Monday, January 4, 2010

Holy Updates Batman

So, it's been a couple of months since I updated this blog. I feel horrible. So much has happened I can't explain it all. Some of it, I'm not so proud of, some of it is public knowledge, and some of it was really interesting. Where do I start?

Okay, so, basically, I went to Seoul alot and hung out with Mao and some other people, and got to know a new friend very well. I grew a crush on this person, and things seemed to be going well until I began to push too hard for something...which I shouldn't have and that was dumb of me. I acted like a friggin' high school kid all over again. I thought I was beyond that part of my life, moved on, but I guess not.

Anyway, I got over myself and things are cool now. We still talk, but that was a lot of my thought processes over this blank of time.

In other news, we started the winter schedule, I went to Taiwan and started having Korean Conversation Tutoring. All has gone well, and I kept a journal of my travels around Taiwan, so I'll go ahead and slowly drop that on you over the next few weeks, however, wow. I doubt anyone is reading this blog anymore.

Well, I'm going to update this blog in Korean every week, if that's okay with everyone, and I'll try to include a translation so it's not too harsh. I'm trying to use Korean a lot more, and I think this will help. We'll see how long it lasts.

Anyway, Happy Trails people.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ulleungdo, Dokdo, and the DMZ

Well, the past month has been a doosey. You see, things didn't go so well with Joy and I and apparently we're not speaking to each other anymore. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I was confused and in the end, apparently I'm the one who messed up. However, I'm not the only confused one, so maybe there's something else going on here.

On top of that, I'm no longer tutoring a couple of little kids twice a week, which kinda sucks. And then, I was also told IVY not to come in anymore. Well, I guess that's what I get for doing some side work for nothing. :P They can easily replace you with someone else. Oh well, I guess I'm back to my normal work hours...

...which is actually a good thing, because I've begun to fall so far behind in my Korean intensive course, that there's no way I can catch back up. None. So today, I told my teacher that I was going to take the level 3 (lower intermediate) class again. She agreed that was probably a good idea and then said that she's going to try harder to help me, which will be a good thing I think. I'm going to try harder to keep up this time, but I just didn't really get what was going on most of the time.

Oh, and I jacked my ankle coming out of a restaurant in front of the university because someone decided it was a good idea to install internet lines and stuff under the road, but in Korea, that means they have to tear up the whole road, dig a trench, install the lines and then bury it all before they repave. Fun. At least they're doing a better job than the road inside the university itself which took 3 months to complete and sinks after ever rain or ever 100 cars (whichever comes first). The builders in the university think that fine beach sand is a good foundation for building, which they are slowly finding out is not the case.

Anyway, so, aside from those things, there was Chuseok in the middle of this month, which basically meant 4 days of nothing happening...not even restaurants that are open. Fortunately, I was paying attention to the holiday creeping up on me, and managed sign up for a trip through

It was amazing. We went to Ulleungdo, this beautiful island off the east coast of Korea, that is basically just a mountain that rises straight out of the ocean. It was all volcanic rock, so there weren't any beaches, but that mean that we could climb out to the last rock sticking up in the ocean and drive straight in. THAT WAS SOO MUCH FUN. Most of my group jumped off a bridge, but I just dove in from the rocks because I was worried that I would hurt my ankle more. But the water was so clear that you could see the fish, the little sea urchans, and even the jellyfish family in the water before you jumped in. It made it so beautiful and so easy to avoid the more unsavory sea life (as you could see them coming in the water hundreds of yards away). FYI see water tastes like overly salted french fries.

But Ulleungdo is very obviously famous for squid because it looked like Cathulu's breeding grounds out there. There were tons of squid, but on the island itself, there were thousands if not hundreds of thousands of squid hanging from Bamboo being dried in the sun. If Cathulu bred in the waters around Ulleungdo, than the people of Ulleungo are his worst nightmare. It seemed like all of the inhabitants had something to do with the killing, drying, exporting of squid life. If you like squid, Ulleungdo is the place to go.

During my time in Ulleungdo, I paid for a trip out to Dokdo, the fabled Liancourt Rocks. I thought this was a good opportunity because Dokdo is a disputed territory between Japan and South Korea, so it seemed important that I see it to get perspective...since most Koreans and Japanese haven't even seen it. It truly is two giant rocks sitting in the ocean. There isn't even a whole lot of space to do anything. If they hadn't built a dock on the island, the soldiers there maintaining that it belongs to Korea wouldn't be able to morning exercise. There is a space cut into the second rock for the one Korean family that lives there (for only like 5 months out of the year, but enough to be counted on the Korean census). However, it is spectacular.

Like Ulleungdo, the water was clean and clear. I looked over the edge of the dock and saw all the sea weed, rocks, fish, crabs, etc living in the ocean there, and for a moment, I couldn't tell where the water began. So I reached down and surprised myself with how far up to the platform it was. It serious looked like glass. But then, judging by how far the water level was, I guessed that I must have been looking several hundred feet straight down into the water to see all the creatures during their daily sea activities.

Anyway, it was beautiful. More beautiful than the areas in the DMZ that are off limits to development. I went there with Katie, Myca, and Michael, thus making it a fun trip, and ran into Larry on the same tour. What a coincidence. But we traveled around the highly militaristic area of the DMZ and I couldn't help but think that North Korea would have a hard time if they tried to push through. There are honestly barbed fences, gun posts, checkpoints and cache areas stashed every you could imagine them to be. And then some. You can not mistake the fact that North and South Korea are still at war when you go to the DMZ. But it was fun, so I might go again. If nothing else but to see the really awkward North Korean propaganda city.

Oh, and I stayed in a Jimjilbang again. This is time two. I'm starting to like Jimjilbangs...which might be because I can actually start wearing the clothes. Well, the shirt anyway. I brought my own shorts, which was a good idea, but since they were blue, the didn't stand out too much...the just looked like they were the special "Large" shorts rather than the regular once dark but now faded blue. But I mostly like the really hot water.

However, Myca decided to get a hot cup therapy (the name I forgot) designed to draw toxins out of the body through the skin. Well, it worked, however, the next day she had these huge cup sized hickeys all over her back. And they were bad. Like serious dark purple. She said it felt good while they were doing it, but the whole next day while we were at the DMZ, she kept saying, "Ouch, Ow, oh!" Good thing I didn't try it, though I was thinking about it.

Anyway, things are going well with Japanese-Korean translation though, so at least I know one thing: I've still got it.

Happy trails people. Until we meet again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Korean is like an MT on the top of Everest

It is currently 10:30am on a monday, about 2 hours before I have to leave for my school or else be too late, and about an hour and a half into my new and improved Korean Intensive course schedule. The intensive course is both amazing and really annoying at the same time. See, I'm learning a lot, and really fast, but the problem is that everything is too fast, and they expect too much out of us.

It's only the end of the second week, and I'm really behind. There was 30 pages of the workbook due last week, and I didn't have the time to do it. Also, each chapter has at least 80 new vocab words to study, so I've got a little study notebook thing full of words that I'm supposed to learn by the end of last week. Yikes.

Anyway, things are going good as far as the overall perspective. I'm getting screwed out of my housing money, but I'm going to move out next semester, which gives me a while to find an apartment. Meanwhile, the number of Foreigners, especially english speaking foreigners, has quadrupled in the neighborhood, so these days, I have some good friends that I'm spending a lot of time with. Granted, we're not usually speaking in Korean, but I have two Korean roommates now, and one isn't very good at english, so I'm getting a lot of Korean practice in. On top of my Korean classes that is.

Meanwhile, I have two Co-teachers at Chukkwa now. One is Shinji, a very cute and very interesting girl who's spent a lot of time abroad, and the other is Seung-min, who is also very cute and lived in the US for a year, staying in Portland for 3 months last year. That's been pretty cool as far as teaching goes. With them both, I speak english, which isn't as good as the situation with Eunmi, but these two girls all kinds of stories to tell me back, which is cool.

Anyway, I'm kinda busy with the homework and stuff, but I thought I'd drop a line to update things. I've got to get to my stuff, but basically, happy trails people.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Return of the Tiger (That's me)

I guess I’ve beaten the system, as it is not 4am right now. In fact, it’s not even in the AMs. It is in fact 8:30pm, which is 30 minutes before I start my evening Korean study…which I think I really should do tonight. I’ve been putting it off since I came back from the US, but I just talked to the International Office yesterday, and it appears that I’m going to have to take a Korean Language level test for next semester’s Korean classes. I guess taking the class doesn’t necessarily indicate that I actually acquired any skills. Normally, I would be annoyed by this, but I actually agree with their thoughts on this. At least this way, they and I have a better idea of where my Korean level actually is, which is good because maybe this time around I’ll be in a class where I’m not constantly behind the other students. A class where I’ll be uplifted and edified by my classmates…that’d be nice.

Anyway, I’m sitting in my dorm room, listening to JYP while I type this. Why JYP you might ask? Well, I told my roommate that I really wanted the song “Honey” by JYP because it’s friggin’ awesome, and he gave me the entire JYP collection. So, now I’ve got more than enough JYP to fill my desire for a while. But I gotta say, JYP is a helluva lot better than almost all of the current K-POP acts out there, even if most of his music is love ballads. The boy’s got skills. Interestingly enough, Rain, 2AM, 2PM, and the Wondergirls are all JYP creations, so…what gives :P I mean, as infectious as “Nobody” and as kickin’ as “10 out of 10” are, really? Maybe he realized that no one will live up to the bar he set.

Well, back on topic, so I’m back in Korea after 17 days in the US. I came back and was supposed to go through “quarantine,” but that was really just a group at the Airport making me fill out a card with all my contact information in the US and Korea, and then check yes or no to the symptoms of Swine flu and then get my temperature taken. After that, I was told that if I developed symptoms, then I should go to a hospital. Two days later, I got a text from the KCDC (Korean Center for Disease Control) asking if I had symptoms. When I said no, they informed me that should I develop symptoms, then I should go the hospital. A girl I was talking to yesterday told me that she actually went to the hospital and paid $100 for the H1N1 virus test, only to discover that the Office of Education didn’t actually need it, they just wanted to make sure that she’d been checked. Yep, that was a waste of a week.

See, I even took the free time to make lesson plans for my summer school. I was under the impression that it was my extra English class, that my students were 5-6th graders. My vice principle even said when I arrived that they were going to be 5-6th graders, but when I actually got there, they were mostly 3rd graders, with only one 6th grader on my roster, and she decided that she didn’t have the time to come to my class so she decided to drop it. That makes me upset because basically all my preparation was for nothing. So, now I’m sitting back, with no lesson plans, no co-teacher and a bunch of bored 3rd graders wondering why they are even in my class. And to top it off, the powerpoint in my classroom wouldn’t read the PPT presentations I prepared, so half of prep work was gone anyway.

Talk about committing harikari. I wanted to do it right there. The class sucked.

So, now, the reason why I’m conflicted about studying Korean tonight despite the suspended Sword of Damocles (aka language test) coming up is that I really have to change my lesson plans to work with 3rd graders. And these aren’t even the really good at English students, so I’m back to the serious basics.

Changing the topic, when I was coming back, I decided to eat a Baconater Combo meal from Wendy’s in the Seattle airport. You know what the Seattle Airport Wendy’s does these days? They list the calorie count for all the items on the menu. So, while I was waiting for my food to arrive, I calculated up the caloric count for my meal, and then I had a cow. A large Baconater combo is 2000 calories. That’s right, it’s the daily caloric intake, in one meal. One friggin’ meal. So, I’ve been shocked into a serious diet, because I began to think, “If that’s the case here, at this restaurant, how many times have I eaten like 4000+ calories in a day?” Sorry, but 4000+ calories in a day is just fat. Pure and simple. So, since I’ve been home, I’ve been seriously watching my calorie intake, trying to keep in below 2000 in a day. Now, I know that being a larger guy, I probably should be consuming like 2,500 calories, but since I’m overweight, I figured that dropping to below 2,000 was a good call.

So far, aside from maybe today (I had fried chicken breasts today, and I have no idea what the calorie count on that is) I’m doing great on this diet. And I’ve already noticed a change; and not a small “Oh look, these pants fit better change,” but a real, three holes on my belt, kinda change. That and Adrienne pointed out that it looks like I lost a bunch of weight. It’s been a little more than a week and I think I’ve lost almost 10 pounds. I’m a little worried that I’ll lost muscle mass, so I started the “Ultimate No Weight Workout” from Men’s Health today. My inner legs are sore and my pushups are pathetic. I’m going to keep at it. My goal is lose like 150 pounds at least over the course of the next year, maybe year and a half. It turns out that losing 4 pounds a week is okay, but usually people lose about 2 pounds a week, which is fine with me. I’m in the OBESE category, according to the BMI thing, so I need to lose a lot and keep it off.

I think that’s the worst part, keeping it off. I just have to make sure that Baconaters are no longer on my diet. Fortunately, they don’t have baconaters here in Korea, and instead, they have a lot of stuff covered in Chili paste, which it turns out is a good catalyst for weight loss because Capsaicin speeds up the metabolism. Sweet! This morning, I added Kimchi to my breakfast menu (which I’ve been maintaining for more than a week now) only adding 35 calories to my breakfast, which is more than the milk I use on my ¾ cup of Almond Flakes. Heh. It’s a trick, since nuts are also good for weight loss. Yep, I’m eating fine and I’m using natures weight loss helpers in what I’m eating. Smart, right?

Anyway, since I’ve been back, I’ve spent most of my time working on my lesson plans. I’ve only been able to see a couple of friends, Eun-mi and Seong-hun being amongst them, but it’s starting to come together. I’m sure that by the end of the week I’ll have things together. I’d better because on Tuesday next week, I have to give a lecture on team teaching at the TALK Ulsan orientation. Okay. Me, team teaching. I don’t really know what they’re expecting of me, since that’s not a common practice at my school, but I think I know enough of the theories of team teaching to fake it. I doubt I’ll be able to pull off an hour though, so as long as they don’t video tape the thing, I figure I’ll go ahead and use some of the time talk about some other stuff that might be more useful to the talk people.

Well, that’s about it. Oh, actually it’s not. As I was coming back from the international office yesterday, I happened across the Ulsan English Conversation Club practicing “The Merchant of Venice” and I stopped to watch. Next thing I knew, I was pulled into their group, asked to give my input on their pronunciation and whatnot. I think I’ll go back again and help more later, mostly because I like theatre. Besides, I know they could do a great job if they really work on their English skills….oh, and the chick playing the moneylender should really learn how to use her face when she’s on stage. It looks as though the most passionate character doesn’t really care about anything at all.

But that’s it. Happy trails people.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Last day of...

Well, friday was the last day of... It was strange for me because for other people it was something of a special day, but I'm coming back to the exact same situation, so nothing is changing for me, which made me feel as though I wasn't being as emotional as I should be. As I used to be a criminology major who focused on serial killers and those with sociopathic tendenancies, I'm always worried about my emotional involvement, because it seems as if I wouldn't be emotionally involved in anything if I didn't try. Basically, my natural state is selfishness, and it's selflessness that I strive for.

Anyway, it was the last day of... I leave that blank because it was the last day of many things. We took our Korean final, and I had to turn in my application for next semester's "Korean Intensive Program", which official puts an end to my Korean classes until September. Fortunately, if all goes according to plan, next year, I'll only be studying Korean, which means that I will have seriously less stress as all my homework will be related to the topic I WANT to study anyway.

But it was also the last day of teaching until August 17th, which is consequently just a few days shy of being one month away. Of course, I don't have a vacation, since they expect me to plan all of my supplimental english classes during this time off. I don't think that Koreans really understand the point of vacation. If their idea of tours is any indication, they need to go back and relearn some things.

However, it wasn't officially the last day, so we didn't get an official send-off, but the principal did give Eun-mi and I a 50,000 won bonus...what was interesting is that it was actually a 50,000 won bill. I didn't even know they made those things, but apparently they do, and now I have one. Of course, I'm not going to spend it...not if I can help it :P

Anyway, I had a meeting with some people, so I said goodbye to Eun-mi as she was getting on the bus to go back to town, but I know that we'll see each other again, because unlike the mission, I can travel out to Kwangju to see her if I want, and I can call her and other such, so there's not that big of a separation...not like there was during the mission days. Maybe that's why I'm not that emotionally involved, because I've already been part of something that when it ended, it was a big deal, but this is like a small deal, though everyone is still treating it like it's a big deal. It's like Marie said, "I don't know if I'll ever see any of these people ever again." But, I know that if you really want to, there's not that much stopping you. Besides, aside from Amanda and Grant, everyone else I can see by driving...well, anyone I'd want to see anyway. I mean, I made friends with other people, but it's not like the girls from New Zealand, aside from Jung-mi, tried to get to know me.

So, yeah, I'm slowly beginning to see the world as a very small place. I'm glad I made the friends I made, glad I made the connections I've made, but internet social networking groups have made it really easy to stay in contact, despite a giant ocean in between you. I can go on to facebook and drop a line to Jackson in England and be like, "What's new, bro" and after a period of time, he comes back with, "Oh, you know, dating, etc." and we keep in touch. The world is not as big as it used to be. Not that big at all.

Anyway, it was also the last day for the POE free Korean Class. We spent half the time having a small lesson with Charles, and then we spent the other half the time learning more about Korean music with Joon-Yeong. We did the Arirang like 6 times, which is cool because now I know the words and tune pretty well (not memorized, but the tune is there, so eventually maybe). Afterwards, we all went to a bbq place and had ourselves some delicious Kalbi...mmm Kalbi. I'm getting so used to Korean spicy foods, that I'm actually wanting Kimchi JJigae today. No friggin kidding.

So, yeah, then there was the last awkward goodbyes at the bus stop, followed by the random last accidental lunch meeting on saturday, which was once again followed by the awkward final goodbyes at the bus stop. It made Mao laugh because I said the exact same thing to Grant on saturday as I said on friday (on purpose of course), which apparently Grant didn't catch until Mao laughed. Guess I know who was paying attention :P. But, its true, I will probably never see Amanda in person again...eventhough she's supposed to give me the traditional Vietnamese hat that she was giving away. Hmm...wonder if I will ever see it.

The last days of the mission were really hard, but these last days don't seem like last days at all. Actually, I'm looking forward to a little break with my family and then coming back and digging right in. I want to rededicate myself to the goals that I have, becoming fluent in Korean, losing weight, etc. etc. etc. So, it was the last day of.... but it's more like a new beginning.

Happy trails people.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tongyeon x2, Talk x2, Study abroad x2

As you can clearly see, the theme of this post is repetition. As you can clearly see, the theme of this post is repetition.

See what I did there?

Anyway, let’s just get into this thing, shall we? This last weekend, I went on a culture tour that was really fun…despite the fact that I came home with cut feet. Before I tell the story, I want every person who is casually reading this blog to know, if you are ever clamming in the mud, and you think it’s a good idea to take off your shoes and walk around, STOP! You are totally going to come home with several tiny cuts and some really deep ones on the bottom of your foot.

어쨋든, so, this weekend, we went to Tongyeon. Thing is, we went to Tongyeon before. About three weeks ago, we went to Geojedo and Goseong, to a Korean War POW museum and the longest cable gondola in all of Korea, as well as going to a dinosaur park—and seeing actual dinosaur footprints. This weekend, however, we went back to the same place, rode the same suspended gondola, but this time we checked out a classical music concert and the Turtle Ships used by Admiral Yi Sun-Shin to defeat the Japanese invasion of Korea. Of course, we know that in the long run, the Japanese won, what with taking over Korea as a Japanese territory in 1905.

You know, speaking of which, I’d like to make a few comments about that. Koreans are incredibly mad at the Japanese for that, mostly because they were ridiculously abusive during that period, which I totally get and completely sympathize with, but I have to say that there are many things that Korea got out of that period that they don’t really attribute as gains in the overall scheme of things. For example, Korea had this problem with cartography, which was solved when the Japanese taught them to make maps. Also solved problems when they taught them that just because you are making a map doesn’t mean you get to rename stuff…fixing every college student’s nightmare for years to come. On top of that, they were taught how to make buildings and all kinds of other stuff, so you know, maybe there was a reason that Japan as so pushing about doing things their way.

Okay, back to what I was saying. Yeah, clamming. We did some of that this weekend. It was the 4th of July, and I didn’t do any fireworks, have a barbequed or anything else cool for that matter. Nope. Clamming. Well, clamming is what we did on Sunday, Saturday, we checked out the turtle ships and stuff and then saw the wind instrument orchestra and then off to our hotel. Actually, Mao, Daniel McGeary, a guy named Vinh and I had the coolest Love Hotel room ever. It had two beds, two couches, a giant TV, a computer, mirrors above the beds, a separate bathroom and sink that were the size of an average love hotel room, and a shower room the size of another average love hotel room. I made a joke that we could fit all the people that had come on the trip with us in the one room, but an hour later, everyone was up in our room talking, hanging out, and watching TV, so we actually did.

Anyway, as the evening wore on, Daniel, Vinh and I joined up with Cat, her boyfriendy-type fiancé-like guy, Norma, and Natalie, making a very international, very awesome bunch to go to the Noraebang (Karaoke) together. (FYI, Daniel, Norma, and I are straight white-bread Americans, Cat was born in the US but lived most of her life in Canada, where her boyfriend is from, Vinh is a Vietnamese American, and Natalie who is born and bred from the UK). Totally ass-kicking fun because we generally picked songs everyone would sing, thought I did “Fire” from 2NE1, and Daniel sang two Japanese songs, which included “Rinda, Rinda” from the 1980’s. It’s really cool how Korean noraebangs have English and Japanese songs in them too. I think that if they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t be nearly as popular.

Oh yeah, and we totally ran into the Kwangju TaLK scholars on the trip. Turns out they came to Tongyeon too. I had a fun conversation with Kyra, and we talked about Cody some too. I hope he realizes that she’s a really awesome girl, because seriously…

Anyway, so on to the rest of my blog, which it mostly an update on what’s going on…

Well, I’m staying in Korea another year. I signed on with TaLK for another year, and I did so because I REALLY want to learn Korean. I don’t exactly know why, aside from it being another Asian language and a language that will help me in getting into the state department. But I don’t get much out of knowing Korean aside from knowing Korean because the language is only spoken by maybe 76 million people in the whole world, so it’s not like it’s that useful. I mean, Japanese alone is spoken by at least 136 million people. That’s a huge difference. And even then, the 76 million speakers of Korean have at least 7 different dialects, one of which being the Gyeongsan dialect that I’m so fond of, but there’s also the North Korean dialect, which only the people in the North speak anyway.

I don’t know. But I do know that the Lord clearly wanted me to be here, and I have this unexplainable desire to learn and speak Korean. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that few people outside the Korean American population speak Korean in the US. That’s a pretty cool thing when you think about it. I’ll be in one of those circles of really awesome people that you just have to tip your hat to and say, “I bow to your superiority, sir.”

So yeah, another year of TaLK means another year of Study Abroad. Awesome. I’m going to apply for the Korean intensive class, despite the fact that Julie tells me there is a lot of homework and she’s having troubles keeping up with it, which is probably true, but it would be better than the situation I’ve got going here. See, I want to study Korean, but when I have other classes, I spend only my free time studying Korean while the rest of my time is spent studying economics or other stuff. I would prefer to have my personal study and my academic study coincide, so instead of studying Korean around studying other stuff, I can just study Korean and thereby get better and better.

I’m apparently learning a lot though, since I’ve been going through my “Making out in Korean” book, which was hard as hell when I started, and it’s pretty easy stuff…even though it’s supposed to be the Korean you never learn in school. Maybe it’s because I hear this stuff from people all the time. And maybe it’s because I listen to my students and Eun-mi, so you know, special. However, Joy speaks way too fast for me, so I clearly have a long way to go before I’m fluent (and interestingly a short time to get there since the TOPIK test is coming up on me in April, and I was to pass the advanced by then).

In other news, I’m about to argue my way into getting my month of vacation during August. They’re telling me that I only get a week (which is actually two weeks since they haven’t considered that I get a week from my contract). Yeah, actually, they don’t really know what’s going on at all, but they seem to think that they do, and they sorta expect me to roll over and take it. But they’re going to send me home and expect me back within a week. That’s ridiculous when the flight itself is 14 hours. 14 friggin’ hours people. Come on! Besides, I have important things to do, so I’m going home.

Anyway, that’s about it from me here.

Happy trails people.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Korean Experience in Brief

Alright, I decided that perhaps it is time to give an overview of how I percieved my international experience here in Korea. I'm supposed to be going home, but I ended up applying to extend my contract with TaLK after a fairly heated argument with the international coordinator at the University of Ulsan and getting removed from the Learn and Teach in Ulsan program. I was forced against a wall by him and by the TaLK program, and now I'm stuck with my decision, only 24 hours after finding out its possible. I hate the sucks.

Anyway, seeing life as an exchange student and as an English teacher at a public school is not the extent of my experiences here in Korea. I have been on various “Culture Tours” provided by the Provincial office of Education, which have taken me to the Island of Jeju (Korea’s Hawaii), inside a farmers home, to traditional Korean villages, and even to various regional festivals. All of these have given me great insight into the Korean mindset and also the mindset of a foreigner experiencing them because in all of these circumstances, I was surrounded by fellow English teachers who taught not only at elementary schools, but at Middle Schools and even High Schools. Each of them had unique and even interesting experiences to discuss, and many of them also openly shared their drinking and even illicit/illegal exploits while here in Korea. I’ve seen firsthand the repercussions of a drunken brawl between a foreigner and a Korean, and I’ve heard of the complications that arise when a foreigner attempts to pick up a prostitute, only to discover that she does not service non-Koreans. On the other side, I’ve been with other foreigners while learning traditional styles of dyeing cloth, making baskets to carry eggs on a day trip, and participating in traditional dances.

On top of cultural experiences, I participated for a while in a program developing English Lesson Plans for the elementary schools in the Ulsan Municipal Educational Office. That was a 2 month project working with other foreigner teachers and Korean teachers to create a system of teaching that would allow foreign teachers to provide better lessons to the elementary school kids. These lesson plans were distributed to all the other teachers in the Ulsan area and became part of their curriculum—of course I don’t know the overall level of acceptance by the teachers, but some have expressed their resolute dislike of the system while others have discussed their whole-hearted application. It is unreasonable to assume that we could have made a perfect system, but perhaps more research would have been helpful.

However, I did undertake a 120 hours TESOL (Teaching Students of Other Languages) course, which has become useful in my daily dealings with my students and even with the other English teachers. This particular TESOL course was sponsored by the Asian EFL Journal (and certified by universities in England, Australia and the US) and was thus oriented toward teaching in Korea and other Asian countries, discussing common issues that occur when teaching English in East Asia. One such discussion was about educational reform issues, and how we as teachers might help in that process. It was an interesting program, to say the least, but was nothing compared to the 220 hour ESL training we received at the start of the TaLK program, hours appropriately named “orientation.”

I have also gone on other trips up to Seoul, experiencing true metropolitan lifestyles. Recently, I spent two nights with my Canadian-Korean friend’s cousins in their upper-middle class high rise apartment in a lower income neighborhood. I found out later that the area in which we stayed is commonly known for its high crime rate. It was interesting to see how people of Confucian ideals intermingle with others of different income levels, which was far different from what I expected. On the hand, I spent two nights in the Executive Premier Suite of an affluent hotel chain in one of the richest neighborhoods in Seoul, and the effort that the hotel made to keep me from having to mingle with the “regular” guests was staggering. I had my own VIP lounge and swimming pool. It was far different from staying with my friend’s family.

But not all my experiences in Seoul have been about economic levels. I have acquaintances there who work for the US military, and on more than one occasion, we’ve discussed the situation between US-ROK military forces. Most of my friends have expressed serious issues in US-ROK military relations, and many of them have to stem from the stereotype of being “American Soldiers”—a stereotype my friends continuously try to avoid. Other things stem from the fact that US spends more money on the military in Korea than the nation of Korea does on its overall military forces, thus giving rise to a gap between the US and ROK soldiers in terms of lifestyles. In fact, that’s the main reason for the KORUS Joint Forces initiative, which allows Korean soldiers to serve in the US military.

Many of my friends, on the other hand, are former ROK soldiers, as it is a constitutional duty of Korean men to serve in the military for a term no less than 2 years, and then continue to be in reserve for another 3 years after that. This has a significant effect on relationships, studying, traveling, etc., especially when you consider that every Korean male over the age of thirty has served in the military. This might be the cause for the differences in culture between Japan and Korea. But it really changes the relationships among college students, when the gap between ages of the males and the female students is 2 years, and when all the male students still act like wild freshmen even at the age of 22, it’s very strange.

But my particular dormitory hall is for foreign students, so I have made some fairly good friends with men from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Mongolia. One of my former roommates was Mongolian, working on his PhD in Computer Engineering, and discussing with him the difficulties of researching in another country was interesting. My friend from Sri Lanka agreed with the situations discussed by my roommate, but he added more as his doctoral research normally takes him to the city of Taejun, where he works directly with chemical engineers at some of the biggest plants in Korea. His difficulties then had the added effect that despite being surrounded by the smartest minds in South Korea, he didn’t understand what they were talking about. Language difficulties hinder the process of information evaluation and incorporation. However, my Pakistani friend didn’t have any of the issues discussed by my other friends, by he has problems finding Islam-friendly Middle-eastern food in Korea, and that has been a huge problem for him; so much so that he’s had to go far out of his way just to get a meal. That creates an impact on his overall schedule.

Here in Korea, I’ve experienced the gamut from low to high economic levels, good to bad teachers, illegal behaviors to church service projects, government funded training to privately funded training, private universities to public universities, public schools to private institutions, and industrial cities to commercial metropolises. But none of that was anything like my experiences as a volunteer church missionary in Japan.

If you wanna know more, talk to me. Otherwise,

Happy Trails people.