Chuseok

I have just returned home from Chuseok, and though my body has not fully recovered, I am left with one million amazing memories after the long weekend. Chuseok is Korean Thanksgiving, which I spent relaxing on the beach and exploring Busan with some great friends. Though I currently have no voice, a tired body, and a sore right arm, I would describe the weekend with one word: perfect.

I arrived in Busan around 10 am on Saturday morning. Though we were told by many that Chuseok traffic would be crazy, we were able to make it to Busan in about 45 minutes by bus. Our hostel was a very short walk from Haeundae beach, which is the most popular beach in South Korea. It is beautiful and clean, and the water is freezing cold. Once we were settled in, we ate lunch at a Canadian sports bar. After my first Bloody Mary in a month and some free shots, we made our way to the beach. We played Korean drinking games and bonded over the beautiful view.

After a Japanese dinner and a couple (or more) bottles of soju, I found myself sitting on a beach, wearing a glowing pink hair bow, watching my friends join in the Korean tradition of lighting off fireworks to celebrate Chuseok. We continued to adventure to a few different bars making many new friends along the way. The best part of the night, however, came at about 2:30 am. As I walked back to the beach from a nearby bar, I came across a cat, a rabbit, 2 hedgehogs and a pig. These animals were just hanging out near a tree just off the beach. Of course, I played with them for what seemed like hours as a new Korean friend taught me the word for each of the animals, all of which I quickly forgot.

Saturday morning we ventured out to Gamcheon Cultural village. Though I was tired (and a bit hungover) this was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The village was previously a site for refugees during the Korean War. In 2009, the South Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism turned the village into a creative community. The small concrete buildings were painted bright colors and the street was covered in graffiti. It was humbling to see something that was once so dark turned into something beautiful.

Saturday afternoon was spent eating street food and relaxing on the beach. Just so you know, Korean corn dogs are way better than American corn dogs. Of course, we went out Saturday night. I had Mexican food for the first time in a month, which was life-changing. It was no Amigos, but you take what you can get. After a drink in a bag, some beach bonding time, and a night that can only be described as chaotic, I returned to our hostel only to find we were locked out. We sat on the steps til about 5 am, and only after help from a nearby restaurant owner, a random Korean man, and a few police officers, we were able to get in.

The weekend was crazy. It was thrilling and overwhelming and tiring. But more than that, it was perfect.  By Monday I found myself ready to return to my little yellow apartment in Onsan. After a long weekend with great friends, many drinks, and a few too many adventures, I was ready to be home. I am so thankful for the new people I’ve met, the ways that we’ve bonded, and the memories we’ve already shared. But more than anything, this Korean Thanksgiving, I am Thankful that my little yellow apartment is really beginning to feel like a home.

Adultish

The early twenties transition from college to real life is a very scary thing. My friend group spent the majority of our last year of college ignoring the inevitable end of what we thought was the best time of our lives. Though living in the land of $5 All-You-Can-Drink night was fun while it lasted, by the end I was ready for a new adventure. I was ready to feel like a little more of a grown up. When I drove away from Maryville for the last time, knowing that I would most likely never go back, I focused more  on the adventure waiting in my future than the Mug Nights I would be missing. This outlook made my transition a little less painful. But I continually find that the second I complete some task that makes me feel like a real adult, there is always something that quickly reminds me that I am not quite there yet. I am adultish.

Last Saturday night I was at one of the few foreigner bars in Ulsan. It takes me about 30 minutes by bus to get downtown. Which, if you are familiar with how challenged I am directionally, you know it is a miracle I can get around at all. I was having a conversation with a fellow teacher about the United States’ education system, in which I used anecdotes I had heard my teacher parents say and all the facts and figures I could remember from the State and Local Politics class I took my senior year of college. I was feeling intelligent and witty, until I looked down and realized my dress was on backwards. Adultish.

Last week, I was very sick. It was no illness I hadn’t dealt with before, but my symptoms were the worst I’ve experienced in years. I was miserable, hoping that it would just magically go away on its own. But once my coteachers began to ask if I was okay, I realized I needed to do something about it. This was my first “oh, shit, I’m really alone” moment. I’m not in Nebraska where my dad will make me mashed potatoes and my mom will bribe me into making a doctor’s appointment. I’m not in Maryville where I could con a friend or roommate into bringing me home soup from Happy Garden. I am on my own, completely. After feeling sorry for myself for a short minute, I found a pharmacy close to my house and got the medicine I needed. Out of fear or laziness or whatever, it took me 5 days to figure out that there was an English speaking pharmacist one block from my house.

As of now, I am feeling pretty settled here. I have been in Korea for one month. And though the time has gone quickly, each day I feel more acclimated to life here. Every time I take the bus I’m a little less close to almost missing my bus stop. Life as an expat English teacher is still somewhat stuck in the vortex of early-twenties-almost-adulthood. But there are many things about it that make me feel pretty adulty. I now have my Alien Registration Card, which means I’m almost a real Korean. I have a Korean bank account, a Korean cell phone, and am about to receive my first pay check. This all feels very grown up to me. On top of this, after 3 weeks of living in my little yellow apartment in Onsan, I have finally figured out how to use my stove. I am adultish. 

Korean Surprise

Though it may not seem like it because of my often mismatched socks and my frequent irresponsible decision making, I am a person who likes control. I am the person that will gladly do all of the work in a group project. I am the person that does my work in advance. I like making lists. I like planning ahead, doing things on my own, and knowing the outcome before it happens. I have come to terms with the fact that living in the land of the Korean Surprise will be a growth experience for me.

The Korean Surprise is a phenomenon every GET (Guest English Teacher) is familiar with. Korean Surprise: a group of students shows up for a class you didn’t know existed. Korean Surprise: your landlord, drops by to paint your bathroom in the middle of the night. Korean Surprise: your principal offers you rice wine at 2:00 pm, while still at work. No matter how it appears, the Korean Surprise can be a difficult thing for people like me.

I showed up for my first day of teaching feeling incredibly inadequate. I didn’t know the students, the textbook, or even my coteacher very well. I stood in front of my first class, saying a silent prayer that maybe some of the talents of the many teachers in my family had rubbed off on me.

In an attempt to make me feel better, I once had someone compare dancing to teaching. I was told that if I could get in front of large crowds for so many years and perform dances, some of which I choreographed, then I could teach a group of students. Dancing never made me nervous. But for some reason, teaching did. On that first day I felt, for lack of a better term, scared shitless.

People have often called me brave for wanting to move to a foreign country to teach English. That is nothing compared to the courage it takes to stand in front of a group of kids and try to teach them about something they are so far removed from. I feel like a child behind the wheel of a car. However, I got through that first lesson. And my second lesson was a little better. And now, a week after I’ve started work, I feel like I can actually do this. And as my dad pointed out, the feeling of being a child behind the wheel of a car never really goes away.

Though the uncontrollable Korean Surprise has brought a few stressful situations, it has brought on so many more happy ones. On the bus last weekend, an old man came up to me, said “USA”, and gave me a thumbs up. We had a bilingual conversation that mostly made no sense. Yesterday afternoon, I got back to my desk after lunch and had been left a bundle of grapes and 5 ride cakes from an anonymous friend. Last week, as I bolted out of the grocery store near my apartment out of embarrassment of my terrible Korean, I was chased down by a man because one of my bracelets had fallen off. Say what you will about Nebraskans being hospitable and nice, but never in my life have I experienced random acts of kindness like I have in Korea.

At times, everything about my life seems daunting. Even going to the grocery store is intimidating. But instead of letting the language barrier or the Korean Surprises or how much I miss Mexican food darken my perspective, I am choosing to look at it as part of the adventure. Korean Surprise: I love Korean Surprises.