Chuseok (Thanksgiving) in Korea

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View of the countryside by the house

This past week we celebrated Chuseok (Korean: 추석). This is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday in Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. When I ask students to describe Chuseok, the easiest way to describe it is “Korean Thanksgiving”.

My host family invited me to join them for the holiday and take part in many of the traditions. The only things that Chuseok and Thanksgiving have in common are the massive quantities of food consumed and the gathering of family. Past this, things start to differ.

Chuseok is a time when masses of people travel from large cities to their hometowns to pay respect to the spirits of their ancestors. Similar to how many people celebrate in Korea, my host family and I left the city of Gwangju and left for the countryside. We spent one day with the paternal side of the family at the hanok-style (traditional Korean) home in the countryside and the following day with the maternal side of the family at their large apartment in a small city outside Seoul.

Chuseok-charye

Charye (차례)

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An Embassy Thanksgiving » Cara Mooney Photography - […] is Chuseok, which was celebrated earlier this fall. You can check out my previous posts on this here and here. This was the first Thanksgiving that I have missed and haven’t been with my family. […]

Happy Lunar New Year! » Cara Mooney Photography - […] it’s called Seollal (Hangul: 설날). This holiday is one of the most significant, including Chuseok. Here, the celebration lasts three days: the day before Korean New Year day, Korean New Year day […]

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Getting Sick Abroad: Critiques of Universal Health Care in South Korea

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This past week has been rough. Like really rough. Not soon after I arrived in Gwangju, I started to lose my voice. Many people said it was because of all the teaching I was suddenly doing. Talking loudly for 6-8 hours a day to be heard above 30-40 rowdy middle school students seems like a logical reason for losing your voice. So I got a microphone: a common teaching tool in Korean schools. It helped, but I continued to get worse.

Two weeks ago, I started coughing. At first it was a dry cough, but it slowly developed into something with some phlegm. Despite not actually feeling sick, I wasn’t sleeping sleeping well. During this entire time, I felt healthy. No headache, no upset stomach, nothing. Just a persistent cough. So I was told to go to the hospital to see what was wrong.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional nor qualified writer on health care. These are my personal experiences and observations of the US and Korean health care systems.
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Hiking Mudeungsan » Cara Mooney Photography - […] more color on the trees. I had planned to do more hiking this year, but I was just so busy. I also got sick early on which ruined a number of weeks for me during peak hiking season! To date the only mountain I hiked […]

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A Day in the Life of a Native English Teacher in Korea

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Students playing soccer after lunch in front of the school

It has been over a month now! I can’t believe it! I have already fallen into the routine of teaching in South Korea. The average day is as follows:

7:00 am – Wake up and get ready for the day. 
I was worried before coming to Korea about my outfits, as Korea is known for dressing pretty differently, but my school is quite relaxed with the dress code. I can wear jeans and a T-shirt or a nice business dress. I tend to dress more professionally, as appearance is even more emphasized in Korea than it is in the USA.

7:50 am – Leave the house to get the bus. It is about a 8 minute walk to the bus stop.

8:00 am – Take the public bus to school.
It takes around 20 minutes. I have had many problems with the bus system here. It is confusing and stressful, but I finally think about a month of getting lost, taking the wrong bus, or not getting off at the right stop, that I can take a breather and enjoy the ride. The morning bus is packed. There are some days, that the bus driver has to get up and yell at people to squish in because he can’t close the door. I hate those days. It depends on when I take the bus. If it is the bus that comes before 8:00 it is packed. If it is the later bus around 8:10 it isn’t so bad, however, I run the risk of being a little late for school.

8:30 am – School starts. 
From 8:30 until 9:00 the students have homeroom, but are expected to be at school before that.

9:00 – 12:30 – Periods 1-4 
The mornings are always hard, but teaching has me moving around every 45 minutes and scrambling to the next classroom.

12:30 – 1:25 pm – Lunch (AKA Chaos librum)
I call it Chaos librum because it is when all Hell breaks loose. It is the lunch period, but students (especially the boys) use it for their recess for playing soccer. I see them eat as fast as possible (or even skip lunch) to run out to play when the weather is nice. Because of the number of students and the size of the cafeteria, the students are assigned a rotation schedule of when they can go to wait in line for food. When they are not eating students can be found doing whatever they please. There is no real supervision during this time so they are either hanging in a classroom (like their homeroom) or running through the halls shouting and yelling. They could be siting outside gossiping, or as SOOOO many of the girls do: checking themselves out with their giant hand-held mirrors. View full post »

Dad - Very interesting .how is your Korean coming along? Glad to hear you are getting the bus thing down. It does sound stressful. Hey if you want buy a 200 dollar violin just to play if you are up to it.
Is their a parent night?

Have you met the parents?

Cara - My Korean is slow, but surely improving… It’s just not improving fast enough. I get taught so many new words a day, plus names, I’m having a hard time retaining it all!!! But yes, I’m proud of my improvements on using the public bus :P

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Teaching and All That Jazz

I can’t believe it has already been over a week!!! Things have been going very fast, but at the same time very slow. The transition to life in Gwangju has gone much smoother than I anticipated. I think it has helped because I have had such a supportive host family and a great group of co-workers.

It has been a little stressful, but my Fulbright co-teacher is really warm and helpful and I now have a functioning Korean bank account and Korean cell phone! I found out that I wasn’t able to use my unlocked phone, so I would have had to buy a new phone. Fortunately, Hyundo (host “dad”; see previous post) had an old Samsung phone that he’s letting me use! Thank god!

And then there is the public bus…

Even when I lived in Madrid, I hardly ever took the public bus. I also am fluent in Spanish, so the great bus app I had on my phone made it easy to use… Plus, I only ever got off on one stop and only ever took it one way. The public bus is my morning stress. It has been almost nine days of taking the bus to and from school, but it still causes my pulse to rise.

The bus line I am on only comes every 15-35 minutes. So you miss that bus, you are stuck waiting at least 10 minutes on a good day or 40 on a bad one. I have missed the bus three times so far. Getting off at the right stop is also problematic. They read the stops in Korean and only sometimes in English. I still have managed to get off a stop late and a stop early. I have also taken the bus in the wrong direction. Oh and I managed to get on the wrong bus too. I have done it all. There is a subway in Gwangju, but no one uses it. Most people say it is a waste of money. I would have to agree. It’s single subway line is far away and goes to no place I need to go. Thankfully, I recently downloaded a different bus app: 광주 버스 and it has been a lifesaver!

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What my typical morning looks like

First Week Orientation

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A Day in the Life of a Native English Teacher in Korea » Cara Mooney Photography - […] the wrong bus, or not getting off at the right stop, that I can take a breather and enjoy the ride. The morning bus is packed. There are some days, that the bus driver has to get up and yell at people to squish in because he […]

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Departure Day – Hello Gwangju!

Since we got back from our trip to Seoul, this week has flown by! This past Friday was “D-Day” or our Departure Day from Orientation and from Jungwon. It was a flurry of emotion and craziness as we prepared for the ceremony for our schools to pick us up and bring us to our respective placements. We all had to get up early and make sure everything was packed. There was just so much going on!

Welcome to Gwangju

I was picked up by my Fulbright co-teacher and the vice principal of my school. Thankfully, the co-teacher speaks pretty good English so she was able to communicate with me without too much difficulty and translate for the vice principal and I. It was a very interesting ride back to Gwangju with some interesting questions being asked. One of the first questions was mentioning the ranking of my college. That took me by surprise. They said when they looked it up online, it “only ranked 47th” but did not say in what context and whether the only made it a bad thing. I was very confused. They were very welcoming and very nice to me, but there were a number of translation issues at first. It is very different having to work through a translator. There is that awkward pause while you have what you say translated and then wait for the response to be translated back… Haha!

My Host Family

I was briefly introduced to my host family before being whisked away for my first teacher dinner (or as they say in Korea, hweshik (회식). I was introduced to a number of teachers and other school administrators, including the principal and vice principal. It was a very crazy day. It was a nice greeting from my host family, however brief. My host dad and mom are around the same age as Aran and Amy (my real brother and his wife). They have two young girls (4 and 7 years old) who were very welcoming to me. I imagine it was strange, having some foreigner come and live in their house, but they were very accepting of this and have all taken it in stride.

It hasn’t even been 24 hours, but I was told that I can be informal with the family. There was a debate whether they should refer to me as “older sister” (eonni, 언니) or “aunt” (eemo, 이모) as is common in Korea [Read more about the Korean family relationships and ‘Kinship’ terms]. We finally decided that “aunt” would be more appropriate because of the age difference and the fact that I already had family that matched the ages.

Now time to retire to bed… Sleep is much needed.

Teaching and All That Jazz » Cara Mooney Photography - […] phone, so I would have had to buy a new phone. Fortunately, Hyundo (host “dad”; see previous post) had an old Samsung phone that he’s letting me use! Thank […]

Getting Sick Abroad: Critiques of Universal Health Care in South Korea » Cara Mooney Photography - […] past week has been rough. Like really rough. Not soon after I arrived in Gwangju, I started to lose my voice. Many people said it was because of all the teaching I was suddenly […]

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Weekend in Seoul

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View of the sun setting over Seoul from the window of the car (looks cool through the super tinted windows, but the quality is poor)

Graduation from Korea University’s language program was only the beginning of our weekend in Seoul. That Friday afternoon, after the morning graduation ceremony, we went to the US Embassy. While the Ambassador had to go to DC for some urgent business and could not be there, the Embassy was nice enough to still allow us to have a pool party at the Ambassador’s residence. It was really nice to chill and relax and indulge in American BBQ food. Not that I don’t like Korean food, but I desperately looked forward to getting amazing non-Korean food this weekend in Seoul. View full post »

Kevin - Thanks we enjoyed

Departure Day – Hello Gwangju! » Cara Mooney Photography - […] we got back from our trip to Seoul, this week has flown by! This past Friday was “D-Day” or our Departure Day from […]

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Korean Language Classes & Graduation

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Korea University’s Language Graduation Ceremony

한국어 어려어요, 그래서 공부Korean is hard, so I study. (To be honest, I’m not even sure if I wrote that statement correctly:P) This is the kind of thing we have been learning in class. Having started knowing nothing at all, I am proud to say I have come very far.

I can now introduce myself and ask simple questions. I feel like a demanding toddler. “Do you have ___?” “Give me ____”. “Where is ___?” “I want ____”. I have forgotten what it is like to not be able to communicate effectively. My time abroad in Spain was made so much easier because of my high level Spanish ability. It has been a long time since I was such a beginner in a foreign language.

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The language struggle is real….

The language barrier is made worse because I look Korean. Everyone thinks I speak fluent Korean since I look Korean. Sometimes when I say I am Korean American, they look confused. Or they only continue to speak to me in Korean. One woman pointed to my face saying, “American?” Only once has saying I am American and I speak English made the woman nod and take out her phone for the Naver (Korea’s version of Google) translation app. I am torn in whether I should speak Korea or English from the get-go. So far, using English first eases the idea into people’s minds that I am a foreigner and cannot speak Korean well. When I start off with a bow and start off with 안녕하세요 (anyanghaseyo, or hello) they take it that I am a native Korean and follow with rapid-fire Korean. View full post »

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Buddhist Temple Stay

One of the other extracurricular activities and programs that we could sign up for during Orientation was an overnight stay at a Buddhist temple. It was something I have never done before, and while I am not Buddhist, I thought it would be a very interesting and cultural experience.

We arrived on Saturday and spent the rest of the afternoon having discussions on Buddhism and learning about temple life. The temple was very new. It was constructed only about thirty years ago, but in the traditional architectural and design style that most ancient temples appear like. View full post »

Ivette Romero - Beautiful photos, Cara. Looking forward to more news. IR

Cara - Thank you! I hope you enjoy the blog posts! More beautiful photos to come! <3

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