Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Vacation

안녕하세요? 오랜만입니다. Hello readers, it's been a while, at least by my own standards. Going from posting every other day to a two-week silence might have been odd, but hey -- 지금 여름 방학인다. It's summer vacation now.
My Taiwanese students and me! We're Team 5, the "Butter-fives".
I spent four days in Taiwan TA-ing at a summer camp that I also did two years ago. Teaching at this camp was actually not so different from the games and lectures I've grown accustomed to doing this past year in Korea. The students were tons of fun, too. I wish I had gotten to stay for the entire week! Although I was sad to have to leave early, I truly enjoyed seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and making the most of my now-habitual yearly stint in Taiwan (including eating lots of delicious fruits and fried things). I've really left a part of my heart in that country.
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
The reason I left the camp early was to attend the wedding of two of my best friends from college, Wes and Hana. I flew from Taipei to San Francisco, and then in less than twelve hours, I went back to SFO to fly to Rapid City, South Dakota, home of Mount Rushmore and acres of random Native American culture tourist traps. (It was at the Denver airport, where I transferred, that I got my first and only case of reverse culture shock: seeing tons and tons of white and/or overweight people as I walked through the terminal. Just... not something I was used to seeing after a year in Korea.)
The newlyweds and some groomsmen. (photo by Christina Vivit)
The wedding was fantastic, spiritually and emotionally rejuvenating. I fell in love with the gorgeousness of the Black Hills, not to mention the beauty of the bride and groom themselves! Seriously, they are two of the most beautiful people I've met, both inside and out. I am so, so happy and excited about the new life they are starting together. The wedding was also a really great opportunity to catch up with old college friends, most of whom I hadn't seen in over a year. It only dawns on me during reunions like these how much I miss by being on the other side of the world while everyone else is getting on with their adult lives.
My cousins, grandparents, and me.
Since the wedding, I've been back in Fremont, being a bum. Every day I visit my 92-year-old grandfather and help with preparations for my cousin's wedding (yup, second one this summer). Then, I fill up the rest of the hours playing board games, hiking, catching up with FB and blogs, and, in general, making a real vacation out of this vacation. This is almost exactly what I had hoped for, and I'm thankful to God for the blessings of a loving family, friends with free time, and this amazing Californian weather.

I miss my students, though. Is that strange? It's been only two weeks, but it seems like I have not seen them in a very long time. We parted ways in July on an abrupt and tragic note, and I think that that influenced the strange disconnect I feel right now. In all honesty, I'm yearning to go back, not even to begin teaching again, but just to see everyone and make sure they're doing all right. Just two and a half weeks more!

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Satellite image of Typhoon Soulik, Friday evening (

That is one enormous typhoon. It's at least six times as large as the island itself (the red arrow is pointing near Taipei). Fortunately, the worst part of Typhoon Soulik has already passed through Taipei and is now heading toward China, and before it touched down, it was downgraded to a medium-force storm rather than super-strong-hurricane-of-epic-proportions. Unfortunately, there has been one reported death in the capital so far. I'm praying that proper precautions and evacuation procedures have saved many more lives.

In other news, Typhoon Soulik resulted in the cancellation of my original flight to Taiwan. Stephanie and I have been scrambling to figure out how we're going to get to the island, and the current state of affairs is a confirmed flight for tomorrow morning as well as waiting list positions for a another flight this afternoon. I'm hoping we can get onto today's flight, since I'd like to be in Taiwan as early as possible. Please pray for our safe and successful travels!

On the other hand, with all the free time we now have, Stephanie is baking bread, and I'm helping clean the apartment we're crashing in. This is turning into a nice lazy Saturday afternoon, which is pleasant. I need some time in a quiet place, especially since yesterday was... not the best of days. Still, I can't wait to be in Taiwan!

Thursday, July 11, 2013


It's hot today, there's no denying that. But is it hot enough to warrant advising the general populace not to annoy anyone for fear that it might result in violent crime?

The 불쾌 지수 (bulkwe jisoo), or Discomfort Index, will tell you just that. During the Korean summer, when the temperature and humidity level both reach a certain unbearable point, the Discomfort Index indicates that it's just too hot to risk doing anything rash. Then, weathermen will not only tell you that it's 85°F (29°C) with 85% humidity, but they will also tell you not to give anyone grief, because the heat can literally drive someone crazy and cause them to hurt you. They also caution against going outside or drinking anything caffeinated.

When it comes to heat-addled brains, some may find it odd that Koreans have a unique expression for symptoms of illness directly caused by heat. 도위 먹다 (dowee meokda) translates to "eat heat". It refers to the manifestations of nausea, fatigue, and various bodily aches which are claimed to be brought on by uncomfortably high temperatures. I'm not aware of anything comparable in the US. I mean, we have heatstroke, but that is a legitimate medical condition, whereas 도위 먹다 sounds to me like crankiness. Perhaps those who eat too much heat are the ones to watch out for when the Discomfort Index is too high!

Today, I received a text message that appeared to come from a national or regional alert system (소방방재청): 폭염경보 (pogyeom gyeongbo), or "heat wave warning". It read: 11일 11시부로 폭염경보, 물을 자주 마시고 카페인음료 삼가, 잦은 환기, 한 낮 외출은 자제 하. My rough translation: "July 11th, from 11am onward, a heat wave warning. Drink lots of water and avoid caffeinated drinks, stay in a ventilated area, and refrain from going outdoors for the day."

Korea takes its weather seriously. Not that I wouldn't expect the same sort of thing in the US, especially in perennially scorched California, but I just find the Discomfort Index so... I don't know, endearing? Quaint? Fitting for Korea? I can't think of the right word at the moment. Probably because it's too hot.

On the other hand, I'm also mentally preparing for even worse weather. I am planning to fly to Taiwan this weekend (God-willing, as long as Typhoon Soulik doesn't wreak complete havoc on the island), where the temperature and humidity are both considerably higher than in Korea. After this week and next, I'll be quite relieved when I'm finally back in California, land of sunshine and a super-dry atmosphere. And cheap fruits, and Chipotle, and my family, etc.

온도와 습도가 높으면 불쾌지수도 높아요.
When the temperature and humidity level are high, the Discomfort Index is also high.

더워 죽겠네!
It's so hot I'm dying!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Teacher, I was wondering..."

HG is one of my quietest second-year students, and it's not just because of the language barrier. My co-teachers have remarked that he rarely speaks up in any other classes, too. He has an unusually low and slow voice and mumbles, and it's clear he's not exactly a shining star in my class.

But it only took one conversation for my appraisal of him as a student to come crumbling down.

He stayed after class following what I remember was a fairly boring lesson. While I was gathering my stuff and preparing to leave, HG came up to me and asked, straight up, "Teacher, I was wondering... what is your dream? Why did you come to Korea?"

I just stared at him, speechless.

"Good question," I finally replied. "Um, well, I came to Korea in order to find out if I can be a teacher. I don't know if I am a good teacher, but I am getting experience now."

I continued to ramble on in this manner, talking about education, graduate school, and my enthusiasm for Korean culture. I didn't check myself to make sure I was speaking slowly and in short sentences. I didn't even check to make sure I was making any sense. You know why? Because as I talked, I was silently panicking: "Holy cow, I have no freaking clue how to answer your question, kid! Where did you even come from?"

No freaking clue. Mostly because I was caught by surprise by this student, who hadn't spoken to me all year beyond asking me to correct his rough drafts.

What is my dream? I teach my students every semester to follow their dreams, to make bucket lists, to have grand aspirations to work toward. I have not often stopped to think about these things for myself.

As my first grant year draws to a close, I now have to think about what is coming next. Yes, in the short-term, a second grant year in Korea will follow. But I mean after that. Am I ready to apply to graduate programs in linguistics, as I've planned? Should I just look for a job instead? Will I end up wanting to stay in Korea for another year? Will I go to a different country, or many different countries, to learn languages? Or teach them? Or document them? My dream seems to be just as vague as ever.

I also have to think about calling. Last night I received a phone call from a friend that caused me to take a closer look at what I know and believe about the religious notion that one can receive directives from God. To that end, I'm looking forward to going home so that I can have a few heart-to-hearts with my close friends about how my faith should shape my future.

So I've got to thank HG, not just for pleasantly surprising me with his moment of insightfulness, but also for helping nudge me toward these necessary mental and spiritual preparations. This past week has been surprisingly busy, and next week will be even more hectic, but when the dust finally settles, I'll have a nice summer vacation with plenty of time to think, talk, pray, and plan.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Power versus Grace

Tonight, 관장님 said in passing that I was doing "power taekgyeon". I had just thrown my wrestling (대결) partner to the ground rather forcefully. At first, I thought he was just commenting on how much stronger I've become over the past few months, but then I wondered if "power taekgyeon" might not be such a good thing. It's not like power yoga, for starters.

Here, look at this short video of various taekgyeon demonstrations set to dramatic music. (It was filmed at the taekgyeon training center that I visited a few weeks ago during the tournament.)

What I get from this video, as well as from this longer, documentary-style video created by the Korean Cultural Heritage Adminstration, is that taekgyeon gives off the illusion of being soft and gentle while being powerful in reality. Hands and feet move quickly and quietly. "It may look soft, but it is a martial art with strong force," says the taekgyeon master in an interview.

This is what distinguishes taekgyeon from taekwondo*. TKD is a fighter's martial art, developed during and after the Korean War specifically for training soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. Taekgyeon, on the other hand, is about fluidity and grace. You don't break things, only subdue. You need to employ power, but you don't overpower. And that's where I think I'm doing it wrong.

I'm still just a clumsy guy trying to stay on two feet while my opponent grapples with me. When he attempts to swing me to one side, 관장님 tells me to use it and trip him using his own attack. I don't know how to do this, so we struggle in a mutual hold for a few awkward moments. What I end up doing is kicking his knee joint inward and pushing down as hard as I can. It's not the slightest bit graceful, but at least my opponent goes down, right? (관장님: "Andrew, no!") Well, I don't think the result is the most important thing in this circumstance. So, I'm going to work on the "soft and gentle" part of this discipline. Only a few more days before I'm off for summer vacation, so I'll also have to find a way to continue training while I'm in Taiwan and at home. (My next tournament is in September!)

- - -

*This and one other big thing: taekgyeon is centuries old, much more historical than TKD. It is believed to have been popular during the Three Kingdoms Period (1st-7th C). Following Korean independence, it almost went extinct, but when the last surviving taekgyeon master, Song Duk Ki, taught all he knew to a few dedicated pupils, it was revived and is now an "intangible cultural heritage" of Korea.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

LGBTQ Zine by Miyuki Baker

Miyuki Baker, my artist and globe-trotter friend, just finished the latest issue of her international LGBTQ art/activism zine. This issue is about her travels and experiences in Korea! I really enjoyed spending time with Miyuki while she was here, and getting to chat with her about the successes and drawbacks with working with the LGBTQ community(ies) in Korea was quite interesting. Seeing now how her work has come to fruition with this zine is just fabulous! To read it, visit Miyuki's blog.

In other news, I'm now facing the final week of my first grant year in South Korea. Tonight, I gave some going-away gifts to my homestay family, and I also wrote them a letter. My homestay mother said that I wrote better than a Korean! Major props to lang-8 for that one -- I ran the letter by the community there before putting pen to paper. Anyway, I will fly out of Seoul on Saturday for Taiwan, then hop across the Pacific to San Francisco on the 17th. To think that I'll be home in two weeks... 헐.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Meeting Teachers

During finals week, the teachers at my school proctor exams for up to three hours every morning. Proctoring is something I'm quite thankful I was never asked to do, because the job entails literally standing up at the front or back of a classroom for the entire test period to watch the students take the test, finish the test, and nap. The proctor is not allowed to sit, sleep, or even bring a book. There are two teachers in every classroom to make sure no one teacher does anything illicit (i.e. help a student).

Understandably, the teachers have been unwinding from these daily tests of tenacity by going out to lunch together almost every day. When I'm invited, I feel just the tiniest bit guilty for going out with them on the school's dime without having done the work. (Although I've had no classes to teach and no tests to proctor this week, I've been staying busy at school by creating class awards, like "Most Improved Student", and preparing teaching materials for Taiwan.) But I enjoy the time I get to spend with my fellow teachers. I've been feeling lately that I don't fit in very well, and this is even taking the language barrier and cultural differences into account.

I guess that's why I baked all those cookies for the Fourth of July. Sharing food is a great way to build a relationship, and perhaps I was trying to curry favor in some way after a semester of very little communication with the non-English teachers. I might chat with a few of them for a couple of minutes every week, but that's hardly a connection. And it's fun to play volleyball or badminton with them at the weekly Teacher Sports Day, but on the other hand, I think that the competitive aspect of the sports day is really important to them, and since I'm really bad at sports, I'm still not scoring any points with them in this field, so to speak.

Anyway, shared meals are a good thing, especially if they're at the neighborhood barbecue restaurant instead of our school's dining hall. I've gotten opportunities to chat with teachers that I don't normally see at lunch, and it's been great. Even better was the time the English department went out to lunch at a great shabu shabu chain called 꽃마름 (Flower Hill). It's Vietnamese-styled hot pot, where you boil your meat in a delicious broth and then wrap it in Vietnamese rice paper to make a little spring roll. We ate a lot and chatted for hours over coffee about sweatpants, monpe (몸뻬), Islam, hallal and kosher, being full (strangely, there are very few different ways to say that you're full in English...), and veiled threats (은근한 협박).

Aside from the teachers at my school, I've had several interesting experiences with teachers at other schools this past week. On Tuesday, a group of teachers from Turkey and Kazakhstan visited our school. They were teachers from specialized science high schools in those countries, and they wanted to learn a bit more about the Korean education system. Since my fellow English teachers had to proctor exams, the task of interpreting for their campus tour actually fell to me. I was really nervous, because 1) I have never had to do this kind of simultaneous interpretation from Korean to English before and 2) my principal was joining the tour and 3) I never understand a word my principal says (his provincial accent is really strong).

Thankfully, the tour was very simple. I just had to point out the main buildings: gymnasium, auditorium, dormitory, dining hall, classrooms. When it came to the details, like the energy-saving measures in our architecture or the students' lifestyle, I did less literal translation and more "listen for a phrase the guide says that you understand, and then explain using your own words and what you already know." But I did successfully translate all the questions and answers in both directions, and although it was mentally tiring, I'm pretty proud of what I did. A year ago, that would have been flat-out impossible for me.

After about half an hour, my co-teacher finished proctoring and saved me from having to explain the technology in our school's physics and chemistry labs and research rooms. All in all, I think the Turkish teachers had a pleasant visit, even though lunch at our dining hall was not exactly to their taste (and also nearly impossible to eat without a fork). It seems like there's some sort of exchange program in the works for our students in the near future...

The following interesting encounter with a teacher was over the phone with the native English teacher at Ulsan Science High School. He's Australian, which I didn't expect, but we had a great chat about our experiences at science high schools, and he gave me the lowdown on an English conversation certificate program his schools does that mine wants to emulate. Even though his accent was really strong -- and it's been years since I've talked to anyone from Australia -- I understood almost everything he said. I feel kind of bad for his students, though. That accent takes some getting used to!

And lastly, an American gym teacher from New York came to visit our school yesterday for reasons still unbeknownst to me. I gave her a tour, as well as some Fourth of July cookies. She seemed to be experiencing a bit of culture shock, guilelessly asking me, "Do you think they ever get tired of eating rice?" and "Why is there never any soap?" but nevertheless, she approached everything with a disarmingly straightforward enthusiasm that belied the driving rain. From the golf driving range to the belt massager in the gym to the fact that our students clean their own classrooms regularly, everything was amazing and worth photographing. It was amusing, but on a more serious note, it made me realize that I've grown so accustomed to the way things work here in Korea that I'm no longer surprised, either pleasantly or not, by things I would have found odd a year ago. But explaining them to someone less familiar than I actually helps us both understand a little bit more about the nature of cultural difference.

That's a lot of teacher-teacher interaction for one week! But the great thing is that I learn a little something from every moment, and that alone makes it worthwhile.

P.S. Because I don't know where else to write this: At taekgyeon class earlier this week, I accidentally kneed my teacher (관장님) in the nose. It was a little bit too vigorous of an attempt to intercept a pass during indoor soccer. He started bleeding. I was really embarrassed and even did the down-on-your-knees bow in apology, but he was all right in the end. Now that's a teacher-teacher interaction you don't want to have.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

July Fourth

Cookies and sparklers!
July 4th didn't happen last year, at least for the eighty of us Fulbrighters. Our plane left Los Angeles on the evening of the third and arrived in Seoul on the fifth. Crossing the International Date Line going west caused us to lose a day, and that day happened to be Independence Day.

My family's usual July 4th tradition is a backyard barbecue at my cousin's place, the one with the swimming pool. Even though I call it a tradition, I realized today from looking back through my Facebook timeline that I haven't celebrated the holiday with my family in many years. In fact, I have not even been in the United States for Independence Day since 2009. That was four years ago. I feel mighty unpatriotic. Ha!
Hanna and Traylor roll out dough with... jars of Skippy. Ha!
This year, I decided to use the holiday as an excuse to give back to my school community. Although I'm not very close with all the teachers, I wanted to show my appreciation for their having taken care of me, given me rides to school, and shown willingness to converse in English, even though it's difficult for most of them. So, yesterday evening, I invited myself over to my friends' place and we had a cookie-baking party! (My homestay does not have an oven.)
Three and a half hours of mixing, cookie-cutting, decorating, and sneaking dough (and spoonfuls of peanut butter and Nutella) later, we had over a hundred cookies. We then ate them. We also lit sparklers! Indoors. Smart, right? One wayward spark burned the new linoleum floor, but it wasn't such a disaster. The cookies were really delicious, and I had a great time with Hannah, Traylor, Tiana, Amy, and Saerom.

Choco-chip, choco-dipped, sprinkles, and 똥 cookies (the Hershey Kiss ones)!
Then, I went to school this morning armed with two giant tupperware containers of cookies and left them in the main 교무실 (teachers' office/lounge) along with a note: 맛있게 드세요! (Eat a lot!) Happy American Independence Day! I also personally left some cookies for the vice principal and two teachers who have been exceptionally kind to me.

I don't mean to brag, but they were a hit. The teachers who were in the office when I left the cookies came over and wondered where they had come from. When I told them that I'd made them myself, they looked shocked. And they all ate quite a few each. When my co-teacher sent out a message to the staff inviting them to the office for cookies, she had to mention "양이 많지는 않으니 선착순..." which means, "There aren't a whole lot, so first come, first served."

Actually, here is the rest of her message; I'm reproducing it because it amuses me: 앤드류샘이 맛있는 쿠키를 구워 오셨습니다. 오늘이 바로 그 유명한 July, the fourth!라고 미국독립기념일이라. 인디언들에게는 슬펐을지 모르나 암튼 좋은 날입니다.^^ 직접 만들었다는데 맛이 좋습니다. 허나...

Translation: "Teacher Andrew brought some tasty cookies he baked, as today is the famous "July, the fourth!", or American Independence Day. Perhaps the Indians were sad, but anyway, it's a great day. [happy emoticon] He made them himself, so they're delicious. (But... first come, first served)"

I got several messages from teachers later, kindly thanking me for the cookies. Later, I intimated to my co-teacher that if there's enough money in the budget next semester, I'd like a convection oven for my apartment so that I can bake tons more cookies for everyone. If I could, I would totally be that guy.

Happy Fourth of July! 미국 독립 기념일 축하합니다! (Mi-guk Tongnip Kinyeom-il chukha-hamnida)

On that note, it has now been one year since I left the States to begin my Fulbright adventure in South Korea. Look, two blog posts from one year ago: July 4th and July 5th, 2012. My, how time flows like running water. (시간이 유수와 같이 빠르다!)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

AcousticHolic (어쿠스틱 홀릭) - Directions and more info

Entrance to AcousticHolic (어쿠스틱 홀릭)

I've written a lot about AcousticHolic -- my favorite place in Seoul, maybe in all of Korea -- before, but I've only recently realized that I haven't shared any practical information about the one-of-a-kind guitar-themed bar.

If you're looking for a chill night with friends but also want to listen to some great music, not just talk and drink, this bar is the perfect place to go to.

A friend and I happened upon it by accident back in February of this year, but I became addicted (an Acoustic-holic myself, if you will) and have visited about eight times in the past five months. The bar has grown in popularity with Fulbrighters (and with foreigners in general, I think) lately, and I'm always eager to share it with others. So go give it a shot!

English address: 328-18 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (Woorim Building B1)
Korean address: 서울특별시 마포구 서교동 328-18 우림빌딩 지하
Directions: From Hongdae Station (홍대역, Green line/Line 2) exit 8, turn right after you exit and walk two short blocks until you reach the wide Hongdae pedestrian street. Turn left and walk one block; you will pass by a few barbecue restaurants. Take the first right onto Wausan-ro 29-gil (와우산로29길). Walk for a few blocks, and AcousticHolic will be on your left, between a store called Sound Store and a small cafe called Free Heart. The walk should take less than 10 minutes, and if you're around Hongdae Station exit 7 (if you took the Airport Line or the Light Blue line/Gyeongui/경의), then you're even closer. (If you've taken the Green line, be warned: you can't get to exits 5, 6, or 7 without making an additional transfer.)
Photo by Neal Singleton

Hours: Open Tuesday-Sunday (closed on Mondays), and performances begin at 8pm. They usually last until midnight, and sometimes additional performances last until closing time at 1-2am.

Wednesday is Fingerstyle Night, when Guitar Jedi performs. I haven't been to a weeknight gig in several months, but they are usually much more laid back than Friday and Saturday evenings, when it can get quite crowded.

Fee: The entrance fee is ₩5,000. Drinks run from ₩5-9,000 beers to several kinds of mixed drinks and cocktails. There are also 안주 (anju, bar snacks) for those who come hungry.

Folks at AcousticHolic are a really tight-knit community; it seems like all of the musicians are friends with each other. Sometimes, a performance by some of the guys seems less like a performance and more like bros just jamming for the heck of it for fifteen minutes. It's sublime.

The space isn't enormous, but it is certainly cozy, with its mood lighting and tea candles set on low tables. I personally like how the spotlight and all the focus in the room is on whoever is performing on the guitar-shaped stage. It's too bad when people play a gig at a bar but nobody listens; not so at AcousticHolic, where it really is about the music. And it is amazing, amazing music. Next time you're in Hongdae for the evening, go check out AcousticHolic, and tell the Guitar Jedi that Andrew (the Asian-American who lives in Changwon) said hi.
정선호 performing at Acoustic Holic. Photo by Neal Singleton

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

PSAs (Even More Drafts)

It's that time again! My students' only grade in my class is based on a speech they must prepare and give before their classmates. Just like last semester, I had them write a first draft to get started. And just like last semester's first drafts, these were wild and wonderful and highly amusing. The topic this time was a Public Service Announcement on behalf of any societal or global issue. Interestingly enough, at least a quarter of my students wrote about stopping suicide and/or school bullying. Either it was the easiest topic to research and write about, or it was the most important to them personally... maybe both. Anyway, here are some funny excerpts from the first drafts. I promise that all of these improved dramatically by the third or fourth draft!

On Korean students' gaming addiction:
I'm not saying that the game is bad so you shouldn't play games. Game can be good harby [hobby] to kick the stress.

On stopping the organ black market:
Before to speech, I'll tell you a horrible story in US. A man went to the bar, and he met a woman whom he haven't met ever. She said to him, "Do you wanna drink? Here." She gave a drink to him for free. He drank and felt asleep. When he was awake, his stomach is strange. His kidneys are gone. It's fairly frightful, isn't it?

On sending aid to Africa:
There are no development in Africa because of leadership in Africa. Africa's nations are earn money by farming. However leadership of Africa using tax on have their own profit. Therefore civil war breaks out.

(For the record, I made sure the student who wrote this realized that Africa is very diverse, and not every country is in the same politico-economic situation.)

On preventing suicide:
- Therefore, if Family and friends feel very tired, you must help them to provide suicide.
- Therefore, we should be interested in [people who show suicidal tendencies] and hear their stories. You can small effort of one human group as the word "Many a little makes a mickle", to create a society without suicide.
- If you suicide, your family will be very sad and society lose various life. An archaic world, the best dawn is to die before parent's die.
- So just get closer to other, and talk with laughter. Show your neighbors some good side of our world, and the infinite brightness to shine their lives. Show them their life is worthy to live, and our world is bright. Raise the fallen hope with bright smile.

On bees:
'If Bees disappear, Ever human gonna die.' - Albert Einstein - and, Bees are disappearing.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Feeling nostalgic... and thus in the mood for odd Photoshop filters. This is a bunch of photos with Fulbright friends overlay-ed on a sunset view of Seoul from the 31st floor of the Hotel President.
Final exams (학기말시험) begin tomorrow at my school. What this means for me is four days of no classes and plenty of time to get other work done. Or, it could mean four days of deep reflection and looking back on one year in Korea with Fulbright.

This past weekend, the 2012-2013 Fulbrighters had a last hurrah in Seoul: our Final Dinner. Held just two weeks before the grant year concludes and two-thirds of us return to the United States, it was the designated time for us to spend quality time together, say our goodbyes, and, of course, take care of last-minute administrivia. But it was mostly about the goodbyes.

Now, I'm not a terribly emotional person. I don't cry over goodbyes. After commencement last year -- after the culminating finale of a truly life-changing and unforgettable college career -- I had to throw all my stuff into the trunk and hightail it off campus with my family. I barely saw anyone, and I didn't even have time to shed a tear. This year, the Fulbright Final Dinner felt like its own sort of graduation ceremony. We had no robes, but dang, everyone looked sharp; no diplomas, but many people won awards. We even had a "commencement speaker", the ever-inspiring Sam Morrow, and slideshows of smile-filled photos set to really great music.

There were also reports from the amazing projects my fellow grantees had done over the year, which were inspiring and impressive. Fulbright is not just about standing at the front of the classroom to which you're assigned; we began cooking clubs, hosted language exchanges, held sports events for underprivileged students, sent pen pal letters around the world, and founded nonprofit educational organizations. (By "we" I mean "they", my colleagues who are much more proactive than I.) In addition, the hardworking staff of Fulbright Infusion, our six-year-old literary magazine, presented this year's beautiful issue.

What with all these speeches, presentations, and formal niceties, I realized long before the evening was over that I wasn't actually being given much time to interact with the hundred friends with whom I'd gathered. Not even the ones sitting at my table eating delicious catered food with me. (Dining chatter was interrupted by a program of very nice and nostalgia-inducing performances by ETAs, including myself and Katelyn.) And then, we were finished, and it was time to take photos and hustle out of the hotel.

It didn't feel very final, because, once again, I was just being rushed from one place to another, and the whirlwind of quick goodbyes and random promises to "meet up again soon" wasn't cutting it for (what I realized with some surprise was) a strong desire to "end things" properly, with the right amounts of gratitude, humor, and hope.

I suppose that that's just the way things had to happen, though, and at the very least, I'm glad I got the photos. The rest of the weekend was filled to bursting with great moments with these same friends -- I'll write about them presently -- and perhaps even more pleasant than the classy affair were these absolutely normal hours spent eating, talking, and not being even remotely sad.

Now that I'm back in Changwon for a solid two weeks -- and I am quite sure I won't see any Fulbrighters for that duration -- I'm looking at a good amount of time for retrospection. I'll be filling out evaluation surveys and thinking back upon what, if anything, I've accomplished since July 2012. No doubt the weight of the realization that I won't see many wonderful friends for a long, long while will too find time to settle into my heart and grip it with nostalgia or melancholy. I guess I ought to welcome it, because a new chapter is about to begin, and since I'm not the one turning the page, resistance to it might be painful. Plus, it's better to read slowly but savor every memory than to skim through your emotions and only pick out the parts you enjoy.

Okay, I've got to end this post before the metaphor becomes any more overextended. Goodbye, Fulbright 친구들! In the wise words of Ammy Yuan, "I'll see you when I see you."