Monday, January 30, 2012


I just got back from Thailand! I spent a week in and around Bangkok with Katie, Garrett, and Kyla. This trip was much different than my China vacation. We didn't have a tour guide, which was both good and bad. It was much cheaper to just go ourselves, and we got to create our own schedule and do whatever we felt like, but I did miss being driven around and having someone to ask all my questions to. I felt like I could relax on this vacation. In China we did and saw a lot, which was great, but it was also exhausting. In Thailand we did a few things each day and had plenty of down time.

Thailand is very different from Korea. Granted, we were in the capital, but it was so much more diverse even than Seoul. There were lots of foreign restaurants, pretty much everyone spoke at least a little English, and nobody stared at us foreigners like we were zoo animals. In Korea conformity is a big deal - everyone wants to look and act exactly like everyone else. In Thailand everyone had their own style and you could tell that being an individual was valued. It was refreshing. And nobody used chopsticks. Interesting.

The Thai people are not afraid of color. The first thing I noticed about the country was the taxis. They had pink, blue, yellow, green, black or white. Most of the buildings were very colorful too. And the temples...oh my goodness. I wish we built churches that beautiful. They used tons of gold leaf, colored glass, and marble. Almost everything is done by hand, and its so gorgeous.

About 97% of the country is Buddhist. There are monks everywhere! There's a temple about every 5 miles, and lots of alters set up for Buddha in public. There was one right outside our hotel. Most people would bow as they passed it, and there was always food or drinks or flowers on the alter. We were told that the Buddhism a lot of people practice is not pure Buddhism. They've taken ideas from Hinduism and some other religions and incorporated it all into one. Thailand really needs Jesus.

They drive on the wrong side of the car, and the wrong side of the road. There aren't very many crosswalks, so a lot of people cross the street wherever it's convenient. Including us :) If we were lucky there would be a Thai person we could follow through the traffic. If not, we had to pay close attention and run fast. Lots of people drive mopeds or scooters, and it was pretty common to see at least 2 people riding on one. One time we saw a family of 4. There was a toddler standing in front, dad was driving, and mom was holding a baby in the back. And we worry about car seats in America. Another time we were stopped at a tollbooth on a highway, and the driver of the truck in front of us got out and walked back to the bed. Then 2 people stood up with their blankets and pillows and got inside the truck. They had been sound asleep back there and the tollbooth attendant wouldn't let them through until they got inside the vehicle. Thank goodness.

Thailand has a royal family, and they LOVE their king. There are almost as many pictures of the king as there are temples. It reminded me of seeing Mao all over China, except this is done out of love, not fear. He's about 85 and he's been ruling since he was in his 20s. The king is just a figurehead though, there is a prime minister and government that actually does all the work.

I'll make a picture blog tomorrow, but here's a preview from my favorite day :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lunar New Year

This Monday and Tuesday in Korea it's Lunar New Year. America calls this holiday Chinese New Year, but I've discovered that most Asian countries celebrate it and they'd rather not give all the credit to China. So Lunar New Year it is. This year is the year of the dragon.

I've been asking adults what they do to celebrate and all they say is "I go to my hometown." So today I had my students write about it so I could learn a little more :) I love when I can use my job to my advantage. However, all I got out of the kiddos is that they see their family, eat soup, get money, and play computer games. 

So I did a little research. According to wikipedia the festivities last 3 days and there's some ancestral ritual. Most families go super traditional and wear their hanbok, but some just dress up in regular clothes. 
This is Kyla and I in hanbok. We dressed up in Korean class one night.
While everybody is in their fancy clothes, the kids bow to their grandparents, and maybe other relatives too. This is how they get the money. I don't know how this works...if they get paid per bow, or based on how well they bow, or how generous Grandpa is feeling that day. I asked them to elaborate but we didn't get very far in class.
They also eat this soup called tteokguk. It has rice cakes in it. This (I think) is the school lunch version (bottom right). The real deal is probably much better. There are hardly any rice cakes in the school lunch soup. I'm pretty sure that this soup is also birthday soup, which makes sense because this holiday is when everybody turns one year older. So I'll be 25 in a few days.
There you go. Now you know everything I know. I'll be in Thailand during the holiday, and my friends and I are hoping there's a celebration for us to attend.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Shirts round 2

Here's some more of Korea's finest clothing

 This takes ugly Christmas sweaters to a whole new level
 Apparently not out of business in Korea
 Regular couples wear matching shirts. Serious couples wear matching cartoon underwear.

 I almost bought this one

 The shirt has real earrings
 Your mittens can double as stuffed animals.
Santa loves America! And he lost his pants

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Looking back

This week Yuri and I had to go to immigration to get a new date stamped on my alien registration card so I can stay in this country another year. When we pulled into the parking lot Yuri said "Remember last year when we were here?" It was about 2 days after I had come to Ulsan and met her. I said "Yeah, I didn't know anything" and she said "And I didn't know English." I remember sitting in the waiting room last year thinking "If she would leave me right now, I would have no idea what to do." I would have had no idea how to get back to my apartment, where my apartment even was, or how to ask for help. I spent the first week pretty helpless and at her mercy.

We agreed that we are both in much better positions now. If she had abandoned me at immigration this week I could have gotten myself back to my apartment and we could have had a conversation about how mad I was at her for ditching me. Her English has improved a lot, and I've gotten pretty good at figuring out what she's trying to tell me...most of the time. I would say I'm fluent in Konglish :)

Sometimes I don't realize how much I've learned, because it happens a little bit every day. It's like watching a child grow up and not realizing how small they used to be until you look at old pictures of them. I am by no means an expert and I still need a lot of help a lot of the time, but I'm much more self-sufficient and independent than I used to be in this country. I don't know a whole lot of Korean, but I know survival Korean. I've gotten pretty good at all forms of public transportation. Recently I memorized both my address and my phone number haha. That should have happened a long time ago. I know where to go to buy clothes, when its better to buy food in the grocery store or the market, and I can download anything. Life is much easier than it used to be. It's nice to have these little reminders to see how far I've come.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Penguin project

The month of January is winter camp. There aren't as many kids, the routine is a little different, and its way more flexible. We do a lot of fun stuff, including crafts! I love doing crafts with my students because its something everybody can do no matter now good or bad they are at English. I don't think they have very many chances for art or creativity in their other classes, and I think that's important. Plus its super fun :) They love making things and I love seeing how they turn out. This week we made penguins.
 Breann teacher's penguin
 Hugging penguin
 Turkey penguin
 Girl penguin
 Dripping with glitter penguin (made by a boy)
 Regular penguin
 Penguin with a purse
Unusually tall penguin

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What does your jacket say about you?

Read this. I don't have any experience with the fighting, but a lot of my kids wear North Face.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fly away

I've been back in Korea about a week, but I want to recap my travel experience. My left New Year's Day at 6 AM, but I was at the airport around 4. The line to check in was surprisingly long, but my mom waited with me. Then in security I ended up behind these hippies (literally) wearing tie-dye and dreadlocks and trying to bring water and granola on the plane. TSA loved them almost as much as I did. 

Then I got on the plane, and we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Then we drove away from the gate and had to sit some more so the plane could be de-iced. You would think that in Minnesota someone would have thought about that before we were ready to take off. Then the de-icing machine broke and we had to wait for another one to be available. We took off over an hour late, and I landed in Denver 10 minutes after my connecting flight was supposed to leave. I've traveled a lot this past year and I've never been horribly lost or late or stranded, so I wasn't very worried. I've got faith in the system. However, the girl next to me had no faith. She was freaking out about not being able to get to San Francisco and having to spend the night in Denver and all her plans being ruined and her luggage being lost. Then I started to get a little worried because international flights don't leave very often and I had to be at work the next morning and it would be really bad if I was stuck somewhere in Denver. Luckily they held our connecting flight. They made an announcement and told us to literally run to the gate. At that point I pretty much kissed my luggage good-bye, but somehow it made it all the way to Korea with me. Lesson learned: God even cares about my travel plans.

My international flight was only half full, which was the greatest thing ever. Everyone got to spread out and I had 2 seats to sleep on. The flight attendants came through with meals every few hours, but they put all the pop and snacks in the back of the plane and told us to eat whenever we felt like it. I'm not sure if they were just being lazy, but that is a really good idea. All flights should do that. I slept as much as I could and listened to a lot of Hillsong. The lady next to me stayed awake the entire time knitting a purple scarf. Every time I woke up it was 4 inches longer. 

I took a bus back to Ulsan. The family next to me spoke English, Korean, and Spanish. I wish I had their skills. 

It took about a week for the jet lag to wear off. I've done the international thing 3 times and this was the worst. I got tired every day after work and then again at 9 or 10, which is early for me. But, after a lot of coffee and sleep, I think I'm back to normal. When I was in America I felt like I had never left, and now that I'm back in Korea I kind of feel like I never left here either.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


This is the temperature in my classroom. 6 Celsius = 42 Fahrenheit.
 This is me working at my desk. I'm also wearing slippers. My students wear their winter coats and hats. Some of them bring blankets, and they have these fantastic little hand warmers that you squeeze and they make heat. Productive working/learning environment right?
I can't speak for all buildings, but at schools and apartments they only heat/air condition the individual rooms, not the hallways. So the hallway is literally the same temperature as the outdoors. Teachers are responsible for turning the heat on when they arrive and off when they leave, so its always cold when I get there. The office also has some master button and if they think my classroom is warm enough they'll turn the heat off. My standard of warm is definitely not the same as theirs. Thank goodness for layers!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Good-bye for now

In about 2 hours I'll be driving to the airport to fly back to Korea. I had a great 3 weeks at home. I celebrated Christmas a few times, went to a good friend's wedding, celebrated New Years, laughed with a lot of people, and ate a ton of good food. I wasn't sure what it would be like to come home after being gone for so long, but it felt like I had never left. It was really easy to slip back into life in America, and it didn't feel like I had been gone for very long. That's really comforting going into this next year. I'm hoping and praying it will be the same.

Saying good-bye was not any easier the second time around. I've said it before, but I have such good friends. I've known most of them since I was little and we've grown up together. We understand each other and accept each other and love each other and its hard to be away from people you like so much and to miss out on a whole year of their lives. The internet is wonderful, but skype and pictures aren't the same as actually being in the room with a person. Every time I said good-bye to someone, I wondered what I was thinking going back to Korea for another year.

At the same time, I know I'm supposed to go back. If I didn't I would regret it and I think I would be missing out on something great. I'm happy I get to teach in the same schools with the same students one more time, and (hopefully) get better at my job. I'm excited for the vacations I'll take and the countries I'll get to visit. I'm excited (and nervous) about the new friends I'm hopefully going to make since my 4 Korean besties are ditching me. I just know that this is where God wants me and I don't want to miss out on his plan for my life.

I'm sitting here right now, not really thrilled about going back, but not dreading it either. I think once I'm actually there I'll feel better about everything. So, thanks everyone for a great 3 weeks. I'll see you all on the internet. Love you!