Last Post

Well, readers, my Fulbright ETA grant year has officially ended, and I’ll be heading on a plane home tomorrow (actually a total of 3 planes but yeah). My year has been an unforgettable one and one that has really taught me a lot about myself and my motherland. I made lasting friendships and established myself as a teacher my students won’t forget. I wrote around 70 hand-written, individualized letters to students and received letters, rolling papers (large pieces of paper with messages from each class), gifts, hugs, and a surprise party in return!

After making PB&J! I love these girls!

I entered the classroom to find this and all the girls singing a goodbye song

Final Lunch with Students

Patbingsoo with Dong-hee and Yun-seon. My family!

Noraebang (Korean Karaoke) Surprise Farewell Party with 20 students!

As I sit with all my packed luggage beside me, I take not only my belongings and souvenirs that I’ve accumulated over my grant year but also the incredible 정 (jeong) that I’ve felt in Korea. “Jeong” refers to a beautiful amalgam of love, connection, affection, and closeness between people, and is something that makes leaving Korea so difficult. However, I think I believe in this old Korean saying (as told to me by a student): “If there is a meeting, there will be a farewell, but if there is a farewell, there will be a meeting.”

Until we meet again, Korea. 안녕히계세요.

1 Year Anniversary of Being in Korea

Well, it’s officially been 1 year since I first came to Korea. I remember being jet-lagged but shaking with excitement as I arrived at Incheon Airport at 4 o’clock in the morning. I remember that all the ETAs around me on the flight over ended up being my good friends (Neill, Lara, Stephen, Matt). I remember eating bibimbap on the plane with a tiny tube of gochujang and getting super excited for Korean food. I remember thinking that this year was going to be amazing…

…and I was right. Sure, there were ups and downs but with 11 days left in my grant year, I can safely say that coming to Korea on a Fulbright was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I learned an enormous amount about Korea but also about myself and my roots. Even though my birth family never responded, I’m glad that I was able to send them a letter and reassure them that they also made the right decision 25 years ago. If anything, I think this journey in Korea reaffirmed the identity that I have always known and held to be my own.

I’m starting to count down the days ’til July 17th 1and I’ve already said goodbyes to many people who have made this year remarkable. I like to just say, “See you next time.”

Samcheongdong with Esther, Jinhee, and Sarah

Final class with 2-4. Post-PB&J making lesson!

Fruit bingsoo with Anne

Coffee shop with Ju-yeong and Sean

Mihwangsa Templestay

Last Saturday, I met up with Sean and took a bus to Haenam (about 2 hours). We got a great lunch in town (12 banchan!) and then got on a bus to Mihwangsa Temple. The temple’s just as I remember it (see my post from October) – absolutely stunning. All around were reminders of being in nature: a babbling stream, dozens of bird singing, a clean, fresh breeze blowing sometimes with the hint of the ocean, the smell of the jasmine bush. The definition of peaceful.

The temple was built in 749AD but certain buildings burned down and had to be rebuilt 400 years ago. In keeping with traditional Korean architecture, or “hanok,” no nails were used in the construction of the buildings. Every piece of wood fits dovetails perfectly with another to create the strong and secure structures you see above.

The Legend of Mihwangsa: One day, a mysterious stone ship appeared off the coast of the southern tip of Korea. People heard beautiful sounds from the boat, but when they approached the ship to investigate, it receded from the shore. When they gave up and turned their backs to leave, it would come closer. This process repeated for several days. It finally anchored after Buddhist master Eujo Hwasang and 102 other people purified themselves and offered prayers. On the boat were the Lotus Sutra, a Buddhist wall painting, and dozens of statues. After opening a golden box on the ship, they broke open the black rock (I guess it was also on the ship??). A tiny black cow emerged and suddenly grew into a huge cow. That night, Master Euijo Hwasang had a dream in which a man in golden robes said that he was the king of India and told him to place the statues on the back of the cow and build a temple wherever the cow laid down. The cow laid down twice so Tonggyosa temple is built where it fell down first and Mihwangsa where it laid down the second time. The name of the temple means beautiful (Mi) after the unusually pleasing, strangely musical bellow of the cow, and yellow/gold (Hwang) after the golden robes of the main in the dream (“Sa” just denotes a temple).

So, we started our templestay on Saturday at 5pm. Here’s the schedule they gave us. There was a lot of “take a rest”/”take a nice stroll” time in between so it was very peaceful and relaxing. Some templestays are a little intense on following a schedule but Mihwangsa was very chill. It’s a Seon (Zen) Buddhist temple so the main focus is meditation.

5:00PM Instruction on basic temple manners (Here a female monk taught us how to properly perform the 3 bows when entering a Buddhist temple)
6:00 Dinner (amazing vegetables grown right at the temple)
7:00 Yebul (evening chanting inside the main hall followed by walking around the courtyard a few times in silent meditation)
7:30 Tea time with monk (tea engages all of the senses; we had green, white lotus, and yellow flower…maybe 8 cups total!)
10:00 Sleep (I didn’t sleep very well thanks to all the tea…oh well)

4:00AM Wake up (apparently you wake up as early as 3:30 at other temples)
4:20 Yebul (morning chanting similar to evening chanting)
5:00 Meditation (I need to work on this…and my cross-legged sitting posture)
6:30 Breakfast (yummy veggies again!)
7:30 Oolyeok (this is time for Community Work, so basic maintenance of the temple, but because it was raining we just had to clean our rooms)
8:30 Free Time (Sean and I decided to climb to the top of Dolma-san. Gorgeous view of the ocean, islands, and mountain range…So beautiful)

10:00 Yebul (optional chanting without our guide…we were a little confused)
11:30 Lunch (more deliciousness)
12:30 Departure

The total cost for 1 night 2 days is 50,000 won per person, which is about normal I think for a templestay. Although I don’t imagine I’ll be converting any time soon, it was an experience I’m glad I had.

Happy Birthday in Korea!

To be honest, I wasn’t so excited about turning 25. According to the Korean Lunar Calendar, I turned 26, which didn’t make things any better. However, I’ve had one of the best (and longest) birthdays ever.

The festivities started with my students throwing me a surprise birthday party at 9am last Monday, May 30th (only time they could meet). I was tutoring a student in neuroscience when my former student (he’s a 3rd year) told me to come upstairs. I walked into a dark classroom only to find 15 of my favorite students gathered around with a lit cake and balloons singing “Happy Birthday.” I almost cried. I blew out my candles and cut the cake only to then receive a “special Korean tradition” of everyone putting frosting on my face!! I unfortunately didn’t have my camera so no photo evidence, but here’s the giant card they all signed. I also received some personal notes from students as well, which really touched me. I love my students!

And the fun didn’t stop! That weekend, I got LASEK surgery (my present to myself), and on Tuesday, the English teachers sang me Happy Birthday, gave me a sweet potato birthday cake (it’s very popular here) and a Korean cookbook in English so that I continue stuffing my face with amazing Korean cuisine.

On Wednesday (my actual birthday), the English department and I went out for a special chicken lunch. I also received some gifts from my closest teacher friends, Yun-seon and Dong-hee: a bracelet (see second picture below) and soap and socks, respectively. After school, I got a new haircut for $18, which my Korean friends thought was double what it should have been! I told them that a haircut of equal quality in the States would have set me back at least $40-50, and they couldn’t believe it. The best thing about the haircut was that my hairdresser looked like a Korean version of Robert Downey, Jr. In the picture below, I’m holding Sean’s present (a proboscis monkey from Borneo!), drinking a mint chocolate frappe, and sitting at a coffeeshop with the best view of the Mokpo waterfront.

A tradition in Korea is to eat miyeok guk on your birthday. It’s a seaweed soup in either a beef or mussel broth (beef is better). Miyeok guk is typically consumed by women after giving birth since the seaweed contains a lot of nutrients that are important for nursing new mothers. So, it’s eaten as sort of an homage to a person’s first meal. I know it’s not the most appetizing sounding or looking but it’s one of my favorite soups and my homestay mother makes a killer batch of it.

The next day I met up with my fellow ETAs in Mokpo and went to Kirin, my new favorite European bistro & cafe, for a homemade sparkling lemonade. Afterward, we made our way to dinner when I was again surprised by a birthday visit from the ETAs from Naju and Gwangju! We ate soondubu jiggae (spicy, soft tofu stew – another one of my favorites!), got ice cream at Baskin Robbins (it’s really popular and glamorized here for some reason), and took sticker pictures (see outrageous photo below). To finish the night, we took a stroll by the waterfront to catch the nightly performance of the Mokpo Dancing Sea Fountain. What an incredible day…

For the weekend, Sean and I did a templestay at Mihwangsa near the end of the peninsula (see next post!), which was everything I had hoped for. When I got back, my homestay family and I went to a buffet restaurant to celebrate both my and my host mother’s birthdays. After eating ourselves silly, we took a drive throughout Mokpo, and sang Christmas songs. I can’t believe I only have 33 days left with them…

My host mom’s birthday gift to me was a 5-step skincare set with products infused with…placenta. I’m not exactly sure where this placenta came from but it’s very expensive so I shall be rubbing it all over my face every morning and night. If that’s not a gift that perfectly celebrates my birth (or pre-birth, actually) then I don’t know what is!

So, 25 ain’t so bad afterall…

School Festival and Sports Day

The school festival is a time for students and teachers to showcase their talents. I was supposed to sing a song but it’s a proven fact that I can’t sing for beans. I’m not a talent show sort of person so I backed out at the last minute. Some of the students were disappointed (apparently every ETA before me has performed) but…oh well. Anyway, here are some pictures of the student performances:

I couldn’t believe they had a full band and dancers!

So the above girls are actually ALL boys. Pretty good convincing dancers as well!

These girls (with some guys) did a rendition of Grease in Korean.

The next day was Sports Day (no classes again!) where all the students participate in games like basketball, soccer, tug-of-war, arm wrestling, and jump rope (like 10 people together). Best parts about Sports Day? Being able to hang out with my students and getting free ice cream!

Teachers were ready as well…

Finally, here’s a pic of me and some of my favorite students.

Only 53 days left in Korea….

Some Shots of Seoul

Spring in Mokpo: New Homestay & Cherry Blossoms

I recently moved into a new homestay in Mokpo. I will now be living with one of my 1st year students and her family and well, I can’t tell you how happy I am!!!  Let me introduce you to them:

My host parents own and run an organic food (including meat) store called "Natural Farms." Our house/apartment is above it.

Hyo-jin (16)! Shes one of my 1st year students at Yeongheung. She enjoys soondae, dog soup, and dancing.

Hyo-rin (17). She goes to the all-girls school downtown. She enjoys American movies and TV shows with vampires.

Hwa-pyeong (7) and Ju-chan (5). They enjoy this anime about dueling spinning tops and are very enthusiastic with their "Hello!"s.

My bedroom. So spacious.

View from my room

"Welcome, Nora!" I love them already...

Lastly, here are some photos I took of the cherry blossoms in Mokpo. Spring at last!