Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Culture "shock"

Hello again! 

Well it’s been almost a month since we’ve last posted (woops!). After our Seoul trip we quickly got back into our normal school schedule and have kept very busy since!

A few fun and not so fun things have happened in the last month:

1~  We baked sugar cookies with our Saturday middle school class. They enjoyed baking and were shocked at how much butter and sugar were in the cookies. It was a struggle to bake with the butter because it was so cold the butter was very hard! So they had a challenge measuring and creaming the butter but it was funny to watch! They really enjoyed using the cookie cutters and knives to create their own shapes. We had them try our favorite canned vanilla frosting and they hated it! I’m not sure why, maybe it was too sweet? But they enjoyed eating the cookies fresh from the oven! Most Koreans have never baked before so it was fun giving them this experience! 

Baking in sweatshirts because it's so cold! 

Attempting to measuring the butter! 

It took teamwork to cream the butter and sugar, but they did it! 

This girl was creating the letters "EXO" as a dedication to her favorite K-Pop band.

Pretty cookies! They chose the colors....

It was a fun experience! 

2~ We went to our towns “Mum Festival” where they had many types of mum flowers in different arrangements. It was a free festival and we enjoyed walking around the little park area looking at the different flowers!
Our apartment building in the distance! 

Pretty flowers! 

It's definitely fall! 

Beautiful tree! 

The "Hwasun" mascot.

3~ We got sick. This was a not so fun thing. Tyler came down with a pretty bad cold and a few days later I got a few of those symptoms (not a bad cold though thankfully!). We were grateful for our stash of cold medicine and throat drops! We even got to go to the Korean pharmacy to get cough medicine. It was easy as we just role-played fake coughing and the Pharmacist knew just what to give us! It worked really well too and was very cheap!
4~ We attended our church’s worship night and really enjoyed that time! It was on a Saturday night and they even fed us a pizza dinner before hand. We met some new people and really liked the speakers and songs that were sung.
5~ We got an oven! This was a wonderful addition to our kitchen! It has been so fun (and comforting) to be able to bake again. We’ve baked cookies and banana bread for our schools so far and have had a lot of fun with it! We bought this oven from another English teacher whose contract was up and was leaving Korea. We are so grateful she sold it to us for a low price and even gave us a bunch of her extra baking supplies!
Isn't it cute? I call it my "Easy Bake Oven"

Banana Bread! It was a hit at my travel school! 

Anyways…by the title of this blog post your probably thinking we’re about to rant about the terrible culture shock we’ve experienced and are experiencing! But actually, we are writing to day to tell about the fun, interesting, and yes, different things that make the Korean culture unique. None of the things we are about to talk about are meant to be offensive or rude. We are simply documenting our experiences so that we can inform everyone and record them for the future! Each culture has aspects to it that do not make sense to foreigners (you know how many time’s I’ve been asked by a Korean about certain American customs?) and each culture does things differently. We came to Korea knowing and understanding that things would be different and that has by far been the best thing we could have done for ourselves. We try to have a open mind and positive attitude towards new and different experiences and so far, that has really helped. Here’s a list of some cultural differences!

 Val Teacher and Tyler Teacher: This is something we totally forgot to blog about in the first few posts. Instead of calling teachers Mr. Mansour or Mrs. Mansour they call you by your first name + teacher! So we are Val Teacher and Tyler Teacher.
At first it was hard to get used to calling ourselves by our first names, since in our culture we call teachers by their last names, but we got used to it eventually.  Many of Tyler’s students now just call him “teacher” or “Tyler” but my elementary students are very keen on the “Val Teacher” name.

Bus culture: So many people ride the bus in Korea. From kids to very (VERY) old people, the bus is a main transportation system for all types of people. Early on we figured out that middle school and high school kids ride the bus to get to school, so sometimes the bus is so crowded and we are so squished. Other times, we can have the bus all to ourselves for a period of time. In Korea, it is basically mandatory that if a person who is older than you gets on the bus (and there are no other seats available) you give us your seat. If someone else beats you to it, then you don’t have to, but it is seen as respectful towards your elders. This “respect” rule unfortunately doesn’t apply as a foreigner and/or a teacher. As much as we are respected in the classroom, we definitely do not get seat preference on the bus, nor do we get preference on getting on the bus! It’s always a mad dash to get on the bus in the morning and everyday is interesting! Something else we find interesting about busses is how many older people actually use the bus. These people are generally very old, have the typical hunched over back (and when we say hunch we mean sometimes we see 90 degree hunches!) and are still getting around! It’s amazing to see them so active in the community. Not only are they getting around, but they are carrying bags of produce to see at the market. People hear are proud of their independence and we love seeing that!
This was our Monday ride. Tyler estimated about 60 people on this bus. Thankfully that only lasts for the first 10 minutes or so. 
No drinks at lunch: Something we find funny is that there are no drinks served for lunch. Instead, students have their milk as a snack in their classroom sometime during the morning. All the students and teachers seem to be ok with this and they do not need a drink during their meal. However, we are not ok with that. We both have to bring our water bottles to lunch everyday for this reason. It’s not a big deal at all, just interesting!

Open windows, open doors: This is probably by far the most confusing cultural aspect to us. In the summer the windows and doors were kept open all day to let air flow (since schools do not have air-conditioning, or heating for that matter). This made sense and was perfectly fine with me! Then it started to get much colder, especially in the mornings, yet all the doors and windows in the school were STILL open!  I’ve asked why once, and the answer I received was that Koreans believe that having the doors and windows open let’s the sprits flow.  So we deal with it. We now have to wear our jackets and long underwear during the school day to keep warm. It may be time upgrade our jackets too! Winter is definitely here! Thankfully, at my home school I have a personal heater I can use at my desk (yay) and small blankets are also commonly used in the school.

My new best friend. This personal heater is a life saver!

No shoes at school: We’ve talked a few times about how we wear slip on sandals at school instead of shoes. This was really fun and interesting in the beginning when we arrived and it was summer time. The weather was warm and it was nice to wear sandals around during the day. However, now that is it cold, our feet are cold too! We have been on the hunt for thicker socks so that we can keep warm! Now that it’s “Boot season” I’ve really wanted to wear my boots to school, that would be much warmer! I am now seeing some teachers wear more slipper like shoes (you know, the ones with the fur inside?) and I’m thinking that might be a good idea!

Car Seats: In the US, child car seat laws are widely agreed upon and basically universally followed. In Korea, not so much. It is amazing to me to see so any children without car seats! Not only that I have seen many children, including toddlers sitting in the front seat of a car! This always makes me feel uneasy but it’s a cultural thing that is out of my control!

The Ajumma culture: The older women in the culture are  called Ajumma’s and are highly respected, as they are our elders. They are strong, independent workers of society.  Most of them still farm and sell their crops on the busy streets of Hwasun or the side of the country roads. It’s pretty amazing to see as they are obviously old enough to be retired and relaxing at home, but instead they are trying to make a living! We found out that one reason is because they were in the generation that was not able to get social security benefits or anything of the sort, mostly because they are generally farmers, and because that system was not set up for them at the time.  These older people are very strong and independent. I’ve seen many older people carrying heavy bags, pulling heavy carts, or even carrying heavy bags of produce on their heads! It’s incredible! It can also be sad at times seeing these women selling things on the street from their farm, knowing that they are not making a great living.
This woman is carrying a large bag of dried red peppers on her head. She is on the way to our towns "Traditional Market" to sell them. 

It's very common for them to push carts around to transport their crops, but old baby strollers seem to work as well! 

Garbage Cans: We noticed early on that public garbage cans are a rarity in Korea. It is hard to find someplace to throw your snack wrapper or drink cup away while walking on the street. So instead of placing it in a garbage can, people actually create garbage piles in certain spots. Sometimes there are full garbage bags sitting on the side of the street that people also put their trash around. The streets can get pretty bad and have lots of these piles all over yet sometimes trash is non-existent. It’s very interesting. One cool thing we saw in Seoul was that there was a big festival one day that went late into the night. As we were walking back from our hotel we saw garbage and bottles every where. The next morning we got up early to go to the bus station and saw many workers cleaning up the street. We were glad someone was cleaning it up but surprised there were actually people doing it!

Across the street from our apartment. I'm sure within 48 hours it was gone, but still interesting! 

Volleyball: Every Wednesday, most public school teachers around Korea play volleyball after school. The main reason is for staff bonding time. At Tyler’s school, he has the option to play or not to play depending on his schedule. At my school, I am required to play. Tyler’s school is more for fun and has a relaxed environment, but my school is a little more competitive. At my school we have only played twice since I started due to many reasons such as principals on business trips, holidays, testing, and so on. It’s an interesting cultural aspect, but really goes along with how Koreans enjoy and feel it is important to spend time together.

Neungju volleyball day.  
Squat Toilets: Although these are not as common as I’m sure they used to be, squat toilets were somewhat of an actual culture shock for me. I knew about them, but in my ignorant mind, I didn’t actually think I would encounter them. Nope! Day 1 of being at my school I knew that I had bathrooms right next to my classroom. I was so happy about that because that’s obviously very convenient! I walked into the stall and there it was, a squat toilet! I checked every other stall just in case there was another western style toilet, but there wasn’t. So that was an experience, but thankfully I found out that there are western style toilets on the first floor, and all is well now. I see squat toilets every once in a while now in certain places, but for the most part, western toilets are more common.

Squat toilet at Neungju. 

Toilet Paper: Speaking of bathroom stuff…another difference in cultures is about toilet paper. It is very common here not to flush your toilet paper. Instead, you throw it away in a small trash can next to the toilet. The reason for this is that the pipes and sewer systems were not strong enough for toilet paper to be flushed. Also, squat toilets cannot handle toilet paper at all. So it became custom to just throw it away. Though this is very common, it is generally safe to flush your toilet paper in new buildings if you’re using a western style toilet. Tyler and I generally do not participate in this custom in public or at home, but it is interesting difference.

There are so many more interesting things to write about but we will have to collect another list later! 

We can’t believe it’s the middle of November already and in no time it will be December! Time is flying by! Tim and Donna (Tyler’s mom and brother) will be arriving here in Hwasun this coming Saturday! We could not be more excited! Also, my sister is due with my new nephew Bennett Morgan in just about a week and I cannot wait for him to come into this world! :) We can't wait to blog about all of that later! For now we are preparing our home for our guests, getting our thanksgiving ingredients together, and enjoying our time here in Korea!

Here are a few videos from our Seoul trip, how we do laundry in Korea, and our surprise first dance from our wedding! :)

We hope everyone is doing well and staying healthy and warm! :)

~Tyler and Valerie

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