20 December 2009

A Korean Christmas

I felt a bit like Santa today. We've been testing the students for the last few weeks, and today's test was on Lesson 8.

Kelly Teacher: What do you want for Christmas?
Student: I want a ________.
(cell phone, touch phone, iPhone, mp3, mp4, Wii, etc -- you know, "normal" presents for Korean kiddos)

Kelly Teacher: How much is it?
Student: It's ______ won.

Seems appropriate to wear a Santa hat tomorrow during the test, right? I'll try to get my co-teacher to sneak a photo.

The Christmas season in Korea has felt fairly normal, despite of the lack of eggnog, peppermint mochas, and Caucasian Santa Clauses. I've received wonderful care packages full of delightful American delicacies (Mom's homemade power bars, Hot Tamales, REESE'S PEANUT BUTTER CUPS, beef jerky, etc). I managed to get my hands on a 4ft Christmas tree, some ornaments and some lights, and now I never want to leave my apartment. It's absolutely freezing, all of Seoul is lit up like a Christmas tree, materialism in the markets abounds, and I've even seen snow a few times.

If I've learned anything in my time here, it's that Korean's don't do anything halfway.

Case in point: This is a picture of a Christmas store. It is packed so full, you can hardly walk down the narrow excuse for an aisle.

And I loved every minute of it.

Last weekend, we celebrated Christmas at Kim and Todd's place.

We had an old fashioned Christmas party. We wore plaid and/or ugly Christmas sweaters (Simon wore his Santa suit), ate pot roast, drank hot cocoa, sang Christmas carols, and watched Christmas movies.

But the best part of Christmas in Korea came earlier that day.

Katie and Charissa.
For the last two months,
they've been stalkin' and talkin' to ALL our families,
getting the low down on Christmas traditions
and asking for holiday letters.

On Sunday afternoon, at their instruction, we convened at my place. We entered into a candle-lit room and were immediately greeted by soothing Christmas classics from Frank, Etta, and Bing. The tree was lit and nine stockings proudly displayed each of our names. For the next two hours, wine and tears flowed as we took turns opening our letters and reading them aloud, and digging through our stockings, laughing together at small inside jokes that were waiting inside. We may all be away from our mothers, brothers, fathers and sisters, but we most certainly are not lacking family this Christmas. We're just a few days away now -- some gals have flown back home, others will stay, and some have even decided to come to Thailand with me at the end of the week.

All I know is I've never been happier in my life.

Family Photo
Christmas 2009
Seoul, South Korea

19 November 2009

After School Class

Meet Ralphie. He's twelve.

He is one of my 750+ students. We also see each other after school for English Class.

Most days, I don't think he likes me. Most days, I think he's making fun of me to the other boys in the after school class. Most days, he just simply pisses me off.

But TODAY, Ralphie made my day. The 5th grade students made "mini-books" this week to practice using past tense verbs. "What did you do on Sunday, Monday, etc etc" They had to write a sentence and draw a picture. Most students wrote things like "I went to church/I went to school/I studied English/I played baseball/I ate lunch/I watched a movie/etc etc," using the simple, easy verbs we've been studying.

Here's what my creative, devious little Ralphie came up with:

Sunday: I killed a rabbit. Monday: I baked a rabbit.

Tuesday: I ate the rabbit.

Friday: I made rabbit for jaket.

Saturday: I wore rabbit for jaket.

Gahhh hahah I still can't stop laughing. AND CHECK OUT THE DETAILED PICTURES. I love the serious face he's making in these photos. He's so into himself. Little boys are little boys no matter what country you're in, eh?

Meet Tom (left) and Jason.

Any of you that have skyped with me while I'm at school have undoubtedly met Jason. A sweet, sensitive, bright, witty young dude. He's my favorite. And that's saying a lot, considering I have 750+ kiddos to choose from.

Meet my shadow:

Joy, Mary, Sally.

These little girls follow me around EVERRYYYWHEERREEE. I love it. Can't get enough of em'. Their English isn't very good but they try SO HARD to talk to me. You can tell they want SO BADLY to be liked by me... ah, such a blessing, I love lovin on these three.

Mary is so stinkin cute. Her English needs some work, as evidenced by this worksheet... don't worry, I'm all over it.

Joy is an artist. She's trying to tell me that she saw me that morning on the way to school. But she couldn't figure out how to say it, and I wasn't understanding the usual game of charades, so she drew a picture. Such is my life.

And last, meet Ellen. Ellen is a beautiful, beautiful soul. We had a significant bonding moment last week that still warms my heart: she came to class after school crying, and she didn't know how to tell me what was wrong in English, so I just held her. And no words were needed. The next class she brought me a gift with a note that said "Happy day. I love you! Ellen."

I like to play games with them. Their lives are too serious, going to school from 8am-6 or 7 or 8pm. Or 10pm. Yikes. So my goal as their teacher? I just try and create a space for them to relax and have fun for one hour in their hectic day.

This week, during one of our after school classes, we listened to Korean Pop music (oh it's the WORST... and yet, it's the BEST... it's complicated... it's growing on me... I'm assimilating into the culture... uh oh, Kelly's gonna be a little more Asian when she comes back home...) during class. Ralphie was singing along. It was pretty funny, he knew all the words.

Gotta love Daniel, the goofy (literally) lookin kid in maroon (I know, I'm so bad). I think Daniel has some sort of speech impediment because he literally CAN'T talk right. Which is why he's looking at the camera, knowing that I'm filming without Ralphie knowing, but he doesn't say anything.

Ooooh my life is so funny to me. I'm an English teacher in Korea.

Nuf' said.

05 October 2009


Last weekend Korea celebrated Chuseok. Occurring annually during the harvest season, it is a time Korean families take to to thank their ancestors for providing them for rice, fruit, etc -- basically a celebration of family and other blessings in life. Same idea as Thanksgiving.

I spent my time off lounging around on the shores of the South China Sea. One night, in the spirit of the holiday, we sat around the grill cooking dinner and shared what we were grateful for. I've since returned from the camping trip, and I can't stop thinking about those things... so I've decided to share them with you.

I am grateful to have a job. Some days I love it, but most days I just laugh and wonder what in the world am I doing teaching English? I've struggled with the disconnect between things I am passionate about and what I'm actually doing -- and yet, I am just so grateful to say that I have I job.

I am grateful for the peace of Korea. It did not take me long to realize that there is a very significant and obvious absence of violence in this country. Those that know some of what I've seen and experienced the last two years doing anti-trafficking work may be able to appreciate how healing peace is for my heart. Out of all the countries I could have landed in, I am grateful that I landed on this small little peninsula in northeast Asia.


is so

I am grateful for grace in transition. I know I've been painting a pretty picture for everyone back home -- and don't get me wrong, the beauty of living and working in Korea is unparalleled -- but the adjustment has been pretty hard. I'm still riding the emotional roller coaster of transition and culture shock, sometimes daily. I just keep reminding myself: not only am I adjusting to a new country, a new culture, language, cuisine, people, etc etc, but I'm also in the middle of what my mentor Tamara calls "the biggest transition of your life" -- life after college. To all my dear friends who graduate in the spring: buckle in, because the transition is crazy. And no one can tell you what it's like because your experience of it will be unique to you. But I am grateful, as you will be, that grace abounds -- especially in seasons of transition.

And I am grateful for the tangible demonstrations of this grace:

I am grateful for my school, Eunhaeng Elementary School. I am grateful for my co-teachers. I am grateful that the principal is never around (thus, never on my back about anything). I am grateful that I only teach three lessons per week. It is SO easy to get stuck with an awful workplace while teaching English abroad. I didn't.

I am grateful for my apartment. Many teachers get stuck in rooms smaller than a dorm room. My living space has been nicknamed "the mansion" by my friends. Enough said.

And OH MY I am so grateful for those friends. The gals who sat around that grill with me last weekend. The gals with whom I wine and dine on Wednesday evenings. Whitney, Katie, Tayla, Charissa, Kelsey, Mindy, and Anna. They have been the most consistent demonstration of grace since I arrived here, and every day I am humbled by the singleness of heart that we all seem to share.

I am grateful for community. For the fathers and mothers, the 20-somethings, the children, the grandparents I've met here. I am grateful for laughter, for adventures, for people who are seeking to grow during their time in Korea. I have spent the last six weeks watching a hodgepodge group of people slowly come together, and look forward to what will unfold in the coming months.

I am grateful for Kim. She loves to spend time with us younger gals while Todd teaches. She dines with us on Wendesday's. She meets us at Butterfingers for breakfast on the weekend. She hangs with us whenever we have a day off. She and Todd also happen to have two of the most beautiful children on the planet. But I am especially grateful for Kim because of the friend and mentor she is becoming as she and I meet once a week to share life together in a more intentional way. Having a mentor here was so far off my radar that I didn't even think to pray for one... suffice it to say Kim has been one of the more poignant demonstrations of the tangible grace that is dripping from all areas of my life in Korea.

What about you? I want us to share our gratitude. Send me an email, or comment on this post.

In spite of and in light of all that is happening in the world around us, we all have much to be grateful for. This Sunday we are celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving. In another month, we will celebrate American Thanksgiving. In every culture, this holiday is a communal event. The community with whom I will share Thanksgiving this year has decided to celebrate our gratitude each time we gather for this special meal.

As you approach this holiday, I hope you find yourself pondering the many tangible demonstrations of grace in your life. And most importantly, I hope you are quick to share and celebrate your gratitude with loved ones at your thanksgiving meal.

And just because I know you all love pictures and videos, here was "An Afternoon at the The Great Wall of Suwon," the last leg of my epic Chuseok weekend.

p.s. Did you know you can click on the pictures to make them bigger?

20 September 2009

One Month? Really?

I had octopus soup for lunch today. Again. One month ago, on my FIRST DAY, we had octopus soup. Nothing says "Welcome to our school!" like chewy purple tentacles...

But it wasn't so bad the second time around. I actually ate the octopus this time, didn't gag, and flushed it down with some kimchi. I think I'm growing out of my culture shock. I actually like kimchi now, I can down octopus soup like a champ, and I stopped bringing snacks to school for fear of what they would serve for lunch.

Oh wait -- I forgot about the pig intestines. That was "lunch" my second day at school. Day 1 = octopus soup. Day 2 = pig intestines. Can you imagine how much I was dreading Day 3?? Ahh! What have I gotten myself into?! I'm going to starve here! But Day 3 was curry and the menu has been bearable ever since.

Much has happened since I last blogged. I had my first visit from home. I had orientation/training. I spent a weekend farming in a rural part of Korea. I saw my first dog farm. I've fought against spiders and fleas in my apartment (stupid fleas won't leave). I've had sleepovers on the roof with the gals and breakfast every Saturday morning at an American pancake joint, Butterfingers. I've been teaching over 700 students a week. Then I got sick. But I bought Korean sinus medicine for a whopping $1.50USD (universal health care is glorious) and got better OVERNIGHT. No joke. Koreans don't mess around. This weekend is Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and I have a 5 day weekend. We're going to go camping on the beach.

Enjoy the pics, videos, and stories!

I am of the impression that friendly faces in a foreign land are ranked among the most beautiful and cherished gifts of life.

My dear friend and former roommate came to visit. Lindsey is actually the reason I'm in Korea. Last November she decided to come teach here, but then she ended up staying in Seattle and I'M the one living and working in Asia. Life has a funny sense of humor.

She was only here for six days, but how I treasured our time together! We traveled around Seoul, visiting all the hot spots. We got lost on buses. We ate weird food. She got to experience what my day-to-day life is like in Korea. But the thing I treasure most is the time we had to TALK. I've been going through a very intense period of transition and adjustment, and being able to externally process it for the first time was an indescribable gift.

My favorite moment from her trip:

The guy on my left became my new boyfriend within 2 minutes of our initial meeting.

The guy on Lindsey's right just kept saying "I love you. I love you," while trying to get a hug.

Let me explain. These guys work at a candy stand, making homemade, fresh Korean candy. These stands are all over the city. My Aunt Holly actually told me about this stuff before I left, emphatically telling me that I just HAD to find this stuff and try it.

She wasn't kidding.

I have a hilarious video of them making the candy, but it's not loading right now. Here are a few others for you to enjoy!

Then there are rooftop sleepovers with breakfast the morning after.

And cultural drum dances to start orientation, as well as a photo of some of the other elementary public school teachers in my area.

And finally, farming in rural Korea.

I spent the weekend pruning tomatoes, kickin it with some awesome Korean college students...

... and stumbling across my first dog farm. Hundreds and hundreds of cages full of dogs, all of which will end up on someone's plate at a restaurant. And the worst part? I got closer look at the dogs, and I'm about 80% sure they were Rhodegian Ridgebacks. My aunt has TWO Rhodegian Ridgebacks... as pets. I took a picture of a few in the cage, but I don't think I'll post it. Reminds me too much of Cooper and Sophie... sorry Aunt Holly. Gotta love those cultural differences :)

Well folks, that's all for now. As you can see, I've been keeping busy! I'll be sure to send another update soon.