With a door shut in my face, kids laughing and yelling in Korean on the other side, the Korean volunteer who came with me that day looked at me hesitantly and said, “He said, ‘go home.’ He was very rude.” One of the 12 students at the center, this small seven year old boy had not spoken to me much until this point. I could see the distrust in his eyes whenever I spoke to him. This was weeks into my time at Gospel Happy Home School Children’s Center, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this student. He was rough and didn’t get along well with the other children. The older boys would bully him, but he also frequently tried intimidation tactics with kids he felt he could get away with.  It was tempting to just say he was going to be a problem child and leave it at that. But my teachers assured me that it took time for him to warm up to people. He was very shy, and the things we did to show we cared were not lost on him. It would just take time.

I wondered if time or effort would change his distrust of me – a foreigner assigned as his teacher, but I was willing to find out. And so I kept at it – still including him and trying to joke with him. Jokes were not received well. I could tell by his tone and body language that he thought my efforts were juvenile and he was above those things. I did my best to intervene on what looked like unfair horse-play by the older, bigger boys, though I was missing cultural and conversational context and hoping I wasn’t embarrassing him. Eventually he spoke to me more – calling me 똥리슨 (which is like Poop-lyson instead of Alyson). I decided to take this name calling as optimistically as possible – after all he was talking to me. I kept at it, trying to including him in games whether or not he played.

Slowly but surely I saw him warm to me. I captured his attention with spinning coins and sleight of the hand tricks my dad used to do with me. The kids were taken by my ability to draw on demand, and he impressed me with his English vocabulary of fierce predatory animals he wanted me to draw for him. He always made sure that each predatory animal had big sharp bloody teeth and claws. Perhaps he decided at some point I wasn’t so bad. By mid-year, this small boy, who slammed doors in my face and told me to go home was coming to me to play tag. Though he never stopped calling me 똥리슨, I can still hear him yelling, “Can you? Can you?” his way of asking “Can you catch me?” so I could run after him – always calling “Time!” right before I caught him. It didn’t matter to me that he always “won.” I was delighted that we were playing.

When the new school year started he stopped coming to the center. I asked the teachers about him, and they said he wasn’t doing well academically and would be back later. I wasn’t sure I would see him again, and I wondered what was going on in his life. Sure enough though, months later as summer break started for the kids and a few weeks before my work at the center ended, I was relieved to see him show up again – spunky as ever and calling me 똥리슨 again. I told him I missed him and he asked me to catch him again.


This has been expanded and edited from a 3 minute speech

Art Projects Galore!

One of those big questions that college graduates have when they graduate is “Will I ever use my degree?” As someone who graduated with a B.F.A. in Industrial Design, but is currently volunteering as a YAV in Korea, this is definitely a question that plagues me some. I still get questioned about why I’m not doing Industrial Design, but that’s a whole other topic all together. The point being that my degree has not gone to waste even though I am not actually an Industrial Designer, but rather a volunteer.


A few weeks ago I had the chance to speak at English Chapel in front of a mostly sleeping crowd of students (it’s a mandatory class). I had free reign over the topic, I just needed to provide a verse and try to make my speech about 25 minutes long. So of course I take the chance to use the verse Isaiah 2:4 –

He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

…and talk about design! Specifically “Peace through Transformation and Design”

You can check out my wordless presentation in the link above. It’s probably less interesting with me talking for 15 minutes over it, but knock yourself out. I argued that we should be using our skills and the gifts we’ve been given not as weapons but as tools for peace. It’s very easy to bring up examples from Industrial Design, but any skill you have can be used towards peace for people within your sphere of influence.

And while I may not be doing Industrial Design work, my ID skills have influenced my work in a lot of ways throughout this year.

Within my house I made our chore chart for the year. We divided our chores for the 5 people who live in our house.house3.jpg

This hangs on our wall in our kitchen. The back wheel with our names written in Korean rotates every week so that we all switch chores once a week. Probably the most useful thing I made this year.

For our house I also made us some cute ornaments for Winter and Spring. The photos inside are left over photos we had from getting our foreigner ID cards. The photos are removable and replaceable so you can switch them from one ornament to another.

The flowers are currently in a bottle on our living room table with paint brush stems. Hopefully bringing our house a little joy.


I’ve also made my own Halloween costume which were just some cat ears I could bobby pin into my hair.


Occasionally I’d do my own relaxation with art projects as well and I made some cute little doo-dads that don’t really do anything. I was pretty happy I found googley eyes.

I gave the bear to my bosses’ son, Sahn, and the bunny to my friend Hanbyeol who used it as a guide for a craft when she did some volunteering in Cambodia. But these types of things aren’t really very useful, and I made them mainly for my own satisfaction. More importantly have been the things I’ve made with or for my kids – either at Sunday school, the Migrant Women’s Shelter, or my children’s center. My methodology for lessons definitely started out with what I know best, which is arts and crafts. One of my first big lessons at my children’s center was puppet making.

(Sorry for how silly this is, for the privacy of the children at my center and the women’s shelter, their faces will be covered by adorable stickers!)

My site has also hosted crafts. One of which was a cake decorating day. It was Peppero day, which many people have as a couples’ holiday, but I had a lot of fun decorating a cake with my buddy, Seong Eun.

One of the fun projects I did with the women’s shelter children (with my roommate Emily’s help) was a garbage bag fashion show. I made a few things myself, but the kids had a good time making their own  clothes.

Above you can see some photos from their fashion walk. Me on the other hand, I made a garbage hat for myself. Perfect for a fancy day out!


We’ve done some origami together, and I’ve made them flowers.


One of the girls at the women’s shelter brought out tweezers for this one so she could make increasingly smaller fortune tellers. It was quite a thing to see!

I also created a few English lessons around art projects.

The kids had a chance to make some of the paper food (and I provided some of it) and we made “Our Restaurant.” They took turns ordering the food we all made in English and filled up their paper trays. It was a nice mixture of Korean and American foods


My roommate Alexis and I had a lesson on clothes where we filled a suitcase with clothes for a trip as well. The kids got a chance to made some clothes to put in the suitcase. If you notice there’s an inner tube for when they go to the beach up there.

I wish I had photos of the books I made with the children at my center too. One of my kids used his book to write a long list of Pokemon.

At church I’ve made some stick puppets and classic paper snowflakes with the Sunday school kids.

The thing I do the most in Sunday school though, is illustrate the Bible stories for the kids while they listen.

Maybe you can recognize the Bible stories I’m drawing? I’m sure there are a few projects I’m missing from the year. Though I’m not an Industrial Designer, a lot of the work I do involved my art background. Thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to apply my skills in creative ways. I do think it’s been an enriching part of my experience and a part that continues to give. I do think that we can all use the skills we have towards more peace in the world – whether it’s transforming swords into plowshares, guns into garden tools, or just using whatever skills we have towards peace.

Speaking with Children

In my adventures of learning Korean I’ve had to learn a specific set of vocabulary that is useful when working with the children at my site. For a little background, there are different ways to speak to people depending on how much respect you need to give them. Speaking to grandparents is much more formal than speaking with children and there is essentially a different set of vocabulary for each level of honorifics. In case you were wondering, kids are totally kids wherever you are in the world. I’ve assembled a list of vocabulary that I’ve learned and use frequently with the children at my site.

[Almost none of the words below are really really formal so if you’re planning on using these words it’s probably a good idea not to speak to the elderly or people with some kind of high status this way]


  • 안녕 (informal) anyung

Nice to meet you/Glad to see you (sort of) –

  • 반갑습니다 (formal) pangapsimnida
  • 반가워요 (formal) pangahwohyo
  • 반가워 (informal) pangahwoh

What is your name?

  • 이림이 뭐예요?  (formal) eerimee mohyay yo?


  • 아니요 (formal) ahniyo
  • 아니 (informal) ahni
  • 아돼! (informal command) ahn dway!


  • 하지마 (informal) hajima


  • 좋아요 (formal) cho aiyo

Good job

  • 잘 했어요 (formal) chal hessoyo

Are (you) okay? –

  • 괜찮아요? (formal) kwenchanaiyo?
  • 괜찮아? (informal) kwenchanah?

(I/You/He/She/It) is okay

  • 괜찮아요 (formal) kwenchanaiyo
  • 괜찮아 (informal) kwenchanah

Be careful

  • 조심해 (informal) johshimay


  • 뭐? (informal) moh?


  • 왜? (informal) way?


  • 어떻게? (informal) ohtohkay?


  • 어디ㅔ요? (formal) awdi ay yo?
  • 어디? (informal) awdi?

What is (that/this)?

  • (그/이)것이 뭐예요? (formal) (kuh/ee)goshee mohyay yo?

What is the Korean name?

  • 한국 이름은 뭐예요? (formal) hangook eerimun mohyay yo?

See you tomorrow

  • 내일 만나요 (formal) nay il manai yo

Aside from just a list of words I use with children at my site, I feel like the order is a bit indicative of my journey with them. There was the initial hello, and then once I really jumped in I realized I had no idea as a teacher how to control these children when they did things like throw rocks or hit each other (which happens occasionally with children). My need for that bit of control in a foreign environment came before learning how to praise them though that was a close second. Then I observed them more (조심해! Be careful!), then I started learning from them.

I’ve learned things like 땅콩 (peanut) is slang for outcast, but many adults aren’t familiar with that term. I’ve learned about Korean equivalents for games like Simon Says, and a Korean game where you slap flat objects onto each other to try to flip them over (though I can’t for the life of me remember it’s name). I’ve learned this particular group of kids are very difficult to split into teams – emotions are very high. I’ve thankfully learned almost all their names by now, which kids like playing card games, and which ones like soccer.

The more time I spend with these kids the more I learn about their very unique personalities, and their complicated relationships with each other. The latter is very difficult for me to understand without my buddies translating for me. It is also near impossible for me to have a deep conversation with the children with the vocabulary I currently possess. It is very good for practical application, but not very good for heart to hearts or discussions. Bit by bit perhaps as both our relationships and our language abilities grow we can bridge that gap. I am always thankful to my buddies who help translate far beyond what I am capable of knowing, and kind patient site directors who don’t mind that I haven’t taught them much English so far. My language abilities may not advance enough within a year to have as deep conversation as I may like, but it’s only been about a month that I’ve been working at the Bokeum Happy Home School District Children’s Center so I still have hope.


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My Site Placement!

I have happy news to share with you. My site coordinator, Kurt, has informed me of my site placement for the year. I will be working at:

복음행복한홈스쿨 지역아동센터

(Bokeum Haengbokhan Home-seukool Jiyeok Adong CenteohBokeum Happy Home School District Children’s Center)

기관 설명 (Site Description):

The purpose of this center is to protect and nurture children from low income families, multicultural families, and families with single parents by providing diverse programs and identifying problem areas in health, emotions, and social needs in order for them to grow in a healthy environment. Furthermore, the center offers love and provides for whatever needs are possible for all the children no matter what circumstance they are in. The center also provides support, advocacy, and serves to network with the local community to solve the root of the family issues until the family can restore their healthy functions.

I am ecstatic to have been placed here! This is a new site, so none of us are quite sure what to expect. I don’t even have pictures, but this is work I feel life has been preparing me for. There are so many dynamics to this site that speak to topics near and dear to my heart. Be it low-income families, multicultural families, single parent households, or simply families in tough situations, I feel ready to jump in feet first to this work.

I also come from a multicultural family. My grandparents were from China and Burma. My parents’ generation were all born and raised in Burma because of World War II as non-citizen aliens because of their Chinese heritage. Because of threat of genocide with the Cleansing they moved to the US. While I am personally a little removed from that because I was born in the US and raised in the suburbs, I grew up with Chinese, Burmese, and American culture (American culture being it’s own mixed bag as well).

As I get older, the people I know grow older too and have their own families and children. A few of those families very close to my heart are single parents households. A few have gone through divorce, sickness, and economic hardship. I have seen the struggle for people I love.

While I am neither a refugee nor a single parent, I hope my experience and the empathy my life has nurtured will be good guiding forces for this new challenge. I know that things will not be the same. I am entering a new culture, a different language, and a dynamic between cultures that I do not understand. I can only hope that with all my passion for the work ahead that I can be a useful tool to this center and provide something of value for the families that are there.


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