Thursday, July 28, 2011

My placement for the next year!

Just an hour ago I learned the name and nature of my school placement in South Korea for the next year!

I will be teaching at Cheongran Girls' High School, a private school in Daejeon. There are 876 students at my school, although I will likely not teach the 3rd year students (essentially seniors).

Here is the school's website!

There are four other ETAs also placed in Daejeon with me, and my dear roommate is not far away in Cheonan. So we are all very happy and excited! Tomorrow I will probably have more information about my school and what kind of students these girls will be.

I will not find out any information on my homestay placement for another week or so though. But just knowing the school make-up and my location is great! Daejeon is basically in the middle of the country and situated right on the KTX line - the main railroad system in Korea. The KTX runs like an upside-down Y through the country and Daejeon is right in the junction of the three lines! So I'll be able to travel around the country easily and quickly! More on Daejeon here:

Basically, I'm super happy. More soon!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Samhwasa Temple in Mureung Valley, Donghae, SK

So this past weekend, the Fulbright Commission in Seoul paid for all of the ETAs to have a weekend vacation in Donghae. Donghae literally means "East Sea," and it is a little town considered "rural." Of course our walk through the downtown area made Donghae look much more like a city in American terms. But we've come to realize that Korean designations for urban, suburban and rural are very different.

Anyway, we got to visit a Korean Buddhist Temple in the beautiful Samhwasa valley. The Valley is very narrow, but filled with giant boulders and cliffs. Trees and other lush flora flourish on the rocks, and water runs down the valley from every spot. It's very lovely.

Here are some pictures:

Samhwasa Buddhist Temple in Mureung Valley, Donghae, South Korea

An awesome creek-thing ran through the middle of the narrow valley. There were lots of huge boulders everywhere and waterfalls all fell into the river from both sides of the valley side!

Fun rapids! And dry bedrock to relax on...

So these are all pictures of the Mureung Valley. We visited a Buddhist Temple, Samhwasa Temple, in the valley. We also walked all around on some of the hiking trails and took in the beauty of the valley! Hiking is THE national past-time of South Korea (besides drinking....seriously), so there were lots of fun paths to explore!

The rest of Donghae was great too! We visited the cave in the center of town - they had only discovered it in 1991. We had to wear hard hats and everything because the ceilings were so low, but it was a fun time. At the very least, it was nice to get out of the humidity.

Surprisingly, our single day on the beach was filled with great weather. A lot of us were expecting it to rain, but it was super sun-shiney! And we all got burned. The boardwalk was also a great hangout at night. We stayed at the Grand Tourist Hotel in Mansang, the most northern part of Donghae. The hotel was owned by the same people who created Jungwon, so we weren't quite able to escape the odd marble-mansion architecture. But it was a great stay!

On our way back to Goesan on Sunday (we took nice Jungwon buses to and fro), we winded our way through high mountains to a little museum. A more strange museum I've never known...There were lots of great pottery pieces and artifacts, but there was also a whole giant fake cave. Strange... But we had bibimbap afterwards for lunch and that was great.

Camp Fulbright is well underway, and I've already taught my first class. It went pretty well, but I still have a lot more to learn and practice!

The weather is now sunny and great in Jungwon, but since camp has begun I haven't gotten a chance to go out and take pictures. I'll get to it sometime...

But in the meantime, I might have post on Seoul soon...Although all the ETAs are going in a few weeks, a group of friends and I might try to swing our own visit this weekend! So the next post might be very fun... Stay tuned!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why I can't wait to go to Seoul...

Basically, I just wanted to give you all something to chew on while I try to work through my first teaching experiences this week. I'll be teaching some quite advanced Fulbright Campers tomorrow at 2pm! Wish me luck!

But until I talk about about this past weekend's vacation to Donghae in my next post (it was super fun!), please enjoy this tasty morsel!

(Thanks goes to Alex for the link!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eating (well?) at Jungwon

I know it's been a while since my last update, but I had really hoping that this next one could be about Jungwon University and how pretty the grounds are. Lulu was in for a fabulous photo shoot ... However, it's been raining with very few breaks for the last four days or so. :(

So I decided I'd talk about food instead. When we first arrived in the underground student cafeteria for our first few meals at Jungwon, most of us were pleasantly surprised. Word had gotten around that the food was quite bad, but we enjoyed it. Like I said in my last post, the grape tomatoes are THE best I've ever tasted! And watermelon that is so juicy and sweet has been the main fruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But, after a site visit last Friday to an actual ETA placement high school in Daejeon and the lunch we had there, I've got second thoughts. You see, since Korean high school students eat 2 (or maybe all three) meals at school, the food is actually quite good. And we had a great lunch at the school there. That's when we first realized that maybe the food at Jungwon wasn't quite the best ... at least by Korean standards.

Still though, we eat very well. And my chopstick skills are improving by leaps and bounds! The way it works is this: we come down into the cafeteria and swipe our ADT security token (oddly enough) to keep count of our meals. Then we pick up spoon and chopsticks and place then on the tray in their little right-hand slot. The rice goes first in the large square area, and all the side dishes (or banchan) in the top four slots, and sauce in the little square in the top right corner; and finally we pick up our soup and place it in the little rounded area made just for it. I hadn't thought about it until now, but this tray arrangement summarizes Korean eating preferences well: rice and soup are key and all the other dishes (banchan) are secondary.

Anyway, here is a picture of what I ate for breakfast just the other day:

Clockwise from the top sauce square: ketchup in the square spot, my utensils, a tofu fishcake soup, rice with seaweed, apples, this cole slaw-like stuff with a yummy apple-tasting dressing, little mystery meat sausages cooked with egg, and (of course) kimchi. And that is breakfast. Yep, I said breakfast. So far it hasn't really bothered me much except for one day when I just really wanted a pop-tart. The kimchi isn't the best, but I always eat it all. The soup that day was actually the first that I didn't finish - the fishcake slices floating in there were just too soggy and it gave the entire soup a really weird flavor. We also always have apple slices in the morning.

This was (a surprising) lunch later that day:

We get the feeling they wanted to cook an "American" lunch, and it was good. But just very strange to eat in Korea. They've done this only once or twice, but it's strange to come in and just pick up a pre-made plate with very little kimchi and the rice molded into a pretty ball. This actually ended being a very thin fried pork cutlet (if it even merits the designation of "cutlet") and it wasn't too bad. It's just odd when they try to cater to what they think "American" tastes are. (Or maybe they do this every once in a while to Jungwon students regularly...I'm not sure.) But especially after we've gotten used to eating with our spoon and chopsticks (Koreans use their spoons A LOT!), lots of rice dipped in everything, and going without drinking during the meal the single plate, fork and knife meal was weird. 

I have to emphasize that Koreans do not drink anything during their meal at all; essentially you drink your soup. And you just get water to wash everything down after putting your tray away. Lots of the other ETAs don't really follow this little cultural difference and get their cups of water to drink during their meal like Americans. But I've adjusted pretty well to going the entire meal without a drink. (That was certainly one surprise and something I do feel like I can say that I've adjusted to!) 

Anyway, the food is alright I guess. But after having such a yummy lunch at the high school last Friday, I'm wondering what more is out there to taste in Korea. I was hoping to make a whole page on my blog with just pictures of my plates through the year, but I just haven't gotten the chance to really eat an original Korean meal outside of Jungwon. The good news is later this week, a bunch of us ETAs and our new Korean friends are going out to eat samgyupsal in Goesan - a classic Korean dish, which most Koreans consider their favorite food! So that meal will probably officially start the "Pictures of Plates" page.

In brief other news, out first lesson plans for an English summer camp (which starts next week) are due tonight. Representatives from the US Embassy will visit tomorrow. And the entire ETA class will visit Donghae (a town on the east sea which literally means "East Sea") over the weekend to relax and have fun right before the camp begins. Korean classes are picking up and moving fast, but I think I'm doing well to stay caught up. I think I'll do a little studying now in fact.

But here's a picture of Korena, my roommate and Lulu as we prepare the spend the night finalizing lesson plans and studying! She's very cool and thank my lucky stars, we get along super well!! It's so surprising to find such a friend of the heart in a situation like this. More on her later for sure as we go on adventures with Lulu!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Settled and ready ... hopefully

Well, this is the last day of our Orientation's "Welcome Days." We 88 ETA grantees to SK have spent the last two days traveling from Incheon Int'l Airport to little Goesan (which is really pronounced Gwehsan - romanization is evil!), settling in and meeting each other, eating well (in my opinion), and getting ready for the beginning of REAL orientation.

I suppose I should start with something on the flight, but since I was unable to take pictures of my Korean experience I'm afraid I won't be able to describe it very well. Let's just say that the 14 hour flight felt much nicer than the 4 flights I have taken across the Atlantic to Spain. Korean Air is just superb. Period. It truly did not feel like the long flight that it was, I was able to sleep well (enough) and eat well, and the leg room was fabulous. Everyone might consider coming to SK just to experience Korean Air. It might be worth it...

Anyway, we arrived in SK to be greeted by torrential rain, drove through torrential rain for 2 hours to Jungwon University (the site of our orientation), and carried our luggage through some of the thickest humidity I've ever been in, and tried to settle in quickly before starting the orientation program. My roommate had already arrived on an earlier flight the day before from her homestate of Hawaii, so that helped with my own moving in. She is very lovely, but I will talk about Miss Korena B. in another blog.

So we've eaten Korean meals 5 times now. And each time it's been so delicious. I HAD THE BEST GRAPE TOMATOES EVER for my first meal here!!! Anyone eating these would completely understand why tomatoes are classified as fruit. So fresh and tasty with that lovely sweetness that only really good vegetables can have - it was a highlight for sure. But of course the kimchi is pretty good...The only weird thing is having a "regular" meal for breakfast.

I thought about it though, and I have to say that it is kind of weird that we Americans and Western Europeans have such a different expectation for what breakfast should consist of. I mean, food is food right? And there isn't really anything particularly "natural" about eating eggs and toast and other "breakfast only" sort of foods in the morning. In fact, I think we might be weirder for having such a segregated meal ideal for breakfast. Just something I noticed. I, for one, quite like having bulgogi (yummy grilled meat that an American palate would most likely expect at dinner) for breakfast!

Alright, then. Here are some pics of the room for all of you to whet your appetite with until the next blog.


Jungwon Univeristy is BEAUTIFUL. This is me next to one of their "pavilions." Once I get more pictures of the campus, Lulu and I will make a whole post on the University.

The view into room 1002. Yep, we're on the 10th floor!

The bathroom...

Notice the shower head, yet no stall like you might expect. You just shower in the room...which leaves a puddle. Strangely, I'm getting used to the persistent wetness quickly.

My desk and a half with the 3rd unused (storage) bed behind.

Random wall. Seriously, Korena and I don't understand it's purpose other than limiting the options for re-arranging furniture. Also includes the sliding tinted windows...odd.

My bed. Korean beds only consist of a mattress cover, and mattress pad, and a coverlet-like blanket. No fitted sheet or loose sheet. Actually pretty easy to sleep with.

Lulu ready for Korean class tomorrow morning ... for 4 HOURS STRAIGHT!!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Waiting before the journey begins...

I'm sitting in the Richmond Airport as I wait for my flight to JFK.We'll begin boarding soon...but so far there aren't many people here which is good. Hopefully the plane won't be too full...but maybe people just aren't as "on-time" as I try to be.

Saying goodbye to the family and best friends was easier than I thought it would be. Most likely because I won't really feel their absence until I'm surrounded by people who are all speaking a very foreign language in a very far away place. It was still a good goodbye though.

Security was a breeze. No one in line - which was good since my carry-on and "personal item" were quite large and required a lot of unpacking. I would go into the luggage situation more here, but I think I might have more to say after landing a walking through Incheon in SK with all of it!

Anyway, here are two pictures then...One of my new travel companion, Lulu FruFru Howard. She is a pink flamingo. I figure since I won't be in most of my pictures, I need a subject to show off the scale of things. Besides, she's pretty.

Lulu and I sad from saying goodbye to Alex, Chelsea, Taylor, Marissa, Mom & Dad.

Lulu waiting with class. (Also note the empty gate!)

Very well then. I believe I'm off whether I'm ready or not.