Culture or Cult?

Now that I am saving some money and not worrying about where I will find the won to buy Ramen for dinner, I’m FINALLY getting the chance to adventure around Korea. This weekend I attended what I thought was an International Peace Festival in the Olympic Stadium in Seoul.

My friend Kamir and I heard from a co-worker that a non-profit volunteer organization, Mannam, was providing free transportation and meals for foreigners attending the festival. There was also optional sporting events, so we decided to compete in the 5K.  World peace, sports, and free stuff: sounds like a good deal right?

I started to get a little suspicious when other friends turned down the invitation because they heard rumors that Mannam and the WPI (World Peace Initiative) were associated with religious groups. That didn’t phase me though, because although I am not a religious person, I accept and understand others beliefs. I was also a bit confused when the trip organizer messaged me asking that I ignore the rumors and claiming that Mannam was affiliated with any religious organization. In fact, it states on their website that “within Mannam Volunteer Association there must not be any political and religious activities.”

Since we were “athletes,” we had to arrive early before the event to get seated in the athlete section of the stadium. From the bus until we entered the stadium, there was a line of women in costumes that looked similar to a pokemon trainer waving and cheering us on. I was stopped on the way in by a film crew for an interview and when they asked how long I had been training for the “Peace Olympics” I lied and said a week, when really I had only gone running once in preparation. :p

The Green Tribe

These were the people who cheered us on as we entered the stadium and during the race, although there were many more during the race. I’ve never felt like such a celebrity before.

The opening ceremony was extremely elaborate with multiple marching bands, an orchestra, traditional korean dancers and drummers, fireworks. The only thing that was a little off at this point was the twelve “tribes” all wearing different color poke-trainer costumes who marched like nazi soldiers into the stadium BUT I accepted this because things are done a little differently in Korea.  The majority of the crowd was also wearing these uniforms and segregated by color. Each tribe was labeled by names: John, Peter, Simon, Andrew etc. That is when I first realized the event was not quite as secular as we were informed.

The 12 Tribes of ShinChonJi. These poor people had to stand there for what seemed like a few hours while the leaders of the group gave speeches. PS: the ladies in the front remind me of Princess Peach from Mario!

Things got REALLY weird though when they had a group of 1,000+ children wearing white robes come onto the field to give an interpretation of the bible.

The robed performers (all children) waiting to enter the stadium.

It was really elaborate and I am pretty sure, Koreans could have the best marching band/color guard shows in the world if they weren’t too busy studying all the time! All of the foreigners looked confused as we had all been tricked into attending the largest most elaborate church ceremony of all times. The service was quite entertaining and I was fine with it all until I began to notice that their interpretation of the bible was a bit off. What I got from the show was that their leader “Lee-Man He” was the chosen one that was the only person in the world who had the power to lead the 12 tribes to salvation and anyone who did not follow would be lost in darkness. Sounded a bit cultish to me. I asked my students about Shinchonji and they confirmed my suspicions that the group was indeed viewed nationwide as a group of radical and “bad” christians.

Wait…this looks a bit religious to me. The pictures were made from people in the crowd holding up various colored signs. They changed them in a coordinated manner to create a moving Bible storybook. There are around 7,000 people in this picture alone.

Although this experience was a bit creepy, I dont’ in any way regret attending. I meet and saw people from countries I’d never even heard of before. (I also met a few Southerners((recognized by their country accents))) Each athlete wore their country’s flag on their shirt so it was easy to see what part of the world people were from rather than guessing. I am convinced that Nepalese are the most interesting and attractive looking people out of the lot!  I regret not asking how to pronounce Kyrgyzstan though. I really think that is and hope it will continue to be the strangest day of my life. I really don’t think I want to know what is weirder than running a 5K with a bunch of foreigners while 1,000 cult members lined the track to cheer you on.

Unfortunately, I was racing when these princess Leia people went on. I really can’t even imagine what kind of performance they were involved in…..

CHINA IN 1 WEEK!!!!! I’m trying to get my stomach ready for monkey brain, insects, and chinese liquor. Many pictures to come!

Settling In

Aside from falling through a desk in the middle of class and having the students cheer when class was canceled because blood was seeping through my dress from cuts I got from the desk, my confidence and ability to teach has improved exponentially since my last post! Giving almost everyone detention the first day of class really helped. Since I am the youngest teacher at my school and brand new I don’t think a lot of the kids took me seriously, but I’m working on changing that. Many foreign teachers feel bad for the children since they are going to school for 12 hours a day and let them socialize in class or get off easy when they forget their homework, but their parents are paying for them to be there so I feel like since they are already stuck in a classroom, why not actually learn something? I’m getting paid to be a teacher not a babysitter.

I moved out of my shoebox apartment into a slightly larger and older shoebox and for the first time since I’ve been in Korea I wake up feeling like I’m HOME and not just hiding out in someones closet. After almost two months here it is a relief to finally begin to get settled.

Bigger update with pictures included coming up as soon as I have my med school application submitted and sent off! If all goes well with that, I’ll be back in the U.S. in a few months for interviews:)

Out of my Element

Last Friday I seriously considered packing up and coming back to the U.S. It had nothing to with the fact that I am halfway around the world from every single person that I know and love or that I have no way of communicating with most of the people I encounter in my daily life. I wanted to run away from my year abroad because I was scared silly of teaching a bunch of 13 year olds.

The clock seemed to stop as I stuttered through reading“Lost at Sea”, a first grade level novella to a class of middle schoolers. How could I let children unnerve me more than presenting to a panel of judges or teaching Organic Chemistry to a classroom of peers? I came to the conclusion that I was just NOT made out to be a teacher and should run back home as fast as I could to start working in a lab.

I thought about it more over the weekend and realized that I was not a terrible teacher, but was simply out of my comfort zone –which is what I came to this country to do! Up to this point in my life I have felt in control of my environment. In science you have+, -, and experimental controls. Sure, things don’t always go as planned, but I never had stem cells jump out of their petri dishes to bounce around the room like in Flubber. I was in control teaching Organic Chemistry as well. The students were there by choice and generally listened and cared about what I had to say. You are granted no such liberties being an elementary and middle school teacher at a Hagwon. Most of the lower students do not wanted to be there so you have to fight to earn their respect. Now, I look forward to this challenge with every class that I teach.

Pictures to come!!!!

 

 

Letting Go of Feminism in Korean Dating Culture

Posting this entry will probably ensure that I will NEVER be asked out by a a Korean man while I am here, but I’d really like to hear what everyone has to say about these issues that came to me while spending the morning with a male co-worker.

Looking back on my dating history, I realize that I  have always been a die-hard feminist.  In 9th grade, I was head over heels in love with my first real boyfriend – Michael Brown. One day while we were talking on instant messenger, he called me baby. Naturally, I was extremely offended and almost broke up with him. I was 3 months older and bigger than he was so why did he think he could nickname me something that can’t eat, walk, or use the restroom by itself?

Since then, I have continued to resist playing along with the traditional gender roles associated with dating.  However, it seems to me that these roles are so deeply ingrained in the Korean culture that it is an insult if a woman offers to split the check or insists on walking home by herself.

While I do enjoy being treated like a princess now and again, many of the implications behind our dating customs don’t sit well with me:

+ The man insists on always paying “the woman is unable to support herself.”

+ The man walks the woman home – “All women are venerable and need a man for protection.”

+A man insists on carrying heavy items ” Women are the weaker sex and are less able to perform physical labor.”

+Men opening doors This one is actually okay with me, ladies first right? And lets face it, women don’t spend hours in the gym, buy form-fitting clothes, and wear torture devices called heels to admire our own backsides.

I am the type of person that just laughs off baseless stereotypes and am only hurt/offended by something if it has a truth behind it. So maybe the only reason that I dislike the customs is because there is some truth behind them and don’t like feeling inferior. Yes, women generally make less money than men (and spend more on clothing and beauty products). Yes, I am more venerable and much more likely to be the target for a violent attack or robbery on the street. And Yes, I am much weaker than most men. Maybe its time to quit being so stubborn and become okay with the fact that neither is superior to the other, men and women are not by nature equals and therefore it is wrong to assume that our behavior and roles in society should be identical.

SO while I will still cringe if a man calls me baby, I’m going to quit being so stubborn and enjoy being treated like a princess now and again during my stay in Korea.

First day teaching on my own….wish me luck!

Small Town Girl in A Big City

We chased the sun. It was daylight the entire 14 hours of the flight.

I made it to my new home in Daejeon city – and according to those of you back home at a good time. 110 degree highs sounds ROUGH. I arrived on the first day of Monsoon season, so it will rain for the entire month of July. If I had a car I wouldn’t mind so much, but it is not ideal to tote groceries and supplies for my new apartment  in the rain.

I want to give my blog a focus, but I am not quite sure how to do that. Since everyone has told me how living/studying abroad will change your perspectives, I am going to try to post once a week about ways that this is happening to me. I am also going to make a weekly post about unexpected similarities and differences between living in Dallas/Athens Ga and Daejeon Korea.  Let me know if there is anything you would like for me to write about!

3 Surprising Similarities

1.  You can find Law and Order on TV 24/7. Unfortunately, this is one of the few shows that I have been able to find in English.

2. Fried Chicken– I was expecting  Mc Donalds and Starbucks to be the most prevalent American food places here, but I was wrong. I have not seen any Mc Donalds and for every Starbucks there are about 10 KFC’s or Korean “Fride Chicken and Beer” places. Also, though I don’t understand this one, Outback Steakhouses are common. How does everyone stay so slender here?

I need to find out the secret ingredient because this place smells amazing!

3. Agriculture —  On the bus ride from Incheon to Daejeon I was shocked to see an abundance of commercial and family farms on the side of the interstate. Now I am not so weary of  the apocalypse here.  Since South Korea is about the size of the state of Georgia with 10x the population I was under the assumption that I would not see any wide open spaces until my return to the states.  Farmland is possible here by building vertically instead of horizontally with high-rise apartment buildings instead of neighborhoods and 3 story home plus’ (similar to our Wal-Mart).

3 Unexpected Differences

1. Showers– When I first saw my bathroom, I was concerned because I did not see a shower or bathtub. I asked my director, about this and he pointed out the shower head over the sink. I am not sure if this type of shower is unique to small apartments, but your bathroom doubles as an actual bath! While this makes cleaning the bathroom easier, I already miss my frequent ritual of reading a good book in a bubble bath.  Also, the only towels I have found are the size of our hand towels and very expensive. Today, a teacher at my school is taking me to Costco so hopefully I will find a larger towel there!

I am still not sure if I need to dry the room after I shower…

2. Coffee– Although I am new to the currency, I know that 4,000 won (about $4) is way too much to pay for a cup of black coffee. Maybe I am going to the wrong places (Starbucks and Dunkin donuts), but usually a medium cup is $2 in the U.S. At the 7-11 and HomePlus I noticed a huge variety of cold bottled coffee for the price of a coke $1. I avoided these types of drinks in the U.S because they were all filled with sugar, but there are delicious low-cal options here! I’ll have to find out, but my guess is that coffee houses are for socializing rather than for stopping by to get your morning caffeine fix.

3. Clean cities and roads–With a city the size of Atlanta, I was surprised that there was no trash in the roads or on the sidewalks. Even with what seems like half of the population smoking cigarettes, I have not seen any butts on the ground during my exploratory walks. The local governments seem to take a lot of time keeping the city clean and pretty –trees are found on the side of every street as are bike paths (made of the same material on football field tracks), and there are public parks every few blocks (no hobo’s included :p).

Walking trail at a park a few blocks from my apartment. I went yesterday in the rain and there were still a good amount of people strolling around with umbrella’s-many of them elderly people power walking faster than I could keep up!

Goodbye America!

I feel like a kid waiting for Santa to come on Christmas morning. Although I have a full day of traveling ahead of me, there is absolutely NO chance of sleep due to anticipation of my upcoming adventures. Finally – only one more hour until santa arrives (my dad and sister drop me off at the airport)! I will spend my last few hours in the country at airports in D.C. and New York City before departing on my 14 hour flight at 1PM. My ETA in Seoul is 4PM local time or 3AM our time – I can already feel the jet lag. 

 

It still hasn’t quite sunk in that the time spent with family and friends the past few days is the last we will see of each other (face to face) for a while. Though looking back at my time at UGA, I am comforted with the idea that a year really isn’t that long. I am so thankful for all the wonderful people in my life that have supported me in my crazy plans to teach abroad! My sister told me about an app that I can download, once I get a phone, that will allow me to text U.S numbers for free, so please send me your numbers via facebook so that I can easily keep in touch. 

Look for my next post from foreign soil!!

 

My Last Week in America

Hey everyone!

I wanted to make a blog to give everyone a glimpse of my year teaching English in South Korea.  I will be be flying out of the country on the 27th or the 28th of June (1 week!!). Its a 4.5 hour flight to L.A followed by a 13 hour flight to Seoul, which will give me plenty of time to familiarize myself with the Korean alphabet – Hangul. My new home will be in Daejeon City, the 5th largest city in Korea, and I’ll be teaching English at a Hangwon (private teaching institute). Apparently I won’t be able to have a phone or my own internet service for the first two weeks in the country, but when I’m allowed I plan to get a new Iphone so I’ll be able to talk to people on facetime! Since I’ve been studying for the MCATS all summer I haven’t had time to be nervous or excited about the trip, but after Thursday I’m sure reality will hit.

I want to make my last week here as “American” as possible and would love your ideas on how to do so!

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