After all, when you're a person so close-knit to your family, it's hard to know how you're supposed to act and react to the holidays when you're spending it in a land that is your residence, yet is not your home.
Enter Causes Greater Than Thyself.
First up, finding great gifts for family back home. We took a strategic approach and did half of our shopping online, and half from here. You may not know it, but Korea is a shopper's sanctuary, with everything from giant stationary shops to luxurious department stores to guys selling stuff off the back of a truck parked in front of your workplace. After some careful post office guesswork, mission accomplished.
Cause number two, kindergarten Christmas Concert. Christmas Concerts are serious business here, meant mostly to show off our academy's swagger. I remember kindergarten concerts as a "one song per class, some hand gestures" type of cute thing. This was not one of those concerts; it was full on, each class performing a fully choreographed dance routine and an eight minute play, including costume changes. Teachers began writing scripts in October and classes started rehearsing in November. In the end, the parents were very impressed, and the teachers relieved.
|Shane's class waiting patiently for their turn.|
|One of UPenn classes most talented class clowns. Heart him.|
Next, my role as Santa's helper at school, trying to convince the students that it really was Santa, not Shane Teacher, even though this Santa has earrings just like Shane. The kids are too smart for me, and I got tangled in my web of lies.
Our school was very kind to us, not only treating the teachers to a Korean BBQ dinner after the Christmas Concert, but also holding the first ever all-staff end of year party. Dinner included soju and makkeoli (rice wine). Boss man asked us to take a shot with him, and when I replied that I shouldn't drink too much because I had to work the next day, he told me that he doesn't want to think of me as an old lady, so drink up. I love Korean hospitality.
The finale to our Christmas was both the best and most difficult, and it left me marked with many mixed emotions, mostly the feeling that I needed to educate myself much more about social systems here. Shane and I were invited to join others in volunteer on Christmas day at local orphanages.
We put on an abridged Grinch Who Stole Christmas. We had a minor role at the beginning and ending of the extravaganzas, and spent only a little time with the children themselves, as we had to travel across town in between performances to get to the second location. At the first orphanage, a young boy started crying the moment he saw Shane, a huge, strange blonde-headed man with green facepaint. Making orphans cry was NOT the gift we wanted to give these children. After a rough start, though, the rest of the performance went well, with Yuni narrating in Korean, and boys and girls laughing intermittently.
I still cannot articulate well how this made me feel. I felt sad for the children, but felt patronizing for feeling that. The orphanages didn't feel like sad places: they were warm and bright and colorful and cozy, not a scene from a Charles Dickens novel. I wished I could do more than show up for 15 minutes one day a year and pretend it was some great act. Sure, it was nice, and the kids really did have lots of fun. But I can't even pretend to start to understand what their lives are like. I wanted to give them more affection, more love.... This brief experience has left me marked in ways I don't yet fully understand, yet, it was not about me or any of the other volunteers, it was about those children, who are each other's family.
As for our families in Wisconsin, we were able to arrange a late night Skype session to spend Christmas morning with them. It wasn't the same as being there, of course, but it was a little of home from far away.
|Christmas Lights Festival in Nampo-dong.|
After all, nothing says Christmas like flags