Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving in Korea

There is no doubt that we'd rather be home for the holidays, but there are so many memories to be made here that we are counting our blessings on this side of the world, too.

Blessings like safety.
A bank account with money in it.
And each other.

It's a blessing to have met friends like Bob and Trish here in Cheongju. For Thanksgiving, we got together last weekend with the four of us and a Korean family we know. We went "all out" (well, as far as you can go without a few key ingredients). I took the turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

Turkey is non-existant in Korea other than the meat in the Subway sandwiches (which made an appearance at our dinner, if only for the novelty). So I just baked some chicken and called it good. The cranberry sauce was made from leftover apple sauce I made, Craisins (I found at Costco), and some cinnamon. The real feat was the pumpkin pie.

I searched high and low to find pumpkin to no avail. So I decided sweet potatoes and carrots would have to do and THEY DID! It turned out really well, actually. We cleaned, peeled, and cooked the veggies, added whipping cream, eggs, sugar, and cinnamon.

Trish made mashed potatoes, broccoli, and gravy. Subway provided the subs and the salad. 

James couldn't be bothered by this Thanksgiving business, so Bob coaxed him into a few bites of chicken per round of UNO.

This is Minsu, his wife, their daughter Hannah, and Trish. They were polite guests who said the food wasn't bad. SCORE!

Hannah was so kind to take a picture of us. 

Time at the Evans' always ends up as play time. There's just so many fun things to play with! Here is 45 seconds of our many attempts to balance and exchange spinning plates.

We were so grateful for this pre-Thankgiving day celebration over the weekend with friends. We also wanted to do something to celebrate on Thursday. So we made little pumpkin pies to share with our co-workers at school. They were pretty thrilled. The kids seemed to get a kick of listening to my description of Thanksgiving, too! I even got to have my first snail soup experience on Thanksgiving!

The grade 5 boys huddling around the heater which was turned on for the FIRST time today!

But Thursday night, we put on our pajamas, played Christmas music, decorated our tree, and made some yummy comfort food. I made what we'll call "Thanksgiving casserole", mashed potatoes, and gravy.

I wanted stuffing, but since I am gluten-free, bread was out of the question. So I bought some plain dok (Korean rice cake) and used it instead. The consistency was obviously a bit chewier, but mix it all up with onions, celery, chicken stock, Craisins, and almonds and it's pretty darn good!

Here's to you and yours. Wishing you lots of yummy food, time with people you love, and good memories all around. 

Happy Thanksgiving,
Heather and Jeremy

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An Ode to Snails on Thanksgiving

A snail in my soup
was my Thanksgiving treat
on Thursday a day
reserved for turkey meat.

But no turkey today
nor another, either way
because snails are on the menu
regardless, they say.

"This is no place for turkeys,
or a nice chicken dish,
what we do have is this
delightful jellyfish."

"Interesting," I respond
because it's all you can say
when you're perplexed by the offerings
day after day.

Back home, they'll eat cranberries,
stuffing, and pie,
they'll gorge themselves full 
to the brim with a sigh.

And while that'd be nice,
and I wouldn't pass it up,
who can say they spent holidays
eating snails from a cup?

"Not many," I'd say,
hardly any at all,
and who has seen the colors
change here during fall?

What of the people I've met?
Or the places I've seen?
the experiences I've had,
they feel like a dream.

So this one little Thanksgiving
(only one in a bunch), 
I'll be ever so grateful
and eat snails for my lunch. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Doctor's Visit: Number Three

These are my knees.
Sometimes the right one has issues.
Please feel free to comment or add your advice as I'm kind of at a loss.

Yesterday marked my third visit to a doctor in three months in Korea. I haven't had huge medical "issues" since I've been here, however, small things feel like big things when you're in a foreign country and feel a little out-of-the-loop regarding your own medical decisions.

Recently, my right knee randomly swelled to epic proportions. Like it has for the last 2-3 years. But I've looked into it. I've seen doctors. I've taken anti-inflammatories. I've iced it. I've elevated it. I've compressed it. I've pleaded with it. But it will swell for a week or so, then go back down and it's fine. No incredible pain, just discomfort from all the extra fluid.

On Tuesday my knee swelled up, so by Friday I mentioned it to my co-workers. I asked if they knew of any knee/joint doctors. Gratefully, they all had ideas to share and of one of my co-teacher's family members has a clinic just down the street.

They asked me, "When did this start?"


"Tuesday?!? Why did you wait this long?" they exclaimed.

"Because it's not a big deal. It actually doesn't hurt very much. This has been going on for 2-3 years."

I thought they were going to pass out from their shocked expressions. They could not fathom having a medical problem go unresolved for days nonetheless years. I think they are so ready and willing to go to the doctor because their health insurance is so cheap.

So, Mrs. Che drove me to the clinic. "I'm a little nervous," I told her. "What if I can't communicate with the doctor?"

"I'll talk to him for you."

I so appreciate her willingness, and when she's helping me buy noodles at the market it's a little different. But when someone is being your one and only voice in the matters of symptoms, different procedures and the taking drugs, you want the information to be crystal clear. Gratefully, this doc spoke great English and it wasn't at all a problem. He is Mrs. Che's cousin and when I asked her, "Did you know he spoke English?" She said, "No." This surprised me at first, then I suppose this is probably the equivalent of knowing exactly how many of your friends and family speak Spanish. Personally, I have no idea. But she seemed as happily surprised as I was.

I explained the problem. He examined my knee, surprised at how huge it was. He took x-rays. He looked at them and said an MRI would show more because the bones are perfectly fine. But he didn't want to let me leave until he drained the fluid out of my knee.

"Um, I really don't like needles."

"You are not unique," he told me with a smile.


I was probably an annoyance as I asked him roughly a dozen questions about exactly what was about to happen. I had a bad knee/needle experience a few years ago and the thought of going this one alone wasn't very comforting. But inevitably, I laid down, he poked the ginormous needle into the side of my knee, I flinched and held my breath as I watched yellow-green fluid flow out of my knee and into the syringe, so much, in fact, that he had to call for a back-up syringe. All-in-all, he removed 65 mL of fluid from my knee. Yuck.

It was at this point that I saw him holding this icky fluid that had just been inside my body that I started to feel a bit whoozy. I frantically began slapping myself in the face and repeating, "It's okay, it's okay..." to avoid passing out. Gratefully, I didn't. But we weren't done yet.

"Let's get a blood test while you're here. That way we can know for sure if we can rule out gout and rheumatoid arthritis."

"Okay," I said as I stood up and Mrs. Che popped her head in the room. I told her, "I need to go do a blood test. Oh...wait. Mrs. Che, I think I'm going to pass out."

"Pass out what?" she asked me.

"No, like I'm going to faint."

"Faint? What is faint?"

At this point, I am motioning that I am dizzy and reaching for the closest chair. She doesn't seem too concerned, so at this point she says, "All right, well I'm going to go now."

Before I can explain that I am in the process of losing consciousness, she's gone and I'm left alone with the non-English speaking nurse. Oy. I call Jeremy in a semi-lucid daze, "Hey honey, I'm at the doctor's office for my knee. I feel like I'm going to pass out."

Understandably concerned, he asks, "Okay, where are you?"

I have no idea. I wasn't anticipating being here by myself. We eventually figure out where I am and he heads my way, but in the mean time, after about 20 minutes, I am well enough to give blood. Inevitably, yes, I almost pass out a third time, but in the end I don't. Thank goodness.

So to any medically-minded folks out there:
#1. Any ideas about what's the deal with my knee?
#2. Any tips on how to avoid passing out?

Please share.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dear Child

Dear Child,

Hey there. I know you may not be feeling at your best in this moment--this ordinary moment on a Thursday afternoon--so I wanted to write you a letter. Not because you've done anything wrong. Not because I'm worried. But simply because I can tell you what I see and these observations may give you some perspective.

I see you sitting at work.
I see your glances out the window.
I see your heart.
I see weariness.

But, I also see those green eyes.
I see life.
I see spirit.
And I see potential.

Do you?

Sometimes I'm not sure.

Sometimes I wonder if you've become lost and/or distracted somewhere in the mire of "college graduate, but not quite sure of direction" and "is this how twenty-six is supposed to look?" Or ever-more manipulating "not good enough" and "never will be." Powerful messages. Terrible lies. But oh-so tempting.

But, let me tell you something true.
Something undeniably real.

You're pretty great.

Yeah, I've liked you since...forever.

I think you are swell and fantastic and every adjective in between. And maybe today isn't your day. Maybe this Thursday afternoon will not go down in history as particularly inspiring or life-changing. But they can't all be that way. I think you'd grow tired if they did. This is just a day. Just an afternoon.

No need to analyze.
No need to criticize.
No need to make it into something it isn't.
And the same goes for you.

Today is what it is.
You may have felt your best.
Finished that list.
Said what you should have said.
Reacted as you may have wished.

But today was your balanced best. 
And I know it was your best because it's what happened.

There's not a golden bar set somewhere unreasonably high and every day that you miss it is another day down the tubes. No, your best is not a point. A destination. Your best is any day that you are alive and trying. Alive and being.

And today was your balanced best, because you showed up.
Good. Freaking. Job. Darnit.

Some days your "best" may be teaching fanciful lessons and helping students learn.
Some days your "best" may be embracing this new culture with openness and compassion.
Other days your "best" may be gulping chocolate milk for breakfast and just getting out the door.

Compassion, my dear. Please, reach for it. Lean into it. Feel it.
It's here when you are ready, but it will never be forced upon you if you aren't.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Little I Know About North Korea

I've found that the Western world seems to be more interested in North Korea than anyone else.

Before we came to Korea, many of our friends and family were very concerned about our safety in Korea. They heard news reports about N. K. testing missiles and making threats. To be honest, at one point, I kind of put the whole idea aside. I figured we can go anywhere in the world, why should we go to the one place that is in a tense spotlight right now? My wise husband, Jeremy, suggested we do a little more research. We did, and upon reading S. Korean publications, blogs, and media outlets we were shocked to see that there was little conversation about North Korea. They weren't really worried at all.

I remember reading one blogger who said, "The Western media gets really excited about North Korea, but the rest of us just shrug our shoulders at Kim Jong Un's latest tantrum." I felt a little safer after reading about N.K. from another angle.

However, that doesn't mean that N.K. is out of the Korean media entirely. In fact, just last week reports came out of N.K. that Kim Jong Un publicly executed 80 people for owning Bibles and watching South Korean TV shows.

When I ask my Korean friends about North Korea, they don't have very much to say. Granted, I have not spoken to every Korean person, but here's what I've found among those that I know. I asked them, "Did you hear about these recent executions?"

Some had. Some had not.

"That's common," said one friend. "It's unfortunate, but it's common."

And then my question, "Well, why don't we do something."

"Because they are our family, our race. I think many people are afraid to meet their own across the battle lines."

From what very little I understand about the split that brought us to North and South Korea, it was a dispute over management style. The North wanted communism. The South wanted democracy. Families were torn apart and some have not seen each other for sixty years.

I suppose from the outside everything is black and white. It's easy for me as a foreigner to have an opinion. To have a solution to this problem. But it's different if you're Korean. It's different if it's your family and your country.

If you're curious to read a first-hand account of a North Korean defector (the only one who has ever escaped a prison camp and survived), check out Escape from Camp Fourteen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Three Months in Korea

We are rock stars.

In fact, I even have a rock star song I would like to share with you.

I wrote it when I was a kid and I sing it whenever I need a little pep talk or a pat on the back:
I'm a rock star. 
I'm a freaking rock star.
I'm a rock star.
Doodley, doodley do.
(Sung to the tune of the French song "Alouette", in case you were wondering)

We are rock stars because we are doing this thing we had only talked about until recently. It still surprises us, but we are here figuring this out together and we are happy.

-been learning more about North Korea
-been learning more about a lot of stuff that I need to blog about
-our jobs are great
-winter has arrived
-shabu shabu is good

Most awesome things this month:
-starting Korean classes with our new friend, Jong
-we're still alive (which is always a plus) and we celebrated both of our birthdays in the last month
-bought tickets for our January trip to Cambodia

Random moments that need to be shared somewhere:
-It continues to intrigue me how much Korean's love baseball. Maybe I've been missing some obvious cues in the past, but all of my kids talk about playing it and their favorite teams. Taxi drivers will often ask us if we know the Korean players that currently play on U.S. major league baseball teams. We always lie and say, "Yes!" Today, I got a picture with a kiddo in my grade 4 class rockin' a Colorado Rockies ball cap!

-Playing a game in class with two teams. The losing teams mourns their misfortune by pulling at their hair, wailing in agony, and shaking their fists at the sky, you know, like all 5th graders would. One quiet boy on the winning team, says quietly (mostly to himself), "Oh my god, it's like a soap opera."

-Another day, playing a game (the equivalent of Hot Potato) a 4th grader gets stuck with the ball and yells--and I mean bellows--"Shit! Shit! Shit!" How would you handle this situation? I'm still not sure. There were words given. But effective words? It's hard to say. How do you explain to a kid that that was wrong when you can only use his vocabulary, which includes: every English curse word, "Hello," and "baseball"?

-In class, a student with very low English comprehension is called on to answer a question. I'm pointing to the words on the boarding and prompting with sounds. We all wait. My co-teacher gets closer to him and says (in English), "Say the answer." And he repeats tentatively, "Answer."

-A few weeks ago, I went in search of a crochet hook. This might sound an easy task. Let me tell you it was not.

Step one: ask a Korean friend how to say "crochet hook" in Korean.
Step two: act out and/or draw pictures of a crochet hook.
Step three: look up on Google translator.
Step four: talk to other Koreans to gather a consensus about where to buy one.
Step five: draw map of tentative location of said shop.
Step six: try to get a bus or a taxi there. In Korean.
Step seven: walk around trying to find the shop.
Step eight: walk in and try to talk with the vendor.
Step nine: inevitably act out and/or draw pictures.
Step ten: if this does not work, return to step seven and try again.

Gratefully, my step nine worked beautifully when I drew my picture which looked like this:

I felt pretty proud of myself the next day at school when I told Mrs. Che my story and how I successfully bought a crochet hook. Her response: "Why did you draw a picture of fallopian tubes?"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Korea is Teaching Us About Marriage

I think that years from now, Jeremy and I will look back at our time in Korea and know that it made us better lovers. Better listeners. Better communicators. Better feelers. Better.

Because when you move to a foreign country with your best friend one of two things will most likely happen:
-either you will grow apart because there's too much together time
-or you will come closer together

I'm overjoyed to report the latter.

I can't say that I really worried, Oh no, what if our marriage suffers because we are moving to Korea?

That was never really a thought because I know who we are.

We are these two, young fools who are painfully in love and awfully skilled at missing the mark.
We are good at talking through things.
We are good at communicating our needs.
Even when they are hard.
Even when they seem selfish.
We are good at asking, "What are you thinking?" 
And we are good at answering honestly.
We are good at filling in each others gaps. 
At being strong when the other feels weak. 
At having fun.
We are great at holding each other accountable.
We are also quite skilled at knowing exactly what will annoy the other person.
And having long, drawn-out spats about who-said-what-and-why.

But I think our tiny apartment/room has made us better at this marriage thing. Because I remember clearly thinking in the awkward resentment of our last argument: 

Ya know, I have to spend the rest of the evening with this guy in our tiny apartment and 
I think it would actually be easier to just end this right now.

"Okay, I'm sorry."

It may not be the best reason to to put my stubbornness aside and end a ridiculous spat, but it's awfully good training. Because deep down, I never want to run out of the room. And Korea is teaching me to stay put.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Moving Forwards Means Going Back

I moved to Cambodia in 2007 to teach English for a year.
I was nineteen.

That year changed me forever. I had the opportunity to meet and teach students with whom I still keep in contact. I got to travel and see parts of the world people only dream about. It was quite a wild ride. But that year also wrecked me. During my time there, I battled an eating disorder, fought depression, questioned God and my beliefs, was hit by a car, and was sexually assaulted. It was a hard year.

I will never forget the day I left Cambodia. I packed every last remnant of myself--any proof that I had ever been there--into two pieces of luggage. I drove past the street vendors, the kids who used to harass me on the street, and the stop light everyone ignored. I checked my bags and got through security; happy to move forward and not interested in looking back.

I sat down in a cafe near my gate and a girl my same age struck up a standard you-look-like-a-foreigner conversation: "Where are you from? Where are you going? How long have you been here?" and so on and so forth.

She had been in Cambodia for two months working with some sort of NGO medical team. But the way she described Cambodia--this place I had just spent the last year of my life--felt so foreign to me. "I love Cambodia," she told me. "I don't want to leave, but I have to get back to school. I'm hoping to return next year."

I couldn't quite understand her: hoping.
She was hoping to return.
On purpose.
Because she loved Cambodia.

And it was in that moment that I felt like I might've missed something.

I was pretty sure that I had just lived a year in a place that some would describe as "beautiful" and "magical" and I had missed it. Most of what I encountered was fear, isolation, and shame. Smothered in my own mental health issues and struggling to see much else.

I went to Cambodia a naive, nineteen year-old Christian with anorexia.
I came home a bitter, twenty year-old agnostic with bulimia.

Gratefully, time and space do much to heal. I resumed life in the States. I leaned heavily on good people. I wrote a book about my experiences called Honestly, I'm Struggling. I recovered fully from the eating disorder. I graduated from college. I got married. I moved on.

Now, I write from Korea. A very different Asian country. I live here and teach English with my husband, Jeremy. This has been a wonderfully empowering experience and I'm grateful for each day that we are able to be here.

Even though Korea and Cambodia are completely different places, I am still often reminded of some of the similarities between the two places: things like, the transportation, the motos, Buddhism, music, food, smells. Cambodia is rarely far from my mind, but not necessarily because I miss some one or some thing. Mostly because, I was broken there and I feel like this is a good opportunity to make peace with that.

So, we just bought plane tickets for Cambodia.
January 18th.

It both thrills and terrifies me.

What will I see?
What will I remember?
Who will I bump into?
How will I handle it?
How will it feel?

Gratefully, I don't have to know the answers to those questions.
But I do know this:
Jeremy and I will go there together.
I'll get to show him this place that has meant so much to me.
A place he's only heard stories about.
We'll see Tim and Fay.
Visit the school where I taught.
Get ice cream with some of my students (who are now in college!).
Look around Phnom Penh.
And make new memories.

I welcome any prayers or well-wishes you can send our way.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Cost of Korean Education

In Korea, education is big business.

Particularly, English education. This is why, a few years ago, the Korean government started employing "native English speakers" in hoards in order to expose Korean students to "authentic language." They want to keep up with the global market.

Foreign teachers (like myself) have taken this opportunity to teach English and learn about another culture. Hagwons or cram schools employ native teachers and dot every neighborhood because most students attend these in addition to their regular school. It is also common for students to compete in English competitions. Students from every grade level gather at these competitions to tell stories, debate, or give speeches in front of judges.

A few weeks ago, one of my grade 5 students was competing in such a competition. I was asked to tutor her after school so she could practice her English. The day before the competition, myself and two other teachers sat and listened to a dialogue she had prepared. At one point when talking about some one's body, she said, "Oh, you have a nice S-line!"

I leaned over to a teacher and said, "What's an S-line?"

She started laughing hysterically as she realized that this was a distinctly Korean expression that this girl had translated and was using in English. The other teacher began laughing too. The girl smiled uncomfortably, but soon she was crying and she ran out of the room.

The teachers didn't seem terribly concerned as she left. I said, "What just happened? Did she think we were making fun of her? I just didn't know what an 'S-line' was." (Apparently, it just means "curvy" like the letter 'S').

"Oh, don't worry about it," they assured me. "She's just very stressed about the contest tomorrow."

Later, I saw the student and asked if she was okay. She awkwardly apologized and started to walk away. I asked her, "Do you feel okay about tomorrow?"

"No. Two years ago, I won. And last year, I didn't. My parents were very upset. I have to win this year to make them proud."

- - - - - - - - - -

Awhile ago, I had a conversation with a Korean teacher at my school. A few years ago, she and her family lived in Oklahoma while her husband was serving in the air force. She says that her two sons (now in high school) always speak so dreamily about their time in American schools. "That was the last time they enjoyed school," she tells me. "In the States, you ask your students, 'What are your dreams? What will make you happy?' And in Korea we say, 'What will secure your future? What will make your family proud?' "

We have a different focus entirely. And when I asked her if she felt like one was better, she said that she wanted some sort of balance in the middle between happiness and hard work.

- - - - - - - - - -

On Wednesday afternoon, a teacher casually told me not to come to school at my usual time. "Come an hour later. It's test day." I didn't really argue. But later, I learned more about this test day.

It's called Sooneung. Once a year in November, every senior in high school takes this 8-hour long college scholastic ability test. Unlike, our SATs in the States--that may or may not hold high regard in your college placement and certainly isn't the most important factor in your future--this test is of utmost importance in Korea. It's not an exaggeration to say that the results of the test will decide your fate for the rest of your life.

We recently watched this short 20-minute documentary about Sooneung, called ExamiNation. This film helped to clear up a few things I noticed on Thursday beyond my own school starting an hour later and having special "Test Day rice cakes" at lunch.

Businesses and even the stock market open an hour later. Some elementary and middle schools didn't even hold classes to limit traffic and noise for the testers. Police escorts on-hand to assist students who are running late or forget supplies. People hold signs and cheer as the students are walking in.

During this time, planes are not allowed to operate in case they might interfere with the listening portion of the test. Police officers stand outside the schools to hush any noisy interruptions. There are special foods that some may eat to better than chances. Their parents may pray and have very specific superstitions about what will be a factor in their student's success.

This is a big deal.

- - - - - - - - - -

At lunch, a teacher recently told me that for all the praise the Korean education receives, its students lack creativity and original thought. They mime. They memorize and repeat. But smothering them with all this information doesn't necessarily lead to a good education.

"Do you remember taking the Sooneung test? How was it?" I asked him.

"It was miserable. Probably the worst time in my life."

"So, did you do well on the test?"

"No, that's why I work here," he said with a chuckle.

I later clarified that he didn't mean that all teachers must have done poorly on the test. Teachers are well-respected in Korean culture. Several of the teachers attended very prestigious teacher education universities. But he had hoped for a different path that he didn't receive because of his test score.

- - - - - - - - - -

BBC News calls this Asia's "education fever" in a recent article about this incredible pressure put on Asian students. It's costing parents incredible amount of money, time, and energy to accomplish greatness in their children.

- - - - - - - - - -

The other day, I walked to school with my Korean-Oklahoman-teacher-friend (whose kids had attended American schools) and I asked how her sons were doing. "It's testing season. They are very stressed and I am too," she told me.

"Do you think that because you have experienced American schooling, you are more understanding if your sons don't perform perfectly?"

She looked at me with a pained expressions, "I wish I did. But I am still a Korean parent and I still have to keep up with Korean culture."






Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Misconceptions About Living Overseas

Before we came to Korea, people would say things like:
"You will be such wonderful missionaries for the Lord."
"You must take pictures of all of your travels."
"What an adventure!"

And these same themes have been repeated frequently enough, that I think it's worth writing about. Because on most days, our lives in Korea don't feel anything like that.

Number 1: Missionaries

A missionary is "a person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country." To be honest, we are not really missionaries. We did not come here with the sole objective of meeting with other Christians or spreading the gospel. We came to teach English for the public school system. We are as much "missionaries" in Korea as you could be a "missionary" in America.  Because American is a "foreign" country to most of the world and people go on religious missions there as well.

I do agree, though, with the notion that we are doing God's work. Because aren't we all? Aren't we all trying to mimic and live out what we believe that God wants for this world? Yup, that's what we're doing here too. We don't do it in a religious setting. We haven't met any Adventists since we arrived. However, we are hoping to make our corner of the globe a little better because we were here. And we'll want to do the same when we get back to the States as well.

Number 2: All the Travels

We have traveled a great distance to arrive here in Korea, but since then, we haven't moved much. We don't hop over to another continent every weekend. We aren't travel writers on a trek to see every corner of this country. We moved here to encounter another world and see what it had to teach us. Maybe we'll get to travel when we have vacation from school, however, until then, we do have jobs and we do spend most of our time in Korea working at those jobs.

Number 3: Adventure!

"Foreign" is a word I use or hear nearly everyday. Either, I am a foreigner, I'm talking about my foreign friends, or someone is calling me a foreigner on the street. Very quickly we've grown accustomed to knowing that this is not our country of origin. But "foreign" is a funny word because it all depends on where you stand. And anything new and different and foreign is often seen as intriguing and exciting. One big grand adventure.

Now, I'll be the first to admit, that I, myself, have used the word "adventure" to describe parts of this experience. But I don't really anymore. It's no accurate. It doesn't quite fit. Because amazingly, even after only three months, this place has become quite familiar. I know my way around. I can function. I know how to do my job, where to take my garbage, how to communicate in minimal Korean, and how to tell a taxi driver where I want to go.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that while Korea still surprises us on a regular basis, life here is sometimes quite mundane. We get into a routine, we go about our business. We get up in the morning, eat cereal, go to work, come home, go to the gym, and watch TV. So when people e-mail and say, "How's your great adventure going?" I'm temped to say, "Same question: how's your great adventure going?"

"Adventure" is a relative term we use to describe an experience that looks so radically different (and maybe more exciting) than our own. Please know that being on this adventure doesn't make me any less interested in trading mine for someone else s once in awhile.


We live in Korea. A place that is quite different than the States, but in some ways quite similar. There are people and families and homes and schools and good food and entertainment and celebrities and a democratic government. We don't get to travel a whole lot because that's expensive and we have jobs that we have to show up to. We interact with many people on a daily basis, but I have no more influence here as a "missionary" than you would anywhere else. We do our darnedest to show people love and compassion and grace whether or not that results in a change of religious proportions. And I think that's enough.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, be all there. Because inevitably someone else is thinking that you have it good. Someone else is wanting the very life you hold in your hands.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Twenty-Six Years

Today, is my birthday.
I've lived on planet Earth for 26 years.
Some people didn't make it that long.
Others will make it longer.
Birthdays remind me how incredible this all is.
Like, what are we doing here?
And, why am I so lucky to be a part of it?
And a bunch of other questions I'll never understand.

Several people have asked me what it's like to have a birthday in Korea. I'd say it's about the same as anywhere else. I haven't gotten a full and complete answer to this question from my Korean friends, however, they also give gifts, sing a song, and eat cake and ice cream.

Being that we are still somewhat new to this experience and don't necessarily have a thriving community at our finger tips, Jeremy planned a lovely weekend just for the two of us and it was swell.

First of all, he collaborated with my parents to send some goodies in the mail. Things like Clif bars, chocolate, homemade granola, and Emergen-C (which has already come in handy--thanks, Mom--because I got sick today). One of the items sent across the ocean was his gift to me: a new Osprey back pack! So sweet. Now we'll look even cooler on our adventuring! Which--as you know--is what it's all about.

On Saturday morning, Jeremy made me pancakes and coffee. He set up surprise Skype dates all weekend, so I got to talk to our friends Ben and Zach that morning. We spent the afternoon relaxing at home. I worked on a painting. And later we went for a walk and ended up doing a bit of dumpster diving. If we get shipped back to America, I'm sorry. That evening I got to Skype with my dear friend, Kylie and later we watched some of our latest addiction: Downton Abbey.

Sunday morning, we Skyped with Ashley and Ben. Then we went on an adventure planned by Jeremy to this art district up on a hill that overlooks Cheongju (my co-workers told me later it's called 수 μ•” κΈ€, or Soo-am-geul). We got the right bus and didn't even get lost! We strolled up the hill side and found this lazy little part of town (rare for Korea) where there was a neighborhood famous for its random street art. Apparently, there was also a Korean movie filmed in the area. We found a little cafe/restaurant that made us quite happy.

The cafe we found is called Able703. I haven't stumbled upon many contemporary or original restaurants in Cheongju. There is either authentic Korean shops or McDonalds. I liken it to the difference between a hole-in-the-wall Chinese buffet and P.F. Changs. You know that one is probably more authentic than the other, but you kind of like the knock-off better. I liked how it was Korean owned and operated, but had their own flair added to familiar soups, salads, and sandwiches. In fact, (heads-up Lincoln people) it reminded us amazingly of Bread and Cup: simple, yummy, and a little pricey. But heck, it's my birthday!

Monday was my "real" birthday and when my alarm sounded, I opened my eyes to see my sister (who had Skyped in to wish me a Happy Birthday FIRST thing in the morning). From then on it was also another day at school. Five classes. Equally confused students faces. Good times with my co-workers. They even bought me an ice cream "cake"(ice cream formed into the shape of a cake) and sang Happy Birthday! 

I got to spend the evening painting, which to some would be a major let down, but to me felt just right. We ended with a Skype call with my parents and it was all around a perfect birthday.

Thanks to all of you for your letters, e-mails, and Facebook well-wishes. Nothing beats celebrations with friends, but I feel incredibly blessed to be on this side of the globe on this twenty-sixth year.