April 5, 2013
First of all, I would like to say I am sincerely sorry for no keeping up with these journal entries. It's not everyday, until you're on exchange, that you get to live in South Korea. Many things have happened and the resting time in between was little to none. Also, my iPad seems to have a problem with the RYE journal updating system. Luckily, that problem has been resolved and I will now grant you a journal. A massive, perhaps overly insightful, journal.~
My arrival in South Korea was fraught with peril:
Trying to steer large bags on a cart around gawking Korean people.
Hearing what sounded like a whole new language all around me (oh wait....).
Lastly, but not least, trying to find a Korean man whom I had no name for or information. You have to remember, at this point, everyone looked basically the same to my frazzled mind.
Once finding this man and his wife, whom I later found out was my P.E. teacher, I felt at peace for a few seconds...then we maneuvered our load to his car and made our trek to a small town called "서천" (Seocheon). My first thoughts of 서천 were "Oh my! It's so much larger than my town in Florida" and "I'll never be able to get anywhere". 서천 has proved to be quite easy to make way in, actually. Although it boasts a population of nearly 25,000 in that region, it is quaint and simple in structure.
Back to the story!
When we arrived in Seocheon Haley and I, the other exchange student, parted ways and went to our host houses. How did I greet my host family? I gave them each a cultural American hug (which they were enthusiastic about). Adjusting to the time difference was quite easy. The heat and sounds...not so much. Since I arrived in mid-August, South Korea was in the peak of its summer season. In other words, it was scorching. However, when being assaulted with jet lag and the familiar sounds of nighttime insects, I found that I slept quite well.
After three days, my sister 송은 (song-eun) and I went to the school for an orientation. Once there, I reunited with Haley and met Taylor and Maddie, two other exchange students from America. In my mind, I was singing "it's a small world after all...". I was introduced to all of my schoolmates in 동강중학교 (Donggang middle school) that day as well, and I acquired a small taste of what my school life would be like. After school, we took a bus (it's one of the main transportation methods in South Korea) to our homes, and I found that all of the exchange students were located in very close proximity of each other. Although this made me happy at the time, later on it would prove to hinder me in some ways. Later on, a student from Mexico was also placed near us.
In September, after being allowed one month to partially adapt to my new life, the exchange students and I were given permission to attend a country-wide conference at a prestigious college called "경기대" (Kyonggi university). In order to get there we had to take a three hour train (my first train ride ever - needless to say, I was ecstatic) to "경기도" Kyonggi-do. When we arrived, we met a former student of 동강중학교 and took a taxi to the university where we were assigned name cards and talent fields. The choice talent fields were "human rights and politics", "arts and culture", and another field that dealt with Eco-friendliness and such. I was placed in the Human Rights and Politics group. We traveled to some pretty awesome sites in the few days we were there, and also formed debate and discussion teams for the final exhibition at the end of the conference. I worked with other exchange students from around the world and also native Koreans who spoke English well. The conference really took everyone out of their comfort zones and put them on the spot. All in all, it was very enjoyable, especially when my group won the final exhibition with the best debate.
Soon after returning to 서천, in the days that followed, I had an accident. While climbing the wall to unlock another exchange students door (she forgot her keys), I slipped and severely gashed my hand on a piece of tin. My right index finger hand major damage done, along with surrounding areas on my palm. I was rushed to the hospital and given temporary stitches, strong meds, and plenty of doses of morphine while being advised to attend my surgery date on October 5th. Yes, I had microsurgery in Korea. However, it was a great experience. My surgeon was amazing and the women I bunked with at the hospital all had a great sense of humor. Do I recommend it? Unless you need to be admitted to the hospital, no.
Before my tragic finger incident, I attended a swimming class every two weeks for one day. If you have an aversion to naked people and offered back scrubs, I highly recommend going to a public swimming pool. Once in the class building, you are required to go to a gender-specific room and, quite literally, strip with other women. First you must take a shower and cleanse yourself in a large public shower with other naked women. Then you must put on your swimsuit in the shower...with other naked women. After that, you go to the swimming pool and swim until your heart is content. Now you simply have to strip again, wash, (while being stared at and having women offer to wash you) and change back into your clothes. Easy, right? Definitely for the naked-squeamish students out there.
After switching from the swimming class to the bowling class once it began to get bitterly cold, I found the korean idea of sports much more enjoyable. For bowling, I got to sit out. You can't bowl with a cast, right? After my finger healed, I did get to enjoy the bowling class a little. At that point it still hurt to move it too much, so I couldn't afford to put strain on it.
I am currently attending a golf class now and, let me tell you, it's much harder than it looks! Hello lower back pain.
Since I've been in Korea, I've been able to travel here and there. One of the first trips I went on was the designated Seoul trip for all of district 3680 exchange students. The trip was three days, two nights, and it was my first time traveling to the capital. Heres a heads up: don't be overwhelmed! You'll miss so many things and not even realize what you're doing until you're out of the city. While in Seoul, I went to an old palace, one of the largest museums in Korea, and of the best shopping areas in Korea. (There were many other places as well, but I'm trying to summarize). Our hotel was located in the Olympic park and was called, for obvious reasons, the Olympic Park Hotel.
I've also had the opportunity to take day trips to other cities like Daejeon and Suwon. Although these trips were lovely, I recommend finding a host so you can spend more than one day in these areas. There is too much to see and one day doesn't cover all of it.
Around this time, the exchange students had to switch host families. I was graciously placed in a small town that was still considered a section of 서천 called 화양 "Hwayang". From that day for three months I was deemed the "preacher's daughter" due to my fathers position as the preacher of 화양's church. Did I mention that I lived on top of the church? Yes, the view was spectacular...because, as you didn't know, the abode was placed atop a large hill overlooking 화양. I bonded with that family a lot and I loved it there despite its partial isolation. I guess you could say, in a way, it felt like home.
While with my second host family, I was granted permission to attend a B.A.P. (boy Kpop group) concert along with Taylor, another exchange student. We traveled to Seoul with her family and went to my first concert. It's safe to say that I am thoroughly smitten with this Kpop group. After the concert, we stayed in a jimjilbang (a Korean bath house that is similar to the public pool in the naked department) and rose early the next morning to do some last minute shopping then head home.
While I've been in Korea, I've made many life-long connections. One of my best friends, whom is also in her forties, is one of those many connections. I am bringing her up specifically because she is one of the people I can honestly say I will never part with. This woman's name is 기은, (ki-eun) a traveling religious missionary who sought my help in learning English. We became fast friends and have shared much with each other. Her soul is young and she portrays that in her personality, although she's had her motherly moments with me. I enjoy her company and she thoroughly enjoys mine. She loves traveling with me, and our last escapade was to a small town called 순천 (soon-chan). This town boasted a beautiful national park and magnificent landmarks. I was charmed by it and I instantly understood why she chose it as a traveling spot.
Now we enter the final stretch of this journal, but I still have much to tell you before the conclusion.
I am now with my third and last host family of my exchange, and I have loved them ever since the first day of switching. My mother was woman who drove me to the hospital and rubbed my bare bottom in front of a Korean crowd in order to spread morphine through my blood system more efficiently. She promptly reminded me of that my first day of living here by doing a small rerun (with clothes) and has done so every morning when I first rise. I also have a brother and sister who are in high school. Although we don't see each other much, we laugh at each other's antics whenever we can. Also, I now attend an art and design high school two days out of the week, and it's a dream come true. My main courses are drawing and digital art, along with Japanese and partial volunteering in the English classes. I've made many friends already, and I thoroughly enjoy going to this school. Since it is a private academy, Korean students from all over Korea attend and stay in dorms on campus. They are open and always willing to make conversation, even if it's choppy. Along with this new school, I also go to normal classes on 동강 now. Before the new courses, the exchange students were required to sit in the library for half of the year. Now I am able to learn in a class setting and experience the life ( kind of ) of a middle school student.
Recently, I went on a Rotary-sponsored trip to an island off the coast of Korea but still in its technical border, Jeju. It is a highly tropical island and the only you can travel to it is either by boat or plane. By plane, it is a mere thirty minutes, and well worth it. While in Jeju, I explored caves, museums, and even had the chance to see the awe-inspiring view of Jeju from atop one of its dead volcanoes. Since our condo was next to the sea, I slept in a small closet/balcony so I could fall asleep to the sound of the waves (not only did it remind me of home, but the heater was always on high - I was melting). This one one of the most memorable trips up-to-date of my time here in Korea, and I look back on it often with fondness. It was absolutely amazing and I have made it one of my goals in life to experience Jeju with more time than I was allotted - there is simply too much to take in in order to be satisfied with a few days.
Here is my short, but sweet, conclusion. I promise to update more in my spare time, as I only have until June 1st to tell you about my life before I leave this place I am proud to call home.
There are currently no actual hostile strikes from North Korea, but the safety of South Korea is in jeopardy. I will keep you informed, and please visit the link for more up-to-date information. 잘자!~