5/3-5/5 Children’s Day/Seoul
In honor of Children’s Day on May 5th, my school had a family sports day on Friday May 3rd. The whole school community, faculty and parents included, participated in a run around town. Due to rain, we had to put some of our games on hold, but in the meantime we had an impromptu talent show. Once the rain cleared, we had a big game of tug-o-war and my team won both times. No big deal. I actually had a student turn and thank me for being on her team as if I singlehandedly won it for them. I’ll take what I can get.
On Friday evening, I joined my host mother and sisters to go visit my host mother’s sister and her family in Seoul. I met her sister’s family my first weekend in Yuchon and had not seen them since. It was really nice to be able to catch up with her and see how much her daughters have both grown since I last saw them.
Bright and early Saturday morning, they set out for the amusement park, Everland. I ventured to Hongdae to walk around and hit up a coffee shop to get a little work done. That evening, I met up with my friend’s Julia and Cecile and their families who were visiting from America. It was great to finally meet some of the people I’ve heard so much about this year!
After many months of attempting to make plans, I had the chance to meet up with a friend of my brother’s, a fellow Scranton graduate. I had a blast talking about Scranton and catching up with someone who knows me from home. Every once in awhile, you really need that taste of home in whatever capacity that might be.
5/10-5/11 Chuncheon/Bukhansan National Park
The kindergarten teacher from my school had asked back in the fall if I would like to have dinner with her and her husband some time. We finally had the chance on Friday, May 12th and we went to a nice Italian restaurant in Chuncheon with her husband and son. Her husband has been self studying English in preparation for the English proficiency exam which would make him eligible to become a police consultant in Bangkok or Jakarta. It was a great chance for me to get to know one of my coworkers and her family a little better and for her husband to practice his English. I told them I was going to stay in a motel that evening and head to Seoul Saturday morning, but their parent instincts kicked in and they graciously offered to let me stay at their home. We went to a cafe for dessert then headed to their apartment. I woke up Saturday morning to a delicious breakfast before they took me to the train station. They are a wonderful family and I look forward to meeting them again next week!
Saturday morning, I met my friends Kate and Adam to do a little hiking at Bukhansan National Park on the outskirts of Seoul. The trail was typical Korean style consisting of stairs and straight up the mountain. The view from the top was worth it though. I love seeing the contrast between the stunning mountains of Korean and the modern cities surrounding them. Kate and I befriended some ajusshis on our way up who began calling us “yeodongsaeng” or little sister. They kept telling us to slow down, but we eventually had to part so we could finish the trail and catch the train home.
5/15 Teachers’ Day
Here in Korea, Teachers’ Day is quite a big deal. Gifts, flowers, and cards were abundant. The whole school had early dismissal so the teachers could take a faculty trip. The whole staff headed to Jade Garden to walk around, take in the beautiful scenery, and take plenty of pictures. We had dinner together at an Italian restaurant before heading back to Chuncheon/Hwacheon. I really enjoy the staff bonding that happens here in Korea through outings like this. It really creates a close-knit faculty who are more than just co-workers and genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company.
5/16-5/19 Buddha’s birthday/Gwangju
Buddha’s birthday, woo! That is a national holiday here in Korea and it happened to fall on a Friday this year. Hello, 3 day weekend! I decided to take advantage of the 3 day weekend and visit one of the farther cities in Korea. On Thursday evening, I caught the last bus bound for Gwangju which is in the opposite corner of the country. Lucky for me, a few other friends were visiting from various cities so we had quite a crew.
Friday morning, I joined Julia, Adam, and Cecile to meet Andrew and check out Songgwangsa Temple about an hour away. After an accidental detour and traffic, we finally made it to the temple, one of the most famous in Korea. It was more crowded than any others that I have been to and it honestly felt like I was at a carnival as I approached the temple. There were families having picnics, carnival games, ice cream, and balloons. We walked a little ways before stopping for our own kimbap picnic with some maekkolli, of course.
Once inside the grounds, we took our time exploring and taking in all of the sights and sounds. My favorite part of this holiday was the brightly colored lanterns everywhere in Korea in the weeks leading up to it. They lined all of the walkways and criss-crossed from one building to the next. There were performances of traditional Korean instruments which was beautiful to hear especially in this setting. The temple is set in the mountains and had breathtaking views everywhere we looked.
Back in Gwangju, we met up with a few more friends from dinner at a western style restaurant called First Alleyway. They had awesome food, different Korean brews, and board games! Julia, Adam, Andrew, and myself busted out some trivial pursuit while we waited for our food. Andrew and I won because we’re awesome like that.** After dinner, a group of us went to check out The Great Gatsby and personally, I really enjoyed it. I will definitely be re-reading the book in the near future because I think there’s more than a few messages I failed to appreciate at a freshman in high school.
Saturday morning, Julia, Adam, and I decided to join our friends Connor and Case on their trip to Jirisan National Park. We had every intention of staying at the pension (type of lodging) at the top of the mountain, but when we arrived at the park it was all booked. We figured there was a chance of cancellations due to the rain that was expected overnight so we went ahead anyway. The hike was labeled intermediate to advanced and we quickly learned why.
It started off nice as we began at Hwaeomsa Temple and continued through the shade of some bamboo trees. Then it became pretty rocky and a bit more steep. We stopped for lunch and a swim on the way up and finally made it to the top.
The lodging was still full, but we hung around for a bit and waited until there was an opening. In the end, we scratched that idea and decided it would be best to catch a ride down the mountain and grab dinner/a pension down there. We couldn’t hike down because it was starting to get dark so we got a taxi down. We found a really cheap min-pak ($40,000 for 5 people), grabbed some dinner, and hit up some norebang before calling it a night.
My whole weekend was absolutely one of the best I’ve had during my year in Korea. I had the chance to catch up with friends even other ETAs I wasn’t as close to. The novelty of seeing a movie was exciting (it isn’t something I get to do often where I live). I got my cultural experiences with not one, but two temple visits. I certainly had my nature fix. Thank you, Gwangju and all of my ETAs who made the weekend so wonderful.
**According to Andrew, we didn’t win. Wishful thinking I suppose.