Sunday, October 26, 2014

Moments from the classroom

Korea's English program officially starts with third grade. However, once a week I see first and second grade even though technically I think that's against the rules...but I just do as I'm told.  Regardless, although I only see these classes once a week, they have provided plenty of comical (and sometimes frustrating) moments.

On Friday one student was about to leave the class when I asked where he was going.  He answered "화장실" which means bathroom.  I understood this because....well, bathroom is one of those words you learn within what, you're first week in Korea?  To make sure I got the point though, his friend grabbed a piece of paper and drew this for me:

Yes, that is a butt with poop coming out.  Good to know I can count on these second graders to help me with the language barrier. 

Another interesting thing about teaching first and second grade is seeing the difference between my male and female students.  Ok, so not all of the females are perfect angels and there are some boys who are wonderfully behaved, however overall the girl students are the ones keeping the boys in line during class. Although, nothing shows the differences between the boys and girls as much as when they draw.

For example, recently I have been teaching the students emotions so that they will be able to answer the question "how are you?"  I gave them a blank face and they had to draw an emotion and correctly complete the sentence on the top of the paper.  Overwhelmingly, the boys chose to draw "angry" with pictures like this:

The girls on the otherhand, overwhelmingly chose to draw "happy" with pictures like this:

I love you first and second grade. Don't ever change. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Life as an expat

I saw this online a while ago and I feel that it pretty much perfectly sums up the life of a 20-something year-old expat.

And just to be clear, I'm not complaining about being on this side of things. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Korean Kindness

Tuesdays are the only day of the week that I don't take the bus to school.  Since the middle school I teach at is so far away and in the middle of nowhere, the buses are pretty infrequent to that area.  Instead, my co-teacher gives me a ride straight to Jeomchon, which I'm really thankful for because if I had to work around bus times my day would surely be a lot longer.

On the drive home this Tuesday my co-teacher pulled over at a small little store.  I was initially a little annoyed and thinking "Oh no. What now? I just want to get home and put on my sweatpants." When my co-teacher said "Come, I want to show you a very famous bakery."

Inside was a very tiny shop that sold a variety of rice cakes and breads. My co-teacher went back and forth with the bakery owner for a while, and the next thing I knew I was being given these:

Rice cakes and "doughnuts"
Those are rice cakes and "doughnuts", given to me well, just because. Talk about a nice surprise to end my Tuesday!

The second case of random generosity I experienced this week was on Friday afternoon as I was waiting for the bus.  Two elderly Koreans passed by me on some sort of farming vehicle--kind of similar to a four wheeler.  As they passed by they were both grinning (I don't think they see many foreigners out that way).  I bowed and said 안녕하세요(annyeonghaseyo, which means hello) as I noticed their friendly expressions.  

The next thing I knew they were about twenty feet down the road and yelled out "선생님!", which literally means teacher.  Although in English it would be a little strange/rude to yell out "teacher!", in Korea 선생님is a very polite way of addressing teachers. In fact, it's usually added to the end of a teacher's name, so for example at school I am called Sarah 선생님 (Sarah teacher).  

Anyway, when I looked over the elderly woman was bringing these over to me:

If you're not familiar, these are persimmons.  They're are very common this time of year, especially in our neighboring town of Sangju, which is famous for its persimmons. 

Although these two moments are small and may seem somewhat insignificant, I think it's important to remember these random acts of kindness.  It can be really easy for foreigners to get annoyed by Korean culture. There are many things that happen in daily life that can make you wonder "why are Koreans SO RUDE?"  But to be fair, they are hardly ever being rude by their own cultural standards.  Often times when westerners feel a Korean is being rude by oh let's say pushing you out of the way without saying excuse me or sorry (this happens ALL THE TIME!) it's because we are applying our own standards of acceptable behavior on a different culture.  It's not actually rude to push by someone without saying anything in Korean culture--it's just the way it is in a country with such crazy population density.  Does that make it any less annoying when it happens? No.  It's actually something that still makes me crazy just about every time it happens.

There are other instances where foreigners experience blatant racism (like not being allowed in certain bars...this happened to me once in Soeul).  However, in the long run these moments are far outweighed by these random moments of kindness from Korean people. I have never experienced so many random moments of kindness as I have in Korea, and it's truly something I will miss about this country when I leave someday.

Thursday, October 16, 2014's fall again?

Over the past week or so the temperatures have been dropping here in Korea.  Much to my dismay, I now need to close my window at night and wear a jacket in the morning.  The leaves are starting to change color and the rice fields are yellow and about to be harvested.

The combination of these things has forced me to realize that wait, it's really fall. 

There's something about the changing seasons in Korea that always strikes me in a way that is very different from when I'm home. They always hit me with a bit more force as they remind me of just how long I've been here and of how much time I have left. The scorching summer hot days feel like just yesterday, but they weren't.  It's nearly been two months since everyone left Jeomchon, and two months since I started my new contact.  

It's really easy to let time get away, and I know these next ten months will fly by way faster than I want them to.  In the meantime, I'm trying to soak in every minute because although the days sometimes seem monotonous, when I take a step back I realize that I am living and working in Korea, seeing and learning about things many Americans never will have the chance to.  

Here's to not letting it get away from me. 

Here are a few photos from my bus ride today.  I'm not sure when the rice will be harvested, but I know it's going to be soon, so I wanted to try to get a few photos before it's too late.  Korea's foliage isn't as vibrant as New England's, but it's certainly still beautiful here with the contrast of colors in the rice fields and mountains. 

This mountain is SO beautiful, but we drive by it so quickly that it's nearly impossible to get a good photo. 

A Random Saturday in Seoul

Last weekend I had originally wanted to go to the Lantern in Festival in Jinju.  Unfortunately, my travel partner had to back out because she had a wedding she had to go to instead.  Not wanting to make a journey that far and expensive by myself but determined not to spend the weekend doing absolutely nothing, I instead decided to go spend Saturday in Seoul.

One of the things I like about living in Jeomchon is that we aren't far from Seoul.  Two hours may seems long to some, but the bus ride always go by quickly (especially since the buses are super comfortable and I usually end up sleeping). Seoul is really easy to navigate and full of things to do, and is one of the places I've become quite familiar with these days.

I took a 9 AM bus to the Express Bus Terminal in Gangnam. I stopped at the bookstore because I wanted to pick up a few new Korean books to help with my studying.  After getting my books and picking up some Starbucks (a given when I'm in the city), I had plans to meet my friend Ji Young in Itaewon.

While I was at Starbucks, I checked my phone and saw she left me a message on Kakao.  She told me that her dad got two tickets to a concert to see Taeyang, a famous K-pop singer, and wanted to know if I wanted to go with her.  I had no idea who he was, but I am never one to turn down a concert.  I told her that of course I would go with her, then quickly texted my other friends to see if they knew who this guy is.

It turns out just about everyone knows who he is except for me.  Taeyang is one of the two very famous leading men from the band Big Bang.  Big Bang is one of the most popular K-pop boy bands, and among the members Taeyang is known for his ripped body...and his nice voice too.  He's had a very successful solo career, which he is is currently promoting on his Rise tour.

The concert didn't start until 6, so I still met up with Ji Young in Itaewon where we were surprised to see there was a huge international festival going on.  There were TONS of people, as well as vendors selling all different kinds of food.  We walked around for a bit, then made our way to a Mexican restaurant (another MUST when in the city).  It was great to catch up over Mexican food and an afternoon margarita--amazingly it had already been nearly two months since we had seen each other.

Surprise festival in Itaewon!
After we finished lunch we made our way to Olympic Park, where the concert was being held.  There were naturally already tons of people lining up, but I was surprised to learn that even though we were in the standing room section, we still had numbers on our tickets.  Turns out that we had to line up in order according to our tickets before entering the concert.  The whole process was super orderly, as things generally tend to be in Korea.
So legit

The show had an early stat time--around 6:00.  There was no opener, and I was a bit surprised to see how small the venue was.  When I think of K-pop concerts I expect them to be held in super huge arenas, packed with fans.  This wasn't really the case.  The venue location itself was pretty small, and there were some empty seats.  However, I should mention that when Taeyang came out Korea's pushing and shoving reached a new level of craziness.  I've been to a lot of concerts in my life, but I've definitely never been pushed like I was by these aggressive teenagers. 

The show itself was pretty much what I expected from a K-pop concert.  Taeyang spent the majority of the show with his shirt off (which I totally didn't mind), but when he was wearing clothes he was dressed in quite the flashy ensembles.  There was dancing, complete with backup dancing girls wearing very little clothing, a section of the show where Taeyang serenaded a member of the audience on stage, a number of costume changes (unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos), and a bunch of screaming teenage girls.  Needless to say, we had a great time. 

Ji Young and I left the show during the last song to try to beat the crowd a bit.  It was a good thing we did because there was a a League of Legends world championship going on, which had a crazy number of teenage boys leaving at the same time as us.

We got on the subway to get our distance from the concert craziness, then found a place to get some dinner.
Dalkgalbi is just the best!!
After we finished dinner, it was already time to get back to the bus station.  As much as I love being in Seoul, I wanted to sleep in my own bed and have all of Sunday at my own place.  I took the last bus from Seoul to Jeomchon at 11:00, and was back in Jeomchon around 1 AM.

Overall, I'm really glad I made the decision to get out of Jeomchon for the day.  It would have been easy to just sleep and watch tv all day, but instead the day turned into an adventure I never could have predicted when I woke up in the morning.  I originally was really disappointed I couldn't go to the lantern festival in Jinju, but instead I ended up checking off something I also really wanted to do in Korea.  It's usually really difficult and expensive to get tickets to K-pop concerts, so it was something I didn't think I would feasibly be able to experience in Korea.  However, sometimes things just fall into place and take you for surprise--days like these remind me of how much I love the opportunities, freedom, and friendships I have in Korea. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Friday Field Trip

I've been kind of lazy about keeping up with writing lately.  Sorry...I think it's mostly because I started watching Once Upon a Time and it has led to a somewhat unhealthy amount of binge-watching.  Luckily I'm almost caught up, so hopefully soon I'll be back with reality and more prompt and detailed in my posts.

Anyway, one thing I need to catch up on is the field trip I went on with my students last Friday.  This is the third Friday in a row I haven't had classes, so although I was somewhat bummed I didn't have the day off like many teachers at other schools, I couldn't really complain about going on a field trip with a bunch of adorable kids.

We left school bright and early in the morning at 7:30 to head to Seoul.  In my mind I thought we would be there by 9:30, but I forgot one thing...small children need bathroom breaks.  Buses to Seoul from Jeomchon usually don't make any stops, but due to the sometimes unstable bladder control of the younger students, we made a stop at one of the rest stops, at which point the kids all got their shares of unhealthy foods.

After our pit-stop it was another hour on the bus with sugared-up kids, during which my co-teacher decided to show me his music collection and proudly told me "I have some English music."

"Oh yeah? What English music do you have?" I said.

And his completely predictable answer?

"Let It Go."

Well, of course.  This is Korea, after all.  The music didn't stop there either.  The other Korean classics of Abba and Whitney Houston were also on his phone, naturally.

It didn't take long for him to ask if I had any music, which of course led to him asking to hear my music.  I decided to play him "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele because I remembered how much my students at the high school loved that song (as do I).  He was amazed by her "husky" voice, and kept asking about it all day...and even tried to download it on the bus ride home.

Anyway, that should paint a picture of what my bus ride there was like.  Once we got to Seoul the first stop was at the Blue House (like the White House in America).  Unfortunately I wasn't able to go in because my name wasn't put on "the list" early enough.  Instead, I sat on the bus with my music and my cell phone.  Have I ever mentioned how thankful I am for Kakao talk and friends back in America have time to talk to me? I didn't mind just hanging out for a while--especially since the bus driver, who apparently had pity on me came over and gave me a coffee.  Love those random Korean moments of kindness.

After everyone got back from the tour it was time for lunch, which was kimbap in a nearby park.  It was an absolutely beautiful day, so I couldn't complain.  Definitely beats sitting in school.

After lunch we went to Gyeonbokgung Palace.  Although I've been there before, I was happy to go back here again, especially since it meant being accompanied by adorable small children.

On that note, I should mention that my school has two new students who were born in America. One girl is in third grade and the other is in sixth grade.  Their parents are Korean, but these girls see themselves as American and they speak English as their first language.  These girls have been having a hard time adjusting to life in Korea, especially since they don't always understand when people speak Korean to them and things such as reading and writing in Korean are especially difficult for them.  Although in America ESL programs are pretty standard, to have someone who isn't Korean in a Korean public school is rare and the students don't receive any additional services.

Anyway, the point of that back story is that the third grade girl has especially taken to me.  She is absolutely adorable and frequently seeks me out because well, I'm the only person there she can really communicate freely with.  The entire time during the field trip she was by my side, holding my hand, and telling me that I was "her mother for the day" (which according to her meant that "I had to yell at her if she did anything bad.")

She didn't understand what the tour guide was saying during the tour which promoted her to tell me "well, at least we can not understand together."  And that's pretty much when my heart broke.  Or, it might have been when she told me about how sometimes she cries because she misses her friends in America.  Gosh kid, you're killing me!

By this point in the field trip it was afternoon, which reminded me of another thing about small children--they get tired easily.  I don't think the kids were really paying attention to the tour guide at all because they were simply exhausted by this point.  As we were walking out of the Palace, the American student told me "well, at least I didn't learn anything today."

I mean, that is the point of field trips, isn't it?

Add in another bus ride back home with a snoring CT right next to me, and that was pretty much my day.

It wasn't the most exciting day for me, but I really did enjoy being around the kids.  They are just SO CUTE. It's especially nice now having the girls who speak english.  As cute as the other kids are, not being able to really communicate with my students takes away a lot of the fun of teaching.  Even if it's only two students, it's nice to be able to really get know some of my students for a change.

And to end here are a few pictures from the day:

Just look at those tired kids!

The two third grade girls. AKA my fan club. They were both holding my hands while we walked around all day <3

Yes, their shirts say "I love Dokdo.  Dokdo is Korean Territory."  Because, Korea.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Seoraksan National Park

Last Friday was a Korean national holiday (Founder's Day), which meant that we had a long weekend to take advantage of.  I think I had this long weekend marked off in my mind since last spring as the time I wanted to go see Seoraksan National Park.  Why did I want to go there? Just do a quick Google image search and you can see for yourself--Seoraksan is Korea's most famous national park because it's absolutely beautiful.  Seoraksan is located in Gangwondo, a particularly difficult to reach province in the northern part of the country.  Since Seoraksan is difficult to get to from Jeomchon, I knew that is was a trip that required a long weekend.  There's no better time to hike than in the fall, so when it came time to make plans for the long weekend I convinced my friend Tony to come along with me for an adventure to some of Korea's most famous mountains.

Tony had a class Thursday night, so we left Jeomchon at 6:40 AM Friday morning.  My online research told me that buses to Sokcho (the town next to Seoraksan) left from Seoul every 30 minutes.  We thought we would catch a bus around 9-9:30 and arrive in Seoraksan by the early afternoon.  Well, things didn't turn out that way.  We arrived in Seoul around 8:30, but when we went to buy our bus tickets we were told there was nothing available until 11:30.  What?!  Apparently we weren't the only ones planning on going to Seoraksan over the long weekend.

With no other option, we bought the bus tickets and waited around Seoul's Express Bus Terminal until our departure time.

Once we got on the bus it was supposed to be a 2 1/2-3 hour bus ride to Sokcho.  Well, again it didn't work this way.  The traffic leaving Seoul was absolutely horrendous and we moved slowly pretty much the entire time.  In the end, our bus ride was about 5 1/2 hours.  Needless to say, we were happy when we finally arrived in Sokcho.  By that point it was already evening, which killed our original plan to get some hiking in on Friday. Instead, we found a place to stay and got some dinner.  There wasn't a whole lot to do in Sokcho, but we got some food and watched a bit of TV in our room before heading to bed somewhat early.

We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning to head to Seoraksan.  Again, we realized just how many people had the same idea as us to go to Seoraksan over the long weekend because the traffic heading to the park was outrageous, even with the somewhat damp weather.

Once we got to the park there were floods of people, but we kept to our plan to hike Ulsanwabi.  This is one of the most difficult trails in Seoraksan National Park, and while Tony was convinced we HAD to do this trail, I was a bit afraid after reading about it and talking to some friends who had done the same trail in the past.  All I read/heard about was how it was SO steep and scary.  I was also worried because I'm not exactly in the best shape, but Tony is an exercise enthusiast who enjoys running for miles and miles each day.  Throw in the drizzly weather and I was somewhat convinced I was going to die on this trail.

As we made our way to the trail we saw a huge Buddha and a temple, as you come to expect when hiking in Korea.    
Everything is cute in Korea...even monks on signs for temples.

Huge Buddha.

We continued on the trail, which in the beginning wasn't bad at all.  The trail got steeper as we continued, and eventually just became stairs.  Lots and lots of stairs.  This actually isn't uncommon when hiking in Korea, but while there are often stairs along trails in Korea, I've never experienced THIS many.  It was exhausting, but I have to say the dozens of reviews I read about this trail set my expectations really high.  When it got tough I kept telling myself (and Tony) that we weren't really at the difficult part yet--that it was going to get even harder and the worst was yet to come.

However, I was shocked when we reached one platform and suddenly we were at the top.  I literally said "Wait....this is the top?! Really? That was it?!"

The trail was difficult and exhausting, but not what I was expecting. It took us just over two hours to get to the top, so it's not the length of the trail that is difficult, it's just the fact that it's really steep for the majority of the time.  However, the view was awesome, even though it was really cloudy.

After resting for a bit at the top (actually there were two different points to go to), we made our way back down.  Although my legs were tired when we go to the top, but the time we got back to the bottom my legs were really shaking.  Since it was only around 1:00 by that point, we had planned on taking the cable car to another part of the mountain.

We saw a long line by the cable cars in the morning, but we figured those people were waiting to go up then.  We thought it worked like a ride--you wait in line then get on the next available one when it's your turn.  Well, once again it wasn't what we expected.  Instead, you had to buy your ticket ahead of time and go back at your assigned time.  Since it was a crazy holiday weekend, by the time we got to the ticket office the day was completely sold out.

With that plan ruined, we decided to go back to Sokcho and see if we could get an earlier bus back to Seoul.  Tony had a paper to write for his grad class, so he needed all the time he could get on Sunday to get some work done.

Luckily, we didn't have to wait long for a bus back to Seoul.  While we thought that surely this time our bus ride would be much shorter, it was just as bad on the way back to Seoul.  Again, it took over five hours from Sokcho to Seoul.  We were less than excited about this, but luckily we didn't have to wait long for a bus back to Jeomchon once we arrived to Seoul.

We arrived back home around 10:30, at which point I stumbled back into my apartment and eagerly jumped into bed.

Overall, this weekend definitely didn't go as I thought it would.  I thought we would have way more time to do more hiking and exploring around the park, but sometimes you just can't plan for these things.  I'm really glad we did get to see some of the park because it was absolutely beautiful. I'm already thinking of returning on another long weekend in the spring.  I would love to Seoraksan again in some sunnier weather and at a time when there are less people!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Andong Mask Festival, Round 2

After attening the Andong Maskdance Festival last year, I knew that I wanted to go again this year.  Andong is only a little over an hour away from Jeomchon, but the buses stop pretty early in the evening.  Since we wanted to see a bit more of the festival this year, we decided to head to the festival Saturday morning and spend the night in Andong.

After arriving in Andong Saturday morning, we found a decently priced motel and then got some delicious jjimdalk for lunch. Jjimdalk is the famous food in Andong and a must-have when you're in town--it's one of my favorite dishes in Korea. Following lunch we were stuffed, energized and ready to explore the festival a bit. 

The Mask Festival is one the most famous festivals in Korea, and is therefore quite the HUGE event.  There's tons of food to eat and you can buy just about anything because there are never ending rows of vendors.  And of course, our favorite part of the festival is the arts and crafts! Since it is a mask festival it's completely necessary to not only watch the mask dances, but to also make your own mask.  To fulfill this duty we started with the masks that use the hanji (Korean paper).  I would say overall we did a pretty good job putting our skills to work.

After we finished our masks we caught the bus to Andong's Hahoe Folk Village. This folk village is a traditional village from the Joseon Dynasty and gives a glimpse of what is what like to live in Korea before the neon lights and plastic surgery took over.  I've actually been wanting to go to Hahoe, but since it's one of those things that is so close to Jeomchon, I just never took the time to go see it during my first year because I knew it wasn't really time sensitive and I could easily go at any time.  With that said, I'm very glad that I finally went because it was absolutely beautiful.  The rice fields surrounding the village are now turning bright yellow, which is quite the stunning sight (as an aside for those who aren't familiar, the rice is green during the spring and summer and turns yellow in the fall before the harvest).  The village as a whole was really peaceful and a cool place to walk around.  

As it became darker we made our way down the the river to get comfortable before Seonyujulbulnori, the fire show, which turned out to be my favorite part of the entire night.  There were long lines of pine needles hanging across the river and as they were lit on fire small little pieces slowly dropped, creating a twinkling effect that is difficult to describe, but almost looked like there were tons of fireflies falling to the ground.  I tried to video it since it's hard to describe how it works, but it didn't show on film. While this was going on there were also flying lanterns being released into the sky and some sort of poetry/play type thing being performed on a boat that was floating along the river. Then, one of the most interesting parts of the show was when burning logs were thrown off of the cliff that overlooks the river. The crowd would count down and huge logs were thrown off the edge of the cliff to tumble down to the ground. This actually looked really cool, but again is a bit hard to describe the effect.  Finally, the night ended with an awesome fireworks show.  All around, it was quite the combination of fire-related events and made for a beautiful and relaxing evening. 

After the night's festivities were over, we went back to the main site of the festival for some food then went back to our motel to get some rest after a long day.

Sunday morning we slept in a bit, grabbed some breakfast and headed back to the festival.  This time we wanted to make the other kind of masks (we are just all about the arts and crafts!)  The masks took a while to finish and afterwards we took a taxi to the bus station to get back to Jeomchon.

Being at the Mask festival really made me realize how different it is being in Korea for a second year.  Last year when I went to the Mask festival everything was new, exciting, and sometimes really perplexing and strange.  My first year in Korea was full of new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. As I walked around the festival this year I realized how ordinary it all seems to me now.  I know what the food is and I know how the games are played.  When I ask how much something costs, I don't have to sit there and process the long list of numbers--I just know now (well, usually).

My first year in Korea was exciting and overloaded with amazingly fun memories.  So far this year has been much more calm, but I appreciate the way it's giving me a chance to look at Korea in a different way.  I find myself feeling much more desperate to communicate with others this time around, and this is fueling my motivation to study in a way I had a difficult way doing last year.  Now that the first year excitement has worn off, I find myself having an experience that is in many ways completely different, but teaching me new things nonetheless.