Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring...and Summer


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June 9th 2007
Published: June 9th 2007
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Musicians in traditional dress at Yeosu's annual Turtle Ship Festival.
Bonus points for those who get the allusion in my entry title. I couldn't help it, because the circle I've made thus far from July to June has made me think of the title of the Korean film (which, sadly, I have yet to see but I hear is pretty good) called Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring. My life here has come full circle. And it definitely feels like it.

Except that things are different this summer. I'm not bewildered. I'm not afraid to go to the convenience store and buy something-- worried about all that I won't understand, worried about embarrassing myself, worried about being just another foreigner who bungles on all the things Romans are supposed to do while in Rome.

This summer, I don't feel like just another visitor--I feel like I'm somewhere where I belong, a place where I know the code (or at least some of it), a place that has become a home to me. A place where, instead of seeing strange faces everywhere, I know I can find the faces and smiles and open arms of the people I love-- my host family, my students, my fellow teachers, and my friends.
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Dancers in traditional dress for a fan dance at Yeosu's annual Turtle Ship Festival parade.
Sure, I've been humbled along the way--I've made my fair share of blunders and have had to depend on people (especially in the beginning) for ridiculously simple things. Well, in the beginning, I had to rely on people to help me with basically everything.

But what am I doing, talking like I'm leaving next week. I still have two months, right? Which is the case-- I leave in August-- but school finishes July 13. After that, I go teach at a Fulbright English Camp (for Korean students) for two weeks. Then, back home with a planned departure date of August 10. I will have been in Korea for 1 year, 1 month, and 3 days. Not counting, of course, the 13 days I was in America or the 5 days I was in Japan. Let's not be sticklers, here. One year in a new place with great adventures, a great job, and great people-- it's going to be a sad, sad thing to leave.

But, again, two more months! No need to cry yet!

So, it's been awhile since I've given any updates on the everyday parts of my life here, so I figured I should do
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Dancers in traditional dress for a fan dance at Yeosu's annual Turtle Ship Festival parade.
a HUGE update. Well, or at least cover as much as I can that I think I've left out the last month or two. So, that's what I'm going to try to do.

Sam Hye Won
First of all, Sam Hye Won, the orphanage where I volunteer. I may've mentioned awhile back that I went to their Sports' Day. I finally have pics to put up. The kids are so cute. I love them all. The cool thing about kids is that they give their love so freely. So, even though these kids could hardly speak to me (I did try to use my Korean), they still held my hand or snuggled up with me on the bench or invited me to play. I'm really lucky to be volunteering there. Before, I was teaching them how to read, mostly. But now I'm also introducing some more conversational stuff and vocab. It's a little hard for me to teach elementary school kids. I'm not used to it. But, like I said, kids are great. So it's a joy to work with them.

Sports' Day
Maybe I mentioned Sports' Day at my school, but I think I might've forgotten. Anyway,
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Ajumma and ajushi waiting for the drummers to start
in April, we had Sports' Day at my school. It was a full day of my students playing sports and competing against each others' classes-- volleyball, pigoo (a kind of Korean dodgeball that's way fun), tug of war, running races, and some other games. Plus, there was this introduction where all the students marched in with their classes and did like a dance/cheer thing for the teachers. It was really fun, even though I didn't understand much of the Korean they shouted. So, I'm posting some pictures of that, too.

School Picnic
So, around the same time as Sports' Day, my school also had the school picnic. It was almost identical to last year's picnic--we went to Odongdo, ate sashimi (raw fish), hung out with teachers, and also hung out with students. The most notable event of this day was the water gun fight I had with a handful of the third-year students. One of them came up to me with a watergun (after everyone ate) and said, "Teacher. Water gun play?" I asked them where they bought the guns. They pointed to a souvenier shop nearby, and it was on. I don't think they expected me to actually
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Drummers at the festival
buy one. But, as the resident young, "cool" teacher (whether I am or not, I think they'd come ask me to play with them before they asked someone older than me--making me the "cool" teacher ;-)), I had to take the challenge. Besides which, it was a hot day, and it seemed like fun. Which it was. I got a little wet though. Okay, soaked, but that was only at the end! I made a pretty good showing the rest of the time and enjoyed harassing my students in general. I'm sure they enjoyed harassing me back.

Teachers' Day
Yes, in Korea, there is a holiday called "Teachers' Day." So, it's pretty cool to be a teacher in Korea! And it's not even one of those holidays like in America where they say it's a holiday but no one even cares or pays attention. We actually got half of the day off! And, my students gave me cake, cards, flowers, and other goodies. And there was a ceremony at school! I need to import this holiday into America!

School Festival
In America, well, at least in my high school, we had a few mid-sized assemblies throughout the year,
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Boats at the seashore at the festival (this is nothing special for the festival, it's just that the festival was along the waterfront, so I figured I'd take a picture)
some emphasizing student talent, others to raise school spirit, etc. But, here in Korea, it seems like there's one big "assembly" each year-- which is actually the school festival. We took a whole day for students and others to perform, play games, and do all sorts of other fun things!

For better or worse, as one of the representative foreign teachers at my school, I played a part in this festival. At the beginning, everyone gathered together (the festival was outside, and they had a stage setup as well as a tonload of chairs and a bunch of booths for food and stuff) and sat, waiting for the opening ceremony. A bunch of important people said a bunch of important things in Korean. Then, along with the other foreign teacher, it was my turn to speak.

All of the students had helium balloons in their hands--one each. As a school tradition, the students let the balloons go at the beginning of each festival. This year, it was the other foreign teacher's and my job to give the command and tell them why we were letting the balloons go (our speech roughly went that we all have balloons, and
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Boats at the seashore at the festival
we have to put our dreams and wishes in these balloons, send them to the sky, and hope and work hard, and then those dreams and wishes will come true). However, there was a hitch--the other foreign teacher was to speak in English, and I was to speak in Korean. Yes, Korean. My first reaction when my co-teacher told me this was, "You're kidding, right?" But then I went to work. First, I translated last year's balloon-letting-go speech from Korean to English. Then, I simplified it, and translated it back to Korean. I gave the other foreign teacher the English version, and then, I memorized the Korean version. Yes, memorized. Fortunately, on stage, I had a cheat card with me and reverted to it when I became deathly afraid of making a fool out of myself on stage.

Well, needless to say, the balloon releasing went off without a hitch. The students were surprised at my Korean at first, I think, but some of them already knew that I'd been studying and knew more than I let on in class (my biggest problem these days is a small vocabulary and some other grammar things I haven't learned yet but
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Outside of a palace
can work around). I only messed up once, that I recall, and didn't really stumble over the words at all. Who knows how my pronunciation was, but my students told me I did a good job, that my accent was good, and that "Miss Alexis, you have a sexy Korean voice." I thanked them.

However, that wasn't the only role I played in the school festival. I was also asked to sing a song during the night show (the festival went from 9 a.m. to about 9:30 p.m.). At first, I'd chosen a song I knew pretty well, but then my host sister insisted that I sing one that the students would know. So, we searched the internet for a few hours at least (like, two days before the festival) until we both settled on Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You"-- not the easiest song in the world, but my host sister was right--all the students knew it.

Anyway, the rest of the festival during the day went well. Each homeroom class did a dance or song or skit or both and were judged against each other by teachers. My personal favorite was the class that did
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Outside of a palace
the song and dance to the "Do-Re-Mi" song from Sound of Music, including one student who played Maria and 7 students or so who played the kids--complete with the roll call where the students step forward and yell their names. It was so incredibly funny and adorable. And the girl who sang Maria's part had a great voice and great English accent. It was definitely the most creative and entertaining of the day, and it was actually that class that won the competition! My other favorites included: the class that did a parody of a series of Korean commericals and the class that did a parody of a bunch of Korean TV shows. Really fun stuff. It made me happy to understand what they were imitating sometimes, too.

So, the nighttime came, and all the students who auditioned earlier (like the week before) and made the cut got to do dances, skits, sing, etc. It was really cool to see how talented some of my students are! There are particularly some funny students. And a couple really good dancers, too. And the emcees were also great. One in particular, Yu Sera (also the school president) is hilarious and really
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Outside of a palace
popular. During downtime (while a band was setting up), she did imitations of various teachers--and guessing by the kids' and teachers' laughter, she was right on. This was, of course, after doing imitations of Korean stars. But she cracked me up, too. She's really made to be on the stage.

As for my performance, it went well enough. Like I said, the song's a difficult one, but it was fun, and the students cheered so much when I went on stage and started singing, I really thought I was a star. They all held their cell phones up (the equivalent of waving lighters these days), and belted out the chorus with me. It's great to feel loved. Then, when I was done, the emcee asked me if I had any special talents. And, as pre-arranged, I said, "Yes--beatboxing." To which the students went crazy again. So I started beatboxing for a little, finished with a crash cymbal sound, and received some more cheering. I love my students!

So, it was a great time, overall. A really exciting thing, and a great way to see my students outside of the classroom! Woot!

Other Visitors
So, I've had another
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Outside of a palace
couple visitors since last mention. My friend Chris came to visit for the Turtle Ship Festival, which seems like forever ago now. Anyway, we had a great time, hung out in Yeosu, and enjoyed some fireworks and other cool festivities.

Then, last weekend, my friend Melinda came to visit again. We were going to island hopping, but the sea weather was supposed to be bad, so we decided to stay in Yeosu, along with my other Fulbright friend in Yeosu, Colleen. So, I had a mini-vacation in my own city! We all stayed in a motel together (sleepover!), watched DVDs at the DVD-bang (a room where you watch DVDs in a private room with couches and a big screen TV and huge speakers), went to Odongdo Island (a kind of park here), and the island just between my house and Yeosu proper (mostly fishermen and picnickers go there). Anyway, it was relaxing, and great to have people to talk to in fluent English.

Social Life
Beyond that, since I last talked about everyday things, I've gone to a few dinners with some teachers, including the English teachers and the teachers who sit in my group of desks in the teachers' office. I've been going to English Bible study lately, which has been a nice addition to my Mondays, I've met with some students here and there to have "free talking" and have some fun, and even had a slumber party at my friend Jackie's apartment. Also, I've been teaching a teachers' English class (teaching English to three other teachers), so I've been getting some more socializing for that, too. Then, not to mention hanging out with my host family when I get the chance. So, it's been pretty busy lately, but fun!

Final Updates

I've been offered live octopus two times in the past two months. I never came close to it last semester. It's been the only Korean food I've absolutely refused.
My favorite winter snack foods have disappeared-- boongabbang (sweet, red-bean filled pastry sold on the streets and also at my host family's store) and hoddeok (a sugar-filled pancake-type sweet). I miss them, but their absence reminds me of two things: summer is here (and I like summer) AND it's now officially patbingsu season!
I officially got a position in "Camp Fulbright," an English immersion camp run by Fulbright in Chuncheon (where I had my orientation). Talk about coming full circle. Anyway, I'm busy making plans for that while simultaneously planning my last few lessons (sniffle, sniffle) for my high school students.
I went to Daegu again to help my friend Susie with an English day camp at her middle school. It was a lot of fun with some creative projects and a small number of students, but it was only a short stay, so I couldn't see my other friend in Daegu. But it was nice to work with a different grade level and see my friend's new homestay (she lives on a cow farm!).


Well, that's about it. Life is good. Summer is here. Rainy season's on its way.

So, there's my massive update. Until next time...


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One of the old gates for Seoul's city walls. And there's my mascot in front of it! (Yes, I normally don't take pics with Cocky... but I was asked to do it by my friends at the Study Abroad Office... really, I promise...)
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Students ready to process in at Jungang Girls' High School. This all takes place on our "field," which, like so many other "sports fields" in Korea (and unlike most schools in America), has no grass.
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Sports' Day

Some of the students in my second year class (including my host sister, second from the right) doing their opening cheer.
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Opening ceremony
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Opening ceremony


11th June 2007

howdy!
Great update, Al! Love to hear about your experiences, particularly with respect to your day-to-day life. Keep em' coming!

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