we're learning the past tense and how to tell time and go shopping.

I went to hometime with the Camp Fulbright students and it was so great to see them outside of their traditional classroom setting; it was even better to be in the classroom and not be the one teaching and getting evaluated haha.

Last Friday was my second lesson for Camp Fulbright. After the first, I understood a lot more that structure was necessary in the classroom. The students were much more engaged and I had a better time getting them to interact. I taught a lesson on Slang and Interjections. Awesome!

This weekend I'm trying to decide between a trip out of town, a camping trip (which in Korea means sleeping in cabins), and doing archery on Saturday. Hopefully I'll get things figured out soon because the last thing I want is to get stuck at the University alone.

Socially things are going really well; I've started to find the people I really got along with here. We find out about our placements for our schools on August 4rth and I think we're all counting down the days. We won't know about our homestays though until a couple days before we leave Jungwon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Weekend Retreat at a Buddhist Temple

81,000 wooden slabs with the teachings of Buddha
3,000 meters high when stacked (taller than the tallest mountain in Korea)
16 years
1,000,000 volunteers
3 bows after every letter was carved

HAEINSA. This is one of 9 world heritage sites in South Korea. A buddhist temple set high in the mountains, it's a placed pervaded by both peace and a feeling of sanctuary. We set out Friday morning on two jam packed buses for a 2 and a half hour car ride to this majestic place.

While at our Hotel, the Gayasan Tourist Hotel, we slept on the floor on futon pallets (8 people in my room). We watched American movies dubbed in Korean and played epic games of 20 person Mafia. We walked through a torrential downpour to view the temple itself and listened to a speech by the highest ranking monk. Back at the Hotel, we overwhelmed the bar with orders of pina coladas and singapore slings and enjoyed their hot springs and saunas.

I think this was exactly what we all needed after two intensive weeks of cultural and social adjustment. This next week marks the beginning of Camp Fulbright, a time when 100 Korean students, ages 8-15, journey to Jungwon where they take intensive English classes. Each ETA teaches three lessons. My first lesson is tomorrow on Geography of the Body ;)

Tomorrow is ALSO our second Korean language test. We've all been studying frantically. Even though I can now ask, "What is your job? Where are you from? Where are you going?" and know the words for "bathroom, pencil case, studying, and America, I still have a long way to go.

I miss everyone back home...but I'm having an amazing time. Pictures to come...

Monday, July 12, 2010

One week down, 58 to go!

This has without a doubt been the longest week of my life.

Constants from the week:

  • The answer to every question is, "It depends."

  • After a year in Korea you will not be fluent in Korean and will largely have lost your ability to speak English

  • Kimchi

  • Name Tags

  • Getting lost at least once a day

That all being said, I'm having an amazing time. I've slowly but surely been building up friendships in a turtle-race like consistency. We had our first Korean Language quiz together. I think I probably failed, but I'm already looking forward to the free snacks provided in the mandatory study hours.

Today was also our first Taekwondo meeting! We learned the history of Taekwondo and watched youtube videos of men fighting and bursts of flame. I'm wondering what belt I have to get to for that to happen! Tae stands for foot, step, or step on. Kwon is fist and Do is the art of. Together it combines to produce something better, captain planet style, in, as my master puts it, the art of learning the right way of using every part of your body.

I journeyed into Goesan alone today in search of a white T-shirt to wear under our Taekwondo outfit to protect our modesty. After entering a couple clothing stores and realizing that they had nothing in my size, I finally found a store selling white T-shirts. It was then that the absence of speaking Korean truly caught up to me. For a solid twenty minutes I stood in the store using my nonexistent Korean to throw out words like, I am American, Sorry, and Four (the number of T-shirts I needed.) In the meantime the women in the store looked at me quizically, continued to speak in Korean, and one made her dog bark at me every once and again for good measure.

Until next time, I'm Grace Huntley and I enjoy long sojourns in Goesan's Hot Springs, building up my kimchi tolerance, and naps on the marble bleachers at Jungwon University. ;)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day Three

Our days here feel ridiculously long. A large part of that is probably the fact that the time difference (13 hours ahead from the East Coast) has me waking up at 3 every morning here. Yesterday we had our English placement test. It consisted of a blank sheet of paper that said to write a biography of yourself in Korean. I and many of my fellow teachers to be, turned it in blank.

We toured the town of Goesan yesterday doing a photo scavenger hunt, which included things such as taking a picture eating squid snacks. Late last night, I went back to town (the hundred percent humidity makes everyone look their most attractive ;)) and some of the Korean students at Jungwon took a bunch of us to noriban- Korean Karaoke. We all (twenty-thirty of us) filed into a big wooden room with neon lights everywhere and a flat screen tv in the center.

Today start our intensive Korean classes. Four hours each day. I'm hoping to be an alphabet pro by the time I graduate. We're meeting the head of Fulbright in Korea today. It's the 60 anniversary here, which is equivalent to other notorious American birthdays like the 100th.

The school is super gender segregated. The guys and the girls are on separate floors with gender segregated elevators. The laundry room is guys on one side and girls on the other. No alcohol or smoking on campus, although we were able to drink beer and soju during our GLEE club party where we socialized with a lot of the Korean students (meaning they taught us drinking games.)

I'm surprised to already feel so comfortable here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jungwon University

After a 14 hour flight we finally arrived an Incheon Airport at five in the morning (4pm East Coast time). However, the journey was far from over. A three hour bus ride later found us pulling up at Jungwon university, only 18 months old. Jungwon, located in beautiful Goesan, looks more like a government building than a college. It sports a humungous outdoor pool and male and female hot springs located within the central building. The bottom floor houses a beauty salon, convenience store, and table tennis room.

We're broken into pairs. Each pair shares a room that looks an awful lot like an iPod store, gleaming and white marble. There's a private bathroom per room and three beds (however we get to use the triples as doubles). After a lunch in the fancy dining hall, complete with chandeliers, we sat through a three hour meeting. There we were given the advice, a) Be flexible, b) expect change, and c) stay in the loop. According to the head of our program, "Whatever decision that is being made, even if it affects you, it's probably not about you."

My biggest fear, finding people I get along with, has been mostly assauged. I'm sticky from the 100% humidity and keep on forgetting to take my shoes off before I enter my bedroom. However I'm glad to be here in this beautiful foreign country, and I'm excited to have no idea what comes next.

Friday, July 2, 2010

24 Hour Countdown

7 pm July 1st 2010
-Last supper with my parents at the Red Lobster. I probably should have dined on cheese since seafood is something I won't have to do without in Korea. I hope I'm not lactose-intolerant when I get back.

-My friend Jackie came over for my last night. She brought brownies and a going away card. My stomach started to drop as I realized I was actually going to Korea the next day.

-I shook off my extravagant 5 hours of sleep and bounced bright eyed and bushy tailed to do a final check on my luggage and then awkwardly walk from room to room, convinced I've forgotten something.

-We head to the gym. I'm glad to get out some extra energy. Less than 12 hours to take off.

-We head to the airport. I furiously immerse myself in my Kindle to keep form brooding. Carsickness be damned.