So, my culture sickness has vastly improved since the last time we talked. I just feel a lot better, which I think is largely due to my parents' support. Moving on, yesterday was a really amazing day. One of my coworkers took me on an errand with her, and we ended up going to the Youth Film location (this is not the correct name, but you might find it if you look hard enough under this name). It is a government run program, and it has amazing technology, the kind of things needed to make quality projects and broadcasts. It was really wonderful and inspiring to get to see a place that is so conductive to children and teens exploring their creativity. Basically, I salivated at the idea of all those young minds filling with new ideas.
I also somehow found myself being roped into working today, which was a Saturday. I was up early, arriving at 9am before the grate had even been lifted from in front of my building. I went to a coffee shop and tried to order something without milk, so I attempted to utilize my context clues. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and "coffeebean coffee" turned out to be 2/3 foamy cream, 1/3 sugar, and just enough coffee thrown in to make the whole thing smell vaguely sweaty and taste bitter enough to make your nose hairs stand at attention. (This was not as strange as the Rich Chocolate Tea Latte I had on Friday, but it did taste worse. Also, let it be known that I really do not like black coffee with any kind of cream or milk in it. If there is milk involved, there had better be chocolate in it as well, thank you very much.) Sewing club this morning was actually pretty interesting. The kids are making their dolls now, so that they can move on to learning how to make clothes. My coworker speaks almost no English (The one in charge, anyway.), which made for some interesting times as she told me what to do. I spent around ten minutes looking for a white board I thought she had asked me to find, only to realize that she wanted me to bring down two huge bags of stuffing that were situated right in front of the white board. (Now that I think about it, that was actually pretty funny-- are you laughing?) I got to help the two girls who are the most comfortable speaking English, since they are from Australia and Connecticut, and they seemed pretty relieved that they did not have to ask all of their questions in Korean. It also helped that they were completely adorable 11 year olds. (I was most certainly not that cute at their age.) I ended up teaching them how to tie off stitches the way my grandmother taught me, doubling back and looping under the stitch twice, meaning that they were the only two in the club this morning who did not have to ask for help tying off. (I was and am pretty proud of that.)
My transportation card is still being ornery, and people do not really stop to try to help me most of the time because they assume that I do not know how to reload my card, but that is definitely not the case.) ALSO, I GOT PAAAAAIIIIIIDDDDDD!!!!!!! I might be just a little bit excited about that.
I am currently living on the wild side, eating all the filled Belgium chocolate pumpkins my parents sent me in my care package. My host family will head off to my host brother's soccer tournament tomorrow morning in the wee hours (7am). I cannot go because I had work, and so I read my host mother's mind before she could advise me to "take a rest". I said it so that she could agree with me, instead of having her worry that I have not been sleeping enough so she can stop me from Monday's English class yet again.
Love and Happy Halloween (even though this website is on your time, so it never quite matches up with the time I am actually writing things),
Earlier this morning, I tried to write about the second half of yesterday, since I arrived back home last night too late to do so, but for some reason this wonderful blog site saved the post as a draft, but did not include any of my content, and it was well written (I don't mean to brag...) I guess it could have had something to do with the fact that my eyes were barely open at the time, but who really knows. However, it did ultimately save me from having to wait a while longer before writing about work this morning, which was an experience unto itself.
Yesterday was the 112th anniversary of the YMCA where I work, Jongno YMCA. Of course that meant that my entire department was treated to a three hour awards ceremony where we were preached at a total of around 17 times. If that does not sound wonderful, I do not know what you are doing for fun! Just kidding, sitting through ceremonies like that are always boring and somewhat uncomfortable, especially when you do not know anyone involved. However, it becomes exponentially worse when it all takes place in a language that you do not speak well. The only thing that made it bearable were the two singing performances at the beginning, one choir of adorable children in matching red bow ties and the other of a group of older women, who sang amazingly well. However, there was a special noodle soup for lunch because it happened to be such a special day. The coworker that I was sitting with me explained that the soup is actually something so special that it usually gets eaten exclusively at weddings and funerals because the long noodles are supposed to symbolize and reinforce long life. The point is that it was really good, so I was happy. It made up for all the long prayers that I could not understand that happened during the ceremony.
Then, in Korean class we learned about different times during the day (evening, morning, lunch time, etc.). We also learned all about asking for directions and how to answer if someone asks you for directions. My lack of sleep means that I really do not remember much at the moment. After class I went to look for a coat with my friend Germany, which we did not find. At the moment, neither of us have been paid, and it is really causing a problem. I have 7,454 won in my Korean account, which is the equivalent of $7.45. Basically, there is no way for us to get a coat that it is even marginally weather proof for anything under 60,000 won, and Germany only had 50,000. This is just causing a large problem, especially since nobody explained how the process of being paid works in Korea. This means that I did not even know that something might be wrong in terms of getting money into my account until today, because in Korea they use bank books to put money into their accounts, and all I ever carry with me is my card because no one told me that the dang books were important! Arrrggggghhh!!!
This morning was another interesting English lesson for adults. I taught my boss to say "Yo, yo wassup?" with the response of "a'ight". I managed to skillfully avoid saying the F-word, because it made me uncomfortable. I also taught them the word "culmination" because they wanted a difficult sentence in addition to "What do you like to do?" and "Where are you from?" I then went on to explain terms such as "bucks" and "dude". Sounds like this is shaping up to be quite an eventful day, especially if I can figure out this whole "getting paid" thing.
Love and butterfly kisses,
(*This is a quote from A Very Potter Musical, which you should check out on YouTube.)
Elena Giselle :D
I walked into the office a little bit later than I have been arriving lately, and my boss greeted me with "Morning" as always. It is actually the one thing that never really changes, whenever both of us are present, the exchange takes place. (I tend to smile and wave because my morning voice is bad enough that my voice basically breaks unless I Skyped with someone that morning.) This morning was different. This morning after he greeted me and I waved at everyone in the office with a smile, he sent one of my female coworkers over to tell me to come over and talk with him. I assumed that it was about the work I have been doing, so of course I brought my laptop along. The man I have been working with on the vacation camp that will go to the US sat down next to me and helped translate some of the boss' questions, which turned out to be more about my life instead of work. He wanted to know about what I do in my spare time (tutoring four kids in English and going out once and a while with my volunteer friends on the weekends). The only question he asked about work was what I thought of the office to which I replied that it was nice, if a bit quiet. I was trying to seem funny, but the boss obviously did not understand that I was trying to infuse my words with humor. The culmination of that conversation was that I will be expected to teach everyone in my office one sentence in English every day. Ultimately, I just will try to keep speaking clearly and hope for the best. My coworker and partner in the United States camp asked if I understood his English and I said yes. Then I made a joke, asking if he understood my English and he understood my humor and punched me jokingly in the shoulder. At least someone understood that I was just trying to be funny.
Yesterday was not a good day, but today seems to be going better than that already. In addition, the end of yesterday was made even more difficult by the fact that my big boss stopped me on my way out to ask how I was doing so I pasted on a smile and told him things were good and that I was heading home to eat dinner with my host family. He asked if it was Korean food, and I felt bad because all I wanted was for the conversation to end and he was just trying to be nice.
The point is that things can be really difficult, and I got about 2 1/2 hours of sleep last night, but I am still trying really hard to stay positive, and try to tell you all things that you might not already know.
When I made the post yesterday, I completely forgot about the interesting thing that happened on Friday. I tend to show up early to everything ever in my entire life because the idea of being late makes me extremely uncomfortable. On Friday morning, I was going completely stir- crazy, so I left even earlier than I usually do. I arrived to see basically everyone who works at the YMCA where I work outside in neon yellow vests cleaning up the stoops of the surrounding businesses, cleaning icky sticky stuff from in between paving stones, power washing the cement, and picking up all the litter around. I helped, and it was honestly both disgusting and disappointing. I was disappointed because I had hoped that I had a bit longer to go before having to relive the traumatizing experiences surrounding high school clean ups (four years of those because my parents were so involved.... ugh). Apparently, unlike my high school, the Jongno YMCA only does clean ups like this once a year. Also, I could not put on one of the safety vests because I was rocking an afro that day and the vest's head opening would not fit over my hair.... Only me...
I love you all very much,
So, some of you might know that I just made a Facebook page as Elena Giselle the blogger, where I can post pictures and snapshot sort of comments and things, since my camera and phone will not communicate with my laptop at the moment. I also just put up a YouTube video as a sort of thing to combat people missing me... I realize that this idea sounds cocky and self- centered, but I received some heartfelt messages, and I did it for the people. The point to this as an introduction is that you can find the pictures from all the things I have been doing on my Facebook page.
On Saturday i went to my host brother's soccer practice. He was amazing in the practice game, scoring both the first and last goals as well as a couple in the middle. It begs to be said that any stereotypes of Asian people fall apart as soon as you are sitting in a group of Korean mothers yelling in their sons' soccer game. It was really nice to get to feel like a part of the crowd, since the rules and attitudes of soccer do not change with the countries you visit.
Today was interesting. I guess that no news is good news, right? I filmed and edited my YouTube video, finished the last 5/6 of the seventh Harry Potter Book and got through 2/3 of a great book on the current political situation in terms of China and wars in the US. I forgot about lunch because I was busy taking a nap, and by the time I remembered, it felt too uncomfortable time- wise for me to go out of my room to eat something. So, I went out for a walk that ended up with me at a bakery, where I bought something to eat. Tonight I also did my English tutoring, and my host brother was just not having it. He was whining and complaining, and my host mom got incredibly angry with him, it was almost scary, especially when she hit the pencil he was holding out of his hands.
My host mom somehow managed to find us tickets to see In the Heights for the equivalent of ten US dollars per person. This is incredible, since they usually run a lot closer to 100. She actually called me with the good news while I was at work, and I ended up doing two silly dances at work that day, because the Seattle Seahawks won against the San Francisco 49ers, and again when the news about the tickets came through.
The point is that I am kind of struggling with finding a silver lining right now, since culture shock for me feels more like "culture sick" if you know what I mean. If any of you have any words of wisdom, happy thoughts, or anything like that, please share them with me in the comments section below!
Stay strong, lovelies!
Elena Giselle :D
Alright, so I might be a little bit biased, but I would be pretty well inclined towards saying that the Soul of Seoul is food. I guess it could also be the subway system though, or even the people... The point is, today my coworker who is in charge of organizing the camp that will be taking place in the United States took me out to lunch. We went to one of the places that is pretty well- known, as evidenced by the fact that the line was out the door even though the small shop was in the middle of some random- seeming alley. We both had soup that had a mixture of regular noodles and a traditional type of noodle- like thing called "sujebi". "Sujebi" is made of the same dough as noodles, but is ripped off in random chunks instead of being made into long strings the way noodles are. The soup was amazing delicious, and I had a great foodbaby afterwards because the bowl was basically the same size as the afro I am rocking today.
On that note, a lot of people have been staring unabashedly at me as I go about my business today. This morning, a taxi almost spun out of control as it went around a corner because the driver had to take a second look at my hair as he was executing the maneuver. I am honestly pretty flattered, since my hair is a majestic entity all its own. However, I have been extremely spoiled by growing up in the USA, where people are taught that it is not really culturally acceptable to stare at other people. I mean, honestly I did not give much thought to other peoples' reactions when I did my hair this morning... I guess that this is a good illustration of one of the major differences between the culture I come from and the one I am currently in, the idea of precedence being placed on the individual as opposed to the communal... Hmmm....
So, I never told you guys about the creepy guy on the Subway a couple of weeks ago. He was standing and I was lucky enough to score a seat, and he just kept staring at me. I glanced at him, away, then back again and he was still staring. I tried a new tactic and made eye contact. All he did was smile somewhat creepily at me. I looked away and got on Tumblr in an effort to escape. On the other hand, yesterday there was this guy in a boring navy suit with these amazing royal purple socks. they were obviously dress socks that had been very carefully selected, and they were barely visible when he stood up to get off the train at his station. The point is, hIS SOCKS WERE AMAZING!!! (This way of typing was carefully chosen to convey the idea that I was "suddenly overcome with emotion")
Hey, did the title trick you into thinking I actually know something about baseball? Hahaha. I actually have no idea what a fastball is, but it fit for the title. So, I have officially been in Korea for roughly two months, and culture shock feels like it is truly manifesting itself now, sort of like oral herpes. A large part of my feelings right now is made up of missing my parents and dogs, cheese, a fear that something really important will happen in the US and I will miss it, and a whole lot of anger with the Seattle Seahawks. The last couple of games have been pretty awful, they just keep falling apart right at the end, something that I hope to avoid with my project/ job here. I also keep hearing my name in Korean conversations around the office and then laughter. I am nearly positive that it actually is my name, because my name is pronounced in the Spanish way for Koreans (I happen to think that the Spanish pronunciation is prettier anyway) and does not sound like it should/ could be part of the Korean language. Anyway, after whatever involves my name, there is laughter. Unfortunately, my grasp on the language is not proficient enough yet for the laughter to be from how funny I am (pretty hysterical). Now, I could just be paranoid, but I doubt it, because I know for a fact that people in the office often discuss my social awkwardness, they pat me on the head while saying those things (that is how I know).
I feel really sad and guilty for being sad. I have been attempting to combat this by watching funny YouTube videos, listening to music by Troye Sivan (I will be buying the new Pentatonix album, Blue Neighborhood by Troye Sivan, and Made in the AM from One Direction for my birthday on iTunes), and listening music in Spanish because that is the part of American culture that I am missing the most, an element we do not actually realize is prevalent until we look for it and it is not present.
Speaking of presents, here is an awkward and unnatural segue into the next paragraph. (imagine a kickline of salmon with legs or something). I went to the gym this past weekend. I was on the treadmill for about 40 minutes. When I got off the treadmill, I realized why you should always eat before exercising. I also can do reps with 97.5 kilos on the leg press machine, and worked with some machine that works out the inner thigh muscles. Ok, so I must have done a really great job working out my thighs, because I worked out on Sunday, and on Monday I was sort of sore, but Tuesday it was so bad that I could barely walk. My legs hurt so bad that I got almost no sleep on Monday night and I could not climb down the stairs. Today, it is better, though! (Yay) Also, pictures are coming soon :)
This time the transition is the stampede that killed Mufasa in the Lion King all dressed like Seahawks fans. Moving on, I am seriously planning on getting my life together enough to start up my YouTube channel. We will see how that goes. At least I know that I will have two fans; my mom and a good friend from high school (whose name sounds negative).
The songs that I have written since getting here might show up in my videos as a capella versions, since my guitar is in the States, and I am really not that good anyway :) Keep an eye out!
When life gives you lemons, remind yourself that Elena enjoys eating limes, so you can totally take on a lemon!
I love you all so much!
Alright, ladles and jellyspoons. Nothing all that exciting has actually been going on in my life right now, so when one of the other people in my department asked if I wanted to go on a field trip with middle schoolers, I knew it would be the hi-light of my day. There I sat, cutting small rectangles of paper into what I thought might be flashcards as I had been instructed to do, my little red safety scissors doing a terrible job, when someone walked up to my desk. "Are you busy this afternoon?" she asked. I shook my head, gesturing at the pile of tiny rectangles of paper. She smiled. "Ok, then today you can come with me to a field trip for the disabilities awareness club we are running at one of the public middle schools!" (So, this is not actually how this conversation went down. I mean, my coworker did not explain the trip as eloquently as I did here, but this is probably a bit easier to understand than what she actually said word- for- word.)
We got on the bus and got to the school. Those lucky students attend a public middle school that has a sports center with swimming and such, kind of like a YMCA or small sports club. Anyway, they were loud and excited, like we all were in middle school (especially me). The interesting thing was that they all went to outdoor lockers to switch out of their white school shoes (they looked like Crocs with less holes), and into their various brightly colored sneakers. The clinic for the disabled individuals was an extremely interesting place, even though I could not understand anything that the woman giving us the tour was saying. The best part was the rooftop garden, where some people were working, so enamored by the plants that they did not want to leave even though our rather large and raucous group had just arrived. After the tour, there were some activities and videos for the students, some of which were incredibly powerful. The experience reinforced the idea that one person can make a difference, something that I really have been needing a reminder of, since I feel pretty helpless here.
The best part was that after the field trip, I got to go home early, something that is always exciting, especially since my coworker helped me temporarily fix the problem that I was having with my transportation card by helping me locate a global ATM so I could withdraw some money from my US bank account (thanks, Dad!). Anyway, there were about three stops out of my 20 stop commute left, when some guy got on the subway yelling into his phone. Of course there is a seat open next to me, and where does the guy decide to sit down? Right next to me. He is screaming into my ear, and it is physically hurting, so I pull out my earbuds, even though they are not attached to anything and put them in my ears, but just as I do so, he finishes talking and shuts his flip phone with an incredibly sassy snap. At the next stop, I stand up and move to the seat across from where I was just sitting, because a spot has just opened up. I moved because I did not like having the yelling right in my ear, not because I thought that there was something wrong with the gentleman.
Also, the contents of my care package are still bringing me incredible joy!
PS: Mom, if I cannot find chocolate easily, what makes you think I can find the kind of cream you need to make butter?
My parents have always told me that being an adult is figuring out what to do when you do not know what to do. This morning, I had to do exactly that. Everything was going fine, I was early getting out of the apartment to start my journey on foot towards the subway station, but when I got there, I found that my transportation card was missing. I attempted to withdraw money from the ATM, only to find that there was not enough money in my Korean bank account for me to get money to buy a one way ticket. Then, I went into the convenience store next door only to find out that apparently you cannot buy a new transportation card with a credit or debit card of any kind, so I had to run all the way back to the apartment. To make matters worse, I also did not have my card to get in the front door of the apartment building. By some odd stroke of luck, someone else was also coming in, and I walked inside with them. Then, I got into the apartment and tore my hole room apart twice before realizing that the cards were probably located inside the vest I had been wearing on Saturday, and they were. Ultimately, I was six minutes late for work, but my boss did not seem to mind. I was convinced that the day would be awful until the freezing temperature caused me to lose all feeling in my fingers, thereby freezing most of my negative thoughts. Then, there was cucumber kimchi at lunch!!!!
Everything else went remarkably well for the rest of the day, especially since I got to do some English tutoring over Skype for some little girls that live in a different part of Seoul. They are adorable and I love the opportunities to help them out. The best part of the day, however, was the care package I got today from my parents! it contained some of my favorite snacks, a skirt, a magazine I really wanted, 2 bottles of Aussie conditioner, banana chips from South Africa, tea bags, a post card and a letter, and a small token to represent the Seattle Seahawks. It made my day and my host family was enamored enough with my sour gummy TJ's that they stopped making wine and doing homework for a little while.
On Friday, I did not have to work because it was a holiday commemorating the birth of the Korean written language. Germany and I went to the Hangeul Museum, which was amazing and discovered an amazing secret spot that has amazing dessert (milk flavored gelato, anyone?) Then on Saturday we went to a mall. I got lost and ended up on the subway fro about 3.5 hours, something that put me in a really awful mood. That evening, we saw a member of Shinee (a famous KPop group). I had no idea who he was, but the experience broke Switzerland, since the band is her absolute favorite. Later that night, we went to Itaewan, which is the equivalent of Chinatown. However, it is the other way around, since everything is from Europe or the Americas instead of being from Asia (obviously, this is an over generalization). I managed to find chocolate, so on Sunday I attempted to make a mug cake. I say "attempted" because I failed quite miserably. Okay, so maybe it was not completely awful, but it could have used some more flour, a longer amount of time in the microwave, and a better overall stirring technique. However, it did not taste completely awful... Also, I am incredibly disappointed in Korean butter, though not the croissants. Speaking of food, on Saturday I had a cream puff doughnut, a croissant, a cheese bagel (not made of sweet cheese!!!), and an Asian pear half the size of my head. On Saturday night I had a double Nutella milkshake that was approximately the same same size as a nine month old fetus. It was absolutely delicious.
So basically, food and my parents saved the day... As always. And I snuck some adulting into the mixture, in between culture shock and butter withdrawals.
So, I have officially been in South Korea for a long enough amount of time that certain things go without saying. One of those things is that the subway seats closest to the doors to the next cars are reserved for old people. So, when a large family of tourists sat down because those were the only open seats available, my friend Switzerland and I both flinched before debating whether or not we should give the tourists a short lesson in Korean culture. (We ultimately decided not to, because no one else seemed to mind at all).
On that note, I would also like to bring up the fact that I eat a lot in comparison to Korean. I mean, by teenage American standards, or just American standards in general, I do not eat that much. I am considered a moderate eater, but in Korea people stare when I eat. I suppose this might have something to do with the fact that I try to eat a little bit less when I am with Koreans, so I end up eating more when I return to my host lodging or when I go out with my volunteer friends.
In other news, after this week I have decided that my job is one of my least favorite things to do. My friends have more work to do, true. However, the work I get tasked with right now is stapling 50 paper packets together, moving chairs into an orchestra formation, or attempting to not decapitate myself while making a huge number of name tags with a paper cutter. I realize that this is an amazing opportunity, but I signed up to work with children, and walking with a group of 15 year old boys for one demonstration against smoking is not quite "working with children" (maybe "walking with adolescents" hahaha). So, this week I have been faced with a few rather disheartening realizations, which are as follows:
1) I really want to make a good friend. All the volunteers and I are friends, but I want to meet someone around my own age here in Korea so that I have someone to do things with and to help me practice speaking in Korean.. This task has proven to be rather difficult because everyone I work with is so much older than me, and the people my age are finishing up in high school. It is also difficult because everyone I speak to for more than three seconds breaks out their English skills. *sigh*
2) The stuffed Moomintroll I bought myself this week because I am suffering from hug- withdraws is not exactly doing the job. Koreans are not very touchy people, and I love hugs...
3) If the rest of my life is going to be in an office job, I will not be pleased, not one teensy weensy smidgeon.
4) Sarcasm still does not translate for Koreans.
Anyway, I have this Friday off from work and I will be going to see some museum presentation, since today is a national holiday to celebrate the Korean written language.
So, the only really important thing to report is that I started Korean classes this week with my fellow volunteers. It was wonderful to see the same teacher we had for orientation back again. She is an adorable woman and even though all we did was review, her help made me confident enough to attempt to talk about my day with my host family last night at dinner. My pronunciation is still pretty bad, but I have high hopes! The highlight of that expedition into the savanna that is foreign language was my introduction to the kids as ":Elena halmoni" because I like to go to bed early and when I stand up from my office chair at work my back protests.
Everyday Acts of Activism