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!
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.