Friday, April 18, 2014

Jindallae (Azaleas)

Last Wednesday, all the teachers at my school hiked a local mountain, Cheonjusan (천주산), which is famous for its azaleas. Every April, one side of the mountain becomes carpeted with delicate purple flowers, called jindallae (진달래). A small festival draws locals and some tourists to the mountain every spring, and since I missed it last year, I was eager to join this hike.

The school outing was meant to be a sort of picnic (소풍) near the peak, but since I got there a bit late, and my hiking buddy, the super-fit earth science teacher, was determined to make it all the way to the top, I missed the picnic part. (It was soju and Korean-style sashimi, neither of which I care for in the least, so no great loss there, anyway.)

But we did reach the peak and were rewarded with a hazy view of the city (much like my previous trip to this same mountain). Snap one photo for evidence, then head straight back down... with a few pauses to get more photos of the beautiful flowers... I really regretted not bringing my camera with me on the hike, but I had headed off right after my afternoon classes, so I wasn't even in "proper" hiking gear (운동의류). All of the other teachers had come prepared; every Korean has a spare sweatsuit and neon-colored running shoes stashed away somewhere handy, it seems.

After the hike, we all went out for dinner -- fortunately the fish and liquor was just the pre-game -- at a duck restaurant. The soup was spicy but it wasn't just my burning tongue that kept me quiet. Although it was nice to be in the company of my colleagues, I find myself talking with them rather less these days. I feel that mealtimes are now just a tinge awkward. After two years, I'm no longer a novelty at school, and only a few dedicated non-English teachers are still willing to strike up conversation with me (though they are consistent and friendly in their efforts to improve their English). The others I just smile at while they speak in Korean, or play volleyball with weekly while they speak in Konglish. It's small stuff, but I've got to cherish it because my time with them now has a clear -- and fast-approaching -- ending date.
Such a gorgeous view, and such a pity I only had my phone on my to capture it!
Blogger Tricks

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sewol Ferry Sinking Accident

Search and rescue efforts for the sunken Sewol off the southwestern coast of South Korea (from the Hankoryeh)
침몰사고 -- A Korean ferry bound for Jeju Island sank off the southwestern coast of the peninsula on Wednesday; 14 confirmed dead and 282 missing. Many of the passengers were high school students from Ansan on a school field trip.

All day today, footage of the rescue operations and some videos taken by the trapped passengers on their mobile phones played over and over again on the news. I kept my eyes trained on the TV screen in my school's cafeteria all throughout lunch and dinner, barely able to understand what was being said but knowing that something awful was transpiring.

It's such an overwhelming tragedy; I can't imagine what it must be like for the friends and families of those lost. I don't even know what to say to my own students. I just keep repeating, "It's so sad, it's so sad." And I ask them to translate the news reports for me. Every teacher in the country is thinking, "It could have been us."

I can't think about this any more. 뭐라지 위로에 말을 해야할지 모르겠어요. Thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, and to an entire country in mourning. 편히 잠들기 바란다.

P.S. Some more news articles: Reuters, TIME (with video), BBC (with photos), and CNN (with video). The news reports about the "final text messages" are the most harrowing. But there's slim hope left yet: the story is not completely over.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Haedong Yonggungsa, the Temple by the Sea

View of the temple grounds and the shoreline from the top of the hill.
Most Buddhist temples in Korea are nestled away high up in the mountains, but Haedong Yonggungsa (1), standing sturdily on a rocky shoreline on the northeast side of Busan, is down by the sea. It was first built in the 14th century, destroyed during the Japanese invasion, and reconstructed eighty to forty years ago.
My parents at me in front of Haedong Yonggungsa
So what's the story behind it? My knowledge of Buddhist mythology is paltry, but I learned that the Goddess of Mercy lives by a southern sea and, in some iterations, rides on the back of a dragon (용/yong), perhaps the famous Dragon King of Korean folklore. This dragon king may or may not have appeared to a faithful monk in a dream during a time of severe drought, telling him that if he built a temple in a certain location and prayed, he would send rain.
Goddess of Mercy statue at Yonggungsa
So, I guess that's what happened! The temple continues to a be a popular tourist attraction. It gets thousands of visitors a day, all crowding along the bridge to toss coins into wishing fountains, lounging on the rocks to listen to the waves crash, exploring the small grotto, or just walking around the rather small temple grounds. There are nice beaches and hiking trails nearby, currently bursting with azalea flowers and royal cherry blossoms, because April's beauty just knows no bounds. When I came with my parents, we spent a good hour just walking around the temple, taking photos and taking in the scenery. There isn't much to do in the area besides visit the temple and a fishing science museum next door. As Buddha's Birthday (2) approaches, however, things will only get much busier around there!
I'm very curious to know what "fish liberation" is.
- - -
(1) 해동용국사 = 海東龍宮寺 = East Sea Dragon King Palace Temple
(2) 석가탄신일 celebrates the traditional birthday of Buddha, and beginning a month earlier, colorful lanterns are hung all around the nation's temples. In this way, it's a bit like Christmas.

Directions to Haedong Yonggungsa: from around Haeundae (Haeundae subway station/Haeundae bus stop are good), take bus #181 and get off at Yonggungsa/National Marine Science Research Center (용궁사국립수산과학원) -- 19 stops, 30 minutes, and 1,200KRW. From the bus stop, go back behind the restaurant and follow the arrow on the giant rock sign: take the upward-sloping path for about ten minutes, past the parking lots and into the temple grounds. Or just follow the crowds of people. Or follow the lamps if you're visiting around Buddha's birthday in the spring.

View Larger Map

These buddhi caught my eye, as I am about to begin my graduate studies this fall... 복전함 = fortune telling?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jagalchi Fish Market

Augh, this crab has acne!
The freshest fish you can find in Korea, as I've heard, are sold daily at the Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan. I went there with my parents on Sunday afternoon because I assumed that they, being Asian, would enjoy the sights and sounds of an authentic market. I mean, every Taiwanese person I know raves about Taipei's famous night markets, right?
Jagalchi Fish Market's indoor vendors, who cheerfully prepare any fish you choose right out of its tank.
Well, it was drizzling and the fish were so fresh they were still alive and flipping their fins in buckets too small for the dozens of them. All in all, it was very wet and none too exciting, so we slipped inside to a part of the market where fresh fish become fresh lunch. It was kind of crazy: vendors are lined up all along the length of a huge wet, noisy room as fish go nuts in their tanks. If you want Korean-style sashimi, they'll just grab a fish out of a tank, slice it up, and hand it to you on a plate as you sit crammed back-to-back with other patrons on bright yellow MacGuyvered benches. Not your normal dining experience.

Since I didn't really know the names of any of the various marine creatures I saw, I pointed to some clam/scallop things (조개), a large black fish, and some weird-looking crabs. I didn't want anything raw, and the fishmonger assured me that the clams would be buttered and grilled, the fish grilled with salt, and the crabs steamed.
Our fishmonger fed scraps of leftovers back to the fish themselves. Fish cannibalism...
Everything was absolutely delicious. I normally am not a huge fan of Korean seafood dishes, but I had no complaints here. They even gave us free bowls of 미역국 (perhaps because we were amusing foreigners, or perhaps in apology for taking a long time) -- appropriate since seawood soup is traditionally eaten on one's birthday, and my dad's birthday was just last week!
맛있다! The grilled clam/scallops were amazing.
After our large and extremely satisfying meal, we were slapped with an exorbitantly high bill. I hadn't bothered to ask about any prices, but maybe it was five bucks per clam or something. Feeling bad about this, I bought my parents dessert (honeycomb ice cream!) and took care of all of their transportation for the rest of the day.

- - -
Directions to Jagalchi Fish Market: take the subway line 1 (orange) and leave from exit 10. Take the first right, pass the parking structure, and you will come upon streets with awnings where the market begins. You will smell it before you see it, I promise.
- - -

I'm going to post really haphazardly over the next few days because there are a lot of things in the backlog: my weekend in Busan, the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival (which I visited twice), Fulbright Spring Conference, and linguistics research on Jeju Island, not to mention the recaps of my backpacking trip in Southeast Asia which I haven't finished yet...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Soccer

Before I came to Korea, I disliked playing soccer; I was no good, and games felt like running laps on muddy grass while everyone else took care of the fancy goal-scoring business. After two years in Korea, I can honestly say that I now actively hate playing soccer. Of course, "hate" is a very strong word which I don't use lightly, so before all my students gasp in horror at my admission sans context, let me explain.

Specifically, I hate the weekly games of indoor soccer that we play at my taekgyeon gym. I have been training in taekgyeon for a little over one year now, and I go five times a week. My goal is to obtain my black belt before I leave Korea, and my only chance to pass the test is in June. So, time is precious, and I want to spend every minute bettering my forms and roundhouse kicks. Instead, however, we section off one day each week, usually Friday, for casual games of indoor soccer with a small purple rubber ball and cushions stood up on end as goalposts. Our gym is small, only about twenty by forty feet, so with four to six grown men running around in this space trying to score goals on each other, the possibility of injury is high.

Yes, they're supposed to be casual games, and they always start out that way, but we're a competitive bunch. After half an hour, things can get nasty. We get tired, lose our balance, kick each other accidentally, then kick each other not-so-accidentally... A stubbed toe here, a mat burn there; the outside of my right foot is constantly sore because of soccer. My newest pair of glasses is sitting on my desk bent completely out of shape because of soccer. I have allowed outbursts of anger, pain, and every negative emotion in my arsenal because of soccer.

And tonight I was finally called out on it. Thank goodness, but also: aaargh.

I've asked my trainers several times why we play soccer when, every week, someone is injured. 관장님 (gwanjangnim, my gym director) replies that it's for building up endurance and stamina, which are required in taekgyeon matches but aren't easy to develop without holding constant scrimmages. So, I have silently endured injuring my feet in a different way every week for an entire year, but it's finally come to a point where I can't hide my frustration and anger.

관장님 and 사범님 know that I don't like playing soccer. I've complained to them several times about how I always get hurt -- 맨발로 축구를 하면 다치는 편이에요 -- but they insist on playing every week. Two weeks ago, I stubbed my toe pretty badly and yelled, "I quit!" before storming out of the gym. When I returned from my short tantrum, I played like a zombie and my team lost. Last Thursday, we played again, even though I was hoping they'd wait until Friday since I'd be out of town then and I could miss soccer with a legitimate excuse. That was not to be; I strained the outside of my right foot, which throbbed the entire weekend.

And today was the final straw -- in more ways than one. It's Monday. We never play soccer on Monday. But 관장님 cheerfully announced that today would be our very last day of soccer for a while. When I smiled and asked why, he said that we were getting a new trainee tomorrow, a woman. Since women can't really keep up with soccer the way we play, he explained, we were only going to play whenever this new trainee didn't come to the gym. Ignoring that bit of sexism, I silently prayed that our new member would come every single day.

But then we had to play soccer again. Our last game. And it started off fine -- my team quickly found itself losing 8-0, but we made up the difference eventually and held off 관장님 and the kind-of-violent ahjussi for a while. And then I just started screwing up. I kicked a sharp corner. I fell and got a mat burn on my foot. I accidentally scored on my own goal a few times. I began to get frustrated again and felt really fed up with this whole thing, even crying out, "아 축구를 싫어해요!" (Ah, I hate soccer!) once. And my demeanor changed, as it usually does near the end of the hour: I went completely silent and became more aggressive.

The good thing is that my heightened focus helped me score four or five goals in the span of ten minutes, and I brought our team to a tie. The bad thing is that I was obviously unhappy and not being a good sport. I kicked an opposing player and halfheartedly apologized. I made absolutely no eye contact, and my face probably looked like I was ready to bite someone's head off. My team lost the game.

I immediately sat down and began stretching; no high-fives, no bows, just me being letting my bitter aura fester. The thoughts continually running through my mind: "My feet hurt. I don't come to taekgyeon for this. My feet hurt."

관장님 came up to me after I had changed and gave me some straight talk. "When we play soccer," he said, "everyone gets hurt. And in taekgyeon there are some things that people like and some things that people don't like. But the rest of us know how to 참다." -- I didn't know what 참다 meant, but I assumed it meant to hide one's feelings. I was about to brush this off, but 관장님 clearly had his serious face on, so I got out my phone and looked up the word he'd used. 참다 means "to tolerate".

He went on: "Here in this gym, we understand that you don't really like soccer. But we like soccer. You need to control your feelings, otherwise other people will misunderstand you. Again, we understand you, but others might not."

I was speechless. I wanted to reply, to argue back. "But I'm in effing pain!" Obviously, I didn't say that. I wanted to explain the frustration I felt, but I realized that I didn't have the language skill to do so. And then it occured to me that I actually didn't completely understand why I felt the way I did -- even if 관장님 could understand English, I wouldn't have been able to articulate myself well enough for him to comprehend.

So I said nothing but, "I'm sorry." I was forced to admit that 관장님 was completely right. I was being a dick, and I knew it. In essence, he told me off for spoiling everyone's fun and being immature about my own inconveniences. Want to know how not to piss off your friends? Don't yuck their yum: don't be openly antagonistic toward the things you know that they enjoy. And want to know how to build character and grow despite a difficult situation? 참다. Tolerate the things that hurt you and build up a thick skin. The pain is temporary, but the extremely negative impression I've been leaving on my fellow trainees is going to last quite some time.

Yeah. I literally hung my head in shame after 관장님 talked to me. I apologized and couldn't think of anything else to say. Language barrier and acute embarrassment united to rid me of all pretension, so I tried simply to look as worn-out as possible. Everyone knows I've been busy and stressed lately... but deep down, I knew I needed to learn that lesson.

Well done, Andrew: you've done a horrendous job of representing America, as well as Christianity. Now, although I want to repair my image, I still really hate soccer! In the future, if our new trainee doesn't show up on a Friday and I walk in to find the goal posts set up, it'll take all I've got not to apologize and walk right back out. I don't want to risk blowing up again for the possibility of actually playing a decent, friendly game. But how can I prove to my teacher that I've learned and matured if I don't give myself another chance?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Parents in Pusan!

Or, in Korean, 우리 부모님들께서 부산에 오셨다! In either language you get some neat alliteration; my first-year students will appreciate that since I've been teaching them poetry.

Anyway, my parents came to visit Korea! They're in Busan for the weekend. We visited Haeundae, Haedong Yongkung Temple, Centum City, Jagalchi Fish Market, and Busan Tower. Later today we'll go to Changwon, where my Korean homestay parents will meet my actual parents. It will be joyous and very awkward!

Here are some photos from my phone: my parents and Gwangan Bridge at night (Busan's 야경 is beautiful), a selfie at the temple by the sea (this photo has 135 likes on FB and counting... 헐), and my dad flipping through the physical photo album I got him for his sixtieth birthday. (Happy birthday, Dad! )

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Picture Day

School picture day! Props to CB in the second row, who is so ready for this candid shot. I'd forgotten that it was picture day, but I happened to be wearing a bow tie, so the other teachers commented on my style. "So handsome," they say. "Clothes make the man," I reply.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Baking for 드림s

Did I mention that I love to bake? I never did much of it before I began living on my own in Korea, but now, I only need the smallest of excuses to make good use of the big oven in my small apartment. Last weekend at the Fulbright Spring Conference, some ETAs held a bake sale to raise money for a special school in Cheonan called the Drim School (드림, pronounced "dream"). This school was established for North Korean defector students to help them obtain the education they need to compete with their South Korean peers. Often, young defectors who begin attending school in South Korea are at a disadvantage due to poor education in North Korea or no education at all during the years of their escape and refugeeism.

I was happy to be able to contribute a little bit to the bake sale. As I mentioned before, I pulled an all-nighter (from 2am until well after sunrise) baking a ton of cookies, cupcakes, and cakes. Here are some photos:
Soft chocolate chip button cookies! Also, pre-frosted strawberry cupcakes in the back.
Double chocolate chip cookies -- these were a hit. Tracey said they tasted like chocolate snickerdoodles!
Walnut maple syrup bread with cinnamon sugar. This is super easy to make; I might just do it again for breakfast.
And lastly, the seasonal specialty: strawberry cupcakes with strawberry frosting! Real strawberries used all the way.
Although I didn't keep close track of my sales during the fundraiser, almost everything I made sold out, which puts my contribution at over seventy dollars. Success! My next step will be to bake cupcakes for the Drim School students themselves. :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

What are you doing next year?

The Question.
I've been mulling this over for a few months now and still have trouble answering.

I haven't talked about my future plans on this blog very much. In the past, this was because I didn't have any future plans. But I decided last year that I wanted to obtain a PhD in Linguistics, so I applied to graduate school programs in the fall. At this point, I've heard back from the six schools I applied to, and now, well, the silence about my decision stems not from the absence of plans but from simple reluctance to think about it.

You see, I do a lot of my thinking by writing. Without this blog, a lot of the thoughts I have day to day would never be processed. I like to get these thoughts out somehow, and making them public on this platform encourages me to be honest and straightforward about them. Does that sound counterintuitive? Surely a private journal would allow for more truth and less self-censorship. But what I mean is, I like to imagine that I have an audience, reading what I type here as if I'm telling them in person, so for their sake I can't write anything that I wouldn't say in a casual conversation... and for their sake I can and do write everything that I usually want to say in those situations.

The point is, I am at a moment in my life where I need to make a very big decision, and I feel unprepared to do so because I haven't thought about it enough. (And I haven't thought about it enough because I haven't blogged about it yet, see?)

The last two weeks have been busy and exhausting for various reasons. Right before I left for conference, I was feeling considerably 답답해, a unique sentiment to Korean culture that refers to the inability to say what one wants to say, the mentally suffocating discomfort that stems from not expressing one's true thoughts satisfactorily, or even just the confusion of not knowing what to say or think in a difficult situation. Due to my stress and uncharacteristic lack of sleep -- topping off a week of 4-to-5-hour nights with an all-night baking party of one -- I resolved to spend my time at the Fulbright Spring Conference getting as much rest as possible. In between napping and enjoying the wind and sun of Jeju Island, I thought that I'd also have the opportunity to ponder and pray about my future.

Fortunately, I did have time to do this over the weekend. Actually, I did not end up getting much sleep. There was also very little time in the schedule for personal introspection; I guess it was assumed that we ETAs would use our odd free hours for that... but I spent my free day conducting fieldwork. That's another story for another post. The important thing is that during the conference, I finally got to talk about my future plans with my friends, and that was when I finally began to get a clearer picture of what they might look like. So, I'm very thankful that going to the conference allowed me to process the ideas bouncing around in my head in a different, albeit obvious way: seeking my friends' input. Rather than writing things down and clicking a button to send them into the void, I simply sat and talked. I don't often just sit and talk anymore; isn't that a bit sad?

Anyway, now that I have returned from the conference, I figure it couldn't hurt to, once again, write things down and send them into the void. If you're interested in where I may possibly end up going for graduate school, read on.

The Applications.
My dream is to be a linguist. I want to work with endangered language communities and teach them how to use the tools they need to preserve and revitalize their language and culture. I don't know exactly how feasible this dream is, but it's where I began when I applied to various top Linguistics programs around the country. I set my bar particularly high: Stanford, Yale, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Santa Cruz. All six of these programs are very good and very difficult to get into, though not all necessarily focus on language documentation.

What I also found was important -- a bit to my own surprise -- was location. I felt like if I was going to spend another five to six years in school, I'd only be willing to do it in a city or region that I could thrive in. Hence the many schools in California. I'll admit it: as the winter chill set in and I wrote those neverending personal statements, I was pining for my home state and its perfect climate and food.

Almost absurdly soon, I heard back from Berkeley and SC! An offer of admission from the former in late January and an interview with the latter, which soon became a second offer of admission in early February. This was a fantastic way to begin my decision-making process, and I was optimistic. Alas, this y turned out to be a negative x, and in the week that followed, I bombed an interview with Yale and received two rather impersonal rejection letters from MIT and Stanford.

In mid-March, I learned that I'd been waitlisted at Yale (while a fellow Swarthmore linguist had been accepted, which likely slims my chances of getting in) and also received news of my funding packages for Berkeley and SC. Berkeley's is better, no question about it. Also, they somehow secured me an extra scholarship on top of the standard five years of full funding. UCLA remained oddly silent, and the suspense would have been unbearable had I not already learned from a friend there that my name was not to be found on the list of admited students. I found out just prior to leaving for the Fulbright Conference that I was waitlisted at UCLA.

The Dilemma.
So, that's where I was before my weekend retreat: 2 Yes, 2 No, 2 Maybe. Now, the question you'd think I'd be asking is, "Which will you choose, Berkeley or SC?" Actually, the question I began to ask myself -- weeks ago, even, after my late-February screwups and before I got any news on the funding front -- was, "Which will I choose, grad school or another year (1) in Korea?"

As soon as the semester began in early March and I resumed teaching, I realized that there are so many wonderful aspects of my life in Korea that I couldn't imagine giving up in a matter of months. I had just begun volunteering with North Korean defector students. I was beginning to get more involved in the expat community in Changwon, after a year and a half of being a quasi-hermit. I was really enjoying the work I was doing for the Fulbright Infusion, our literary magazine. All of these things I felt considerably more enthusiasm for than the distant prospect of furthering my own education. Also, I realized that my Castleberry research project on Jeju-eo was turning out to be a much bigger project than I'd imagined at first. Although I had to scale it down, I began to wonder why I couldn't just stay in Korea a bit longer -- maybe a year longer -- to continue my research uninterrupted. After all, the dictionary project is very much in the same line of work I dream of doing for a career.

Most importantly, when I went back to school and saw my students -- my old second- and third-years and a new crop of fresh-faced first-years -- I knew that leaving them in July would break my heart. When I mentioned to JH that I speak French and could teach her in her spare time, she excitedly said that it would have to wait until after she is finished with college applications in the fall. I didn't tell her that I might be gone by then.

And it's kind of a silly thing, but after my very first semester of teaching, back in 2012, one of my favorite students, truly a standout in her class, wrote me a note asking me to stay at their school until she graduated. This is an odd request, since normally, native English teachers at public schools don't stay longer than one year. Students get used to them cycling in and out in the middle of their school year. But I'm not quite normal; I've stayed for two years. And DH isn't quite normal, either, for a science high school student; while 90% of her classmates were awarded early admission to college last fall, she was not and is now completing the final months of her educational prison sentence. If I leave, I'll have to break the silent promise I made to her one year ago when I read her special note.

I'll admit it: I'm jealous for my students. I love them. I feel like I know them pretty well, and I like to think that I've had a positive impact on their lives, even if some of them still sleep in my class and write in their journals that they hate journaling. I couldn't bear leaving them, especially leaving them in the hands of another NET I don't know. But since I'll have to leave them eventually, what exactly is the difference between leaving this July and leaving next July?

Here's an analogous question: what exactly is the difference between entering graduate school this August and entering next August? As I considered my graduate school options and weighed them against renewing my Fulbright contract for the second and final time, I asked the graduate departments about my options for deferment. I am allowed to defer matriculation: that is, I can wait one year and enter without having to re-apply in 2015. However, I am not allowed to defer the funding I've been given, especially not the additional scholarship I received from Berkeley. Deferring for a year puts me back into limbo regarding money; I could get the same amount next year, or more, or less. It's a gamble.

Is it any surprise that in spite of all my feelings, my goals, and my desires -- or rather, in spite of all the careful consideration I'm putting into these abstractions -- it really is just going to boil down to the issue of money?

Who can walk away from such an amazing opportunity? I'm looking at you, Berkeley. The best public university in the country is willing to throw thousands of dollars at me so that I can become educated within its hallowed hipster halls. What fool chooses a low-paying, non-career-advancing, intellectually dissatisfying job any twenty-something with a bachelor's can do over that?

... But what fool willingly gives up living more freely and comfortably than he ever has before, yet growing, learning, and being stretched in many wonderful ways, developing precious and unforgettable relationships, and helping people's lives directly and tangibly every day... for an excuse to scurry back home and bury himself deep in books for five years?

The Discussion.
So here is where talking with my friends came in. I asked friends back home what they thought; I asked my old professors for advice; I talked to a lot of people here in Korea, too. More people than I expected to, since I was initially unwilling to divulge a lot of information to anyone who might inform my students that my time with them was now possibly limited.

It seemed that a lot of people from back home (2) were very supportive of my desire to stay in Korea, to continue doing what I love. After all, you're only young once. There's no hurry to move on to something different or more "adult" if where you are now is where you most strongly feel you should be. Even my Linguistics professor advised asking about deferment, along with the note that I'd spend my extra year continuing my self-directed research project.

On the other hand, most people I spoke to in Korea, including my fellow ETAs, other expat friends, and my Korean friends, took the opposite stance: why turn down all that money? An American education is expensive, and if you risk losing the scholarship, Korea might not be worth it. You may enjoy what you're doing now, but you shouldn't get too comfortable. (3) And at the very least, Korea isn't going anywhere: you can finish your studies and then come back.

"Why did you apply to graduate school in the first place," my Korean friend asked me, "if you didn't actually want to go?"

I do want to go, but the strength of that desire can wane, can't it? It's a little scary to consider how easy it is to make huge, life-changing decisions depending on an arbitrary lingering mood. If I had just had a string of crummy experiences in Korea, I'd probably be counting down the days until the end of my contract. But that mindset could just as easily be reversed by a classroom miracle, a completed bucket list item, or simply a day spent counting my blessings. Thus, it's all about the timing: when it comes time to make my decision by the deadline in mid-April next week, how much will I love Korea? How excited will I be about beginning graduate school? Which future will prevail in that moment?

The Decision.
I don't know. But I'm learning toward Berkeley.

Good night!

- - -
(1) Fulbright Korea uniquely allows its ETAs to renew their contracts two times. Most Fulbright commissions in other countries cap the grant duration at one year, maybe two. Three is the limit for us ETAs at Korean schools.
(2) The exception, of course, being that my family wants me home as soon as possible, especially my parents. They are extremely uncomfortable with how far away from them I've been for the past six years.
(3) Other factors that may take the luster out of a third year in Korea: our ETA contract is slated for some drastic and potentially unpleasant changes. Pretty much all of my Fulbright friends are leaving the country in July. Also, I miss going to a real church.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Blossoms & Stress Baking

Wen Ni and me at Yeojwacheon in Jinhae last week, just before the cherry blossom festival began.
The same stream about one week later, with the trees in full bloom.
The city I currently call home is gorgeous in the spring, as streets and hills turn pink with cherry blossoms (벚꽃) blooming all over. I'm very happy in Changwon now, and I'll be honest: I couldn't bear leaving my city and my school. But graduate school beckons... I have a tough choice to make by mid-April. Naturally, I'm worried out about it: add Decide Future Plans to my huge to-do list, right after Stress Bake All Night, which is what I'm doing now. It's 5:46am and my apartment smells like chocolate chip cookies, maple-walnut bread, and strawberry cupcakes. I'm headed to the Fulbright Spring Conference on Jeju Island in a few hours, and the treats I've made are for a bake sale there. Hopefully I can find some time this weekend to take a deep breath, relax, and ponder the future.

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