From the BK to the SK
I wish you both a life full of laugher and happiness and love. See you next year, haha! Love you!
So, after ten months out of the country, living in the ROK,  what was it like going home to the USA for a week?
Honestly, I thought the reverse culture shock would be much more drastic than it was, but maybe that has something to do with my mental preparation for it.
When I came home from China, it was grossly strange to hear everyone speaking English, to walk Into a deli and recognize the snacks, to return to a culture that wasn't homogenous.
I think that experience two summers ago helped to make this transition a bit smoother for me. To be honest, once I was home, it did feel a bit like I had never left. There were some interesting new trends, like sewing feathers into your hair, and a lack of some Korean trademarks ive become used to, like wearing glasses that are ten times bigger than your face, but for the most part it was OK.
The strangest thing, in all honesty, was listening to kids speak. My brothers and I went to the beach one day and stopped in our cousins' house to say hello to the family.
I asked Mia, who is in 2nd grade, about school, and her response really shook me. She started speaking so naturally and quickly, without any hesitation, no sense of confusion crawling across her face in an attempt to decipher and understand my words. She spoke about being student of the month, and she spoke with such ease that I listened in amazement.
A few minutes later, her older sister, Bridget, came into the room and shimmied herself right into our conversation. She listened as her mother told us a story about a vacation from a few years ago and chimed in with an,"I remember that."
As stupid as it sounds, I remember my exact thought being, "jesus she totally understands us."
Don't get me wrong- some of my students speak incredible English and can understand and make jokes with me or talk to me about anything they want; however, there is always hint of an accent, an occasional trip on a word, a pause when they think about how to best express themselves. So, to see a 9-year-old girl speak without any inclination of second guessing herself really left me a bit dumbfounded.
And, it is always weird to have to remind yourself that the people around you speak and understand English when you're in a public place, like on a train or a bathroom at a bar. It is definitely a common mistake to make I would think.
But all in all, the week flew by.
My dad says the image of me coming off the airplane in my neon hoodie, with my enormous glasses and my neon chucks, throwing my bags on the floor and my hands up in the air when I felt fed up and wanted to set them on fire because I was sick of dragging them was one of the prime moments of this week. Ha. My patience is severely limited - part of being a New Yorker I think.
I was able to surprise my 6 best friends that very night for one of their birthdays. They had a party in the Hamptons and had no idea I was crashing it. It was like that Extreme Home Makeover show. I hid behind a door and jumped out, and it took about five seconds for anyone to make any kind of move. Haha. It was such a beautiful reunion and an even better night.
Sometimes it can be hard to look at what you're missing out on, especially when you go home go one of the best cities on earth. I know at some point I want to return to NY, live either in the city or downtown BK and enjoy being young while planning my next move.
But then you remind yourself that home is always and will always be there, and the experiences I'm having now are ones I feel grateful for every night as I lay my head on my pillow and fall asleep.
So  was I sad to come back? Not really at all, actually. The thing I dreaded most was the 13 hour plane ride, but luckily I sat down in my seat and fell into a coma for the entire flight.
I missed my students, I missed my friends in Korea and my life there, and I missed having a foreign adventure every day. I think, too, that knowing that in less than two months I will be In Japan with my brother and setting off for a backpacking trip around Asia just a few days later made me more than excited to come back.
We really are in the home stretch now, and the next 8 months of my life are honestly going to be the greatest 8 months of my life.
So, Brooklyn, it will be quite a while before I see you again, and when I come go e next year you'll greet me with slap in the face of that cold NY winter wind, waking me up from my dream world and propelling me back into real life, or should I say, professional life. It doesn't get any realer than experiencing all the world has to offer.
I can already hear my dad asking me, "so, Alexandra, what now?", with which I will reply, "Not Now. You're going to give me heart palpitations."
until then, time for some new passport pages and preparing to say good bye to one chapter of my life while getting ready to start a new one.
I know that when we were little, my friends and I did play a fair amount of "Rock, Paper, Scissor" games at lunch time or maybe at recess or while we were bored, but we didn't play beyond probably the fourth grade (fifth tops).
In Korea, '가위 , 바위, 보 ('gawi, bawi, bo' or 'paper, rock, scissors')!' is a do-or-die game.
As you already know from reading my blogs the past 10 months, my students are mostly all 14 and 15 years old, so like 8th grade and 9th grade at home in the States. I know for a fact my friends and I weren't still playing rock, paper, scissors.
But, since the day I arrived, I have been fascinated with the amount of 가위 , 바위, 보 games I've seen. If we do a game in class where one person from each team has to speak, for example, the decision is made based on the person who loses at gawi, bawi, bo. It goes on for many, many rounds and can invovle anywhere from two people to 30 people.
I have actually played before with my entire class when we've had about 5 minutes to kill. I stand at the front of the classroom, "GAWI, BAWI, BO!" and throw up either a rock, paper or scissors, and then you have to very quickly keep saying "BO! (change your 'weapon'), BO (change your weapon again)!", etc. until there is only one student left in the class playing against me.
There are other variations of it, also. In some games, students will play and start facing each other, and each time a person loses, he or she must take one step away from the opponent. Games have stretched down hallways before during lunchtime or recess, with students screaming "GAWI, BAWI, BO! BO! BO! BO!"
Other time, the penality could be getting your hand slapped, your head flicked or your cheek slapped.
It just makes me laugh that these kids are still so old, but it is like they put their lives on the line with games of gawi, bawi, bo. Even the 'cool' students amd popular kids could play endless rounds of gawi, bawi, bo. It's just the thing to do in Korea. I will admit that on some weekend nights my friends and I will play a few rounds as part of a drinking game, or, when my girlfriends and I can't reach a decision on where to go or what to do, we jokingly will say, "OK, settle it with "gawi, bawi, bo." I won against my one friend two weekends ago, and so she had to stay out with us for another hour. I know, I'm a pro.
Other than that, this has been a fairly good week. I've been doing Justin Bieber "Baby" lyrics with my students, so I've been laughing basically for two weeks straight (and I officially know every word to the song). I had one of my favorite third grade classes yesterday and felt so happy after it. When I told them I was leaving to go to USA for my brother's wedding, my one favorite student asked, "Teacher, your sign on my arm, please?", so I signed his arm! Haha.
Anyway, it won't be long before I am back Stateside. I feel like when I go to order coffee or food and the person asks me in English what I want, I will be really taken back. It's definitely going to be culture shock. This is officially the longest I've been out of the country - officially ten months!
Well, one week until my brother's wedding, then back to Korea and traveling for the next nine months!
My house is at the bottom of a hill that I walk up as a shortcut to go to work and walk down on my way home from the fitness center at the end of the day. For the past nine and a half months, there's always been this gathering of old women, only two of whom have ever showed me a smile when I politely bow as I pass them. One lady sits there, her mouth agape as if she's never come across a foreigner before (though I think it's more the effects of time on the strength of her jaw muscles), donning one tooth sprouting from her top gum, skin as worn as leather, and her hair wirey and grey and unwashed as ever. There's one another lady, who sits there and just stares at me, no emotions on her face or anything. She is always in some kind of bright orange, floral shirt and supports herself on a walking stick.
Finally, though, last Friday as I was on my way home from the fitness center, they were sitting on a mat at the top of the hill, smiled at me and told me, "안자", or sit. It was weird that I instinctively stepped out of my shoes and onto their little mat. I don't know if I would have done this as naturally at home if I were stepping onto a blanket or something in  park (not that I ever sit in parks because I don't really do grass).
I will admit I was a little nervous. These women are well over 75, and though two of them have the warmest smiles and their eyes were swimming with questions and curiousity, I don't speak Korean and they don't speak English. But, I sat down and tried as best as I could to be conversational. I understood the basic questions, and I can, by luck, string together some basic words that probably make no sense grammatically but at least help them to understand what I am trying to get across.
We sat there, and soon there were a few more people who drifting over and sat with me on the blanket, addressing me as if I was fluent in Korean. I just nodded and kept smiling for most of it, though i was able to tell them little bits about my life.
What I found most fascinating, though, wasn't necessarily sitting there and commuicating without speaking the same language - I've almost come to speak fluently in gestures and emotions throughout my four years of traveling. (I actually think that living in Korea has made all of my friends and I fluent in hand gestures and motions.) But, at one point, one of the women who alwys smiles at me was trying to ask me how old I was, a question I will admit I didn't understand. They were talking amongst themselves trying to figure out different wording, until the one lady started trying to form together the words: "H- h- how (a little tick of her hand and a "tshh" kind-of-korean sounds of sucking in air through closed teeth).....How...ol-ol... (again the little tick and suck of air)...old?"
I got so excited I jumped to finish her question. I was actually amazed. I don't know how to really explain it, but to see her pulling those words so unsmoothly off her tongue...I dunno. There was just something about it that was pretty amazing to me. So I told her, and they all nodded, and after about 20 minutes and 30 fly bites later, I excused myself by saying "가다 믁자 친구 카카 반월동 adesso (the spelling might be a bit wrong, and the italian ALWAYS gets thrown into my attempts at korean)." What I sort of said: to go to eat friends near downtown. Haha. Either they understood or they now think I am a cannibal.
But nonetheless, they were happy to have me sit there and I was happy to sit with them for a few minutes; however, I will admit that sitting amongst the flies and mosquitos that stuck to their skin the way you see in movies isn't something I want to always be a part of.
Yet, yesterday, on my walk home from the fitness center, I came around the corner to the top of the hill and they patted for me to sit with them on an open space of the mat. I was sweating, I was tired and I was starving, but I was nice for about 15 minutes before I was told them I need to go to eat. It's hard to excuse yourself when people don't speak your language, because you do feel a bit rude since you can't adequately explain yourself, but sometimes you gotta go what you gotta do.
The other best part of this whole experience so far? Their good-bye. I stand up, step into my shoes, do a little bow, and one of the two nicer ladies (not the one who attempted English but the other) yells:
"SEYONARA!" or good-bye in Japanese.
Ha, Korea you manage to somehow always make me smile in the simplest of ways, even after nine and a half months.