Monday, December 13, 2010

Seomna Center

The countdown is on...only 5 days until Brandon gets here. So, I want to make sure I get this blog in before his visit and we begin our travels around Korea. This post is very important to me and my life here. It's something I've been wanting to share for a while.

I work 5 days a week at a place called Seomna Center. Recently, the pastor Rev. Kim and his wife were gracious enough to take the time to tell me about their center and the work that they do. It is inspiring, life-changing work, and I am honored to be a part of this community.

Seomna Center is actually just one part of Bindl Church. Seomna Center (or Seomna House) focuses on work with children, the elderly, and the local community. The Center is located in Taehwadong, which is a very impoverished area, so there is much need here that Seomna is working hard to meet. With the children, I have fellowship with them (playing, eating, supporting) and teach them English. As of yet, I have not done much work with the elderly or community outreach, but I hope to learn more about it next semester. Another branch of Bindl Church focuses on peace workers, migrant workers, women (foreigners) and multicultural families, which is a big issue of discrimination here. The final branch focuses on environment and well-being. I do some work with the foreign laborers (visiting their places of residence and employment) and the foreign women (I do an arts and crafts class with them and teach them English). Last week I was fortunate enough to attend an end-of-the-year celebration for one of the environmental organizations. However, I also hope to learn much more about these branches of the Bindl Church.

The organization has an impressive history. It started in the mid-1980s as a people's church--one that recognizes a community of all people. The poor are prioritized instead of ostracized. Rev. Kim wrote that a people's church "should make community with all beyond class, gender, age, social position, even race and religion, and must work with and for minjung (translated into the masses/poor people) in any situation." We should not meet foreigners or the poor to evangelize to them, but we should greet them as brothers and sisters. What a wonderful philosophy.

To this end, the organization works for the improvement of human rights and working conditions for foreign migrant workers, including advocating/lobbying for changing laws and institutions. They were instrumental in establishing some of Korea's first labor unions. Also, they help in situations of unemployment (even allowing temporarily unemployed people to live in the center), provide support for living necessities (like internet, remittances, cell phones), provide medical services, put on special social activities for an otherwise isolated community (like birthday parties, picnics, cultural events, English and Korean study), operate a migrants' library, provide counseling, build networks in home countries, and support migrants who wish to attend college through scholarships.

Seomna Center, as a part of Bindl Church, was one of the first centers to provide after-school care to kids, and the very first to provide a free feeding children. Back in the 1980s, Seomna was unique, but it's model has caught on, and now there are over 3,600 children's centers in Korea. Still, Seomna leads the pack. In 2009 the government did an assessment of all the children's centers, and Seomna came out as the best. Through this attention and coverage in documentaries and TV broadcasts, Seomna is well-known and emulated. The children at the center not only get top-notch English education ;), but can take part in a nationally-acclaimed drum group that is invited to perform all-over the country, engage in art and music therapy, learn gardening, swimming, cooking and all sorts of other skills, and have a lot of fun on regular outings. So far with them I have gone mountain climbing and attended a show at the symphony hall. The children are all impoverished--in order to apply, families have to submit their financial information. Yet, they are some of the most patient, kind-hearted, loving children I know. I adore them.

Other parts of the church's many programs include providing help for families dealing with alcoholism, networking with schools/NGOs/hospitals/other institutions, reaching out to homeless families, lobbying the government for more pro-poor policies, feeding/visiting the poor and elderly, and I am sure many other activities that I do not yet know about.

Next term, in February, I will not be taking language classes at Hannam, so I am eager to be more engaged at Bindl Church. I want to learn much more about their wonderful work, and do what I can to support their vision of, according to Rev. Kim, a Global Community Movement based on people, especially returning migrants.

This picture is of (clockwise) me, Simon, Haejung, Rev. Kim, Mrs. Kim, and So Young Teacher, who is absolutely wonderful and my main contact at the children's center.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No, we are not at war

I know, I know. The headlines look terrible. According to the international news media, North and South Korea are about to duke it out in all out war. However, let me assure you that I am safe and sound, and relatively unaffected by the whole ordeal. While the headlines might be chaos, daily life goes on as usual.

It is true that North Korea (after warning South Korea to please stop military maneuvers) fired upon a populated South Korean island on the maritime border, killing a few military personnel and two civilians. A few days later there was another round of artillery heard in the same vicinity. North Korea has warned that if South Korea and the United States move ahead with their planned military exercise, retaliation will occur, and China has failed to condemn North Korea. The military here is on high alert.

However, while some of the South Koreans seem confused and hurt (after all, the younger generation continually votes to support North Korea with food aid and supplies, and they seem themselves as one homogeneous race) most seem to think that North Korea is acting like a bully just wanting attention. Maybe it is because of the language barrier, but I don't think that too many people here are seriously concerned about an all-out attack or collapse into war. That would not be in either country's best interests.

So, please breath easy that I am safe and will continue to be so. If the situation changes, I will let you know.

On another note, I have been sick for the last few weeks and just can't seem to shake it! When I went to the pharmacy a few days ago they put me on a regiment of oriental medicine (I know, I too thought that oriental was a politically incorrect word!) and said I couldn't drink caffeine or exercise. Now, I don't feel any better at all, and am wondering slightly about the merit of this medicine that they gave me. It looks like rabbit pellets, honestly. They said it wasn't exactly supposed to make me feel better, but was supposed to basically empower my body to make itself better. Well, if that's the case, my body needs to do a better job! Maybe a second piece of leftover pie will help the situation.

Also, a big thanks to Dean McArdle for giving me a shout-out on a nationally broadcast NPR show! If you can't be with your family on Thanksgiving, the next best thing is to be on the air waves! Check out the podcast of it and start listening at about 15:25.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Staying busy!

There sure are a lot of things going on here! There are those days that I feel as if I have not done much, but then I look back on what has gone on just in the month of November and it is astounding! So, here are a few things:


I have now gone hiking twice in the beautiful mountains that surround the area to experience the breathtaking fall foliage. The first time was a great excursion with Simon, Haejung, Katie and myself to Mt. Gyeryongsan. The scenery and the leaves were beautiful! This is a very popular place to hike, and the temple there was crowded (with mothers perhaps praying for their child's success on the national exams?).
I also went hiking with teachers and children from Seomna on one Saturday. The kids here go to school every other Saturday, but on their Saturday's off the center has activities for them. One such was hiking at Mt. Kayjoksan. After a full morning and afternoon of hiking, the kids (and I!) were exhausted, but it was beautiful and a fun time. I took a group up to the summit, which was suuuuper tiring, and the kids were dropping like flies. I came through in the clinch by having a napkin when one of the kids got a nosebleed from the elevation and hard work. But the top gave a stunning view, and I think it was worth it.
My panoramic shot.
Some tired and hot looking kids, but we all made it!


I don't have any pictures of this, but a few weeks ago I gave a lecture to a class in the Linton Global College. My friend Sue is the professor of a class on Communication and NGOs, and she invited me to say a few words about globalization. I think it went pretty well (relatively speaking), and it was fun to be able to be thinking about these issues again. Kind of gave me the itch to get back into academia.

Class dinner

Several weeks ago I had my whole Korean language class over to my house. There were about 12 students, 3 teachers, plus some spouses and children. It was quite a bunch! Each person brought some food, but the real chefs were the Chinese students. They made a few dishes, and then brought all the supplies to make dumplings, so we all pitched in and made dumplings on the dining room table. Talk about fresh! There were delicious desserts provided by the teachers, some turkish food, pizza and chicken, kimchi, and a special sweet potato casserole courtesy of Katie. I'm definitely thankful that we have a big enough house to host this sort of event. Spending four hours a day with these people is good, but it is nice to be able to interact with them outside of the classroom, too.
The Spread Stuffying my face
Teacher Kim makes some dumplings Kai-Li and her lovely dumpling
The girls cleaning up. Yes, that is my teacher doing the dishes.


A man at our church runs a Taekwondo studio and invited us to check it out. So, last Monday Katie and I ventured out to see what this Taekwondo rage was all about. Katie had some experience with Taekwondo, but I had never done it before, so I was with the white belts...who were all about as high as my knee caps. They could not even stand still on their dot. We worked on slow motion kicks, but I knew it wasn't going to work out when the instructor put my target about 4 inches in front of my hips, as if my legs were the same length as the legs of those kids around me. Thankfully, I got moved up to the bigger kids, where the instructor (the man that we know) patiently helped me with kicks...and had to continuously remind me to grunt or yell upon impact. I am not a yeller! He said my kicks were good though, and even asked if I had some background in martial arts. I guess soccer and gymnastics lend themselves to Taekwondo. We jumped rope, did pushups and situps, and had an intense stretching session. It felt wonderful! We had a great time and are going to try to go back every Monday! Hiya!


Finally, we had a very lovely Thanksgiving celebration. Obviously, there is no recognition of the American holiday here, although I introduced it to my children at Seomna. There are now a gang of Korean students who can identify corn, pumpkin, turkey, squash, tomato, potato, lettuce, and Happy Thanksgiving. ;) However, explanations of "tryptophan" and "stuffing a turkey" seemed to leave some people puzzled. Regardless, on Friday, several Americans gathered at our house to celebrate our blessings. Katie, Becky, and I had over our friends Sue, Mike, and the Khim family of Kristen, Ed, Kai-Li, and Luka. We enjoyed great company, and delicious food including: dumplings by Becky, cheese and crackers, fruit, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, fried chicken by Popeyes, carrots, green bean "casserole," bulgogi and Italian pork chops by Kristen, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie, whipped cream, and ice cream. It was a great way to celebrate, and I am very very thankful for a wonderful group of friends here.

I have settled into a routine at Seomna children's center, and have made friends with many of the kids. They are definitely pretty comfortable with me (one girl even peed on the street in front of me!) We continue to serve at the University Church at Hannam, and I have four weeks of Korean language class left. We have already been here almost three months! Can you believe it?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seoul, Halloween, Soccer, and Chrysanthemums

Another blog that details many different experiences.

Katie, Becky, Simon, Haejung and I took our first visit to Seoul this past weekend. We didn't have Korean language class on Friday, so early Friday morning we took the bullet train the hour north to Seoul. We met with many people from the PC(USA) mission and the PC (Korea) church, as well as the Woman Ministers' Association. We found out about some really awesome work that is going on, and are optimistic about being able to help. We also met the other 4 PC(USA) missionaries in Korea for a delicious meal. Then, it was time for some sightseeing.

A. Namdaemun (South Gate)
Ancient Seoul was surrounded by walls and accessed through 4 major gates. The primary gate was the South Gate, and all visiting dignitaries and the king used this gate. It was a hub of Seoul for many years, and, even after the walls were torn down at the turn of the 1900s, the Namdemun remained National Treasure #1. That is, until it was burned down in 2008. Now, there is a huge restoration project to restore the gate to its original form (it was built in the 1300s and underwent many changes since then, including damage sustained under Japanese occupation and the Korean war). We took a tour of the restoration work, and it was fascinating!
What the gate used to look like.
The foundation of the gate, which is all that remains now. 90% of the foundation survived the fire (though almost all the rest of the gate was destroyed since it was wooden).
The 2008 fire and aftermath.
Blocks waiting to be put together to form a wall as part of the restoration work.

With Haejung waiting to go on the tour.
B. Namdemun Shijang
Around the gate there is a huge, intriguing market. However, all I purchased was a bag of dried apricots.
C. Seoul was MUCH more Westernized than Daejeon. I was so amazed at some of the restaurants there. On one corner we saw a Starbucks flanked by a three-story Dunkin Doughnuts!
D. Gyeongbuk Palace
I had already visited this place two years ago, but it is still neat. It is not the original original, since the Japanese did so much damage to historical Korea (meaning destroy it), but still neat. It is surrounded by four mountains, named after the blue dragon, red peacock, white tiger, and black turtle (please notice that these are the colors of the Korean flag). Also, there are many many stone and carved animals around the palace designed to protect it. Too bad they weren't effective at staving off a slew of conquerers, but it does make for an impressive palace. We got an English-speaking tour guide and got to see the changing of the guards (which I think was different than the last time I was here).
Front gate.
Throne room.
Changing of the guard.
And this was the hotel where we stayed. On those mats. On the (heated!) floor.

With last week being Halloween, I tried to introduce the concept to Seomna Center. My friend Kristin donated some old Halloween costumes, and it was a blast to see the kids (and teachers) dress up as pirates, knights, firemen, and mishmashes of them all. I also made them trick or treat for candy. I am pretty sure that most of the concepts were lost in translation, but I had fun and got some great pictures anyway. Happy Halloween!
The middle school class and teachers.

Some Halloween coloring with the first graders.


Daejeon has a professional soccer team, the Daejeon Citizen. So, last week my friend Mike and I ventured out to a Citizen's game. The team is in the lower third of the Korean league standings, and this is very late in the season. So, the crowd was sparse to say the least. And the funniest thing was that this was a huge stadium! It is a World Cup stadium, constructed for the 2002 Cup cohosted by Korea and Japan. And it was basically empty. The crowd consisted of mainly inebriated men and children. And the concession stand sold only Ramen noodles and dried fish. It was awesome. The Daejeon team lost, but I will be ready to cheer them on at the beginning of next season when there is hopefully some more energy and warmer weather.

Check out the Ramen noodles!
Monday our Korean language class went with two of our teachers to a chrysanthemum festival close to Daejeon. It was beautiful (if a bit funny because a town basically converts itself into a fair grounds) and a nice bonding experience with our class. Definitely better than sitting inside and studying for four hours.

Not sure why the cow was there.
Teaching continues. I am not a very good teacher, but I try. I am so grateful to all my students and the teachers and everyone at the Seomna Center for being so patient with me. And they provide yummy snacks every day at 3. Have eaten some new delicious foods which I am eager to show off to Brandon. Still not entirely sure precisely why I have been called to be here, but still feel as if I am in the right place. Thanks for everyone's continued support!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Many Things

Reader Be Warned: This post covers many events and topics of discussion. So much has happened that I simply have not had time to blog. So, stick with me.

First, a few weekends ago I attended a funeral for a foreign migrant worker from Vietnam who was killed in a traffic accident here in Daejeon. He was crossing the street and was struck in the crosswalk by a vehicle. Please, remember to treasure your loved ones and appreciate them every moment. This man left behind a wife of a year and a seven month old daughter. Funerals here seem to be different than in the States, but a funeral is sad no matter where you are.

Second, also a few weekends ago, Daejeon hosted an international balloon festival for foreigners. It was an interesting event, which featured cuisine from various countries around the world, performances, and of course, balloons. Here are some photos.

Third, a while ago I attended a performance of a dance troup from Seomna House. The elementary girls had been practicing a choreographed dance which they then presented at the Reunification Festival (yes, of North and South Korea) in downtown Daejeon. They did a great job, and I am proud to report that they came home with the Audience Choice Award and the Gold Prize! Aren't they beautiful?
(I didn't take these photos, but I am not sure who did, so I can't give proper credit where due.)

Fourth, on Thursday I have been attending an arts and crafts class with migrant women. I am definitely the dunce of the class, as both a lack of language and a lack of art skill can be tough to overcome. But, all the women, and especially the teacher have been so kind and helpful. I love going and being with them. One week we made these beautiful boxes, and the next we did hair bows.
Last week we made bags out of napkins! It was so cool! Well, no, the bag itself was already made but we decorated it with napkins. It was a neat process (can't tell it was a napkin, can you?). The photo below is the bag I made! Looks professional, right?
Fifth, last weekend I went with Seomna employees and volunteers to visit migrant men (which I do every week) at their site of employment and residence. This particular weekend was the Nepalese Thanksgiving weekend, so I was honored to share a meal with men from Bolivia, Nepal, Vietnam and maybe a few other places (and Koreans) as we celebrated the good things in life that we have to be thankful for. These men were so generous and welcoming. It made up for being away from my own family during the holidays.

Sixth, this past Sunday after church, Katie, Becky and I went with the youth group to one of our student's house (her English name is Winnie). There, in the countryside, we saw the house of Mrs. Yuk Yeong-Su, the second wife of ex-President Park Chung-Hui. The house was recently restored, and we got a guided tour of the place.
Here, Becky, Winnie, and Sharon "listen" on the tour
A view of the house compound
Members of our youth group
Then, Winnie's family lives on a mini farm, and we helped to harvest the peanuts and sweet potatoes that were growing! It was a neat experience, as I had never harvested either of those plants. I want to be a peanut farmer! Some of the sweet potatoes were absolutely massive. We brought several home, and I tried to make sweet potato fries, but I don't know how to operate our gas oven. I pan fried them, but it wasn't the same. Oh well.
The farm
Some harvested potatoes
The farmers
Hard at work
(Thanks to Winnie and Katie for the photos.)

Finally, last Saturday I went with Katie to see her children at a "flea market." While we weren't initially sure what to expect, it turns out that the children from her center and other centers were selling stuff. We bought some trinkets that we didn't need because the kids were too cute. And her center performed some musical numbers on the ocarina, a recorder-like instrument.
A few last tidbits:
  • Many Koreans seem to think that Americans eat primarily hamburgers, so I finally got talked into eating a hamburger here. It was not bad--tasty, just different than the American version.
  • I have been working to introduce Halloween to the Seomna children, though the concept is weird if you think about it! However, now the kids know they must say trick-or-treat before I will give them candy.
  • Katie and I enjoyed a nice night out with friends on the Korean military base. Sometimes, it is relaxing to be around English speakers
Thus, life continues to be eventful and busy. This weekend we head to Seoul for a day and a half. The weather is turning chilly, and we've almost reached the two-month mark!