Sunday, June 29, 2014

Exciting things are happening!

There are so many things to look forward to in the next six months that I can hardly contain my excitement.

First, I'll be heading home in just 34 days!!!! I'll be home for two weeks, which I'm sure will be WAY too short, but nonetheless my mind is already completely preoccupied by the list of things I want to do with the people I have been away from for a year.

Besides that, travel plans for this upcoming year include trips to :
--Japan (over Chuseok)
--China (hopefully over the Lunar New Year...getting a visa to China is a bit tricky, but we think it should work out!)
--Hong Kong (part one of my winter vacation)
--Cambodia (part two of winter vacation)

One of the things that makes me really excited about my second year in Korea is that I am able to plan ahead a bit more to advantage of all of my school breaks.  This year I wasn't even that sure of how the school calendar worked, but for this upcoming year I know how it goes and I'm fully prepared to take advantage of the school breaks to fit in trips to a few other countries throughout the year.  Additionally, I hope to hit up all of the things I missed in Korea the first time around.

The next six months are going to be full of adventures.  Let's pray for continued good health and safety along the way!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Welcoming 25

Having a birthday at the end of June means that over the years I've experienced all of the benefits of having a summer birthday.  When I was younger that meant being able to run around outside or having the option of doing water activities at my birthday parties.  But most importantly, my June 26th DOB has always meant that I would never have to go to school on my birthday.  I made it all of these years without stepping foot in school on my birthday, but alas! At 25 my birthday fell victim to Korea's summer semester.  I wasn't exactly thrilled to go to school on my birthday, especially since Thursdays are my craziest days.  With six classes, I pretty much don't stop teaching all day.

However, my attitude quickly changed as I went to my first class with my second grade boys.  As soon as I walked in they began singing to me, and shortly after started giving me tons of snacks.  While they may just look like small snacks, have no doubt, these boys take their food seriously.  In fact, after morning classes there is a bread truck that comes to school.  The students all rush there to buy snacks as if it is the most important thing in the world. I suppose when your life is completely consumed by school the little things make even more of a difference.  Regardless, I could really appreciate the sentiment behind their gestures because I know snacks aren't really JUST snacks to these kids.
Some snacks from the second grade boys

The day kept getting better as I met my 1-6 class.  Many of the students came into class normally, but when the bell rang they told me to close my eyes.  The next thing I knew they turned the lights off, were singing to me, and bringing a tower of choco pies with a candle towards me. Needless to say, I was thoroughly surprised, and super touched by their gestures.  They also each wrote a birthday message to me, which I will obviously be keeping with me for forever.
The infamous choco pies

My awesome 1-6 class.  I love these girls!

So many notes.  So touched!

After lunch I went to my 2-5 class where I was surprised yet again.  As I went to the 2-5 classroom I noticed the lights were all off, which made me a bit suspicious.  As soon as I opened the door, all of the girls started singing, presented me with a beautiful cake, and gave me a huge card.  As if that weren't enough, they also decorated the chalkboard.  I was so touched I think I had to wipe away a few tears.

2-5 girls.  LOVE teaching them!!

The giant card from 2-5

Throughout the day students kept yelling "happy birthday!!!!" to me as I walked through the halls.  Aside from these organized efforts, many other students gave me small gifts and notes.
One of the 1st grade boys from my night class and his friend (who I don't teach) came and gave me these.  Yes, that's 100 won and a pen.  They told me to keep them forever and bring them back to America with me.  Oh, boys.  

One of the third grade girls (who I don't teach anymore) found me to give me this.  Too cute!

I spent the entirety of the day feeling incredibly touched, and as I was heading home my co-teacher also gave me a bracelet that she made for me.  I have to say, I never expect anything on my birthday, but I certainly never in a million years could have imagined that my students would even remember my birthday, nevermind make such a big deal out of it.
Bracelet from my co-teacher

This wasn't where my birthday ended either.  After school I went out to dinner with some friends, where they then surprised me with an ice cream cake.  After that we got a few drinks--the evening was quiet and calm, the perfect ending to a great day.

I should also mention my birthday surprises weren't limited to just my actual birthday.  Monday two of my friends (who had a cooking class on my actual birthday) took me out for dinner.  When the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed, we went to Mr. Pizza, where they brought this:

A few of my friends also surprised me with a mini birthday celebration on Wednesday at our bible study group.

Finally, my classes that I had today and didn't see yesterday also made sure to recognize my birthday. 2-4 decorated their blackboard and sang to me, and the 2-1 boys sang to me and gave me some random assortments of food.  My favorite was definitely the bag of cheese balls.  When they gave them to me they told me that I might need to put them in the microwave for 30 seconds because of the humidity.  They then told me maybe they won't taste good, and if they don't, I should throw them away.  Ummm....thanks?  This is just more evidence that teenage boys are teenage boys no matter where you go in the world.

The most memorable part of the day for me was when one my second grade boys gave me this picture he drew of me.  These kids think of everything!
Picture drawn by one of my second grad boys.

All in all, I don't think I've ever felt so overwhelmed with love on my birthday.  I've been struggling to find motivation for school lately, but all of these gestures made me appreciate once again just how AWESOME my students are and how unbelievably blessed I am to have been able to work with them this year. There are some days where going to school feels like a struggle, especially since it can feel isolating at times when I can't communicate with any of my co-workers.  But as I've said numerous times before, these kids are hands down the highlight of my time at school, and my time in Korea as well.   I can't believe my time with them is coming to an end so quickly, but I'm thankful that I'll always have these memories with them.

I think many of my friends and I have been having the realization at 25 that whoa! We're really adults now! It's a little stange, but instead of lamenting this fact, I couldn't feel more satisfied to look back on 24 as the best year of my life yet.  I am happy to welcome 25 with open arms. If it's even filled with half of the love, adventures, and learning experiences that this year was, I will consider myself one very lucky girl.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sports Day!

For the past few weeks my students had telling me about their excitement for Sports Day.  My initial question of course was "what the heck is sports day?" Well, this week I got to experience it firsthand.  It turns out sports day is kind of like a field day in America, but WAY more intense.

There were three teams total, each team being made up of one girl and one boy class from each grade.  Throughout the day there were tons of events--ranging from relay races, to a soccer game, to basketball, to jump roping, to lots of other games that I had never even seen before. 

Most homeroom teachers spent the day with their classes cheering for their teams, but since I obviously don't have a homeroom class, I spent the day walking around and hanging out with all of the teams. 

One of the things I loved the most about this day was the CHEERING! This was not just ordinary cheering at a sporting event.  In America we will cheer, then wait a few minutes or wait for something important to happen before cheering again.  However, the students cheered ALL DAY long for their teams.  There were even some students who had been selected to lead the cheering. They stood in the front and danced around all day, leading cheer after cheer after cheer. I have no idea how these kids kept their enthusiasm all day long, especially since it was probably around 85 degrees all day and for the majority of the time the events were in the sun.

Leading the cheers. 

During tug of war.  Loved seeing the students come together to cheer for their team!

The cheer leaders

Another things I loved about this day was seeing the students have fun.  As you all know by now, my students pretty much never have time to escape the confines of the school walls.  This has been especially rare this semester during the mourning period following the ferry disaster.  
My first grade girls.  LOVE THEM!

More of my awesome first grade girls!

The fact that the students seldom have time to do anything besides study was evident by their unadulterated enthusiasm for EVERYTHING throughout the day.  It was a huge change from the tired, sluggish students I'm accustomed to seeing in the classroom.

I also loved seeing the students interact with each other.  One of the huge differences about the school I'm working at this year and any other American high school is that the students at this school aren't allowed to interact with members of the opposite sex.  Even though my school is co-ed, girls and boys are kept in separate classes and technically aren't supposed to even talk to each other.  Of course, there are some couples in the school, although I'm not sure when they really have time to hang out.  Dating is not really allowed by the school, but seriously....teenagers are teenagers.  The complete segregation of the sexes is one of the craziest things about teaching here for me.  

Anyway, on sports day, I actually got to see boys and girls interact on their teams.  Additionally, members of different grades actually interacted.  While in America it's totally normal for members of different grades to be friends with each other, this is definitely not the way it is in Korea.

Although many of the traditional Korea customs are becoming more relaxed these days, one way you can still see the importance of age is in the way students interact with each other.  Whenever my first grade students see a second or third grader, they have to bow to them. Many of my first graders have told me that this can really become stressful for them because if they forget to bow to a second or third grader it's considered really rude, so they always have to pay attention to who they're around.  Needless to say, students are ONLY friends with the other students in their own grade.  In fact, when I tell them that in America it's normal for students to be friends with people in other grades they're completely shocked and can't believe it.  

However, on sports day it felt like all the barriers were torn down, and the students showed tremendous support for each other, regardless of gender or grade.  For once, my students actually seemed like teenagers as I know them in America, and that quite refreshing to see....even if it was for just a day.

The only downside to Sports Day was that the events didn't end until 7 PM...and then naturally the students were expected to go to night study after.  When I entered my classes on Thursday just about every student was asleep.  Let's just say my classes on Thursday and Friday weren't productive because seriously, how could I expect them to focus on anything when they were that exhausted and sleep deprived?  It was games and movies for the win in my classes.

Overall, sports day was a great day for me to see a different side of my students.  I especially enjoyed hanging out with my favorite third grade girls who I hardly ever get to see these days.  Sports Day is a tradition in all Korean school from elementary school-high school, so I really enjoyed seeing this part of school culture and spending time with the kids I adore--especially since my time with them is winding down so quickly!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Coming back for another year!

After waiting in a kind of limbo for quite some time, today I finally got my contract for next year. I will be working at an elementary school here in Mungyeong, well actually I'll be working at three schools.  Two elementary schools and one middle school.
This will be a huge change for obvious reasons, but I'm glad that I'll get to stay here in Jeomchon.  I had mixed feelings as I signed the millions of pages of my contract because it makes everything real.  I have a really short time left with my fantastic students at my current school. Some of my closest friends here in Korea will be leaving before I know it.  Not to mention, I'm going to be teaching elementary school and I have NO IDEA how to do that.  Next year is going to be very different in so many ways.

I know it definitely won't be the same, but I'm looking forward to the unexpected surprises that this will bring.  In a way, it will be nice to have a new job.  I'm looking forward to knowing how things work a little better this time around.  This time I know more about what Korea has to offer.  I know what I want to do, and I have one more year to do as much as I can.

Of course, as I signed my way into more wonderful opportunities, I was also signing myself into another year of homesickness, missing important events, and who knows what else.  I've been painfully aware of this fact every step of the way, and it's still not something I'm able to completely shrug off.

However, as I've always said, I'm going to know when it's time to leave Korea.  Just about every time I look at Facebook these days I'm seeing engagements, marriages, and babies.  There are so many people who question me about all of these things (especially in Korea) and my answer is always that I don't feel rushed.  It would be so easy to see the things other people are doing consequently freak out, compare myself, and make all of my life decisions with the goal of "keeping up."  But that's never been how I want to do things.

This year in Korea has been the most amazing experience of my life.  I'm not going to let it pass me by so easily.  I'm going to take my time to take advantage of the opportunities I have here in Asia.  A steady career, marriage, babies...these things will come when and if the time is right.

But for now, I'm in no rush to end this part of my life.  Why would I be?

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Darangee Village Farming Festival

This past weekend marked the fourth weekend in a row that I was away traveling.  I'm pretty sure that that's a record for me here in Korea (or anywhere, really!)  I typically like to take a weekend off in between trips, but with Megan and Nate here there was far too much to do in so little time, and about a month ago my friend Jen also asked if I wanted to go on an Adventure Korea trip to the Darangee Village farming festival.  It looked too cool to pass up, so even though I knew that I would be coming off of the exhaustion from Megan and Nate's time here, I agreed and we signed up for the trip.

Originally we were supposed to be picked up for the festival in Daegu, but about a week before the trip we were notified that there weren't enough people for them to do the Daegu pickup, so we had to get picked up in Seoul instead.  Now, Darangee Village is part of the island of Namhae, which is in the very southern part of Korea.  So basically, we went two hours north to go to Seoul....just to go back down to the southern part of the country.  It seems pointless, but actually going directly there with Adventure Korea is way easier than planning everything by ourselves. Consequently, Friday night after school we rushed to the bus terminal to head to Seoul, where we spent the night in Hongdae.  I then realized that I've spent three of my last four weekends in Hongdae...I think I should start getting a frequent customer card at the hostel! Needless to say, I'm getting to know that area very well.

Saturday morning we had a very early morning because we had to meet up with the Adventure Korea bus at 6:50.  After picking up other parts of our group along the way, we finally arrived at Darangee Village around 1:00.  Although it was a really long bus ride, it didn't feel too bad because I spent the majority of the time sleeping.  Can't complain!

Once we arrived, we got shown to our rooms--we were told that is was a home stay, but really it was like we were staying at someone's guest house that is clearly frequently rented out.  Not exactly what I imagined, but we had a beautiful view of the ocean from right outside our room. Doesn't get much better than that!

The view from the room. 

After we changed, we headed to Pebble Beach, a very rocky, but beautiful beach.  We were only there for about two seconds before they were getting us ready to go rafting.  The view was beautiful, but man did my arms get tired quickly! At least I can feel like I did SOME exercise this weekend.

And everyone asked me "Why are you going to KOREA?!"  Well...did you have a view like this this weekend? Korea's beauty is breathtaking and seriously underrated by the rest of the world.

After we finished rafting, it was on to fishing.  This wasn't the kind of fishing you're thinking about with the worm and fishing line, but instead we used sea cucumbers and our hands.  We had to stick the sea cucumber under a rock and as the water came up the fish could bite onto the cucumber.  From there, we had to put them in our little cup.  It was way more challenging than it sounds, but I ended up catching three of those little guys.
Jen was really into the fishing. 

After we finished at the beach, we headed to the farming festival where there were some people there plowing the traditional way, with a cow.  There were also people there playing traditional music, which we were told was meant to encourage the people planting the rice to work hard for a fruitful season.
Getting a ride up to the festival

Look at all that mud!

You don't see this every day!

Before we knew it, it was our turn to get into the mud with the cow and do the plowing ourselves.  The mud was WAY stickier and deeper than I expected, which made walking quite the challenge.  The other people working in the field also enjoyed throwing mud at us, which meant we were rather filthy by the end of our turn.

After we finished our plowing experience, we were served some "snacks", which was essentially a lunch of noodles, pajeon, kimchi, makgeolli, and other traditional Korean foods.

After that, we participated in a race where we had to wear some sort of traditional contraption to carry garlic.  It was way heavier than it looked, and in the end Jen just about had a tie in our race, and both won huge bags of garlic, the main product of the Darangee Village.
Lifetime supply of garlic. Woohoo!

After we finished the race, it was time to plant some rice.  Although we were already dirty, this is where things got REALLY messy.  We had already taken off our long boots that we were the first time around because we didn't know that planting rice would also be so messy.  So, this time we got into the mud with our bare feet.  Yes, we put our bare feet into the same mud that the cow had been peeing and pooping into. YUMMMMMM.
Planting the rice!

We planted the rice as the musicians played the traditional Korean music.  This then turned into a huge dance party/mud throwing/water splashing fight.  Needless to say we were filthy by the end, and I think I am all set missing the Mud festival that will take place in July because I don't think it could be any muddier than this was.

After we finished in the mud, it was back to our room, where we showered and got cleaned up before dinner. While we were told we would have dinner at our home stays, the owner of our home stay owns a restaurant, so we went there for dinner instead.

After eating some traditional Korean food, it was time for the night performances.  They had an array of performances that night, most of which I really couldn't understand because well, they were all in Korean.  The mask performances always seem strange to me, especially when I can't understand what's happening.  However, at the end we could tell that one of the characters died and there was consequently a funeral taking place.  The next thing we knew, the funeral turned into an even that required audience participation.  The people started collecting the chairs and we were directed to hold hands and start walking in a circle.  Things became very upbeat as we continued to hold hands and weave around and around in a circle.  People were dancing and things were just plain crazy.  We had NO idea what was going on, but we just followed along and did whatever they directed us to do, which was mostly just dancing around with our hands in the air.  This was definitely one of the most unique experiences I've ever had in Korea, and something I definitely will never forget!

So much dancing!

After we left the party, we were walking back to our room as we noticed that they had lights all along the rows of rice.  It was incredibly beautiful, and was only made more beautiful by the HUGE moon that overlooked it all, complete with its reflection in the ocean.  Does it get any better than that?
The moon! This picture doesn't even begin to do it justice. 

The next morning we had breakfast provided for us again by our host, and then some people went kayaking and hiking, but Jen and I decided we just wanted to stay and explore the village a bit more.  Although I love hiking, the previous day was so busy and it was nice just to explore at our own pace.  This part of Namhae is just beautiful, and it's always interesting exploring those really small towns where you feel like you can get a glimpse of Korea's past. It's such a huge contrast to the bright neon lights and blasting music of Hongdae that we experienced on Friday, and it's still fascinating to me that places like Darangee Village and Hongdae coexist in the same small country.
What do you eat for breakfast in Korea? Kimchi, rice, soup, fish, eggs, and potatoes.

These flowers were so beautiful!

We are shadowy, but the background is beautiful!

The roofs had flowers painted on them.  Love it!

So green. So beautiful. 

We had a relaxing morning walking around, and later just laying out by our room, where we had a beautiful ocean view.  When the others returned from kayaking and hiking, it was time for lunch, then we got back on the bus and headed back to Seoul.

We got back to Seoul around 7:30, only to have to catch another bus going back south at 8:30.  By 10:30 we were finally HOME!

This was quite the jam-packed weekend, but one I will definitely never forget.  If you would have told me even two years ago that by my 25th birthday I would be living in Korea, planing rice in a traditional village while dancing around in mud, I never would have believed it.  This weekend served as a reminder that sometimes God can plan much bigger things for us than we can our plan for ourselves.  This has been the most amazing year that I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams, and I'll never stop being grateful for all of these unique experiences.