We’ll Meet Again: The Final Post in Korea

We’ll Meet Again: The Final Post in Korea.

Author’s Note: I realize that I have no more to say about Korea. I’ve blogged my heart out this past year, and this is how I want to end the blogging adventure: on a positive note. It’s been over a year that we’ve shared this ride together, and I’m glad you’ve been with me. Please enjoy this final offering.

It was Johnny Cash who said in a cover song, “We’ll meet again / don’t know where / don’t know when, / but I know we’ll meet again / some sunny day.”

Last night was the Fulbright Final Dinner at the Hotel President in Seoul. We had a great view from our dining room on the 31st floor and the food was pretty good, too.  We reminisced about the past year, got a little emotional, and then we went on our separate ways. Some of these good people I may never see again. Some people, I may see again, but it may be for a very long time. Most importantly, I realized it may be a long time before I see Korea again.

You see, from the writing of this post, I have exactly 14 days left in South Korea. That’s two weeks. Last night, among the food and the looking back, I wondered if I made the right decision to leave Fulbright Korea. I started looking over the Seoul skyline, with it’s modern buildings and ancient mountains looming in the background, and wondered how I could ever leave this place. Then I remembered that a job and good apartment back in the States practically slid into my lap. I have nothing to complain about and I’m more than grateful. Perhaps it really is time for me to leave Korea, though I sometimes wonder if it is really time. I wonder if I’ll ever be back.

All reminiscing aside, this year has been fantastic. There have been bumps along the way, sometimes disappointments in myself and others, but overall, this has been the year I’ll never forget. I imagine that I’ll tell my children and grandchildren about the time I lived in Korea. Maybe they’ll be really impressed. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s been the year of a lifetime and I’ll look back with no regrets.

geon bae for the final time,


Seoul, Republic of Korea

Sunday, June 30, 2013 

Thanks, credits, and all around good feelings:

I’d like to take a moment to thank Fulbright Korea, the Fulbright staff, and the Office for their continued support throughout this year. I can only imagine the paperwork and endless hours it takes to manage 140 foreign teachers. I am eternally grateful.

Also, to my wonderful host family. Though you’ll probably never read this, thank you for everything these last 10-11 months. Your love and generosity made it feel as if I never left the United States. Thank you.

Stateside, I’d like to thank all of the support I’ve received at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. To Dr. Rosemary Allen, who suggested that I apply to Fulbright in July 2011 (and for filling out all of those recommendation forms for my job applications), I extend another special thanks. To Dr. John Sadlon, Dr. Todd Coke, and Dr. Yoli Carter (for completing the Fulbright reference forms two years ago), I extend a special thanks. Without your willingness to take a few minutes out of your time, I would not be sitting in Seoul, working on this blog post (or teaching 520 middle school girls).

I’d also like to thank my family: Sandy, Kathy, and Joshua Carey for hanging with me this year. I guess it’s been different for you all with me gone, and I’m not sure. However, thank you for your support and willingness to let me go for a year. I look forward to new adventures when I’m home.

Don’t forget to hang with me, starting July 14th, on www.runawaysister.wordpress.com


In defense of rural people and places.

Yesterday, I had a good conversation with one of my students. She speaks English very well (the result of years of learning English at school and going to English academy after school), and has lots of opinions about Korea. She was especially troubled at the bias against students in rural areas.

Paraphrased, this is what she said, “Teachers tell us that students in Seoul are so much better and are under so much more stress than we are. But we take the same tests as they do, and we do the same things as we do. The problem with Korea is that they think that bigger is better. They think Jeju is less because we’re not Seoul.”

I told her that Korea is not alone in its rural bias. It is alive and well in the USA, too.

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky – and by small, I mean 200 people (as recorded by the 2000 US Census). We have one general store, 6 churches, and a school building that no longer functions as a school. We have to go to the next county over if we want Wal-Mart or a hospital or a quality Mexican restaurant. Because of the lack of resources, many people are leaving. I believe this is the story of many rural towns, not just mine in Kentucky.

But, perhaps it’s time to stand up for rural America and her people.

Despite the lack of resources and even perceived isolation at the local levels – rural America is good at heart. While there is a lack of modern entertainment, “good” schools, and general bustle, the rural setting is a place of quiet thoughtfulness. The days are longer, the nights a bit darker, and the silence? Well.  sometimes deafening.

But, in my experience, rural America has nurtured a constant sense of pure amazement. Ask me how I feel anytime I get on a subway in Seoul. I can’t stop thinking about how people can dig miles of tunnels underground and stick trains in them. Ask me how I feel when I get on an airplane. Freaking amazing. Ask me what it’s like when I’m in Kentucky and I see a plane flying overhead. I feel like someone’s on a good adventure. Ask me what it’s like to overlook a city skyline and then lament the lack of green space. All too real.

If anything, students in rural areas (whether the USA or Korea), may have a greater appreciation for the world at hand. For it is this “isolation” from the big cities that helps develop a sense of wonder and amazement at the world beyond the fragile city limits. In a big city, there’s everything to see and do. In rural settings, it’s all to the imagination.

So, I say to my students at my (somewhat) rural island school, take your imagination and run with it. The size of a city does not measure one’s intellect or potential. If my fate depended on the fact that I was born near and raised in a 200-person town, I probably would have never went to a top Kentucky college or became a Fulbright scholar.

In the end and in defense of rural people and rural places, I say that we are bigger dreamers, harder workers, and the most creative. Sure, we’ll have to drive a bit to get to a hospital, theater, restaurant, or supermarket, but all of these amenities can never add up to the constant feeling of amazement and wonder.

geon bae!


Monday Short: Five Months to the Day

I say I’m not sentimental, but deep down inside, there’s a growing sentimental seed. For example, five months ago today (12.3.2012), I left Lexington, KY to begin my Fulbright grant to teach English in South Korea. I was going to a place I knew little to nothing about. I had no idea what I was doing and somewhere over Nome, Alaska, when turbulence had rattled me awake, I was starting to regret my decision.

The regret didn’t last very long. These five months have been an immense blessing. For example:

  • If I say this once, I’ll say it again: I’ve learned mercy and compassion. Something I lacked in the States. I wasn’t a total barbarian, but I could stand to have a bit more mercy.
  • I’ve learned to take (responsible) risks. For example, I decided to postpone graduate school in favor of teaching for a year. This is huge, as I left Kentucky thinking that at this moment, I’d be in the thick of graduate school applications.
  • Language is important, but it’s not everything. You can communicate with gestures and broken Korean and get what you want. Not that I’d know (insert sarcastic groan here).
  • Small things matter. I think one of my simple pleasures here in Korea is the flatcinno, which is essentially a lighter, creamier version of a smoothie. I would not usually indulge in flatcinno in the States, but I’m in Korea.
  • I’ve learned that we’re all the essentially the same. Not to discount the precious virtue of diversity, but I used to think that those outside of the States lived overly-significant, overly-magnificent, glamorous lives. Not true. Even 8,000 miles away, we all live daily, regular lives.
  • Travel makes you a better person. You don’t have to go far to see the world. You don’t even have to leave your home county to travel. Getting out to see the world, no matter how short the distance, makes you a better person.
  • Living abroad make you realize what you are truly capable of apart from your parents. For me, booking international airplane tickets or going to the dentist alone (in a foreign country!) is a big step for me. We all have our steps; some bigger than others.
  • I’m making more reasonable goals. In high school and college, I wanted to make a HUGE difference in the world. Now, I’ve realized it’s the small differences that matter.
  • Bus rides are the best thing ever.

Welcome to the beginning of Month 6.

geon bae!


The hardest thing.

I am very blessed that my life in Korea has been relatively easy. My classes aren’t horrible, lesson planning is becoming easier, and my home life is stellar. However, there is one aspect of life that is the hardest.

Going to church.

There I said it. Some argue that you can be a good Christian and not go to church, while others argue it should be a weekly staple of the Christian life. While I believe there is more scriptural evidence for attending church than not (don’t ask me to explain, ain’t nobody got time for that right now), that doesn’t mean I’m always the most enthusiastic on Sunday mornings on the island.

Going to church is hard for me in Korea. Even in all my pre-nunliness and the fact that I’ve purchased a Korean-English parallel Bible, going to church is one of the more difficult tasks of my week. Everyone at the church I attend is hospitable and friendly, showing Christ in every way possible. However, church is exhausting. Maybe it’s the fact that everything is in Korean and I tend to zone out (as the kids are saying these days) after a few minutes. And as selfish as this might sound, it’s sometimes hard to get anything from a service when you don’t understand anything.

Sure, I could venture to Jeju City on a weekly basis for English services, but I believe that I’ll only get Korean church once in this lifetime. That’s not to say I won’t visit Korean again after my grant is finished, but it may be a long time after July 2013 when I experience Korean church again. No, I haven’t “forsaken the assembly,” but I will admit, it’s one of the most difficult ventures of my week.

geon bae,



Thursday Short: Life of a Fulbright ETA (according to Sarah)

A Day in the Life of a Fulbright ETA (namely, Sarah [me])

5:45 – 6:00am: Wake up. Brush teeth, floss, and gargle Listerine. Look in the mirror, note that eyebrows need a serious waxing. Try to put a part in my wild mess of hair, tame the bangs. Maybe read my Bible if I haven’t spent 15 vain minutes staring at myself in them mirror.

6:00am-6:20am: Make my bed, sort the bean pillow, the pillow from home, and the travel pillow. Align the sheet and comforter. Move the laptop to make room for the hot rollers (a girl needs hot rollers). Pick out which color sweater I will wear today, stare at hot rollers, hoping they get hot really, really fast. Put on face.

6:21am-6:40am: Make sure I look decent for the day, write in journal, wait for breakfast.

6:41am-7:00am: Breakfast. Always delicious and the most important meal of the day.

7:00am-7:15am: Wait.

7:15-7:25: Ride to school with host dad and host sister. Get dropped off and descend the hill to the school.

7:26am-9:00am: Internet timez and last-minute lesson changes.

9:00am-3:15pm(ish): Teaching. Eating lunch. Internet times. Blogging. Teaching more. Simply doing what I love to do.

3:15pm-4:15pm: Taking my time getting home, piddling around town, doing my thing.

4:15pm-8:59pm: Lessong planning, dinner, fiction writing times.

9:00pm: It’s bedtime, ya’ll.

Tuesday Short: The Defining Moment

We all have defining moments. There’s never just one.

However, today I’ve had defining moment.

Right now, I’ve finished the “skeleton” for next week’s lesson plan, my host mom is making dinner, and I’m in my room blogging. I’m also listening to Korean music. I’m writing a letter to friends at home. This afternoon, I treated myself to my first smoothie in several weeks and mailed postcards back home. I took the bus again. I finally feel a strange sense of home. Of course, my own bed is 8,000 miles away on the second floor of a white house in Kentucky. However, to be a foreign country, I am at home.

Today was a defining moment.

If you’ve traveled abroad or moved to a different environment, did you have a defining moment? What was it like?

Geon bae from a different kind of south,


Monday Short: Minority

“If you haven’t been the minority before, welcome to the club.”

In Central Kentucky, I was almost always the majority. I was white and adhered to some form of the Christian religion (Though I am Protestant, Catholicism is the dominant stream of Christianity in Washington County, Kentucky). I really never think about my race frequently. People in rural Kentucky don’t often ponder the meanings of race relations. It’s not something that appears often, if even at all.

Now, in Korea, I’m the minority.

At the beginning of Orientation, a speaker representing a racial minority in the United States said that if we were never part of a minority, we were now. Welcome to the club.

At my school, I am the only non-Korean individual. This morning at a school assembly, I realized that I was the only non-Korean present. However, despite being welcomed to the “club” of minority status, I don’t really feel as if I’m a minority here in Korea. Sure, I catch people staring for a few seconds, but then they go about their merry way. A student informed me that I had really white skin, while others were blown away by the fact that my eyes were blue. This isn’t news to me or surprising. I was prepared for these kind of remarks during Orientation.

Perhaps the most alienating aspect of living in Korea is the language barrier. During teacher meetings, I sit at my desk and try to harvest words that I know. At church, it’s the same process, except for an hour. Despite my attempts to learn Korean during Orientation, it seems as if my language skills only scratch the surface of language learning and acquisition.

Regardless, I am a minority here in Korea. I am a different kind of person and I hope that my differences allow for cultural exchange.

Geon bae from a different kind of south,