Farewell Party for Lucas, Aileen, and Me
Two months. 60 days. 1,440 hours. 86,400 minutes. In truth, this is a very short amount of time. I arrived in Korea in August, and if it weren't freezing outside and the leaves weren't changing, I'd still believe it was August.

Nonetheless, a lot has happened in the past two months. I gained experience teaching Level 3 Adult English classes, English classes to children ranging from ages 6-14, a religion class, and more. I've gone hiking and biking, to concerts and festivals, to mountains and a beach . . . I've prepared presentations and graded even more tests. I've learned how to read Hangul and speak a few necessary Korean words and sentences. All of these are good things.

But best of all, I have formed friendships--strong friendships. When you live with, work with, cook with, and go to church with the same people every day for two months, you form strong bonds. You learn each other's strengths and weaknesses very quickly in addition to interests and commonalities. You learn from their wisdom and life experiences, as well as from their cultural differences. I am amazed at the deep work that only two solid months spent with like-minded strangers can do for relationships.

Then there are the students--people I see almost every day, but teach more often than actually get to know. Still, I have had students at the end of this term requesting that I teach them next term also. Others are thanking me for my religion class and what they have learned. And still others have seen in me a kindred spirit and want to get to know me more outside of class, so I have been spending quality time with them. One lady told me just yesterday, "I am very lonely, Christen. Thank God you came." Her words struck me to the core.

As I write this, I am torn because by next Tuesday, I will be uprooted. My Seongbuk family and I must separate. We've known all term that Lucas and Aileen were leaving and that next term, Errol and Vickey will be returning to their home countries. But two evenings ago, Vickey notified me immediately after she received word that I would be relocated after this term.

In the paraphrased words of one of my wise friend, "Sometimes we think we know what we want, but when the time comes and we receive it, we realize we were wrong."

I am moving to the textbook office to work in the Content Development department. New adult textbooks are in the production process, and they chose me to help them. They knew I wanted to work there, so when the position opened, they decided to reserve it for me. I feel honored, but at the same time, what will happen next? Is an office the best place for me? I guess I will find out. But most importantly, what will happen to these relationships? That is my greatest concern.

I am thankful, however, that I will be only a 30-minute subway ride from my "home" institute, so visiting is doable. I have prayed and left my life in God's capable, trustworthy hands. The rest is yet to come.
Today at church they threw a farewell party for us. The food was delicious. The fellowship was grand. Everyone has been in denial that I'm leaving, including myself, since it was unexpected. We all had to give farewell speeches. :P The pastor said that I'm leaving because I'm too smart. Everyone laughed.
Goodbye, my dear family!


Gyeonghoeru Yeonhyang Traditional Music & Dance Festival

Korea doesn't come with anything less than adventures and unique experiences. This evening my friend Sarah and I met up for dinner at an Italian restaurant located near our entertainment for the evening. The food was delicious! I had three kinds of pasta with broccoli and mushrooms in a light cream sauce. As we were finishing up, Liberty, my Korean co-teacher, came to join us and walk over to the palace with us. On the way, we met Liberty's friend Sophie.
This was a lovely part of the palace we saw on the way to the stage.
We didn't end up sitting together since Sarah and I had booked our tickets together a week beforehand, but we did get to spend time with them before and after.

The performance was incredible! It was a traditional music and dance festival at the biggest palace in Seoul: Gyeonbukgong. Everything was so beautiful and well-choreographed. Since the part of the palace where the performance was held overlooked a lake, one musical number was done on a little islet overlooking the lake (one man played a bamboo flute and another a mouth organ while two men dressed as cranes flew around) and another was performed from a small boat that journeyed across the lake (a woman sang and playfully criticized her accompanist). My favorite number, surprisingly, was one called "Dance with Five Drums." Fifteen women lined the stage, and each of them had five ancient drums to play. They were standing drums--two stacked on top of each other on either side of them, and one larger one stood behind them. The women were in the middle of these and were twirling all around, playing backwards, playing while spinning around . . . These women were strong and healthy! While they were playing, two men played larger drums on either end of them. Everything was done in perfect harmony. That number lasted at least fifteen minutes, so I can only imagine how tired the performers were afterwards! Here is a link to a video that can give you a better idea of what it was like. Still, this performance was way better! :) Another part of the performance was a processional for the king and queen who sat at the top of the building throughout the performance.

Even for the curtain call, they had a special encore performance.
After it was over, Sarah and I waited around for the crowd to diminish, and we went down to the front to take pictures. It was then that Liberty and Sophie rejoined us, and we took pictures together. Then, out of nowhere, two men with a videocamera and microphone came over and asked us (through Liberty) if they could interview us for their promotions. We agreed. Sarah said something so wonderful and thoughtful that I dreaded following her lead. haha. But I said something a little different and then he asked us our names and where we were from. We ended up saying "The USA" simultaneously and then chuckling at ourselves for doing so directly afterwards. We ended up laughing at ourselves the whole way out of the palace because we were so touristy. "All we needed was some blonde hair and baseball caps" to look like genuine American tourists, we thought.

An awesome group!
Ah, a great evening! That's one benefit to living in such a large city: there are many opportunities for good clean fun and adventure. :)


"Teacher, Teacher!"

"Teacher, teacher!" are words I never expected to hear but that daily bring me pleasure.

For many years I had planned to become an English teacher. I went to college with that goal in mind. It wasn't until my senior year that I chickened out because of the circumstances surrounding high school education in the USA. But now that I'm in a foreign country, teaching English to those who have not been raised hearing and speaking the language, I am enjoying the job more than I likely would have in the States. My favorite part of conversational English with foreign speakers is noting their common mistakes. Koreans tend to say "This days" or "these day" very often, as well as "in my case." They leave out prepositions and articles and have a difficult time with plurals. Now that I'm studying Korean, I know why.

Koreans laugh when they make mistakes. I don't know if that's their natural coping mechanism, or if they really find their mistakes humorous. In any case, I enjoy talking with them and looking at life from their unique perspectives.

One day one of our conversation topics was "Western Culture." A question stated something to the effect of, "What Western practices do you find strange?" One of my ajummas answered, "I can't understand why they don't take off their shoes when they enter their homes and why they don't separate their trash." These are simple things that make you and me laugh. But that's because we know why we do these things. For students here, they take off their shoes at the door because the streets are dirty--not as filthy as those in third-world countries, but still less clean than an average street in the States. Therefore, taking one's shoes off is a necessity to maintaining a clean home. Koreans also separate their trash for recycling purposes because pollution is such a problem here. They're trying to reverse, or at least prevent, greater problems down the road. While the States have started instituting recycling programs, no one is required to participate.

And so I was thinking, why do we criticize so many of other people's customs or cultural practices? Oftentimes we are lacking information and make harsh judgments because we simply never thought to ask for the reason behind the practice?

One really cool traditional custom here is the celebration of the 100-day birthday. Several years ago, when South Korea's economy was bad, and the people were suffering, newborn children would not live for very long. A new practice began as a result. When children are 100 days old, they have a special party celebrating their lives--especially since by this time, they are "in the clear" to live a long life.

I'm starting to get attached to my students and form relationships with them. I'm giving Bible studies to one older man, and I'm meeting with three older women once a week to go out for food or beverages and just talk. Yesterday was actually my first day to spend time outside of the class with Jenny, Jasmine, and their friend Eunice. We went to Ediya, which is a coffee shop below the institute, and they bought me a grapefruit slushy (that they were surprised I wanted in this cold weather). We talked for about an hour, and I realized that Eunice and I have A LOT in common. Jenny and Jasmine are my students, and Eunice (who speaks excellent English) helped them explain that they don't skip my class as often as they do because they don't like me. In fact, they want to fail this term so that they can have me as their teacher again next term. I laughed. Little do they know that I won't be teaching their class next term.

Then there are my children. They are . . . wild and crazy to say the least. But I'm learning to love them, too. It's not very difficult. :) Silver's and Aileen's students are my favorite. They are well-behaved and responsive. And they always have big smiles on their faces. The most common words I hear from my children are, "Teacher, teacher, game, game!" or "Finish-ied!"

But lately I've been meeting students in the hallway, on my way from class to class, and stopping to chat with them. Harry (a girl) and Jenny enjoy it the most. They are in my WiseMaster Starter 4 class. My students in that class range from age 8-11, I believe. Jenny and Harry are always eating snacks in the hallway before their classes start. Harry always has tteokbokki that her grandmother has made for her. Jenny has fruit rollups, actual fruit, cookies, or tteok (rice cake). Each day when I walk down the hallway, Jenny will run up to me with her snack and hand me a piece before I can speak a word. We talk for a few minutes, and I go to my office for a few minutes of recouping before my next classes begin. Yesterday she came into my office unannounced. All of a sudden I heard, "Teacher, what are you doing?" and turned to see her staring directly at my computer. I was on FB, of course, and so I told her I was looking at what my friends have been doing lately. "Your friends?" she asked--not really out of surprise but moreso out of interest. So I went to the pages of some of my best friends and showed her some pictures. When her curiosity was satisfied, she ran out of the room. "See you later!"

Another day when I was coming down the hallway, Harry, Jenny, and Dana greeted me, and since I had been studying Korean, I naturally responded with "Anyeonhaseyo!" They gasped in amazement. "Teacher speak Korean?" they asked, in those very words. I explained to them that I was learning and knew a few words and how to read some. So they started quizzing me! They pointed to posters and said, "Read this!" "Wow!!" was their response at my slow, but correct efforts. Later I heard from their Korean teacher Silver that they had told her that I was learning Korean and were pleased.

Although I have troubles teaching from day to day, I think that, all in all, I am more than content teaching English as a foreign language. I am happy.


Seoul International Fireworks Festival & Shocking Detour Home

My latest adventure was a doozy. Vickey and I and many others from my orientation group separately attended the Seoul International Fireworks Festival--a free show at Yoido Park. Italy, China, the USA, and South Korea all participated, putting on their own shows in 30-minute segments.

I have never seen such an extravagant fireworks display in my life--unless you count the many July 4 celebrations that were based in Boston, NYC, and other places that I watched on TV.

Vickey and I left home three and a half hours before the show was scheduled to begin and instantly discovered that a larger number of Seoul's population would be attending than we had anticipated. The subway station was nothing shy of a cattle farm. Police officers guided everyone to and from the gates, and everyone who dared squeeze into the next subway car experienced a sardine's life for the few minutes of transport to Yoido. At last, we all reached our destination and exited the station. I couldn't help but wonder if this kind of mass exodus could be compared to that of Moses and the Israelites.

We followed the crowds to the park and discovered we had arrived just in time. While some had set up tents and slept there the night before, the rest of us wandered around to set up our own "camps." (We have guessed that there had to have been at least 1 million people who attended the festival and watched from either side of the Han River.) Vickey and I found a comfortable location on the steps overlooking the Han River and saved seats for three others who planned to join us. For two and a half hours we sat there, waiting and talking with those around us. Vickey ended up talking to a Korean who had been teaching himself English, and I ended up talking with an American English teacher from Oregon and her Korean friend who speaks good English and is an elementary school science teacher. 

Just before the show began, J--, Vickey's student and friend, found us after much effort. After that, it was impossible for anyone else to locate friends or family as there was no more phone service or wireless internet accessibility. 

For the next two hours we watched the skies. It was truly the most phenomenal fireworks display I've ever seen--and unique. There were some smiley face fireworks, some jellyfish-looking ones, and I'm almost certain there was a Chinese or Korean word at one country's finale. 

At the very end, they set off special fireworks from the bridge that, falling downward, appeared to be a flowing waterfall. It was so beautiful.

J-- wanted to leave early, fearing that we wouldn't be able to get out safely or quickly otherwise, but by the time we agreed to leave, it was over anyway. She had driven to Yoido so that we wouldn't have to take the subway home, which was so nice of her. We expected to just find her car and ride home with her, but she had other plans . . . she wanted us to meet her friends.

We learned something new about J-- that night: she has friends in high places--the National Assembly, to be exact. After asking some questions, I gathered that it is the USA's equivalent of the US House of Representatives. She took Vickey and I there, and we met some secretaries and one NA member who wants to learn English. They fed us lots of fruit and sweet delicacies and just took time out of their busy schedules to talk with us. For most of the conversation, though, Vickey and I were just sitting there, feeling like goldfish in a bowl--foreigners on display. We didn't know what to say, and it didn't help matters that most of them either didn't speak English or were too afraid to try. So Jessica translated a bit for us. In the end, we truly had had a good time, but we were certainly shocked by the whole thing. They gave us souvenirs and told us to come by and visit any time. They even stood and bowed in respect to us as we came and left!

That was an experience I never ever expected to have! What everyone has said is true: Koreans' social status is becoming more and more clear to me. First come the president and government officials. Second come teachers, and foreign teachers actually have a higher standing than Korean teachers, I hear.

My mind is boggled. I cannot even try to imagine what the future holds anymore. All that matters is that God is in control.



Overwhelmed, stressed, fatigued, insignificant, incapable, empty--these are the words that most capably describe how I felt before this past weekend.

I won't deny that even though I haven't entirely experienced "culture shock," I have had some difficulty adjusting to my new life in some ways. My appetite, in particular, has undergone the greatest change of all. But then there's the job factor: some days I love my job. Other days I feel incompetent and just want to go back to my apartment.

My relationship with God has suffered the most. When in the mission field, moreso than at home, missionaries are always giving--giving of their time, energy, advice, knowledge, resources, love, support .  . . But missionaries struggle to receive, or be filled. An individual's relationship with God is the most important, yes, but fellowship with other believers is vital to sustaining one another in service. Accountability and encouragement are significant, but worshiping God together is the greatest act and need of all (Hebrews 10:25).

This past week we had a special term break in honor of a Korean holiday called Chuseok. While Koreans here in Seoul packed their bags and traveled to their hometowns, my three friends and I journeyed to Dong-Seoul Station where we would meet and catch a bus to the eastern city of Sokcho, best known for both its beach and its mountain, Seorak.

Sarah and I arrived early and later heard from Joy and Simone that they were running late and might not make it in time. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 8:59 a.m., and they were going to be pushing it to the last minute. Once I had that information, I got back in the ticket line and asked if anyone spoke English. A man, who I assume was the manager, came to my aid, and I explained to him the situation. He assured me that we could change out our tickets at no extra charge, so we would just wait until the other girls arrived before doing so. They arrived precisely in time, Sarah and I ran to meet them at the gate and then discovered that the bus had just pulled out. Now what? The manager apparently had seen us running out and followed us. He explained to us as best he could that we could take the next bust at 9:05 without even having to change our tickets. It was such a blessing!

We got on the bus, and while Joy and Simone slept, Sarah and I chatted away, catching up on our last month of teaching for the duration of the two-hour bus ride. About 30 minutes into our journey, our hearts leaped with joy and anticipation as we began to see mountains! At last we were leaving the city--the hustle and bustle, the pollution, everything we have come to call home.

When the bus ride was over, we all picked up our luggage and looked around hesitatingly for the direction of our hostel. All we could find was a tourist information desk, and the lady there gave us a map to the hostel, which was quite confusing. We walked around aimlessly for a while until we asked a stranger for directions. Instead of explaining the way, he offered us a ride and drove us to our destination! We probably never would have found it otherwise!

The House Hostel is incredible. It is so homy and comfortable. Because it was designed specifically for foreigners, we enjoyed meeting all of the other guests. There was an older couple from Sweden who were traveling the world now that they are retired, there were exchange students from Canada and Germany, some French and Malaysian guests, and the list goes on. Everyone at the hostel could speak English in addition to another language, so that was cool.  :) We had some really interesting conversations when we were eating breakfast or cooking lunch.
Seoraksan National Park Entrance
On Saturday morning, we began our journey to Seoraksan National Park. We had wanted to climb the mountain in time to see the sunrise, but when 5:00 a.m. came along, we weren't as eager to do so as we had been the night before. Therefore, we snoozed a bit longer and left the hostel in time to see the sunrise from the bus stop. It was gorgeous and good enough for us. :)

Thirty minutes later, we arrived at the park entrance and began our trek. To say that we were thrilled to breathe fresh air and hike in the great outdoors is an understatement. The journey was incredible. The mountains on this side of the world are so different to what I am used to. They have a distinct rugged beauty. We walked for a long time before approaching the stairs of doom--the 800-step pathway that would lead us to Ulsanbawi Peak, one of the highest in the park. Some steps were normal, while others were very narrow or steep. At some point, Joy and Simone broke ahead of Sarah and I due to our constant stopping for picture-taking, which ultimately placed us about 30 minutes behind them.
The stairway of doom
One of the most gorgeous views on the trail
At last we reached the top. We kept telling ourselves that if the older couple from the hostel could do it, and the old British man with the cane that we had just passed could do it, then we could, too! The wind's strong blasts were nearly overpowering, but they did not stop me from exploring the peak. I shivered under my raincoat as I snapped picture after picture of the majestic view. We had feared that it would rain that day, but God answered our prayers and provided us with a beautiful, clear, sunny day.
View from the top of Ulsanbawi Peak
We met the other girls at the top and eventually began our journey back down the mountain. It was too cold to stay up there for very long. When we reached a warmer location, still overlooking the surrounding peaks, we sat down and began to sing praises to our God and King. Hymn after hymn flowed forth from our hearts and minds, ranging from "God Is So Good" to "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." God had done so much for us.

We closed with prayer and then found our way back to a nice spot near the beginning of our trail where we could have a Korean-style haystack picnic lunch. We met some other foreign English teachers and talked some before going back to the entrance to start our next trail, which would lead us to a waterfall.
The lovely waterfall
Aileen, one of my co-Korean teachers whose hometown is Sokcho, joined us on that one, bringing her mother and a friend. They met us at the end of the trail, and we talked for a while before heading back together.

At the end of the day we calculated how many hours we had spent at Seoraksan: 12! 'Twas a long day, and another one lay ahead.
Sunrise at the dock
The following morning, Joy, Sarah, and I again rose early to see the sunrise, this time walking down to the dock. The site was breathtaking. Pictures could not capture its full beauty. I never fully appreciated the splendor and majesty of nature until this year when I became a resident in a large, stinky city, destitute of any sort of nature. The lights are too bright to see the moon and stars, and the sun always rises and sets while I'm at work, sheltered by the skyscrapers. Trees and mountains and animals are only distant, unreachable figures . . . until the weekends.
We took lots of fun ocean pictures :)

The rest of the day we spent at Sokcho Beach, having a picnic pasta lunch, and then at the local cultural history center where I learned how to walk on stilts--at least for 28 steps. We closed the day by watching the sun set over the ocean at the world expo tower. The moon was full and bright and sat parallel to the city's bridge across the way.
This was addicting!
By the end of our mini-vacation, we had had many meaningful conversations and worshiped God together every day, praying, singing, and studying the Word. He had done much for us, including providing us a place to stay on the third night since we had to relocate due to a booking misunderstanding. Even more significantly, He put us in contact with many English-speakers to assist us every step of the way!

Energized, refreshed, revived, prepared, filled--those are the words that describe how I feel today. I'm ready to face what lies ahead, but only with God's strength and the encouragement and support of like-minded believers.


Climbing Dobongsan Mountain

"10 more minutes"were the infamous words often spoken by our Korean commandeer Kevin to encourage us. The only problem was that they didn't. "Ten more minutes" was simply a ploy to get us to press on toward the prize--the peak of Dobongsan Mountain, which took three hours for us to reach. Nonetheless, we succeeded and enjoyed the striking view from the top. I actually enjoyed every minute of the journey, but the ajummas (older married women) were less than thrilled by the false advertisement. In their eyes this was more of a strenuous Climbing Club than a casual Hiking Club experience. Vickey and I didn't know anything about this mountain, so the ajummas took pleasure in calling Kevin a liar. Haha. Anyway, the climb was most definitely worth it. 

We stopped a few times to snack. The ajummas had brought some fruit for us all to share, so we enjoyed splitting a huge Korean pear among us--and the best mango ever!

The closer we got to the top, the more physical climbing we actually had to do. Poles and ropes lined the pathway for us to pull ourselves up. It was certainly an adventure!

Unfortunately, so much time has passed since the actual event that I don't have much to say about it now. In any case, you can enjoy some of the pictures. :)

The three of us took a special picture after accomplishing a more difficult rock-climb.
Let the climbing begin!

Just 10 more minutes!!!

Group victory photo
The almost final ascent
Roommate victory photo