A Letter From Myself

I walked back to the teacher’s office after sixth period today, and I found an envelope on my desk. A quick glance at the return address, and I saw that it was from the Fulbright Korea Program Coordinator, Amelea. Tearing open the envelope, I saw another smaller envelope, this one with my own handwriting. Nearly eleven months ago, back during Orientation, we had written letters to our future selves. As the grant year comes to a close, I can see what my past self had written, what my goals were, and how close I came to achieving them. Here are the contents of the letter:

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Departure Day

Goodbye Jungwon, hello Gimhae!

Today was yet another ceremony to serve as a farewell to the friends we made in Goesan and as an introduction to our co-teachers and schools. In the morning, the ETAs and OCs said tearful goodbyes and took pictures with each other. I never imagined that I would become so close to my fellow Fulbrighters in such a short amount of time. Luckily, we will all be together again for the fall conference in October!

Avalon crew

After taking pictures, the ETAs, both new and renewee, entered the auditorium the same way as for the Placement Ceremony. We stood in a horseshoe around the audience, and we stood with the other ETAs in our provinces. This time, the audience was filled with co-teachers, vice principals and principals from our schools. The OCs called our names one by one so we could step forward and bow. Some co-teachers stood up or presented flowers to their new ETA, while others took note of what we looked like. Fulbright also gave us flowers as a goodbye gift, which was a pleasant surprise!

After we finished our bows, all 120+ ETAs rushed to find their co-teachers in the audience. My co-teacher did not stand when I bowed, so I hoped he would remember what I looked like (there was a reason for my bright red blazer!). After a few minutes, my co-teacher, Mr. Hong, introduced himself and we went to the goodbye luncheon in the cafeteria. After lunch, we started the long drive to Gimhae.

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“It Was the Best of Classes, It Was the Worst of Classes”: My First Teaching Experiences

It was the best of classes, it was the worst of classes, it was the age of maturity, it was the age of middle school monsters, it was one class of hope, it was one class of despair. Such were my first two teaching experiences.

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Placement Day

Earlier this week, the Orientation Counselors called a surprise meeting. As we filed into the classroom, the OCs couldn’t hide their smiles and excitement as they announced:

“You are getting your placements on Thursday!”

My plans to study for the Korean quiz this week were shattered. How could I concentrate on verb conjugation when I would finally learn where I would be spending the next year?!

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Sokcho Weekend


This weekend, the Fulbright ETAs went to Sokcho, a beach town on the northeast coast, to take a break from the cultural workshops, language classes, and teacher training. My first taste of travel around Korea!

Mrs. Shim, Executive Director of the Korean-American Educational Commission that runs Fulbright Korea, offered a welcome address on Friday afternoon, in which she encouraged us to enjoy ourselves during the weekend and not even THINK about studying Korean or writing lesson plans. As a self-professed workaholic, this was probably the first time I’ve ever taken advice about not working. It was definitely worth the cramming I have to do back at Jungwon.

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A Different Way of Seeing the World…Literally

I was sitting in the ETA lounge at Jungwon today, doing my Korean homework and trying to remember all the rules for the past tense, when I looked up from my notebook and saw a map of the world hanging on the wall. But something about it was different.

I had flashbacks to elementary school geography, when I learned that maps could look different based on projections and shape. Sometimes Greenland was small and squished; other times it was the size of Africa. Sometimes Antarctica looked like a thin line, while other times it nearly touched South America. But in every map I had seen, North America was in the West and Asia was in the East.

Perhaps you’ve guessed how this map was different.

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Jungwon University

As previously mentioned, our orientation is held at Jungwon University in Goesan, a rural town about two hours south of Seoul. Although we spend most of our time in the dormitories, the Korean classrooms, an auditorium called “the Fishbowl,” and the cafeteria, today I explored some of the grounds outside of the university. Here are a few pictures to show the strange combination of traditional architecture, modernity,  rural roots, and dinosaur art that characterize this place we will call home for the first six weeks of the year.

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Receiving Insa

I was walking around Jungwon today, taking pictures with two of my friends, when we saw a Korean woman and her three children playing on the steps of the university. As the three of us walked past, we smiled and waved at the young family. The woman smiled back, inclined her head, and called out, “Hello!” She nudged one of her sons and said what sounded like, “Say hello!” The three children smiled and waved back, the son calling an enthusiastic, “Annyeong!” (“Hi!”). When I responded with “Annyeonghaseyo!”, the mother suddenly grabbed the child’s hair and pushed his head down into a full 90 degree bow. His siblings followed suit.

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First Language Class

So maaaaaybe “advanced beginner” is a little ambitious for me!

The little Korean I knew promptly disappeared as soon as 선생님 (“seonsaengnim” or “teacher”) began speaking. I have not heard much spoken Korean, so I spent most of the class trying to follow along and hoping that I was not the only one who was lost. It’s tricky to listen to the teacher, take notes, and look at the textbook at the same time when missing a word or two means the difference between understanding and confusion.

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Site visit to Gongju Sa-Dae-Bu High School

Today the ETAs went on site visits to elementary and high schools across Korea. I was in the group that shadowed David, a current ETA at Gongju Sa-Dae-Bu High School, and sat in on a few of his classes. During the day, we met the school principal and a few of David’s co-teachers, and we also ate lunch with the students in the cafeteria. It’s hard to believe that this will be me in a few short weeks!

Like in America, it is common for Korean high schools to be all girls or all boys. But even coed schools in Korea often have their classes separated by gender. Such was the case at David’s school. The ETAs in my group shadowed two of his female-only classes.  Each class had a different lesson, but both were equally fun and successful for the students.

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