Thursday, September 26, 2013

Things with No Specific Place

Here are some random tidbits about life in Korea lately...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

There's a paper/office supply/toy store near our apartment. I'm a sucker for construction paper. So many possibilities! Paper mobiles? A card? A new board game? Paper mache? Or in that day's case: temporary wallpaper. I walked in and greeted the man behind the counter, "Anyoung haseyo!" He continued talking to me in Korean as I perused the shelves. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled: "English?" He looked at me with kindness, exhaled, inhaled for courage, and said, "How can I help you?"

We're friends now. His name is Myeong Hoon. I frequent his shop once in awhile. Sometimes for paper. Sometimes just to say "hello." Or, as was the case last week, to ask desperately for directions and how to say something in Korean. He's such a good guy.

I've had this experience numerous times with good and kind Koreans who know some English, would rather speak in Korean, but compromise and generously try to communicate with me.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I sent a comment/request to the people at Chipotle that went something like this: "Please oh, please, put a Chipotle in Cheongju, South Korea."

Here is their response:


So what you are saying is that we can move into your home and just open up in your kitchen, right? 

Though we do not have anything in the works right now for South Korea, I will make sure to note your wonderful suggestion. Knowing that we have at least two monster fans in South Korea cannot hurt your chances Heather. Keep those fingers crossed. 

All the best from the other side of the globe,

Customer Service Consultant
Chipotle Mexican Grill"

This pretty much made my day.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Two weeks ago, the staff at my school played volleyball. It was a blast and I had a great game. One teacher, who helps coach the ping-pong team (a new one for me as well!) came up to me afterward and said, "Would you be interested in playing ping pong sometime?" Of course, I said, "Sure!" She said we'd be in touch.

Last Monday, she popped her head into my office and said, "Do you have time to play?"

We went to the gym where she had already set-up the table and net. We started playing. I'm not awful, but I'm no professional. About 5 minutes in she stopped the game, crossed her arms, and said, "Hmm...I thought you would be better at ping-pong."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In Korea, the public school teachers operate on a rotation system. A teacher can only stay at one school for 4 years. Every teacher must serve 8 years in the country and 8 hours in the city. No one has quite given me an answer as to why this is the case, but I suppose, I can't necessarily tell them why, in the States, one teacher can stay at one school their entire career. That's just the way it is.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ya know, when you're water skiing and you want the boat to stop? The hand gesture involves putting a flat hand to your neck and swiping to the side. Well, I also wanted to communicate "stop" to my kids yesterday in class. They were loudly offering more answers than I wanted, so I put my hand to my neck and swiped to the side, they all let out a horrified scream. Apparently, "cut it" also means "I want to kill myself."

I'm sure some little kid went home that night and told their parents, "English class is so confusing. One minute she's smiling and taking answers, the next she's upset and wants to kill herself." Poor kids.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Today, we ate chicken porridge for lunch. "It's what we eat when we have a cold."

"Oh," I said, "It's like in the States, we eat chicken noodle soup."

"You eat this when you are sick?"

"Well, basically, yeah."

I thought it was so interesting that we reach for the same thing when we feel crummy.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I've made a teacher-friend at school who is a little younger than me. We'll call her Gwen. She's a lovely Korean woman who one day asked me, "Why did you come to Korea?" I told her that Jeremy and I wanted to take an adventure somewhere new. Somewhere that was different and would challenge us. "Yeah, but why Korea?" I admitted that there wasn't a specific reason we came to Korea and not Thailand or China or another country requesting native English speakers. It just worked out.

"I want to leave here so badly," she told me.

"Why is that?"

"It's hard to be a woman in Korea," she said. "I cannot make my own decisions. I have to constantly worry what my family thinks. I want to have my own life like an American woman."

She has two sisters who already live in the States and is anxious to leave. She wants to come pursue a masters degree, possibly in Canada because it's easier to get a VISA there. I started to talk about how it's not all roses and butterflies to be a woman in the U.S. and then I stopped myself, because I remembered that while it's not perfect, I still have more freedoms and opportunities than she does.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Yesterday, I told Gwen that sometimes I say things in Korea that I think are hilarious (!) and no one gets my joke.

She said, "Yeah, I feel the same way when I talk to you."

Peace in the Meantime

I've spent a lot of time lately in school hallways.
Going back and forth to other people's classrooms.
Teaching English.
Walking in as another teacher walks out.
Rotating constantly.
Down one hallway, into another.

And it was today, walking from one class to another that a tear escaped my eye before I even realized I was crying. Before I even knew why I was sad.

Last year, I spent a lot of time in school hallways, too. I was working at an elementary school then too, but it was in the States and I worked with one student with autism named, Trenton. We'd walk hand-in-hand up and down the hallways. To calm him down. To get him out of the classroom. To give him room to move and run.

I missed him today.

I wondered what he's doing. That big first-grader. If he's happy. But I don't just miss him. I know that tug in my chest is far greater than just missing that kiddo. I miss things that are familiar.

Food that I know.
Signs I can read.
People I recognize.

But also...
Feeling like I know what I'm doing.
Like I am doing something important.
Like I am "in on the joke."
Like I "get it."
Like I am actually funny and sarcasm and wit mean something.

Most of my communication is basic.
Communicating a need.
An observation.
A question.
Thinking of eleven different synonyms hoping that one of them will help me to be understood.

Today, a co-worker asked me at lunch, "What have you found to be the most uncomfortable thing about living in Korea?" 

Easy: walking down the street.

Just knowing you are a minority.
The looks and stares.
The bold school children who say, "Hello!"
Feeling lost and having no one to ask.
Knowing you don't quite belong.

This is what happens when you move to a new country on the other side of the world. This is how it goes. I know the feelings and I can't say that any of them necessarily surprise me. But I still don't know how to handle them. How to find any sort of resolution. How to feel less out-of-place.

"Dear God,
Give me courage and give me grace.
Give me time and give me patience. 
Give me peace in the meantime."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Our Address in Korea

Dear friends and family,

We officially exist in Korea. We have our ARCs (alien registration cards). We have bank accounts. We have cell phones. And now we have a home address that has been so kindly translated into English! Several of you have been asking for it, so if you feel any great desire to send a postcard, letter, or (oh, I don't know) a package our way, please do so. We may even have a wish list!

I probably shouldn't post our exact whereabouts for all the world to read, but if you would like to know what our address is, please e-mail me (hbohlender(at) and I will give it to you. 

Thanks for your prayers, your support, and your encouragement.

Bo + J

Monday, September 23, 2013

I Ate Jellyfish for Lunch

I'm convinced that there are a few universal truths that surpass culture and country. One of which is: no one likes to come to work the first Monday back from a holiday. My recent research at school has found this to be true, therefore, it must be true everywhere.

I didn't sleep great last night, so waking up this morning say the least, awful. I was stiff and cranky and falling asleep during my own yoga practice. Plus, I think I'm getting sick. Jeremy made his way out the door for work and I stumbled my way out the door shortly after.

I think another universal truth is (and I'm sure this happens to everyone): if the squatty potty at school that has been sitting all of break with poo in it spits on you (and your clothes) when you try to flush it down, that's it (!), just go home, this day won't get any better. Bonus points if there's no toilet paper or paper towels to be found. That deserves hot cocoa and a hug. 

I went to my first class prepared to teach the wrong lesson. Plus: I made a quick adjustment. Minus: the kids were totally confused.

During my second class, my co-teacher told me that she didn't like the lesson plan I had made. The one I was planning to teach all week long, but now must change.

On my way to my third class, some boys barked and meowed at me in the hallway. A situation I will probably know how to handle correctly. 

By my fourth class, I was on auto-pilot just trying to make it to lunch.

Another universal truth: no one likes a surprise that involves food that makes them gag and is already in their mouth. Today's lunch entree: jellyfish. That's right ladies and gentlemen, today, I ate jellyfish for lunch. With a smile on my face. It wasn't good. It was jellyfish.

Let me tell you something I've found to be true, oh, everywhere: no one likes feeling judged. At lunch, a co-worker asked if I went to church this weekend. I said we didn't. He said, "I thought you and Jeremy were spiritual people." I nearly stopped myself from engaging in an inevitably touchy conversation for the sake of cultural differences and respect...and then I didn't. I started talking. And kept talking. And the mood in the cafeteria 15 minutes later made me wish I had just kept my mouth shut.

After lunch, another spitting toilet. Never okay. I'm now a big walking germ.

I'm lesson planning now and realizing my last universal truth for the day: no one gets a song stuck in their head and thinks, "What a blessing!" Particularly, when it's this song. 

No one ever wants this song stuck in their head. Oh no, please. Don't miss this opportunity. Watch it. I dare you. 

To balance out all of these sarcastically snarky boo-hoos, let me tell you this:
-I am glad we are living in Korea.
-I am totally and completely in love with my husband.
-I am blessed beyond compare with awesome co-workers and co-teachers.
-We have a swell, little apartment.
-We like our neighborhood.
-I am packed to the brim with blessings: health, wealth, a job, a place to live, education.

Even on days like this, I know that life is good.

Now, where's my hot cocoa?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What We Saw in Busan

We took a trip to Busan. It's a coastal city to the south of us here in Korea.

It seems like most days feel like an adventure in Korea. Everything is new. Everything is 10xs harder than they would normally be. So this trip seemed a bit overwhelming (to say the least), being that we'd be traveling across Korea with only a handful of Korean words/phrases.

But we left with our backpacks, money, on-line bus confirmation, directions on how to use the subway, motel confirmation, and swimsuits. "We're on an enchanted journey 1, 2, 3..."

We took the 823 bus headed for (we hoped!) the downtown bus terminal. An older woman got on, I gave her my seat. I asked, "Shilay homnida (excuse me)." She looked surprised. I pointed at my map of where the bus terminal was located. She pointed ahead to where we were driving and then pointed at herself. I took this to mean: "We haven't passed it yet. It's still ahead. That's where I'm getting off too." Twenty minutes later, she stood up, looked back at me, and motioned for me to get off. Sigh of relief.

We get off and look at our notes. A kind Korean woman with excellent English says, "Do you need help?" Why yes, yes we ALWAYS need help. She translated some info for us and directed us across the street to the express bus terminal. Oh, of course! So sweet.

We got inside and got our tickets. It's only been an hour. We're tired and hungry. 

We got us some bi bim bop at the bus station. In Korean.

No warnings. No announcements. Gratefully, we were there on time and we made our bus. We finally got a look at Cheongju from afar. It felt good to see something green.

We watched a movie. Stopped at a rest stop. Four hours later, the bus stopped and people got off. Apparently, we were in downtown Busan (though we could've been somewhere else and we wouldn't have known...) and we wanted to get to the ocean where we'd be staying. We had directions to get on the subway and take three different transfers. We tried to navigate the automated ticket station and probably annoyed the long line behind us, but we got tickets!

Then, we figured out the map. Easy, right?

Ahhh, sweet success!

We got off the subway at Haeundae station and found our hotel. Yay! We felt like such grown-ups. We   strolled around the area, found the beach, and went after food. But not any food, Mexican food! And we found it: Fuzzy Navel Tacos. And what did I order? French fries. But they were covered in cheese, so the meal still accomplished exactly what I wanted out of Mexican food anyway.

With a side of pickles? Okay.

I kind of liked it. 
On our first day, we went on a walking adventure to the beach and up Dalmaji hill. I heard there was a trail that gave the illusion that you were out of the city. Perfect. We walked along the beach to the eastern most point and eventually found the trail that followed the coast. It's called Moontan Trail and is said to be the best place in Busan to see the moon over the water. 

Jeremy is convinced that Koreans just "don't have enough faith in their trees."
It is incredibly common to see a tree with many supports. 

Nature! Green things!
Then, we got kind-sorta lost once we came out on the other side and we've noticed how influential hunger is in making most of our decisions. So we got a taxi back to the beach and found the next leg of our food tour which was: Indian food! It was this sweet little place called Namaste. Vegetable korma was the perfect ending to a lovely day.

The next day, we met up with some Korean friends and other EPIK teachers we knew from our first week of orientation. We met up for duk-albi which is basically spicy chicken in a red sauce sauteed (right in front of you) with cabbage and other veggies. It was pretty good. I was mostly thrilled to be eating Korean food that didn't have eel in it. 

It's obvious that we really loved the bibs!

After lunch, we went to the beach. That's right, the beach. In Korea. It kinda blew our minds. We felt like grown-ups again. Look at us go.

We tried to get a picture. The ocean kept winning.

Then, WE won!
This was quite a memorable trip for many reasons:
-planning an entire trip (with help) using Korean websites
-successfully traveling and arriving safely
-feeling quite proud of ourselves for not being some of the many Western tourists
-walking the Moontan trail
-eating good food
-feeling like grown-ups

And... (as we both decided) our favorite part of the whole trip was:
-chilling on the beach

I think it was the best part for me because I was in a public space and felt like I could actually relax. I could lay on my towel, soak up the sun, listen to music, and take it all in. No agenda. No where to be. Just sitting on a beach in Korea, counting our blessings one-by-one. 

We made it "home" to Cheongju without any problems. We even met two Korean men on the bus who we pseudo-communicated with. At one point they either stole or borrowed my headphones. They gave the head phones back only so that we could listen to their Korean music on their phone. We smiled and kinda shoulder-danced in approval. I pulled out our iPad. 

They said, "Samsung?" 
We explained: Apple. 
They turned up their noses and we turned up ours. 

I showed them how to play this ridiculous game on our iPad called "Dumb Ways to Die." They chuckled. I chuckled. 

They used our iPad to get a picture of themselves. 

Day made. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

One Month in Korea

We have been in Korea for one month. Another anniversary to celebrate and commemorate by being grateful for where we've been so far.

In one month, we've:
-traveled 10,197 kilometers (6,336 miles)
-been in 7 different cities
-managed planes, buses, taxis and subways in Korean
-met at least 60 people and tried to remember their names
-learned at least 40 Korean phrases
-used one full package of sleeping pills
-eaten 3 jars of peanut butter
-had 5 shots of soju
-eaten a lot of seaweed (compliments of the tenants before us)
-tried octopus, squid, duck, pork, pork-blood noodles, and chicken cartilage
-probably lowered our cholesterol quite a bit
-learned to speak in centimeters, kilometers, and kilograms (as I think we should all be doing!)
-started teaching English in two elementary schools
-become millionaires (by way of Korean won at least...)

I write from Busan, a coastal city in southern-south Korea. We came here for a few days because this week Korea celebrates the Chuseok holiday. I've heard it's like their Thanksgiving. It's a celebration of the good harvest when families travel to be together and eat good food. We've traveled to be together and eat good food, too! Last night, we found a Mexican restaurant. I ate french fries smothered in cheese and it was good!

We regularly have to remind ourselves that we are in Korea. In fact, I just Googled a map of Asia to remind myself of where I am: below North Korea, east of China, and pretty darn close to Japan. Really?! I'm a brief plane ride from Cambodia and just across China from Nepal. It's easy to forget exactly where we are because sometimes we feel completely lost and other times we feel quite-like we're home. Familiar things. English-language. Good coffee. Especially here, where foreigners on their way through Asia abound in large numbers we weren't expecting.

But we're here for the "long" haul.
Or at least what feels like a long-haul compared to a week-long getaway.

Here's to the months ahead!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What Korean Kiddos Know About America

During the last two weeks of teaching, my first order of business has been to introduce myself to my 350 or so students. I made an introduction Prezi, if you want to check it out you can click here.

In preparing my introduction, I thought...
What information is important?
What things make me who I am?
What language will they understand?
What aspects of my life will they be interested in?

I put together some pictures and each presentation usually involved a few basic points:

-I would usually start by telling them that I've been practicing my Korean and to ask if I could practice with them so that they had an opportunity to laugh at my poor Korean skills and hopefully a recognition that learning a second language just plain is not easy.

-Then, I would tell them what I've learned about Korea and then ask, "What do you know about America?" Turns out here's the top four: Barack Obama, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and Justin Bieber.

-I would tell them about Colorado and what makes the state popular. Great snowboarding, for one.

Below is my VERY rough drawing of the U.S. which basically highlights the most important stuff: Colorado, the Rocky Mountains, and Delaware (where Jeremy's from). I take no responsibility for their potentially warped sense of geography. The other lines were drawn when student asked where the best place is to live in America and I was explaining the weather up north is cooler and wetter, the south is dryer, and Colorado is "just right."

-Then we'd play two truths and a lie:
#1. I have one brother and one sister
#2. I was adopted.
#3. My Dad's family came from Germany. My Mom's family came from Brazil.
(FYI: I was not adopted)

-The things that made every class laugh hysterically:
"This is my older sister. But she is shorter than me." (No really, hysterically, I'm tellin' ya.)

"When Jeremy and I fight, I always win."

Me trying to say the name of Jeremy's school in Korean, "Setbyul Choodanhawkyo."

-And we'd end with them asking any question they had, the first of which ALWAYS being "How old are you?", the second ALWAYS being "Do you have any children?", and the third ALWAYS being "Why not?". That last one's the most awkward to answer.

Other questions I have been asked include:
-"What is your blood type?" I have no idea what my blood type is, but apparently in Korea, it's like asking someone their astrological sign.

-"How tall are you?" I've since learned that I am 173 centimeters tall. Which makes them go, "Ohhh." I am a pretty tall woman in Korea.

-"What's your favorite color?" Turquoise. A hard one to explain.

-"What is your favorite Korean food?" Bi bim bap. Hands down, kids.

We're all introduced. The real teaching begins. Here we go!

creative English/Korean translation on the way up the stairs

Five out of six ain't bad...

This is the Week That...

This is the week that...we had an adventure in shinae (K for "downtown"). We left in search of clothing stores and whatever else we could find. We figured out which bus to take and felt pretty proud of ourselves until we realized, "We have no idea where to get off." We knew we were aiming for a well-known store called "Home Plus." So, I turned around to the bus full of Koreans, gestured the universal "I don't know" with my shoulders shrugged, and said, "Home Plus?" No one blinked. No one said anything. And then I remembered how the Korean language follows a pattern of vowel/consanant/vowel and so they tend to add syllables to the end of English words. I tried again: "Home-ugh Plus-ugh?" Recognition, head nodding, and smiling. One young girl said, "Next stop." Oh how grateful I am for generous souls on buses!

This is the week that...we ate Korean barbecue with some foreigners we met in our neighborhood. There are little grills on each table. You choose the meat, they bring the side dishes. It was pretty good. I've never eaten so much pork in my life.

This is the week that...I ordered chicken for my co-workers. The first Tuesday, I was at school, someone ordered chicken to share and I said, "Is this a special occasion or is chicken a Tuesday tradition?" The next Tuesday, someone else ordered chicken as a joke. So I figured, I'd better keep up the tradition.

This is the week that...I figured out what the buttons on the fancy toilet do. Don't worry, eventually I will remember that if I keep making videos with the camera turned sideways, they will always be viewed sideways.

This is the week that...I played volleyball with my co-workers at school. They have a monthly event where some play volleyball and some cheer, but everyone is involved! Thus, we played volleyball with 18 people on the court! They also do not rotate, so I was a front-row hitter the entire game. I tried to ask if other people wanted to hit, but honestly, it didn't break my heart when no one volunteered. It was so fun! Before the game, my main co-teacher Mrs. Che said in a very serious tone of voice, "Bo, I am your boss and I have orders for you. I need you to spike the ball and hit Jason (another co-worker) in the face." It was funny. We had a little joke. I spiked the ball a few times in his direction and she gave me a very proud two-thumbs up from the sidelines each time like a proud mama.

I particularly like this picture because I remember the black-tracksuit-guy had just pulled off some amazing play to save my butt, I didn't exactly know how to say, "Wow! Thanks. You're awesome." So instead we both did this--which kind of looks like we both want a hug--but I think still communicated what we needed to say.
Note: "Good job" in Korean is "Chadaso!"

This is the week that...I was invited to sit with the principal and vice-principal at their table after volleyball. In Korea, the principal is "the King of the castle" (their words, not mine). So this was quite an honor. Apparently, the principal was impressed with my volleyball skills and the fact that I try really hard to speak to my co-workers in Korean. The vice-principal even poured me a cup of soju, which is another Korean tradition that shows respect.

This is the week that...Jeremy enjoyed the wonders of Korean-style pizza. His co-workers ordered it and he had on with beef, cheese, corn, onion, and a sweet egg tart crust. Another had shrimp, pepper, cheese, and sweet potato. Mmmm.

This is the week that...I met a Korean teacher at my school with a "Don't Mess With Texas" bumper sticker on her car! Not kidding. Her husband is in the Korean military and so a few years ago they moved their family to Oklahoma for three years.

This is the week that...we found an indoor rock climbing gym! I took Jeremy there on a date. It was a good size place with crash pads, tons of various routes, and a few overhangs. The owner is a gal who speaks pretty good English and showed us around. We were the only foreigners there, but we met quite a few who spoke English and it was fun to realize how little language is required to enjoy climbing together.

This is the week that...I played a game with my grade 5 kiddos. I think they liked it. I think it enabled simple English phrases and involvement from everyone (even those who don't know as much English). It was a nice break from traditional teaching and my co-teachers really liked it!

This is the week that...we had Friday night dinner with foreigners: some from the States, some from South Africa, some from Canada, some from the U.K. The menu involved chili with cheese, tortilla chips, and home made salsa. All foods I have not had in awhile and probably won't for another long while. Sigh. Good times. Good to hear English. Good to feel like you kind of belong. Good to get the jokes.

This is the week that...we are grateful for such blessings, such wealth, such wonderful people, such good health, and such great opportunities. So grateful.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

480 Days

Today is the thirteenth. Which means we've been married for 16 months. Or about 480 days.

This routine of recognizing the thirteenth of every month is probably a bit odd to people who've been married for thirty years, but for now, it's a regular monthly reminder of where we've been, what we have, and where we're going. So usually, the thirteenth finds me thinking and writing about marriage.

This "anniversary" finds us in Cheongju, South Korea where we've relocated to a new home. Maybe we'll be here one year, maybe four years. For now, we're happy just to be here together. We're both teaching and navigating life in a brand new place. What people said was true, "A year abroad will really bring you closer."

Planning and talking about the trip took about 10% of our energy with each other.

Actually getting on a plane, landing in a foreign country, and trying to find your way around takes everything we have.

Our first night in Korea, Jeremy held me through a panic attack that kept me awake and then haunted my dreams. The first week we talked a lot about "Well, if this doesn't work, we're not stuck here....right?" And the last few weeks, everything is an adventure, we're sharing what we learn about the language, and how to ride the bus. We celebrate simple meals at home and successful trips in a taxi. We hold each other at night and talk about how very blessed we are.

I've heard it before, and--whaddya know--it's true: I love him more today than I did a month ago. And for completely new and different reasons. I didn't know he was such a wonderful travel companion. I didn't know he was language savvy. I didn't know he would be so kind a relateable with his co-workers. I didn't know how optimistic he can be and what a great cheerleader he is. I didn't know how much I needed him.

We've often remarked that we are each other's best friends. But this experience in Korea has confirmed that even when we have no one else, we still cling to each other. Partly because of love, partly because of necessity. And I don't think that's so bad at all.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

This Is Where We Live

This is where we live. This is the place we call "home."

This is our neighborhood

These are some stores nearby...

...where we'll go shopping (when we're rich)
A coffee shop we like
This is where we like to buy our fruit
Some hilarious art work in the hallway at my school
The street where we live
Our litte apartment
A lot of pink

And this is us. And we are happy.

And this is how we amuse ourselves...

Three Weeks In

It's Saturday afternoon in Korea. I write from Holly's Coffee a nice little shop we found down the street from where we live. We have coffee. We have Wifi. We have each other. What more do we need?

We've been in Korea for nearly three weeks. One week of orientation. Two weeks in Cheongju. We like our neighborhood of Bunpyeongdong. We're finding our way around to the grocery store, the apple-stand man, a rice cake shop, a bi bim bop restaurant, and the river walk where we go jogging. At least once a day we look at each other and giggle: "We live in Korea. We're doing this!"

Jeremy and I work at different elementary schools. And even though they are only 2-3 miles apart, our schools each have about 1,200 students and 60 staff. We live in a small, but populous, country now. Our co-workers are friendly and helpful. We're settling into our routines and how to do our jobs.

My school among the many towering apartment buildings

School starts each day at 8:40am. We have desks and computers provided by the school. We work at school 40 hours a week, but only teach 22 hours a week. We each have 5-6 classes a day which we teach with our Korean co-teacher. We only have to plan 2-3 different lessons each week, and we just re-teach them 22 times! Our jobs are not hard or stressful. We don't give homework and we don't have to grade any papers. We just plan activities and games to get them practicing their English.

We teach kids from about ages 9 to 13. Some are great at English, others look completely lost. It is quite common for kids to attend 8 hours of school and go to a private school (or Hogwon) in the evening. Most specialize in more English instruction. It's difficult to have relationships or much of a connection with the students because their English is limited, but also, we interact with about 350 students each week! I asked one of my co-teachers, "Do you know all the students' names?" She looked at me and laughed. Of course not. So we're working on making name tags. 

We came here with a program called EPIK (English Program in Korea). It is a high objective of the Korean government to put one native English speaker in every public school in Korea. They want Korean students to be exposed to "authentic English language."The program attracts applicants from South Africa, the U.K., Canada, and the States. People who want to to travel and make some decent money. The program hooks us up with a school, a co-teacher (a.k.a. Korean God-send), and a furnished apartment. We're so grateful for our set-up and our co-teachers.

My wonderful co-workers
For example, on Monday morning, a co-worker showed up with rice flour: "You are gluten-free. This is gluten-free." I thanked him and asked how much it was. He said it was my "welcoming gift." That afternoon, my co-teachers arranged to have us meet up with a real estate agent who showed us some larger apartment options. All three of my co-teachers from school drove Jeremy and I around and asked questions for us. These women all have families and obligations, but they took time out of their lives to help us out. In the end, we decided to stay in our one-room (essentially, studio) apartment. We'll save money, we won't have to hassle with moving, and we're happy about that.

On Tuesday, my main co-teacher took me to a Korean bank down the street. She got me a bank account, so that I can get paid and function here. Something I simply could not have done without her. That afternoon, I asked another co-teacher is she knew what corn starch was. She said no, then went right to her computer to figure it out: "Oh, yes! I will find for you." I tried to assure her this was not urgent, she went anyway. The next day, she came to school with three--fairly large--packages of corn starch: "I found for you!" I thanked her repeatedly. "If you want more, I will write how to ask for in Korean!" Little does she know, I have all the corn starch I could possibly use in several years.

On Wednesday, Jeremy was invited by some men at school to play volleyball. They had a good time, even the principal played! This is amazing because here, as they say, "The principal is the king of the castle." J said that whenever someone would make a mistake, the principal would come over and lecture them about how to do better next time. Afterwards, they all went out for dinner which is a whole 'nother blog in and of itself. There is a hierarchical structure that must be observed in who pours the drinks, using two hands instead of one, the way you pour, the order in which you eat, the order in which you leave the restaurant! He learned a lot about Korean culture in just a few hours. He even made a new "friend" who kept slapping his back
, touching his upper-thigh and saying, "Before we were strangers, but now, we are friends. I'll take you to Costco!" We may have a field trip in the works.

Then on Thursday, my three co-teachers, one of my co-workers, and Jeremy's co-teacher ALL accompanied us to a cell phone store to buy cell phones. We walked in, they said, "You two just sit down, we'll handle this!" The five of them proceeded to surround the one clerk and ask him questions and negotiate a deal. In the end, they decided that they probably had used cell phones of their own and they'd just see if maybe those could work to save us money.

Our cell phone entourage

I know, right?! SO kind. We feel incredibly blessed.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Being Here

Home is never far from my mind.

How could it be? Home is part of who I am. It's comprised of memories and experiences, people and places, things that matter greatly to me. And right now, all of those things are on the other side of the globe.

But I've learned that sometimes the best way for me to beat homesickness is to think of home.
Not so I can long for it, but so that I can be calmed by it.

I think about Nebraska. The place I spent 6 years of my life. My sister and her husband may be getting ready for work. A routine I've seen played out more times than I can count: stumbling downstairs in bathrobes, Ben starts grinding the coffee beans, Ashley gets dressed, they sit at the table (in the exact same spots every time), they eat toast with peanut butter, plain yogurt with honey, and maybe a grapefruit or raisins. They read or talk, quite cheerily for 7am on a Wednesday. They are doing just fine.

Or a few blocks away at Union College. A school I know well. A place that matters. That will forever be special to me because of the friendships I made there. But now, all of my friends are gone. Many teachers have moved on. If I were to walk on campus, very few would know my name.

Or across the street, at our old apartment. Someone else lives there now. A woman I don't recognize. She has made it her home now. Her furniture. Her memories. I don't belong there.

I think about Colorado. My parents house. My bed. The couch. Where I grew up and where much of my family lives. My parents are going about their business, the family farm smells like alfalfa and manure, and the mountains stand as guardians over those of us on the plains. We are blessed with lovely sunsets that take the breath right out of your body. But those sunsets will continue without me.

I think about Nepal and Argentina and South Dakota where my girlfriends are scattered. They are living their lives all over the world. They are experiencing truth as they know it. And they need to. Good for them.

When I am feeling homesick, I don't actually want to be in my home. I want to be with my people. I want to sit and chat. It's good for me to think about home, because it reminds me that everyone I love is going about their business just like I am here. We love and care for each other, but we can continue doing our thing, even when it's hard, even when we miss each other.

Essentially, in moments like this, I remind myself that I am not missing out on anything. No one needs me by their side. There is not a job or a community or an apartment or a church that I need to come rushing home to.

I can be here.

I can be brave in Korea.

I can let go.