The Hwacheon County Education Office has been graciously providing English teachers and a small group of students the opportunity to travel on weekends throughout the fall semester. Two weekends ago, we set off early Saturday morning for the city of Andong which is known for its annual mask festival. Unfortunately, I had missed the mask festival, so this was a great chance to see another part of the country on my list.

We were visiting Hahoe Folk Village, a traditional village from the Joseon Dynasty which is actually forms the shape of a lotus flower. We spent Saturday night in hanoks, beautiful traditional Korean homes. We were told the ones the girls stayed in had the tile roofs which represented higher class while the boys stayed in hanoks with straw roofs meaning lower class.

Saturday was a jam-packed day as the trips tend to be so we can see and experience as much as possible. We experienced a traditional tea ceremony in one of the tea houses and ate delicious Korean foods, such as the mackerel that Andong is known for. One part of the day that most of us were not quite prepared for was the rafting on the river. Donning jeans and sneakers, we were told we should take off our shoes and roll up our pants to pull the boat into the water. I thought alright, let’s just do this. Little did I know how frequently our boat would hit sandbars which meant myself and other teachers needed to get in the water and pull the boat back into deeper parts. Needless to say, we were quite wet and cold by the end of the rafting trip considering it was November. Luckily we had a chance to change into dry clothes before our evening festivities.

The evening was filled with more cultural lessons and experiences which turned out to be eye opening, shocking, and quite fun. We had a lesson in the talchum, traditional Korean mask dance, and our teacher was one of the happiest, most expressive people I have ever met. One person even said his face looked like a mask. Each mask represents a different personality or character and has a specific walk or strut that we learned.

Following our dance lesson, we walked back down by the river to do something that was described to us as the “rat tail fire activity”. We were intrigued and extremely confused as to what this might be. We quickly learned it was an activity that would never fly in the states, especially not with children, but took on the “when in Rome” mentality. There were a few men standing around a metal barrel that was filled with hot coals and surrounded by old coffee cans that had metal wire handles and holes poked in them. We were told what was going to happen next and here is the best way I think I can describe it. Do you remember as a child at the beach, filling a bucket with water and whipping it around, amazed that the water wouldn’t fall out if you swung it fast enough? Well, we did that, but instead of water, it was hot coals and instead of just stopping, you flung the can in front of you and watched the sparks fly, literally. Only in Korea.

Sunday was another full day with a hike up the cliff that overlooks the village. The views were incredible especially with all of the fall foliage. The placement of this village has contributed to its preservation from many attacks and invasions that destroyed parts of other places throughout Korean history. As a result, some of the buildings were literally hundreds of years old and descendants of the original inhabitants still live in some. Our trip ended with a chance to make our own masks using clay. Who doesn’t love a little arts and crafts time?

Overall, it was a long, but interesting trip and a great chance to deepen my relationship with my student. I have seen the positive effects in school as she is more open and willing to try talking to me in English. The communication is still limited, but its a step in the right direction which is all I can ask for.

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