Last fall I had such a great time on the English Town’s trip to Yeongdeok that I decided to join another weekend camp to Gyeongju. The English Town in my city (Gyeongsan) puts on two trips a year for the Gifted Students Program. They usually ask for teachers (foreign and Korean) to join the trip and we get all meals paid for, accommodation, and a nice paycheck for spending the weekend leading a small group through various English activities.
In mid-June we set off to Gyeongju. The first place we went was Yangdong Village. I had been to this village a few weeks before, but was only able to have lunch there (best bibimbap I’ve had to date!). I was excited to go back and get to explore it some more. This history of this place is pretty fascinating. The houses there date back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and are very well preserved. The village is still alive and thriving…Not just a tourist site, but a place where people still live and farm just like they did hundreds of years ago.
In the morning, I led my group of students around the village identifying various historic sites. It was hot and there was a lot of complaining. We got a little lost too (the map was confusing!) but it was really interesting to see so many houses and buildings that were so old. After that we got to rest a little bit, and had lunch, bibimbap. Delicious!
In the afternoon, the students got to do a variety of culture activities. First up was making rice cakes (떡). This consists of pounding rice with giant wooden hammers until it gets sticky enough to form into a “cake”. There’s all different types of rice cakes, and I can’t begin to describe them all. I will say that most foreigners do not like them. They have a very sticky/squishy consistency and unique flavor that is hard to get used to. I actually hated them when I first got to Korea, but now I really like them. There are certain types I don’t really like, but I was shocked that I grew to like many of them! Anyway, so all the students took turns pounding the rice. They didn’t look too enthused about it, but they at least, pretended to be having fun.
Next up was cookie making. The students all got strips of cookie dough and were instructed on how to form them into a type of traditional Korean cookie. This all happened in Korean so I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but the students seemed to enjoy it. After that, they made a traditional Gyeongju mask. They used paper and sponges and squished it down into a mold. Then when they removed the wet paper it had formed into a very small mask. I tried to get them to let me make one, but they said “No teachers!” I was sad.
By the time we finished the masks it was getting to be pretty late in the afternoon, so we loaded up the buses and set off for our accommodation for the night. We stayed at a pension/training facility somewhere in Gyeongju National Park. It wasn’t a particularly nice place, but it wasn’t terrible either. The teachers at least had WAY nicer rooms than the students, and it was, of course, floor sleeping.
We didn’t have much time to settle in before dinner time. Typical Korean cafeteria food…Nothing special about that. After dinner we had an evening session with the kids until around 9. We got into groups and came up with names/posters, and then we played games against other groups. My group was the “Gold” group, and we happened to be a group of all girls so I named us “The Golden Girls”. Of course, they didn’t really understand the significance, but all the other foreign teachers thought it was funny! Despite all the complaining my girls had done throughout the day, they really pulled together and were creative and energetic for the evening activities. I was really proud of them! Then came their favorite part…Each group “won” a box full of snacks and drinks!
The next day we woke up early to eat breakfast and quickly made our way to the first activity for the day. The first stop was Bulguksa Temple. I’d been wanting to go there for ages. I led my girls around the temple and we had to write down 7 facts that we learned while reading the signs explaining the different areas in the temple. It was really beautiful there. Records state that the current temple was constructed in 751, and has since had many expansions and renovations. It is the home Dabotap and Seokgatap, two famous stone pagodas, as well as many other national treasures.
After the temple, the students went to a park and got to play some traditional Korean games with an English twist. They had fun, but it was so hot outside! We had lunch in the main tourist area in Gyeongju before our last activity for the day, a photo scavenger hunt. Our time for this was cut way short due to the heat. My group didn’t get very many pictures. We also got yelled out by an adjumma for going into an area without paying (we didn’t know, oops!). Around 1pm we loaded back on the buses and headed back to Gyeongsan. The entire bus was completely silent. All the kids were exhausted and fell asleep!