The first week of the new year, while most people were going back to school after winter break, mine just started. I spent my New Year's weekend with two Germans - Arne, one of the exchange students in my town, and Laura, an exchange student living in Seoul who came to our town for the weekend.
To celebrate, we went to the beach where some community festivities were going on. We had hoped to wait until they had fireworks at midnight, but instead, we went back to Arne's host mother's house and watched the program on television to celebrate the new year. In this program, a large, traditional bell was rung multiple times to usher in the Solar New Year (there is also a Lunar New Year Jan. 23, which is a much larger celebration).
During my first week of break, I was not really sure what to do. Besides my host mother's birthday party, my week was pretty uneventful, so I began working on a list of the things that I want to see or do while in South Korea. At the time of writing this, I have already accomplished some of them and also added a whole bunch more to the list.
One of the first ones to cross off my list was going skating in Korea, which I was able to do with Jeewon (my first host sister), Josh (the Taiwanese exchange student) and Haerin and Hweyoung (two Korean friends). To go skating, we went to the same amusement park (in Janghang) that I had gone to at Christmas, where they had a skating rink set up. I was very pleased that I could rent skates in my size, as none of the shoe stores in the area carry it. It was nice to go skating, as it it brought something familiar into the foreign environment.
After skating, I went with my host family to Gwangju, the major city in the southwest portion of the country. We went there to meet with extended family and to celebrate my host grandfather's birthday. My host family's grandparents and one uncle live in the same apartment complex, so the family's celebration split its time between the two apartments. While in the area, we also went to Damyang Soswaewon, which was a traditional house and garden.
The following week, I had English Camp at my school, which is a school program for students to improve their English. Many schools offer them, but it still counts as a portion of our break.
During this week, the exchange students were not able to participate much, as we all knew English beyond the level that was being taught. We were able to participate in some activities though, which was a lot of fun.
For example, on the first day, Danna (one of the students from Mexico) and I teamed up in making origami as part of one of the activities that the students were doing. Although we didn't finish in the time given, we finished the complete set of origami during the free time that the exchange students were given for most of the day.
Another activity that we did during the week was making kites. After building them, we got to fly them on the soccer field. Although it was difficult to get it at first, I eventually got my kite working correctly and had a few times where it actually got up very high. During the week, we received our hanboks, which is the Korean traditional clothing, and finished up our hanbok vest sewing projects. Also one of the days, I went on a hike with Arne up one of the mountains in Seocheon.
Editor's note: P.J.?Sproule is a Rotary Youth Exchange student from the Houghton Rotary Club living near Seocheon, South Korea, for a year.