Day 535 - Last Day of Class

Last day of class for me, contractually. I don't have to come to school again until March 2 next year! At that time, I'll have a brand new batch of kiddos -- 1st years in the school. Meeting the 1st years is always really fun.

For example, this past year, I got a really great new 1st year in Tae Hyun, who understands my position as a foreigner better than any of the other students since he lived in Egypt for a while. We started off really well during winter camp when I first met him. His spoken English skills impressed me to no ends (thanks to ESL classes in Egypt). Unfortunately, the other students used his great English skills and his slightly bigger size as points to make fun of him for.

It broke my heart. I became one of his best friends in the school, since all of his peers made fun of him for his size and called him "Foreigner" or "Egyptian". The teachers even picked on him, berating him for his low scores on vocabulary tests. I'm not sure which is worse, being picked on by your peers (which totally sucks at that age) or having your accomplishments (conversational English skills) completely overlooked by teachers just because he didn't test well. After a semester of putting up with this, he's started acting up, creating problems, refusing to study. It's become a real downer for me.

All my students are growing up on me. Between their 1st year and their 3rd year, they go through a lot. 1st years are fresh out of middle school, just starting the cool high school years. Most of the students at this point (and I teach a lot of boys, remember) are testing the waters with their peers and their teachers, trying to see where the boundaries are. The 1st years tend to be some of my loudest, most difficult to control classes, probably because they're out to prove themselves.

The 2nd years are more mellow in my school. They're not being testing for anything *particularly* important yet, and they're not coming off of any tough tests like the 1st years (the middle school test to get placed for high school). My 2nd years are laid back, they like to have fun, they don't sleep as often in my class. I'd say they were my favorite, but every single year...

..the 3rd years are my favorite. It may just be because they seem to look forward to seeing me the most. Even with only about ~50% of them taking the college entrance exam, they are still forced to memorize an unbelievable list of vocabulary every week. Maybe that's why they look forward to my class. I have the most relaxed relationship with my 3rd years since they never seem to have any discipline problems (maybe out of relief that they're out of their usual classroom and just chillin' listening to music in mine). I also have the closest bonds with the 3rd year students, since I've taught them for a year and a half and we chitchat more than other years. In particular, the class captain of one third year class, Sarang (awesome name, right?) always goes out of her way to be cheerful and helpful in my class, demanding quiet and respect from the boys when they get out of hand. The school president in another class has his posse of 3 close friends, all with mediocre English but with the types of welcoming and humorous personalities that make them the most "popular" crew in school. (And, not surprisingly, the most sought after bachelors amongst the ladies.)

So this is the sad time of year, when my 3rd years are all skipping school since their finals and the suneung is finished. Every once and a while, when I'm walking down to the bus stop, a 3rd year will hang out of the window from the 3rd floor, where all their homerooms are, to yell "Goodbye, Lindsay!" and make a heart over his head with his arms.

Goodbye, Taehyeong. Goodbye, Sarang, Goodbye Taehyeon. Goodbye, Daeseung. Goodbye to all my 3rd years, and good luck where ever life's taking you, whether to college or to the galbi restaurant down the street.


Day 533 - Tokyo

I went to Tokyo!

I stayed at a capsule hostel.

I ate ramen ordered from a vending machine with my friend, Sarah.

I went to Sensouji Temple.
I went to the Yokohama China Town.

I went to Ueno Park.

I went to Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park.

I ate gyoza. it was good!

I also ate eel ice cream. not so good.

I went to Harajuku.

I ate crepes there.

I saw the biggest pedestrian crossing in the world at Shibuya.

I saw Mount Fuji from the Metropolitan Government Center observatory.

I went to the Meiji Shrine.

I took a walk in the Meiji Shrine gardens.

I went to Ginza... but it was too expensive

The end. :)


Day 526 -- Unexpected Tutoring, Tokyo Planning, One Year


The coffee shop lady asked me too meet up with her son, and since she always gives me free "service" waffles and apple pie when I buy a coffee, I dutifully went to the shop to meet him.

About an hour later, this extremely exhausted middle-school boy drags himself in the door, textbooks in tow. He has the biggest eye bags I've ever seen on ANYBODY, let alone a little boy. He offers a kind of shaky "hello" smile. I try to start up a conversation with him -- what's your name, where's your school, what are you studying -- and after about 10 minutes he has said about 20 words. He mostly just looked like a zombie and I felt really bad for him.

Then when I was leaving, coffee shop lady pushes an envelope at me. I told her it wasn't necessary, but she insisted. Her son goes to a middle school, where he studies English. He then goes to hagwon, where he studies English. Now, during his freetime, he's being forced to study English.

This system is not working.


I'm headed to Japan tomorrow to see Tokyo and visit a friend studying there (helloooo Sarah!) for five days. I'm excited to get traveling again!!


Wednesday will be Doyup and my one year anniversary. I, um, will be in Tokyo. I met his mother yesterday, and she seemed pretty nice. At least not as bad as I feared (I was picturing a typical super-scary-boyfriend's-mother from a Korean drama, like Boys Over Flowers or that other one). There was still a lot of very awkward questions, for example "Doesn't your mom as you when you'll get married? Aren't your parents worried that you aren't married yet? How old are you? And you're not married?"

I guess Doyup and I have dated too long, in her eyes. You date for 6 months, then you either get married or break up. Womp womp.



Korean Self-Study Advice

It's hard enough finding Korean language classes in Korea, so I can only guess that it's nearly impossible in the States. To answer a very lovely friend's question about self-studying (shout out Maryyy!), here's what I use.
-->Conversation/speaking, writing
-->Recommended for language partners (lots of Koreans want to practice their English, and will gladly help out if you let them speak with you for a bit). You can also write short passages and Korean native speakers will "grade" it for you and make corrections.
-->TOPIK practice
-->Registering for the site (free!) opens up the archives to all the previous TOPIK tests of every level ever administered anywhere in the world. The best way to get better at the TOPIK is to practice and study your mistakes, I think, and this is free.

Sogang University
-->Vocab, grammar, reading
-->My favorite series out of all the textbooks I've used. Some series focus on more conversation, but since I get enough conversation in my daily life and is free, I like Sogang best.

TOPIK Essential Grammar 150
-->Grammar. Duh
-->It introduces grammar points in units organized by what the grammar points mean. For example, there's many ways to say "After .... , .... " so all those grammar points are organized together. Each unit ends with TOPIK-like grammar questions using those grammar points introduced.

한국어 어휘 연습
-->Vocabulary, colloquialisms, idioms, Chinese roots
-->Words are grouped into sections and taught in units based on TOPIK vocabulary question styles. For example, a section for synonyms, a section for antonyms, a section for idioms, etc. each section is broken down into bite size study units of about 25-30 words a piece, and each piece is followed up with example questions from previous TOPIKs. has a lot of really great TOPIK study books. I would buy/use more, but I already have enough partially-completed study guides... I should just finish the ones I have.

Day 523 - Distractions from Studying at the Coffee Shop

If living in Korea has taught me anything, it's to live in the moment. Koreans are notorious for last-minute schedule changes, no matter how high up in the administration you are. Classes are regularly canceled and the native-speakers don't know until the students don't show up. I guess adapting a "live in the moment" mentality is a kind of defense mechanism so that the more anal of us don't completely give up on time management all together.

Yesterday I went into a coffee shop near my apartment with full intentions of memorizing a page in my Korean vocabulary book. I do this a lot because... it's normal? Isn't it normal to go to a coffee shop alone, if you have work you want to get done? I don't study well at home, and the library is full of students cramming for finals, so a coffee shop is a wonderful place to pump myself full of caffeine and sugar and plow my way through whatever work needs to get done.

No no, not this time. The coffee shop owner looked at me with eyes full of pity and asked me to sit with a young girl to drink my coffee, that way I wouldn't be alone.

So studying didn't happen.

The girl ended up being a middle school student, actually one of Michelle's girls, Subin. She was really cute and completely fascinated by my Korean. We chatted for over an hour about life, her schedule, exams, our favorite KPop boy bands, our favorite dramas, typical middle-school-girl things -- and I was able to do it all in decent-enough Korean.

As I was leaving, the coffee shop lady asked me for a favor. She showed me an English textbook and explained that it was her son's. He's a high school student who, apparently, is good at math but hates English. She asked me, if I could, to come back the next day at 5 or 6 and chat with her son in English.

With the whole "living in the moment" thing in mind, I said yes. I told her (in my EXTREMELY blunt Korean, since I haven't learned enough grammar and vocabulary to be politely subtle) that I wouldn't be able to teach grammar or vocabulary, or translate the textbook for him. She said that was fine, she just wanted him to meet me and for me to talk to him like I talked with the girl. She was apparently impressed that I had learned enough Korean to be conversant, but had only been studying for 2.5 years.

I had just been talking (read: complaining) to my co-teacher earlier that day about how frustrated I was with the Korean English education system. My students were coming in all day with short, 1 page hand-written essays for me to edit and they were TERRIBLE. I was complaining mostly about how English class isn't taught in English -- the teachers speak Korean the entire time -- and how that's completely backwards if they're ever going to learn the language comprehensively. (Korean classes, however, are taught ONLY in Korean, even from the very beginner level. What's up with that, Korea? You clearly know how to teach languages, so why don't you apply it to the English curriculum?!)

Anyway. I hope Subin and this high school student come away thinking that, if they actually practice the English they learn in the classroom, they'll be much better at it. That English is not a dead language. It's not just translating paragraphs out of a book and memorizing vocabulary words. That there's actually a really big world out there where English is used to communicate and express people's ideas.

At the very least, I'll probably score free coffee and waffles out of it.


North Korea's Change of Leadership Through North Korean Eyes

Interesting article translated by The Korean over at Ask A Korean. A reporter talks to North Koreans about the transfer of power going on in North Korea and what they really think of their current leadership.

Day 550 - Things Are Not So Bad

Now that the Chungdae Korean classes are finished, I suddenly have all this free time to socialize, sleep, self-study Korean, sleep, cook things terrible for my diet, sleep, go back to the gym, and sleep.

I really do sleep a lot.

I got accepted for the US Department of State's Critical Language Enhancement Award Korean class this February. I was placed in High Intermediate with some girls that I *know* are much better than me. I should be sleeping less and studying more so that I'm not left in their dust.


Going to Japan next week during my students' finals. Tokyo and all your crazies, here I come!


Day 511 - Korean Wedding

Saturday I went with Doyup to see his friend get married. He and the friend met while in America doing that English camp for a week. I don't know the guy's name, so from here on he will be The Groom.

The Groom is a special forces Korean marine. He and The Bride knew each other for 6-7 years in university, but just started dating 6 months ago. 6 months of dating, and they're already getting married. Crazy.

Koreans get married in a hurry. Actually, they do everything in a hurry. Because of this hurry, weddings are very quick and convenient to plan -- just go to a wedding hall. Said wedding hall will have everything set up for you in a package deals. From the venue to the reception to the photos, everything is done for you. You just show up on the right day.

It's not my style of wedding, but my favorite part was when the marines did their sabre-arch as the newly officiated husband and wife walked back down the aisle after the ceremony. Before the Groom could pass through each pair of marines, he had to complete a mission. Missions included push-ups with his new wife sitting on his back, serenading his new mother-in-law, and doing squats while holding his new wife.

It was HILARIOUS and I loved it! Doyup explained that it's a Korean military wedding tradition to have the missions, and that usually the last mission is to return to the beginning and do it all over again. Loooove it!

Day 515 - Korea Is Not Politically Correct

Since there's a lot of people I don't know who apparently read this (who ARE you?!) I just want to say that I am by no means trying to make Korea out to be a super racist country or anything. I'm just making observations from my personal point of view, which is very Western.

In the States, I personally thought that the "color-blind" approach to racial issues was the lesser of many evil choices. Yeah, I'm white, middle-class, and come from a happy family so I realzie I'm not one to talk about race. But from a young age, living in Korea and then in Florida on/around military bases, I think I was lucky to be surrounded by a lot of diverse people. I had friends that looked different than me while I was still too young to realize that it could be a "problem". One of my first friends was Jennifer, a half-American, half-Korean girl. My second "best friend" was Tanaya, a black girl. I don't remember at any point in my childhood ever thinking about what they looked like.

Of course "color-blindness" isn't the answer to all the world's racial issues. But then again, neither is blackface.

Oooh, Korea, what are you doing?

Again, white, middle-class, happy family here. However, in Korea, the racial stereotypes are a little different. Being a foreigner in general gets positive and negative stereotypes. Being white, some of the stereotypes I encounter include the following.

rich, pretty (small face, big eyes, pale skin, etc etc), intelligent (US college-educated)

foul-mouthed, drug-user, child-abuser, money-hungry, drunk, has AIDS, tramp

These negative stereotypes stem from a few foreigners. There was once a foreigner who was hired by the government to be an English teacher. Without a background check or call to references or anything, they hired him. It turns out he was wanted for child molestation, and apparently abused several children while in Korea. Koreans also misunderstanding HIV/AIDS, and have called for every foreigner entering Korea with a work visa to have an HIV/AIDS test. I guess if you're diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, you are not allowed a work visa?

So, in terms of racism/xenophobia, Korea has a ways to go. I wouldn't be so indignant about it if it weren't for Korea constantly trying to market itself as a "friendly country" and a "global leader" (I hate that phrase, Korea is obsessed with it).

Korea brings all these native-English speakers to the country, but then doesn't know what to do with them. While it's how I'm earning my money, it's not very effective to have all these expensive script-readers and human tape-players. (And Korea shares this opinion, apparently:

This has gotten off topic, but whatever. Korea's a great country, it's just hard sometimes to remember that it is not the West. It is what it is, and for me sometimes that's difficult to accept.


Day 512 - Yeonpyeong-do From An Ex-Pat's Perspective

If you don't know what's going on, or if you do know what's going on but want the full story, please read:

Honestly, I'm more peeved than scared. I was just about to transfer a bunch of cash to the States, but the exchange rate is trash now. THANKS A LOT DPRK.


Day 502 - Soo-neung / Korean SAT

My 500th day in Korea came and went with no ceremony. Oooh well.

Yesterday, however, was the national Korean SAT, the soo-neung. This is nothing like the American SAT. The soo-neung is only given once a year, so if a high school senior wants to go to college, they've got to study their entire life for this one day. College admissions here are pretty much entirely based on the outcome of this test, so if you feel sick on test day you've got to just get through it anyway. For a top Korean college, you'd better get a perfect score. Students feel the pressure of this exam long before they even start high school.

The entire country shuts down on test day. Most middle and high schools have classes canceled (middle schools must take a high school entrance exam too). Businesses open late and employees start work later so that the students have clear streets to get to their testing sites. It's a massive affair, with celebrities recording messages of encouragement and songs to give mental strength to students.

I've even heard of some crazy parents sending their kids to Japan for some kind of immune-boosting series of injections (remember, if you're sick, there's no alternate test day, you've just got to deal with it and take the test while you slowly die).

Anyway, all this is really just a build up to the observation Doyup made earlier this week.

We were at HomePlus, the Korean Walmart, and as we left the store we saw one of my third year students working his part time job: pushing carts. (Remember, this is the week of the massively important soo-neung. Most students are buried in a study room or a library.) The student and I went through the awkward acknowledgement of each other and that was that. Doyup, driving me home, asks me,

"When we go to the dalkgalbi restaurant, we see your students. When we go to the movie theatre, we see your students. When we go to HomePlus we see your students. But we never see your students when we go to the library."



Day 493 - Things Are Not Too Bad

This week is pretty normal for me.

I wake up at 6:45am, get ready for school and go out to meet my carpool. I teach a short class of TOEFL students how to do research for a project, then do 4 regular classes spread throughout the day. When I'm not teaching, I'm planning and prepping the remaining lessons for the semester, chatting with students, or watching downloaded TV shows.

Around 4 or 5 o'clock I head to Daejeon, either by bus or with my co-teacher. I hang out around Chungdae for an hour or two, studying in coffee shops or having dinner with friends. Then it's off to class for two hours. Class finishes up at 9 o'clock and I ride the bus for an hour to the train station, then hop on a train home. By the time I get back and ready for bed, it's around midnight. Sleep for six or seven hours, then repeat.

Despite being normal in routine, Monday made it a great week already. DY had some time off from dinner meetings and night duty so we had dinner together (dokkbokki, from our favorite street food ajjuma, of course). I picked up my dry cleaning and my now-hemmed jeans (damn short legs), we called up my landlady about my bathroom, DY set my thermostat to turn on an hour before I wake up so that the floors are nice and toasty.



Day 486 - More Halloween

More Halloween~

Showing the students how to make a Jack-o-Lantern

Hands on scooping!

Keep it up, boys

Face designer and carver shows off her finished product.

The students all thought it was wicked cool (no pun intended, I'm just from New England)


Day 484 - Halloween

For Halloween this year, I bought my school's skirt, vest, and blouse uniform. That's right, I dressed as a student!

The students thought it was really funny/cute/Hermione-esque, especially the school captain, who did a double-take before totally freaking out. It was definitely worth the 100,000W, especially since my school's kind of not prestigious so I'm able to wear the blouse with work casual and the skirt for many occasions. Win!

Totally recommend doing this for other EFL teachers in Korea/Asia -- the reactions were priceless.

"Teacher, so cutie!"

making an entrance in the cafe for lunch -- "OMG TEACHER!!!"

...the school captain is really tall.


Day 478 - More School Festival Pictures

1st years warming up for sports day

some 1st year friends

3rd years lookin' supa cool

my favorite students are 3rd years (don't tell the 1st and 2nd years!)

tug of war (right before they won!)


Day 477 - School Festival

samulnori club performing for their classmates

three-legged racing

display of the students' graphic arts work

tug of war, where this 2nd year class surprised everyone by beating the 3rd years

The first of many pictures to come of the school festival last Thursday and Friday. Since my school's out in the middle of nowhere, it's hard for me to spend time outside the classroom with my students. The festival's a good opportunity for me to see them outside of their student-persona and let them see me outside my teacher-persona.


Day 472 - State of English in Korea

It sucks.

Okay, so I have a bunch of time on my hands, so I've been looking through some lesson plans and getting organized for future classes. I came across another foreigner's blog and read through his rant on the state of English in Korea.

To summarize, it sucks. I'd say the average person in Korea has spent at least 10 years studying English through their public education. This isn't like your high school Spanish class though, this is intense studying that involves going to after-school tutoring classes and nation-wide standardized testing.

And yet, nearly every student I meet is completely incapable of interacting with me.


In your high school Spanish class, you probably studied all the aspects of Spanish. Vocabulary quizzes, grammar tests, listening exercises, writing essays, speaking tests, end-of-semester skits, Spanish food and culture. In Korea, however, English learning stops at the "listening exercises" part. Speaking tests are rare, writing essays or performing skits is nearly unheard of. Production of English is not taught -- it's assumed to develop on its own through all the vocab quizzes and grammar tests.

Enter the native speaker.

The government, educational boards, and schools assume that the native speaker is inheriting however many years of ability that the student has spent studying English. For me, this is about 10 years, as my high school kids started in elementary school. They're translating excerpts from novels and studying words like "abate", "prevail", "salvage", but they're unable to tell me what they did for summer vacation. No production skills.

Why can't they produce English? They're never taught how. They never need to learn how. Their standardize tests only measure vocabulary and grammar. Reading and listening. There's no writing or speaking section, so students are never required to show that they know English, only that they recognize English.

So back to the post on that other foreigner's website. He comes up with 4 points I completely wholeheartedly agree with.

  • Make English tests related to actual speaking and comprehension ability, not the 'ability' to pass a test. These are the hardest things to test, admittedly, but there are ways to test via a neutral third-party. Someone with no connection to either student or school - perhaps a third-party test center that connects to a call-center of trained native English proctors / testers.
  • Give teachers - both Korean and foreign - the flexibility and autonomy they need to do their job. Tell the parents to back off and let the teachers do what they're paid to do. If the parents can't trust a full-time working person to do their job, ask them if they think they can do better.
  • De-emphasize the English language as an educational gold standard. Yes, I did just say that. Take the pressure off of the entire population to learn a language only a fraction will actually need. How many store clerks need the vocabulary of a college scholar to sell a Coke?
  • Sponsor / support new and innovative programs - especially those started by English teachers trying to improve educational levels and standards.
My students aren't becoming the next community leaders, I'll be blunt. They don't need to know how to translate "Many people with hay fever move to more salubrious sections of the country during the months of August and September." Why force something so unnecessary on them when they could be doing something much more productive with their time?


Day 470 - Lotte World, Baking


Lotte World is a Korean Disneyland, an amusement park with a somewhat childish theme running throughout. It's pretty small compared to Disneyland, you could probably ride just about everything and see everything there is to see in one day. Doyup suggested we go as a sort of 300-day-anniversary celebration, so we took Friday off of work and went up to Seoul.

The original plan was that we'd go to Lotte World and afterwards meet up with his parents. (Luckily) we never ended up meeting his parents because either Doyup or his parents backed out at the last minute. At least I'm not the only one totally terrified of the inevitable awkwardness.


One of the hardest parts about living abroad, alone, is watching life back home go on without you. I kind of felt all last year that when I came home nothing would have changed, like time stopped while I was living abroad. It doesn't, of course. My sister graduated high school, my grandparents aged one more year, my friends got engaged and/or married.

Part of the reason why watching time pass for my family and friends hurts is that the seasons remind me of things that *should* be happening. Like when snow starts falling and the days get shorter, I expect to hear Christmas carols, go searching for the perfect evergreen tree, and taste eggnog. In the fall, when the leaves start changing and the weather gets crisp, I look for Halloween decorations, pumpkin pies, and spicy scents like cinnamon and cloves.

So I decorated my classroom and started baking during all my spare time. I haven't been able to find any canned pumpkin or candy corn, but I do what I can with molasses (dark sugar and honey) spice cookies and some sugar cookies.

It helped that Lotte World was decorated for Halloween, even if they did call it Happy Halloween Party.


Day 465 - Korea in America

Korea has mostly been known in America for Kim Jong Il and the Korean War. Unfortunate, because it means most people only know Korea as some kind of third-world, war-ravaged country over there in Asia.

So when I was looking through the Billboard Top 10 to find a video to use with my students (i.e. something not too rappy since they can't handle fast lyrics and something not too sexy because this is school) I checked out Billboard's #2, "Like a G6" by Far-East Movement.

And it is filled with Korean Easter eggs.

Some things I spotted:
--green soju bottles
--Hite beer
--"Korean restaurant"
--Makgeolli ads
--Hangul everywhere


Day 463 - F*bright 60th, 300 Days

This weekend was filled with anniversary marking. Additionally, I was incredibly ill. I went to the hospital, but a chest Xray and a CT scan later, they very obviously showed how incompetent they were and I left feeling just as crappy as when I got there.

In other news, it was the F*bright 60th Anniversary celebration this weekend. My teaching program invited 600 program members, diplomats, and alumni to the Shilla hotel (a ritzy 5-star near Namsan in Seoul) to mark the 60th year of the program. We started just a month before the North Koreans pulled their surprise attack on the South and started the Korean War, so it's pretty cool to be a member of the 60th class.

I sat with some of the other 2nd year extendees (and one amazing first year!) and we downed wine and bread like there wasn't going to be wine and bread anymore. Dinner itself was not quite the $100 per plate extravaganza I thought it would be, and then we had to sing.

Yes, as part of the celebration, all of the 100+ English teachers was forced to sing a song written especially for the ceremony. It was terrible and embarrassing and it sounded just awful. I'm not sure what they were expecting from a group who, for the most part, has little to no vocal training, but it was worse than a high school choir performance. Complete with the white-on-top, black-on-bottom matching clothes. Something I will not fondly recall for a number of years.

Besides the 60th anniversary, today marks DY and my 300 day anniversary. Hurray! Seems crazy that it's been 300 days already. We both took Friday off of work to go up to Lotte World, something we've been wanted to do for a while but is made EVEN BETTER because the amusement park is doing a Halloween theme now! So I'll be able to celebrate Halloween at least for a day.

I guess that's about it. The bathroom in my apartment is having MAJOR drainage issues, which is terrible since the shower is just chillin' out in the bathroom and drains through the floor. I dumped like half a liter of drain-o in it last night, so hopefully it'll be de-clogged by the time I get home today.


Chuseok, Taeyang Concert Pictures

The Great Baekjae Festival, near my town of Nonsan.

Making sungpyeon with my coteacher.

Chuseok morning jae-sa (offering of food to the ancestors)

My little Chuseok buddies

Yeaaaah Taeyang solo concert!!


Day 446 - Chuseok

Last year, after anticipating a full Chuseok experience, I ended up spending it alone, eating some macaroni and cheese from my American-food-stash and watching Indiana Jones on TV. Not exactly what I expected when I signed up for a homestay experience.

This year, I had the full experience and then some. I don't have my camera cord here but when I do there will be lots of pictures. The summary:

--Day Before Chuseok--
I headed up to Daejeon to meet Mrs Soh, my coteacher. She invited me to spend Chuseok with her family when she heard that I had no plans for the holiday. I met her mother in law and sisters in law and we had a girls-having-to-cook-for-chuseok-while-dudes-do-nothing lunch before heading off to the hanbok (Korean traditional dress) store. We looked around there, they tried a few on, and placed orders. At night, Mrs Soh and I went to her side of the family, with whom we made sunpyeon, traditional Chuseok rice cake shaped like half-moons.

We woke up insanely early to go back to Mrs Soh's mother-in-law's, where the entire family gathered to perform the ancestor rites. I ended up in my usual role of Entertainment, answering a lot of questions about America, my impressions of Korea, etc. We ate the food initially offered to the ancestors, then I was off with one of the uncle's family to the countryside. We stopped in with his wife's mother (so Mrs Soh's brother's wife's mother) and the family clan gathered there. We roasted some black pig and ate it outside in the little courtyard of the old-time house. After, I met up with Mrs Soh again, said goodbye to her side of the family (with whom I made the sunpyeon) and went back home.

It was a long, exhausting day, but I got to experience so many things I've only studied in books. Pictures to come.


Day 439 - Happy Proposal Day!


Today is Proposal Day in Korea because 100 days from now is Christmas. So if you start dating today or get engaged or get married, your 100 day (baek-il), will fall on Christmas, which is just a December Valentine's Day in Korea.

So, happy Proposal Day!


Day 435 - TOPIK and DY in America


it kicked my ass but it is done. that is all I'm going to say about that.


I thought he was joking or, at the very least, being optimistic when DY told me a few months ago that he'd be visiting America. He has a tendency to take "maybe" ideas or suggestions and repeat them as solid facts (not just him, a lot of Koreans do that). So when he reported to me that the Korean Army would be sending him to America for a week-long English camp in Florida, I laughed and just said, "That's nice, dear."

But he's on the train now, packed and headed for the air port. So I guess he showed me, huh?

He'll be in Florida for the week taking English classes and doing Q&A about the Korean Army with some Florida State students. I'm so excited that he'll get to see my country, but I'm kind of disappointed that I won't be there to show him around and see him experience all the things I call "familiar". There will be so many instances where my constant "In America, we don't..." or "In America, we have..." comments will suddenly become very true for him so I wish I could've been there for it.

The past week or so, I've been helping him prep for his week in the US. Reminding him that,

"IN AMERICA, WE" tip waiters and waitresses.
"IN AMERICA, WE" don't have delivery food like Korea, only pizza or Chinese.
"IN AMERICA, WE" don't wear all our clothes at the beach. Pack a swimsuit so you don't look like a massive FOB.
"IN AMERICA, WE" don't have good public transportation, so you may not be able to go to Orlando and the theme parks there even though it *looks* close on a map.

As he left this morning, I kind of felt like a mom sending her kid off to camp for the first time. "Did you remember to pack a swimsuit?! Do you need some money? You're only there for a week so if the other guys bring kimchi and ramen, DON'T EAT IT!!"


Day 428 - Mistaken Identity

As a white-skinned English-speaker, it's pretty easy to peg me as a "foreigner". I've written before about children screaming "외국이다!" (It's a foreigner!) to their friends as I walk past and hanging out of bus windows to say "hellooooo!" from across the street. Just yesterday, I ordered some delivery food and completed the money-for-food swap at the door. As it shut, the delivery boy (probably a high school student or a recent graduate) called out in a timid voice, "Bye bye!"

However, for the first time ever, I fooled a Korean.

Being tight on money, DY offered to buy a few groceries for me when he went food shopping. Determined not to be too much of a burden, I ran around the place comparing prices and products with him. We carried the conversation in Korean and were still talking when we went up to the counter to check out. He was buying about 10 two-liter drinks, and after they were swiped, he asked me if I could help him carry them. I laughed and said, in Korean, "No thanks, besides, you're a soldier. It'll be good exercise for you. Have strength, soldier, you can do it!"

A little girl standing near me was listening to our verbal exchange. After a few thoughtful seconds, she looked at me with a curious expression and a shy smile. "한국 사람이에요?" (Are you Korean?)

The next day, DY and I went camping at this big park. The camping area was tent-to-tent packed with families taking their young children to the Great Outdoors. DY and I were speaking our Konglish mix of Korean and English -- about fifty-fifty of each. Jolie was with us, and she only knows Korean, so as I brushed my teeth at the big, stone public water fountain, I was telling Jolie to stop barking and sit. Again, a little girl was watching me, looking ALL too adorable with her giant toothbrush in one hand and a mouth full of toothpaste foam. "Can you turn the faucet on, please?" she asked me in Korean, without the usual pausing or hesitating that happens after most Koreans realize I'm white and therefore Not Korean.

Little things like that (mistaken identity, not little girls) make me feel like maybe my Korean is not so bad, that children assume I can understand them, despite what the Test of Proficiency in Korean tells me about my language ability.


Day 423 - Doors to Diplomacy Project and Jolie

This grant year, my big goal is "Legacy". Namely, I want to leave some kind of impression on Korea. To do so, I'm undertaking some projects in my town and my school.

In town, I'm trying to force my way into volunteer opportunities and open up a Korean-English language exchange group at the local university. I say "force" because a lot of the orphanages and disabled homes around here are really wary of a foreigner offering to help. Many foreigners here offering help are actually missionaries, whose help comes with evangelizing strings.

I've also just this week started a big project at the school with my TOEFL class, the US Department of State's "Doors to Diplomacy" project. It involves teams of 2-4 students making a website in English. I figured since this is an Internet high school where the students take classes in web design, construction, and English, it would be a good combo.


However, I found out today that a few students consulted the webpage construction teacher at school about some tips. So I guess it might all work out!

Then there's Jolie. When I went home to America, DY was lonely and decided to get a toy poodle. He named it Jolie, since he had just seen the movie "Salt" starring Angelina Jolie. He's thinking now that having a yappy dog that poops everywhere is not so fun and he's put her up for sale on his Army base's intranet. womp womp


Day 421 - Finances and Fail

My school has decided I won't get an August paycheck, but rather those two weeks will be paid on the next paycheck. Very unfortunate. Suddenly, that 10kg box of sweet potatoes is looking pretty tasty. For breakfast, lunch, *and* dinner.

Overall, the past week or so has been complete fail. Not in a "omg I'm so depressed" way, but in a "omg, are you serious?" way.

First, the lack of an August paycheck leaves me with about 50,000W ($50) to feed, transport, and entertain myself for three weeks. Womp womp.

Then, after feeling confident about the beginner level Korean proficiency exam, I took a practice intermediate test. It turns out, there is an infamous, huge jump between the two, according to the websites I've checked. It's not just me that went from ~90% on the beginner to just-barely-above-random-guessing (30%) when moving up from beginner to intermediate. To pass the intermediate test and receive a level 3 placement, I need to get at least a 50%. I have 12 days. Wish me luck.

With finances and the exam weighing me down, I suddenly remembered last night (Sunday) that I had two new classes this semester, both of which needed a lesson plan and power point. So starting from scratch, I worked until a little after 2am, making a nice lesson. I then prepped the second lesson, since Monday morning is the teachers' meeting, which runs right up to first period (my first class).


Except this week, the new English teacher never showed up, so two of my classes today (one of which was that new class) were canceled. And the teachers' meeting was postponed until tomorrow. So all that work was completely unnecessary and I could have done it this morning, well-rested.

fail. :(

Anyway, I went to the Gongju National History Museum and to see Piranha3D yesterday with DY. Here's a sticker photo while we waited for the movie to start.

And here's a picture of a dude that was supposed to be escorting a group of school children through the museum. This was in the short-film room, where a brief history of the archeological dig was showing. Leading by example, I like it.


Day 417 - Students' "About Me" Poems

For this first week of classes, I'm giving my kids a break from self introductions. I hammered that into them last year and I didn't want to get the same canned responses as I did in the spring semester. Instead I'm having them write "About Me" poems, acrostics with their names or a short fill-in-the-blank style. Here's some of my favorites, whether due to creativity, impressiveness (is that even a word?), or hilarity.

Juri is very lovely.
U love me?
I have boyfriend.

My name is Min-Ji!
Is from Korea!!
Not married!!
Join in ITGL ((editor's note: one of the two majors at my school))
I love Korea <3

Yadong is very good.
English is very good.
Oh, my God!
Nonsan is not good
Starcraft2 is very good.
Oh, my eyes!

Speaks Korean
English is very hard ㅠㅠ
Unbelievable development!!
Lives in Korea
I love you!!~ <3

cool, hot, people, smart
sister of no (only one)
Lover of Super Junior
Fears school
Needs money
Gives love
Wants to see people
Lives in Yeonsan, Korea

Ork [sic]
Ice cream eater
Needs something

Enjoy my life
A boy
Need a sexy girl
So so

Korea is god, I think....
I don't like many eating
Money is very very good
Skin is Hm..... brown?
No married
Name is SunBongKim
Good game (g.g)

Korean! I'm Korean.
And my
Name is Saran.
Girl! I'm Girl
Sexy girl ~ wo ~
Ah~ I'm sexy?
Real I'm Korean sexy girl. actually....
Ngel I'm

Good boy
Ugly but good boy ^^
Now. i'm so tired.
Wear a school uniform
O M G ...

I'm In Beom
Now! My introduce.
Brother is a little boy
Energy full!!!
Oh my god.
My Mom call me....

Korea is my nation
Needs money
Going university for my dream
Turn it up loud~
Age of 21th
E~ EEEgg
Have a good time?
Not married

You like me
Oh my God
No I don't like you
Sorry but you like me
One day, we will like each other


Day 412 - Back in Korea

I'm back in Korea now, and have decided that I'll be continuing my day-numbering instead of starting over again. Big news, right?

I've started moving into my apartment, but there's still 6 or 7 boxes at my old homestay. Tomorrow night when DY gets off of work we'll go over and grab those and my hands will be officially cleaned of all that. Hurray!

So far, I've been back in Nonsan for about 2 days -- yesterday I met up with Bora, a Korean who teaches English at the local university. She's going to be a big factor in whether my dreams of a Korean-English exchange club at the university works out or not, so I was really encouraged that she was still enthusiastic about things like that.

Today I was a giant load and did absolutely nothing. I've already unpacked, but my TV's at school and my plug converter for my (battery-dead) laptop is packed away in a box at the homestay. Which leaves me nothing to do but stare at the walls in my apartment. Gooood times.

Other than that, I'm just waiting for school to start on Monday. I already prepped my lesson back in America, so I just need to decide what kind of punishment/reward system I want to use this semester and print out some bingo cards.

21 days until I take the Test of Proficiency in Korean. I should be spending all this free time studying...


A Month In America Condensed into Lists

10 Things I Did

1. ate way too much food
2. shopped
3. watched lots of TV and movies
4. cooked
5. went to the beach
6. went to Boston
7. went clubbing
8. met friends
9. spent time with family
10. regrouped

10 Things I'll Miss

1. variety (e.g., people, food, TV shows, music)
2. driving a car
3. shower curtains
4. tanning
5. English everywhere
6. fluffy mattresses
7. vibrant colors
8. shopping malls
9. giant ovens
10. family and friends and my doggie (obvs)

10 Random Things I'm Bringing Back To Korea

1. dry soup mixes
2. bouillon cubes
3. shake'n'bake
4. spices (e.g., garlic powder, nutmeg)
5. cranberry sauce and stuffing
6. gum
7. toothpaste
8. mac and cheese
9. jello and pudding
10. quick-cook oatmeal



Since arriving safely and with all my luggage accounted for, I've been thoroughly enjoying my time in America. I haven't, however, bothered writing about it and between blissfully doing nothing and stuffing my face, I probably will not write until I'm back in Korea mid-August.

Until then, take care!


A Look Back...

A little over a week before I go back to America, here's a look back on the people I met, the places I went, and some of the things I did during this first year.


Day 367 -- A Short Conversation with Doyup

Doyup and I went to the LG Twins (Seoul) vs Hanwha Eagles (Daejeon) baseball game yesterday. Doyup was really excited because the crowd was pretty small, so we had a good chance of being on TV due to the "wtf" factor of crazily-acting fan with his foreigner girlfriend. We did end up on TV sometime during the 3/4 inning. We know because Doyup started getting a billion messages and calls from people who were watching the game: his dad, cousins, co-workers. This conversation took place today, the morning after the game.

"Every soldier are asking me of you. They watched the baseball game. So surprise!"
"Haha, I hope I didn't look stupid!!"
"You are always stupid."

womp womp -.-


Day 366 -- One Year Anniversary in Korea!

Yesterday marked my one year anniversary of living in Korea. That means it's also been one year since I've seen my friends and family back home, so I'm really excited to jump on that plane next week and see everyone again.

That said, I'm also very excited to start a brand new year in Korea. Most of the things that caused me the most distress will be changing -- soon I'll have my own apartment and last week my fantastic co-teacher returned from her fight with cancer. I feel like this past year has just been the trial-year where I figured out how things work and got my feet under me. Kind of like freshman year in college where you learn from your mistakes during sophomore year.

Sincccce I'm on another computer, how about some pictures?

Last North Korean refugee class. One of my students (the mother) helping her daughter make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

An example of the amazing delivery service in Korea. This entire box was brought to the apartment. Inside was everything required to make a beef-and-mushroom stew, fresh right at your table. The pot with all the ingredients, a water bottle full of broth...

... a table-top burner, rice, and all the usual Korean sides (kimchi, etc)
Light up the burner, pour in the broth, and you are on your way to some really good beef-and-mushroom stew, bubbling at your table.
Korea, besides having awesome delivery service, also has some wicked bars. A lot of bars have some kind of gimmick, for example one of my favorite bars in Seoul serves their pitchers of beer with dry ice, so the beer is super super cold and also awesome looking. This bar serves apple-flavored soju (like weak vodka) in apple cups.

So cool!

And this here is a source of constant shame for me. I go to coffee shops a lot because I think I work better in that kind of environment -- less distractions, more coffee. Here at a coffee shop in Daejeon's city hall, I order an iced cafe mocha with a slice of cheesecake. The barista kindly gives me two forks because what kind of fatty would eat a piece of cheesecake all by herself, amiright? ...ooohhh the shameeee...

An example of something Korea doesn't do well: English. It's usually just close enough that you can figure it out, but still... Nuddle isn't even a word, did nobody check that out before they made a sign?!