넌 벌거 다 한다 – Angell, you sure are doing all sorts of things…

My mom said the above to me out of jealousy and cute humor after I had told her I liberated a sea turtle this past weekend.

 

*UPDATE!* I have connected my Instagram to my WordPress and have transformed my personal Instagram to an Angell Kim’s Funny Moments Peace Corps portal to share even more awesomeness through pictures. This is located on the right side bar. You don’t need Instagram to view the pictures and if you do have Instagram, of course you can follow me. 🙂  I hope you enjoy as much as I enjoy sharing the chuckles I go through my life.

 

I think I have finally settled down and organized my tons of stuff, decorated and customized my room in the way I want it, successfully established a routine (super high five), and mastered how to work our crazy laundry machine and flush the toilet without running water.

How, do you say regarding the latter? Well, I never knew how a flush really worked until I came to Colombia and am proud to inform you. Haha.

When the water does not flow, we have to withdraw a bucket of water and dump it into the toilet with a certain distance from the bucket to toilet. This distance from bucket to toilet and amount of water in the bucket are vital for a successful flush.

The more you know. 🙂

 

How is everyone? I am doing muy, muy bien.

 

Here is my family who have received me with generosity and genuine care. My dad’s name is Jorge, my mom’s name is Diana, and my sister’s Sofia. Sofia is like a mini Shakira. She is only 7 years old and can sure dance and her hips do not lie. I really need to get on this dancing bandwagon. Music and dance are everything in Colombia. 

 

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I live in a tiny village that is named after a rum that an indigenous tribe makes in the mountains…or so I heard.

Where I live depends on one main highway/street called, Troncal del Caribe. On this street, one side hugs the ocean and the other hugs the land. On the side of the land, there are a few rivers that feed into the ocean, but due to the drought, not all rivers make it that far. Both sides have a lot of banana fields, villages, and greenery. Just think Jurassic Park. Lots of trees, mountains, mystic views,  except no dinosaurs.

 

One of my students, Yurleidys, took me to visit my home’s beach and nearby lake. I saw monkeys and they made this scary noise that reminded me of that part in Planet of the Apes where they were preparing for war. On the walk, I saw a buffalo and my sister, Sofi, got so scared so we had to take the longest way around the buffalo to get to the ocean. We saw the buffalo dip into the lake and literally disappear. That was scary.

Here are the neighborhood kids, my sister, and me in Jurassic World.

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I co-teach in two schools, one in Buritaca and the other in Perico Aguao. My home is located in right in between them. Both villages have their unique characteristics and I love both schools.

Currently, I am under the observation phase, where I am getting to know the teachers, principals, and students, knowing what resources are there, how to use those resources, who to talk to to use those resources, how to get around the school, and assessing what the school needs from me and how I can help.

At the same time, I am integrating with my community which really requires a lot of energy of saying YES.

At one of my schools, there is a teacher named Arnol who teaches physical education and ecotourism. He had invited me to a beach clean up with his ecological group made up of the students of our school and I said YES.

On our way to the Parque Nacional Natural : Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, we split into two groups. One group would pick up litter and the other, bottles. The path we walked used to be a river and it was sad to see how we were walking on a trail of rocks…On our way, we picked up the litter and I added some English teachings while doing so.

This is “trash,” that is a “mule,” and that’s a “horse.” My students cracked up when they couldn’t pronounce some of the words. They have so much shame in presenting themselves or speaking English. This shame in Spanish is called pena and there is so much of it, and I am trying to shake this out of them.

I have pretty much yelled out loud during classes, “No pena! Come on guys, No pena!” Going to nip pena in the butt during my service, I assure you.

 

So…cleaning the beach taught me how out of shape I had become because walking on that sand and picking up trash from the ground really worked all sorts of muscles. My two students, Yurannys and Amy, who stuck with me like little piglets accompanied me the entire time and took a break from the day’s labor by running around in the water and chasing each other. I realized how much energy I lacked as I just sat on a log and observed. Haha.

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There is an organization in the nearest major city to me, Santa Marta, where they preserve sea turtles and every year they host a liberation day. Arnol invited me to this liberation day with his ecological group and it was a beautiful experience. People from other organizations, schools, and tourists conglomerated and listened to a few speeches from the founders and one by one, each group or organization had their turn to release sea turtles into the ocean.

 

Look at me taking a part of a sea turtle’s freedom!

 

 

After, we played sand volleyball with a soccer ball (an example of utilitizing resources effectively) and I think I gained some brownie points with my students seeing that their teacher can play sports. Haha.

It was cool to see the smallest student, Dubian, truly be the MVP of the other team. I couldn’t believe some of his hits go over the net and he saved his team several times. I screamed a few times like a crazy woman because the game got pretty exciting due to that little fellow.

Size and age are nothing but a number.

 

 

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Perico Aguao’s Ecological Group

 

The other day, my mom took me out to our beach and she fed me, fiambre –  food served in a banana leaf. Who needs Ziploc bags when you can save money and protect the environment with a sturdy banana leaf?

 

 

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We took our chihuahuas, Lulu and Nico, out with us, too, on our outing. They are husband and wife, but Lulu doesn’t really like her husband. That day I learned why. Nico is quite the chicken. During our outing, it started to sprinkle, so we had to cut across into the lake to get home faster. After a few moments of hesitation, Lulu jumped into the lake and swam like a BOSS to reach us. Nico, on the other hand, whined and ran around the lake and went the long way. We called him a gallina – hen or chicken.

Haha. Girl power within dogs. How remarkable.

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Back to what my birth mom had said to me jokingly earlier that I am doing all sorts of things is quite true and I am here to share my experiences and hopefully inspire you to see another part of the world for mental growth. I am taking in all that the coast of Colombia is giving me. There are things that stress me out, things that open my mouth in awe, things that make me inspired, things that depress me, but ultimately, there have been opportunities to share my happiness with others and gain happiness.

An example of sharing happiness… I go to the small store near my house almost everyday and asked for papas-potatoes. People also call papas-potato chips and Arnolfo, the store owner, thought I asked for potato chips and when I looked at him like he was crazy and that I wanted the actual potatoes to cook with he cracked up and I cracked up too for some strange reason. 

I am learning how the people around me live and how to adapt, I am learning how to share with others that America is comprised of many different people, I am teaching others where South Korea, Japan, and China all are located on a map since people guess that I am Japanese, Chinese, and others. Haha. I should put, “Geography Teacher” along with “Teaching for English Livelihoods Teacher” title.

 

A special shout out to my little brother, Michael, who turned 17 years old on May 4th and happy mother’s day to all the mom’s out there in the world – from single mom’s, mom’s in Heaven, mom’s who sacrifice everything for their family, and my mom, whom I can message solely by emoticons and we just understand.

Hugs from me to you.

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Up and Down, Here We Go

I know pictures speak a thousand words, but I hope my words alone can fulfill the same job in this month’s post. Writing a blog and illustrating it with pictures is another full-time job, I tell ya.

It has been three and a half months I have been in Colombia. Three and a half months of a flour-filled diet consisting of arepas, sweating until there is no water left in me, trying to speak like a Costeña (coastal person) and integrate hardcore, learning all about Colombia, its education system and culture, and keeping a solid and genuine smile on my face through it all because, hey, life is good.

Besides the technical trainings, we had sat in on sessions regarding resiliency. Peace Corps is not easy. For that reason, we come together to discuss how to overcome the lowest of the lows and keep moving forward.

So, backing up… getting to Colombia was all rainbows and unicorns, lots of happiness, Carnaval, laughter, and all that good stuff, but I am sort of a negative nancy and know that nothing is forever, such as all these good feels.

I remember asking during one of those resiliency trainings, “When will this happiness end?”

What a way to kill the mood in a classroom, I know.

One of our PC Leaders, Megan, responded with a smile and whipped out this line graph chart titled, “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment.” In this chart, there’s this squiggly line that goes up in the beginning and down and then up and then down, then has a long period of up-ness, and ends with a down-ness.

There are descriptions of when those periods of up and down will be and right now, the period is entering into the down phase.

We are now entering the realm of the Peace Corps, because the honeymoon phase and training are over and on April 15th, we officially became Peace Corps Volunteers here in Colombia.

We had a swearing in ceremony where we declared out loud the oath that the US President takes, sang my favorite USA anthem and also the introductory part of the Colombian anthem, shook hands with the US Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, and finally took a sigh of relief knowing that we were at freaking last done with the arduous three-month training.

To remind you why I am here, I am here to serve the people of Colombia in aims of supporting bilinguilism. I will be serving in the education sector under the program, Teaching for English Livelihoods (TEL). I will co-teach with Colombian teachers to leave behind with them improved methods and practices of teaching English. At the same time, I will be conducting community projects on the side and serving as a mini-ambassador representing the USA, all while learning more about Colombia.

My job is pretty cool and to let you know, I am doing just fine.

We moved into our 2 year sites and I now stay with a host family that is made up of a mom, dad, a sister (age 7), two chihuahua’s, a cat, and a few chickens.

I have a blessed room with a discoball (this was the sister’s room before) and I live where mountains and its mist surround me and where a huge soccer field and Catholic Church are literally 5 steps away from my house.

My little sister talks to me way too much, but I see the innocence in her and hope we become close.

And I just saw a boy with a Dallas Mavericks jersey that he got from Venezuela and I kept talking to him because that’s my favorite basketball team. He probably was wondering, “Why is this Asian lady talking to me so much?” Relate-able things just make me so giddy.

The line graph says I am entering the down period right now, but I am entering it with a mindset without expectations and I see good in a lot of things now.

I complain and whine, but I snap myself back into the groove of things because I hate feeling like a cry-baby. Gracias a Dios – Thank you God.

I am tired of my butt sweat, but if you look around closely, I am not the only one sweating really hard. (grins)

I really crave noodles and other diverse foods, but that chocolate milk in that tienda – store that actually tastes like real chocolate milk sure knows how to make a person’s day.

Pretty sure the little things are going to help me ride the tides of the down waves.

Angell Te Queremos -We Love You

*Please hover your cursor over pictures for captions!

Hi everyone. I am one year older and celebrated my birthday overseas for the first time. Thank you to those who were a part of making it so memorable.

My neighbors blasted the Colombian vallenato (a song genre here in the coast) version of the birthday song first thing in the morning, I got a free pineapple juice to-go before training, Monica made us a tub of fried rice for dinner, Dylan gave me my fave Trolli worms, and I ended the night with talking to my friends, family, and neighbors with forever lasting cake.

Speaking of cakes..I ended up having four:

My aunt, Eladia made a cake.

Monica’s host mom, Señora Candita, made a cake.

Jackie, my counterpart, made a cake.

Michelle, my other counterpart gave me a cake.

Many calories were consumed and laughs were shared.

Cheers to 24 years of age.

 

 

Here’s my log of the moments that made me happy and sad and all those in between.

February 14 – Deep in the Heart of Texas

 

Did you know that I met a lady who was born in my village but now lives in San Antonio, TX while I was dancing cumbia near the village’s church? Her name is Chiqui and then I learned she turns out to be my host mom’s cousin!!!!!!!!

She was visiting her hometown and celebrated her birthday before going back to San Antonio, and I had the great honor to party with her.

She didn’t have to really hire entertainment because I was THE entertainment for her invitees. Let’s just say that so much of MY version of dancing was involved.

No shame.

 

February 27 – Beautiful Ponedera #1

During our three-month training, our group needs to complete a community project and after surveys and meetings, we came together to beautify our village, Ponedera. Our objectives include, encouraging people to throw litter in trash cans rather than throwing it freely in the streets, creating/utilizing resources to make trash cans, and shaping leaders to continue our project for sustainability as we will be in other sites for our two year service.

We created fliers together via arts and crafts and posted them in front of our houses. The guys in our group are pretty artistic and smart. Aaron, one of my counterparts, created a flier emphasizing the presence of “MÚSICA & MERIENDAS – Music and Snacks.” Smart advertisting tactic.

 

 

 

Thank you to my group for your ideas and help.

I am proud to say that our first project was successful. We really did not expect much for our first go-around, but we were humbly surprised. We started with six volunteers and ended with around 20! The Alcaldia – City Hall donated brushes and dust pans for our future projects. We talked about how we should save our trash in our pockets until we found a trash can. We said we should utilize trash cans in the small tiendas- stores or create your own from bags or boxes.

Our next one was this past Saturday and we worked on recruiting leaders to prepare our next and last project with the Peace Corps Trainees and to ultimately, pass off our project to them.

We’re bringing the sexy back in beautifying our environment.

 

March 5 – More S’mores, Please

I hosted a get together with my counterparts and my family to enjoy s’mores and beer. I couldn’t believe I was near a fire in a country that’s near the equator to cook a marshmellow, but it was all for the companionship and treat that a s’more can bring to anyone. I witnessed my neighbor, Elias, brother Mauricio, and my friend, Dylan hacking away/breaking/sawing at this large piece of wood to start the fire. They used plastic for the fire to kindle and it was pretty amazing. We ate the s’mores so fast and listened to a lot of my old-school songs. My brother loved the s’mores and kept asking when we would do it again next.

Sharing American culture, one marshmellow at a time.

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A fire pit in 90 degree weather.

 

All Catholic Things –

My host mom invited me to an Oración aka Bible study group near our neighborhood. I am trying to memorize the prayer, “Our Father” in Spanish so I can participate in the next Bible study group. We were in a circle and my aunt, Eladia, read out a verse and then we all talked about it. None of the women stared at me blankly or with curiosity and it felt awesome to be part of the group of ladies. I already stick out like a sore thumb with my physical features so it was pretty nice for once to not be stared at like a total stranger. Does this make me a Colombian lady now? Haha.

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I forgot to talk to y’all about my Mass experience in Colombia!!! It’s really something else. 🙂 I am Catholic and I went to Mass for the first time in January and I read from their newsletter that “Vida es una fiesta. – Life is a party.” What a great way to see life. I remember when I first went to Mass I tried so hard to hide my laugh inside because for me, church is a place of prayer, holiness, and seriousness, but the music threw me off because it was so loud and it sounded like party music. The kind of music that makes you want to bob your head and bust out and dance. It was different for me because I’ve gone to Mass presented in both Korean and English and the music is not that exciting. Korean Mass music is pretty serious and somber and English Mass music is a little happier and catchy but nothing like Colombian Mass.

Life’s a party. Live it.

 

February 29 – Pendiente de Ti – Thinking of You

Dinner was sandwiches and I had asked my mom to make just one for me. I underestimated my hunger and after wolfing down my first one I blankly looked around thinking if I should ask for the other one or not in sake of my embarrassment.  Mauricio who is my 17 year old brother had a very demanding tone asking my mom why she only made one for me when he had two. Haha. My mom retorted back that I had originally asked for just one and then my mom said to me, “él es pendiente de ti” – he is thinking of you…”

Thank you for caring about me, Mauricio.

 

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Me and Mauricio at Beautiful Ponedera #1

March 13 – Long Live Sancocho!

My mom’s friend, Clara, invited me to to a ranch to make and enjoy sancocho. Sancocho is a traditional soup/stew made in a massive pot to share amongst family. It is made in different variations throughout Latin America, but we made ours with plantains, cilantro, beef, yuca (yuca is like a potato but is stringy), carrots, and garlic.

Exhibit A..

We brought all the necessary items, stopped by the tiendas – small shops for last minute items and drinks, then walked over the river and through the savannas. Our group included, Clara and her children, Ofelia, Chan, and Maye, their friends, Janer, Darlien, Jose and Eddy, and JoMaira (Jose and Eddy’s mother) and me. We brought Janer’s bird and Jose’s dog, Lulu, along with us. My friends, Janer and Chan carried the huge pot of water over the river and in the process, both fell into the water. Haha. Thankfully, our pot of water was safe. Then, we continued our journey. We walked through openings in barbed wire fences, passed some trees and in the process, collected some guayabas, climbed up some hills, and finally reached a little hut-like ranch.

 

 

The sun was so intense. The sun in Colombia in general is so intense. When I first came here, I was bewildered when I saw people wearing winter-like clothing. However, I learned that the long sleeves and jackets are for sun protection. I have now caught on with the trend to prevent turning into a burnt toast..but I still can’t do the long pants/jeans thing…

 

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Clara and me. She hated wearing that jacket.

 

 

When we arrived to the ranch, we started up the fire. It genuinely amazes me how the fire is started so quickly and so easily. Back in the States whenever I wanted to do a grill, we needed to always buy coal, that liquid thing that kindles the fire and keeps it going (can’t remember the name???)  but all you really need is wood, matches, and plastic for fire kindling!!!!!!!!

We started the fire up and waited for it to boil. Then, we put in some meat, and one by one the other ingredients. We topped it off with cilantro. During this preparation, I even squeezed in a sweaty nap and woke up groggy and starving.

As a side note.. I have to let you know that the heat really curbs my appetite. I am known back in the States and at home to be 밥통 JR. –  rice cooker junior (my dad is  밥통 SR – rice cooker senior because we love rice. We eat too much rice for our health) and a fatty because I just eat a ton and am always hungry and get hangry (hungry + angry due to lack of hunger) a lot. Anyway, I am neither a rice cooker junior or fatty here because I am just not hungry. On top of the lack of hunger, I definitely never want to eat piping hot soup for any kind of meal…but this day’s visit to the ranch made me so excited for hot soup!

At this point, the soup was ready. We trekked a little ways away to a big tree to eat under. Chan ripped off these huge leaves from a banana tree as a table for our food. Jose drained the chunks of food from the soup and placed them on top of the banana tree leaves. We poured bowls of soup and shared rice amongst ourselves.  Then, we all wolfed down all the food. Chan stood up eating saying that he can eat more with a straight posture. I laughed so hard. Now, that is a true saying of a fatty. We all had a food baby and afterwards, climbed up trees  surprisingly with our impregnated selves.

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Chan and me…climbing a tree haha.

 

It was a really fun day and a touching experience for me because it reminded me of when my family and I would go camping and would party it up with tons of food and shared funny conversations together.

It was a good, good day.

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The gang.

Sad Corner –

I had a moment of disappointment one night when having dinner at Clara’s. Clara’s children are physically dark-skinned but her family is not of Afro-descendents. The topic of the States came up and Clara mentioned how in the States people shoot black people. Then, Chan, Clara’s son said he wouldn’t come because of that problem. I felt like I got punched in the stomach because it was hard to hear my country being depicted as this. Guns and racism have been a real issue in the States and at that moment, I realized the power of media and that other countries were watching our painful problems. I replied to them that there is a problem with guns,  disrimination, and racism in the States, but our country is not made up of guns, discrimination, or racism. I added an example that this problem in the States was simliar to Europe with discrimination and racism towards migrants. It’s an issue that a country can have, but it’s not what a country represents. This moment made me realize I need to get my Spanish to the level where I can best express and defend myself and the United States. It was frustrating and disappointing to go through this, but I believe my very presence is a positive representation of the United States to other peoples of the world.

But to end this on a ligther note, I eventually convinced Chan to come to the States saying there is a plethora of food and even, Colombian food. 🙂

 

Funny Moments –

*I am not sure what my body is doing, but I feel that my body heat goes to my hands. My hands are always so hot. Like ridiculously hot. I touched mamicita, my grandma, and told her to feel how hot my hands were.  I cannot really understand mamicita because her voice is so soft and she mumbles a lot  but I believe she said something along the lines of…people with hot hands will have love in their love forever. Maybe I made that saying up, but I don’t know…mamicita’s wise and I’ll take her word for it.

 

* So, I think my Spanish is understandable, I get the message across, and I pronunciate well…but at times my mom asks me to repeat things and then my little brother, Ivan, translates furiously for me. Haha. It is just so funny because the conversation goes something like this…

Angell : *At turtle pace with pauses and head scratching here and there* “Voy a biblioteca para reunirse mis compañeros por nuestros proyectos. Entonces voy a ir a casa de Jackie para ir tarea. Voy a regresar a las 7 pm.” – I am going to the library to meet my counterparts for our projects. Then, I will go to Jackie’s house to do homework. I will return at 7 pm.

Mom : “Cómo?”

Ivan : *Speaks at lightning fast pace and with an annoyed tone* Ella dijo que ella va a ir a biblioteca y entonces va a ir a casa de Jackie por tarea. Ella va a regresar a las 7 pm!!!” – She said that she is going to the library and then Jackie’s house for homework. She will be return at 7 pm!!!

Angell : *Smiles* “Si”

Haha. Poor Ivan. It’s hard being the youngest of the family as well as my translator.

 

*My brothers play soccer once a while and the winner buys boli – a flavored ice. They play and Ivan was really kicking butt this one day and it was so hilarious to watch. Mauricio got frustrated and kept saying some goals weren’t goals and then there’s Ivan screaming each time he made a goal. They used me as the referee and it was a lot of pressure… haha.

They can’t wait for Colombia to win against USA in an upcoming soccer game. We will see about that.

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Wow, can you believe it is already March? Time flies when you are having fun and sweating your water weight away. 🙂

Cogela Suave = Take it Easy

*Please hover your cursor over pictures for captions. (Top photo is a tank top made by my friend, Elias, who is quite the artist.)

Today I crave Texas BBQ with a gluttonous amount of BBQ sauce, sweet honey rolls, and ribs…and brisket…and all the sides. This post is about my time so far during the month of January. I have been officially a Peace Corps Trainee for one month. I haven’t been able to reach out much due to limited access to internet, but have been logging all the funny and memorable parts of my life so far and am finally publishing it!

To note: There is free wifi floating around in my village but it is unstable and the stable wifi is near a “tower” which is outside and I can only endure talking outside during my only free time (lunch time or weekends) for a little while before I melt away. There is an internet cafe with a strong internet connection but I can only get to it on Saturdays, but these past weeks, it has been closed on that very day because of Carnaval = Carnival celebrations. I got myself a modem to buy internet data so I can plug it in my personal computer but have decided to use that internet wisely and for only important items.

So basically, the struggle is very real and I am not ignoring anyone who tried to call or email. I only can look at the missed call or read the email (if I am lucky to open it) and thank you in my mind. Please still send me your love, though, because it keeps me sane.

First of all, how are you?

I am doing very well. I have not gotten sick and haven’t gained 100 pounds… praise the Lord.

I live in a village in the coast of Colombia, but I am not near a body of water. Cows and dogs roam freely, neighbors greet each other frequently, personal drinking water is sold in little bags where people suck the water out, my brain is crammed with a lot of Spanish and sometimes I can’t speak English correctly and I respond to people in Korean at times, a lot of the diet is fried, people love cafe con leche = coffee with milk, they think iced coffee is simply absurd (I made it once and people freaked out a little), and I am sweating all the time.

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So, to rewind…

January 16 – Bienvenidos = Welcome

I went through a four-day retreat to learn about a general overview of security and health, meet my counterparts, and meet the Peace Corps Colombia staff. Based on our Spanish level, we were placed in different villages. 28 other counterparts and I were dropped off one-by-one to our host family that we would be living with during our three-month training. There are seven Peace Corps trainees in my village, including me.  I was blessed with a great host family.

I live with a host mom (Alicia), her two sons (Ivan and Mauricio aka Mau, ages 13 and 17), and grandmother (Elsa aka Mamicita).

 

 

The first day I arrived to my training site, I played soccer and sprained my ankle. I was trying a bit too hard to make friends the first day. Haha. However, I did make one goal and introduced myself to many children.

 

 

January 19 – Se Fue la Luz = The Lights Went Out

The lights in our village community went out and it was a fun family experience.

Alicia, Mamicita, Mauricio, Ivan, and Regulo (Alicia’s nephew) were sitting out in the front of the patio with me.

There was a lot of breeze and my brother and grandma kept saying how cold it was. I am pretty sure it was still 90 degrees with some breeze, but it was unusually cold for them. Haha. They wrapped themselves in blankets and it was hilarious because Mauricio had a polkda dot blanket and was wrapping himself like a little burrito and my grandma kept flashing her flashlight to our faces when we stood up to go to the bathroom and we all yelled, “Turn that off Mamicita!” because we could see just fine with the moonlight. She eventually fell asleep with a towel covering herself. The moon was very bright that night and all the neighbors were outside and talking.

This night reminded me of a time when I used to live in a small town in Louisiana and the lights went out during the winter. We navigated in the house with candles and my family all slept in one room together like little sardines.

On this day, I felt that I was part of my Colombian family.

 

January 20 – Cuando mi pais sufren, me duele = When my country suffers, it pains me

My Spanish teacher said something profound today. She was explaining our role in Colombia and how her position as a Spanish teacher makes an impact on our future impact. She told us that the Peace Corps’ presence and assistance has made gradual change in Colombia. She said her ability to help us learn Spanish gives us the ability to help her country because when her country suffers, it pains her.

Bilinguism and interest in education gives Colombia hope for a better future. I am proud of being a part of CII-8.

 

January 30 – Santa Marta

Me and three other counterparts (two from my village and another from another village) went to a current volunteer site visit in a village in Santa Marta. The village was located on top of the mountains and the transport there was really a journey. It seemed like we travelled the seven seas to get there because we had to take 5 modes of transportation there and back. Goodness.

Our host volunteer’s name is Caitlin and was a great host. She made us a home-cooked meal, carrot cake that was absolutely amazing, and showed us around her village and school.

She was very resourceful as she created her own stove to make the carrot cake, made a barbell with weights out of cement and a pole, and used interesting supplies to hang items from the ceiling.

Her community knew her well and the objective of our visit was to see her integration to her community and her qualities as a volunteer.

I also got to bond with my counterparts on a more personal level because we all slept in the same room and sang the Pokemon theme song and had a lot of pillow talk. You can never be too old for Pokemon. 

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Minca, Santa Marta.

 

Thoughts and things learned –

*People are quite interested in my Korean-ness. I feel that I am a diplomat of both the U.S. and Korea.

They really like touching my straight hair. Haha. Although they call me Chino = Chinese, they now know that I am Coreana-Americana = Korean-American after repeating over and over that I was born in the United States but my parents were born in South Korea. They call me Coreano that looks like a Chino. Haha…we are getting close. It surprised me that many Colombians drove KIA cars. 

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Taught Maria how to spell her name in Korean.

 

*The mayor of our a village is a beautiful, fashionable, six-inch-high-heel-wearing woman. Girl power.

*Nobody really smokes cigarettes! It’s awesome.

*Carnaval is a big celebration before Lent. Basically, all the villages have their own Saint. My village’s Saint is the Virgin of Candalaria. Candalaria is one of the neighborhood names of my village. Basically, we have Festival to prepare for her arrival (pre-party hardy) and then have Carnaval to celebrate her arrival (party hardy for four days). Carnaval is basically going to 6th Street in Austin, Texas for four days in a row. There are tons of people, fried food for sale, dancing (!!!!!), drinking (!!!!), dumping maizena = corn flour all over our bodies and faces (it’s part of the celebration that no-one really explains the reasoning for…), and spraying foam everywhere.

 

*I don’t really need internet. Yes, it’s been frustrating at times but letting internet go has made me also let go of worry and anxiety. I realized I will always find a way to reach out to those I love and care about and those who feel the same way towards me will also find a way to contact me. Life is not completely cruel.

*Colombians drink lots of fresh made juices, hot, hot, soup, meats, rice, and fried foods. I love the rice, but the fried foods make me a very sad person. Haha. There is this popular cheese called queso Costeño = Coast. It looks like tofu and it is rubbery. When you bite it, you make a squeaky sound. Colombians eat it with arepas which are like plain pancakes. Colombians love arepas.

And speaking of hot, hot, soups…

There was a funny time when I had a technical training session with my counterparts and we were having lunch. The appetizer was this potato soup and in this dining hall, there is no air conditioning. Sweating and hungry, I took a bite of this soup and I die a little bit inside. My mouth is burning and my sweat is soaking my clothes. Then I hear one of my counterparts describe that he ate one of the small potatoes and he said it felt like he ate a ball of fire. It was the funniest thing ever and we are all laughing, sweating, and trying to eat the hot as hell potato soup.

*Music is everywhere because most people own huge speakers. The music is oftentimes blasting. It is a club everywhere I go. I learned how to dance, Cumbia = a dance composed of Spanish, Indigenous, and African origins. It is like taking little baby steps while moving your hips. The woman partner raises her dress and hands once in a while and the man partner bows and tips his hat. It is basically a flirtatious dance.

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Cumbia dance crew.

 

*Women wear a lot of make-up. I sweat too much so I don’t even bother with make-up here except my sunscreen and BB cream and maybe on a good day, I will apply mascara, but other than that, it’s a not fashion show for me. However, one night during Festival there were bands coming to our village to perform a live concert. I thought I dressed up a little more than I usually do but Alicia’s sister-in-law, Ivette, and her daughters and another family member begged to differ. They really caked on the make-up, glitter, and lipstick on my face and lent me this girly midriff showing polka dot shirt. I looked like a doll. I felt like one of those ugly ducklings who got on the complete make-over show and shocked everyone with my results. Haha, what a night.

*Cogela suave; it means to take it easy. I sure am learning to take it easy because nothing is fast-paced nor regimented as it is in the U.S. You have to be patient, understanding, and flexible when conducting work in Colombia. You may have all the Google calendar invites sent out to your collegues for meetings, email reminders, conference calls, and more, but nothing is guaranteed to go according to plan. That’s why you have to take it easy or you may go crazy.

Now since Carnaval is finally over, we can have some peace and quiet.

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Little Kid

After completing our “Staging” in Miami, Florida, 29 Americans from all over the United States including, Minnesota (a ton!), Ohio, Arizona, Oregon, North Carolina, New York, and Texas (The lone Angell Kim represented the Lone Star State 😉 ) we all flew to Colombia.

A bubble of anxiety kept brewing in my stomach. Ugh, I was getting pretty tired of this dreadful feeling. We landed in Colombia and as I was going through customs and immigration, I heard cheering and clapping. A friend jokingly asked, “Is Shakira here?” Haha, unfortunately, she was not, but as soon as I exited the airport, we were all greeted with enthusiasm, signs with our names, and cameras taking our pictures left and right.

I really appreciated the current Peace Corps Volunteers, Leaders, and Staff for greeting us in this way. My ugly anxiety bubble popped and I felt relieved and welcomed. This whole time I felt that I was about to bungee jump and was thinking about whether to jump or withdraw. Well, I jumped.

We went through a four-day retreat with extremely caring and passionate staff members who prioritize our safety, physical and mental health, Spanish progress, and ultimately, our success in our mission in Colombia.

I met my Spanish teacher whom I will be instructed under and will study with three other volunteers in my skill level. I am really happy with our group. Although we are helpful and slightly competitive (guilty) we all have the same goal to learn and make that process exciting.

Tomorrow, we begin our 3-month training and meet our host family. The feeling of nervousness and anticipation you get when you’re about to go on a date with that good-looking person never seems to cease…

I feel like a kid in aims to make new friends, not embarrass myself, and fit in all…from…the…very…beginning!

 

Things I learned so far:

  • Our group is CII-8 which stands for…

C = Colombia

II = Group II. Colombia had a hiatus from 1981-2010. So, group I was comprised of the volunteers who served from 1961-1981. Group II is comprised of the volunteers who served from 2010-present-day.

8 = The 8th group of volunteers who are serving under Group II.

  • Abanico = fan
  • No dar papaya = Don’t give the papaya. Theft and pick-pocketing can happen in Colombia so this phrase applies to our safety. Basically, don’t be walking around like a rich American showing your riches or (figuratively) your papaya. Don’t show the valuable fruits. Haha.
  • Colombians don’t really include a lot of vegetables in their diet…what will I do without my beloved broccoli?!?!?!
  • Americans have so much stuff! So much stuff!!! We all suffered from our large luggage from our airport to the hotel, etc. I hope to learn how to pack efficiently and live minimally.

 

As I travel to my host family’s home tomorrow, I will not have internet access.. I will have to figure out how to buy data on my phone to connect to my laptop, so off I will go into the caveman ages. Hope y’all are eating American french fries on my behalf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to…Say Goodbye.

I shuffled through my iPod to listen to some calming music for the jitters and then Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli’s duet, Time to Say Goodbyeturns on.

What a perfect song for the occasion.

I am pretty nervous. I feel like I am about to go on a blind date with a super attractive person, whom in this situation is the Peace Corps.

I stuffed myself with all the Korean food, Mexican tacos, Texas BBQ, and Chick-fil-A I could literally eat. I shared so many hugs and conversations with my family; I even piggy-backed all of my family members. Yes, even my father. I packed, re-packed, un-packed, and then re-packed my luggage about 100 times. Now, it is finally the day of being a part of the Peace Corps (or Cuerpo de Paz in Spanish).

Today, I will travel to Miami, Florida for “Staging,” which is similar to an orientation of meeting my 28 comrades, learning topics such as safety and security, and sharing a glimpse of what to expect and if we are indeed ready for the Peace Corps.

The following day, we will head to Colombia. This is where we will begin our three-month Pre-Service Training (PST) which includes cross cultural, language, technical, and safety and security training to be best equipped for our service. I am really looking forward to fitting in, improving my background in Spanglish, and meeting my host family.

I will let you know how my blind date goes.

My stomach is flipping out.

 

1.12.16

 

 

 

Korea 2015

Well, well, well. What a whirlwind of events that have happened from October to present-day. To give you a brief up-to-today timeline and my Korea adventures…

On October 13th, a bird had pooped on me and then a couple of hours later, I received the most anticipated email: “Congratulations! You are now medically cleared to depart for Peace Corps Volunteer service.”  I made sure I took it easy that whole day and drank a shot of whiskey later that night to celebrate my diligence, patience, and flexibility.

I have been invited to serve in the Peace Corps as a Teaching English for Livelihood (TEL) to train English teachers in Colombia. I will be receiving necessary training for three months and then serve for two years. Before serving, I had to undergo legal and medical clearance to ensure my suitability to serve in Colombia.

I put in a four week notice at my first big girl job, then wrapped up my work/personal business, and finally, bid farewell to everyone I cared about in Austin, Texas.

On November 22nd, I returned to Dallas, Texas to be with my family and spend time with them. In the making, I had set up a fundraiser, collected my savings and last paycheck to make visiting to Korea happen. (thank you to those who helped me with my fundraiser; I cannot thank you enough)

My grandma on my mom’s side (in Korean, she is called my “Weh” grandma) is 85 years old and my grandpa passed away. My grandma on my dad’s side (in Korean, she is called my “Chin” grandma) and grandpa (“Chin” grandpa) are in their late 70s.

I will be in Colombia beginning January of 2016 and with the little time remaining from now until then, I had wanted to visit my grandparents who are in Korea.

The two weeks I was there was memorable and time of lots of laughter. Here are some of my memories:

With my “Chin” grand parents, I went to Incheon’s famous fish market. My grandparents picked the fish and as soon as we selected them, the fisherman grabbed the fish and hit its head on the cutting board. That was my cue to walk out to avoid seeing the gutting. eek.

There are little restaurants nearby where you can enjoy the fish with rice, soup, alcoholic beverages, etc. So, take a gander at the before and after. Talk about F-R-E-S-H.

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Transitioning to probably my least favorite experience in Korea…I am unsure exactly what happened, but I had gained tons of acne on my face during the time I moved from Austin to Dallas. When I came to Korea, my “Chin” grandma flipped out and grabbed my face and asked what on earth happened to my “milky, white skin.” Well…beats me.

She immediately made an appointment to the dermatologist for me where they treat patients with skin lasers. To let you know, along with a S-line (curvy coca cola shaped body), a V-shaped face (Koreans love small faces), and skinniness, Koreans highly value “milky, white skin.”

***Note: this part may include details that are weird***

So, I had worked for a medical device consulting company, and when I entered the dermatologist, I was bragging to my grandma that the skin lasers displayed on the walls were medical devices and they had to get prior registration approval and continued to show off my knowledge on and on without really knowing what I was getting myself into.

What a day that had been… I had my pimples poked with a needle, squeezed out with probably a wrench (my eyes were covered during this painful, horrible time, so I am guessing what the tools looked like), and the doctor stamped something cold and then used two lasers on my face. The lasers felt like little static on my face and I smelt burning skin. It was the craziest, most painful, experience ever!!!!!! All this for beauty!!!!!!

I may be sharing more information than needed, but I also had these whiteheads clumped together below my eye. Okay, not very visible unless you stare at me real close, but my “Chin” grandma has eagle eyes. She asked the doctor to remove this problem area, too, and I thought it would just feel like the lasers that reminded me of static.

TOTALLY WRONG.

This actual laser felt like a hot needle that pierced that thin layer of skin. Unknowingly, tears ran down my face and after experiencing hell, the doctor says, “It didn’t hurt, right?” (teasing).

I was like…silent. What a terrible joke.

Anyway, here is the place I went. Never again!!!

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Moving forward to better experiences… Korea is very cold right now. I was wearing layers, a hat, gloves, a scarf, you name it. After walking out of the dermatologist with my “Chin” grandma, we walked by the most popular food stand near her neighborhood. We saw “Ddeok-bok-gi” (rice cakes in hot pepper paste mixed with fish cakes and green onions; it’s a popular snack food in Korea) being made right in front of our eyes. It was pretty spicy, but it was so good. My grandma had always wanted to eat here because she would see all the children coming from school waiting in line to eat here. I had always wanted to eat “Ddeok-bok-gi” in this kind of atmosphere (outside, cold) and with someone I cared about. Well, guess we knocked this experience off our bucket lists.

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When I stayed with my “Weh” grandma the following week, I listened to her talk about her little goldfish pets. The red fish are males and the other green/brown fish are females. Some of the females have children in their bellies and they are the chubbiest of the bunch. It was fun to see my grandma take care of them and also complain how much they poop.

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In a nutshell, I visited my “Weh” grandpa’s grave, I met up with my Korea office colleagues, I never went hungry, I took glamor shots in the snow, I drank banana milk every day (banana milk is the best thing in Korea) and I left happy.

 

I am fortunate to have seen my grandparents before my two-year service in Colombia. They went through a lot: Japanese colonization, Korean War, raising their kids through tough times, and hunger. Without them, I literally would not be here.

There’s a lot of love in my life and I am very thankful.