Now we’re finished.

Today, June 10, is the beginning of the end. Today signifies the initiation of the speeding downward-slope of the end of my grant year. Ladies and gentlemen, I was around 32 days left in Korea and it’s not without some bitterness. I also say it’s the end because for the next three weeks, I am conducting speaking exams. After the three weeks, I have two weeks, one of which is consumed by exams. Essentially, I have one week left to teach my students and then be on my way.

For example, this morning I realized I was finally, completely at ease in Korea. It took over 10 months, but I woke up and realized that it’s no longer a strange place to be. I guess that’s what happens when you live abroad. I ate my bagel with cream cheese and jam, and realized that strangely enough, I was home. Sure, I’ll be jetting out of Korea in a little over a month, but for now I am home.

I have also struggled with a teaching slump. For you teachers out there, you probably know what I’m talking about: the inability to plan a lesson, the constant distraction of the Internet or something that isn’t lesson planning. You know that tug. During my teacher slump, I started evaluating myself. I realized that I was in the slump because I was stressed and afraid. Afraid I wasn’t making a difference, stressed that my students probably don’t care about English as much as I do.

Then, my mother, in her infinite wisdom, helped solve my funk.

In a roundabout way, she said “Sarah, you can’t make all the difference. You’re just planting the seed and other teachers in the future will water it.”

I then realized that it’s not all on me to change the scope of my students’ lives. Sure, I’m an important part, but I’m not the gardener and the harvester. I should probably not be as hard on myself. So, thankfully, I can report that I’m climbing out of the teacher slump. Hooray!

In the meantime, allow me to participate in some shameless plugging. I love blogging, and I’ve already launched my post-Korea blog. Of course, I won’t be posting until after I leave Korea, but if you don’t mind, can you check it out (and maybe even subscribe)? You can check out Runaway Sister here.

geon bae!

Sarah

Advertisements

Sunday Spectacular: Jimjalbang nights.

Author’s note: I was not fully sure if I wanted to post about my jimjalbang experience. I can hear someone back home reading this and saying “I can’t believe she wrote about publicly-approved, single-gender, enclosed, bathhouse nudity!” But then I realized you’re only in Korea on the government’s dime once (like YOLO, but better), so what the heck. Here’s the story of how I went to the jimjalbang, wore minimal amounts of clothes, and lived to tell about it.

About 10 days ago, my host sister asked if I knew what a jimjalbang (sauna, JJBs from now on) was. I had done a bit of research on the topic and I knew that a type of bath house very popular in Korea and other parts of Asia. Being an American, where JJBs are non-existent, I was really excited to dig into this part of Korean culture. However, I was not without a healthy dose of reservation.

One, when I hear the word “bathhouse,” I am instantly transported back to my days at Bible came (not like the Jesus Camp variety), where bath houses were concrete stalls in a concrete building with a flimsy plastic curtain. One year I caught athlete’s foot while wearing flip flops. So, the images of a bathhouse for me are not wholly positive. Honestly, when I heard we were going, I was a little wary of the bathing conditions. Second, JJBs are notorious for one thing: public showering. You read it right: public showering. More on that later.

Finally, last night at 8pm, it was JJB time. I found it a bit odd that we’d go to a bathhouse so late at night, but I found it even more odd that we wouldn’t be returning until around midnight. I thought, “How long can it take to go into a sauna, sweat it out, and then shower?” Let it be known that a trip to the JJB is an adventure in its own.

Upon arrival, my host mom, host sister, and I were greeted in a very nice lobby where we were given JJB clothes (pink for women, blue for men, and yellow for children) to wear in the sauna. Even though my size was XXL, in Korea, that still translates into “about a 0.5 sizes to small for Sarah.” My host mom and sister were a little worried about my elastic shorts, but I assured them that everything was perfectly fine. After storing our shoes in a locker, we headed back to the gender-segregated showering rooms where there were more lockers for our street clothes, a store for snacks and shampoo, and of course, the doors to the shower room.

Before bathing, it is custom that you go to the “Fomentation Room,” which is a series of heated rooms and two large foyers for resting. I was amazed at how classy the foyers were, as sleeping mats and pillows were provided. Also, if you’re hungry or thirsty after getting hot, there’s a snack stand, too. However, I was a bit worried about the sauna aspect of the experience. I have a pacemaker, and when I am in a hot locale for more than a few minutes, my heart starts racing and I get lightheaded. However, these saunas were unlike those in the States. Rather than a humid-hot, these saunas were a dry, hot 136 degrees Fahrenheit.

My host mom and I split off from my host sister and her Japanese guest who is visiting this weekend and went into the first sauna. Inside was a floor full of smooth rocks where visitors can lie down and rest. The rocks were heated along with the room and it provided for a great experience. I even closed my eyes for a few minutes just to rest, and despite the high temperatures, it was very comfortable and I hardly broke a sweat. After the rock sauna, my host mom and I went back to the large foyer and rested on mats while we watched a Korean drama. Others did the same around us and a few children in yellow outfits ran around us. When we had completed the “resting phase” of the JJB experience, we headed back to a slightly less hot sauna, which was a series of wooden bars fitted to make a resting platform. For another 10 minutes, we relaxed in the dry heat. After another round of relaxing on the foyer mats and eating cookies and Pepero: it was shower time.

Let me reiterate about the shower aspect: It’s public and segregated by gender. There are about 40 mirrors and shower heads with five small pools for swimming, exercise, and relaxing in the middle of the shower room. Was  I bit nervous at first? Yes. Did it bother me once I started showering? No. Everybody else was as if this was perfectly natural (and it is if you’re from a country that has JJBs), so it wasn’t awkward at all.

And did my JJB experience last four full hours until midnight? You bet. It’s a lot of work to get relaxed and clean at a JJB. And will I visit a JJB again? Yes, because you only get to live across the pond for a few brief moments in life.

geon bae!

Sarah

Thursday Short: The person I said I’d never be.

When I was in high school and throughout college, I was really hard on adults. I had standards for adults that would be considered ridiculous. Even more, I had hard and high standards for teachers. In high school, my teachers were my own personal cluster of saints. I thought they were all upstanding, near-sinless people. I had a rather unhealthy view of adulthood and teaching until I began to come into adulthood myself.

I’ve starting feeling emotions I swore I’d never feel and doing things I  swore I’d never do.

I always swore I’d be that teacher that stayed tirelessly after school to help students and I would never give up on anybody. I swore it on everything that could be sworn upon. Now that I’m a teacher, I find myself looking at the clock at the end of a long day. Sometimes I find myself frustrated at a particular student and I have to walk away. I’ve even had to convince myself that not every single student can be saved from themselves. Some students just don’t want to learn. I’ve become that person.

I swore that when I came to Korea, I’d be more social; put myself out there. You know, get out from behind the books a little more, show my face in public. I recently bought 60,000 won worth of books two weeks ago. The world hasn’t seen much of me, except for the nice barista who makes my flatcinno drinks at Ediya Coffee.

I swore in high school and college that I’d make every moment count as a teacher. I’d lesson plan tirelessly and not be a person that would be distracted by so-called real life. Here I sit, usually hitting up Facebook or blogging before lesson planning. Sometimes I hop a bus across the island instead of finishing a PowerPoint for class. Sometimes I feel guilty.

I promised myself a lot of things as a teenager and as a college student. I promised myself perfection. I promised that I would essentially be the most perfect educator and when I walked by, people would say, “That Sarah is a darned good teacher and she takes nothing from nobody.” I promised myself a lot of weird things.

What I have learned from all of these self-broken promises is that I am a human. I am a normal person with normal feelings and normal emotions. It was wrong of me to think that I was somehow above anybody else. It was probably wrong to think that my teachers in high school were untouchable.

It’s funny what you learn by simply getting older. It’s funny what you learn from living abroad.

geon bae from South Korea and the Island,

Sarah

 

 

Wednesday Short: NaNoWriMo

#winning

Ladies and gentlemen, today I hit the 50,000 word mark and was declared a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) winner. This is the first time I have written a full-novel with a beginning, middle, and end. I  have never been so relieved to finish something in my life (well, pretty darn close). I started out two days ago almost a whole week behind schedule. This was gnawing at me, as the gaps were caused by a three-day lull because of my visit to Seoul and various other commitments. But today, with two of my classes cancelled, I went into typing overdrive and took out over 10,000 words in the past two days.

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. I started blogging at the urging of a professor and I just kept on typing. I have been writing in composition books since my early, early elementary days, writing stories of my wildest imagination. Maybe it’s why I became an English major. Moreover, the Fulbright lifestyle has allowed me time to write with literary abandon after school.

I simply love the art of writing.

What I love about writing is that I don’t write for anybody but me. Selfish? Maybe. However, I love being able to write fiction for my own enjoyment. It’s one thing I don’t produce for the masses and its comforting to know that I have created something that I can turn back to in the future.

Now with NaNo over, I can focus on regular blogging and clear thinking. Here’s to creativity, here’s to writing, and here’s to the month that was November.

geon bae!

Sarah

A Weekend in Seoul: Near Perfect

This weekend, I made my second trip to Seoul. Perhaps the only downfall of my teaching location is that I am in the city farthest from the capital city. I love Seoul; it’s one of my all-time favorite cities. When Fulbright announced the yearly Thanksgiving dinner hosted for ETAs, I immediately reserved my spot and a plane ticket.

Fulbright eats in style.

The Thanksgiving dinner was excellent and was held at the Folk Museum of Korea. Ambassador Sung Kim (Ambassador to Korea from the United States) joined us, along with other U.S. Embassy officials. I was able to speak with an English Language Regional Officer (RELO) about the Embassy’s English language programs, which is an area of interest for me.

On the plane, ready to go!

The dinner was fantastic and rivaled a traditional American Thanksgiving. I was so pleased that baked ziti was on the menu, alongside turkey, salad (WITH RANCH DRESSING), and other Thanksgiving deliciousness. There was also what seemed to be an unlimited supply of Coca-Cola. If I’ve said this once, I’ll say it again: The Coca-Cola here in Korea is so good. I have to idea why, but it is. Overall, I was very happy to make the cross-country trek for the sake of turkey, ranch dressing, and Coca-Cola in cans.

Though Thanksgiving dinner was my main objective for going to Seoul, it certainly wasn’t the only activity I participated in. On Saturday night, I stayed in a hostel for my very first time in Hongdae (Seoul’s lively party district). Unlike the United States, where the only accommodations are hotels, hostels provide basic needs at a low price. Usually, you get a bed in a shared room and shared bathroom. Some places may provide a small breakfast, but many do not. I shared a room with four other strangers, but it was a great experience. If you’re ever in Seoul, be sure to check out one of hundreds of hostels in the city.

My bunk in the hostel.

On Sunday, I was able to once again attend English services at the Seoul Anglican Cathedral’s English Mission (Seoul Metro Line 2, City Hall, Exit 3). I was able to get my liturgy on and get all the genuflections out of my system for the next few months. If you are an English-speaking expat living in Seoul, the English Mission is a great place to worship and is full of both Koreans and foreigners alike.

After church, I headed back to Hongdae to check out of my hostel. I then did what any self-respecting Kentuckian in Korea would do: I went to the 24-hour KFC. Unlike KFC in the States, KFC Korea does not offer popular side dishes like macaroni and cheese, green beans, and cole slaw. Rather, there are fries. KFC in Korea tastes just like American KFC, if you were wondering. When I’m stateside though, I will always hail Lee’s Famous Recipe as the best fried chicken on Earth.

I’m pretty sure I was the only soul awake in Hondae on Sunday morning.

My escapades of the day included a visit to the famous Kyobo Bookstore, where I caved under temptation and purchased almost 60,000 won in English books. I regret nothing. 

Just as me weekend started on the AREX (Airport Express), I soon found myself on the train back to Gimpo International Airport. This weekend was a near perfect weekend. I ate good food, saw good people, rode on a few good subway lines, rode on a good train, and bought a few good books. There was a lot of good this weekend.

I hope that one day, too, you’ll experience fabulous Seoul, South Korea.

geon bae,

Sarah

Tuesday Short: The Life of Paper Cranes

Several weeks ago, two students gave me two small paper cranes that now sit on top of my computer. They are both a green and blue color, pretty nice if you ask me.

Last Friday, two other students noticed my cranes and came to the conclusion that my cranes needed a family.

“You need two bigger cranes at the bottom of your computer,” she said. “They can be the grandparents.”

So, yesterday, guess whose cranes got grandparents? Mine did, and they are yellow and pink. This morning, I was working before the first bell and the same students came with nine, that’s right, NINE miniature paper cranes.

“Children!” they said. Now my two cranes on the computer have grandparents, but now have nine uncles and aunts, all varying in shape and form. Paper cranes reproduce fast and come in many shapes and sizes.

In this vein, perhaps we could learn a lot about the life of paper cranes, especially if you’re living abroad. You hardly see one paper crane alone, he or she is usually paired with another paper friend.

We humans are a lot like paper cranes, we are made for human interaction. According to the Christian account of the creation of the world, God created male and female, to be together. We are social beings and meant to create bonds. I could stand to be more like a paper crane, I could stand to come out of my box a little bit more.

We could learn a bit from the life of the paper crane.

Tidbits:

Only a few more days until Fall Conference! I’m excited to see my fellow ETAs!

Right now I’m listening to an acoustic version of Gangnam Style. If you don’t know Gangnam Style, go away.

Today (October 9th) is Hangul Day! It is the day that King Sejong the Great invented Hangul, or the Korean alphabet.

UPDATE: Paper crane count is now up to 100 billion. 

geon bae from a different kind of south!

Sarah

The life after this.

No, I’m not talking about the afterlife, I’m talking about life after Korea.

“But Sarah, it’s not even 2013 and you’re already thinking about life after Korea? You need to slow the heck down.”

Yes, you’re probably correct, but I’ve found that it never hurts to plan ahead. Upon arriving in Korea on July 5th, I was already thinking of all the graduate schools I was going to apply to. The range of schools listed went from Ball State University’s dual linguistics TESOL program to the Ph.D. in English at Notre Dame University to an M.Ed. in English Language Learners at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. I was like “I’m going to go to graduate school as soon as I get off of that plane next July. Forget visiting the old homeplace, I’m going straight back to student life.”

I felt this way until I actually began teaching in my classroom here in Korea. In fact, at times, I viewed the Fulbright experience as an opportunity to make my resume look really good for potential graduate schools. As it turns out, I enjoy teaching and I enjoy making my own money. With this, I’ve decided to pursue employment as a teacher upon my return to the United States. I’ll be putting that teaching certificate to good use.

Does this mean I’m forsaking the life of a scholar that I’ve always wanted?

Absolutely not.

I’m still the awkward medievalist with a desire to be bricked on to the side of a church and dish out wise, religious advice (long story short: an anchoress). I’ll return to the academy as a student, but not next year. Next year, I look forward to teaching in the United States and pray that I can find a job close to my family and church.

I guess that’s what the life after this one looks like.

Tidbits:

This Friday I leave for Fall Conference. I don’t know if I’m more excited for the plane ride, the four-day weekend, or staying in a hotel. Regardless, I’ll be seeing Fulbright friends that I haven’t seen in over a month. I call it a win.

I’ve been in Korea for three months. It doesn’t seem that long, does it?

I’m thinking about winter travel, and right now, I’m looking forward to visiting Tokyo (aka Tokyo Fun Timez) with a good friend from college!

Later, I’m also considering a career as a Foreign Service Officer. I’ve caught the travel bug and I might as well get paid to do it!

Happy Monday and geon bae from a different kind of south,

Sarah