Saturday (8/30) – This was the start of my second weekend at my homestay. I tried asking what our plans were, but I didn’t get a clear answer. However, that soon changed at breakfast. I learned we were leaving to attend a wedding for my host dad’s friend and then planning to go hiking. We leave in an hour, I was told. I was confused how both those activities are fit into the same day. I asked, “what I should wear?” The response “you’re fine.” I looked down, I was still in pajamas. So I made the executive decision to change. I decided on shorts and a collar shirt thinking this wedding might be causal and then I could manage wearing this while hiking. Once I stepped out of my room I was told to change. I needed to be in pants and dress shoes. So there was something I was suppose to wear. I just laughed and changed. Then I realized I should just pack a change of clothes to play it safe. I was all ready to go and walked out the door, soon realizing I forgot a key essential for hiking – sneakers. In the car I ponder how I would resolve this missing essential and decided I will worry about it when time comes.
After about 30 minutes of driving we arrived at the wedding hall. The building exterior was cream and surprisingly ordinary looking. We walked through the doors and were met by the bride’s family and the groom. All the women in the wedding ceremony were wearing Hanbok traditional Korean dress. Hanbok is known for its bright mix of colors. Flowers lined the stairs and created a line to the guest’s seats. They were everywhere, but upon closer examination I realized they were fake. After a few minutes the wedding ceremony began. I admit this is my first wedding so I don’t have much to compare to, but I was surprised how rehearsed and staged the ceremony felt. Throughout the ceremony there were several individuals directing the bride and groom where to stand and then having them pause in the middle of the ceremony for pictures. Also, I was surprised by how short the ceremony was. I asked my host parents after and learned that traditional Korean weddings use to be hours long, but now that they have moved to wedding halls the cost has forced people to limit the actual ceremony to an hour or less. Following the wedding we enjoyed a delicious buffet of foods and then headed to my host dad’s parent’s house in Muan which is the next city over from Naju. I met my host-grandparents who were so nice and welcoming. We ate more food before my host dad and I left for our hike and met up with one of his friends from work. At this moment, I remembered I will have to wear my dress shoes on the hike. Thankfully, as I was slipping into my shoes, my host-grandma saw me and shook her head. She gestured to wear one of my host-grandpa’s shoes. They were a little small for me, but were a much better choice, so I bowed in thanks and put them on. Now we were ready. Well almost, of course before hiking we had to stop at the store and pick up some beers because once you get to the top all you want is beer. (I decided that I am going to be perpetually dehydrated this year.) The hike was pretty causal, but I was glad to be in sneakers. The trail overlooked the city and I learned it was this park where my host-dad fell in love with the environment and outdoors. After the hike we headed back to my host-grandparent’s house and then had Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) which is like Korean BBQ with lots of kimchi and more alcohol. I traveled back home with my host-mom and sister after dinner, while my host-dad spent the night to hangout with friends and play Chaco which is a Korean sport like soccer.
Sunday (8/31) – This was my first lazy day and it was beautiful. We just spent most of the day home and relaxed. I passed time watching TV, reading, and playing with my host-sister. Around lunch time I saw an important text on our Fulbright group chat that said it’s the 31st meaning there are special discounts at Baskin Robbins. This was exciting news because the week earlier I spent an hour or so adventuring around and found that Naju has a Baskin Robbins! It was settled in my mind I would get ice cream today. I then invited my host family for ice cream after dinner as a thank you for everything so far and we got to enjoy some deliciousness together. After ice cream we went to Alpha (which is a teacher’s dream store, it has everything you could ever want). We picked up a poster board and some tape to mount the puzzle we finished together.
Monday (9/1) – It was weird to think today was the first day of September and that I have been in Korea since July. I went to school nervous not sure what to expect from my classes, but overall it was an okay day. After school I met up with the Naju crew and we ate honey bread, Mandu (Korean dumplings), Jajangmyeon (dark noodles), and finished off the night hanging out over flavored Soju and makoli. I always enjoy these days where we can complain our days or just hangout and not have to over-think anything.
Tuesday (9/2) – After school I was heading to Gwangju for the first time. I was excited to be meeting up with other ETAs in the area and looking forward to going to my first Korean Baseball game. Baseball is a popular sport in Korea and I have heard the games have a unique energy because the fans contribute such rich charisma and intense cheering. Sadly, the game got cancelled because of rain, but I still ended up in Gwangju with friends. Today was also one of the times when I understood why everyone carries an umbrella with them because traveling in the rain is never fun. My friends shared umbrella space with me though and by the time we got outside from the subway the weather had started clearing up. Gwangju was without a doubt a city. The moment I walked outside I was reminded I was no longer in Naju. It had a sophisticated and artsy feel and I enjoyed walking around. Also, I spotted T.G.I. Friday’s and a number other popular American brands. Nevertheless, the highlight of the night was just catching up with everyone and hearing about their lives. I also was excited that I had begun tackling public transportation and was becoming less afraid to travel. Grant you I haven’t traveled by myself just yet.
Wednesday (9/3) – It was hump day. I could see the end of the week in sight and was excited to know that I had a whole week off starting the following Monday because of Chuseok (주석 – Korean Thanksgiving).
Thursday (9/4) – My host dad was out late tonight because of band practice. My host-mom, her friend, and my host-sister ended up going out to eat for dinner. The meal was one of my favorites so far in Korea. The other day I mentioned I liked to mozzarella cheese so when there was a caprese salad on the menu we ordered it to share. The restaurant also served us warm bread (only one piece each, I was definitely hoping to get refills, but that was my American side showing) and mushroom soup. For dinner I had a steak Korean style and then we shared a tiramisu for dessert.
P.S. My host-mom saw how much I liked the caprese salad and now puts together mozzarella and tomatoes as side for some of our dinners.
Friday (9/5) – It was the start of my vacation and I was ecstatic. I came home around 5:30pm and found myself alone and decided to enjoy some quiet time reading and watching TV. I soon got a call from my host-dad asking where I was, I responded home. He asked if I could meet him at the bus terminal at 6:30pm, we were going out for dinner. I said yes without realizing I had never taken the bus from my house, let alone to the bus terminal. I decided to get ready and leave a little before 6. My first night at home my host-dad showed me where the bus stop left from. It was dark and I was tired, but I remembered the rural path on the muddy ground. I tried to retrace my steps and got close until I ended up on the side of the road. I saw the bus stop on the other side of the road. I knew I couldn’t just run across the road because the right away is definitely not for pedestrians and I’ve seen many cars just fly by red lights. Eventually, I found a cross walk and ran across and made it to the bus stop to catch the bus in perfect time. Step 1 was a success – I made it onto the bus. Now for step 2 – get to the bus terminal. Thankfully, when I got on to the bus I saw one of my students. He told me I was on the right bus for the bus terminal and to just get off when he does. I could do that. I sat for the next 15 minutes until it was time to hop off. At the bus terminal I met up with my host-dad and we headed to a restaurant and had Bulgogi which is Korean beef made on a small fire in front of you. Following the good dinner my host-dad took me to get my hair cut. I needed to look good for meeting all my new relatives for Chuseok.