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16 Days....

안녕하세요?

I do not know where this past month went. I woke up, and at my surprise, it was July 1st already. My last few days are upon me...16 to be precise. I am heading home the 17th of July and it's an exciting, yet very sad feeling.

I have been completing some final reports on my year here in Korea, and looking back I realize I've grown so much. I not only have found an extreme love for this country, culture, and lifestyle, but I have found an extreme love for myself. I have experienced so many interesting things: from shark gutting in Busan, to seeing Josh Hartnett at the film festival, to meeting the US Ambassador to Korea and having dinner at her house, to interning at Severance Hospital, to having the best home-stay experience, and having the greatest students and school to work for. I have to say that there has been nothing about this year that I look back on and wish I could do over, or nothing that I feel I missed. I have accomplished everything I set out to accomplish, and that in itself will allow me to move forward from this most incredible year, and look to the future.

I am not sure what the future holds for me. Does anyone really know what is out there for them? But I do know that I will have many opportunities to shape my future into what I want, and I am excited for that. I feel as if I have found my true calling in a career path, a mix of both medicine and academics (yes, I will admit that I enjoy teaching). I have lost friendships along the way while coming here, but the friendships that I have maintained have grown even stronger. My friends have stood by me through the good times and the bad times and I cannot be more thankful for that. The friends I have made in this program have been one of the most rewarding experiences here. My year here would have been extremely different if I had not been surrounded by these wonderful people.

If you would have asked me one year ago if I thought I could handle moving to Korea, I would have broke down crying and would have told you that I didn't want to leave home. I was scared of the unknown. I was nervous about teaching English. I was worried if the people would like me. Now, if you would ask me, would I do this again? I would say Yes in a heartbeat. I am not scared about the unknown anymore. I embrace it. Change is good, and the unknown can be scary, yes, but I want to view it as more of a challenge and a thrill now. I know I can adapt to situations and I can find happiness anywhere. I recently told my friend that "Home really is where the heart is" and it's true. Your life is what you make of it. My time in Korea has been truly wonderful because I put forth the effort to really enjoy my time, explore, and learn all that I could.

When I leave, I will leave a piece of my heart in Korea. I know I have touched people's lives. I know I have friends and family here. I have a life here, and I will be sad to go, but I know I will see them again in the future. I will leave a better person, and Korea will always hold a truly special place in my heart forever.

Days Go By...

The days here are flying by. I have a countdown on my phone with the number of days left in Korea, and I swear I just looked at it last week and it said 80. It's now at 33. 33 days! I have so much to do yet, so much to see. I have no idea how I'm going to get everything into my last few remaining weeks here.

This past weekend was really great. Friday I went to Hanji class, and then that night I met with an English teacher from school and his wife for dinner. We had a great bbq, and then went to a nearby park and beach to just relax. I am going to miss them so much when I am gone. I have some amazing friendships here.

Korean bbq = Amazing


Saturday I went with my host family to a Samsung Lions baseball game and we won!! (The team has been on an ugly losing streak for some time now.) It was perfect weather for the game, the crowd was rowdy, the food was great, the company was great. It was just an all around great time. We then hurried home and watched South Korea play in their first game of the World Cup. We won that too! There is no way to explain how much Koreans care for their country. As a whole, they either stand together or they fall together. They are extremely proud of their country, the people who excel in their country, and I really do hope the team does advance in the cup.

Me and my host brother at the baseball game



Sunday was a great day of relaxation. I met with a friend for dinner, sent a few emails, chatted with a few friends, and got ready for this week. I've been moving constantly for the past few weeks, but they have been wonderful.

I have gone back and forth about staying here. I do want to stay, however, I do know that I need to finish my education back home and move on at some point. Coming here was never going to be more than a one year commitment, and I am positive that this next adventure in my life is going to be filled with even more excitement than I ever could imagine. Up next: work, school, a puppy (maybe?), trips, a career. I'm not sure life is ready for me, but I'm ready for it.

Denial

I apologize for not updating sooner. Time has really been flying by here, and I'm not really the best at keeping a blog. I'll remember this next time I try to write one.

I'm in denial - denial that my year here is almost finished. I thought that when I made the decision back in April, I would be okay with coming home, but in all reality, I'm not 100% set on coming home. I have fallen in love with Korea, and I am really going to miss being here, the people here, and what I do here.

I have made such wonderful relationships here, and they have really been amazing this past month. It's been wonderful getting to know my students even more as they are just finally starting to really open up to me. It's a major downfall, as I've been with them for a year, and now are just starting to open up with me. It's really nice to have that relationship that students and teachers have here. I really am going to miss my students, and the teaching. Even though I came in not knowing what I was doing, and many of the days I don't fully enjoy the teaching, I love the students, I love getting to know them, and I love seeing them learn. There's nothing that brings me more joy than watching them learn, and knowing that you are helping them (even thought it may be only to add the word "the" in their sentences - next time they will remember).

My relationship with my siblings in my host-family has gotten even better these past few weeks. We have had some late nights where we play cards, eat snacks, and just talk. They have also been speaking to a few of my friends on Skype, and they love it. It's really interesting because they get to talk to people around the world. It's cool when I can say this person is from this country, and this person is from that country, and they get to talk (at least say Hi) to them. It's a neat interaction that many of them wouldn't get otherwise. My homestay is probably one of the things I'm going to miss the most. I love my family here. It's so very sad that it is coming to an end.

Pre-card game snack tray

Coming into this, I knew it was only for one year, and I have to keep reminding myself that although I'd love to stay, I knew I was only coming for a year (possibly two). However, it's time to get back and finish my education. I feel as if I don't come back soon, I will not be coming back, or I will not have the drive that I still have to finish.

I have such wonderful opportunities here, have seen some amazing things, and met some amazing people. My friends here are truly one-in-a-million, and I am going to miss everyone. As for now, I will be making the best out of the last 44 days I have left here - seeing everyone, lunch dates, dinner dates, touring, spending time with my students and spending as much time as I can with my host family. I have truly been blessed with this scholarship. It has changed my outlook on life, and will always hold a very special place in my heart. I will be back to Korea in the future. It is my home.

April Showers..

It has been quite an eventful month so far...

April 2nd came, and I traveled to Jeju-do for the spring conference. It was nice getting to see all the other teachers in the program. The island is so beautiful and I hope to be able to get back there to visit before I leave Korea.

Picture of Jeju from my hotel room

April 4th-I had to leave Jeju-do early because my school invited me to travel to Japan with them. I traveled from Jeju-do to Busan to catch the ferry to Osaka with 272 students. Yes, 272 students. It was a crazy, exciting adventure.

Some of my boys

All I have to say is that I love Japan. It wasn't anything like I was expecting it to be. It's so clean, and the people are very nice. They actually apologize to you when they bump into you, and I had to remember to apologize to them when I bumped into them. (This act of courtesy does not occur in Korea.) It was nice to get away from the daily grind of teaching everyday. Even though this was a trip to Japan, we had a very "Korean" trip. We visited every place that had anything to do with Korea (Korean monk at this temple, Korean artifacts stolen by Japan, Tomb for Korean soldiers). The day started at 6 am and didn't end until 11pm or later. It was quite a trip.

My students and me in Chinatown - Can you find me?


Beautiful Temple built on a high hill overlooking the city below


Cherry blossoms....absolutely beautiful


Since the start of the trip, I've been sick with some type of respiratory infection. I went to the doctor, where I ended up completely breaking down and crying (due to lack of helpfulness and major cultural barriers). My host-mom got extremely scared as to why I was so upset, called my host-father, who promptly got to the bottom of my frustration. Doctors here over medicate and are very hands-off. When I entered the room, I was asked how I was feeling and if I had any nasal obstruction. I told him No, I just have a cough, and a sore throat. So what does he do, looks in my nose, tells me I have obstruction, and then prescribes me medicine. He does not listen to my chest, he does not look in my mouth- NOTHING. He then started typing on his computer, of which I could see I was going to be getting 3 pills - of which they were prescribed for gastritis and arthritis - and I have a sore throat?!?! This is where I asked what he was giving me medicine for, and he said, "what you told me" and then told me to leave now. Yes, I was kicked out of the office. This is when I broke down because I was getting medicine, paying for a doctor visit where he gave me no help, and I had no clue of what was wrong with me. So, here I am, still super sick, with no medicine, and will NOT be going back to the doctor ever.

On the other hand, the dentist was a little more informative although he got super scared when I asked him a question in English. It appears I have a lower right-hand wisdom tooth that is making an appearance and it's extremely painful. The most interesting thing was that I had 2 x-rays taken, and got a cleaning done of the area, and paid an entire $7. Yes, $7. It's unbelievable when I think about how much money I pay at an actual dentist in America and this was in an out service in no time, with next to nothing to pay for. Incredible.

So, yes, I've been sick for roughly 2 weeks now, with no energy what so ever. I've slept 22 hours in the past 2 days, and am still exhausted and could probably sleep for another 2 days if allowed. It's beautiful outside, and today I was so hungry,, there was no food in the house for me to eat (No, I was not going to eat a lunch just of kimchi) but I had no energy to even move, so I didn't eat. I know, not good, but there's some type of bug going around. There has to be. I have entire classrooms that are sick, and it doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. Here's hoping I get better - I've got some extreme studying for the MCAT to do which will not get done unless I get better.

April 12th- This was an extremely difficult day for me. This was the day our decisions were to be made to the office of whether we were going to be staying in Korea, extending our grants. As much as I love Korea and really want to stay, I made the decision to come home. I will be coming home around July 17th, and applying to medical school in the fall. I feel this is the best option for me to continue on my future career path. I have had a great year here so far, and I have 3 months yet from tomorrow to experience more. I have learned so much and I have taken so many lessons away from this experience. It's not just been an experience, but it's part of my life. I have family here. I have friends here. I have a life here. It's been incredible and I would not have changed a minute of it. However, all good things must come to an end and I must return home, hopefully to start a new life, a change, a fresh start. :) I have hope the next year will be just as rewarding as the last!

Good Reading

On the many days that I find myself either with too little of work, or having a long list of things to do, but I put them off, I like to pick up a good book. A fellow English teacher lent me a book called, Still Life With Rice by Helie Lee, which I just finished. This book was such a wonderful read. I fell in love with the story of a young woman learning about her Korean Grandmother and her Grandmother's life. It describes Korea in a way that I believe many foreigners here can relate to. Many can understand the meaning when the Grandmother and mother call the woman out on not being proud of her heritage, or understand the smell of kimchi and freshly steamed rice. It's a book that travels on a journey of a young woman, through her childhood, arranged marriage, her family fleeing to China, and then back again to North Korea, and then once again fleeing across the borders of the 38th parallel during the height of the war. It's a tale of struggles, of triumphs, and one of great pride. If you are interested in learning of a new culture, or reliving a little bit of your past culture, I highly recommend this book. Miss Lee is very descriptive in her writing, and it truly is a radiant story of women, life, and family. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Japan, here I come!

It is official! I will be traveling to Japan. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to go to Japan with my school. What a great adventure it will be. We will be taking the ferry from Busan to Osaka on April 4th (Easter). It will be a long trip there, but worth it in the end. I will be just getting back from Jeju-do, so I will have about a week off from school just to travel.

I look back on my life, and cannot believe I've traveled to so many interesting places, and been involved in so many different things (medical missions, hiking the rainforest, visiting ancient wonders of the world) and now I'm here on another adventure. For every place that I go, I come back with lessons learned and a new outlook on life. :)

Leaping into March

As the title of this post suggests, it's March. March 3rd to be exact. Two years ago I was in the hospital with the greatest gal someone could ever have as a friend and today I'm sitting in the 교무실 getting ready for classes next Monday. I must say, this has been quite a start already.

I met with the Principal of my school today for our morning tea, and he asked me to travel along with the school to Japan in April! I am so very thrilled for this opportunity. =) I do hope that all the logistics get worked out and I will be able to join them.

We have four new teachers here, and they are all great! It's nice to see new faces and get to learn more about them. I'm still learning about my fellow teachers here. I have gotten a new desk area here, and I really enjoy where I am placed. I have some really fun people around me, and I am able to talk to quite a few people.

I registered for Korean Language classes today, and so I hope that I get into the class. I am starting in Intermediate as I already know the alphabet and enough to function in certain situations. I am hoping this is not too advanced for me, but I don't want to start from the beginning again. I will be taking classes 2 nights a week, for 90 minutes each, for 12 weeks. That is 36 hours of class for 100,000Won, which is roughly $3 an hour. Not a bad price. =) I am hoping to learn more about the language. While in Seoul, I realized my skills are rough, but coming back to Pohang, I've found that I can understand things a lot more, and when needed, Korean will come out of my mouth in some decent, however jagged, form.

The two really neat things about my school since I've been back is that they have added a hot water heater to the sink in the bathroom. This is better than fantastic. Nothing like washing your hands in freezing water when it's below zero outside. The other news is that we now have two NEW English rooms, with 6 new desktop Macs in each. These rooms include 4 white boards, 36 chairs with great lab benches, great overhead projector, and a wireless mic. This could not have come at a better time. This will really provide a good environment for the students to be surrounded in English and they get the technology to use when needed. I am so happy for my school to have gotten this money to do this. They really are investing in their students' futures.

Where has February Gone?

Where did the month of February go? I know it just flew by right before my eyes. It's been a week now since my birthday, and it seems like just yesterday.

Let me update you on what has been going on. I've been interning at one of the largest hospitals in Korea in the international portion. It's been very interesting to see how Korean (Western) medicine and Western medicine compare. I've noticed very many similarities, but yet there are the subtle differences which I feel Korean medicine has over our medicine. The process of going to the doctor here seems much more streamlined, and it is much cheaper. Of course with all the debate about healthcare in the US, I try to look at how hospital systems work in favor of the patients much more than I used to. Let me just say, if anything, I have a lot of observations.

This past week was pretty rough for me. I celebrated my birthday on the 13th! Wow, 23 already. It was a nice gathering of other fellow English teachers. On Sunday, It was the Lunar New Year here, so I just relaxed in my room, watched some awful American movies for Valentine's Day, and did my own thing. On Monday, I didn't have to go into the hospital so I studied for the dreaded MCAT of which I'm taking in July. Finally, Tuesday, I went into the hospital. Not to work, though. To be a patient. I woke up Tuesday morning with the worst sore throat I've ever had. My tonsils were inflammed, it hurt to swallow, I wasn't coughing. It didn't seem like a normal cold to me. Come to find - I have strep throat. Not a problem though for me. I'll just take the antibiotics and get better. Oh, I couldn't have been more wrong. I took two doses of antibiotics throughout the day, ate some supper, and it was all downhill from there. It started about 10:30p.m. and lasted the entire night. I was severely ill. Finally, in the morning I mustered enough strength to come in, and see the doctor again. We're not sure if I had food poisoning or if I was having a side effect of the drugs, but I ended up having an IV (my first IV actually) and a shot of anti-inflammatory to bring down my high fever. Afterwards I felt pretty decent. My stomach cramps had eased up, my back wasn't in such a knot, and my fever was gone. But still from Wednesday on, I haven't been hungry. Looking and food just makes my stomach turn, and I just am not feeling my best. I do hope this goes away so I can finish out my last week at the hospital with no problems. I feel awful for not being there this past week, but there was no way in the condition I was in. =(

I will be heading back to Pohang on the 27th, and from there, I will be starting classes once again on March 2nd. I haven't a clue about what I'm even going to teach, and I suppose I should start lesson planning soon so I can figure that out.

Take Care.

Welcome to my crazy life...

I have been swamped in the recent two months.

The month of December flew by, and I still have yet to figure out where it went. I spent the first few weeks preparing for my trip back to the States. The week before I left was filled with dinners, meetings, and mini-parties for me form various coworkers, family here, and friends. It was almost like I wasn't coming back after going home.

December 19th, I departed from Incheon airport in Seoul to travel the long 17 hours to reach my destination: Chicago. Upon arrival in Chicago, friends picked me up and whisked me away to a day of fun, and laughter I haven't had in a long time. I left at 8am in Seoul on December 19th, traveled nearly 17 hours, and arrived at my destination at 8Am on December 19th. Needless to say, it was a tiresome journey, but one so worth it.

Mount Fuji as we flew past it on my way to Tokyo

The next few days were followed by meeting after meeting of many people I haven't seen since I left. I got to relax with the family and visit a lot which was my overall plan on this trip. I didn't want to have to think about Korea, or work at anytime while I was home. I just wanted to relax. Goal: achieved. Christmas Eve and Christmas came and went. It was a very nice time, but it just didn't feel like Christmas this year. I asked many people around me if they felt it was Christmas, and hardly anyone I talked to really felt as if it was Christmas. I'm not sure what was in the air...




After a few short days, I was on a plane again back to Korea. Upon arrival in Korea, I came immediately back to Pohang, where I relaxed for another few days. It's definitely difficult to travel that much in a short period of time with such a large time zone gap. I had major jet-lag, and I had classes to prepare for.

I spent much of the next week preparing for my club classes that started January 11-22nd. My first English class was going to be to children of the teachers in my high school. This puts the pressure on you. Not only did I need to keep their attention span, but I also needed to ensure that I was "good enough" so they didn't run home and tell their parents I'm a sucky teacher. Going from teaching high schoolers to teaching elementary students is a difficult transition, but luckily enough I survived the week, met some wonderful kids, wonderful parents, and had a blast doing it! It has been by far, one of the highlights of being here in Korea for me yet! =)

My second club class was for new arriving 1st grade high schoolers. They will start in March with me and the new school, so I was their "introduction to English." As soon as they entered the room, I smelled the fear and nervousness in them, and I knew that it was going to be a rough two weeks. It's so hard teaching students, when they just shut down on you. They are just too scared to use English. These students were with me 2 hours a day, everyday, for 2 weeks. They opened up pretty fast, but I know that come March when I start the new year, they will shut down once again on me. =(

In that period of time, I went with another Korean family to go Ice "sliding". It's another version of sledding, but you have a wooden sled in which you sit on, and you have posts that you stick into the ice and slide around on. It's quite fun, but absolutely exhausting. I had a wonderful time. Again with this family, we also went to see Avatar in 3D. I had seen it in 2D and had LOVED it, but seeing it in 3D really made me appreciate the movie even more. Even though the plot is completely predictable, I still fell in love with this mystical land. I also really appreciated the science behind what the researchers were doing there. I recommend this movie, even if you're not big into sci-fi or these types of movies (I'm not really a big fan either), but this sure grabbed my attention for the nearly 3 hour movie.

This brings me all back to where I am today. I'm resting today. I really would have liked to visit another country this week, but it just didn't play out well in the cards with traveling buddies, and places to go. On Sunday I will be traveling to Seoul, where I will be living for one month while I attend an internship at Severance International Hospital. Very cool, I know. I'm very excited to get this opportunity, yet I'm a little nervous. However, I hope once I'm back in it, my medical instinct will kick back in.

Since I have not had to teach a full load this month, and after numerous talks with family and friends back home, I have learned a little more about myself, and have changed my career path slightly. I'm looking for a little more stability, and freedom in my life, than what I was previously giving myself, and now I'm happy as can be.

Until then...take care, and stay warm wherever you are! =)

A little bit of soul...

Hello all my fantastic blog readers. Or non-blog readers. Welcome to Ashley’s Blog of the Month. That’s what I really should rename this since I’m never too good at writing multiple times a month. Much has happened in the past month that has made me deter away from this for a while, but have no fear, I’m still here, still kicking, and heading home to visit in 17 days!

Last month I had a family emergency back home. It’s never easy being away from family when you are closer to them than anyone else, but it’s definitely never easy when you have a loved one back home in ill health. This was the greatest fear I had coming to Korea and I ran through all the various situations before I made my decision to come here. I have been learning to not stop my life for someone else, as much as I want to. I need to keep moving with my life, and quit thinking I can help everything at home when I’m not there. I’ve got my own life to live, and I’m living it. I’m doing so much more than I could ever imagine in my life thus far and I’m only 22. I really am grateful for all that I’ve been able to do so far in my life. My education has been amazing, my travels have been extremely adventurous, and I’ve got a great supportive group behind me every step of the way.

I’ve also been making some major decisions regarding the next chapter of my life. Even though it’s still a while before I leave here in July, I am a planner. I’ve always been a planner. This can be my greatest strength and at the same time it’s my biggest weakness. I’ve decided I’m going home for various reasons, but I’ll be home in July of next year, working, and getting medical school straightened out. I still have another 4 years of school left, and another 3-4 years of residency left. I have a LOT of school left, before I’m anything, so sooner, rather than later would be great. I’m not a spring chicken, but I’m not old either. However, when looking at the calendar and realizing I won’t be a full fledged physician out of residency when I am 32 scares me. I want to pay of loans, and have a family. It will all come together though in time. It always seems to work out the way it is suppose to.

As for teaching, I’m in my last month here before winter break. I cannot believe that on Saturday I will have been in Korea for 5 months. It definitely does not seem like it has been 5 months already. I’m looking back and wondering what I even taught my students and whether or not they learned anything. It really seems like time has just passed on by without me noticing. I enjoy my students very much, and although teaching is not my desired profession, I have the greatest respect for those who teach. I could very well see myself becoming a professor down the road, but for something I have a great passion in.

I went to Seoul last weekend to visit the United States Ambassador’s residence for Thanksgiving dinner. It was absolutely wonderful, and we all had a great meal. REAL turkey, and everything you could ever want on thanksgiving. It was great to have this because it seems like so many holidays have come and passed, and I don’t even feel like there was anything. It was sad around Halloween time. Even though I don’t particulary enjoy the holiday as much as some people, I enjoy scarecrows, and skeletons, and pumpkins, and there were no decorations here one bit. It really feels like a foreign country sometimes. =)

Also while in Seoul, a friend and I went to see Phantom of The Opera. This performance was done all in Korean. I am a large fan of the musical, and enjoy the movie. I haven’t seen the actual musical performance in the States, or in London, but this production in Korea had to be the best musical I’ve ever seen. It was absolutely fantastic. It sent shivers down my spine and made the hair on the back of my neck rise. It was incredible. I would gladly pay to see this again, and never tire of it. The performers were incredible and Christine not only could sing beautifully, but she was also a ballet dancer. All the dancers were singers and no one really had just one role. The Phantom was excellent. He really played the part well. The chandelier even came down and crashed into the stage and the Phantom came down on an angel right over the crowd. My favorite part was when the Phantom and Christine were in the boat going to his place. In the movie, there’s fog and candles, and on stage, it was an exact replica of this. It was astonishing to believe that they could create something so magnificent.

My friends and I went to Insa-Dong to do a little Christmas shopping. Insa-Dong is a famous area that has souvenirs for the foreigner. There were many foreigners there and it’s strange when I see them. I always mention “Oh there’s a foreigner,” when I am a foreigner as well. I guess I don’t consider myself a foreign tourist as much as I consider myself a foreign resident. The shops in Insa-Dong are filled with handcrafted fans, jewelry boxes, traditional masks, tea sets, and many chopsticks. It was very hard trying to shop for all my family and friends back home, and I still do not feel like I have enough gifts for everyone.