Latest Entries »

Kizuna

It has been a while since my last post, but today I am particularly moved to write. I had an experience that I wish to record in fullest detail while the memory is fresh. The story’s beginning, the death of my very close friend Gus, was mentioned briefly in my first blog post. When he died a part of me died with him. It feels like there’s this role he played in my life that no one else can fill. I have a number of friends who are very important and close to me, as Gus was, but Gus was himself only; no one else can be him. I apologize if this appears overly obvious and simple, but there’s a sentiment there that matters to me if no one else.

Shortly after his death I decided to get a tattoo in remembrance of him. Had it been someone else who died, I may not have thought to get a tattoo, but I remembered that Gus had once explained to me why he got the tattoo on his right arm. We were riding down the elevator after a long Wednesday night volunteering at Streetlight and I pointed out his tattoo, which could just barely be seen from under the end of his sleeve. He told me he chose to get it after his younger brother died. I remember thinking that there seemed few better reasons for getting a tattoo.

The initial concept for the tattoo was to get something that would have been meaningful to both of us. He had another tattoo on his left arm, a Japanese character meaning strength. I had studied Japanese for a few years and recognized the kanji (character) instantly. I remember surprising him with its second meaning: power. I thought it might be good symbolism of our brotherhood to get the same tattoo in the same place. Also, given how much Japanese I had studied it seemed a good fit. I thought that for a while, until my mom told me about a dream she had in which Gus came to her and started talking about video games which she knew nothing of. After telling him she didn’t understand, he laughed and told her to pass a message on to me: ‘Friendship is better than strength.’ She didn’t understand this at first either, but he gave her a friendly smack on the arm, stronger than she had expected, that jolted her awake. A little later she pieced together that he must have been talking about the tattoo I was planning. When I heard the story I didn’t know what to make of it. It wasn’t my dream, but it seemed significant and at least got me thinking about other characters that might work.

Toying with the idea of friendship I started looking up characters that fit that theme, and I had a few ideas, but I wanted to run them by native Japanese speakers, because no one knows better! Japanese people can usually tell you if a kanji tattoo will be cliché or cheesy or even blatantly wrong. I told my friend Taito the whole story, after which he recommended the kanji for kizuna. I didn’t know what kizuna meant, but he explained that it is the bond between family members and very close friends. It’s an extremely valuable concept and one that means a lot to me, even though we don’t have an equivalent word in English. It’s something we all feel, but don’t express with any single word. In Japanese, however, this is possible.

Gus was both to me: the friend and the family member. Okay, technically he was not related, but with the right kind of friend that doesn’t matter at all. He told me he thought of me as a brother and I took what he said to heart. When he died it felt like I lost a brother. That kind of bond is irreplaceable, but it remains even after one of you is gone.

I mulled this over and the more thought I put into it, the more it seemed to be the right kanji for the job. Gus’s chikara kanji was a three-syllable word, as is kizuna, which is a little rare for a kanji;  the look of the two kanjis seemed to have a similar angularity; it fits my personality and expresses something I will always value; it fit with my mother’s dream (and perhaps Gus’s wish); everyone I ran the idea by gave it their approval; all of these reasons, and perhaps a few I am forgetting, led me to resolutely decide on kizuna. I found out only recently that it is also the official kanji of the year 2011, which is the year Gus died. Though I had already decided on the tattoo, this news made it seem even more right.

To add more meaning to the tattoo I wanted to get it done in Japan. Gus and I always talked about taking a trip there together. When he started to get really sick, I told him that if he ever got really bad news (or if he got better) we needed to take that trip to Japan. He was very supportive of this. He said it was a definite. If he got bad news we’d fly to Japan for one final “hoorah!” This never happened, because even though he was extremely sick, I don’t think he thought that his last hospital visit would be his last. There were complications with medicines, and ultimately he was never given the “you have 2 months to live” speech. In getting the tattoo in Japan I would be able to have Gus there with me – not in person, but in my heart. And thus, requisite number 1 was conceived.

I researched Japanese tattooing a little bit and recalled there being a very traditional form that involved tattooing without the modern needling devices. For a while I thought the term was irezumi, but that only means tattoo. As recently as yesterday I discovered that the technique for doing tattoos by hand is called tebori. I am currently in Japan on vacation and have been planning to use this trip as a means to get my tattoo and meet requisite 1. Requisite number 2 was to have the tattoo done in the tebori style. It started to look as if this may be impossible though, so I was on the fence about whether or not it should be a requirement. Taito was helping a lot, but most Japanese people don’t know how to get tattoos like this. The artists who can do it are hard to find.

Today I met up with Taito to call some tattoo places and see if the artists there knew how to do tebori. Some places could and most couldn’t. However, all places that could do tebori would not do a small tattoo like what I wanted. They would only do very large tattoos covering most of the body, like the ones Yakuza are famous for. Taito and I were starting to lose hope, and I told him that if we exhausted our options I’d be fine getting it done with a machine. Then we stumbled on this website that had almost no information – only pictures and a phone number. He called the number, explained the job, asked if he could do tebori and asked when we could schedule an appointment. The man said he only did tebori and that we could schedule an appointment for that very same day at 6 PM. It took no thought whatsoever to say ‘yes, let’s go now!’ Most tattooists with machines can’t even do a tattoo on such short notice, and here was a guy who was not only not too proud to do a small tattoo with his considerable skill but also able to do so with only 2 hours advance notice.

This artist was out in Saitama Prefecture so we had an hour and a half of commuting to do. Taito and my friend Ray both came with me and we ended up walking around a dark apartment complex thinking that this artist was going to be working out of a basement. I told Taito that if he couldn’t prove his instruments were clean there was no way I could get the tattoo. He agreed with me. We found the right apartment and walked in. Immediately on the left we heard a voice through another door telling us to come in. We walked through the inner door, and sure enough it was a man working from a small room in his apartment. Taito asked about how he cleaned his needles and we were surprised to hear that every customer has their own set of needles that are thrown away after use. My needles were fresh and prepped solely for me.

My needles

We showed him the kanji I wanted and two possible sizes. He recommended the larger of the two, but I was not opposed to this even though it was bigger than Gus’s. The size he liked seemed to fit better than the smaller version. While I was sitting on the mat waiting for him to draw out the kanji on transfer paper he asked why I wanted the tattoo. I took advantage of Taito’s Japanese fluency and explained it all to him again in English. He then translated the story for the tattoo artist who seemed moved. We suspected he mostly provides tattoos for Yakuza, and this tattoo may have seemed to have more meaning than many of the ones he has done.

He used an inkstone for my tattoo: the kind typically reserved for calligraphy

He laid me down and asked if I was ready. When he began it didn’t feel like much of anything, but it grew to hurt more as he worked at it. The needles made an interesting sound when they punctured the skin. Japanese people say the sound is “shakki shakki,” which I think is pretty accurate. While he worked he talked with Taito about a number of things. He had apparently been to New York before for a tattooing convention and everyone there was fascinated by what he was doing. He didn’t think it was that special because that’s the only way he knew how to make a tattoo. He has never used a machine! That convention was six years ago, and since that time he had not made a tattoo for a single western person. He said of working with me, “natsukashii,” meaning nostalgic. He also told Taito that it was lucky we called when we did because he is moving permanently to Miyazaki next month (far from Tokyo) and he is the only person around (with one exception) who will do tebori for any tattoo type. In other words he is basically the only person in this region of Japan who would have been able to do my tattoo the way I wanted, and he wasn’t going to be around much longer. Providence.

Outline complete

Filling in (bigger set of needles)

Finishing up

He asked me if it hurt and I told him it didn’t. Really it did not hurt very much. The real pain was in losing my friend; being poked with needles felt like a pleasant shoulder rub in comparison. After it was all done he told me it was only 10,000 yen! On the phone he said 15,000 and that was when we had told him it was going to be much smaller than what we finally decided on. He was clearly moved by the meaning and was reluctant to charge me that much. I gave him 15,000 yen which he refused twice, but in Japan if you offer three times it means you’re serious and so he humbly accepted after my third offer. On my way out he gave me a little wooden trinket used for storing toothpicks or similarly sized items. On it is written irezumi-shi (tattoo master) and his name, Murasumi. I was very impressed with him and wish he had Facebook or Skype so we could keep in touch, but alas he does not.

All done! The proud artist and canvas.

The experience was pretty unique. For those of you who are interested in tebori I have a few interesting experiential observations to share. The artist didn’t need to shave the area where he put my tattoo. I think this is because hair can’t get caught in the instrument he uses (or maybe I’m reading too much into it and my arm is essentially hairless). The pain was not off the charts, as I had expected, and was actually very bearable. It was also nice not having to listen to the whiny buzz of an electric needle. His technique was fast but gentle; never once did I feel him break rhythm or press harder than he needed to. It was slower than a machine, but less harsh on the skin; aftercare is minimal. I don’t need gauze or anything. I simply need to apply Vaseline to the tattoo after showers (for about two weeks) and avoid using soap on the tattoo for the first two days. The artist made an interesting observation about Caucasian skin though: he has to press a little harder to puncture it. He says it is “tougher,” but I think it’s probably just more pliant. I’ve noticed that a lot of Asians can’t pull their skin away from their muscle like Caucasians. It doesn’t seem to stretch much. This is just an observation though and not grounded in any sort of science so don’t take my word for it; test an Asian!

Taito, Ray and I went back to Shinjuku, all still dwelling on how lucky we were in meeting this guy, and decided to get sashimi for dinner. Taito took us to the best place he has ever been, which was just a hole in the wall, but it was truly fantastic! It was a bit expensive, but Taito subsidized it a bit for us because he’s one of the coolest guys ever and we were treated to a really rare dinner experience that made the night even more special for me. We made a toast before eating, for which my friends said, “To your new tattoo,” to which I responded,

“To friendship.” It was a fitting end to a very special day – one I won’t soon forget.

"To friendship."

Ray, myself and Taito sharing a meal at the end of a very memorable day

Entry Started September 26th, Monday, 1:35 PM,

The day of departure started very early and involved us getting absolutely everything out of our dormitories and dressing our best for the ceremony later in the afternoon. We yanked sheets off of the beds, crammed our remaining clothes and articles into travel bags and swept up the floors. The dorm room I shared with Morrow, now barren, reminded me that this was truly our final day of orientation. Amid that concept gestating in my mind, Stephen (the OC who came to check our room) pronounced our room the cleanest yet. I was far too excited about meeting my co-teacher to give this praise much thought though. Today was the first day of the rest of my year! We lugged our stuff up to the 9th or 10th floor and kept it all in the Taekwondo room. We milled about for a bit talking with our fellow ETAs, fully realizing that we’d be apart from most of them for quite some time. Many of us took photos with our friends, and once everyone had finally gathered in the room we took a few big group shots. The OCs came to address us, as did Ms. Shim. Our RAs also said a few words to close out our orientation experience. Many ETAs, myself included, listened to these important people with teary eyes and watched as many of them (especially those whom we’re not as likely to see again) struggled to speak.

After all that needed to be said was, we moved out into the hall and lined up as we had practiced a day or so before. We waited for much longer than we had hoped to, but were eventually instructed to march up to the auditorium by the Sky and take our places. We were then called one-by-one to stand forward and greet our respective schools’ representatives. Many of us were surprised by flowers or gifts, which added an element of humor to many of the introductions (especially those in which ETAs were given massive bouquets). I was one to receive such a bouquet, which distracted me so terribly that I forgot the faces of both my co-teacher and vice principal instantly – a rather embarrassing revelation! Luckily for me, they came right up to me after everyone had been introduced and asked me to walk with them down to lunch – a buffet prepared for us by Jungwon’s special restaurant. The vice-principal spoke nearly no English, and the co-teacher’s English comprehension was at about the level of an advanced student (far from fluent). I did what I could with what little Korean I knew, but discovered that the vice-principal knew some Japanese so I attempted to have a conversation using that instead… …I got the distinct impression that he didn’t know much Japanese either. Both he and the co-teacher (accompanied by his wife) were very friendly and grew to be more talkative as the luncheon wore on.

The school representatives returned to the auditorium after lunch for some further briefing and the ETAs gathered their belongings and waited an anxious hour. I was asked by my co-teacher to meet away from the main group so as to avoid clogged doorways and floorways. At the agreed-upon time I wheeled my heavy baggage out to the co-teacher’s minivan and loaded it up with the help of his wife who had been waiting there for us. We made small talk the whole way down to Mokpo, and to this day I think we talked more during that car ride than we have in all the time since – in aggregate. My co-teacher is a really nice guy. I hope to spend more time with him when the new English teachers’ office is opened at our school.

That night I met my homestay family at their apartment in Ogam-dong. Mr. Cho, my co-teacher, talked with them for a very long time in Korean. I imagine I had a very dumb expression on my face, because I didn’t understand a thing anyone was saying. Mr. Cho also didn’t find it necessary to translate any of the dialogue for me. In the end, I discovered that my homestay sister speaks English very well. We’ve grown really tight. I know I’ll miss her a bunch when it comes time for me to leave.

I suppose my homestay family could use some introduction. My homestay mother is a housewife of 40 (and a truly excellent one) – she likes Korean dramas, indoor plants, making herself up when visiting friends and makes what I consider to be excellent cuisine. The father is 46 and works as a dental prosthetics technician – he likes watching sports and UFC, swimming, and drinking with friends. He is also a bit lame in one leg, presumably from an accident. The story of their meeting is rather cute. He was in the hospital recovering from something (I assume this was related to the accident that made him lame in one leg, but I don’t actually know) and his soon-to-be wife was his nurse. He has a really sweet sense of humor that his wife seems to enjoy a great deal, so it’s easy to imagine them hitting it off.

Yong-deok is probably 16 or so. He is the older brother of Ah-in and keeps to himself most of the time. When he does talk he sort of mumbles mostly, especially when he talks with his parents. His Korean is consequently exceedingly difficult for me to understand. If I had to describe how it sounds when he talks (I don’t, but I think you’ll appreciate the humor) he resembles a drunk man slurring his speech after scalding his tongue on overly hot sake and having had his jaw broken by an another angry drunk, whom he is still bitter towards, in a brawl the night before… sometimes, or even often, he speaks with his mouth full of food, thereby convoluting his speech even more. He works hard, staying at school most days until about midnight. When he does have free time he doesn’t spend it with us, so he’s the family member I easily know the least about.

Ah-in is one of the most brilliant 13 year-olds I’ve ever met. She’s equally hard-working, but spends a lot of time with the family and with me so she’s not quite the mystery her brother is. Her English was really good before I arrived, but it has been steeply and steadily improving. Her dream is to become an elementary school teacher, and she wants to study at one of Korea’s three best universities: Seoul, Korea or Yeonsei. She is still a first-year, so there’s plenty of time for her dream to change, but I think it sounds like a great goal. I pity her and the difficult scholastic road she has ahead of her, but she’s really, really smart (I mentioned this already) so I have lots of faith in her. Selfishly I wish she had more time off of school so we could play, but she’s hard-working and attends school and studies all day, Monday through Sunday. I thought I worked hard in high-school! She’s only in middle school and has 2-3 times the workload I ever did. Occasionally she gets some free time and we will take a long walk with her mom. These walks have become some of my favorite moments spent in Korea.

Teaching at Yeongheung Middle School is quite different from anything I had expected. Even the 7 weeks of training in Goesan weren’t enough to prepare me for how to deal with my students at Yeongheung. They’re a good bunch of kids and I love them outside of the classroom, but when it finally boils down to learning in class they transform before me into a mostly disinterested mass of disrespectful clowns.

The early weeks were easy, as mine was still a novel presence at school. I enjoyed my rockstar status for the better part of 3 weeks before I became routine. The students still like me, probably more than most of their teachers, but they’re no longer as interested in my beautiful face (except for maybe the girls) so there is a lot of talking that goes on. Talking is not limited to the back of the room, nor is it limited to the whispering or passing notes you’d expect in an American classroom. They just start talking like there’s no class in session at all. When the volume rises like that in the middle of teaching it is extremely distracting, and I’m not the scary teacher so I guess they feel safe in acting that way in my class. I’ve gradually been changing my strategies to match their behavioral patterns. I implemented a point system that I can deduct from whenever they’re out of line and can add to when they are well-behaved. The 3 classes in each grade with the most points get parties on the last day of school. This gives me a way to visibly show my disapproval without actually disciplining anyone. I’ve had to discipline on very rare occasions in ways that conform to both American and Korean laws (yes, I’m bound to both systems), but this was a welcome challenge. If I had it my way I’d treat every last one of these kids as if they were rational adults. Many of them I can, but there are those who crave being treated like children, and it becomes obvious to me rather quickly whom. I’ll post more on this later, as I’m shifting the focus of this blog from daily chronicles (‘cause that’s not happening) to an overview of my observations of life as an ETA in Korea.

Yeongheung is a private Christian middle school, and is supposedly the best middle school in Mokpo (mostly due to its affiliation with the neighboring Yeongheung High School, which is the top-rated secondary institution in Mokpo). Early on I was asked to attend monthly mass with the teachers and students. I was more than willing to go, but at the time of the first mass everyone left the office without telling me and they haven’t requested my presence since or even told me when or where they are held… so I guess that’s not happening. I’ll report back if I ever actually attend one. What I hear from other ETAs is that they are a lot like going to church in the states, except that instead of understanding half of the content of a sermon, you understand none. It’s really more an exercise of standing and kneeling and bowing, all of which are pretty well practiced on a daily basis in Korea anyway. Again, more to come if I end up going at some point this year.

Mokpo is a fascinating city with a lot of history that I’ve only learned very little about. It’s suburban and not actually as big as it felt when I first arrived. I got lost during my second week here and got to know the city a little better that way. I have also learned that most of the places where I spend time with the other ETAs in Mokpo are easily within walking distance from my apartment, despite it feeling like I’m on the edge of Mokpo (which I am). Korean cities tend to be packed in close and stacked on top of themselves. When I compare them to Gainesville they seem so much bigger because their buildings rise so high, but in reality I could walk across the entire city of Mokpo in about 2 hours, which I could not accomplish back home (I’ve tried). Cities also tend to be very pedestrian friendly (barring ridiculous Korean drivers). There are beautifully landscaped walkways all over the place. I enjoy walking around at night when no one is around to think about things and de-stress. During the day there are some really gorgeous trails in the hills and mountains scattered about the city. I’ll miss hiking them when I return.

Every week on Wednesdays, the 5 other ETAs in Mokpo and I gather to spend time together out on the town. We try to vary it up each week and do something new and exciting. It’s our one chance every week to speak with other native English speakers at a native English clip – this is more refreshing than you might think. Recently we made a little campfire up on the bald face of a mountain near our usual hangout spots. We roasted hotdogs, played some acoustic guitar, drank a few beers, sang and talked for hours bundled up in our sweaters and hats. It was a really memorable and pleasant experience. The face of the mountain overlooked both the water and the city, which were all aglow with neon lights and their reflections. I must say, the combination of firelight, neons, mountains, ocean and friends was a truly surreal and rare experience for me – one that I’m not soon to forget.

Okay, so prepare for the new blog format! I have realized that a chronicle of daily activities is both hard to keep up with and also a little bit boring. I will now begin organizing this blog with tags and will make posts on various aspects of ETA life in South Korea (perhaps a few of you are screaming, “FINALLY!”). Tags may include things like ‘Fulbright,’ ‘Teaching,’ ‘Korean Schools,’ ‘Mokpo,’ ‘Culture,’ etc. I will try to keep posts with such tags as exclusive as I can. This entry and all entries before will probably be tagged ‘Journal’ because that is what they most closely resemble. I hope to add a bit more commentary into my posts and excise some of the rote chronological listing of daily happenings. Cheers!

Entry Finished November 15th, Tuesday, 12:12 AM.

-Yeah…

Final Days of Orientation

All is right. Let’s get you caught up on my happenings South of the border – which I’ve neglected to keep you up-to-date on for the past month or so. As mentioned at the end of the last blog, I attended the Camp Fulbright closing ceremony at around 11:30 in the AM. My shift included the very end of the ceremony followed by clean-up. We expected this would be one of the hardest and most time-consuming shifts, but most of us picked it because it would allow us to sleep in until about 11. Irony struck and it was both the shortest and the easiest shift all day. The ceremony closed much sooner than was anticipated and the clean-up was extremely easy with the amount of people we had there to help us. Score. Now, while I don’t remember precise dates of various activities anymore, I will refer to my pictures’ “Taken On” date to establish the ‘when’ for chronological context. The closing ceremony occurred on July 30th which was a Saturday.

After Camp Fulbright, Korean class began to take precedence in our daily lives. We began having routine workshops again, but these were a relatively minor part of our days in comparison. The daily grind became those 4 hours of Korean everyday. The Friday after the end of Camp Fulbright we had another movie night and watched a Korean movie called Typhoon. It had promise, but the ending was a little whack. The hero manages to escape from a sinking ship that is both on fire and exploding, all while being locked in an iron chamber in the belly of the ship in the middle of the ocean. Wait… what? I thought Rowling was a stretch. I bought some Chilsing Cider for the people watching the movie and I remember Anthony Cho bringing his laundry up to the viewing room for folding. The following morning I got up early to begin the two optional excursions that I had signed up for very early on in orientation: Cooking Class and Archery. At cooking class we learned to make kimbap (a Korean-style sushi roll without raw fish) and japchae. I was very proud of my kimbap as it looked awesome and tasted even better. The japchae was also quite delicious, but the head chef lady kept coming by and adjusting things for us. She added a bunch of sesame oil to our japchae to the point where it was just about too greasy to stomach. I think it would have been perfect the way we made it, but that’s just me. The flavors of everything were great though. We were also given this sickeningly sweet red tea drink after finishing our dishes. I downed three glasses of water just trying to get rid of the sugary residue left in my mouth. Overall the experience was really fun. I basically know how to make kimbap and japchae now, but the real issue back in the states will be acquiring all of the ingredients.

After finishing up at the Cooking School we were all given ice cream for the ride back to Goesan. We were running a little late getting back so those of us who also signed up for archery were a little worried we wouldn’t make it. When we finally made it back to Jungwon, the archery group had already left. Luckily for the few of us who were headed to archery there was a Fulbright car ready to take us. I was thirsty though so I asked if I could run into the convenient store to grab a drink. Our coordinator Emilee said, “Sure!” They waited for me in the parking lot, and one other ETA went with me to the convenient store. When we came back out they were gone! We were so confused. We started walking all around looking for them. I went inside the school and checked in the ETA lounge, but they weren’t there. Then I came back out to see if my ETA friend Matt had found them, but both of us had been unsuccessful. Just then we hear a honk and look to our left and see a little Ford car there with Emilee in the driver’s seat. In retrospect I suspect they must have gone to pick up the car. We all piled in and drove over to archery. We had a lot of fun. The highlight of the experience was getting to see some pros fire traditional Korean shortbows. The volleyed arrows over a beautiful pond with rocks and hedges all around towards some large targets off in the far distance. I was so impressed that they could actually hit their marks at all! The targets were extremely far away. This was made even more impressive by the fact that the tension of a traditional Korean shortbow is always changing. It is dependent upon the humidity, temperature and how many times it has been fired in a day. At the end of a day they all go into a heating oven to respring them for their next use. Heating does something to the components of the bow such that its tension is restored. Needless to say, I found this all very fascinating. The bows were made of cow horn, a cow’s spinal tendon, bone, bamboo and more. They looked extremely cool.

After archery, we walked back to Jungwon, however I convinced Marlie, Frank and Lauren to follow me down the path that Morrow and I took early in orientation. This involved crossing the river, climbing over a hill and down a windy road past the old-fashioned village. They loved the hike and were really happy they followed me. We were going to have Zainab accompany us, but it was Ramadan and she hadn’t eaten and was worried about passing out.

This evening was also the evening that we had designated as our night to take our Korean teachers out to dinner. We met up with them in front of the language office after getting back from archery and hailed taxis to take us to the restaurant. We got samgyeopsal! I found this rather amusing considering my final presentation in the class was about how much I loved samgyeopsal.❤ The male teacher paid for the whole cab even though I tried to make him take my money. He also tried to pay for everyone’s dinner, but we wouldn’t allow it. He’s a really cool guy, and I hope we can keep in touch.

After dinner we went to Crown Bakery to get Patpingsu, and then went over to Mongmaljo (the purple bar) to have a couple drinks with the teachers. The male teacher attempted to teach us some of his epic dance moves too.

The next day we were given ramyeon for lunch, which was an unusual but welcomed treat. It also happened to be Caitlin and Elizabeth’s birthday so they were given a big cake which they shared with everyone. It was delicious.

Wednesday we had our finals and everything went surprisingly well for most people. My speaking test was super easy. Me and the male teacher talked about our favorite video games!! Wednesday was also our last night to go out with the teachers, so everyone and all their Korean teachers came out with us to Mongmaljo for one final hurrah in Goesan! We had a drunken blast. I had fun speaking Japanese with the male teacher. It allowed us to converse a little more deeply as my Korean and his English are both very limited. We walked to a noraebang but never actually used it… we just stood outside and talked. I also jerg-rushed Alex in the middle of a conversation and both Jake and I could not stop laughing.

The next day we were hard at work filming the last scenes of our movie for the Seoul graduation ceremony. We stayed up late and finished editing the movie and got to packing for the weekend.

We got up stupidly early for the ride up to Seoul. We left Jungwon at 5 in the morning. It was painful. I think the bus drivers were feeling it too because one of them backed their bus right into ours!! They left a huge dent and scrape, which was fairly amusing for most of us, if not a little scary. When we arrived in Seoul, we dropped our bags off in a big storage room at the hotel and were given a short amount of time to wander around the hotel. I grabbed some breakfast from the coffee place nearby and went back to the hotel. I was on the first bus to go visit the DMZ so I had less time to wander. Me and everyone else riding the first bus piled in and headed off for the DMZ in our fancy clothes (gotta look nice so those North Koreans don’t use us in their propaganda). The DMZ was phenomenally interesting. We got uncomfortably close to the border between North and South Korea, and even technically stood inside North Korea within the confines of a building that spanned both sides of the border. There was a North Korean tour going on at the same time, and in preparation for a potential defector the North Korean soldiers began marching on the other side and even walked right up to the border to guard it. After visiting the DMZ’s JSA (joint security area – the only unfenced area between the two countries) we went to a gift shop and I bought some North Korean blueberry wine and brandy as gifts for the homestay family and co-teacher. We also walked to the Bridge of Freedom, across which walked the prisoners of war from the Korean war released in 1953 where they were given the choice to live in either the North or South. Nowadays it is completely fenced off and guarded by soldiers.

After this short excursion we went to have lunch at a Bulgogi place. There were a bunch of Japanese tourists there, and one lady in particular had the biggest camera lens I think I have ever seen!

We were then taken back to Seoul and given some time to wander around the area outside the ambassador’s residence. I went to the nearby palace and walked around taking a bunch of pictures. After I had seen it all I walked over to the Dunkin Donuts and bought a green tea icee thing. When everyone had regrouped we went and had lunch at the Habib House (ambassador’s residence). It was an awesome banquet of American cuisine! Hamburgers (even veggie burgers), tortilla chips, 7-layer dip, salsa, hot dogs, cookies, brownies, deviled eggs, fruit plates, salad, etc… you name it! I pigged the heck out. I also had root beer, which I was told you can’t really get in Korea. We stood and ate at tables in the main living area. I talked with a few people from the embassy and had a pretty good time, even if my legs were getting a bit tired.

That night, upon returning to the hotel we were sadly told that one of our fellow ETAs (Alex, from my Korean class) had decided that he no longer wished to be a part of Fulbright. The mood in the room instantly changed as if there was a weight placed on all of our shoulders. Who knew that such news could have hit us all so hard?! We were as shocked and confused as we were disappointed. It felt as if we had lost more than just a fellow ETA, but a friend and family member. He’ll be missed this year, even if we don’t agree with his decision.

That night, my roommates Ryan and Brody went out for a stroll in the foreigner district of Seoul, Itaewon. It was a really sketchy place! The foreigners who come visit Seoul are not at all like the ambassadors of Fulbright… We stopped in at a bar for a rest, and a 30+ year old Korean woman started flirting with us heavily. She talked about her past relationships with married men, etc. and so forth and then proceeded to talk about Jesus and christianity. 180! The three of us were very confused.

Navigating the subways in Seoul was very reminiscent of transportation in Tokyo. It really brought me back there! The next morning I went out with Brody to get some lunch at a place behind the hotel. We got a blood sausage soup, and I did my best to teach Brody how to use chopsticks. Brody and I had many heart-to-heart talks during Seoul weekend. He told me a lot about his relationship with a girl back home and how that ended. It bothered him and helped to be able to talk to someone else about it. Later, we went to the war museum and boy did I learn a lot. If you don’t think you know much about the Korean war, I highly recommend you brush up on it. I think it’s a lot more important than we give it credit for in the US. It completely changed this country and was in many ways due to diplomatic idiocy that ensued post-WWII on the part of the allied forces. It is a very sad modern history. After returning from the museum, Brody and I went to a shopping area downtown and grabbed a bite to eat at a Korean junk food restaurant. We pigged out on all sorts of things, but I think Brody was happy that he could finally splurge a little. He hadn’t spent more than 10 or 15 dollars during orientation, and here he was actually cutting loose and having a bit of fun. Later I went to a store and bargained for a suit top. I had been wanting one for a while for two reasons. First, I was one of the only male ETAs without one. Second, most of my nice shirts are still too big for me, and a suit top would hide that. I was very relieved to get a slim top that actually made me look both nice and professional. I stopped for a coffee with Brody (who doesn’t do caffeine and did not partake) before going to meet back up with the rest of the shopping crew.

The next day I was committed to the idea of finding and devouring some Mexican food. Seoul is one of the few places in South Korea where you can actually get Mexican food and I wanted to make sure I got some. I did a little bit of research before going and read that there was a very delicious authentic Mexican restaurant in Gangnam-do. I decided that sounded like the place for me! Without an escort Brody wasn’t going anywhere, so I invited him along even though he didn’t care much one way or the other what we ate. Navigating the 45 minute subway ride harkened back to my experiences in Tokyo, the major difference being the size of the train stations (they are much smaller than those in Tokyo). When we arrived in Gangnam-do I was a little worried that the vague directions I had were going to get us lost and we’d never end up finding the place. This was my fear. However, the directions perfectly directed us to the right place: Taco Rico! The prices were triple what you’d pay back in the states, but the quality of the food was excellent. They even made their own chorizo sausage! For this reason, I forked out the extra dough to get a chorizo burrito. If I was going to spend big, I might was well get something great. Brody came along for the ride and got himself the same thing. I also talked him into splitting nachos with me. Neither of us were disappointed even though we paid close to $20 a piece for lunch. Afterward, we just walked around Gangnam-do and discovered its many wonders (other restaurants). If you’re hungry and in Seoul, that seems like the place to go. I took Brody back to the hotel and met up with my Korean friend whom I met at my language school in Tokyo. At first we had no idea where we wanted to go, and the district where we met up was really quite boring and filled predominantly with corporate offices and tall buildings. We eventually decided to relocate to Gwanghwamun where there was more to be seen, and certainly much more to be done. It was a rather hot and somewhat rainy evening, so we walked into a little trinket shop to mooch off of their air conditioning. We then wandered over to an Angel-in-us Coffee Shop and ordered non-coffee beverages. Tegyu got himself some OJ and got a lemonade. He said his orange juice wasn’t sweet though. My lemonade was quite good, and both of our beverages came in unusually large glasses, so I was rather pleased. Then we walked down by this man-made river and took a few pictures before heading over to the colorful fountain show by the Yi Sun Shin statue. Tegyu doesn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much Korean, so we spent the majority of our time together conversing in Japanese. It was good practice and also very refreshing. Something about speaking Japanese feels right to me.

We said goodbye at the subway station and I promised to get in touch with him as soon as I got a cellphone. The next day was graduation day. We all dressed nicely and checked out of the hotel early in the AM. We had an extra couple of charges on our room due to some uses of the telephone to call cellphones, but luckily it didn’t amount to much. The graduation ceremony was at Korea Univerity (one of the top 3 schools in the country) and was where all of our Korean teachers were from. The ceremony went really well, and everyone’s presentations were interesting to watch. A couple of the presentations were borderline disrespectful, but I asked afterward if any of the presentations were inappropriate and I was told that they were all okay, which I was happy about. During graduation there was also an awards ceremony for the top-scoring and hardest working students. I knew I had done the best out of anyone in my class because my Korean teachers had told me thus, but what took me by surprise was not having my name called when everyone else’s was being called. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. Then after everyone took their seats they announced that there was one top-scoring student overall and guess who that was! I was both really embarrassed and extremely honored. They gave me a very nice Korea University box which I’ve been using to hold my pencils and pens, a Korea University wallet and 200,000 won (about $200). After the ceremony we had a little buffet brunch in the lobby. I also had one last talk with my Korean teachers, which was a little sad. After this we went to the Fulbright building to go over our contracts. We also had a little pizza party catered by Papa Johns – the last pizza place I expected to find in Korea.

The bus ride home from Seoul felt extremely long. I’m not sure why it seemed to take so much longer than I remember, but it did. The following day we had our Fulbright Talent Show. It was hilarious to watch. Some of our fellow ETAs have amazing talents, and others are extremely comical. The next day we had a meet-and-greet with the renewing ETAs. This involved all sorts of games, cheers, scavenger hunts and grueling challenges. Our team came in second place. Great job Jeollanam-bros! We dressed like total toolbags and played hard like the tools we are. After the end of the very difficult scavenger hunt, we had a pool party and goofed around in the giant Jungwon pool. They had some oversized spheres for running around in on top of the water, and a large inflatable slide which proved rather entertaining.

The following day was the day of our departure from Jungwon University and the day we met our vice-principals and co-teachers, but I will save the rest of this story for another blog entry as I am a bit tired of writing today. Stay tuned!

Goesan, South Korea – 8:00 PM

As I write this blog in the comfortable space I now know as ‘my room,’ the rain outside is humming like a freshly turned rainstick. I am sitting in the dark in complete contentment. I now know my placement as an ETA and I am extremely pleased, but I will only go into more detail after I catch you up on what I’ve been up to this past week. I left off on Wednesday, my day of few obligations and lots of R and R. Things have since become more busy, but that is to be expected. In my rush to finish the last blog entry I also failed to mention that on Tuesday evening (before finishing my lesson plan) I attended a “night fun” activity on the 11th floor of the classroom building. I got there a little early and watched the campers charge through large stacks of boxes. They had constructed a wall out of cardboard boxes and had written their greatest fears on them. Running through the wall was supposed to help them visualize conquering those fears – or something. After the box smashing, we broke off into small groups and participated in activities with the campers. My activity was board games, so I sat in on a game of Monopoly (and no, we didn’t finish). I was surprised to learn that one of the kids at the English Camp lives in the US and speaks perfect English. Now, I don’t like being rude (or thinking of people in a jaded light) but I couldn’t help but wonder why he participated as a camper and not a junior coordinator.

Camp Fulbright

Conquering Fears

Thursday was much like my Wednesday, in that I didn’t have much to do, and spent a lot of time just relaxing. Friday, too, was pretty laid back, and then at the end of the day they had a double feature in what we like to call ‘the Fishbowl’ – a large conference room with windows for walls on two of its sides. I didn’t get to catch the first one, but I did get to go watch the second one with my new pal Frank.

In our weekend event planning session I had Frank come sit next to me just for the hell of it. He had for a while stood out to me as someone I’d like so I coaxed him over with snacks that I had bought (This meeting was also the reason I had to miss the first movie, otherwise I would have liked to watch it too. It is cleverly titled ‘200 Pounds Beauty’ – yes, with Engrish). The movie we did get to watch is called ‘The King and the Clown.’ Ben and Erin, I highly recommend it. If you need the Korean title for some reason, let me know and I’ll get back to you. I bought a coke and some snacks for the movie, but when we got there they surprised us with both drinks and snacks, so the extra-preparedness was rather redundant. As I said though, the movie was really good. I nerded out heavily and took notes on the story and style. My Japanese Film teacher would be proud. After all, good teachers love touching their students.

The King and the Clown

On Saturday I slept in a good while and woke up just in time for lunch and the activity weekend event that my group had planned. I was designated checkers-board master and was responsible for introducing the concept of checkers to the students. I gave them all colored hats and turned them into human checkers pieces. I will say though, that I was slightly envious of the Angry Birds crew, who got to spend their activity time shooting dodgeballs at a tall stack of boxes with a giant, elastic slingshot band. You know you wish you were there too. Later that day, a small group of us, Frank included, went out to dinner in Goesan. Most of us got Jajangmyeon, a noodle dish with a slightly sweet, slightly savory black bean sauce – and a double portion at that, which very few of us could finish. The funny thing about Jajangmyeon is that Koreans call it a Chinese dish, but Chinese people don’t know what the hell it is. It isn’t Chinese, but Koreans swear it is and absolutely love the stuff. In fact, Jajangmyeon must be served at Chinese restaurants in Korea or Koreans won’t show up. Poor China. I don’t think any country, save China, has real Chinese food. The best part of the meal was not the Jajangmyeon, though; it was the idon’tknowwhatitwascalled fried sweet pork dish that stole the show. Mmm, my memories of it are still fond.

The next morning, a large group of ETAs gathered in the ETA Lounge for a field trip. We went to see Harry Potter 7, Part Two! Actually it wasn’t really the morning, it was more like the afternoon. For breakfast (lunch) they actually served us something different in the cafeteria – curry! I was very happy about this. It wasn’t spicy at all, but the change of pace in the cafeteria food was warmly welcomed. Enough about the cafeteria though; that’s just boring. Frank, a fellow Potter fan, sat with me on the bus ride over to Cheongju. We parleyed about terribly interesting subjects including one’s own ascension in the Loathed Kingdom. I’m sure you’re all ready to hear more. Sadly, there is no more. But now we can move on to the movie (yes, I really just wanted to phrase it that way). At the concession hallway on the 7th floor of the building we arrived at, Frank and I walked up to the popcorn vendors and ordered a combo with popcorn, two drinks, and peanut butter roasted squid. You read that correctly. Peanut. Butter. Roasted. Squid. And yes, it was good.yu

After the movie, which I really enjoyed, a sizable group of ETAs went to the kimbap restaurant up the street. It took me forever to decide what I wanted, because knowing how to read Korean does not mean that you can understand it… I had some help from Alex the RA (who came with us to see Harry Potter ^^). I finally decided which kimbap I wanted and ordered some spicy seafood ramen to go with it. The spicy ramen was flaming hot and extremely spicy, so having the cool refreshing roll of kimbap there really helped tie the meal together. That night, upon arriving back at the school, I decided I wanted to be diligent and work towards finishing my lesson prep for Wednesday’s class. I managed to do almost everything I needed to, which helped a lot later on in the week when things started getting hectic, but I still managed to burn myself out. I stayed up very late studying after finishing my lesson prep and regretted it in the morning. It seems like every morning since, I have been extra sleepy. As a result, I’ve been married to coffee for the past 5 days.

On Wednesday night, after catching an anti-Americanism workshop, a few ETAs, the workshop lecturer and I went out for Korea’s version of shabu shabu. It was a lot different from what I am used to, but still very good. The walk down to the restaurant was really hot and humid though, and the food was also very steamy (shabu shabu is similar to broth fondue) so by the end of my meal I was feeling pretty warm. I decided to cool off by going to Crown Bakery to get myself some papingsu (Papingsu is shaved ice with many different fruit toppings, sweet red bean paste, ice cream and cereal flakes). My two lessons on Wednesday and Thursday went very well. The Wednesday one is the one I prepped for in advance. It was on storytelling and temporal markers. I drew a campfire on a big sheet of paper and had the students sit around it and read a story with me. That night at 8:45 PM my teaching partner Korena and I had a meeting with our team teaching instructor regarding our lesson plan for the following morning. Ergo, we didn’t get to actually work on the lesson until getting the go-ahead from the CI… which means we did all the prep the night before. We completely exhausted ourselves. It took something like 6 hours to prepare the whole lesson. It paid off in the end though, because our lesson went over very well.

That night after our team teaching lesson, we had our placement announcements. We were all really anxious to find out where we’ll be living for the next year. My placement is in Mokpo! Mokpo is a suburban port town far to the southwest in Korea. The province is known for having the best food in all of South Korea. How can that be bad? Be prepared for tons of pictures of food! After the announcements, our energy level was way too high (dare I say, over 9000?) and we weren’t about to just go back to our dorm rooms and study… We walked down to Goesan to the purple bar whose name no one ever remembers (Mongmaljo) and got our drink on with the Korean teachers. The place was really nice and had sofas for chairs. The one male teacher (who teaches my 3rd and 4th hours of class) was amazing! He played drinking games with us and had a very good time. He even started dancing and pretending to be Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, making tentacles with his fingers! I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. I had a fantastic night, as did many others, but we had a small money crisis right at the end where we were about 400,000 won short. Luckily this got worked out relatively quickly, but we couldn’t believe how much we came up short. The walk back to the University was nice. I was pretty tipsy, but I had company to talk with the whole way so the walk didn’t feel nearly as long as it was. That all happened yesterday. This morning was… something else. I woke up 10 minutes before class – a special thanks is owed to Morrow for waking me up. My first teacher, who also showed up at the bar, was completely fine while the entire class was clearly somewhat affected by the previous night’s debauchery. She told me she was drinking when I asked her at the bar, but there’s no way she had more than a shot or two. My guess is that she faked it and didn’t drink anything – which isn’t that uncommon here. The male teacher was a different story. I heard he had a pretty rough morning too, but he carried on with classes like a pro. Giving gifts is customary in Korea on a daily basis, and today our teacher was given a Gatorade, an isotonic and a vitamin drink! I thought the gifts were appropriate and rather amusing.

At 4:30 today we had a placement information session which proved rather useful. I know much more about the transportation system in my region and the specific school I will be teaching at. Since then I haven’t been doing much. I had dinner down in the cafeteria with Frank and plan to get up to attend the closing ceremony for Camp Fulbright at 11:30 tomorrow morning. My plans for tonight were originally going to involve games of some sort, but between Facebook, Skype and writing this blog, production took precedence over play. It is now 1:36 in the AM, it is no longer raining, and the only audible sounds are the hum of my laptop and the tapping of its keys. Here is where I sign off! Until the next blog, take care everyone!

P.S. Photos are up on my Facebook sooner than this blog usually. So check them out there🙂

A Synopsis of Weeks

Donghae, South Korea

Sorry for the long delay in posting this entry; a lot has been going on.

After landing in Incheon, the group of us from the New York flight made our way to the immigration desk. The time was approximately 3:30 AM. At first I was a bit lost and unsure of where to go, but the long line of Americans was rather easy to spot. No one had any problems getting through with their A-3 visas so we made our way to baggage claim. It took quite some time for my luggage to cycle around, but eventually I caught sight of that bright orange duct tape holding it together. It was a good thing my mom suggested taping the luggage up before taking it to Korea because it looked like it had taken a fair beating. With the exception of one or two people, I think everyone was able to retrieve their luggage at baggage claim. After getting all of our bags together we wandered over to the money-changer and converted our cash on-hand into Won… There were lots of zeroes and lots of bills.

Early morning at Incheon

We made our way to Arrival Gate F, an easy-to-remember meeting place for all of the arriving Fulbrighters. We were all pretty tired, and plopped down on some benches for a while and whipped out our laptops. Everyone had one! I think they were all either e-mailing people back home or updating their Facebook statuses. Also, unlike JFK International Airport, Incheon has free wireless (much to my delight). I was able to Skype briefly with Erin and let people know I had arrived in Korea safely. After about an hour we met with our first Fulbright staffers. They waved us down to the end of the wing so we toted our bags with us and left them by the wall near the last set of doors in the hallway. We sat and socialized for a bit, and I finally decided to take a ‘bum shower’ in the public restroom. I shaved, washed my hair, brushed my teeth, put on deodorant, etc. all by the sink in the airport bathroom. I think it would have been harder for me to work up the nerve to do that in the states, but being in a foreign country lets you play the ‘I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that; I’m a dumb foreigner’ card. Though, really, it is probably perfectly acceptable in both countries. I was also the only ETA brave enough (or motivated enough?) to bother with sprucing up. Some people brushed their teeth, but that was about it. I must say though, I felt like a million bucks and was very glad I made the effort. So for all you world travelers out there, it definitely makes all the difference if you bother to clean up and change after a full day of flying.

Incheon in the Rain

After a while more of waiting, the other plane arrived. A new group of ETAs joined us and began socializing. One partially asian-looking guy came up and sat next to me on the bench. We got to talking and found out a little later that we were going to be roommates at the university. His name is ‘Morrow, like tomorrow,’ as he explains it. That’s a pretty awesome coincidence that we ended up being roommates considering I still feel like I haven’t formally met all of the ETAs even after 2 weeks of being here and he was one of the first people I talked to that day. The next plane took much longer to arrive. It was close to 9 AM before everyone was finally together. There were also a handful of ETAs who didn’t make it that day due to a delayed flight. I’m also very thankful that didn’t happen to me. For breakfast and coffee I walked over to the Dunkin’ Donuts in the airport. The iced coffee I had was completely unsweetened and I made the mistake of assuming that Koreans must take their coffee black (this is not the case). The doughnut I bought was much chewier than what I’m used to back home. I also accidentally paid with American cash, but the lady at the counter took it anyway; I was surprised. She told me ‘5 dollars’ and I meant to grab my won, but grabbed one of my twenties by mistake.

Roads near the airport

When I went to throw my trash away there was a lady there who was hand-picking all of the recyclables out of the trash bag. I was shocked at their dedication to recycling, which I’m not used to seeing back home. If it ends up in the trash bin I think most Americans automatically assume it has the plague. And then there’s the whole issue of trying to get people motivated enough to recycle. America has a long way to go before it catches up with Korea or Japan in terms of efficient waste management.

Convenient store in the airport

While we were waiting for the luggage trucks to arrive, we were given our first stipends and some important phone numbers and name tags. When the luggage trucks arrived we all grabbed random bags (there were too many at this point to locate our own) and dragged them outside to toss into the trucks. The outside of the airport looked pretty spectacular to me for some reason. It was also a bit rainy, and luckily for us the walkways outside were covered. The Orientation Coordinators (OCs) tried to communicate some directions to the 85+ ETAs all chattering, but it was impossible for me to hear what was said. They apparently wanted ETAs numbers 1-44 to board Bus 1 and the rest of us to board Bus 2, but Bruce Park apparently didn’t hear that either.😉 I asked around and ended up on the right bus. After some snacks and a good 45 minute bus ride chatting with some of my new friends, and after one epic U-turn, we arrived… back at Incheon!! We were all very confused.

Bus snacks

More bus snacks

Yet more Bus Snacks

We were told that we had left someone behind at the airport. Bruce Park wasn’t on our bus and when the OCs called the other bus to see if he was on it, they couldn’t find him. We waited for what seemed like forever, until the urge to go pee consumed my every thought. I told my friend Morrow that I wanted to run off the bus to use the restroom, but I didn’t want to end up being ‘That Guy.’ That Guy is the guy that manages to accidentally fudge up the plans and/or schedule of a large group of people by being inconsiderate or unobservant. Morrow promised me he’d let the OCs know that I was running to the restroom if the bus started to take off (there were no OCs on board at that moment that I could ask permission of). I hauled butt off the bus and into the airport bathrooms. I remember being frustrated with myself because it was taking a lot longer to pee than I had anticipated – I was full up apparently! TMI? I ran back to the bus and… it was still there, and no one was the wiser. However, five minutes later an OC walks back on the bus to make the announcement that Bruce Park was on the other bus and had not responded to his name being called multiple times. He’s the reason we turned around and lost a good hour of our schedule. I laughed at this as Morrow said, ‘No worries, Dan. Bruce Park is forever “That Guy”. You’re in the clear.’

Loading up the luggage trucks

We took off for the university again, and resumed chatting with our neighbors. I made another good friend on the bus named Adam. We practiced reading hangeul together using our Korean water bottles as reading material. We stopped once along the way and used the restroom and got some street food. I bought something called Kochumatpa. It was some sort of pressed, spicy, starchy cake on a stick. Cheap. Delicious. I also bought a Pocari Sweat from the vending machine. It has been a while since I last had one of those! If you don’t know what that is, it’s essentially an isotonic drink with a very unfortunate name. Tastes better than it sounds. Luckily I had my leather jacket on me because I didn’t have an umbrella and it started to pour just as we were trying to get back on the bus.

A spicy whatever

Raining at the rest stop

Street food at the rest stop (Korean rest stops are epically more awesome than most in the US)

Got me some Pocari Sweat😀

We pulled up to the school completely dumbfounded. The university building is essentially a giant marble palace built into the side of a mountain.

Jungwon Palace (University)

It was recently constructed and is still being added onto. I didn’t see much of it the first day, but we were shown around briefly by tour guides who mostly couldn’t speak English. The dorm room was much nicer than I expected and was very comfy. The bathroom is a bit peculiar in that the sink is the source of the shower and it’s all in the same room as the toilet and the cabinets. Needless to say I need to be careful where I point the shower head.

My all-in-one dorm bathroom

On day two (July 4th) I ventured out a bit and gave myself a tour of the campus. I stumbled into Anthony who wandered around with me, having essentially the same purpose as me. We even wandered into the areas that were still under construction – adventurous and fun in its own right. I also wandered up to the top of a stone staircase and back into the woods. There was a little trail we found that led to a beekeeper’s hive.

We had a few workshops that day too, but nothing terribly memorable. The gist of the day was getting acquainted with our responsibilities as ETAs, clarifying the routine and getting settled. The schedule was pretty tightly packed though, so our whole group was getting worn down, especially with jet lag weighing heavily on us all. We had a scavenger hunt later in the day that took us into the town nearby the school, Goesan (pronounced kway-sahn). The goal was to take pictures of as many things on the list as possible. There were things like the town mascot, a Godzilla statue, a meat restaurant sign with happy animals on it, etc. They told us we’d be learning the history of hangeul, but they intentionally lied to us to make the scavenger hunt seem more fun, I guess. Always fun being treated like a ten year old!! I think the OCs are a little too used to teaching Korean school children. No big deal, we still had a good time on the scavenger hunt!

Thinking back, I realize now that with the jet lag and the packed daily schedule, July 4th felt more like a series of days than anything else. They surprised us at the end of the day during a mandatory club meeting with 4th of July fireworks! It was pretty spectacular. A number of people went out drinking with their new friends, but I was far too exhausted so I went back to my room to relax.

Sparklers!

The next day I had my first official Korean lesson (4 hours long) and got a membership at the gym.

On the 6th we dressed up and met with the Executive Director of Fulbright Korea, Mrs. Jai Ok Shim.

She’s a really sweet, hard-working lady who loves what she does. I also coaxed my Korean teachers to take a picture with me so all of you can see them. There’s a convenient store at the school that I had been to a couple of times, but hadn’t purchased anything from yet, but my ever-changing daily schedules were making me wish I had a good planner. I ran down to the store and picked one up which has been working perfectly for me ever since.

Planner

Today I bought 4 Fulbright Korea t-shirts! I’m excited to wear them around when I get back home. I’m proud to be a part of this program. In my free-time (which I have very little of) I wandered to areas of the school I hadn’t been to yet and snapped a bunch of pictures. Later in the evening I attended GLEE club which is a club designed to get the ETAs and Korean students to network. In principle I liked the idea of the club, but it felt more like an excuse to waste time than a cultural exchange. I may not attend many more meetings and instead focus on doing homework and blogging. If I have a lot of free time to kill I may attend another one, but I anticipate skipping many GLEE meetings in the future. UPDATE: I never went to another one😛

Friday, the 8th, was a great day! We broke from the routine and left early in the morning to visit various schools nearby where former ETAs had been placed. Current ETAs at the schools ran us through their day and showed us what lessons in action were like. The school I went to was awesome! It is a co-ed vocational high school in Daejeon and it is different from any high school I’ve ever heard of. First though, we accidentally walked up to the wrong school and passed by a classroom of girls who went CRAZY for us! They started screaming and running around the room excitedly, so we felt kinda bad when we realized our mistake and had to walk away. It was a funny scene though. We were all rock stars for a brief moment.

Walking to the wrong school

At the high school, we were privileged enough to witness how Korean boys behave in the classroom. There’s a lot of leaning on your neighbor and playing with their hair and tugging on their ear – stuff we’d consider overly affectionate or even homosexual back in the states – but in Korea this type of affection is commonplace among people of the same gender. We sat around in a classroom for a while and talked with the ETA. She explained a few things about the school and what it was like to work there. It actually sounds very entertaining. The tour of the school was one of the best parts of the day. Because it is a vocational high school there are many different populations of students. They ranged from auto-mechanics to architects to semiconductor and SMT operators. We got to take a walk up to the SMT center to see the machine that assembles the circuit boards. The students had been working on LED displays that would show off all sorts of cool things. The art room was a jaw-dropper too! We were all very impressed with the ability of the students. Lunch was decent, but the yogurt stuff that came with it was pretty horrid. However, what easily made up for that was the amazing kimchi! It was far superior to Jungwon’s (in my humble opinion). There have been rumors that Jungwon’s kimchi is packaged (as opposed to fresh – that is, as fresh as kimchi can be).

When we got back to Jungwon, after picking the rest of the ETAs up from the schools they visited, Morrow and I walked down to Goesan to explore. Every now and then we would decide to take some other arbitrary turn off into unknown territory. It was very adventurous, and I’m always hungry for adventure! We found a large stream with a few foot bridges cutting across it. Why not cross? The weather was good for walking around out in the open during the day because it was completely overcast, ergo we didn’t get baked alive under the Summer sun. It was across the river that we found this striking and unique path that had a different design every few meters or so. I took many pictures of it. Eventually Morrow and I decided to walk up a mountain path and climbed down the other side, wandering somewhat aimlessly into a direction I assumed was farther away from campus. We walked under a large overpass and marveled at what appeared to be a temple up high above us on the other side. We kept walking down the road and came to a very old-fashioned looking fort. It was completely abandoned (as was the ticket box outside), so we decided we’d just walk in. I couldn’t help but feel like I was stepping into a Miyazaki film – I wasn’t sure if when I came back out I’d find a road or a river. All it needed to complete this ridiculous scenario was a long bar full of delicious food set out for seemingly no purpose, with no one to watch it. Mmm, that would have been something! We came out and found a road, however, and that is where the delusional fantasy ends. There was a mysterious twist though, in that somehow we had circuited around and wound up back on the road that leads up to the school. I was more than a bit confused. I could have sworn we had a long way to go to get back, and really we were quite close to home by the end of our walk. On the subject of film, our guest lecture in the evening was given by Michael Hurt who was partially in charge of the English subtitling of the Korean movie The Host. I think Ben will find that fact amusing.

On the ninth we had a lesson planning workshop that drained us of all our energy. It was a life-draining, soul-sucking endeavor that should not have lasted as long as it did. In the end it was helpful, but it went breakless for far too long. At the end of the day, though, we took a fun little trip down into Goesan for dinner. It was my first experience in town at night, and trust me, it had an entirely different feel to it. The place we went for dinner is famous for ice noodles. Imagine ice-cold noodles in a very light broth with lots of spicy seasoning in it. It was a very refreshing Summer meal. I walked back to campus with Hogan and took a bunch of pictures of the night scenery.

Ice Noodles

On Sunday we had some optional excursions to choose from, but one of them was so popular that they had to have a lottery for the people who signed up because there were only 15 slots available. I signed up for one that promised to be less popular and got to join my OC Bryce in Cheongju (at least I think that’s the name of the place). I woke up early and went down to the convenient store to buy an umbrella and breakfast. Buying an umbrella was about the smartest thing I could have done!! It rained all day. I did my best to take pictures, but it was very wet and sometimes difficult to handle the camera and the umbrella at the same time. We started with lunch and had a nice traditional Korean meal with lots of side dishes (banchan). Afterwards the excursion became much more disorganized. We essentially just walked around the town in groups for a few hours, doing whatever we felt like doing. I started in the bookstore and looked for Korean comics to use as study material. I was told there was another ETA in the store that I could buddy up with, but I never found them. By the time I left I realized I was alone, so I walked by myself through various parts of the city. In the process my shoes had soaked completely through. At last I bumped into another group at the meeting place and joined them for the rest of the day. We wandered around and found a bridge over what appeared to be a river. Upon closer inspection the river turned out to be a road! There were traffic lights hanging over it, road signs jutting up out of it and identifiable parking lines off to the side. The current was strong; I could hardly believe I was staring at a road!

We walked into a towel store to get Leora a floor towel (for outside her shower I think). It was funny watching her try to talk to the clerk, because none of us could offer any help – we were all equally noobish in Korean. She walked away with one of the cheapest towels in the store though, which was her goal. Afterward we headed back to the meeting place and waited for the rest of the ETAs to get there. In the meantime, we searched high and low for a bathroom, which proved a little too difficult to find. I thought about getting coffee to pass the time, but the Angel-in-Us Coffee Shop had really expensive coffee. Each cup was over $5. That’s more expensive than Starbucks! I decided I didn’t want coffee afterall. Before taking taxis back to the bus station we grabbed some street food. What I bought was so delicious I doubt I can do it justice in explaining it. It was a rice-starch ball on a stick wrapped in cooked ground meat and then dipped in very spicy sauce. They had different sauces that I could choose from and I told them I wanted the hottest. The vendor made a cry baby face to make sure I knew what I was getting into and I simply nodded in acknowledgment. He handed me the snack with a smile, I thanked him and chowed down. That was a good memory. I want another one of those things now, darn it.

Dokkpokki Wrapped in Meat

We missed dinner because we arrived back in Goesan a little late, so a few of us went to a kimbap restaurant and had a lot of trouble reading the menu. By a lot of trouble, I mean we flat out couldn’t read it so we arbitrarily chose four things close together. Now, kimbap is essentially sushi without fish in it. Instead, the substitute all sorts of things. We ended up with a kimchi kimbap, a cheese kimbap (with American-style processed cheese food in it), and some others with unrecognizable vegetable ingredients. It was dirt cheap and very filling.

Kimbap

The following week was rather unremarkable, as things at Jungwon started to become routine. Inside this marble palace I don’t feel like I’m in Korea at all. Jungwon is a bubble, isolated up here on its mountain, self-contained. From the outside it is much better, but I spend so much time inside that I start feeling isolated from the rest of Korea. On Thursday, the 14th I finally venture out again and join a large group for dinner at a samgyeopsal restaurant in Goesan. I was on my way down to the cafeteria with the intention of saving money for the coming weekend, but Alex the Korean RA on my floor invited me to join them. I asked him ‘Is it worth it?’ and he responded, ‘Of course! It’s my favorite!’ And that’s really all it took to convince me to join. I was so ready to get out of the school! I may end up taking more excursions off campus in the near future in order to maintain a sense of place. Oh, and by the way, samgyeopsal is grilled pork belly (which is extremely fatty) that you wrap with sundry condiments in a lettuce leaf. It was sinfully delicious, though I find myself craving healthier foods which for whatever reason I’m having the hardest time finding. With samgyeopsal we had soju and beer and by the end of dinner most of us were on a good food and booze high. And so began my favorite weekend in Korea so far.

Friday we left for Donghae (the beach). The bus ride was 3-4 hours long with one rest stop along the way. At the rest stop I got some takoyaki which I shared with a few interested ETAs. For those who don’t know, takoyaki is a fried doughball with octopus in the center. The hotel in Donghae is actually owned by Jungwon, and had a very similar appearance from the inside and out. I will say though, the food was far superior. We had lunch at the hotel, a brief visit to the beach and then came back to the hotel for a 2 hour talk on Buddhism in Korea. The talk was given by a sweet expat who worked in Korea with the peace corps many years ago. His humor was pretty dry, but his laugh reminded me of the dalai lama’s. We then took a bus ride to a nearby mountain and hiked a short way up to a Buddhist temple. They setting was absolutely gorgeous. There was a little shop there where you could buy Buddhist trinkets and things, so I picked up a few items as souvenirs. That evening I went out into town with Kevin and friends, but broke away from them when they decided to wander off down a dark street to seemingly nowhere. I met with some other ETAs in the beach town joined in their “merriment.” This consisted of roman candles and beer. My friend Adam and I ended the evening late at night after discussing philosophies for at least an hour. He seems to be having trouble adapting to his momentary place in life, but I’m confident he’ll grow into it. The following day was a free day on which I went back to the mountain with a large group of ETAs and hiked up as far as I could. I paired off with a guy named Kevin and we ended up losing our way a number of times. The paths were not marked as obviously as we had hoped, thus we blazed a number of trails into dead ends. The process was fun and ultimately worth it. We made it back to the beach hotel in the early afternoon and went to town for lunch. I ate at a ramyeon place and got a spicy oyster ramyeon for just 4000 won. My roommate with the room key decided to stay at the mountain and taxi back to the hotel, which left me and my other roommate, Brody, locked out. We convinced the hotel staff to help us out though, and we were able to get back in. I spent the rest of the day at the beach with Brody. He had me bury him in the sand multiple times, and as he is almost completely blind, he had me describe to him what sort of shapes I was making the sand into. At first I made it look like he was being swallowed by a giant fish, and then later I made it look like he had two giant cartoon arms. Then came the horrible part! He had to rinse all the sand off in the ice cold water. I have a video of him doing this and he looks so cold! Dinner that evening was samgyeopsal, but slightly less delicious than the Goesan variety as the condiments were not as good. It being free spelled redemption though. That evening is also the night I started working on this ridiculously long blog entry. I only got a few days in and had to quit for sleep’s sake! I’ve only just now got back around to finishing it and it’s Wednesday night! On Sunday we left the hotel after a lovely breakfast and visited a museum in I-don’t-know-where, Korea for many more hours than we needed to. It was big and impressive from the outside, but was more like an arbitrary and eclectic collection of items (mostly replicas) on the inside. We were scheduled to be there for four hours, but only needed two at most. At first I thought I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, but was later told that I just couldn’t use flash – so I started taking tons of pictures. Next to nothing in the museum had a placard explaining what the items were. The most they’d usually say was the name and the era they think the item came from. The collection ranged from dinosaur bones and rocks to models of buildings from around the world. They were playing the BBC program Walking With Dinosaurs in one of the rooms, which happened to be a convenient place to sit and wait out the remaining hours we had for our museum visit. After we were done we ate lunch at the museum restaurant. We had bibimbap – scrumptious! Something in my gut tells me that the museum is also owned by Jungwon though… They have the exact same owl-tree fountain that Jungwon has on its golf course. I think they’re moving us from bubble to bubble! Mrs. Shim surprised all the ETAs with ice cream as we were getting back on the buses. I got melon. Yum!

Monday, the 18th I taught my first ESL lesson ever and it went over extremely well! I felt very comfortable and had a really good time teaching the 11 student class. I made a few beginner mistakes, but that was the point of the lesson! I am learning to teach, so I got some good feedback from my camp instructor. I also did really well on my Monday morning quiz. The two successes put me in a really good mood for the rest of the day. Tuesday was less eventful. I spent most of the day locked in my room writing a lesson plan for next week. I was having a lot of trouble with the Korean Heroes topic, but had a breakthrough when I left my room for dinner. Getting out and around really does help clear the mind. I was able to think much more creatively while moving about.

Today, finally!!!! It’s nice to be caught up. I’ll try not to fall too far behind again. Today I had a very relaxing day free of obligations of just about any sort. I had class of course, but after that I was free. I played a game on my computer for a bit and did my laundry (which only took 2000 won this time). In the middle of the day I went with a few guys into Goesan to shop. I got some large sheets of paper for next week’s technology-free lesson, and a new wireless mouse because my old one finally started to die after about 5 years. We ran into D-mart as well and I bought some instant coffee sticks (which should help me save money on coffee during the week). Today was actually really sunny out. There were no clouds to speak of, which is saying a lot. I think this may have been the first cloudless day since I arrived here. As a result, it was really, really hot! We decided to take a taxi back and save ourselves from the sun and exhaustion that we’d inevitably get if we walked back to the university. Since dinner in the cafeteria (which was not terribly good) I have been in my room, playing games, watching a movie and writing this epic blog entry. Peace and love everyone! I’m tired and going to crash in less than two minutes. Watch me.

Departure

It has only been one week since I
arrived in South Korea and so much has already happened! I’ll start
at the beginning of my journey to keep things somewhat chronological,
but I am writing this a good week after the earliest part of the
tale. The day of my departure I drove Erin to school in the morning
so she could take her Calculus quiz. I got her there a little early
because I had planned to meet my mom at the house so she could help
me get together some last minute things. On my way home I was waiting
at a red light, not really focusing on the cars driving through the
intersection, when I heard a loud screech and looked up just in time
to see this young girl slam her car into the back end of a large
pickup truck that was stopped in the intersection waiting to turn.
The truck was mostly okay, but the girl’s car was a mess. Her car’s
hood was smashed like a heavily stomped-on soda can. That accident
woke me up a bit and made me realize that if something like that were
to happen to me I would have no idea what to do. I had to leave
Gainesville on a plane at 2:50, no exceptions. Needless to say I was
EXTREMELY careful driving home, and extra mindful of what other
drivers were doing around me.

Accident awareness

After mom helped me pack up my bags we
went to pick Erin up from school. We swung by the Walgreens on Waldo
road and bought some emergency cold medicine and ibuprofen. We met
Ben at Sonny’s BBQ and almost didn’t get lunch there because it was
so packed. Luckily, the timing worked out fine and there were no
issues (and we got lunch ^^). I had a pulled pork sandwich, with mac
n’ cheese and a huge glass of sweet tea!! It was a great farewell
comfort meal – not exactly healthy, but delicious and unique to the
American south. Dad joined us for the last 5 minutes of our meal and
then we made for the airport.

Lunch at Sonny's

At the airport it was very difficult to
say goodbye to everyone. I was excited for my trip, but also very sad
that I was leaving everyone behind. At least I know that I have
amazing people waiting for me back home, which is certainly a
comforting thought. I gave everyone hugs and tried my best not to get
too teary-eyed. Then I made my way through the carry-on security
checkpoint. They stopped the conveyor because they couldn’t figure
out what was in one of my bags. All the security officers crowded
around the X-Ray machine and tried to guess what the item might be;
one guess I heard was Christmas lights! They had to open my bag to
figure it out. It was the travel safe that Rebecca bought me for my
trip! It has a sort of wire mesh on the inside of the fabric to keep
people from cutting it open.

Leaving Gainesville Airport

I walked around the corner and saw
everyone waving to me from the other side of the glass. We took a
bunch of pictures through the glass and waved goodbye again. I
remember mom trying to tell me something but I motioned towards my
ear indicating that I couldn’t hear a word she was saying. I checked
the time and realized it was really close to time for me to board my
flight. I scrambled to get all my stuff together and bid farewell one
final time. I hurried over to my gate and boarded the plane.

Parting at the Airport

The flight up to Atlanta was relatively
short, but I ended up sitting next to a really nice high school girl
named Ashley. We talked the whole flight. Her father apparently works
on planes for a living and she and her mom were on their way out to
spend a week with him in California. She will be a senior in the
Fall, but doesn’t like her school very much so she’s dual-enrolling
at Santa Fe College. I think she is looking forward to college and is
hoping to do something in medicine. However, one of her main
interests is art, so I told her about the Arts in Medicine program at
Shands and also a little bit about Amy B.’s background in art
therapy. Ashley had no idea things like that existed. She seemed
pretty interested in researching more about it. She asked me about my
bracelets and I explained that they were disease awareness bracelets
that I got from Streetlight (the volunteer organization I’ve been
with for over 3 years). I noticed she was wearing a pretty cool
bracelet herself and asked her about it. She said it was in honor of
a Tibetan monk that was being held captive (I assume in China). She
also thought I was gay at first, and was surprised when I revealed
that I had a girlfriend. I guess I’m on my way to metro… She is a
cool girl; I felt really lucky to have sat next to her on my flight.
It seemed like we were the only two people talking. I gave her the
link to my blog too. Maybe she’ll read this.🙂

One of my two layovers

When I arrived in Atlanta I didn’t have
much trouble finding my connecting flight. Atlanta’s airport wasn’t
very confusing. I went to the bathroom before boarding my next
flight, but this was like the tenth time since Sonny’s because I’d
had a LOT of sweet tea. I didn’t have to wait too long, maybe 45
minutes, for them to start letting people board. In the meantime I
played some ‘words with friends’ on my iPhone and texted Stuart who
was also in Atlanta (Speaking of Stuart, I need to get in touch with
him… I haven’t talked to him since I left). I got pretty lucky with
my seating arrangement again with this flight. I sat next to a girl
who is Erin’s age that goes to UF. Her name is Asheen and apparently
she knows Lola from Streetlight. Her parents are both doctors and
were attending a convention in New York City for Bangladeshi people
in medicine. They got their degrees in Japan, of all places, which I
thought was awesome! I forget the name of the college they studied
at, but it was somewhere near Osaka. She is a bio-major and is
currently taking Horvath’s summer Chemistry 2 course… I don’t envy
her. She was on her way up to join her parents at the convention for
the weekend and was going to fly back for school on Monday. Turns out
she was also on the Atlanta flight too and was probably sitting in
the seat right in front of me. Neither of us saw one another
though. Weird. Anyway, she said she was going to be staying at a
hotel on Broadway and really wanted to go see a play. We both thought
Wicked would be a good choice. I also told her that I had heard good
things about The Lion King. We talked for a good while, but she had
some studying to do for chemistry so I left her alone for the second
half of the flight. We exchanged names so that we could be Facebook
friends.

JFK International Airport (not so fun)

Then there was JFK. I landed in JFK
International Airport and got totally lost! I was so confused for the
better part of an hour – maybe two… I asked for help from one of
the ladies working there, but she had a pretty strong accent (not
sure what kind, but not American) and didn’t say much. She told me to
take the flight train, but didn’t tell me to where. I eventually
hopped on a train outside, which required me crossing the street and
taking some elevators, and it started taking me up through the terminal
numbers: 2, 3 and 4, 5, 6… I checked a map and it said that Korean
Airlines flies out of Terminal 1. I thought to myself, ‘but that’s
where I started!’ I got off and took another train the other
direction. At this point I started feeling a little uncomfortable
about the amount of time I was wasting. I took it all the way to
Terminal 1 which I could have sworn was the terminal I came from.
When I got inside everything looked totally different! Clearly this
wasn’t the place I started, but if I hadn’t started at Terminal 2,
and I hadn’t started at Terminal 1, where was I? Terminal 1 and 3
quarters? I accepted my fate and worked my way over to the Korean
Airlines kiosk. The economy class line was packed, so I had to wait
for a while. This African man got in the line and started flirting
with the girl behind me. He was playfully trying to convince her to
come home with him, and some other guy (maybe her dad) stepped in and
said I’ll come with if you’d like, but he was friendly in his
demeanor so neither person seemed overly threatening. The African man
laughed and said ‘No, I don’t like man. I like woo-man,’ which made
all of us laugh. When I finally got to the counter the lady said that
the flight was very full, so I started to get concerned that I
wouldn’t get a seat. Luckily, all was well. She tried very hard to
get me a window seat, which was nice of her, but I told her that any
seat was fine I just needed to be on the flight. She printed me a
ticket and said they’d change the seat for me at the place where I
would board, but then at the last second her colleague yelled to her
that a window seat opened and she asked for the ticket back
frantically and started typing away on her computer. A look of
triumph overcame her. She printed a new ticket and handed it over to
me saying that I now had a window seat. I thanked her and walked over
to the security checkpoint. The lines were somewhat long and slow
moving. I’d say there were at least 6 lines of people and they were
fairly backed up. The line and the line next to me were being served
by only one guy, who was scanning everyone’s passport so that they
could proceed to the checkpoint. Right when I got up to the front of
the line he gets up and leaves. 5 minutes pass. 10 minutes pass.
People started getting really impatient. The man got up and left
without getting anyone to replace him. It was phenomenally annoying,
and made worse by the fact that I was carrying an uncomfortably heavy
backpack and a very large laptop computer. Eventually a guy who had
been serving two other lines caught wind of what was going on and
waved me through. It felt like I had been standing there waiting for
30 minutes by the time he called me over, but I’m not sure how long
it actually was. Once my passport was scanned it was still another 10
minutes before I was through the checkpoint. I wised up this time
though, and took my travel safe out of my carry-on so that airport
staff could easily identify it. There were no problems. I walked over
to my gate after collecting all my stuff and sat around waiting for
while. A small group of people waved at me and asked if I was part of
Fulbright Korea. I said yes and introduced myself to all of them.
Gradually, more and more Fulbrighters showed up and we started
playing Bananagrams, which is kind of like scrabble, but a lot more
fast-paced.

Bananagrams

I stopped after one game and tried to
make good on my promise to Erin that I’d Skype her from New York. I
had to buy credit in order to use JFK’s wifi, but it was worth it. I
was able to get some good face-time in and cheer her up a little.❤

My Korean Air Plane

On the flight to Korea my touchscreen
TV didn’t want to respond. I had to push it in all sorts of weird
ways to get it to do anything. For a while I just gave up and watched
whatever the person in front of me was watching. Then I tried my hand
at it again and was able to finally get it to play a movie. The movie
was Korean and was called Hello Ghost. At first I had my doubts, but
it was surprisingly very entertaining. I was next to two Korean
children and didn’t bother to get up even once during the flight,
because I didn’t feel like crawling over them to get out of my seat.
The food was pretty good. It wasn’t as good as what my Japanese
airline had, but it was still better than standard Delta fare.

Dinner (Bibimbap)

I took some Nyquil and passed out after dinner for a good 4 hours. Sadly, my
sleep was interrupted by the lights coming back on and stewardesses
passing out ‘breakfast.’

Breakfast

After that I couldn’t get back to sleep, but
4 hours was way better than nothing! Before the plane landed I was
trying to write down some of what had been happening so that I could
remember it all, but my pen started running out of ink. I tried
wetting the tip to see if it would help, but the pen would quickly
stop working again. I shook the pen (mistake) and it kind of
exploded. It got all over everything, but it was dark so I didn’t
notice that anything was amiss until later. I felt a little bad about
it, but it was an accident and relatively harmless.

That’s about it for day 1! I’ll
eventually catch up with what I’m up to currently, but I need
sleep… So I will save the next portion of the tale for another day.
In the meantime, please check my Facebook for pictures of what I’m up
to and where I am (which I upload more frequently than these blogs).

Preface

Goesan, Korea

It is difficult to set my frame of mind for you upon leaving my home country. The first person I had to say farewell to was one of my closest friends, Gus. It was an unexpected parting, and one of the most difficult separations I have ever endured. Gus and I met online, playing games together with our friend Stuart over Xbox Live. We played many games together over the course of our year and had many meaningful and memorable conversations along the way. We also volunteered together at Shands Hospital for a while, and I must say, he was amazing to watch. He could connect so easily with the teenage patients right from the very beginning. He didn’t need training. He didn’t need to shadow another volunteer. He could just walk into a room and start talking, and genuinely empathize with just about anyone.

Gus - One of the best friends anyone could ask for.

He and I grew very close, and towards the end of our time together he went so far as to call me ‘brother.’ I knew I’d have to say goodbye to him if Fulbright accepted me, but we were planning on keeping in touch via Skype and possibly even Xbox Live. We also planned on taking a trip to Japan together because I know a handful of people there who would be willing to show us around and Gus had always wanted to go. We never got our chance to take that trip. For those who didn’t know him or don’t know what happened to him, he died rather suddenly a couple of months ago due to medical complications. Gus, one of the best friends I have ever had the privilege of meeting, is with me in spirit only as I travel the world. He will truly be missed… I know I will make him proud one day, and hope to exceed his expectations of me as both his friend and brother.

I left behind another very important person, at a less-than-convenient time in our relationship, making this move even more difficult. I’ve known Erin for close to a year now, but it was not until a little over three months ago that we actually started dating. I know many people might have avoided getting into a relationship so close to a one-year sojourn, but when true love finds us it tends to ignore things like convenient timing. Erin is a magnificent person and one with whom I plan to share many happy memories. We’ve been through some rough times together, but there’s something about her that brings me calm when life gets difficult, and that is a very comforting quality. She is extremely kind and has one of the world’s most beautiful smiles (which she graces me with often). I love her, and look forward to our reunion this Christmas.

Leaving Gainesville Airport

In addition to these partings, my family is going through some significant changes which will mean that when I return, my home-life will not be as I left it. The home I have lived in for as long as I can remember is likely to be put up for rent. This displaces both my brother and me, albeit at an appropriate time in our lives. It is probably high time we flew the nest and started supporting ourselves. In addition, my dad, now recently remarried, is expecting a new child in November, whom I am eager to meet. All this is happening back home in the year that I am gone and I won’t be there for any of it. It is a time of change, and I will surely come back to America a much different person. This adventure in Korea is going to be a time of personal and professional growth. My Fulbright grant is a chance for me to represent my country; it is a chance to serve others graciously and to learn from them; it is a chance to make all of you proud –  as I am part of something much grander than nationalism and politics. Whether or not we realize it, our behavior abroad can significantly affect the image of our people back home and it is my job as a cultural ambassador to positively represent every one of you by being a humble, engaged and respectful guest. I will do my best to show South Korean citizens what it means to be American; I will encourage my students to pursue their goals and study hard to get into the schools they want; I will work towards mutual understanding and multinational companionship, because I believe that it is through persuasion, friendship and working together that we make our greatest strides. With this mindset, I have set out to teach (and learn) in South Korea.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.