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!
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2. Ivan came to visit!
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3. I turned 24 and had a fabulous day/night with my girls!
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4. We had a serious Halloween party at school!
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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)!
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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.
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The War Memorial had an interesting photo exhibit too, here are my fave pics!
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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!
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We saw the massive sprawl of Seoul in all of it's glory both at night (at Seoul tower)...
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...And during the day while hiking Gwanak Mountain:
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We waited in line for over 3 hours to go on the world's steepest wooden roller coaster at the amusement park, Everland:
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We saw a thoroughly impressive performance called "Ballerina Loves B-boy":
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We went to a free and unfortunately lame K-Pop concert at World Cup Stadium:
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And of course, hung out with my fabulous crew and enjoyed some crazy Korean nightlife!
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Did I mention Ivan joined the "cool kids" club and attempted his first Powerkick??
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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!
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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!
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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.
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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!
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Doug's station was "scary stories" and he really went all out!
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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!
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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!
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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...
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Until next time...

Posted by 3ifBySEA 22:09 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

"In Korea, cute is all that really matters."

by gabrielle

sunny 82 °F

Creepin' up on 7 months in Korea... ahh-sahh! This means "yes!" or "hooray!" Think "Look, a saw!" with a softer "a" like, "ahhh." I think it's awesome, and cute, and particularly fun when you add all the extra and unnecessary syllables like the kids do with the arm pump. "Ah-saw-eh-ahh!" This may not read as well as it sounds so next time I see you, ask me to do an impression! :)

The title for this blog post comes from an excerpt in one of Swhite's textbooks about a paperclip skeleton craft. The whole thing reads: "This little guy not scare anyone in the way a proper skeleton should, but he is cute and in Korea, cute is all that really matters." Yes, this is ridiculous. But is it true? Heck yes! In case we haven't really driven the point home in all of our previous blog posts, here's some observations about the negative symptoms of Korea's pursuit of all things cute...

My students are young and their vocabulary is limited and most of them speak Korean which means their artillery of insults for each other is pretty weak. Luckily, the kids get along pretty well and often times their bad behavior isn't even directed at another student specifically. However, lately I have been having issues in my class with the kids calling each other, "not beautiful." For example, at a table of four the kids will be coloring and chatting (in Korean) and occasionally exchanging crayons and all of a sudden Soo will burst into tears. David will have to explain what happened because Soo is too hysterical and he will say, "Teacher! Joy NOT beautiful Soo!" (strong emphasis on the "NOT") Which means that Soo is crying because Joy told her she is not beautiful. Maybe Soo didn't share a crayon with Joy or maybe Soo said she'd rather play with David during playtime but either way, it breaks my heart to know they are delivering these sensitive, low-blows at such a young and impressionable age. In the beginning I thought it may have been a fluke and wouldn't happen again but unfortunately the "not beautiful" or sometimes "not pretty" comment has been the go-to insult when the kids get upset with each other. It mainly happens amongst the Korean girls in the class (there are five) and my attempts to explain how hurtful and "not okay" it is to tell someone that just wasn't getting through to them. I had to enlist the help of my Korean coworker who explained to them in Korean what I wanted to say with the added threat that the next time it happened, the kid responsible would be sent downstairs to the baby class... dun dun dun!

The problem in the Panda Class has improved a bit but the same certainly cannot be said for Korean women in general. There's no denying that the desire (expectation?) to be beautiful, cute, dainty, thin, and dare I say "perfect" all at the same time significantly affects Korean women. There are all the standard influences/pressures/ideals like celebrities, models in magazines, window displays, billboards and commercials; and then there is the added strain and pressure of keeping up with Western cultural standards of beauty (to some degree). One would hope Koreans would embrace their naturally lovely features but no, there are reminders EVERYWHERE that ANYTHING can be changed. Here's a sample of the advertisements in Apgujeong subway station alone; starting with the most common procedure, eye lid surgery to get, "a crease/fold" or, more "Western" eyes:
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Next, a "Western nose" or a "high" nose:
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A fuller butt:
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Fuller eyebrows, lips and eyelashes:
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A more chiseled jawline:
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Larger breasts:
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Better teeth:
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Perfectly proportioned fingers, toes and no bow-legs:
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Or the scariest of all... a whole new face altogether:
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Like I said, all of these ads are in ONE subway station.

Here's a couple from inside a subway car: (they're big on the before and after shots)
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And from the side of a bus, in case you didn't catch the last 50,000 you saw on the way to the bus stop:
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Not sure if this is another one for new nose, or it's saying to embrace the nose you already have... it says, "I've beautiful nose."
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Granted, the neighborhood we work in, (Apugujeong) is very ritzy and considered the "Beverly Hills" of Seoul but you'd still think the whole surgery thing would be a bit more hush hush. But no, we see bandaged-up faces regularly. The oddest scene so far was a teenage looking girl on the subway with her mom guiding her because she was obviously recovering from a recent surgery. Bizarre.

I have also overheard our Korean coworkers "jokingly" ask the kids "who do you think is the prettiest teacher?"and pushing for an answer. I know for sure the mom's are quite concerned with how "cute" we think their kids are because of past comments/relayed stories; it is also obvious that the Korean teachers give the girls less food than the boys. So now we know where it comes from and now we know it seems pretty difficult to ignore but I can't seem to wrap my head around it. It's just too extreme to be so readily accepted. I gotta tell you, compliments in a bar such as, "Wow, you're eyes are so big!" (from a girl) or "You have a nice, high nose!" (from a guy) are definitely new to me. I though body image issues due to societal pressures in the US were bad but this place is crazy! I realize this post topic is more informative than fun or "cute" but it has been something I have thought about a lot since being here because it's so different so I thought it deserved some attention. Thoughts? Reactions? I'm curious if seems weirder reading about it than it does seeing it daily or the other way around.

Now to briefly touch on everything else...

Last weekend we went to Foreigner Day at the World Cup Stadium to see the pro team, FC Seoul play. It was a beautiful day and so fun to be a major sporting event! Based on the map, the expat community rep'd it pretty well too!
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I don't think I have properly introduced my newest student, David T yet (we already have Korean David so new David gets to be David "T"). Let me just say, he's tiny and insane! He has a squeaky, loud voice like some cartoon character, he never stops talking or moving and his energy is BOUNDLESS! He's American, adorable and completely exhausting. His first week here he climbed on the 6-foot, flimsy fake tree we have in the common area, hung from a fake branch and snapped it right off. My coworker walked into my classroom with the branch in one hand and David T. in the other... and let's just say it's not easy describing a climbable tree from an unclimbable one to a 3 1/2 year old! David T. has grown extremely attached to me in the short time we've spent together and I mean this literally. He is obsessed with "riding" on my back and I cannot squat down for more than a second without feeling his tiny arms around my neck. Once I was bent over only about half way with my legs straight putting something on the shelves and suddenly I hear a quick grunt then I feel David T's little fingers trying to get a good grip around my torso as he has just launched himself off a chair in order to jump onto my back at it's new height! Seriously! This is David T:
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Last week we had our first field trip since David T joined the Panda Class and I was tired just thinking about it. I knew I would need to keep one eye on him, and one on my 11 other students. Once we got inside the gates of the folk village David T was all over the place and I eventually had to toss him on my back just to make sure he didn't decide to swim in the "green river" he saw earlier... aka, swamp. After the fieldtrip I was so tired of David T that I hid in the office with the slightly transparent door closed. When David T came looking for me the other teachers covered for me saying I wasn't in there and he knew they were lying so he sat outside the door and cried, then eventually laid on the floor doing a fake back stroke while crying. We could only see his silhouette but it was pretty darn hilarious. Does that make me a bad person? I hope not!
Here of some pics of the kids on the field trip: (please notice David T about to take off in the second one!)
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I was pleased to finally be in some pictures with the kids! Even before my mom reminded me to! :)

My "Kids Say the Darndest Things" for this post should just be a reel of David T and all of his little gems but I have narrowed it down to the top three:
3. Me: David T, where do you live?
David T: Uh, well I come from Korea but my grandma comes from Mexico.
2. Donte: Teacher, David T farted!
Me: David T, do you need to use the bathroom?
David T: Um, no Teacher. I just had a bird poop on me today.
1. Me: David T, what's my name?
David T: Um, Wrinkle Teacher.
Me: What?
David T: Ready go Teacher.
Me: No, Gay-bree-elle Teacher
David T: Gray-be-go Teacher
Me: No, Gay-bree-elle Teacher
David T: No, just Teacher, Teacher.

And I guess that's that!
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Posted by 3ifBySEA 06:03 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

HALFWAY

by sarah

sunny 76 °F

I have officially been here for over six months and it feels amazing to say that I’m over halfway! I feel like it is all downhill from here and I can totally make it! Plus, we have booked tickets to Tokyo for New Year’s so I am really looking forward to that!
A lot has happened since I last wrote, so I’ll try not to forget anything…here goes.
BUSAN!
We had a three day weekend so Gabrielle and I went to Busan with her new coworker. Busan is a beach town or city rather, in the South. It has a population of about 3 million people, so it is still a pretty large city. We loved the beach we were at though, so probably only saw about 100 of those people, but that didn’t bother us much. There are a couple different main beach areas, and we were at one of the more popular ones. Since it was a holiday there were many Koreans vacationing there too. Since everyone works so hard here it is always good to see them relaxing! It was only my second time outside of Seoul, so it was a much needed break!

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Gabrielle found a hostel online, and we were in for a real treat when we got there. It was by far the nicest hostel either of us had ever stayed in! The three of us had a room to ourselves and the place was super clean, and even supplied toiletries! It was definitely a pleasant surprise.

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When we got to the beach we were in for another surprise though…I’ve never in my life been to a beach that was so crowded. Since Koreans (most) don’t like to tan their skin, the beach was overrun with parasols. The rest of the place was full of people buried in the sand or sitting on their floaties. They seemed to be oddly obsessed with burying each other in the sand...parents burying kids, husbands burying wives…everyone was in the sand!

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They also loooove their floaties! Every family had a least two. No one was swimming, or even in the water for that matter, without one. And every time a wave came there was a loud squeal to accompany it. It was so overwhelming. We tried to capture a video to show the ridiculousness that was happening all around us, but it didn’t do it justice. The girls didn’t leave their heels at home either. They are obsessed with them and everyone wears heels wherever they go, and the beach was no exception.

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We met some other foreigners there who were having a great time with the locals on the beach. They dug booby-traps (which I haven’t seen since about third grade) that consisted of holes in the crowded sand, and waving to people as they passed. We caught a few in them and it was actually pretty entertaining.

We had a great three days of beaching it, cheesy bagels and sushi, and it was exactly the break I needed!
Busan is a really cool place, but we did only see a very small part of it. When looking into coming here, I thought Seoul was the only place I would have wanted to be…but hindsight is a great thing, and I probably would have loved living there…but oh well, can’t think about that now!
The train from Seoul is only two hours, but it was the same price to fly so we took the train there and flew home. I felt like such a true jet setter. We got the domestic terminal and I’m pretty sure we were the only foreigners there. Once we got on our plane we were definitely the only ones, and after a long announcement in Korean there was a brief announcement in English, to which Gabrielle leaned in and said “We should feel special since that was obviously only for us!” I had grabbed an English newspaper to read on the flight. I don’t think people fully get the extent of how cutesy EVERYTHING is here. I opened the paper and found this – a picture of the UN Chief with his ‘friends’ in a heart shaped pose…ridiculous!

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SCHOOL
We’ve had a few more ‘field trips’, one of which being an hour long pajama day at school, where I got some pretty cute pictures of the kids I thought I’d share.

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A little tired of playing duck, duck, goose!
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Lucas is such a rebel, the perm doesn't help much though.
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It says "America, kinda looks like a shark or something"...I want one!
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Yes, her shirt does say Wendy's
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Here are a few more gems of assignments I’ve received lately.

Your guess is as good as mine...
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Minor spelling error...big difference!
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BASE
So Gabrielle and I had been trying to find a weekend that we could go visit our friends on base and we thought we finally had one where we could go down on Saturday, spend the whole day, and get back to Seoul. I’d never been to a military base before so I was interested to see what it was like, and we were told they had a pool with some water slides that we were both eager to use. The base is about an hour and a half by subway, or 50 mins by train. The train we wanted to take was sold out, so we figured to save time we’d just take the subway and get there a little before the next train would have. So we hopped on the train, started chatting, of course, and an hour later decided to start paying attention. I looked up the station where we were….and we had gone an hour in the wrong direction! We are smart girls, and this had yet to happen to either of us since we’ve been here, so we were both shocked that we had made such a huge mistake. We had to call our friends and rearrange for the next day. We had a blast, and it actually turned out to be my favorite weekends in Korea to date!

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OTHER
We had both heard about a neighborhood with traditional houses that we wanted to see. The area is called Samcheon-dong and it is a mixture of old and new. The neighborhood where the traditional houses are is just slightly removed from a main road, but so quiet and peaceful! The houses are beautiful too. We didn’t get to see inside one, but we did meet a friendly foreigner who lived there. He said that the house he was living in was built recently and has a traditional outside with a western inside.

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While walking to the neighborhood we saw this random bench called “eating a biscuit together”. We’re hoping it is just a bad translation and the actual name is a little more eloquent!

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Posted by 3ifBySEA 08:34 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Like a Way-gook

by gabrielle

rain 89 °F

I have done a poor job learning Korean; there is no doubt about that. I hear it's easy to learn because there is less grammar and tricky irregularities but it's honestly just so foreign! The fact that the language uses Hangul characters instead of Roman letters is a major deterrent in my opinion that I am having a hard time getting past. I cannot read Korean until I memorize the 24 characters that make up the Hangul alphabet and the flashcards I made have started to collect dust in my apartment. However, there are a few words that I do know and hear often. The first is 외국인 or "waygook" which means "foreigner." We hear this often pretty much everywhere we go: small children pointing us out to their parents, our coworkers on the phone to the bank/anything we need help with or on the subway when people are talking about us right in front of us. The more descriptive term is 미국 or "mee-gook" which means "American." Neither term is particularly nice sounding but we've embraced "waygook" more or less. For example, if we see a non-Korean on the street we will say, "ooh, waygook!" and point them out to each other. Recently, whenever we are doing something crazy like renting a car or laughing without covering our mouths I like to say, "waygooks gone wild!" So we have fun with it I guess. :) Otherwise, at this point, five months in, I can count to 10 and say some key phrases like, "stop here please" or "take out the spam." Impressive, right? Sigh. I have a ways to go but honestly don't have the motivation to put in the effort.

Being a "waygook" in Korea is proving to be harder than I expected. For instance when I went to the doctor the other day to get some meds for yet another sickness I had contracted from the kids and/or pollution the doctor suggested "an injection" to help... well, something and I thought, "Why not?" Before I knew it a nurse that didn't speak any English wheeled in an IV set up, stuck the vein in the back of my hand, started the drip, turned off the light and left! Oh the life of a waygook in Korea... But really, the language barrier is a huge block in the friend making department and that makes me sad. As I have mentioned before, "stranger interaction" is generally non-existent around here. People don't chat in the elevator or the subway or greet people on the street. The drinking culture is lively and fun, but it's hard to find someone who speaks enough English to carry on a conversation and the other foreigners we do meet out at night are often pursuing different objectives. I am a very social person and am so grateful to have connected so well with my coworkers but other than them, I haven't really met many people that have become friends. However...(this will all eventually tie in together)

The last week in July we had our week off for summer vacation and two coworkers and I went to Jeju Island off the southern tip of Korea. The flight only took an hour and then, poof! we were on a tropical island with palm trees and turquoise water! I desperately needed the break and it couldn't have gone any better! Originally we had booked a hostel in the southern part of the island that we thought was conveniently located near the beach, bars/restaurants and attractions but it turned out to be a house-turned-hostel in the middle of nowhere with a lengthy list of rules that could be summed up to; only number ones allowed in the toilet (that everyone shares) and no fun of any kind after 11 pm. We immediately researched our options, hopped back in a cab and payed 3 times the price to stay in a nice big hotel right across the street from the beach with an ocean view, balcony and no curfew. It was totally worth it! Our first night we wandered over to a restaurant right on the water playing live music called, "Sea Blue" which we frequented everyday for the rest of the week. Our waiter the first night turned out to be the owner's son who was raised in the States but came back with his girlfriend (the incredible chef) to help his mother run the place for the summer. We immediately connected with these two as well as the Wayne Newton look-a-like waiter and the Joe Cocker sound-a-like night act. Wayne didn't speak any English at all, and Joe was pretty big on talking into his translator on his phone to communicate but friendships were still formed. It was so nice to be able to talk to people so aware and involved in the Korean culture who are still Americans and can completely relate to us as well. I was thrilled to ask all of my cultural questions without needing to simplify them or worry if they would be considered offensive. Here's the crew:
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And here's Sea Blue:
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And here's a close up of Wayne:
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By the end of the week the three of us kept talking about how much we liked our new friends that we had really bonded with and how we are so sad to be leaving them, even plotting ways to sneak back to the island before they returned home to the States in a few weeks. I realized that the reason we were so emotional about it all is because it's so darn tough to make connections here and now that we had, it was already ending! The point of all that is just to say that it's tougher than I had anticipated to meet people I can communicate with and relate too and I'm bummed. I never thought I would travel to a foreign country and intentionally try to find other waygooks or English speakers rather than locals but that is kind of what it has come to. Swhite and I are looking into some expat sites and blogs to get ideas about upcoming events or classes to take with other foreigners. I'll keep everyone posted on our progress!
Here are some vacation pics!
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Remember K-Pop? The Korean Pop industry with crazy huge boybands? Well it's pretty darn popular around here. I actually just bought some socks that say "I love you" with K-Pop stars' faces on them... anyway this is our FAVE K-Pop song! My friend found the translation as well as the lyrics written out phonetically in Roman letters! Our goal is to memorize it so we can be like all the peeps who don't speak English but can sing along to English songs! This plan was all well and good until we saw the phonetic translation... here's the first verse:

"na ajikdo neoreul jiul su eobseo
jakkujakku niga saenggangna
niga neomu bogo sipeo
bamsae hansumdo jal su eobseo
nae mam changmuneul dudeurineun bissori
niga tteona beorin geujari
neomunado geuriwoseo
bamsae hansumdo jal su eobseo nan"

Maybe I will just stick with the two English lines in the song which is the intro, "yo listen up this is my tragic story just the break in my heart" and the second line of the fourth verse, "why did i turn on this love show." Yeah, that may have to do! Listen to the song/watch the video; I love it!

Check out the video!

Work has been particularly rough lately which to be perfectly honest, sucks! I made the horrible decision of downloading a "Time Left" app on my desktop and phone until "Freedom" or, 6:00pm on the day my contract ends. At the time of writing this sentence I have exactly 7 Months, 0 Days, 21 Hours and 3 Minutes to go! Believe it or not we are having even more communication issues than normal among coworkers. The fact that I received a birthday cake after work today when my birthday is not for two months is a testament to that fact. I felt ridiculous blowing out the candles anyway but hey, we enjoyed the cake! Unfortunately our boss seems completely unconcerned with our collective unhappiness and whether or not our performance or sanity will be affected. Essentially we have extremely undesirable working conditions (cleanliness included), the expectations and objectives are not clear in the slightest and we don't have any support. Wah, wah, wah right? I wish I could stop complaining about it all but I just refuse to accept I will feel this exhausted and unhappy at work for the next 7 months! Ok, rant over, moving on!

On the flip side, one group that continues to bring me joy in spite of all of my frustrations are my darling students! Man, these kids are sure cute! In the last two weeks I got THREE new students which brings my brood of 3-4 year-olds up to 13 (I was told the limit is 12, fyi). All three are pretty darn cool tho: James, Dottie and David T. James has a Korean mom and English dad and lived in London so he has a British accent and it's brilliant! He's quite chatty and I just let him because I love hearing him talk. He even skyped with my sister! Unfortunately he only stayed two weeks and his last day was today due to a family illness but I sure enjoyed him while he was here! My mom wanted to make sure he was featured so here is a pic of him with Crystal on the fieldtrip last Friday and he's the one with fake binoculars on the right in the group pic. Did I mention he said, "she was going bonkers" on his last day in regards to tickling a classmate who was laughing? Perfect!
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I decided to make a few videos of the kids so you all can see the craziness and cuteness and insanity I get to experience everyday. First up is British James. I tried but could not figure out how to rotate the frame, sorry! I think it's because I rotated the camera while recording too. I will just hold it differently next time!

Then I decided to try to get each of my kids to say a little something... Aiden sure knows how to get things started!

My Kid's Say the Darndest Things shout out this post goes to Abigail. She is in the middle age group (4-5 yrs) so I only have her once a week for arts and crafts but we have still managed to bond pretty well. She loves arts and crafts and will ask me every day how many more days or "sleeps" as they sometimes say until she "she has me." She is just an extremely sweet kid with a huge heart and I love her. She has an older and younger brother and talks about them all the time. The other day she was saying how her older brother, Santos is such a good brother because he's 9 and will still sit with her and watch a whole movie. She sealed herself the shout out this month because she continued on to say in one long breath, "I love my brothers Santos and Rafael but I like Santos' name better because my mom calls him Santitos and my older brother and younger brother and me are like twins you wanna know why? because we love each other so much."
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Here are some pics from our tandem bicycle rental with some friends on Sunday:
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And the cool kids we watched play in the fountain afterward:
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Monday the 15th is Korean Independence Day and we have a 3-day weekend! Woo hoo! Swhite and I are headed down to Busan, a beach city with a new coworker of mine tomorrow and it should be super fun! Deets later :)

Posted by 3ifBySEA 07:48 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

Swim Caps and Farts and Tafts

by gabrielle

rain 86 °F

Two Fridays ago we took the kids on their annual "Summer Camp" trip to a resort about an hour and a half south of Seoul. Field trips are chaotic and exhausting anyway but adding water hazards into the mix truly terrified my coworkers and me. However, I am pleased to say the trip was a success and we all survived the 11 hours straight we spent with our little darlings.

The day started off strong with Donte literally rolling into school. His mom FULLY prepared him for anything as you can see by the size of his bag!
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We checked into two hotel-type rooms (there was a kitchenette with a table but no other furniture) and the kids sat on the floor eagerly awaiting their turn to change into their swimsuits.
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Honestly, I thought I had seen it all and thought the kids couldn't possibly get any cuter but I was soooo wrong! Check out these little munchkins in their swim gear!
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Here's Sue the tourist...
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And Tama with the tail...
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These are "The Babies" as we fondly have dubbed them. They are the two year olds who we "teach" three days a week in the classrooms downstairs.
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Can you tell which one of the fellas can't swim??

After everyone was dressed, slathered in sunscreen and ready to rock we paraded down to the lunch room.
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There were plenty of other schools at the resort as well. Most of them took the logical, uniform approach to help keep track of their kids. But not our school! Our kids are too stylish and high maintenance for things like that.
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There was one school that really caught my eye... ALL the kids were wearing the same shirt, had a white star painted on their cheeks and sported tiaras with a pink boa trim! It's just a guess but I assume American dads may not be totally cool with their sons reppin' such a look.
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After lunch we finally headed for the pool. We waited for about 10 minutes under the awning for the rain to stop even though we were all in swimsuits and on our way to the pool. But hey, I'm not in charge! My Korean coworker reminded me that Koreans truly do believe the rain, with all its radiation will kill them. She said the parents would be furious if they found out how much walking in the rain the kids were doing.

Anyway, once we got the the pool the energy level was high among a few of us foreign teachers and we had a blast splashing around in the knee deep water playing with the kids. It was surprisingly easy to keep track of all the little rascals. It probably helped that half of the kids were cold or scared so they stayed on the side with the other teachers.
Here we are planning our approach to the pool.
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And doing a few stretches...
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And then the fun began!
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This is Alan. He's a favorite among all the foreign teachers. He and his twin sister are known for their potato sack-like physique. Alan's ears were also outta control in that swim cap! By the way, the swimcaps are made out of the same material as swimsuits so they don't keep the kids hair dry at all. In fact, I have no idea what purpose they serve...
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After splashing around in the pool for awhile, four of us foreign teachers and a few Korean coworkers got to take some of the brave kids on the big water slide. As my coworker so finely put it, "That was the best 15 minutes I've ever had at work!" Here we are racing down the slide... as you you can, I'm in the lead :)
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The kids look so tiny on the slide! I was proud to have two of my three year old girls participating.
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Notice Nicolas going for the luge style!
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After the slides we ate again, played in paddle boats and a giant slip-n-slide then saw a short 3-D movie.
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I was looking forward to the bus ride back thinking the kids would be so exhausted they would just pass out. But no, our friendly staff/hosts at the resort gave each kid their very own squeaky balloon animal that kept them squealy and excited the whole ride home!
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Aileen was big on sticking the end of her balloon in her nose or mouth. I kept saying "yucky", she kept laughing then guess where she stuck in next? Yup, in my face! Super yucky.
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When the kids got to school Monday morning Soo said, "Teacher, summer camp one more!!" I'm glad they had fun. :)

Rainy season is no joke around here. We had rain for about three weeks straight so I don't have much to talk about in this post except the kids. My "Kids Say the Darndest Things" shout out goes to William. William has one of those super adorable speech impediments where he can't see "c/k" sounds at all. He calls his cubby his tubby. I could easily do a whole post on all the cute things he says but I do have a favorite. During arts and crafts class last week, or "farts and tafts" as William calls it we were making pipe cleaner people. I told the kids to think of a name for their person and William shouted out that he wanted to name his Will. I asked him if that is his nickname or what his parents call him. He didn't even look at me when he responded with 'tude at the apparent ridiculousness of my question and said, "No! They call me Bear Cub!" So here is Bear Cub.... bless him!
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This past weekend Swhite, two coworkers and two other girls and me all went to MudFest. MudFest was in a beach town called Boryeong about 2 and a half hours from the city. The festival started out as a Korean thing about bathing in mud and it being good for the skin but it quickly gained popularity with the foreigner community and is now a big beach party weekend with inflatables and other muddy activities each July. We had a blast getting muddy, making friends, swimming in the ocean, going out dancing and eating veggie chilli dogs! The only downside is that no one brought sunblock because we had been coming from 3 weeks of rain and didn't think we'd need it. Boy were we wrong! A few girls got some pretty burly burns. Nuts!
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When we got back to work on Monday the kids were very concerned and curious about our sunburns...Donte in particular. Let me start off my saying that Donte, now four years old is sort of my boyfriend; possessing both the good and bad qualities a boyfriend may have. For starters, he is very obsessed with my hair. He always wants me to "wear it long" which means down and not in a pony tail or braid. When I do wear it down I can't sit down without him running over to play with it while he tells me how pretty I am. When I wear it up, the first thing he does when he comes into the classroom in the morning is put his hands on his hips and say, "Teacher, I thought I told you to wear your hair long today!" Donte is also quite jealous. As I have mentioned, I love Hugo and play with him often during playtime. In my defense, he kind of clings to me too and is a new student but Donte doesn't see it that way. The other day, out of the blue when I had not recently been with Hugo, Donte asked me, "Teacher, why you love Hugo so much?" Donte is also very proud of me. When I do "wear my hair long" he ups the affection factor and likes to tell the other kids, "my teacher is pretty. Gabrielle is my teacher!" And now, back to the sunburns, Donte is a very concerned "boyfriend." When he saw my pink arms on Monday he asked me what happened and I told him I got sunburned because I didn't have any sunblock on. He told me he didn't like the pink skin and that I shouldn't do that. The next day he came in and said, "You're still kinda sunburned! My momma said don't get sunburned!" I told him I would be smarter next time. Then, when I told him I was going on vacation to the beach the next week he asked, "to get sunburned?" and I said no. Then he said, "well you tell the sun not to burn you no more and if he does, tell him I'm gonna tell my momma!" Donte, Donte, Donte.

So in conclusion, I am thankful to these precious kids for making my job somewhat tolerable. My two coworkers and I are leaving tomorrow for a week at the beach on Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea and I can't wait! Hopefully I'll have some good stories to tell when I get back. :)

Posted by 3ifBySEA 08:21 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

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