Visiting Gwangju: Mid-term school observation trip report.

My principal gave me mid-terms off to travel to Gwangju, under the condition that I write a report and take pictures about what I saw.
So, I thought, let’s kill the blog bird and the school requirement bird with one report stone. Idioms. How fun. I wonder if that idiom is on the walls of Sarah’s school? (Read on and you’ll find out what I mean).

Travelling to Gwangju

Travelling to Gwangju was no easy task. Though similar distances, Seoul is a much easier trip with fewer transfers. In order to go to Seoul, one simply takes the Uiseong bus to Seoul available more than 5 times a day–even from a smaller town like Uiseong.

Gwangju was more difficult to travel to than Seoul.

I have heard many reasons cited for this. Some say the mountains make this difficult (though there are mountains on the way to Seoul as well). Others say that the political and cultural divides between the regions mean that development has not taken place to speed travel. Over the course of my travel I did not come across a definitive answer.

Whatever the reason, the travel consisted of first a bus to Buk Daegu. I left at 9a.m. Wednesday. Then, I had to take a intra-city bus from Buk Daegu bus terminal to Sobu Daegu bus terminal. From Sobu Daegu bus terminal, I left at 10:42am for Gwangju. There were many stops along the way. And the journey was much longer than the 3.5 hour trip to Seoul.

Some kind ajummas on the bus insisted I eat their kimbab and peanut-coated duk. I suppose they were concerned because it was a long bus ride and we had no time for lunch. I arrived in Gwangju at around 4p.m. or 4:30 pm. It took me almost a full school day just to travel to Gwangju!


Cultural exchange

Wednesday ended with me visiting the homestay family of my friend, Taylor Kuramoto (she updates her blog very often–check it out!). She is also a Fulbright foreign English teacher. She has a good relationship with her host family and has many conversations with her host siblings–especially the host brother named Tae Jun. He is in 2nd grade middle school and attends the same middle school at which Taylor teaches.

Taylor’s host family had me over to their apartment. Taylor and I made chili. The whole family enjoyed it. The host mother even asked me for the recipe!

I made chili (an American food influenced by Texan and Mexican cooking). It is a thick soup with ground beef, chili, chili powder (pepper and cumin), tomato sauce, onions, and crushed red peppers. It is a popular dish in my hometown in America. We also made grilled cheese sandwiches to eat with the chili. We also put crackers and shredded cheese in the chili.

The family really enjoyed it. The host mother even asked me for the recipe. Unfortunately, chili beans are very difficult to find in Korea. The can of chili beans I used was mailed to me from America by my parents.

Tae Jun is a bright and funny, albeit slightly mischievous, student. He enjoyed the American food I made (chili) very much.



I asked Tae Jun about his school life. He said sometimes he became bored in classes, but he liked seeing his friends. He had come home late for dinner because of an after-school punishment. He had to write the same sentence repeatedly. This punishment sometimes exists in America too. You can see it in the show The Simpsons, when Bart Simpson is writing a sentence repeatedly on the chalkboard in the opening scene of the television show.

Tae Jun told me about his travels and studies in English. His family is Catholic and he went to America for three weeks through a program operated by the Catholic church. Two weeks were spent in English study and one week was for sight-seeing. Tae Jun’s English was quite advanced. I was very surprised that Taylor did not slow down her speaking at all when talking to him. He was very willing to speak and to interact with both me and Taylor. He was a slightly mischievous, but very funny and bright young student.


Thursday- School Visit with Sarah Hulsman at Jeonnam Middle School

On Thursday, I went to the school at which Sarah Hulsman teaches. She is another Fulbright English teaching assistant. She teaches at Jeonnam Middle School which has around 800 students.

The grounds of Jeonnam Middle School which houses 3 grades and around 800 students. Gwangju. Sarah Hulsman is the resident Fulbright English Teaching Assistant here.

Sarah teaches 3rd grade weekly and 1st and 2nd grade every other week (biweekly).

Her office is not just an English office. There is also a Chinese teacher and a foreign Chinese teacher (two days a week). All third grade students take Chinese as well as English language classes. There are around 800 students in the school. Another interesting fact about the school is it has a very competitive swimming team.

One of the classes I observed was a 2nd grade co-ed (boys and girls) class. It had 28 students.

The students were well-behaved and many were at a fairly high level. Sarah does not travel to other classroom. She teaches exclusively in the English multimedia room.

Sarah Hulsman teaches her 2nd grade co-ed English class. The pictures on the board represent sandpaper (sand + paper). Side note (not included in the report): students at both schools frequently inquired if I was Sarah or Taylor’s boyfriend. A boy and a girl FRIENDS? That’s madness.

Here is an outline of what occurred during class.

Warm-up activity: Students began in pairs at tables. The teacher instructed one person at the table to get supplies. The supplies included a white board and markers. This was for the warm-up activity.

The warm-up activity included showing compound words to answer the pictures’ suggestions.

For example, a picture of a chair, and that of a wheel were shown. The answer was the compound word: wheel chair. Other words included lipstick and screwdriver among others.


Some students made “smart errors.” These are errors which are logically understandable. For example, instead of “screwdriver” one team said “nail car.” Instead of “toothpaste” one team wrote “teethpaste.” These errors make sense, but are still errors.

This was a warm up to “get the students thinking in English,” Sarah explained.

speak of the devil cropped
The stairwells of Sarah’s school are filled with English idioms and translations. Some, like this “Speak of the Devil” are relatively conventional. Others are more unique (Ex: “He has a big belly”) or old-fashioned (“Mend the barn after the horse is stolen.”)

Main lesson: Direction and location.

The teacher introduced vocabulary, next to, beside, near, in front of, behind, across from, etc.


The teacher showed examples to demonstrate the vocabulary.

Sarah’s office. It houses a Chinese teacher, Sarah, and Sarah’s co-teacher. Unlike my school which uses desktops in every teacher office and classroom, Sarah carries a laptop between her school office and her classroom. Neither Sarah or Taylor travel to student’s homerooms.

The co-teacher translated–focusing on words that students were less likely to know. Sarah has the same co-teacher for all of her classes.

Sarah, similar to my own Balmer Bucks system, offered a “dollar” reward system after guided practice. That is, students answered questions and received a dollar which can later be redeemed for a reward.


Main activity: Where’s Waldo? (Waldo has a different name in Korea).

Students were to write 3 sentences on where Waldo is.

The first team to write correctly received “Sarah Stacks” (money reward system).

Students rushed to the board to find Waldo. Then they rushed back to write their sentences.

This was done around 5 times.


The final check for the activity was a drawing activity. This checked student’s understanding on locations words. The teacher said things like “Draw a triangle inside the circle.” By the end, students were supposed to have drawn a smiley face. The teacher checked for understanding, revealed the answer, and dismissed class.



Friday- School visit with Taylor Kuramoto at Jongwon Middle School

Taylor and her students after lunch. You can see a new apartment building being built in the background, as this area of Gwangju is growing.

On Friday, I saw my friend Taylor again. She teaches and Jongwon Middle school. It is a Buddhist-affiliated middle school next to a private Buddhist-affiliated high school.

It has around 650 students. Taylor teaches 2nd and 3rd grade only.

Taylor also does not travel to student’s classrooms or have an office with the teachers. She spends all of her time in her classroom.

Taylor has 5 different co-teachers, 4 women and 1 man. There are a large number of younger teachers at her school.

I visited her lunch conversation class. It had about 25 students.  They asked questions about me and I asked questions about their school and their interests.

Taylor’s English classroom. Taylor does not have a desk in a teacher’s office. She spends her whole day in her classroom.

The school has meditation classes taught by a school Buddhist monk. The school has a large soccer field shared with the high school and a school store frequented by students. Decorations were being put up in commemoration of the Buddha’s birthday which is upcoming. A statue of Admiral Yi Sun Sin was near the edge of campus.

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Reflection: It was very interesting to see a very different part of Korea, as I had never been to the East. I learned about the Gwangju unique political culture, I learned of Kia motors and other large industries, and I had the opportunity to see school life and lessons in larger middle schools–both regular public school and a Buddhist school. The trip was very educational, as a language teacher and as someone learning about Korean culture.

What I did not include in the report:

I had a great time visiting Taylor and Sarah (and Jenna–she was at dinner one night with us though I could not visit her school!).

Also, I went the wrong way on the bus on the way to Taylor’s school. I had to ride through 57 stops and finally got to her school around lunch. But that was the only travel snag over the whole trip, so I consider myself pretty successful.

Then, during the weekend, I visited my friend Abhik in Daejon. We saw Captain America: Civil War in IMAX (a full week before America gets it!). Here are some select pictures.




What have I been doing?


Things went dark around here after week 3.5 in orientation.
Turns out Fulbright Korea Orientation gets pretty busy.

Perhaps, around April, I will post about that. Just in time for the new crop of grantees to become notified of their status and frantically Google to discover just what they got themselves into.

For the rest of the semester, I don’t really have an excuse. Uh. Sorry?
The past has passed. I have a whole semester to re-cap on. This may take several posts. For this one: let me give you a picture of a week in the life of a Fulbright ETA (Uiseong, Gyeonsangbukdo, fall semester edition).


Roll out of bed at 7 am looking fresh. Or, you know, dreadfully tired.
It’s a toss up, really.

Shower, dress, eat breakfast (anything from last night’s dinner again, to cereal, maybe an apple, or the staple: rice).

Uiseong boys middle school.jpg

Early in the semester Mr. Lee (a co-teacher) drove me to school. Later, I rode a bike. It’s Samchon’s bike; (“uncle” 삼촌). Oh, I live with a host family. There’s also 이모 (Imo, “aunt”) and their twin boys—who are just out of 6th grade and will be joining me at the boys middle school this semester.

This day I have 3 classes. One in each grade. The 3rd grade class in the afternoon is rowdy. The rest or relatively uneventful. Usually, my lesson has hiccups and Thursday definitely
gets the best lessons. Monday gets the “beta test version.” I wish that wasn’t the case.

Monday nights I have ENGLISH DINNER CONVERSATION GROUP. What is that, you ask because I put the question in your mouth (metaphorically)?

Essentially this: four nice teachers, all women in their 30s, with already very competent English abilities decided they wanted to practice English.
They asked me to help.

English conversation dinner group
Three of the four teachers in my English conversation group. By profession, they include a high school special education and a high school history teacher, a middle school art teacher, and a middle school special education teacher.

Bad news: I cannot accept payment, contractually.
Bad news (unrelated): I am a picky eater.
Good news (now related): They offer to buy me dinner at a restaurant I like each week in exchange for a short lesson from an EBS (English Broadcasting channel) lesson book and general English conversation.

Hi, I’m Jonathan Balmer. And I will teach English for food palatable to a picky American.

They have taught me much about Korea. It’s been one of the highlights of my week.


Three classes again! Around 20-30% of the time I may have changed one of my lessons completely. Lunch is not always good. Mr. Lee sometimes gives me some of his meat at lunch because of what a depressingly poor eater I am. I always tell him not to. He is too nice.  (Lately, I have finished food I don’t like by keeping fruit on hand. One bite, suck on an apple. Another bite, eat a piece of the apple. Repeat until finished).

In the evenings, I used to do English activities with the twins in my host family. These fell out of favor. They were fun while they lasted: we had a whole fake restaurant and store to practice English going on for one activity!

Tuesday is the most common day I video chat my parents.


I go to the (soon to be closed!) Anpyeong middle school on Wednesdays. It is 20 minutes by bus. There are more faculty than students (of which there are 14) at this school. It is a easy-going day and the students are generally joys to have in class. I typically used a modified version of my big-class lesson. Often, I removed team activities because I had classes of two or three.

Sometimes, I would have the whole class play the team game, but draw a monster on a board with an RPG style health bar. Instead of competing against one another, their points depleted the “health” of the monster. This created a more collaborate, rather than competitive, environment without seeming too “kumbaya”fluffy.

As I left, grade 2—consisting of two girls—was in gym class. How do you have gym class with two middle school girls? Mostly, they seemed to each have a Frisbee, throw it, then walk across the field to retrieve and repeat. It was strange. And comical. And strangely comical.

Anpyeong middle
My co-teacher, Mr. Go, and the 1st grade class plays an English game. The boys and girls self-segregated in this class. Anpyeong, a very small school, was co-ed unlike my middle school in Uiseong.


Four classes on this day, hands-down my busiest day. I have two first grade (7th grade) classes. The class captain in one sometimes has the whole class bow to me at the end. Generally, the first graders are polite students. I feel the worst when one of my classes do not go well with them.
In some classes, students de-rail or do everything in their power to stare out the window at other boys playing soccer pining (after soccer) or just refuse to participate.
In the first grade classes, they are slightly more attentive and I feel it is more my fault if things do not go well.

As well, for whatever reason, that I have never figured out, I go to the students classrooms on this day. Usually, they go to one of two English classrooms.
This can complicate my lessons.

On Thursday evening, I go with Rebecca (Fulbright teacher, Uiseong elementary) and Kevin (EPIK teacher, in Uiseong for 3 years) to the Uiseong orphanage. We play with the younger children. The orphanage feeds us dinner.
The social worker is always VERY glad to see us: (“HELLO! NICE TO MEET YOU AGAIN!” is his refrain). One week we made kimchi, another cookies, another abract ink art, another we played games, another they made Christmas cards. They’re really adorable.

{I don’t have much storage space on WordPress, so here’s a only a few pics: more from my semester on flickr. Game for pedants: there’s 1 historical inaccuracy in the slide show. Find it, and you get bragging rights. But nothing else.}

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Back to three classes. These classes seem most likely to get cancelled. My lowest level and most non-participatory classes are on this day. I feel so bad for the three students who try in my Friday class last period. Their fellow students give them a poor learning environment, and I often seem ineffective at improving it.

But it is not all bad. In fact, Fridays can have some good moments even in those classes. Not to mention, when it is warmer, I can sometimes go outside with students after lunch. Students get an hour for lunch here.

Finally, If I haven’t video chatted Kendall by this day, I start whining to her in Google Hangouts messenger about what a sorry state of affairs it is.
That is how I end my weekdays.

The weekend

Sometimes I visit my friend Victoria in Andong. Sometimes, I go work on Infusion literary magazine at which I’m managing editor. Other times, I stay in Uiseong.

Saturday and Sunday
Call me boring but, if I spend the weekend in my favorite garlic farming town, I typically relax, read, and go to church.

Then, I go to a “young persons'” service on Saturday. Or church on Sunday at Uiseong Presbyterian Church. Probably both, because the Elder’s wife texts me in Korean wondering where I am on Sundays if I just to go the Saturday service.

A kind guy named Kibu often translates for me (double major in Chinese and Engineering, y’all). And, if not him, Jake does. Jake is a Korean soldier who grew up since middle school in America. Sometimes I am startled to hear “Hey Jon” in an American accent. Then, I realize, it is him. Despite my (nearly non-existent) Korean, it’s a very hospitable place.

-“Learn more Korean. Then, after seminary, come back and you can do an English language service and work at a Korean church. Are you Presbyterian?”

I have heard this phrase more than once at the church, after they find out my post-Korea plans of persuing an M.Div.

Saturday night is one of the few times I see people anywhere near my age. Korean urban flight is so real.

By Saturday, I should have e-mailed my lesson plans to my co-teacher, Ms. Kang as well.

Ah, I’ve referenced many topics. More detail later.
For now, that’s a typical week last semester.

Post ideas/ questions below so I have direction for further posts! 


The Late, Great Stephen Colbert – Joel Lovel

This is excerpted from the GQ  cover story on August 17, 2015.

That day after he got back from Michigan, we eventually got around to the question of how it could possibly be that he suffered the losses he’s suffered [including his father and two brothers in a plane crash as a child] and somehow arrived here. It’s not just that he doesn’t exhibit any of the anger or open-woundedness of so many other comedians; it’s that he appears to be so genuinely grounded and joyful.

He sat silently for a while and then smiled. “Yeeeahhhh,” he said. “I’m not angry. I’m not. I’m mystified, I’ll tell you that. But I’m not angry.”

There were such depths in the way he said “mystified.”

It was hard to talk about these things, he said. “I want to answer in ways that are not pat. And so I want to take a moment and think of a way to answer that isn’t pre-packaged.”

There was a time when he’d done a lot of press for his old show, which inevitably entailed answering some version of this question over and over. And then he decided to stop, refusing even to do any exit interviews when The Colbert Reportcame to an end. “I can’t imagine why anyone wants to hear anything about me anymore,” he said. “This is not meant as resistance, or pejoratively. I’m just being honest.” And so the challenge was “to find a way to do press that isn’t just a carbonated version of a drink I brewed many, many years ago. Just throw effervescence into a drink I’ve already brewed.”

He didn’t have to do this. He was exhausted. He had so many other things to do that day, meetings stacked up for the next few hours, people peeking in through his office window hoping to grab a moment of his time. He could have certainly given a version of the answer he’s given before. Or he could have said, Come on, man, right now? Just let me eat my chicken with hot sauce in peace, will you?

Instead he said, “So my reaction when I hear that question isn’t”—he shifted into a somber, sonorous voice—“ ‘Oh, I don’t want to talk about that.’ It’s that I don’t want to say this—ready?” He snapped his fingers and locked eyes with me in a pose of dramatic intensity. “MY. MOTHER.” His face softened. “But the answer is: my mother.”

He lifted his arms as if to take in the office, the people working and laughing outside his door, the city and the sky, all of it. “And the world,” he said. “It’s so…lovely. I’m very grateful to be alive, even though I know a lot of dead people.” The urge to be grateful, he said, is not a function of his faith. It’s not “the Gospel tells us” and therefore we give thanks. It is what he has always felt: grateful to be alive. “And so that act, that impulse to be grateful, wants an object. That object I call God. Now, that could be many things. I was raised in a Catholic tradition. I’ll start there. That’s my context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next—the catechism. That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings.”

He was tracing an arc on the table with his fingers and speaking with such deliberation and care. “I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. Byher example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.

“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”

Consider that this is coming from a man who millions of people will soon watch on their televisions every night—if only there were a way to measure the virality of this, which he’ll never say on TV, I imagine, but which, as far as I can tell, he practices every waking minute of his life.

The next thing he said I wrote on a slip of paper in his office and have carried it around with me since. It’s our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain. “At every moment, we are volunteers.”

JOEL LOVELL is an editor for This American Life and a story editor at The Atavist.

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Photo credit Sebastian Kim, GQ.

Fulbright Orientation Week 3: Why I love visiting churches and Why ecclesiology is like surgery.

I am thankful for those of my ETA friends who consistently put up with my slow learning. Each time we are out, they correct my lacking Korean pronunciation. And, as a bonus, they sometimes give me an insight into what is going on around me.

Such was the case at church today when I went with Esther, Victoria, and Kirim. We attended the Methodist church, which has a large cross on top of it which lights up neon red at night.

Goesan Methodist Church sanctuary in 2012. Photo: by Sarah Carey, former Fulbrighter and fellow Georgetown College graduate and English major and teacher. Taken from her blog.

When driving on the interstate, it is always perilous to be my passenger if we pass a church. I will turn my head to try to see what sort of church it is. Then I will become distracted trying to glean clues from its symbols and architecture so I can tell you about its tradition’s origins and splits and controversies and distinctives: because I’m a ecclesiastical nerd.

Which is to say, I may drive the car into a ditch, but you will be highly informed on why the Independent Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ split and how they are both related to a Kentucky revival in 1801.

This is not to say I am the “holiest nerd,” because ecclesiology (church governance, ecclesiastical polity) is the most dirty and political branch of theology.

Ecclesiologists are like the surgeons of Christianity: they slice, take samples for analysis, stitch up, and put their hands on the prone-to-infection parts of church life no one really wants to touch, polity: how decisions are made.

If you see an ecclesiologist interested in what is happening in your church, just like if there is a surgeon interested in your body, either blood has been spilled– or it is going to be.

Fortunately for you, I won’t be discussing ecclesiology here, but observations about worship (liturgy).

Goesan Methodist Church. Photo by: Sarah Carey.

Observation time!

What I noticed about the Geosan Methodist Church:

-Welcome, nice to meet you! No need to donate! The church, despite language barriers, welcomed us warmly with lots of bowing, shaking of hands, and greetings of 반갑습니다 (bangapsumnida: nice to meet you). Kirim encouraged us to put some won (₩) into a box when we entered (this is how the church collected offerings). However, a woman quickly pushed me to my seat as I took out my wallet. Apparently, she did not want a guest to give! Or, maybe, I was just in the way!

-Pastors need strong legs. In both churches I have attended in Korea (one Methodist, one Presbyterian), this has proved true. He did not sit in a chair or a pew the whole service. Meanwhile, the congregation sang more than half of the songs sitting down.

-Pastors need good singing voices. Two churches in one city is a negligible sample size, but in both cases the Pastor led singing. The Methodist church had two women who sang, but only one of them ever stood up. Most songs were sung sitting down. They had microphones in front of them at the pew. This reminds me of the Anglo-Catholic parish, St. Giles, I attended in Oxford. Chanting was a big part of the Pastor’s job. I hear many traditions require seminarians to take voice lessons. I am sure many Baptist pastors in America are happy they do not have such a requirement. There was a choir in robes singing as well, but they were to the side of the congregation. The Pastor was very much in front and in front of a microphone.

-Call and response: wake up your neighbor and tell them what the preacher just said. Reading allowed, in unison was common. There were lots of “Amens” in the sermon (which, is pronounced more or less the same way as in English). And the Pastor at least half a dozen times told the congregants to say something like “God meets you in prayer” to one another. During the sermon, people would turn as directed and respond to one another.

In some ways, churches in Korea are very traditional. The Pastor wears robes. There was the prayer of confession (which I appreciated, though I could not understand it) served at communion. The songs are hymns–(including “Jesus loves me” in Korean. How nice it was to recognize a song!), but there is also some expressiveness to worship. Those in front of me rocked back and forth during songs, and there was some clapping. While hardly your heavily charismatic experience, congregational participation was, happily, very present.

-(American) Patriotism? Or an example of faithful prayer? Today’s passage was Luke 18:1-8. It concerns faithfulness in prayer and gives a parable of an unjust judge who, nevertheless, exacts justice because a woman bugs him so much. To quote Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase (or Protestant mid-rash, as one Orthodox internet friend put it), Jesus’ point is to say:

“Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”

Prayer is important, and it is efficacious. That was the point of the sermon. Yet, it began in a way I did not expect: a video of soldiers, The 101 Airborne with Mohawks, the landing at D-Day, and President Eisenhower. Victoria told me one of the phrases in Korean on the video was “Eisenhower: a man of prayer.”

Eisenhower at D-Day. June 6, 1944. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Relating something like Patriotism in any way which makes it seem synonymous to devotion to God is something that never exactly makes me comfortable in church. Though, I must say, I was doubly surprised to see an American President (perhaps?) held up as an example of Christian devotion. I always have admired Eisenhower (and his predecessor, Harry Truman) as some of the best Presidents of the 20th century. And as the video was shown, I remembered that Eisenhower was the only President in U.S. history to be baptized while President. Yet, I confess, I have no idea what the point of the video exactly was!

Somethings just remain uncertain. And while I love analyzing churches, one of the good things about not understanding everything which happens, about being an outsider in a different culture, is I am less critical. I simply observe and participate in ways I can, and worship. While I believe in worshiping in the vernacular (language of the people), participating as a guest is a humbling experience for my critical mind.

The sermon itself did not seem to mention Eisenhower or any other political figures (from what was told to me). Rather it focused on the devotion of prayer of biblical figures.

-No hymnals, no Bibles in the pew. bring your own.

Conveniently, both Korean churches I attended had ledges on the pew to lay a Bible flat or put a communion cup. There were no hymnals or bibles provided. Rather, the words (AND musical notes) were displayed on screen. Kirim asked the three of the Americans who attended with him, “Why do you not bring Bibles? It’s worship!”

I did notice most people brought Bibles. The kinds which zip or snap in protective cases are the most popular. And, apparently, among some it is very expected you bring your own (though scripture was also projected on the screen).

-Excuse me while I change. 

Communion was served during service. Three men and one woman went up to the alter and received communion directly from the Pastor before distributing the elements to us in the congregation. One of them was the man in front of me. Just before, he steps out in into the aisle, and starts putting on a white robe over his clothes. They also wore white gloves with a red cross on the back of the hand. This was different than what I am used to seeing. But the sudden clothing addition seemed routine for him.

-Real wine

Communion was served with real wine: which surprised me a little. I by no means object to the practice. However, real wine is uncommon (though no longer banned) for Methodists in the United States. Victoria told me it was a dessert wine. It was quite good, I have to admit. Though it felt strange to think that about the blood of Christ (in whatever sense you believe, or don’t believe it is). I almost prefer “the blood of salvation, spilt for you” to be something slightly unpleasant.

-Come eat after the service!

A full meal was served after the service. I was given extra dried seaweed, because many Koreans seem to imagine I can not handle the spicy food. Alas, I am picky–but I can handle spicy food. In fact, I ate many of the green peppers just fine. And there was watermelon: I know I will be very upset when it is no longer in season. I think I love it almost as many Korean people do!

Also, at lunch, just like at a restaurant I ate at yesterday, I was told to use a spoon after paining a Korean at the same table with my abysmal use of chopsticks. Such is life, when you are the only white person at church! Sometimes, you get a little extra attention. Such is life.

-Final thoughts

I loved attending church and always love observing how fellow believers in different cultures gather for worship. I am not often an outsider, and not often is Christian worship foreign to me. Visiting a new place, a new culture, allows me to experience worship, somewhat, with new eyes and renews the simple joy of spiritual communion with believers and worship of God. There is more to analyze, because there is more I do not know. Yet, the distance also encourages simple participation. Sometimes I am just happy to recognize the tune to “Jesus loves me.”

Definitely, I look forward to visiting more churches and learning more about Christianity in Korea.


Oh, and we stopped for Patbingsu 팥빙수 (a shaved iced dessert) at a coffee shop!

Fulbright Orientation Week 2-2.5: It’s a bit of a blur, really.

“Orientation, I remember that,” an undisclosed renewing Fulbright grantee said to me, wistfully, as remembering childhood in a sort of Richard-Dreyfuss-narrating- Stephen-King’s-Stand-by-Me-tone:. The tone indicated a mix of horror and nostalgia. She said it as if it was a coming of age tale–though it took place less than a year ago. “Actually,” she added, “it’s kind of a blur. Now that I think about it.”

One would think that I could avoid some of the blur by blogging regularly. Yet, here I am, only a-week-and-a-half after my last blog post and what I have experienced is already a blur.

For reference, here are the topics I am covering.

Church on Sunday, July 19th.

That Korean class grind.

-Sokcho (속초) weekend, July 24-26 (part 2)

-Camp Fulbright (part 2)

    -First of two weeks ongoing at the time of this post.
-And first lesson, July 29th.

I go to Korean class. I learn a lot of concepts and words; I struggle to remember them. I recognize what is on the board twenty minutes after my classmates. I go to the extra study help, where I am told I understand grammar and need to practice speaking, vocabulary, and pronunciation (I understand the grammar? I don’t feel like I do!). I go to talks on teaching and Korean culture. I do lesson planning for camp Fulbright. I go to more talks. I make small talk. “I do” –“I do”– a lot. But doing alone does not make for much good reading. Writing and reading is the most internally active and externally still activity (at least it has since most people became more like St. Ambrose than St. Augustine and read silently)¹.

Time for reflection is sparse.

A life too busily lived is something like cooking barbecue, which meant to be slow-cooked, in twenty minutes: the quality of the meat may be good but the final product will never be what it could have been with proper time to marinate. In this metaphor, my day is the brisket and time for the brisket/day to marinate is equivalent to time to reflect on what I did each day.

Mmm, day brisket. Mmm, over-explaining metaphors.

*  *  *

From the top:

Church on Sunday, July 19th.

Before our afternoon workshops, I went to church with Kirim (the Korean R.A. here at Jungwon) and three ETAs: Becky, Grace, and Esther. Their Korean was all, to varying degrees, better than mine, which made understanding a bit better. The text was the Gospel of Mark’s passage on Christ’s time in the wilderness.

It was a small service which Kirim said was meant for “young guys”. By that, I think he meant people without families or working young people. Aside from us, the service only had 15 people. A rough estimate would say this Presbyterian church could only house around 80 people. The Methodist church in Goesan is bigger (with its red neon cross; neon crosses, I have seen, are not uncommon in South Korea).

I did not understand much. There was a piano, drum set, and keyboard visible, but no one during the service played any of the instruments. Instead, the music was supplied by a sweet chimey-CD voice-track-less Gospel music. I have only heard this type of worship music when outside the United States.

The Pastor stood in front of the congregation the whole time. Since he led singing, it was a pleasant surprise he was a competent vocalist. Occasionally, the songs were slow enough that I could read and pronounce the sounds. Though I did not understand anything, I appreciated the time of Spiritual communion with a body with whom I share the faith– though not a language.

That Korean class grind.

If I am completely transparent, my self-perceived lack of “marketable skills” has always been an area of chagrin for me. For a very long time, I feared the perception of being the History / English B.A. who is underemployed and unable to secure gainful full-time employment. “I always like my barista to know a lot about Milton,” some would joke as I studied hands-down the greatest Epic poet in the English language.

In small talk in college, after asking what I study, the follow-up question was always: “What do you plan to do?” Always, I loathed the knowing nod of the head after I said, “I plan to teach.” The head nod was all I needed, “Of course you are going to teach,” I could almost hear it saying.“What else can you do with that degree?”

Part of my desire to go abroad was a desire to learn something completely new. Even if I never pass a test which says I am proficient in another language, perhaps succeeding in my duties as a Fulbright grantee may show I am adaptable.

I want to show future employers, friends, the acquaintance who hears of my studies and thinks “Well, of course, you teach!,” any prohibitively limiting assumptions they may have about my professionally competency are misguided. When I teach, (I want to believe) I do so because I love to teach and want to teach, not because I can do nothing else. Part of my motivation to work hard is to prove to myself that my financial and personal well-being is not shot in the foot because of my educational distance from S.T.E.M. fields.

Of course, more noble reasons co-exist with this desire to prove myself: a desire to engage in cultural exchange, to learn about a new place, people, and culture, a true love for teaching are all the main reasons why I applied to the Fulbright ETA program.

But, if I am forthright, I am not without something to prove– even if I know I should not have such an attitude.

That is why it is so hard for me to come to terms with this fact: Languages are not my strength. Korean class is hard! My teachers, surprisingly, say I understand the grammar and speaking and vocabulary are what I need to practice.

In class, I will marvel at how much I could say, IF only we were speaking Portuguese. In a strange way, it is a serious confidence builder: I feel like this training in a language with little in common with English will make learning Romance languages easier for me in the future.

Yet, there are drawbacks in the present. After attending ever extra study session except two, my progress is limited. Today, I humiliated myself when I saw one of my teachers in the hallway and could not manage two sentences to say to her when she spoke to me. Part of it is a matter of strict memorization. Part of it, is learning takes a great deal of time.

Thankfully, the Orientation Coordinators (OC) staff has been encouraging. While I by no means want my hand held, they have given advice and shared their experiences with learning Korean. All are at different levels. Some made learning Korean more of a priority than others. That is to be expected. Just as everyone’s grant year is different so are our ambitions, virtuous or selfish or (as everyone’s are) mixed.

My own goals are to be able to hold a basic conversation and navigate the country, ask for directions, order food, book a hostel, and maybe–the gold crown of my non-English language achievement– order food by telephone. That seems a long distance away. For a long while, it will be me, my textbook, flashcards on Memrise, and patient peers, strangers, and teachers listening to me stumble and slowly improve.

The Korean language class grind is real. What sympathy I gain for my English language learning students students, at the same time! Today, I taught my first lesson to an exceptional group of students at the ongoing Fulbright English program. After I taught them, I thought about all they can do in English which is far beyond my abilities in Korean and I am so impressed by their hard work.

One step at a time. One day at a time. For now, I will have to end the post here and speak about more exciting items on my list (our weekend at Sokcho and my first lesson as a Fulbright ETA) later. It is time to study!

It may have gotten a little introspective in this post, but I hope you understand some more of my mindset– more of why, in my mind, what I do becomes such a blur of “doing” as attempt to overcome what are (to me) large hurdles.

Maybe that will make understanding what I am doing here more comprehensible.

Next post, expect more of what I am really here to do: teach and experience a new culture! My thoughts may explain my perception, but we both know what you really want to read about!


Reading silently didn’t become common until the 10th century. (Click to go back up)

From Alberto Manguel, Chapter 2 of A History of Reading(New York; Viking, 1996):

Ambrose was an extraordinary reader. ” ‘When he read’,” said Augustine, ” ’his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.’ “

“Eyes scanning the page, tongue held still: that is exactly how I would describe a reader today, sitting with a book in a cafe across from the Church of St. Ambrose in Milan, reading, perhaps, Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Like Ambrose, the reader has become deaf and blind to the world, to the passing crowds, to the chalky flesh-coloured facades of the buildings. Nobody seems to notice a concentrating reader: withdrawn, intent, the reader becomes commonplace.

“To Augustine, however, such reading manners seemed sufficiently strange for him to note them in his Confessions. The implication is that this method of reading, this silent perusing of the page, was in his time something out of the ordinary, and that normal reading was performed out loud. Even though instances of silent reading can be traced to earlier dates, not until the tenth century does this manner of reading become usual in the West…”

Fulbright Orientation Week 1: Yohan learns kimchi is a fact of life, but he does not like it. (He likes everything else swell though).

Blog post on Monday, July 13th- Saturday, July 17th, 2015.

After a long time of travel, all the ETAs (English teaching assistants) arrived at the Incheon airport outside of Seoul, filled out paper work, got on a bus for a two hour trip, and were provided with copious amounts of snacks and (if requested) motion sickness pills by our orientation coordinators. We participated in a whirlwind of small talk (“Where are you from?” “What did you study?” “Have you ever been to Korea before?”) and BAM, we arrived. Oh, it feels so much better to be over with that process in a paragraph rather than the 30 hours it actually took.

Where we arrived to is Jungwon University, near the center of the country in a small town called Goesan (). It is our gray labyrinth, our concrete fortress, and our home for the next six weeks.

Since I have been here for almost 1 week exactly, let’s go through a quick run-down of the place and the orientation experience so far.

Check out the gallery for some look around the campus: situated between mountains with a lot of athletic facilities, the college can be quite beautiful. It also has some unique choices in decor (brace yourself for the delightful experience of viewing a Mickey mouse in a blazer statue, Godzilla holding a fish, and a soldier memorial who looks like a character from the Killzone video game franchise).

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Actually I think they’re called something different, but I can’t be bothered to look up the name. These are talks from current ETAs on topics like lesson planning, a basic Korean cultural umbrella, a breakneck overview of MAJOR, GIGANTIC trends in Korean history, an overview of the Korean education system, teaching with a textbook, classroom management and a small army of other topics.

The presenters are experienced and prepared. Every single one prefaced their talk by saying “I’m not expert” and “I don’t know everything”. The humility is sometimes winsome, but I wish the speakers did not worry.

Anyone silly enough to expect to get all the answers in a one hour talk is going to be disappointed no matter what you say: even if you were a level 80 paladin of teaching with a textbook. (Is that a World of Warcraft joke? I don’t even play that game. How do I know what to reference? I’m not expert, moving on…)

The seminars have important information, but can be tiring. Thursday, we had four or five one right after another after 4 hours of Korean class. Nine hours of sitting.

Four through Five of those hours were spent in a room with 80 people: mentally tiring. It is at least good to know that we are trying to fit in as much as possible in these 6 weeks to prepare us for the classroom.

Thankfully, they provided some of the presentations online for those of us unable to scribble down notes. The first of the seminars was on Monday, the day we also took our Korean placement test. Our first Korean classes were on Wednesday. Tuesday, we got on buses and visited one of several Korean schools for the first time! This is what we are here to do as Fulbright ETAs, teach and involve ourselves in cultural exchange.

Visit to an all girls Korean high school -Tuesday

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During our Korean educational system overview, we learned about what I (and many others) have heard about: high stakes testing. The college entrance test. It’s a big deal. On test day, mothers and grandmothers gather out city gates to pray for the success of their students.

Younger high school students cheer their older peers taking the test inside. Late students get police escorts to class. If you leave, your test is submitted or shredded. Stock markets open late. Businesses shut down. South Korea moves to the demands of the test (a phrase which, if a dramatic exaggeration, I’m told is close to truth).

I believe it: when we arrived, the 12th grade floor was in intense silent study time. I heard tapes of English conversations (some of which may end up on the test with answers the students will have to recall by brute memorization) and silence. English is but ~1/10 sections on the test, but I didn’t understand much of what was going on in the third floor. The test is in November, and students were in serious study.

Many students go to hagwons, or private cram-schools, after school. It is even the habit of some students to sleep in class to stay up to study. This may seem counter-intuitive to us, but the test determines a large part of these student’s futures. One question missed disqualifies students from Korean SKY schools (think Korean Ivy league), which is highly sought-after.

The South Korean government has put some restrictions on hagwons (they are not supposed to be open after 10:30pm), but the competition is deep. Given how much stress high school students are under, I sometimes wonder if I would enjoy teaching English class in lower grades more. Fulbright ETAs act as what elementary schools sometimes call “Special teachers” (not special education but “special classes”).

That is, classes that meet once a week. An ETA teaches 20 hours weekly, has time aside from that for lesson planning, and can have around 14-20 classes with a total of 300-1200 students. This is a serious change from my schedule as a first year high school teacher. Additionally, the most I have heard of any ETA being responsible for is 30% of student’s English grade (there is another English class).

The ETAs job includes education and cross-cultural exchange: teaching conversational English is more our goal than being the sole contributor to student’s English grammatical knowledge. Given this, no high school grade 3 (senior) students took the ETA English class (at least while we were there). The ETA at the all girl’s high school we visited played a game as it was their last class for the year.

The game consisted of guessing American pop songs’ missing lyrics and titles as well as Korean pop songs titles and missing lines (translated into English). The students were very high energy, no sleepers–which I am told is sometimes uncommon as students can be stressed or shy. Then again, it was the day that they played a game and the class had visitors (us) and boys (including me).

The open giggling (in unison, like some sort of laugh track or maybe a horror film if I wanted to be melodramatic) was astounding. Thankfully, I was not the one seen as the most handsome or — perhaps of more interest– tallest in the group, so I did not receive the brunt of attention. But it was certainly there!

Korean language placement test and class- ~Wednesday

Our placement test was Monday. They asked use to write a self-introduction in Korean. I wrote down four phrases I had tried to memorize in hanguel, the Korean alphabet:

1. Hello 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo)

2. My name is Jonathan Balmer. 저는 ___ 입니다. ( (literally: My name _________ is–My first attempt at spelling my name in hanguel was attracious and I will not include it).

3. I do not know Korean. 한국말 못해요 (hangugmal moshaeyo literally: Korean I speak can’t).

4. Goodbye (annyeonghi gyeseyo 안녕히 계세요. Used for person leaving.)

After I turned the paper in I went in for a speaking interview. Apparently, this was for people trying for more advanced classes.

In a moment of pure serendipitous brilliance, I ended up getting in line (yes, sarcasm: yes, you’re quick!). In any case, a woman spoke to me in Korean. I awkwardly smiled. The woman asked me if I had ever studied Korean. A bit of self-study of the basics and hangul, I responded (all in English).

Some of it may be misspelled. She laughed. What a confirmation. Then, the interviewer asked in English, “Do you want to be in the beginner course?” To which I responded, “Of course yes!” Beginner is what I expected.

I just wanted to put enough to prove to my myself I had attempted to learn hangul and some basic phrases.

So, if you’re a future Fulbright student who is reading this (or, let’s be real, your über curious parents scouring ETA blogs to see what you’re getting yourself into), take heart: you will survive the placement test. Everyone does.

That said, I had memorized hangul — or rather the hangul jamo (letters). This I quickly found out did not mean I was good at pronouncing Korean words.

Four hours a day of Korean class!

Get pumped, cats, because this is where the schedule gets real(ly busy)! You and 14 other Fulbright ETAs you have never met! And a teacher– who ostensibly speaks English only when every other option is completely exhausted — teaches you. How does that work? Well, so far, pretty well. My pronunciation has definitely improved.

The teachers, from three days experience, are clearly skilled teachers. Excited, knowledgeable, eager to present Korean pronunciation with games. Here’s some examples: from bingo which requires you to recognize spoken Korean syllables to drawing hangul on classmates backs with a finger and guessing what characters they are drawing by pronouncing them out loud.

We had fun. One student, Matt, wrote the English word “Sexy” on his nametag in hangul. Our teacher caught on quickly: nothing gets past him. There are two teachers a day. They each teach two hours and then switch to another class. Our second teacher is particularly animated.

Sometimes, doing pronunciation drills, the teacher will tell us what the word we just said meant. We just pronounced some basic word like 신 (Shim) which means “God”. Our teacher started singing “Jesus loves you” in English (so we would get the meaning of the word) , with his Korean accent and exuberance which could only illicit smiles: even from those of us with little idea what was going on around us.

The same teacher also told me the Korean translation of my name adding that it was from the Bible and is considered a “Christian name” in Korea. It is “Yo-han” (요한). I quite like the name and, as a bonus, it is certainly easier for Koreans to pronounce than the “th” in “Jonathan”.

gs 요한 is obviously transliterated, as many forms of Jonathan or John are like “Johannes” or “Yonatan”. My friend Kel even called me “Yohannes Von Von Gutenberg: inventor of the printing printing press” (a press, presumably, which prints printing presses: like a 3D printer).

It was a joke.

Albeit a bad and odd one.

You’re obliged to laugh now, thanks.

Finally, it is odd how my brain defaults to the one foreign language I sort of know in class. I will excitedly think, “I know how to respond to what the teacher is saying!” only to realize I know the word in Portuguese. I also caught myself in this very blog post typing “Portuguese” instead of “Korean.” (P.S. It is your job to find typos, spelling and grammatical errors and report them. I fired my blog editor because she doesn’t exist, and therefore had a very mediocre performance review).

A visit from a friend and Korea ETA- Wednesday night through Thursday

Leanndra, my friend, a fellow Georgetown College English major, taught in Hwacheon Middle school as a Fulbright ETA. We have kept in touch with our International book club which meets on Google hangouts ~1 time a week, but this was the first time we had seen one another in person since a brief lunch meeting over Christmas. So we hit the town, bought fried chicken (oh, be still my beating heart) at a hole-in-the-wall chicken place, and talked.

Sadly, the visit was short. Leanndra gave her presentation on teaching with a textbook and promptly left only the next day! What do we have to show for it? Several pictures of statues holding peppers form Goesan, good memories, and slightly more bad cholesterol from the chicken. It was wonderful to see my friend, even for a short time. I will try to wield the Georgetown College/ Fulbright Korea torch well, Leanndra.

The food

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Food is always an bizarre topic for me. Do I like it here? Of course not, but that is hardly any chef, or nation’s, fault. I do not like a lot of food. I hope any host family I may have is not offended that I do not like their food.

I always find enough to get by without starving. And, since arriving in Korea, I’ve begun taken a multivitamin, calcium, vitamin c, 1-a-day- Zyrtec, and plenty of granola bars. I am taking care of myself in the stark absence of Tex-Mex cuisine.

Most meals consisted of rice, some sides (usually including vegetables or mushrooms, rarely fruit–though we did have the precious gift of watermelon given to us by Fulbright Korea director Shim herself!), always some sort of soup (fish broth is common), and a light helping of meat and kimchi (fermented cabbage) at every meal.

Kimchi is a fact of life. I must tell you wonderful news: We had fried chicken tonight (Saturday night). It was lightly spicy, and everything a dreamed it could be.

The town

Goesan, the town in which I will be staying in for 5 more weeks, is small. I have had barbecue (inexpencievely at 6,000 won–~$6USD), shaved ice, and ice cream within its shops. I will not say much, pictures may give you some better idea of what I have been doing (and I will add more later).

Mandatory fun!

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Today, we were told very little, by design I imagine, of what we would be doing. It turned out to be a day of team-building, sharing, and “mandatory fun” as I like to call it.

As far as mandatory fun goes, however, it turned out quite nicely. We played games where we tried to build a device to prevent eggs from cracking when dropped, guided two blindfolded team members (I was one of them) to pour water into a cup, made a team flag (ours looks like the flag of the Fire Nation from Avatar: The Last Airbender).

Our teams greatest spectacle was suspending all ten members of our teem in the air for three seconds using only a plastic grated box. We did so in the incredible time of 1 minute 17 seconds. I wish I had a video of that. We beat all other teams in this category by minutes.

The greatest spectator-game spectacle was the “Ninja” tournament competition. Ninja, for those of you who have accidentally or deliberately avoided orientations, church camps, and groups of teenagers forced to wait in a parking lot wanting to be entertained, is a game in which each player is allowed one offensive “ninja” move.

The object is to hit another player’s hands, until both hands are gone and the player is out. The movement must be one continuous movement. The attacked person may move their hand in response, but only once. This game was one of great tactical skill, and some humor. 8.5/10: I do recommend.

Most of my pictures in this section come from this event. Plus, there were the staples of increasingly personal questions asked as people “Crossed the line” either to the “Yes” or “No” side. As designed, some of them were uncomfortable. Though, I  I much preferred the “Just because I am ________ doesn’t mean I am _________” activity, in which we addressed misconceptions about ourselves and provided the remedy in the positive statement “I am __________.” It has been very, very busy. But, you can’t say I have not kept you updated!

Coming up!

  • Church: visiting my first Korean church tomorrow. I’ll let you know how that goes!
  • My first Korean test: Monday. Oh my, I better study.
  • Coming up is the Fulbright English program camp (formerly, Camp Fulbright) at which I will be teaching intermediate high and advanced students my first English language lessons in Korea. Be on the lookout for that.

The sun has set in the west. The sun also rises in the east.

The sun has set the last time for me over the skies of Ohio and Kentucky. Last night, celebrating at Connor and Georgia’s wedding, I looked over the treeline at a last Kentucky sunset thinking it would be my last until (at least) Christmas. And then, some 2000s-era line dance blared from the reception hall- barn to ensure I didn’t get too romantic about the moment.

It daunts me to leave because, while the good is unknown, what I am leaving behind is known.

I know I will miss two weddings in which I was supposed to be a groomsmen.

I know I will miss countless outings to MiCasita or Red State barbecue, services at Georgetown Baptist, late nights getting half priced Sonic milkshakes (hold up–why do so many of these things involve food!) and talking with friends about those things which are inane and important–and humorous, and sad.

I’ll miss talking about silly excuses I’ve heard from students for poor test grades (My favorite: “You didn’t tell us we would have to KNOW what we read!”) as well as hopes for the future, faith in what is, what was, and what is to come.

But there is much more than that awaiting: though I am not sure what precisely. Sure, I have my typical fears. For one, I barely know the alphabet (Hanguel) and a few “survival phrases”. When I studied abroad in Brazil, I learned by an incredible amount of error. (The poor açougueiro who cut my beef at the deli. I know I messed up my order with him a half dozen times before I got it right!).

In South Korea, I know there will be people, other ETAs (English teaching assistants) much more skilled with languages than me. It will be an occasion to grow, slay my pride, and to accept as much help as those around me are willing to give.

For another fear, my palette is dreadfully American. Back that up, I don’t like most American foods. I’m not chicken-nuggets-fries-and-packaged-foods-only bad–but I’m barely better. Worst is, I have the worst poker face known to humanity. Believe me, I have eaten things out of politeness many times: but I never fool anyone.

But, new friends, new foods, and excitement in mastering something new– teaching English to those who do not speak it as a native language– all await.

If what I leave behind is certain, and what I am going to is not it is natural this feeling springs out of a mix of anticipation and fear called “a healthy travel anxiety”.

Given that I will be somewhere inside Los Angeles airport tonight, I have seen my last Western sunset for quite some time. And, when I arrive, I will see the sun rise on Sunday in Seoul, South Korea, on July 12th– provided it isn’t too rainy.

The known sun sets in the west. The unknown sun rises in the east.

My Fulbright journey has begun.