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 created...like 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 said...study? 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.