Blog Archives

Adjusting to cultural differences

CommunicationI’ve written a lot about my experiences in Korea.  I continue to be inspired by the beautiful people I’ve met in the Land of the Morning Calm, particularly at my university.  There are students, faculty, and staff who have demonstrated their kindness over and over again. The students are a constant source of inspiration.

I came to Korea fully aware that would be cultural differences.  By some standards, the work environment is conservative.  I knew I’d have to adjust.  Still, there is one thing that annoys me.  Sometimes male administrators need to communicate something to me, or they need information from me.  Instead of talking to me directly, they contact my husband.  Sometimes decisions are made about me without my input.

I’m the type of person who values direct communication.  Before I married my husband, I spent many years as the head of my household and a single mom.  Professionally, I served as an administrator in a male-dominated, competitive field.  By the time I was 20, I was all too experienced in handling gender challenges and miscommunication.

Once a graduate student and a staff member decided that an announcement needed to be made to my class.  However, they didn’t talk with me first.  They showed up in my class to make  the announcement.  It was all in Korean, and I had no idea what was being said.    I learned it wasn’t. The graduate student, I would learn, had an attack of self-importance.  He gave my students the impression that he had a lot of influence over me.  The presence of the staff member gave the impression that the announcement was official business.

The next day, I spoke with both men behind closed doors.  I told them calmly, yet candidly that their actions were unacceptable.  The men apologized.  No one ever tried that stunt again.  I went back to being my sweet, adorable self.

At the end of the day, it’s all about respect.  Today I can look back and laugh about experiences like the one I just described.  It’s all in a day’s work.  😉


Rediscovering home, sweet home

SnowflakeFinally!  Winter break has arrived!  For a couple of months, we can cozy up at home, away from the university.  No more lectures, no more exams, no more papers.

My husband and I flew out of Seoul Incheon Airport at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.  We arrived at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) at 10:20 a.m. the same day.  I think my body’s still on Korea time.

When we’re on campus, we live in a small apartment, about 500 square feet.  It makes our house feel huge when we come home.  We’ll relish our time off, but we also know that the time will pass quickly.

While we’re at home, we really appreciate cooking in a full kitchen — and taking only a few steps to do the laundry.  Even the simplest of chores seem to require extra work.  But we’re not complaining.  It’s all part of our big adventure.

It’s nice to be home.  We have more room for our “stuff.”  My sweetheart and I can even be in different rooms for long periods of time, if we wish.  It’s great!

As things start getting back to normal, hubby is talking about making some of his marvelous chili!  I’ve been craving his chili for a couple of months.   The cost of beef is really high in Korea, and we don’t buy it.  I never thought I’d say this, but after seeing Korea’s beef prices, I’m thankful for the prices here in the States.  A hearty bowl of chili would make our first days back even better.  Hubby’s working on his menu, and chili’s on his list.  Yes!

Once we get up the energy to do some serious grocery shopping, I’ll cook some of our old favorite dishes, plus add some new ones.  Homemade chicken soup is good this time of year, as is spaghetti and meat balls.  At home, we typically eat fish about three times a week.  While the mister cooks up some red snapper, salmon and who-knows-what-else, I’ll be looking for ingredients for a fish chowder.  I think it will be a few days before we eat any meal that includes rice.

For me grocery shopping is work, but it will be so much better this time around.  Everything will be in English!  I’ll be able to check the nutritional data and compare brands without relying on a third party.  I’ll be able to buy oatmeal.  I learned the hard way that hot cereal is not a part of the Korean diet.  When we return to Korea, I’ll be packing steel-cut oats.

Just writing about eating, cooking, and grocery shopping is making me tired — and a bit hungry.  That reminds me:  I need to add exercise to my routine.  But first, my friends, a nap.

‘Her mouth was trash’

It was another night of grading papers, and I was getting a bit bleary-eyed as I read English reports from my students. I perked up, however, when I read one paper.  The student was reporting on White Princess, a movie he had seen.  He wrote, in part:

White Princess looks beautiful and handsome.  But she is very bad girl.
She said, “I kill you, a**hole.”  Her mouth was trash.

The asterisks are mine. After all, I run a family-friendly site here.  Students can be full of surprises, even when they’re aspiring pastors and missionaries.


I’d like to think that this graphic doesn’t apply to any of my students.  I’d prefer to reserve judgment until I’ve finished grading all of the midterm exams and essays.   Time to take a break; I’ve seen enough for now.   o_O


For the second time in less than a week, Korea is observing a holiday.
October 3 marks National Foundation Day (Gaecheonjeol in Korean), an observance that commemorates the founding of Korea in 2333 B.C.  For many families, the three-day Chuseok (Thanksgiving) holiday extended to five days. Our university was closed on Monday, open on Tuesday, and closed again on Wednesday.

Traffic was crazy during the holiday weekend.  Highways became parking lots as more than 29 million of the nation’s 50 million people traveled home for family reunions and to pay tribute to ancestors.  Trains, buses, and planes were also packed.  My husband and I traveled by train on Sunday.  It seemed that nearly everyone was carrying holiday gifts.

Typically, Chuseok and National Foundation Day are separated  by several days.  However, Chuseok is a floating holiday, based on a lunar calendar.  This year National Foundation Day took a back seat to the Korean Thanksgiving.

What writers and poets can learn from ‘Gangnam Style’

I may be currently living in Korea, but when it comes to becoming acquainted with Psy, the pop music phenom, I learned a lot from a writer in Indonesia.  You might think that a writer and poet wouldn’t give Psy’s “Gangnam  Style” the time of day.  Think again.

Indonesian blogger Subhan Zein tweeted this:  “Music and writing may be two different kinds of art, but they apply the same general principles.”  Learn more.  Check out Subhan’s post.

Happy Chuseok

Soon after arriving in Korea last year, I learned that Chuseok is one of the country’s most important and beloved holidays.  It is often described as Korea’s Thanksgiving. For the most part, the country’s holidays follow the Gregorian calendar, but this isn’t true with Chuseok.

The date for this observance floats each year because it’s based on the lunar calendar.  This year the holiday is being observed September 29 – October 1.  Chuseok is a celebration of the harvest.  It’s also a time when Koreans all over the country travel to their ancestral homes.  Ancestral worship begins early in the morning and is followed by a visit  to the tombs of immediate family members.  So it’s no surprise that the campus is almost deserted.

For my students, the holiday weekend presents an opportunity to eat their favorite foods.  Fruit and grain are in abundance, along with beverages.  According to my students, many homes also serve an assortment of meat dishes.  One favorite traditional dish is songpyeong, a crescent-shaped rice cake that is steamed on pine needles.

On Sunday, my husband and I plan to attend a big Chuseok celebration at a large church in Seoul.  Before my husband preaches at the afternoon service, we’ll eat a special lunch at the church, followed by another special event .  It should be a great day.

Lunch with an American connection

A couple of days ago, when hubby and I arrived at the dining hall for lunch, we discovered that the cuisine included pork neck bones with mustard greens.  Hubby had no idea what this dish was, nor did he understand why he had bones on his plate and little meat. I knew right away what we were eating because I was raised on it.  My grandmother was from the American South, and this meal is very much in the Southern tradition.

My husband is Swedish American.  My meat-and-potato-lover ate his lunch.  Quietly, however, he couldn’t imagine who’d want to eat a plate of bones.  Having potatoes with the meal would have made it more filling.  Instead, our meal included rice.

A Korean professor at our table told us that the dish is normally served with potatoes.  Maybe a nutritionist decided we would eat a healthier version of this meal.  In any case, my sweetheart tried something new that day.  Maybe I’ll look for neck bones and potatoes the next time we go to the market.  😉

Prelude to a new semester

It’s time to return to Korea for a new semester.  Hubby and I are completing our packing today.  We had the pleasure of returning to the U.S. for a couple of months, and we are thankful for the opportunity to visit family in other states.

As much as I love teaching in Korea, I still feel a bit of sadness just before we leave to go back to campus.  I’m very close to my kids.  My favorite six-year old (my daughter’s son) is my heart and buddy.  My kids are young adults and can take of themselves quite well, thank you, but I guess a mom is always a mom.  Thank goodness for Skype!

Hubby and I will fly out of the U.S. tomorrow afternoon.  After our 13-hour flight, we’ll land in Korea the following evening — in time to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

I’ve been listening to some music from R & B artist Anthony Hamilton to keep my spirits up.  Also heartwarming:  at church we received prayers, as well as a donation to help with our travel expenses.  Another church member, a sweet spirit, handed us a cash gift and shared her own experiences of visiting Korea in 1983.  We are blessed with a wonderful cadre of family and friends who have prayed for us and with us, and who have been totally supportive of our mission.

While I’m a bit sad about leaving the comforts of home, I’m also happy because I know we will reconnect with our lovely friends in Korea.  I’m also looking forward to meeting new students and faculty.  I also look forward to getting little reassuring notes and words of wisdom from my brother-in-law, who toiled for years as a career missionary.

As it was in the beginning of this journey, the big lure for me is still working in the classroom.  For me, it’s a natural high.

National Liberation Day of Korea 2012 (Aug 15)


Each year Korea celebrates its liberation from Japan in 1945. On the same day in 1948, the government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was established.  (Image by Google)