I consider it a very good sign that the only ‘real’ frustration I’ve run into with my host family so far has been over how to carve a pumpkin.
Yes. That’s what I just said.
My host mom grows pumpkins in her garden and she has been saving one for the past couple weeks for me to carve for Halloween. So so sweet of her to do that. (Which is why this story makes me look like a horrible person, but I must continue). Today was the day, and while I originally envisioned the pumpkin carving as a jolly family affair (poster child moment for cultural ambassadorism), my host mom,dad, and brother had to go to a family event, and my host sister had to study, so it quickly turned into a ‘observe the sad little foreigner participate in her traditional heathen ceremony’ type scene.
But I quickly grew quite attached to my pumpkin and my pumpkin carving. My host sister even moved her studies out into the living room (which I’ve never seen her do) to watch while she worked. I proudly took pictures of each step by step moment, kind of like it was my first child or something. Oh, surprise- the pumpkin, although gorgeous on the outside, was slightly rotten on the inside and there were tons of maggots inside. (Hope you’re not eating anything delicious right now!)
My host sister was freaking out:
((Did you know that maggots can jump a little bit? Super nasty.))
Anyways. Host sister loves Hello Kitty, (and when in Asia, right?) so I sketched a Hello Kitty carving template based off of a picture online.
Oh, by the way. Host sister couldn’t believe that I found this pretty funny:
…Oops. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up with an older brother and no sisters. :)
And on another side note, this is what happens when you entrust the duty of buying a candle for the pumpkin to a 12 year old boy:
Because a 6 foot candle was just what we needed. ;) Nice one, Inseo.
The carving process took MUCH much longer than it normally would because we had no handy little carving knives like in the states. Just a massive dagger and stubby little wood knives.. So this was quite the project. I had spent a majority of the day on it.
So… I hope maybe you can understand me a little bit and forgive my irrationality (…is that a word?) at what happens next. I am almost finished carving. I have two sections left to go, and I’m getting more and more excited to finish my project. When…… my host mom leaves the kitchen table, where she is tutoring two girls, and sits by me. Then she takes my pumpkin without a word, picks up the massive saw-like knife that I had deemed way too huge to use for pumpkin carving, and starts forcefully carving away at my last section! Whaaaaaat?? No no no no no no! This is my baby! You are sawing off my baby’s head in front of my very eyes! She cuts a little too far, then chuckles at me and says “We need to rethink this area- the whole face is going to come off.”
Now. I would like it to be known that I am generally a very patient person, and it takes A LOT to get me riled up. And I recognize this is not a lot. But I really think this pumpkin moment was symbolic (yes, here I go, I’m turning this into a teaching moment) of the lack of independence that ETAs have to face during their year in Korea. (Hear me out on this one).
All during orientation, they warned us that the hardest part of the grant year for many people is the lack of independence that comes with having a homestay. I understood that, but didnt think it would be much of a problem for me. Although I went to an out of state college and lived abroad, I’m still very much dependent on my parents. I figured this would be harder for other people who have lived on their own for a longer time. But during my time here, I’ve found that it is a little difficult when you have been fairly independent for a while. For example, after a decade of dressing myself, it’s strange to have my host mom question what I’m wearing (if I want to wear my mini skirt and tube top to school, I should be able to choose that, gosh darn it! … just kidding. It’s more along the lines of “Liz, put a scarf on today.” or “Don’t wear your Uggs until it’s late winter”…?) For the most part, this hasn’t been a problem, just the occasional things like that. So, if you can imagine this, I think the pumpkin was my one ‘thing’, if you will. It was my pumpkin, I was the sole carving expert in the house, and this was something I could finally do on my own. (Yes, I know how stupid this sounds.) So to have that taken away, it was like one more thing that I wasn’t allowed to do on my own.
She then suggested we carve a face on the other side of the pumpkin.
Now, my family (in the States) is sort of big on carving pumpkins. (Wait, what’s that? You can’t believe that I’m STILL talking about The Korean Pumpkin Scuffle of 2011? Me neither. But as I was saying..). People would come to our house from different neighborhoods in Las Cruces just to see our pumpkins. We used to carve around 6-10 every Halloween. So I know from experience that if you carve something on the other side, it looks horrible and confusing. You need a solid background for your carving to have effect. So I told my host mom no, that it doesn’t work, and to trust me on it. She then suggested we carve little holes around the sides and back for ‘air circulation.’ (WHAT?) So I told her no.. that it doesnt need it.. it’s best to just leave it be.
She then told me with a smile that maybe I was a little stubborn. (Sorry Fulbright.)
I told her that maybe she should back off my pumpkin.
Haha! Just kidding. I did not.
I think I was just silent.
But finally, she cut down the 12 foot candle and put it in.
And then everyone oohed and ahhed and the Korean girls took a picture and all was well because they had never really seen a jack o lantern in the flesh before.
And then we went outside and took an awkward picture next to it.
And here, at last, ends my story. (Was that a “FINALLY, THANK GOD!” I hear?? Rude. ;])
I know how ridiculous this all sounds. And I am truly thankful for my host family and for giving me a pumpkin. They didn’t have to do that. I just think this is a classic example of how little things can become the big things when living abroad. I don’t think there’s a person out there that has lived or travelled extensively abroad that hasn’t had one of those ‘little things’ moments. They’re the culmination of time spent where you are not ‘home’ and things are different. They’re the things you look back and can’t believe they bothered you.
Thankfully, I’m already at that point. All is well, Hello Kitty is lighting the streets of Gyeongju, and I have Hocus Pocus waiting for me on youtube.
This is the last week of the month, which for my students means that it’s movie week. For my highest level first years, I always let a few students who come to class before everyone else pick the three movie choices that the class will vote on.
Today, the four usual girls were clustered around my movie cabinet, discussing options.
Excited, one girl skipped over to me with a DVD in hand and presented her choice.
"Hmmmm…" I said. There was absolutely no way that I would show that in class, but I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I said, "I like this movie. But… I think for class it is a little too……" (searching for the word).
"Sexy?" the girl asked.
"Exactly." I said, laughing.
She nodded, and ran back to the movie cabinet. I then heard her telling her friends in Korean “This is a sexy movie. Elizabeth likes it!!”
They all shrieked in delight and started yelling “Elizabeth likes sexy movies!!!”
Horrified, I start saying “No!!”.
But by this point, it was a lost cause. To every student that entered, the girls would ask, “Guess what Elizabeth likes!”
(To which some would reply “Oh, me too, teacher!”………)
My name is Chung- So- Young. I’m fifteen years old. I’m going to introduce about me. My favorite character is Hello Kitty. So I have so many kitty goods. And my hobby is watching Disney movies. Last weekend, I saw Tangled. It was so funny! My dream is famous and kind doctor. I want to cure my grandmother’s leg. And my favorite republic is USA. In USA, I like New Mexico most. ^^ I want to try New Mexico’s food. I want to eat green chilly chicken. I’m excited!! :D I like all of food. ANd i like Science and English. I will study harder. I like your class. Because you are a good teacher, I could get 100 grade in my English test. Thank you ~
Sometimes, my character is blue because my grade. But, I will try to develope my mind. And after, my mind will grow.
Finally, I think you are my best friend, English teacher. I love my host sister. <3
Letting students free-write is the greatest thing ever.
I am having the time of my life giving interview tests to students. Quite traumatic and horrible for them I’m sure (..kidding), but I love it.
During one of my favorite student’s interview, I couldn’t stop laughing. Sarah is one of craziest, bubbliest (…?) people I have ever met and I love her to death. I asked her what she likes to do, to which she responded REALLY loudly, “I love to sing! I want to be a SUPERSTAR!” (at which point she struck the “superstar” pose). The entire class (we were in an enclosed office next to the classroom) burst out laughing. “Sarah..” I said, “I think they heard you.” For the rest of the interview, I kept losing my ability to keep a straight face. So so funny.
So when I received her written test, it was quite the delight:
"Hi Liz! My name is Sarah. I think you know my name and face!
So I want to tell you all about me.
First, my family!
My family members are mother, father, brother, me, and… in future we will have puppy, too! I’m so exciting…!!
Second, all about my favorite!
My favorite friends are YuJin Lim in London class and You!!!!!!!…..”
((Elizabeth’s side note: I’m not above flattery. A+, Sarah, A+))
"Haha…And my favorite action is eating… (that’s why I’m so fat).
I wanna be a superstar! haha… I’m doing my best to fullfill my dream! (I have to do a diet…) Please encourage me! And I like to listen to Pop Song! After your class that study what kinds of musics are I almost crazy in Pop Song! Thank you for that! I like Justin Bieber. <3.<3., Ke$ha, Taylor Swift, Lady GaGa~ I heard somebody’s cut Justin Bieber’s hair and raise it at the market, and the cost was 3 THOUSAND dollars!! That’s not incredible… my hair will be 3 cents… ~ ~…But!! Whatever I’m only can do the best for my dream. So one day I will fulfill my dream!!”
One student’s start to her written self-introduction (part of their midterm test that I’ve been giving this week):
"Hello! Elizabeth teacher <3. I’m You Jin. I like talking with my friend during forgin teacher class time. But You are class is sistem and fun than before! HaHaHa. So I stop that I talk with my friends. :) "
(I love that her first self-proclaimed hobby was talking during past ETAs’ “foreign teacher class time”… bahahah!)
They warned us in orientation that we might lose some of our English skills/ability while we are here in Korea.
Proof that this is true: tonight’s conversation between Lisa (another ETA here in Korea) and I. (Talking about how my school sometimes is a little too protective in their care of me).
[5:18:51 AM] Elizabeth White:I know its protective fondness or whatever, but it can turn into mingling super fast! [5:18:46 AM] lisa porter: mingling? [5:18:51 AM] Elizabeth White: wait [5:18:54 AM] Elizabeth White: is that the word? [5:18:58 AM] Elizabeth White: intermingling? [5:19:03 AM] Elizabeth White: interferance? [5:19:05 AM] lisa porter: mettling? [5:19:05 AM] lisa porter: maybe [5:19:07 AM] Elizabeth White: i dont speak english [5:19:08 AM] Elizabeth White: METTLING [5:19:10 AM] Elizabeth White: thats it [5:19:11 AM] Elizabeth White: crap [5:19:13 AM] lisa porter: NO [5:19:15 AM] lisa porter: meddling? [5:19:17 AM] lisa porter: BAHAHAH [5:19:19 AM] Elizabeth White: YES [5:19:19 AM] lisa porter: i have forgotten how to spell [5:19:20 AM] Elizabeth White: ahahahahah [5:19:23 AM] Elizabeth White: oh my word [5:19:25 AM] lisa porter: ahhhhhhhhh hahahaha that is sooooo funny [5:19:27 AM] Elizabeth White: get us out of here [5:19:29 AM] Elizabeth White: this is so bad [5:19:30 AM] lisa porter: we both just totally failed.
And it’s only been a few months.
I may need to enroll in some ESL classes when I return.
One of my favorite students (nickname: Alphabet) was talking to me before class. (The conversation went something like this:)
Alphabet: Teacher, boyfriend…you have?
E: Yes, I have a boyfriend!
Alphabet: Ohhh!! What his name?
A: Oooh, Stevie Wonder! Very good!
-dying of laughter-
A: How is his ability?
E: Huh? Ability?
A: Yes. Ability. In job…
E: Oh! He is very smart.
A: Oh! Good!!
E: Alphabet, do you have a boyfriend?
A: Yes, I have!
E: Oh wow! How long have you been dating?
A: One day!
E: Oh! That’s exciting!!
A: Mmmm, so-so.
A: Yes. This is third time (she imitates a heart breaking and coming back together 3 times). But.. he is no study. And I like boyfriend who study a lot and has good ability.
Around this point, the class starts yelling at Alphabet to sit down. Startled, I look at the class. I was shocked to see that my entire class was sitting there, including my coteacher. I looked at the clock- class had started 5 minutes ago! Oops!!! hahaha
I stood and greeted the class with my usual “Hello, how are you doing today?” And the class responded with the usual “Im fine thank you, and you?”
And then! One student says “Oh, you very beautiful!” And the next moment, I felt like I was in a Disney movie. The ENTIRE class started singing “You are so beautiful…to me… can’t you see?” (Which of course made me think of Little Rascals.)
I don’t know if they planned it beforehand or what, but was the coolest thing ever. So cute. Totally made my day.
While talking about American music genres, a picture of composer John Williams comes on the screen. My girls start to get excited and start yelling something. Not understanding, I ask, “What?”. Then I hear what they had been saying: “Teacher! KFC!”….
KFC’s Colonel Sanders:
The “monsters” class was once more shocked when I refused to show them “Monsters Inc” and thus continued to answer “monsters” to every question I asked. Still hasn’t gotten old. They were temporarily appeased while they watched a Justin Bieber music video. After the video, I asked, “Who likes Justin Bieber?” and the main ‘monster’ leader raised her hand enthusiastically. “You like Justin Bieber a lot, huh?” I asked. She replied, “Yes. And Justin Bieber likes monsters.”
Today was our school’s annual fall field trip. The three grade levels were divided into three separate trips, so at the urging of my co-teachers, I went with the first graders (the equivalent of American 6th grade) on their field trip. I had a blast! We loaded into six different tour buses (can you imagine taking 200 students somewhere by bus? Ye gads!) and headed off to the countryside for a taste of some traditional Korean life.
First they took us to a valley that was surrounded by fall leaves, running streams, and an old temple. It was beautiful! You had to cross a single wooden plank to get to it. I thought for sure someone was bound to fall in or get pushed (midschoolers are midschoolers in any culture), but no one did! Good job, monkeys.
(Note: Lauren is always slightly horrified when I refer to my students collectively as “The Monkeys.” Please note that this is a term of endearment and comes from a warm fondness for their monkey ways. I love my students, I really do.)
Can we just take a moment to appreciate how gorgeous fall is? Best season ever. Holy cow. When we crossed the wood plank, this is what we saw:
The girls then were faced with their first Traditional Korean challenge: poetry writing. Back in the day (when Confucianism was the main way of life), men who hoped to become (oh shoot, already forgetting- I think it was part of the king’s circle, or something?) -insert historical fact here- would have to pass a series of tests. The first was a liberal arts test that involved writing and reading. They wore these goofy hats while taking the test, so imagine The Monkeys’ joy (not) when they were told they had to take a test in super uncool hats. Every mid school girl’s worst nightmare. ;)
Please appreciate the looks of pure joy on their faces:
Naturally, my coteacher passed me one and told me to take the test. Seeing as the test was to create an acrostic poem in Korean from the word for “a small shopping area,” I took my fail and just wore the hat. This led to a photo shoot with some of the other teachers. Oh yes.
I hope you are enjoying the fact that I am the only non-Asian doing the Asian peace sign. ……..Note to self: that works with mid school girl students, maybe not so much with the teachers. Bahaha.
Shortly after this picture was taken, I noticed a group of girls (and when I say ‘noticed’, I mean I looked up and saw them because they were only about 5 feet from me) trying to sneak photos of me on their camera phones. Goobers. So I posed with my peace sign, they giggled delightedly because they were then no longer stalkers, and clicked away. Feeling it’d be way more natural for me to just take a picture with them, I got one of my coteachers to take a picture of us together. (See below). This led to a mini photoshoot, with other girls noticing and then joining.
The Korean countryside is truly beautiful. Especially in fall. The rice fields are buzzing with grasshoppers and dragon flies are everywhere.
Next, the girls made what is essentially a traditional Korean hacky-sack.
Well, most did. Some took this as an opportunity to check on the status of their double eyelids. Typical. :) (Side note: Korean girls carry HUGE hand held mirrors with them EVERYWHERE they go. Literally everywhere.)
After everyone made their hackey sack (made out of shredded paper and a flat bolt), each girl had to kick their creation as many times as they could. Most girls got only one kick (they’re wayyyy harder to control than hackey sacks), but it was fun to watch. I tried- it was so difficult!
Next was archery. Imagining the monkeys with bows and arrows terrified me a little bit at the beginning, but some of the girls were quite good! Then I got called up for the final round. The girls started cheering and yelling “Elijabesu, FIGHTING!!!” …It was adorable. I don’t think I quite delivered, however. Out of five arrows, only one of mine made it onto the white (which was met by wild applause- thanks, monkeys, for the self esteem! They’re the best.) It was quite fun. :)
After that was a traditional (how many times have I used the word ‘traditional’ so far? …Too many. haha) Korean women’s game. (I don’t know why it was just for women- because it’s not very rigorous?). You are given a fake arrow and have to make it into a ring.
Two of my Coffee Princes watch on as their peers try to make one:
Then some of the monkeys started wearing their hackey sacks on their head.
This started a movement of hackey sack headwear, which was then followed by hackey sack gotees and hackey sack nose hair. Then the women’s game became a lot less interesting.
It was at last time for lunch. The teachers sat in a separate area and had quite the spread! One of the other teachers asked what we usually eat at field trips in America and I replied with “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches”… They found this funny and very strange. I assured them their spread was much better.
Then the monkeys started to get restless and started exploring the streams. This naturally led to them finding frogs and catching them in water bottles, showing the teachers, and the teachers telling them to put the poor frogs back. Then a new group of monkeys would repeat the same process. Poor frogs indeed.
The final cultural activity for this location was making traditional rice cake. This is done by slamming a massive hammer down on the cake to grind it and give it its texture. Once more, I was allowed to participate. (I’d love to know what the girl in the orange shirt is whispering to her friend, hahaa!)
We got to eat the rice cake afterwards. It was quite tasty. Good job, monkeys.
The final destination for this field trip was to a traditional Korean folk village. We didn’t spend much time there, but it was interesting to see nonetheless. Also interesting to me was the fact that people still live there! It’s not a recreation at all- it’s a living community of people.
The upper house was for the royal families, and the thatched roof houses below were where their servants lived.
I asked some of the monkeys if they were having fun, and they said “No. Boring! It’s hot.”
…Well. I had fun, anways. :)
A great day in a beautiful country with some of the best monkeys I know. :)