SOOOOOOO…I’ve been kind of keeping this a secret but over the past couple of months, I went through an intense application process to become a member of the Orientation Coordinating Team (OCT) and the Program Coordinator (PC) for Fulbright South Korea. Although I did not make it to the PC position, I did make it to the OCT and will be headed back to Jungwon University in Goesan (dun dun dun) to coordinate and conduct a 6-week orientation program for the incoming ETAs.
SUPER STOKED!! Finding out who the other OC members were–Tracey and Elaine as our fearless leaders and Seijin, Jemarley and Marissa (our new PC for the next grant year!!)–I was a little bit nervous since I did not really know any of these awesome ETAs prior to this application process. But when I got to spend more time with them last weekend in Seoul for our first face-to-face meeting, my anxiety was quickly put to rest as I very quickly found out that they were perhaps some of the sweetest, inclusive and welcoming people I’ve met! I’m excited that we could so quickly make a space where we could voice our (and others’) concerns/critiques about past years’ orientations and figure out the best ways to improve orientation for this upcoming year. So stay tuned 2014-2015 ETAs!
Random artist: So this dude, I’m told, is the son of a very close family friend. I remember seeing him a couple of times growing up, but don’t remember much. But he’s famous! Anyway, not sure how I feel about his music and style (can’t decide if this is cultural appropriation or something else… :/) but his tunes are pretty legit and his dedication to his fan base is pretty cool. Check it out: Jhameel.
Long time no blog! So it has definitely been a while since my last blog post, which was mostly about my spiritual faith. But since then, many things have happened. Two weeks ago, I attended a conference on Jeju-do, which is an island just off the southern coast of South Korea This was my first time on the island and I was super excited for a chance to relax and see people I haven’t seen in a long time. But this conference was not as relaxing as I thought it would be. Perhaps it was in part due to the various interviews I had over the course of the weekend. But it was still good to catch up with different folks I haven’t seen in a long time. This conference was a little bit different from Fall conference in that the Fulbright junior researchers were there to present their research projects to their peers, the Fulbright Office, as well as the ETAs. It was really good being able to see the diverse kinds of work that people were doing (even though some of them were either not of interest to me or went past my head…). And small world story: one of the researchers (to whom I had submitted an application to help edit his research paper earlier in the year) I met during conference knew my cousin back in Corvalis, OR for more than 15 years! It’s a small world. But then again, if you’re Korean American from Corvalis, there’s only so many people you cold go around until you’re connected with everyone…so… Anyway, conference ended with a tiring trip back to Gongju and now I’m back at my school’s 교무실 typing away at my blog entry rather than lesson planning or finishing the bajillion other things I could be doing at this moment in time.
One of the things that Director Shim talked about during conference was the future of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program in South Korea. Many provinces throughout South Korea have been defunding their native English teacher programs in middle and high schools because they realized that South Korea as a nation had been spending too much on English education. My province, Chungcheongnam-do, has also been affected by these cuts and schools are forced to find funding without the assistance of the government to fund native English teachers. My school has not been very clear with me about their status with Fulbright. But from the bits and pieces I’ve heard from here and there, I found out that they have enough funding for the first semester but do not have enough for the second semester.
When I applied to the Fulbright program as an ETA, I had many mixed and conflicting feelings about Fulbright and its mission of spreading diversity and “multiculturalism” across the globe. I really respect Senator Fulbright’s mission of trying to create mutual understanding around the world. He once said that “the rapprochement of peoples is only possible when differences of culture and outlook are respected and appreciated rather than feared and condemned, when the common bond of human dignity is recognized as the essential bond for a peaceful world.” Now, I’m not really sure if he meant this in a more multicultural melting pot kind of way or a polycultural kind of way–the latter meaning a society where people thrive off of sharing each other’s differences and cultures rather than meshing them all together in one big pot so that no one really knows who they are or where they are from, their roots. But I really liked his idea that the first step to a more peaceful world, and a more conscious world is trying to eliminate fear of someone or something that is different from you. But at the same time, the Fulbright program, as well as other “cultural exchange” programs, I believe, has become this sort of breeding ground for United States superiority where “we” (U.S. Americans) are the only ones “sharing” “our” (and by our I mean mostly white American) cultures and it is not really a mutual thing. So when President Obama proposed a $30.5 million cut to the Fulbright program, although I was mournful of the possible loss of opportunity for folks like me who can’t necessarily afford these kinds of experiences, I was a little hesitant in grieving such a decision.
At the same time, the Fulbright program has given me the opportunity to go back to my parents’ and grandparents’ homeland and allowed me to do and learn so much about myself. I would have never been able to have had this kind of opportunity had it not been for the Fulbright program and its generous funding. It allows people like me, who are from lower-middle to low-income family background to experience things that only people who could afford these kinds of experiences could do. And it’s not only me having a ball with this opportunity. I can see several students whose world views are genuinely shifted or disrupted by my presence in South Korea. And by presence, I don’t mean it in an “oh I am a goddess and have gifted these people with my existence” kind of way (although yes I kind of am a goddess..flip hair). Although this concept is slowly changing, many people in South Korea still think that U.S. Americans are white or (sometimes…SOMETIMES SOMETIMES) black. Asian American is a very difficult concept for them to grasp, let alone Korean American–especially Korean American who can speak and understand Korean. And once they find out the level of Korean, they automatically categorize you as Korean or American. I’m like NO BIDDIES I AM BOTH I EMBODY BOTH THERE IS NOT EITHER OR IT IS AND BOTH.
One of the students in my lower level English classes kept telling me to speak to him in Korean. He is one of the more outgoing students in the lower level classes and he understands more than half of what I say in English. So I asked him one day, you understand everything, why do you want me to speak in Korean so much? He answered “teacher, because 신기하잖아요. 원어민 샘이 한국말을 한다는 게.. (because it’s interesting, you’re native English teacher but you speak Korean). Many Americans not look like you.” So this massive invasion of people who look like me and have similar experiences to mine are changing the typical perspective of who and what a U.S. American is. If more and more people who are actually representative of the U.S. population could have these kinds of opportunities, and if more people from other countries could also have these opportunities in the States and other places around the world, then I wonder what the world would look like.
I have constantly asked myself over and over again during my grant year–the Fulbright program has given me a job, a chance to understand my heritage, a chance to take a break from a society that has always taught me that I do not belong in my home, a chance to grow as a person and as a teacher, etc. but at what cost? But at WHOSE cost? There are many things wrong with the Fulbright program and other cultural exchange programs. But at the same time, there are many people who are able to use these programs and challenge its missions and norms and bring something else to the table. Can I be a part of something and still be critical of its existence? And if the answer is yes, and I’m pretty sure it is, then the question becomes, what comes after the critical analysis of such programs? How can I be a part of a program and NOT stay complicit with what it represents? What actions and steps can I take to create spaces where its existence can be discussed with a consciousness of race, class, history and colonization and imperialism, etc.? And most importantly, how do I do this without losing my job?? O_O;
Every time I go to Seoul to visit my family, everyone, starting from my grandparents to my aunts and uncles, do their best to take me to church. I really appreciate their concern for me and my soul (no sarcasm here…at least no sarcasm when I say I appreciate them…maybe some sarcasm in the soul part…), but sometimes, it makes me want to punch a wall.
For almost four years now, I have not been going to church. I have not opened my bible and I only pray occasionally. And even then, it is mostly me muttering things to myself and complaining about how “God, you really suck right now for giving me this challenge..” At first the decision was subconsciously made. I was busy. I was tired. I needed to finish my work at my job. But then I slowly began to realize that most of all, I was hurt. Going to church reminded me of all the emotional labor that my dad, my mom, my brother and I had to go through. And perhaps my brother has been the biggest victim in all of this. Going to church reminded me of how I had to learn the hard way not to trust people, not to give my love so freely. Going to church reminded me of how much it was all just a performance.
So when my grandparents, aunts and uncles ask me why I don’t go to church, when they try to take me to church, when they tell me that I need to go to church at my placement, that I need to make an effort to hear the word of God every Sunday, when they tell me that even those with cancer and other illnesses find the strength and will to go to church, I get angry and hurt. I get angry and hurt at the fact that they don’t try to understand.
As I was procrastinating on lesson planning one day (>_<), I found this article that someone posted on Facebook written by Pastor Ted Haggard. I don’t really know much about the dude, and I definitely don’t think I agree with his thoughts and philosophy on several things, but as I was reading his article, I began to realize just how many pastors and their families live hidden lives and are going through so much hurt.
Why is the emotional labor that pastors and their families have to do in and outside of church not talked about? Why does no one talk about how many pastors and their families go through depression and mental illnesses and drug/alcohol problems and suicide? Why does no one talk about how being a pastor/part of a pastor’s family and being im/migrants differently affect their experiences? Why does no on talk about the oppressive role of patriarchy within churches and how pastors and their families are forced to carry on this example of a nuclear family, which screws up A LOT of people? Why do people judge pastors and their families for not going to church after experiencing trauma and hurt within the church? Why is it such a shameful act for pastors and their families to get therapy to deal with all of this? How are pastors and their families supposed to aid others in spiritual healing when they themselves receive little to none to begin with? How can we give love when we are not receiving love. How can we “give” spiritual healing when we are not receiving any?
I think that there is something inherently screwed up about how many people put pastors and their families on this spiritual pedestal. It’s harmful to both parties. Pastors do have responsibilities as leaders and representatives of their respective church communities–as do many other leaders and representatives of various communities. But where does that line of responsibility get crossed and turn into something that actually does more harm to not only pastors and their families but also the church community/ies? I think that there is so much healing that pastors and their families need but these needs are not being met because of the constant demand for emotional labor and counseling from church members.
Being in Gongju has given me the opportunity to put words to these questions that I have been asking my entire life about myself, about my family, and about our role in various churches. I have never once stopped believing in God. But I have started to lose faith in church and the community it is said to foster. There’s definitely not a lack of churches to go in Gongju, where there are perhaps twice as many churches, schools and coffee shops compared to its population. In the midst of this small town where there are churches galore and where I could see more than half of my students and co-teachers at these churches, admitting that I am choosing not to go to church, at least for the moment, has been a very liberating experience. For the first time in my life, I am saying that I am choosing not to go to church. It’s not that I can’t go to church, it’s that I am choosing not to. And I think by saying this, I can start some of the healing that I so desperately needed all these years and maybe even get closer to God. I can move on with my life.
It’s been such a LOOOOONG time since I last updated my blog! So much has happened since the last day of classes during the Fall semester. To quickly update, I went back to the States for 2 weeks, hauled myself back to Gongju to teach my winter camp (which went a lot better than I expected actually!), traveled to Busan to visit some family, spent Lunar New Year (설날) with my family in Seoul, and then stayed (staying) in Seoul during February and took Korean language classes at a place called Ganada (가나다 학원). [[Side note, I would really recommend taking classes here because I’ve taken classes at Yonsei and also took classes with Korea U. books/teachers, and I honestly think the books at 가나다 are more challenging, do a better job at explaining nuances, and teach you more practical vocabulary/grammar points… But then again, this could also be because I’m at a different level for all three places I took classes at….you decide. But all in all, it was a great place to take language classes]].
I was planning on spending this month to plan out what my goals are for this next semester for both my life at school and outside of school, and what I wanted to do with my life (LOOOOL that never happened). I knew that this month would go by a lot faster but I don’t think I was really prepared for that. I also had to spend a bit of time at the hospital during my weekends because of some ish going on with my body so I feel like my weekends were robbed from me. TT_TT But despite things not going according to plan (which is kind of my life in South Korea), I’m super excited for this upcoming semester. I’m excited to see the students again, I’m excited for what kind of lessons they have in store for me, and I’m excited to apply the things I learned from last semester to this semester.
This past week was my first week back to school and EVERYTHING has changed. Most of the first grade teachers last year moved to different grades or offices so the office dynamic is a little bit awkward and I feel like I have to do everything all over again. But the transition this time around has been a lot smoother now that I know what I should be expecting.
The first graders are ADORABLE!! The second graders have become more mature (yes even within the month and a half that I have not seen them). The third graders look like they’re dying (almost there guys!!). And I am SO much more organized this semester than I was last semester. Everyone is growing up, including me! The first class I taught was on Wednesday and I forgot how much I liked being in the classroom. Even though it’s hard most of the time, the 10% of the time when it’s not hard make up for the 90% of the time when it actually is. I was walking down the hall one day, and a student asked me if I was a history teacher (scoreeee!!) and another teacher (who knew I was the native English speaking teacher and who knew what native English speaking teachers’ roles are) asked me if I was a homeroom teacher this semester… I was like, wow, thanks for thinking that I have the competence to be a homeroom teacher but no I’m not a homeroom teacher. I laughed so hard inside..
I feel like I’ve grown very attached to my school even though it had its ups and downs when I first came. I think I will be very sad to leave it, as one day I will have to leave it. Not sure if that will be this July or next July or next, next July… But there are days when I just look at the sea of students in front of me and think wow, I can’t believe how much privilege I have of being in the company of some pretty awesome people and I can’t believe that this too will go away someday. And then a student farts in the classroom and I’m back to reality again. BAHAHAHA.. But anyway, more updates to come soon! And more pictures! :] Thanks always for reading!
This week is my last week of classes before I head home for Christmas! I’m excited to see my family again and eat an unhealthy amount of cheese, bao, banh mi, pho, sushi rolls (which are apparently more U.S. American than “Japanese”), garlic mashed potatoes, and PUMPKIN SPICED LATTES. But I’ve been extremely sad saying goodbye to the second graders. I loved all the second grade classes. Even though some of them were difficult, they were all so respectful and gave me so much love! I only hope they learned as much from me as I did from them.
On Monday, I came into my first second grade class of the week and broke it to them that I spoke Korean. Sammi, one of my friends who I met two years ago at Yonsei University and is now teaching at Daejon’s 성모여고, was there to witness their beautiful reactions. It was probably the most fun I had all semester! There had been a joke all semester long among the students saying that I was really born in Jeju-do (I’m not sure why Jeju-do specifically…) and studied English in Itaewon (an area in Seoul known for its diverse im/migrant population). They all confirmed it once I spoke to them in Korean. They crack me up. (For the record, born and raised in the U.S…for those of you who don’t know me…).
By the end of the day, all the second graders knew of my “secret”. I tried to tell the second class I had and they were all like “we know teacher, we know. It’s not a secret anymore”. BAHAHA. Only one or two other classes were surprised after that and all my other second grade classes were not. I asked one of my classes where they heard my secret and they were like “teacher, we hear you all the time talking to the other teachers in Korean. You think we’re dumb??” BAHAHA. I guess I didn’t do such a good job of hiding my secret… oops… The beauty of this whole thing is that even though the second graders told some of the first graders, I never speak to them in Korean so they’ll never really know the extent of my Korean-speaking capability until the last week of next semester, when my contract is over. I love trolling my students.