The weekend before Orientation ended, a few of us embarked on a temple stay at a Buddhist temple. Last time I was in Korea, my temple stay experience was one of my highlights. But this weekend, we managed to visit during the hottest day of the year here in Korea. So it was sweaty. But also it was really, really good.
We were greeted by a large group of lovely volunteers ready to take us in for the weekend. They gave us our uniforms and showed us where we’d be sleeping that night. We had a brief explanation of basic terms and etiquette that we would be using at the temple. We also got our schedule for the weekend, and it was jam packed with some pretty stellar activities.
The first thing I noticed was that it was pretty large compared to the temple I stayed at in 2017. They explained to us that this was specifically built for retreats, and that they usually only use the space about 6~ times a year. The title of the program that weekend was called “Discovering Our Inner Light”, for reasons you will soon see.
After the evening meditation ceremony in the temple, we had a traditional monastic meal. This was pretty foreign, if not completely foreign, to most of us. We all worked together to bring in pots of food, water, and utensils. You have four bowls and you need to place them out in a very specific order. You also need to fold your towel a particular way and place it on the left side. Everything is completely deliberate. There should be no talking during this time as well.
At the end, we quietly cleaned our plate with rice water and a pickled radish. Something interesting about the cleaning process is that you clean from the largest bowl to the smallest and use the same water. At the end, you’re supposed to drink the water so that there’s truly zero waste.
After that, we made lotus lanterns!
After that, we went to a truly powerful meditation session. We called it the Candlelight Ceremony.
We brought our freshly made lotus lanterns into the temple and were greeted by beautiful candles lit by the caricature of Buddha. The monk stepped in front of us, smiling, and said softly,
“Do you know why you live? Do you know who you are?”
And we kind of shuffled and sat in silence for a while. Different adjectives came to mind as I searched for an answer. Then he said, “Without using any descriptors, actions, or nouns, can you answer this question?”
He then led us in a meditation and asked us to scan our bodies. He said that if we really focused we could feel a tiny marble of energy glowing in our chest. When we felt it, we stood up and lit our candles in our lanterns. He said that the candles we held were an outward representation of the small flame inside ourselves.
We then did a walking meditation. I realized that the best meditations I have are through focusing on movement. He instructed us to let our inner light fuel our movements, and to let it grow and give it autonomy
During this time I garnered an immense appreciation for my body and my mind. Sometimes I can go through hardships and be too harsh and strict on myself. There are many times where I don’t particularly like how I look, or I don’t treat my body well. My body does so much to get me through life everyday and it protects me. My mind is strong and durable and even though I make mistakes, I should be kind to myself. It’s only human. This is what my inward fire symbolized to me. Letting it take control of my movement felt peaceful and liberating. It felt warm and empowering. I wanted to keep that feeling forever as I walked around the temple holding my light in my palms.
At 4 am sharp, the morning ceremony began. This also involved a deep meditation and left us with a little over an hour of free time. I took about 20-30 minutes to just sit alone overlooking the cemetery where the sun was supposed to rise. Orientation had been working me to the bone for weeks. We weren’t even allowed to go more than 20 minutes away from Yonsei campus. Being in the moment, alone, watching the sunrise was like taking a breath of fresh air. Just having that time to think freely and remember why I came to Korea was so beneficial to me. I watched the sunrise and for truly the first time since being here, I finally felt like I was back in Korea. I felt incredible.
Afterwards, I ran into a few other people and we quietly walked around the temple, surveying the sites.
We returned and all of us worked together to clean the whole temple before breakfast. I mopped the stairs while others vacuumed, took out the trash, or cleaned bathrooms. We all also cleaned our own sheets and blankets.
Breakfast was absolutely delicious. Most of us went back for seconds. Apparently this temple is well known for having such delicious food. They definitely did not disappoint!
For the rest of the day we switched from activity to activity. We had a discussion about meditation with the head. Because his voice and demeanor was so relaxing, and we were so tired from the night before, he let us nap for 20 minutes and we all felt super bad about it!!
We also had a great opportunity to watch a performance of a traditional Dharma song. I was beaming watching these lovely ladies perform!
They gave us lyrics and we all sang together!
One of my favorite parts was being able to try out the different instruments. Growing up, I was trained in classical guitar, but I’ve been essentially out of practice for about 5 years. Getting my hands on one of these string instruments felt so good. It was fantastic being able to experiment with the different nosies and weight of the instrument.
Next up: we painted fans on traditional Korean paper using water colors! I tried going for a night sky look.
After another fantastic meal (lunch), it was time to say goodbye. We took some pictures with the wonderful volunteers that housed us that weekend and gave a final thank you to the monks that helped us through the past few days. Many of us were also super excited to take a nap on the bus back to Incheon!
It was all a whirlwind. Now that I’m in my homestay, I feel like I’m actually in Korea. We were all whisked away from each other so quickly at the placement ceremony, off to be scattered across the country. My co-teacher and head of the English department drove me to Cheongju. While I was sitting in the car, gazing at the rolling mountains, it happened- I knew that I was alone. And not necessarily in a bad way, but in an independent way. I was reminded that this journey I embarked on was something I needed to accomplish by myself. Of course I have a support system that will keep me grounded throughout the year, but the majority of that support system will not be in close physical proximity to me. I have to find it within myself to conquer the majority of the hurdles I will experience this year. This is something that I alone am capable of.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been alone. The last time I can remember was back in 2014 when I lived in Austria for the summer. It was me and one other woman who ran the English native camp, a camp for Austrian kids to be completely immersed in English. It’s pretty similar to the FEP camp here at Fulbright, except the one in Austria was a little less rigorous and more focused on traditional camp activities. At the time, I was only 18 and living with distant relatives that I had never met before. I was alone then, and I thrived. I know that if I could do it then, I could do it now. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit scared. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been, or truly felt “alone”. It’s also got me wondering what the true meaning of home is.
Is home a feeling, is it fluid? Is it a solidified place? Is there a finite limit on how many homes one can feel akin with? To me, I always thought home was a fixed point. Maybe home could be one fond memory that plays on a loop. Or home could be found in a person, or multiple people. I think that home could be considered a hasty collage at times. Can home end? Is home irreplaceable? Maybe one home can’t replace another, but can serve as a companion. But maybe I look for home in the wrong places. Home doesn’t have to be a physical place. It doesn’t have to be found in a memory or someone else. I carry home inside of me, and where I go, I make my home. Knowing this, I can begin to feel a sense of security and belonging, even if only to myself in this new and unfamiliar place.
Alright, so I’m kind of playing catch up, but I found out where I’m going to be teaching this next year! I’ll be in Cheongju around the Chungdae area! If you’re wondering where that is, here’s a map!
That’s right guys! I’m smack dab in the middle of the country. That means that I’ll never be more than 2 hours away from anywhere in South Korea. In my preferences I noted that I’d like to be near the coast or in the mountains, so I was a little surprised that I ended up in Cheongju! But I’m actually incredibly happy about it! Gabby will be teaching in Cheongju next year as well, and by some extremely weird twist of fate we will actually just be a 7 minute taxi ride from each other. That’s even closer to each other than where we live back at home, which is wild. Plus, there’s a pretty solid and fun group of ETAs that are also going to be teaching in Cheongju. I was actually so happy that after the placement ceremony, I called up my friend Gabby and had to hold back tears of joy. I can’t wait to start and meet my host family!
Afterwards, Director Shim went to the front of the room to make a speech. She gave us very salient and important advice to remember during our grant year: “Don’t compare”. Easier said than done for a group of competitive individuals that applied for Fulbrights (and then earned them)! But it is very important. All of our experiences are going to come with their own unique challenges and rewards. One ETA may have brilliant lesson plans but struggle in classroom management, while another ETA has the exact opposite problem. We have to remember that this isn’t a sort of “contest” of who can grasp the reigns the quickest. We all have our own strengths that we were chosen for, but we also have our own unique weaknesses that we need to be content with grappling. For me personally, I’m worried that my weakness may fall in my adjustment to a homestay. What if they don’t like me? What if I commit a cultural faux pas and am unaware of it? What if I find myself having these struggles while the other ETAs have no problem adjusting to a new family? I need to remember that good things usually take patience and time, and that even if I’m not adjusting to my homestay at the same pace as others, I have other pillars of my Fulbright experience that I can turn to.
Speaking of which…
When I’m in Cheongju, I’d really like to continue practicing Taekwondo. I’m going to classes twice a week right now in Songdo and I absolutely love it, even if I’m not totally the best at it! The only thing is that the Taekwondo class would most likely be every weekday, and I’m not sure that I can put aside that much time as a new teacher still getting the hang of things! If I can’t do Taekwondo, I’d want to sign up for a yoga or Zumba class. As long as I can sign up for one of those, I’ll be happy! Hiking in the area is an absolute must as well. I also hear that there may be an opportunity to tutor North Korean Defector students. Above anything else, I would really like to be apart of that. I actually think that in the future, I’d really appreciate being able to have some kind of involvement with refugees back in the States, if possible.
This past weekend our whole cohort went to Sokcho! It was really nice to have a break from lesson planning, observing, KLI class, and other programming. Sokcho is a pretty big tourist destination and is famous for its beaches and seafood!
Naturally, we were super excited to take a vacation and sit on the beach all weekend! Unfortunately, it rained the entire weekend because there was a typhoon. So a lot of us had to find other plans.
So when we got to Sokcho we realized that the bathroom in our hotel had a huge window. Here is Caroline modeling this for us. Luckily, there was a blind we were able to put down but it was still pretty funny. Aaaaand that’s how our weekend began!
That afternoon we went to the Naksana Buddhist Temple, which sits on the ocean. This was after we attended a lecture on Buddhism at the hotel. The professor who gave us the lecture accompanied us on our trip over! It was cool to apply everything that she said to us into a real life context. The architecture was beautifully well maintained. Before eating dinner at the temple, we were told that we had to be completely quiet while eating and only take the food that we can finish. Buddhists are very conscious about waste and preserving the environment. Fun fact, Buddhist cuisine is also vegetarian!
If I lived next to this place, I would probably take a walk through here every day if I could. It was pretty expansive and there were different places to sit. I could imagine just sitting there for hours in total serenity reading a book. We were also able to watch the ceremony that the monks perform at dusk each day, where they bang drums and ring a big bell!
The next day it was raining, so a few of us decided to get a taxi to a famous fish market in Sokcho rather than the beach. As soon as we stepped out of the taxi we were hit by a huge wall of fish smell. The market was partially outdoors and partially indoors, and there was more seafood there than I had ever seen in my life. Some fish were still alive in tanks, while other times there were just piles of different kinds of fish laid out. While I was there I ate this squid ink red bean pastry, which was super good. I also had rolled ice cream and dak gangjeong, which is a famous local kind of chicken!
Next, we headed over to the Cheoksan Hot Spring! It was about $8 per person, which was really nice. Before going in the hot springs, we hung out in some of the healing pools in the bathhouse. They ranged from being ice cold to scalding hot, so it was fun switching back and forth quickly. We weren’t allowed to actually take a picture of the hot spring, but this is from their website
It was raining out so it was actually super relaxing to sit in the hot spring and watch the rain fall down around us. I think we all agreed it was what we needed after a busy and stressful week. When you got out of the spring there were wooden recliners to sit on and just decompress.
Later on in the evening we had a fancy dinner with Director Shim! All 81 of us plus the KAEC people went out for samgyeopsal, or Korean BBQ. It was paid for by the Fulbright Commission, so that was nice!
The next day we were headed back to Incheon but made a few stops along the way at some different historical sites. We got to learn about the customs of traditional Korean living quarters and what life was like for high class men and women. We learned that men and women lived in different quarters, and once children turned 7 they had to live on the side with their assigned gender. We also learned about what each different building meant!
After getting totally soaked, we settled down for another Fulbright-provided traditional Korean lunch. It. Was. Incredible. The food was totally delicious, and there were more sides than we could count. Director Shim was there again too. We all wore nice socks since are shoes would be off and we’d be sitting on the floor.
KAEC treated us all to ice cream, and after that we were on our way on a bus back to Songdo! If it had been a bit more sunny on our weekend, I would have probably been writing this post about the beach instead honestly
Hey guys! I totally did not forget about this blog! I actually have a post queued up right now but I’ve been running into issues with processing pictures on WordPress! I’m hoping to either get it sorted out soon or just post without pictures, even though that wouldn’t really be too fun.
So so so so much to write. And yet no time to write it!
So I started writing this last week but have been completely packed! It’s been almost 2 weeks now but I’m going to try to focus on the first week for now. I think that many of us agree that we feel like we have been here for about a month. I probably won’t be able to cover everything but I’ll just run over the highlights!
Oh man. So I was actually placed in the Intermediate class, which was pretty surprising to me. I thought I would be in beginner so it was a bit of a shock. It’s been… an adjustment. Classes are about 5 hours each day. We have quizzes every single day on about 20-30 new vocabulary words and phrases. We also have a midterm and final and have to get at least an 85. This is a Korean Language Intensive course run by the Sejong Language Institute. All the professors introduced themselves to us and explained that they will be testing out a new VR language textbook that is still in development in correspondence with Cal State, so that sounds pretty cool! Each day I am getting more and more used to how our Korean class is structured, although I am still struggling with the rote memorization. Many of us are. Someone in my cohort brought up that this is a valuable experience because this is how the majority of our Korean students will study our class. Many of them may value memorization as success in our classes. When I think of it like that, it makes me kind of happy that I am able to gain perspective from their point of view. I still find it fascinating how the definition of “success” is such a subjective concept depending on where you are in the globe. It’s helped me realize that I had to do very little memorization in college, especially as a Literature major. I’m just used to writing papers upon papers of information. Little by little, I am getting a bit better at memorizing key phrases and skills.
Korean Culture Presentation
The Korean Spirit and Culture Promotion Project came all the way up from Busan to give us a huge presentation on Korean culture and history! Korea has a long history of war and being invaded, so they really tried to sidestep away from those topics and focus on positive aspects of Korean history. They provided us with a selection of free books on Korean culture to take from. I took a book titled Chung-Hyo-Ye, a collection of traditional folklore stemming from common Korean core beliefs and history. I’m super excited to read this because I plan on teaching American folk tales to my classroom this upcoming year!! It’d be nice to have some more background knowledge on Korean tales so that students can create connections in class. They also brought hanboks for us to try on!
Through the craziness of everything, I was also somehow able to meet up with Gabby this weekend at Triple Street! Triple Street is this huge modernized outdoor mall about 20 minutes walking distance away from where we’re staying in Incheon. It was my first time seeing her in a year!!
Once again, I won’t be able to make frequent posts on here during Orientation since my days are packed to the brim! I will try my hardest though. Knowing that people are reading gives me some sort of accountability to keep writing ❤ I’m going to Sokcho this weekend so I’ll be sure to take a lot of pictures!
I got to JFK super early before my flight. At around 12:25 they started boarding and that was it! Although the goodbye I shared with my parents was a bit emotional, they were more excited than anything. My flight was 14 hours straight to Incheon, so it was long. I became friends with some old Korean men (ahjussis) on the flight and by the end, it felt like we were all old pals. They were telling me that about 10 years ago you could go on a Korean Air flight and there would sometimes only be about 20 passengers on a flight meant for ~400 people. They also tried giving me tips on how to eat bibimbap, and I did not have the heart to tell them that I had already eaten it many, many times. They were shocked that I liked jokbal, or pig feet. I asked them if they had ever tried the ever popular live octopus dish and they said that men tend to like it but women do not. One of the men said he has a daughter that teaches English in NYC, which I thought was pretty awesome! I had a lot of trouble sleeping on the flight so I just watched a few episodes of Stranger Things season 3 on the plane.
It was odd. Somehow as we were flying over space that was neither American nor Korean, I felt my role from native slowly switch to foreigner while on the flight. Towards the latter half I felt myself refraining from saying the first English phrases that sprang from my mouth, and instead decided to listen.
I’m currently writing this on over 24 hours of no sleep, so sorry if this doesn’t make too much sense. Customs was a breeze and we soon all met up with our cohort! After that, we took a bus over to our orientation site. Coincidentally, this happened to be when the sun was rising
And so, this was my first image of my home for the next year.
First day of Orientation
Summer in Korea can be super unbearable. The humidity just hits you like a brick. Since it’s the weekend, most buildings don’t have the AC on. Luckily our room has it. I met my roommate, who is an absolute delight, and could not be happier that we were paired together. We got a very large packet of what to expect from orientation, including a large calendar that outlines all the events and Korean classes. We also did a Korean speaking placement test today, and I’m most likely going to be placed in the beginner classes. Which is honestly probably for the best! I rather get the basics down than bite off more than I can chew right now. Speaking of which, we will be having intensive Korean classes for 5 hours everyday, which does not include the extra hours built in our schedule for additional Korean help. We will have daily quizzes, a midterm, and a final. We also need to score above an 85% in the class so you know, no pressure.
There’s different kinds of events and activities you can sign up for! I signed up to do a Tae Kwon Do class twice weekly. I’m very excited because I’ve been wanting to get back into Tae Kwon Do for such a long time! I also signed up for the Korean cooking class which I’m sure will be super fun. All of our meals are paid for at the dining hall which is really nice too. If only there were AC in the dining hall… *sigh*. They also offer traditional Korean calligraphy classes and a Kpop dance class. I think I’m going to pass on those so I have more time to study Korean.
I’ve already met some very impressive, driven, like-minded individuals. There’s about 80 of us so it’s been pretty hard to remember everyone’s names! Tomorrow I’m thinking about going to Daiso with some people and picking up some toiletries and cute shower slippers. I almost forgot how criminally cheap everything is here. I got a four pack of Choco Shrooms for less than two dollars. I can definitely get used to this again.
I tried to take a quick video of my room. It looks strikingly similar to my dorm room at Ewha, except this one has it’s own shower (!!!).
I won’t be able to give updates super often while at Orientation because it seems like we’ll be swamped with a lot of studying. I did find out that I’ll know my placement next week, so that’s super exciting!! I’m not going to proofread this before posting because I am unbelievably exhausted, but I just wanted to get all my thoughts out before the next day comes!
This weekend my brother came home from Long Island so we could all have one last dinner together as a whole family! We ate at a place in my hometown where I had my last meal at before I studied abroad to Korea in 2017. We also ate here when I was notified of my Fulbright finalist status! It will be over a year until I see my brother again.
The goodbyes have started. I’ve been staggering my goodbyes with different friends every few days and although it’s been emotional, it’s been positive and hopeful. Although I have some apprehensions leaving for a year, my friends have all remained super supportive and have expressed how proud they are of me. It makes me so happy to know that I have such thoughtful, close-knit friends in my life. They mean the world to me and I’m happy that they’re only a text away.
I also had my last goodbye with the faculty at the high school I student taught at this year. We went to trivia night at our local bar. There’s this digital jukebox at the bar where you can use an app to add songs to. After multiple failed attempts, my co-workers were finally able to get the Korean national anthem to play over the sound system at the bar, which is honestly nuts. But we felt triumphant. I would ask for no other kind of send off from them.
As for other business, I only just got half way through with my TEFL course, so these next few days will be spent grinding through the entire course. It’s a little bit upsetting because I rather be spending this time with friends and family that I’m not going to see for the next year. I’m going to pick up my visa tomorrow in NYC. I sent the tax exemption form out but have gotten no response. I also redid my fingerprints for the FBI and received my results back within the day. Now all I have to do is apostille it and I’ll be good to go. I still need to make a few copies of my passport photos to give for my ARC at Incheon airport. I also made a little shopping list of some small things I need to pick up before I fly out.
This time next week, I’ll be starting my new life on the other side of the planet with a new group of friends. A new family. A new school.
Time is flying by and I honestly feel super unprepared! This past week I took a vacation to Hilton Head Island with my mom, which was super beautiful, but also accounted for time spent away from completing my TEFL course. Almost every day the skies were super blue, and I took a few photos so that I could look back whenever I feel homesick and miss blue skies in Korea.
We drove down about 13 hours each way, and I was kind of reminded of how just traveling to a different state can feel like being in a different country. Especially by looking at the billboards all the way down I-95. While in Hilton Head, I briefly visited the Hilton Head Coastal Discovery Museum and learned about conservatory efforts in the marshlands around there. I also learned about the Gullah people for the first time! I was kind of astonished that I had never learned about this group of African Americans on Daufuskie Island before. While at the museum, I bought a book of animal folklore passed down through the Gullah people. I love this book because on one side it has the English translation, and on the other side it is written in the Gullah language. The English part is digestible enough for a non-native speaker. I can’t wait to bring it to my classroom in Korea and show my students writings from a different cultural group in America. Even American students often don’t get to read works written by non-white Americans, so hopefully this book will be something I can bring back to my classroom in America. If anyone is interested, a link to the book is here.
I also bought some local peach tea from South Carolina for my future boss in Korea. I’m planning to get my host family some local Raspberry Moscato from a farm near me in addition to some American board games. I also bought a cute glass alligator wine stopper from South Carolina to go with the wine.
A personal journal and gallery of my 2019-2020 South Korea Fulbright ETA experience!
OnePaigeAtATime is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of Paige Timmerman and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.