April Activities

Preview: SFW, stress purchases, spring conference, delicious food, sports day, lotus flower festival, hiking a few places

April was a month of checking things off my grant year/Korea bucket list 

Since coming to Korea I've become pretty deep into the world of Korean models/fashion/brands, but I missed last year's Seoul Fashion Week in the spring time (and didn't realize until December there's another SFW in October....) so I was really keen on going to SFW this time around!

I had looked the date up months before, but forgot about it so the week of SFW I asked Annaliese if she had weekend plans/would be interested in going. I took an early AM train and meet Annaliese for lunch (naturally we ate pho) before heading over to Dongdaemun Design Plaza to people watch.

Annaliese loved it.

I was really into the cute kids, but also acknowledge I would have been so pissed at my mom if she made me sit around and pose with randos.

I was in a pretty bad mood at SFW... I have a lot of conflicting feelings about fashion. It can expressive and beautiful, but I struggle with the negative effects fashion, in particular fast fashion, has on the environment and exploits poor people and poor countries. So at SFW I wondered if the fabrics recycled? Where/how the fabrics were dyed/treated? Whomade the pieces? Were they paid fairly for their work? Do they work in a safe environment with proper protections?

I try hard to not preach to people about my fashion issues because dressing yourself with sustainable clothing is a privileged thing to do; not all sustainable fashion brands have clothing for all body sizes/types and most sustainable fashion brands are pretty pricey. Like, I'd love to shop Eileen Fisher 24/7/365, but I have a budget.

And beyond that, because I spend a lot of time (really too much time) on Instagram and Pinterest, I didn't see anything really that I hadn't seen on the internet before... or even in Hongdae. Even though people often criticize Koreans for dressing in a similar style (neutral colors/classic cuts or really trendy), I find young people are really expressive with their clothes. And not only in Seoul, I see young people in Gwangju who are very stylish.

Alright. Enough about that. As Sarah and I always said in Australia: "We did the thing." Checked it off the bucket list.

That next week at school my 2nd grade boys asked me to play soccer with them on Saturday morning. (TBH, I didn't know they already started playing and I try to give them space/be invited to join them.) So on that Saturday I walked up to school, ready to play, and my students had a coach! And they were doing like real drills!

I was sad for ~1 second because then I saw my old students (now HS boys) on the other side of the field. It sounds bad, but it's not becaue of their personalities or how they act in my class: I liked playing with my old students more. My old students were pretty serious about soccer. Last year during after school club classes there were always too many 3rd graders who wanted to play. So if the 2nd graders ever said they didn't want to play the 3rd graders just got to play themselves. Not to mention, my 3rd graders last year were a lot better than my current 3rd graders.

I love my current students, but they're pretty apathetic about soccer. I told my old students that my current students aren't as good as them. They laughed and agreed.

My old students told me they were the 5th best team in Gwangju last year, for their age, and that this year they made a team together even though they go to different schools. You'll have to fact check me on this, but I'm pretty sure that's not common in Korea. It seems like you always just join the soccer club at your school.

They remind me a lot of me and my friends growing up. We weren't necessarily ranked anywhere like that, but there were about 8-10 of us who played on the same team from when we were 8 until 19 years old. When I tell my students about my summers as a kid, swim practice in the AM/soccer practice in the PM, they're very jealous. I try to tell them that the memories I have from being with my friends all summer are similar to the memories they'll make during high school. When I talk to Korean adults (esp. dudes for some reason) they talk about how high school was really hard, but they made great memories with their friends: late night ramen, sleeping in bunk beds (AKA farting in bunk beds/"hey r u sleeping yet? no? yeah, same" sort of things). But when you don't know about those memories until you've had them.

It was really hard to tell them I'd be going home soon. It's only been a few months of HS and their English has already improved. (They were so amped to tell me they learned the difference between girlfriend and your friends who are girls. To which I was like "this is what they're teaching you in HS?!?!?!?") But beyond that they asked more questions. You still teach at Jeonggwang Middle School? When do you go home to America? Why can't you stay? Who will take your job? What's your dream job? Will you make a lot of money?

It's sad to leave them now because they want to ask questions or because they're more confident in their English, they're more willing to talk to me. I started to add students on Facebook (totally normal thing to do in Korea). So now I get Facebook messages from students, almost weekly, just wanting to say hi or tell me they'll come visit me before I leave/in America. We'll see....

Like I said in my last post, I signed up for the GRE. So I was studying really hard these last few months (AKA been hella stressed out about studying). And when I'm stressed out I tend to buy unnecessary things. For example, this purple air bean bag:

It's not super comfortable, but it was only ~10usd and EVERYONE in my host family loves it.

I try to spend my Saturday AMs in Gwangju to play soccer, but things keep getting in the way... Like Spring Conference. I've talked about Spring Conference before, and this year was really similar to last year. EXCEPT they put us up in the Hyatt Regency (:O It was v fancy.) and we had programming on Monday (Jr. Researcher presentations).

This year I did not attend KBI prom at Monkey Beach because...

Me, Annaliese, and Hillary at the start!
I hiked Hallasan!

Hiking Hallsan was a MAJOR grant year/Korea bucket list item! It's the tallest mountain in Korea. It was ~20km hike and took us about 7.5 hrs. From our hotel we we paid for a taxi (80K krw) and started hiking around 7am. We hiked the Seongpanak trail up and back. The hike itself is pretty easy, just sooooo long.

On our hike we met Jenny. She's from Australia just finished a solo bike tour from Incheon to Busan. You should check out Jenny's blog and instagram!

The following week I only had to teach one day (Tuesday) because conference went until Monday and my students had field trips (수련회, 수학여행) Wednesday-Thursday. So I got to school on Tuesday to this message on my white board:

 TBH I didn't know who it was. "LSM"??????????? (Later I found out it was one of my cleaning girls, 수현 (Su Hyeon). At the time I didn't know her family name was 임 which can be romanized to im or lim.)

I didn't have the heart to tell her she spelled my name wrong.

Some how I got sick during conference, so I spent that Wednesday recovering (literally I bought a baguette and vitamin C drinks and just laid in bed for 4+ hours watching The Good Wife). On Thursday I met my friend Mat in Sangmu to go to the 5.18 Memorial Park and eat dinner together. I'd previously gone to memorial park with my sister. That Friday I was feeling so much better! Until I got on the city bus to go to the bus terminal...

I woke up a little later than I wanted to, so I didn't get a chance to eat breakfast... I'm going to leave out a lot of the details, but basically I ended up throwing up in the bathroom at USquare and because I didn't eat any food yet that day I just threw up water and (sorry if this is gross) mucous. I didn't want to be late to Seoul though so I bought a powerade and my favorite crackers and got on the bus. (Truly, these crackers save lives.)

Because I really wanted to do my best on the GRE I balled out for a room at the Lotte City Hotel in Mapo. It was v expensive, but worth it. I might do it more often... if I have the funds.

Friday night I checked into the hotel and relaxed for a bit before meeting Annaliese for dinner.

We went to 나무섬 (Namuseom). The menu is really small, only 4 or 5 options, but it was really tasty and no too expensive (only ~13usd for my meal). After the meal Annaliese and I walked around 이대 (Ewha Women's University area) and 신천 (Sinchon) before calling it an early night.

I took the GRE on Saturday morning... And that's all I'll say about that.

That night I met Anna and Esther in Hongdae to look at lipsticks at Stylenanda. I didn't buy one, but I'm looking for a bubble gum/barbie pink so if you have a suggestion HMU. Later we all met up with John and Annaliese for tacos at Gusto. We had to wait for a table so we (AKA John and Anna) did some crane games and John won this Magikarp... on the first try!!!!! All night we took turns holding the Magikarp and taking photos with it. Anna described it best as a dog/cat at a party.

The following week I didn't have classes on Thursday/Friday because it was Sports Day!

Last year I wasn't really into Sports Day. This year I was all in.

Everyone looked good!

I ate a bulgogi burger for the first time (not great).

I think Sports Day was more fun this year because everyone was more comfortable. I was more comfortable asking kids for photos and students were more comfortable asking me for photos. I low-key felt like a model that day.

I got to watch 씨름 (ssireum) for the first time. Between ssireum and pigu I've decided I would not be a good Korean girl. I keep talking about ssireum to my co-workers, I think they think I'm obsessed, but it's so interesting to me And whenever I bring it up everyone, co-workers/teachers, go "yeah, we don't do ssireum at our school anymore because so-and-so hurt his leg last year." They aren't wrong. A student did hurt his leg last year practicing ssireum for Sports Day. I just LOL to myself because ~*everyone*~ tells me "yeah, our school can't do ssireum any more because so-and-so hurt his leg last year" and totally throws this student under the bus.

I spend a lot of time thinking about sports and education, especially comparing South Korea to the US. I hear a lot of foreigners say that Korean students have a worse experience because they don't have sports in their schools. Now, there are some things that Korean culture can/isn't directly making up for because of the lack of sports (namely teamwork, although I'd argue that the we culture in Korea makes up for that), but from observing my students playing soccer, work in groups in class, and participate in sports day, it's not THAT different from the US. My students are competitive with each other during lunch time soccer/basketball games (and TBH police fouls better than I've seen in the US). There are students who willingly help other students who need help... and there are students who couldn't care less about their classmates. And during sports day, everyone knows their role: who's the kill pigu player? who are the fastest runners for the "marathon"? (They mean relay, but I just never corrected them.) Who's not really athletic, but we need them for the tug-o-war?

I will never forget watching my 3rd grade girls during the championship pigu game. Poor Su Hyeon (the same girl who wrote the note on my white board) made a mistake early in the game that cost them the first set. Su Hyeon and Ha Jin miscommunicated on the edge and turned the possession over. The instant sadness from Su Hyeon and disappointment from Ha Jin was clear. When their class lost 2 sets to 1, honestly, they all looked like they were going to cry.

So to people who think Korean students don't have similar experiences, I'm not sure you're looking close enough. (Note: obviously they are different experiences and not interchangeable. I'm just arguing there are similarities.)

The next day (Saturday) my school was a part of Gwangju's 연등축제 (Lotus Flower Festival). Last year I accidentally ran into this festival downtown with some friends, but this year my co-workers asked if I wanted to be a part of it. As with most things in my Korean life, I wasn't really sure what was going to happen. My co-workers told me it was a festival for the lotus flower and our students participate in a parade with laterns.

LITTLE DID I KNOW... My school (and the high school attached) are the only Buddhist schools in Gwangju so not only do we walk in a parade with lanterns, we also have students perform! The middle school students do 대취타 (daechwita). I hear them practicing all the time so I joke that it's a track on the b-side of the soundtrack for my grant year. The high school students did a drumming performance. 3 of my old girls and one of my boys are a part of the group.

Because the festival included the middle and high school I got to see a bunch of my old students. Like these two, for some reason dressed in teletubbies costumes:

When I asked them why they were dressed in costumes, they were like "volunteering." Which is true! Students get volunteering hours for coming to the festival, but I clarified that they chose to wear the costumes. They did.

My bbs in their 대취타 outfits and they got in a news write up!

Surprisingly only 3 or 4 lanterns started on fire!

Next (on Sunday) I hiked Mudeungsan with Anna. My host brothers were like "uhhh u haven't done it yet?" To which I was like "why have you?" And they were like "ya once. One time and finished. You have to because you live in Gwangju."

Mudeungsan was a great hike! The paths were really wide and accessible. We hiked from the Information Booth to 정머리재 (Jungmeolijae) to 중봉 (Jungbong) to 입석대 (Ipseokdae) to 서석대 (Seoseokdae)... and then we got lost. And some ajjushi had to help us back... which seemed like a good idea at the time. Except then he wanted to keep taking photos of us and was hiking a little fast. Anna eventually told him to continue with out us. I think he was a little salty we weren't amped about some rocks, but TBH I was ready to be done hiking and didn't care about seeing more fancy rocks.

Not the route we took, but this is a good map!

10/10 would hike Mudeungsan again and would recommend!

Me at Jungmeorigae

That's all for now! Check back in a few days for a mid-May update!


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