The Peculiarities of South Korea

I have been wanting to write this blog for a while: the peculiarities of South Korea. In reality, it would probably be simpler to just make a list of differences between the American and Korean way. Here it goes:

  • Toilet paper goes in a trash can.
  • Towels are not used in any fashion that I have observed.
  • Sheets are not used on beds. A cushy blanket as the base is used instead, and a thinner blanket is used in place of a top sheet.
  • Any paper item can serve the same function. For example, kleenex tissue, toilet paper, and paper towels can all be used at the dinner table--or nothing at all.
  • Metal chopsticks and large spoons are the preferred method of serving oneself. Love it! I'm becoming a master of the chopstick. :)
  • Taxes and tips are included in the price. One never has to guess how much something will cost if it's already written somewhere.
  • If you are a stranger, prepare to be stepped on--literally. If you're ever in anyone's way, and they don't know who you are, not a word will be spoken to you.
  • 99 out of 100 Koreans have the equivalent of an iPhone with an added antenna, which consumes their attention on the subway and bus.
  • Quietness must be respected in public places, such as the bank and the bus.
  • "How old are you?" is perhaps the most common question asked by South Koreans. The answer is always a year older than one's age since the additional 9 months in the womb is counted in one's age.
  • Koreans are exceptionally friendly and helpful when you ask them questions.
  • Everything is recycled.
  • Electricity is very expensive.
  • Cafes are everywhere, and they serve grapefruit juice! among other fruit juices, tea, and coffee.
  • Nearly every Korean that I have met looks significantly younger than his or her age.
  • American Fast Food is taking over the world! Dunkin' Doughnuts, Krispy Kreme, Taco Bell, Subway, Pizza Hut, Burger King, McDonald's, and more are scattered throughout Seoul.
  • Shoes must be removed when entering a home or certain restaurants/tea shops.
  • Rice is eaten with the same frequency that bread is eaten in the States. The only bread I have seen here is white, though, so I bought the ingredients to make my own wheat bread today.
  • "kkk" is the texting equivalent of "lol." It basically means that you're chuckling.
  • Give and receive things with two hands. (I'm still struggling to remember that one.)
  • Bow slightly when greeting a person of greater authority.
  • Age takes a slight precedence over title. Social status is very important.
  • Names are called with the last name first or the title first if one has a title. As a teacher, I will have one of the most respected titles in this country. Teacher Christen. :)
That's all that I remember at this point, folks. Everyone who has served here for a while says that our English is going to start to degenerate after a while since we are the minority now, and they are right. I have already caught myself talking significantly slower, yet with greater precision, and also not pluralizing certain words. I'm beginning to speak the Korean English that I have heard. Pray for me! :)

Teacher Dedication & Moving Day

Well, orientation has come to an end. Alas . . . I'm facing this day with mixed emotions: sadness because of separation from friends and familiar territory and joy for my future of teaching.
New Teachers & Staff
Last night, we had a dedication service for all of the new teachers. We sang, listened to a thoughtful message, participated in a candle-lighting ceremony, and learned where each of us would be teaching. I am praising God that my friend Sarah and I are both in Seoul and within an hour (probably less) of each other byway of the subway. I will definitely be visiting her whenever I get a good chance!
Orientation Roommates (We had a lot of fun!)
This morning we all finished packing, ate breakfast and had worship together, and then said our goodbyes as pastors came to pick us up and take us to our local institutes. My pastor is very nice. He just returned from the mission field in Taiwan, where he has been serving for six years. He drove me to the language school where I saw my classroom, and then he took me to my apartment where I met my housemate from South Africa and the teacher whose place I would be taking. She is from New Zealand! I wish I could have spent more time with her.
My classroom!!! :D
After getting settled, my housemate Vickey took me into town and tried to orient me. She also told me a lot of valuable information, like the best place to go grocery shopping and the best market in which to buy produce. We went to a local "fast food" place to get kimbap, which was very good, and then once she took me back to the institute, she let me on my own to do the things I needed to do.

All I really needed to do immediately was buy groceries. I didn't have anything, so I went to the grocery store and searched. That was the strangest experience I've had yet. Fish is everywhere--iced or dried. And it's not pre-cut. It's just the fish . . . lying there. :P Anyway, nearly everything was in Korean so I struggled to figure out what certain items were by recognition only. I found all that I would need to make a spaghetti dinner and to make my own bread. I also bought some soy milk, cereal, peanut butter, and strawberry jam. I found it fascinating that the two items that were entirely in English were Skippy peanut butter and Prego pasta sauce. Checking out was almost as complicated as shopping had been. The cashier didn't know a single word of English, and my "hello, please, and thank you" weren't enough to get me along. Some of the produce items I apparently was supposed to get a lady to weigh and price for me. Also, plastic bags cost about $0.35 each, so I had to buy three. I need to get a backpack soon!
The results of much effort.
I bought way too much food for the first trip, especially considering that my apartment building is practically at the top of a mountain. (Ok, so I exaggerated a little, but it is quite the walk!) I could only carry the bags so far out of the subway station (the shop was in the subway station), and when I got outside again, I could not figure out which direction I needed to go. I set my things down near the road, and thankfully a taxi driver pulled over for me.

Vickey had given me the address of our apartment in Hangul, along with her cell phone to use for the afternoon. I handed the driver the paper, and he had so much trouble finding the place that he pulled over to ask some policemen. None of them could speak English, though one of the policemen knew some. While they were trying to figure out the address, I called the local English institute where I will be teaching and asked Sophie if she knew my address and could explain it to them. I handed them the phone, and everything was taken care of. The driver took me home and laughed. He was a good sport about the whole thing. 

I refuse to leave my room again until my housemate can direct me. It's going to take this small town girl a while to learn how to navigate the big city. But Vickey is from a small town as well, so I have hope that I can learn, too. :)

My classes begin on Monday, and I'm excited! However, I learned that I will be teaching level three English classes here, and I have only been trained to teach levels one and two. This will be interesting. . . The junior classes will be using different textbooks from those that I learned as well, but that's ok. Additionally, I learned that since my school is small, I will be teaching the ABC schedule. (For those who don't know, that means that I will be teaching from the early morning to the late evening with a short break in the afternoon.) Welcome, positive learning and growing experience!

Vickey told me something surprising today. One of the other girls from our orientation group was actually scheduled to come here, but Pastor Choi changed us out at the last minute. I happen to know that that girl wanted to come here very badly, and I didn't have a preference. I wonder why I was chosen . . .


Changdeokgung Palace & Insadong

First of all I must say that I have so enjoyed having a friend here with me, and I will greatly miss her after orientation is over. Second, I love traveling and exploring!

Today our orientation group got to take a break from the normal routine and explore a historical site: Changdeokgung Palace. This palace was built in 1412 and has housed many kings and queens. It burned three times over the following three centuries through invasion, revolt, and accident. Royalty resided in the palace until the late 1900s, and reconstruction began in 1991. It became a historical site around that time. (If you'd like to see more pictures, find me on Facebook.)

Later this afternoon, our orientation group headed to Insadong (a tourist hot spot) to walk around and shop, eat some genuine bibimbap (rice and vegetables), and visit a tea house. We had a great time, but I am glad to be back and resting again! A busy week begins tomorrow. Good night, everyone. :)


Orientation Days 2 & 3

An-yeon-ha-se-yo. :) Good morning. Are you at peace?

Every day of orientation is jam-packed with activities. On day two, one of them was a trip to the hospital to evaluate our health in every arena. Because our whole group went together, we had loads of fun, but if we had gone individually, it probably would have been stressful. Blood tests, urine tests, blood pressure, weight, height, hearing, vision, chest x-rays . . . the works. Nonetheless, I'm glad to say that nothing is seriously wrong with me.

We also received religion and English class training yesterday and today, which are greatly motivating me. I am so excited to teach that a part of me wants to start tomorrow. At the same time, I am thoroughly overwhelmed by the different programs and structures for the varying ages and levels of English comprehension. Thankfully we have another week of training left to prepare me.

This morning, we observed two English classes taught by seasoned teachers, which really helped me to see how to personalize the program and make it more effective. We also got to converse with the students, so I learned a lot about Korea and Koreans (one of which is that girls do not play soccer :P There goes that hope of finding a group to play). Then this afternoon, we received further training so that we can practice teaching each other tomorrow.
On another note, we had some free time yesterday, so my dear friend Sarah and I went on our own adventure. :) We took the bus in Seoul to Samyook University, where our friend Grace currently teaches. We met some of her friends from Uganda and South Korea and ate a good American meal. The university was absolutely beautiful, and I'd love to explore it more.

And now . . . homework. You may not be hearing from me for a few days . . .


Travel & Orientation Day 1

My journey to Korea began at 4:30 a.m. on August 19 and ended at 10:00 p.m. on August 21, Korean time. All in all, I was in transit or in waiting for a grand total of about 32 hours.

Nothing incredibly eventful happened in the States. In Chicago, I met a graphic design student, and we had a good conversation until we went our separate ways at boarding.

The most exciting part of the journey was flying to Korea on a Thai Airways International Boeing 747. American airlines cannot even begin to compare to this Asian airline! We were warmly greeted at the entrance of the plane by friendly and respectful stewards and stewardesses who bowed to us with their hands folded. The crew wore traditional, bright-colored Thai clothing. The plane decor included beautiful seats, varying between pink, purple, and yellow, and blankets and headphones were provided. We ate well, were encouraged to walk around, and were constantly provided with beverages to keep us hydrated. The cabin was roomy and kept at the perfect temperature. Free entertainment was even provided. Because those who booked my flight did not request a vegetarian meal for me, I told the crew while I was on board, willing to just eat what I could, but they made every effort to accommodate me at the last minute. One of the stewards asked me if I liked soup and shortly thereafter returned with a vegetarian vegetable noodle soup. A stewardess offered me extra bread. There were no pointless announcements, we weren't rudely awakened if we were sleeping, and the flight was smooth. I also met a girl on board who graduated from college a year ago and is going to be teaching English through another program called EPIC. We ended up sitting across from each other and talked for a while.

After landing, we had to go through customs, which was perhaps the most simple customs experience that I have ever had. At last, I exited the terminal and, as I looked around, heard someone yell my name. It was Ruthie! I had no idea that she would be picking me up. We played volleyball together at Southern, so I was so happy to see someone that I knew. Even better, my friend Sarah had already arrived. We had roomed together in Israel, so I was even more excited to see her two years later.

God has really worked things out for me. I initially thought that I would be coming here alone, but I have discovered that I know a fair amount of people who currently work here. I met another one today--Rachel, who I sat next to in archaeology class for a year.

Today orientation began, and it was wonderful. A worship thought by Pastor Choi reminded us why we are here, a trip to the bank allowed us to exchange money and open up an account, a culture class educated us about the most common dos and don'ts, a introduction to the All-Day Club allowed us to practice our teaching skills, and a brief Korean lesson by the All-Day Club members allowed me to learn some of the basics of Hangul.

I think I'm really going to like it here! :)


False Start

Several weeks ago, I attended a game night with friends. Late that evening, I received a phone call. Soon Sun Kim was ordering my tickets to South Korea and wanted to discuss the details with me. I left the room, interpreted her English as best I could, and verified information with her several times before hanging up. When I returned to the game table, I eagerly announced, "August 18, everybody! I'm leaving August 18."

August 17 came. I spent the entire day (and then some) packing and repacking to make sure I would not exceed the weight restrictions. I got 2.5 hours of sleep, showered at 3:30 a.m. and was on the road with Mom by 4:30 a.m on August 18.

When I tried to check in electronically at the airport, the monitor told me that the flight was not available. I assumed something was wrong with the program and spoke with the United Airlines representative. I handed her my itinerary, and while she questioned me if I was sure of my flight, she looked me up on the computer. "Your flight is tomorrow," she announced.

If I hadn't been so tired, my jaw probably would have dropped to the ground. I grabbed the itinerary and took another look. Sure enough, August 19 was the date. Even though I was flabbergasted that I had been wrong for so long, I took advantage of the opportunity and weighed my luggage. Each bag weighed in at precisely 49.0 pounds. The limit is 50 pounds. Success!!

Mom and I returned to the car and began driving home, laughing amid the embarrassment. Then the phone rang. Who could possibly be awake and calling me at 5:30 in the morning? Pastor Ferguson. "I'm at the airport, but I guess I missed you . . ." the message played.

I called him back shortly thereafter and explained the situation. He laughed about it and said that God must have had a reason for it. He also said that he had seen us checking in and had gone to wait at the gate. I never saw actually saw him, though. I felt really bad that he had gotten up so early and driven all that way for no reason, but I was thankful to know that he cared that much to come and see me off at the airport.

Despite my embarrassment, Mom and I got in a good laugh and agreed that that was our road trip for the year.

The rest of the day was wonderful. I got to spend a last unexpected Sabbath at church and hear Dr. Hasel and Dr. Clouzet speak about the archaeology surrounding the seven churches of Revelation. I caught up on my sleep that afternoon following a delicious lunch. And in the evening I just spent some time doing some odds and ends that I had wanted to do before leaving but didn't think that I had time--including playing fetch with Snoopy and giving Lassie a good rub down.

All in all, the mix-up was totally worth it. I doubt I'll ever forget that mistake . . .


My Sabbath School class threw me a farewell party. :)
While anticipation of the unknown is daunting, the thought that continues to pervade my mind above all others is this: I have been encapsulated by love.

What does it mean to encapsulate? Well, one definition is to be "enclosed by a protective coating or membrane." And that is precisely how I feel.

Over the past month of final preparations, friends and family have showered me with phone calls, thoughtful cards, gifts (some even sacrificial), hugs, encouragement, prayers, quality time, birthday surprises, "going away" parties, and more. I cannot even begin to describe how much I have been blessed. I feel as though, no matter what happens to me in the next several months, I will be protected. If I don't make any friends, if I discover that teaching ESL is not one of my specialties, if I starve from picky eating, if I have a miserable experience, the memory of home and the love of those there will lessen or even shatter all pain and sorrow.

When I was a child, I doubted that I would ever have a true friend--one that I could trust and rely on, and one who would enjoy spending time with me. Today I am awestruck as I declare that God has blessed me with more dear, true friends than I can count. I love every one of them--each for his or her own personality, character, and influence in my life.

Proverbs 18:24b holds true for me: "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Although I don't have any biological brothers or sisters, I count all of my friends brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter their age or background. They have made life in this world happier and have given me a glimpse of the greater joys to come in a world made new.

I look forward to the day when God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4). And we will never have to part again.