After completing my undergraduate studies, I accepted a chance to teach in Korea through the Fulbright Scholarship. Originally intending to stay just one year, it soon turned into three. I taught in Cheongju as an ETA from 2012 - 2015. This is my final post as a Fulbright ETA. In two days, I will officially be starting my new job at a small international school in Seoul.
Before saying goodbye to Fulbright, I wanted to reflect a bit on the last three years, and I think the best way to do that is with Camp Fulbright. To me, what goes on at Camp Fulbright is exactly like what happens during one's three years as an ETA. You arrive in Korea not knowing anyone else in your cohort or, for many, even knowing how to teach. After an intense orientation, you know your cohort better, and you have a sense of what you will be doing for the rest of the year (or years). Then, you move into the real world. You meet students and other teachers; you have crazy busy schedules that sometimes make you feel insane; you have moments of frustration, of anger, of sadness, and of happiness. By the end, you have some 80+ people you call your "family," and a good several hundred students you call your "kids." You've made wonderful friendships with coworkers, young Koreans, and other expats. Some decide to continue another year, and some leave.
What you leave Fulbright with, though, is a lifetime of memories and the knowledge that your family has increased a hundred fold. In essence, you never truly leave Fulbright. There may be times when you look back on your experience and think "I should have done this while I was there," or "why didn't I do that?" Overall, though, you know that Fulbright has changed you; that you have been impacted by many and have also impacted just as many.
As Robert Frost would say, "I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence: / Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference."
I've spent the better part of this month saying and preparing to say goodbye to many friends. My final year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant is coming to an end in just one month, and although I won't be leaving Korea, there are many friends who are.
So, in the midst of the goodbye parties and Fulbright cohort commemorative group photos, it was nice to spend part of my weekend saying hello to a good friend from university who I haven't seen in quite a while. Sophie was back in Korea for the summer, so we met up in Seoul to walk around Gyeongbukgung and try some fancy food in Apgujung, including a scrumptious banana cream filled brownie.
We met up Saturday morning and drove to the mountains near Jeonju where we had an excellent bibimbap lunch, and went hiking to a nice temple. Bibimbap is a Korean dish of rice, vegetables, egg, and sometimes meat mixed together. Each region has different special variants on the dish, and Jeonju is especially known for their bibimbap. We also had makeoli (Korean rice wine), pajeon (vegetables and seafood that are combined in a pancake-like batter and fried), and an almond jelly salad. We ate our bibimbap on an outside patio with a view of the mountain; a great atmosphere for eating bibimbap!
After our lunch, we went on our hike, enjoying the scenery along the way. At the top of the trail, we came to a temple and we toured the grounds before going back down the mountain and driving to the home of one our members. There, us ladies prepared the table and vegetables for our samgyeopsal dinner, while the gents cooked the meat. We ate outside again, and, because it was now summer, had to also burn a few bug repellents to keep mosquitoes at bay (although several of us still ended up with a few bites, myself included).
After eating, we spent the rest of the evening doing what we do best - swing dancing and enjoying each others' company. We had a grand old time, and stayed up far too late.
The following morning, we cleaned up after ourselves, took a couple group pictures outside, and drove our tired selves back to Cheongju.
For the past three years, pictures of friends against a vibrant green backdrop have filled up my Facebook news feed sparking a slight pang of jealousy, so, this year, Soo and I decided it was about time for us to go ourselves.
We left from our respective cities on Saturday morning, and spent the evening in Gwangju, where we decided to sea a movie. This morning, we left Gwangju for Boseong, arriving late in the morning. Already by that time the traffic into the tea fields was horrendous, and the taxi there took longer than we expected. However, it was worth the drive.
The tea fields were quite beautiful, and the smell of tea leaves warmed by the sun floated in the air like perfume. We walked around enjoying the scented mountain air and taking pictures of the scenery. On our way out of the fields, we had some green tea ice cream, and green tea samgyeopsal, both of which were quite delicious (and overpriced).
Outside of the fields in what is normally a parking lot, there was the "festival:" a bunch of white tents set up for vendors to sell their wares. One of the vendors was a father and his daughter from South America. Soo was very excited to practice Spanish with them, and we left having bought a pair of friendship bracelets to remember our trip.
Back in Gwangju, we ate dinner near our hotel, and we'll head back to Cheongju and Daejeon tomorrow morning.
Thursday and Friday, the students at CBHS participated in the annual Sports Day competition. The boys were especially excited for this year's sports day because the previous year, due to the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, Sports Day was postponed until the fall, along with the school field trips to Jeju Island and Seoraksan, and the school festival.
Sports Day is essentially Track and Field Day, but for students of all ages. Students compete in their homeroom classes in various sporting activities, such as a three-legged-race, team jump rope (with one of those climbing ropes), soccer games, etc. After the two days, one homeroom class from each grade receives a prize, and everyone leaves with a bit of a sunburn (or tan) and several minor injuries.
The next day, I showed her around my neighborhood, including Toad Park. We wanted to visit the Mural Village on the other side of town, but my mother's knees weren't doing so well, so we just stayed in Sannam-dong. For lunch, I introduced my mom to naengmyeon (냉면, a noodle dish in a cold broth), which she quite enjoyed. Afterwards, I showed her Sannam High School where I had worked my first year in Cheongju, and we had coffee and bingsu (빙수; a shaved ice dessert, often with fruit or chocolate) at a cafe near Sannam High School which offers a beautiful view of the city on a sunny day. Cafe Bom is one of my favorite cafes in Cheongju, and there are many good cafes in the city.
Although my mother had already had jjimdalk, naengmyeon, and bingsu, we thought she should try some more Korean food, especially at a restaurant that served the meal at a more traditional table setting with many pancheon (side dishes). So, we headed to Samcheong-dong, a neighborhood right next to the palace. We had galbijjim (갈비찜; marinated steamed pork ribs) for lunch and followed it up with a more traditional bingsu at a nearby cafe. Both the restaurant and the cafe were built in the hanok, or traditional Korean architectural, style. My mother really liked this lunch!
After resting in Samcheong-dong, we walked to Insa-dong where my mother bought a few gifts for family and friends back in the States. Along the way, we stopped to watch some street performers and admire the first Columbine flowers I have ever seen in Korea.
Unfortunately, her wonderful visit came to an end this morning. We woke up very early and took the bus to Incheon Airport. I was sad saying goodbye to her, but also so glad that she was able to visit. I hope in the future more family members can visit.
After returning from the Fulbright Jeju Conference last week, I found that everything had started blooming here in Cheongju. First, the cherry trees along the Mushim River and in my apartment complex put forth their pink-white blossoms, causing people to flock to the river to take pictures beneath the picturesque boughs. It even brought me out of my hamster wheel of work-cafe-home-bed to take walks in the Toad Park of all the new spring life.
Also, last weekend, Suhyun and I met for brunch and a walk around the Toad Park. These days, knowing now that in August I'll be moving to Seoul to begin teaching there, I've wanted to meet friends and co-teachers more often. I know how much I'm going to miss them.
When Suhyun and I meet for brunch, we always end up talking for hours and taking pictures together. Thanks to the beautiful weather and all the blooming flowers - including Irises and Dogwood Trees - we took many pictures together in the park. It's a weekend I won't forget for a while.
During our walk around the park, we took a moment to rest on a bench under the shade of a tree, and that's when I learned about Suhyun's fear of birds. All over the ground were a bunch of food crumbs, and a very opportunistic bird decided that he was going to eat up those crumbs. It made Suhyun very nervous, especially when the little fellow came closer and closer to us. Of course, it also meant we were trapped until the bird decided to fly off to a different area. After that, we left the park and had some ice cream.
I value these kinds of moments with friends and co-workers, and I worry about adjusting to life in Seoul. It sounds silly, but I worry that I won't have these sorts of moments in the big city.
This afternoon I arrived back in Cheongju after three days spent on Jeju Island for the bi-annual Fulbright Conference. This was also my last conference.
We arrived on the island Friday afternoon. After checking in, we had a couple of talks before and after dinner. Our time is always very limited during conferences, especially during the spring conference. Our fall conference in Gyeongju usually provides us with more leisure time because there are only ETAs at the conference. In contrast, the spring conference is also the Fulbright Junior Researcher’s conference, so we have a much tighter and stricter schedule to follow. Personally, I think this is very unfortunate because it doesn’t allow much time to see the Island. I have been to Jeju three times, but I have (mostly) seen the inside of a hotel. There are so many places to explore on Jeju, and also on some nearby islands. It would be nice if we had more time to see these things instead of being cooped up in the hotel.
Saturday is always the longest day, no matter which conference. This is our day for small and large group discussions. In past years, I have only ever been a participator. However, this year I stepped up and lead a small group discussion about some current trends in education in the States. I explained briefly about Flipped Learning, Project Based Learning, and Genius Hour, and then we discussed how – or if – we could use those methods in our ETA classrooms. Many people were interested in Flipped Learning since it’s the buzz word of the season. There was even a researcher at the conference who was helping to produce a documentary about the implementation of Flipped Learning in Korean schools. I talked some with the researcher later, and essentially what I gathered is that Flipped Learning works great for transforming a minimally interactive environment into one that is much more student-centered. Thus, if your classroom already has much student interaction and student-centered activities, then you might not see much difference in learning. It also relies so much on technology that it can be harder to implement in schools that can’t support technology. I think it’s great that schools in Korea are trying to implement Flipped Learning as I think it will help the education system to get more away from the textbooks and focus more on the teacher-student and student-student interaction in the classroom, and also create a collaborative and interactive learning environment. These are some things that I have seen lacking in Korean classrooms during my experience as an ETA.
On Saturday evening, everyone shed their conference dress for something more casual, and we all went out to try Jeju’s famous Black Pig. After trying it my first year as an ETA, I decided that five layers of fatty pork grilled with its skin still attached was not for me. So, I opted for the pescetarian option this year. The fish and stuffed veggies are much more delicious! After dinner, most ETAs headed out to a club called “Monkey Beach” for the “Fulbright Prom” fundraiser dance. Except me, that is. I’m not a big fan of after parties.
Sunday, we had a free day to tour the island. As usual, first-year ETAs went on a guided tour of some of Jeju’s more famous sites, and those who renewed were left to fend for themselves. Vinnie rented a car again this year, and Brittany, Jessica, Lyz, and I joined him to see a few sites. Unfortunately, it was rainy all day, so our activities were limited to more indoor places. We went to the O’Sulloc Tea Museum and Innisfree House in the morning, and a chocolate factory in the afternoon. Then it was time for dinner and the start of Researcher presentations.
Monday morning and early afternoon had more presentations from the researchers, but I missed the majority of them due to interviewing prospective instructors for Camp Fulbright, which now has a new name – Fulbright English Immersion Program. We had twice, maybe even three times, as many applicants this year as last year, so the interviews took a while, but we did manage to finish them before lunch. After a couple more presentations after lunch, we flew back to the mainland. Quite a busy weekend!
A few days ago, I met up with one of my co-workers. HJ teaches senior English, and she recently returned to Korea from a six-week summer practicum in Canada. She is very friendly and taught with a former Fulbright ETA at the middle school across from our school.
We met in front of the school and first went to have brunch near Chungbuk University. We had naengmyeon (냉면), which are buckwheat noodles in a cold broth, and happens to be one of my favorite warm-weather foods. The day was the perfect early-spring weather for naengmyeon. After our lunch, we walked to the university campus for an afternoon stroll and some coffee. Along our walk, we admired the blossoms that were just beginning to show, and we also came across several magpies.
The magpie struck up an interesting conversation between us. I told her that back in Colorado, in the spring there used to be a bunch of magpies that would hang around our back porch because they liked to eat the left over dry dog food... I also told her that in many Western cultures, often see the magpie as a negative symbol associated with gossip, trickery, secrets, and sadness. In fact, Christianity paints the magpie as "the Devil, dissipation, and vanity (Wisdom Portal)." Other negative associations include witchcraft, a sign of misfortune, and more. Many of these negative representations come out of Christian Europe, especially England:
In Britain... one seen flying or croaking around a house or sitting alone symbolizes that misfortune is present. Perhaps these associations stem from the fact that the magpie was the only bird that would not enter the Ark, preferring to stay outside. It is one of few birds that also has black and white plumage, a combination of the sacred or holy color (white) and of evil (black). (Druidry.com)
HJ then told me that in Korean folklore the magpie is a very positive symbol, denoting the arrival of a visitor or good news. I told her that I liked this association much better and that I hoped the magpie we saw would bring me some good news about the results from an interview with an international school in Seoul.
That magpie must have been a bringer of good news because today I have officially been offered and have accepted a secondary English Language Arts teaching position at that international school in Seoul. The news came after a month of waiting and worrying, so I'm very much relieved. Starting in August, I will be an ELA teacher. I couldn't be more excited, nervous, and happy!!
Thank you for the news, Mr. Magpie!! ^^
After completing my undergraduate studies, I accepted a chance to teach in Korea through the Fulbright Scholarship. Originally intending to stay just one year, it soon turned to three. I taught in Cheongju as an ETA from 2012 - 2015.