Winter Camp Movies

Another Winter Camp finished! Like last year, we made movies. It’s the easiest project on my part–I feed them some ideas, we talk a little about genre and the filming process, we make sure that each group has the right equipment, and then they go at it! They brainstormed ideas ranging from ghost stories to Inception parodies, they chose a director and actors, wrote their scripts and story-boarded, gathered props, filmed their movies, and edited. They did every single bit of this on their own. My co-teacher and I only helped with some of the script writing. Not all the movies turned out—sadly there were some hiccups while editing. But the top two turned out excellently.

Semiconductor High School English Film Festival:

First Place Winner: Gaksital (AKA Bridal Mask)

Description: An emotional and evocative period piece set during the Japanese occupation of the 1930s. It tells the story of the village idiot—but unbeknownst to the Japanese, when this “idiot” dons his white mask, he becomes a fighter fierce enough to take down a dozen evil Japanese soldiers with nothing but a stick! But what will happen when the Japanese finally get the better of Gaksital? Will the Korean people languish under Japanese rule forever, or will another rise up to wear the mask?

Reviews: “Action, romance, brotherly love, men brandishing recorders as weapons… this movie has it all.

(Hint: turn on the closed captioning!! The English is, um… Very lacking. The metaphors and profundity in the script were a little above their English ability. Unfortunately I was gone for much of the editing so I couldn’t help them make them translate everything properly.)


Second Place Winner: Broken, Again

Description: A timeless love story with a big heart. Will Jung Woo and Yoo Jin be able to rekindle the flame of love, or will they be forced to find romance in other places?

Reviews: “The movie is long, but from the opening meet-cute to the impeccable skin-care scene, I was hooked!

Parental Advisory! Suggestive couch-bed scenes!

*BONUS* My favorite video from last summer camp’s Music Video contest. It wasn’t actually the winner (due to its distinct lack of English lip-syncing and excessive use of Korean captioning), but it was my personal favorite, because there is no greater joy in this world than watching Korean students scream during the fake kiss scenes.


Jeju Island ~

Winter vacation, and my last weeks in Korea, have arrived! Winter vacation, in fact, is over. But it’s been a truly good one. I spent a week at home getting some things together and spending time with friends, and then headed out to Jeju Island.

Throughout the past couple of years, whenever I’ve asked my Korean friends for places to go or things to see in Korea, Jeju is nearly always the first place they’ll say. Most people go in summer, when its nickname “the Hawaii of Korea” rings most true, but I was all about the lack of crowds and cold January air. My vacation dates didn’t line up well with my friends’ (…um, that is, the one friend I have :P), so I booked a flight and went solo.

Traveling alone can be kind of, like, a bummer. There’s no one to share your experiences with, and eating or going out alone can be lame, if not downright awkward. Even though I generally enjoy doing things by myself, I was a little worried I’d end up feeling disappointed.

But, as it turns out—I loved it.

I liked doing everything I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. I liked taking unscheduled detours. I liked how new discoveries felt so significant and personal. I liked navigating the island, and being good at it. (On the flipside, I liked not annoying anyone when I got lost!) And, to be completely honest…  I liked being able to go back to my room at 7pm to drink tea and watch TV. (No judgment.)

But despite all these awesome things, the fact remains that I didn’t get to share it with anyone as it happened, and so I feel a blog post is most definitely in order. Without further ado: Jeju.

I arrived on a Sunday night; my hostel was nothing special (except perhaps especially old and flourescent light-y), but it was clean, had hot water, free tangerines, and this rooftop:

jeju 01

I basically had two goals for Jeju: 1. To hike a trail on Hallasan, and 2. To see the beautiful Seongsan Ilchulbong, a crater on the coast.

First, some background on Jeju. It’s a volcanic island with the central volcano, Hallasan, rising high above all the smaller volcanic rocks. You can see Hallasan, which is also Korea’s tallest mountain, from anywhere on the island–or at least, you can see where it disappears into the clouds. Jeju’s history and a traditional culture are very distinct from mainland Korea, but now, it seems, a lot of the culture’s been lost. I’ve seen articles recently where long-time residents of Jeju express sadness and anger at the changes. They’ve watched the peculiar language of Jeju disappear almost completely from use, and they’ve seen farms and villages become TV sets or resorts or summer homes for the rich. But despite the potential for nostalgia or indignation towards evil money-driven developers–what I felt on Jeju was just pleasure in its amazing, but somehow unobtrusive beauty. (Except Hallasan. Hallasan is obtrusive.) I loved seeing the small tangerine farms and fishing villages and crazy rock formations everywhere I went.

Anyway. Goal No. 1: Hike Hallasan.

After reminding myself that I am not actually the super fit hiker girl I would like to be, I decided to keep to a couple of the easier trails, rather than the 9km+ stretch up to the top. The views were still outstanding, and the hike, while short, wasn’t so easy as to feel like a cop-out. I woke up around 6am on Monday morning and headed out. There were quite a few of us all waiting at the bus stop to head to the mountain—3 Korean high schoolers, a couple of ajusshis, and a Chinese grad student with his parents. The Chinese student spoke English fluently; at one point he was helping out some Chinese tourists, moving easily back and forth between Chinese, Korean, and English. Ahhh, my jealousy of people who speak multiple languages is intense! (Maybe one day it will spur me on to actually learn another language…?)

When we finally got to the trailhead we saw the usual Korean hiking groups decked out in their brightly colored coats, fancy pole stick things, and hiking boots with crampons. I at least had the crampons.

jeju 03There’s something about being out in the snow that makes me so happy… I can’t really explain it. It’s just invigorating. The weather was nearly perfect—cold but a little sunny. The first few kilometers were nice and easy, walking through a sparse forest. But after maybe an hour I got to the “ridge,” and things became beautiful and windy and steep—and made me super glad for the mini-ice-picks on my shoes.


One of the cooler sights along the ridge was that frozen / weirdly broken waterfall in the distance.


It was kinda windy.

As the ridge began to even out, I met a gentleman on the trail who I will call Mr. Friendly, because he was super friendly (and I never got his name). He was an older guy who would greet literally every person on the trail. This struck me because Koreans usually keep to their own little groups; they’re not exactly quick to make small talk with people they don’t know. But Mr. Friendly would greet everyone he met with gusto, encouraging those who were going slowly, commenting on the beautiful weather, or kindly reminding folks not to wander beyond the trail boundaries. He kind of seemed like he had designated himself The Official Representative of the Mountain. I asked him later if he lived in Jeju and he said, “Of course, this is my daily exercise.”

Mr. Friendly was hiking behind me for a while and talking to me, but I didn’t really understand what he was saying, so I would laugh politely and forge ahead. Eventually he realized I was a foreigner, which delighted him. Except–he couldn’t figure out what I was. “Korean-American?” He asked. Nope, just American, I said. “Chinese?” Not chinese, no. A few minutes later, “Filippino?” Sorry, sir. Apparently my answer of “American” was not sufficient to throw him off the Asian trail (has living in Korea for two years made me look Asian or something?), so I finally said, “My grandfather was German.” Again, delight! “Ah, german! So you have been to the Alps!” Sigh, no, not yet. “But you are German! You must go!” Preaching to the choir, Mr. Friendly.

We’d been walking along pretty flat ground for a while; it was covered in short, wind-stunted, snow-laden evergreen trees and bushes. I tried to think of ways to describe it as I was walking, but “winter wonderland” was the only unfortunate phrase that came to mind. I guess “frozen tundra” could also apply.

20150105_113615 jeju 05

We came out, eventually, to quite a sight. Almost no shrubbery, only snow, snow, snow, the crater in the distance, and a prism-like sky–tiny, crushed clouds with the sun peaking through. I stopped to take app roximately 1 million pictures, which barely do it justice. Expansively white, eerily quiet even with all the hikers around, and a streaky blue crater rock rising straight ahead.





It seemed kind of like the moon.

Mr. Friendly had taken a liking to me, apparently, because he waited for me to catch up, and tried to explain some of the mountain’s history. (At least I think that’s what it was… But my Korean’s not exactly at “volcanic formation” level yet.) It wasn’t too much longer before I’d realized we’d reached the top of the trail–I was actually a little disappointed it had ended. But luckily, the little houses that mark the end of the trail are filled with old ladies selling ramen, and Mr. Friendly insisted on buying mine (and giving me a juice box, and kimbap, and french vanilla cappuccino). We slurped in companionable silence.

As we went back outside, he said, “I think we should break up,” which sounds as funny in Korean as it does in English. He laughed and pointed to a small trail that led farther up, but I was taking a different trail down in the opposite direction. Well, it was lovely, Mr. Friendly. Best of luck out there.

The trail down went by much more quickly (funny how that works), mostly through forest. I did pass a couple of hikers who stopped, gave me a bag of trail mix, and moved on. (Sometimes in Korea I remember that phrase “Don’t take food from strangers.” Then I laugh and take all the food.)

The rest of my day was spent lazily wandering the streets around my hostel, enjoying my rooftop, eating mandu and fried rice, and generally basking in the glow of tired muscles and a full stomach.

Geesh, that was only Day 1. If there is a Jeju, part 2 (which hopefully there will be), it will be shorter!

Incomplete Musings on Leaving

Ever since I made the final, final decision to move back home at the end of my contract this year, I’ve been living in a series of “lasts.” Not that most of what I’m doing is actually the last time I’ll do it, yet—I still have many walks home from school, a few teachers’ dinners, more than a few classes, and plenty of kimbaps left to eat. But I can’t shake the feeling. The past month, and, I expect, the coming two, are months of leaving.

I hate leaving places almost as much as I love arriving at them. What I love about arriving is the general sense of expectation, and the freedom of the future ahead of you. You’re starting somewhere—might as well explore! And buy bookcases, and pretty dishes, and stock up on sweaters for the coming winter. Leaving a place is a different kind of business. Amid the frantic preparation, packing and last minute shopping trips, goodbye parties and purchasing plane tickets, I always feel a need for more time to say goodbye. Not to people, necessarily, but to the place. To wrap my head around the fact that I won’t see it again for a long while—and if I do return, it will undoubtedly be different.

For many reasons I’m expecting my goodbye to Korea to be the hardest I’ve made yet. The most obvious is that it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be back here. Leaving home is never fun, but it’s home, my family and childhood friends are there, the threads that bring me back there are strong. When I leave home, I’m lucky enough to feel I’m also being sent off, not to be forgotten, soon to return. But when you leave a place where your roots and connections are shallow—the thread pulling you back is small and thin, and will disappear within a few years. Whatever time you’ve spent there has surely changed you, but there will be long stretches where it won’t be a part of your daily consciousness.  It will be quietly tucked inside photos and train tickets and journal entries and, to be realistic, facebook timelines and archived emails.

I haven’t left that many places in my life for good. Most of my goodbyes are temporary. So I’m speaking largely from an experience I have yet to have—or, I guess, am in the process of having. True, when I left Russia I had no intention of returning, and I still don’t really. And that feeling—knowing that what’s become part of your daily routine will never appear in your life again—is truly bizarre. But when I left Russia, I was leaving a place that, while it had made a distinct impression on me, had also left me feeling a bit dark and disillusioned. I was seriously homesick and ready to return to normalcy, convenience, and fresh vegetables. Korea, on the other hand, has been a good, if temporary, home to me. Saying goodbye won’t be easy.

Why Live Abroad, Part 1

It’s fitting that now that I’m coming to the end of my time in Korea (just a few more months!), I’m more keen on writing about all the reasons that living in a foreign place is wonderful. I will have plenty to say on this topic, I think, but for now, here’s tidbit numero uno.

In a foreign country, a simple task often becomes a difficult one. This is, on its most obvious level, a negative thing. I may even have mentioned it in my last post about why not to live abroad. But actually–it’s one of the things I love. It can be inconvenient, of course, when you don’t know how to do something as simple as a load of laundry…. But the more absurdly difficult something is, the higher your sense of satisfaction when you accomplish it. Getting a cheeseburger without mustard on it, buying the right cold medicine at the pharmacy, turning on the heating in your house, and the Holy Grail of Expat Competence, Ordering Delivery Chicken—not many 25 year olds would feel immensely pleased with themselves for getting these things done. But—I do. The challenge of living here ups my daily potential for self-satisfaction.

It’s rather a child-like state to be in, honestly. It’s not an exaggeration to say that living in a foreign country is similar to realizing that you are 4 years old again, suddenly unable to do basic things. This is awkward and embarrassing. BUT. It’s also… interesting. And I mean that in the most literal sense of the word: it makes me interested. Throughout the past two years, I have learned an incredible amount. Much more than I probably realize; but I haven’t exactly tried to learn it. You learn by living, and watching. Now, since I’ve been watching and asking and trying and failing at many supposedly simple tasks for almost two years, daily life is no longer super difficult or stressful. It’s quite comfortable, now. I can even (sometimes) order take-out over the phone. But I still find myself paying attention to things, trying to better understand the place I live in. Something as simple as glancing twice at the strange sign on that restaurant (–oh, it’s chicken foot), or figuring out what the ladies at the lunch cafe are giggling about (–probably me), etc. At the end of the day, life is very much the same wherever you live—you’ve got to work, eat, sleep, shop, have a social life. The difference is that in Korea I feel that I do these things more attentively, and where at first I did it mostly out of necessity, now I do it more out of curiosity. It’s a habit I hope I’ll carry with me when I move home, where there’s probably many interesting and unfamiliar things to learn—I’ve just never noticed them before.

Fall Festival at Semiconductor High

I started out today with tears streaming down my face. My mouth was on fire. I went into the bathroom, locked the door, jumped up and down and tried to keep from screaming. I doused my face with cold water. I drank a lot of that water. I ran outside and ate some potatoes. I begged yogurt off of some students. 15 minutes later I finally stopped crying.

It was the beginning of the school festival, and my students had poisoned me. “Teacher, it’s delicious,” they said. “So good,” they assured me. “If you eat 1 minute… it’s free!” I took a bite. I took another bite. I took another bite. Then it hit me. OH MY GOSH. “hyu-jee, hyu-jee!” They cried. (“Tissue, tissue!”) Yeah. Someone get this girl a tissue. She’s going to die. I coughed. I wept. “Teacher! It’s 50 cents!” they said. I gave them a dollar and ran away.

Eventually, after my recovery from the devil’s spicy rice cakes, the festival turned out to be extremely fun. Each class and club had a booth set up out near the field; most were selling food and drinks, some were playing games. If you can ping-pong a ball into a dixie cup at the end of the table, you get to feed the science teacher a potato chip dipped in wasabi! Knock a box of candy off the table by shooting at it with a toy gun, and take it home! And there was my personal favorite: life sized jenga. (Loser gets whacked with a plastic mallet!)

10743759_10105127441992065_1551956804_n 10743269_10105127784795085_534501424_n

Students from each booth were running around pedaling their goods and trying to convince wanderers to come buy or play. Hyun Woo was dressed in a box as a giant jenga block. Jae Min was wearing a sparkly bunny-eared headband with a poster board menu around his neck. Seong Woo and Hye Yoon took a more aggressive approach: They snagged one of the toy guns and walked around threatening everyone who refused to buy their ramen.

As I meandered across the row of tents, I found myself buying nutella crepes, balls of mashed sweet potatoes, kimchi pancakes, French toast, banana milkshakes, coffee. Not only that, but I was also repeatedly fed samples by students (literally fed, from their chopsticks straight into my mouth. I’ve adapted enough to the sharing culture to feed them, too, but no matter how used to it I am—it’s still a bit weird).


Guk Jin, one of my first year students who just a few days ago was too shy to even greet me, ran up and tried to convince me to have my picture taken for 2 dollars. “Fall background!” He points to the trees. “Instant!” He shows me his instax camera. How can one refuse?

I tried my hand at life-sized Jenga, and lost. (The math teacher got to whack me with the mallet, and clearly relished it!) I took more pictures with students and friends, I laughed at all the poor kids who’d tried to eat the rice cakes slathered in hell’s fire, and generally, I enjoyed the merriment.

After a couple of hours, I was told to join a class of third year boys in their homeroom. I’d helped them during sports day a couple days ago, and thanks to my passion for athletics and ability to run like the wind, we’d won first place for the entire day. (I also sprained my foot and have been limping for two days, but gosh darnit, we won that relay race!) The prize was 100 dollars—so naturally, they chose to use it for fried chicken and pizza. I was so full by that time that I only managed half a piece of pizza and 1 chicken wing, but they happily devoured their share. I was sitting with a couple of the other teachers as we ate, but I was thinking about how genuinely fond I am of these boys, of these particular students. I know their names, and general interests, and even an inside joke or two. And yet—we can’t have typical teacher-student conversations. I can’t reprimand them in any meaningful way, they can’t ask me to explain a difficult problem, I can’t give them advice as they think about the future. The language barrier is just too big. But I know they like me, and at least to some extent, respect me. In my job here, for the most part, it has to be enough to just greet my students with a smile whenever I see them, to learn their names, to be understanding of them when they’re stressed, and to be happy with them when they’ve won pizza and chicken.

As I returned to my desk (feeling significantly heavier than I had left it in the morning), one of the department heads was seated at the table with a vase of herbal liquor in front of him and dixie cups scattered round. “Laura, Laura,” he says. “Come here.”

“What is it?” I ask, pointing to the vase.

“Weak alcohol.”

“Weak? Really?”

“Really!” He’s lying, but I accept the cup. The day’s not even half over, but so far there’s been plenty to celebrate.

It’s a very rainy afternoon in Korea; the fog is rolling around outside, and I’m watching the students out the window, rolling along with it down gray staircases and through silent doorways. I’ve always adored fog. We didn’t get too much of it in Ohio growing up, but it was a regular part of life on Lookout Mountain—there, some days we were stuck in a literal cloud. If you leaned out the 5th floor window you could occasionally spot the top of a hat down below, or an umbrella across the way, but more often than not, whatever voices you heard had arisen from nowhere.

I’m reading The Secret History by Donna Tart, and yesterday I read this passage where she describes a New England University when it’s swathed in fog: “I never got used to the way the horizon there could just erase itself and leave you marooned, adrift, in an incomplete dreamscape that was like a sketch for the world you knew—the outline of a single tree standing in for a grove, lamp-posts and chimneys floating up out of context before the surrounding canvas was filled in—an amnesia-land, a kind of skewed Heaven where the old landmarks were recognizable but spaced too far apart, and disarranged, and made terrible by the emptiness around them.”

I imagine the maliciousness of Donna Tart’s fog has something to do with the book’s murderous plot and the characters’ guilty consciences; I mostly just find the fog deliciously gloomy. Luckily, this week, I’ve prepared a “Murder Mystery” Lesson for my students—maybe the dreary weather will hold, and enhance the mood of my lesson for the next few days.

In general, though, the weather’s been lovely, sunny, and just like Fall. I’m a landscape and weather person, and usually end up taking a gazillion pictures of inanimate fields and lakes and skies.

1 IMG_20141020_161322

천 고 마 비. The Koreans have this phrase, “Cheon Go Ma Bi,” which means literally “Sky high horse fat.” But I think for all practical purposes it means “Fall.” I’m a little fuzzy on the origins, but from what I can gather, the sky is high in the fall–bigger, wider, higher! (Which seems true!)–and the animals are well fed from the harvest. It’s also kind of fun to just go around saying “sky high horse fat!”

Oof, I do relate to those horses. When I went to Japan a couple weeks ago, I ate a massive amount of bread and ramen, and I haven’t exactly slowed down since returning to Korea. These days I’m fat and happy. And more than food, I had a friend from home staying with me for the past month, which was good for me in so many ways (food for the soul, if I can be so cliche). School right now is relatively stress-free, with kids preparing artwork and dance routines and making videos for the annual school festival next week. It’s been festival season in the little towns around here, which means I’m getting my fill of hotteok (warm bread filled with cinnamon honey walnut desliciousness served from street carts), crazy fair rides, and fireworks.

Having been filled with days of bright blue sky and crispy yellow rice fields and good conversation and books, I’m so delighted with this foggy rainy day that I could just laugh. But I’ll try not to, because it might sound more like a cackle in this creepy weather, and I might get some funny looks from my co-workers.

IMG_20141008_154155 IMG_20141020_160859

Sister Came to South Korea

THERE IS WAY TOO MUCH TO SAY! I haven’t blogged in a while. I want to talk about my trip to the infamous Dokdo island and beautiful Ulleungdo island, about school life in general; I also have a post floating around in my brain that continues the thread from my last post about the difficulties of living abroad–but the new post will be chock full of reasons to do it anyway.

But I can’t do everything in one post, so I’ll start with the coolest thing that I’ve done in the last few months: having my big sister come visit me! There is also way too much to say, even just about our one week here, so I’ll try to just hit the highlights. That is–the little things that stand out to me about the trip.

When Ellen arrived in Korea it was so normal, and so weird, to have her here with me. I loved walking around with her that first night—we walked through through the crowded and noisy Hongdae, alive with music and food and drinks and rap battles, and it was oh-so-Korean. I really felt like I was showing off a new and prized possession to my big sister–as though Korea could be something that belongs to me! It isn’t, and I’ve only been here for a year and a half… but having Ellen here made me see in just how many ways I’ve made it my home. Throughout the whole week it was pure happiness to be able to say Look! This is the kind of restaurant I always go to! This is the kind of toilet I sometimes have to use! Wearing pants like these is normal in Korea! This is what my life is like. I feel so lucky that my sister was able to come here and get a glimpse into that.

Ellen did a fabulous job of writing about the trip on her blog (you can read her awesome account of it here!), and I don’t think I can add much to her descriptions of the week’s activities—but I do want to mention our hike at Bukhansan. For me it was probably the coolest thing we did all week.

We went early on a Monday morning, because we were expecting the park to be crowded. I’d warned Ellen about the Korean hikers. They can be kind of like a species unto themselves. Always in full gear, usually brightly colored, carrying packs filled with delicious goodies and alcoholic beverages to be consumed at the peak. But when we got to the park entrance, we were surprised to find… pretty much nobody. We actually only met a couple of other hikers on the whole trail (which may have been because we chose the difficult course… totally on purpose, obviously…).

I’ve done a few hikes in Korea (Seoraksan’s Ulsan Bawi, Taebaeksan, and Woraksan), but Bukhansan was probably the most rewarding. The trail was tough—but honestly quite do-able… until you got to the last few hundred meters. At that point it’s just plain rock face with only cable ropes to grab onto and hoist yourself up. It actually felt dangerous, and it probably was. Not exactly life-threatening, but enough to get the adrenaline pumping. I was struggling there for a bit–but then we met an old man coming down the mountain… underneath his scraggly beard was a broad, toothless smile, and he was wearing slip on sandals and practically skipping down the rock. If he can do it, we can do it!

So we did, and it was gorgeous.

It was quiet up there, only windy; we sat for a while and just enjoyed the moment. Surreal and beautiful.

More moments of note from Ellen’s trip…

This, the first taste of soju!

…What? Could it be that she doesn’t enjoy soju’s unique cleaning product flavor, with its subtle hints of gasoline?

(Don’t worry, we managed a bottle between us anyway.)

After Seoul, we headed to Gyeongju, where we found this corn-dogous monstrosity:

Which was at least as delicious as it looks.

The world famous anapji pond was also, like, kind of pretty.

In Busan there were fireworks, meat and beer, downpours of rain, and big fish, small fish, live fish, dead fish (all of which we attempted to eat). And there were gorgeous craggy rocks at the beach where we strolled and took pictures and dropped our phones in the ocean (…read: Laura got a little too excited about taking artsy rock pictures, slipped, and temporarily drowned her smartphone in salt-water). And various other adventures.

I remember our last night in Busan particularly fondly, even though it wasn’t exactly the coolest or proudest moment of our trip. After the smartphone / ocean incident, I was a bit out of sorts. But in true Schutz sister style, we made the best of it with convenience store snacks, a bottle of Korean rice wine, the most comfortable pants known to the universe, a healthy dose of Konglish on our t-shirts, and a game of Scrabble Dash. There are pictures to prove this, but I think it’s better you just use your imagination for this one.

It’s been a long time since Ellen left, but I think about her visit all the time. I also feel like I got to see Korea in a new way by seeing it through her eyes. Showing off all its natural beauty, weird quirks, strange characters, and stranger food–this is the place I’ve called home for over a year, and I do love it.

I sometimes think of more and more things I wish she could have experienced here–but we packed a lot into that one week, and the best part was simply getting to hang out with my big sister. We did a lot of sitting and napping and chatting in our hostels, and even if we could have been running around doing something travel-y instead–I wouldn’t have had it any other way.