Living in Gangjin is an entirely different experience than living in Seoul! It’s been several months since I last posted a blog. The weather has changed and it is hot! I have been having so much fun at school and enjoying each day to the fullest. The students and Kate and I have gone on a hike, taken a trip to Gwanju, and now we are going to Seoul. I love all these new experiences and I finally have the time to sit down and share them with you.
Perhaps the most significant adjustment is the lack of internet access. The only wifi on campus is in the teacher’s office compared to wifi access everywhere in Seoul, even on trains and buses. This can be a challenge when making lesson plans – it forces me to be efficient and productive when I have access.
I teach students – and I learn from my “students” every day- this really is a reverse mission experience. We are mutually teaching and learning. I try to balance the serious curriculum in their English workbooks with games and music for fun. I ask many questions and my students help me with Korean.
I am a student. Every day, except Wednesday, I have class with the students from 4-6 pm to learn farming, cooking, and crafting. I enjoyed planting potatoes and other vegetables. When we are farming, I am always asking the students the Korean name of the tool we use. So here in the country, we are growing our own food instead of going to the market, as we did in Seoul. I am also learning to cook Korean food and it is really fun.
Twice a week I take part in pungmul 풍물놀이(Korean traditional percussion instruments) classes. I am having so much fun learning to play the 꽹과리 kkwaenggwari, a small handheld gong, and the 장구 janggu, an hourglass-shaped drum with two heads made from animal skins. I was really bad at first, but after 3 months I am doing ok – I have improved a lot but I am still not as good as the students.
Every Saturday, Kate and I join the students for a calligraphy class taught by a teacher from the community. Just like drumming, I have improved a lot from the beginning, but I am still nowhere near as good as the students. My hand position has really improved – in the beginning, my wrist was bent while writing and it became very painful. After calligraphy class and farming, my wrist was so swollen and painful that the school principal took me for acupuncture. I had 10 needles stuck in my palm, and suction cups put on my hand for blood letting – it was pretty intense. Talk about cultural immersion! My wrist and hand feel much better after acupuncture and now I know the correct hand position during calligraphy is a flat hand and wrist so my calligraphy is improving.
Every Friday we have a traditional tea ceremony with the students. I learned how to make the green tea, pour it and serve it to others. One day, we spent the first half of the day collecting tea leaves. That afternoon we tossed the tea leaves on a hot plate to heat them up then we placed the leaves on a cloth and rolled them till all the oils were released from the leaves, and then laid them out to dry. Later, we made green tea for the ceremony and it was the best green tea I have ever had.
In my spare time, I enjoy visiting area temples. The walks are meditative and peaceful. The flowers and trees are beautiful along the way. And when I reach the temple, the elaborate architectural detail is stunning!
We took a field trip to the city of Gwangju with the students, after studying the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. In May 1980, students from Chonnam University protested against the martial law imposed by Chun Doo-hwan. When government troops attacked students, armed citizens joined in the fight. Over 1,000 people were killed. In Korea, May 18 is celebrated as a memorial day. For more information, watch “A Taxi Driver” on Amazon Prime or read this commentary Gi-Wook Shin on Gwangju and South Korea’s Democracy.