Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Last" Day of School: Class Photos With Most of My First-Grade Students

To say that today is the "last" day of school is not accurate for two reasons: 
  1. There are no classes held today. Students are just to come in in the morning to attend an official end-of-the-year ceremony. And clean the school grounds. 
  2. Though today marks the end of the semester, students will continue to come to school to continue learning throughout the summer, everyday (Monday through Saturday, though with a bit more truncated study times from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.). 
With these considerations in mind, today is the "last" day of school because it is the last day for me. It is the last time I will officially come in as a teacher at Yeongdo Girls High School. It's proving a bit difficult for me to feel the finality of the situation seeing as how students and other teachers alike are overwhelmingly continuing on with the educational grind. Despite the emotional disconnect, intellectually, I knew that the end of my contract was approaching, and thankfully managed to take photos with all 12 of my classes. Here they are, with the unfortunate exception of one class photo that didn't quite turn out. 


Photos courtesy of co-teachers: Hye Gyeong, Mr. Seo, and Ju Mi Yeon

Thursday 1-1/2 A Class

Friday 1-1/2 L Class

Monday 1-3/4 I Class

Monday 1-5/6 L Class 

Thursday 1-3/4 L Class

Thursday 1-7/8 L Class

Tuesday 1-5/6 A Class

Wednesday 1-3/4 A Class

Wednesday 1-5/6 I Class

Wednesday 1-7/8 I Class 
I will miss my students, and more so when it finally hits me. While I am saddened that my time as a teacher in South Korea has come to an end, I feel an excitement, too, at the thought that a handful of  recently-graduated young Americans are currently gearing up to take my place and continue the mission of Fulbright as they start their own journeys as ETAs and U.S. cultural ambassadors.

Future ETAs, be excited for the next steps you will take! Whether you feel prepared or not, you are about to impact hundreds of young lives - make it for the better!


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Unofficial Last Day of School Celebration: Ramyeon House & Wicked Snow in Yeongdo with Some of My 1st and 2nd Grade Students!


I didn't know where we were heading when a friend first took me to this place. It is so hidden away that you could miss it going by! Amazingly enough, this place is always packed when we come in to eat, with the majority of the customers being couples or students from the nearby schools
The end of the school year is upon us! Today, we only have classes for half the day. The other half is dedicated to a singing competition between the different classes, which ends at 4:00 p.m. Hearing about my impending return to the States, many of my students have asked to spend time with me outside of school. My former YDAC students have been particularly persistent, and so I was all too happy to arrange a date with some of my girls after their singing competitions. 

We walked together to the Ramyeon House, a small restaurant tucked away from the main road whose owners are an elderly couple who, apparently, haven't updated the interior or their recipe for over 30 years! I love the bare-faced simplicity and the humble aura of the place. I especially love going through this thin, half-sized bamboo curtain, and hearing it clink behind me into a thousand broken unbroken pieces. Once inside, everything you see is what's all there is! 

The only thing even more tucked away than the restaurant's location is the restaurant's secret recipe to their secret recipe bibim ramyeon (or biram for short, as Ji Eun slyly told me). 

Ji Eun being served her biram by both owners - in front and behind her.
I will miss this elderly couple a lot! I find their teamwork endearing

The price of each? W2-3,000 (or the equivalent of $2-3.00).
Not pictured: the equally delicious and slightly-spicy egg-drop-like soup that comes with each bowl of ramyeon

My very smart and fun-loving students: Jeong Min, Ga Rim, and Ji Eun. I really enjoyed sitting down with them and asking them more about what they want to accomplish in the future. Two of them are thinking of becoming educators - win! 

Love these girls! Each of these girls have taken some special class with me outside of our normal class schedule, whether that be YDAC, WYLD camp, or English Book Club!

After I paid for the biram, they insisted on paying for dessert and took me to Wicked Snow, a place I kept seeing but had never been to before. I will miss these bus rides around Busan - clean environment, predictable schedule,  scenic island-life views!


Iced Dessert & Brunch Cafe

Jeong Min leading the way across the street.
This dessert cafe is just across from Busan Bank, Paris Baguette, and Top Mart!

They treated us to two bowls of delicious patbingsu!

The air-conditioned cafe was a perfect place of respite from the humidity and heat outside

I got the Korean poses down, as you can see

After a while, it got to be a bit too cold, so we headed out and went on our separate ways
I am amazed how many of my students tell me, "Teacher, I don't speak English" (with some even punctuating this by running away) when they can speak English! These three, for example, talked so much, I have a hard time recalling how they managed to eat either the biram or the patbingsu.

Jeong Min headed on home, and Ga Rim headed to her academy. Ji Eun and I returned to Yeongdo Girls High School riding the local green bus that I had never ridden before. It was a perfect way to seal the end of my time in Yeongdo.

But, of course, I didn't want to think about it too much, so I got on and, a few minutes later, I got off.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Homesick for Busan City" Even Before I Leave My Amazing Placement

Nearly two years ago when I first arrived here in South Korea, I remember never having even heard of the city of Busan, where I would be placed in, and where I would ultimately spend all this time living and teaching and exploring. Since then, I have grown to absolutely love this city! It reminds me so much of Davao, Philippines, and Seattle, Washington, where I have spent a considerable amount of my life before ending up here. It was a foreign place but, once I arrived, it felt oddly and wonderfully familiar. 

Out of curiosity, I reread my blog post about the day I found out I would be coming here: July 30, 2013's Placement Ceremony. Just, wow. I feel so blessed that, though I didn't get what I thought I wanted, I ultimately got what I didn't even know I needed. Part of this was being placed where I believe I would have the most impact. Of course, I didn't do everything perfectly - not in my lesson plans, my working relationships, my homestay life, not in my dreams of traveling far and wide and studying the language to achieve proficiency. But it is through experiencing my limitations more acutely here in Korea that I have faced the tremendous and painstaking challenge of...extending grace to myself. 

Note to Current and Future ETAs: 
Please Be Kind and Gracious! 
To Yourselves, Too!

Your time here is limited. You may spend one to three years of your life here (more if you really fall hard for the country like some Fulbright Korea alumni), which is not that long in the greater scheme of things. Before you know it, you will be like me - sitting in the gyomushil at work, clipping two-years' worth of front pages of your city's local tourism-focused newsmag, missing your placement hardcore while simultaneously cringing over the pain of using scissors! 


"Twice-monthly newspaper of Busan Metropolitan City, Korea" 

I stayed in school for 12 hours today, yet only taught two 50-minute classes, so I was in dire need of a project. I had saved up every issue of Dynamic Busan since I arrived at my school, (with the intention of eventually doing something collage-y or artsy with the fantastically vibrant landscape shots of the city), so today was a day of sorting through the mountainous pile on my desk, cutting up the main photos and date stamps on the front covers, and browsing through the rest of the newspaper for photos of places I had been at or events I had experienced. This is what my late afternoon/ evening consisted of. 

Sookhee took note of my large-scale newspaper cutting but apparently already guessed the reason why I was bent on such a project. She asked me just to confirm over dinner, and I explained that I was doing this because I would miss Busan so much! She nodded her head, and said, "I knew it" 

I arranged the cover photos by date. I am missing only two issues: November 2013 and April 2015! Where have these issues gone?! My collection will not be complete :(

I was really not paying attention to much of the written pieces, but I randomly stumbled upon this short opinion piece. It's written by one Sohail Jannessari, who, like me, also greatly appreciates the city. It made me feel better reading this knowing that I wasn't the only one who "fell in love with a city two continents away from my home." I suspect that the inexplicable sorrow he experienced when getting on his plane to go back "home" will be something that I will be experiencing in less than two months...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Thoughts on Transitions and Goodbyes and Feeling Like Joseph & His Robe of Many Colors By the Way My Former Principal Treated Me

Most people who say, "See you later!" or "Let's catch up sometime" do so just as another polite and friendly way to extract themselves from a chance meeting-gone-too-lengthy and say "Goodbye" (without so much of the finality an actual goodbye entails). I have noticed this mostly in the Western world, and have adjusted accordingly in the years I have lived in the States.

However, here in South Korea, when someone tells me they want to "see [me] later," I have found they literally mean it. Like, the next day, I will receive a text asking  when I am available for lunch or coffee... that week. And then a follow-up text asking where and what time. I like this clear-cut, to-the-point, action-oriented interpretation of the above-mentioned phrases more!

My host sisters and students don't believe me, but I truly, absolutely adore the Principal's traditional Korean outfits. They're loose, elegant, and, yes, old-womanly-looking, but so cool! The only problem is they are also way out of my price range :/
I mention all of this because, right before my former principal left Yeongdo Girls High School to move on to her new 4-year appointment at another school, she invited me to come and visit her there. She seemed really genuine and eager when she gave this invitation in all-Korean (thanks to my co-teachers for translating), but I reverted back to my Western way of interpreting these parting words, and, though I could feel that the sentiment was definitely there, I didn't think she actually expected me to follow through when I said "Definitely! I will come to see you there!"

Fast-forward a couple of months and Park Mi Sook bujangnim invited me to come visit our gyojang seonsaengnim along with a handful of other teachers. She reminded me that the principal was especially fond of me and that my presence there would make the trip more meaningful as most of the teachers who are going to visit will also be leaving their schools after this year. Just like me. (It turns out, this see you later is just an extended formal goodbye). But did I want to go? 

We're talking about the Principal who would come in to the gyomushil to check on each teacher and give my hands a worried squeeze when she heard the terrible gravity of my winter cough; the woman who would give me extra pocket money for Fulbright's Fall Conference in Gyeongju and Spring Conference in Jeju, and the same one who gave my first-ever YDAC team a generous day allowance on top of what the U.S. Embassy in Seoul was already covering. The same principal who gave me gifts for my birthday and for Christmas, and wrote me an adorable New Years card, complete with personal artwork decorating the envelope! We're talking about this Principal, who, contrary to what I had believed, didn't do this for the other teachers at my school. (Feeling a bit like Joseph and his robe of many colors but - thankfully! - my co-teachers are far from being like jealous siblings).


Since I have been remiss in posting regularly unlike my first month here in Korea, here are some Facebook posts to catch you up!

3/7/2014 | School admins with Michael Horn
12/24/2014 | Scarf and leather gloves from Principal
Sookhee: "The Principal really loves you!"
8/25/14 | Hogan Medlin, YGHS Fulbright ETA 2011, visiting!
1/9/15 | Principal congratulating the students who earned
YGHS its second First Place YDAC win!
And because we're talking about this Principal, I was definitely going. 


Me: [asking co-teachers in genera] What should I bring? 

Sookhee: No, you don't need to bring anything. 

Me: Really...? What about a small gift or a card? 

Sookhee: [always making sure that I'm not "burdened" by anything] No, we've already got a gift for Principal. Other teachers pooled money and bought a gift already. 

Me: Oh...err - 

Sookhee: -But you don't have to worry about that! Principal really loves you. You just bring yourself and she will be happy!

Me: [thinking I would at least write a card] Okay, sounds good!

Mi Sook Bujangnim: Mimi - may I suggest you write a card for the Principal? I think it's a good idea

Me: Yeah, that's no problem, bujangnim!


The entrance of our Principal's new high school. Sookhee translated that the Principal is only two years away from retirement but, unlike what most people expected she would do, she is not taking these last couple of years lightly. She's bent on revamping the curriculum of this arts and design-focused school so that its students can be as competitive as possible when it comes to university applications!

Gradually meeting up with teachers. Some came with watermelons, and others carried boxes full of plants in fancy earthenware 

There were four of these mini ponds in the mini park in front of the school. The shock of water and green plants was soothing to my eyes. It also helped me recover a bit after feeling motion sick in the back of my co-teacher's car

The Principal's warm welcome. She ushered us into her office, where she updated the teachers about the great tasks that are in front of her in this new school

Heading from the school to a restaurant to eat dinner together! Jeong Eun Ju Seonsaengnim had a prior appointment and so left the six of us to dine together

I was told there would be fish broth but, it turns out, the broth was made of powdered fish. I basically spent the whole meal waiting for the "real" fish broth to come out...

The rest of the group walking way ahead on our way back to the school as Park Mi Sook Bujangnim proudly shared some of her daughter's fashion designs with me on her smartphone

It was about 7:00 p.m. when we finished dinner and arrived back at the school. It took us another 30 minutes to get back to YGHS. I like this picture, capturing the Principal's face all lit up at our having visited her :)
Knowing that Jeon Mi Soon Gyojang Seonsaengnim would have a heck of a time translating my English writing, I asked Sookhee to translate my "short"-message-turned-kind-of-long on the other side of the card. She gave a disclaimer that not everything would transfer smoothly to Korean, but seeing her handwriting on the page a few minutes later was like witnessing Hangeul magic. I didn't care as long as the gist was on the page. Sookhee is the best!

My hope is that Jeon Gyojang Seonsaengnim would accomplish all the good she is setting out to do for the students at this school, and that her doing so will not leave her exhausted and depleted but even more charged with energy and life! I didn't account for this apparently rougher transition she would have in the card I gave to her. I kind of assumed that, after a couple of decades or so in the Korean education system, the transitions would be a piece of cake (for her and anyone). Perhaps it becomes easier, but I suppose a transition is still a transition.

I have less than two months left in this country, so my head is definitely full of thoughts concerning goodbyes and transitions. Seeing how much I love this country, my job, and my life here, the coming days are going to be rough. [Deep intake of breath] Very rough...

Friday, June 5, 2015

Spring 2015 Busan YDAC | Video of Yeongdo Girls High School's Journey

As a Fulbright ETA, one of my favorite events in the semester is YDAC (or Youth Diplomacy & Activism Conference). Overall, this is my fourth time coaching a team of students for YDAC and my third time coordinating for the Gyeongsangnamdo region.

You can read about previous YDACs Yeongdo Girls High School has attended here and here. The experience of preparing students for this English writing and speaking conference has always proven rewarding, though certainly not without its challenges. I will be making a separate post with photos and more detail, but, for now, here's a video I snapped throughout our last few days of prep work to document my students' journey through YDAC! 

App: Snapmovie/ Song: "Sweet Disposition" by The Temper Trap

Friday, May 22, 2015

Yearbook Photo-Taking & Experiencing Micro Exclusions at School

Yesterday, I stayed at school past 8:00 p.m. creating visually-rich itineraries and editing an upcoming program to an obsessive-compulsive degree. I emerged from the computer screen-induced daze I had been in to realize that night had fallen, and I was the last one left in the gyomushil save for Jane. Unaware of my foggy mental state, she asked me some questions that helped draw me out of my reverie. Thank you, Jane. 

Would I like a ride home? 

Yes, please! 

Snug in her small 4-door, Jane casually mentioned that the following day (today) would be picture-taking day. 

Me: For what? 

Jane: For the yearbook, of course!

Me: [remembering how I wasn't part of it last year, I murmured] cool!

Jane: So...what are you going to wear? 

Me: Probably nothing. Err - what I mean is, I'm probably not...included in the yearbook, so - 

Jane: Why not? You're a teacher at the school!

Me: [totally what I was thinking, but what I said was] I wasn't asked to be a part of it last year. I just assumed foreign teachers were excluded from the official school yearbook...

Jane: Huh...I bet you were in last year's, too. They probably just used your Fulbright mugshot. 

Me: [horrified] I really hope not! Anyway, are you sure foreign teachers are included?

She said they (aka me - since I'm the only foreign teacher at my school) were. Though there are many aspects to love about my school, small things like these have made me feel a bit excluded in the past year. I am too shy to ask or confirm or, worse, look like I am insisting on being included in spheres where I may not belong. 

I have been so attuned to this feeling while growing up that I have done everything I could in all the roles I have held to minimize the possibility of this feeling unhappily alighting upon other people. 

Here's a happy little video I took of our picture-taking time - complete with sunshine, green grass, blue skies, people gardening, and awkward Korean studio poses that really don't speak at all to the aforementioned feelings of micro exclusions I have sometimes felt at my school. 

After twisting my head at an uncomfortable angle and placing my hands in the most awkward pose ever, the photographer snapped my photo, and I was free! 

It turns out Jane and I were among the few teachers at the school who got wind of the fact we would be taking photos today! (All because we had stayed past 8 p.m., when the school decided to send an automated message to teachers' computers). Many teachers ambled into the temporary studio self-conscious in their loose, non-stylish Friday outfits. Apparently, unlike other years, this year's yearbook portrait-taking was mandatory

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Date Night w/ My Co-Teacher | Samgwangsa Temple's Festival of Lights!

One of the cooler [and more unexpected] aspects of my time here in South Korea has been the absolutely fantastic Fulbright co-teachers I have been blessed to work with. To date, I have worked with five - three "official" ones, and two who, for various reasons had to temporarily sub in for my "official" ones. They have all been extremely helpful, accommodating, and adventurous! 

My second Fulbright co-teacher was Jane. Even though she is no longer assigned to me, she still takes the time to spend time with me at school (taking walks around the school grounds, giving me rides home after staying late at work), and outside of school (asking me if I want to go on day-trips with her on the weekends). If it weren't for her, I would see less of Busan!

The video and photos below show one of our many adventures together!

There were probably thousands of these tags, containing people's full names, address, and wishes

The lanterns were in different colors

This whole temple was absolutely enchanting in the evening

My beautiful, adventurous co-teacher! 
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