Tuesday, January 25, 2011

afternoon coffee break with aforementioned brother.
seoul, south korea.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

ok, i said that i would be absent during the time i lived in seoul, but i seem to be posting more often than i usually would. hahaha. funny how that worked out.

i'm gonna just throw this out there & say that total immersion is not the easiest thing i've ever experienced. when i lived alone in cheonan, i could hide away on the days when my love/hate relationship with korea was leaning more towards the latter. i could create my little english bubble and meet all my white-faced american friends and eat spaghetti or hamburgers and pretend for a few hours that i didn't live 8,000 miles from home. THIS IS NO LONGER THE CASE. these days, i long for that safe little english bubble. omma has made it clear that even my little brother should use only korean when talking to me. (a rule we always break when she isn't around!) i can feel my english level worsening by the second. but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right??

last night was an interesting experience. i hid away in my bedroom to skype with my parents back in the states and was surprised when omma followed me. she came back and forth a few times and was unusually chatty. finally she brought appa in with her and they planted themselves next to me for 40 minutes. my 2 sets of parents had been introduced on skype before, but that mainly consisted of hello's and thank you's. this was hardcore. both sides were asking about the other's health, questions about america, questions about korea, looking at pictures of me as a young'un. after translating the conversation, i was SPENT. to all you translators of the world, i salute you. i thought my brain was going to explode before it was all said and done. mom took a few screen shots of the chat: as if that wasn't enough to exhaust me, i was up past 3am chatting with my little brother. he came home late from a night out with his friends and when he came in to say good night, it ended up being a 3+ hr long conversation. it amazes me how we never seem to run out of things to talk about. our chat was one that i will remember for the rest of my life - when he told me about what it was like to grow up in korea & a lot of things about our family that i never knew before...things that really helped me understand the diverse personalities & behaviors that i see today. he told me again how much he always longed for an older sister growing up & how our initial meeting in october was an absolute dream come true for him. we laughed and we cried as we shared information about our pasts & saw how all of those things were perfectly coordinated to bring us to our 23-year reunion. it was one of the most beautiful, precious moments i have shared with any of the members of my family.

beyond our freakishly-similar looking faces, almost identical personalities, and a million other similarities, i would say one of the strongest ties that bind hyun-bae & i together is our shared faith. the only christians in our immediate family, this is something we desperately cling to & dearly cherish. when sharing meals together, we take turns saying grace - he in korean, & i in english. raised in a christian home in the states, this is something i always took for granted until my year in korea. i will remember these moments so fondly.

as we ended our late night chat & i began dozing to sleep, something that hyun-bae said kept replaying over & over in my brain. his exact words were - "noona, after i meet you, i can know my jesus really loves me." this goes down as one of the most beautiful things i have ever heard. what he can't understand is how much of a gift he has been to me...that the feeling is mutual. in the short 3+ months we've known each other, my little brother has been one of the most brilliant examples of Christ's love i have ever witnessed. may i learn from him & be a gift to others. may i live a life worthy of "after i meet you, i can know my jesus really loves me."

for consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. therefore, as it is written, “let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
- 1 corinthians 1:26-31, english standard version

Friday, January 21, 2011

a quick update for overseas adoptees interested in visiting korea.
INKAS is now accepting applications for their 2011 summer camp. this is an AMAZING opportunity! if you meet these qualifications, please, please, please apply!

- international korean adoptee
- student, ages 18-28
- have never visited korea before
- available May 27, 2011 - June 7, 2011

registration fee is a mere $150. and did i mention that airfare & room/board is FREE?! this is seriously the opportunity of a lifetime as airfare between america & korea is currently running around $1500. i am extremely jealous that i am not qualified take part in this. there are only 40 spots available, so act quick!

more info here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

a quick note for those who have been tracking my language learning process.
i'm pleased to say that i found a small hint of inspiration this weekend and, for the time being, have a significant drive to study.

i had a bit of a crazy day on friday. i left my house in cheonan at 10am headed for seoul, and due to a number of various, random events, ended up arriving at my parents' house around 11pm that night. needless to say, i was totally spent. omma & appa had been messaging me all day, wanting to know when i would get there, so they were full of questions by the time i arrived 12 hours after the fact.

one of my severe downfalls is that i am a ridiculous perfectionist. this has been a huge roadblock in my language learning, as i am always terrified to open my mouth to speak korean out of fear of making a mistake. as a general rule, i try not to use a new word or phrase or part of speech until i've studied it for at least 4 months and practiced it about 6,000 times. a bit of an overexaggeration...but not too much. i'm that ridiculous (prideful) and am so afraid of making a mistake.

fortunately, exhaustion had gotten the best of me by friday night and it somehow managed to overcome my fear of looking like an idiot. omma and appa were asking all of these questions & i was exhausted...and the korean just came spewing from my mouth. i told them the story of the entire day, where i had gone, who i had met, how i had to help my friend who missed his transpacific flight. i have no idea where it all came from & i didn't even realize it was happening until i looked at appa's face & saw his shocked expression. it was, by far, the most korean i have ever spoken to him. i was amazed by the pride that i saw in his eyes and the enormous grin on his face. he looked like i had just given him a billion dollars. he told me "you have studied a lot. your korean is getting much better. you did a good job." his validation still has me on cloud nine & i have been studying my butt off ever since. these are the confidence-boosting moments that will spur me on to fluency!

a quick note for adoptees reading this blog. the wonderful folks over at GOAL have worked tirelessly for the past 3 years to get the korean nationality laws changed. their hard work paid off when the korean national assembly recently adopted the revision of the law to allow dual citizenship! the revision went into effect the first of this year, and since then GOAL has been an enormous aid to adoptees wanting to apply for dual citizenship. in return, they are asking adoptees to fill out a simple online survey. i took it and it required all of 5 minutes. if you are an adoptee (adoptees only!) please take the survey here to help provide valuable feedback regarding the needs of adoptees.

tomorrow, i'll be moving to seoul for 2.5 weeks. the day after, i'll head to the airport to pick up my little brother from china! who knows the next time the entire jeon family will be able to be together under the same roof...so we will enjoy this time for all it's worth. after spending the chinese new year together, i'll be flying to america on february 7th. i'll be largely absent during this time, so until we meet again, please be well.

and america...
i'll see you soon.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

as i have a mere 3 weeks remaining in korea, i've found myself overly introspective lately. a lot of things have happened this year & i have changed and grown and developed so much as a person. i truly believe that korea was an absolutely necessary chapter of my life. unfortunately, not all of the changes have been positive & i've really disgusted myself with some of the findings turned up by this 'introspection' time. some events from the past couple of weeks have really stuck with me...so perhaps the best way to explain what i mean would be to share a few stories...

some simple "background" before story #1. koreans LOVE alcohol. i've never seen anything like it. drinking is absolutely expected of you & sometimes a resistance to alcohol can even threaten your job. it's THAT intense. as if i'm not "weird" enough to koreans, you should see their faces when i tell them i prefer sprite over soju. it's like i just landed here from mars.

last week, i was walking home with some friends after dinner. it was early - maybe 9pm - but the night was already bitter cold with windchills definitely below zero. the real crappy thing about korea during winter is that roads & sidewalks remain largely uncleared & unsalted, so they're enormously dangerous. there's ice everywhere and people falling left and right. as i'm walking along with my friends, i notice one of them isn't with us anymore. i look back & see him helping an older korean man to his feet after falling victim to the korean sidewalks of death. the man steadies himself and my friend jogs to catch up with us. i make a comment to him about how the guy looks a little wobbly on his feet & he replies "yeah, he's really drunk." as he says this, we look back to see that the man has fallen again. (i'm telling you - these sidewalks are ridiculous!) my friend and i walk back to help the guy up & my friend notices that the man's knee is pretty banged up. we think he might have seriously hurt himself on the first fall. so i start talking to this korean man in his late 50s, early 60s: "sir, where are you going? can i call you a taxi? are you ok? maybe you should go to the hospital..." despite the early hour, this dude is seriously wasted. he has no concept of the fact that i'm even speaking to him. i try again. instead of answering me, he slips & lands hard on the sidewalk. AGAIN. as we help him up, i repeat my questions. again, he is completely ignorant of anything happening around him. this happens a countless number of times & my friend keeps scraping the guy off the ice. our other friends are ahead of us impatiently waiting & freezing their butts off. "come on!" they yell "there's nothing else you can do to help him. you keep talking to him in korean and he won't respond. it's his own fault that he's so drunk" my friend keeps hanging on to the guy & i keep begging him to tell me where he's going so i can call him a taxi. but he just stumbles along, completely ignorant of the world around him. finally we reach my building & the man pauses at a bus stop. "what should we do?" my friend and i ask each other. "i don't know" my friend says "he won't answer you about calling a taxi, and we have no idea where he's even going" after much debate, and our friends yelling at us "come on...it's freezing!" i try one more time. the man remains unresponsive. i tell him "please go carefully" and enter my building to rest in my warm apartment...completely unsure of what will become of the man or whether or not he will be able to make it safely to his own home.


background to story #2: koreans are very private people. if you're walking along the sidewalk, you don't ever smile or nod at someone you don't know. you mind your own business & keep to yourself. you don't bother others and they don't bother you. in addition, koreans are overwhelmingly concerned about how they appear to others & are extremely critical of those with disabilities or abnormalities. i never felt it necessary to try to hide my malformed thumbs before this year, but even my korean family has asked me numerous times - "don't you want plastic surgery to fix them?" i don't fault them for this as it is totally a culture thing & a widely accepted thought by most korean people.

i had a pretty stressful weekend recently & was really exhausted from a severe lack of sleep. i took an early subway from my parents' house in seoul to get home early to my place in cheonan to rest for the evening. a few stops after i get on & claim my seat, this tall, lanky korean kid boards my subway car. he's maybe a couple years older than me but obviously not "normal"...particularly by korean standards. he takes a seat in the row across from me & shivers violently from the cold outside. he sips on his chocolate milk and flails his arms - partially from the cold, partially from the nervous energy emanating from his body. he is so antsy - everyone stares at him. he shakes his legs and waves his arms - disturbing his obviously annoyed seatmates. they stand up and move to other cars to find new seats where they can ride quietly & undisturbed. i am surprised to see that the lanky kid isn't riding with a guardian. i wonder if someone might be looking for him, unaware that he has boarded the subway alone. after a few stops, my exhaustion gets the best of me & i fall asleep. after a few minutes, i am jolted awake. i hear a ruckus and open my eyes. the lanky kid is on his feet standing in front of a pretty, young, korean girl. he's not hurting her but definitely invading her personal bubble. he pokes his finger at her face and book & is really causing a scene in the subway car. an older man is sitting next to the girl and grabs the lanky kid's arm. "stop it!" he yells "go sit down!" obviously unaware of social boundaries, the kid's fascination shifts from the girl to the older man and he starts poking at his face. the man gets angrier and angrier and stands up to get at eye level with the lanky kid. he starts yelling at him. "what's wrong with you? what are you? stop touching me. sit down!" the lanky kid looks a little scared but his curiosity gets the best of him & he keeps poking the now infuriated ahjussi. the older man grabs him by the collar and the entire subway car waits with baited breath. the man rears back a fist and i start praying harder and harder for some divine intervention. the man's own conscience gets the best of him, and he pushes the lanky kid away and returns to his seat. the kid stumbles around the subway car and out of my line of sight. i fall back asleep. i wake up when i hear more yelling. this time, the kid has crossed an older korean woman and her 30-some year old son. her son is a big guy and he's totally pissed off. he starts screaming at the kid - repeating the same things that the first guy had yelled. he pushes the kid hard and everyone gasps. he presses him against the subway door and gets in his face. "don't touch me again. do you want to die?" this time, the lanky kid seems to sense that he's in actual danger and cowers. i breathe a sigh of relief as the kid manages to refrain from poking the guy again & the man's wife intervenes to cool down her infuriated husband. a stateside advocate for students with disabilities...what was my role in this entire situation? i sat on my butt. listened to my ipod. dozed in and out of sleep.

this brings me to the question - who AM i?! i never would have stood for such injustice had story #2 taken place in america. i would have been the first one up in the older man's face - "whats wrong with HIM? what's wrong with YOU?! this kid obviously isn't aware of social norms so back off, old man. cut him some slack. he's not hurting anyone." but since this story took place in korea, my response was totally different. apathy. "fly under the radar. don't speak unless spoken to. koreans already think you're weird enough. keep your head down and your nose clean." when the man reared his fist back, what did i do? i turned my head the other way & breathed a sigh of relief when the situation resolved itself.

what did i do to help in situation #1? i continued on to my warm home and slept like a baby in my comfortable bed. i have no idea if that guy got to a hospital. or to his house. or if he froze to death that night on the street. "i tried to help" i tell myself "it's his own fault that he was too drunk to comprehend anything that i was saying. i even spoke to him in korean!" but those excuses are ridiculous and i know it. and now i'm haunted by that night and i'll never know what became of that man.

blame it on culture. blame it on my own selfish pride. blame it on the cold weather. blame it on my stressful week & exhaustion. no matter how you look at it, my actions, or lack thereof, were wrong. i never would have stood for such injustice in the states. i am ashamed of the way my thinking has changed in one short year. i desperately need to re-evaluate.

may i see these situations as learning opportunities.
may i never again sit idly by as the weak are treated injustly.
may my cowardice never again get the best of me.
may these experiences always haunt me.
and may their memory always spur me to action.
may i become a better person than the person i am now.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

i'll start this post by breathing an enormous sigh of relief. i have officially completed my year of teaching. praise the lord! it was a huge challenge that i am glad to have behind me. i learned a LOT from this year in korea, but close to the top of that list is "i was never meant to be a teacher." i managed, but if given the option, i would never again choose this path. hats off to all of you educators of the world -- your job is NOT easy & (most of) you are definitely not paid enough. i'll now make my humble exit & go use my business degree to crunch some numbers. or answer some phones. or something.

with the completion of the day friday, i ended my teaching career & began the countdown to my return to the states on february 7th. just one short month away. i can't believe it! sadly, the goodbyes have already begun. last week, i attended my last sunday of korean church. pastor jo & his wife, eun-sol, took care of me as one of their own. as if pastors don't have enough on their plate, during this year, he was taking higher education classes and they were together raising their 2 young boys & shepherding their ever-growing congregation. these 2 taught me true hospitality. i anxiously await the day when we will reunite. sweet, sweet ms. seoh was my faithful chauffeur. every week, she'd pick me up & drop me off at knu...and sometimes even drive me all the way home to my apartment - a long haul. those rides together gave us both opportunity to practice our 2nd languages. i will miss her dearly. david & hye-won are my heroes. seriously. they would translate the sermon for me every week so i had some clue of what was going on around me. a huge time commitment on top of taking care of their precious newborn, beth. i couldn't have survived this year without them. in addition, david's korean is ridiculously wonderful & hye-won's english is equally as mind-blowing. as i mentioned, they're my heroes.

the next 2 weeks will see lots of sleep, some knitting, some LOST, (hopefully) lots of korean study, and lots of time with friends. after that, my little brother will return to korea from his university in china and i will move to seoul to live at my family's house until i fly out on feb. 7th. i already know that the time will pass all too quickly.

this week, i had a conversation with my dearest korean friend su-in that really stuck with me. first, a little "background" info. english in korea is not english as you know it in america. maybe 5% of the country can speak in full, proper english sentences. (exaggerated statistic) communication is incredibly difficult. coming to korea, i was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed thinking...i don't know what...maybe that i would somehow magically educate the entire country & they would all speak perfect conversational english by the time i left at the end of the year. it took about 2 days in korea for me to be knocked off that high-horse and slapped back to reality. since then, my english has been in rapid decline. sometimes i will try to say something totally commonplace and 100% forget the word. or even worse, i'll forget the english word, and only know how to say it in korean. i'm not kidding you. if for no other reason, i need to head back to america to re-learn english. there are many english phrases that koreans know & use without knowing synonyms for that word or phrase. therefore, i have also dismissed those synonyms from my vocabulary. for instance, koreans ALWAYS say "take a rest." if you say - "i'm tired. i need a nap" or "i want to snooze" they look at you like you're speaking some tribal african language. another example, as you might have noticed above - you don't attend "college," but "university." in addition, korean language structure & english language structure are very, very different. in korean, the verb comes at the end of the sentence. therefore, i sometimes find myself speaking english with the korean language structure. seriously. "i'll go to the store tomorrow??" no way! "tomorrow me store go." oh, i have also completely eliminated articles & other short, "unnecessary" words from my vocabulary. i'm telling you folks -- english teacher of the year right here.

so back to the conversation. su-in & i were eating & chatting and she said "i have an english question." since she is an english genius and this rarely happens, i sat up straight & asked what i could help with. she said "earlier, you said something about '2 days before' but is that different from '2 days ago'?" busted. you know konglish has officially gotten the best of you when koreans are correcting your english. i hung my head & told her - "just ignore that. '2 days ago' is much more natural. you're right." we then started talking about how incorrectly i speak around koreans & i realized that somewhere along the way i evolved from that bright-eyed bushy-tailed world-changer to bumbling, stupid ignoramus. what happened?!

my theory is that, quite honestly, i quickly realized that speaking correctly was not an efficient form of communication. seriously. speaking perfect english gets you nowhere in korea. they won't understand. therefore, i learned to adapt and speak only necessary words in a sentence pattern more familiar to korean brains. this only worsened after i met my korean family. on nights & weekends, i wasn't whitney teacher. that was just my mon-fri, 9-5 face. after that, i was a pitiful foreigner trying to fumble my way through life in korea...or the reunited korean adoptee trying desperately to form connections with her birth family. at first english was the sole means for coming to korea. afterwards, it became merely the tool i modified for survival. my goal is no longer to teach, but rather, to be understood. i've come to care much less about HOW i communicate. instead i am trying my best to simply getting the point of the message across. even this is often much more difficult than you could imagine.

so this brings us to the question -- am i right or wrong? i was hired to come to korea to teach english. of course, in the classroom & around the workplace, i was always careful to speak perfectly. but after i took off my teaching shoes, i switched into survival mode & became a completely different person. aren't the true teachers the ones who are always teaching? not just the 9-5, work-for-the-paycheck jerks?

perhaps this just brings us back around to the original conclusion::
i was never meant to be a teacher.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

hello, hello, hello! happy new year from korea!
we entered 2011 a full fourteen hours ahead of you folks in EST in the states...fifteen hours for you in CST. how strange!

i've said it a million times before, but i can NOT believe it has been almost a full year since i took my leave from all i'd ever known in the western hemisphere to move here to east asia. absolutely unbelievable. where did the time go?

this year's new year's eve celebration was very memorable. until wednesday, i had completely forgotten that new year's was coming up. since moving to korea, i have lost all sense of time. in addition, koreans don't make a huge to-do about the transition from dec. 31-jan 1...rather, they more celebrate the chinese new year that takes place in early february. in passing, a friend happened to ask what i was doing for NYE and i was stunned to realize that there were only a few days left in 2010. we started planning a small get-together for our close friends in my apartment. but, as is par for my life, everyone kept inviting friends of friends and the small get-together grew to a larger capacity than my tiny apt was constructed for. we made it work, but it was a squeeze!

we started the evening by devouring an ungodly amount of pizza. let's just say that i still had 3 full pizzas leftover by the time we all had reached food coma stage. i then proceeded to take the opportunity to auction off every item in my apartment not screwed into the walls or floor. it worked out very conveniently for me & my friends were thrilled to go home with some prizes. :) i'll be moving in about 2 weeks, so i am trying to get rid of everything that is not completely necessary for survival. after the impromptu garage sale, we decided to head to a multi-bong, which is a room where you can play video games, sing karaoke, watch movies or tv, surf the internet...pretty much do anything related to technology. they are really popular here and a great way to pass time - especially for large groups of people. we managed to get an amazing room with 3 projector screens so we could simultaneously have 2 wiis & karaoke running...amazing! (even better - by the end of the night when we had spent 3+ hours at the multi-bong, we each paid $3...i love korean pricing!!) one of my favorite parts of the evening was when we were browsing through karaoke songs & got so excited to find auld lang syne. we added it to our playlist and had a very american sing-a-long...only to realize that we'd accidentally sung the dumb song 40 minutes too early. bugh -- fail! hahaha. here is a shot of some of our group post-dinner. such a fun group -- we had a great time!
we have had nonstop snow here since christmas afternoon. it makes for a beautiful view from my 20th floor window......but a treacherous commute between home & work. the roads and sidewalks are all solid sheets of ice & are so dangerous. i've seen more than one person fall victim to the sidewalks-turned-ice-skating-rinks.

i just finished a fantastic week of winter camp at an elementary school in another part of cheonan. it wasn't my school, but i was assigned there for the week of english camp. it was one of my favorite weeks of teaching from the entire year. i had a great group of kids with a good english level & fun, sweet personalities. i really enjoyed working with them and was sad to say goodbye to them on friday. here's a shot from our rousing game of hangman: ...and a few group shots. the kids whined when i told them we had to take pictures, but were amazingly enthusiastic once i actually got them in front of the camera. can you tell the teacher from the students? ;) with the conclusion of this camp, i officially have just one week left of teaching. praise the Lord! it's been a good year, but i can't lie -- i will not miss being whitney teacher.

i think that's all for this quick update. my next blog will likely be from my family's house in seoul. i will be living with them for several weeks between vacating my apt in cheonan & moving back to america. i'm confident that there are many ridiculous stories in store...

2010 was undoubtedly one of the most interesting & formative years of my life...
i wonder what 2011 will bring?

여러분 새 해 복 많이 받으세요~~!
may you each receive many blessings in the new year!