Banmal (Informal Language)

“아 제레미 와 (Ah Jeremy, come here)!” students call from inside their classrooms as I pass by, or on the soccer field. Initial disapproval has slowly turned to pride as I hear students using informal language to talk to me.

Without fail, my parents reminded me to honor my elders when I was a child with good behavior.  This line of thought easily extended to my language and resulted in a firm belief in a hierarchical system based on age and status. As I learned about Korean culture, its language and I became like a key and lock, fitting together too well in terms of this belief.

I found comfort in a language that made so many hierarchical distinctions because I could guess what people thought of me. A coteacher using formal language with me would mean not only a professional relationship but also equal status, which I found flattering and undeserving since I had much less teaching experience. A sales clerk using informal language bothered me, for we were neither friends nor was he giving me the proper respect as a paying customer. As a result, I’ve found myself focusing an unusually large amount on this linguistic dynamic between myself and others, to the point where I have told people to use formal or informal language towards me if I see they are inappropriately using the other. I’ve internalized formality and extended its roots into my relationships with people.

By March, my students started slipping and using banmal, for which I reminded them about our teacher-student relationship. Inside I was reeling though, because I loved that these slips of the tongue meant my students felt I was on the same level as a friend, but I could not risk losing authority in the classroom where I’ve sometimes had to desperately hold onto it.

Depending on the student, the line between friendly and mischievous blurs. I know some of them are testing the boundaries with me, as is evident by continuing disrespect via rude gestures or words. With these students, becoming friends is key to bonding with you and listening to orders, but watch out: being too friendly means you are subject to the same treatment as their peers and you are no longer a teacher to them.

At the same time, I feel a little irked when a close, but elder coworker uses formal language.  Maybe we aren’t that close? Or do they feel it unprofessional to refer to me as a 동생 (younger close friend/younger sibling)? I don’t speak enough Korean yet to ask, and even if I did, it might be an odd conversation to have.

One year is not enough to settle my questions with banmal. The linguistic tool that I originally thought give me answers about my relationships only made me wonder even more. The intricately evolved Korean language, said to be very scientific in nature, does it again as answers beget further questions. This, I’m reminded, is the beauty of intercultural exchange, and I highly anticipate whatever else this language has to teach me.

Below are a few photos from a trip to Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan in February. Time flies, and I can’t keep up with telling my stories!

Near one of the classrooms in the resort I visited in Taiwan. It didn't look like a display, so I thought it was strange to put this in a hiking location.

Near one of the classrooms in the resort I visited in Taiwan. It didn’t look like a display, so I thought it was strange to put this in a hiking location.

Near one of the classrooms in the resort I visited in Taiwan. It didn't look like a display, so I thought it was strange to put this in a hiking location.

Near one of the classrooms in the resort I visited in Taiwan. It didn’t look like a display, so I thought it was strange to put this in a hiking location.

Peering inside the classroom at the resort. There was a TV and DVD player in there that you could use...I wonder what it was for.

Peering inside the classroom at the resort. There was a TV and DVD player in there that you could use…I wonder what it was for.

A view of a bridge that formed part of the obstacle course in Taiwan.

A view of a bridge that formed part of the obstacle course in Taiwan.

A bit blurry, but another part of the obstacle course. It looks like a rope tunnel.

A bit blurry, but another part of the obstacle course. It looks like a rope tunnel.

A swing set at the resort in Taiwan.

A swing set at the resort in Taiwan.

The National Concert Hall near the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei.

The National Concert Hall near the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei.

Taipei 101 shrouded in mist on my first night in Taiwan.

Taipei 101 shrouded in mist on my first night in Taiwan.

Well this is embarrassing. I don't remember where this photo actually was taken. But it was a beautiful building!

Well this is embarrassing. I don’t remember where this photo actually was taken. But it was a beautiful building!

Visiting Kendra, a good friend whom I've known since study abroad times in Marseille, France. She is a Thai Fulbrighter.

Visiting Kendra, a good friend whom I’ve known since study abroad times in Marseille, France. She is a Thai Fulbrighter.

A market in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

A market in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Entering a Chinatown in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Entering a Chinatown in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Mexican food in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It tasted more Mexican (that is, saltier) than the equivalent interpretation in Korea!

Mexican food in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was a really good interpretation of Mexican food in terms of taste (or maybe I’m starting forget the real taste?).

Inside the Mexican restaurant in Siem Reap.

Inside the Mexican restaurant in Siem Reap.

The menu had an interesting assortment of Mexican, Khmer, and other ethnic foods.

The menu had an interesting assortment of Mexican, Khmer, and other ethnic foods.

In the war museum in Siem Reap, there are displays of weapons and artillery used during Cambodia's long years of war. This is one of the signs that used to warn of the presence of land mines, and though many have been defused, there are still many lying around.

In the war museum in Siem Reap, there are displays of weapons and artillery used during Cambodia’s long years of war. This is one of the signs that used to warn of the presence of land mines, and though many have been defused, there are still many lying around.

With Bethany and Riki in Siem Reap, eating amazing Khmer food.

With Bethany and Riki in Siem Reap, eating amazing Khmer food.

Angkor Wat from short distance.

Angkor Wat from short distance.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

Early dawn near Angkor Wat.

Early dawn near Angkor Wat.

First lunch meal in Siem Reap. It was refreshingly salty, which sounds odd but salty food is rare to come by in Korea.

First lunch meal in Siem Reap. It was refreshingly salty, which is my favorite overall flavor of food.

Hello from Siem Reap!

Hello from Siem Reap!

Picture of a floating village house. There is a village floating on the largest lake in Cambodia.

Picture of a floating village house. There is a village floating on the largest lake in Cambodia.

The river leading to the floating villages.

The river leading to the floating villages.

Money from Malaysia! In February, my friends and I went to Cambodia, Thailand, and later I went to Taiwan alone. We had a layover in Malaysia.

Money from Malaysia! In February, my friends and I went to Cambodia, Thailand, and later I went to Taiwan alone. We had a layover in Malaysia.

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“Beauty and the Beast”

Japan

Exhaustedly, I turned the corner of Shin-Imamiya station to one of the side streets. I suddenly couldn’t remember how to say “where is…” in Japanese and I am alone, unable to find my hostel. I walk up to two guys who look my age and, to my embarrassment, ask where such and such street is in English. So much for my quick studying before coming to Japan. I eventually found my hostel in a little nook just a little further from where I had gotten lost. Immediately afterwards, I looked for a restaurant. Found one where they served kimchi fried rice, though I did not even know what I was ordering it until they put it on my table. The menu was entirely in Japanese, so I just pointed and let the waiter and cook do the rest.

It was not until I got to Japan that my inability to do little things like order without pointing became so apparent. Though I had grown frustrated at times from my lack of Korean understanding throughout the six months, I realized just how much I actually knew about Korea because I truly knew very little in Japan. The Japanese were so kind, but I found that few spoke English (not that I should expect them to…I should be speaking Japanese in Japan). The intricacies of the subways, the ubiquitous kanji (Chinese characters), and the greater distances between cities were all a bit overwhelming in Japan. Putting it all aside, I loved spending time with my mother, and I miss her already. I will let the photos and their captions tell the stories!

Seoul

I arrived in the city of my dreams on the evening of January 4, ready to take a Korean language course at Seoul National University. I call Seoul that because it meant so much to me to live in the cultural center of Korea, a country I so wanted to visit before the Fulbright. I don’t think I ever fully expressed the magnitude of my happiness to my Fulbright peers who were taking the same course.

My month in Seoul certainly did not disappoint. I met people from Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Spain, and the Netherlands in my class. Not only did I love the international atmosphere, but I gained so much more knowledge of the Korean language. I met friends who I had not seen for months, be they from Grinnell, Fulbright, or elsewhere. I cut my hair and straightened it, after 4 and a half years of growing it out. I plan to donate the hair once I return to the states.

I also had a small excision done on my shoulder at Severance Hospital to remove a benign, but potentially annoying cyst. (No worries, it didn’t hurt really, plus it was so inexpensive. I couldn’t believe it!) Lastly, I even dated, fell in love, had a brief relationship, and was heartbroken over the span of two short months, the second of which was in Seoul. I don’t think this city could have possibly given me many more happy or jolting experiences within the span of a month. The City of Dreams will keep its title in my book, not so much anymore for just the cultural experience, but for the experiences I will take with me.

A nagging voice in my head keeps telling the same thing: I’m ready to move on. I leave tomorrow and will be back in my small town for a week, work for another, then travel to Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan. As if one month did not show and teach me enough, now I have another 28 days full of unknown and crazy experiences to be had. However, despite feeling like I’ve had enough of Seoul, as I keep reflecting on this past month, something big still keeps me attached to the city. Maybe the nagging voice is speaking too soon…

Am I really ready to move on?

A photo of me at a coffee shop in Seoul. I was kind of tired that day. Also, I'm still getting used to the haircut. It's so different from anything I've ever had!

A photo of me at a coffee shop in Seoul. I was kind of tired that day. Also, I’m still getting used to the haircut. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever had!

Our Korean language class. Had lots of fun with these guys! Our professors are the ones on the bottom row to the right.

Our Korean language class. Had lots of fun with these guys! Our professors are the ones on the bottom row to the right.

A look inside Lotte World in Seoul. It's apparently one of the largest indoor amusement parks in the world.

A look inside Lotte World in Seoul. It’s apparently one of the largest indoor amusement parks in the world.

More Lotte World! Owned by the super company Lotte (they own department stores, a burger joint, have a grocery store, and probably more that I don't know)

More Lotte World! Owned by the super company Lotte (they own department stores, a burger joint, have a grocery store, and probably more that I don’t know)

I went with a friend here, where we ate between getting on the rides in Lotte World.

I went with a friend to this eating ground, where we ate between getting on the rides in Lotte World.

A Shinto Temple in Kyoto

A Shinto Temple in Kyoto

The Silver Temple grounds in Kyoto. I went with a Fulbright friend who I happened to stumble upon during my time in Japan! I also met up with a high school friend there.

The Silver Temple grounds in Kyoto. I went with a Fulbright friend who I happened to stumble upon during my time in Japan! I also met up with a high school friend there.

My mom looking like a true model on a hiking trail on Miyajima, Hiroshima.

My mom looking like a true model on a hiking trail on Miyajima, Hiroshima.

Me! On the same hiking trail on the beautiful island of Miyajima. I will most definitely be going back.

Me! On the same hiking trail on the beautiful island of Miyajima. I will most definitely be going back.

To be honest, I can't quite remember what this was! I think it was one of the water walkways my mom and I passed on our way through Miyajima.

To be honest, I can’t quite remember what this was! I think it was one of the boardwalks my mom and I passed on our way through Miyajima.

A large temple off to the distance on Miyajima.

A large temple off to the distance on Miyajima.

Taking the opportunity to take a photo with the parental! My hair is all out of sorts...

Taking the opportunity to take a photo with the parental! My hair is all out of sorts…

My mother with the ruins of the Atomic Bomb Dome on the left in Hiroshima.

My mother with the ruins of the Atomic Bomb Dome on the left in Hiroshima.

The hypocenter, right below where the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

The hypocenter, right below where the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

The nearest building to the blast that still stood: the Atomic Bomb Dome. It was undergoing renovation when we were there.

The nearest building to the blast that still stood: the Atomic Bomb Dome. It was undergoing renovation when we were there.

Okonomiyaki! It was pretty good, and apparently it's a specialty of Hiroshima and Osaka.

Okonomiyaki! It was pretty good, and apparently it’s a specialty of Hiroshima and Osaka.

This one's for my brothers mostly. We would play Sonic a good deal when were younger, so it was cool to see Amy Rose and all of the Sonic and Mario references everywhere.

This one’s for my brothers mostly. We would play Sonic a good deal when were younger, so it was cool to see Amy Rose and all of the Sonic and Mario references everywhere in Japan.

In Tokyo, at a newly opened exhibit for Pokemon.

At a newly opened exhibit for Pokemon in the middle of Tokyo. Sorry for the blurry photo!

At the Floating Garden Observatory with Sammy, a good friend of mine from Grinnell.

At the Floating Garden Observatory in Osaka with Sammy, a good friend of mine from Grinnell.

Sammy! Enjoying our sushi in Osaka. He's teaching as a JET in the Nagasaki area. We spent Christmas together before I met up with my mom.

Sammy! Enjoying our sushi in Osaka. He’s teaching as a JET in the Nagasaki area. We spent Christmas together before I met up with my mom.

This sushi was amazing. I loved it and will certainly miss it.

This sushi was amazing. I loved it and will certainly miss it.

Osaka Castle in the middle of the city. Sammy and I rode bikes all around the city for Christmas. (Christmas is significantly more secular in Korea and Japan...my students often complained that they had no boyfriend/girlfriend. Christmas is more a couple holiday than a family one as back in the States)

Osaka Castle in the middle of the city. Sammy and I rode bikes all around the city for Christmas. (Christmas is significantly more secular in Korea and Japan than in the United States…my students often complained that they had no boyfriend/girlfriend for the holidays. Christmas is more a couple holiday here than a family one as back in the States)

A Shinto temple in Osaka

A Shinto temple in Osaka

A zoo in the Shinsekai area near my hostel.

A zoo in the Shinsekai area in Osaka near my hostel.

Entrance to Shinsekai, an area with a bunch of restaurants and shops.

Entrance to Shinsekai, an area with a bunch of restaurants and shops.

I will end this post with a song that Kyuhyun recently put out. I really like his singing style, and this ballad is named after one of my favorite areas in Seoul, Gwanghwamun. He talks about his memories of a special someone who is no longer a part of his life.

Rain

I could hear the pitter-patter of rain on the window as I opened my eyes. It was 5 AM, the day of the competition. I got up, tried on my newly-bought suit (which fit rather nicely I must say), and left the house towards the bus station where I would meet my students.

It was November 24th, and it’s the moment I had prepared my four brilliant students for. They were about to participate in a debate competition designed by past grantee Anthony Cho (who taught at my school 3 years ago), which brings together students taught by Fulbrighters from the Jeolla provinces. Each team of students presents cases for problems they perceive in Korean society, and how they propose to solve those issues. My students in particular chose to speak against how Korea allows criminals who were drunk at the time they committed the crime a more lenient punishment on the grounds that they were not themselves, so to speak. I was nervous about how my friends’ students would grill my own with questions, but I knew I had prepared my kids as much as I could. So this is what teachers/parents feel right before their kids compete…

Though my students did not place, the point of the competition was never to achieve first, second, or third. I felt so proud of my students for putting themselves out there, and doing what it took to perform the way they did. Our trip there was chaotic (took a bus, a train, and a taxi to the venue, and were 40 minutes late despite our best efforts ^^), but I was so happy to have done the competition with them. So was one of my students:

Kim Chaewon (her words are unedited):

“Hi Jeremy it’s Chaewon I want to say thank you sooooo much. Today was really wonderful and meaningful to me so it wont be able for me to forget today! Thank u for giving me such a great opportunity also for the whole things you provided us today. (especially for dinner it was really great.) Full bright teachers and student were really really good and kind. I could learn a lot of things from them. Ooh it is getting longer and longer (meaning later and later)!! Thank you so much!”

I got this text from her later that evening as I was about to fall sleep. The occasional feelings of inadequacy that stem from teaching blur when I receive messages like these. I am far from being the perfect teacher, but I must be doing something right once in a while. I am glad to say I’ve gotten closer to my students since my last post, which was so long ago. I fell asleep that night as I woke up, to the sound of rain hitting my window.

As the months have passed, I’ve been learning to break years-old beliefs about education, about what students should and should not do, about what I consider valuable. Some of my students will never learn English beyond the “hello, goodbye” stage. And that’s ok. I used to get angry when some of them didn’t study much, but now I think try to think otherwise. They either care more about something else in school, or they are happy becoming something requires less textbook training, both of which are perfect. If you try your best as a teacher, that’s all you can ask for, but you can’t demand that everyone study as hard as you did.

On another note, Christmas will be upon us soon. In two weeks, I will meet my mother in Japan and we will spend the holidays together. Though my Korean has advanced to the basic conversational level, it will feel good to speak Spanish with someone face to face again. And to see my mom too of course!

In January I will live in Seoul for a month as I take a Korean language class at Seoul National University. As I submitted the deposit for my apartment, I thought to myself “when in my life did I imagine telling myself that one of my errands was to finish up housing in Seoul”? How unreal. Seoul was a city I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, and now I’m even going to live there for a bit.

Ah, one last thing before I wrap up this post. Several of my friends have asked… “how are you doing in the process of finding someone?” Haha, still waiting guys, still waiting. Things will fall into place sometime, somewhere.

Having dinner with one of my students after the debate competition. Hyunwook is one of my highest performing students, and fantastic to work with.

Having dinner with one of my students after the debate competition. Hyunwook is one of my highest performing students, and fantastic to work with.

Stuffing myself at TGIF after the debate competition with my students :)

Stuffing myself at TGIF after the debate competition with my students 🙂

With fellow Fulbrighter Tiffany while we moderate several debate rounds.

With fellow Fulbrighter Tiffany while we moderate several debate rounds.

Kim Chaewon, the student who wrote me the wonderful message and who is one of my top five performing students. Here she gives a presentation to a judge, one of my friends.

Chaewon (left), the student who wrote me the wonderful message and who is one of my top five performing students. Here she gives a presentation to a judge, one of my friends. *Photo Credit to Tiffany

Junha, the boy on the left, is another debater on my team. Here they work on a mock crisis with members from other schools to solve a problem involving Crimea in Eastern Europe.

Junha, the boy on the left, is another debater on my team. Here they work on a mock crisis with members from other schools to solve a problem involving Crimea in Eastern Europe. *Photo Credit to Tiffany

All of the Fulbrighters and their students who participated in the debate competition :)

All of the Fulbrighters and their students who participated in the debate competition 🙂

A beautiful camping ground where I went with 형 and his family. (형 (hyung) = older brother--used between literal brothers or closer friends as a way to denote respect to elders)

A beautiful camping ground where I went with 형 and his family. (형 (hyung) = older brother–used between literal brothers or closer friends as a way to denote respect to elders). On the right is his wife, whom I call 누나 (noona) meaning older sister.

The caravan where we stayed the night after camping. That's 형. I met him at the gym, and his wife and kids are the most amazing people ever.

The caravan where we stayed the night after camping. That’s 형. I met him at the gym; he, his wife, and their kids are the most amazing people ever.

Touring the Independence Hall of Korea near Cheonan. It was the most amazing museum I've gone to in the world, literally, and I want to go back soon. It's so interactive. You may remember Suhee from my first post in Korea, when I visited his school. His family hosted me in Cheonan...so I count his as another family away from home.

Touring the Independence Hall of Korea near Cheonan. It was the most amazing museum I’ve gone to in the world, literally, and I want to go back soon. It’s so interactive. You may remember Suhee from my first post in Korea, when I visited his school. His family hosted me in Cheonan…so I count his as another family away from home.

Suhee and Christine, a Fulbright friend of mine who teaches in Cheongju. This space was stunning to look at.

Suhee and Christine, a Fulbright friend of mine who teaches in Cheongju. This is another view of the Independence Hall, which was just stunning to look at.

At the Gyeongju Fall Conference with fellow friends who are placed all over Korea.

At the Gyeongju Fall Conference with fellow friends who are placed all over Korea.

Some of my students try sledding for the first snow. I even gave it a shot myself!

Some of my students try sledding for the first snow. I even gave it a shot myself!

One of my students holds a massive branch (or small tree--I couldn't tell) and threatens to attack another student (the one on the top right). If you ask me, she was getting what she deserved :p

One of my students holds a massive branch (or small tree–I couldn’t tell) and threatens to attack another student (the one on the top right). If you ask me, she was getting what she deserved :p

Cutting the cake at my birthday celebration with my coteachers family back in November.

Cutting the cake at my birthday celebration with my coteachers family back in November.

My coteacher's family. One of my homes away from home!

My coteacher’s family. One of my homes away from home!

My friends being too adorable at the Chrysanthemum festival in Iksan. We took this day trip way back in November!

My friends Riki and Bethany being too adorable at the Chrysanthemum festival in Iksan. We took this day trip way back in November!

Jeremy’s Pride

Eight weeks into my teaching, I think I am finding myself guilty. Guilty of falling in love with many of my students. They are very hard-working, kind, and very open to speaking with me. Normally, it’s very difficult to spend time with them because they are always studying until late every weekday at school, and almost all of them go home outside tiny Heungdeok on the weekends (I work at a boarding school). However, thanks to my host mom/coteacher and a few others, I have been able to go on a few excursions with them. Below you will see photos of a trip to Jeonju (an hour by bus) and a trip to Chungbuk (1.5 hours) that I spent with these students. We made ceramic art and toured and ecological complex/research facility together. Just the other day, I had a few of my middle school students (I teach middle school once a week now) come talk to me at the bus station. One of them almost fell on top of me because his friends pushed him so he would speak to me. They are pretty adorable.

All of these students are truly one of my sources of pride. I want to wish them much success in their lives; I know many of them will end up very well off in the future, but I am still nervous for a few others. I have been told that my workplace, a lower-level (lower-achieving) high school by Korean standards, provides these students with the opportunity to shine where they may be drowned out by the competition in bigger schools. It made me sad to hear that, but I guess this system of competition is true in America too. I hope that once they graduate from Gochangbuk, they won’t be disillusioned.

Now my pride, in the other sense of the word, has been tested repeatedly while in Korea. Saving face is not an option when you try to learn a language. Mistakes are bound to be made, and I’ve had my fair share of embarrassing moments. More frustrating at times, however, has been in working with temperamental students. I never realized just how much students sleeping, using cell phones, or being disruptive during class would hurt my pride. I am not a patient man…my family and close friends know this well. I want work done quickly and efficiently. Just like in the U.S., however, not every student agrees with my philosophy towards school.

These students need my attention outside of class rather than in it. Interestingly, it is both easier and harder to engage with these students compared to the ones that study all the time. Easier, because I can find them hanging out in town at night with their friends; they openly admit they do not study after school. More difficult, because these students almost always speak Korean and we share fewer common interests than I do with their bookish counterparts. Thankfully, one thing in common among 99% of all students, studious or not, is that they will be patient with me if I speak in broken Korean to them.

I have felt probably every emotion possible in the last 8 weeks. I wonder what my outlook will be in a few more weeks. I was sick a good deal of the first three weeks, but I have been healthy for at least the last 5 weeks thankfully. Also, I am starting to make a few Korean friends, meeting them either at the gym (I didn’t expect to meet people there, but it’s turned out great!) or through other excursions with my coteachers. They are all very kind people.

I have done a ton of traveling, but I think explaining those trips are better explained in these photos than in writing!

 

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A dark photo, but one nonetheless of my friends and me at the Incheon Asian Games a few weeks ago. Got to see the finals men’s and women’s matches of Sepaktakraw, a popular Southeast Asian sport also dubbed foot volleyball.

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A view of Sepaktakraw. This was the finals women’s game between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma).

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Outside the Sepaktakraw stadium in Bucheon, near Seoul.

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At an Ecoplex (a mix between a nature reserve and an ecology research center) with some of my most advanced English-level students. This kids are the best.

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I took a photo with some of my students at a station in the Ecoplex. It showed up on the huge TV screen right in front of the station. Can you see me?

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In the desert reconstruction in the ecoplex. The polar, Mediterranean, desert, tropical, and temperate climates were represented.

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In the temperate reconstruction in the Ecoplex.

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In Jeonju, at a Mexican restaurant. This cost about 12 dollars…those “salsa” options either tasted sweet or really spicy with not much of a tomato flavor. It was still good though!

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Two of my students try their hands out at ceramic art-making in Jeonju. I made my own as well.

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My student, Gugyoung, drawing his design on his clay pot. He ultimately drew a beautiful tree that I could only dream of designing.

Life in the Boonies in 흥덕 (Heungdeok)

Two weeks into my placement in Heungdeok! It’s amazing how much actually happens in such a short amount of time. Here’s a bit of what’s happened since I last posted.

Seoul and the North Korean Border

While in the bustling metropolis of Seoul, our days were fully packed with activities. We” graduated” from Korea University in a formal ceremony that celebrated the completion of our Korean language courses. Once we were handed our diplomas, by class we presented our final projects to our professors and to the executive director of our program. These presentations were really just us having fun singing and acting out various made-up scenes in Korean. We attended various contract and embassy workshops shortly afterwards, and finished the day out with a ferry ride on the Han River, which runs through the center of Seoul. I slept exhausted that night. What’s new?

The next day I hung out with Grinnell friends all day in Itaewon (the foreigner’s district), Myeongdong (a shopping center near the iconic Namsan Tower), Gyeongbukgong (the traditional palace meant for the imperial family during the Joseon dynasty), and Hongdae (a district popular for its nightlife). The last day was spent going to observatories to look into North Korea. We got to see some of the watchtowers and buildings in North Korea from the other side. What an enigmatic country it truly is…

Heungdeok and Teaching

I do not quite understand my situation relative to other Fulbrighters, but I might be in the most rural placement out of all 75 of us. If not, I’m probs top 5. My town has 3,000 people living in it. So. Few. Haha, but it’s great. I’ve been forced to use a lot of Korean, so I hope it develops quickly. Also, I think I’m the only foreigner.

So this is the makeup of my students:

  • About 30% of my students are very hard to moderately hard workers and will quiet down quickly when asked. They may or may not be high-level English speakers (as in I can almost speak at my normal speaking speed to them), but most are in my highest-level. They are happy to do the work I assign and will ask questions and participate.
  • About 60% of my students are rowdy and often lower-level students (I have to use very simplified sentences or even just one word at a time), but they are still respectful of me and their fellow classmates. They like to play around a lot and it’s easy to get along with them. Some of them need nudging to participate, but some are very happy to.
  • About 10% of my students refuse to work or fall asleep in class. Though I know they can understand the instructions I give, they still will not work. I don’t know what to do with these students yet.
  • I have students tell me anything between “What is your motivation to go into medical school?” and “You are handsome, teacher!” to kids who will draw alcohol or *cough cough* inappropriate body parts on their papers that are supposed to be about their favorite things in life. Guess I don’t really blame them though…they are hormonal teenagers after all :p. Though I really hope they haven’t had much if any alcohol yet…

So what’s the result? I have to come up with many stratified lesson plans in a week, which might be the most difficult part of my job. Gotta challenge and interest my top students, and make English fun and possible for my lowest students.

My coteachers are darlings, and are very patient with me when I try to speak in Korean. They, in turn, practice their English with me. My host family is great and accomodating…I’ve got an adorable 5th grade host brother who I often play games with. He really only speaks Korean with the exception of a few English words, so communicating can be a challenge but I very much enjoy it. My host mom speaks fluent English, so I’m glad I can go to her if I ever really need something, or have questions that I either can’t ask in Korean or would not understand the response in Korean. It’s funny to think that I can speak 3 languages just about fluently, but none of them help me here with most people. I just hope it doesn’t stop being funny anytime soon, lulz.

As always, feel free to ask me anything! It’s been a difficult journey so far, and I’ve had my moments of exhaustion and frustration, but I’m overwhelmingly glad to be here.

I also want to say one last thing! I am constantly in contact with my fellow Korea Fulbright friends, and soon a common website should be set up where their posts can also be seen. Once that site is up, I will list them as resources as well. Also, I have been speaking with a soon-to-be Fulbrighter in Thailand, Kayden Hoang Bui, and I’m sure he would be more than happy to answer questions about applying to Thailand. He and a good friend of mine leave for Thailand within a month, so I’m excited to hear how they will do as well.

 

 

The door to my classroom! I have to decorate it some still...any ideas?

The door to my classroom! I have to decorate it still…any ideas?

I helped a student revise his personal statements for college, and he gave me these as gifts after I helped him. OMG I crave anything even slightly Mexican all the time.

I helped a student revise his personal statements for college, and he gave me these as gifts after I helped him. OMG I crave anything even slightly Mexican all the time.

I don't even know sometimes. I. don't. even. know. But they are hilarious drawings.

I don’t even know sometimes. I. don’t. even. know. But they are hilarious drawings.

A view of the garden/farms (the line is blurry here) in my hometown. I think only mostly elderly men and women live in my town.

A view of the garden/farms (the line is blurry here) in my hometown. I think only mostly elderly men and women live in my town.

Another look at my hometown's landscape.

Another look at my hometown’s landscape.

A look down one of the streets in Heungdeok.

A look down one of the streets in Heungdeok.

This is the main street in my town, which actually has a decent amount of traffic. You can see the "Mexican" restaurant in this photo. I died a little when I saw that it's just chicken and beer, haha. I just really want to know who told them Mexico automatically means fried chicken.

This is the main street in my town, which actually has a decent amount of traffic. You can see the “Mexican” restaurant in this photo. I died a little when I saw that it’s just chicken and beer, haha. I just really want to know who told them Mexico automatically means fried chicken.

The smallest church I have been to in my life. There were probably 25 people in the sanctuary.

The smallest church I have ever been to in my life. There were probably 25 people in the sanctuary.

ALL THE CHINESE CHARACTERS. I wish I could read even a few of them, because sometimes you find them on temples or other ancient architecture.

ALL THE CHINESE CHARACTERS. I wish I could read even a few of them, because sometimes you find them on temples or other ancient architecture and there is no Korean or English to supplement them.

Right outside Heungdeok.

Right outside Heungdeok.

 

Gochang-Bound (고창)

Alright, so lots of things have happened since I last blogged. Here goes!

Practice Lessons

Camp Fulbright finished a few weeks ago, and a crazy set of events has kept us super busy lately.

I taught my first and second practice classes last week. Excited, but nervous, I went through my lesson…

What went well:

  • The lesson went as planned! I got through everything I wanted to do, and I didn’t have extra time left over.
  • The PowerPoint worked well. No technical difficulties; I had heard other teachers were having problems.
  • The students were eventually engaged in the special-animal creation project.

The Stuff that Needs Improvement:

  • I forgot to say what my name is. Oops.
  • The students were very tired and slow to answer my questions. They needed prompting on my part…
  • They were probably slow to answer my questions because I involuntarily used advanced vocabulary and idioms.
  • Since I felt like I had to talk lot to keep them engaged, they probably perceived my lesson as more teacher lecture than student interaction.
  • I need to praise my students.
  • The lesson needs to be more exciting for my students.

Overall, the lesson did not go over as well as I would have liked, but I should not expect so much from my first time. However, I would like to say this: If I appreciated the amazing teachers I’ve had in my life, I value them even more. And to those teachers I’ve had who maybe were not the best, but still tried, I apologize for complaining!

The Campers

Story time! I was at the lunchroom sitting with a few campers a few days ago; they had just come from Spanish club. They asked me to have a conversation with a teacher who speaks Spanish, and the students were just amazed. I’ve noticed this repeatedly; many Korean students are awed by seeing or hearing something outside of East Asia, whether it be language or dancing (I danced a bit of salsa with a friend in front of some of the campers…they seemed to enjoy watching). At least that’s what I have noticed so far.

Also, one of the campers, the one I met the first week I arrived, saw me when some of us volunteered to play gym games with them. By the end of games, he came up to me and said he wanted to give me a present before he left. He actually gave me a touching letter that praised me for being a good friend to him. I certainly don’t feel like I deserve it, but I hope to connect with my students the same way I did with him.

Korean Language and Korean Culture

So here’s the thing: I am learning at a rapid pace, but because of my impatience, it’s not fast enough because I can’t adequately converse with Koreans yet. At the same time, we are going so fast that I can’t always keep up. I want to both slow down and speed up. Weird how that works.

Also… embarrassing story. I gave my professors thank you letters at the end of the class. To deliver them, I had found some envelopes in a convenience store that had Chinese characters written on it, but I couldn’t find any others. I had no idea how to try to translate it, as I do not know how to type an unknown character into the computer. Also, I could not find someone who could read traditional characters, so I made the assumption that it meant good luck or something of the sort. Note to self: don’t make assumptions; we all know what happens when you do.

Turns out those characters meant something along the lines of “Funeral Expenditures.” I found out after I gave them the letters…I was so embarrassed. I will never again assume anything when it comes to China or Chinese characters…

We haven’t had too much exposure to full-on Korean culture yet, since we have been surrounded in a sort of “American bubble.” We can speak English with each other here at Jungwon University, and many of the events we have attended are conducted in English. I feel like the culture shock will come soon when I arrive at Gochang.

We went to a Buddhist temple last weekend, where I learned to meditate and eat meals as the Buddhist monks and nuns do. It was unlike any other experience I had had, and I’m appreciative of the experience. It was odd to see the older-looking temple put near a modern city though. I forget that Korea only started achieving deep-rooted economic and political stability in the 1990s…that means this country only started becoming the power that it is now when I was born.

Gochang (고창)

When I first received my assignment, I was pretty neutral. Excited to have a placement, but neutral about the city itself. I never had heard of it, but when I started researching, I felt like it was a mix of Grinnell and Idaho Falls, two of the cities that I’ve lived in for significant amounts of time. I am nervous about being the only native Fulbright English Teacher in my county. However, I am still so thrilled right now to begin a life in a location where there are very few English (or Spanish or French) speakers and where I have little access to Western culture.

We leave to our respective locations in two weeks. Sort of can’t handle this right now. READ: I am feeling scared, happy, frustrated, thrilled, stressed, and very unsure. There are so many questions floating in my mind, and so many emotions flowing through my heart. All I’ve got to say is, “Bring it on, Gochang.”

2 Weeks in Korea

Lesson learned: A post every two weeks is not enough, so this post will be extra long! I might start making some video posts for those of you who are like TL/DR. (Too long, didn’t read).

I’ll start it off with this though:

안녕하세요선셍김!
아이다호폴스에서왔어요.
아이다호극가끔더워요, 가끔추워요.
서올어때요? 재미있어요?
내일만나요!

After just 5 days of Korean class, this is the email message I was able to send my professor, Seo Young Seok (서영석). It says:

“Hello Professor! I am from Idaho Falls. Idaho is sometimes hot, sometimes cold. How is Seoul? Is it lots of fun? See you tomorrow!”

Yep, I can probably speak like a three-year-old now, or maybe not even that much, but it’s a work in progress! However, I do know that I’m going to be a master of Charades by the time I’m done with my year in Korea.

Staying at Jungwon University has been a great experience so far. Orientation has taught us a lot about what our responsibilities as teachers are, how to teach well, how to approach Korean culture and immerse ourselves in it, and how to speak Korean. I’ve also met very accomplished fellow Fulbrighters who come from many different paths in life and from all over America.

As part of orientation, we got to go to different schools and get a taste for what we might see. This is done before stating our preferences about where we would like to get placed. I went to a co-ed elementary school in Gimcheon, considered a rural location in Korea, followed by a suburban co-ed high school near Daejeon. The kids at the elementary school were adorable, so they almost had me convinced that I wanted to teach younger children. They were so well-behaved, unlike anything I’d ever seen in America.

DSCN5716

A view of Gimcheon Elementary school, where we got to observe a current Fulbright teacher.

However, after going to the high school, I was pretty convinced that I wanted to teach at that level. They were pretty rowdy, which I expected. Interestingly though, since Korean teenagers rarely see foreigners, they almost treated us like celebrities. Many were shy around us, or they giggled after we spoke to them.

The current Fulbright English teacher arranged for some of her students to give us tours of the high school. I had two bright students show me around, and with their broken English and my broken Korean, we got around. They even took a photo with me!

 

Meeting two Korean high school students. Excited for when I get to start teaching at my own school!

Meeting two Korean high school students. Excited for when I get to start teaching at my own school!

I’ll be seeing the student in the white uniform, Suhee, this week again! I’m excited to see him and also meet other students during Camp Fulbright.

Speaking of which, Camp Fulbright is a program that has multiple goals. Taking place at Jungwon University this week and next, it is an opportunity for Korean students (4th grade to juniors in high school) to attend classes and workshops while also playing games that aim to teach them English. They are not allowed to speak Korean at all during the 2 weeks, no matter their level of knowledge.

How does this affect us? This camp’s goal is also to give us an opportunity to practice being teachers before being sent off to our school. I actually recently submitted a lesson plan to teach my first class this Thursday, on July 24. I will teach students at the “High Beginner” level about comparative and superlatives in English (fast, faster, fastest, for example). I’m kind of nervous, but it should be fun too.

Ah! One last thing before I wrap up this post. The executive director of our program, Ms. Jai Ok Shim, provided us with an amazing mini-vacation trip to Donghae, a small city on the East Coast of Korea. We went on hikes and to the beach…I even went tubing on the East Sea! Didn’t think I would be doing that, haha. The food was great too…there’s so much seafood. And kimchi. And rice.

At the Donghae Grand Hotel Convention Center with two friends, Nadia and Emily.

At the Donghae Grand Hotel Convention Center with two friends, Nadia and Emily.

At a peak on a beautiful hiking trail.

At a peak on a beautiful hiking trail.

At the peak.

At the peak.

A Buddhist Temple on the hiking trail

A Buddhist Temple on the hiking trail

The dinner spread of amazing food. I wish I could tell you what all of it is, but I don't know. There as fish, garlic, kimchi, and seaweed for sure though.

The dinner spread of amazing food. I wish I could tell you what all of it is, but I don’t know. There as fish, garlic, kimchi, and seaweed for sure though.

Some of the soup offered at the dinner in Donghae.

Some of the soup offered at the dinner in Donghae.

I end this post here, with now the intention to post once a week. Too much is happening for me to say it on one post every two weeks! I realize that I did not touch on several different aspects, such as how social life is going in Korea, how else I’m adjusting, etc. I think I will space this out over the next few posts, but if you have any questions or comments about these topics and others, please post here, or send me a message at franceusa11@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

Fly to Korea

Hello Friend!

So here I am, 3 days away from going to Korea! My closest friends know that I’ve wanted this fellowship to Korea more than anything in the world for a few years now, and it’s finally going to come true.

These are a few questions that I’ve been asked for the past few weeks, so I feel like it’d be a good idea to answer some of them:

1. What’s the Fulbright Program?

“The Fulbright U. S. Student Program is the largest US exchange program, offering study and research grants for US citizens who are students (at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral level) or young professionals to undertake advanced research and international graduate study overseas. There are also opportunities to teach English abroad at either the primary, secondary, or university levels. Approximately 1,800 grants are awarded annually in all fields of study, in more than 155 countries worldwide.

English Teaching Assistantships offer students and young professionals opportunities to teach English abroad. 65 countries participate in this program.” (1)

Additionally, it is a program that the U.S. State Department has set up to foster intercultural exchange, the initiative coming from former senator J. William Fulbright.

2. Why Korea?

The lands of East Asia seemed like a mystical world to me as a child, having little exposure to either the cultures or languages in Idaho. After arriving in college, however, the doors to Korea’s culture in particular unlocked as I found myself among Korean domestic and international students. As I learned the Korean alphabet from them and listened to Korean music, I was surprised to find out that the pronunciation was amazingly close to Spanish, with elements of French and English too. As my first language, Spanish has a special place in my life. It is the basis of my communication with my parents and it is the link to my heritage. I would later grow up in a bilingual family, learning in English at the age of four and utilizing both languages on a daily basis. French is also a language near and dear to me, seeing as it was one of my majors and I studied in France for nearly 4 months in 2012.

The idea of teaching in Korea harkens back to my childhood, both in terms of Spanish as my maternal language and of how preschool and kindergarten taught me English. From my Korean friends, I also came to understand the high academic achievement expected of them. It reminded me of the strict, studious attitude my parents enforced on me, and as a result, I started building links that connected my upbringing with Korean language and culture. Realizing all of these connections further fueled my desire to expand my own linguistic and cultural backgrounds beyond the bounds of the Anglophone, Hispanophone, and Francophone worlds.

3. North or South Korea? Where in the country?

This one is one of my favorite questions to answer. While I’m one of the crazy people who would love to go to North Korea some day, next year will not be that year, and I will be teaching English in South Korea. I will be in Goesan (located in rural central Korea) for 6 weeks undergoing orientation with about 70 other chosen teachers from around the country. After that, we will be told where we will actually go to teach.

If you have any questions about the Fulbright application process, about me, or any others pertaining to my adventures in Korea, please ask! I love answering questions of the sort, and I welcome comments about how I can improve the blog, what I can do in Asia (because I will most definitely be traveling at some point!), etc.

I end this post with two music videos that pretty well sum up my excitement about flying to Korea AND give you a little taste for Korean pop culture. Enjoy, and you better believe that I’ll exploring some of these sites in Seoul soon!

(1) Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Johns Hopkins University: Bloomberg School of Public Health. Retrieved from http://www.jhsph.edu/offices-and-services/funding-opportunities/international-research-opportunitites/fulbright.html