Wanted: Foreigner model for tourism advertisement. White only, please.
I glanced over the ad posted on the foreigner Facebook page for the city of Jeonju. What followed was a tense discussion in the community about the ad’s content with the original poster finally declaring, “stop bringing your [western] ideas of race into this. Korea is different!”
For me, it was another Tuesday in Jeonju. South Korea, like every nation faces challenges when it comes to dialogues surrounding race, culture, and immigration. While I count my positive moments much higher than my negatives, I consider the narratives of people of color as essential to Fulbright Korea’s history.
The author with a doll found in a hostel in Seoul, South Korea.
Since its conception, Fulbright Korea has been a space of cultural exchange and through it people of color have shown communities the complexities of identity within American culture. While we face challenges, it is in these moments that Fulbrighters of Color step forward to humanize the situation and expand dialogues.
Author’s Note: This article contains links to Youtube clips so that you may listen to the music. I have also added links for to further reading and more detailed information about lyrics and origins of particular songs. This article is also available on my personal website. This article is a continuation of my coverage of the protests in South Korea. Read the previous article, “A Time for Protest”. All photographs were taken by Cara Mooney.
Friday, March 10, 2016, 10:59am — My students sit tensely with anticipation as we watch the television and wait for the the impeachment results from South Korea’s constitutional court. Cheers erupt around the classroom to the unanimous decision to uphold the impeachment of President Park Guen-hye.
This decision came after months of protests that moved millions to expressed their feelings on streets across the country. I have only attended a number of protests in Gwangju and Seoul during the height of the Park Geun-hye scandal and protest fervor. Having witnessed these demonstrations, I was struck not only by the sheer number of participants, but also by the music— this soundtrack to change. Throughout the world, music has driven socio-political movements from stirring rebel Irish passions to igniting anti-Vietnam war sentiments in the USA. These protests would not be the same without the music unifying the people’s feelings and emotions, and rekindling memories of the past when Koreans fought and died to bring about democracy.
These protests have not always been so sanitized and peaceful. Modern South Korean national identity is rooted in the struggle for democracy against an authoritarian military government. The southern city, Gwangju, where I currently live, and the larger North and South Jeolla provinces in particular have a long and bloodstained history. May 18th, 1980, known simply as 5.18, marks the Gwangju Uprising, when hundreds of student activists and civilians protesting the martial law, were brutally tortured and massacred by the government, under dictator Chun Doo-hwan, in order to suppress the democratic movement. This event become a powerful symbol of the power of the people and helped to usher in a distinct genre of lyrical social protest known in Korean as minjung gayo (민중 가요), or “protest song”, an offshoot of Korean folk songs, as a part of the larger minjung or people’s movement (Chang 211) .
Inspired by American folk singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, this particular musical movement acquired the name norae undong (노래운동) or “song movement” and brought “political awareness and cultural activism into the domain of Korean popular music”
Traveling is one of the best ways to expand the mind and challenge oneself. For many Fulbright Korea grantees, they take advantage of their location in East Asia to adventure before returning home. This past month we spoke with three alumna who utilized their time after Fulbright to explore the world, and they share their advice for anyone thinking of packing their bags for their next adventure.
Breauna Oldham & Adrienne Winzer (ETA grantees, 2015) Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau
Adrienne: Bre and I went to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau for three weeks after our first grant year. My favorite location was Taiwan. The sights were good, but it was the food that made the trip. I recommend visiting the night markets, especially Raohe – its where you can find food, souvenirs and other amazing things!
Breauna: Hong Kong is super hot so bring light clothing. There are so many areas to explores, so take advantage of the city bus tour buses. However, with Macau you only really need a day to see everything.”
Tess Zaretsky (ETA grantee, 2015)
Vietnam is a beautiful, lush country filled with friendly smiles and spice-filled food. Da Lat is a small mountainous town in Central Vietnam that provides the most idyllic environment to canyon through waterfalls and hike into the clouds. It is without doubt my favorite place I’ve ever been to. Head south to Saigon and if you’re daring enough, rent a motorcycle and eat street banh mi’s you can get by on 5-10 dollars a day and about 20 bucks per night in a hostel. It’s filled with backpackers so I suggest lightly planning and going with the flow based on the people you meet!
Koh Lanta, Thailand: though it takes a few hours to actually get to this island from the mainland, Koh Lanta is unbelievable and should definitely be the Thai beach that you/anyone chooses. The majority of the population is Muslim, so the food is much different than anywhere else in Thailand. The beaches are crystal clear and you can even stay at a super nice resort for maybe 25-30$ a night.
Besides working as cultural ambassadors through Fulbright, their schools, and homestay families, Fulbright Korea ETAs work within their communities. These activities, commonly referred to as “fourth points” (the fourth responsibility after schools, homestay families, and Fulbright) are a way for Fulbright grantees to get to know Koreans while having fun and engaging with Korean culture. From making traditional Korean crafts and practicing calligraphy to joining a volleyball league and taekwondo dojang, there is a huge range of “fourth points.” The following paragraphs are a glimpse into several ways Fulbright grantees are interacting with their communities in their free time.
Rebecca Bower, Uiseong
I started playing volleyball as an extra-curricular activity during the second semester of my first grant year. Prior to joining the club, I struggled to form friendships with co-workers outside of my English office. After joining the club, which consisted of both teachers from my school, as well as other local elementary schools, my friendships suddenly exploded. Teachers who were too shy to even look at me before became more eager to talk to me. Some of the teachers have become close friends of mine, so now that I’m in my second grant-year we have been doing other things together like weight lifting, basketball and swimming. I’ve also been able to join a second club in another city, where I have been able to make more friends. Volleyball is the catalyst that elevated my first grant year, and continues to be the highlight of my life in Korea now that I’m in my second grant year.
Zack Horne, Gyeongju
When my host dad asked me if I wanted to learn a traditional Korean instrument, he failed to mention the cost – which I assure you was steeper than expected – until we were in the car on our way to our first lesson. Luckily for me, this was my second week in Gyeongju and I did not yet have a bank account, so I got to defer my cost to a later date! Despite that rocky start, learning the traditional Korean bamboo flute, or 대금, has been a fun and new experience for me! I am not a stranger to music, as I have played the violin since I was 11, but I also haven’t learned a new instrument since that violin! I had totally forgotten how simultaneously fun and frustrating learning an instrument can be. It took me a good three lessons before I could even make a sound on the 대금. While progress is slow and frustrating at times, learning the 대금 has been largely rewarding, and I feel that through this instrument I get a glimpse into one of Korea’s beautiful traditions. While this new instrument may be bamboo-zling (see what I did there?), I hope to keep learning and eventually bring this newfound talent back home to serenade the masses.
Jason Addy, Daegu
When we were advised to choose a fourth point during our grant year, I was sure it would be dance for me. Thankfully, I was blessed to be placed in Daegu, which is one of the bigger cities in Korea, so I knew I would be able to find something.
At first glance, the way the studio was run was very different from what I was used to in the US. My studio is actually more of a dance academy (학원) than it is the traditional dance studio I was used to visiting in the US. The dance pieces and choreography being taught are done so over a week, whereas in the US, I was used to just being able to drop in on a class and learning one piece of choreography for the day. I actually prefer this method better to dropping in to classes because it really allows me to fully digest the choreography with extensive practice.
Dance has been a huge part of my grant year and through it, I have made most of the friends that I have here. Dance in itself is a very community-oriented activity so by entering the dance community through my studio, I was able to feel more like I was connected and established in Korea. One of my goals was to make Korean friends as well and I was able to do that because of my studio. I would say my dance friends are among some of my closest friends here. Not only was I able to make friends, foreign and Korean, but through my studio, I was able to join a dance crew and perform at different events around Daegu!
If I were to give any advice to people interested in dance in Korea, I would say get out there and try! It might be intimidating to sign up for that first class, but you won’t know unless you try. In my experience, the people at my studio were so kind and accommodating in helping me pick the classes that would be best for me and I really felt welcome right from the first day. Even if you’d like to do it for fun, there is a great community in dance and it is a great way to meet people regardless of whether you decide to continue with it or not. Go forth and dance!
Kaitlyn Gulick, Seoul
My fourth point is Taekwondo. I started training in college and got my blue belt in Korea last year. I’ve been training in Korea for 2 and a half years now, including my time during orientation. Even though both of my dojangs have been in Korea, the way they react to me and the strictness and training styles are very different. For background, last year I trained at a Hakwon in a small town. This year, I train with a university’s international club. Maybe it’s because there are more people closer to my own age, but the university club pushes me harder. Sometimes I even think their expectations might be a bit too high for me; the master is very insistent that if I don’t miss practices, I can get my black belt in a year. On the other hand though, I haven’t been able to make friends through Taekwondo here. Last year, all the other students were much younger than me and this year, most people only attend for 2 months to a semester, so it’s hard to build lasting friendships. Kicking things and shouting for practice is a great way to de-stress after a long day of classes!
Laura V. Viera Gonzalez, Jinju
Asking around for inexpensive pastimes, I was told about Korean calligraphy or ink drawing. It seemed very interesting and saw that the materials could be found at any office supply store at a good price, compared to other art disciplines. While on my way to the first day of class, I realized what kind of mess I got myself into. Alone and with beginner knowledge of the language, I signed up for a class completely in Korean. When I nervously entered the classroom the teacher gave me a very warm welcome. Everyone else did the same and no one was startled by the foreigner in class. It was a 2.5 hour class with a break in between where we ate gimbap, fruits, cake, drank tea, and mingled a bit. It was easy to follow the teacher and understand how everything worked. At the end of our first class, a very nice ajumma asked where I live and offered me a ride when realizing it was on her way home. I recommend calligraphy drawing for anyone with any level of Korean and wanting to experience real Korean culture. This class was offered at a regional university and had easy access by bus. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this class would be one of the best experiences while living in Korea; and it’s a hobby that you can take back home.
Nikki Brueggerman, Jeonju
I have always been interested in the arts of other countries, so for my time in South Korea, one of my focuses has been on hanji, traditional paper art. I live in Jeonju, which has a long history of hanji, so finding a teacher was relatively easy. She taught me how to make some amazing projects that range from fans to boxes. While learning hanji has been fun, the relationship I’ve built with my teacher has been one of a lifetime. Our conversations are in broken English, Korean, and even Japanese. She speaks about five languages and has so much drive for life. Learning from her has been one of the highlights of my Fulbright grant.
Tien Le, Andong
At 8:15 PM on a Thursday night, I’m on a bus to the Andong community center across from EMart. I come into the room most often to laughter and always to kind smiles. Harabojis, ahjummas, ahjussis, and a handful of other English foreign teachers sit on the ground in a big circle surrounded by buks and janggus. This is a highlight of my week. Through this pungmul group, I’ve gotten to befriend an older crowd of Koreans. We’ve built a community on teamwork, rhythm, and an appreciation of the traditional Korean music of pungmul. But it also doesn’t hurt that we sometimes eat snacks and drink after our sessions. When I first started to learn the jjangu, I would be only focused on hitting the right beats and my left pinky would tremble after playing through the whole set. Now, I crave the musical high of having my whole body reverberating in sync with the buks and kwaenggwkari. While much of my time here in Korea has been navigating through a language barrier, this extracurricular activity has been a concrete and joyful reminder that people communicate much more than through just words. Catch us at our next performance on June 10th at one of the senior homes in the local area.
Students across the Jeollanam-do region express their opinions over a variety of topics.
Shortly after Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the American presidential election, forty Koreans specially selected from the provinces of Jeollabuk-do and Jeollanam-do huddled around tables at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Gwangju and debated what the new administration might mean for their country.
For 60 tense minutes, they drafted a speech that sought to address how Trump’s threat to decrease American military aid might complicate already dicey diplomatic problems on the peninsula, foremost being how to counter North Korea missile testing without disrupting trade relationships with an increasingly assertive China.
It was easy to forget that these events unfolded not in a situation room but a library, with the interlocutors not diplomats but high school students.
You’d even be forgiven for forgetting that the students delivering speeches at the Youth Diplomacy and Activism Conference, or YDAC, were speaking knowledgeably about international diplomacy in what for them was a foreign language.
Participants pose with Consular Officer Morton Park after the competition.
Ten high schools from across the Jeolla region sent students to the fall 2016 YDAC, a one-day event for the students of Fulbright ETAs to develop their English skills by debating issues affecting Korean society with their peers. ETA Anthony Cho started the YDAC program in 2011, and hundreds of students across Korea have participated in YDAC events in the years since.
The event format closely resembles Model United Nations. About a month before the Fall 2016 conference, Fulbright ETAs at participating high schools selected teams of four first and second year students, and those teams then picked a topic, researched, and wrote speeches under their ETA’s guidance.
On the day of the event, the students and teachers traveled from their respective schools and convened at the Gwangju American Corner, a resource room connected with the U.S. Embassy in Korea. The U.S. Embassy typically sponsors the conference, but in cases where funding has been unavailable, ETAs or their schools have covered the costs for lunch and transportation.
Once at the American Corner, students took turns presenting on topics ranging from Korean education policy to presidential impeachment, from artificial intelligence to disputes over international and territorial waters. After each presentation, the students had time to ask questions and challenge the presenters on their arguments.
The morning session finished with a presentation by Consular Officer Morton Park, who traveled from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to talk to students about his job and what diplomacy looks like in practice.
After eating lunch together at a nearby restaurant, students from different schools divided into teams to tackle a diplomatic “mock crisis” — something of a misnomer this year since the Trump-focused scenario adhered more closely to actual events than past crises.
A new grant year is underway, and Fulbright Korea has welcomed 110 ETAs, 12 Junior Researchers, and 5 Graduate Study Award grantees to Korea. This being a time of transition and change, the Fulbright Korea Alumni Relations Committee recruited four new committee members (along with three veterans) to lead and serve the alumni community. Among the many memorable moments we will come to experience—living with a homestay family, traveling, forging friendships—serving you all is one of our top priorities and something that we take great pride in. Living in Korea, at one point or another, is the string that threads our disparate lives together. The new class of grantees bring with them a plethora of background interests related to Korean culture, education, history, among other fields, and we encourage them to expand their knowledge in these areas as they get to know Korea on a deeper level. We hope to highlight the accomplishments of both current grantees as well as alumni, and we encourage you to contribute to this newsletter in issues to come.
Thanks for reading,
The 2016-2017 FKAR Committee
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A recent earthquake on the Korean peninsula nearly caused this year’s Fall Conference programming for the English Teaching Assistants to be canceled. Korea’s strongest earthquake since 1978 shook Gyeongsang Province on the night of September 12th with a magnitude of 5.8. Six minor injuries and no deaths were reported.
“Transportation and safety are two major concerns I have when considering the planning and preparation of the Fall Conference program,” Director Jai Ok Shim confessed to the ETAs in her opening remarks on October 14th. “This is not something we [the KAEC office staff] take lightly.”
ETAs fought the rain and enjoyed a tour of Gyeongju.
Despite these concerns, the Fulbright office staff and ETA cohort agreed to follow through with the Fall Conference programming as originally scheduled by Esther Kim, the 2016-2017 ETA Program Coordinator. The conference took place from October 14 – October 17 in Gyeongju, Gyeongsang Province.
It had been suggested that the location of the conference be changed, however Arranging the conference in a different city was a possible resolution due to the unforeseen circum the Fulbright Commission decided against this idea for various reasons. One important factor in hosting the conference in Gyeongju is because of its rich cultural and historic relevance to Korea.
“Most ETAs will not get the chance to visit Gyeongju outside of this conference, so it is of utmost importance that the fall conference remain in this location,” Director Shim continued in her speech. “ETAs can enjoy the beautiful fall weather while learning about the Silla Dynasty on the provided tour.”
Regular scheduling for the conference included two days of teaching workshops, which allowed the ETAs to share their favorite units and lessons, troubleshoot classroom management tactics, and provide insight into hobbies and interests outside of teaching responsibilities. In between discussions, ETAs heard from two Foreign Service Officers stationed in South Korea, Daniel Lee and Beau Miller. The ETAs could also take part in an optional tour of Gyeongju, visiting famous sites such as Bulguksa Temple and Wolji Pond (formerly known as Anapji). The conference came to a close on Sunday evening, with Mrs. Shim providing final remarks over a buffet-style dinner.
ETAs share teaching resources amongst themselves.
“I’ve observed you all [the ETAs] supporting one another, smiling and laughing, and sharing resources that will help to make the rest of your fall semester the best it can be,” Director Shim concluded. “Upon your departure from Gyeongju, think about how you can make an impact in your placement school, your homestay family, and in your community.”
The next large group gathering for the Fulbright ETAs will take place during a special Thanksgiving dinner to be held at the National Folk Museum of Korea inside Gyeongbokgung Palace on Saturday, November 19th.
On Saturday, July 3rd, over 100 English Teaching Assistants met in Seoul at Yongsan Military Base’s Dragon Hill Lodge to have one, final dinner together as the Class of 2015-16. Of those who attended, 81 Fulbrighters will join the ranks of more than 1,400 Fulbright Korea Alumni currently living in the US and abroad. 38 ETAs have chosen to renew for their second and third years. As alumni of Fulbright Korea, many of us commemorate the gathering as an inherently bittersweet moment of the grant year. A longstanding milestone of the Fulbright experience, Final Dinner is a time of reflection and a time, for many, to say final goodbyes before parting ways.
The 2015-16 ETA Cohort
Executive Director Jai Ok Shim commenced the event with an opening address, where she thanked the assembly of ETAs on the (near) completion of yet another grant year, while also extolling the “exceptional” work of Program Coordinator Amelea Kim and Executive Assistant Ben Harris. After Director Shim concluded her speech, Mark Canning, a Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Seoul, took the stage and gave advice to those who would soon be leaving the Fulbright program, informing them of several opportunities to take advantage of in Korea after the grant year, specifically scholarship programs like the Korean Government Scholarship Program, the Korea Foundation Fellowship, and graduate studies scholarships offered at Yonsei University and Seoul National University. Canning likened the “decisive” experience Fulbrighters gain to the life-changing experience of Kathleen Stevens, the Ambassador to South Korea from 2008-11, when she taught in South Korea as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Robert Little presents his community garden FKAF project
Next was the customary final dinner slideshow, which was organized this year by first-year ETAs Allana Wooley and Robert Little. The video can be viewed here. After that were FKAF project presentations by Allana Wooley, who created a student newspaper, Robert Little, who cultivated a student-led community garden, Katrin Marquez, who made art with her students, and Mave Wall and Alessa Strelecki, who worked with elementary school students with disabilities. ETA performances included Abhik Pramanik and Matt Walters as the K-Pop idols “GD & T.O.P.,” Emily Shoemaker and Hillary Veitch’s “Foreign Teacher’s Daily Life: A Musical Rendition,” and “Beyonce on Fire,” a dance choreographed and performed by Kingsley Leung and Monica Mehta. Finally, as per tradition, David Stewart (2013-16) delivered his emotional Final Address, summarizing the year and offering some perspective for those to come.
Kingsley and Monica’s “Beyonce on Fire”
Looking back, it is easy to see how engaged this year’s Fulbrighters have been in their communities. Not only did they support flagship programs, such as North Korean English Defectors tutoring, Youth Diplomacy Leadership Conference, and FKAF community and research grants, but they also spearheaded entirely new initiatives. Throughout the dinner, ETAs had the chance to appreciate this year’s many distinguishing moments and milestones:
Fulbridge was officially launched. The organization strives to create a way for ETAs serving in different countries to meet up, share lesson plans, and create a more interconnected Fulbright experience.
After the dinner, many ETAs and alumni gathered in Hongdae, where they descended upon an after-party event organized by FKAR. The festivities lasted well into the night, with ETAs and researchers relishing one of their last nights as Fulbright Korea grantees, as well as the countless memories and friendships they forged over the year. On behalf of Fulbright Korea Alumni Relations, we wish those leaving South Korea the best of luck in their future endeavors. As Director Shim put it during Final Dinner: “You can take the ETA out of Korea, but you can’t take Korea out of the ETA.” Though the hackneyed phrase may be a bit worn out, the fundamental meaning it expresses holds true: no matter what we choose to do in the future, the moments we shared in this country will continue to shape us long after.
Year after year, Fulbright Korea grantees choose to commit their time and energy to interact with, and hopefully improve the lives of, North Korean defectors, whether that be through tutoring English, attending conferences, or volunteering for other local organizations. This past June 12th, a group of 17 ETAs came to Seoul to do just that—only this time, with their running shoes.
Grantees pose with NKHR volunteers and staff
This was the Kim Dae Jung Peace Marathon, an event sponsored by the Kim Dae Jung Peace Center. The race itself was divided up into 5k, 10k, and half marathon segments, and it began in Yeoeui-do Hangang Park and ran along the length of the Han river. Kim Dae-jung, whom the marathon was eponymously named after, was president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003 and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for “his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea…and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” Along with inaugurating the accommodating “Sunshine Policy,” Kim arranged a summit meeting in 2000, the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration. One result of these diplomatic meetings was that family members in the North and South who had been separated during the Korean War were allowed to meet in Pyongyang and Seoul. This year’s Peace Marathon was held the weekend of the 16th year anniversary of this historic declaration.
Route of the race
For the ETAs who ran in the race, toeing the starting line marked the culmination of several months of fundraising for Running 4 Resettlement (R4R), an initiative that was started 2 years ago by former grantee Eric Horvath (ETA 2011-13), and currently headed by Cait Cronin (ETA 2013-15). Cronin, who also volunteers with NKD tutoring, felt a particular calling to R4R out of her desire to do more for this marginalized group beyond teaching in the classroom. “After volunteering with North Korean Defectors, visiting North Korea personally, tutoring scientists from the DPRK, and learning more about the difficulty of resettling during my internship at NKHR, it was impossible to not be driven to action. While rewarding to see students flourish here in South Korea,” she says, “it is also difficult to think about their cohorts facing unimaginable horrors like human trafficking while still waiting for their own chance. R4R is about coming together to recognize both these connections and inequalities and directly provide basic, essential help to fellow humans in concrete ways.”
The direct, concrete assistance Cronin refers to comes in the form of a “Rescue Fund.” Via R4R, the entirety of the funds raised prior to the race were donated to the Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Rights (NKHR), specifically to their Rescue Fund. Aside from raising awareness of the often-harrowing plights of North Korean refugees through social media campaigns and fundraising events, the Fund assists in the physical extraction of said refugees from China and surrounding countries. Considering the fact that many refugees, especially women, fall prey to labor and sex trafficking after they flee North Korea, the work that NKHR and similar organizations do is crucial.
According to NKHR, it costs about $2,500 to bring one refugee to safety in South Korea—all in all, R4R raised roughly $10,758, of which Cait Cronin personally raised a whopping $2,000. The total amount was raised by 224 unique donors, and it will be enough for the Rescue Fund to bring around 5 people to South Korea.
Events like R4R depend on the generosity and commitment of volunteers like Cronin, as well as like the NCHR staff and ETAs who fundraised and attended the race. When asked about what future ETAs and researchers can do regarding the North Korean refugee situation, she responded: “I would absolutely recommend becoming involved in the Fulbright NKD volunteer program if possible in your placement. It does require genuine dedication and commitment– teaching extra hours is never easy, especially one-on-one or to low-level learners. But the challenge is well worth the incredible opportunity to form real, meaningful connections and break down invisible barriers between people and cultures. For ETAs unable to participate in the NKD program, R4R is of course a great way to get involved; we always need help with recruitment and fundraising. Finally, I would suggest reaching out to the many great organizations already working with resettlers here in South Korea, including NKHR, LiNK, and the Daegu Hana Center.”
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