Adventures of Adjusting Ambassador : Welcome to Yuchon-ri!

Hey guys! I’ve missed you and reassure you that there was a « method to the madness »  so to speak. During my first few months, I have gone through many ups and downs and I wanted to experience the first months at my school before compiling my thoughts. It’s been a whirlwind and I find that, in the moment, it’s easy to be governed by emotion.

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There’s nothing quite like the fall foliage of Gangwon-do Province!

Emotions are not always the most pragmatic when it comes to having sound judgement. I’ve sought a balance between having the support I need through challenges, versus judging based on what I feel in the moment. Ergo, through meditation, I reflect before I react. This has made a world of difference in my experience.

In Yuchon, fall has brought about the changing of the leaves, a chestnut harvest, and, for the local farmers—harvesting the bounty of their gardens before the first frost—hours of work from dawn to dusk. Sometimes, I see the product of their harvest drying dangerouly on what should be the shoulder of the road.

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The hills are alive…with the sound of music! 🙂

«DANGER ?!! I laugh in the face of danger…unless it comes in the form of snakey, narrow roads with no room for runners like me! I’ve also been warned against running at night. Not only do I stand the chance of being obliterated by on-coming cars, but there are also wild boars—haha these wild pumbas are no joke! They weigh as much as I do and have tusks—and poisonous snakes that love to come out at night. Ergo, most days, I run in the morning, as the sun rises over the mountains of Gangwon-do…

…Now, before we continue, I must tell you that my town is rural. RURAL. This surprised me a bit and took some adaptation on my part. Accessibility can be a challenge to say the least, but I feel that this experience is good for me. It builds character and is making me a lot more appreciative as a person. Anywho, in my town—apart from farmland and greenhouses—there is a convenient store, my school, a bus stop and one main road…

As doing the same route becomes a monotonous task for any runner, I’ve begun to deviate from this road and have found smaller roads with less traffic. On these smaller roads, I sometimes see trails. I’m a Maine girl and inquisitive, so there’s no question: I take the trail. #Pine needles over pavement anyday.

The pungent smell of pine fills the air and the mulch gives a spring to my stride. I’ve got my favorite tunes in my ears and happiness in my heart. It’s like an explosion of happiness I can’t contain, nor do I have any inclination to. I burst into song, singing random lines of whatever happens to be on the morning playlist. I’m solo, so why not?

Haha, well, maybe not as solo as I initially thought…You see, roughly 10 minutes later, the trail ends near a field. You can imagine my surprise! Not exactly what anyone of us were expecting! And by ‘any of us’, I speak for myself as well as the farmers who were quietly harvesting sesame when stumbled upon their field…while singing!

It’s the funniest thing when people catch you singing. Sheer shock: who sings in the morning!!!? Outside!!!? Well, Julia Roberts did in “The Sound of Music” and if you were in a province as beautiful as those of Gangwon-do, you might have reason to sing too. Haha, that’s my defense! Sometimes, I may embarrass myself, but, if that’s the price to pay for happiness from time to time, I’m willing to pay it.

If we interpret ‘happiness’ as it is defined by Apple Dictionary: « a state characterized by satisfaction with a person, arrangement or situation », then I would dare say that I am finding happiness in Korea. This is due to a plethora of factors, but I give a lot of credit to my host family. I have had host families in the past, but none have been as welcoming or as loving as my host family in Yuchon.

12068502_890075834420312_3551819311872398922_oFirst in my family are my 3 host sisters. With the ages of 4, 8 and 10 in the household, there is never a dull moment and it reminds me a lot of my household in the states. They are sooo cute and were the first to greet me when I arrived in Yuchon. Haha, on my first day, minutes after my arrival, I got the grand tour and a bouquet of wild flowers. I absolutely love my host sisters and don’t think I could live without their laughter, games, imagination and perpetual energy! We play games, watch tv, cook, go to school together, and speak English and Korean on the daily—and bits of Spanish and French here and there :D. Recently, my host sisters caught me doing yoga and I’m glad they did! J Since that day, I have been teaching my host sisters yoga and it’s become something that we enjoy to do together. I can’t express how happy it makes me when my host sisters ask, « Amanda Teacher, can we do yoga now ? » The more I get to know these girls, the more I grow to love them. ❤

Drumroll, please! Next is my grandmother (할머니). I have never had the experience of living with a grandparent figure in my household, as it is becoming less and less common in the US and is not as prevalent as a tradition. Ergo, I was initially nervous when I heard I would have a host grandmother. However, I must say that my host grandma is one of the most kind-hearted and giving people I know. She doesn’t speak any English and my Korean is pretty basic at the moment. Nonetheless, this does not stop her from communicating with me. We have learned so much from each other already and I often carry a notepad to jot down new words that I learn or to draw pictures when trying to explain my day to her. She’s so busy all the time, yet still finds time in her day to speak with me. What do we do for fun? We have our own tradition where we sip tea after dinner, while watch a cooking show together. She is my adorable grandma with a big heart. ❤

Next, is my host mom (엄마). My host mom is originally from the Phillipines and she speaks English very well! I can talk to her about anything. We often enjoy coffee time together and walks through Yuchon after I get out of work. We can talk for hours without seeing the time pass. I know that I can always confide in my host mom if I am struggling. She is soo understanding of the difficulties of cultural adjustment   , as she has gone through some of the same things.

Then is my host dad (아빠). He is very kind, but usually quite busy during the day, so I don’t see him too much. He has helped me navigate the bus system in my province and taken me to the bus station to catch my train. He is dedicated to everyone in the family and on family outings he is there along with everyone else. I don’t feel as close to him as I do to grandmother and to my host mom.

Personally, in some contexts, I feel that gender norms seem culturally different here in Korea (especially in more traditional, rural areas). In this manner, it seems like an unspoken rule that men interact with men and women with women (Disclaimer: I have done no prior extensive research on this topic, so anything I have said is based on personal perceptions and experience in my placement). Chatting 1-on-1 with someone of the opposite gender in the US is acceptable, but here it seems it can be interpreted as making an advance of some sort. In this way, I have been more wary of approaching people, so as to respect this component of the culture here.

Whenever abroad, I serve as an ambassador of my country. In this manner, I’m mindful of what it means to be respectful in the country where I am a guest. In South Korea, I learned that respect of elders is important and permeates the patterns of everyday life. For example, whenever greeting those older than oneself, or those of a higher social station, it is important to use formal speech and bow 90 degrees when first addressing the person (When greeting others, still bow, but not as deeply). Gift giving is also another facet of respect and shows appreciation for co-workers and friends. It’s always important to remove one’s shoes when entering schools, certain restaurants, as well as peoples’ homes and apartments…

These are some basic rules when navigating everyday life in Korea, but I know that I have much to learn in the coming months. Everyday I learn something new. whether regarding Korean language, culture, teaching or personal growth, and am discovering so much. I recently discovered an orpahanage in the nearby city of Chuncheon, where I will begin volunteering starting next month and I am looking for opportunities to give back.Every day, you can change the world in little ways. Just keep a positive perspective and continue moving towards your dreams.
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ps. Feel free to throw suggestions my way of things you are curious about, or–as always– you are welcome to comment and ask questions!!! I would love for this blog to stimulate discussion. 🙂

Wherever you find yourselves in the world, I wish you all the best.

Ciao, Au Revior, Adios, Bye bye, and 안녕히가세요,

Amanda

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