Friday, July 19, 2013

Magnificent Makela

 Korea was way better than I expected. It was so much fun,  I had a great time. When I first got there I felt a little lonely and out of place. For one reason, I was surrounded by strangers, that mostly spoke a different language than me. I couldn't understand what they were saying either, so I mostly didn't talk. But my host family made me feel better, they made me feel like I was at home, and throughout the rest of the days of the trip I had a blast. I hung out with the other host families, and had one on one time with mine. We all played soccer together and sung karaoke, we went to Everland and went sight seeing. It was really fun in Korea, I had such a good time I didn't miss anyone back home. I hope I have another chance to go back, and maybe even visit other places out of the country, because this was a wonderful experience.

Me-fabulous Meraf

My favorite day in the whole trip I think was the last day where I was with my family the whole day(Saturday). We woke up had breakfast, which was really good. And I mistakenly thought that my mom had made it, and when I asked, everyone screamed no! which I thought was hilariouis! What really stood out to me was when Yesa said "Nooooooo, no, no, no. She NEVER, she NEVER cooks. Her cooking is terrible" and she said it with such justification; like the thought of her mom cooking appalled her! And her mom, in response to my question laughed hysterically, shook her head and said don't ask me that question.
Later, we went to a mexican resturant which, even though it took forever to get there, was TOTTALLY worth it! It was delicious! Then we TRIED going to a skating rink, but we couldnt wear figure skated and had to wear hockey skates, and when we finally got on the ice, I didn't know if it was the ice or maybe the skates were dull, but none of us could skate! In the end, we all got blisters, and my mom got her money back. the rest was a bit of a blur, but I awoke to find my host dad in the front seat and we were heading to the movies! so when we got there, we saw Pacific Rim. Which, I think is one of the top best movies of all time. But everyone except the YOUNGEST of the sisters, Yay-Gong, even my host dad was scared and my mom, when I turned to look at her, was behing him! And then afterwards, Yay-Gong and I couldnt stop talking about it! and my mom was just staring and laughing at us. Then we went to the Outback and had delicious food! then we went home and my sisters and I wasted the night watching the movie Grease. TOTAL let down! then we crashed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thoughts from Miranda

Hello all!

It has been 3 days since we have gotten back from South Korea.
It’s kind of weird being back and eating all of the American foods and everything. I miss Korea a lot. I had so much fun! I have been thinking about what I was going to write about and I decided to write about my homestay and my favorite experiences.

My homestay family was amazing. They were so welcoming. On the first day when we got to Trapalace Apartments where we stayed all of the host families were there to meet us. We all got hugs from our host siblings and moms and the dads took our luggage up to their apartments.  That’s when I first met Hye-Won. She was and is so sweet!

My host mom is such a great cook. Though for the first few days my body couldn’t handle to food great, it got better as time went on. She always got up with us and made us breakfast. Their breakfast was very westernized but had some Korean twists. My favorite was scrambled eggs with crab and ham! Yum! It was so delicious. She also made us toast most days and served it with strawberry jam that she had made. It was delicious.

My host parents did not know much English  but that was okay because I don’t know much Korean. My host mom always said “Good morning!” when she saw me come into the living room. But my host dad usually left before I woke up or was still asleep in the morning. One morning my host mom was having a hard time saying the work “fork” in English and Hye-Won told me to say “Pork and fork” for her mom so she could hear the difference. It was one of my favorite moments.

Another one of my favorite memories was playing Super Smash Bros with my host brother. He was AMAZING at it. And I am pretty good usually but he beat me by a long shot. He kept saying “Good job!” even though I was failing horribly. After that we took a bunch of family pictures. I learnt while I was there that Koreans LOVE to take pictures. Which is nice. That’s one of the best ways to record memories.

Overall the trip was the most amazing thing I have ever done in my life and I can’t wait to go back to Korea! Next time I will know more of the language and probably stay a little longer! I made so many friends. I am so blessed to have been chosen to go on an amazing adventure like this. Here are some of the pictures I took while on the trip!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Farewell, for now.

I wanted to post some more pictures and talk a little about the future of this blog. My hope is that this blog does not go to the inter web graveyard subsequent to this trip, but continues. I know that may be difficult, but at the very least, I would like all the students, parents and participants to upload any thoughts, pictures etc. to the blog. It can be a place where we can all collectively re-live, experience and reflect upon the trip as a community.

After all, students will come back with many stories, perhaps different perspectives and maybe even a mild version of reverse culture shock. Either way, my hope is that the blog can grow a little more before we have to bid it farewell.

Also wanted to let everyone know that we will be departing Seoul-Incheon Airport at approximately 4:50PM and arrive in Dallas-Fort Worth at 4:25 PM. We will then depart Dallas FT Worth at 6:40 PM and arrive in Detroit at approximately 10:15 PM. We'll have the kids call you when we arrive in Dallas Ft Worth.

But until then, here are some pictures to ease your excitement of seeing your lovely children!

Return Home

With feet dangling off a tiny bed, I find myself reflecting upon a trip that is coming to a close. And again, I'd thought I'd use a couple quotes to organize all my swirling thoughts. 

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” -Terry Pratchett 

I feel I've touched on this point throughout this blog, but it's emphasis is vital. We hope to have transformed everyone on this trip. Hopefully they learned about Korean culture, picked up some language, and built friendships. Perhaps they learned something about themselves, others, or the world we live in. But all in all, we aspire for the creation of a new perspective. A perception of reality in a larger context, that exceeds the familiarity of Lansing, MI and extends beyond. We want curiosity, we want wonder, and we want further questions, because the journey isn't over.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson beautifully stated:

"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not." 

We will be departing South Korea at 4PM on July 14th. After crossing the Pacific, landing safely in Detroit, and reconnecting with our old familiar bed, we'll find ourselves still searching. Hopefully there were lessons on the trip that will assist us with that urge for intrinsic and extrinsic discovery. 

But based upon our farewell dinner, and the many friendships that were formed, I am confident in each and every individual with the path ahead. 

I know that I've learned a lot about myself as a friend, a colleague, a student, a teacher, a traveler, a son, and overall as an individual. I've made mistakes and I've fostered growth in both myself and the people around me. I couldn't be happier to have had this experience and be able to share it with such incredible and inspiring people. 

And speaking of inspiring people...

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” -Pico Iyer

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mama Hanna and Father Franks

I just finished reading a book called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and I thought I'd share some quotes that I thought pertained to our trip.

"The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times." 

It is Wednesday, almost the half-way mark of the trip. And it was beginning to be felt by everyone. Homesickness, indigestion, out of the comfort zone etc. And to be perfectly honest, that is a good thing. Hanna and I like to call ourselves Mama Hanna and Father Franks, and there is a reason behind it. I feel that I love these kids. Perhaps it is because I see myself in them when I was lost in a new world, thrust into uncharted waters, attempting to stay afloat. But nevertheless, I want them to dive right into the water, even if it may seem deep and dark. Yes, I will be there as a flotation device to hold onto, but they need to learn to swim in international waters. True learning takes place when you experience something new and unknown and perhaps uncomfortable. Your brain must rewire to paddle your way through the murkiness of uncertainty, until you find that without effort you can glide. This is what I hope for everyone on this trip. To gain that sense of confidence in oneself, and recognize that the trick is to keep trying new ways to swim. 

"Every blessing if ignored becomes a curse." 

Recognizing that some of the kids were struggling to climb the hump of Wednesday, we wanted to do a privilege walk. Everyone is unique, and some people may feel comfortable in South Korea in some areas, where others may not. So we had everyone close their eyes and we read off statements, making them step forward or backward. After opening their eyes we were all in different places. Now, some people were further backward than others, but everyone recognized what it meant to step forward or back. As a white male who has travelled internationally prior to South Korea, I know that I am privileged in this regard. Yet if I did not recognize that, I couldn't help someone who is struggling. And if I truly am Father Franks and Hanna is Mama Hanna, then our kids are our family and we must all stick together, help one another, recognize our strengths, and lift anyone up who is feeling weak. And that brings us to our next quote.

"When we strive to become better than we are, everyone around us becomes better, too." 

We are all in this together, but that does not mean one person can not excel. If someone is drowning and a person is untrained, then they would be pulled down. But if someone who trains to be the best lifeguard out there, both will find the safety of the warm sand between their toes. Our goal as mentors is to create as many lifeguards as we possibly can. We want the students to continue to get better, and never settle for comfortable. There shall be no plateaus, but rather, mountains and valleys. Triumphs and hardships. That is how you improve, that is how you learn, and that is how you grasp the most out of life. 


Just a quick less serious sneak peak of our day.

The students gave presentations to the Korean classrooms about themselves and American culture. Allie had the honor of being interviewed by her host sister, which was broadcasted over the entire school. (We all applauded her.) We then visited the Korean classrooms, toured the Samsung facilities. (Which was honestly unreal. Samsung provides so much for their employees compared to the United States. It was truly fascinating.) And the students visited Oeam Folk Village while Hanna and I presented on MSU and RCAH in a Korean high school. We had a classic Korean meal and played a more organized game of soccer which exhausted all of us. Now we are all ready to hit the sack, wake up and go to Everland (an amusement park) and get some thrills. 

To another good day.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Snapshots of Seoul

Changdeokgung Palace

My height is felt in Korea.

Ye Sa aka Musical Girl

Dominic and I had a blast photographing this young boy. There's something about a child's wonder I think. I see traveling as a way to see the world through a child's eyes. 

Magnificent Makela

She's too good at avoiding photos. Show us your smile Tevy!

Our lovely tour guide. 

Our lovely English teachers, Jennifer (left) and Christine (right)

Stack the rocks and make a wish. 
Mamma Hanna and Ye Sa 
New Seoul vs. Old Seoul 


After eating rice cakes and unique Korean milk, I rushed to the bus with my host sister and found all the tired yet smiling faces of all the home stay couplets. With some brief directions, discussions and hello's, we were off to Seoul.

At first we were all sleepy, staring out the window at the city scape and traffic jams, but as we approached Seoul, we became more alive. It was as if we were injected with the city buzz.

Meraf's host sister Yesa and Dominic began singing Phantom of the Opera, and soon the whole bus joined in. (Poor bus driver.) Some Korean students showed us some K-Pop and we returned the favor with some harlem shake and screaming goats. (Ask your kids to show you.) 

Many laughs were shared and a new culture was being created, and we finally arrived in Seoul at Changdeokgung Palace. Words won't do it justice, so I will post many pictures in the next post, but for now, just know that it was stunning. 

After we broke a sweat walking through a garden (yes, it's possible in the Korean heat) we went to Blacksmith, an Italian restaurant, which had the best Gorgonzola Pizza and Pasta most of our taste buds have had the honor of encountering. 

With stomachs full, it was time to shop. And again, I was extremely proud of everyone on this shopping spree. An intermixture of students roamed the marketplace, searching among the trinkets and tourist tents. And the wonderful thing was everyone met back at the meeting place on time and ready to go. (Perhaps because they literally were shopping till they dropped.)

It was sad to see Seoul pass us by, but we boarded the bus back to Asan and we were definitely a completely different group of individuals then when we left. We were friends. 

And what do friends do? Cook dinner with one another and battle it out in Wii. And that is just what we did. 

Tomorrow we return to the school where the American students will give their presentations on American culture and they get to visit Korean classrooms in return, and hopefully, more friendships will be built along the way.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The International Language

I just returned from an epic water war with Tevy, Chaeeun, Dominic, Minkyu, Makela, Myeonghyeon, Sam, Hayong, Hanna, Yerin and Jieun. (I'm sure you'll be hearing more about them from your kids, but I thought I'd put a name to the host sisters and brothers). 

After getting drenched in water and sharing many laughs, it hit me that despite the language barrier, we were all experiencing something together. No matter where you go in the world, a water fight is a water fight. 

And after that water fight, Sam and I insisted we play soccer, which of course is THE world sport. It wasn't Lansing vs. Korea, nor was it batched by home stay couplets, but it was simply a pickup game. 

Perhaps it was a "you had to be there moment," but it was definitely a memorable one, so I thought I'd share it with you all. (Also my team dominated the field. My Brazilian in me must have come out.) But in all seriousness, I can't express how closer we all became as a group. 

I know first hand the difficulty of a language barrier, and hopefully we will all pick up some Korean while we are on this trip. But even if we only learn the basics, everyone will understand what it's like to be linguistically lost and that can go a long way. The young adults of this trip will be more accepting and willing to help out a foreigner in the United States, and if they travel the world again, they won't be afraid to speak an unknown language, ask questions and dive right in to a new culture, community and language.

First Day of School

Today was our first day of school. Although I am a Junior in college and all the kids are in middle school and high school, it felt like we were taking our first steps into a whole new experience. When I first saw all the kids again, it felt as if I hadn't seen them in ages, and I wanted to hear all their stories. Walking down the hallways, we were all welcomed in such a loving manner, and we were able to experience an authentic Korean classroom.

There was a welcoming ceremony with all the host sisters and brothers, along with Korean teachers and native American English teachers. Dr. Lee delivered a speech on how the world is becoming more globalized, and the purpose of the program was to create cultural change agents, and after talking with the group, I could see that we were learning many lessons and growing from them.

Luckily, we were able to have a brief session with all of the American students to share stories, address any issues and simply talk about the experience. Here are just some snippets of our conversation:

Dominic immediately set out to play basketball with his host brother and was thrown a welcoming party by his host family. He is sharing his love of music with everyone and all the Korean students call him the "singing machine."

Allie talked about how nice everyone has been to her and she's been taking a lot of pictures and practicing her Korean.

Sam is itching to run and I plan on going with her and hopefully I can keep up. Also, she received a compliment from a Korean boy of how pretty she was.

Miranda was thrilled to meet an American teacher who told her that two Korean students' American names were Sherlock and Watson. The teacher didn't see it coming. Also, her Hanna, Sam and Tevy all sang Karaoke for about 2 hours straight.

Tevy wishes she would have learned more Korean, but she is still very excited to be meeting everyone. Personally, I love her enthusiasm to interact with everyone she can.

Makela went to a water park yesterday, where she was able to swim in a pool of wine. No joke.

Meraf loves her host sister Ye Sa, who is in love with musicals. She was able to go to a spa, and got the full Korean experience.

Sadly we were scooted off to do Korean paper art, but although we only talked for about 10 minutes, I learned a lot.

One of the American teachers talked about how these experiences help you grow as a person, and showed a quote which I couldn't agree more with. It's by Oliver Wendell Holmes and it reads:

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

Hanna, Dr. Lee and I aim to allow that to happen, and make it the most enjoyable, life-changing experience possible. Again, I am so proud of all these young adults, for they are beginning to grow into world citizens.

Tomorrow we go to Seoul, which I think will be another mind-stretching experience.

Pyung Hwa. (Peace)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Adventure Begins

After a long 12 hour flight with a 2 hour delay we finally touched down in Incheon airport in Seoul. Immediately we were welcomed by our host families with cheering and signs. It felt so wonderful to be so welcomed. Meraf immediately was swept up by her host family and the rest of us boarded a bus to Asan.

Last night Hanna checked in on everyone and all is well. We will be going to the middle school first thing tomorrow where there will be a welcoming ceremony.

I'll keep you updated with everyone's thoughts after Hanna and I sit down with everyone and talk about the experience so far. Again, I cannot express how grateful I am to share this experience with all these amazing people and I can not wait to share all the stories, lessons and memories I've had thus far and hear all the kids thoughts.

As for me, I visited Magoksa Temple today and will upload some pictures later so you all can see how beautiful it was. But for now, here's a picture of our beautiful faces.

Friday, July 5, 2013

In Texas Ya'll

We have officially arrived in the great state of Texas, waiting at our gate to board in about 15 minutes. Only a few remain on the non-sleep status, but so far I've learned a lot about each and every one and can proudly say that I am so honored to be traveling with these young adults. We will have a 14 hour flight to Seoul where Tevy is going to give us a grand tour of the elegant Incheon Airport. We are all looking forward to a comfortable bed and a delicious Korean meal, but until then, we are going to enjoy the modern marvel that is international travel.

Here are some words from the kids when asked the question, if you could say one word to describe your mood what would it be?

Allie: Hyper
Sam: Tired
Miranda: Supercalafragalisticexpialidocious
Tevy: Happy
Dominic: Flabbergasted
Meraf: Stuck
Makela: Okay

As for me, I am feeling optimistic. Hanna is feeling quite hungry, stating that "she could eat the whole world right now," and our boss man Dr. Lee is currently taking a walk around the airport.

We'll update you when we get to Seoul. But for now, here are our beautiful faces.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Hello all,
The purpose of this blog is to not only update you on our journey to and throughout South Korea, but to share our experiences in one place so that we can reflect together as a community.

We will post pictures, stories and as many updates as possible throughout our trip. As always, feel free to contact Hanna, Dr. Lee or I with any questions, concerns or stories you'd like to share for the blog.

I can not express how excited Hanna, Dr. Lee and I are for this experience and we know that this adventure will foster meaningful lessons, relationships and memories.

-Cooper Franks