Monday, July 9, 2012

Kind of Like "Wow"

Man, where do I begin? It's been quite an eventful past few days...
So before I begin, one of these past few days I was talking to some of the ETAs about blogging since so many of the other ETAs are blogging about their experiences. I thought about it and honestly, I realize that I blog for myself. The things I write about aren't interesting and honestly, none of them really make sense to anyone but me anyway. Thinking about my posts when I was in Kenya, I tended to write more about facts and less about... revelations or feelings. That's because I want to remember what I did, where I went, who I met, etc. I don't think about how I've been feeling or whatnot. I'm starting to realize that I'm actually very much out of touch with my feelings but we'll see how that changes in the course of this year. With that being said, I'm starting to understand why my blogs are so dry and seem to be only a recap of my day. From now on, I'm going to try to focus less on being factual and chronological about happenings and more purposeful about what I write.
So Korea University (KU) came to talk to us and we had our Opening Ceremony of sorts for our Korean Language Learning classes. KU is one of the three top universities in Korea; it's like the Harvard, Yale or Princeton in Korea. So we're taking an intensive Korean course for four hours a day, five days a week for six-weeks. If we were to come and take this course and pay for it on our own, it would be about $4K. We're getting it for free as training for our Fulbright. That's ridiculous. We took a placement test in which they had us write an autobiography of ourselves in Korean. If you don't know any Korean, you can just write something in English about the extent of which you are fluent. I wrote a sentence about how I have never studied Korean and I only just memorized Hangul, the Korean alphabet. There's also an oral portion, if you know how to speak Korean. I definitely skipped that portion. From there, we are placed into four different levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Expert Beginner, and Expert Advanced. I was obviously put into the Beginner course, and received my books the next day.
Since we left the placement test early, we had a few hours to kill before lunch so a few of us decided we wanted to go into town. I was told by one of the Orientation Coordinator Team (OCT) members to make a right, another right, and then a left over a bridge once we left Jungwon University's entrance. Well, the problem with these directions is that there was an immediate right (kind of like a U-turn) right when you leave the university and I was unsure whether or not that was the "first right" he meant or if we had to travel a little bit further down before making our "first right". We stopped under a bridge and looked at the maps they had given us without luck. There was a pickup truck that was stopped near us and the driver was idle so we went up to ask him. We had no Korean speaker in our group (go figure since the Korean speakers were in the placement test) and he did not speak any English. Fortunately, Kelly speaks Korean, though she is not completely fluent. This is when things got funny. Apparently, he kept telling her to tell us to get into the back of his pickup van. He would drive us into downtown Goesan. While we remarked about the sketchiness of the situation, there were at least eight of us so we figured he was harmless enough. Besides, it was a pickup truck so worst case scenario was that we jump out of the car at the first sign of trouble. Goesan actually turned out to be a five minute drive from us. It's about a fifteen minute walk. Day two and we were sitting in the back of a pickup truck heading into town with a stranger we just met. Oh, Fulbright. He was actually very nice and helpful.
We walked around and explored town for about an hour before we headed back--this time on the university Shuttle bus that was driving by. Downtown Goesan is actually pretty large. It's kind of weird because Goesan is supposedly a "rural" area but I feel like town is quite large and accessible.
There is also a central bus station where you can take a bus to go anywhere in Korea. I understand the "rural" portion only because of the lack of people around. There were very, very few others walking around and even fewer inside the stores, from what I saw. I'm confused as to how these mom-and-pop shops stay afloat from such little business. I assume however, that living in Korea is much cheaper than living in America.
By the time we got back and ate lunch, it was time for OCT vignettes. Each of the OCT members created a short powerpoint presentation about various topics about their grant year, such as the homestay experience to teaching experiences. While I was sitting there, it finally hit me that this is all really happening. Some of my realizations: I am in Korea; I will be living at a homestay family in two months; I will, on a regular basis, be the only American around; I will be teaching for a year; there is so much to do. I'm not going to lie--I did freak out for a second. There were so many questions and thoughts that came up in my mind as they talked about their grant year. I started to worry about my homestay family, the school placement, my preparation, and most of all, my goals and expectations for this year. There was one presentation in particular that kind of shocked me and caused me to fear a bit of what this year might bring. One of the OCT members told us his expectations when he came to Korea. He then presented the reality of what happened and how those expectations panned out. Almost none of them did. His aspirations and future changed. This was Anthony's presentation, and he's going to be our new ETA Coordinator when Stephen leaves in August. His initial plan was to apply to graduate school while in Korea and go back after his first year but he renewed and after two grant years, here he is. I think I was amazed because he didn't plan on staying but now he can't imagine leaving. When listening, I wondered if that might happen to me. I know it sound strange to be thinking about such a thing on the second day but that was exactly what was going through my mind. I already have a job waiting for me in San Francisco next year. What happens if I fall in love? I know I'll cross that bridge when I get there but I just can't help but think about it.
After having my mind blown by the presentations, I talked to Kathy, one of the ETAs I've become friends with. I expressed my concerns about not really having written down my expectations and goals yet. To be honest, I came in not really thinking about what I want out of this program. Fulbright is a wonderful opportunity and I have been SO blessed to be in the position I am right now. I didn't think too much about it; I thought it would just play out and I would figure it out on the way. While I still think it's important to not plan everything out, I think it's more important to set some expectations and goals, at the very least. Luckily, Kathy shares the same sentiment. We were both going to think about it and share them with each other and get feedback, of sorts later on this week.
Also on Friday, we had a Global Learning Educational Exchange (GLEE) Club Mixer after dinner. So GLEE is one of the extracurriculars we could sign up for in which we have cultural exchanges and language practice with some of the Jungwon University students. Since they want to learn English and we want to practice our Korean, it works out well. This mixer was meant to create opportunities for interactions between us and the university students. I spent most of my time with these two girls in their second year studying Occupational Therapy (it's the equivalent of Physical Therapy I think). Frankly, it was a bit awkward at first because their English is limited, my Korean is non-existant, and it was a lot of question-asking and answering. I hadn't signed up for GLEE yet because I wanted to see if I liked the mixer first. At this point however, I was exhausted from waking up early and working out, and the events of the day. While the students seemed friendly enough, I didn't think I would do GLEE. This feeling changed later that night.
Being Friday, a bunch of the ETAs wanted to go out. As funny as this sounds, I thought to myself, "YOLO." So I sucked it up and decided I would join them. Being a rural area, there are a limited number of bars in town but there is one called B&B. Rachel, our RA (Yes, we have an RA and she is phenomenal), called taxis for us. Since we were rolling about forty or so deep, we had about ten taxis come and pick us up. It was actually quite amusing to see ten of them pull up all together (almost at the same time) at the university lot. When we were at the bar, I initially started sitting in one of the larger booths with only the ETAs. Some of the Jungwon University students had actually decided to come with us but had not yet arrived. Rachel, being the awesome RA she is, took care of everything. She ordered us beer, soju, and snacking food. Apparently, in Korea, you have to order at least something to eat when drinking. And you would think that being in Korea, we would eat some Korean snacks but we had a plate of fried American food like french fries, chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, and the like. It was okay at first. The atmosphere at B&B is relaxed. I imagine most people go there and sit with their friends and chat over some beer and soju. I would think it was equivalent to sitting around at Brown Jug or Blue Lep in Ann Arbor with some friends. However, it was much quieter than it would be at Brown Jug or Blue Lep. There were a few interesting moments at our table though. A university student whose English name is Francisco did a few shots of soju with us. But, his way of taking shots are much more interesting than ours. Similar to a sake bomb in which the sake sits on chopsticks on top of the beer, he placed the soju shot on chopsticks on top of the beer. However, he banged the table with his forehead to drop the soju bomb in. While that was funny, his next shot taking action was funnier. He created the same setup (soju bomb) and announced he was going to play golf. He then proceeded to grab a spoon and use it as his club. He aimed for the chopsticks and sure enough, the soju went in. He is definitely a character. He traveled around to the other tables though. About an hour in, our table decided to "mingle." Best idea of the day. This is when things got interesting.
I'm not quite sure what to say about the night but it was a lot of fun and a bonding experience of sorts with some of the ETAs who were there. I had the most fun with the Koreans though. The university students are actually a lot of fun and can drink a sailor to death. They like to play drinking games but when you lose, you have to finish your entire drink. Every time. The problem with this is that it is very easy to lose in these games with them. When you finish your drink, they pour to the top again. Ten minutes later, you have to drown it again and this cycle repeats itself. The mixture of beer and soju is very much ingrained in me already. I spent a lot of time with a few of the students who dubbed themselves Brad Pitt (I'm actually serious) and Statham (though Pitt told me to call him Angelina Jolie). I also talked with Francisco and the two girls I met at the GLEE club. Well, it's hard to describe what happened at B&B on Friday but there was lot of good American music (they let you DJ and pick your songs), 90s jams, and the like. There was also a lot of dancing and overall merriment. Because of this and the great time I had with the students, I actually signed up for GLEE. They're a lot of fun so I want to get to know them better.
We ended up getting back to Jungwon around 2am but our night still wasn't over. Our electronic keys weren't working for our dormitory door (the university students have an 11pm curfew which we are not subject to) so we decided to try to enter through another door and get to the rooms from there. That was a horrible idea. I think I mentioned how the Marble Palace is extremely dark and quiet but it is even darker and scarier at 2am. There were no lights on and we were walking down dark hallways with only the reflection of the moon on the marble coming in from the windows. We got lost and couldn't find our rooms for at least fifteen minutes. Thinking about it now, it's actually funny but it was ridiculous when we were walking around. We realized we couldn't get into the dorms from that entrance so backtracked and tried another door. I didn't end up sleeping until 2:30am. I don't regret it though--what a great night.
Being the first weekend, we had it pretty easy with a lot of free time. Since our language classes haven't started, it's pretty stress free. We were only supposed to have two workshops and one was optional. On top of that, they didn't even start until 10am. You would think that I would have slept in, especially given the night I had. I think I still was jet-lagged though because I was up at 7am. Instead of going back to sleep like a normal person, I wanted to get rid of my headache and figured a run would be the best way to do it. It was a great idea because it was the first day we've been here that the sun has been out. When Christina (my roommate) and I looked out our window when we woke up, we were in shock. It was blue skies and sunshine. In other words, it was perfect. The first two days were extremely cloudy, rainy, and just overall depressing. In the sunlight, the university looked completely different. It looked gorgeous. While running, I noticed the architecture, the different water fountains on campus, etc. It's actually a very nice university.
So both workshops/presentations were by a former Fulbright. He was in the program when it was only the second year in existence and he has stayed in Korea ever since. When I found this out, it only further reminded me of my fears on Friday when I was listening to Anthony's vignette. During his first presentation, he showed us his photography while talking about his views on Korea and his experiences as he is a photographer and blogger. His photos were beautiful but I felt like his presentation lacked a clear unified purpose though. While his second presentation was a bit more academic, I was also expecting something different.
So we were told about last minute changes about another presentation about the History of Fulbright following the second workshop. About five minutes in, I and the rest of the ETAs jumped up in our seats when we heard screaming and shouting down the aisles in the room. The OCT was running down towards the podium and shouting and yelling. Instead of listening to a lecture on the history of Fulbright, we were going on a downtown Goesan scavenger hunt. They had tricked us essentially. They scared all of us in the process of doing it though. They called the separate teams and off we went. The final destination was D-Mart, a market, to buy gifts for our two wonderful RAs. On the way, we were asked to find certain things and take pictures. I had fun. Then after dinner, we were told to show up at 7:15 on the Veranda. They had a surprise for us. Since we "skipped" July 4th from the plane ride and time changes, they bought fireworks for us to enjoy. We are quite spoiled since our OCT team is so good to us. I can tell that they really care about us. I got to light the first firework since I won the ice breaker that first day. It was really nice.
The rest of the night was ours so people did some different things. There were a lot of sports that went on. While I wanted to play football, I also wanted to explore the campus since it was still bright out and the weather was nice. We found a magical playground in the back. It's amazing. I think kids who play in it must be spoiled.
Tyler, Tzu, and I got to act like five-year-olds again and it was totally worth it. This university is just amazing. I can't believe students go to class here because it feels like it serves the greater community with the water park, golf course, playground, etc.
Being Saturday, a few people still wanted to go out. I was tired and wasn't sure how I felt about going out again but Tzu had stayed in Friday and wanted to go out so I decided to keep her company. There was a significantly much smaller group that went out, maybe 15 of us or so. Rachel took us to another bar but we weren't feeling it so actually went back to B&B. Like Friday, it progressively got better as the night went on. This time however, only a few of the university students who came out. Funny enough though, the OCT was at B&B. Some time later, we decided to try out karaoke since we took a picture of it for our scavenger hunt on Friday. That was fun; there was Korean and American music. Similar to Friday, we got back around 2am but the door was open this time (Thank God) and we didn't have to get lost again.
Church service starts at 11am. There is one Catholic Mass and one Methodist church in town. Both are only held in Korean. When I met with the group to take the shuttle into town, I was actually pretty surprised by the number of people going to church (around 10 or so). Service was really interesting since I did not understand a word that was being said. There were a few moments my ears quipped up though since some things were similar to Chinese. "Jesus" in Korean is the same in Chinese, for example.
After service, we were invited to stay for lunch. It felt like red carpet service and it was very obvious that we were considered guests. The people were really nice. At lunch, we met a Jungwon University student Sung Ho. He's actually pretty cool and he hung out with us all afternoon. There were various moments when he kept laughing and saying that I was funny. So Korean girls are generally quieter and the norm is to not stick out in a crowd. They aren't outgoing or sassy. So I'm pretty much the opposite so he thought I was pretty funny and entertaining. He actually even said at one point that he was scared of me! I think I'm just very different from what he's ever seen before. We walked around downtown and there was an outdoor market going on. I thought it was the weekend market but apparently it always happens when the date ends on a 3 or an 8. For example, today was July 8th so there were vendors on the streets everywhere. On July 13th, there will also be outside vendors at the market. There were some street food vendors with food that smelt so delicious.
At 2am, we had to be back at Jungwon for a workshop held by a previous ETA about the educational system in Korea so we could better understand the background and get a clearer grasp of the ETA role. It was a long workshop but extremely, extremely helpful. I honestly feel so much better because things seem clearer. I feel like this is how orientation is meant to be structured, where we are slowly introduced to things so we don't get overwhelmed at once. It's quite nice.
After the workshop, we got a chance to have a dinner outing in Goesan with the OCT. The OCT members paired off and were taking students to various restaurants in town or different food genres. I signed up for Naengmyeon (cold noodles) with Ashlee and Leslie. It was so delicious. The restaurant was set up in a manner that we had to take off our shoes at the entrance and we sat on the floor on cushions. It felt very "Asian" in that sense. The noodles were delicious and it was a vegetarian dish. I thought the soup was okay but some people absolutely loved it. When I think of soup, I think of hot soup so the cold soup was something of a new concept for me. It was a good dinner though; the portion was large and the cost was very reasonable. The night was pretty quiet since we had to wake up early on Monday for school site visits. I kept thinking about my expectations and goals and feel like I have a lot that I want to accomplish. I'm just not sure if it's all possible...
I signed up for a school visit at a co-ed middle school in Daejeon (Daejeon Middle School). I'm not even quite sure how to begin talking about it. So Daejeon is an urban placement and it's actually the fifth largest city in Korea. It's about an hour and some change away from Goesan so we left pretty early, around 7:15am. There were ten of us visiting this school. They split up all the ETAs among various school types so we can compare notes and think a bit more about what we might prefer in term of placement. So the school is randomly placed in the middle of the city. There are actually apartment buildings and random stores right next to it. There is a gate that encloses around the school though.
We were greeted by Aaron, the current ETA at the school, and a few of his co-English teachers. We had to take off our shoes and change into the slippers they had set up for us. In Korean culture, you wear different shoes indoors than outdoors. Feet are considered dirty so socks are always worn; even if slippers are provided, you wear socks. Even at the Fitness Center at Jungwon University that I've been using, you have to wear a different pair of sneakers indoors to work out than the ones you walk around in. So the agenda was to meet the Vice Principal, have a brief presentation and Q&A session with Aaron over coffee, get a tour of the school, attend and observe two classes that Aaron teaches, and eat lunch. As a side note, Korean culture is very much hierarchical and formal so we have to give insa (greeting) to anyone who is older than us or in a higher position. In my case, being relatively young (straight out of college) and inexperienced, I give insa to almost everyone. However, we were not supposed to bow to the students since we are teachers (or rather, will be). We can wave and say "Hello" though. When we met the Vice Principal, we did a very formal insa (90 degree bow) since she is much higher up and we are guests who have been fortunate enough to be hosted by the school.
This is going to be a weird note but the coffee they had prepared for us was delicious. It was iced coffee and it tasted way better than any other coffee we've had since we've been here. So Koreans drink a lot of instant coffee (from a mix) and canned coffee. There's not a lot of brewed, fresh coffee and I think that's a novelty to have freshly ground coffee. Anyway, we were actually sitting in the Principal's office with air conditioning. It was the only room in the school that had AC. Traditionally, in almost all Korean schools, there is no AC. Aaron told us a bit about his school, his grant year experience, and answered questions we had. We then got a tour of the school and it's a decent sized school. There are many floors and students running around. There were kids who were at recess (I think) playing basketball or random games outside on the field as well as kids who were in classes. I even saw a kid who was asleep on a table with his headphones in. That's when I knew these kids are just like kids back in America.
Aaron taught over 600 students and the students were different genders and grade levels. The first class we got to see was a Class 1 boys class (equivalent to 7th grade). They were rowdy, talkative, and pretty much normal teenage boys in puberty.
I found they were typical of what I would probably find in an American middle school. They would fight over a seat, talk to each other when Aaron was giving instruction, give blank stares, shout out answers, etc. I'm not quite sure why but I always thought, for some reason unknown to me, that Korean students were more obedient and easier to manage. I now realize that kids are just... kids. No matter where you go, kids are very similar. They're curious, energetic, and quite a handful. So this is actually Aaron's last week teaching so this was his last class with these students. His lesson started with Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" with youtube lyrics to express his feelings about leaving them. It was quite cute and the kids were pretty adorable. His plan was to have the kids make a travel guide of sorts, which would then be given to the ETA next year (my class). Each table was given a large sheet of paper in which they would write down stuff to the question. These questions ranged from "What can you eat in Korea?" to "What kind of music can you listen to in Korea?" The kids used language rules they had practiced to answer the questions. The ten of us split into pairs and joined the tables to engage with them and help them. The boys at my table were super shy when we first pulled up our chairs. I think they found us intriguing. They warmed up to us by the end though. They have a lot of energy. It also became very apparent that the levels of English definitely varied from person to person. There might have been one boy who wrote and spoke English quickly while the boy next to him had to ask him how to spell a word.
The next class was Class 3 girls (equivalent to 9th grade). Holy cow. They were SO different from the boys. Overall, they were more obedient and quieter. At the same time however, they were perfectionists and super, super girly. For example, one of the girls started writing the question at the top of the paper but then the other girls at the table said she didn't write it big enough so they had to turn the paper around to start again. There was nothing wrong with it to begin with. After they finished writing, they drew flowers, hearts, smiley faces, etc. on the paper. I now understand why all Asian merchandise is so "cutesy". On another huge note, while the girls follow directions and appear to be more "mature", they are boy-crazy and SUPER immature on that front. They all giggled and stared at the ETA boys (two of them). When we introduced ourselves, they clapped for each of us. However, for the boys, they were extra loud and even screamed. It honestly felt like I was at a K-Pop concert with Korean fan girls... they were so loud. It was like they had never seen a boy, or foreign boy, before in their lives. It was ridiculous and very comical from my standpoint.
On the bus, we got to compare notes with the other ETAs who visited other schools. When I first came in, I thought I wanted to teach high school kids, and maybe I still do, but I'm much warmer to the fact of teaching middle school kids already. They have a lot of energy and I think they would be a lot of fun to play with. The ETAs who went to the high schools compared notes too. There were some ETAs who went to a science-focused high school; it's apparently one of the top high schools in the nation. Those students sounded extremely intelligent and they were debating public policy issues apparently (so I was told). Some of the other ETAs who went to a normal high school said some of the kids were sleeping or not paying attention. I'm not quite sure what I want yet but I do know I don't want an all-girls school though. I feel like it would be too much to handle at once. Likewise, I wouldn't want an all-boys school either since they are so crazy, especially at that age. I still have a lot of time to think about it though since placement isn't until much later on in orientation.
Today's kind of our "last" free day since our Korean language classes start tomorrow and so do our extracurriculars. From Monday-Friday, I will be in Korean class for 4 hours in the morning. After that, I'll usually have to attend a Fulbright workshop. After those, I have Tae Kwon Do on Monday-Thursdays. I'll also have GLEE on Tuesday and Thursdays. Then on the weekends, I'll be at Archery or Cooking Class, as well as other excursions. I signed up for a lot of extracurriculars since they sounded so interesting. Anyway, since we had a lot of free time today (which may be some of our last), I went on a hike with a bunch of other ETAs led by Jason, another ETA. He seemed to know where he was going since he hiked it yesterday and he is a nature lover and has been a nature tour guide before. It was a pretty short hike (a little less than an hour) and the view at the top was pretty nice. It was interesting though since we actually ran into a road, which we probably could have walked up and it would have been much shorter and less effort. The path we took was less of a path and more of a bush-whacker path. We also realized we were super close to a military academy. We didn't think it would be advisable to continue on that path so we headed back in time for dinner.
After the gym, I attended a Bible Study led by Leslie. I think this might be a good substitute for attending church on Sunday since the Methodist church on Sunday is all in Korean and I don't understand a word of it. It was really good and encouraging actually. We went through Romans 12 and expressed thoughts about its applicability to orientation and our overall thoughts and feelings. I'm hoping that this group of brothers and sisters will help me become accountable for this upcoming grant year. I have had at least one conversation with each of them at one point or another these past few days so it's off to a good start. I also was surprised at how honest everyone was about their prayer requests and willingness to share some things going on in their lives. I think it'll be a good group.
My initial thought was that I would go upstairs and shower and get ready for bed since class starts tomorrow but I walked into the lounge to check what people were up to first. Jet was hanging out watching K-pop music videos and trying to learn a dance. He asked me to do it with him so I started messing around but I wasn't serious. It was pretty funny though. To make a long story short, we looked through a few songs by Big Bang and 2PM and a lot of the dance moves were either too complex or too stupid. Caden, the other RA was in the room and we were trying to get him to teach us and he kept insisting he didn't know anything. He lied. He suggested we look at the 2PM "Again & Again" music video. It seemed reasonable and then he started breaking out. He knows the song and dance. Absolutely ridiculous. By this time, there was seven of us total and we were all trying to learn it. Under the leadership of Caden, we learned the first twenty seconds or so of the dance. We then decided we would learn the entire dance by the end of orientation. The plan right now is to meet on a nightly basis at 10pm in the lounge. It was actually a lot of fun.
I'm meeting some really cool people in and out of the program. I hope that I'll start making stronger connections as orientation progresses though. I still feel like I'm in the phase where everyone is still pretty friendly.
I'm thinking a lot about my expectations and goals. I tried to list a few of them out on my notepad while we were driving to Daejeon but it all seems a bit... of a stretch. I'm aiming for a lot so I'm not sure how much I can really accomplish. Also, I don't want to be selfish and only ensure I do things for myself. I want to give back and do something for others while here. I think this is going to be a really awesome year and I'm getting more and more excited as each day continues.

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