Weekends in October IV: Conference/Gyeongju

October 16-19: Fall Conference at Gyeongju

This year Fulbright Korea’s Fall Conference was held in mid-October. Same venue, same structure. The content of various talks and workshops of course changed, and we had the pleasure of having Thomas Santos, Regional English Language Officer (RELO) and EFL teacher extraordinaire, give a talk and stick around for the majority of the conference. But the major differences for me were:

1. I took hardly any pictures. My phone battery also died very early on the day of the tour, but I also think the second time around, the events of Fall Conference just don’t seem as exciting or photo-worthy.

2. Somehow I ended up being involved in six presentations, small group talks or miscellaneous things to run. It was tiring, but not as much as Jeju Conference was.

3. I went on the Sunday tour. The previous year I opted out, since I’d just been to Gyeongju with my coteachers the week before, was really needing a free day, and wasn’t looking for an extension of orientation, where we’d been constantly bused and rushed from one place to the next. My roommates – who were also skipping the tour that day – and I ran into Ms. Shim on the elevator after breakfast. We had the obligatory awkward small talk. Upon finding out we were first years, she made a loaded remark, “Oh, you’re first years, but you’re not going on the tour?” Hahaha….we stuttered our way through excuses before arriving at our floor.

I joined the tour this year because a.) I didn’t go last year, and b.) I wanted the chance to spend time with this year’s new ETAs. Two days at the end of orientation isn’t enough to really get to know anyone, and there’s a strange feeling or displacement that comes with being a renewee for me, having moved from knowing everyone in the program to still hearing a name and thinking “there’s a [name] in the program?” or “I swear I’ve never heard of that person before.” While there really isn’t time to get to know everyone, I thought I could at least learn everyone’s names…buuut that’s still a work-in-progress too.

This year’s class has a completely different feel and personality, and of course, dozens of individual beliefs and values too. People struggled with many challenges at their placements that – from a place of having been through them before – I know will pass, but are still extremely difficult in the moment. I didn’t take in as much encouragement from this conference, but I don’t know that I really gave encouragement either. While the conference was great on the surface level, the more I reflect on it, the more it feels like I’m in a slump.

But with things picking up at work and hopefully some big changes at my placement, I’m trying to break out of my gloomy season.

From the few pictures I did take at Conference, here’s the lake view from our hotel room:

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And a delicious brownie enjoyed with good company:

twosome place brownie

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That Catch-up Post and Gyeongju Conference

Hello. I haven’t blogged for almost a month. Here are some highlights before we get into last weekend’s conference:

BIFF! Or the Busan International Film Festival. While many ETAs went the opening weekend, I didn’t make any efforts to get tickets at that time. But I still spent a fun day with friends in Busan, complete with chicken on the beach (which may or  may not have been complemented with a sprinkling of sand), fabulous nails (which I tragically chipped less than a couple hours later), and a dinner with my aunt! While it’s been exciting meeting with my family and starting a relationship with them, I’m realizing that I need to be intentional in building/growing these relationships.

But that was the weekend I didn’t go to BIFF. I didn’t think I would go at all, as tickets quickly sold out online, but lucky for me, 20% were reserved for day-of purchases, the following Thursday was a(n awkwardly-in-the-middle-of-the-week) national holiday, and another ETA reached out looking for someone who wanted to go together. Zoe came down from Daegu (that’s dedication!) and we had a blast, not only seeing THREE movies, but hanging out around Busan and checking out BIFF village at Haeundae beach.

We saw The Dinner (Italy), The Barber (US) and The Boss, Anatomy of a Crime (Argentina/Venezuela). For some reason they were all psychological thrillers involving murder…but they were all great!

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The following weekend, my host family had activities planned. Although I’d intended to blog about
this, I never did. (Luckily I’ve got one of those half-written blog posts I can insert here).

My host family volunteers with an organization that helps people with mental disabilities. They’ve “adopted” two women who don’t (seem to) have families of their own to take care of them – 태히TaeHee and 두옥 DuOk. Every month my host family meets them to do activities. Last month we went on a trip to Mount Jiri 지리, Korea’s the third largest mountain, in South Jeolla Province, which was beautiful.

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We were joined by two other families who are part of the program, as well as a social worker for
each family. Together we all stayed at a pension – everyone was excited about the second floor having a bed – had a cooking competition among the families, and went hiking at Jiri the next day.

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For this month’s activity, DuOk and TaeHee spent the night at my homestay’s apartment. Saturday we went to a ceramics studio. The man there makes and sells his own ceramics, but also holds short 1-2 hour “classes” for the public. I say “classes” because there isn’t really any teaching going on, just correcting. He started us off with slabs of clay, had us decide what we wanted to make, and then came around to make the base for each of us. I chose to make a mug. We then got to build up the work with coils, which the artist later smoothed out with on a pottery wheel (read: remade everything so it looked nice). The artist in me wasn’t satisfied, but I am curious to see how they turn out when we pick our fired cups and dishes up next month.

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After our sleepover Saturday night, Sunday the family went to Yonggungsa 용궁사, a famous temple in Busan. In previous posts I’ve been saying things like Bulguksa Temple, but I learned from my students that “sa” means temple. So from now on I’ll choose one or the other: Yonggung Temple or Yonggungsa. Anyway, Yonggungsa is right next to the ocean and has a beautiful view. I definitely didn’t get to spend as much time there as I would have liked.

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This was also the first maiden voyage of my selca stick, which my host dad spontaneously bought for my host sisters and myself a few days before. I’d say it was a success, although I’m definitely a novice.

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Next stop was the aquarium. The most memorable exhibition: the “doctor fish” room, where you could stick your fingers into the tanks and let fish nibble on them. My fingers weren’t as popular as my host dad’s. After a massive lunch at the “Korean Traditional Restaurant” we headed home and parted ways with DuOk and TaeHee.

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Fall Conference at Gyeongju

This past weekend was Gyeongju conference! Fulbright Korea holds two annual conferences, one in fall, the other in spring. Fall conference was held in Gyeongju, which is famous for its historical sites, having once been the capital of the Silla dynasty. While we stayed in Gyeongju Friday aftternoon through Monday morning, the conference itself was really only Friday afternoon and Saturday. Sunday was our free day, with the exception of a final banquet (during which I took a picture with Ms Shim! More on this to follow).

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While the workshops I attended were good, parts of the trip felt like we were back at orientation, which only made me cringe. However the most meaningful parts of the weekend were the regular conversations I had with friends.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like to suddenly be around 100+ people who speak your native language again. While I speak English with my coteachers and Konglish with my host family, it’s not the same. I can’t always communicate the nuances of what I’m feeling or clearly articulate my thoughts. While chatting with a fellow ETA Friday afternoon, I found myself thinking, “oh no I’m talking too fast,” before remembering that I was talking to a friend who could understand me perfectly well.

We arrived at Commodore Hotel to a beautiful view from our window and a comfortable room (though not nearly as swanky as Seoul. #spoiled). And of course, no Fulbright gathering would be complete without bulgogi and bibimbap.

The view from and of our hotel room:

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Dinner! Featuring bulgogi, Micia and Jessica:

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Sunday I spent time some much needed with friends. It was impossible to completely catch up over the course of only a few days, but between our scenic walks, selca stick selfies, ridiculously long waits for the bus and adventures around the city, I think we got somewhere.

Our hotel in the distance:

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As a cultural ambassador, I work hard to stay in touch with my host country. I am hoping to be fluent in selca stick use by the end of the year:

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More than anything, I appreciated the chance to delve into our beliefs about teaching philosophies, and how these may or may not conflict with the messages we’re getting from Fulbright programs and past ETAs. But I think this will be part of a later post on teaching that I’ve been putting off. It’s not just that I’ve been procrastinating, but that I don’t know exactly what I think or feel about teaching. As another ETA put it, it’s changing all the time. What I thought was true last week might no longer stand. And I can’t even predict how I’ll feel next week.

But the crowning achievement of fall conference was my picture with Ms. Shim. I am so proud.

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Ms. Shim is the executive director of the Fulbright Korean-American Educational Commission.

There’s a strange culture around Ms. Shim here at Fulbright Korea. During orientation, it seems there is a fear of Shim that is passed down through successive Fulbright generations. We taught to only use the deepest of bows with her (90 degee only), and even practiced (several times) before meeting her. I think some of us have come to realize that she is very sweet, and not nearly as scary as she’s made out to be, but few ETAs approach her other than to give greetings (인사) and say thanks after meals.

But I’ve broken through the wall of fear! A couple times during conference I had casual conversations with her. Instead of fearful, I am fascinated. I actually remember my first time reading her name after my acceptance into the Fulbright Korea program, and being excited to see that the director was a woman. I’d forgotten about this with all the hype and extensive bowing. Ms. Shim is every bit as legit as I first expected, and I’m looking forward to inching my way along to knowing her this year.

My progress thus far: When I first asked if she would take a picture with me, aware of her reputation with ETAs, she joked “You don’t have the right!” and then turned away to talk to someone else. I was bewildered for a few moments, beginning to wonder if she had actually turned me down. Oh, Ms. Shim.