Thursday, November 1, 2012

Festivals, Spectacles, and Testicles

           Semi-unsurprisingly I have not been diligent in keeping up with this blog.  Throughout my time in Guatemala I typically posted at least once a month; this has not been the case in Korea.  Needless to say, time is flying.  I am quickly approaching four months in country.  A third of my year-long contract is nearly completed!  My time has been filled with plenty of teaching, culture, hilarity, and a plethora of delicious and interesting foods.  I have used my first boudee, eaten pig intestine and fish cake, survived a local chemical explosion, and heard Gangnam Style more times than the Macarena.  Luis has an embarrassing video of the boudee experience from afar, which I’m sure will be posted on the internet and haunt me sometime down the road.  It involves a loud shriek and Caroline (college friend living outside Seoul) laughing uncontrollably.

The academic side of my experience continues to be a positive one.  My classroom management skills have gradually improved and I genuinely enjoy my job and seeing my students improve their language and equally important creative abilities.  My favorite group is my advanced class.  They push me to prepare more thoroughly and offer that I’m-a-teenager attitude.   During an exam week, one of my students played “corm” in a game of Scrabble.  You know, corm- an enlarged, fleshy, bulblike base of a stem, as in the crocus.  He is the smallest student and they call him boy genius.  As you can see below, a few of my students need to start taking steroid tests along with their vocabulary exams.  They are huge for Koreans!

Festivals are commonplace here. You’ll hear about a major one happening nearly every week.  In fact, according to this article there are over two-thousand planned this year alone.  I was fortunate enough to attend both the number #1 and #5 on this CNN list.  Jess, Luis, and I headed to the Andong to the International Maskdance Festival with my boss earlier this month.  We witnessed a traditional mask dance, released burning lanterns into the sky, and watched traditional Korean fireworks.  (See pictures of this and the Jinju Lantern Festival in my F’book album)  

Festivals are convenient ways to try new foods, travel the country, and take in some of the traditional culture.  Nonetheless, before this past weekend I can’t say I’d be compelled to recommend one over another.  The Busan Fireworks Festival (#1) was a breathtaking spectacle- hence the title.  I am talking a literal jaw-dropping experience.  The kind of thing that I can only remember happening when the WTC towers fell, the day I found out Santa wasn’t real, and the moment I knew I had shit my pants during a Peace Corps meeting. The lights in the sky were so intense and magical that I fell back into Caroline’s lap, jaw hanging, as we watched from the beach.  

The festival took place in Busan (2nd largest city in Korea) this past weekend, a weekend that was incontestably my favorite of my experience thus far.  The weekend included the festival, a visit to the aquarium to see sharks, beach time, and nudity, as the usage of the third puzzling and inappropriate word in the title alludes to.  Hey, it kind of rhymed?  In honor of Caroline’s birthday we got into our birthday suits.  Ok, ok we went to our respective saunas in the hotel and got full body massages.  As a fledgling to the Korean sauna world, stripping down and parading around the sauna, the showers, the pools, the beach chairs —the entire facility- was initially a bit overwhelming.  Sure, I’ve showered in the men’s locker room stateside, but this was a new level of free. 
My initial nerves wore off and by the second day my Superman briefs were off quicker than the 2012 World Series. Relaxing in the hot, cold, and mineral pools, experiencing the wet and dry saunas, and lounging in a beach chair overlooking the ocean were a perfect part of a rejuvenating weekend. Check out Luis’ more detailed comical summary.   Who would have thought a sense of comfort with my body would be something I’d take from this experience?  

Happy Halloween to everyone back home and feliz cumpleaƱos to Aunt Maureen!   My positive thoughts are with all friends and loved ones affected by Sandy.  Miss you all

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A few months back I completed my last Peace Corps blog post with the following:
Just the other day, I came across an old bucket list I had made a few years back. One of the goals was to live in a foreign country for a year. 26 months later I suppose that is a double check. Speak another language- Check. Make a positive impact in the world-Check. Which check is next? Travel Asia or get a tattoo? I am excited to find out.
I decided on the latter; this is my masterpiece.

Just kidding.  As many of you may know, I am currently living and teaching in South Korea.  I completed my 120-hour TESL certification while in Guatemala and have embarked on a very different, but nevertheless exciting journey across the globe.  This time round I do not have a curfew and Luis has joined me.  I figured this would be a great medium for sharing photos and experiences with family and friends back home.  And, of course, whoever those people who continually read my blog from Russia and the Ukraine may be.
Although fully aware I was traveling to an extremely developed country, I subconsciously mentally prepared myself for a Peace Corps II.  I knew this was not the case, but I think I started to connect going away with bucket baths, latrines, and malaria medication.  My fully-furnished apartment, stove and plate dryer included, and health insurance are concrete examples of the luxuries I am fortunate to have here.  South Korea actually ranks fifteenth world-wide on the UN’s HDI (Human Development Index), ahead of the likes of France, Spain, Italy, and Denmark. 

I am living under great conditions.  More importantly, I am extremely interested in the opportunity to experience international education in a much more developed environment.  To give a brief overview, I am teaching in a private language school, or hagwon.  Students are extremely motivated and equally pushed to be successful academically.  I am teaching a wide range of students:  My Friday first period is the beginner class (5-7) and much focus is put on phonetics and basic grammar.  My final class on Friday is the advanced students (12-15) with focus on reading comprehension and conversation.  Our first pre-planned lesson happened to be about JFK and a piece about the Peace Corps.  I can’t make this shtuff up.  I really enjoy the variation in age range and the different obstacles and learning opportunities they offer.

Hangul, the name of the Korean alphabet, is slowly becoming my friend.  The written language goes back to 1446 when it was created as an easy way for the common population to communicate.  A portion of the population had previously used Chinese characters and Hangul was the solution to advancing national communication - thankfully it is supposed to be the easiest Asian language to get a grasp on!
The weather thus far has gracefully lied somewhere between gorgeous and ungodly humid.  My apartment complex is alongside a river and is coined as the ‘country’ by local folk (Luis’ boss) who live in the city of Gumi.  This ‘country’ has countless coffee shops, grocery stores, and twenty-story apartments.  Plus, it costs around $2.40 to get to Luis on public transport.  In old Peace Corps fashion (I miss my morning hikes from Chamelco to the tea cooperative) I walked an hour and a half from my house to the city nearest him.  I was able to save bus fare to get there, but ended up splurging on a Smoothie King smoothie to quench my thirst upon arrival.

The food is excellent and sure to be presented in my upcoming posts.   For now I will share with you some photos and the funny fact that during Luis’ first class, ever, one of his students peed in a cup and handed it to him.  We are sure to have many more humorous, but hopefully less disturbing stories soon.  I hope everyone is well stateside or wherever you may be.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Exercise, Hygiene, & Nutrition Week

The current cooking area at the school.  The project money was ultimately reimbursed through the bank at the very end of the project.  Nevertheless, the money is being put towards the purchase of an institutional stove with ventilation and the construction of a toddler play area.