A Year in Review

It has been a crazy twelve months, filled with new adventures, new places, new struggles, and new joys.  It’s easy to forget the many examples of God’s refining love being poured on our lives throughout the year.  So we’ll use this space to remind ourselves, as much as you, of His goodness towards us in 2015. On a very cold Valentine’s Day morning at the KCI airport, these two youngsters said our goodbyes and headed to our new home: South Korea. Our reasons for moving were many. We wanted to get involved in a ministry overseas.  We wanted to teach ESL.  Finally, we wanted get first-hand experience with the struggles of daily living overseas. Thus far, it has certainly been a challenging experience. But this has been, without a doubt, the most growing year of our lives.

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Leaving for Korea!

Our town is the tiny farming community of Waegwan.  So obscure, Google seemed reluctant to provide us with any information when we first got here.  We teach at four schools. Hannah teaches at a public middle school, and a private boys Catholic middle school. Brady teaches at a public elementary school and a tiny country school outside of town. Life as a foreign English teacher (“Waygook”) is never dull!  Each day in Korea brings new life lessons. Managing a classroom of 30 hooligans who don’t speak your language–and REALLY don’t want to learn it–is a lesson in creativity.  Taste-testing traditional Korean delights–sometimes voluntary, often-times forced–is a lesson in open-mindedness.  Being the only foreigner in your workplace–trying to read memos in Korean, navigate Microsoft programs in Korean, laughing at office jokes in Korean–is a lesson in patience.  Just navigating daily life as the foreigner–figuring out the public transportation systems, paying bills, finding frozen chicken at the grocery store, using a squatty potty and never having toilet paper in public bathrooms–is lesson in humility.

 

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Hannah’s middle school boys

One of our favorite memories of the year was meeting Hannah’s brother Josiah for a Thailand summer vacation!  Our experience in Thailand was incredible.  From jungle trekking with elephants, to snorkeling on coral reefs, to climbing waterfalls, to cuddling tigers, and eating tons of street food, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

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With Josiah in Thailand!

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At year end, we can honestly say life abroad has been an incredible adventure.  We’ve been given so many new experiences. Through His gentle guiding, we’ve gained clarity this year on the passions and skills He’s given us.  More than anything, we’ve gained passion for life abroad, and can’t wait to continue our pursuit of overseas ministry. We are so excited for this new year, and the potential each day brings. We’ll miss our Kimchi family, we’re thankful for the blessing our time here has been.

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These past few months, we’ve been preparing for a new phase of life abroad.  In March 2016, we are setting out on a 2-month hike-a-thon across the length of Israel.  Raising money for Samaritan’s Purse water initiatives, we are raising awareness for the global water crisis. We can’t wait to grow in compassion for those who spiritually and physically thirst. If you’re interested in supporting the cause, you can learn more here!

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We are warm with thankfulness for supportive family, encouraging friends, and our loving Savior.  Many blessings to you this holiday season.

All our love,

B & H

5 Best Things About Korean Food Service

As we prepared to move here last year, whispers of Korea’s innovative dining experience had drifted across the ocean.  However, the full extent of the creativity and convenience behind Korean food service cannot be understood outside of first-hand experience.  To give you a taste, here are five things that have impressed us about food service in Korea:

Call Buttons

Almost every restaurant table has a nifty call button to alert your waiter if you need something! Sometimes, there are even multiple buttons requesting different services (food order, more beer, more water, bill, etc.). call buttonThemed Cafes

Korea has a huge variety of themed cafes!  Mostly located in and around Seoul, these cafes offer a large range of entertainment, from animal snuggles to Lego building to photography practice.

Here are some examples:

||Cat Cafes||

cat cafe

For around $8, visitors can purchase a coffee and spend the afternoon snuggling with felines.

||Sheep Cafes||

sheep cafe

Same idea, minus cats, plus sheep.

||Hello Kitty Cafe||

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Perhaps the most iconic cafe in all Korea, Hello Kitty Cafe is on almost every Seoul tourist’s bucket list.

||Photography Cafes||

photography cafe

Cafe’ra in Incheon offers a unique experience for aspiring photographers. Customers who bring their personal DSLR cameras are allowed access to the cafe’s wide array of lenses to try out in the shop! All this while sipping away on a caramel macchiato.

“Service” = Free Stuff!

Often times restaurants, as well many stores, will add complementary items to a customer’s original order.  For example, we purchased pizza the other day and were given a 2 liter of Coke for free.  At a coffee shop sometimes you get lucky and the owner gives you a free pastry to go with your coffee!  You never know when it will happen, but you will find yourself automatically and perpetually fist-pumping the air when it does!

Fast Food Delivery

Just when you thought fast food chains’ low prices and huge servings couldn’t get any more dangerous or tempting!  Almost all fast food chains deliver here in Korea!  With no additional charge, McDonald’s offers “McDelivery” to almost any location.  It doesn’t even have to be your apartment!  Taking a stroll through the park, you often see a family setting up the picnic blankets on the grass, waiting for the McDonald’s delivery bike to bring their feast.

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No Tipping

Last, but not least, is the total lack of tipping in Korea!  Although this aspect is not exclusive to the country, as an American, no tipping has made life a lot simpler.  Also, sales tax is built into the menu price.  So, what the menu says is what you pay, that simple.

What are some of your favorite service experiences from travels abroad?

Packing For Korea: Do’s & Don’ts

Having recently experienced the anxiety a move abroad can inspire, I thought it would be a good idea to pass on the wisdom I have gained in deciding what to pack for a successful 1+ year experience in Korea.  Hindsight is 20/20, and I hope this knowledge keeps your move from becoming a pull-your-hair-out experience.

The existence of Costco in many of Korea’s major cities can be a game-changer in your living experience, depending on your ability to access said store.  Click here to see a list of Costco locations in Korea.  The list below, however, doesn’t take into account what can be found in Costco.

If you have anything to add, please comment below!

BRING

Rain Jacket || Up until a year ago, I had never owned light-weight, water-proof outerwear.  Now, a week doesn’t go by where I don’t drag out my NorthFace Resolve Rain Jacket. It has rained a couple times every week this spring, and we aren’t even in Monsoon season yet.

Comfortable walking shoes || Let me just say this, girls: if you’re loosing sleep over which pair of heels to pack, or opting to forgo packing essentials so you can squeeze in those cute strappy wedges, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.  No judgment here, I packed my favorite pair of heeled booties, refusing to give up on the hope that I would get chances to wear them.  Now I regret not bringing the extra camping gear I left behind instead.  Although you won’t be called to give up every sense of fashion in your new life, you must keep in mind that you will be walking everywhere.  Like, EVERYWHERE.  And in all types of weather.  Also, keep in mind that you will be constantly pulling them off and on.  Korean households, and most traditional Korean restaurants, require you to leave your shoes at the door, as do all temples. Here are three pairs of go-to shoes that have made life in Asia easy:

Chacos || I shouldn’t even have to tell you.

Columbia Omni-Heat Insulated Pull On Boot || Waterproof.  Insulated.  Great tread. Easy to pull off and on.  Super warm and cozy.

Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit || Fit like a glove.  Crazy light-weight.  The only pair of shoes I own that don’t leave even the slightest tinge of ache at the end of a long day of site-seeing.

Slippers for work || I guess this could have gone with the list above, but I felt it was important enough to get its own bullet.  EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL I know of requires both students and teachers to keep a pair of shoes reserved solely for wearing inside school grounds.  Many schools have a closet full of “community” slippers, shared by the group of us fools who forget to bring our own to work.  So don’t be that guy who’s wearing stinky old used slippers.  Because I would like to maintain a look of professionalism and color coordination, I wear a pair of black Crocs ballet flats.

Jeans || Finding the perfect pair of jeans is hard enough in your home country.  So obviously, it becomes close to impossible in a foreign country.  Save yourself the grief and buy a pair or two extra to keep on hand.

Underwear || I’m not saying it’s impossible to find well-fitting bras, but the general consensus among expats is that this is not a battle worth fighting.  For larger women, it’s almost impossible. And for anyone else, it’s a practice in frustration.  Do yourself a favor and plan ahead.

Deodorant || You won’t be able to find any here.  I brought 5 sticks with me, praying it will be enough!

Feminine Hygiene Products || Tampons are few and far between.  When you do find them, they are crazy expensive, and come in tiny packs.  Pads are easy to find.

Makeup ||  I think the only issue here would be finding liquid and powder foundations to match your skin tone.  Bring a couple extra of your tried-and-true favorites with you!

Comfortable daypack || After teaching English to a herd of crazy students all week, you’re going to be aching for Friday afternoon when you can race to the train station and begin your weekend adventure.  Just make sure to bring a day pack that won’t leave your shoulders aching.  My North Face Big Shot is super spacious and comfortable, I wear it every day!

Power converters and adapters || Learn the difference between the two here.  Laptops and iPhones usually have a built in converter, and just need an adapter to function.  For almost every other Western-made gadget (electric razors, curling irons, hair dryers, etc.) a converter will be needed.

Sheets || This is one item that I failed to bring, and deeply regret.  Sheets in Korea are usually not 100% cotton, and are incredibly expensive. 

Full-sized bath towels || You won’t be able to find them anywhere in Korea.  The biggest they come are a hand-towell size.

LEAVE

Hair dryer & Curling Iron || Don’t waste your packing space!  Koreans dry their hair too, I found my hair dryer at my local grocery store for $13.  If you bring one from home, you must use a converter (see above).  The same can be said for curling irons, although they are a bit more expensive.  I found some inexpensive ones on Korea’s equivalent to Amazon: GMarket.

Toothpaste || This is a subject up for debate.  Almost everyone else will tell you to pack a year’s supply.  Although Korea offers a wide variety of toothpaste flavors that will leave you with eyebrows raised, they DO have a classic mint flavor.  It may not be as good as my beloved Crest 3D White Toothpaste, but it does the trick.  You can also find a few basic American brands if you look hard. 

Cooking Spices ||  I bought rosemary and a blend of Italian herbs at a major grocery store the other day.  I couldn’t find basil, nutmeg, or liquid vanilla.  Some avid cooks will tell you to not take chances and bring your own stock.  I say chance it, your odds of finding what you need are pretty good, and what you don’t find will force you to become a more creative cook.

Gyeongju | History and Cherry Blossom Festival

SPRING IS HERE PEOPLE!  I am determined to savor every fleeting beauty it offers.  I have never been more conscious of weather than I am here in Korea.  Before now, I have always had the comfort of a car to get around in.  If it was snowing, drizzling rain, or blazing hot, never fear!  Heated seats and ice cold A/C were there!  Now, I walk everywhere and in every weather condition.  I am forever conscious of the 24-hour weather forecast.  I have invested in a squishy pair gel shoe inserts.  Some nice muscles have been developing in my calves.

One of the most exciting parts of Spring in Korea is the grand appearance of the stunning cherry blossoms!  Almost overnight, the streets are transformed into picture-perfect venues, framed in a halo of pink and white.  There’s a constant murmur of cell phone cameras click, click, clicking, as everyone tries to capture the breathtaking scenery.  And as quick as they come, after about a week, the blossoms fall off, and everything goes back to normal.

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During Cherry Blossom Season, there are countless festivals around the country, offering ideal venues for your blossom viewing enjoyment.  After hours of research, we decided to side-step the more popular venues, and head to Gyeongju, a well-known but far less crowded festival location.  No regrets in this choice, I absolutely recommend Gyeongju to anyone making plans for next year’s cherry blossom season.  One of my favorite practical features of this city is that bike rentals are everywhere, and very inexpensive! An awesome way to see the city.  

Gyeongju was the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty, which ruled the Korean peninsula from 57 BC – 935 AD.  Referred to as “The Museum without Walls,” Gyeongju is filled with pride for Korea’s heritage, and holds many of its historical treasures.  Here are just a few:

Anapji (안압지)

Originally built in 674 CE, Anapji is the ancient palace complex constructed by a king of the Silla Dynasty.  The king made the palace grounds a paradise, filled with exotic flowers and animals.  After the fall of the Dynasty in 935 CE, the palace was neglected and eventually fell into disrepair.  It wasn’t until 1974 that any efforts were made to recover this historical treasure.  After twelve years of excavation,  Anapji now stands as one of Gyeongju’s most breathtaking venues.  Totally recommend seeing Anapji at night! The reflections off the pond are incredible.

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Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대)

The oldest surviving astronomical observation tower in East Asia.  Built in 634 CE by Queen Seonduk of the Silla Dynasty, Cheomseongdae means star-gazing tower in Korean.  The reality of having historical sites as old as this surround me has been really hard to grasp.  I mean, they’re not even under glass, or behind those red velvet ropes.  Furthermore, the irony of these ancient relics being surrounded by a throng of selfie-obsessed tourists gives a whole new twist to the viewing experience.

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Royal Tombs (왕릉)

The Silla kings were buried in Gyeongbuk in crazy awesome looking tombs.  While many of the identities of the tomb occupants are known, several of the tombs were left unmarked.  One of the most famous tombs is that of King Munmu.   Munmu asked to be buried outside the city on the ocean, so that upon death, he could transform into a dragon and continue to protect his Dynasty’s coastline.  Although we were fairly certain climbing the mountainous tombs was not advised, after watching many Korean tourists trek to the tops, we decided to follow suit.  At the top we were able to enjoy a gorgeous view of the city, and kind of felt like kings ourselves.  I’ll admit, as the wind flicked my hair and a dead king lay under my feet, the lyrics to Lorde’s song “Royals” rolled through my head more than once.

Taking her pups for a walk among the kings.

Taking her pups for a walk among the kings.

Top of the tomb!

Top of the tomb!

View from the top.

View from the top.

Walking up to the entrance to the grounds of the tombs.

Walking up to the entrance to the grounds of the tombs.

Bulguksa Temple (불국사)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bulguksa was the zenith of our trip to Gyeongbuk.  Built in 574 CE, this temple complex has seen its fair share of hardship.  The complex was burnt down during the Japanese invasion, 1592-1598.  After 200 years and over 40 renovations, the temple fell again to disrepair, and was a target for looting in the 1800’s.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Bulguksa was fully restored to its original beauty.  It is now home to many national treasures.

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A part of the Buddhist faith are the Four Heavenly Kings, each of whom watches over one of the four directions of the world.

A part of the Buddhist faith are the Four Heavenly Kings, each of whom watches over one of the four directions of the world.

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Taking a sip from the communal fountain!

Taking a sip from the communal fountain!

Beautiful grounds surrounding the temple.

Beautiful grounds surrounding the temple.

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Before leaving the city, we partook in the Cherry Blossom activities, and spent the afternoon at the local festival.  Many fried foods were consumed.  Many pots of boiled silk worms were avoided (already made that mistake once).  Perfect end to a perfect weekend.

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Hiking Mt. Geumosan

We count ourselves lucky to be located in Gyeongbuk, agreed to be Korea’s most naturally beautiful and historically rich province.  So far, our experience has already provided us many opportunities to partake in Korea’s scenic splendor, one of these opportunities being Geumosan Provincial Park.

Located on the west side of the city of Gumi, Mt. Geumosan is the perfect weekend getaway for any outdoorsman.  The park offers many trails of varying difficulty and duration.  Not only are there natural beauties, such as gorgeous panoramic views, caves, waterfalls, and unique rock formations, but also several different historic fortresses and Buddhist temples sprinkled along the way.  We’ve visited the park twice in our short time in Korea, and have only scratched the surface of all the beauty to be found at Mt. Geumosan.

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There are these cairns everywhere along the trails in Korea.  Each stone represents a prayer or wish for good fortune from Buddha.

There are these cairns everywhere along the trails in Korea. Each stone represents a prayer or wish for good fortune from Buddha.

Found a little abandoned mountain dwelling.

Found a little abandoned mountain dwelling.

Going hiking where all the trail markings are in a foreign language adds a whole new dimension to the challenge!

Going hiking where all the trail markings are in a foreign language adds a whole new dimension to the challenge!

Daehye Falls ( 대혜폭포 )

Daehye Falls ( 대혜폭포 )

From the mouth of a cave at the top of the trail.

From the mouth of a cave at the top of the trail.

Historic Geumosanseong Fortress (금오산성)

Historic Geumosanseong Fortress (금오산성)

From inside the fortress.

From inside the fortress.

Geumosanseong Fortress (금오산성)

Geumosanseong Fortress (금오산성)

Yaksaam Temple (약사암)

Yaksaam Temple (약사암)

Yaksaam Temple (약사암)

Yaksaam Temple (약사암)

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Always keep your eyes open for pretty little hanok pavilions tucked away in the mountains.

Always keep your eyes open for pretty little hanok pavilions tucked away in the mountains.

Such a rewarding view at the top!

Such a rewarding view at the top!

Surveying our fine valley.

Surveying our fine valley.

I am a Middle School Teacher

So we’ve officially been in our new city for three weeks! And during this time, I’ve done a terrible job keeping up a flow of updates.  Sorry about that.  It seems that, for the past couple of weeks, it has been success enough to continue adjusting to a foreign land.  After work, we barely have enough energy to walk two blocks to our neighborhood market to pick up bread, let alone process into words every change our lives have undergone these last few weeks.  But I think we can finally say we are adjusted to the reality that we aren’t going home next week after a lovely Asian vacation.  We are here to stay.  This is our new “home.”  At least until the next grand adventure. 

My primary middle school!

My primary middle school!

So, I’m a teacher.  Two years ago, I would have never guessed that every week, I would be standing at the front of a classroom, teaching over 600 students who barely speak my language.  Each day requires every ounce of my creativity, as I am continuously searching out successful methods to communicate to a bunch of angsty teens who’d rather be listening to E.X.O. or beating LoL than playing bingo with English vocabulary words.

And I absolutely love it.

Each week I teach at two middle schools in our little town.  My primary school is the local public middle school.  Here I teach 15 different classes of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders.  My classes emphasize the listening and speaking aspects of language.  The students are a wide range of completely dedicated to completely uninterested, completely crazy ( I get an average of around twenty TEACHER WILL YOU MARRY ME’s a day), and completely adorable ( I had one sweet little boy bashfully admit to me he liked to sing, and then not-so-bashfully break into a ballad for the whole class to hear!).

My adorable seventh graders!

My adorable seventh graders!

My secondary school is an all-boys Catholic school.  A little bit of a shock here, as I wasn’t told it was all-boys, and discovered this forgotten detail the minute I walked into my first class.  I quickly adjusted to the 40 pairs of little eyes staring at me, and pulled out my feeble knowledge of popular Kpop girl bands!  Apink, you saved my skin, as my boys have officially given me the stamp of approval, after I let them each take turns saying which girl in the band they thought was prettiest. 

The native teachers at each school have been so welcoming to me, and I am already making good friends with the sweet gray-haired history teacher who sits next to me in the teacher’s office.  We enjoy using Google images to help communicate back and forth about various subjects (Last week, he pointed to the computer screen and proudly exclaimed: “Jimmy Carter! Handsome boy! Favorite president!”).  Several times a week we will end the day with one of the teachers running out to get a big box of food from a neighboring street vendor.  We’ll gather around the little table, break out the disposable chopsticks, and commune together over deep-fried squid, marinated rice cakes, and Sundae (rice noodles cooked in pork blood, stuffed into a pig intestine).

My co-workers are incredible! We may not speak the same language, but their kindness is evidenced every day by sweet little gifts and welcoming smiles.

My co-workers are incredible! We may not speak the same language, but their kindness is evidenced every day by sweet little gifts and welcoming smiles.

Brady teaches at two elementary schools.  His primary school is on the other side of the road from mine, allowing us to walk to and from school together every day.  DREAM COME TRUE.  I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to see my sweet husband’s silhouette coming up the sidewalk to pick me up after class, and walk side by side with him home, sharing the funny things our students did that day.

Brady has had an awesome experience so far.  I always knew he would be the perfect elementary teacher!  He is excited to start incorporating his passion for art into his classroom, encouraging the kids to make their English endeavors artistically creative.  Being young and cute and innocent, Brady’s students love to sing every day in class, and are extremely affectionate and helpful (He told me today that he tried to make them play a competitive game in class, dividing the kids into teams.  The students refused to let anyone lose, and every winner stopped to help the struggling students finish the task!). 

Well, lesson planning is calling my name, so this teacher better hit the books before heading to bed.

Becoming Expats

I can’t believe we’ve already been in our new country for two weeks!  The time has flown by, and we’ve hardly had a chance to recognize each transition, as they’ve all come at break-neck speed.  We are quickly adjusting to the fact that we are not tourists cheerfully observing a new culture with the comfort of a roundtrip ticket in our back pocket.  We are expats, embracing the reality that this is now home.  And so far, we couldn’t be happier about it!

EPIK Teacher Orientation

The past nine days, we have been located at a university campus in Deajeon, where we have survived a grueling yet rewarding teacher training orientation.  Every new public school English teacher in Korea must go through intensive training put on by the National Institute for International Education (NIIED). The English Program in Korea, commonly known as EPIK, is well known for its high standards for teacher applicants, and excellence and proficiency in training and implementing those teachers in the Korean public school system.  Our orientation affirmed our expectations in the program.  We have come out filled with practical teaching knowledge, a broad network of experienced support staff, and dozens of fellow foreign teacher friends!

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2015 Spring EPIK Orientation

Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을)

On one of the days we were given a break from the brutal lecture schedule and explored a traditional Korean village: Jeonju Hanok Village.  With over a thousand-year-old history, Jeonju Hanok Village has so many interesting aspects of Korean culture to offer.  Below are just a few:

Bibimbap (비빔밥):  Jeonju is famous nation-wide for its Bibimbap!  This traditional Korean dish is served as a bowl of hot rice mixed with “namul” (sautéed vegetables) raw or fried egg, flavored with either soy sauce, “doenjang” (soybean paste), or “gochujang” (chili pepper paste).

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

Hanok (한옥):  Hanok traditional style Korean homes are easily identified by their beautiful upturned roofs (“Cheoma”).  Hanok homes are where Korea’s famous “Ondol” heated floor system originated.  Even in historic times, Koreans were environmentally conscious and built their Hanok homes with all-natural, recyclable, nonpolluting materials.  The Cheoma roofs can be adjusted to control exposure to sunlight inside the home, and the “Hanji” (paper) windows allow air to circulate.

Hanok Traditional Korean Homes

Hanok Traditional Korean Homes

Hanok architectere is easily identified by the upturned corners of the roof.

Hanok architectere is easily identified by the upturned corners of the roof.

Jeondong Catholic Church (전동성당):  Built in 1908-1914, Jeondong Catholic Church stands as a memorial marking the spot of the first Korean Christian martyrs: Yun Chi’-ch’ung and Kwon Sang-yon in 1781.  Jeonju city is the historic seat of the Joseon Dynasty.  Christian faith was then seen as a threat to the state established Confucian system.  In 1801, several prominent leaders of the early Christian church were also executed on this spot.  It is said that the cornerstones used to build the church were stones taken from the very gate the martyrs were hung from.

Jeondong Catholic Church, memorial to Christian martyrs of Korea.

Jeondong Catholic Church, memorial to Christian martyrs of Korea.

The Philosophy of Taekwondo

On a separate day, we were lucky enough to take a class on the Philosophy of Taekwondo from a Korean university Taekwondo master instructor!  For two hours, the gym was a chaotic throng of struggling Westerners attempting basic stances and kicks, peppered with the instructor’s laughter at our clumsiness!

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I thinks that’s all I have time for tonight!  Next I will give an update on our first few days discovering the city we will be teaching in and our new apartment!

Thank you all for following along and keeping us in your prayers!