Sunday, August 26, 2007

The rain

It rained today. The sky spent its day in indecision-- releasing in random moments with sudden blinding downpours. There were brief periods of utter composition; static clouds waiting for yet another moment of emotion. Rush again. And then peace. My mind lingers on a still frame: weighted beacons of water pummel the ground as we walk to church. Yet behind the sheets of water, the sun proudly shines- bold and unabashed. A stark contrast, it shifts my perspective on the sky's tears. They are momentarily beautiful and tiny in comparison to the light. I pause, ankle-deep in flash-flood water, and soak up the image. A metaphor in the making, and I was completely unaware.

Today marks my first day of true homesickness. It started at church: a familiar hymn came on and I suddenly felt a deep longing for home. Not a desire to leave Korea. Just a sadness for the people and communities that are now remote and a yearning for familiarity and comfort. It has been a long few weeks-- an exciting roller coaster adventure full of many firsts and little solid ground. I have survived my first two weeks teaching, my first time living in a foreign country, and my first six weeks in my new home. I have met new friends, a new community, new students, a new culture... so much is unfamiliar my head sometimes spins. All this change has been thrilling--- the excitement and novelty of it keep me restless at night and buzzing for more. Yet there are moments (and today there were many) where the reality of the permanence of this strange place strikes. Where I realize that this-- Daejeon, South Korea-- is my new home. That this is where I really live and will continue to live for the next few years. That this is where I chose to be, am forced to be, and am supposed to be. That, my friends, is terrifying.

All day I felt like one of the heavy clouds that has been weighting down Daejeon's air for the last few days. I felt like at a second's notice I might burst-- all my emotion drowning me and innocent bystanders alike. I found myself rubbing my eyes every few hours and praying that I could will in my tears long enough to be alone or with people I trusted. I finally found that space tonight where I couldn't contain it anymore and where I felt safe. I (in retrospect) jokingly declared myself "a waterfall" at Bible study. I shared with my new co-workers all my feelings: my nagging concern about recent odd health issues (probably just reactions to my new climate, don't worry). My feelings of isolation and distance from all those who truly know me. My deep desire to feel known and understood. My new friends gathered around, hugged, and encouraged. They let me feel my emotions, yet offered hope.

I called Sarah tonight (thank goodness for such a dear friend in my timezone) and began with my "rain." Sarah listened and questioned and shared. Before long I found myself recounting all the amazing things about my school instead of my hesitancies. I found myself brimming with excitement for the activities I have gotten involved in, the relationships I have initiated, the multitude of things I have learned, and the novelties I have encountered. I got off the phone giddy. My mind was unable to escape my metaphor from the day. I am now wide awake, at almost 2 am, driven with the necessity to declare that I am not stuck in either the sun or the rain. That I am allowed both, and that each provides new perspective on the other.

I still feel disconnected from my prior homes. From the people I trust and know and love. But I feel a peace. I am in this space for a reason. This is where I am supposed to be.

I miss you, my friends. Please stay familiar.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Busy being a teacher

I officially made it through an entire week of "real" teaching and have to say-- it was a lot of fun! I teach five classes: two sections of 10th grade writing, two sections of English 10, and one section of freshmen writing. The classes are tiny (which is quite a pleasant change!). In my writing classes I have 12, 14, and 15 kids. In my English classes I have 17 and 26. I can't get over how small the groups are and how much freedom that gives me to interact w/the kids! Week one was mostly getting to know the kids and learning about the setup of my class. It was great to be able to spend so much time discovering the exciting lives my students have lived. While most are ethnically Korean, many have spent large portions of their lives living all over the globe. It has been interesting to see how diverse my students really are. Basically, teaching has completely taken over my life at the moment. But it has been really good so far (minus all the planning). I've vowed to take time away from school in a week or two when I get my feet on the ground.

As for other things in life-- I went to my first Korean baseball game. It was pretty amusing. They have these cheerleaders at the game who lead these funny cheers/dances/workout moves which the crowd mimicked (or at least my friends did). They also have a humorous version of the seventh inning stretch-- the players sprawl out on the field and stretch instead of the fans! Ha!

This week I'm starting to help coach the elementary soccer team. I'm going to assistant coach for the high school team in the spring. But for now, just playing around with the little guys should be fun. I'm really excited to be doing something other than planning English lessons. Though I'm ready for the summer heat to subside...

One final tidbit for the day-- Korean drivers are known to be a bit crazy. However, nothing prepared me for the statistic I discovered in one of my writing classes. Out of the 10 students who were present at the time, 6 had been hit by cars (as pedestrians) at some point in their lives. This prompted me to ask my next class where 4 out of 11 students had also been struck by vehicles (either motorbikes or cars). That means nearly 50% of my students have been hit! Now I'm scared that I'm next! I'm really paranoid of all car noises these days.

Anyhow, miss all. Send me happy messages!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A bit like a matador

Hi friends. I am finally surfacing the day before school starts to share that I am alive and well. I have been in a whilrwind of meetings, orientations, setting up apartments/classrooms, meeting new friends, shopping for necessities, etc since I have arrived. I am confident, though, that life here is going to be good. I'll break it down (also, added pics to shutterfly):

The apartment: almost settled. I decorated and it feels much more like home. My building is actually filled with all TCIS teachers (all the single females... sometimes referred to as "the nunnery"). It is a lot of fun having everyone so close. It is almost like being in a college dorm again.

The people: I REALLY like my coworkers. I feel SO lucky that there was a huge wave of young unmarried teachers who came this year because it makes it much easier to have an immediate social network. We have had so much fun together getting to know each other and the city. We have celebrated birthdays together, gone karyoking (at a ridiculously nice place that was SOOO much fun), bowled, shopped, etc together and have had a blast. It's always scary to move to a new community, but the people have made it much easier to adjust.

The school: I don't know how I am ever going to go back to a public school. I have never been in a school so united in their vision and dedication to the kids. People are incredibly supportive and focused. Classes are tiny (my writing classes range from 9-15 kids and my lit classes max out at 26!). There are many resources available. The administration is so positive! I haven't even started teaching yet but know that this is going to be an amazing place to work.

My class: I have my own room! (I am lucky, many new staff are floaters). It is large and has a huge window that looks out onto the back stairs and quad area. I have plastered the walls with color. It is all set to welcome kids tomorrow. Many of the classes that I am teaching are still developing (as far as curriculum goes) but I feel confident that I can now at least look like I know what I am doing. I have bright colors and flashy first day activities to distract students from the fact that I am a first year teacher who is still in the process of figuring our what each of her classes is all about...I have been in school for what feels like forever and tomorrow is finally the moment of truth! CRAZY.

Anyhow, off to hike down some unnamed streets to an untitled ally where I will walk until I see some busses and turn left to hopefully find a specific store where I may or may not be able to communicate my needs... gotta love navigating in Korea (they don't label anything!). Miss you all... please let me know if you have joined Skype so I can talk to someone in the states! Keep me in the loop :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Top Fives

I move to Daejeon tomorrow so thought I'd sum up my three weeks in Seoul with a series of top five lists:

Top 5 teeshirts:
(there are an abundance of horrible teeshirts... many are just funny English and others it is very clear the wearers have no idea what their clothes say)
1. Kiss me, I'm Latina (I have not seen a single Latino in Korea)
2. I'm afrain of Amecicans
3. I like long-hair anorexic emo boys
4. I'm not terrorist, please don't arrest me
5. World's best dad (worn by a teenage girl)

Top 5 things that make me say "oh, those smart Koreans:"
1. There is very limited parking in Seoul, so people double park and leave their cars in neutral... if you need to get your car out, you literally push the cars that are in your way aside
2. ATM machines won't give you your money until you take your card and your receipt (no having your money or account numbers stolen)... also, ATM machines print all your account activity directly into a book so you don't have to spend lots of time balancing your checkbook!
3. Outside every big store they have umbrella bags in multiple sizes so when it rains you don't track in a ton of water. So convenient!
4. They have these crazy exercise machines built in to every park (my favorite is this pendulum one where you just lean back and forth... here the philosophy is if your body is moving, it is exercise). Work out for free!
5. They are very big on recycling/conserving in Korea... they make you pay to get a bag when you go to the store, they give you cash back for returning your beverage cups, trashcans are hard to come by and always located beside recycling bins

Top 5 crazy reactions to my Caucasianness:
1. Groups of young people asking to take their picture with us
2. A mom dragging her toddler up to Sarah and I and asking us to shake her son's hand
3. Mobs of elementary school children following us in a museum and introducing themselves by name
4. People of all ages starting conversations with us in passing... "Hello, how are you?" "Where are you from?" "Where are you going?" "Welcome to Korea!" "You live here?"
5. An old woman standing about 5 inches away just staring at me and following my every move (maintaining the super close proximity) as I washed my hands and dried them in a bathroom

Top 5 touristy adventures in Seoul:
1. The DMZ tour-- just an all-around fascinating experience
2. Shopping in Insa-Dong (the "traditional" shopping area of town-- lots of fans, tea-sets, Korean art, etc... I did some of my decorating shopping here) and going to a traditional tea-house there
3. Seoul city bus tour-- Sarah and I took it twice (once our first day and again the day before she left... crazy how much we learned about the city in between those two trips). It dropped us cool places like Seoul tower and some of the palaces
4. BBQ with Sarah's family- the food was delicious and Sarah's aunt, uncle, and cousins were so fun to be around... I loved our broken English/Korean/mimed conversations
5. Korean War Memorial-- while depressing, I really liked the war memorial. It filled me in on a lot of the history that I did not know

Top 5 hardest things to get used to:
1. People everywhere! There are 14 million people living in Seoul (40% of all Koreans are here... there is no space anywhere! Even the middle of the night every park, alley, store, space is filled)
2. Motorcycles on the sidewalk-- traffic laws are very different here and basically motorcycles don't seem to have to follow any of them... they can drive against traffic, through busy sidewalks, anything paved; game on)
3. Kimchee with everything (I enjoy it, but Koreans REALLY like it)
4. Coffee being so freaking expensive (it is about $4-5 for just a regular coffee)... I now have motivation to lose my caffeine addiction
5. People running into me-- the American concept of personal space does not apply here... I've been completely body-slammed by both an old woman and a Buddhist monk! Stand your ground and push forward or you'll be waiting a long time. Even leaving church people viciously shove their way through doors and will slam into you if you get in their way.

Top 5 things I miss already:
1. American toilets (girls get to squat in holes and frequently have to bring their own toilet paper)
2. Showers that are enclosed and separate from the rest of the bathroom (and I miss a bathtub already too!)
3. Bigger cups (in order to drink enough water I have to get up like 5 times a meal and refill-- you get your own water in most restaurants)
4. Signs in roman characters (I'm REALLY slow at reading Hongul)
5.A lack of humidity-- Korea is hot. Plain and simple, weather can be miserable here sometimes.

Top 5 things on my mind with my new move:
1. Meeting everyone-- I know that the people I meet are going to be a huge part of my experience here. I can't wait to see what everyone is like!
2. Teaching-- I've studied a lot, let's hope I can put it all into practice!
3. Getting settled in-- I was lucky enough to see my apartment, but SO excited to get settled in. I've been living out of suitcases now for three weeks!
4. My lack of Korean-- I hope I learn more and learn it fast. I feel like I'm making very slow progress (but progress nonetheless!)
5. Switching times-- while I have been in Korea for three weeks, I have been keeping Sarah's schedule (she begins working about the time that I will end working). So many days we don't get up till 11 and don't sleep until 2 something. I'm going to have to shift my sleep and eating about 4 hours to adjust to TCIS life.

Anyhow, I know that was a long series of lists. I'll update again once I get settled in my new home. I love the messages I've been getting. Keep 'em coming!