Sunday, November 14, 2010


So all the new strands of viruses here-- forevermore referred to on this blog as Korean-itis-- have been seriously crushing my social life, appetite and blogging habits. Last week, I was so sick that I couldn't even get out bed and take the 4.5 steps to my kitchen to pour a hot cup of tea. Fortunately I'm much better now and decided to fill everyone in on my past few weeks here:

"Is it suddenly winter here, or is that just me?"

One thing nobody ever told us newbie-foreigners is how fast the summer turns to complete winter weather. In the Pacific Northwest, there are 4 distinct season, and they all are dispersed somewhat equally throughout our 12 months (some may argue we have a 5th season called "rain" that likes to hang around always, but we just accept it). In Korea, the humid heat of summer turns to deathly cold winter fast enough to freeze the sweat on your forehead. At least that's how it felt when the 2 weeks of falltime ended and winter chill set in. It's another one of those things every Korean knows second-nature but foreigners like me have no clue about... and it's a really big deal, apparently. The day the weather turned, there was a special weather report about it. Normally, I watch international news to check the weather, so I completely missed this nationwide announcement. When I showed up to school in a short-sleeved sweater instead of the 2-layer winter coats my teachers were wearing, even my students asked me if I was okay. Everyone thought I was insane! Needless to say, the next day I came to school in a long sleeve shirt and have been wearing my coat in the classroom ever since, if for no other reason than just to blend a little.


In Washington State, I could go to the supermarket and buy a tiny, overpriced and freakishly pale persimmon. Not fun in the slightest. Here, persimmons are in season and, as I've quickly learned, are a really popular (and delicious) snack. Every day at school, teachers are slicing up chunks of persimmon to share. Although I haven't bought any for my apartment yet, I'm becoming pretty addicted. The other great thing about persimmons are the trees they grow on. During this time of year, all the leaves are turning color and falling to the ground, leaving persimmon fruits hanging like miniature pumpkins on the branches. It's beautiful and almost surreal.


"빼빼로!" Oh yes, it's Pepero Day.

Normally on November 11th, I'm honoring Vetran's Day in the States. Here, 11/11 is a special day for a different reason: a chocolate-covered, cookie/pretzel treat called Pepero is celebrated instead. These snacks are long and skinny, like 1's, so on 11/11 kids give each other boxes of Pepero until the sugar rush either induces vomiting or a coma. Now, aside from the fact that I found it really strange to celebrate a pseudo-Valentine's on a day I'd normally be thinking about those who served the US, it was difficult to teach with students all hyped up on sugar in class and munching on Pepero sticks during my lessons! Some girls had as many as 20 boxes stacked on their desks, all gifts from their friends (and crushes, I'm sure)! Well, at least with all the Pepero gifts I got from my students, I never have to food shop again.

Korean table

Many cities in Korea have free language classes for the foreign teachers, organized by the Metropolitan Office of Education (MOE). Ulsan, unfortunately, does not, and it breaks my heart a little because I really want to learn Korean faster and better than my self-teaching methods. Other foreigners who felt the same way decided to form a Korean study table, and we now meet once a week to talk about language, teaching, and whatever else comes up. It's been a great way to motivate myself to study during the week while making new friends. There are a lot of benefits to picking up Korean, far exceeding the obvious:

1. (First, the obvious): I can tell my cabbie how to get to my apartment without intense hand gestures or panic.
2. I can thoroughly enjoy the sounds of amazement from my co-teachers when I say something besides 'Hello' or 'Thank you'. Even one word and they fly into a tizzy of praise; it's like learning to speak at 2 years old only I'm fully aware of what's going on.
3. I can relate to my students better when trying to teach them the English language. It's not about speaking to them in Korean (which I almost never do in the classroom), but understanding the mindset of someone who is learning a new language. For example, I realize that my comprehension of the language is far greater than my speaking ability, which is something I definitely keep in mind when working with my students! They may not be able to tell me they understand, but many of them really do.

Anyway, with all the language learning I'm secretly hoping for some kind of breakthrough when everything suddenly makes sense, but realistically I'm just content with those little moments of clarity.

Gyeonju with Mr. Woo

Over the last few weekends I've traveled out of Ulsan a couple times as well. 3 weekends ago I took a day trip to Gyeonju, just 1 hour north of Ulsan. Gyeonju is a really popular international city in Korea and has a lot of historic and cultural sites. It also used to be the capitol of South Korea so it's large and really beautiful! We saw several tombs of past kings, an observatory, and the historical art in the Gyeonju Museum. Mr. Woo toured us around, and he is so full of knowledge so it really adds to the experience! After dinner, we took the road along the coast to get back to Ulsan, and we stopped at the beach. I stood at the edge of the sand and looked out East. It was weird to know I was staring in the direction of home, and the only thing separating me from everyone was thousands of miles of water. The Pacific Ocean looks familiar, even on the coast of Korea.

Girls' Weekend in Daegu

This weekend I took a trip up to Daegu, about 2 hours north, to meet up with my girlfriends from EPIK orientation. There are 4 of us (including Emily) who have stayed pretty close and have a really good time hanging out. We've been keeping in touch and visiting all of each other's cities on the weekends. Daegu is the 3rd largest city in Korea, so there was a lot I didn't see, but with the short time we spent there we really made it count. The other interesting thing about this city is that there are 2 military bases in the area, so there were a lot of foreign families walking around. In Ulsan I rarely see anything like this, so it really took me back when I saw an American family out to eat. The amusement park was our main objective for the day, so we took in the beautiful fall-esque weather (with the winter chill, of course), talked to Korean tween girls in line for rides, made our British friend try a churro for the first time, and screamed our heads off on some pretty crazy roller coasters. There is also an 80-story tower at the park, so we got to at least look at most of Daegu.

Well, that's all for now. If you'd like to see more pictures from my adventures, check out the 'Et cetra' tab of my blog to find links to my online photo albums.

Hope everyone is well in your corner of the world!
Much love from Laura.
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1 comment:

  1. i read that the best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it and have it constantly reenforced, just like we do with small children! so that is good that you feel that way when your teachers praise you!