A number of people told me when I first moved here, “Wait it out, once you get to week 4 or 6 things will be much better.” Oh, how I clung to the words, “It will get better!” for dear life. Coming from the girl who could hardly unpack her suitcase upon her arrival, I have to say that those words have now become a true reality for me, and it has indeed become better. Incredibly, so. Now that I’ve hit the 4 week mark, I have found myself thinking and saying, “I just LOVE living here! I love Korea!” I’m making this place my home, and every step of the way has been so rewarding: rain and tears and all.
To celebrate 1 WHOLE MONTH of life in Korea – so hard to believe!! – I thought it was about time to share a compendium of the small details of my life in this huge city. I have come to love this city and my job because of the small, somewhat mundane aspects that culminate every day into a full mosaic of beauty and grace.
So here we go- I give you: A week in Korea!
— Sunday: I’ve begun to shift my mindset to think of the week starting on Sunday instead of Monday. This is because I intentionally try to make Sundays as restful as possible; sleeping in, cooking a big breakfast or lunch, finding a nice place to read for the afternoon, church at 4pm, and ending the day with a big meal with friends from church. One of my very favorite moments all week are walking home after church and dinner. My soul is full of hope and reminders of the Gospel (from the incredibly beautiful, heart-gripping worship and teaching), my body is full of delicious food, and my heart is full of laughter and happiness after just having shared a meal with brothers and sisters in Christ. I have found that entering the week stepping forward from this day and all its goodness is a much healthier approach for me than to leave the weekend behind and decide the week starts on Monday.
— Monday: ….which is because Mondays are the longest day of the week! I teach 6 classes in a row, levels Prep (kindergarten) to 6 (students in about 5th or 6th grade). I have to be at school by 1:30, then I teach from 3:00pm to 7:50pm. As I said before, I teach at an academy (“hagwon” as they are called here), which is an evening school that almost all Korean kids attend for various lessons: math, english, etc. I am EXTREMELY fortunate to teach at an elementary hagwon that only goes to level 6 – some teachers at other academies that have high school levels teach until as late as midnight. That’s right – Korean high school students go to school until 12am (Not ok, in my opinion- but perhaps more on that later). I, however, get to leave at 8:35pm, get home around 9pm, and after making a quick dinner (but let’s be honest, I normally pick up food on the way home to reward myself), I crash. Really though, I cannot say enough how grateful I am to be able to finish so early. Things might change next semester, so I am reveling in the grace of this amazing schedule as much as I can!
— Tuesday: In my mind, the reward for teaching 6 classes on Monday is that on Tuesday I only teach 3! Then I plan lessons for the next few days to get ahead and get prepared, and I grade stacks on stacks of english journals and book reports that the students have to do each week. If you ever happen to read a random Facebook post about something ridiculous by one of my students, it’s something they either blurted out in class or something hilarious I find in their journals. By far one of my favorite parts of the job. For the past 2 weeks, the new foreign teacher at the other Jasaeng Academy branch in Sangnam (the other “neighborhood”) has been coming to school with me to watch us teach and get a little bit of training. Her name is Rose and she. is. awesome. We got lunch before school this past Tuesday, walked around the lake – one of my favorite spots, and spent the evening talking after I had finished my classes. What a gift to have another “Foreigner” here with me, sharing lesson ideas, funny things our students say, the joys of this beautiful city, our coffee obsession, Tolkien love, and overall great conversations. Rose- if you read this, know that I am really really thankful for you :) This past Tuesday was a special treat- the principals from both branches took us out for dinner at a really nice restaurant. Plenty of kimchi plus about a million other side dishes, raw fish + garlic + sesame leaves (a dish called sashimi), and soju (a vodka-like beverage). It was an experience for sure! Nothing like sitting cross-legged next to your principal with a pile of raw fish in front of you, making toasts and trying to pinch the rubbery substance with your chopsticks. Then we all went out for coffee and Rose & I walked home in the rain around midnight. Good, good day.
— Wednesday: 5 classes, with some breaks in between. Lesson planning in my free time, stepping across the street to the market for some snacks for dinner or the coffee shop on the first floor for a sandwich.
— Thursday: 3 classes, lesson planning for Friday and Monday, plus a little procrastinating and e-book reading on my phone. Can’t lie.
— Friday: This Friday, Emily- one of the Korean teachers who I’ve gotten pretty close with, took me to the hospital for my health check (a visa requirement), then we got bimbimbap for lunch and a quick stop for an espresso before work! Every other Friday we have ACTIVITY DAY! One of the many reasons why I love this academy is their perfect blend and balance of rigorous and fruitful education coupled with fun and ensuring the students are not killing themselves. It can be easy to do so, when your 7 year olds go to school all day, then english lessons in the afternoon, and some even stay afterwards for one-on-one lessons with the principal. I can’t imagine their exhaustion, but it becomes evident when their little heads start nodding and their eyes start drooping halfway through my lesson. I’ve started to give my students “fun breaks” every 15 minutes or so. We close our books, stand up, run around the table chanting our words of the week, or we dance, or we play simon says, or we pretend to act like different animals. Works like magic. Anyway, as I said before, the school balances work and play really well, and one of the ways they do so is having zero phonics lessons on fridays, and making crafts instead. I get to collaborate with Emily for these activity days, but she runs the show. I just make sure the kids don’t cut their hair or get glue all over themselves. It’s awesome. After that, I teach 3 classes, then it’s the weekend!
— Saturday: NOT the day to get groceries, though I continually keep forgetting. Too crowded. I normally clean my apartment on Saturdays, then if I don’t have any plans, I find myself a nice park and read the afternoon away. Changwon is full of beautiful parks! If I must live in a bustling city, I know this is the perfect one because of all the sweet places to escape.
So there you have it! A scope of my days here. One of these days, I promise I’ll write a post all about my students and their hilarious, PRECIOUS, hardworking, exhausting, great little beings.
As I have gathered up some moments from my week to share with you, I thought I would also gather some things I’ve been learning and thinking about this month. I think of the word gathering as when you throw a bunch of things into one basket- your raspberries and blueberries and carrots and radishes and daisies. Here is my Romans 8 and my Psalms and my C. S. Lewis and my Rich Mullins and my J. R. R. Tolkien and the prayers I pray and the songs I ponder, gathered in my basket of September.
9/2 — “When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love Him.” –Elizabeth Elliot. Oh that sudden, gracious pang of conviction…
9/8 (journaled thoughts, contemplating that weeks sermon) — “a life characterized by repentance isn’t to be re-saved and continually checking in to be sure I am right with Christ. He has kept you, you are His. A life of repentance is to ask and ask for the forgiveness from constant sin, to remember that each time He sees you as righteous because of Christ, and to move from there to be made new and new and new so you can grow more and more like Jesus.”
9/9 — I read through Romans this month. Then I read through it again. Romans 8, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (That one’s for you, Andrew. #80percent)
9/11 – Romans 9, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? So much here to unpack, but I spent the day praying to be a vessel of mercy to others, and deep in thanks for those who have been such vessels to me- here in Korea and back home: in praying for me, messaging me each morning to check up on me, sending thoughtful emails, sending mail, helping me navigate the market, a welcoming community group, new friends to pray for… I’m learning the power of forgetting myself.
9/12 — the sticky note in my syllabus journal at school reads: Drink deeply from the well that is Christ, for He is all that will satisfy.
9/14 — really good sermon.
“To know and remember God is to t r u s t Him.”
“Rest in your Sovereign Creator.”
“Let your life be a testimony that you know God.”
9/16 — songs I’ve heard 100 times take deeper depths when you listen with a tired heart:
When your spirit is hovering over the deep,
in the image of God just look into that darkness and speak:
Let there be light! Let there be love! Let there be music!
…reminded that I have to pursue the light, and stepping into God’s presence is as sweet as music.
9/20 — as soon as I stepped out of my apartment building this afternoon I felt it. The first moments of Autumn. Spent the afternoon walking, slowly and intentionally around the city, soaking in the sun and breeze and clear views of the mountains all around me. Sat under a canopy of pines facing my favorite pines, reading The Fellowship of the Ring, a festival of sorts was taking place across the street and just when I thought my heart would burst with joy, the orchestra started playing “Amazing Grace”
The air was growing warm again. The hobbits ran about for a while on the grass, as he told them. Then they lay basking in the sun with the delight of those that have been wafted suddenly from bitter winter to a friendly clime, or of people that, after being long ill and bedridden, wake one day to find that they are unexpectedly well and the day again is full of promise.
+ rediscovering Rich Mullins on the anniversary of his heavenly birthday. Played “fields of green” on repeat as I made dinner.
9/21 — Psalm 107, “They cry out to the LORD in their trouble, & He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven.” Struggling a little bit with finding meaning in teaching phonics and months and how to give directions in English and how to write an essay on an African Safari. Reminded to continually work really hard, get really tired, rest in the freedom of grace, and know that all is done unto Christ. There is meaning enough for me there.
Rereading The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis: thought a good deal about Sehnsucht this week.
“These things- the memory of our own past- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Also this, “To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son- it seems impossible, a weight or a burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”
ps. I have started trying to learn Korean! So far I have only the courage to say “thank you” and “hello” and while I always remember to bow in greeting or in thanks, sometimes I get the two mixed up and greet the school secretary with “Thank you!” when I walk through the door.
Some new and old songs I’ve been listening to this week…
Jesus, I Come
After All You Have Done
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (cover)
The Far Country
As I say to my students at the end of each day…