Jeju Conference

Jeju island. The land of wind, rocks and women.


I kid you not – this is their slogan. Every Korean city has a slogan. You know, something like “Gimhae for you” or “Dynamic Busan.” For a maybe complete list, check out this cynical foreigner hatin’ on Korea’s slogans.

Before coming to Korea, Jeju was high on my list of placement preferences. An island that’s the Korean equivalent of Hawaii? Who wouldn’t want to live there for a year? But as I learned more, I realized that being on Jeju didn’t line up with my goals. For one, the Jeju dialect is so strong that mainland Koreans often have difficulty understanding it. Some even argue it should be considered a different language – a fact that I learned from a researcher during our conference. As someone very invested in learning Korean, this was a red flag. There was also the matter of family. Although Jeju isn’t terribly far, I didn’t want to have to take a plane (or ferry) every time I wanted to see my family (or anything else) on the mainland. Those things were enough to make me give up on Jeju.


Fortunately, Jeju is the site of Fulbright Korea’s annual spring conference! If you’ll remember, Korea ETAs have two yearly conferences, a fall conference in Gyeongju and spring in Jeju. This conference consisted of ETA workshops Friday through Saturday, a tour on Sunday, and presentations from Fulbright researchers Saturday through Monday. (And for me, conducting Visibility Project interviews every night. *cries*) Now that you have the general idea, let’s get to the details.

The truth is, despite the happy pictures scattered throughout this post, this conference was absolutely EXHAUSTING. For me, the feel was markedly different from Gyeongju conference, which was around two months after we’d began teaching at our placements. Although we’re currently a month into the new semester, I still feel like we’ve just begun (perhaps because my responsibilities are still in flux). I went into fall conference very ready for a break, excited to see old friends and really seeking ways to improve my teaching. I came to Jeju still excited to see my friends, but already dreading the busy schedule in store for me and just wanting to be in the classroom, rather than being told what else I needed to change. That’s not to say I don’t need to improve – I’ve just started taking “Shaping the Way We Teach English,” a US Department of State sponsored course through Coursera – but I need time to try applying what I know. I didn’t go into the conference with a particularly open mind.


Friday morning, my host mom drove me to Gimhae International Airport, where she waited in line with me and kept her eyes peeled for any foreigners who might be fellow ETAs. Lo and behold, she was the first to spot other ETAs. (“There’s a foreigner! Is that your friend?” “Actually, yes. Hi Mimi!”)

After landing in Jeju-si (Jeju city), we ate lunch at the airport trying to kill time until our bus arrived, having mini-reunions all the way from the airport to the parking lot. Eventually, we 100+ ETAs clogged up the road until buses arrives to take us on an hour-long ride to Seogwipo, on the other side of the island, where we stayed at the KAL (or Korean Airline) hotel.

Unlike fall conference, I have no pictures of the hotel, “Welcome Fulbright ETA” signs, or our room. However here is a blurry photo of the view from our window and from a conference room. Sadly, it was overcast and rainy for most of the weekend.

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Once we had all gathered and somewhat-but-not-really settled in, we were ushered into a basement conference room (as seems to be the norm) and given opening remarks and talks on the grant year, teaching and life. After travel and the initial excitement of meeting friends, things got drowsy real quick. We had a quick impromptu meeting for Support Network, and then I stumbled into dinner late.

Soon after, I scrambled to organize interviewers and interviewees participating in the Visibility Project. Friday was hands down my most exhausting day of conference, but I surprised myself, pushing through job interviews and as well as conducting/organizing interviews myself. I still got some chatting in with good friends and my lovely roommates (the same ladies I roomed with at Gyeongju conference and featured here).


We had small group workshops led by fellow ETAs on a variety of topics (somehow including one on Star Wars), more talks and logistics and the first few Fulbright researcher presentations.

These are ETAs presenting research done using FKAF (Fulbright Korea Alumni Fund) grants on Friday night. These three are Emmy on the Jeju 4/3 massacre, Claire recording Emmy, Johanna on Korean vs. US healthcare systems, and Mat on multicultural students in Korea.

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Sunday was tour day! Or free time, for renewees and those who opted out. We visited five sights, and seeing as this is the day I took the majority of my 150+ photos, I’ll let those do the work here.

1.) Jusangjeolli

Octagonal pillars formed from lava eruptions. Also the only time when the weather was sunny.


Too sunny.


2.) Seongsan Ilchulbong, or Sunrise Peak

Umm…well we weren’t there for the sunrise, or any sun at all. This was our magnificent view:


But it’s not like we hiked all the way to the top expecting a view.


3.) Seopjikoji

Jeju’s eastern shore with a lighthouse that was featured in a drama. I don’t know which one. Although my group didn’t move fast enough to make it to the lighthouse, there was a beautiful field of rapeseed flowers.


4.) Seongeup Folk Village

What seems like a typical Korean traditional village, but built from volcanic rock.




5.) Cheonjiyeon Waterfall

It was nice. And also had treacherous rocks where I managed to drop my phone. Luckily my phone case is a bright red-orange and I found it soon enough. But we missed a photo opportunity with Ms. Lee because of it. She’s one of the primary office staff who probably does more than I’ll ever know. She went on the tour with us and was so adventurous!

Ms. Lee adventuring alone. And us not.

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Filling up the place with Fulbright. I spy Kristen, Constantine, Abby, Jeffrey, Emily, Rachel, Ashley, Jessica, Rachel, Luke, Zoe, Hillary, Deborah…


Selca stick AND playing with perception. I think I’ve grown.


We finished our Sunday with more researcher presentations and once again, a slew of Visibility Project interviews.


During Gyeongju conference, Monday was listed as part of the conference, but all we really did was eat breakfast and go home. It was a pleasant surprise to have the day to travel back and rest. Not so at Jeju. We listened to the last of the researcher presentations, had a slew of announcements (including the print release of Infusion magazine!) and were shuttled back to the airport. With everyone in a rush to get back and prepare for school the next day, I’m not sure that I really said any goodbyes.

I’m sorry to report that I was also unable to get a photo with Ms. Shim this time around. I’ll do better next time.

Instead I leave you with a hareubang, or as my students translate it, stone grandfather.



What do you DO after school?

Fulbright Extracurriculars

In trying to write about Infusion, Fulbright Korea’s literary magazine, I kept ending up with a post on Fulbright “extracurriculars.” I wasn’t very well-informed about these before coming to Korea, but they’re a big part of the Fulbright Korea program.

The beginning of this grant year, I was a combination of too overwhelmed and somewhat uninterested in doing “extracurriculars.” Even the word “extracurricular” takes me back to college or even high school, which is unfortunate since I’ve moved on and am trying to be an adult. And wouldn’t I have enough on my plate adjusting to a new culture, navigating life with a homestay and figuring out how to teach?

But now it’s semester two, and the beginning of this school year feels shockingly different from last time, which was just 7 months ago. That’s not to say I’ve got this teaching thing figured out, but the culture and homestay items on my list are mostly checked off. This year I know my students (half of them, anyway) and all of the third graders in the school. I know where to get extra whiteboard markers and sticky notes. The faces in the main office are all familiar to me, and there’s a rumor going around that I speak very good Korean. And sometimes, just sometimes, lesson planning doesn’t take quite as long as it used to.

So rather than wondering how everyone else has time for these extracurriculars, I now find myself restless on weeknights, especially as my host sisters now study late into the night. When I hear about what other ETAs have been doing, I think, hey I wanted to do that too! or Aw, I wish we had that in Gimhae! This post is a bit strange, because it may sound like a list of regrets, complaints, late New Years resolutions or something else entirely. But I’d like to both ramble about myself and give a full picture of Fulbright Korea extracurriculars, as I’ve seen and experienced them.

Back When I Was Just an Applicant

Before I’d even applied for Fulbright Korea, I was looking at extracurriculars. Actually, I was meticulously searching for any information I could find on what a grant year in Korea would be like. It turns out, there isn’t a lot of detailed information because – as we learned during orientation – it depends. Everything depends.

Some of the information I ran across were blueprints (guides) for KAMP (Korean Adolescent Mentoring Program), KBI (Korea Bridge Initiative) and WYLD (Women’s Youth Leadership Development). Actually, these programs encouraged me to apply and confidently seek out a Fulbright grant. I wasn’t a teacher and I hadn’t majored in English, so the thought of leading a classroom gave me pause. Yes, I wanted to go to Korea. Sure, I wouldn’t mind teaching English. But would I really do a good job? Would I enjoy it? These were the questions running through my mind when I started to read about how Fulbrighters in Korea were actually doing a lot more than teaching and traveling. They were helping low-income students gain greater access to English education, encouraging Korean girls to become leaders, and tutoring North Korean defectors. Wow, I thought, I could be doing that!

But the reality was a little different. Here’s where the excuses come in. But I’d like to think of it as me being honest with you. Some of the most useful and concrete information I found on Fulbright were through blogs like Mimi’s, Anya’s and Jon’s. Now that I’m here, I’d like to contribute for future grantees as well.


The reality is that when I arrived in Korea and began orientation, everything happened at once. And what was most important then was simply placing one foot front of the other. Throughout our six weeks of language class, workshops and guest speakers, we were informed of some extracurriculars, although for me, the NKD (North Korean defector) program was the only one that stuck.

The next milestone was finding out our placements – and extracurriculars were the last thing on my mind at that point. Even less so on departure day, when I was so emotional and nervous that I was just happy I didn’t get sick. And then I met my host family and worried about developing good relationships with them. And at my school I worried about teaching, using the right amount of politeness toward the principal, and how my laptop battery was broken (and still is).

I naively thought I’d be handed the opportunities to participate in extracurriculars, like we ETAs were living on a college campus (which, at first, we were) and not spread out across an entire country. The reality is that there’s no KAMP, KBI or WYLD in Gimhae. Those are in Daegu, Gwangju, Jeju – the point is, not here. I am the only ETA in Gimhae, and although Busan and Changwon aren’t far, it does affect my level of involvement.

Yet the amazing thing is that all of these programs have been started by ETAs. At quick glance, it seems like Korea ETAs are starting non-profits left and right. And that’s incredible, given that most are only here a year, some two years, and a very select few for three.

Don’t Tell Me These Aren’t Awesome

There’s KAMP (the Korean Adolescent Mentoring Program), which is intended to develop connections and cultural understanding between Korean youth and non-Korean mentors.

There’s KBI (Korea Bridge Initiative), which is very much active – meaning I’ve heard about it although I’m not involved – and provides free, accessible supplemental education opportunities to low-income students. Americans might read this and not understand what the big deal is, particularly for supplemental classes, but when the majority of Korean students, from elementary through high school, attend hagwon (cram school) after school, putting in countless extra hours of study time, students who don’t have the means to go fall behind. It’s an unfortunate reality that the Korean government has been trying to curb, though efforts seem to be unsuccessful thus far.

WYLD (Women’s Youth Leadership Development) is a group that mentors teenage girls with the intention of helping them take on more leadership roles, flesh out and prepare for their career aspirations, and network with successful women professionals.

There’s also the NKD (North Korean Defector) program, which ETAs take part in through Hana centers, funded by the South Korean government to help NKDs adjust to life outside of North Korea. ETAs typically go to a center and either teach English to a small class or have tutor North Korean defector students one-on-one.

But I Am Doing Some Stuff

Despite my regrets, I am involved in extracurriculars after all. I am a member of the Support Network, which provides basic phone (or email or KakaoTalk) counseling for ETAs needing someone to listen. Although we are especially trained on how to handle cases of sexual harassment and assault, we cover anything anyone is struggling with.

I’m a staff editor for Infusion, a literary magazine run and published by ETAs. It’s been around since 2008, and was definitely on the list of things I looked at before coming to Korea. The workload gets intense right around deadlines, but, I mean, look at the result. Plus, after months of speaking slow-paced, basic English, the fall staff meeting was surprisingly refreshing. We discussed and debated and challenged each other…in fluent English! Once in a while, I need the reassurance that I’m not losing my English skills.

Recently, I’m also working on the “Visibility Project,” an endeavor that our program coordinator and a smaller group of ETAs are preparing for incoming classes of ETAs. It’s something that has been attempted in the past, but not to completion or satisfaction. This year, we hope to produce a video that we can show to incoming ETAs, consisting of interviews with ETAs talking about how their various identities have affected them in Korea. This is intended to be a space to share experiences with race/ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, religion or whatever has featured prominently in an ETA’s grant year. Personally, I’m also really hoping to see some discussions of body image and fat phobia.

So while I haven’t ended up doing what I thought I would, I’ve also gotten to do things that I didn’t anticipate. And the grant year isn’t over yet.

(Oh yeah, and my school hasn’t stopped adding things to my schedule. I told you – those excuses.)