Travel Thoughts: Being My ETA Self Again

I’ll let you in on a secret.

I’m actually a homebody.

Yes, I taught in Korea for two years and frequently traveled around the country. I visited Japan. Being in Korea made me realize how little of the US I’ve actually seen. Traveling to all 50 states is on my bucket list. So is traveling around the world.

#Wanderlust and all that.

But by nature, I’m a homebody.

Flying to Korea was my first time on a plane. What a first flight.

travel thoughts seasoned plane rider

Actually, it was a set of three transferring flights, starting with a 15-minute primer from Colorado Springs to Denver, 2 hours from Denver to LA, and then the 13-hour whopper from LA to Seoul, South Korea.

With all the international flying I’ve done since then, I’m a seasoned plane rider.

In a few days, I’ll be going to Seattle for my friend and fellow ETA alum Mimi’s wedding. I think of this as a testament to the strength of the relationships you develop in Fulbright Korea, something deep and unique that spans space and time (zones).

But when I accepted the RSVP to her wedding, I realized I’ve still never flown anywhere in the US, other than to transfer flights. (I don’t have to carry my passport? Whaa?) To everyone else, this probably sounds like a moot point, but I’m acutely aware of it.  I’ve never gone to a new city in my home country, completely on my own. I’ve never just struck out to go exploring.

It made me nervous.

But I’d done those things in Korea several times over. As the date draws nearer I can feel my travel muscles flexing and straining to go.

I’ve been at home too long for even a homebody. I’m itching for that same excitement I got in Korea.


When I told Mimi I’d be at her wedding, she mentioned being happy that someone from the ETA stage of her life was going to be at her wedding. Explaining that it could feel like she was a different person in different periods of her life, I could relate.

The me who was in Korea might have a difficult time recognizing the me today.

But I’m ready to revive traveler-Monica again.

travel thoughts winter path


Jeju Conference: Round 2

You’d think a post about Jeju island (popular weekend getaway and honeymoon destination) would be full of breath-taking tropical photos. I mean Jeju island should easily overshadow mere cherry blossoms right? I should be highlighting coastal views, fields of flowers, and time spent enjoying hallabong – an orange-like Korean fruit that only grows on Jeju and a few select places. Maybe you’d expect a post like this?

Well that’s I was expecting too. See?

Unfortunately this year, the Fulbright ETA Jeju Conference was cut one day short, ending on Sunday and thus pitting us against the crowds of people all needing a flight back before Monday. Throughout the conference, Jeju photos from other ETAs began popping on my Facebook feed and Instagram. They looked pretty darn good. But I can play at that game too.

palm trees

jeju pagoda

As long as the hotel isn’t in the shot, it looks like we’re on a sweet vacation.

jeju kal hotel

When really, our weekend was much more like this:

jeju conference

But this isn’t too say it was a bad conference, just…short. It was still nice to see everyone and enjoy our usual slices of Costco cheese during breaks. (Real cheese is a little hard to come by in this country.)

Last conference I was apparently exhausted. This time I felt quite settled into the new semester and a little annoyed that my Friday classes would be behind after the Conference. While I still had some responsibilities for Support Network – a large group announcement, small group talk, and brief check-in meeting with Advocates – I was nowhere near as busy during conference this year.

Friday, rather than opt for a night at Monkey Beach for a fundraising “prom,” I headed into town with a couple friends for Baskin Robbins. It took a while, but in the end we were successful.

Saturday was both the end of our ETA conference and the start of the Fulbright Researcher Conference. (That’s probably not the official title.) Fulbright grantees here on a research grant present their results of their projects thus far.

Now time for some honesty.

Ideally this is a wonderful opportunity to hear about what else is going on in the Fulbright community and network. Realistically, this part of conference gets long. It’s no coincidence that I left research presentations out of my last Jeju Conference post.

Last year ETAs listened to every single research presentation. It took the majority of one day and spilled over into the next. However, this year there were not only fewer researchers, but a wonderful rotation system put into place by our Program Coordinator. We chose (or for those who missed the deadline, were assigned) 5 talks to attend ahead of time. Q&A was set aside as a separate block of time after all the talks were completed. We were done in one afternoon. This was a beautiful set-up.

Although for researchers, the presentations probably felt a little too short, I can fairly confidently say that the timing was just about right for ETAs. In my case, the difference is apparent from my notes.

While my 2015 notes may be a beautiful documentation of the twenty presentations we heard, it would seem that I retained more information from attending just five during this conference.



– Brain is pulling out all the stops to stay awake

jeju 2015 researchers jeju 2015 researchers 4

jeju 2015 researchers 2



– Brain is not only functioning effectively, but curious about content

jeju 2016 researchers 1 jeju 2016 researchers 2

jeju 2016 researchers 3

But in all seriousness, there were a number of fascinating research projects done by fascinating people. It’s especially great to see people bridging the gap between South Korea and the US, when so many Americans I speak to associate South Korea with kimchi and Gangnam style. Or secret nuclear weapons. But then I’m in the awkward position of telling them they’ve got the wrong country.

Back to the researchers… I was especially excited to attend a presentation on paper-making and hanji (traditional Korean paper) by Stephanie Rue. Her work in Korea in documented nicely here, and of course, since she’s an artist, it all looks beautiful. I’m a little bummed to realize I’ve been living in Korea for almost two years without actually looking into any traditional art forms, but I still have time.

And after another buffet dinner at the hotel, the conference was over. Just like that. My roommates and I opted to go to the hotel’s jjimjilbang (public bath and sauna) to sweat and shed our dead skin. Ahh.