Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving Thanks

It's hard to be away from family during Thanksgiving.  Warm memories of turkey with all the fixings with immediate family, cousins, aunts and uncles, in-laws, and grandparents surface as soon as someone says "Thanksgiving."  And, sadly, many of our family members back home won't have a large meal with many places set at the "adult table" and the "kiddie table."  We seem to be scattered about the world now and maybe getting too old to prepare and host a big meal.

But for the exPat's in Korea, we've managed to keep tradition alive - after a fashion.

Actually, we've had three Thanksgivings.  Our school was kind enough to host a feast for all the employees and their families.  They brought in turkey from the American base, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and pumpkin pie.  We sat at the tables set up in the conference hall, ate, and visited.  It was quite pleasant.  I couldn't help but think that if I were at my last school (a Catholic school) we'd have a prayer together.  I missed that.

Today at our new friends from Australia's apartment, we had another feast.  It was a wonderful sitdown potluck meal.  An international group - Australians, Canadians, Americans - and ages spanning 4 years to 45 with 10 kids and 11 adults managed to give thanks together, watch the Packers play Detroit, and enjoy each others stories.  Sound familiar?

So while we certainly missed being "back home" we managed to bring home to Korea this Thanksgiving.  I'm grateful for my family and my friends!

May God Bless you and your loved ones and may you find much to be grateful for.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Day with Yena

I waited for Yena at Starbucks near Sunae Station.  I was anxious to see her and her straight, long black hair with short bangs.  Yena graduated from my school just last June and I was eager to catch up with her life.

I didn't have to wait long.  We were both quite pleased to see each other again, hugging and laughing through our hellos.  After a quick trip to the Starbucks counter we headed upstairs to the comfy chairs to begin catching up.

Of all my students from last year, Yena is the only one I CAN see in person.  She didn't head off right away to the US to a university, but instead has been pursuing admission to a Korean College.  For the last several months she has been going through the rigorous admission process for International Studies at 4 different universities in Korea.  She recently was admitted to one of her top choices and finally has a chance to catch up.  Her school year will begin in March, which is common in Korea.

We jabbered back and forth for a good 45 minutes at Starbucks, barely even able to know I'd gotten the wrong order!  I was intrigued with Yena's stories of the admission process.  First there are incredibly rigorous tests to take, the College Scholastic Ability Test.  Since she didn't attend Korean school so she had to prepare for the tests on her own.  (How one does on the tests determines what level of university you are eligible for.  They even divert air traffic so examinees don't have to hear the noise!  Students typically study 12-14 hours a day in preparation.) After successful completion of tests, there's an interview process at the college with usually 2 professors.  This is no what-is-your-favorite-book-interview.  This is a read-a-passage-prior-to-entering-and-then-we'll-ask-different-philosophical-questions interview.  Apparently one question had something to do with "how is the unknown known and how is the unknown unknown?"  There were other questions relating to the field of international relations.  And as Yena said, these were questions on things she hoped to be LEARNING, so how could she be expected to already know?  At any rate, these interviews are 6 - 10 minutes and INTENSE.  So Yena was thrilled to get into one of her top choice schools and the finest Korean College for International Studies.  Yeah!

I asked Yena what happens when people DON'T get into a college.  What are their other options?  She said they usually do something else for awhile while they study for another year in preparation for the tests.  Then they try the next year.  I am so happy for her achieving this goal!

Our conversation continued at a sushi restaurant I had been curious to try.  It's the kind of restaurant where small dishes of different colors (denoting different costs) with different delicacies slowly ride a conveyer belt through the establishment.

 Patrons take what they want and as much as they want and the cost of the dishes is totaled at the end.  I'd never done this before and don't speak the language well, so Yena was the perfect one to mentor me through the process.  We sat in a booth instead of at the counter. And it turned out there was a picture menu to order from, as well.  This ended up working best as the food was prepared a bit more fresh for us that way.  We tried a bit of everything.  As small dried whole fish, larger and fleshy cooked fish with their heads still on, along with various kinds of sushi traveled along the belt, Yena order.  And ordered.  And ordered.  It was perfect, however, because I got to try a number of dishes.  We had some California Roll (delicious), baked fish (very fatty and flaky), shrimp tempura (yummy), raw shrimp sushi (on rice with a seaweed wrap (not my favorite), and tuna roll.  The tuna roll was a riot because it was so huge it was nearly impossible to pop it in your mouth AND chew.  So we each took turns telling a story to the other while she chewed (trying not to laugh, of course).

What a lovely afternoon!  Thanks to Yena I now understand the Korean college system a bit better AND will not hesitate to try the sushi place with the family in the future.

The adventure never ends.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"My old nemesis, STAIRS."

"My old nemesis, STAIRS." - Po in Kungfu Panda II

That's my phrase these days.

For some reason I felt compelled to join our staff's Biggest Loser Challenge (a 9-week weight loss challenge).  I was ready to get back in the work out and walking mode after taking a year off (and putting on a few pounds, I might add).  So, two weeks ago I committed myself to two things: the motto "elevators do not exist" and walking every morning.

What does this mean exactly?

First of all, it means that rather than waking at 6 AM, I wake at 5:20 AM put on my walking gear and i-pod and head out for a 30 minute walk on a lit trail near my house.  Actually, this is not new to me.  Over the years I've walked Bucky and Roscoe in Bellevue, then did Walk-and-Talk with my sister on cell phones while walking Boomer in the woods near our home in Green Bay, then walking Boomer in Brillion, etc.  I've always had a dog to motivate me to walk!  At any rate, when we moved to Korea I wasn't sure I wanted to walk in the mornings without my Boomer and especially before sunrise.  But now that we've lived here a year, I feel perfectly safe and I was ready to get back at it.  So, walking it is.

Secondly, it means stairs.  Fifteen flights of stairs, to be exact.  Since we live on the 15th floor, and since "elevators don't exist" stairs have become my "nemesis" to be sure.  Well, at least they WERE.  I'm proud to say that over the past two weeks I have averaged walking up to our apartment two times a day.  Sometimes it turns out to be three times a day.  At first I could only make it to the 7th floor before I needed my rest.  Then 8, then 10, then 11.  Now I've begun regularly making it all the way without stopping in under 4 minutes.  Sometimes I even walk up from the basement parking lot which turns out to be 17 flights.

What is this doing to my weight?

I'd like to say it's done miracles, but I can't.  So, this has sparked me to try adding a third phase to my "get-fit" life - do MORE.  "More" might mean biking, swimming for 30 minutes in the morning as well, doing some weight training, aerobics, or circuit training.  But we'll see what results occur once that becomes routine.

At any rate, I'm proud to say that I don't get a pounding heart and winded on the 7th floor any more and that Alec seems to enjoy walking up with me, too.  That's a bonus, right?  Show the kids how it's done!

So, to all the Biggest Loser Wanna Be's out there. . .  Take a step today.  Take the stairs!