2013-07-31 / News

Just a small town girl My adventures in South Korea


(Editor’s note: Chelsea Duff, daughter of Roger and Kimberly Duff of Marlette, is spending a year in South Korea as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching English to elementary students. She arrived in Korea this month).

Annyounghaseyo, chingu — Hello, friend! Jonin Chelsea — I’m Chelsea.

I come from Marlette, MI, but for the past few weeks my home has been with eighty other Americans at Jungwon University in Goesan, South Korea. We each come from a different state, academic interest/ major, and ages and stages in life, but we’re here to pursue one lofty goal: to be the cultural ambassadors Senator Fulbright envisioned when he instated the Fulbright Scholarship Program in 1961. Fulbright Korea, the ‘Gold Standard’ Fulbright Program for many years, was the first Fulbright Program to start an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program. Despite its proximity to North Korea, it remains the safest Fulbright Program with the most prepared ETAs.

Chelsea Duff at Jungwon University in Goesan, where she currently lives while training for her teaching assignment in South Korea. Chelsea Duff at Jungwon University in Goesan, where she currently lives while training for her teaching assignment in South Korea. So far, the term “cultural ambassador,” at least in my case, seems laughable at best. The first thing we learned at orientation is the appropriate bow for each social status, and you are expected to at least nod your head to everyone you meet on the street as a sign of respect. This custom, so important to Korean tradition, is known as insa. I still feel awkward and clumsy bowing to the people I meet, but it is slowly becoming a part of my daily routine.

Fulbright Korea also provides four hours of language instruction a day, and learning to read, write, and speak a language with a different alphabet is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. In the Korean language, the word order is subject-object-verb instead of subject-verbobject, and there are various ways of saying things depending on whether or not you are talking formally or informally. In many ways, I feel like I’m back in kindergarten, just learning how to read! This is made even more difficult by the fact that I am one of only two farm girls here, and most everyone comes from huge cities and extremely prestigious universities; they seem to be catching on so quickly while I have to work so hard in class. Everyone encourages me, however, and I am slowly catching on! The food is also very spicy, and my body is taking a while to become adjusted to it. The cuisine is very healthy, with rice, soup, kimchi (pickled cabbage), and some kind of seafood served with every meal.

Jungwon University on a sunny day. Jungwon University on a sunny day. Despite all these differences, there are many moments of victory! For instance, I just went into the nearby town of Goesan and said, bahng ka-kay? — bread store? to a cashier who showed me how to successfully navigate to a bakery to buy bread and jam by myself! I also understood how much it cost and could communicate simple phrases to the cashier. One shop owner gave me a discount on some eyeliner and a free green tea facial mask after my butchered attempts at Korean and much miming and laughing. Olive, the cashier at the university market, knows my name and often offers me free snacks and practices basic phrases with me. It is so nice to already feel accepted by the people here as I transition into my life in Korea.

Waterfalls in Dongha. 
Photos by Chelsea Duff Waterfalls in Dongha. Photos by Chelsea Duff Beyond the people, there is an astounding amount of beauty in each and every day. Jungwon University is in the middle of the mountains with long, sprawling lawns and nature trails filled with marble carvings and fountains. It is the rainy season in Korea so it rains almost every day and the humidity pushes in on you. Clouds nestle at the tops of mountain peaks where glimpses of temples come into view. I have swam in the East Sea on a long beach right next to tall mountains and walked that same beach to see the lights of both Japanese and Korean ships at night; I have climbed to an old fortress at the very top of a mountain and stopped at Buddhist Temples and cooled off underneath waterfalls along the way. It is breathtaking.

Entrance to Samsehwah Temple. Entrance to Samsehwah Temple. Walking up and down the street you’ll see old farmers and their wives bowed over their crops, tending them by hand. Each farm is so unbelievably small and there is no mechanical help, just what farmers can do with their strength. Eventually, you hit the “rural” town of Goesan, which is at least five times bigger than Sandusky! There are no large convenience stores, just small specialized shops and their owners scattered throughout the city. Rural areas here generally have between 70,000- 100,000 people. The entirety of South Korea is roughly the size of Indiana. Korea became industrialized so quickly after the Korean War that what was once a traditional farming culture now has almost no farm land left, only what the older generations hold onto. This sudden industrial revolution has also created problems in the social structure of Korea. The elderly are supposedly the most respected class of people and it has always been the child’s responsibility to care for his/her parents; now, most children from rural areas move to cities and leave their parents and grandparents to fend for themselves, which often leads to shame and loneliness for the elderly.

The best experience thus far has been the opportunity to teach a lesson at Camp Fulbright, the most prestigious English Camp in Korea. For two weeks, students come to be taught by experienced ETAs and by the current Fulbright ETA Trainees. It is so wonderful to have students of my own! I teach low beginners a total of three times over the two weeks, and taught my first lesson yesterday. There are a few North Korean defectors who are able to come to camp on scholarship in my class. On Monday, I will do a cultural food exchange with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I have already fallen in love with my new job, and can’t wait to teach not only next week but for the rest of my grant year. I will get my official placement for the school year in the next two weeks and am so excited to actually teach at a Korean elementary school so I can experience one of the most advanced and successful educational systems in the world.

Like most Koreans, the border tensions don’t affect my life at all. With the busy schedule of orientation, it is definitely something that is not on my mind! I just want to assure everyone that I am very safe. Do not worry about me. I do miss all of my friends and family, though! Shout out to my beautiful and incredibly strong sister, Larissa Duff, who turns 18 on August 6! Happy birthday. My only wish is that I could share this incredible experience with all of you. I believe you create a family wherever you go, though, and feel like I’m slowly building my new family here. Thank you for the prayers and encouragement— you keep me strong.

Bye for now,


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