Monday, May 30, 2011


On Saturday evening I was prepared to write about our monumental mountain hike that lasted 4 hours.  By Sunday at 7 PM I had changed my mind and wanted to write about our amazing day at Everland (a Disneyworld wanna be).  But by Sunday night at 8 PM I knew I had to write about Anna.

Our daughter is in third grade.  She's a whiz at language acquisition.  We've known this since she was three and switched languages from Russian to English in just three months.  At that time we marveled at her ability to pick up a new language so easily.   Later it was the beginnings of Spanish (and even a little German) in kindergarden through second grade.

Now we are in Korea.  We've seen it all year long.  She more than anyone in the family has embraced the new language, permanently replacing Mom with Almeony and What time is it? with Myatsheayo?  She gives ME vocabulary quizzes over breakfast and tells me how pathetic I am that I can't remember the vocabulary from one day to the next. (Which is true, more or less.)  I'll try to communicate with a vendor and have them look at me with a blank stare.  She'll say the same thing (only apparently with better pronunciation) and they'll go "Oh, sure!"  All this may seem impressive . . .

But after the 35-minute ride home in a cab the other day, my husband and I will never see her the same again.

She'd been a bit carsick on the way to Everland, sitting in the back.  So on the way home we decided to put her in the front seat.  As always, the cabdriver was smitten with her open nature and blond-hair.  He knew a few bits and pieces of English but not much.  By five minutes into the drive home, they were talking full-out in Korean.  He'd ask a question and she'd reply.  She'd ask a question and he'd reply.  He'd ask a question she didn't know, would point and gesture or give his own response or try a little English and she's say, "Oh, now I understand" and off they'd be on a new strand of conversation.  They discussed everyone's ages, family relationships, where we lived, all the things they liked and didn't like.  I'd have to say every bit of vocabulary she's learned from her 2x/week Korean teacher was put to use.

We sat in the back amazed.  She was polite, laughing, asking questions, answering questions like a . . . grown up conversationalist!

We began to wonder if she'll have a future using a second (or third language) rather than in art.  How does she do it?

Meanwhile, I sat in the back desperately trying to keep up, using my Essential Korean Phrases book.  I DID learn that the months of the year are quite straight forward (essentially something like 1-month = January, 2-month = Feb. and so on).

So there you have it.  Anna wins the blog story this week.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Forever Changed?

Our first year living abroad is coming to a close in a few weeks and we shall travel back to Wisconsin  to visit friends and family.  I'm excited to get back "home."  I expect some people may be interested in how this year has changed me.  And while I've given thought to what I've enjoyed this year, what has been challenging, and what I've missed from back home, I haven't yet given much thought to how I've changed.

So let me try it here.

I would have to say the biggest change is that I've been untethered from the USA and North America.  We used to think, "Let's go to Utah (or Florida, or California, or Mexico)" now we think "Let's go to Malaysia (or the Philippines or Australia or Cambodia or Vietnam or Europe or on safari in Africa)."  Our children used to think "Let's go to the Dells."  Now Anna says things like "When can we go to Paris, the city of Love?"  This is pretty huge because it implies a different world view than before (for all of us).  Globalization already had been making the world smaller (or flatter, depending on who you read), but now globalization is also a part of my existence and very real.

Changing from living in a house to living in an apartment has been less significant that I thought it would be.  Some friends and I were musing about this today.  We worried that living in a big city would mean the end of nature in our lives.  We used to sit on the deck in the back yard and enjoy the flowers and trees, etc.  We worried that apartment life would feel so confining without a back yard to go to.  What we've found is that Korea (at least Seoul and the surrounding communities) has made a concerted effort to create green spaces (extensive parks and biking trails) for people to enjoy.  Also, the mountains are replete with trails.  It is not hard to find nature here at all, and that makes apartment living less sterile and confining than one might think.  So, while I yearn for a back yard BBQ and the chance to sit on a lawn chair, I've also come to love hiking and biking on trails and playing with friends and family in a local green space.

In some ways, using public transportation has changed me.  First of all, I'd never used the city buses in Green Bay (and I don't know that I would now).  But now I feel more comfortable taking a bus or a subway or a train.  I did know how to ride a subway before, but now I know how to get around  by bus waiting as much as 20 minutes for it to show. An odd side effect of being on a bus with strangers who probably don't speak much English is that you stop talking all together.  No one on the buses talks unless it is to quiet their child.  Mostly, they listen to ipods, read, or doze.  But rarely does anyone talk.  Yesterday I was on a bus that was so crowded all the seats and the aisle were elbow to elbow people.  Probably 55 - 60 people were on the bus, and the bus was SILENT.  Between the quiet nature of public transportation and the language barrier, I've found that I no longer say the customary "Hi. How are you?" or   "Excuse me." etc.  No more potential for "small talk" with a stranger, unless that stranger speaks English too.

Recently I realized that this year has allowed me (or forced me) to explore different interests.  For the past few decades my hobbies have focused on singing and acting and walking.  These are three thing that I love!  While in Korea I've not had the opportunity to sing or act BUT I have been able to resurrect old interests like playing volleyball and piano.  About two or three times a month I've been playing duets with a friend from work.  I've also taken up yoga once a week.  There is a pretty large group of teachers who like to play volleyball, so I've been able to do that again (even ended up on this weekend tournaments' winning team!)  I've taken up hiking and more biking.  It's been fun to pursue new interests and resurrect old ones!  I believe I'm becoming more physically diverse.  That's pretty cool.

The last way I believe I've changed is that I've gotten spoiled.  To define that further, my job here has spoiled me, and I love it.  I haven't had to work at a dizzying pace this year nor have I had to work tirelessly at home with a huge paperwork load every night.  This is an amazing thing!  It means I am pretty much stress free and relaxed for a good portion of each day.  This is not to say that I am not working hard or to my fullest potential.  On the contrary, I believe I've got more time for planning, thinking, and creativity.  I have more contact with my students since I have fewer students to care for.  I get to be myself in the classroom and that is a joy.  I believe it would be hard to return to 150 students to care for and 150 papers to mark.  For one who has sought balance for much of her life, I believe I've found the best balance here.  Lots of time with family; lots of time with friends; productive time at work; (more time needed at church, though).

If any of these changes sound intriguing to you, I encourage you to think beyond your usual "world", even if it is just to look at a National Geographic magazine or go for that bike ride you've been talking about but never do.  You're never too old to learn something new.  Give it a go!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


The Demilitarized Zone.  This is an area spanning 2 km on either side of the dividing line between North and South Korea and all the way across the peninsula.  As technically the North and South are at a cease fire in a war that never ended, you might find it interesting to know that it is also a tourist attraction.  We visited 5 different locations in the DMZ.

It is a pretty bizarre feeling being in the DMZ.  Brent and I toured there this weekend with about 30 other staff members.

We began at the USO in Seoul then made our way by bus the hour north to the border.  We had an introduction to the JSA with a presentation by Staff Sergeant Cisneros on the history of the war and the DMZ.  We were instructed that we must follow procedures.  There's an age limit, dress code, and strict rules about when to and not to take photographs.  At no time is pointing, waving, or other gesturing allowed - anything that may be used as propaganda by the North against the South.

Once at the DMZ we were able to go into one of the buildings.  This was a building for any meetings between dignitaries.  There were three ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers with dark sunglasses standing at TaeKwonDo ready (meaning fists at their sides but white-knuckle clenched).  As our US Army/UN representative Cisneros informed us about our location and told stories, I learned that I was at that very moment straddling the imaginary line that runs between North and South and through that very room.  I actually had one foot in North Korea and one foot in South Korea.  Speaking of feet.  It seems that there are toe and foot prints on the tops of the meeting tables because North Koreans who have met in the room have gotten up on the tables bare foot and stood with their backs to South Korea as an insult.

We were able to take some pictures.  I used my zoom to get a picture of a North Korean Soldier standing at attention at the front of their main building on their side of the border.

The feeling there is tense.  What an odd mix to have soldiers ready for any moment to erupt in conflict and at the same time have tourists taking pictures next to them.

Other memorable moments of the day.  We saw and were told about Propaganda Village just over the North border.  It is a town that is shaped like a triangle, with the widest portion facing the South.  This is to give the impression that it is bigger than it really is.  In it are dozens of buildings and roads and such, but NO people.  In fact, there is not even glass in the windows.  At night lights go on to "light up the town" to make it seem occupied.  For a long time they used to blast propaganda over a speaker system there between 6 - 8 hours a day.  The broadcast would be inviting S. Koreans to defect to the North.

A few kilometers behind it is an industrial village that is quite unique.  This village is a cooperation between S. and North.  South Korea provides the electricity and raw materials.  North Korea provides the labor.  They manufacture some sort of products.  These products are then transported by truck down the one highway (incidentally called Highway 1) between the two nations.  Some are taken directly to market.  Others come to warehouses at a very unique train station.

We visited the train station, too.  This train station is the closest one to North Korea.  If reunification happens, it is ready to run trains.  The facility was finished in 2008 under the Sunshine Policy of South Korean then President Lee.  President Bush was there for the opening.  There were hopes the train would be used to transport goods from the industrial village as well as tourists to North Korea.  Unfortunately, the train only ran once.  At that time in 2008 one of the tourists from the South did not follow instructions about where she could go.  She was instantly shot and killed by a North Korean soldier.  No trains have run since.  What an odd place, this train station.  It is literally like being in a ghost town.  Everything is new and beautiful, but for a few tourists on a daily basis, it is empty.  There are huge parking lots that simply stand empty.  If you've ever seen Stephen King's Langoliers, it was like that.

We also visited Tunnel 3.  This is one of 4 tunnels that have been discovered.  These tunnels have been blasted and mined out by the North and their political prisoners in order to attack the South.  It is possible that there are tunnels that have not been discovered, of course.  But for now, Tunnel 3 is visited by tourists.  We walked down and in through a tunnel with a 2-person width.  They estimate that 30,000 soldiers could have emerged per hour.

We had an opportunity to buy some souvenirs.  The North Korean beer was actually pretty good.  Brent got some framed barbed wire (kind of like buying Lambeau Field dirt, right?) and I got North Korean currency.  Later I found that my 100 Won bill was worth 11 cents.  Incidentally, the laborers who work at the industrial village have it quite good, making about $25/month.  Of course the government takes all but about $5 of it.  But this is still more in a month than most people make.  Terribly sad, I know.

One of the things we noticed gazing across the border was the topography.  While the mountains are, of course, a continuation of the mountains in the South, there is a noticeable difference.  Their mountains are stripped of almost all trees.  This is because their people have needed to use them for firewood.

To learn more, click on the links in this blog.

I put this experience right up there with visiting the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Warriors.  I've no plans to return, so don't worry.  But, visiting the DMZ was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011



First and foremost, I'm looking forward to hugs with dear family and friends and lots of conversations!

After the dust settles these are some of the things I'd like. . .
Seroogy's Chocolate
Backyard BBQ with local brews
Pool games in Bill's basement
Mom's apple pie
Talk talk talk
Seeing Dad's hummingbirds and the Wisconsin stars out at the cabin
Spring water
Carpet under my feet
Skim milk
My old walk in the woods in Green Bay
Cribbage and 500 with the family
Hearing lots of stories and seeing lots of pictures
Wisconsin black soil and beautiful bluffs
Walking with my sister
Seeing Emily and Kent's new addition
Music in the Park
Going to church at Calvary and taking communion and maybe singing

Gallagher's Pizza
Elegant Moose French food
El Azteca

Tastefully Simple
Ray's pool and JF's pool.
Garden Food - new potatoes!
Good old fashioned Independence Day!
beach days
and lots more hugs and conversation!

5 more weeks, folks!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

2010-2011 Review in 17 Tweets: A Poem

Have arrived in Korea!  We’re very tired.  The apartment is on the 15th floor.  Peanut butter, bread, jelly, milk, and tuna to greet us.
New teacher orientation now.  Began with a scavenger hunt around K--.  What a confusing campus!  We all got MACs!  Kids happily playing all day.
It’s hot and raining.  Hot and raining.  Hotter and raining still.  How much won equals a dollar again?
Balloons dropped on opening teacher inservice day.  What did I get myself into?
I love my classroom, classload and students!  Can’t wait to get to know the staff.  But . . . Kimchi at every meal?  
Chuseok.  What is this thing?  All I know is we got a vacation and ended up in the wrong city.  Apparently Chungju and Cheongju aren’t the same place.
Acclimating to city life with public transportation.  No car for us!  The kids are movie stars.  Everyone wants their picture wherever we go!
Monsoon Day replaces snow day.  Now that’s something I never thought I’d say.
Thanksgiving at K--, just one of many FAMILY experiences here.  I loved the turkey! and the games!  We have an awesome Social Committee!
Boracay was amazing!  New beach.  New good friends.  I think I could get to like 3 weeks off in the winter.  Life is good!
Packers win!  Packers win!  (Why am I not in Wisconsin for this?) Packers Win! (I’m so thankful for the Superbowl Party and CHILI)  Yahoo! Go Pack Go!
I successfully ordered pizza to be delivered to our home.  Thank you NHS Korean teachers!  Comsahamnida!
I’m constantly amazed at the talent and intelligence, drive and politeness of my students.  Best year ever!
Small world!  Since moving to Korea I’ve seen Yunji, Sein, Wayne, and Mary - former students, and Dr. Noble and the Darlings from my alma mater.
Life abroad changes your perspective.  It matters to BE IN Korea and China and the Philippines.  It matters to be so close to Japan.
Book Club, Yoga, Volleyball, Hiking, Rainbow Room, Round Robin Dinner, Christmas with Santa, Easter Egg Hunt, Scavenger Hunt, Korean Folk Village!
Twelve months ago I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d be calling Korea home.  Be here we are.   Coming soon, SUMMER!