Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Four Months and Counting: So how IS it going?

Okay, first of all, I'm horrible at updating this, apparently. Many apologies for that...I've made some resolutions recently that have worked out well, so here's a new one I'm giving a try: update my blog once a week. There's a lot I want to say, but sometimes it's hard to just sit down and do it. In any case, I thought I'd give a general update on how things are going. The next few updates after this (which I already have in mind) will be more general Korea-related topics.

The question "How are you?" is a difficult one to answer, when it's asked by friends and family who are really far away and whom I speak to not nearly often enough. If overall I'm chugging along, with definite ups and downs, I'll just say "Fine" or "Good" in that slightly high-pitched, true-but-with-qualifiers voice. If I've had a bad days, or a run of bad days, it's usually "Fine" but followed by a list of frustrations. If things are genuinely going well, you'll hear "Good, very good", followed by a list of all the reasons I'm happy. In all honesty, most of my responses over the last four months fell into the first category. For a while - I'd say the first three months - it was difficult to find my place here in Korea. What am I here to do? Am I doing it well? I'd never taught before, or tried to be a good host daughter, so I was always a little worried about how I was doing in those departments. Plus, you have to rebuild the social support network that was so strong just a few months ago. I traveled, which I loved, learned some Korean, which I'm very grateful for, and, yes, made some friends, but I was still in the starting over process. SO while I was good with qualifers, those qualifiers could be disheartening at times. Add culture shock and all the highs and lows that come with that, and life can honestly be difficult. Still good - who am I to complain about having the opportunity to live in Korea for an entire year? - but difficult.

Fortunately, things are looking up right now. Various parts of my life are coming together, and I'm happy to say that currently my answer to the question, "How are you?" is a "Good, very good."

I've been getting more and more comfortable in my homestay. They were always very kind, and I genuinely like everyone I live with, but I did have to adjust my life. I had to accept that my host mother would want to do all my laundry and make me toast in the morning, and although I might prefer to do that myself, I had to let go. I've started bonding with my host sisters through an appreciation of Korean pop music (the ultimate guilty pleasure!) and my little host brother loves my Calvin and Hobbes books. He's 4, so he can't read them, but he loves anytime Calvin's pretending to be a dinosaur or when Calvin and Hobbes fight. I'm also convinced that in a few years, Yon-u WILL be Calvin. The energy, the volume, the imagination, the fondness for pretend violence - definitely a Calvin in the making.

I'm in love with my students. Really, I am. I teach some of the smartest, kindest, funniest students in Korea (and don't try to tell me differently!). I've recently noted some definite improvements in my teaching. I have a better understanding of how to design a good lesson, and I've gotten more comfortable in the classroom, so I'm not afraid to be loud and silly, which many students appreciate. I also have my own classroom now - in Korea, usually students stay in one room while the teachers move, but I'm using an extra English classroom in the art and music building. Since we're isolated from the rest of the school, my students can be louder, which I firmly believe is a plus as long as it's in English. The set-up of the room also makes it easier for me to see and talk to the kids. As I've gotten to know the students better, I've realized how amazing they are. I have a conversation club that meets four times a week, and several times my students have voluntarily turned the discussion to important social issues. Last week two of my students debated the Israel-Palestine conflict. They brought up the topic themselves, and I didn't say a word the entire time they're talking. Teaching lower-level kids is extremely rewarding when I can get them to put away their fears and just speak, but I'm incredibly proud and lucky to be dealing with these higher-level students too. In fact, I'll be taking five of them to Seoul in January for a week-long workshop for students - in English! - on Korean and international affairs. I can't wait, because these kids just deserve that kind of opportunity so much, and I'm the lucky one who gets to help them have it.

One of the main reasons I came to Korea is that I genuinely love to travel. I've found it always helps my mood to get out of the house and explore a new place. I've done a fair amount of travel, including to a mask-dance festival (pictures of which will be up soon!), two seaside towns called Mokpo and Buan, and Gyeongju, the center of the Silla dynasty hundreds of years ago. I also have plans to get to Seoul at least two more times in the next few weeks. Best of all, I'm going to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam for two weeks over winter break! I had a hard time deciding between Southeast Asia and China/Japan, but I think being centered in Asia makes it a bit easier to access the less touristy countries, so I'm taking advantage. I have no idea what to expect from my trip, but I'm excited to explore such different cultures and peoples.

Other Stuff
For a while, all I was doing was teaching, hanging out with my homestay family, and meeting the other Hwasun ETA a couple times a week. However, last week I started up Tae Kwon Do again (I had previously done it at Kangwon University). It's very good to have someplace to go everyday. I'm doing TKD with the other ETA, so I have a "foreigner ally" in the class, and the other students are lots of fun to be around. I also hope to start volunteering at an orphanage in Gwangju soon, which I very much wanted to do while I was here.

That's everything I've been up to. My current "good, very good" status is probably in part an extended culture shock high, and I expect I'll eventually return to a baseline. But on the whole, I'm really enjoying my time here and hopefully I'll continue to get more and more comfortable with my life in Korea.

...and I really hope I didn't jinx myself by posting an "I'm happy!" entry.

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