생일축아합니다! My Birthday in Korea

My roommate and across the hall neighbor make a fuss about my birthday the night before…

On August 3rd I go to bed around 11:30pm and my roommate is a little disappointed that she can’t wish me a happy birthday at midnight…

I receive a wonderful box of “real brownies,” a funny card with awkward English on the outside, and a message from someone who is becoming a dear friend on the inside…

I try to wait outside the lounge, but am awkwardly ushered in to a reception of chocolate cake, candles and Happy Birthday harmonizing…

…and of course, I am treated to all kinds of free food and drink.

This year was my first birthday away from home. I wasn’t nervous or upset by it, although it was strange not fending off the question “WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY?” from my little sisters with increasing intensity in the days leading up to my birthday. I didn’t expect to feel particularly sad, but I really didn’t expect to feel so touched by a group of people I’ve only known for 4 weeks.

My birthday was a busy day. We had Korean class at 9am, as usual, with breakfast available 8-9am. That day, the representatives from embassy were visiting, so everyone was dressed in business professional clothes. Additional Jungwon University requirements applied: absolutely no shoulder-baring and required pantyhose. I share a birthday with Dawn, another lovely ETA, and we looked forward to the embassy visiting in honor of our birthdays.

Korean class was only 2 hours instead of 4, and afterwards we were ushered into a different wing of Jungwon, all set up with fancy chairs.

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Since it was my birthday, I was more inclined to do photos.

 

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After a Q&A session with 4 embassy representatives, we had our usual Jungwon cafeteria lunch. But partway through I realized we were having seaweed soup. Not as in, “oh look, there’s seaweed soup on my tray,” but more like, “wait, seaweed soup is for birthdays!” In Korea, seaweed soup, or 미육국, is traditionally eaten on one’s birthday. That doesn’t mean it isn’t eaten other days of the year, and I’m 99% sure this was a coincidence, but the soup brightened up my day. It didn’t even have weird shrimp or fish in it.

After lunch my mind was blown.

But seriously. This was probably the best talk/workshop/whatever we’ve had at orientation. Thomas Santos from the Regional English Language Office (RELO) gave us a general teaching workshop. He covered a ton of ground, and gave us concrete practices and suggestions, but what made the biggest impression was seeing him actually teach. He chose six volunteers to participate in a beginning Czech class…which he held right there. We all gathered to watch in a fishbowl-like set up. Magic happened.

Okay, this is a little dramatic, but I won’t go into everything that was great about him here. It became clear that Thomas Santos is a master at teaching ELL. I was only watching, not participating, and I still remember how to say something along the lines of “Hello, I am Monica” as well as numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and maybe 9 in Czech. (I have no idea how to spell them though.) I’d love to learn from him. Fortunately, he is in Korea and may be attending one of the annual Fulbright Korea conferences or visiting us at our placements.

Moving back to birthday festivities… Later in the evening, after being studious, Dawn and I were surprised by a lovely chocolate cake from Tous les Jours. I was late to the surprise and got multiple Kakao talk messages (a free calling and texting app that is HUGE in Korea) and my roommate coming up to make sure I wasn’t asleep. When I came downstairs, the plan was to go out and get ice cream, so I waited outside the lounge, further thwarting the surprise-planners. Sorry friends.
When I finally entered, Dawn was already there, a beautiful chocolate cake was brought out, and Happy Birthday filled my ears for the third (or fourth?) time that day. I’m sure there are more pictures out there somewhere, but this one captures the chaos nicely. And you can see I’m very touched, with my eyes closed and everything.

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Much love to Gabby, making a funny face in the background, who helped me catch a ladybug in my room so that we could free it outside. We used a peach bottle. And she did most of the work. 고마워 언니!

The cake was delicious. And gone in about two minutes. Afterwards, we went out with a smaller group.

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Berry bingsu!  Still a favorite snack!

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And in case you’re all alone. How…considerate?

It was a pretty low-key night and also a Monday, but it’s tough to explain just how good it feels to get out of Jungwon University. Some days, or weeks, I rarely see the sun or get fresh air. No joke.

To turn this post back to something positive, here’s a picture of Haley and I eating corn on a bus, me pretending to do Taekwondo, and Kelsey’s mad selfie skills. There’s so much going on!

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