9 months

Jeff and Jocelyn Gehring 2012-03-29

Well, we have just finished our ninth month here in Korea and in a few more, we’ll have our baby. The past few weeks have been quite busy. We’ve given a speech, gone on trips, watched Jocelyn grow (in a good way) and best of all, it’s political season.

Harvard Speech:

A little over a month ago, Jocelyn received a phone call from her former co-teacher, Ms. Lee, about giving a speech on getting into Harvard. I got dragged into the scenario by being a good husband and taking my wife to the meeting and was asked to speak about the importance of volunteering, a topic about which I know very little. On the 22nd of May, we gave the speeches.

I was up first. The crowd was almost entirely gifted middle school students which helped ease my nerves. The idea of facing obsessive parents, grilling me on the specifics of volunteering in the US and the potential benefits it would have for an Ivy League applicant, all being done in choppy English, had caused a bit of fear in me. I could only imagine myself standing in front of everyone when a woman, clad in Gucci or Louis Vuitton with an obvious nose job and eyelid enhancement asked me about what I or Jocelyn had done to improve our positions. The best, honest answer I could have come up with would have been that I did some basic grounds keeping work at St. Pete’s in order to fulfill the requirements for my high school Social Justice course. Seeing the disappointment on her face would have done a number on my self-esteem, so the sight of a room full of middle schoolers was quite a relief.

Not having too many examples of volunteering, especially in an attempt to pad my application for an Ivy League institution, I basically told them over and over…and over again, that they needed to do some volunteer work if they wanted to go to a top-tier university in the US. Somehow, during my speech, I ran out of time. It was quite a relief, as I was certain that I would be standing in front of them for about 20 minutes repeating, “questions? does ANYBODY have questions?…no?…are you sure?…this is important.” Fortunately for everyone involved, that did not happen.

Having warmed up the crowd, it was Jocelyn’s turn.

Jocelyn’s speech went quite well. I think having a degree from Harvard helped perk the students interest. They were a bit tired of listening to the fraud, and were ready for the real thing. Her speech covered the process of applying and expectations as well as a little general information about higher education in the US. She too was worried that her speech would not fill the required time, but she had no problems once she was up there. The students, at least a student, was paying enough attention that Jocelyn, unlike me, got a question. Something along the lines of, ” How do you suggest we define our ‘vision’  for the future?” Quite an impressive question from a non-native speaking middle schooler.  Jocelyn must have answered the question well because she got invited to do another speech.

Here are some pictures from the speech. I’m not quite sure what the banner says, but it does mention Americans, and Harvard. My Korean is really getting good.

Jocelyn and I in front of "our" banner

Jocelyn and I with the Director of Gifted Education, the Vice Principal and some students. The little boy gave us his Mickey Mouse umbrella because it was raining and he did not want us to get wet. Korean kids are so cute.

Gyeongju:

The other week, my school got an extra day off because of the school’s birthday. I think that’s a great idea for a holiday. I used it to visit the historic city of Gyeongju which is about 30 minutes from our town.

Jocelyn’s pregnancy is in part to thank for my day off. Though my school did not have any classes, the full-time native teachers (I am not a native teacher, but tend to receive special consideration) had to attend a two day workshop regarding the new curriculum. Not only had I been scheduled to go to the workshop, but I was slated to sleep in the same room as the principal which according to my fellow teachers, is not normal. My principal is a nice guy and I enjoy his presence, but he is also a heavy smoker, drinker and he really likes to practice English. The thought of sitting on the floor of a smoky hotel room going over English phrases till 3 in the morning was not appealing.

Thankfully, both he and my vice-principal expressed concern about how Jocelyn would eat if I were to leave her for one night. They told me to discuss it with her and see if she could handle the workload. Fortunately, Jocelyn’s culinary skills were not good enough for her to handle the flipping of a frozen beef patty, so my school let me stay home and take care of her.

With the free day that I had, following the night of cooking of course, I went to Gyeongju and toured the city. It is quite a picturesque city. I wish that I could have been there in the evening, but it was still very pretty during the daytime. Because it was the day before Buddha’s birthday, the city and especially Bulguksa (the main temple) was quite crowded. Regardless, I was still able to see many of the city’s attractions. I definitely want to return to Gyeongju, perhaps for an evening stroll next time.

Lanterns for Buddha's Birthday

Korean kids on a field trip

These random boys stopped me and asked if they could take their picture with me. They really like blonde white guys out here.

The world's oldest observatory

Political Season:

It’s that time out here in Korea and it is quite different than back in the States. Never before have I seen groups of women, dressed in matching outfits, dancing to music that is blaring out of the back of a truck, which is decorated with giant posters of their candidate.

Not being fluent in Korean, I really only have their dance routines to base my vote on. Fortunately, most of them don’t skimp on practicing, so I think I know who will get my vote. I know I can trust a candidate who spends on street-side dance routines and excessive amounts of business cards.

Sadly, the elections are tomorrow, ending the music, dancing, and decorated trucks.

Political supporters. They dance. Go #10.

Political dancers taking a break for a speech. Go #9.

North Korea:

As I’m sure you all know, the South Korean naval chip, Cheonan, sank several months ago, causing speculation as to who’s the guilty party. Now that the South Korean government has officially blamed North Korea, the local citizens, and especially the students, are very vocal about their opinions.

The Adults: To my surprise, many adults in Korea are split on whether they believe the North attacked the South. Only being able to read Western media, I was unaware that many of the local citizens firmly believe that the South Korean government falsified the evidence in order to blame Kim jong-il. More than the occasional local has voiced this opinion to me. Coming from the West, I was very surprised. The rest of the citizens have been certain from the start that it was the North.

The Students: The students, at least some, are much more afraid. The other day, I had two girls come up to me during lunch with tears in their eyes. They went on to explain, in their limited English, that North Korea was indeed going to launch missiles at South Korea and that their parents would all die. They then questioned me as to who the US was allied with and I told them that they supported the South Korean government. As is the way with young children, their tears turned to joy and they began cheering. It was quite a funny moment. No other students have been crying over the issue, but they do express quite a bit of fear over it. I guess that’s what happens when you live in a society with an extremely low crime rate.

Two of my students. The girl on the right was one of the criers.

Baby:

Jocelyn is 24 weeks pregnant now and goes back to the doctor next week. The baby has been kicking up a storm in preparation for the World Cup. We went to Costco the other day and bought our first huge package of diapers. They smell so nice. At least for now. Jocelyn has also been getting more and more perks in society these days. She almost always gets a seat on the bus/subway and people take her things from her if she is carrying anything. I need to get pregnant.

Jocelyn and her 6 months pregnant baby belly

Misc.

I began training for another marathon. This one is at the DMZ. I plan on doing a little more in terms of training, but we’ll see.

The weather somehow managed to get cold again despite being the first of June. They weren’t lying when they said Korean winters are long.