Jeju Furey Volleyball Tournament

One of the items on my Korean bucket list was a trip to Jeju-do for some beach time. Last summer, I found out about a charity beach volleyball tournament held there twice a year. I figured this would be a perfect reason to head back to the island for friends, beach, and volleyball for a good cause.

The tournament was the weekend of May 25th-26th and booking flights seemed a bit troublesome. Many Koreans head to Jeju once the weather is nice and flights were selling out fast. Unfortunately, the latest flight I found on Sunday was about 11:00a.m. so I was not able to join a team officially. Lucky for me, I found two teams (including one team of fellow Fulbrighters) who needed a girl sub for a game here or there. Overall, I was able to play in about 4 or 5 games which felt awesome! In the meantime, I hung with my friends, went swimming in the crystal blue waters, and enjoyed the sunshine.

Saturday evening, the tournament hosted a big dance party on the beach for all of the participants. My friend Julia, visiting from Gwangju, and I grabbed dinner right on the water before meeting up with our crew at the hostel. We all hung out there for awhile, chatting and comparing sunburns from the beach day. The rest of the night was spent dancing to our hearts’ content and belting out some of our favorite 90’s hits. It ended with all of us sitting by the water and relaxing as we enjoyed our mini vacation in paradise.

I was so thrilled to get this weekend in before my time in Korea is up. The trip was well worth it and definitely made its way into my top memories of my time here. Thank you to everyone who let me play with them and reminded me how much I miss playing volleyball!

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May Travels

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.

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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.

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End of April

Talk about a long absence! Please accept my sincerest apologies of not keeping up with the blog. Teaching, hanging out with friends, traveling, and just living got in the way. Now it is time for a serious update.

Weekend travels:

4/19-4/21 Daegu/Cheongdo

Amy (Hwacheon Elementary) and I caught a bus on Friday afternoon to head down to the city of Daegu. A few of our friends in that city host a language exchange on Friday evenings for anyone from their high school students to other teachers like ourselves. Since it is a city there are already several ETAs in the area and a few others were visiting as well. It was a great evening to chat at this awesome cafe called Buy the Book which sells used English books and American snacks. I did my share of contributing to the business.

Saturday morning, we were up bright and early to head an hour away to the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival with Ammy and Tracey from Mokpo, Katelyn from Iksan, Christina and Nic from Gumi, and Elaine, Bridget, and Susie from Daegu. The tour brought us to an organic farmer’s market, a wine tunnel specializing in Persimmon wine (Cheongdo is famous for persimmons), the bullfighting, a bbq lunch (hot dogs! ah!), and finally a strawberry farm to pick delicious, juicy strawberries. The day was tainted by unfortunate weather, but we still made the most of it. Tracey and I won big when we bet on the red bull and won. She had bet 100 won (about $0.10) and I bet 1,000 won (about $1.00). I believe she won about 4 cents and I won all of 20 cents. High rollers. For future reference though, bullfighting is interesting (?), but I don’t think it is something I will be running back to any time soon.

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4/27-4/30 Payal, Tracey, and Jonathan visit Hwacheon

Payal from Busan came up to visit Hwacheon for a few days since she had midterms at school and therefore a mini vacation. She arrived on Saturday afternoon and we spent some time in Chuncheon taking in the beautiful weather. We did a little shopping, admired the beautiful cherry blossoms in the sculpture park, treated ourselves to manicures and dinner at an Italian restaurant. We headed back to my homestay where we spent the night enjoying maekkolli and a bbq with my host family and the farming students. They were trying to convince her that she should give one of them a chance and in Korea, under 60 is very young so it’s ok.

Sunday morning, we met up with Rachel, Kate, Amy, and Amy’s host brother to head back to Nami Island. It was much more beautiful this time. The snow from my last visit had been replaced by gorgeous spring blossoms. We spent the day walking around the island, looking in the museums, taking pictures, and catching up with one another. The 4 Hwacheon girls decided Payal had to try the 2 foods Chuncheon is famous for-dakgalbi and makguksu. After dinner, the 2 of us heading back to my homestay where we spent time with my host sisters playing volleyball, watching The Lion King, taking pictures, and playing beauty salon.

I had not 1, but 2 special visitors at school on Monday. Our friend, Tracey came up to visit from Mokpo and was staying with Amy. Unfortunately, my 4th-6th graders were going on a trip so they only had a chance to meet some of my students. Payal teaches middle school and Tracey teaches high school. They were giddy as they sat in the back of my classes with 1st and 3rd grade over how cute the kids were. We left school early to meet up with the girls in Hwacheon and another visitor, Jonathan from Daejeon. We ate dakgalbi and makguksu again before Payal and I had to catch the last bus back to Yuchon. My host parents sat and chatted with us for quite awhile that evening as we discussed the cultural similarities and differences from each of our backgrounds; Korean, Indian-American, and Irish-American. I love nights like that when I really get to learn more about Korean culture and share my own background as well.

Payal headed back to Busan on Tuesday morning and I headed to school for a morning trip with 1st-3rd grades. We went to a chicken farm, owned by the grandfather of one of my students. I have never seen so many chickens in my life! We each had a chance to go into the chicken coop and pick out an egg. The students then decorated their eggs, enjoyed hard-boiled eggs, and wrote/drew about the life cycle of a chicken.

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Jeju Conference

Fulbright Korea and KAEC host two conferences for us Fulbright ETAs each year. One is held in October in Gyeongju, the former capital of the Silla Dynasty, and a spring conference on Jeju-do aka Hawaii of Korea. It is famous for three things: wind, women, and rocks. We experienced all three during our time there especially on our day long tour of the island.

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This conference had a much different tone than our fall conference. In October, it was strictly ETAs and we did a lot of exchanging ideas and tips as we settled into our grant years. On Jeju, we were joined by the junior researchers and many of my colleagues presented on projects they have been working on throughout the year. The researchers presented a brief synopsis of their projects which included Hansik (Korean style food) and Obesity, a number of projects concerning the lives of North Korean defectors, Occupational Therapy and Assistive Technology, Oriental Medicine, Multicultural Children in a Homogeneous Society, Cosmetic Surgery in Korea, and many others.

ETAs were invited to lead small group discussions based on a variety of topics they thought might appeal to other people. I attended the following: Resume workshop, recap of the TESOL conference with resources, coping with isolation, and reaching unreachable students. These workshops were tremendously helpful for various aspects of my life in Korea and to use in my life after Korea.

Sunday was a free tour of the island that I couldn’t pass up. We hit many of the major attractions and certainly experienced the wind that Jeju is famous for. As for the rocks, we saw some of the coastal overlooks that are famous for their volcanic rocks and stunning views. We were fortunate to catch the 1:30 show at Sunrise Peak of the Jeju Mermaids. These women go diving every day in their wetsuits to collect abalone, shellfish, and seaweed to bring back to the land. We were lucky to enough to see one of the women catch a squid!

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Awesome weekend. Great people and a beautiful location, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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Recap Time!

I apologize for my extended absence from the blog! I’m sure you have all been waiting with bated breath for my next post. Here’s a rundown of what I have been up for the last month.

3/23-Hye Jin, the daughter of my co-worker Sun-Mi, came up to Chuncheon to catch up. It had been quite awhile since we last saw each other so it was great to chat and see what the other had been up to. We got coffee and did a brief shopping trip in Myeongdong, the retail section of Chuncheon. Then we decided on a whim to go check out the famed Naminara Island which is about 30 minutes away by subway. It is located in the North Han River and famous for being the setting on a popular K-drama, Winter Sonata. The island has biking, various art museums, parks, restaurants, and performances. It was a great day spent outside catching up with a friend.

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3/24-After church, I was picked up by the aunt and uncle of three students and we went over to my students’ house for lunch. Their mother and aunt had first invited me over when I met them in September and I was excited to finally have the opportunity to meet with them. They prepared a ton of food to eat and we sat around chatting about life in Korea, America, and the Philippines. My students’ mother and aunt are originally from there and they had a great deal of pictures to show me and tell me about their family and life there. We were lucky enough to have another warm, sunny day so we walked around their farm and I spent some time playing badminton and soccer with the kids. (Badminton is not my sport.)

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3/28-3/29-After school, the kind woman from my church that always gives me a ride, picked me up and brought me to Hwacheon for Holy Thursday and Good Friday services. I couldn’t understand the words, but with my English missal, I was able to follow along without issue. I definitely think I have come to appreciate how familiar the Catholic mass is to me regardless of any language or cultural barriers. On Friday (3/29), Rachel invited me to stay at her homestay and we enjoyed a girls night complete with chick flick and Easter chocolate. (Thanks Mom and Dad!)

3/30-4/1-Seoul, once again. A number of our friends were coming to Seoul to go to a major K-pop concert so Kate, Rachel, and I meet some of the Busan girls for lunch in Itaewon. We tried this fabulous Mexican/Korean fusion restaurant called Vatos. Delicious! I spent the evening wandering around Gangnam before meeting up with the concert girls. We checked out an American style bar called Uncle 29’s then hit up my first Korean photo booth and got some delicious pastries to bring back to the hotel. Sunday morning was Easter and for the first time since coming to Korea, I went to an English speaking mass. It was really refreshing to go to and it was capped out with an American breakfast diner called Butterfinger Pancakes (I was a little bummed they didn’t actually have Butterfinger Pancakes.) I spent the rest of the afternoon in Myeongdong doing a little retail therapy and treated myself to a massage. Happy Easter!

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4/4-4/8-Fulbright spring conference on Jeju Island. That will get a post for itself!

4/13-Kate and I met up to explore Hwacheon a bit more and take in the beautiful spring weather. We went for a hike that ended up only taking an hour and a half total. Then we walked out to the little island that I had last biked to in August. It was a market day so after grabbing lunch, we meandered through the market which is one of our favorite things in Hwacheon especially the guy with the snacks. I’ll get a picture next time. We wrapped up with the first concert of the spring that is put on each Saturday in town by some of the Korean soldiers. I headed back to Yuchon and went to the community to help my host mom and the farming students with preparing dinner. They had a big group of visiting students from Seoul so my host parents had rented out the community to accommodate everyone. We cooked, ate, drank maekkolli, and I played with the kids. All in all, great day.

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4/14-Sunday morning, I went to church and then was invited to the house of a couple who have been very good to me this year. Monica and her husband brought me to their home for coffee, pastries, and most importantly good conversation. Monica was an English professor for a number of years so we can have really wonderful discussions like this weekend about family dynamics in Korea and the US. She will be visiting a friend in the US for a little over a month so before she leaves I will go back for dinner at her home next week. After coffee, she dropped me back to the community center for lunch and cleanup with the farming students. Following that, it was just another somewhat lazy/somewhat productive Sunday in Yuchon.

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Uncle Richie

As I sit here writing this, I am trying to come to terms with the sudden and devastating loss of one of my dad’s younger brothers, Uncle Richie. He was taken from us quickly and far too soon. On Tuesday, we lost a great man who left behind many dear family and friends.

We are each mourning his loss, but that is not what he would want. You see, Uncle Richie was the type of person who met everyone with a smile and a total “people person”. He was always surrounded by family, friends, and strangers who soon became friends. He knew everyone and they all loved him. What wasn’t to love? A friendly man with a great sense of humor and willing to give anyone the shirt off his back.

Each of us are blessed and better people for having known him. Always stopping by our house with one of his baked treats, sports gear, or tickets he thought we might like. His constant presence at my house and any family gathering will certainly be missed tremendously. I will take solace in the fact that he is reunited with Grandma, Pop-Pop, Uncle Ben, and many other family and friends. I’m pretty sure he’s enjoying a fat cigar with Pop, playing a round of golf, and gearing up for the best seats at all Yanks and Jets games. Maybe he can even have some pull on getting those Jets in shape finally. (Hey, it could happen.)

My brother, Timmy, wrote a fantastic post here that does a much better job of telling you the type of man our uncle was. His name carried a lot of weight around our hometown and saying “Yes, Richie’s my uncle” was usually greeted with a smile, an introduction, and a short anecdote about how great he was. A popular guy to say the least, which makes me think of the Irish song, “The Parting Glass”. He would not want us to be sad at his departure, but rather celebrate his life and our time together.

Rest easy, Uncle Richie. You will be in our hearts forever.

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May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Daejeon for Amber’s Birthday

Last weekend, I headed southwest with Kate and Rachel to visit some other ETAs in the city of Daejeon for Amber’s birthday. Daejeon is known for his centralized location and excellent access to transportation to explore the rest of Korea. Amber’s host family graciously opened their home to us and were wonderful hosts! Her host mother, Amy, had a delicious meal upon our arrival and we had a chance to sit and begin our weekend of catching up. She has two younger host brothers and a little inside dog as opposed to my host family’s two little girls and a big outside dog. They’re wonderful all the same.

We went downtown Friday night to meet up with some of the other ETAs in Daejeon and our friend Ammy who was visiting from Mokpo. Myself and the girls woke up and had a lazy morning on Saturday followed by meeting up with more friends visiting from Mokpo and Gwangju. Our friends, Sara and Erin, play for an ultimate frisbee team from Gwangju and they were playing in Daejeon last weekend. Lucky for me, they let me jump in their practice on Saturday which turned out to be a gorgeous afternoon spent at the riverside park. I didn’t realize how much I had missed playing and the team atmosphere until I was back on the field.

Saturday evening, we had a delicious dinner at a tiny burger joint followed by a night on the town again. Sunday morning, we woke up for brunch with Lizzie and Sara (both from Mokpo) before catching a bus back up to Chuncheon. It was a great visit and I’m glad I was able to see another city in Korea. Thank you, Amber, for being a wonderful hostess!

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