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It has been just over two months since Evan and I stepped foot on American soil… and has it been a whirlwind experience adjusting to life back home.

We managed to avoid major roadblocks during our trip home, but did have a small snag in our 24+ hour journey home. After spending a rainy, Fast and Furious-filled night (it was the only thing on) in a clean and inexpensive hotel near Incheon, we awoke with anticipation to begin our trip home. After a beautiful lunch at Bennigans in the airport, we headed through security en route to the international terminal, where I was stopped because my visa had expired.

Visa… expired. WHAT? A week prior to leaving, we learned about this snag at the pension office and our director assured us that she would take care of it, but lines must have gotten crossed with the immigration office. So of course Evan sailed through customs no problem, but I was stopped, tearfully dragged to two different immigration offices before being let go “with a warning.” My visa had expired a week before. I’m not trying to live illegally in Korea people! Anyway, after that the trip was smooth sailing — lounging in the Beijing airport during our long layover, and sleeping through most of the plane ride back to the states.

After an exhausting two days, we finally landed at LAX and were greeted by my happy, sign-bearing family on Monday evening.

Words cannot describe the elation I felt after a year of not seeing my family. We grabbed the west-coast staple In-N-Out for dinner, popped the cork on a pinot noir, and spent the rest of the evening battling in Mario Kart for Wii.

We have really been trying to take advantage of the time and money situation we currently find ourselves in, so we’ve been hopping around the golden coast, enjoying the fruits of spring and beginning of summer in the sunniest place on earth.

From cooking in Los Angeles…

to partying in Santa Barbara…

to wining and dining in San Diego…

and camping in Jalama Beach….

oh — and eating. A lot. Of everything.

Which naturally means I’ve been avoiding the scale. Whateva!

Coming home has made me feel like a library book being put back in its correct place after some serious adventures being loaned out. I fit. Despite that, there has been some serious adjustments made to assimilate nicely back into western culture. For the first few weeks, I felt almost bombarded by stimuli. After walking around a country where I didn’t know what anyone was saying or what most things said, it was sensory overload being in a place where I knew where everything was and what everyone was saying about it. At times I felt overwhelmed, but that was eventually overshadowed by being home with people I love and places I have missed.

As the weeks stretch on, Korea slips slowly from my mind but the things that I learned there — the things that changed me — I know will stay. Going East for a year broadened my horizons, gave me a great amount of patience and really humbled me. I know that I will always look fondly on the experience that helped shape me into the (mostly) competent and happy adult that I am today. I miss my friends, but have kept in contact with people that taught me a lot about living on the other side of the world.

There are days when I truly miss Jeonju — eating mouthwatering food, drinking games with good friends that stretch on through the night, lazy Sunday dinners from Pizza School, snuggling on the futon and watching hours of Criminal Minds, marveling at the cherry blossoms in the spring and soft snow in the winter, early morning dancing and high kick-offs at Radio Star, hugs from teeny tiny students, different sizes and colors of bills (how can I tell a 10 from a 5?), and everything in between.

Still, I find myself soaking in the natural beauty of California that I have never appreciated quite like I do now. The soft sand, gentle waves and scorching heat of the bay; the quiet, lazy mornings on the ranch, bursting with plant life; the peaceful serenity of the central coast. Taking it in — seeing everything in a new light — has made my heart happy.

As the clock ticks on toward the official nine-week mark of our return, I can feel the seeds of restlessness beginning to take hold. The lazy, warm, family-filled days of laughter and spending have been just what I needed these past two months, but as money goes out and job prospects remain in the air, I find myself frequently researching available housing and positions in the Bay Area, getting excited for the next period of my life.

So today, I say goodbye to my friends and readers as this chapter of my life (mostly) comes to an end. I hope for reunions with my friends from Korea in the future, and look forward to the amazing journey in San Francisco that awaits me and my better half later this summer. Until then… there are more golden coast adventures to be had!

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Since my kindergarten class tossed up their caps at graduation nearly two weeks ago, I have been, erm, adjusting to life with my younger, smaller, less-advanced K-II class. Gone are the days where my little ones could write better than my second graders!

Sigh. So to help with the new challenges new classes (including an extra one every day) bring, I made a “work days” countdown calendar so that I would have something to look forward to after all of the crying, hitting, yelling, sneezing, injuries, laughs, tests, sentences, Reading Street stories, stickers, and science experiments every day.

At least my new class is allowed to do crafts!

I didn’t include the weekends because, as much as I miss California and can’t wait to bite into a decent burrito, I love my weekends here in the ‘Ju, and the quality time with the people I’ll miss.

It’s just the whole “being a teacher” thing that sometimes makes me want to rip out my hair.

Only 29 28 more days of working left before laying out, sunshine, sleeping late and spring produce take over my daily routine.

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The babies are all grown up.

Last Friday, my and Evan’s little kid classes donned their adorable cap and gowns, recited their five-sentence speeches about life after kindergarten, and celebrated their transition into elementary school with their teachers, families and fellow students. After weeks of preparation, it was finally their big day!

The school was decked out with lots of blue and white balloons, and a grammatically questionable (but well-intentioned) sign for the graduates.

Even though we had to wear our uniforms, I decided to spruce up the baby blue polo with my fancy headband from Myeongdong. Yoon Jung had to give it a whirl. Perhaps it was slightly pouf-tastic for her tiny dome. She’s such a cutie!

The graduates, along with the babies, sang songs during the ceremony. They did a full run-thru of the show before their parents arrived, all spruced up in their uniforms. The Ants Go Marching, Here We Go Looby Loo and She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain were on the play list for the occasion.

Apparently, one of my students decided he wanted to take the stairs to school instead of following directions and riding in the elevator, so he had to stand against the wall, eyes closed with arms in the air for at least fifteen minutes. He is officially ready for Survivor.

After all the singing and speaking and photo ops and flowers, Evan and I retreated to T.G.I. Fridays for our own celebration of the year we’ve had with our babies. We were starving by the time our burgers arrived, and gobbled them down quickly. Evan went for the regular burger with bacon and American cheese, while I opted for the grilled chicken, bacon and Monterey Jack sandwich.

I actually got a bit teary-eyed after the ceremony, taking pictures with the kids and wishing them well before they start elementary school this week. Some of my little ones aren’t coming back for my school’s after-school program, so it was the last day I was seeing some of them. I guess all I can hope is that I made even the smallest difference for the better…

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When my kindergarten class began studying science and social studies, their craft class on Friday was taken away, much to my utter sadness. However, it was reinstated for the month of December to create decorations for the seasonal party. My spirits were lifted once more — the children would cultivate their creativity!

Of course, finding Christmas crafts on the Internet is like trying to choose what to eat at The Cheesecake Factory — the menu is so overwhelmingly large that somewhere you get lost amid the factory combinations and the appetizer salads.

No matter though — I knew roughly what kind of things I wanted to make, and it was all about using my head (and the supplies in the closet at school).

On week one, the kiddies and I made wreaths. I cut the center out of paper plates and spent the first of my craft classes having the children glue different shades of green paper all over the plate. When they had finished that, I allowed them to use Elmer’s glue (mistake: very messy) to put on different color sparkles.

Afterward, I used a hot glue gun to attach a red bow to each “leafy” ring.

It was a relatively successful craft, although the gems didn’t stay on that well with the glue and by the end I had lots of wreaths with dried glue dots all over them. Oh well.

Week two we decided to make snowmen, which were relatively simple. I simply traced three different sized circles on white poster board, had the kids glue them together and color as they pleased.

A few things happened that day — one girl had a meltdown and started bawling because her first snowman was “ugly” and I had run out of paper. This prompted a Korean teacher to hurry and make her a new template.

The children sang Frosty the Snowman while they worked on their frozen friends, which I thought was really cute. After that came Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which was also fun. Then I saw what some students had written on the backs of their snowmen, where I told them to pen their names.

I thought this was funny, because it sounded like an advertisement for a snowman movie.

This was a little creepy and a lot funny. I realized he was trying to say that his snowman was “coming to town,” but my mind couldn’t help but wander straight to snow demons with razor-sharp teeth who try to stab you with their carrot nose. Creepy.

Our third craft I decided to make a communal work of art, since we were pressed for time. I made four cones out of poster board paper, then covered them in green tissue to make them look like Christmas trees. The kids got glue sticks, sequins, feathers and free reign to decorate.

All in all, the room turned out beautifully decorated.

Evan’s room looked fantastic too — his kids made snowflakes, gingerbread men and elves. The only downfall for him was making the mistake of putting glitter on the snowflakes, aka the most difficult thing to clean up ever. He spent a good half hour vacuuming up the itty bitty sparkles.

I may try to sneak a few more crafts in before I leave :)

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There is nothing more gluttonous, tragic, hyperactive and awesome as a school Christmas party.

Today started out like any other day… minus the fact that we got to skip two hours of kindergarten in the morning :) We were supposed to wake up “early” and go to the gym, but had trouble leaving our bed before 11. Evan blames my mom, who sent us the most heavenly flannel sheets. They make getting out of bed, especially when the window is frosted over because of the cold, near impossible.

We got to school at 1:30, and spent the afternoon with our elementary students. Classes ended at 6 (a half hour early, yay) so we could prepare for the kindergarten Christmas festivities, which began promptly at 6:30.

Some of the elementary crowd, who hung around to watch their younger siblings put on a show, complained of hunger immediately following class. Some Hello Kitty candies helped subdue their famine.

I was designated the job of handing out pamphlets to parents as they walked into the school, bowing and greeting them with a grin and a perky “Merry Christmas.” As I stood, smiling at the flood of families that waltzed through the door, I couldn’t help but think of my own family. The past two years, Christmas has been filled with warmth and love, with both my family and Evan’s. Christmas meant pajamas all day, drinking lots of wine, cooking amazing food, reading stories, sharing traditions, giving and receiving gifts and most importantly, spending a lot of lazy time with the people you love.

Even though I can’t physically be with either of my families this holiday season, I felt really blessed to be able to spend the holidays with my beloved students and their parents, bursting with pride at seeing their little ones singing songs, acting in the play, reading stories or giving presentations. It made me not feel sad to be here, just grateful to be included in an intimate celebration.

After I handed out programs, I joined the teachers and the children in the “green room” to help prepare the kiddies for their turn onstage. It was then — 15 minutes before the first song/dance performance — that the foreign teachers were told that we were expected to sing and shake it with the children. Greeeeaaaaat. I believe Evan’s exact words were, “Thanks so much for the warning.”

Here is Evan warming up.

Needless to say, we were a disaster onstage. Not only did we flub all of the dance moves, but I admittedly don’t know all of the words to some classic Christmas jams. I stood in the back left of the “stage,” a fortunate position as I could watch what all the kids were doing and do my best to imitate their actions. Evan was less fortunate, being in the front left, so he couldn’t see the dance moves without turning and staring at the kids next to him.

It was beyond mortifying to wiggle our butts and belt out words to Christmas carols, and I would have been royally pissed if I didn’t think the whole thing was hilarious. A few times I actually laughed out loud during the song, but luckily my giggles were drowned out by the screeching tots.

The frosting on the cake was when we would mess up the choreography, because not only was it completely undignified for us to be dancing and singing in the first place, but the teachers should not be the ones messing up the moves. I felt like that kid in the recital who looks like they wandered onto stage by accident, staring at the audience like a deer in headlights, motionless aside from all of the moves that they’re doing two beats too late. I was never that kid in dance class, but somehow I managed to be the 25-year-old onstage looking like an idiot with a bunch of two to seven year-olds. Fabulous.

At one point, we had to play pin-the-balloon-tail-on-the-child, which was an adventure, especially for the kids who were at certain points screaming their heads off, pushing other kids to the ground, or hiding under the table, growling and pretending to be a tiger. They needed their balloon “tails” for when they wriggled their hips to Jingle Bell Rock. I spent most of my time “backstage” being utterly useless, laughing my ass off and taking adorable pictures of the kids.

Not only are the kids cute beyond words, but they also learn at an early age to throw up the double peace sign and a wink for pictures. Priceless.

Oh, and we had to wear Santa hats for the sing-along too. Some of them had these crazy white braids (seriously, WTF) and one boy in my class had one that was about three sizes too small. I made him keep on the doll-sized cap until I could get a picture of his head squeezing into it. More giggles ensued after said picture, sometimes I act so immature.

When the presentation was finally over, it was time to eat. The platters of food were brought out, and we got right to work on them. I probably ate one too many pieces of pizza, and packed away more kimbap than was necessary. I was stoked on the spread until I saw one kindergartener coughing on it, and realized with a heavy heart that his phlegm fit, while being the only one I noticed, was certainly not the only one that had taken place. Sigh.

The spread was incredible though, having more food than the crowd could possibly put away. I expect some sugar-induced craziness that was on display at the Halloween party, but surprisingly I didn’t witness any banchee behavior.

It was while pecking at the food on the various tables that I realized chopsticks really are the most ideal utensil to use on a communal spread. They are more sanitary than grabbing with grubby hands (duh) and actually spread less germs than spoons or forks, if you consider that western-style utensils are slathered with more saliva than chopsticks, which are more used to drop large portions of food into an open mouth. I took a mental note for future cocktail parties.

Evan and Greg put on Santa costumes after the potluck was over, and handed out presents to the children. The gifts had been brought in by parents the week before, and it was really fun to see the children receive exactly what they wanted from Father Christmas himself. Even though most of them greeted the men in red suits as Evan Teacher or Greg Teacher. At one point, Soo Min was asked to say “Merry Christmas” to “Santa” and she turned, gave Evan a dubious look, and said, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Evan.” A hilarious, albeit slightly sad and jaded, holiday greeting.

Ev and Greg made good Santas. They handed out lots of goodies that made the boys and girls very happy :)

We also made treat bags for our little ones for this special holiday. We handed them out at the party, seeing as we won’t see the little ones until Monday, and hit a small snag with our elementary school students who also wanted treats from us. Doh. We told them we’d bring them chocolate and candy canes tomorrow, which appeased their aching sweet teeth (for now).

I had a few lovely conversations with the parents of my students, and felt really touched upon hearing how pleased they were with my teaching methods, how happy the kids were and how much their English has improved over the past eight months. It made me think about how much I was going to miss my kiddos come April.

After the last songpyeon was devoured, and Christmas gift torn open, the number of guests dwindled as they carried their sleepy, sugar-stuffed children home to bed. The teachers gave the hagwon a scrub down — Rachel and I cleaned the tables while the boys handled the ancient vacuum cleaners.

After that, we enjoyed beer and leftover snacks with our fellow staff members, celebrating a successful and crazy evening.

Now we’re home, snickering at viral videos of Hitler finding out there’s no Santa Claus, snuggling on the couch and wondering how on earth Christmas Eve has snuck up on us. I was feeling sentimental, so I searched for one of my favorite Christmas songs online. The first video I found brought tears to my eyes.

Celtic Woman is simply amazing. Their voices and the violin together create such a seamlessly beautiful melody that is quite enchanting (and videos are nothing compared to their live performances). Watching this brought a rush of memories back — standing in my stiff, itchy dress at Christmas mass, my overwhelming happiness and joy for the holiday helping me to overcome the physical discomfort of my “dressy” clothes, singing my heart out in the choir, staying awake until my eyelids felt like lead, excited for the return of Santa, helping my dad prepare food for the family Christmas party, waltzing with my sisters in our pajamas as we waited for my parents to rouse on Christmas morning, tearing open stockings with anticipation, curling up next to the roaring fire, watching my nieces struggle to open their own gifts, spending the holiday at the Naylon house and feeling right at home, cooking and chatting with Steve and KayDe, reading The Polar Express and ringing bells on Christmas Eve, making four quiches for Christmas brunch, experimenting in the kitchen with my dad, snuggling under the sheets and comparing books with my mom, guzzling mimosas with my sisters (when they weren’t pregnant), throwing the dice and shouting at family members as we vied for wrapped gifts during the dice game… this song embodied Christmas for me. Everything I hold dear, all the cliches that are true about the holidays.

Reminiscing fills me with joy for these next two days <3 Merry Christmas everyone

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For weeks now, the staff at school have been prepping things for the first big party of the year — the Halloween bash! The mid-morning soiree included the parents of our kindergarten classes — who pay more every year to send their kiddies to a hagwon than the tuition at UCSB post-tuition hikes. So naturally, the posh parents had high expectations, and I feel confident we delivered.

First, the school was covered with decorations. I mean, every inch had a smiling jack-o-lantern, or a cobweb, or a fluttering bat. It was the most amazing decor display I have seen at any school, anywhere. For the past three weeks, we have been making Halloween decorations to put up, and the end result was quite impressive.

I handed out pamphlets and schmoozed with parents as they entered, while my fellow foreign teachers got to work carving pumpkins with the children as parents chatted, sipped coffee and tea, took videos and snapped photos of the tykes. During this mingling period, two professional face-painters also gussied up the kids’ faces with whatever their hearts desired.

Once everyone was assembled, the show began. Two of my students acted as the emcees of the festivities, reciting a script written by Evan. They were so good (and looked adorable in their costumes, I’m just sayin’). Abe and Da Yeen introduced another one of my students, who had to recite a speech on her dreams (I wrote it, but she said it well). Two of my other students also got through speeches I had written, about Halloween and healthy eating.

The first group performance were the songs Skidamarinka and The Bear Went Over the Mountain — complete with accompanying exaggerated choreography. We sang with the children, and I just tried not to laugh at the little ones (about 2 years old) who would just wander around, jumping, doing their own moves, or bawling and calling out for their mothers in the audience. Since we had some downtime between sets, we took some glamour shots.

Greg wrote a play for the students to perform, The Ugly Pumpkin, which tells a story similar to that of the ugly duckling. The children all memorized their lines beautifully, much to my delight. They did a great job.

Two more songs, Down By the Bay and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmitt, made up the finale. We bounced and smiled and shouted along with the students. It was silly and fun.

Afterward, the children “trick-or-treated” by knocking on the classroom doors and receiving goody bags assembled by us the previous evening — and when I say “assembled,” I mean we spent four hours decorating oranges as pumpkins, making suckers into ghosts, counting stickers and pencils, and basically giving each child enough sugar to cause the equivalent of a major caffeine kick. It worked too, the kids ran around like banchees during the following potluck lunch, zipping around and screaming indistinguishable jibberish as they climbed on bookshelves. It was nuts!

The only benefit of the kids basically turning into wild, crazed monkeys is that when I dialed the students for phone teaching later that afternoon, four were sleeping off their sugar rush, giving me a bit of free time. Good stuff.

Now, it’s Saturday and I am feeling well-rested and fully prepared to celebrate Halloween the adult way.

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I love everything about autumn — cool, crisp air, trees changing into rainbows of red, yellow and orange while their leaves fall like rain, sweaters and knitwear, winter squash and brussel sprouts. It truly is the most wonderful time of year.

Halloween is right around the corner, and I’m getting quite excited. Ever since I was a kid, Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up (what child who grows up dancing doesn’t?) but it is also amazing to have a holiday dedicated to eating candy and scaring people. Every October, I would go home and make Halloween decorations to put up in the living room window, daydreaming about hosting the best black-and-orange party ever, and count down the days to October 31. Our apartment needs some sprucing up for fall!

Jill and Steve, Evan’s parents, apparently read my thoughts and sent the most wonderful autumn care package, complete with Calvin and Hobbes books, nuts, beef jerkey, various fall-themed decor, a sweet card and a full bag of holiday candy corn — including the best candy corn, the pumpkins. Thank you so much for spreading the holiday cheer all the way over here in Korea! We love you guys!

Last week, I found out that my kindergarten class is growing up. Next week I will begin teaching them science and social studies, which sadly means the end of Friday crafts :( I was so bummed to find that out, since doing creative things on Friday had been a really great outlet for me and the children both. I’ve consoled myself with thoughts that science experiments would be cool too, but they just won’t be the same. To top it off, the kids don’t know crafts have been nixed, so I’m the lucky one that gets to tell them.

Since last week and this week are the last crafts we’ll make together, I wanted to do some over-the-top, spooky decor for our classroom. Each classroom in the school has a different theme for Halloween, and my class has vampires and bats. Two weeks ago, we made paper draculas.

They were cute, but nothing compared to the bats we made last week. I found the outline of a bat wing online, blew it up and had the kids each color some for their bat. From there, I took their colorful wings, and glued them to a piece of black construction paper, wedging a pipe cleaner (cut in half) in the middle. After, I stuffed black socks full of newspaper for the bat bodies, then stapled the ends shut. From their, I hot-glued eyes, pipe cleaner mouths and construction paper ears on to the socks, along with the wings. The final touch was made by hanging them with fishing line from the ceiling. Not to toot my own horn, but these were a lot of work, and absolutely worth it. They turned out terrific!

This weekend, I am going to poke around to find a suitable costume for Halloween festivities at school and around town. There will be raging parties at both Radio Star (where we spent the World Cup) and Deepinto (home of the amazing brunch) on October 30, and a horror movie marathon (and taco bar) at Radio Star on Halloween proper. Lots to look forward to!

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