A Travellerspoint blog

Flyin' through Fall

by gabrielle

sunny 65 °F

September and October are always good months for me and Seoul was no exception. I guess it's a good sign that I feel too busy to post blog entries regularly, right? Here are my top 5 highlights from the past two months (in chronological order):

1. My brother got married September 10th in Bellingham and I got to go home!

2. Ivan came to visit!

3. I turned 24 and had a fabulous day/night with my girls!

4. We had a serious Halloween party at school!

5. We dressed as the Spice Girls for Halloween on Saturday night and met a new friend who lives in our building, Cheryl (pink leisure suit)!

Back to highlight #1: My brother is married! I was so happy to be able to go home for the wedding in September for those 4.5 days. The wedding was beautiful, my family is incredible and now I have a new sister-in-law! Merz family weddings are always a blast but there is something extra special about being so closely related to the couple. Leading up to the event my coworkers and I were talking a lot about how "weird" it would be to be back in the US after six straight months away and they all tried to predict how they'd feel or how "reverse culture shock" would affect them. Honestly, the first thing that came to mind for me wasn't the types of people, the money, the signs in English, or the food but; "Yes, I get to eavesdrop again!" Not like I am some weirdo who creeps around trying to listen to people's conversations but I do enjoy overhearing a funny/odd convo every now and again but living in a country where I don't speak the language? Fat chance. In general, a typical frustration of "reverse culture shock" for the traveler is that once they've returned home they feel they can't relate to anyone anymore because of the experiences they have had abroad and/or the life they led having been so different. But for me, returning home to the States after being away for awhile has an opposite affect; I feel like I was never gone in the first place. Seriously. After returning from various stints abroad I kind of feel like it was all a dream, or my little secret but as for my comfort level at home, I don't seem to skip a beat. So in case any of you were curious, the weirdest part about being home for that wedding weekend was being able to eavesdrop again!

Highlight #2: Ivan came to visit from Charleston at the end of September for 11 days and things couldn't have gone better! Swhite and I talk often about how grateful we are to have each other here to share this experience. It's unique to have someone who knew you before, at home and someone who also knows first hand what your daily life is like here. That being said, whenever exceptionally crazy things happen that we can only accept by saying, "only in Korea..." (like your cab driver giving you an apple to enjoy on the ride or your 2.5 year old students getting highlights and perms) we talk about how we really wish our parents or someone from home could come visit so we could share this interesting experience with them. Ivan totally fulfilled that dream for us! It was so fun to play tour guide and show him around my enormous temporary home. He was a real trooper and dealt well with being sardine-d on the subway daily, trying new food that contained many unknown ingredients, politely ignoring the blatant stares and enthusiastically enduring the parade of high-fives he received while hiking. I'm pretty sure the Koreans were just excited to see such a tall, dark and handsome fella hiking on their mountain and wanted to make some kind of contact! Ivan also got to come to school and meet the kids one morning. I was trying to predict how certain kids would respond to him and am impressed by how accurate my predictions were. We had a few insta-clingers, a few skeptics who moved past him slowly careful not to make eye contact on their way to their cubbies, a few who waited in fear in the doorway and refused to walk past him at all, a few traditional bows and greetings in Korean and a few who ignored him entirely! We really packed a lot into those 11 days and here are some pics and info to summarize Ivan's visit:

We explored the city and checked out some touristy sites like the Han River, the Palaces and the Korean War Memorial.
The War Memorial had an interesting photo exhibit too, here are my fave pics!

Ivan totally got down on the Korean food! And yes, all of these little bowls and side dishes were just for the two of us!

We saw the massive sprawl of Seoul in all of it's glory both at night (at Seoul tower)...

...And during the day while hiking Gwanak Mountain:

We waited in line for over 3 hours to go on the world's steepest wooden roller coaster at the amusement park, Everland:

We saw a thoroughly impressive performance called "Ballerina Loves B-boy":

We went to a free and unfortunately lame K-Pop concert at World Cup Stadium:

And of course, hung out with my fabulous crew and enjoyed some crazy Korean nightlife!

Did I mention Ivan joined the "cool kids" club and attempted his first Powerkick??
Neat backdrop, huh? It's the Seoul Art Museum and something their doing to promote an exhibit that has something to do with nudity?? We're not sure but we saw these fellas promoting the same museum/exhibit earlier in the week. They even took their crazy box into the middle of the cross walk when the light was NOT green!

Highlight #3: I have officially entered my mid-twenties! I told Swhite a few months back that all I wanted to do for my birthday was "couple" with her... and "couple" we did! We bought matching EVERYTHING down to the cat rings and monster backpacks! Jillian was our photographer and Amy and Sam came along as the creative directors :). Unfortunately, Jillian has been a bit slow getting the pics to me but Swhite plans to feature the spread in her next blog entry so anxiously await that! After the photo shoot we had my favorite Pita Pit for lunch, sushi for dinner and a great night of shenanigans with the fab five crew! The girls know I am the savory over sweet type so in place of a cake, the girls stuck a candle in my favorite cafe treat (the cheesy bagel you see in the pic above). The Friday before my birthday also happened to be the monthly birthday party at school so my coworkers thought I should get to pose behind the fancy birthday table as well!

Highlight #4: The kids have been anticipating the Halloween party for quite awhile but I've noticed they are a bit too young to fully grasp the concept of time. As early as September they would ask, "Teacher, Halloween today?" when I said no, they would just say, "Halloween tomorrow?" Now that it has passed and they had so much fun, they say, "Halloween one more time!" They got pretty disappointed when I told them it wont happen again for a long time so I am trying to keep their spirits up by reminding them we have the Christmas party next month. Unfortunately then the cycle just repeats and they always ask, "How many sleeps until Christmas???" Oh well, I tried, right? The neat backdrops in the following pics were for one the Halloween party stations. The "photo" station was where each kid was shuffled through 5 different photo spots to be given to their parents on a flash drive! Koreans do not mess around in the photo department.
The kids moved around from station to station doing fun activities with the different teachers. Jillian and I hit the jackpot and were in charge of face painting so we got to chat all day! Most of the kids went easy on us with requests like butterflies, Hello Kitty, or spiders but that darn Luc requested "Woody" from Toy Story. Seriously? I got ambitions and went for it and I must say I was pleased with the result!
Doug's station was "scary stories" and he really went all out!

Highlight #5: Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and I must admit I plan my costumes YEARS ahead! Swhite and I wanted to be TLC but since our crew here is a definite 5 pack... we settled on the Spice Girls! It's pretty sweet dressing up as a group; I feel like it shows great unity and commitment! I was Baby Spice which was quite fun with the pig-tail throw back. It may have been tough individually, but as we walked through the streets and bars as a crew, people definitely recognized us! Amy, Sam and I even went as far as painting tiny Union Jack flags on our nails and the one Brit we ran into was super impressed with our level of dedication!

My "Kids Say the Dardnest Things" award for this post goes to June. June is downstairs in the baby class so he is either 3 or almost 3 years old. He is Korean but both of his parents speak English really well and therefore he has a fantastic vocabulary. His class is full of terrors so we joke that the only reason we make it through that period once a week is because we can have adult conversations with June! He says cool things all of the time but I got a real kick out of his obvious disdain for Halloween. He said to Jillian, "Why can't I just turn Halloween off?!" (with his head tossed back for added drama). When Jillian asked why he didn't like Halloween he answered, "I HATE Halloween." So she asked him if he also hates Christmas and he said, "Yes, but I like presents." Oh June... life is tough! June is on the right in this pic... he was also not very fond of his costume!
David T. is still insane and had a few good lines worthy of mention. Last Thursday he seemed to love me extra for some reason and was telling me that I was so beautiful and blah blah and then he said, "Teacher, I love you so much I am going to bring you candy tomorrow. You can chew it, or you can lick it, but you can't put it in the sand!" Hey, the boy speaks the truth!

One more school thing... Our phonics workbooks for the kids have lots of three letter words with the same ending letter sounds and we work on about 4 new words each week (example, pet, net, wet, jet). After doing the workbook activities I write the words on the board and the kids read them and tell me what they mean. It's hilarious tho because I need to really simplify the definitions of these words for the kids in ways they will understand for their age and limited English vocabulary. I find it to be a tough task sometimes! For example, when I write the word "rat" on the board the kids get excited and enthusiastic and jump around like crazy yelling, "Yucky yucky mouse! Not cute mouse!" Or when I write, "bad" they yell, "Not cleaning and not listening!" How would you describe these words to 3-4 year olds who don't speak English as a first language??

On a cultural note, I have one surprising and pretty much disgusting fact to share. Jillian and I decided to get flu shots and after we got them, the nurse told us that we couldn't drink alcohol or take a shower for one day. We were confused but just nodded okay. When we were in the elevator leaving we were talking and trying to figure out why it wouldn't be okay to shower and couldn't come up with any reasonable theories. A Korean who apparently spoke English overheard us and said, "Well I wouldn't take it too seriously. Koreans think they have a much weaker immune system than Westerners. For example, women don't shower for two weeks after they give birth in Korea." Jillian and I were shocked and didn't really respond so we just thanked him for the tip and parted ways! Afterward we definitely reacted and were both disgusted and overwhelmed! I said to her, "I am NEVER going to believe anything Koreans tell me from now on!" When we got back to work we asked our Korean coworkers with obvious disbelief and they said very matter of fact, "Yes, that's right." Ahhh gross otis!

All in all and I am exceptionally happy these days which has been wonderful! Of course I still get very overwhelmed and exhausted but I think I have finally accepted the downsides of the job and now am better at focusing on all the good stuff. Like how much my little ones are learning, how stinkin' cute they are and how much I love my friends here. As of today I have 3 months and 29 days to go! I am also so excited about my plans for the future and that's really keeping me going too. Another contributor, I assume is that we have a really nice, warm fall. The weather was in the high 60's, low 70's most of October and mid 60's for the past few weeks so I have been able to run outside a lot and take some pleasant walks on the weekends. However, this morning I had to turn my heat on for the first time this season because it was 34 degrees! Here is another hint that winter is coming...

Until next time...

Posted by 3ifBySEA 22:09 Archived in South Korea

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Another humorous and awesome post Gabrielle! Your students are "stinkin cute" and your girl crew is....Spicey! Way to spew thoughts and ideas out! Keep it up! Hugs, MOM

by Mom Merz

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