Last Weekend in Korea

My last weekend in Korea was perfectly relaxing and simple. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I decided on Friday afternoon to take a last minute trip to Seoul to meet up with Julia. I hadn’t seen her in over a month and wanted a chance to catch up and say goodbye before we both head back to the States. We enjoyed a great night talking and reflecting on our year and all of the things that we will miss.

I left early Saturday morning to head back to Yuchon to spend time with my host family and do some packing. As I wrapped presents and packed, Seo Yeon was my lovely assistant. I’m so proud of how much her English has improved since I first met her. Each item I picked up, she would say “Maggie, go to your house?” I would respond with “Yes, 7 days.” Cue the fake tears and “Maggie, no!” Yeah, that’ll get you. I ended the day with the movie night I’d be promising both girls for several days.

Sunday morning, I woke up and a couple from my church came to pick me up for mass at 9. After church, I was invited back to their house to make lunch together and catch up. We made a delicious lunch of spaghetti with olive oil and fresh garlic and a salad of veggies fresh from their garden. They are such a wonderful couple and though I didn’t see them as often as I would’ve liked, I am very blessed to have met them this year.

In the afternoon, I joined my host mom and Seo Yeon to go to Home Plus to pick up supplies for my “goodbye” bbq that evening with the farming students. We laughed and reminisced how it reflected my first weekend with their family when we went to E-mart to get supplies for a bbq with her sister’s family. We agreed that a year can be a very long time, but seems like it went by in the blink of an eye.

We enjoyed a great bbq despite the rain and I even tried chicken’s feet! First time for everything! They decided Sunday couldn’t be our last big meal together so I believe round 2 is on Friday. Fine by me!

The weekend ended with some quality time with just my host family. All of them were gathered in the living room so I decided to give them their presents. We looked through the photo book I made for them, laughing and crying about all of the experiences this year. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful family to spend my grant year with.

The conversation drifted to their decision to host for 4 different ETAs. My host dad said something that really stuck with me. A big part of their decision to host and continue doing so was the fact that they wanted their daughters to grow up knowing there are many people in the world from all different backgrounds, but when it comes down to it, we are all humans. We are all the same at the core and that is more important than any physical, cultural, or personal differences we have. Respect and understanding for their fellow man and woman should be first and foremost in their minds. What a simple, yet beautiful outlook to have.

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The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Have you ever left a place and had it feel final? Knowing it’s a possibility that you may never get back there or that you may never see some of the people again? That’s how this feels. The finality of leaving Korea and ending my grant year is the most difficult part for me. I have never felt this before.

I left home for college, but I always knew I’d be back. I did go back often and still do to the people and places that make it home. Last May, I left Scranton and the four years of amazing friendships, memories, and growth. I know I will be back there and I will definitely see my friends and professors from there again and relatively soon.

I leave Korea in 9 days and can honestly say I don’t know when or if I’ll ever return. I will leave behind my beautiful host family, energetic students, caring co-workers, and countless friends that I have made. Some will stay here. Some will go back to the States. Others will travel on to new adventures in Japan or England. I guess the good news is the number of places I have to visit and stay just went up exponentially.

My experience this year has lead me to think more critically about myself and the way I view the world. Some of the greatest advice I was given this year follows:

“Don’t compare.”

“Love your students and the rest will take care of itself.”

“Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

To my students and co-workers, thank you for challenging to become a better teacher. You helped me learn how to best communicate even in seemingly impossible scenarios. I have learned more than ever the power of a smile or a pat on the back. You have shown me that it’s ok to laugh at myself and not take things so seriously. Language can create barriers, but in our own ways we have gotten through to each other. I have truly been blessed for our time together.

To my host family, thank you for taking me in and making me a part of your family. Seo Jeong and Seo Yeon, you are the little sisters I never had. You have taught me patience and the joys of being an “older sister”. I will certainly miss coming home to the two of you running to the door, yelling my name. Nothing beat that especially after a hard run or a long day of traveling on buses. My host parents, you opened your home and your life to me. You allowed me to be a part of not only your lives, but the lives of your children. The selflessness embodied daily by both of you is something to be admired and I hope to accomplish that some day. I look forward to your visit to NY (hopefully next year!).

To my fellow ETAs, you have become my Fulbright family this year. In Korea, most of us were away from our family and closest friends. We became each other’s support network and sounding boards. We sympathized, laughed, vented, cried, endured, traveled, and loved. The entire group of ETAs was dynamic as a whole and outstanding as individuals. You have challenged me and pushed me in a number of ways and helped me become a better version of myself. I am eternally grateful for all of our experiences together this year. I am so excited to see where all of your lives and adventures take you. If you ever need a place to stay, I’ll have a couch in NY with your name on it.

With 9 days left, I’m going to make the most of my time. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.

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School Festivals

A benefit of my school and placement is the small community and active involvement of parents and staff. Everyone works tirelessly for the students to have a well-rounded educational experience at Yuchon Elementary School.

One of the unique things about Yuchon is the exceptional diversity that is lacking in many other parts of Korea. A few of our students have Vietnamese, Filipina, and Japanese mothers. Our school promotes the celebration and inclusion of all families in our community. Last week, we had a multicultural festival and benefited from the traveling museum supplies of the National Folk Museum of Korea. We had trunks of cultural artifacts from Vietnam, the Philippines, and Mongolia. A few mothers from the Philippines and Vietnam came to help teach our students about their respective cultures. Students were also given a chance to try on some clothes from these countries for different occasions.

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Yesterday, we held another school festival to promote the “families” we have among the students. In the beginning of the school year, students in 1st-6th were assigned to a ‘family’ and they work together throughout the year. The morning began with a tag sale run by the teachers with students’ donated new and used items. After the tag sale, there were various events for the groups to do, such as jumping rope, a literacy event run by our librarian, and sampling foods made by students’ mothers.

After school, we had some teacher bonding. A majority of the staff headed to a local farm run by the family of some students. We helped out with picking some cucumbers since it is the height of the season. We ended the day with a faculty dinner at one of the restaurants in our town. We actually have 3 restaurants and I have been to 2 of them for the first time in the last week. Timing is a funny thing.

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Final Seoul Weekend

Last weekend, Fulbright and KAEC hosted all of the ETAs for a final dinner in Seoul. Many of us headed to Seoul on Friday to maximize our time together for one last hurrah.

I joined a group of friends to stay at the Seoul Basecamp Hostel which is set up tents and bunk beds  inside. We began the weekend with some Korean bbq in Hongdae and some really fantastic conversations. We reflected on the year that had gone by, what is to come, and various differences throughout our grant years. After dinner, we went to one of our favorite places, the Hawaiian Maekkolli bar to meet up with a few more people. The night wrapped up with one final noraebang session and we belted our hearts out.

Saturday morning, Kristen, Liam, and I made a trip to Myeongdong to do some final shopping. Both of them will be staying here for another year, while I head home to the states. I was having flashbacks all day because my first weekend in Seoul included a trip to Myeongdong with the two of them and Julia. It’s crazy to think it’s been almost a year since that first Seoul weekend.

After a very successful outing, we went back to get ready with the rest of the crew. I stopped to pick up some mousse for my hair and as I was getting ready, I lent some to a friend. Little did we know that I had actually picked up hair dye and not mousse. (I can’t wait until I can read labels again!) Lucky for me, it dyed my hands more than my hair because it was a dark brown. Unfortunately for Connor, it may have made his hair a bit darker. He’s never going to let me live that down.

We still managed to make it to the dinner on time somehow. This final gathering of ETAs was held at The Hotel President across from City Hall on the 31st floor. Fulbright and KAEC like to do it up big. We were dazzled by some performances from talented ETAs and some words of thanks and wisdom from Mrs. Shim and Samantha Morrow, a 3rd year ETA. I think my favorite performance of the evening (everyone was wonderful!) was Case. He wrote and sang a song about Jeju-do, where he spent his grant year.  His voice is incredible and the song brought tears to many eyes in the room.

The first of many goodbyes began at the conclusion of dinner. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize that I was a ticking time bomb with the tears. The speeches, the performances, and just looking around at this room of amazing people brought them on. After dinner, my friend Amber came up with the idea for everyone to meet in one place before dispersing for the evening. We all felt like it was a flashback to the ridiculousness of orientation and it was a great time.

The last of my goodbyes came on Sunday when I grabbed lunch with a bunch of friends then went to see Case’s performance for a talent competition. My shades stayed on for a good majority of the day. Luckily, my friend Christina accompanied back to my homestay for a visit which did soften the blow a bit.

Thank you to all of my fellow ETAs for a fabulous last weekend together. I’m happy to say I will be leaving on a very high note as I had hoped.

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Southern Adventure

This past weekend will easily be remembered as one of my favorite weekends of my grant year. It was my last chance for a bigger trip and I decided to head to the southwest city of Mokpo, the city of lights. Off the coast of Korea, there are many islands and our group of ten decided to check one of them out.

The trip took a grand total of 8 hours and 4 buses, but I finally made it. Amber, Sarah, and Jonathan came from the city of Daejeon and Stephanie came from Cheongju. We met up with a few of the Mokpo crew to grab some dinner and enjoy a low key evening.

Saturday morning, we went to Yudal Middle School to cheer on some of Ammy’s students in their basketball game. After the game, we hiked Yudalsan, a small mountain in the center of Mokpo. It was a great view from the top with city to one side and water/islands in the other direction. The next stop on our agenda was the soccer stadium where our friend Liam was coaching his students and Tracey’s students were about to play. We heckled and embarrassed Liam a bit before cheering loudly for Tracey’s boys.

The big adventure of the weekend began with a windy, bumpy bus ride to the island of Jeungdo. Ten of us set out to have a little island adventure, but played it safe and avoided the ferries which stopping running at the slightest bit of foul weather or fog. We arrived and found there was a little festival going on with food tents and a stage with ongoing performances. After wandering a bit and utilizing Sarah’s Korean abilities, we found a pension willing to take all of us before heading back towards the festival and the beach.

Once on the beach, we realized it was the perfect spot for a photo shoot. The details regarding that will follow in a separate post later. The rest of the evening included some drinks, games, and general merriment. Besides a few sappy, “What will you miss?” moments, I don’t think we stopped laughing all night. It was an absolutely fantastic time with some great people.

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June 14-16

One of the best parts of living in a small town is the undeniable sense of community. My school has a great network of teachers, students, and parents who play an active role in school life. Some of the mothers from other countries held a cooking class two Fridays ago. Myself and a few other teachers joined them in the cafeteria to learn how to make sukiyaki, a Japanese dish of beef, tofu, and vegetables. It was delicious! At the end of the school day, I walked outside to find 3 parents standing at the students’ entrance with a cooler full of ice pops. They were handing them out to all of the students and teachers on a particularly hot afternoon. There are definitely some perks to small town life.

After school, my host family had some friends over for a bbq under the stars. I was reminded of an American bbq with family and friends gathered around the grill on a warm, breezy summer night. The next morning, I headed to Seoul to meet with friends and do some of my final gift shopping. I ran into a bunch of fellow Fulbrighters in Insadong which made me an even more enjoyable day. Ammy and Tracey met up later on and after some more shopping, we set out for Gangnam. We had a low key night planned at the Ritz-Carlton. No big deal! The three of us and our friends, Amy and Hemma, splurged for a night and treated ourselves. After a late check out on Sunday and a little more shopping, it was time to head back to Yuchon. Another weekend down in the books.

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Katie’s Big Adventure!

My parents, Momma and Poppa Coyne, and my sister Katie set out a few weeks ago on their two country tour. The trip began with a visit to my brother Timmy in France, where he just finished a year of coaching and playing basketball. Next, they hopped on a plane bound for Seoul.

I anxiously awaited their arrival at Incheon Airport and was jumping up and down at the gate as they walked through. After a brief stop at the hotel, we headed for our fancy dinner at the N Grill at the top of Seoul Tower. The restaurant has French cuisine (fitting right?) and rotates for a full view of the city. The moving floor took a bit of getting used to and caught us off guard when we would look up and realize how much we had moved. The food was delicious and it was a spectacular first night of their visit.

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Sunday, we checked out one of the English speaking masses in Seoul then got a delicious brunch at “Between” in Itaewon. We spent our afternoon at the Korean War Museum which is one of the largest war museums in the world. It is spectacular and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Seoul. Lucky for us, a tour in English was just beginning and they only had one guest so we were invited to join. It really is incredible to think about how far Korea has come in such a short amount of time. The pictures, of the country from the devastation in the 1950s to the well-developed modern society of today, are striking.

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After the museum, we headed up to Chuncheon to the King Sejong Hotel. We had a late dinner and wandered the streets of Chuncheon’s Myeongdong shopping district. One goal I had for their visit was to find an awesome couple outfit for myself and my sister Katie. Mission accomplished! We found some leopard leggings and shirts with “Merci” on them. Done deal. I stayed with them at the hotel where we relaxed on the patio and had a photo shoot in our new outfits. (Beth, we’re serious about changing out bridesmaid outfits.)

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Monday morning, I had a regular day of school so they took it easy and spent some time in Chuncheon. They picked me up at school and we headed into Hwacheon to meet the girls for dinner. We decided on a bulgogi restaurant for their first introduction to Korean food. It was a great choice and they really enjoyed it! We decided they should try some patbingsu as well for a delicious summer treat so we checked out a cute cafe in town. After dinner, they brought me back to my home stay where my dad and sister had their first chance to meet my host family. They easily saw why I love this family so much.

Tuesday (Momma Coyne’s birthday!) is my long day at school so I made some arrangements for them to have an adventure without me. In September, the priest from my church took myself, Momma Coyne, and Beth to the Chilsung Observatory at the DMZ which was under construction. It is now completed and open so he made a few calls and set up a tour for them. They really enjoyed it and wrapped up the afternoon with a walk by the water in Hwacheon. After school, they picked me up and we headed to my home stay for dinner and relaxing with my host family. My host mother made an amazing spread of food and they were really impressed by her cooking skills. I really loved seeing my two families come together like that.

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Wednesday, I finished teaching at lunch time so they picked me up early to go to Hwacheon and meet Fr. Peter for lunch. He treated us to a great little restaurant owned by one of his parishioners. We spent the rest of the afternoon peddle boating, walking around the sculpture park, and wrapped up the night with a trip to the movies.

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Thursday (6/6) was Korean Memorial Day so I had off from school. I stayed with my family in Chuncheon and we decided to check out the Bimok Cultural Festival for my day off. The location was at the Peace Dam and Peace Bell Park up near the DMZ which was the site of some of the biggest battles of the Korean War. The Peace Bell was incredible to see. It is made from the bullets of wars from all over the world. The Peace Dam serves as a second line of defense in case the dam in North Korea ever broke, whether accidentally or intentionally. There were special ceremonies for memorial day which was really interesting to see and reminded us a lot of our own memorial day.

After the (very winding) trip back to Chuncheon, we met with a co-teacher and her family for dinner. They treated us to a delicious Korean restaurant with a large assortment and several courses of different foods. They are a really wonderful family who took me out a few weeks ago. My family and their family were excited to meet and discuss life in our respective countries as well as family life.

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On Friday, my family accompanied me to school to meet my students and coworkers. They were quickly attacked with hugs and hand holding from my kindergarteners on their school tour. They sat in on my classes during the first three periods and were able to have a question and answer session with my students. My sixth graders entertained them quite a bit with their creativity and somewhat blunt questions.

After leaving school early, we returned the car to Chuncheon and boarded the ITX bound for Seoul. We enjoyed a nice relaxing dinner at our hotel then Katie and I set out to explore some of my favorite parts of the city. First stop, Bau House Dog Cafe in Hongdae. Katie decided that must be what heaven is like. It is a cafe where people can either bring their dogs or they play with the dogs that live there. It was really hilarious that the dog most attached to my sister was the prissiest little one with a pink bow in her hair. Dog cafe…success!

Next stop, Hongdae’s main streets. We wandered around a bit and I pointed out some of the hotspots in this university area as well as my apartment from February. We found an outside restaurant to chat, enjoy some drinks, and take in the atmosphere. We ended the evening at Acoustic Holic, but unfortunately no one was performing that night so it was a short visit.

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Saturday was their last day in Seoul and it was a pretty jam-packed. The first place we checked out was Gyeongbukgung Palace followed by Insadong, the traditional shopping part of the city. We wrapped up their last day with a baseball game at Mokdong stadium where the home team (Nexen Heroes) lost to the Gwangju Kia Tigers. The stadium experience here was quite different from anything we’ve seen in the states. Most people brought their food into the stadium with people even setting up blankets in the walking areas for picnics. One of the most popular snacks was the dried octopus which is a tad bit different from the normal fare at American games. Checking out a baseball game was on my Korean bucket list so that’s another item to cross off as time is winding down.

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Thanks to my parents and Katie for coming to visit me all the way in Korea! I’m so glad I had the chance to show them around and experience some of the different places with them that I had not yet been. See you all soon!

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