Saturday, June 30, 2012

Where has the time gone? (Reprise)

Hello again, everyone! Once again, I'm obliged to begin with an apology for my silence. I don't know how it happened, but it appears that I only have a month left in Korea. Oh my.

Back in the fall, I started thinking about this year as being portioned off by significant events. At the time, those were Thanksgiving and Christmas, our trip to Nepal, and my parents' visit in March. As the year went on, other things were added on to the timeline.* We bonded with our classmates on a ridiculous field trip. I broke my wrist and swore off ice skating for a while. We graduated from language school. My roommates' families visited, bringing chocolate and new insight on our lives this year. We each gave a twenty-minute English Chapel sermon for two thousand Hannam University students, many of whom were awake. In May, we got to join PC(USA) mission workers in Asia during an awesometacular gathering in Indonesia. Most recently, our writing teacher got married in a delightful ceremony complete with magic tricks and goofy serenades. With all of these lovely happenings marking the days for me this year, is it any wonder the time has flown?

Looking back on the past 10 months, a few other things have happened that can't be placed neatly on a timeline. Somewhere along the line, I grew to love my students and the coworkers who devote their lives to taking care of them. (I suspect that happened pretty early on.) At some point, I realized that I didn't need to be the best English teacher in the world - perhaps there was something else I could offer. Sometime after that, I grew more comfortable teaching English in front of a classroom. I've become more open to talking about my faith, though I've realized that I have a lot of growing to do in that regard. In many ways this year is just the beginning of a whole lot of growing, and I'm looking forward to the rest.

There are a few things left on the timeline, and with everything we want to fit in I'm sure the time will keep flying. We're marking the last few weeks with our taekwondo black belt test(!!!), one last YAV team retreat, and a whole lot of loose ends to tie up. I've been doing a lot of reflection lately, and I hope to share that with you here eventually as I'm processing this year. In the meantime, I'm also *finally* getting to my ever-expanding photo collection, which will end up here soon. As always, bear with me! I haven't forgotten you ^^

*Look at all the blog posts I could write!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

There's something about Saturday

In all my almost-21 years, Saturday has generally been the best day of the week. While I was a student, the reason was obvious. But now I'm a teacher, and Saturday is still one of my favorite days. And lately, it's not even a day off.

My children's center has programming every Saturday, and I joined the club earlier this year. There's usually a main activity for the day - since I started going, we've celebrated birthdays, had a market day, decorated Easter eggs, and done all kinds of other things. The kids eat lunch there and can stick around until 4 after the big activity is over. Things are pretty relaxed, and I'm really enjoying the chance to hang out with my kids even more. I also learn more about them on Saturdays than I do any other time, and I think it helps me teach better lessons when I know how they all get along with each other.

Enjoying one such Saturday at a festival for Daejeon children's centers.

A few weeks ago, we even had a Saturday lesson with Anna Teacher! No, it wasn't English class... we got to do something I do for fun - cooking! I've been foisting extra baked goods on 법동 for ages, and we finally decided to do something bigger. So I taught food-themed English for a week, culminating in instructions to make pizza. I supplied the dough, 법동 provided the toppings, and the kids brought their creativity to a pizza-making party where they competed to make the most delicious and interesting pizza. They were all delicious, and with traditional Korean ingredients like corn and ham, I'd say they were all pretty interesting too! The kids had fun, the teachers participated too, and I got to share something I love to do with some of my new favorite people.

Putting together a lovely heart-shaped pizza.

Pizza and kimbap, an unexpectedly delicious combination.

Pizza fresh from the oven is way more interesting than
Anna Teacher with a camera.

Cooking class wasn't something I expected coming in here, but "teaching English" this year is hardly confined to worksheets and exercises. One interesting thing about being a foreigner here is that my mere presence encourages people to practice their English. (I imagine this would be annoying if English weren't my native language, but as it stands I think it's pretty fun.) Children will sometimes call out HELLO! and are delighted (or shocked) when I respond. My students have several phrases they use on a regular basis (like "Wow, beautiful!" when something goes well) and they will occasionally point out an object or a color and identify it for me. This sort of practice is really enjoyable, because it's low pressure and very encouraging. I still work hard to teach them during normal classes, but I've come to appreciate that "being" around here is sometimes as effective as "doing" at accomplishing what I'm here for. And as I've felt all my life, Saturday is a really excellent day to just "be."

On another note, I want to thank everyone who has supported me this year! This has been such a great year so far, and it's so hard to believe that I only have three months left in Korea. Coming here was definitely a big step for me, but I knew I wasn't going completely alone. Sharing your unexpected Korea connections, sending prayers, and generally being there for me has been such a great help. My fundraising is also going well - I have about $1200 left to raise by the end of the year, so if you can support me this way it would be greatly appreciated. To give, just click the Support button here or at the top of the page, then "Make A Donation" on that page. Anything you can offer would be wonderful! Thanks again for everything ^^

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Nepal: the last word.

Welcome to the final installment of my series on our trip to Nepal! Now you know more or less where we went and what we did, but there's more to the story than that. In particular, there are a few impressions, stories, and factoids that don't fit prettily into the main narrative, but are important nonetheless. Traveling from Korea added a whole new element to an already exciting trip, making things even more exciting but also occasionally confusing. So here we go! The very last word(s).

Last Word #1: Questions
For a pleasant change of pace, we heard a lot more English in Nepal than we do in Korea. We had plenty of opportunities to chat with people, from shopkeepers to missionaries to curious children on the street. Naturally, one of the questions we got a lot was "Where are you from?" I doubt anyone would believe that we're from Korea, but that's technically where we came from on this trip. The quick answer was the US, of course, but if possible I preferred to say more than that. Korea is my life this year, and simply saying I'm American isn't the whole story these days. We usually ended up looking kind of shifty, then saying America or Korea depending on how long we expected the conversation to be. Perhaps we could have figured out something more eloquent, but it was certainly an interesting problem to have!

Why are these Americans taking this picture? Do I have a story for you!

Last Word #2: Hospitality
One really delightful thing about Nepal was the hospitality we experienced during our trip. I mentioned this briefly in earlier posts, but I want to emphasize it again. While in Kathmandu, we decided to try and find the apartment where Uncle Simon and Haejung Imo lived during their time as missionaries there. We found it, which was so exciting. We immediately started taking "ID pictures," as Uncle Simon calls them, which are pictures of us looking really happy in front of important things. While we were snapping cheesy photos, we saw someone peeking through the window.

Can you see her?

Before we knew it, the owners of the building came out and said hi! They had rented the apartment to Uncle Simon and Haejung Imo, and everyone was so excited to see each other after seven years. They invited us inside to look around - they had done lots of renovating since then - and sat us down for tea and conversation. After reminiscing for a while, we left with the promise that we could all come back any time we were in the area. This sort of welcome happened all over the place, with old friends of the Parks and people we had just met. It was a little silly - "Sure, see you next time I come to Nepal!" but it seemed genuine and I felt very welcome during the whole trip.

The owners were so nice ^^

Last Word #3: Adapting
I was really impressed with how things just kept moving in Nepal - even when everything was stopped. Occasionally, someone will call Bandh, or strike. Everything in Nepal shuts down, including transportation. That's right, everybody walks. Everywhere. For some this means not coming into work for the day, as we learned on our tour of Kathmandu missions. Regardless, it's a stressful interference for many people. Another thing people adapt to these days is electricity, or the sometimes-extended lack thereof. We experienced power outages quite frequently during our trip, and apparently the problem has gotten worse since Simon and Haejung were there. Now, I'm not saying I was happy to experience those things, or that it's exciting to go unexpectedly without transportation or electricity. What I do want to express is how impressive it was how things simply kept going in the face of all that. (It also made me much more curious about the political history of the area. Being in Nepal definitely made me want to learn more things.)

Ordinary traffic conditions. We probably could have walked faster.

A similar road during Bandh. No choice but to walk.

The Very Last Word: Homecoming
After such an amazing experience, I was exhausted and pretty much ready to go home... to Korea. And believe it or not, we had plenty of reminders of "home" during our trip: a North Korean restaurant here, a Korean missionary family there, even some weirdly familiar Korean-style coffee shops. There was a very small-world feeling to the whole trip, emphasized when we saw something Korean in what was generally a very different part of the globe.

Believe it or not, this is in Nepal. They served pretty good coffee, too!

Coming back, this was my second time flying into the Incheon Airport... and  the feeling was very different compared to last September. What had been strange and intimidating a few months before was suddenly familiar and comforting, and it was so good to be back. Our trip to Nepal was a phenomenal experience (in case I haven't made that clear, ha~) but one of my favorite parts was the homecoming. It solidified for me that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be right now, and Korea really is my home. At least for now ^^

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nepal: the Adventure!

Our trip to Nepal wasn't all mission-related, of course. We managed to squeeze in all kinds of good things, enough to satisfy everyone's idea of fun. We wandered, we shopped, we met elephants. We also saw countless breathtaking sights, everything from houses to mountains. It was really easy for everything to seem exciting, because it was! When I signed up for this YAV year, I had no idea I would ever get to do anything like this. The Adventure was by far the most photo-heavy portion of our trip, contributing significantly to our 1500-picture collection. You'll get more than the usual in this post, with the rest in an album at the end.

In the midst of our mission tour of Kathmandu, we stopped at a village that hasn't changed (much) in centuries. Everywhere we looked there was something interesting to see, but by the end of the walk I began to wonder who was doing the real sightseeing - us or the locals. It was a fascinating trip all around, probably for everybody involved. The best part for me was watching women making wool into yarn, and I ended up buying some and making a friend in the process.

The village was a maze of buildings like these. I couldn't find a photo to
do them justice, but it really did feel like a step back in time.

In Nepal, it's pretty normal to have a view like this from your village.

There were groups of women like this all over the village - most of the day
is spent outside. I bought my yarn from the woman who isn't looking at the camera.

Leaving Kathmandu, we wound around mountains and forests and rivers on our way to balmy Chitwan. The drive itself was actually a highlight of the trip for me: hours of beautiful views and lots of time for reflection. While in Chitwan, we did all the touristy things: nature walks, canoe trips, and of course an elephant ride. We saw rhinos and alligators and monkeys, but unfortunately the tigers wouldn't come out to play. Maybe next time? Perhaps it's just as well. Our time in Chitwan was quite relaxing, and it was really nice just to be a goofy tourist for a while.

Goofy tourists photographing each other. Oh, and there's a rhino.

Finished with its bath, the rhino decided to come over and say hi to the
hundred or so tourists on the shore. We decided to flee. Calmly.

A whole family of elephants! Seems like elephant toddlers crave attention, too.

Our herd (parade?) of elephants converged on these two rhinos, who didn't
seem to care too much. They took a nap shortly after this pic was taken.

On a more enriching note, we spent a day at Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. Our tour guide, Raz, was super knowledgeable about pretty much everything. This was true about the whole trip, but was especially appreciated in Lumbini. We learned about Buddha's birth, first steps, and declaration (following which he became an ordinary baby). People from all over the world come to visit this place, and there are temples nearby built by many different countries - even Korea! The history was fascinating, and the whole atmosphere was a welcome respite from the (also-fascinating) chaos of Kathmandu.

The huge Bodhi tree on site. There were monks everywhere,
so naturally we acted like typical tourists.

These colorful prayer flags were all over the place. They're supposed
to promote peace, compassion, and other positive qualities among all people.

The Eternal Peace Flame, with the World Peace Pagoda in the (way-) background.

A closer look at the World Peace Pagoda, erected by Japanese Buddhists.

We ended our trip in Pokhara, which showcased the beauty of this really amazing country. It was pretty touristy, but with good reason. With the Annapurna Range constantly in view, we explored a big shopping and dining area, (of course,) had another canoe ride, and generally took it easy.

The shopkeepers of Nepal (and their wares) were entirely unlike anything
we had ever experienced.

How many people can they fit in one boat?

We didn't stick around to find out! Our valiant canoe captain was 11 years old.

One morning, we got up at way-too-early o'clock and made our way up to a crowded collection of parking lots and cafes, where we were treated to coffee while we waited for the sun to wake up, too. We set up camp with chairs and benches, with a large group of Koreans to our left having taken over an entire rooftop. While we were waiting, we watched dozens of other people head past for even higher ground. What was everybody waiting for that morning? See for yourself:

The Annapurna Range at dawn.

This sight was a truly lovely conclusion to an excellent trip, getting up early and everything. We flew back to Kathmandu that afternoon, getting another mountain view on the way. Getting back to Korea was a surprisingly important part of the whole experience, but that's for another day.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Nepal: the Mission

Hello again! About a month ago, we got home from the K-YAV trip to Nepal. So naturally, I'm writing about it now. 미안합니다!

I tried to journal as thoroughly as possible, and I was successful for much of the trip. Near the end, there were so many things to say that I ended up not writing down any of them. Oops. But between the pictures and the subsequent reflection on this amazing trip, I think I can piece it together for you. I'll start with first impressions (dur) and a reflection on the mission work we witnessed there, and save the rest for later.*

Simply by getting to Nepal, I knew we were in for an adventure. I love traveling, and even getting on the bus out of Daejeon was exciting. Not knowing much about geography (I know, it's bad!) I wasn't entirely sure what we had ahead of us. We crossed a significant portion of China, pausing in Guangzhou for noodles and a passport stamp before finishing the journey. By the time we got to our hotel in Kathmandu, we were exhausted. But exhilarated! But exhausted. And goodness, but we weren't in Korea anymore.

It turns out we kind of did this.

That night, I wrote in my journal: "[Our room] is kind of drafty, the lights flickered, and apparently the toilet doesn't flush. But it's so great! We're in Nepal!!" That pretty much set the tone for the next few days, during which everything was new and shiny and really, really cool. Kathmandu was noisy and crowded, full of beautiful people and places and things. We stayed in a very touristy area, where the shopping and eating and sightseeing were plentiful, but much of our time in Kathmandu was devoted to looking back at how Uncle Simon and Haejung Imo spent their time there as missionaries a few years ago.

Let me tell you, they were seriously busy people during those three years. Our first stop on the old-haunts tour was the United Mission to Nepal, which acts as a support network with a variety of organizations aimed at helping the impoverished of Nepal.

It seemed like a pretty sweet place to work.**

Still in Kathmandu, we visited the Lalitpur Nursing Campus, which happened to be having exams that very afternoon. Getting there was an adventure in itself, but I'll address that soon enough. Even though our contact wasn't there that day, we got a lovely tour and experienced the kind of open hospitality that was a really charming feature of Nepal. (It was also across the street from a North Korean restaurant. Getting super lost Exploring Kathmandu was so interesting!)

Celebration and relief (exhaustion?) upon reaching our destination.

That same day we stopped by the Nick Simons Institute, a now-thriving organization that was just getting started when Uncle Simon was at work. We were given a tour by Dr. Mark Zimmerman, who worked personally with Uncle Simon and continues to lead the organization. This visit was especially interesting because of the work they do there: they took the time to identify a need, and are now providing training for doctors and assistants in rural hospitals.

A typical lunch at NSI includes excellent food and conversation at their rooftop cafeteria.

As a taste of Korean mission work, we visited the Ever Vision School which is supported by Korea Food for the Hungry International. It was definitely an unexpected connection, and seeing Korean in a Nepali school was really entertaining. The Children Development Program supports one child from each family in the area, which in turn benefits the whole family. Once the program is complete there, it will begin again someplace else as the school continues its basic work.

Look closely and you might see a YAV bonding with preschoolers through a window.

Finally, during our subsequent travels we visited the Tansen Hospital where they reconnected with fellow missionaries who were still working towards the same cause. It was amazing to see the places and people with which Simon and Haejung connected in just a few years.

Hospitals still squick me out, but I swear this is from Tansen. What a view!

To wrap things up, I'll share something that's likely to stick with me from Nepal. During our rooftop lunch, Dr. Zimmerman asked me if I was considering future mission work. I was surprised to find myself answering yes! Absolutely! I don't know when or where or how, but the future is pretty vague that way. It reminds me of our YAV slogan, "A year of service for a lifetime of change." I guess the good YAV people *did* try to warn me....

* Coming up: tourism, followed by fun facts, general impressions, and our action-packed return to Korea.
** I'll post a more complete collection of photos soon!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

That's what it's all about!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! While most people are on break these days, we K-YAV types are just getting into things. Our students spend more time at our centers, so we do, too! This is a great opportunity to hang out with our kids more, and our centers are doing all kinds of exciting things to keep the students - and teachers - busy. For the students of Beobdong, what better way to celebrate the break than... English Camp!

This, I understand, is a rare opportunity. The center has had summer English Camp, or 영어 켐프 "Yeong-O Camp," but never with the benefit of a native English speaker. It's still strange to me that Native English is a valuable skill, but I was really excited to help out however I could. Thankfully, Myeong-Ju Unni, the director's daughter, was in charge. I may know how to speak English, but I'm still a far cry from teaching it with any real skill. The camp was 3 days long, with a wide variety of activities to get the kids playing with English. The kids were divided into teams, competing for fake dollars to be used at the marketplace on the last day. Phonics lessons were reinforced with Bingo games, vocab with charades. They had cooking lessons, trips to the pharmacy (really), and music class.

As you probably know, I have never been very musical. I quit violin when we had to start private lessons, and I was probably the best lip-sync-er in the Cherub Choir at church. Nevertheless, I was put in charge of planning and leading music class. My first reaction was that of mild terror, but it really got better from there. (I was also not alone - having co-teachers is great!) We learned two classic songs during camp: the Hokey Pokey, and Old McDonald. The singing was a little unorthodox with lyrics such as "everybody MOO MOO" (everybody WAS mooing...) - but the kids got super into the music. One of my greatest triumphs was seeing the surly kid dubbed "Tiny Old Man," grooving to the Hokey Pokey. (He denied it later, but I have evidence.) My students populated Old McDonald's farm with their classmates ("with a noona here and a noona there!") and those songs are still stuck in my head. All together, a great success.

They're doing the Hokey Pokey, I swear. Tiny Old Man is wearing the red belt.

 My second project was to prepare the cooking lesson. Each team had a recipe for sandwiches and hot chocolate, with specific instructions they would follow to get more points. I built for them a ham sandwich with cheese, lettuce, mayo... but what if they don't like mayo? We should add jam so the kids will actually eat the sandwiches. Jam? Did I hear that right? Does "jam" mean the same in Korean? Yep. I don't know if I'll ever do it again, but that ham, cheese, and jam sandwich was pretty darn tasty. The kids thought so, too, and I was reminded not to be so critical when things don't look "normal" to me. Who knew sandwiches could be so eye-opening?

Hard at work, making cheese-lettuce-mayo-jam sandwiches.

Another fun station was the pharmacy, which provided Jelly Belly "medicine" as a small reward for doing well during the lessons. The kids also reviewed their colors, and had to describe their requests. In preparation, we sorted two tubs of Jelly Belly by flavor, a task that was strangely relaxing. I happen to love the beans, so I'm proud of myself for leaving some for the kids! It was also a nice chance to get to know the other volunteers, Reverend Kim's granddaughters, both fairly close to my age. The kids went nuts for the pharmacy and they came back for more on Market Day.

Which of the 7 light-oranges did you mean?

What a Market Day it was! The kids were all loaded by the evening of the last day, and there were plenty of opportunities to blow that cash. They bought dinner, stationery, toys, accessories, and snacks. As is the case in the best markets, they had to haggle: sing an English song, and maybe I'll knock down the price. (You do the hokey pokey and you... turp yamerp amutter? I don't think so!) Most importantly, it was clear that the kids had fun. They felt pretty good about their English, too, as well they should.

I want to keep things up now that things are back to normal, especially since Korean class is over and I have more time on my hands. I'm also going to Beobdong more now: every Wednesday, I spend the afternoon with the kids without the pressure of class. I'm excited about this new routine, and English Camp was an excellent start to the rest of my time here. I'll have more stories soon!

 More highlights from camp:

Doesn't every Hokey Pokey end in a brawl?

Our cat, singing his heart out. Or cursing my stupid camera.

Vocab charades!

The snack market. Look at those prices!

Surprisingly scrumptious star-shaped sandwiches.


Ta-da! Job well done, guys.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Are you ok? (part 2)

Long story short, the answer is still yes!

I found out about Kim Jong-Il's death over Facebook, when a concerned and curious friend wanted to know how people were reacting in South Korea. Surprisingly, that's still not a question I can answer.

There was talk about the news at work on Monday--some of the kids had heard things. Something about "leader," something about "dead."

In the middle of one of my lessons, my kids got really hyped up. They apparently had a distressing "realization" about the subject of this news.

"Teacher! Obama! Obama!"

Thankfully another teacher was able to explain things, but that got me wondering: what will that day look like from a few years in the future? How will those kids remember it, if at all? What about the other teachers, other average Korean adults? How will we remember it? I suppose I have to wait to find out. Until then, I'll be paying more attention to how people in this country are thinking, feeling, behaving. Right now, everything seems normal on this college campus.

I'll let you know if anything changes, but for now rest assured that things are continuing as usual over here. Now  back to studying for finals!