Thursday, October 29, 2009

How I came to be in Korea, Part 2: Why

First published on Facebook September 9, 2009:

On the first of August of this year, my father and I went on an outdoor adventure together to a place in the Texas Hill Country called “Cypress Valley Canopy Tours:” an outdoors sports entertainment venue. Participants fly through trees suspended from strong cables, an activity colloquially known as “ziplining.” Once a group has successfully completed the general zipline tour, members can then choose to go through the “Cypress Challenge,” a zipline ropes course suspended forty feet above ground. My father and I opted to try the challenge.

The challenge course is made of twelve elements, or sets, of obstacles ranging in difficulty from medium hard to hardest. For example, a medium element might be a “tight rope” with two horizontal ropes that are used as handles and attached by a series of shorter vertical ropes, resembling a rope footbridge. Though participants can still fall off of the element, the addition of the many vertical ropes along the way give this challenge the feel of a safety net. One of the hardest elements is the “Ship’s Challenge,” an open tight rope without any horizontal “handles,” only three long vertical ropes spaced ten feet apart from each other. I wasn’t brave enough to try the “Ship’s Challenge,” so I opted for the safety of the handled tight rope. When I finished that challenge, however, I wasn’t satisfied. Where was the adventure in knowing that I would be “safe” and virtually unable to fall off the element?

Among the ten other elements is the “Hourglass,” made of three horizontal ropes, two starting on the bottom and one on the top; by the end of the challenge, the two bottom ropes end on the top, with the single rope at the bottom, forming a horizontal “x.” The element starts out easy, but gets more challenging as one progresses. The participant must step out on only one bottom rope, grasp the top rope, and lean forward as much as possible. As he journeys further into the challenge, one bottom rope travels up and meets the top one about chest high, where the participant can grasp both ropes. In the middle of the “x,” he must let go of one of his ropes, at the same time stepping down on that same rope in order to finish. He then turns and faces the end of the challenge, grasps the top ropes one in each hand, and nearly walks upright the rest of the way. As I watched my father try this element, I knew it would be difficult to traverse. But I also knew that I didn’t want to leave never having tried simply because it was hard. I wanted to see if it was something I could do.

I was very confident as I stepped out on the element. I faced out towards the trees with my feet pointing sideways instead of forward, moving first my right and then my left limbs. One guide was stationed on the platform at the end of the “Hourglass,” where my father and two other participants waited. They were all encouraging me as I kept going, but Dad reminded me that this was the easy part. “If you can believe this,” he called out, “you’re halfway there. You’re in the middle.” I was right at the point where I needed to drop the second rope that I held and step out onto it. “I don’t know if I can do this, guys,” I screamed. “I don’t think I can make it!” I stood there, knuckles white and arms locked, unsure if I could take another step. Still I faced out toward the trees and not towards the end of the element. I stayed there for minutes, trying to decide what to do. I was paralyzed with the uncertainty of my next move.

In my mind, the challenge became too much for me. I finally let go and let the safety harness and tether suspend me from the ground. I could see the single rope that I needed to stand on in order to finish the element, yet now it was much harder to try to step onto it because I was sitting instead of standing. As I have little upper body strength, it would be difficult to pull myself to a standing position. The guide suggested I rest for a moment before trying to get back up again. Alternately, I rested then tried to pull up, then rested again. I tried three or four times unsuccessfully to get back onto the element. Finally, the guide came out to try to help, but only managed to help me do a self-rescue, pulling myself hand-over-hand on the safety line to the platform. I made it safely to the end and safely out of the course, but I regret not finishing the “Hourglass.”

My father told me that I surprised him with doing the more difficult challenge. He was proud of me for trying, but I think it was a mistake to let go of the ropes on the “Hourglass.” I didn’t finish because I gave up; I acquiesced to the pressure of uncertainty, merely choosing what was easiest. But if I had endured—if I had taken my eyes off of the now and looked to the near future at the end of the “Hourglass”—I might have found the strength to continue. I wanted to try the “Hourglass” to see what I was capable of. Either, I really am not capable of it, or I stopped before I really knew the answer to that. The next time I take the challenge course, I will find the answer because I am determined to find a way to finish strong.

Going to Korea for me is like getting on the “Hourglass” element one more time. It may seem easy at first, but it will get much more difficult. It is something I have never done before, something without a safety net. It is exhilarating, exciting, and adventurous. And if I don’t succeed at first, I am determined to find a way to finish strong. I could stay at home, in the safety net of familiarity. But that would be like staying only on the handled tight rope. There’s almost no way to fall. I want to see if I am capable of doing something like this: to live on my own in a foreign country and to depend on those around me—those back home as well as friends I meet in Korea—for support. I feel as though I am up for the challenge. I want to see what I can do.

How I Came to be in Korea, Part 1

I can see the LORD's hand in the way that He has brought me thus far, from San Antonio to Chungju, South Korea. I have the story posted on Facebook in a series of notes, but I thought it would be valuable to publish it in one central place.

Originally posted to Facebook, Saturday, August 22, 2009:

As some of you know, I am starting a new leg of my life journey soon. I may be on my way across the world in as little as one to two months. I feel like the LORD is moving me forward and I can't wait! As my dad has said, "I don't know the future, but I know the One who holds the future."

I had been living with some wonderful girls from Xtreme Teams International for the last eight or nine months, but I really felt that God was leading me somewhere besides just there. We discussed things and decided for me to leave by the first of September. At this same time, a recruiting agency contacted me via email about applying to their program to be an ESL teacher.

When I read the email, I started crying. "Lord," I prayed, "could this be what You want?" I have wanted to teach English as a second language for many years--since before 2005. But I was so overwhelmed at trying to find an agency or a mode of getting over there. When this agency contacted me, I thought the least I could do is to give it a try. Within two weeks, I got an interview with them and they have set me up with a placement coordinator who will help me find a job.

Many things in my life right now are conducive to me picking up and relocating. I have an older car that could be given away/sold. I don't have rent or a contract that has to be kept or renewed. I don't have much stuff. Either I could store it all, have people borrow it, or give it away. My parents have also been talking about relocating. If they leave, then it gives me more reason pursue international employment. It's an exciting time for me because I feel like I don't have many attachments and the time is ripe.

All that remains for me to do aside from packing is getting my forms and documents in order. Once that is complete, I can then be considered for a job. The recruiting agency has jobs that are available, but they will not start recommending me for them until the documents come in. This could take up to a month. Once I am recommended for a job and have an employer as a sponsor, I can apply for a working visa. Provided that everything goes smoothly, I may be in Korea within two months.

I will continue to be on Facebook and will post stories and pictures whenever I can. I am so excited to go and have this great adventure! I will keep you guys updated and look forward to hearing from each of you. Keep me in your prayers.

In Christ,

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jungsan High

Last Tuesday night, I was asked to substitute in a conversational English class at a local high school for my director, who has been out of the country since my arrival in Korea. The class as a whole that night was disasterous because of the disrespect I saw coming from the students; one of them walked in twenty-five minutes late because, according to him, he was getting a haircut. I had to stop the class in the middle of everything and sternly put my foot down because of the disrupting conversations in Korean that I had to shout above. Because of their lack of engagement, I assumed that I might have given them a task beneath their abilities. Perhaps the outbursts were really a way to cry out for challenge.

There were some good moments that night, on the whole. I had asked the students to write about why they would leave Korea and live in another country. One girl said that she would leave because of Korea's strict educational expectations. She mentioned a lack of freedom in the school system and that other countries might have it different. In that moment, I felt a connection with the class and with the student. There was not much discussion about it, presumably because the students were either not interested or because they already knew most of what there was to say about the topic, yet I felt satisfied at the result of such a deep admittance.

It was here that I met two delightlful young women, Asheely (she says she spells it this way) and Liz. A few of the students at the front, including these two, seemed to be paying attention the whole time; I had no discipline problems with them. At the end of class, these asked me if I would like to learn how to say things in Korean, like "hello" or "goodbye." One girl even used her paper to write down phrases for me. They taught me how to say "an-yang-ha-se-yo," hello, "an-yang-ca-se-yo," goodbye, and "com-sap-mi-da," which is thank-you. They tried teaching me other things like how to dismiss the class, but by then class was over. Afterwards, some of these girls asked me if I had an IM or a Yahoo Messenger. "I have an email address," I said, and they copied it down. They seemed to be very sweet. One of them, Liz, an energetic, eager student, asked if I could cook her American food. I hesitated for a moment. Then I mentioned something about tea and she piped up again.

"Tea? You want tea? I have some upstairs!" She would have run off to get it, too, had I not stopped her.

"I'm waiting for a friend," I calmed her. I bid them goodbye and said I would see them on Thursday. Thursday's class went much smoother and at the end, Liz asked again about American food.

"Teacher," she asked exhuberantly, "When are you free?"

"Um, Saturday?" We set a date for Liz and Asheely to come to my apartment on Saturday afternoon at 12:30.

I substitute at Jungsan all this week as well, though by next week my director will most likely take over the class again. I feel releaved and also a bit reluctant to give the class back to its teacher: releaved because I didn't feel I had authority enough to correct my students or to run the class as I expressly saw fit and because I am unsure how to fully engage them; reluctant because I don't know how else I will see my friends, Liz and Asheely. Last night, Liz tried to invite me to a "mountain club" that she's involved in. I told her I would like that and she said that she would email me. If the LORD wills, I will surely see them again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Hogwan

Koreans are known for their impecable work ethic. Over here the addage about how differently men and women work might sound like this: "Other nations work from sun to sun, but a Korean's work is never done." Not only do they work hard, but they expect their children to work just as hard. From what I hear from other teachers as well as students, some parents expect their children to go to regular public Korean school, where they learn core subjects, and also expect them to attend a hogwan after that. Many students don't finish their class day until after 8:30pm--and this doesn't include private study or homework.

A hogwan is a private school; its focus is only one subject--in our case, the English language. The hogwan that I teach in is called Learning Well Institute (LWI). These are much smaller than regular schools and usually not affiliated with any church or religious organization (unlike many private schools in the US). Having said that, however, the hogwan seems to have a greater amount of freedom in subject matter and structure than a normal school. Because its focus is language, we cater to a range of different age groups, from Kindergarten all the way through adults. Lauren teaches Kindergarteners. Andy has a student who is fluent in English and only needs an hour of conversation to keep his mind active in the language. I have an intermediate adult class whose focus is geared towards adult interests.

I don't know how big they can get, but our hogwan is extremely small in comparrison to the schools that I have worked in or attended back in San Antonio. The school that I graduated from, Alamo City Christian Academy, had 420 students at its peek in 2000. Believers Academy averaged 120 students when I worked there in 2008 and 2009. Andy and Brandon tell me that we have 100 students in our hogwan, give or take. Not all of these students are in the building or in class all the time, so it feels like much less than 100. Many only come for one or two classes. The adults, for example, are only here for 50 minutes three days a week.

The size of staff is another indication if the smallness of the school. Alamo City had close to 40 or 50 teachers (about a 1-10 ratio) when I went there. Believers Academy had about half that at close to 23 (including part-timers), with two administrators and three senior teachers. LWI has three administrators, all of whom teach something, three full-time teachers, and one part-time, a total of 7. BA helped to prepare me for this environment because there I felt like I and one other teacher made up the secondary English department. Here, however, I feel like Andy, Brandon, and myself are not just a department but are the entire school.

Because we are primarily an after school program, we start later in the day. They've been giving me a break this week in order to adjust to life in a foreign country (so I've been getting there at 2:30), but usually the start time for Andy and Brandon (and I suspect for me, too, starting next week) I is 12:30 on MWF and 11:30 on T, Th. We have three+ hours to prepare for classes and then we teach until 7:30 or 8:30. One of the teachers, Pam, is part time and comes in sometime after we do and leaves probably before us. My schedule looks something like this:

1st-3rd grade class from 3:30-4:20;
5-6th grade class from 4:30-5:20;
maybe an hour break;
(on MWF) middle school writing class from 6:20-6:40;
(on MWF) adult intermediate class from 7:30-8:20.

The first two classes are the same on Tuesday and Thursday. But instead of the writing or adult classes, I've been teaching a two-hour conversation class at a high school called Jungsanat a high school called Jungsan, as a substituting for my director. The hardest part about the schedule for me is how late we get out of work. The coolest part is that I don't have to worry about sleeping through any of my classes! I can get up at 8 or 8:30 and have some time to myself before I have to go to work.

The schedule reminds me a lot of what I had working at Believers Academy. I had a wide range of students and abilities in each class, as well as different grades for each class taught. I taught 5-6th together and went all the way up to 9th grade. Here at Learning Well, I still have that range. At BA, we had a University Model system where there was a different schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays than on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. Classes were mainly a la carte: you paid for and attended the classes that you wanted. Many students only came MWF. Some students in fith and sixth grade, for example, didn't come to History because it was on Tuesday and Thursday. The same is true with Learning Well. With the exception of my first two classes, I see different students on T and Th than I do on MWF. Because of my work at BA, these aren't foriegn concepts to me. It's amazing how I can see God preparing me for this even two years ago when I was in the States.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How My Life is Different

For the past three days, I have been in a bit of a fog. Though it may be due to jetlag, it seems to be something else. I feel as though I'm not really "in" a foreign country, like I'm really still in San Antonio and all I have to do is go back to sleep and I'll be back home. At the risk of sounding overdone, it feels so surreal. I catch myself thinking, "Can this really be happening? Is this actually what I think it is? Am I really in a foreign country?" As I conduct my classes, I think, "Am I really teaching English as a Second Language?" I do the same thing as I walk down the street observing the sights. "Is this actually Korea?" I think to myself. I have wanted to do this for so long that now, as I'm finally in the middle of it, I approach my new life situation with a sense of disbelief. In a sense, I feel like this really can't be happening. As I commented about these thoughts to my two ex-pat friends, Andy remarked, "You'll have that for about a week. Then you'll wake up one morning and think, 'Wow. I'm in a foreign country.' " I feel as if that happened yesterday for me. Wednesday morning, I said to myself as I looked in the mirror, "I'm in South Korea. Oh my gosh!" I almost wanted to ask myself how I got here. That's when things started to change for me.

Before then, I stayed inside. The guys have to be at work at 11:30 or 12:30 every day, but since the administration wants me to fully transition into the new culture, I don't have to be there until 2:30. If I wake up at 8 or 8:30, that gives me almost 6 hours to myself. I usually wake up by then; the latest I've slept in this week, even Monday morning when I went to bed at 1:30, was 8:45! Until yesterday, I just kept to myself in my apartment. If I stay there, I can pretend that I'm still in the States--especially when I turn on music. It doesn't feel any different, except for feeling like it's a new place in San Antonio than where I have lived before. Once I understood the weight of what living in a foreign country meant, however--and what it meant not to be able to "go home" for a while--I began to open up to possibilities. Yesterday, I walked myself to the PC bang (pronounced "bong") to do some blogging; I did the same today. I thought about venturing out more, but the guys haven't shown me how to get to any other place but here yet. Maybe I should rephrase that: They've taken me to E-Mart, Family Mart (a convenience store), and to various restaurants, but I don't remember how to get anywhere else.

I feel like my life has been turned upside down, like the opposite of a tragedy. What I have done is essentially a major life change and, like a tragedy, takes an enormous amount of energy to adjust. Things are so much different that I find my mind reeling. My old roommate Liz made a comment once when I first moved in with her that comforts me: The three of us moved into a house in the northeast side of San Antonio last November; she and Rachel (my other old roommate) had been living together on the northwest side, which is about a 30-minute drive without traffic. A few weeks after moving in, we were all three riding in the car together when Liz sighed suddenly, "We're over here now." Then she smiled peacefully. There was no adjusting for Liz; she just accepted the new place and new side of town with expectancy. That's what I should do. I'm over here in Korea now; this is my new life. What does God have in store for this new season?

Here are some ways that my life is different: For one, I have no car. I don't mind not having one, either. There's really no room for one, nor is there a need. Transportation is provided to the school; if I need to go somewhere like the hospital, one of my Korean friends like Lauren will pick me up. If I want to get anywhere by myself, I walk. The shopping district (downtown Chungju) is less than a five-minute walk from my apartment building. As Brandon commented, "It's a great location." If I want to go to somewhere like Lotte-Mart (pronounced "Low-tay," like Wal-mart), I take a taxi (which I haven't done yet). I haven't been brave enough to come anywhere by myself other than the PC bang, but Andy assures me that all is safe. "There's really no crime in Korea," he said. "Nothing's going to happen to you." Though I don't mind walking by myself, it's nice to have friends like the guys to be with me. Not only do they know more of the city, but I don't feel so alone.

Another thing that's different about my life here so far is a noticable lack of girlfriends. Lauren, Pam, and I are the only adult women at the school besides our students. As of yet, I haven't "hung out with" either of them. In San Antonio, my friend Heidi and I would hang out a lot. She'd call me in the morning and ask, "Hey, what are you doing today? Do you want to go with me?" The Friday before I left, I drove to her house and had breakfast with her and her son. I saw her almost every week and talked to her as frequently. She'd call me whenever she had a few minutes to spare. We seemed to be always talking and sharing our lives together. Another girlfriend of mine, Mary-Ellen would get to hang out with me about every one or two months. I had a chance to see her last Thursday as I drove back from Houston. She lives in Seguin, attending school at my alma mater, and I don't get to see her very often. We managed to talk as often as we could, though. I don't really have that here. I have to give myself some credit because I've only been here four days and it takes time to develop the friendships that I had with both of those remarkable women. Still, it is an aspect of my life that so far I miss.

The people I do hang out with, however, are the "guys," Andy and Brandon. I went to dinner with both of them Monday and Tuesday and with just Andy Wednesday night. I hope to continue to hang out with them. They've been showing me around town a bit, introducing me to the PC bang and to other Korean cultural quirks. Since they've been here two months longer than myself, I often lean on their knowledge of the city and their sense of direction. I find myself in disbelief about this aspect of life in Chungju as well. In San Antonio, I didn't have many guy friends. The teachers that I knew at Believers Academy were 90% women and the men were considerably older. When I worked at Bass Pro Shop over the summer, that statistic was flipped and most of the people I knew were my age or slightly older. But even at Bass Pro, surrounded by guys as I was, I made friends with women. It's hard to believe that my "peeps" here so far are guys. They promise to introduce me to other teachers that they know come Friday. Though they don't remind me of my brothers, per se, it does feel as though I'm hanging out with my brothers again.

Even though this all takes some adjusting, I don't feel too under-prepared for this new adventure. Growing up, I tagged along with my brothers and their friends as often as I could. Occasionally, I went off and played by myself. But most of the time, in an effort not to be alone, I tried to be with them. I suspect that my social life will look much like that here in Korea, tagging along with Andy and Brandon as often as they will let me and only occasionally going by myself. It's not a new concept for me to be the only girl. For two years when my mom was out of the house, I was the only girl then, too. It feels like my previous life experiences with my brothers, Jason and Chris, helped me to be better able to adjust to this new phase of life.

I also feel prepared for this adventure through my Spanish classes in high school and college. I may have not quite understood the simplistic nature of teaching a foreign language when I got here; my head was full of thoughts about the English-for-native-speakers classes that I tought in the States, like my 19th-century survey of American literature. Something like that would be way over their heads. My classes here are a lot easier and deal with basic concepts of the English language. Paragraphs for some are difficult to master. Listening to someone speaking quickly is also another difficult task. I know I am drawing from my experiences in Spanish--in the classroom as well as in real life along the San Antonio Riverwalk--as I stand in front of my classroom. I have to remember that, just like me in Spanish all those years ago, they may not be able to fully understand what I say to them. It requires so much more patience than teaching a native speaker.

The People I've Met

Before I left San Antonio, the director of the school I work at, David, sent an email to me listing the phone numbers of contacts for me here in South Korea. He would be going back to the United States as I would be traveling to Korea. Since he was the only person I had actually interacted with or spoken with on the phone and he wouldn't be here, I needed another group of people to help me transition.

Among the numbers sent to me was Lauren's. The first time I spoke with Lauren was when we were trying to figure out my luggage situation. The first time I met her was at 1am Sunday night. The woman who had helped me with my luggage, Gwen, had sent a text message to Lauren letting her know when I would be arriving in Chungju. Not minutes after I stepped off the bus, Lauren approached me. When we arrived in Chungju Sunday night, the bus driver dropped us off at a street corner because the terminal itself was closed for the night. I was completely clueless. I had met two young women on the bus who spoke English. As I started walking down the street, I tried asking them what was going on but they ignored me and walked off. At the same time, a frantic young woman and man were walking towards the disembarking crowd. "Are you Jenny-fer?" she asked me. "I'm Lauren. This is my boyfriend Michael." I could not believe how quickly she had found me! She drove me to my new apartment, showed me in, and promised to come pick me up at 2pm the next morning.

What I like so much about Lauren is her selflessness. She must have been tired that night, but she was still willing to pick me up and take me to my room. She was also willing to pick up my luggage for me. The following day when my luggage arrived, she handed a box to me. "These are pots," she said. Among them was a small tea kettle--I appreciated that so much. It looked like all the things given to me were new. She didn't have to go through all that trouble to buy me those things. She's a very hard worker. The other teachers, Andy and Brandon, remark sometimes that they don't ever not see her at school; it seems like she's always there. She's also very supportive and does a lot to make our teaching experience easier, like giving us detailed lesson plans. She's eager to help.

Joshua's was the second number given to me. The first time I met him was Monday afternoon at school. Together, he and Lauren (along with the director, David) make up the administration team. He doesn't know English very well, but he tries. He speaks quite loudly when he does talk in English, however. Sometimes he reminds me of myself when I'm practicing Spanish: it's always a few decibles more than normal. "He-lloooo," he says. "How are youuu?" I try to speak slowly and clearly when I talk with him. Usually, though, my questions go to Lauren. Both he and Lauren also conduct classes at the hogwan (private language school).

Pam is another teacher with us. She is an older woman and a local of Korea. She teaches regular school as well as school at the hogwan. She works full-time at a public school and when finished comes to Learning Well Institute (our hogwan) part-time. Her vocabulary in English seems to be advanced, but she speaks very quickly and does not enunciate properly. It is sometimes hard to understand her; I have to ask her to repeat what she said almost always. She seems very nice and friendly, however.

There are two other Americans working at Learning Well with me, Andrew (Andy) and Brandon. They have each been here two months. We seem to connect because we are all three from America and have that in common. They're from the Northwest and I'm from the South. I probably wouldn't have met them if I had not gone to South Korea. The three of us make up the full-time teaching staff. Andy lives next door to me, in room 610, and Brandon lives upstairs. I remarked to both of them when we went out to eat Monday night, "I'm so glad I have contacts here in Chungju. It's like I have instant friends!" It really feels that way; this week, we've been hanging out a lot after work, which usually ends at 8:30. They've been the people I do things with here.

Andy likes to go out to eat almost every night and he's really good at directions. He seems to have done his share of exploring the surroundings of Chungju. He always has an idea of where he wants to go. The first night we were out, he said he was going to E-Mart (which is like a Super-Target) and asked if we "would like to come with." I like to have him with me when I order food because he knows just enough Korean to be successful. Last night, he and I went to a Korean barbeque place. The waiter understood us until Andy tried to order rice. He said later that his pronunciation might have sounded like someone was saying "erce" in English. I admit I would not have been that good had I tried.

Brandon seems to enjoy a lot of different interests. He was telling me about a backpacking trip through Asia that he wants to take in a year. I told him it sounded like fun. He seems to be very helpful. He has really good classroom suggestions. Two days ago, he printed out some role-playing ideas for my high school class. Of that, I was quite appreciative. He also helped me plug in my stove (whoo-hoo!) and seems to know the quirks of my apartment. He said that he had actually lived in my apartment for two months. He moved out three days before I arrived because David thought that it would be better for the girl not to have to live upstairs. From what Brandon tells me, the upstairs only has two apartments and you can walk onto the roof from them. Interesting.

I'm looking forward to getting to know the people in my life now. I can't wait to see what the LORD will do.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Luggage Story

Last Saturday morning, October 17, 2009, I left San Antonio, Texas, on a cross-Pacific journey to Chungju, South Korea (pronounced Choong-ju). Because of the international date line, I arrived at the Incheon International Airport in Seoul at 6:15pm Sunday night. Since the last direct bus to Chungju left at 7:10 (and by 7:15 I had just gotten my luggage and found my way to the bus ticket booth), I had to take two different buses to my final destination. As I left Incheon, I boarded the 6010 Airport Limosine to the Gang nam Terminal. I was so weary that I fell asleep and forgot where I was. The driver had to wake me up when we arrived at the terminal. I grabbed my carry-on bags and exited the bus. Once on the sidewalk, I started walking to the right, trying to remember my contact's directions to the terminal entrance. I was still groggy from the nap and the driver motioned me the other direction towards a set of stairs across the street. I thanked him in English and walked away. As I heard the bus speed off just seconds later, I looked down at my bags and remembered that I had had more than these on the plane.

"Oh crud!" I shouted. "I forgot my luggage on the bus!"

A French married couple started talking to me in English and tried to help. The woman started to look for the man who had motioned me to the stairs, but I told her he was the bus driver and had already left. They walked me across the street, but didn't know how else to help. "Go to the express bus terminal ticket booth and maybe someone will speak English and can help you," they suggested. I thanked them and moved on.

Downstairs didn't look anything like a bus terminal or a ticket booth. It was filled with little shops lining a large hallway, like the mercado in downtown San Antonio, only subway-like and underground. Where was I to find anyone who spoke English? I found a Korean pay phone and rummaged to find the money that I had exchanged at the airport. I needed to call my contact in Korea, Lauren, to explain about my luggage. I had tried unsuccessfully to call her from the pay phones at the airport. I got the same message as I did at the airport: "There is a delay with your number. Please try again." It didn't make sense--what did they mean by "delay"? At this point, I was starting to get a little worried. The director of Learning Well Institute, my new employer, was out of Korea and back in the States for personal business; contacting Lauren was my only option. David, the director, had given me a number that would connect to his phone in the US. I finally tried calling it, but got a long message in Korean with no clarifying English accompanying it. I just wanted to cry. "Here I am," I thought, "stuck in the middle of Seoul without my luggage." And no way to contact anyone.

I approached several vendors in the shop, but no one really spoke English. One clerk from a cell phone booth, spoke a little. "Straight. Escalator. Up," he said when I asked where to find the ticket booth. I finally was approached by an older gentleman eating ice cream. "How can I help you?" he asked. I followed him around the terminal and he led me to a sign that read "Cheongju" (pronounced Chong-ju).

"There," he said proudly. "Chong-ju."

"No, no," I shouted and pulled out my notebook. "This one." I had written down the name of my city in Korean, thanks to my director's advice. He said that since there are two cities with a similar name, foreignors get confused.

"Ah," he said. A security officer approached us and pointed us out the door and to another building. Once there, the older man led me straight to the booth. He cut in front of the line ten people and spoke directly to the clerk.

"Eleven thousand," he said, indicating the price of the ticket to Chungju.

Clearly, I had found the ticket booth, but aparently no one there was able to help. "Does she speak English?" I asked. "I need to speak to someone about my luggage." I tried telling him what had happened, but he didn't seem to understand. As I spoke, a young woman stood a few feet from us and seemed to be listening intently. I could tell she understood because she didn't leave. I don't remember how she introduced herself, but suddenly I found myself speaking with her as the older man walked away.

"You don't know anyone in Seoul?" she asked. "Are you here alone? I will help you." She asked if I had a cell phone and allowed me to use hers. I showed her the numbers that I had and she tried them, contacting another administrator from the school, Joshua. He said he would contact Lauren. The young woman also took my bus ticket, found the number on the back, and called the bus company. Within fifteen minutes, she had helped me find my luggage and arrange for it to be brought to Chungju. Basically, she rescued my luggage.

As we were waiting for all this to be worked out, I asked if there was a place to buy a drink. The last drink I had had was a sip of filtered water from the water fountain at the airport, which by this time was three hours earlier. I had been thirsty all throughout the plane ride, never fully able to quence my thirst with the attendant's water cups. I discovered that night that there are no public water fountains in Korea. My mouth was so dry that I felt my tounge sticking to its bed at the bottom of my mouth. As we walked to the convenience store inside the terminal, I asked the young woman's name. Her English name is Gwen. She offered to pay for the water, if I didn't have enough. She then led me to a seat so we could wait.

The company called to say that they would send the luggage to Chungju. Lauren called back and informed me that she would pick me up at the Chungju terminal at 1 or 2AM (by now it was almost 10pm). Finally, it was time for Gwen and her two friends to leave. They were headed back to her hometown, Gwang-ju (I think). "I cannot thank you enough," I said. "Without you, I would not have my luggage. Thank you." A few minutes later, as I still sat there, she came back and gave me her email address and phone number so that I could look her up if I went to her city. She had stayed with me until I no longer needed her.