Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas in Korea!

Hello again!

We wanted to have this posted by December 31st as it's all about the month of December..but we're a little late. ;)

December proved to be a weird month in Korea (as teachers and foreigners at least!). As the holiday season began, homesickness got worse. We tried to stay positive and enjoy our new and interesting holiday season, and what do you know, we did it! In just a few weeks my parents will be here and we will be on vacation! God is so good and we are truly blessed!
 Val's students made these snowmen! 

An amazing and wonderful thing that happened this December was that my nephew was born! My older sister, Savannah, and brother in law Cole, welcomed baby Bennett Morgan Hise into the world on December 2nd at 3:11pm! After a long and challenging labor, she finally delivered him via C-section. It was no wonder, as he was 9 lbs 8 oz!! Tyler and I are thrilled to be Auntie V and Uncle Tyler to now 3 precious nephews and a niece! We can't wait to meet Bennett! :)
Just born! <3 
That face! <3 
We miss them so much! Congrats Hise Family! <3

The snow fell early this year, starting on December 1st exactly! From there it’s been snowing off and on every week! Some days it snows a lot and sticks and some days it snows throughout the day, but melts! It’s very fun to watch! Overall, the snow is beautiful the way it covers the giant hills around us and sparkles in the sun, but it’s also lost its novelty after happening so many times! In Korea, snow days from school are very rare. Even when it snowed many inches here, school still occurred! People and busses just drive slower, but all is normal! That is very very different from Oregon considering that if we even hear there might be snow, we cancel school. Also in the US, if there is any snow on the ground while at school, we do not let our students play in it, as it can be dangerous. In Korea, it’s opposite! Kids are encouraged to go out and play and even run around having snowball fights! Sometimes the staff members join in!

Another weird thing about December has been testing and final exams for students. The testing and exams happen early in December. As an English teacher in a middle and high school, I do a speaking interview to evaluate each of my students. This can take anywhere from 1-3 class periods, depending on the number of students in the class. Then after the exams are completed, which happens mid-December, students are essentially finished, but they still have a couple weeks until winter break. Then they will come back for a week in February before the end of the semester. In my middle school classes I’ve been doing textbook review activities and special lessons, but for my high school classes I was told that they’ve already started their celebration and that I could go take a rest. Instead of retreating back to my desk, I played card games with some of my students in each of the high school classes. It’s been a great opportunity to bond with some of my students who were more intimidated to interact with me otherwise. Unfortunately, there is a lot less to prepare for, so all the prep time I would normally have, turns into desk warming time.

My classes (Val) have been strange as well. After final exams, classes continued, but there were many more schedule changes. I’m not sure English class was top priority anymore. One of the fun traditions at my schools is called “Market Day.” Twice a year my co-teacher and I will buy lots of little toys, stationery things, candy, and snacks and we will “sell” them to our students. The students earn stickers throughout the term and in turn, they get fake money for their stickers. I ran the store section and register and my co-teacher made many grilled sandwiches on our sandwich makers that we have. Students could buy these sandwiches with their money as well. The sandwiches were things that American students would probably never think of! One type of sandwich was bread, pizza sauce, corn, and cheese. Another sandwich was strawberry jelly and American cheese! The students loved it though and enjoyed eating them after they made their many purchases. That day they also watched, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the cartoon version) in each class. I’ve now watched that movie about 10 times. Market day was a success and we all had a lot of fun making it a nice reward for the kids!

Random fact! - The movie Home Alone, which is really popular around Christmas time in Korea, is simply referred to as, “Kevin.”

As we’ve talked about before, Val and I have been teaching an extra class every other Saturday at my travel school. On Friday were all set for our last class the next day, but then halfway through the day my co-teacher told me that the school called to inform me that the Saturday class will be moved to next week. We had a busy weekend planned, so having the moved was actually very helpful even though we were looking forward to finishing the extra classes. Then the next Friday rolls around and we are excited for the last class again. We had lots of fun activities planned and some treats for our students. It snowed a little bit, but business as usual in Korea. On Saturday morning it was snowing again and we went caught the bus to head out to my travel school early morning. On the bus ride we saw the sun rise and the beautiful rice fields blanketed with snow. When we arrived there only appeared to be one set of footprints in the snow leading to the school. The school was open, but there were no students inside. The other staff member at the school, who didn’t speak much English, told us to wait. He continually told us to wait until had waited 3 hours with no students. We finally caught the bus back to Hwasun at our normal time that day...and we may have eaten a bunch of the treats we brought for the students in the meantime. Then next time I saw them they all felt so bad because they said there was too much snow at their houses to get to school. Overall, we were sad we couldn’t end the class on a positive note and do our activities, but we’re also happy to be finished and have our Saturday’s back again!

We really enjoyed eating these snacks! ;)

A weird, but very cool part of December was a school field trip to Gwangju. The school invited Val and I to go on the field trip to the movies and lunch, on a Sunday! We met the students and a couple other middle school teachers at the movie theater to watch the new Hobbit movie. After the movie we all went to a buffet lunch at a restaurant near the theater. It was a really fun field trip and it was very generous of the school to invite Val to join us. From what we’ve heard, it’s not very common for schools to invite someone’s spouse to attend school events. We had a lot of fun and enjoy getting to spend time with our co-teachers.

On Christmas Eve we baked and delivered Christmas cookies and a card to two of our favorite restaurants in Hwasun. We wanted to let them know how friendly they are and how much we like their food! They were so surprised and thankful. The next time we had dinner at our favorite Italian food place, the chef/owner/our friend Tong Hee, made us a special pizza to take home as a christmas gift. (He’s so nice!) He knows a basic amount of English, so when he was done cooking, we chatted for a little bit too.

Unlike teachers in the USA, we still had to work on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve day felt long, but we were looking forward to a wonderful dinner with our friends Brad and Maranda. During the long wait, I was told that as a Christmas treat, all the middle school teachers were going out to an eel restaurant for lunch. As someone who does not like seafood and thinks eels are scary looking, I was far from excited. I knew I’d have to at least give it a fair shot though to be respectful and try new things. At the restaurant I ate fried eel spine, and grilled eel meat. The spine was really crunchy like a burnt french fry and didn’t have much flavor. The eel meat, which we dipped in sauce, wrapped in lettuce leaves, and added toppings, wasn’t too bad. It tasted like a mix between fish and chicken. My Christmas Eve experience (Val) was interesting as well. I had 3rd grade which had their Market Day, 2 periods of 5th grade, and 2 periods of 6th grade. In 5th and 6th grade we actually taught normal lessons for 1 of their periods and then they watched a movie for the last period. The strange thing about the movie was it was not a Christmas movie, like I would have expected, but it was a Halloween movie! We watched Hocus Pocus (with Korean subtitles) in both classes. It was the strangest thing to be watching that type of movie on Christmas Eve, but I went with it! That day we had also had a 40 min assembly to reward students on their accomplishments throughout the term. I also had to attend a 1 hour staff meeting (completely in Korean, of course) as they wrapped us the year as well. I had brought cookies to the meeting to share and the staff seemed to appreciate that! They couldn’t eat a whole cookie though as our cookies are much sweeter than theirs (I made sugar cookies, lol!). It was fun though! So overall, our Christmas Eve was spent nothing like it normally would be in the US, but we have interesting memories forever!

After we got home that day, we prepared some cookies and fruits and vegetables to bring to dinner. At Brad and Maranda’s, we had an amazing dinner! We ate BBQ pulled pork, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, corn bread, and fruits and veggies. Then for dessert, we ate Christmas cookies, Baskin Robbins ice cream, Trader Joe’s chocolate mints, and drank hot chocolate. Needless to say, we enjoyed every bit of it! It was great to spend time with friends and share such a great meal. We felt truly blessed!

Delicious food that Maranda prepared! :)

Christmas eve with Brad and Maranda!

Lucky for us, we both got Christmas Day off! We slept in that morning and enjoyed a nice breakfast while finishing a Christmas movie (Elf, of course!). We then opened our gifts from family and friends and took lots of photos to remember everything by! We got to skype with both of our families that day and enjoyed those conversations! A tradition in my (Val’s) family, is to eat homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning! So we were able to have a taste of home while also participating in another tradition, opening Christmas stockings! The rest of the day Tyler and I watched movies, created our Christmas video, and Tyler played with his new toy (a N64 adapter that allows him to play games on his computer with a real controller!). We ate pizza and buffalo wings for dinner and watched our new season of Big Bang Theory that we got as a gift! It was a really nice Christmas day! Even though some traditions didn’t happen this year (Church on Christmas eve, having family around, or putting up a real Christmas tree) we were able to focus more on the meaning of Christmas and enjoy the day together! Here is our Christmas video from our YouTube! :)

Another fun thing that happened in December was my (Val’s) birthday! I was expecting to be working this year on my birthday (my English camp had been scheduled for it!) but plans changed and I ended up having to use the 29th, 30th, and 31st as part of my paid vacation days, otherwise, I would lose them completely. So for those 3 days I cleaned and organized the house, watched movies, and basically hung out! On my birthday, Tyler took me out to downtown Gwangju to our favorite restaurant, The First Alleyway, for pizza, french fries, and brownie dessert! The pizza is amazing there as it’s the most western pizza you can get (good crust, sauce, and more selection of toppings!). It was very delicious! Then we walked around downtown for a bit! We found out my favorite store called Art Box was renovated and went from 1 floor to having 4 different floors of various things. Art Box is essentially a stationary store, but sells everything from stuffed animals, to kitchen supplies, to toys, and home art. It’s an eclectic mix of everything! We enjoyed browsing around while looking at all the fun things! Tyler’s gift to me was buying me a cute lunch box (or “Cooler pack” as they call it). I really wanted one to take my lunch to school during winter break (and throughout the year when needed) but also to travel with! It’s cute and I got the last one! At the end of our evening, we found these silly looking inflatable monsters outside a store. We thought it would make for a good picture, so we put my phone in the selfie stick and got one! Unfortunately, as Ty was trying to take it out, my phone was launched out of the holder and onto the ground. The way the phone holder works is by springs (clinging to your phone and adjusting by size) so it flew! It hit the ground and bursted some pixels in the screen in the upper left corner. Tyler felt so bad, but we both laughed it off, as it was a honest mistake and didn’t affect the phone too much. Well, little did we know that when the pixels bursted, it caused the rest of the phone screen to get worse and worse. What started out as a small black spot turned into two giant black spots. The screen started turning other colors like blue or red, and 24 hours later, the whole screen turned black. lol. Not very functional anymore! Too bad, since we paid a good amount for this used phone and it was only used for 4 months. Oh well, life happens! Tim (my brother in law) is so kindly sending his old iphone that he is not using to me so I can use it here! He is a lifesaver and so very helpful! :)

Such delicious pizza! 

Most fun store to browse around in! 

My birthday gift from Tyler! So cute! It's been very useful lately! 

The last photo my phone took! ;)

The next day was New Years Eve! That morning Tyler went to work at a normal time and I went in to work late (because I was still on paid vacation) to do some prep work for English camp! Tyler and I were both invited to his end of the term staff lunch party in Gwangju. So one of the teachers at the school, named Mrs. Han, so kindly picked me up at my school and drove us to the hotel in Gwangju! She has been a very kind friend to us here and always invites us and offers to drive us to the various events his school has! She was also extremely kind and bought me a birthday present of body wash and lotion! Very unexpected, but so very sweet! When we arrived at the hotel we didn’t know how fancy it would be. The lunch was set up in a ballroom at a hotel. There were large round tables with black linen and white cloth napkins folded in a pretty way! There was a huge buffet set out with tons of food. A small stage was at the front with a DJ and colorful lights. There was even a giant 3 tiered cake! And of course, as with any Korean event, a personalized banner hung across the top of the stage indicating what event this was. We were very honored to be apart of this as this was a very nice gesture from the school to invite us both! The food was great! We love buffet style here as we can choose different foods and try new things without fully committing to a full meal of it! We had lots of different kinds of meats, salad, fruit, and even dessert. We found out we really like Korean Meatballs and enjoyed going back for more! Throughout the meal there were many speeches by various teachers and we raised our glasses many times. Even Tyler and I were asked to speak (which only 3 out of the 30 some teachers could understand). Most of the male teachers enjoyed their alcohol (Soju and beer!) but we were happy without it. Then as the meal was finishing up the DJ handed off the microphone to someone and Karaoke began! We were slightly surprised, but not really, as we knew Koreans love their Karaoke. It was amusing to watch for a bit, until they asked us to sing! Then it was not so amusing anymore! ;) Reluctantly, we went up to the stage. Not knowing what song we could sing, Tyler had some quick thinking! He explained that yesterday was my birthday, therefore he was going to sing Happy Birthday. That got me out of singing and we thought we had fulfilled what they wanted, however, they were not satisfied yet! So after telling us that they wanted a real song,  we struggled to think of a English song that this older Korean DJ would have in his collection! We finally settled on Michael Jackson (as they wanted a oldie) and sang the song “Billie Jean”! It was highly embarrassing, but hilarious at the same time. Even some of the teachers got up and danced in front of us while we sang! After we were finished, they were happy and we went back to our seats. Overall, it was a very fun cultural experience that we’re glad to have!

Wonderful buffet of many different foods! 

Fancy tables!

There was even a cake cutting ceremony! This is Tyler's principal and his wife! 

Mrs. Han so kindly drove us home! My co-teacher Jin, and other staff member friend You Mi, from our school were planning on coming over for a visit. Originally, we were going to go shopping for the rest of English Camp supplies but when they came over, they said they couldn’t stay long. They both were super kind and surprised me with a bouquet of purple flowers, a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Cake, and little cookies from my favorite coffee shop DropTop. It was such a surprise and adorably cute! They were so kind! We visited for a bit and both Tyler and I got to hold You Mi’s 5 month old baby! After they left we had the rest of the day to ourselves! That evening we celebrated the New Year by going out to eat with Brad and Maranda to a new restaurant and having a game night at their house, where we enjoyed the ice cream cake and cookies! It was a fun night!

Happy New Year to everyone! We hope 2015 bring lots of love, joy, and good health to all! We are so excited as our winter vacation is only 1 week away now! We are so happy to have my parents visit us in Korea next week and we will even take a trip to China! More blog posts to come! :)

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