Friday, January 6, 2017

From Forks to Chopsticks

     I stepped on the plane and found my seat. The plane was filled with Korean people, naturally, since our flight was headed there. The last boarding call came over the loud speaker. The cabin door closed. “Wait, Mary, you can still get off. You’re going to teach English in South Korea for an ENTIRE YEAR. AT LEAST. Get off! Tell them you have to get off. This is too hard.”
     I suppressed the voices inside of my head, every urge to jump up and bang on the cabin door, and buckled my seatbelt. I knew my life was about to change, but I didn’t know how. And that scared me.
Fast forward one month later, things were really rough. I became increasingly frustrated with myself when I couldn’t understand the language or the cultural differences. I felt lonely and isolated. 
     In that time, one day in elementary class, one 8-year-old boy named Sam* was quietly doing his work, per usual, and I hear,  “I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!” I look up to see Sam under his desk, curled up in a ball, and utterly defeated. He couldn’t do it. I finally coaxed him up out from under desk and we looked at his lesson together. He spelled a word wrong. He was devastated. He said that he couldn’t keep learning English. I hugged him and told him that learning English is hard, but I would be there with him every step of the way. He didn’t have to be afraid. 
Teachers, friends, isn’t that what our Heavenly Father promises us? Hebrews 13:5b-6 says, “…because God has said,“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” When I thought I was alone, I remembered that the One who held the world was still holding me.
     I was Sam. I was defeated. I curled up in my apartment and said “I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!” Then, I remembered His promises. He reminded me that He was there even when I didn’t understand the menu. Even when I got lost. Even when people would stare and talk about me. God reminded me over and over again that He was there, and He would never leave.

     He never has.

*Student’s name has been changed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


     I was sitting on campus waiting for my student to review something before I quizzed her, and I heard a tearful, "Oma! Oma!" behind me. "Oma" is Korean for "Mama". I saw a little Korean girl, maybe 2 or 3, desperately trying to open the glass door in vain as her mother popped outside, about 20 feet in the rain (all the time seeing the little girl) to her car. The girl began to cry thinking her mother would never come back. I took a couple of steps toward her and told her in Korea that it was okay, and her mom would come back quickly. She stopped crying. I went back to tutoring.

     I miss where I left part of my heart.

Monday, September 14, 2015

From Chopsticks to Forks

Dear Friends,

    I write with a heavy heart. My time in Korea has come to an end—I am back in the United States, for now. Why? In essence, the school broke the terms of my contract, and I left.

      I’ll admit, I’m frustrated. Confused. Fighting bitterness. Two and ½ weeks ago, I stepped on a plane from South Korea to the United States and cried quietly on a red eye flight in the middle seat. I don’t think anyone noticed; or if they did, they didn’t say anything to me. My heart was aching because it had ripped in half. Part of my heart was staying in Korea, and I can never get it back.

     I don’t think I really want it back. I love Korea. I love the people, the culture, their language—and most of all, my precious students. Oh, how sweet they were! They brought more joy and purpose into my life than I ever thought was possible. It always seemed at my low points of a day, a student would smile at me and tell me that I was beautiful. Or I would find an artistic drawing and note made for me by a thoughtful student. Or a piece of candy or chocolate literally popped into my mouth from a little one :D

     Everyone has been asking me, will I go back? I don’t know. I would like to at least visit. I am open to teaching English in Korea again. This year? No. I’ve realized in this past 2 ½ weeks that I need to stay in  my homeland for the next year and regroup. Will I step on a plane, boat, or dragon and go wherever the Lord calls me, even if it means going abroad tomorrow? YES. But I don’t think that’s the case right now.

     I’m back in Lynchburg, tutoring away. Two days ago, I signed a 10 month lease on a beautiful house. I’m home. And in this season of life, I will wait for the next adventure.



Friday, May 29, 2015

Finding the New Normal

     It's easy to become frustrated. You're running late to work, you spill your coffee, you can't find your keys--and then your car doesn't start. Imagine all of this AND you can't communicate even semi-fluently with anyone in your country.

     Korean culture can be trying at times. There's so much I've had to change about my thinking and expectations--and some things I haven't quite changed yet, such as:

I don't like kimchi.
I can't deal very much with Korean spicy foods.
I know about 20 words/phrases in Korean.
My students remind me every day that I am single. ("Teacher, no husband, why?")
People stare, point, and talk about me (all in Korean).
There is no true Mexican food here.
There is no Chipotle here.
American pizza is hard to come by.
My students ask me why I am white. (I don't understand this one.)
My friends are getting married and having babies and I can't see them because I am here.
Pollution here totally sucks. (And makes me sick...;( 
My friends asked me if I am fluent in Korean yet. (No...?)

I've learned to take a step back and see that it's not "Korean" culture. Or even "American" culture. People are people, no matter where in the world.

A baby's giggle.
A lover's glance.
Friends laughing over inside jokes.
The sheer joy of eating ice cream on a hot day.
A child crying when he doesn't see his mom in sight
Girls shopping for clothes.
A couple playing peek-a-boo with their little baby.
The frustration of missing the bus.
Boys playing soccer with all of their might.
The "clink" of a bat when it meets a baseball.
An exchanged smile, even when you don't speak the same language.
The "ahhhhhhhh" sound when one takes the first sip of coffee.
Being nervous to move to another country. (America to Korea AND Korea to America.)
Singing a worship song in your native tongue while others sing in their language.

And smiling biggest of all when you remember that every tribe, every nation, every tongue will one day sing and worship around the throne of God together. 

It's easy to become frustrated and harder to see the beauty in culture. But the benefits seem to outweigh the hard work.

Monday, March 30, 2015

That Conversion Rate

Hi! Or, Annyeonghaseyo!! I'm currently sitting here in a bubble tea cafe:

Yes, you read that right. It's a cafe where they sell all types of sugary tea with aloe or pearl "bubbles" in the bottom of the drink that you suck through the straw and chew. So addicting!

So in South Korea, the currency is won. The exchange rate right now works out to about 1,000 won=$1.00. (More accurately, it's about $0.95=1,000, but yeah. You get the idea.) So, the first bill you see below is about $5, then $10, then $1. Their bills jump from 10,000 to 50,000, so no "$20" bill in Korea.

Jeez! Some things are so shaving cream. The 16,500 one is about $16! and the 7,400 is about $7! AND THESE ARE THE TRIAL/TRAVEL 2oz SIZEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!! :O

Tea, especially herbal tea, isn't cheap here either. Below you see small-sized boxes for $6-$8 each! Since I took this picture, the cheapest I've found is a box for about $4.

In the mornings, I teach middle and high school. In the afternoon, I teach 2 class periods for 4 elementary aged boys. Below they are split into two teams earnestly seeking to win the coveted cow stickers. (They are literally stickers in the shapes of cows...they love them haha.) I think this video captures their sweetness and their love and affection for one another. Yes, I do teach English class, but they are speaking in Korean. They often listen and respond in English, but talk to each other in Korean about the activity. Oh well.

And this is how my washing machine lets me know that it is done! Isn't it so much cuter than an obnoxious buzzer??

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

One Month Later...

     Friends! Family! I can’t believe it’s been ONE MONTH today since I’ve been here. Obviously I’m the worst blogger ever…but I’ve been busy! I’m now in the midst of the third week of classes and feeling right in the swing of things. Most of you are probably somewhere on the East Coast reading this, or not too far away. Isn’t it amazing how I can be almost 6,000 away and communicate with you?
    Where to begin? My 14 hour+ flight was long, boring, and thankfully—uneventful. I arrived and had no problem getting through customs and was greeted at the gate by my boss and two new co-teachers (a married couple from Liberty). I had hardly slept or ate at all on the plane (the food was delightful…;), and was famished and tired. We ate in the airport Korean style and it was delicious. We drove to the restaurant which my boss also owns, and I was greeted enthusiastically by several former and current students of the school. When I saw all of them I must admit I teared up in gratitude and also sheer exhaustion. This is it. This is now home.
     Next we visited my apartment and dropped my luggage off there. It’s so cute! It fits me perfectly. We then visited “emart” (think=Walmart) and I got some essentials. I had a short orientation of the curriculum and school that night, and I fell asleep, extremely jetlagged, at 3am. The rest of the week was really chill because school was out and it was the New Year.
    Dave and Christina, my co-teachers, were especially helpful in showing me around and how to get to certain places. We did some shopping and exploring that week, and the next week was Bible camp! The camp went great and it was moving to see the students’ worship and prayers. The Word of God was read out loud in English and Korean. (I helped read out loud in English.)
    The first week of classes was an exciting one: filled with meeting lots of new faces, adjusting to the school schedule, and balancing 6 different classes each day. I must confess that adjusting to Korean culture has been difficult for me. Praise God the Gospel transcends culture and language! He has been breaking me of some idols…but every time He breaks me He puts more joy into my life. It’s often as simple as conversing with a friendly Korean in their broken English, or seeing a beautiful Korean baby look into my eyes. A dear friend sent me this video and I have made it my prayer:

     My phone plan allows me unlimited texting internationally but NO phone calls ($1.00 a minute! Eeek!). Skype me instead: mary.graves999
Holla at your girl! :D

Please pray for:
  • ·         The church’s upcoming retreat
  • ·         The students/teachers/student workers
  • ·         Our school’s health—some of us are sick or nearly sick! L

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

One Week More

     I’m currently sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Lynchburg (shout out to Bean Tree Café!) sipping an Americano. I have a million and one things to do before I leave in one week. YES—one week from today. It’s seriously getting real. Lynchburg has been my home for the better part of almost four years now. From dorms to a house to now, an apartment, I love this city. I’m sad to leave, but excited for the next chapter in my life.
     Last night I found out that my apartment is in the building right next to the school where I will be teaching. It’s a one-bedroom, all to myself, and it’s on Café Street. So the street is literally lined with coffee shops. My personal mission is to visit every single one of them and find the best one J I’m close to the capital, Seoul, and I can get there easily by metro. The shopping is apparently FANTASTIC in South Korea and that is something (as a girl…) I’m looking forward to.
     Like I’ve said before, I’ll be teaching English in a K-12 Christian academy. When I arrive, I’ll find out what classes I will be teaching. I’ll be teaching English with a wonderful couple from here in Lynchburg (we’re hopefully flying out on the same day to South Korea)! They are super sweet and I’m blessed that we’re stepping out in faith, together, and in some ways, the same boat. None of us have ever been to South Korea but we have a burden for the people and the kids we’ll be teaching there.

I would say the top two questions that I have been asked in regards to my trip are:
“Are you excited?”
“Are you nervous?”
Yes. The answer is a whole-hearty yes.

     I’m excited that I’m going to a country and experiencing a new culture. I feel so privileged for the opportunity to be fully immersed in a new language that I can learn. I can’t wait to meet South Korean people in their country and learn about their culture, history, and mannerisms.
     I’m nervous (TERRIFIED) that I’m going to a country where I currently only know how to say “hello” in the language. I’m scared that I won’t be understood or understand other people. I’m afraid of racism and stereotypes. I’m nervous to try foods where I don’t quite know the ingredients of the dish.
     But more than these feelings, I have a peace. I know that this is where God is calling me for this season (or, as several of my good friends have told me: that they don’t think I’ll come back ;) The peace of God is greater than my feelings. And that is my comfort and hope.

P.S. I leave the country one week from today, but I’m leaving Lynchburg on Saturday. If you would like to meet up one last time, shoot me a text or a fb message and let’s see if we can’t get together before I head out!