Last month I celebrated my 24th birthday in Korea. My birthday fell on a Wednesday which meant only three hours of teaching from 7-10pm and a free day before that. I felt so much love and so much appreciation for the people that I have in my life right now that I just feel like I have to share with you all. I don't really like to make a big deal out of birthdays - everybody has them - like, congratulations, you're human. And older. So I didn't make plans to do anything or round up all of my friends here to go celebrate the fact that I'm almost a quarter century old and still single and inept at cooking a balanced meal. Instead, I just decided to take it easy and spend time with the people I love being around here.
My morning started late, which obviously was ideal because sleeping is my second favorite past time (after eating, of course). Sometime around noon Charlie & Sara came by to take me to brunch on Cafe Street. As most of you know, I came to Korea at the same time as Sara, we trained together and were placed at the same branch to teach. Sara unfortunately left early and is now in Beijing starting her two month tour of SE Asia. Charlie is another coworker that has been here just over a year now, she's my next door neighbor and if it weren't for her I'm not sure I'd still be sane living here sometimes. She really is a gem of a person, and an amazing friend. Cafe Street is a long row of boutique shops and restaurants about 10 minutes from our house near the subway station. We usually go there for one of two reasons: the two hour unlimited drink special at Bar Isn't It? or sup bar Mexican/Thai food at one of the two restaurants we frequent there. So brunch was out of the ordinary. We found a nice spot that Sara had been to before and hung out for a while, attempted to order mimosas (very unsuccessful) and ended up with three glasses of white wine for breakfast - oops. The gals split my tab and we headed back to Suji so they could go to work.
(Google image photo of Cafe Street)
Then Matt decided to come down after he was off work (he works days at his new job in Seoul), which was so kind of him because we really only had about an hour or two to spend together and he had to commute almost an hour each way just to come see me. Maybe that's why we're engaged. Once he made his way down to Suji we went to Emart to look at cute fluffy animals at the pet store because I'm a freak and it was my birthday and I decided to do whatever I wanted... and then this happened.
I didn't really go to the store with the intention of purchasing a pet, much less a hamster, but LOOK AT THIS GUY! I named him after my cutest student ever, Ralph, and he promptly died 9 days later. R.I.P. baby Ralph, may your namesake never follow in your footsteps. Long story short, the pet shop that I bought him from basically sold a litter of really sick hamsters and we visited the vet twice in 7 days. Very sad. Had a nice little burial service for him the evening he passed away complete with half of my coworkers, fireworks, and flowers.
Moving right along. I bought Ralph right before work so I brought him in to meet my Par kids. This class was one of the only ones I got to see twice a week, for both reading and listening, so I got to know them pretty well. They're such great kids, really smart and super attentive. In the end I found out how much they actually liked me when they dedicated the last 50 minutes Creative Thinking Project time to making speeches about me. Perhaps they did that because it was my birthday, but it put a big smile on my face either way. They're the kiddos pictured in the photo at the beginning of the post, complete with choco-pie cake that they assembled before I came to class. Cuties.
(This is the video I took of their C.T.P. presentation. They're such weirdos. I hope the volume quality is alright... when you're working with a bunch of reserved Korean kids it's really hard to hear regardless of the camera. Side note: at the end of their presentation, Hannah almost knocked my camera off of the chair, hence my obnoxiously loud voice and sudden swerve of the video toward the back of the chair.)
Right before class started, Charlie messaged me and said she needed me to come cover her class for five minutes so she could go pee (emergencies happen)! So I said sure, just let me know when. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. About ten minutes later she asked me to come in, and as soon as I opened the door I saw 17 precious little faces smiling at me with birthday cards and letters in their hands, and a big sign that said "Sydney Teacher sit here" pointing to a chair in front of the class. Charlie's entire class of students that we share (she saw them for reading class, I saw them for listening) had taken their Creative Thinking Project time to write me letters and make me birthday cards to present to me before the end of class. I did a really good job of holding back the waterworks, because honestly it's so nice to see that your kids actually like you and appreciate you as their teacher. Sometimes it feels like you try really hard and do everything you can do, and the kids still don't seem to enjoy being there or care about learning. So times like these I really cherish.
This is a picture of all of the birthday gifts and letters I received from my students. Charlie and my Bridge class, my Par class, and even a few students from my previous classes that I no longer have the pleasure of teaching came by with letters. My heart was so happy at the end of class that day I felt like the luckiest girl alive. I went to Korean BBQ with a few coworkers and friends before calling it an early night.
It's funny how, if this was my 18th or 19th birthday, I'd probably be incredibly disappointed that I didn't have some raging party or nobody did anything enormously extravagant with me. But fast forward just a few short years and I'm happier than I'd ever imagine myself being. I feel like I'm just in the right place at the right time for life right now, I'm doing what makes me happy and I'm feeling really fulfilled. Days like this reinforce the positive feelings I have about the direction my life is heading and the choices I've made. The best part of all of this is the people I've surrounded myself with. I have made such great friends here, it's absolutely mind blowing to think I've only known them for 6 short months, when it really feels like a lifetime. If any of my Korea friends are reading this right now, thank you, for being some of the most genuine, understanding, patient, and fun loving people I've been able to call my friends. You guys and girls really are one in a million. As much as I would have loved to spend my birthday with friends and family back home, I couldn't have picked a better place to be right now.