Thursday, December 11, 2008

Languages (and fluency)

Okay, so it's been a while since I updated this thing. And, unfortunately, unlike the last post, this is not going to be all that interesting. It will be significantly shorter though...I really got to get on top of this blogging thing.

Anyway, I was up at 4am this morning, for reasons I can't explain very well. I wasn't able to sleep and so I just turned on my computer started working on stuff, making headway into some of my projects.

Let me explain what I've got going on.

Because I was annoyed at the lake of Korean Grammar books (or the inefficiencies of those books), I started making my own Grammar book, based almost entirely on the "Dictionary of Japanese Grammar" series (I say series, but it's really only two extremely thick books). I think that the one I will complete here will be the "Dictionary of Basic Korean Grammar" as I'm hard pressed to get anything too overly intricate. I'm trying to take the stuff that you really need to know in order to communicate effectively in most circumstances and calling them "Basic", which is working out fine. I'm also trying to give easy-to-understand explanations based on how I've come to understand the grammar principle.

In order to do this, I'm compiling info from several sources: "Navigating Korean", Seoul National University's "Korean Conversation" books, "Korean Grammar for International Learners", Cambridge's "Using Korean", Ganada's "Korean for Foreigners", and's Newbie, Beginner and Intermediate lessons.

In the end, I've come up with a ton of grammar principles that I find to be fairly necessary for most conversational needs. The book "Korean Grammar for International Learners" has a whole lot more grammar than I'm using, but Korean Grammar for International Learners is so complex that it requires: 1) A basic understanding of the Korean language beforehand, and 2) that you understand linguistics. Both of these are broad assumptions, hence the inefficiancy of the book. I predict that there will be 2 or 3 books totally before I can call this project "complete".

But anyway, that's what I worked on. In the end, I was bored and started walking myself through a lecture I might give on language study. I did this because of my second project which is going slower because of the lack of neccessity behind it, which is "Japanese Fluency in 6 weeks or Less." Yeah, I've got this delusion of graduer that I might be able to create a race of superhumans capable of speaking Japanese after only 6 weeks of learning. This would be an intense program, but I think I could pull it off.

As I walked through my fake lecture seminar thing in my mind, I came up (rather, was inspired with) with 6 steps (or laws, I have to test these things) to fluency. I decided that I'd put them in this blog and call it good. So, here we are.

6 step process to gaining fluency in a language
1. Step 1: Determination
a. You have to decide that you want to learn the language. If you don’t want to learn, not matter what happens, you won’t learn hardly anything. You may pick up random basic phrases, but that’s only if you are listening and if you want to keep those phrases in your mind.
2. Step 2: Dedication
a. You have to put effort into the language. You have to pay attention to anyone speaking the language and listen to the words they say and how they say them. You can have translations all the time, but if you aren’t actually listening, you aren’t actually putting forth effort, you won’t learn much more than if you didn’t want to learn the language.
3. Step 3: Language does not exist
a. Communication does exist, but languages do not. Language is an arbitrary word we’ve attached to a method of communication. All communication is articulations and established orders and reasons is arbitrary
4. Step 4: Learn Grammar
a. Despite the fact that language that does not exist, grammar is like the roads of a civilization: without roads, you can’t connect cities and people, and without grammar, you can’t connect sentences or ideas.
b. A language is like math, you plug in the parts in the places they should go. Once you’re past that, it’s all vocabulary.
5. Step 5: Get a dictionary (but don’t just read it)
a. Dictionaries are useful to learn a word, but the people are your best source for learning new words. As they say them, look them up.
i. 1st time: won’t remember it.
ii. 2nd time: You probably won’t remember it, but you will kick yourself for not remembering (which will cause your brain to mark it as important)
iii. 3rd time: You will likely remember it after this point because your brain has already marked it and now it’s becoming repetitive. It won’t necessarily be integrated into your vocabulary, but it will become fairly high on the scale of words you suddenly understand.
6. Step 6: Become involved in that culture
a. A lot of what we learn in communication comes in context, and without context, we don’t understand. A phrase or word in a different context may means something different or may mean nothing at all. When we give ourselves a cultural background, we will learn much more from context alone, and have more things to talk about, than if we don’t get involved.

Well, hope things are going well for you guys. Happy Trails people.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Day After

Here it is, the day after my favorite holiday of the year, and I find myself bored, alone and a little nauseas. Last night, after I finished teaching, I met with my presentation group for the class “Contemporary Issues in International Relations” and we went over a basic plan for our presentation. I say basic, because there’s still a language barrier and said barrier has been getting in the way more and more. Still I trudge along with a saying in my heart, a saying that I read on the side of a building: “Language study is a marathon, not a 100-meter dash.” Boy is that ever the case.

After spending my entire Saturday researching for my presentation and then eating a 5000 won pizza from the restaurant “Pizza School,” and after watching “The Forbidden Kingdom,” I can’t help but think back on this time spent here in Korea and wonder what it’s all been for. Why am I here? What am I hoping to accomplish? And is 1 year going to be enough time to do so? Maybe it’s the fact that since 8pm last night, the only person I’ve talked to in person was my roommate, and that was only when he came in to get his stuff together for a trip to Daegu. All I know is, here I sit, in a silent room, in Korea, 20,000 miles away from anything resembling Halloween, 20,000 miles away from anything resembling home, and I can’t help but think: Was it worth it?

Okay, maybe I’m just sad that I was so busy that I didn’t have enough time to come up with a decent costume, but anyone who’s seen my costumes over the past few years knows that they really haven’t been all that great, so that’s not really an excuse. Maybe it’s the fact that as Halloween night began, I fell asleep and then woke up early the next morning. No candy, no trick-or-treaters, no scary movies. The lamest Halloween ever. I mean, at least the one I spent in Japan, we had a costume party at the church, so that was fun. But as Korea is not a Halloween celebrating country….well, it just didn’t happen.

Well, anyway, enough of that, this blog/diary thing is long overdue. It has been 3 months since I came here to Korea, and I really haven’t posted anything for two months. That’s just shameful. And here I was all pimpin’ this page as the place to go when you want to know what Scott is up to. Wow, I doubt anyone even reads this thing anymore. Oh well, it’s cathartic and it makes it so I can look back on the days I spent here.

Basically, I got placed at Cheokgwa Elementary School (척과초등학교 for you inquisitive folks) teaching 13 hours a week. Now, originally, I signed a contract for 9 hours a week, all of which was supposed to be afterschool programs, but that changed. Yes, that’s right, it changed. Would you call it exploitation? You might.

Anyway, it works like this, I teach 6 hours of regular English during the school day, required to follow the Korea-prescribed curriculum, which I have to say is really weak. I mean, we’re doing things like, “How many cows?” In the third grade, and not the full “How many cows do you have?” Oh no, just “How many cows?” Why? Because they say that the kids won’t remember it otherwise. News Flash, the kids aren’t really going to remember it anyway. The only thing they’re really going to remember is how it felt to learn it, and whether or not the teacher was really fun. I mean, if the class basically blows, they won’t remember, but you teach them a game, you dance like a loon, and all of a sudden, they remember stuff.

But what do I know, I don’t even have a degree. Anyway, that was kinda the mentality when I started. There was this overwhelming feeling of “Who do you think you are?” when I started. Mostly, it was from the other teachers who found out that I’m still in school, and there we were, all sitting around feeling awkward while we tried to work together. That changed when two things happened: First, I went to the school’s campout activity, and Second, I started that English Living Room program.

Alright, so the campout was fun, and instead of leaving, like many of the teachers did, I stayed the entire night, coming out and talking to the kids at 2am because they were still up. The PE teacher was trying to excite them back to sleep, but all it was doing was keeping them up, so I came out and hung around, making jokes and generally giving the kids an opportunity to speak English. I think they liked it, but the most interesting thing was that I met almost all of the parents, and I taught the parents my Preposition “In, on, under” lesson :P If you are ever placed in front of 100 parents, I recommend you make sure they realize that you are much better than they are, it works, I promise. And the best part was, because I’d taught the lesson in the after school class, half of the kids sang along with the song, and showed that they were just as good as their parents…always a smart move when you are trying to prove you can do the job.

So, that leveled the playing field. Suddenly, all the parents felt as though I was a good addition to the school, and being that I am the first foreign teacher at Cheokgwa, the next batch better thank me from the bottoms of their friggin’ hearts. Good step forward if I do say so myself.

Anyway, the second thing that happened was that I started the English Living Room program. Now, this wasn’t my idea, it was the idea of the provincial office of education, and thus, got added to my hours. So, those extra 4 hours…yeah, that’s the living room. What do I do? Well, I teach the intermediate kids even more English. It’s kinda like doing a free Academy program, and basically, I teach mostly with Youtube and iTunes as my friends. We read a little from a text book, we watch Disney clips via Youtube that utilize said textbook lessons, and almost always sing a song. My goal: to instill a recognition of English as a functional language.

Now, how does this help prove my point? Because my assistant in this English Living Room is the vice principle…and the only comment he has ever made to me about my teaching style is “You are a great teacher. Organized, interesting, insightful. The kids love it, and you teach them well.” Apparently, the Provincial Office agreed, because when they came to review our school, they took Ms. Yi out of the picture and put me in as the full-on English teacher, which to them was just an easy step but has increased my work double fold. It’s a terrible time to do it, since I just finished midterms and now have a bunch of presentations and an experiment to do, but it did one thing: showed the school that this guy from the US, this undergraduate student who claims to have taught English in Japan, actually knows what he’s talking about. Since then, no comments about my experience, and the only thing I ever hear is: “HAHAHA, He’s so funny.” That’s right, successors, you better walk tall.

So, teaching has been what takes up at least 50% of my time, which means that I’m pretty much tired every night. I mean, how can someone balance a schedule like mine, making lesson plans and finding videos on Youtube, and not be tired. I joined a Hapkido dojo to lose weight and learn some gut-wrenching martial arts, but I’ve been so busy that I’ve only gone like 25% of the time. Lame. Whatever.

On top of my 13 hours of teaching (which is like 1-2 hours prep from each hour of teaching, so figure that math out) I have 13 hours of classes (and you know what they say, you should study about 3 hours per class, so mathematically speaking, we’re into 55 hours here, plus 21 for food and another 10 hours of travel time, we’re talking 86 hours at the most conservative estimate, which is more than half of the week). You add sleep and you have 84% of my week right there. So what do I do with the other 16%? Well, Hapkido is supposed to take up 2%, and now that I break it down like that, I wonder why I miss so much of it. The remainder gets lost on things like showering, talking to Marie from PSU or Tasol, a girl I’ve been hanging out with a lot, or wandering aimless trying to figure out ways to better improve myself. Oh, and then there’s church, which is 2%. Sheesh, it’s no wonder I feel incredibly busy now that I look at it in a purely numbers game. And that is with the most conservative estimate as far as lesson prep goes. I’m surprised I’m as relaxed as I am…maybe it’s all the sleep I factored in :P

Well, school is going alright. I feel as though I let things slip a little when I went to Seoul, and so I’ve been trying to play the make-up game, but since one of my professors really doesn’t like me, I’m not sure how all the grades are gonna come out. You see, this professor seems to enjoy making points, and enjoys it even more when people agree with him, even though he opens the floor for discussion or asks for opinions. I am used to the system of schooling where my thoughts may actually matter, and my experiences may hold some insight, but apparently, that doesn’t mesh well with his system, since every time I start to speak, he tried to put me on the defensive and turn my argument back upon me. It usually doesn’t work because I only like to quote things that I’ve read, so when he tries to say something like, “Don’t you think that Korea is an exception to that?” I say, “No.” and when he asks why, I say, “Well, because during that same people of time, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong grew equally as quickly as South Korea. All four of these nations are export-oriented, just like South Korea, and they were considered underdeveloped nations, just like Korea…” And blah blah blah, until he just he says he disagrees and then presents his argument against me to the rest of the class…in Korean. Jerk.

Anyway, Thomas backs up my theory that he doesn’t like me since, so I’m not just crazy. But, all I have left is a presentation, a couple of lectures and a final, so I think I’ll just tough it out. BUT, I decided to unenroll from his International Politics class next semester because I’m not a glutton for punishment. Besides, he’s got a very un-American attitude and takes a very reactionary view on the Korean economy, a view that pretty much every expert agrees is the wrong way to go about building up Korea, so I don’t really think I need to hear more from the so far right he’s left camp. And don’t even get me started on how he insulted me in front of the class on the third week, talking about how many people come to Korea to teach English who are underqualified…yeah, really? Go talk to my teachers, or my students, or their parents, or the Provincial Office if you think that this particular teacher is underqualified!!! Jerk.

Sigh, anyway, getting back to something that matters, I like my kids. I like my kids a lot. There are the annoying ones, of course, but the kids are still really cool. They’re goofy, they think I’m a giant, and overall I’m a superstar. So, like Mr. Chase back in Heber, I love my job. That’s why it’s so tempting to sign on for another year. I know I could learn Korean if I had the time, and I know that I’d love my job, but there’s the fact that I still have a lot of school left before I graduate that just solidifies the fact that staying here will not benefit me in the long run. I mean, this is all aside from the fact that I’m definitely heading home as soon as this contract is up because of Leah’s wedding, I’m not even pretending like I’m not going to that.

Lastly, and I thank anyone who’s made it this far down the page, there’s the language thing, which I talked about in the beginning. Sure I can do things like go into restaurants and order food, sure I can ask someone how much something is, but I still can’t do other basic things like ask where I can find something, if someone can help me, even find out what’s wrong with one of my closest friends. Why not? I don’t really know. It might be because I don’t have a whole lot of time to study Korean. It might be because I don’t have a whole lot of opportunities to utilize any of the Korean I do learn. It might actually be because all the Korean I ever learn is vocabulary with some very basic grammar mixed in. All of these things are adding up to become a fairly decent reason for not being able to speak the language very well. I’m just hoping that I can get enough of an understanding in before I have to go home and my opportunities to speak and use my language skills disappear.

That’s it, that’s all, that’s been the time I’ve been here. I’m sure there will be other things that I talk about in the next few weeks, like TaLK trips, the DOKDO problem that everyone keeps cramming down my throat, teaching experiences and other stuff, but for now, this blog is caught up with my life. This is a fairly basic understanding of all the things going on, all the stuff that bothers me, and even has some social commentary. But now that it’s been said, I feel better.

Happy Halloween readers. Hope your day was enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Divine Intervention

I know it has been weeks since I posted, in fact, its been a whole month, but I will catch everyone up on the current events in the next few posts. Today, I had an amazing experience and I wanted to post it up while it was still fresh in my mind.

It wasn't the first divine intervention moment I've had in the last month, the first one came about a month ago when I went to church for the first time, and despite being very lost, I had the desire to get on certain buses, ones I had never ridden before, and then I had the desire to get off, and when i got off of Bus 412, I was standing right in front of the church. The Lord made way so that I could get to the church without 1) knowing where I was going and 2) despite my own plan to return back to the starting point and trying the trip again.

Anyway, this one occured today and was really cool. So, those of you who are faith-minded, this story will rock. Those of you who a skeptical, that's cool, but this will probably bore the crap out of you. May it help develope small seeds of faith.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 10:35 pm
Journal Entry

Today I ran into the missionaries, Elder Clifton and Elder McCain, on their way to an appointment. I was on my way to dinner, so we kept it short, but they decided to give me a mission vocabulary book which they had promised to give me. We parted ways and I ate and went to linguistics class.

Class was an easy day, so I had a lot of downtime and during some of that, I was thinking about the missionaries and received the prompting to Text message the Zone Leaders’ investigator, Scott. I promptly did so, and immediately following, the lady who sits next to me, Ms. Sunbok Yang, noticed the vocabulary book. While I was talking to the professor, she looked the book over and upon my return, she began to discuss it with me.

I talked about the church and the missionaries and after a few minutes of conversation, she told me that she’d received “seirei” (baptism) by the Mormons and wondered if it was the same church. I was surprised, but having been at the center of various different missionary situations like this, I continued talking with her. Turns out that she’s been wanting to contact the missionaries who baptized her, but she didn’t think anyone could find out that information. I gave her the church’s business card, and reassured her that they kept records dating back since the beginning of the church, and if she requested the information, then given some time, they would be able to find it for her.

Later, upon conversing with Elder Clifton on the matter, and after giving a prayer of thanks, the words of Doctrine and Covenants Section 4 came back to my memory: “…see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work.” (D&C 4:2-3)

I may no longer be a called missionary, but being a member makes me an eternal missionary, and if I can continue to serve in the Lord’s toolbox as a member and return missionary, then I am grateful. But the moral is that if none of us, Elder Clifton, Elder McCain, or Myself hadn’t responded to still small promptings, I doubt the Lord would have been willing to work through us. Elder Clifton thought it was important to get me that Vocabulary book, though he could have given me one at any time, and I felt it necessary to respond immediately to the promptings I did receive, and thus it was that the spirit continued to flow and by small and simple means was a door opened, and I pray that by small and simple means a great work will continue forth because the Standard of Truth has been erected and the purposes of God shall be accomplished.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Starting off with a bang (aka Ulsan Arrival Part 3)

As the morning rolled around, the four of us talk people rolled out of bed and into the showers…where we discovered that the hot water had been turned off because of construction…okay, that sucks, but some of us managed. I decided that I would have breakfast instead, but when I found the cafeteria, I was a big sign that said it was closed due to the same construction that was keeping the hot water off. Thinking that there was no way that the school would leave us stranded without food, I went on a search and found a cafeteria open in my own building, but as I walked it, the lady who ran the place pulled me aside and in Korean asked me what I thought I was doing. Well, I thought I was eating, so I said, “breakfast” and she started asking me a series of questions. I understood enough to explain to her that I lived in the building and that I was a student, but she told me that the International Students were supposed to eat in the other building…which made her realize that it was closed. So, I thought that I would then be able to eat, but apparently living in the building doesn’t qualify you for food there, and so I got escorted out and told that I could find food at the restaurants off-campus.

The hell? All I knew was I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t shower, so I got dressed in my mostly empty room and went out with Thomas to the spot where we were told to meet the other international students. A bus rolled up before long and we ran Maria and Rochelle came walking up, so everyone got on and started our international adventure, which included a trip to the Hyundai Motors Factory, a hike near the Ulgi Lighthouse and the Daewan Rock Formation, lunch at an expensive restaurant downtown, and ended with a trip to the Munsu Sports Arena (the sight of a world cup tournament). It was all great, but I specifically liked the Daewan rock formation, because of the mythos and because of great view of the ocean. For those of you concerned, the myth goes that really formidable people don't die, but become Dragons who guard the Korean Nation with all their might, and this location is the burial tomb of Queen Munmu. They claim that when she was submerged under the sea, she became a dragon, and the rocks signify this. Despite Thomas getting separated from the group, it was a great time.

The Arena was pretty cool too. It was huge, seats about 45,000 people and has a museum to the 2001 World Cup Finals. The stadium is still used continuously for these kinds of events, so it was really kinda cool when they let us run onto the field and pretend to play soccer. We took some pictures, but because my camera died (such is the problem when you go a trip like this is a camera that uses AA batteries) I just kinda chilled with everyone on the grass. I wanted to go back out the Munsu stadium, which surrounds the building, because it has a lake and some paths, and all kinds of stuff, but I didn’t want to get left behind, so I stayed with the group. When I left, I noticed someone had tagged the garbage can with Kong-lish graffiti that said, “Merallica.” I’m betting it was supposed to say Metallica, but some unwitting person messed it up.

However, we did eventually come home and then had a weekend that for me was slow and boring. My roommate came in, but then left again because he had some experiments to get to. Turns out that his name is Rookie and he wants to learn English really well because he’s wants to work for the Hyundai Heavy Industries Corporation, which is one of the largest in Korea, designing ships, which is why he has experiments. However, in order to get a job at one of the top 10 companies in Korea (and Hyundai Heavy Industries falls into that category) you have to speak English well, and the higher the Toefl/Toeic score, the better off you are. It’s like a mandatory requirement, so at the University, almost everyone has to learn English: Political Science majors, history majors, Engineering majors…and even foreign language majors. Yes, even the people who are getting a degree in Chinese or any other non-English Language have to learn English in order to get a job in Korea after graduation. That pretty much blows, but that’s just the way things are around here.

Oh well. I just hope I can learn enough Korean by the time I leave here that I will be able to communicate with people. If this sitting in my room thing becomes a habit, I may never learn anything impressive…not nearly to the same degree that I can communicate in Japanese. I have to get out there and start talking to people once I get to that level of fluency that I can communicate with more than one or two sentences in a row. The problem is, it just seems like the whole system of language acquisition here in Korea is ass-backwards, and I don’t want to harp on anyone, but really. I mean, in truth, second language acquisition pretty much sucks in the US too…it’s like no one really knows what they are doing.

But anyway, to sorta speed through the next few weeks (because they really do go by that quickly) I started teaching at the Elementary school, and I love my kids. They seem to like me too…

Actually, I’ll start with that in the next post, I don’t want to blow through that so quickly.

Well, Happy Trails people.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ulsan Arrival (Part 2)

Okay, so time has passed since the last post and this one. But the reason for that is because there wasn't a strong Wi-Fi connection in the Taehwa hotel, and then once you haven't done something for a while, you just sort of forget about it, which I did, but I will make it to all of you readers in this special Wednesday biweekly edition. :P

Basically, the rest of the first week here in Ulsan was full of trainings and eating and more trainings and lots of killing time in the hotel rooms. It would have been nice to start lesson plans and coming up with an annual plan, but that never happened because none of us were given any materials to work with, so dispite the fact that we were supposed to give a copy of our annual lesson plans to the provincial office of education, none of us did. Oh well, I guess they'll have to deal with that one.

But I grew to be quite close to Geoffrey Kimball, who's a much better person than a lot of people give him credit for. To some people, he might have a rough exterior, maybe some polishing, but who amongst us doesn't have some failing that we could work on. Our problems may not be social, they may not be physical or mental, but they might be emotional, or economic, or who knows what else kinds of problems people can develop. All I know is that Geoff and I spent a lot of our free time in the hotel just hanging out and watching Movies or Tv or going on walks to check out Ulsan city. I wish I would have brought my camera on these outings and got some "Ulsan Street Level" shots, but I can do that anytime, so I'm not too upset about it.

For the most part, the week passed relatively uneventfully. The only couple of noteworthy points are that we spent 'nigh on a hour at the immigrations office turning our paperwork because they had never processed our kind of D-2/work visa things before, and so it was that most of yet another afternoon was lost again to the korean government.

The second thing was the Mr. Jung, the international coordinator (more specifically our international coordinator) came to the hotel to meet us and go over the potential schedules that we had before us. The program was changed from the paperwork that was originally sent to us Exchange students, so some of our desired classes no longer existed, which was some pretty sucky news to go on top of our really sucky news. I was supposed to be in Korean Conversation, Korean Economics, Issues in Contemporary International Relations and International Marketing, but one class got dropped, so I ended up in Korean Conversation, Korean Economics, Issues in Contemporary International Relations, Applied Linguistics and Judo.

Now, I can't complain about the Judo part, 'cause that's just awesome and a half, but I really wish the one wouldn't have been dropped because it would have helped me move toward graduation. But, the Applied Linguistics is part of the Graduate School, so we got a temporary bump in placing here at the University, which is kind of prestigious, but doesn't do much more than help my applied linguistics minor...a little...hopefully. It's really hard to explain to someone the course material because it seems like we are just taking a scientific approach to linguistics, which probably won't transfer very yeah, here's to keeping my fingers crossed.

Anyway, the week ended and with tearful goodbyes, we all parted our ways, which actually turned out weird because we all got picked up by people from our school and brought to our new homes. But that meant that Marie, Thomas, Rochelle and I all ended up leaving with different people and arriving at the university at the same time.

But I had a slight problem when I arrived. I came into the room and found that there was another person living here. Now, I originally thought it was my roommate, which would have been a decent assessment, but the more I looked at the stuff, the more I realized that if it was my roommate, than my roommate was female. Dark eyeshadow and nail polish does not necessarily a female make, I mean, it could very easily be some emo/goth dude, but the Pink DS and the full body cuddly thing pillow were kinda making me lean to that persuasion. Finally, as my escort was calling people to find out what was going on, I took the plung and opened the closet...only to find dresses, blouses and other female clothes. Once again, my family is from the Bay Area, and now we live in Portland Oregon, so dresses and blouses does not necessarily a female make, but the combination of cuddly pillow thing, nail polish, eye shadow, pink DS, women's clothes, and the picture of some dude standing out in a field made me think this was a chick.

Now, had it just been the most flamingly homosexual guy in Korea, I would have been okay, but they thought of being roommates with a chick, one who apparently already had a boyfriend, stirred up some awkward feelings. I mean rooming with a chick can be awkward when you know her, but put together the fact that I wouldn't know here, nor would I be able to get to know her very quickly due to my inability to have meaningful conversations in Korean. So, I was not looking forward to that.

Well, I got the news that she was moving out and then Mr. Jung, along with Thomas, came to my room, which was a comforting sight and welcomed reassurence. We made our way outside where the girls were waiting and the four of us said goodbye to our escorts and went about getting ourselves situated in the University schedule, getting to know the campus map and generally doing what all new college students do on the first day of school.

But we had a dinner that night, which was interesting, because it was only the international students, and we discovered that we were the only native english speaking international students this semester (we have some who are graduate students that are also professors, and since they are married to Korean women, have half Korean kids, and live off campus, they don't count). Weird. It was awkward, and for a moment, it seemed like I was going to have to give a speech on behalf of the American student body. I don't know why I was chosen, but I think it's because I'm not afraid of crowds.

Anyway, afterwards (and here's the really cool part, so if you have read this far, you get to know something special) Mr. Jung gave us a ride back to the university, but he decided to give us a tour of the cool places around campus first. The whole time we rolled down the streets, cruisin' the main roads and checking out interesting spots, Mr. Jung had the car bumpin' to Eminem. It's true. I almost expected to Ghost Ride through a stop light. :P

So we made it back to the Dorms and for the most part had everything figured out...where the bank was, where the food was, where the classes were, and where our dorms were. There were some light issues ahead of us, like the lack of hot water in the showers and the cafeteria being closed for construction, but those things and more will be talked about next time. For now, let's just end in on the fact that we all came back to our places and for the first time in a month, finally felt like we were starting to live in Korea.

Happy Trails people. ULSAN TBC

Sunday, August 31, 2008

ULSAN ARRIVAL (part one)

I decided to Write this PART ONE because it needed to get out there. I've been busy lately, but you can see why from the following.

By all accounts, the city of Ulsan is an industrial city. If the view out my hotel window is any indication, this is very well possible. Outside my window, from sun up until Sunday, a crew of construction workers is building a futuristic-looking glass monolith to better the Ulsan City economics. This new building is supposed to house some new company that is supposed bring all kinds of revenue into the city. I think this is probably a good thing, since all the other building on the same road look old school and run-down. I mean, it seems like most of the city was built in the 50’s, and the structures have been standing since: narrow roads; brick everything; and a layer of grime that’s become part of the actual color of the building.

In Ulsan’s defense, I haven’t seen the entire city, just the parts around my hotel, which appears to have built in the 1950’s anyway, so it’s likely that I’m just in the old part of town. My sheets and curtains look like they once hung in my great grandparents house, and the whole structure of the building seems like it’s old and cracking. Jim used to make comments about shoddy construction, and I’m not sure if that’s the problem rather than everything is just older than snot. That’s what it seems like to me.

Well, anyway, we arrived in Ulsan on Friday after receiving our certificates that stated we’d finished our 3 week orientation program. That should have been a big moment for all of us, but we were too excited about leaving, and we were too sad about leaving to really even notice. We took some pictures of leaving the compound, and then we crammed ourselves into the bus overly full with bags and people. It seemed like we were only on the road for a few minutes before we arrived in Ulsan, which caught most of us off-guard. Turns out, it was only like 45 minutes from Gyeong-Ju to Ulsan.

Anyway, we had the rest of the day off to orient ourselves with the city, which meant that most people went out drinking. I climbed to the roof and took some pictures of the city above, but didn’t leave the hotel room, which I now realize was a mistake. There is utterly nothing to do inside the building except each and sit your room watching Korean MTV. So I ended up roaming the halls until I ran into some friends, who were drinking and watching UFC on one of the channels. Ultimate Fighting is popular enough here in Korea that a couple of channels show UFC fights later in the evening, which is interesting. There is also a channel called “Super Action” which usually plays Hollywood movies, but sometimes also TV Shows.

So, Sunday came and I didn’t know what to do, so Geoffrey and I decided to walk around Ulsan, specifically around our hotel and see what we could find. So we traveled up and down the streets, and once again, the combination of old and new here in Korea messes with me. We walked down a street with people sitting on the ground selling vegetables they very obviously grew and harvested themselves, while tapping away on their cellphones. Okay, not all the old ladies were tapping away on their cellphones, but some of them were. That’s the part that truly shows how Korea is different than Japan. Japan has street vendors, but most of them have Card readers and stuff, everything has become modernized and computer, but here in Korea, they try to hold to tradition by keeping things old school, all the while being one of the major seats of the engineering.

Anyway, so we checked out Ulsan and noticed that there are a lot of rather old buildings strewn about, places that would have been torn down years ago. We decided to stop in to a McDonalds and found that their menu consisted of Bulgogi burgers and Shrimp fillets. Fortunately, we did find Big Macs, but since there was going to be food at the hotel, we decided to have a sundae and head back. It tasted just like a sundae in the US. I guess you really can’t get ice cream wrong when it’s really just a vat of chemicals mixed to taste delicious.

Anyway, Monday came and we headed out to Anione High School to start our training with the Provincial Office of Education. However, Thomas, Marie, Rochelle and I ended up spending the entire morning trying to get out paperwork and pictures filled out for our Alien Registration cards. But, with all that we had to do, we didn’t get done before the immigrations office shut down for lunch, so we ended up heading back to the high school to have lunch and meet up with our Co-teachers and University Volunteer teachers.

Well, the group from Chokkwa Elementary school seems to be pretty good. Mrs. Kim was really nice and drove both Do-Ran (my partner) and I out to the school, talking with us the whole way. I wanted to make sure that I got everything in order, so I asked about the school, the area around the school and the students while we drove, but I also got to know Mrs. Kim and Doran pretty well. It turns out that we all have similar goals in terms of what we want to accomplish with the children. It’s always good when everyone is on the same page.

But eventually, we got out to the school, I met the principle and vice principle and started going over the curriculum and the schedule. The only thing the principle was able to say to me was, “How old are you?” which was kinda disheartening since he is the students’ headmastery guy, but what can you do really? I mean, he is old and he’s from a rural area, so it’s just that way with him. But when we actually cracked the books open, I got on top of things and started writing down everything I could about the students, the class sizes, the curriculum, the texts, everything. I wanted to make sure that we got as much done as possible. And when the smoke cleared, it looked like things were going to be fine and dandy for our students.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ending the Gyeong-ju Keiken (Experience)

Ah, Smallwood in the Gyeong-ju alleyway explains my feelings for the end of this training program. I hear tale that we're going to be going through another week of training with our Provincial Office of Education advisors, but like I told Daniel Geary, what the hell else could our POE talk about that hasn't already been talked about? I mean, aside from talking about our schools specifically, what else could they possibly go over in a week? And if they do have us planned to be with them for a week, what a friggin' money sink that idea is. It's almost so lame that it registers on my "WTF IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?" meter. That's just the way it is apparently.

Anyway, so the past few days have been interesting....actually I don't remember much, I've been so tired that I think I've slept through most of the activities we've done. Aside from going to the Noraebang, a TimTam Party, Adventure Korea, doing some Korean Folk Dancing, Papercrafts, a farewell dinner, and listening to a Welsh dude, there wasn't much more that I can think of....

Okay, not everything in this training program has been good, but there are some things worth noting:

1) Cool friends. That's right, I'll admit it, I have made some cool-ass friends (I put the hyphen in because some people are prone to reading cool ass-friends). I won't name them all (mostly because I don't want to leave someone out and get kicked in the nuts later), but there have been some awesome ones.

2) That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger. Lame I know, but true.

3) Relatively decent insight. Repetitiously, but there were some insights that I didn't already know, so that's ALWAYS a good thing.


4) Good food. That's right, I secret loved the food I complained about.

Actually, that last one is a lie, but I didn't want my list to be only three. Besides, now it ends with the Japanese symbolism of Death, which is always a great way to end the list about this training program, if that gives you any inclination into how I felt. I know, how emo of me.

So, basically, the last couple of days have been a blur. Tuesday, we started off with Min's friend and YSA Leader for South Korea, Angela Hur, talking to us about exploring Korea. She seemed like she was advertising for Adventure Korea, but truthfully, since I want to see as much of Korea as possible while I'm over here, it sounds like something good to look into. I trusted her experience in this one, if nothing more than she's a church official, and so it is that I will likely looking to Adventure Korea for my trips around the nation. When I have time that is.

Anyway, she was followed by a lady named Cynthia from Jeju, and that was fun too. She talked alot about tricking the kids into doing stuff without you asking them to, which was a great idea. I mean, it was much better than our lecture on Motivation, which was useful, but not nearly as useful as those previous two lectures.

Then things changed up. Our very own Jeremy Woods got called in to teach a lecture on useful websites for English Teachers in Korea. It made me laugh, and honestly, Jeremy didn't even know what he was doing there, so after a half an hour of talking, he just sent us all the slide show and let us add each other on facebook. I swear, I added more people to my facebook account on tuesday that I ever have before.

But just as I was going to go to Korean class, I got invited upstairs to a TimTam party. For those of you who don't know my love for Timtams and the Timtam Slam (or slurp or suck or whatever the hell else people call it), just know that the Japanese economy boomed when I found a store where they sell Timtams. And so it was that I went and joined our Australian friends (minus a few of course) and we shared a package of Timtams...which I know is not enough for my appetite, but they weren't mine and there were less-fortunates among us who had never had a Timtam before. :P

So then Wednesday hit us, and we started the day on a great note, with Chris Crowley, the Welsh Headmaster who seemed really uptight but had the best presentation I've seen yet. His whole point was to get the students thinking. Good plan. I mean, that was some awesome insight that I felt really stupid for not having thought of myself. Either way, he kicked the crap out of the second guy, who was apparently someone important, but his lecture on effective classroom management put me right to sleep. I seriously slept through the whole thing, and then at the end, he called me out on it. It was my fault, I gave a whoo! for Daegu just because I didn't want them to feel unimportant, but he noticed me and brought up the fact that I was sleeping.....

Anyway, afterwards, we made some Korean paper crafts and I totally rocked at cutting, but totally sucked at gluing, so Helena had to come and help so that it didn't look like a complete waste. Now one side is cool, so right on. We followed that up with sitting through a Korean Dance lesson. The guy spoke in dialectic Korean the whole time, so I didn't understand anything, and just followed the motions, but the instructor made it a lot of fun by mimicking people. It was as interesting as the taekwondo.

Then, as I was coming back from Dinner, I ran into Jeremy (the same one) who informed me that the Japanese girls from downstairs had asked if I was joining them for Karaoke that night. I didn't know they were going, but I jumped at the chance and basically spent the rest of the evening shaking my tailfeather and singing ridiculous songs that I only knew half the words to. We ended with Thriller, which had everyone in the room dancing, so SUCCESS!!! But we hung around after coming back to the dorms late (another Ding on my record) and basically stayed up until Yoko decided she needed sleep. Turns out the poor girl had a flight back to Hokkaido at 5am, so that's when we split up.

But that meant I was really tired this morning. We started the day with a group gathering and discussed as groups some themes for lessons and potential activities. It was fun and helpful, but I was so tired that after lunch I just fell asleep in my room and woke up a little before dinner time. Apparently the second seminar was ridiculous, so no one missed me, but the dinner was cool. It was all kinds of Korean foods, most of which I liked, some of which I didn't.

I don't really get why I loved Kimchi in Japan but I don't like it that much here. Could it have been one of those taste bud changes that happen every 7 years, or could it be that the flavors are just that different? Anyway, that's neither here nor there. All I know is that tomorrow we leave this forsaken place and make our way to our provinces, which means that things are going to start getting really interesting really fast.

Anyway, Happy Trails you wonderful people.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Gyeong-Ju experience

For the past few days, I have been living in the oldest place on the face of the planet, and somehow already have an -1 point infraction. The classes here have been been much more of the same thing, except for today, where we got to do Zen meditation and Taekwondo instead of the usual "How to teach an english class." Personally, I enjoyed the Zen Meditation lesson, as I find Taekwondo the weakest martial art ever. Sure it's got cool kicks and sure its all exercise and whatnot, but come on, is it really that practical in a streetfight? I'd like to see someone land a spinning back kick in a streetfight before they get rushed and curbed stomped...

Anyway, yeah. Let's start in chronological order, shall we?

First, we had classes, which turned out to be the exact same thing we learned before, only this time we had to listen to lectures in rooms with bars on the windows. Now I can understand bars on the outside of the windows, but these particular bars were on the inside, which only adds to my assessment of this place being a glorified prison. But then, the rain decided to help us out and created a small flood on the campus, which meant that all of our evening lectures were cancelled, as well as the Korean Classes, so all 200 of us where stuck sitting around the Family Mart in the basement killing time. That's when I met the Japanese girls living in the dorm building, and it's kinda refreshing to be able to talk to someone in a language that I understand.

Anyway, Nathan and I ordered some steamed chicken, which turned out to be disgusting, and definitely not worth the money we paid for it. I won't order that again, you can be certain. However, I spent the evening milling around because I was bored and there's nothing to do around here. NOTHING. And even less to do when it's raining.

So now we move on to Saturday. This was the day that we were supposed to go on a tour of the Bulgoksa Temple and the Soccram Grotto, which are like the top two sites of the Asian Buddhist world, but because it was raining, we had to move to plan B. Now, the Temple and the Grotto are both indoor-type activities, which I thought would be fine things to do on a rainy day, but apparently the Head Coordinator lady thought differently and Plan B consisted of going to Kampo Beach and the Anapji (which is a man made lake). I should have thought of that, 'cause there's nothing more I want to do on a rainy day than get soaking wet while looking at and contemplating water.

...Ninja Please...

What a completely dumb use of our time that was. Basically, we started out by going to the lamest museum on the planet (I only say that because it housed a bunch of Silla dynasty pictures, not actual stuff, and everyone in Korea was going there that day because of the rain) and then we drove 45 minutes to go to a beach that was closed due to the rainstorm. It wasn't bad, but the tide was huge and the drop-off was even bigger. The Coordinators were afraid the current would take us out to sea, and to be honest, I bet it would. So, we had lunch and drove all the way back to close to where we started to visit the man made lake. It took me a grand total of 30 minutes to visit all three pavilions, take pictures in each, take a picture of the island, walk around the lake, take a picture of the pavilions, and then come back to the front gate; it was that small. I would say it was more like a backyard pond than a lake. The reason it took me so long was because I was enjoying Victoria's company while I walked, and that was the only reason.

Needless to say, no one was upset when the Coordinators announced that if we all got on the bus early, we head back home an hour ahead of schedule. And we did, mostly I think because no one wanted to be on the tour anymore. We were tired, we were wet, we were hungry and thirsty, and basically bored to tears because, sorry to say, there wasn't much to offer in the way of excitement out here. The Blue House was definitely better, despite the raining, and that tour was cut way short....

So, we all came back to the campus and many people signed out and left, taking buses to Busan. I didn't want to spent the time, energy, or money to go, so I stayed in instead and we convinced the coordinators to let us watch Hancock on the Big TV in the convention hall. I like the movie, even though it was nothing like it could have been.

Anyway, the day ended on a rather boring note to follow all the other boring notes of the day, but that meant we had nothing to hold Sunday against. Smallwood and I left to go into town...we were going to go to a Church, but the closest one is in Daegu, and we didn't want to wake up at the crack of dawn to hop a bus to get the city to go into the subway to ride the train to the place that dumps us off only a couple of blocks from the church...well, I think you get the picture. So we decided to go into town and mill around, checking out the stuff in town and finding out what there was to do. We got bored pretty quick when we realized that we couldn't communicate with anyone very well, so all we could do was walk around and stare at stuff.

Eventually we ended up in the infamous Gyeong-ju burial mound park, and like idiots we climbed to the top. Two problems with that: 1) it's incredibly disrespectful to the person buried beneath (but in our defense, there was a footpath up where other people had already climbed it, and there were empty soju bottles, so there was a party up there recently) and 2) the thing is built straight up, so I had to Billy Goat my way down the side. I couldn't roll or anything, 'cause it was like a 5 story drop...ain't happenin' sorry.

Anyway, after a long time and about 15 people staring and taking pictures, I managed to get back down one foot in front of the other while holding onto the hill. Smallwood video taped it, and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up on Youtube. The view was awesome though, and I got some great shots of of which is the picture on this entry.

Afterwards, we hit up a PC Bang, which is like an internet cafe except that everyone's playing games and not just checking emails or anything like that. I asserted my Korean skills while Smallwood played Starcraft and somehow won (we didn't understand half of what was going on because it in korean) when I walked up the lady at the counter and asked her how much it was for one hour. That's right, I talked to someone. WAHOOO!!! Party over here.

Well, we got bored and completely forgot about Gyeong-ju World, which is pretty much just an amusement park in the middle of town, so we ended up coming home early, which resulted in a long walk around the campus. BOOOORING.

Finally, today, we took a tour of Gyeongcheon Elementary school, which gave us time to see what schools are like in Korea. We were supposed to have lunch with the kids, but my table consisted of a bunch of Half-Koreans (and these are the same elitists that ruin every training experience here in the TaLK Program) who decided to speak to the kids in Korean continuously and then complain that we weren't doing anything. Glenn and I wanted to punch the guys and leave, but not only would that have messed up the kids experience, but it would have got us fired. Anyway, we spent a very awkward 45 minutes in the cafeteria before heading back to the bus. Glenn and I were the only ones who didn't make a friend on this trip because of the jerks at the table, but it was still an awesome experience anyway.

At least I know what it feels like to be elited against. I just really dislike John (who likes to say his name is Joon, but it's not, it's John) more than I did before, and I didn't think I could dislike him anymore. He made a claim that we should cater to the Koreans because it's in their blood to better at video games than White people. Whatever. I'm glad I won't be around him for more than a few days.

Anyway, as I said before, the day ended with Zen Meditation and Taekwondo. I got a good workout in before I got a great dinner of Tonkasu...which is Korean Tonkatsu, so that was friggin' amazing. I would say, aside from my awkward 45 minutes, it was a good day.

Happy Journey's people.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Road to Gyeong-Ju

This past few days have been interesting and boring at once. Monday was the same as every other day, except that I learned body parts in Korean class. I already learned them once from Sung-ae, but I forgot them, and I also learned directions while I was at it. I've begun to notice that I'm starting to understand to korean language, which is interesting because I've only been here for 2 weeks. I'm betting it's just a hold over from the abilities I gained on my mission. Either way, I'm starting to get the hang of listening already and I'm grateful to the Lord for that one.

Anyway, tuesday was the start of our new training schedule and the new stresses in our lives. We only had a few days left in the Seoul portion of our training, so they were trying to make sure that we had gained something while well as trying to fight back the tide of people wanting to escape being couped up in the small building...But they put us with a teacher for two days to go over lesson plans, or rather, the creation of lesson plans. Logistically, this meant that the 200 of us were split into 4 groups and sent out to be trained. I must have drawn the short straw because our teacher sucked. No offense to her or whoever chose her, but she was really bad at teaching.

First, she didn't tell us anything except to say that the answers to our questions were in the book we were given at registration. Someone must not have told her that's not a good way to inspire confidence in students. Secondly, she took waaay too long to make her point. She tried to illustrate that teaching a foreign language is hard, so she decided to teach us chinese by making us mimic her words and their coorellating motions. Then she made us do the actions while she said the words, and I think we all got her point in 10 minutes, but she kept teaching us and going through activities for an hour. A whole frickin' hour. Then she showed us a video of the ideal classroom, which was just her and her American teaching assistant, the $2000 a month glorified english tape recorder. It was 20 minutes of her explaining english to kids and then the native speaker acted it out. WTF?! She kept playing videos, and on the second day, we just ignored them because they were longer than necessary and didn't have that clear of a point (I think those two things were linked).

Thirdly, she stuck way too much to the rules, so instead being easy and separating us into groups of 4 for our group lesson presentations, she said over and over again that they said groups of 3, which turned out to be a logistical nightmare, but somehow we pulled it off. And finally, she kept changing the requirements and what she wanted us to do every hour and a half. It was freakin' impossible to get anything concrete in a timely manner.

But we finally made it through tuesday and wednesday, which was not an easy feat, but we did it. At the end of the day, the best from each class, performed in the front of all the TaLK scholars. It was tapped, so eventually, it'll be on the TaLK website. If you'll watch, you'll see me volunteer for jumping jacks.

We all went out on Monday because it was Valerie's Birthday. I hadn't met the girl before then, but any excuse to leave and eat real food is acceptable. So, I had Sangkyapsal (black pork - Korean bacon) and coke for dinner. It only cost 8,000 won. Things are just cheap in this country. Anyway, it was fun, all the way up until some of my closest friends here got drunk and I spent most of the evening following them around and making sure the drunker one didn't fall and hurt himself. At least I got to hand out with Michelle and Cholong, two of the girls who know me as Beom Joon.

Last night we had a formal dinner as our last in Seoul. It was alot of good Korean barbeque, but it was supported by karaoke. It would have been fine, but everyone wanted to sing in Korean, so 45 minutes after we started, the room was half-full. We ended with "I'm a Believer" and took our leave, but it just meant that Andrew and I stayed up late packing. We left for Gyeong-ju this morning.

Today was spent almost entirely on the road as we transferred from the Hyundai learning center in Seoul to Dongkuk University in Gyeong-ju. We stopped twice to stretch our legs, and one of those times was for lunch, but we left at 9:30am and arrived here in Gyeong-ju at 3:30pm. I think it was the traffic that slowed us up, because the country isn't that big.

But this place is a glorified prison. The place is pretty old and ghetto, and because it is a Buddhist university (apparently it's one of four like that in Korea) that means we have to follow a strict set of rules, like being in by 10pm (doors are locked at midnight, which means the smokers are SOL 'till morning). We also get tortured with the food here; we eat horrible food. The cafeteria has metal trays, and the workers put the food on a tray for you, so you just want in a line, and if you step out....well you don't wanna know what happens. They turn off the hallway AC after midnight (our rooms are equipt with old school rotating fans), we have to use stairs to get anywhere (even from the 10th floor), our shower is just a handle coming out of the sink in the bathroom, and we have to handwash our clothes and hang dry them. Oh, and we can't go into the city during the weekdays (not that we would, it's simply old crap all over the place). The campus has security gates that close at night, so if you leave, don't plan on coming back if you're gonna be late. But don't be late, 'cause they will dock you points, and anyone with a -5 gets expelled from the program. It's -1 for every infringment, so basically everyone is upset. Sigh.

Two upsides to this new training center (if you can call it new) is that 1) there is a crane hangout just on the other side of campus (on the buddhist temple grounds) which is way cool to just go over and chill. 2) During dinner, I kept making prison jokes like "Just don't drop the soap." People couldn't stop laughing, which made dinner more enjoyable. Anytime I can increase my popularity with the ladies is a good thing.

As far as the Cellphone thing went, KTF tried to pull a bait and switch, so I didn't go for it. There were like 50 of us who realized what the company was up to and told them to shove it, so I'm not gonna get one of those for a while. They told us that we were going to get a 12,000 won a month plan that was a pay as you go kind of thing, but then they came back and said "Oh, sorry, that plan is not available anymore, but you can buy this 30,000 won a month plan with a 50 dollar deposit instead that gives you 160 minutes plus 100 texts, but you cannot make or recieve international calls." Also, the cool phone they showed us was not the phone everyone ended up with, instead they got a slide phone that came out in 2000. I say it and went "That is an old phone." Nathan Yoon and his uncle already went in and talked to a guy about in Seoul last night, and the guy said that 160 minutes and 100-200 text messages and international calling was pretty basic and would only cost 30,000 won (30 bucks) a month, which is cool, since you only have to pay for outgoing here in Korea. As long as I can recieve international calls, then right on. Apparently, I can get a phone for free or I can pay a little down payment and get a Cool freakin' phone, with video chat capabilities and stuff. Since I don't have any money now, I'll probably just see what they have to offer and get the free phone for now.

Well, happy trails people, I will have to post more later.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seoul Searching Experience

Thursday was kinda boring. We had 3 lectures on how to teach elementary school kids. One of the meetings was done by an American guy, so he was brutally honest about all things, and told us that we would be teaching the kids after school, which was a total relief because the other lecturers made it seems like we were going to have to teach the kids math, science and history as well as english. We felt the pains of being teachers until we heard that we are to be giving supplemental English lessons. That was really nice.

Thursday was also the day that we brought the bank to us and signed up for our accounts. It is direct deposit, but because the banking system is different, then I had to open an account for the money to come flowing into. I'm still not sure how I'm going to get any of that money home, but I will ask the moment I get a chance. None of the banking people spoke English and since there were like 100 people who needed to get the account at the same time, I just let it go.

It felt strange to have a paper that I didn’t understand at all as I stood there in front of the desk. I signed like 6 times and wrote my name like 20 times on a piece of paper that I couldn’t read. Since I had to fill out the paper work or else my money doesn’t get to me, I filled it out, but I was curious to know a little bit about what I was signing. But like I said before, no one spoke English.

In other news, I decided if our Korean Coordinators could just randomly select English names for themselves, then I could just randomly select a Korean name for myself, and after long deliberation and confirmation of its validity as a good name I took on the Korean name "Beom Joon" (pronounced BOM JUNE). My roommate, who is Korean, came up with it after long deliberation and going through 10 names that worked, I asked people what they thought of Beom Joon, Tae Joon, or Tae Jin, and without knowing that I was looking for a name, all 7 said I looked like a Beom Joon...if I was Korean that is. It’s funny because I don't know what a Beom Joon is supposed to look like.

Anyway, turns out that Beom Joon stands "Handsome Tiger". The coordinator, Angela, laughed when she heard the name and asked me if I knew what it meant. I thought maybe I got named "craphole" or something, but then my coordinator Danielle (whose real name is Jihe) told me what it meant.

Everyone is calling me Beom Joon here now.

Okay, maybe not everyone, but a large collection of people.

Anyway, Saturday was a full day in Seoul. We took a tour of the old and new parts of Seoul, first visiting the Changduk Palace (pictures on my Flickr account), where the Joseon Kings and Queens did they’re chillin’ and leadin’ Korean-style, then we went to Insadong, where we ate the best freakin’ Korean food I’ve ever had before, followed by a shopping trip in the same area, in which my roommate bought bootleg movies, 4 for 10 dollars. I could make a friggin’ fortune with the ones that I have here in this country. Thing is, none of mine have subtitles because they are for English speakers by English speakers. Anyway, we moved on to take a tour of the Blue House, which is the South Korean White House. The President apparently wanted to have coffee with us, but since the Beijing Olympics just started, he’s in China right now. I’m surprised about the close proximity to Kim Jong-il, but apparently their secret service isn’t worried.

Anyway, our Blue House tour was cut short because it just decided to go cloudy and rain on us, but that was okay. We got to stand under the cover of a really cool building that was apparently fairly old and had seen more dignitaries than you would imagine. But we got to stand around and take pictures with the security dude, in his white uniform and stuff. Fun.

After we finished the tour, we got to spend the evening however we wanted, so Simon, Andrew, Lee, Glenn, Amanda, Yano, Thomas Smallwood, Hana, Jackie, Gus and some others decided to go out clubbing/pubbing, but it turned out that everyone except Glenn, Amanda, Yano and I wanted to get their dance on, so the four of us left the group paying the 20 dollar cover charge and instead went to a bar for a while to sit and chat and have some drinks. I downed this drink called the Golden Medalist, which is a non-alcoholic cocktail of strawberries and bananas, and it was good. At around 1am, we began trying to find our way to the JinJilBang (a bathhouse, like a Japanese Onsen) where we were supposed to meet the rest of the group, but we utterly lost. After wandering for a while, we decided to ask some taxi drivers, but none of them knew where it was. That’s when we got saved by a Good Samaritan.

His name was Dong Cheol, and he was trying to find a place to stay for the night because he too was stranded away from home after the subways stopped running. He was standing there watching us talk to the Taxi drivers and kept looking at me, so I said, “What’s up?” He responded and we got to talking. When Amanda asked him if he knew of the place we were going, he said he did not, but called them to find out where they were. But he didn’t just find out, he walked us all the way there, and since he’d gone through all that work, we decided to pay the 10,000 won is cost for him. (that’s like 10 dollars) We stayed up really late talking to people there at the bathhouse, and I found a chair to sleep in, but every hour or so, I got moved to a different location, which meant that I didn’t sleep well.

But in the morning, Dong Cheol got us close enough to our home that we were able to get back fine. Nice guy. I spent all of today sleeping. Man was I tired. But the coordinators ordered pizza when I asked them to, so I got to have a good dinner later in the evening than normal. It was good stuff, but really expensive and small. Sigh, I’ll just have to get used to the Asian sizes again.

Happy Trails everyone, until we meet again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day 6 in Korea

Day 6 of the intrepid journey to the land of Goryeo has been an intrepid one, full of adventure, intrigue and strange customs. And then there's Korea to worry about. :) We've had some interesting events in the last couple of days that have been confusion, exciting and bizarre.

Yesterday was different, what with the icebreaker seminar and all. I did finally get to meet the kid named Thomas Smallwood who was emailing me before we left, and it turns out that he is a return missionary from the Quito Ecuador mission. There are now three of us LDS people here, and we've found each other, we're going to try to hit up a church on sunday. Luckily, Min, who served in this area, has a list of wards she wants to visit to say hi to her old members, so if she lets us, we will follow.

Following the ice breaker, we had a cultural difference seminary, and met probably the coolest dude in Korea; he’s a Korean guy whose family moved to LA when he was 8, so he had this full-on west coast, California personality, and told it to us straight. He went into all kinds of stuff, like how to greet your boss, hooking up, drugs, the whole deal. There was a lot of useful information, so if it had been like an hour shorter, it would have been the best seminary I’ve ever been to, but it was too long and eventually he started to repeat himself. Fortunately he realized that and cut himself off early.

Yesterday was medical check day, and the disorganization of the TaLK people once again led us to near failure. It was by the skin of my teeth that myself and Nate, another guy here, got on the bus, because they told us to wait in our rooms for an announcement, and then the admin guys removed our coordinators PA priviliedges, so I got up to get something and saw the last bus getting filled, so I ran to the ledge that looked down on the lobby and asked if they were ever going to make an announcement. The TaLK people freaked and moved us to the last bus, so we clogged up the works, but we got ourselves checked.

After our medical checks, we got moved to a different dorm building just 500 meters down the road. Jim decided he needed to leave to program because of personal reasons, so he's not longer my roommate. :) I was looking forward to seeing Jim on campus and stuff, since we were in the same classes at Ulsan, but apparently, he's coming back next year after he graduates. Turns out, he moved into our new training center, the Hyundai Training Center, and is living across the hall from me until his flight leaves on Saturday. It’s kinda nice to be able to see him a little bit more.

We've been organized into regional groups, so both of my roommates are going to Ulsan as well, and Smallwood is in the next room (also going to Ulsan and also an exchange student with the University of Ulsan). My new roommate is Simon's old roommate, so we all hang out alot. Andrew (that's the new guy's name) is actually Korean and moved to Canada to go to school. That means that he's actually the most beneficial roommate I could have gotten. We decided to talk in Korean as much as possible, but I still have to get up the nerve to initiate the conversation. I mean, he'd not going to talk to me in Korean if I don't start talking to him in it. I think after tonight it will be easier because I will be able to start using phrases and stuff that I'm going to learn.

Speaking of studying, I haven't really begun, but Smallwood and I made a plan to meet up with one of his roommates in the lounge at 6am every morning and study Korean together. I guess that's what we return missionaries who've gone through the MTC do. We really should invite Min to these things, since she's probably the best out of all of us. The intermediate Korean class was really hard, and I think it was because she assumed that she was teaching Korean Americans. Oh well, I guess I try harder and harder until I finally understand what’s going on in this country.

Happy trails people. More updates to come.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Korean Folk Village

So, Sunday, Donovan and I spent the early parts of the day downtown hunting for a power converter, but it was fun. At least we got to talk. Donovan is a smart guy, and think that I spoke more than he did, what a surprise.

Anyway, after lunch, 50 or so TaLK scholars went on a field trip to the Korean Folk Village, which is kinda like an outdoor museum meets an amusement park. It felt like a zoo with buildings instead of animals. Victoria, one of the girls I was with, said it was way better than Mt. Vernon..I guess she would know, she's from Virginia.

But yeah, Marie was my buddy and Simon was Victoria's, and since only Marie and I have cameras, things they stuck to us like glue so that they could get pictures of the place. We went the opposite direction than everyone else though, so we missed out on all the cool shows that went on 'cause we passed by while they were prepping. Oh well, teaches me for taking my own path.

But then it was home and more soup. Lame. But we start orientation tomorrow, so that'll be good.

Have fun peoples

We Arrive

So, we finally arrived in Korea via Korean Airlines from Seattle. The flight was ten hours long, and I had the massive inconvenience of being not only on a window seat, but being in the only seat on the plane with which the LCD screen didn’t work, which meant that my iPod’s battery nearly died and I was tempted to bring out my computer, but being a larger gentleman, I found that the people around me where already put off by my size. I’m going to have to fix that.

Anyway, half-way through the flight, the attendants decided that it would be a good idea to move me to an empty seat, which happened to between an American girl in the Air Force stationed in Korea and a guy who obviously wanted to be left alone. He was clearly annoyed that they had moved someone into the open seat next to him, and that made it very hard to do things like go to the restroom, but the flight finally ended, despite feeling like it never would. At least I have 2 meals, one of which was Bibimbap, and I sorta pocketed the left over sauce from the toothpaste-like tube they gave me. They were going to through it away anyway, but now I have my one so I can turn any bowl of rice into bibimbap. Lucky me.

After we arrived and went through customs, we met up with the TaLK guy at the gate who sent us to the TaLK booth. Nice people but also the bearers of bad news. We had to get on a bus and drive for 3 more hours just to get to the place where we start our training. Apparently, the location is hidden deep in the heart of the mountains. From what I’ve figured out looking at the map and stuff, I think that we are in the city of Yong-in, which is a suburb of Seoul. All I know is, I’m in the Hyundai-Hynix HRD Center waiting for Orientation to begin.

However, after we arrived, good things and bad things started happening. Good thing: They have free wifi and a computer lab, so internet use should be really easy. Bad thing: The converter I bought only works with 2 prong devices. That meant that I had to take a taxi into the town just next to us and search through all the electronic stores until I found a Universal Travel Adapter that worked with three pronged grounded plugs. Along with a friend I made named Donovan, I managed to find one at the Lotte Mart for ₩ 12,500.

I’m really excited to be in Korea actually, and I’m finding that I’m making lots of friends here in the building. I’ve grown close to Jim over the past few days and become friends with a guy named Daniel, who is a Korean-American from Seattle, Donovan, a boy genius from California Polytech, and Simon, the smooth and really interesting Brit from London. All-in-all there’s 400 people signed up for this program from all over the world, which is fun.

Turns out, this TaLK program was started by the new president of South Korea just after he took office less than a year ago. He wanted to create the same success for his country that Japan did for theirs, and he thought the best way to do that was to bring in English teachers as fast as possible, so they offered incentives for those joining on. There are only 25% of us who are exchange students as well as teachers, which is kinda strange since I thought that was the whole point of the program, but of my roommates, friends, and acquaintances, I only know of Jim, Marie and I who are also students. Maybe the coordinators math is off. But at least we all are getting in on the ground floor of something really freakin’ cool, which should be awesome, and I hear that there’s a chance we might get to meet the President, which would be amazing if you think about the kind of impact that sort of thing would have on my resume. Finding out what kinds of stuff they have in store for us, makes me more and more glad I signed up for this, ‘cause most of us who are actually focused on this opportunity, are likely to end up in high ranking international relations positions in the future; would be nice to have connections.

Well, like all programs, there are some good eggs and some bad eggs. There have been several people who came why unprepared and there are people who continue to go out drinking and clubbing, and generally creating a ruckus, which hasn’t come to bite any of us in the butt yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come eventually. We didn’t have a curfew until tonight, which meant that something is starting to happen as far as the standards of behavior.

I will post about the Korean Folk Village tour we went on later. There is a big day tomorrow and I should get some rest. Happy Trails people.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One day left

It's strange how much stuff can get done in a single week, especially when you put your mind to it. I have my D-2 Visa, I have all my clothes, I have my flight plan, I've completely cleaned my room so that people who come visit my mother will have places to put their stuff, and last of all, I've got my stuff packed up. The time has come upon me.

I reflect on this moment with a strange sense of indifference. I remember when I left for Japan, and I remember it being alot more exciting and emotional, with tension in some places, aggrivation in others, uneasiness and an over excitement for the wait, but this time around, it just seems like its coming. Maybe it's all the paperwork they've thrown on me these past few days, maybe its the fact that I'll be leaving my mom completely alone this time around, or maybe its the fact that last time, I was cutting all my ties and responsibilities and starting completely over, becoming a totally different person, whereas with this experience, I'm able to keep doing the stuff I'm doing, like writing a blog or watching TV, but doing it in a completely different country.

Actually, I think it's because I've already traveled and lived in another country before, so the expectations and mystical dreaminess that accompanied me on my trip last time, the questioning what's going to happen and what it's going to be like, is not there.

That being said, I have no expectations of things in Korea. I've prepared differently than Japan, which I didn't really prepare for by any means of the word, and I think I'm a little more ready to show up there than I was in Japan, but mostly I'm thinking that it's going to be just enough like Japan that I understand why and how things work, but just different so that I get all confused and don't know what I'm doing. :)

Anyway, I post all this indifference and stuff the day before I leave, in the morning nonetheless, which means that the actual excitement hasn't really hit me yet, maybe. I mean, I have all day, and all night, and then tomorrow I meet up with Marie and Jim, the others going from PSU, and we carpool up to Seatac. Maybe when we actually get on the plane and start the trip, things will be different.

Actually, now that I think about it, when I left for Japan, I didn't really know what 10 hour plane flight over the Pacific Ocean felt like, but this is even longer, and since I can referrence a 14 hour flight in my long term memory, that might actually be the reason my body is remaining indifferent...because it knows that I have plenty of time to get worked up :P

Happy trails people. 'Till we meet.

Monday, July 21, 2008

One week left

So, as you can tell by the date, I have a little more than a week left until I embark on my journey to Korea. Most of us are feeling pretty anxious about the situation because it seems sorta fly-by-night-ish, since we haven't heard anything about our flight information and our PSU coordinator decided that she was going to go on vacation. It's been some confusing hell over here as far as that goes, and I'm getting real tired of everyone's question: "When does your flight leave man?"

But in other news, we went clothes shopping, so now I have the best collection of assorted T-Shirts and slacks than I've ever had before. However, this all reminded me that I once had a goal of losing a bunch of weight before I go, and apparently I did not, as I had to buy the biggest clothes on the planet. So, don't be surprised if I'm doing a lot of dieting in Korea.

As much as I dislike Taekwondo, I may end up joining a Taekwondo club while I'm there, if nothing more than for the exercise. I mean, it would be really cool to study a martial art from there while I'm there -- like I did when I was living in Kotoni and Sato Kyoudai was willing to teach for free -- you know. Besides, I really like those papers that say things like, "Honor" and "Praise". I know it takes years for black belts, but who knows...

...Maybe I can find a nice Hopkido place. That's Korean Aikido, which probably wouldn't be that bad.

Mostly I just want exercise. All this is moot while I sit here on my couch and talk about what I'm going to do in Korea. It would be more productive for me to fill out more stuff from the "Maximize Your Study Abroad" book. I should get to that.

Anyway, party on dudes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Two Weeks Left

This is the first post of my posts during my time in Korea. I just spent the day at work, but during my hour lunch break, I drove out to the Post Office and sent my Passport, my D-2 visa application, my acceptance letter to Ulsan, my proof of scholarship income, my TaLK Contract and the letter from PSU explaining my enrollment in the program to the Korean Consulate in Seattle. Everything is out of my hands now, but it's winding down.

So, that's about it. I still have to buy the last of my supplies, but I'm pretty much ready to leave. Myself and the others have been communicating about how to get to SeaTac and when we'll meet up, but it looks as though we will all be leaving separately. Meh, I guess that's the way it goes.

Anyway, right on