(Settled in the mountains of 공주 (Gongju), there is a small pottery village. This pot was made by a man who I attend church with.)
As I sit on my bed, I wonder how I can begin to sum up the past few weeks of my life in Korea in one simple blog post. In an ideal world, I would have a blog post for each day and the adventures that it entails; however that can not be. There are so few hours in any given day and by the time I reach home, I am often too tired to do much more than sleep. I will, however, for those who are not with me, endeavor to give a small recounting of what life has been like thus far.
(대전광역시 Daejeon is surrounded by mountains. )
On Tuesday it will be officially two weeks since I have arrived in Korea. In a single breath, I can say that it hardly feels like time has passed and that I’ve been here a lifetime. The days have both been flying by faster than I can count but also inching forward, minute by minute.
(Ice Cream with YAVAs who just came back from the USA)
We arrived late on Tuesday the 30th. We left Stony Point, NY on Monday morning around 6:30am. It was past 11:00pm local time when we made it to our new house. Do the time zone math and you get over 26 hours of travel! Kurt, one of the site coordinators, met us at the airport, speaking only Korean. It wasn’t until we had reached Daejeon that he switched to English. Our first taste of something completely different from whence we came.
(선생님 throwing clay on his wheel. )
From then on, we’ve been having an orientation of culture, language, foods, and new experiences. We’ve been shown around the city and introduced to the university pastors, our volunteer sites, site buddies, and Korean YAVAs recently back from the USA. There has been a volley of new information thrown at us, hoping some of it will stick. I had hoped to take in all of these two weeks and just absorb it before collecting my thoughts into writing. Alas, I have become saturated with it and am even now unsure of how to begin separating it.
(We experimented with pottery and created our own objects. )
If I were to sum up everything in one word, it would be hospitality. Understanding the Korean concept of hospitality is a fundamental window into understanding Korea and Koreans. It is so much more than just being nice and welcoming. It is deeply rooted in centuries of tradition, culture and relationship building. The community and relationships within a community are held in high respect. Hospitality to the community is just one way of keeping those relationships in a positive light for the good of the community. One of the challenges we must look at this year is how to not impose upon that hospitality as a 외국 (foreigner). We will forever be one of the outsiders, the one being welcomed. Learning to not take advantage of that inherent situation will become a theme for the year.
(A traditional market where anything from fresh produce to traditional clothing can be purchased.)
One of the hardest things thus far has been our language class. We attend class every morning for four hours and learn reading, writing, speaking, and grammar. In many senses, it feels like starting over again as a child, but with the reasoning and understanding of an adult. You might think this would make it easier, but I find my brain struggles to make sense of something it doesn’t yet know. My tongue fights to conform into new shapes to produce new sounds. It longs to make F’s and R’s where there are none and fights the desire to just tune out what is unknown.
(Honey-hodduck, it’s like a pancake with honey inside!)
Finding oneself in the midst of a conversation where you understand nothing is a very unique situation. Without verbal communication, the thing that really allows us to be who we are, we become lost and valueless. This is something that I had rarely fully experienced, nor did I appreciate how important being able to speak is to me. That knowledge has given me a new appreciation for those who learn a second language.
(Learning about the 받침 (bachim) or ending consonant of a syllable and the sound that it makes.)
In the coming weeks, we start work at our volunteer placements. Our lives will become even busier as the month goes on. Not only will the work be new, but the language barrier remains. Although we will be there with Hannam University students who speak some English, I do not want to rely on them to continually meet me where I am. I want to push myself to meet them where they are. I foresee that the next several months will be busy and challenging but I am working at building a community to be challenged alongside.
(Orientation wrapped up with a night at the Ball Game. Go Eagles! We won!)