Top Ten Things to Do in Korea

Today I added a new list you might enjoy checking out.  After reading this blog entry, go back to the main page and you’ll see it listed to the right below Photos.  Now that my family and I have had a chance to explore Korea a bit, it’s time put together a list of things to do and see when visiting Korea.  We’ve only experienced Seoul, so our horizons are still a bit limited.  We still have to get out of town and see more of this great country.  The list is dynamic, and I’ll revise it as we explore Korea further.  Ten is a short list, but I’ll figure out a way to give you a good taste of Korea.  Think of the top-ten list as a Cliff Notes‘ version of a Lonely Planet guide.  On Monday for Memorial Day we plan to head to Chuncheon, a city about one and half hours east of Seoul.  It’s situated in the foothills of the eastern mountain range.  I’ve heard that the countryside around Chuncheon is very beautiful.  There are numerous resorts along the way, and Chuncheon itself is a nice city.  It’s featured in the Korean drama "Winter Sonata" and is famous for its Korean dishes.  If all goes well, I may just add it to the "Top Ten" list.  Check it out!

Andy Warhol would be proud

Wow, talk about a big surprise.  Today I gave a presentation on career development in an American context to the students of Incheon Foreign Language High School in Incheon, Korea.  I’d prepared for the presentation for about a week and thought I would receive a cordial welcome from the 150 students who came to hear my presentation.  Instead, I felt like a musician at a rock concert.  I usually feel like an average Joe (no offense to all the guys named Joe out there).  I had a blast basking in 1 hour and 20 minutes of fame.  You can’t help but feel special and uplifted by that.  The students’ enthusiastic reaction to my visit was completely unexpected.  I arrived to a banner strung across the school’s entrance announcing my presentation.  After visiting for 15 minutes with the school’s principal, I went to the auditorium and was met by thunderous applause and whistling. (Whistling by students in Korea–who ever heard of such a thing?)  Somewhere in heaven, I’m sure Andy Warhol smiled, bemused.

Much to my chagrin, I sent an earlier version of the PowerPoint presentation I’d prepared for my speech, so the multimedia component lacked some pizzazz.  I had to ad lib and talk about some of the changes I’d made from the previous version.  I worked the crowd, giving them many personalized examples to pique their interest.  These students are some of the best in Korea, and I surmised that most are hoping to attend Korea’s top universities or elite schools overseas.  I told them about the story of Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard University to found Microsoft with two friends (Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer).  I counter-weighted that example with the example of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google who graduated from Stanford University and lined up funding for Google from Stanford.  I also used the example of my wife, an alumna of a similar foreign language school in Shanghai.  After she graduated, she went to the U.S. and eventually became vice president of a small bank in Washington State.  I used these examples to show how career development in the U.S. is an individualized endeavor and that there’s no single way to have a successful career.  I wanted the students to know that in the U.S. they don’t need to go to Harvard or Stanford to be successful.  I wanted to impress on them that success is a state of mind, that success in the American context is whatever the person considers to be success.

The students asked many excellent questions, particularly about studying in the U.S.  The way they responded to my presentation made it obvious that most knew English well.  They humored me with "ooh’s and ah’s" whenever I used my meager Korean.  The tone of the presentation was lighthearted and informative.  The highlight was when I did something completely unexpected and sang a few verses from the Beatles’ song, "Yesterday."  During the question and answer session, the students’ microphone abruptly went silently, and to kill time I decided to sing for them.  My interpreter, a veteran in the profession, said afterward that she had never heard anyone sing during a speech.  Because Koreans are crazy for noraebang (karaoke) and pride themselves on being able to sing, I thought I would entertain them with a little serenading.  I also did it to show that Americans are just little bit different.  An American, moreso than a Korean, would have the gumption to sing during a speech.  I’m positive that they will never forget the time when an American official showed up in a suit and started singing during a speech.  After my presentation ended, I transformed myself into politician and marched down the center aisle to shake students’ hands.  I felt like a prize fighter after a successful match.  I could tell from their faces that most enjoyed my presentation.  I just hope that through all the entertaining and frivolity they heard my core message–that career development is up to them, and that they need to realize that there are many ways to find the "American Dream."  I think they were listening.

A productive day

Today was a productive day.  I churned through many nagging tasks at work and whittled down my never-ending to-do list.  I wrapped up some post-barbeque logistics such as getting lost items back to their proper owners.  I made final preparations for my presentation tomorrow to high school students, and I prepared for our association meeting next Tuesday.  I sent bid requests for work that needs to be done on our rental property, and I negotiated lease renewals with our tenants.  I also ordered some wrinkle-free shirts from Men’s Wearhouse.  My wife ordered some toy train accessories for my son.  All in all, it was a productive day for our family.  Some days are more productive than others.  On some days you feel like nothing gets done, and on others it’s smooth sailing.  Today felt like the latter. 

I also did something I did not want to do.  I found a replacement willing to teach English to my Koreans coworkers.  If you remember, I started teaching English in early May after a months-long hiatus.  I taught just three classes, and now I have to step down.  Starting next week, when I begin my new job, I will be too busy to teach classes on Wednesday afternoons.  My plan was to teach the course for six months and then hand it over to someone else to teach, but now I won’t have that chance.  Some of my American colleagues happily stepped forward to teach in my stead.  I’m glad, because their teaching will provide some continuity for the Koreans who have made the commitment to improve their English.  After my new job ends later this year, I will have an opportunity to teach it again. 

Today my team hosted a party for those of us who recently joined the team and for those of us who will be leaving.  We have a great team.  Even though I’m not moving far away, I won’t see them on a regular basis again until I finish my assignment (after I finish I will return to my team).  I asked them to include me on future fun activities such as noraebang (karaoke).  They agreed wholeheartedly.