Thanksgiving with Fulbright

Every year, the Fulbright Korea program hosts a Thanksgiving dinner in Seoul for ETAs, inviting various guests from the embassy (and other important personnel). This year,  I’d been debating whether or not to make the trip, as going to Seoul is both far and expensive and I’d have to be there multiple weekends in December. However, there was also a brief meeting for Infusion scheduled for that Sunday (the dinner being Saturday evening), so I decided I might as well go. And going somewhere for free turkey and pie is never a bad idea.

On Saturday my train left at 10:20am, but I arrived at Busan station almost an hour and a half early. It’s something I find myself doing a lot these days, simply to get out of my homestay. And with the GRE in early December and this month being the first time I’m trying NaNoWriMo, I always have something to do. I sat at a cafe where the barista looked tired and grumpy, and when I asked if they had brunch, she simply said, “no” with a frown. But I’d already made the decision to sit at this cafe and liked the ambiance of the place, so I consciously worked to not let it bother me. I tried to smile at her, both when ordering and when picking up my drink. I’m not always able to be this way, but in that moment it was well grounded enough in my own contentment to where someone else’s negativity couldn’t affect me. Inner peace and all that.


Korail App

I was able to sip my latte and write right up until my KTX train arrived, not because I got there early enough to get through the long lines, but because I’m now using the Korail app! This means I can buy train tickets on my phone and not bother with standing in line to exchange my reservation for a ticket. Being completely in Korean, it was difficult to navigate the app at first, especially since the only guides I found online were for the old version of the app, but in the end I succeeded! Actually, I thought I’d been able to make an account, but it turns out I can only sign in as a guest.

Point #1: if you’re using your Korean phone number, enter your name EXACTLY as it appears in your phone company’s records, even if your name is IN ALL CAPS. (Good thing I still had those documents to reference, but if you don’t, your name is mostly likely in this format: LAST NAME, FIRST NAME MIDDLE NAME.)

Point #2: You’ll have to use the guest sign-in, which in Korean is 미등록고객객. Under the login screen, go to the third and final tab to use your phone number (휴대전화 로그인) and enter it in the first box. In the second box you make up any password you want – I use one that’s 5 numbers so that it’s consistent with the format of the second password they ask for later. Then hit the dark grey 미등록고객객 button!

Point #3: You’ll be taken to the guest sign-up screen, where you enter your name (whatever you want it to be, but not too long – I just use 모니카, my first name spelled out in hangul), phone number (yes, again) and password (this time it has to be 5 digits and all numbers).

Here are screenshots of the first log-in screen and guest sign-up screen:

korail login 1     korail login 2


Thanksgiving in Seoul

I arrived at Seoul around 1pm and went to get lunch. Craving a chicken sandwich, I went into what I thought was McDonald’s, and was surprised to see that they only had a spicy chicken sandwich. I bought it anyway and then got a call from Arria, who was coming to pick me up so we could go to her place together. I rushed out, learned that she wasn’t actually there yet, and decided to go back into eat. This time I did go into McDonalds, but the layout looked slightly different than before. Only slightly. I sat down anyway and dug into my meal. It wasn’t until I was almost halfway finished that I realized everyone around me had wrappers and cups with a different color and design. I looked more closely at my meal and finally realized…I had bought this from the Lotteria right next door. And now I was sitting in the MCDONALD’S, eating a meal I’d bought from their competitors next door. Looking around, I also realized, there ARE a lot more foreigners here. And hey, it turns out the layout really was different…because this is a DIFFERENT STORE. Shamefully, I glanced over at the Lotteria, hoping that all their seats were full so it looked like I had an excuse to be here, eating Lotteria in a McDonald’s. It did seem pretty full. So I awkwardly finished my meal. Only one guy seemed to notice my mistake. I avoided making eye contact with him.

But onto the main course and away from my embarrassing escapades! The afternoon went by quickly at Arria’s place, and besides we had to dress professionally to go to the dinner where we’d be stuffing ourselves with American fare. I’ll just repeat that, we had to be business professional to eat turkey. Business professional clothing only stretches so far. Oh the sacrifices we make for Fulbright.

Thanksgiving buffetThanksgiving pie

This year the dinner was held on the Yongsan American military base! We ate at the Dragon Hill Lodge, which normally does Fulbright’s Thanksgiving catering, but this year also hosted us. There was some culture shock when someone went to charge their phone and found that the American power sockets. As predicted, I was too busy eating to get any good pictures in. The meal was a buffet, which doesn’t make for a very attractive-looking plate. You can’t even see the turkey. But rest assured that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Other than the dinner, there were a few performances from fellow ETAs, singing, dancing and piano. It was a pleasant time, but over too soon!

Thanksgiving dance

Thanksgiving sing


Weekends in October II: BIFF

October 6 and 8: Busan International Film Festival (BIFF)

The Busan International Film Festival…is only one of the biggest events in Busan, the pride and joy of Nampo, where BIFF was originally held, and now the Haeundae and Centum City area. The festival attracts celebrities and film makers from around the world…making it almost impossible for me to get tickets for the opening or closing ceremonies. Still, according to my students, people will flock toward the venue anyway, hoping to catch a glimpse of celebrities on the red carpet.

This year, BIFF fell on the same week as midterms, and at my new school I get exam days off! The timing couldn’t have been better. (So technically this post isn’t about a weekend. Shhh.) I saw BIFF movies on two days, once with the Busan ETA and my partner in crime, Nadia, and a second time with my Fulbright coteacher and aunt.

Day 1

Tuesday, Nadia and I went on a BIFF marathon, waking up early to buy tickets that morning (actually, all that credit goes to Nadia, who got them before I’d even arrived). Between movies we whipped out our laptops to work on preparations for the Fulbright fall conference. The day was a surprisingly effective balance of work and play…we just didn’t have much time to eat. Something to improve upon next time. The movies we saw and their countries (plus stills pulled from a quick google search) were:

Dheepan – France/Sri Lanka


The Apostate – Spain (with a guest visit from the main actor below!)


Tangerine – America (with a guest visit from the director!)


This year I felt like I got the whole BIFF experience, as we got to see not only one but two guest visits! At certain showings, there are special guests who hold Q&A sessions after the movie. I attended guest visits with the main actor of The Apostate and the director of Tangerine. For The Apostate in particular, I came to a greater respect and appreciation for the movie after learning about all the symbolism packed into the movie through dozens of seemingly minute choices. These people are on an entirely different level than Hollywood. The guest visit was actually conducted in Spanish with Korean translations, so Nadia translated from Spanish to English for me. The actor picked up on the fact that there were two foreigners in the audience, and said his finals words in English for us (read: me). Being the only one in the audience who couldn’t understand what was being said, even with two languages being translated, was a funny moment. Just for fun, Nadia and I had planned to have me ask a question in English and have her translate it to Spanish, which the translator would later have to translate into Korean, but they ran out of time. Language trolling: fail.

Day 2

Two days later, my coteacher invited me to see a movie with her and asked if my cousin was free. She was not, but my aunt was, so the three of us met to see a French movie called The Last Lesson (La Dernière leçon). The movie was enjoyable and very well done, although sad (as it was about euthanasia).


After the movie we went out for dinner (bossam, or boiled pork). I think both my coteacher and aunt were curious about each other; my coteacher is actually the same age as my mom. We all enjoyed ourselves and there were no uncomfortable or awkward moments. Dinner was delicious, but the night wasn’t complete until we also stuffed ourselves with dessert.