Every missionary has a thing or two to say about reverse culture shock. There's something to it. People who have never experienced working in the mission field abroad simply cannot understand the feelings and thoughts that go through the mind of a returning missionary. Here are a few things (mostly frivolous) that struck me after coming back from Korea and re-assimilating into USA life. Some things are positive, and some are negative. That's just the way it is. (I'll be going back to Korea in a few weeks, so it'll be interesting to see if it all hits me again in some way or another...)

Upon arriving at the airport in the USA, I noted the following:
"Where are all the Koreans?"
"How are there so many blonde-haired, blue-eyed children??? I've always told the Koreans that that was a generalization."
"Wow. I can understand every conversation around me! I'm not too thrilled about that, though. :P I'm already tired of hearing this woman complain about her job to her coworkers."
"Everyone is sooooo kind and helpful.....and talkative."

After almost falling asleep waiting for my connecting plane to arrive at my gate, a lady working at the gate came up to me and apologetically asked, "Are you going to Dalton?" But I heard, "Are you going to Daejeon?" Daejeon is a city in Korea. I told her no, and thankfully, I wasn't going to Dalton because I was so tired, I could've been mistaken.

After landing at my small, local airport:
"Where is everybody????"

While riding home in my mom's car:
"It's sooooo dark. Where are all the lights? It's dangerous to drive like this."
"Wow! There's so much nature....so much space between buildings....so much land. Only one-story buildings???!!"
"Where are all the cars? It's only 10:30 pm."

After arriving at my house and getting ready for bed:
"It's sooo cold. Are you sure the heat is on? What's the temperature??"
"My bed is so high off the floor! I feel like a queen up here. I practically have to climb to get up here."
"Where can I put my shoes? I shouldn't walk with them through the house."

After eating Western food for the first few times:
"This is sooooo salty! You could get a heart attack if you ate too much of this."
"Why does this have so much oil?"
"Ugh. That's tooooo sweet!"
"Ah, I still love Mexican food. REAL Mexican food. But yes, it's salty and oily. :("
"I think I forgot how to use a fork...."
"Ew....city water. :P"

While eating Korean curry or tteokbokki with my mom and friends:
"Are you sure this is spicy?? I can't taste anything!! Just potatoes. :P"

After shopping in Walmart and Sam's Club:
"Where are the escalators?"
"Wow! EVERYTHING is on one floor!!!"
"No free samples?? :("
"Where are all the employees? I have a question. Why can't I find someone to help me??"
"Aw, no exercise music. :(" (Many Korean businesses such as these play exercise music intermittently for the employees to exercise in unison. It's so funny to watch! I love it.)

Gradual observations:
The American accent is strong. I think I lost a bit of my accent in Korea...
Oh yeah, I have to pay tip....even though American restaurant waiters don't do much more than Korean ones.
Taxes?? I wish they'd already counted that in the price. I thought it really was $1.99. :P
It's so quiet and dark at night, and there are STARS! :D
I have way too much free time. It's easy to get bored.
Nature is EVERYWHERE. :D
Internet, especially free wireless internet, is so hard to find!!!
I have to drive if I want to do something...anything.... :(
Everyone invites me to their home. Yay for comfortable, friendly home gatherings. :)
HUGS!!!!!!!! I love hugs. :D
Why did it snow two weeks ago, and now it's 68 degrees Fahrenheit?? in December??
Asking "How old are you?" is a taboo question....got to remember that.
Strangers smile at me and say "Hello." This is weird....but kind of nice. :)
Ah, a REAL church Bible study!!! So refreshing. :) And the songs and service are allllll in English. Real English! And I'm learning new things!!!
Wow. I have a lot more friends than I thought I did!
Why are there Christmas decorations up already??? (in November) Why do Americans decorate so much for Christmas?? What is the point of this holiday? Where did this tradition really come from??
Hurray for a REAL massage and a chiropractic adjustment! Sigh. :)
A bathtub!!! I forgot about those.
Yay! No more squat toilets. And bathrooms smell so much better when the toilet paper is flushed.
Why don't we have a separate trash bag for food?
You mean there's not a button I need to press to turn on the hot water?


How Korea Has Changed Me

Fourteen months have passed since I came to Korea. Initially I planned to only stay for six months. Thanksgiving and Christmas are fast approaching, and so is my homecoming, as I am planning to be home at that time. Thinking about going home has filled me with eagerness but also with some trepidation. I have changed a lot since coming here. Perhaps I won't fit in quite the same mold when I come back, but I don't necessarily need to, do I? I have also adapted to Korean culture and become comfortable with it....and with rarely hearing my own language spoken fluently. You know, I didn't really experience much culture shock in coming here, but I'm thinking that I might have a significant amount of reverse culture shock upon my return. We shall see.....

With these thoughts in mind, I decided it might be wise to compile a list of ways that I have changed since coming here for those who will interact with me upon my return. Please don't be offended if I do or say something you do not expect when we meet again. I will likely be oblivious to the fact. Just know that I have grown to love Korea and Koreans who are in many ways very different from Americans, and I will have to re-adapt to my own culture and societal norms. Still, I feel like Korea has not seen the last of me...... :)


  • My taste in food has changed. At first, I couldn't stand Korean food. Now I can eat it every day...granted, I am a bit picky about it. But, I'm no longer sensitive to hot and spicy foods. I can eat a plate of vegetarian tteokbokki just as well as any other Korean. :) While I still enjoy some Western foods, others have lost their appeal.
  • My language has been saturated with every kind of English imaginable....South African, New Zealander, Australian, Canadian, Korean, Vietnamese, Philippino, Indian. I might've acquired a few characteristics from some of them....
  • I have grown accustomed to not speaking to strangers and to being very quiet in public places....and to showing respect to older people and being respected by younger people.
  • I bow my head to greet someone older than me. I hand things to someone with two hands or with one hand touching my elbow. I think these habits will take some time to break. 
  • My personal space block has been reduced, so if I get too close to you when we're talking, I'm probably not aware of it. 
  • Giving and receiving hugs is not common here, but I've at least got the English Club used to doing it now....and they rather like it. :) But you won't catch them doing it with each other. Hugging a foreign friend is more comfortable. hehe.
  • I haven't used an oven in a year....
  • I haven't driven a car in over a year, and I'm a bit afraid to do so now. Driving in Korea is terrifying! Glad I don't have an international license. :P
  • I've learned how to sleep just about anywhere, as long as I can stretch out. I've pretty much been a nomad since August and living out of a suitcase since then, so I'm more flexible than ever before. I've also been spoiled by the Korean floor heating system. It's going to be soooo cold in America. :P
  • Sharing food has become a part of my everyday life. In Korea, our own plate is not our own plate. We eat off of each other's or out of a center plate/bowl. It's going to take a while to get used to the "My food is my food only" mentality again....that and using knives and forks.
  • Korea doesn't charge extra for tip and taxes. The price you see advertised is the final price. Why does America have to be so complicated?? Korea's system is so much better!!

Physically, I have:

  • become comfortable in my skin. Throughout my life, people have always told me I am too small and need to eat more to put on more weight. I have had trouble finding clothes to fit me and always have had to shop in the teenage section to find something, but usually the style is provocative or unattractive. In Korea, I fit in. I can shop anywhere and everywhere and find nice, cheap clothes that fit me without having to try them on. No one ever says I'm too small, but occasionally I'll be told that I need to lose some belly fat, which I totally disregard. kk. 
  • adopted chopsticks as the best eating utensils in the world, even for cake. As a result, I struggle to use a fork and knife comfortably when the opportunity presents itself
  • learned how to walk and stand for hours without thinking about it to the point where sitting still for two consecutive hours generally feels tedious and uncomfortable
  • come to prefer Korean food over Western food!! I know. I can't believe it either
  • lost the muscles I had for playing volleyball, but gained muscles for hiking
  • acquired some gray hairs (immediately plucked), a small scar on my left arm from an iron, dark circles under my eyes and a few wrinkles there, and freckles on my face from the sun
  • traveled and explored the grand majority of this country

Mentally, I have:

  • become a responsible adult
  • gained confidence in the talents and abilities that God has given me to teach English to speakers of other languages
  • learned much from the wisdom of those dear people surrounding me
  • acquired patience for almost any situation and the ability to be flexible and adapt at a moment's notice. As a result of the situations I am used to, I have become a more spontaneous person than before.
  • learned that people's behavior is always an expression of what lies underneath and, therefore, to especially pray for those who hurt me because they are in a place where they reallllly need God.
  • come to consider a lodging place as a lodging place and not a home, as I have relocated 11 times within 5 cities throughout the past 14 months. As a result, I have learned to be thankful for a bed, blankets, heat and air conditioning, a shower, and a kitchen. I have also learned the importance of frugality and simplicity in life and am content and rather pleased with that. The nomadic lifestyle is a good way to remember that my home is not here, but rather I am waiting to dwell in the home God has prepared for me in heaven,
  • enjoyed a year's respite from the commercialism of Western holidays
  • decided that if I ever get married, I want to marry a missionary

Emotionally, I have:

  • had more highs and lows than ever before in a single year
  • been drained to the very core
  • felt loved, honored, respected, appreciated, admired, hated (by a select few and not as an individual, but for the nation I represent), stressed, and more
  • become stronger and learned more and more how to depend on God, particularly in times of need, but not limited to them
  • seen the value of true friendship in hard times

Socially, I have:

  • become very active
  • nearly become an extrovert
  • learned how to interact and enjoy time with people of almost any age and social standing in almost any atmosphere
  • learned how to grade my language to match the level of those with whom I am speaking and consequently make learners/friends comfortable
  • obtained a fair amount of cultural awareness and required responses to various situations
  • established life-long friendships with some amazing people, regardless of cultural and language barriers and religious differences
  • become friends with almost every English-speaking nation's people and been blessed to enjoy and understand their different accents :)

Spiritually, I have:

  • learned that sometimes God's greatest enemy is in the church, but that is no reason to leave it or give up on it
  • learned that we must remain faithful where we are and in what we are doing until God calls us to move on
  • learned more about forgiveness, mercy, and repentance
  • learned the beauties of friendship evangelism and the joys of teaching the Bible to students who have never heard the Word of Life before
  • learned the dangers of compromise and fear of offending others with truth
  • learned the vital importance of fellowship with other like-minded believers, particularly in a church setting
  • been in the process of learning how to trust God like Abraham, Moses, and Joseph
  • learned the impact that various friendships can have on our spiritual lives and, therefore, that we need to choose our closest friends wisely and never place any of them above God
  • learned that when people know I am a Christian, particularly a missionary, all eyes will be on me. As a result, I must ever cling to my Savior to make me the example I ought to be to those He sent me to reach. I can't do it on my own.
  • learned that personal devotions are of the utmost importance to maintaining my walk with God and a positive relationship with others
  • learned that God's ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts. He is wiser and greater than I and worthy of my trust and my life
  • learned that faith and trust are hard to come by, but God can give them to me if I surrender my life to Him.....every day
  • seen the power of genuine prayer focused on another's life
  • seen that providence is real and amazing
  • learned that ultimately God is in control, and He can turn any of Satan's evil attempts into good outcomes
  • witnessed and experienced Laodicea
  • thirsted and fainted for God as in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1)
  • prayed for personal revival and revival within the church because of the many non-Christians I've met who are better Christians than those who claim to be Christians and there is no one to receive them once they accept Christ as their own
  • witnessed and experienced the love of Christ through those who do not yet know Him more than through many of those who claim to, including myself
  • seen my many faults and cried out to God to change me. May I be a true follower of Christ!



"Take stuff out of your purse. You're going to get robbed." The words struck me loud and clear one Sunday evening...in my mind. I was about to head out of my hotel to walk to a Korean restaurant I'd found in Vietnam and enjoy a late dinner alone. Well that's got to be the most random thought I've ever had, I briefly considered and then walked out the door, locking it behind me. But what if there's something to it? Nearly at the bottom of the two flights, I decided to go back. I returned to my room, opened my luggage, dumped my most valuable items inside, locked it up, and then went out for dinner. (At least, I think that's how it went down...my memory is a bit foggy at the moment.)

The walk to the restaurant was dark, but normal. Motorbikes whizzed by, leaving their trail of fumes behind them. I coughed a few times as I crossed the various streets I needed to pass in order to reach the restaurant. Then I enjoyed my dinner and left.

A day passed and then came Tuesday. I taught a lesson in the morning and then went out for lunch with one of my classmates. We've become rather fond of a vegetarian restaurant across the highway and a few blocks down from the language school. After a delightful meal, we started our trek back to the school. Only a short distance before we reached the main road, two men in a motorbike rushed by. I felt a quick jerk and turned around to see them racing away. I suddenly felt like something was missing. Looking down, I discovered that my purse had been stolen, ripped across my body. Clearly, they were professionals.

My mind started racing. What was in that bag?? I began chasing after them. I ran as fast as I could down the alley, and one of them watched from behind. I yelled "Stop them!" to those nearby, but of course, they couldn't understand my English. Eventually a break came in the traffic, and they darted off a side street before I could catch up with them.

Looking back, when I shared the experience with some of my classmates, I started laughing. "I don't know what I expected to do if I caught them." My classmate laughed, "But your initial reaction in the moment was to chase them!" Odd, I know. I guess I've got some fighter instinct deep down. In any case, when I realized that all hope was lost, I walked back to the school with my classmate, notified my teacher, and started making phone calls with his phone. I canceled and blocked credit cards and then decided to go back to the hotel to see what I had stashed. In my mind, everything was in that bag--driver's license, bank information, Korean money, credit and debit cards, my flight information. I asked my hotel owner to break open my luggage with a hammer (I lock it every day, and the key was in my purse), so he did. It only took a minute of searching to find that everything was there....My heart was relieved.

All in all, I lost my phone, my camera, my iPod shuffle, and about $150-200 in Vietnamese money. Yes, that is quite a bit, but you know what? They are only things....material possessions. And I had the most important things kept in a safer place.

Today I am thankful to God for many things: for my health and safety, for the protection of my other valuables (especially my passport), for the people surrounding me who have been so helpful in the process, and for His warning.

Recently I asked God to reveal Himself to me again. I was starting to have doubts because I've been under a lot of stress lately and have had a lot of uncertainties about my future, so I made this request to Him. I never expected such a real answer. He told me I was going to get robbed! And I didn't believe Him. I didn't realize those words were coming from Him. But He was looking out for me. He protected me and tried to prepare me for this experience. I only wish I had listened more closely and taken out more things. lol.

Some of my classmates have been surprised at my composure following this experience. Yes, there was an initial shock, but it has been followed by peace and comfort. All I can do is attribute it to God. He has been with me all along, every day of my life, and has continued to protect me everywhere I have gone. Though my faith often fails and is weak, He never ceases to be faithful.

"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in Him.'" (Lamentations 3:21-24)


21 Lessons in Korean Culture

Long time, no write. I have been in Korea for over a year now and am about to step into a new adventure. But before that, I feel like I have lots to update the world on....maybe one day I will have time to write about all of the awesome experiences that have encompassed this past year, but today I have another topic on my mind--culture.

You know, culture is very important. We can step into another country thinking that all of our thoughts and feelings are the same as those whom we will encounter abroad because we are all human, but in reality, we all have starkly different histories, foods, families, traditions, and customs that have shaped who we are. We cannot change or adjust to large differences easily. One or two cultural misunderstandings might slide, but after a while, it is vital to know and understand the culture that surrounds each of us, especially if it is not our own. Success in the workplace and within relationships depends upon it.

This year I have learned many cultural things, primarily petty ones, but within the last few weeks, I have learned some of the most useful cultural idiosyncrasies of all. And so now I write them to educate those like me who once thought that ignorance was bliss. Trust me. It's not.

Some of these were learned the hard way, and others were more simply and forgivingly taught. In no particular order....

1. Don't stay at someone's home past 7 or 8 pm unless they absolutely, positively, strongly insist that you stay. Even if they invited you to come late and there is no indication that they want you to leave, you should still talk about leaving at least two or three times to be sure of their feelings about the situation.

2. Be aware that yes, no, and ok rarely mean yes, no, and ok. You must read between the lines and break through them to learn the true meaning of those words. More often than not, it will be the opposite of what you expected. For example, if I say, "You didn't finish your homework?" a Korean will typically answer, "Yes." This means, "No, I didn't."

However, if you hear the word maybe, you can almost guarantee that it means yes or no, depending on the context. For example, someone may tell you, "Maybe I won't attend class tomorrow." That means, "I won't attend class tomorrow." Or, "Maybe I will go on vacation to Malaysia." It most likely means, "I will go on vacation to Malaysia."

3. The sentence, "I'm okay," means "Yes" rather than "No." So if someone offers you some food that you don't want, and you say, "I'm okay," you will surely receive it.

4. Teachers and students can RARELY be friends. Because teachers are so highly valued and respected, once you are someone's teacher, you will always be their teacher in their mind. They will treat you like a friend by spending time with you, but they do not necessarily feel like this is a friendship in the same way that you will because rank and age form a kind of hierarchy in relationships that is very difficult to break through. Still, it's not entirely impossible. Evaluate each case with care and consideration.

5. When someone asks you, "What are you doing tomorrow?" don't consider it a simple getting-to-know-about-your-life kind of question. It most likely means, "I want to spend time with you tomorrow, so please make room in your schedule for me." You will have to initiate the plan-making, though, in this situation.

6. Koreans are known for their generosity, but never take advantage of it. For example, as their teacher, they will always attempt to pay for your meal (if you are younger than them; if you are older than them, they will expect you to pay). Always insist several times on paying. If they reject your offer more than two times, then give in, but if not, they probably actually want you to pay and will appreciate your understanding. If you have a hard time getting the chance to pay, one day find a way to secretly pay for everyone at the table, and even though they might feel a bit surprised and embarrassed, they will secretly appreciate it. The dutch-pay system is rare.

7. Always be willing to share your food or drink, and often without being asked. There once was a time when Koreans were starving, so even now that there is no food shortage, they continue to share their food, eating out of the same bowls, and so on.

8. Consider it a privilege to be invited to a Korean's home, and especially to meet their family. It is a rare opportunity, as Koreans are very private about their lives among themselves, but even moreso with foreigners. (Still, they might share secrets with you that they won't tell their own Korean friends because you are safer knowing them.) This privilege should be highly honored and respected.

9. When invited to a Korean's home, bring a gift for your first visit, but nothing like you would bring in Western countries, like flowers or chocolate. Koreans like practical things.....like toilet paper or cleaning supplies. Don't ask me why. I don't know the reason.

10. Never ever say anything negative to anyone older than you, even if it's a remark usually stated in jest. For example, "You're so picky," or "Wow, you're stubborn!" Even if followed by laughter, you could damage or completely ruin a relationship that way. It is not your place to say anything negative except maybe to someone younger than you.

11. Don't cry in front of anyone. You might make them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Only your closest friends will understand and be okay with your tears, but even for them it might be a bit uncomfortable.

12. Stay at work until your superior leaves, even if you're finished with everything you needed to do and have to wait for hours and hours. (Foreigners tend to be exempt from this expectation, but if there are many Korean coworkers, understand that they might envy you for leaving when they have to stay, so you might want to stay a little longer some days to empathize with them.)

13. Always remember that education and work ethic are of the highest value in Korea, so respect them and do your best to meet everyone's high expectations.

14. Be extra sensitive to the feelings of Koreans, as you could lose a friend over something petty without even realizing the reason.

15. Recognize that sometimes laughter indicates embarrassment, which is of serious consequence in this "saving face" society. Be careful to encourage students as much as possible and to be aware of each situation to avoid publicly embarrassing others as much as possible.

16. Don't buy the same kind of gifts that you would buy for your foreign friends. Special food packages are usually a good choice. Remember to keep your gifts practical.

17. If someone tells you, "It's ok. Don't worry," 9 out of 10 times what they really are thinking is, "I secretly wish you would care about this and change your mind or plans, but I don't want you to feel bad about the situation, so won't you please read my mind and change by yourself without my having to tell you??" Take care to observe the true meaning in every situation....

18. If someone says, "Let's meet at 10:00 am," expect the time to be earlier and arrive earlier, even if the other person is usually late. Never cancel an appointment or reschedule on the same day of the appointment except for super serious reasons, and apologize profusely when you do. Appointments are like verbal contracts that should never be broken. However, if you don't have a set appointment with a person and that person knows you are with another friend and they tell you to stay longer and enjoy your time, know that what they really mean is that they want you to hurry up and come to see them.

19. Avoid hugging unless you have permission. Otherwise you might find yourself standing with open arms in the middle of a room with the other person on the other side of the room just staring at you. Hugs are reserved for close family members only, and them rarely, I think. However, more and more Koreans are getting used to this foreign method and will usually accept a hug from foreigner friends comfortably. On the other hand, you can expect to walk down the street holding hands or locking arms with your Korean friends. This is a normal display of affection and friendship, even among men on occasion. Another expression of love--saying "I love you,"--can be received uncomfortably. I've been told that they mainly say this to their children before they enter teenage hood. After that, it stops. So use discretion in saying this common Western phrase.

20. When attending weddings or funerals, bring money--at least $50-$100 for a wedding. I'm not sure about a funeral. Gifts are unnecessary. Also, don't expect a Western wedding. Expect a Western-style wedding magazine kind of wedding without any of the sentimentalities attached.

21. Plastic surgery is big in Korea. Your appearance as a foreigner will be highly praised, while many of those around you feel fat or ugly in some way. Don't hesitate to compliment good aspects of people's appearance on occasion to encourage them and help them to recognize their own beauty outside of their societal admiration of Hollywood actors and actresses.

And that's what I've learned so far....to the Western mind, many of these things may sound negative, but I think that's only because it's so different from our way of thinking. I'm sure they think many of our cultural peculiarities are strange or ridiculous as well at times. Yet, Koreans still think highly of Westerners. So whatever you do, respect the people, respect the culture, and remember that you are the foreigner. Not them. Gradually you will overcome barriers and make dear friends, though your experiences may be different than you would expect from your home country. In any case, enjoy life, live and learn and grow and change to meet the needs around you. Be openminded, observant, and careful, and all should work out well in the end.


My Little Lost Sheep

A few weeks ago, I covered these three parables in my religion class: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. My students had some difficulty grasping the concepts, though I explained the best I could. Little did I know that God had an illustration coming up for me a few days later.

It was a cold afternoon in March. Even though we had been getting glimpses of spring, winter was still maintaining its chilly grasp on Seoul. Coats, boots, three or four layers--all were required to stay warm. I had just finished my first two junior classes and returned to my office to rest and prepare for my final two classes of the day when Tamin came in the room, flustered and angry. I questioned her about what was wrong. "Sam is missing, all because Rebecca sent him out to find a rock!" Initially, what she had said didn't completely register in my mind. I sat there, continuing with what I was doing, until the pastor and Rebecca came in a few minutes later and were talking about the situation. Then I looked up and asked a few questions. I asked Rebecca why she had sent him outside. Usually calm Rebecca reluctantly, ashamedly, and angrily uttered, "He did something wrong, so I sent him outside to find a stone for punishment. Is that so hard to do?" I'd never seen her like that before. "Well, in Seoul . . . it might be," I hesitatingly mentioned. The situation was real.

Prompted by God, for I know not where else this motive came from, I calmly stood up, put on my coat, and left the building without being noticed. I still had about 40 minutes until my next class. I started praying, "God, help me find this kid," and just then, I got an instant message on my phone from one of my friends. I didn't think of it at the time, but that would have been impossible under normal circumstances because I didn't have access to wireless internet while I was outside. I responded, "We have a missing kid. Please pray," and continued on my way.

Seoul has innumerable side streets that lead every which way imaginable, so common sense would have told me that it would be impossible to find him. But I wasn't thinking that way. I know Sam. He is one of our two church members that are children, and the second is his older sister. He is full of life and energy and enthusiasm, and he isn't one to be rebellious or disappear to have a good time. I knew something had to be wrong. So I wandered down a few side streets and looked for him.

After about ten minutes had passed, I saw a little head pop up behind a car parked on the side of the road. "Is that Sam?" I thought it had to be for sure because of his hairstyle. Most Koreans don't have curly hair, but some get perms, and his hair is curly. He was just about the right height too. The head disappeared, so I ran to the car and looked behind it. Sure enough, there was Sam. I acted casual, like I hadn't really been looking for him. "Hey, buddy, what are you doing out here? Are you lost?" "Yes," he sniffed. He was wearing a T-shirt, so I knew he had to be cold. "Here, let's go back to the school." He started to walk back with me, but this talker wasn't in the mood for conversation. He was either guilty or scared or both. He had gotten quite a long ways away from the school.

We were back on the main road and almost back to the school when I saw the pastor coming our way. He got a shocked expression on his face and then ran and picked up Sam and twirled him around. He spoke to him in Korean and then asked me, "How did you find him?" "I prayed." Then he asked me again. I said the same thing. There was really no other answer to give. The chances of a foreigner who speaks hardly any Korean finding a missing Korean child down a side street in Seoul and not getting lost herself in the process are slim to none. Once we got him back to the school, everyone was resting easy again, and the pastor drove him home.

The next day in religion class, the pastor told the story. I hadn't known a few details . . . one of which was that the secretary had tried calling this little 10-year-old's phone many times, as I had a couple of times as well, but apparently his phone was on silent, and he didn't think to use it. The other detail was that the secretary herself had gone out looking for him for about 30-40 minutes before I had and had given up. He had been out there for an hour! I had no idea.

This was truly a miracle story, and it gave me the answer to a difficult question. The students had gotten caught up in the repentance part of the story that says, "Even so, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents." They asked, "Did the sheep or the coin repent?" The answer is of course not because they are an animal and an object. The point of the lost sheep and lost coin stories was to demonstrate the joy that the owner had at finding them. It is relatable to God's joy over one sinner who repents. He so longs for us to return to Him, but He is the one who actually seeks us out when we're lost and don't know it. I looked for Sam because God prompted me to and because I cared about him. There simply was no alternative. However, if I had known that the secretary had already looked for him, I'm not sure that I would have gone searching because I would've doubted my ability to find him. God prevented that from happening. I explained to my students that the joy of finding a lost child helped me understand the concept better--the joy that God has when someone returns to Him. I'd like to think that they understood it better as well.

A Jarful of Memories

I have many fond memories of my time here in Korea so far. My students are precious people that make me smile and laugh and carry me through each day. I admit that on Sundays, I dread going to work the next day--the next week, even. But in reality, that dread comes only from my working hours. For, when I walk in my classroom at 7 am to a class full of tired students who are eager to learn English, I wake up to reality again and find joy in this work.

Teaching English to English language learners is the best job I ever could have asked for. God knew this years ago, but it was something I never imagined for myself. I also never imagined that I would be in Asia. Of all of the countries I ever wanted to visit, no country in Asia was on my list. But where am I spending this year of my life? Korea. And I have no regrets, despite all of the hardships and regular fatigue.

And so now, before I forget the many memories that have been multiplying in my mind, I want to record some of them.

I think that "the ability to read minds" should be a job requirement listed for this field. English students, especially lower level ones, struggle to communicate with the little vocabulary that they have. Their sentence structure is amusing, and their word choices are even moreso. One night recently during vespers, a Level 1 student named Fiona was talking about one of her favorite foods at the park. She called it "sweet cloud." I thought on this for a while and, with the pastor's further description, came to the conclusion that she was speaking of cotton candy. I liked her name for it better. ^^

I have a number of businessmen in my 7am Level 2 class. One of them, Kevin, used to intimidate me, when he was Liberty's student. He would always arrive 15 minutes early for class and wouldn't say a word. Then he became my student. He's always wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase, and is always very early for class. He usually beats me to the school. My intimidation didn't last long, however. It turned out that he has a cute sense of humor and really wants to learn English. When talking about hobbies (or not), he always tells people how much he loves to read classic books and play screen golf. "My nickname is Kevin Woods (pronounced -oods because Koreans struggle with the w sound) because I can longer anyone else." One other time he said something like, "because I longer-shooter anyone." (Translation: "I can hit the ball farther than anyone else that I play with.") He speaks so confidently, which makes me happy because a lot of Koreans are shy when they speak English and you have to drag sentences out of them. Recently I gave Kevin a really low score on his pronunciation test, and he was upset. Then it came time for my students to evaluate me as their teacher. He announced before the class, "Even you give me low score, I give you good score." I laughed and said, "Thank you." Then a few days after my students had evaluated me, they had term projects, and I gave them their grades the next day. He passed with a 3.0, which is average. He saw his score and exclaimed, "Averagy! But I gave you good score!" All the students laughed at him on his way out of the class. Usually he's teasing, but sometimes I wonder how much of his teasing is a cover-up.

Pronunciation can also be entertaining. This morning, my Level 2 class of four women were talking about household appliances. Coffee is very popular in Korea, even more than in the States, I believe. There are multiple coffee houses on every street. The ladies began talking about a coffee maker and then started saying a word that I didn't recognize . . . "capture." I sat there pondering what they could possibly be talking about so that I could correct their sentences, but I just didn't know. Finally, I turned to one student and asked, "What is a capture?" They all tried to explain it to me, but, not being a coffee drinker, I just couldn't understand. So, they repeated the word over and over again until I realized what they were saying. "Do you mean c-a-p-s-u-l-e?" I spelled it out. "Yes!!!" So I walked up to the board and showed them that they were saying "capture" instead of "capsule." We all got a good laugh out of that. We've gotten better ones than that, though. I wish I had written them all down.

Another thing about Koreans is their attraction to Westerners'. They know all of the American actors and actresses and simply adore them, and when they see us foreigners, they begin to compare us to actors and actresses. I've been told that I look like several different actresses since being here, but I disagree entirely. What is cute, though, are the experiences I've had with kids. Once I got in the elevator to go back home, and a young girl and her mother were going down as well. The mother said something to the girl in Korean, and I just waited silently to get to the first floor. When the door was about to open, the little girl looked up at me and said, "She says you're beautiful." Then the door opened, and they walked out.

Yesterday, I was having difficulty with my favorite junior class. They're getting older and harder to control. In the midst of handling a situation, one of the girls named Jenny turned to Dana and said something in Korean. I heard my name mentioned as well. Korean is strictly forbidden in my class, so I stopped what I was doing and asked her what she had said. She looked to Dana to help her translate. "She said that your eyes are beautiful."

With the foreboding of war about to start again between the Koreas, our class ended with these 10-year-olds telling me, "Teacher! Tomorrow missile boom! And then we all die."Then they proceeded to act out how this would happen. Of course, they were giggling the whole time and another girl made sure I knew that "It is a joke from the north." Young, innocent children. Although I too am not concerned about the current situation, I couldn't help but think about what could happen to these children. I have gotten attached to them, and to think of them giggling and happy one day and on the verge of death another was painful. I hope they will never have to experience such danger....

My religion class has really been difficult this term, particularly at the beginning. Satan has not wanted God's name to be glorified, so there have been a lot of questions to answer that are difficult to answer with the language barrier and their little-to-no knowledge of the Bible. But then a friend gave me the idea to pray in each students' seat before class, so I started doing that. Immediately I noticed a difference. They received the message and understood, and even though they still asked difficult questions, God gave me the answers--once even through a cartoon that I drew to illustrate repentance.

On one of my last days with my two Bible students, we went out for lunch after the study, as was our habit, and we talked for hours. Eventually, happiness was brought up. "I don't really know any Korean who is happy--truly happy," Hailey said. "But you, Christen, I think you are happy." Neo added with emphasis, "Yes! And the pastor and Errol and Vickey looked truly happy too." "And every time I go to SDA, even if I am having a bad day and don't want to go anywhere, I feel better once I go to class. It makes me happy," said Hailey. And Neo added, "Yeah, for me too! I go to class in the morning and then have a wonderful rest of the day, but weekends are terrible!" "What is it that makes Christen and the others happy?" Hailey wondered. She was determined to figure it out, and I didn't get the chance to speak. Quickly she came to the conclusion, "I think it's because she and the pastor and Errol and Vickey believe in God. I think if you can have a deep belief in something without doubting, you can be truly happy. But I don't believe in God," she said. Well, she says that now, but I know God is working on her heart and Neo's as well. This conversation encouraged my heart so much because I often feel like a broken vessel ministering to my students. Another religion class student has told me a similar thing, though. She has attended religion classes at SDA for two years. She says that she always has a sense of peace and happiness when she attends these classes, but the term breaks are always terrible when she is waiting for religion class to start again. "We're afraid that when you leave, there won't be a religion class anymore. So don't go!" she told me.

A few weeks ago one of my older friends who is a mother asked me to join her for tea. As soon as I met her in the coffee shop downstairs, she said, "Tell me about your life with God." She is not a Christian, but she wanted to know why I am. We are told in the Bible to always be ready to give an account for the hope that is within us, and though I was thrown off guard by her question, God gave me the words. After that she said that she would start reading the Bible again. I don't know if she has yet, though.

I am so thankful to see God working here in Korea. Sometimes I get frustrated. Many times I am tired. Oftentimes I tend to get discouraged. But it is moments like these that cheer my way and help me to press on.

Lately I've gone hiking with students and to lunch with others, and it's just wonderful to get to know these dear people outside of the classroom. Koreans are so friendly and giving and they just want to be loved. Don't we all? I'm going to be sad to leave this place, whenever that day comes.

Every night I give my Korean secretary Sophie a hug on my way out. We have nicknames for each other. I sometimes call her my Sophie, teddy bear, Grandma, or pink panda. She's five years older than me. She only has one nickname for me: "my lovely green turtle." This is because my green coat that I've worn every day for the last five or six months looks like a turtle shell. A few weeks ago she was going through something, and she asked me to pray for her. I said I would pray with her, and at first she said she was too shy and wouldn't be able to understand a prayer in English, but I made it simple, and she started to cry. God is working on her heart too.


In Memory of Caitlin, Our Wisteria Melody

In the midst of the bali bali (Hurry! Hurry!) mentality of this fast-paced, dense city of Seoul, I was thankful to find solace and serenity at a picnic table outside of Samyook University International Church this Sabbath. Spring is nearly here, so with the sunshine casting its penetrating rays of light on me and the fresher air breezing by, I enjoyed my moments of silence--just me and God.

This week I received word that one of my dear friends from my university was dying, losing her battle with cancer, and that she only had a few days left. I immediately sent her an email, knowing that she could not respond, but hopeful that someone could read her what would be my last words to her. Last night I heard the final news--that she had fallen asleep on Thursday night.

I am thankful for this, for she has fought this disease for a few years. I am thankful that she did not die in pain and that she no longer has to suffer. At the same time, I know that even amid the suffering of her body, she never seemed to complain about her circumstances or stop living a joyful life because of them. I remember something she wrote on her blog last year--about life being a gift that God has given us. And so now, I want to reflect on the gifts that God gave me through the life of Caitlin.

Our last suitemate picture together, May 2012
I first met Caitlin during my freshman year in college. She was my suitemate. When I first came to my university, I knew no one, and since I was not good at making friends, I feared the first few months that lay ahead. But from the very beginning, I was welcomed and flooded with love from my roommate Kristin and my suitemates Christy and Caitlin. Because Kristin and I were roommates with the same name, Caitlin was the one who first fondly nicknamed me Little Christen--a nickname that has stuck amid our circle of friends.

Caitlin had a beautiful voice. Every Friday night, a group of us would gather and sing hymns a capela in a chapel that had a nice echo. Her alto voice was deep and strong. It resounded and many times penetrated my heart. The hymns she sang with such joy, thoughtfulness, and sincerity. Caitlin was also a gifted violinist and pianist. Whenever she played, I felt like the music flowed from the beauty of her soul--of Christ living in her.
Martina and John's Wedding Reception, May 2012

Caitlin's giggle always made me smile and was very contagious. Her eyes twinkled and almost seemed to laugh whenever she had a bright smile on her face, which was more often than not. When she wasn't smiling, it was because she was comforting someone in sorrow. I remember one night in particular when I was alone in my room, she and Jen came over to see me and show pictures from the orchestra tour in Europe. After that was over, they both left, but Caitlin came back to talk with me. If I remember correctly, that was one of the moments when she asked me, "How are things with your heart?" I couldn't speak. I was struggling at that time--I don't even remember what the situation was--and I started to weep. She just held me and waited until I could speak, and then she listened and comforted and advised and prayed with me until my heart was at peace.

One of the many notes she left on my desk at SAU,
unless this one was from Martina who followed in her footsteps....
I remember how much she loved to exercise. She did triathalons, was a skilled swimmer, and whenever we went hiking, she skipped along, enjoying every moment. She also loved to bake. She taught me how to make bread. Her bread and soups were always amazing, and it was because of her and a few others that I realized I could become a vegan if only I could cook like them.

Sometimes she would leave notes and flowers on my desk to encourage me.

I remember that it was mostly because of her godly counsel that I began doing mission work as well. She encouraged me to go to Guatemala for the Share Him series and to go to Korea as well. So I feel like I can say that she played a big part as to why I am here today.

The night of Caitlin's RN graduation, December 2007

Caitlin & Saralyn, December 2007

I remember how, during the summer and our times apart, she would call at random times. We always had difficulty connecting, but whenever we did, we had wonderful conversations.

One of the most beautiful things I remember about her, though, is how in-tune she was with God and how much she knew about and loved Him. Her Bible was tattered and marked up on every page. She had read it so much that the binding was falling off, so Jen made a lovely personalized, Tree-of Life cover for her and had her Bible re-bound. During our weekly group Bible studies, Caitlin always shared deep, impressive thoughts that led me to draw closer to God.

Caitlin was beautiful inside and out. When I think of her, I think of this verse:
"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:14).

Our last picture together, May 2012
And in my pensive solitude this Sabbath morning, God gave me this verse to remember Caitlin as well: "Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted; for you are the glory of their strength..." (Psalm 89:15-17).

I look forward to the day when I can see Caitlin again in a perfect body, when the Lord calls her name at the resurrection, and we all go to heaven to live with our Savior forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), for it is He and He alone who can transform our lives in this way and cause us to leave such a positive and far-reaching impact on others as did Caitlin.


7 Months Later . . .

You know you've been in Korea for a long time when . . .

You start smacking your food
You choose to use chopsticks, even if forks are available
You eat cake, fruit, cookies, and chips with chopsticks, too
You don't say "Excuse me," or "Sorry" when you run into someone or shove your way into or out of the subway
You have the ability to shove in and out of the subway at rush hour without wincing
You choose to stand in the bus or subway car for 30-45 minutes, even when seats are available, just because you're used to it
You walk for 17 km with your roommate just because you can
You bow your head to greet someone older than you or to thank someone
You hand things to people (even other foreigners) with both hands or with one hand touching your other elbow
You catch yourself correcting a student's English mistake with Konglish (Korean English)
You forget how to speak English
You speak three different languages in a single conversation
Tteokbokki is one of your favorite Korean foods--vegetarianized, of course
Jjinja becomes a regular part of your vocabulary
You enjoy eating goguma and only goguma for dinner (Korean sweet potato)
You can play PUMP
You enjoy sharing food

You know you're still a foreigner when . . .

Your landlady comes up to you on a regular basis and speaks to you for 20 minutes or more in Korean and you aren't able to get the message across to her that you don't speak Korean
You sit in silence as the church members jabber away in Korean
You play with your food while students that you went to dinner with talk in Korean and just wait for them to stop to translate for you
You go to Itaewon at least once a month for dinner and imported foods
You still don't like most Korean foods and can only eat Korean food 3 times a week
You get stared at in the subway
Random people come up to you to practice their English
You give your taxi driver the wrong directions
When you mention certain Korean place names, you get blank stares because you didn't pronounce them correctly
You don't like kimchi
You still prefer to eat cereal for breakfast
Fish markets still gross you out
Every day you travel is an adventure
You're the only one you know who can cook pasta and be praised for it
Older women pull your hair in the subway to see if your curls are real
You get told you're beautiful almost every day
You laugh at Koreans for looking in the mirror everywhere they go or for putting on makeup in public
You get frustrated by the lack of human rights that Korean employees have
You know that New York is a state and not only part of a city name
Most Koreans don't want to take a picture with you because "your face is too small"