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.



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!






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.




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.


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.



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.



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.



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.





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).



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:



Dinner! Featuring bulgogi, Micia and Jessica:



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:





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:


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.


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.