I am taking a break…

…from listening to my host sister sing the same song on loop for two hours to write this post. She is relatively good at rapping, so it definitely hasn’t been as much of a strain as you’re probably thinking.

Things have been going really well in my homestay, and even though I only have three days of teaching under my belt, I can already tell I am much closer to “the hang of things” than I was a few short days ago. At this point, I can (finally) tell you a little about my typical schedule as it will be for the rest of the year.

I teach 25 different classes, and I teach about 325 students altogether. There are 10 homeroom classes which are not leveled and 15 classes which are divided into Advanced, Intermediate, and Beginner classes (or, as they’re directly translated from Korean, Deepening, Basics, and Supplemental classes. Take your pick). All students see me in both their homeroom class and their leveled class. I see one homeroom class each day and three leveled classes, meaning that I see each leveled course once a week and each homeroom class every other week. If you’re confused, then you might understand why I waited until a week after actually arriving in my placement to write this post.

I arrive at school every day around 8:30 and usually leave around 4:30 or 5. Since I only teach four out of the seven periods of the regular school day, I have a lot of downtime and I imagine that many a nap will be caught during the year. Lunch is always an exciting affair, as I might find the English teachers or I might not, in which case there’s always a lot of awkward smiling and head bobbing in sad attempts to sit-bow and paranoia that there is kimchi in my teeth.

I also have my classes split so that I teach one Advanced class, one Intermediate class, and one Beginner class each day, in that order most days. The range of levels is quite astounding, from people who can carry on full conversations at a pretty fast pace to people who can’t write their name in the English alphabet, so I go from speaking all English at the beginning of the day to speaking almost entirely in Korean in my last class of the day. Also, most of my classes are split by gender. All of the homeroom classes are split by gender, and the boys are classes 1 through 5 while the girls are 6 through 10. The other classes are divided by level within classes 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, 7/8, and 9/10. So the only mixed-sex classes are my leveled 5/6 classes. They are very awkward and my students don’t really seem to like talking to people of the other sex. We will work on that.

I also start teaching a conversation club class starting next week, which will be held after school, to only 10 students. I’m excited to start working on this project and will keep everyone updated if it’s awesome like I hope it is. If not, this will be the last time I mention it. I also will start editing the English language newspaper and will start working with a club who writes and designs a magazine. Last semester’s included this gem:

So needless to say, this is going to be awesome. I’m excited to start with the clubs because this is the only chance I have to work with students outside of the school’s first grade, which is equivalent to a high school sophomore in the U.S. I know there are a lot of second graders (juniors) who do the conversation club and magazine, so it will be cool to meet students who I don’t have in class.

High school in Korea is a lot different from American high schools in a lot of ways other than the grade ranking system, too. It’s hard to make blanket statements since South Korean education is in such a transitional period right now, but I can certainly comment on differences between Bong (pronounced more like p-oh-ng instead of bong) Myeong and Graves. The first and most obvious difference is that kids stay there all day. Our day was 7:58 to 3:02, whereas at Bong Myeong, my host sister actually sleeps at the school dormitory most nights because she stays studying so late. Classes can last until as late as 10 p.m., and even the students who leave at the end of the regular day at 4:30 typically go to an academy and stay until 10 or later there.

Korean high schools also don’t keep toilet paper in the bathrooms, so you have to bring a personal roll. Not that that is terribly important, just noteworthy and I like to talk about bathrooms.

Another cool thing is that, more similar to college than high school, you can leave when you don’t have class. Since lunch is two hours long, students just kind of scatter at that time. The girls usually run off campus to grab a snack in lieu of cafeteria food, and the boys usually scarf down their food as quickly as possible to get outside to play sports during their free time. I haven’t joined because I am wearing nice clothes for the first week or so, but you better believe the first day I wear jeans, all bets are off. My co-teacher assures me the kids will like this. Personally I wasn’t thinking about that but whatever.

Also, Korean high schools don’t typically have janitors. Instead, they give the kids a class period off every now and then and have them clean. It’s way cooler and more humane than you would think.

Korean schools also don’t typically separate special needs students from normal classes like American schools do. This definitely has both good and bad points, but the kids I’ve seen interacting with special needs students also don’t treat them like American students would. I have not seen a single student laugh at or make fun of a special needs student; instead, I have seen them taking care of the special needs students–pushing the kid in the wheelchair when he needs help carrying something, filling out worksheets for the kid with Down Syndrome when he can’t do it, etc. It’s been really heartwarming, amidst the chaos that is eight hours of my every day now.

There are a lot of other things I could point out, but I need to get back to work memorizing 325 names. @.@ As such, I’ll end the post here with photos as usual. Let me know below if you have any questions or comments, and thanks for reading!

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The last day of my Korean language class at Orientation. Bittersweet!

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My KLC graduation diploma!

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My friend Michael and me on the way to graduation~

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Waiting to go into the Embassy in Seoul for our pool party!

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My friend Esther and me at the pool party~

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More friends! I have friends, I promise

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Stopped by a free concert while in Seoul. Turned out to be the best decision ever. Saw Sistar and In Suni. And Kkum Kkum’s dad from The Return of Superman.

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AND LEE SEUNG FREAKIN’ CHUL.

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On the subway on the way to Yonsei~

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My old Korean language building!

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At my old apartment~
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Received the sweetest gift from my dear friend Krystal, sent while she was in China~ 2015-08-21 20.29.23 2015-08-21 20.29.36

How my school’s principal and my co-teacher welcomed me to Cheongju!

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How my host mother welcomed me to Cheongju LOL

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My room~

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My own bathroom 😀

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Last day of Orientation. Miss these guys already!

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Big announcements written concisely in consideration of my looooovely readers

I know it’s been a really long time since I blogged. The last few weeks have been a situation where nothing happens that’s worth talking about, and then everything happens all at the same time and I have no time to talk about it. But here I am! So fear not, ye casual followers and diehard #TeamRachel fans alike.

Biggest announcement since my last post: I have my placement! I will be teaching at 봉명고등학교 (Bong Myeong High School) in 청주, which is a city pretty close to the center of Korea. Here’s a map.

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Yep. That’s me for the next 10 months, starting later in August! And here is the school’s website in case you speak Korean (HAHAHAHA). But there are some pictures too, so it might be worth a click either way.

The school seems to be relatively small in the region, with only 1,119 students and being a whopping 30 minutes away from another high school on each side. Hey, it’s Korea. I should be set to have about 375 of those students, divided into several different confusing kinds of groups, but basically with class sizes ranging from 20-35. The English department seems to be 11 strong, including the current Fulbright ETA, so I definitely won’t be alone in my pursuits, but I think I will be the only foreign teacher there. And I also think everyone will think I’m a student.

The other big news is that all of the ETAs this year are set to have homestays! So I will be placed with a family who hopefully isn’t terrible. And if they are, I will still be placed with them nonetheless. I will get to meet them very soon, and I will take SO. MANY. PICTURES.

Other big things that have happened since we last had a totally one-sided conversation: I have taught my first two classes! We had an awesome English language camp with some really cool kids from all around Korea, and each ETA got a chance to teach two classes. I taught one class whose level was about middle of the road. The class had mostly elementary school students with a few middle schoolers and one high school kid. It was amazing how much more the high school kid liked me than literally everyone else in the room, so I’m thinking my placement in a high school is ideal. The lesson wasn’t amazing, but it was my first one in front of a class that has students younger than 70! So, small victories. And then the second class was with an incredible group of high school kids, a few middle schoolers, and one elementary school student. They were all almost fluent and I don’t think they learned a lot. But the nice thing is that they said my “activities didn’t work out, but it was actually kind of fun?” and “pretty good, nothing special.”

Like I said. Small victories.

We also went to a Temple Stay this weekend! It was slightly less fun than a barrel of monkeys, but not a great deal less fun. Perhaps it would have exceeded the container of primates had it been a bit less painful on the ole’ back. There was a lot of floor sitting involved. But the temple was absolutely beautiful. It is called 한마음선원 [Hanmaum (One Heart) Seon (Zen) Center]. Here is the website, and since the Internet will forever be both my bane and aspiration, here is the link to the Google Images result, which contains better photos than I could take.

And as usual, here is a parade of photos!

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My roommates and me at our last weekend trip to Sokcho. The food was delicious!

2015-07-24 19.48.05Sokcho is beautiful during the sunset…

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…and at night!

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Vocabulary practice! We learned the word for crosswalk and got a little too excited when we saw it IRL.2015-07-30 15.19.58My first bingsu since I got back. So delicious!

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Skincare~

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We went to a cooking class, and my friend and I tried to make kimbab, or Korean sushi. It…isn’t supposed to look like that. But we ate it with love. And if you’re wondering if all I do is eat here, it absolutely is.2015-08-03 11.50.17 2015-08-03 11.50.25 2015-08-03 11.50.34Our class went to the market together, and we saw this awesome corn bingsu, with like…real corn. It was bizarre. And then Esther asked if she could try making it, so I got these AWESOME ACTION CANDID SHOTS.2015-08-06 13.29.53 2015-08-06 18.05.59

Our class had to ask people favors for homework. I asked one friend to go get ice cream with me, and yes, I did ask the next friend to feed me. It went shockingly well.

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Post-placement ceremony!

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At a 노래방 (noraebang), or Korean-style karaoke place. I have made some awesome friends in this short month!

Oh yeah, and my brother got married this weekend. Check out my awesome family, whose average rating in terms of appearance and coolness went up A MILLION TIMES with the addition of Sujin! 언니 우리 가족에 환영합니당~ 오빠한테 한국어 좀 가르쳐봐요 ㅎㅎ

2015-08-09 13.45.01-1And that’s about it for this time! Hopefully you have made it through my novella. Things to look forward to: upcoming Seoul trip this weekend, and deployment soooooooon. As always, please leave any comments, questions, or suggestions for future posts below!

Visual Update

These days have been so full that it’s been difficult to keep up, even for me. Some notable things that have happened since I last posted–our first visit to a school, our first night on the town, lots of beautiful sightseeing around campus, and my first soccer game with the group showing off my mad falling down skills. Since it’s almost too much to talk about (I swear I’ll start posting more often!), here are some pictures.

First School Visit!

My group visited Sannam (all-)Girls’ High School. The ETA at this school was super energetic, and I get the feeling that my classroom will not quite look like that! Still, it was nice to see what things might look like in an actual school setting.

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This seems to be a school motto, and it translates to something like, “Let’s prepare for your future dreams!” Talk about a guilt trip.

This one hammers that home a little bit. I’ve erased the girl’s name, but this says something to the effect of, “The time you spend now will make your life possible” or “will give you a life.” That was pretty humbling to see. Knowing that there’s a good chance I will go into a high school, it is crazy to think about how much pressure these kids are under, and by association, how much pressure I might be under. 0.0

 

First Night Out!

I didn’t get a ton of photos since we didn’t stay out long, but we had a really good time!

 

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The drinking snacks our RAs helped us pick out. Much better than Maruchan, if I do say so myself.

 

The Beautiful Campus of Jungwon

Jungwon is kind of in the armpit of South Korea, as in, the middle of nowhere. Korea is kind of bookended on the north and the south by Seoul and Busan, so north of Seoul and the direct center of the country are not what one might classify as “hoppin’.” However, Jungwon does a pretty good job of making up for that by having a really nice campus that blends the natural world with the manmade one. It has a very Chinese style of architecture, but I like it anyway.

 

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These cacti definitely belong here.

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Swirly pigs are my favorite kind.

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First Soccer Game with the Group

If you have known me at any point in the last 22 years, you probably know that I am super uncoordinated and have spent most of my time either being injured or recovering from an injury. That being said, here is the synopsis of our first soccer game together.

 

 

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I’m an idiot, but I thank you all for putting up with me anyway. As always, feel free to leave a suggestion for a future post in the comments. 잘가요, 친구들~

 

 

 

Arrival and other shenanigans mostly related to arrival

It seems like I’ve been in Korea for ages now, and I keep having to remind myself that it really is only the third day. I left from our house on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. and arrived in Korea on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. There was a 14-hour time difference, so that definitely had something to do with it, but by the time we arrived to school around 10 I had still been in transit for about…too many hours. It’s not important and I don’t want to think about it.

Anyway, after we got here, we had to load all of our luggage onto a pair of giant trucks. They were those really unstable looking tall ones that kind of look like bugs from the front, so this of course inspired a lot of confidence in my heart. We took the bus ride, which was about two hours, and arrived in 괴산 (written Goesan in English but pronounced more like Gwesan) around 10 in the morning. After the grueling task of unloading all of our luggage, we were excited for the chance to finally kick back and stretch out a little. Of course, it being me and me not having had a seizure yet (see last year’s arrival post for more details), my luck indicated that that rest would come 12 hours later than I wanted it. We ate lunch in the school cafeteria, and I didn’t think to take a photo of it, but it was pretty typical Korean fare of bulgogi, rice, kimchi, and soup. We had a few informational sessions and then took a tour of the campus. The campus is lovely, though it does lose some points for being the central point of the armpit blackhole of nothingness in the middle of Korea. But let’s not let that distract us. Here are some photos of me blocking the view of the things you actually would want to see.

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Prettyyyyyyy. We also had a chance that night to pick up some things we forgot at the campus convenience store, which was pretty much most things. I ended up crashing around 8 (finally) and waking up…at 4. a.m. Why. Body. We talked about this.

Anyway, my day started then, but we didn’t actually have any activities scheduled until breakfast at 8. Awesome. I did some introspection in the form of Facebook stalking people for a while, showered, did more introspection. You know the drill.

We also had our placement exams yesterday for the Korean language courses.2015-07-13 09.57.15

The actual curriculum of Korea University’s language course goes up to level 6, but we are only being offered up to level 3 since most ETAs don’t speak Korean very well. I think I could flounder through level 3, but since we are calling that our “advanced” class, I’ll just stick with my level two books for now. Yesterday was chock full of workshops and talks and presentations and other things that required sitting still for long periods of time, and like a good sedentary person I obliged. After that, it was free reign! We had a small game night, and I joined in a few rounds, but I got an email shortly after arriving that the last step to completing my TEFL course was rejected again. I don’t think this is so much of a problem, as I have already resubmitted it, but cross your fingers for me!

Anyway, the shock of that helped me stay awake much longer than the night before. I hit the hay around 10:45 and managed to stay out until 6 this morning. Today was the day of our site visits, and my group got to drop by 산남고등학교, or Sannam High School. Here is their website and below is a photo of the school with most of my head and all of one hand.

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It was really cool to see the students and the Fulbright teaching assistant in their natural habitats–well, natural enough, since they weren’t actually supposed to have class today but had class especially so we could watch them have class–and we got to play a game or two with them! I had two groups, but one was really a lot of fun. We took some photos which I will post if I get them.

This trip was also super eventful, since nothing can ever not go wrong with me for three days in a row, it seems. After the last group of students left, I skipped out of the classroom for a few moments to use the restroom. I was stopped by a couple of the students who wanted to know why we were there, which I happily explained, and the whole ordeal took no more than 5 minutes. Because of this, you can imagine my genuine surprise when I returned to the classroom and none of the people I recognized were there. In fact, no one was there, so it’s not just that I am kind of antisocial with new people. I happened to run into a teacher who actually knew what I was talking about when I asked her in sheepish Korean where the foreigners were and told her that I had just gone to the bathroom for a second and they had disappeared. She seemed to think this was hilarious. I did not think this was as hilarious as she did but Confucius said I should laugh too so I did. She found another English teacher who said she thought the group might have gone to the cafeteria. “Even if not,” she said, “I haven’t eaten, and you haven’t eaten, so we should eat.” Well, you can’t hardly argue with that logic. Luckily, though, my folks were there and were really shocked to see me and apologetic afterward. No big deal, guys. Just out here speaking Korean like a boss.

Anyway, also like a boss, I slept the entire way back home from the visit, and boy was it a good sleep. It was full-on drool and snore mode for the entire hour plus. And now here we are! All updated to today. Later we will meet our program director and will have our first one-on-one session with the program coordinators who have already been ETAs in the past. Some time in the near future, I want to explore town a little bit and sign up for a gym membership on campus. Super exciting stuff. A few notes about my position right now:

1. Still haven’t opened a new bank account, checked on my old one, or started a cell phone plan. Because adulting is hard. Thank god for wifi.

2. Korea feels something like I imagine A SOFT BREEZE IN THE FIERY BLAZES OF THE INFERNO feels right now. They were not playing around about this humidity.

3. I can’t believe how much I have missed Korea and how much different it will be from last time I was here. It feels like such an authentic experience in comparison, yet I see translation of so many of the elements from last time. I cannot wait to see what this year has in store for me, and I’m so excited that you all will be joining me for the ride! As always, let me know if you have suggestions for future posts or questions in the comments. 감사하고 사랑해요~

What I Have in Common with Arnold Schwarzenegger

(Other than this sentiment, of course.)

Like the former governor of California, I keep my promises. When I left Korea, I said I would be back. In less than two weeks, that promise will be realized.

That’s right, folks. I know what you were thinking. Something along the lines of how your life was a dull, blank, vapid area of wasted space before my blog came into your life, and how you just didn’t think life was worth it anymore. Well, think again, because the blog is now alive and well, meaning you can be too!

Last time I went to Korea, as you may recall, I was studying abroad in Seoul. This time, I am going on a Fulbright grant from the US government. You can read more about the program here. I will be going as an English teaching assistant, meaning I will most likely be teaching my own classes with an additional label like English “conversation” or something of that sort, which essentially means a smaller salary for me. However, the Fulbright program is an awesome support system, networking opportunity, and career move, so I’m very excited to be embarking on this adventure.

As part of the grant, awardees are expected to participate in some kind of extra project. I will be linking my classes to classes from the US–some of which will be from my alma mater–via an exchange program which will include a blog and most likely some chances for one-on-one conversation between students. I will also be doing foundational research for a book which I hope to write eventually. If it comes to fruition, it will show personal stories from individuals whose lives have been touched by the North/South divide. (Editor’s note: There will be absolutely no travel to North Korea involved, so family members, please do not panic.) So that’s about it for my intentions in terms of my grant.

As with last time I traveled to South Korea, I have set some goals and have made a packing list, both of which are considerably different from last time (which are here). To be fair, there are some similarities–as with last time, I want to learn to speak Korean much better, and as with last time, I plan to bring underwear. But to some degree, the novelty is worn off now. When I left Korea last time, I couldn’t even bring myself to make a wrap-up post because I was so sad. I had not gone through culture shock. I had not felt the rebound at all. I had simply been euphoric the entire time. This time, though, I want to be ready to see the bad sides of being dumped on another continent where I don’t know a whole lot of people as well as the good. And I figure, if there’s anything that will take euphoria and turn it to reality, it will be secreting teenagers.

Pure evil.

Another thing I really regretted last time was acquiring a bunch of stuff that I had to ship home or throw away before I left. I will not make that mistake again! Last time my suitcase was stuffed–this time, I am bringing two suitcases and only a little bit more stuff. I like to think of myself as a responsible adult; don’t put the burden of “genius” on me, even though we all know you’re right.

Anyway, another fun aspect of the Fulbright Korea program is that we won’t know where we are placed or the exact circumstances of our placements until we get there. This essentially means that I have no idea how many classes I’ll be teaching, or in what part of Korea, or even how old my students will be. At first, I was really annoyed by this–I may have mentioned once or twice that I always like to err toward being too informed–but if I learned anything from my last experience abroad, it was that I need to lighten up a little. So we are rolling with the punches, head held high, ready to see what the world is going to throw at me next.

As with before, I would love to hear any suggestions you may have for future posts. Feel free to comment or send me a message!

United Through it All–South Korea’s system for mourning, cheering, and everything else

South Korea has been most popular in the news lately due to the sinking of the ferry Sewol, which was carrying mostly high school students who mostly passed away in the wreck. I waited a bit to write this post because I felt that it was insensitive to begin tackling this issue any sooner, and even now, it is clear that the nation is not out of its state of mourning. Still, I think it’s important in understanding my experience in Korea to understand how this situation was very different than it would have been in the US.

If you aren’t up to speed on the Sewol incident, here is a pretty comprehensive article of the events: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27342967

Essentially, the disastrous outcome was the result of botched work on the part of the crew of the ferry. Not only did the crew tell the passengers to remain in place and not leave the ferry, but the captain of the ship was actually one of the first to get off the ferry along with several other crew members.

Since that time, as is to be expected, many Koreans have been holding candlelight vigils. Several heads of state have sent messages of condolences, including Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and even Kim Jong Un (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/04/24/asia-pacific/north-korea-finally-extends-condolences-sewol-sinking-third-mate-says-steering-gear-blame/#.U456epR0p68). But what has stricken me most during this whole incident is that, though there have been many protesters who want to see the crew of the ship face harsher charges than they currently do, there have been an equal or greater amount calling for the resignation of government officials who were not even notified of the incident until long after it began. This even resulted in the resignation of Korea’s former Prime Minister, Chung Hong-won.

The reasoning behind this is a Confucian principle that the leaders of a group should be the definition of that group. That is to say, a leader should take the blame when things go wrong, but they also get the credit when things go well. Leaders of a group get to leave first from work, and if they stay late, everyone stays late. Leaders of a group get to tell everyone else how much they should drink. Subordinates do not get to talk back to or question their leaders. So in a lot of ways, this system is efficient, but it can also be limiting in a lot of ways for all involved. In this case, the leaders of the group–that is, Koreans–have drawn a lot of blame for things going poorly, even though they were not involved at all. After the Prime Minister’s resignation, many called for the resignation of the President, even to the point of bringing portraits of their lost children to the President’s residence at the Blue House (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/korea-ferry-victims/1100404.html).

In this way, it is easy to see how things are much different than they would be had this incident occurred in the US. This kind of reaction is one that Americans can’t quite understand as a nation which doesn’t value collectivism like South Koreans do. This collectivism isn’t always negative though, as we can also see it with the upcoming World Cup. If you thought you were excited about the World Cup and you’re not Korean, then you’re wrong. These guys are crazy about the World Cup, even though as a nation they aren’t even really that crazy about soccer. It is easy to see, then, that Korean nationalism is one which is highly reactive to inside and outside stimuli. It is constantly being beaten inward and outward into shape, but for the most part, it retains a certain purity. That’s what I have really fallen in love with in Korea, and that is why even though I am excited to be home, I dread leaving this place. But I have two and a half more weeks, and I am planning to make the most of it!

Oh, as a side note, I ate dog soup. Yep. That happened. I’ll update soon!

It’s been a really long time since I posted…

Sorry about that! It’s been a really busy time, and we’re all realizing that we have to leave soon so we have been cramming ourselves down each other’s throats. So I will now bombard you with as many photos as I can and I will tell you more later.

First, I went on a vacation with my host parents. We took a trip down to Yeosu, which is usually about a four- or five-hour drive from Seoul. However, it was a national holiday that amounted to about five or six days, so EVERY KOREAN went on vacation, so the traffic was terrible, so the drive took seven hours. But me being one of those people who falls asleep every time I’m in a vehicle, I slept the entire time. It was really nice. We met up there with my host parents’ high school friend who spoke English really well, and otherwise we just explored. Here are some photos from then.

My host dad torturing me in the traditional Korean way:Image

My host mom and me trapped in a cart:

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Me before I reincarnated:

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Some traditional Korean ceramics, which according to Korean photo-taking culture you aren’t allowed to take a picture of without someone in it.

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My host dad torturing me again, and being way too happy about it.

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A traditional Korean game called Yut Nori, which it turns out I am really bad at.

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Me inspecting the kimchi.

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Grinding grain.

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My mom and me in the bamboo forest in Damyang.Image

The awesome trees.

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My host dad trying to be cool in the Korean folk village.

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We found this dragon and did not understand why it is there but we took a picture with it anyway.

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I just think this picture is cute…plant life is pretty rare in Seoul, so I was happy to see more of it in the south.

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My host mom and me about to dig in to this really strong-smelling traditional market food. It was really good, but really…Korean.

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Me in what my host parents told me was a “traditional marriage cart thing.”

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The gang, trying to act cool.

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My being tortured yet again.

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The three of us standing in a traditional bathroom, whose septic system flows to directly under the building and…stays there. So we’re actually on top of hundreds-of-years-old poo.

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My host mom is an adventurous photographer, and she was very far away in this photo. So we were just trying to make sure she could see us.

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My host dad and me playing hacky sack. He won.

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My study abroad program also took us on an island excursion. My friend has a really nice camera and is a good photographer, so I decided not to take too many pictures from that. However there are a lot of them on my Facebook, if you want to look there, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/rachelsasian/photos_all

My friend Ling and me enjoying the beach.

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The view from our resort!

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Us at a museum. We were bored.

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The beeeeeaaaach. So nice.

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My friends Jane and Sasha at the beach.

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We were tired…

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We also went to Namsan Tower, which is obligatory since I can see it from my apartment here. Namsan is famous for its donkatsu, or pork cutlet, and for its swirly potato things. Here we are waiting outside the donkatsu restaurant.

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My sad attempt to get a picture of my apartment building from the cable car.

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Namsan from the base of the tower!

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Us waiting in line to get onto the actual tower. Ling is proud of this face.

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The magical donkatsu!

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And the magical swirly potato things!

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Another of Ling’s gems.

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The locks on Namsan. Lovers make locks to signify that their love for each other will last until the lock breaks.

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The gang, still in line.

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I also celebrated my birthday while here, and my class bought balloons and my teacher bought a cake!

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It’s also a Korean tradition to eat seaweed soup on your birthday for breakfast, so my host mom made me some.

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In return, for Korean Parents’ Day, I made them a little surprise!

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And that basically gets you caught up to today. I will write another post ASAP! Thanks for reading. 🙂

The Phantom of the Opera is there…in Daegu!

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I know it’s shocking, but I again did not take adequate photos for an interesting blog post. Be warned that I’m about to stroke my ego for probably way too long because that’s what we writers like to do. I apologize sincerely in advance.

A few days ago, I was wasting time on Facebook (another big surprise, I know) when I happened to notice that someone had posted a photo of the Korean poster for The Phantom of the Opera, advertising that the 25th anniversary cast was performing in Daegu, Korea’s third largest city. I won’t lie–I commented pretty quickly. Pretty soon we had collected a group of people dedicated to taking the pilgrimage, and we began plotting. When I say that we went back and forth on whether or not to go, I mean it with all seriousness. I also mean you would have done the same thing if you had been listening to our conversation, something like:

“We can just take KTX, it will only take a couple of hours to get there.”

“Yo, that’s like 40 bucks.”

“Yikes. Let’s take the slow train.”

“Oh cool, $20.”

“Four hours.”

“Standing room only.”

“Well we can buy a seat.”

“Then why don’t we just take KTX?”

“Yeah, let’s just do that.”

“But…40 bucks…”

Etcetera.

We ended up taking the slower train and leaving around 7:30 on Saturday morning. We arrived about 11:45 at Daegu station and went immediately to the arts center to buy our tickets. Fortunately people spoke English everywhere we went, which made us feel bad except when we could actually hear them talking about us in Korean. Apparently people think if your primary language is English then you must not be able to understand any other words at all. So we didn’t feel sorry for those people.

A word about Daegu–it is much different from Seoul. The accents are very different. There are fewer foreigners. The guys are bigger than the ones in Seoul–either that or they just don’t dress themselves to look like Seoul guys do. The fashion is overall…more lax. That includes the girls, too. I was wondering aloud that it seemed like the girls looked a lot different, and one of my friends pointed out that perhaps they have less plastic surgery there. This point was well-received. The people look shockingly Korean. One more point: the subway doesn’t have protective doors like the ones in Seoul, so I was having flashbacks to that one time in New York. And it seems like there’s not a lot to do there…says the girl from Kentucky.

Anyway, our next mission was to find coffee. This stood to be quite the challenge because one of my friends is not only a vegetarian but is also lactose intolerant like me as well as being allergic to gluten. Korea is a very difficult place for her to exist. Basically the only place with soy milk for coffee in Korea is Starbucks, so, no lie, we found the first white person we saw with coffee and got really excited because we assumed A–they had gotten it from Starbucks and B–they spoke English. As my Dutch friend said, “It was mildly racist of us.” Fortunately, aforementioned white man pointed us in the direction of a Starbucks, though his coffee was not from Starbucks and he did not, in fact, speak English as his first language. He seemed more amused than upset though.

By the time that mess was over, there were only 25 minutes until the start of the play, so we decided to walk back and take our seats. We made the mistake of letting me walk in first, which meant everyone gave me announcements in Korean. Fortunately I got the gist of it (turn off your cell phone, don’t leave until the intermission, etc.) and when the ushers saw my friends who were obviously not Korean they got the run-down in English.

The musical was, suffice it to say, incredible. I cannot stress enough how wonderful it was. As I told my friends later, I felt bad for paying as little as we did. It should have been worth much more. Such an incredible performance. I laughed, I cried, I got in trouble for laughing because it was at a grammar joke and none of the Koreans got it so my friends and I were the only ones laughing. All-in-all, a delightful experience.

Then came the downturn.

We had bought return train tickets while at the station the first time, and presumably because the weather has been nice and people have been taking trips to the south, there were literally no seats on any train back for the rest of the day. This is not one of those times when I say “literally” but actually mean “not literally.” I mean there were actually no seats. So we did the thing–we got standing room only tickets. The first hour of the train ride was spent shuffling around, trying to find a place that was fairly comfortable. We walked up and down the same car several times before settling in between cars, then somehow finding our way into the cafe car. That was the best place to sit because there was carpet, and luckily, there was room for us by the time we discovered this. In the meantime, my Dutch friend gave some poor Korean boy culture shock by standing apparently too close to his face. He was extremely uncomfortable until we began discussing the prospect of her moving. The second she turned her rear away his entire body relaxed. Dear Korean, sorry.

So fortunately for us we only had to sit in the floor for three hours. I joke about how bad it was, but in reality I didn’t mind so much. I think it added a lot to the experience, and especially if your ride is shorter than ours was, I definitely recommend the experience just for the bonding that comes when you realize there are only 30 minutes left so you might as well stay awake even though you are exhausted and delirious. When all was said and done, a good adventure was had by all. Here’s looking to the next one!

Sorry it’s been so long…

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This has been my life, for a good part. And I have kept with the tradition of getting sick right at time for midterms. Luckily, I picked some good classes, so I only have two midterms and one paper…I think. I guess if the other professor wants me to do something, he’ll let me know eventually.

Otherwise, spring in Korea is beautiful but a little short. The cherry blossoms are exactly as beautiful as everyone claims they are, and literally every Korean will be very sure to tell you how beautiful they are and how you should go see all of them and how to get there and which are best on the exact days they will be blooming…etc. I guess I didn’t see enough of them, but I honestly didn’t expect that they would all fall off after a week. I did, however, get to go to Jamsil, which has a picturesque lake and a really nice trail. Oh, and Lotte World. So I’ll be going back.

All the same, speaking of weather, that was the first lesson we covered in my senior citizens’ English class! My friend Erica and I have started teaching at the Seoul Senior Citizens’ Center in Jong-ro, and our students are wonderful and hilarious. The maknae, or youngest, is 70, and he is always generously offering to take Erica and me out to lunch (and/)or drinking. Very nice of him, of course, but we always refuse. We have one female student, and she is the archetypical Korean halmoni, or grandmother. Here, everyone is your grandmother or grandfather or sister or brother or aunt or uncle. It is considered more respectful to call someone one of these names instead of simply calling chogiyo (you over there) or just talking to them. Anyway, I say she’s an archetype because she is always flirting with the men and telling Erica and me to be more confident and go find boyfriends…which is interesting advice given the subjects. I haven’t gotten pictures with these great folks yet because I don’t want to step over a line, but I have the feeling that at least a few of them are big fans of selfies.

So all of that to say, I need to get back to work. As always, leave any comments or suggestions for future posts below and I will respond as promptly as possible. 안녕히가십시오~

Cafes, Cat and Otherwise

As an ardent lover of eating, one of my favorite parts of Korean culture so far is the food. Like everything else, food is really cheap here. I had eaten Korean food before, but I was totally unprepared for how different restaurant culture is. A typical visit to a restaurant here actually starts outside, because most restaurants post their full menus outside with prices so you can know what you’re getting yourself into. This kind of preemptive competition helps drive prices down as well, because customers won’t even mess up the first time and go to a more expensive place. Since comparison is easier and more upfront, restaurants are more inclined to offer lower prices.

After you’ve selected a place, you will walk in and tell the wait staff how many people are with you. Most restaurants that I go to are pretty cheap, so it’s usually the owner who will do this. Most restaurant owners are older people who cook out of a normal-sized kitchen and bring the homemade food out ready to order. It’s a very cool, intimate way of dealing with food. Anyway, so after you sit, most people order immediately since the menus are outside and pretty much every Korean restaurant has the same things. Usually the server won’t follow you to the table, so you just have to yell your order across the restaurant. And they -never- write things down. It’s very, very rare. This usually doesn’t cause issue, but I have just eaten the wrong thing a couple of times thanks to a neglectful waiter.

The cool thing, though, is that side dishes are always available and always free and unlimited. To get more, you just yell at the worker. And water is always free too, though it is almost always self-serve. It’s very rare that people drink things with their meals other than water and alcohol, and even then, Korean people feel that drinking too much water will complicate digestion of food, so they don’t drink a lot of it.

Depending on what type of restaurant you go to, there will either be a kitchen in the back where someone cooks your food or there will be little grills at each table which you use to cook your own food. This will usually include a meat, garlic, and kimchi, which you roll up along with rice, bean sprouts, and sauce into a piece of lettuce.

The point of all of this is, I’m gaining weight.

Another phenomenon pretty unique to large Asian cities like Seoul is the cat/dog cafe. The concept there is that you go to this cafe, order a coffee, and then get to play with cats or dogs while you enjoy. It makes sense, since most apartments either don’t allow pets or are too small to have large pets or more than one. It’s a great stress reliever and excellent in case you really wanted your clothes to be totally coated with animal hair. (They have lint rollers, but it just doesn’t quite do the trick.) My friends and I recently visited a cat cafe where we met some lovely tabbies. Here’s the best cat beard shot I got there. Image

 

Otherwise, I haven’t been up to a whole lot. Classes are picking up (kind of), and midterms will be coming up soon. I finally know enough Korean (and enough directions) that I can occasionally help taxi drivers find the apartment, and I have learned that usually if a person can’t speak English, they know some Chinese. So communication barriers have been dropping left and right! Also good news, the weather is beautiful here now. Barring today and yesterday, it has been the upper part of 65-70 degrees the last couple of weeks. The cherry blossoms are out, and they are beautiful. I’ll post pictures when I get around to taking them. Also good news is that I have begun teaching an English class to senior citizens along with one of my good friends. Look forward to the next couple of posts, where I’ll try to post pictures from that too!