Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Adventure is out there!"

I like to measure my life in what I call the "How did we get here"-moments. Moments like these can be all kinds of things. Sometimes they're wonderful and other times they're not. They can be caused by a specific event but not necessarily. I've had some pretty ridiculous ones with some pretty ridiculous people, but I've also had some happen alone, during the most monotonous of routines. Really, their only defining quality or common denominator is that they make you stop and and wonder, as one could assume, "HOW DID I GET HERE?"

I'll be honest, this post is mostly for me, because I've found myself in one of those moments. It's 11:30 at night the day before I leave, and I'm STILL trying to wrap my head around this whole Fulbright thing. Tomorrow, I'm moving to Thailand. To teach English. For a year. Wow. Really?

It's funny how something I've thought and talked about for so long can still feel so surreal. Applying and preparing for Fulbright has been, for a lack of of a better word, or maybe one that's appropriate for all audiences, such a process. Hardly a day has gone by when Thailand hasn't been on my mind or part of a conversation, it's almost funny that tomorrow, (or as I look at the clock, today) still managed to sneak up on me. I usually feel like I should have left months ago, but all the sudden, now that I'm finally leaving, I can't believe I'm heading out today. So crazy!

For the time being, I'm just going to focus on something that is a little more tangible, a little more part of my immediate reality--the not quite packed suitcases waiting for me upstairs in our living room! :-)

Until Bangkok,

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Inevitable K-Pop Post

Hey again,

     Before coming to Korea, I did not fully understand how big the k-pop phenomenon is over here and in Asia.  Since coming to Korea and getting to know my students, I now have a better idea of what this music is like.  K-pop refers to the pop music industry in Korea.  This trend began in the early 1990s and has continued today.  Before coming to Korea, the only K-pop star I knew of was Rain because he was listed by Time as one of the 100 Most Influential People.  Despite this fame, Rain is not one of the most popular stars in Korea.  When talking to my students about music (I just finished a unit on American music with them so this topic has come up a lot), they get extremely enthusiastic over groups like Shinee, Girls Generation, and B2ST.  In order to connect with them, I have been listening to a lot of this music and trying to learn more about the industry.  I wanted to give you an idea of what this music is like, since I literally hear it everywhere.  Below are some youtube links with some of my favorites.  Be warned that all the videos are ridiculous, but fun nonetheless.

B2ST- Fiction

2ne1- I Am the Best

Not sure who sings this one- Itaewon Freedom

Super Junior- Sorry Sorry (this band is currently at the top of the charts with "Mr. Simple"

Super Junior- Sorry Sorry Answer (a better version of the above song)

G-Dragon, BOM, & Great Park- I'm Having an Affair

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Turkeyless Thanksgiving and other updates

A view of Naju from a mountain

Hi all,

     I have been in Naju for about 3 weeks now.  My students no longer scream or stare at me with fascination whenever I speak.  My host sister has started to call me obba (Korean for older brother).  My host family's dog no longer barks in terror whenever I walk into the yard.  I think these are all signs that I am slowly starting to build a life here.  Below, I have put a photograph of my host parents.  This picture was taken at Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving).

Jinro and Jenhi

They are both wearing pink in the middle.  When I took this photo, we were all making rice cakes at my host father's childhood home.  Jinro, my host dad, works for the Naju Agricultural Department.  Jenhi, to the right, is my host mom.  She is currently studying to become a archaeologist for the government.  And here is Heo, my host sister.


     Thanksgiving was certainly an experience.  I traveled to Muan, a nearby town, in order to visit my host dad's relatives.  I met his parents, his brother, and his brother's family.  I spent a lot of time playing with the kids that were running around the house.  Aside from being the entertainment, I also participated in the traditions of the holiday.  It is customary for Koreans to visit their ancestors' graves and pay their respect.  This consisted of going to where Jinro's grandparents are buried, bowing in front of the graves, and eating some food at the site.  We also left food and drinks for his ancestors.

I made this food!  It is a popular desert.

     During the holiday, I also partook in similar festivities at my host mother's childhood home.  I met her side of the family (less little kids and more people my age).  I had an especially good time talking to my host uncle and my host grandparents.  Even though grandpa does not know a word of English, he has decided to come to America and visit my parents who he thinks are quite attractive.  Grandma and great-grandma laughed every time I spoke in Korean and loved that I would watch the tv with them as well as help by picking peppers.  Needless to say, we definitely bonded.

My host cousins tried to teach me Chinese chess.
Below is a photo of traditional Korean clothes, also known as hanbok.  Many of my host relatives were wearing these types of outfits throughout the weekend.

Hanbok on display in the Korean Folk Museum

The following weekend, I went back to Seoul with a bunch of other ETAs.  This time, I was able to explore some different parts of the city.  When I first got into the city, I went to Dongdaemun, a part of the city that is famous for fabrics and shopping.  I checked out this ancient gate that used to be part of the original wall surrounding the city (it has since grown past the boundaries).

Sadly, this is as much as I could get with 1 picture of this gate.  Pretty massive and elaborate.
I also checked out Cheonggyecheon, the famous stream that runs throughout the city.  The stream is 8.4 km long.  Many people moved from North Korea to Seoul after the Korean War and settled along this stream.  It has since undergone a major restoration and is now a public park.

   After relaxing by the water, I met some friends in Myeongdong for dinner.  Myeongdong is a popular shopping area in Seoul (similar to Oxford Circus or Fifth Avenue).  Koreans love to shop.  In fact, they never stop shopping.  Many of the stores were open till 10 or 11pm at night.  Seoul is also famous for having whole shopping malls that are open 24 hours a day.  Additionally, every city that I have been in thus far has shopping areas that are on streets such as this one.  Even though they are narrow, cars are still allowed to drive down  these roads, which just adds to the chaos.

Myeongdong at night
   During the trip, I also spent a lot of time in Insadong.  We first met our language teachers from Orientation and then explored the area in smaller groups.  Insadong is one of the older parts of the city and is known for having many traditional Korean objects for sale.  There were a ton of small cafes and small art galleries that we were able to walk through.  This part of the city was beautiful and had a great atmosphere to it.  Lots of art museums are also in this area that I hope to explore in the future.

Awesome shopping complex in Insadong.  Lots of cool stuff here.

All of the signs in Insadong are in Hangeul (the Korean alphabet).  Here is one for Starbucks.

A funny ad for an art museum.
We did get to check out the Traditional Folk Art Museum which had lots of historical objects and information about Korea.  Here are some of the highlights:

My friend with a fan (the same version of the fan is on the wall in the display case behind him).

Museum buddies.

Oldschool classroom...  mine is nothing like this....

   If exploring traditional Korean culture wasn't enough, I also learned more about Korean sports this past week.  My host dad is a big fan of joku.  Every week, he meets up with friends at least once in order to play this sport.  He wanted to introduce it to me this week so, I went along with him.  In short, joku is a combination of soccer and volleyball.  A net is set up low to the ground and four players form a square on each side.  Then, with what looked like a volleyball, you then proceed to kick the ball across the net in hopes of scoring.  Initially, I wondered why such a painful game was so popular but after some practicing I started to have fun.  Although, the next day I was definitely sore from using muscles that I probably have never worked out before.  Here is a youtube video (
    Over the past weekend, I planned on celebrating my birthday with the other English teachers in Naju and a Korean friend of ours from Orientation.  Little did I know that a friend of mine had planned a surprise birthday party for me in Gwangju (our nearby city).  Thus, I spent a lot of time catching up with friends who I haven't seen in weeks.  Additionally, my host father also took me to his small farm.

Showing friends around Naju.  We are on top of a mountain.

My host dad loves the outdoors (we have gone on a few hikes together), and he likes to farm as a hobby.  I helped him pick some tomatoes and then we went weeding (my mom would be so proud).

The family farm...  See those weeds... GONE!

Monday, September 5, 2011


   Hi all,

    I have been in Naju now for about 2 weeks and I am slowly building a life here.  Naju is a small city by Korean standards (around 100,000 people).  It is famous for its delicious pears (they actually are great).  Jeallonamdo, the province that Naju is located in, is generally known for having the best food in Korea.  I have made day trips to Gwangju and Mokpo, nearby cities in order to see friends, and a weekend trip to Daejeon, one of the largest cities in Korea (North of Naju).
Downtown Naju
   The high school I work at, Geumseong High School, is an all boys school.  I teach a variety of ability levels, which is challenging right now, but I am starting to get better at lesson planning and addressing this challenge.  As is to be expected from an all boys high school, there is plenty of testosterone and silly antics on a daily basis.  For example, on my first day I was playing 2 Truths and a Lie with my students, in order to get to know them.  One student's lie was that he had chest hair.  When the rest of the class did not believe him, he started to take his shirt off.  I convinced him to keep his shirt on and then got the class to keep on track.  Throughout the year, I will be teaching my students a mix of both English Grammar and American culture.  So far, we have focused on Comparatives and Superlatives, Commands, and American music.  I have found it interesting to see what they know about the United States and do not know.  For example, my students are familiar with Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce yet, they had never heard of Destiny's Child, Madonna, or U2.  Tomorrow, we will talk about Country music and I am pretty positive that they will know who Taylor Swift is but, be unfamiliar with Johnny Cash.
    So far, my homestay has been great.  They are very considerate an caring but also give me my space at the same time.  We live in a house which my homestay dad built about 2 years ago.  It is mostly made out of recycle materials.  He works for the local government in the Agriculture Department.  My host mom just took a civil service exam.  I think she hopes to be an archaeologist for the government, but I am not completely sure.  So far, we have bonded over action movies, Korean tv dramas, and playing with my host sister.  I have a 4 year old Korean host sister who is definitely the boss of the house.  She is very cute but, also, quite intense.  Nearly every morning, I wake up to her screaming for one reason or another (really not that bad since I get plenty of sleep).

My homestay
   My host family has also taken an interest in food from the West, particularly Mexican food.  When night, my host dad insisted that I make tortillas (he really mean burrito/taco).  We were at the supermarket and I was looking for beef or chicken.  We ended up leaving with bulgogi (spicy Korean meat) and ended up with bulgogi burritos (pretty good although next time I need to introduce them to guacamole).  I will be traveling with my host family for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) this weekend.  More updates to come soon.