Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This is my job?

Today was the last day of the school year for my students, which means that it wasn't really a day of school at all, but the kids just cleaned the school. Yes, this is the responsibility of the students in Korea, and it still amazes me to see them clean the school on a daily basis without complaining.

Anyway, while the students cleaned the school I was deskwarming, and around 11:30 my supervisor came over and told me that despite the fact that yesterday she told me I had to come back to school on Thursday, I now don't have to come back until Monday.  Hello, five day weekend!

So, this is what the month of January looks like for me:

January 1-3rd= no school
January-6th-15th=deskwarming (me sitting at my desk planning vacation, cruising facebook, reading, studying Korean, etc)
January 16th-29th=vacation (with a majority of those days in THAILAND!)
January 30-31st=Lunar New Year (no school)

So, to summarize, I am not teaching a single day in the month of January, but getting paid a regular month's salary.  

You might be wondering why I have to go to school if I'm not teaching.  Deskwarming is something that every EPIK teacher experiences, and even knows about when going into the job.  Our EPIK contracts specify a certain amount of hours and days that we need to work, so in order to fulfill our contracts, we have to go to school regardless of whether or not we're teaching.  After all, this is Korea, and that is our "duty".

Now, deskwarming can become EXTREMELY boring, but I can't quite bring myself to complain about getting paid to sit at my desk, especially since I know once I return to teaching in the States I will never have free time again.  One of the advantages of having teaching experience at home is that I know that even when this job IS really busy, it's never as busy as teaching at home.  It's put a lot of my experiences here in perspective.  

Additionally,  I am lucky because my school isn't as by the book as some other schools.  Where I get to leave early and have the rest of the week off, many of my friends have to be at school every day for regular school hours.

You might wonder what the students will be doing during the month of January.  To be honest, I'm not completely sure.  They have the rest of this week off (the ONLY vacation days they have), then they return to school next week to have classes. Despite the fact that it's not actually the school year, they keep having classes until March when the school year will officially begin again.  

So there you have it,my month of January in a glance.  I hope you all have a very happy NewYear! I will do a reflection on 2013 in my next post, but this has been a huge year and I can't quite wrap my head around it all yet.  


Saturday, December 28, 2013

A holiday weekend in Seoul

Since I've been updating about the holidays, I guess I shouldn't forget to mention how my Christmas week began--with a trip to Seoul. I had been looking forward to this weekend for some time because I had plans to see The Universal Ballet's production of The Nutcracker with some friends.  As I've mentioned before, Nutcracker is a major part of the holiday season for me, and it was pretty depressing to be here while all of my friends were performing a few weekends ago.  Needless to say, I was really excited to FINALLY get my Nutcracker fix and to check out one of Korea's two ballet companies.

I went up to Seoul on Friday after school and met up with one of my friends.  After grabbing a drink we went back to her place and got some rest for the next day. Saturday we met up with some other friends, grabbed lunch, then headed to Insadong--a large shopping area where I picked up a few things.  My other friend from Jeomchon met up with us there, at which point she and I headed out to find a hostel to stay at that night. 

We found a place in Itaewon, a part of Seoul with lots of western stores/restaurants, because that was where we had plans to go out later that night.  The hostel was only $14 for the night and was right around the block from where we would be later, so we were sold pretty easily on it.    

After changing for the ballet, we stopped and got some burritos at a Mexican restaurant that our friend had suggested to us.  If you know me at all, you know how much I love a good Chipotle burrito, so needless to say going 4 MONTHS without any Mexican food just really hasn't been ok with me.  We ate until we were completely stuffed (I mean, burritos are totally the classiest thing to eat before the ballet, right?), then headed to the Universal Arts Center for the ballet.  

We then met up with two other friends, took some obligatory pictures, and took our seats for the ballet.  
Beautiful Christmas tree outside the theater

Ready for the ballet to begin!

Overall, I enjoyed the show.  The dancers were good, and while there were some things I liked about the production as a whole, there were things I wish would have been a little different.  The interesting thing about Nutcracker is that every company does it a little differently, so although the general story and music are always the same, each production is unique.  All in all, the show was good though, and I especially loved being with my friends for their first ballet experience.  

After the show, we headed back out to Itaewon where we met up with some other friends.  We went to one bar that I didn't particularly care for (ummm pretty much a really sketchy scummy place), before heading to a calmer, more laid back place, where our friend who lives in Suwon met us.  We stayed there for a while, before finally heading to noraebang.

While we frequently end up at noraebang when we go out, this was probably my favorite noraebang session ever because we stuck to Christmas songs.  Christmas noraebang?  Just the best ever, and an awesome way to get some more Christmas spirit. 

After we finished our noraebanging it was pretty late, so my friend and I headed back to our hostel, while our other friends who lived in the city had to wait for the subway to open again (sorry guys!)

The next morning we woke up, got some delicious brunch (yes, we were so happy to be able to get actual breakfast food at a restaurant!!!), and finally made our way back to the bus station.  As always happens with the weekend trips, time went by way too quickly and I was left wondering where the time went.
Delicious banana french toast!

Overall, it was another great weekend in Seoul. Seeing Nutcracker and spending time with friends was probably the best start to the holiday week that I could have asked for.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in Korea

"Christmas, before the trees and presents and reindeer took over, harkens to the birth of Jesus, God’s Son, in the Christian tradition.  It’s nearly certain that the date isn’t right for Jesus’s actual birthday, but that’s never been the point anyway.  Christmas is a reminder that we are loved.  That the Divine hasn’t abandoned us to our own devices, rather he’s joined in the mess.
Quite literally, in fact.
The biblical account gives us a picture of God’s loving intent when it tells us that the Divine himself was born in a manger, where the donkeys and sheep hung out.
Whether you practice Christianity or not, the songs and lights and gift giving of the season all point to the reality of love.  God’s love for us.  Our love for each other.  A reality that takes on a new poignancy when you are far from home.
So don’t let holiday blues hijack the reign of love.  Surround yourself with people to love, whether it’s your travel buddy or a significant other or work mates or new friends you made at the skateboard park."

(taken from this article: http://www.reachtoteachrecruiting.com/blog/a-travelers-guide-to-christmas/)

I frequently see articles about teaching and living abroad posted by the recruiter I used to come to Korea.  However, I seldom end up actually reading these articles that are probably filled with plenty of words of wisdom.  I don't know why, but for some reason I decided to click on this one and give it a skim.  To be honest, I wasn't even reading the article very closely when this part caught my eye.  

I think just about everyone, at least from America, has a special place in their heart for the holidays.  While it can be a stressful time of year, who doesn't love seeing the lights everywhere, eating good food, and spending time with friends and family?  In many ways, it's hard to avoid being homesick when your'e not home for Christmas.  

However, this article articulated my feelings quite perfectly. Christmas is truly a celebration of love, and I didn't want to let the fact that I'm away from home "hijack the reign of love."  I went into the holidays expecting it to be tough, but determined not to let it ruin the beauty of the spirit at the heart of the season.  And overall, I would say that it was indeed a beautiful holiday, filled with love.

Having to go to school on Christmas Eve was somewhat brutal for all of us.  It wasn't even a slow day for me--my day was busy with 5 classes.  Eventually classes finished and before heading out I handed out some presents. I think my vice-principal was thoroughly confused as to why I was giving him a present, but my co-teacher was really surprised and touched.  It was really great to see her so thankful because I certainly wasn't expecting such a reaction.  Christmas isn't really a huge deal in Korea.  Essentially it's a romantic day more similar to Valentine's Day than to how we celebrate it in America. In fact, all week I told my students that in America Christmas is a family holiday, not a couple's holiday and they were SHOCKED.  Anyway, gift giving ins't as common during Christmas in Korea, which also probably explains why she was so surprised. 

After I got out of school, I had to run back to Homeplus because the night before I didn't buy enough wrapping paper.  It's times like these that I really miss having my car--instead of quick trip to the store, it requires at least 10 minutes of walking (each way).  After my wrapping paper mission was accomplished (I luckily bought paper that was easier to wrap this time), I finished my wrapping for our Christmas Eve gathering that night.  

We had a lovely evening gathering at Advice, our neighborhood bar with a tavern-like feel.  We had a Secret Santa and then a white elephant gift exchange.  Overall, it was just a nice night with really great people who truly have become my family away from home.  
Representing Korea, America, South Africa, and Canada....awesome!

The strangest part of Christmas for me was after this gathering was over and I came back to my apartment...and was ALONE  I've never spent Christmas Eve anywhere else than in my parents' house, so coming home and being alone on Christmas Eve was a little sad--even though the rest of the night was wonderful.  If I'm in Korea next year, I'm definitely arranging a Christmas Eve sleepover.  

I woke up the next morning, made breakfast, then went to church.  My other church-going friends went the night before, so I was on my own in the morning.  Being in church as an interesting experience.  There I was, the only non-Korean in the church, I was about a foot taller than all the old Korean ladies, and I didn't understand the majority of what was being said.  Yet, there were some constants, such as the Christmas carols that were being sung (in Korean, but I knew what they were about).  But most importantly, everyone in that church was there for the same reason, to celebrate the presence of God.  It is really amazing to be on the other side of the world, where you don't understand the language, immersed in a different culture, yet still share the most fundamental and important beliefs with those around you.  Being "brother and sisters in Christ" has really taken on a new meaning to me as I share a unique relationship with those with whom I can't even have a conversation with.    

After church I came back to my place and my friend Tony came over to help me cook for our Christmas lunch.  The lunch time ended up getting pushed back, so we ended up embracing the Korean tradition of catching a little but of Home Alone to pass the time.  Or should I say "Kevin" ;)

We then packed up all of our stuff and headed over to my friend's place where we had a wonderful pot-luck type dinner.  The food was awesome, and after we ate we were all ready to rest so we put on a movie and napped/rested for a bit before going for round two with the food.  We hung out for a bit more before we all had to head home for Skype dates. 

I luckily caught my parents as they were waking up, just in time to catch up a little and wish them a Merry Christmas before I headed to bed. 

Overall, Christmas was a really comfortable and warm day filled with good food and great people.  However, heading back to school today was quite rough, and I think we all agree that Christmas really needs to have more than one day off from school.

This morning I wasn't looking forward to anther busy day (yeah, another 5-class day), but when I was sitting at my desk this morning, my co-teacher came over and handed me a gift.  She wrote me a really nice note about how much she appreciated my gift, and inside the gift bag she handed me was a pair of really awesome mittens.  Coincidentally, I've been putting off buying mittens, so it's the perfect gift.  

Although I would have loved to have been with my family on Christmas, overall Thanksgiving was much more difficult for me.  On Thanksgiving day it took all of my strength not to cry while at school, probably because to everyone else it was just a regular Thursday--no one understood that it was an important day.  Although Christmas doesn't have the same magnitude of importance in Korea as it does in America, at least it is still a recognized day with some significance.  

I made a comment to my friend the other day about how I couldn't believe I was missing Christmas.  She responded by saying I wasn't missing Christmas, it was just a different Christmas.  She was completely right.  This was a different Christmas, but it was still Christmas.  God willing, I will have plenty of other Christmases with my family back at home.  I have no idea where I will be next year at this time, but I know for certain I won't be celebrating with all the people I did this year.  The majority of us will be in different places next year, so I'm thankful for being able to spend time together, even for just this brief period.  

Thank you to everyone who sent me love this week.  I cannot adequately express how much it means to me to have the support and love of so many wonderful people.  

Love you all, and I hope your Christmas was absolutely fantastic.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve, Eve

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and instead of spending the day relaxing and preparing for Christmas, I will be teaching five classes.  In Korea.  I really never imagined this would be my life.

Although it's been different spending the holidays in Korea, I'm looking forward to getting together with my Jeomchon friends tomorrow and on Christmas day.

Naturally I spent tonight doing lots of last minute gift shopping and wrapping.  Thankfully, the shopping wasn't TOO bad, but among the things that I readily expected to be more difficult in Korea, wrapping gifts never once entered my mind.  However, let me tell you, this is a whole new challenge in Korea.

I've never been good at wrapping gifts, and I'll admit my mother typically ends up helping me (she is really the best!)  One of the striking things that is different about Christmas in Korea as opposed to at home is that when you go into the stores there aren't huge Christmas displays with little gifts, wrapping paper, gift tags, and decorations.  There was a Christmas section at Homeplus, but it didn't last too long.  Today all I saw was a little Christmas section with some chocolates--it's quite the contrast to what you find in America.

Anywho, I only found one little section with wrapping paper, and the selection was limited.  The rolls of wrapping paper aren't the huge ones like we have in America, but are much smaller.  When I got home I also quickly found out that the paper is much thicker and doesn't fold very easily.  This was added challenge enough until I realized that tape BARELY sticks to the paper too.  As a result, it took a ridiculous amount of time and a considerable amount of frustration to wrap these presents.

In other news, I got a package from one of my friends back home today.  And as you can see it contained some good things, especially REESE'S, which for some crazy reason are not sold in Korea and are in my mind a holiday necessity.  Thanks, Kirsten!!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas.  I have lots of updating to do about this past weekend in Seoul, but that will have to wait until after Christmas.  

MERRY CHRISTMAS, and I hope to get some quality time with all of you soon! xox


I just booked plane tickets from Seoul to Bangkok.

A month from now I will be in Thailand with my best friend from home.

Is this real life?!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Korean Surprise: Canceled Classes

This week has been a little difficult for me.  While exam week was great because I got to go home early every day, it's been brutal to jump right back into a full course load.  Actually, with speaking tests, student trips, and "self-study" time, really I haven't had all my classes for quite some time.  Now add in the fact that students are tired and lacking motivation now that exams are done--and this week has been a struggle.

I woke up today exhausted, without any motivation to teach.  When I went to my first class, the students all looked surprised and told me that today is a test day.


No classes today.

Needless to say, I was relieved. However, why do my students have testing when they JUST finished final exams?

I mean, this is Korea after all.  I don't know why I'm still surprised by this.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What do you know about Christmas?

Today I started class by asking my students what they think of when they think of Christmas so I could make a list on the board before we began our lesson. What did everyone start yelling out when I asked the question?

Christmas trees?

Santa Claus?

Baby Jesus?
Not at all.

The answer that was so forcefully thrown my way was.....


Now, perhaps you are confused by this.  Kevin?

Yes, remember that movie we watched a million times when we were younger with the little boy named Kevin?  Yes, Home Alone. Well, it's apparently the most popular Christmas movie in Korea, but they don't call it Home Alone, they call it "Kevin".

Naturally when my students all started shouting this out I couldn't help but laugh.  Not just because of the answer, but because just this weekend my friends were telling me about this phenomenon.  They told me that when I asked that question that would be the first thing everyone would shout out.  And sure enough, they couldn't be more right.  Apparently Home Alone is shown on just about every tv station all day on Christmas.

Why Home Alone?  I couldn't tell you. But the fact that they call it "Kevin" just makes it even more hilarious to me.

Four months in, and Korea is still full of surprises.

Oh, and one other random thing.  They don't have candy canes in Korea.  How is it supposed to really feel like Christmas without candy canes?   I thought I must just have been missing them in Homeplus, but I asked around and my worst fears were confirmed.  Apparently candy canes just aren't a part of Christmas in Korea.

What a shame, but at least I know I can get more than my fill of Home Alone. I guess that counts for something?

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Today my friend and I finally made it to a Roman Catholic church.  Of course, we thought mass was at 11, but it turns out it's at 10:30 (we think).  Communication barriers often lead to situations like this.  Regardless, it's good to know that we have a church so close to us.  And the beautiful thing about the Catholic church is even though we can't understand the Korean words they're saying, we know what's going on during the mass because it's the same no matter where you in the world.

In other news, this has been a somewhat strange weekend for me on account of it being Nutcracker weekend back home.  Performing in The Nutcracker is always one of the absolute highlights of my holiday season, and it feels somewhat surreal to be missing it.  I really miss dancing, but again, I just have to remind myself that my time in Korea is limited, and I have to make some sacrifices to gain the experiences I'm having here.

However, last night was another lovely night in Jeomchon full of holiday movies and good friends.  If I can't be home with those I love performing in Nutcracker, I'm thankful that I have good friends and holiday festivities here to maintain the spirit of the season.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Brilliant Korea: Waiter Buttons

So I reailzed that I've been really slacking on keeping track of all the brilliant things Korea has to offer.  So my friends, here is one of my favorite things about eating in Korea.  I hereby present to you: waiter buttons.

I'm not sure these buttons actually have a proper name, but I have heard them called "jeogiyo" buttons as well.  "Jeogiyo" is the word that you usually yell out if you need to get the attention of the waiter/waitress, but usually with the help of these little buttons, you don't have to say anything.

If you need anything while you're eating at a restaurant, all you have to do is press this button and it alerts your waiter/waitress.  If you don't press it, they don't come over.  Yes, that's right, you don't have to have to deal with the whole awkward "Are you ready to order? How is your food?  Can I get you anything" visits from your waiter while you eat.  Ready to order?  Press the button.  Need more beer?  Press the button.

Awesome, right?  The first time I saw this way back at orientation I couldn't believe we don't have this in America.  I mean, come on, people! So simple, but so brilliant.

Gotta love that Christmas spirit

Last night was one of my favorite nights I've had in Jeomchon since I moved here almost four months ago.  I invited everyone over to my place for Christmas movies and hot chocolate, and we had quite the gathering.  I probably had around 11 or 12 people over at one point, and I couldn't have loved it any more.  Finally, it truly felt like the Christmas season. I know I say it all the time, but I am thankful for everyone I have in this community.

The more I get to know everyone, the more comfortable I get in Korea. Last night was so warm and cozy that I felt like I would be happy if everything could just always stay the same--of course, I know that things WILL change, and people will come and go.  None of us will be here in forever, and in fact, a number of people will be leaving in just a few short months.  Change is the nature of living abroad, and I've been told repeatedly that it's one of the most challenging parts of being an expat--people are always coming and going.  Your life has no stability because you know you're in a temporary job surrounded by people who will eventually no longer be a part of your everyday life.

I was reminded of how temporary my life here is after finding out that EPIK will be getting rid of all of the high school native teacher jobs this upcoming year.  I obviously have my job until August, but after that I won't be able to renew my contract with my school.  Positions are being cut due to budget issues, and although I think it's a terrible loss for the students, there's nothing I can do about it.  So when it comes to next year, I will either have to move to an elementary school, find a university job, choose a new country to teach in, or go home.  It's disappointing because I really like my school, and I hate to think of having to start all over again.

I know there are people who of course will want me to come home after I finish this year, but I feel like the longer I am here in Korea, I am realizing how much there is to do and learn here.  Being here has been a gigantic learning experience, not only culturally, but also personally.  Being abroad has opened a lot of opportunities for me in terms of thinking about my past, my future, my faith, my passions, and so much more. There's something about being removed from everything at home that has always defined you that allows you to see and think about things differently, and for me, this has been a really beneficial experience.  I have no idea where I will be mentally or emotionally when it comes time to think about what comes after this year, but I have eight months left here, and I have a feeling it will take me more than that before I am ready to move back home to the US.

I'm glad to have a heads up on the fact that my job won't be around past this year because there are many teachers who just resigned their contracts, thinking that they were returning to their schools, only now finding out that they have to move to elementary schools.  At least I have a warning so I can think about he future and enjoy my time in Jeomchon wholeheartedly, knowing that I probably won't be here next year.

Of course, I have no idea what the future holds.  Every day is a gift, tomorrow is never guaranteed, and ultimately everything is in God's hands. For now, I will continue to treasure those people who enrich my life, and make the best of the time I have here.  The holidays are meant to be shared with family, but in the absence of mine this year, I will especially value all the relationships I have with the people of Jeomchon.

As the warmth of the holiday season moves into Jeomchon, I hope all of you can feel my love from the other side of the world :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's funny because it's true.

I just spent way too long looking through every single comic on this site.


I don't think I could ever find anything to better depict the crazy, random experiences of being a foreigner in Korea.  Awesome.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Finals week

This week is final exams at school.  I was sitting at my desk after lunch when my vice-principal, who doesn't speak English told me to "Go home!"  Ummm ok!  Being home by 1:00 is quite alright with me.

Although the past few weeks were pretty busy at work, weeks like this one remind me that really this gig isn't so bad.  After this week we have classes for two more weeks (why do have classes AFTER exams?), then I will have a few weeks where I think I am still teaching classes?  Even though it's technically not the school year? I haven't been able to get any straight answers about what exactly happens during this time, but the students have told me that they still "study" and come to school over vacation.  I mean, I don't know what I expected anyway.

But then in January, I get 10 paid working days of vacation! Woohoo! Right now plans are in the works for a trip to Thailand, and I couldn't be more excited.  Let's hope that everything can come together, because Southeast Asia is calling my name.

A night in Busan and a movie in Daegu

After taking a few weekends to stay put in Jeomchon, it was time to take a trip again this weekend.  The destination for the weekend was Korea's second largest city, Busan.  Busan is located on the southern part of the country, and it typically a very popular summer destination on account of it's beautiful beaches.  Of course, it's also an awesome place to visit in the winter because it's much warmer than other parts of the country (especially areas like Mungyeong, which are in the mountains!)  When it came time to plan where one of my friends was going to celebrate his 30th birthday, he chose Busan, and needless to say I was pumped to visit this city that I have been hearing and reading so much about essentially since I first started researching Korea.

I originally had planned to head down Friday after school, but last week was quite hectic and exhausting at school, and I elected to change my plans and head down with another group of Jeomchoners on Saturday morning.  We took a train directly from Jeomchon, and it took a little over 3 hours to finally get to Busan.  Although the ride was somewhat long, I was in good company, so it wasn't unbearable.

After getting on the subway and dropping off our stuff at the motel, it was probably close to 4:30.  I definitely didn't anticipate it taking us that long to finally get to our destination, and I readily admitted that I should have just made the trip Friday night.  Oh well,  You live and you learn!

We met up with the rest of our friends at a place right along the beach.  By that point the sun was beginning to set, and it was beautiful.  My hometown is only an hour away from the beach, and the town that I went to college in was right on the seacoast.  I love the beach, and I have to admit, although I love Mungyeong's central location, I was hoping for a placement in a town closer to the coast.  I love Jeomchon, but I'm a tad jealous of people on the coastal cities.

Anywho, given it was a birthday celebration, we spent the night bar hopping.  It was a lot of fun to spend time with everyone.  Although I didn't see a lot of Busan, what I did see I really enjoyed.  Although it is a big city, it didn't feel quite as crowed as Seoul.  Overall, I really hope to go back to Busan sooner rather than later so I can spend more time exploring other parts of the city.

Sunday we slept in for a bit, then one group of people headed back to Jeomchon, and I headed to Daegu with three of my friends.  We decided that we should take advantage of being near major cities and seize the opportunity to see the new Hunger Games movie.  Unfortunately, Jeomchon does not have a movie theater so anytime we want to see a movie it requires a trip to one of the larger cities.

The ride to Daegu from Busan was only about an hour by the train, and got dropped off what I'm assuming is the downtown area.  Deagu is the third largest city in Korea, and although it's only an hour away from Jeomchon, for some reason I hadn't been there yet.

We made our way to the movie theater just in time to get tickets and get settled in before the movie.  Of course, this wasn't just a regular movie, we were going to see the film in 4-D.  Yes, not 3-D, 4-D.  What is a 4-D movie you ask?  It's reminiscent of those rides your go on at Disney World--your seat moves, you get air blown on your neck, water is splashed on you, and scents fill the theater.  I thought we would be wearing the 3-D glasses as well, but it wasn't so.  I guess you have to go to a 3-D/4-D movie for that.  Ummmm what?  When did seeing movies become so complex?  Remember when a movie was just a movie?

Anyway, we all enjoyed the movie, and we finished just in time to make it to the bus station and get on a bus back to Jeomchon.  All in all, we were back home around 8:15.  Not too bad.

Overall, it was another great weekend with great people.  I know I say this frequently, but I am extremely thankful for all the people I have met over the past few months.

This weekend was also a reminder that I still have so much to see.  I love the Korea has so many cool places that so accessible via public transportation.  At home I am only an hour away from Boston, but besides Boston the next closest major city is New York, which is quite a distance.  In Korea, there are about 10 cities with populations of 1 million people or more.  Some of these are satellites of other major cities, but regardless, there are so many places to go and they're all only a few hours away and inexpensive to get to through public transportation.

 Although the cold weather had already been pulling me into hermit mode, my short glimpses of Daegu and Busan reawakened my curiosity for Korea.  So much to do still, and so much to learn.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like plastic surgery!

Today I was talking to one of my first grade girls during class and she informed me that on December 21st she is going to Seoul to get double-eyelid surgery.  Yes, she is getting plastic surgery as a Christmas present from her parents.  She is 16 years old.

I guess I shouldn't be so surprised by this because I am well-aware of the role of plastic surgery in Korea.  I knew about it before I came, and I've already had many conversations with students about it.  However, I don't think I'll ever really get used to hearing my students talk so nonchalantly about this stuff.  It's just not ever going to be ok for me.

Also, I was told today that I have a "small head", high nose, and big eyes.  These are all considered desirable things in Korea.  Of course, all I could do was laugh because ok sure, maybe my nose is "high" but it's huge, and not desirable in any way by American beauty standards.

I love all my girl students, but I just don't know what to do with these conversations sometimes.

Monday, December 2, 2013

5 Things that happened today

Here are some things that happened today:

1)  My female students saw a picture on the background of my computer of me with some friends and assumed the boy sitting next to me was my boyfriend (of course, because literally every boy they EVER see me with is automatically my boyfriend).  They then continued to call me Bella and him Jacob.  As in, the characters from Twilight.  So, that was how my day started.

2)  I had to write and re-write questions for the final exam.  I hate writing exam questions.  Seriously, I didn't like it America when I actually knew somewhat what I was doing.  Here, I don't know what I'm doing, and the test is way more important.  Ugh.

3) I completely blew one of my student's mind when I told him that in America gay people can get married in some states.  I don't remember how we ever got on the topic, but he simply couldn't believe that in America two guys could actually get married.  He asked about kids and I told him some gay couples adopt kids, and his mind was blown even more.  He told me that when they get older the kids must be sad and crazy because they did not have "a mother's love."  I told him that actually many kids have gay parents and are very happy and healthy.  The whole conversation was totally incomprehensible to him, and he just kept looking at me in complete disbelief.

So yeah, that's where Korea stands on that issue.  Wow.

4) I found out I don't have teach anymore night classes! YES!  I'm assuming they'll start back up with the new semester, but I'm so glad to have my Tuesday nights back for now.  My co-teacher did tell me that one of the boys said he still wanted to have class and was disappointed it was over, which was nice because I rarely get any feedback about anything.

5)  I got an absolutely awesome package from home.  Complete with a Red Sox sweatshirt, mug, Sports Illustrated, a huge bag of Lindt chocolate, Christmas decorations (including a little tree. Yes, now I have 2!), and my personal favorite, an icon!  Yes, you know you're probably a Melkite when your care package contains an icon.  And it's a sure sign that you actually are when you're really excited about getting an icon in your care package because you know a home isn't a home without some icons.

Anyone who lives abroad knows how awesome it is to get packages from home, and this was extra special because it was unexpected and filled with pieces of home.  My parents are truly fantastic.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Church in Korea, shopping, and getting into the Christmas spirit

If you read my earlier posts from the end of last week, you are already familiar with how I was feeling earlier this week. Basically, there wasn't any part of me that wanted to be here or do anything.  I spent all of yesterday being lazy, essentially switching between reading and watching the West Wing for the entirety of the day.

This morning I had plans to go to church with one of my friends in Jeomchon.  I'm really lucky to have been put in a town with so many other Christians.  We meet once a week to have a bible study, and it's really become one of the highlights of my week.  We have about seven members in our group, which I guess is amazing because just a year ago there were really only two Christians out of the Jeomchon English teachers.
Anyway, out of our group there's one other catholic, and we've been been determined to find a Roman Catholic church.  It's proved more difficult than we originally thought, considering we see churches around us all the time.  However, my friend was told by one teacher at his school that there is a catholic church in Jeomchon, so this morning we were ready to go to what we thought was a 10:00 mass.

However, when we got to the church it didn't look anything like a catholic church, and I was pretty certain it had to be some other denomination.  We also found out that the service didn't start until 11, which meant that we had an hour to kill.  We were directed to a little cafe that is part of the church, so we sat there and had some coffee while we waited.

As we were sitting talking, a group of kids entered.  One girl immediately ran up and gave me a hug.  I was instantly in love with these kids.  There were three girls and one boy in this group of kids, and they continued to play with for the next twenty minutes.  They were 8 years old, which means they knew a few basic English sentences, but were still amazed at seeing foreigners.

This was an awesome way to start the day.  I love teaching high school, but I've always been around young kids in some capacity or another, and since I've been in Korea I've really missed this part of my life.  It did my heart well to be around some kids, even for just a little while.

When it was near 11:00 we went upstairs to enter the church. We knew pretty much instantly that it in fact wasn't a catholic church.  Of course, there wasn't much we could do at this point, especially since there was a nice older man who sat next to us and was translating everything the minister was saying.

In the middle of the service, the man who was translating for us asked us to write down our names.  Ummm ok?  About ten minutes later the minister was talking, and before we knew it we were told to stand and saw ourselves on a big video screen that they have to project things during the service (interesting because the church isn't even that big).  Anyway, everyone clapped for us as we were welcomed to the church.

After the service was done we were greeted by a bunch of people, and multiple old ladies were hugging me, smiling, and saying things to me in Korean. They wanted us to go eat with them, but my friend told them that we had to go.  We also found out that the church was in fact Presbyterian, at which point I reminded my friend that I totally knew it wasn't catholic when we saw the building.  Oh well, it was um, an experience? Of course, now we feel obligated to go back at least one more time because the guy who was there told us he was going to get English bibles for us. Plus, I kind of want to see those kids again :)

Oh man.  So, the quest  for a catholic church continues.

After church, my friend and I went to Homeplus because we each had to pick up a few things.  Of course, Homeplus is essentially one of those stores like Target, where a "few things" always turns into a $50 minimum. While we were there I decided to finally buy an actual coffee maker, and a little Christmas tree.  Yes, the cold weather had officially made me decide that I just can't stand all this instant coffee anymore.  So, even though it was overpriced, I now own an actual coffee maker.  I also decided I can't stand the thought of going the whole Christmas season without a Christmas tree, so I bought small tree and the coordinating overpriced decorations.

The shopping trip was made even more delightful due to the abundance of snapchats I received from my friends back home.  As soon as we got back home I met up with them all on skype, and since it was about 1 AM at home by that point, they were indeed in rare form.  Gosh, I miss that crazy group of people!

After I finished my call with them, I met up with two friends and we headed downtown for some dakgalbi, which is my favorite Korean meal. After dinner, we got some coffee in a nearby coffee shop until we saw the huge Christmas tree in the middle of the downtown area light up, at which point we headed outside to get a look.

Apparently this is the first year there's been a tree like this in Jeomchon.  I'm glad they're getting in the holiday spirit just in time for my first Christmas here.  I also love that there's a CROSS on top of the tree.  In a public place! It's not like Korea is an all-Christian country, there's a significant Buddhist population here.  But still, apparently associating Christ with Christmas isn't as outrageous as it is in America.  Also, notice the apple and omija, Mungyeong's signature fruits.  Love you, Korea.

Inspired by the Christmas spirit, I promptly made a point to set up my own Christmas tree as soon as I got home.

And here is my little tree! It's kind of a Charlie Brown tree--not too full and not too special, but now that my Christmas music is on and my living room is lit up by these lights, it feels a whole lot more like home, and it certainly feels much warmer in here.  

When this weekend started I felt the most homesick and for lack of a better word, "blah" than I had the whole time I'd been in Korea.  Now that this weekend is finishing, I feel full of love and thanks for my life and those I had met in Korea.  When I came to Korea, I said that I knew God would put me where I was meant to be, and now that I am here, I have no doubts that that is just what happened.   

Friday, November 29, 2013

"Cheer up, we love you!"

Last night I had a dream that I decided to go home. I don't fully remember the dream, but I guess I just up and left my life in Korea and came back to the US.  It was actually a really stressful dream, because the whole time I was home and freaking out thinking "Why did I do that?! There's nothing here for me to do! I have no job! And I didn't even get to do any traveling!"

I woke up this morning feeling relieved to find myself still in Korea.  

Needless to say, I think that my homesickness was brewing in my brain while I was sleeping, and maybe God just decided to put it all in perspective.  I will be so happy when I come back to the US, whether it's just for a visit or for good, but right now my life is in Korea and I still have SO much to do here. 

Of course, that doesn't mean I wasn't sad when I looked at facebook this morning and saw everyone's Thanksgiving statuses.  I was bummed out when I went to teach my first class today, but luckily I always start Fridays off on an awesome note.  I start Friday mornings with the second grade girls, who are just TOO cute.  After teaching in public schools in the US for two years, I feel that I fully appreciate the absolute adorableness of some of my girl classes.  Seriously, there's not a bad student in mix.  They're all equally sweet, excited to learn, and it doesn't hurt that they get really excited for me to teach them.  I don't have to discipline ever.  I don't have to raise my voice.  And even though you're not supposed to feel like friends with your students, I feel like my relationship with these girls is really friendly because well...they're just such good kids I really don't have to worry about them getting out of line (I realize this sounds really naive...but really, if you met these girls, you'd understand).

Anyway, the point is, the girls could tell I wasn't feeling like my normal self. When I first came into the class they told me I looked tired, and I told them I was mostly just missing my friends and family back home because it's Thanksgiving.  At that point there were of course plenty of "Awwwwws".  At the end of class, they were probably the most adorable because they all told me "Cheer up!! We love you!!", and of course of personal favorite "Fighting!"  Koreans say "fighting" frequently to mean good luck, or as a way of wishing someone encouragement.  Regardless, it was pretty precious if I do say so myself. 

I was happy to start my day with those girls, but all day I was really looking forward to getting home and having some time to relax.  So here I am now. It's 8:00. my pajamas are on, and I'm ready for a lazy weekend full of reading, The West Wing, and just spending as much time as possible in my warm bed.  

There's plenty of time for adventures, but now all I need is some laziness in my life.  Next week I'll be going to Busan, but for now, I don't have any intention of being social.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

Right now my friends and family are waking up and preparing for a day full of family, friends, food, and of course, football.  The facebook statuses are starting to change to notes of personal thanks, and  I'm sure by the time I wake up tomorrow my newsfeed will be filled with various images of family gatherings and heaping plates of food.

I can't say that today was an easy day.  I had a busy, full day of classes.  During my off periods I had to write questions for the final exam.  I had some serious moments when I questioned why I was here and not at home with my family.  Is it really worth it to be here?  Aren't our friends and families the most important things in life?  Then why did I selfishly trade it all in for my life in Korea?

In my culture class I have been teaching the students about Thanksgiving for the past two weeks.  Last week I talked about the history behind Thanksgiving, and today I talked about the modern aspects of Thanksgiving--family, food, football, shopping, etc.  As I went through the slides today, I had to move quickly because I knew if I stayed on any image or thought for too long the tears I had been fighting off all day were going to come to surface.  I'm pretty sure crying in front of my students is a whole level of awkwardness I don't want to go to.

When I was at lunch, I looked at my tray of food.  Rice, soup, pork, dried squid, rice noodles.  Not exactly what I ever anticipated eating on Thanksgiving Day.  

Needless to say, I was happy when the day was over and I could get out of school.  

Earlier in the week, I invited people over to my place because there was no way I was going to sit at home alone on my first Thanksgiving away from home.  Interestingly enough, a lot of the Jeomchoners are South Africans so Thanksgiving is meaningless to them, and out of the Americans apparently some people have been abroad long enough that missing Thanksgiving isn't really a big deal any more.  Luckily, a small group of people were enthusiastic about coming over to spend the night together.  

We ended up having the most unconventional Thanksgiving food ever (um, nachos and ice cream cake?), but in all honesty I could have cared less about what we ate.  I was happy just to spend the night with some friends.  I have a feeling that years from now when I'm back in America this is going to make a great story.  I can hear it now..."This one time, when I was in Korea, we had nachos and ice cream for Thanksgiving dinner."

I know that this next month is probably going to kick homesickness into high gear as the holiday season approaches, but I know that it will pass, and I know that the amazing things I'm experiencing here come at the expense of some homesickness.

I am truly thankful for all those I have at home who have loved and supported me from the moment I revealed my plan to go to Korea, to the moment I got on the plane, all the way up to my current life in Jeomchon. I know a lot of people didn't understand why I wanted to come here (why Korea?!), but many people still supported me, even when they didn't understand the reasons, and that means a lot to me.

Words cannot express how thankful I am to have the opportunity to be in Korea. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the chain of circumstances that made being here an option in the first place.  I have been beyond privileged throughout my life to have loving and supportive parents, access to a good education, the opportunity to obtain a higher education, a year of teaching with students and coworkers I will never forget, and friends to keep me company through all of the joys and challenges along the way. 

I would never be in Korea without those of you who have supported me throughout the years, and for that, I am forever thankful.  I am thankful to those of you who let me go and encouraged me, even though you didn't want me to go.  

To those of you who continue to support me, thank you. One of my biggest fears about being here is losing my roots at home.  I have talked to enough people who have been abroad long enough to know that it happens.  There are people from home who I already feel distant from, even though it's only been three months.  To those of you who put in the effort to communicate with me in some way on a consistent basis, I can't begin to tell you how much I value that.  

I feel blessed beyond measure to have friends and family back home in America, but I am without doubt grateful for the new life I have here in Korea.  How blessed am I to have a home in two countries, on opposite sides of the world from each other?  God has given me so much over the past few months, and even though it's difficult to do when homesickness kicks in, I know these are the things I need to focus on.  

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home.  I miss and love you all, and I can't wait until I get to see you all again.

And most importantly, thank you for all that you have and continue to do for me.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Only in Korea: Potato and Cheese "Pizza"

Last night I went out to dinner with two fellow Jeomchoners.  We decided to try an Italian place that none of us had been to before.  We ordered some spaghetti, pizza, and salad for the three of us to share.  Overall, we felt pretty solid about out choices.

Now, we thought we were getting a pizza with sweet potatoes on it (yes, that is common in Korea), but we expected it to be a normal pizza--you know, with crust, sauce, and cheese.

This is what we got instead:

It was literally just potato and cheese.  No crust.  No sauce.  

It didn't taste bad, but definitely not a pizza by our definition of the word.  I texted one of my Korean friends and she told me that apparently this is a popular dish among Koreans these days.  

Note to self: exercise caution when ordering pizza in Korea. 

The week of speaking tests

It certainly feels like November in Korea these days.  The trees have lost their leaves and the cold air is here to stay.  I even gave in and started wearing my winter jacket this week.  A few weeks ago my mom sent me a bunch of things from home, and my red pea coat was among the things she sent for me.  I didn't think anything of it when I started wearing the coat to school on Monday, but apparently red pea coats aren't common in Korea.  I was told all throughout this week how beautiful I was or that I was "dressed to kill."  Yes, my Korean students repeatedly used the expression "dressed to kill."  I think they must have just learned it in one of their classes, because they were all pretty excited to get a chance to use it.

This cold weather not only means winter is coming, but it also means that final exams are right around the corner.  The Korean school calendar begins in March and ends in December, so the semester is about to wrap-up over the next few weeks.   This means that this week I was responsible for doing speaking tests with all of my classes. This meant that I got speak to all of my students one-on-one, which was nice, but also exhausting after a while.

I administered the tests by asking the students each a few conversation questions.  I had a list of 20 questions and I randomly chose two questions for each student, then asked a few follow-up questions.

Most of the students were pretty prepared, and overall I was really impressed with how they did.

Of course, there were some that just plain entertaining.  Here is a glimpse at one of the most entertaining conversations:

Question 1: Which country would you most like to travel to and why?
Student: America.
Me: Why America?
Student: Because that is where Sarah lives and I love Sarah.
Me: So where in America will you go? 
Student: Wherever you live.
Me: Do you remember where that is?
Student: No, but I want to go there.
Me: So what will you do when you go to America?
Student: I will eat food with you.

Question 2: What is your favorite thing about Korean culture?
Student: Really, there is nothing. I don't like Korea. I want to go to America.
Me: You must like SOMETHING about Korea!
Student: Yes, I like having native teacher.
Me: You don't like anything else about Korean culture?
Student: Well, since it is test I will lie and make up answer.....

So, that was interesting. This particular student then told me that he doesn't try in his other classes, but he was going to try in my class.  Someone knows how to suck up during a test.

I actually learned a lot about my students during the speaking tests. One of the questions that many students had to answer was "If you could change one thing about Korea, what would it be?"

Nearly ever student that answered this question answered by saying they would change the education system.  When I asked why, almost every single student mentioned the fact that they are exhausted.  One particularly mature student said they she didn't like the way in which they learn because they always just memorize what the teacher says and they don't ever get to express their opinions.  I asked if they ever have discussions in class, and she responded no. My inner social studies teacher died a little.

Another student had perhaps the most powerful answer when I asked why he would change the education system.  His reply was "The education system in Korea is killing the creativity of Korean students."


Now, I don't think students in America like school.  The American education system is far from perfect, and there are many things I would like to see done differently.  While teaching in America I quickly learned that it didn't matter what I did, the students would complain about absolutely anything.  However, if I asked them what they would change about America, I doubt I would get the answers I got from my Korean students, at least at with such consistency.

It was saddening for me to hear how the students feel about school.  During the tests I also learned just how far many of students travel to go to school.  The vast majority of my students live in dormitories, and only go home on Saturdays once or twice a month.  Many of them travel at least an hour home, then they come right back on Sundays.  These students frequently mentioned that they miss their homes.  When I see my students they look so young, but they make serious sacrifices for school. They're growing up away from their families and support systems and I have to wonder, why?  So they can score well on a test and prove how much they are capable of memorizing?  What value is that to their lives or their future productivity in society?

I hope that my students are brave enough to fight for changes in their country.  I think change will slowly come to Korea, but it will be slow. These kids are more exposed to the outside world than any other previous generations in Korea.  They know that education doesn't have to be this way, and I hope that they will fight for better for their children.

Last weekend when I was in Seoul I was talking to one of my Korean friends and she told me that everyone in Korea knows that there is something wrong with the education system.  She said everyone knows that it needs to change, but no one knows how.

I told her that in America politicians frequently note the competition in Asia.  We're constantly told that we're "falling behind" countries in like China and Korea.

Her response?

When Korean people hear about that they laugh.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Gifts from elementary school students (and my neighbor!)

I'm a little late on blogging about this, but better late than never.

Last Monday (11/11) was Pepero Day in Korea.  Pepero are small cookie-like sticks that are covered with chocolate.  On November 11th, people give Pepero to their friends or people they are in a relationship with because the ones in the date (11/11) have the same shape as the Pepero.  It's actually pretty similar to Valentine's Day, just instead of Valentines, you get Pepero.  My students weren't really that into Pepero Day, but as I was walking home from school last Tuesday there were a bunch of elementary school girls who said hello to me as I walked by.  I said hello back, and before I knew it I had Pepero coming from every direction.  The girls were giggly and pretty cute if I do say so myself.  It was quite a nice ending to the day.

Then, a few days later as I was walking home a little boy ran up to me.  He couldn't speak very much, but he asked if I would take a picture with a calendar about Dokdo.  After he took my picture, he told me to keep the calendar and quickly ran away.  Um ok?  I guess I have a calendar for 2014 now.  Score!

For those of you who are wondering, Dokdo is an island that both Korea and Japan claim as their own.  It's a hot-topic for Koreans, as there are still many hostile feelings about how Japan treated Korea during its colonial rule and has subsequently failed to adequately acknowledge or apologize for past wrongdoings.  When I first came to Korea, it wasn't uncommon for students to ask me "What do you think about Dokdo?"  At the time I had no idea what it was all about, but I quickly learned this is an important issue for Koreans because although the island is actually pretty much just a bunch of rocks, it's symbolic of much more. 


Oh, and I forgot, my Korean neighbor also gave me a huge container of Kimchi during the same week.  Oh, and two sweet potatoes.  I'm really reaping the benefits of this Korean hospitality lately.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mungyeong Teacher Appreciation Dinner

Today I got to leave school around 3:30 because my co-teacher and I had to go to an "appreciation" dinner that was being held for all the EPIK teachers in Mungyeong.  The dinner was being held at the tourist center out by Mungyeong Saejae, so the drive there consisted of gorgeous mountains all around.  Even now that everything is grey and the leaves are gone from the trees, the mountains are still strikingly beautiful.

We had a little time to mingle once we got to the location of the dinner.  My adorable co-teacher (who is actually my supervisor...I don't actually teach any classes with her) was clearly enjoying meeting all of my friends.  I tried to introduce her to as many people as possible because I could tell she was really amazed by the diversity of the native teachers.  

In random Korean fashion, the program began with a performance by some of the Mungyeong Technical High School students.  First one student played a traditional Hungarian song on the saxophone, and the music segment ended with two flute players playing "Yesterday" by the Beatles.  So random, but the fact that it didn't really make sense just made me love it even more.  There was then a speech by one of the administrators from Mungyeong (superintendent?), and then we were all called up and presented with a certificate.  All in all, the program was pretty short, which I think we all appreciated.

Fighting! Love that the guys from the POE told us to pose like this

Next, we moved into the dining room where we all ate dinner.  At this point, my co-teacher insisted I have some soju.  A little later she insisted I have a second shot.  I made my friend drink with me, and he of course, took it in one shot.  I quickly said that I couldn't "one-shot" mine, at which point my co-teacher replied "Just try!"  She is always so supportive.  

All in all, it was a really great night.  My co-teacher told me multiple times how happy she was to spend time with me.  She helped me a lot at the beginning when I was settling in and getting everything organized, but since then we haven't been able to spend very much time together.We see each other, but we don't teach together and she is the head English teacher, which means she always has a lot of projects she's in charge of.  
After she met my friends before the program started she turned to me and said "You have many friends! Congratulations!"  Of course, this was totally adorable, but it also caused me to stop and think.

 I didn't even know any of these people three months ago. That alone almost seems unimaginable to me. Living in an expat community causes you to form a unique bond with those around you.  There are very few people who understand the wide array of emotions that come with living abroad, and the friendships you form with people when you're abroad consequently develop really quickly.  I am truly fortunate to have met and become friends with the other teachers in Mungyeong.  I can't imagine having been placed anywhere else, and I am beyond thankful to have become a member of such a supportive community.

Of course, I think my co-teacher was mostly relieved because I think for the past three months she's been thinking that I just sit in my apartment by myself.  She frequently would check to make sure that I wasn't lonely, so I think she was just glad to know that I really DO have friends here.  

If the night hadn't already been great enough, on our drive back, TLC's "No Scrubs" came on the radio.  I mean, I don't there could be a better way to end the evening.  Oh Korea, I love you so.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Another thing that happened today...

Today I was doing speaking tests with my first grade boys, which meant that one-by-one they came into the hall and I would ask them a few conversation questions.  I was in the middle of talking to one boy when my co-teacher opened the classroom door and sent three boys into the hall and onto the ground.  The subsequently stayed in what can only be called a downward dog-yoga-type position for the next 15 minutes.

I was trying my hardest to concentrate on the speaking tests, but it was quite the sight to see those boys attempt to keep their position for all that time.  It was without doubt one of those "I'm definitely not in America anymore" moments.  I have no idea what they did to get that punishment, but I can only imagine what would happen if I tried to make my students back home do this.  

Oh, Korea.  

Something happened today...

It snowed.

I guess this whole "winter thing" is really going to happen.

Despite the fact that I'm from New England, I will never like winter, and I will never be one of those people who actually enjoys the cold weather.

The fall has been surprisingly warm until about the past week.  It actually stayed in the 60s until last week when it suddenly dropped to the 50s.  And today there was snow....I guess seasons don't change gradually here.

I've been forewarned that it's really expensive to use the heat in Korea.  Korea uses the ondol system of heating, which means that the heat comes through the floor.  It's actually quite lovely because when you're standing to do dishes your feet get all nice and toasty.  It's also great for just sitting or sleeping on the floor, but I've been warned that if I use it too much I'll be paying a pretty price for it. Recently they had heated blankets on sale at Homeplus, so I decided it was probably a prudent purchase to try to curb the price of heat.  It's currently on top of my mattress, which means I HAVE A HEATED BED.  It's awesome, especially when you get home from school, put on PJS, make a cup of tea, jump into bed and spend the rest of the night reading.  Just sayin'.

Although this cold weather is already creating some problems for me, mainly with laundry.  They typically don't use dryers in Korea, so I have to hang dry all of my clothes.  It wasn't so bad when I could keep the windows open, but I'm realizing now that it will take forever for my clothes to dry with the windows closed.  So, right now it is snowing outside and I have my window open in attempt to dry my laundry that I did yesterday.  Ugh.

Oh well.  Winter, I guess I have no choice but to accept the fact that you're here.

Seoul Lantern Festival

This weekend I had plans to meet up with some friends for the lantern festival in Seoul.  I caught a 6:00 bus from Jeomchon, and arrived in Seoul a little after 8.  I hopped on the subway and met up with my two friends at my friend's place (and consequently felt extremely proud of myself for navigating my way there without getting lost, even with multiple transfers...Yay!)  We put my stuff down, then headed out to Hongdae.

Hongdae is a really cool area of Seoul that I hadn't been to before.  I actually don't know why I didn't take pictures while I was there-- maybe next time! Hongdae has tons of street vendors (street food =YUM!) and a plentitude of bars.  The first bar we went to was a western bar, and for the first time in the three months I've been here, I was surrounded by westerners I didn't know.  It was a really weird feeling, and honestly I didn't care for it.  It was actually a little uncomfortable, and I realized that in some (many) ways my not understanding Korean has put in a larger of a bubble than I even realized.  When people are speaking Korean around me, I can't understand, even if they are saying crude things.  I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Next we went to small, laid back bar, before heading to dance for a little while.  We had a late night (or early morning?), but luckily we didn't have anything in particular on the agenda for the next morning.  .

We started the next day with some brunch, then after a minor delay due to some ummm....technical difficulties? (yes, there is a story there that only the three of us girls will ever know) we finally headed out to do some shopping.  When my friends asked what I wanted to do when I came to Seoul, I said that I needed to do some shopping.  It's been getting cold and my supply of warm clothes is pretty limited due to the whole two suitcase fiasco I had to deal with when packing in August.

Luckily, Seoul is AWESOME for shopping.  It's actually probably a really good thing I don't live in the city because I would, without doubt, be broke.  There were OODLES of sweaters, shoes, bags, whatever you want...and for CHEAP!  I bought 3 sweaters, all for $10 each.  I'm sure they're not the highest quality, but they actually feel pretty nice, and for $10 I don't care if it doesn't last forever, just as long as it keeps me warm this winter.  You can actually buy clothes, shoes, makeup, and other general accessories in lots of the subway and bus stations across Korea..  It's pretty genius.

After shopping for a while, we met up with our other friend and then we headed to the lantern festival.

The lantern festival was really awesome, although totally packed with people.  The lanterns went all the way down the steam, and were quite beautiful if I do say so myself.

After we saw all there was to see at the Lantern Festival, we got some food, I grabbed a chai latte from Starbucks (ahhh, my old friend, Starbucks!), then we went back to Suwon, where one of our friends lives.

Once we got there we met up with yet another person, and went to a few bars. I don't think we even drank anything until 12:30, so I knew it was going to be a late night.  We stayed at bars until maybe 4, then naturally we headed to noraebang until 6 AM.  We grabbed some street food (really delicious, but probably disgustingly unhealthy chicken), then made our way back to the train station.  We couldn't get a train until 7:30 AM, so our wait in the train station was pretty painful and included a short cat nap for all three of us.  We finally got back to my friend's place in Seoul around 8 AM, at which point we all collapsed from exhaustion.

We slept well into the afternoon, at which point I realized I really should get back because Monday was coming too quickly.  I finally got on a bus around 6, and made it back to Jeomchon by 8.

As per usual, the weekend flew by way too quickly, but I had a great time.  Here are my major takeaways from this weekend:

1)  There are A LOT of people in Seoul.  I obviously knew about Korea's crazy population density, but wow, it's pretty intense.  There are people everywhere, and after adjusting to small-town life, it's pretty overwhelming whenever I step into a city.

2)  I still have quite a bit to see in Seoul. Seoul really is huge, and I've barely seen any of it yet.  Good thing I still have plenty of time to explore more!

3)  It's probably a good thing I don't live in a city.  Like I said, there's so much to buy everywhere.  Not to mention the street food, bars, and other general activities to enjoy.  I think it's safe to say I would be dirt poor if I lived in a city, never mind the fact that I could never keep up with that kind of nightlife every weekend.

4)  I'm pretty lucky to have some great friends after only three months of being here.  When I did Nutcracker last year I met a guy who shortly after moved to Korea to teach.  We kept in touch, and meeting his friends has introduced me to some pretty great people.  It's crazy how things work out, but I'm really thankful for all of the great people I've met thus far.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thoughts on homesickness

I took these pictures as I left school today.  The one on the right was my view as I walked out of the building.  I'm not a fan of the fact that it's getting dark so early these days, but it's hard to be upset with a beautiful sunset and mountains in the distance.

Today was a little stressful, as many Mondays are for me because it's my first day with a new batch of lessons. I also started speaking tests for the second grade girls today, so I had to get everything ready for that as well. Of course my procrastinating self was still getting things together at the last minute (which is quite frankly pathetic because I had tons of deskwarming time last week).

Despite the somewhat hectic nature of Mondays, as I left school a group of boys yelled my name and told me to have a good night.  I told them to have fun on their trip (1st grade students are going on a trip to Jeju Island for the rest of the week...needless to say, I'm jealous).  Regardless, the boys asked why I wasn't coming and told me they would take lost of pictures and bring me back a present.

As I continued to walk down the hill I saw girls and talked to them briefly about the chilly weather.

I continued to walk further, and I couldn't help but think, "Man, I really love these kids."

They don't understand what I'm saying half the time (ok, maybe only a quarter of the time), but these kids are really some of the sweetest students I'll ever get to work with.  I don't even know their names (for the most part), but I've been here long enough that I know their faces and their personalities.  As cliche as it sounds, these kids make my days awesome and make me glad I'm in Korea.

Homesickness (but still not culture shock) has been hitting me in some ways recently.  Not that I'm unhappy to be here, but I'm realizing that it will still be 9 months before I am home again.  That's starting to feel like a long time.  My time here has been great, but anyway you look at it, 9 months is a long time to go without seeing friends and family, dancing, driving my car, etc.

My life in America seems like it's in another dimension.  I know I graduated, I know I taught all of last year, I know I have friends and family on the other side of the world, but none of that stuff feels real to me anymore, and I think that the strangest part of homesickness for me.  All of the things that I identified with are  still there, but I have no way of being anywhere near them.  It also probably doesn't help that my nieces, best friend, and sister all have birthdays this week, so that's probably not helping with the whole "feeling really distant" thing.

The biggest realization I've come to is that I can miss home and still be happy.  I always thought of homesickness as being that miserable point where you just want to pack your bags and get on the next plane home. What I've come to realize is that there's a difference.  You can be miss home but simultaneously have no desire to move back home and go back to your former life.

And besides, if I ever need a reminder of why my life is so awesome right now all I have to do is take a walk through the hallway at school and I'll find plenty of "hellos" and smiling faces to remind me of why moving my life to the other side of the world was the best decision I ever made.