Saturday, September 10, 2011

Settling in Suwon...

Less than two weeks ago, I made the move to my new city...Suwon, South Korea, and embarked on another chapter of my life in Korea. I have a new apartment (with no furniture at the moment), a new job (which I am completely happy with), and a new city to explore (which is MUCH bigger than my sweet little town of Uljin!).  

Here are just a few things I have experienced in the past few weeks.

Renting an Apartment: It sucks! Housing in the city is very difficult to acquire...well, decent housing. I think I should do an entire blog post on renting in Korea, but I must say here that it is a challenge not meant for the weak-minded. Everything from the deposit to the actual rent is negotiable and can change on a moments notice. Oh, the things I could say! Regardless, I did find a very, very nice place in the center of the city close to shopping and other amenities. Ok, so finding the apartment sucks, but the actual apartment is FABULOUS!!!

Moving: It sucks! That's about all I can say about that. I moved from Uljin to my friend's apartment while waiting for mine to be ready, then moved into mine. Additionally, I still had stuff in Uljin that had to be moved to Suwon. This is NOT an easy feat! Through another friend, I was able to secure a mover and got all of my belongings in one place. Whew! While challenging, it was managed and now all of my things are in my new apartment. I just have to unpack...

Driving in the City: It sucks! The traffic in Suwon is insanely busy and not at all like my sleepy Uljin town. It is going to take some getting used to, but I think I may be a bit too scared to actually drive my scooter here. Oh, how I love my little scooter, but I love living more and don't want to find myself plastered to the pavement. I am considering selling him to a new, less-afraid, driver, but I must think on this some more. Regardless, traffic is insane, but still nothing compared to Seoul!

Purchasing Appliances and Furniture: It sucks! Not being able to speak Korean can make this a bit challenging. Even if one manages to find a good deal on something, a truck of some sort must be procured in order to move said items to new abode. Ugh. However, it has been kind of fun scouring the second-had stores and looking for good items. I also managed to find a lovely Korean high school girl who has been acting as a translator for me. Oh, Katy! I am soooo happy you are here!

Riding buses and subways and cabs-Oh my! It doesn't totally suck, but it can be frustrating to get on the wrong bus going the wrong way at the wrong time...ugh!! On a positive note, I have discovered many useful places and things on my little mishaps including a Goodwill and good restaurants. See, it's not all bad~

This transition has been a bit more challenging than my initial transition to Korea. I think it is because of two things. One, I was scheduled to fly home this weekend after completing my one year contract. I was looking forward to seeing family and friends, especially my oldest son, Brandon, but I could not secure a job in the States. Second, I have had to do many more things on my own, such as finding an apartment, securing furnishings, finding my way around a big city. Overall, I cannot complain. I have a great job in a beautiful city. I'm living in a three bedroom/two bath apartment near a gorgeous park for the same price as I would pay for a studio back home. I have my youngest son here with me and friends across the country and around the world. This is one wild ride, but at least it is an awesome adventure! :-)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Saying Farewell to Uljin

It is hard to believe a year has passed since I first began preparations to come to Korea. Now, the time has come to bid farewell to my little seaside town and the precious friends I have made here. 

To process the thought of leaving my comfortable place, knowing I will never live here again, I began reflecting on the past year and what it has brought to me.There have been times of emotional highs as well as times of devastating, overwhelming sadness. Never will I forget the late nights of noraebang with my friends or the thought provoking trivia nights. The drives on my scooter up and down the east coast brought me so much joy with the warm sun on my face and the incredible scenery to take in! Walking to the market from my little apartment to get fresh fruits and veggies as well as the best chicken in town or taking my hot pink bicycle out for a spin were just little joys that put a smile on my face. Walking to work and having children shout, "Angela Teachuh", then running up to me so we could share some time as we walked to school together is simply priceless. Having a great job with a fabulous boss was icing on the cake. So many of my expat friends had difficult working conditions. My school was excellent! 

I also had the privilege of having one of my friends, Jen, come to Korea and visit me in April! That trip did wonders for me! It was so nice to have a little slice of home here with me and sharing my little joys of Korea was so much fun! The arrival of my 16 year old son, Bryan, to Korea in June brought me unspeakable joy! Sharing my simple life here with him brings me joy that is beyond words. Watching my friends accept my son and embrace him as the "little brother" of our tight-knit group brought on feelings I cannot even describe. They are wonderful people and memories will be forever cherished.

Being alone in a foreign country can also be quite sad at times. There are days where homesickness is overwhelming and just thinking about the distance separating you from your family and friends back home is exasperating and terrifying. The time sometimes seems to go fast and other times it seems to crawl. However, I have to admit, the good times over the past year far exceed the sad.

Though it is hard for me to say "farewell" to my little seaside town, I am excited about my next adventure as a university professor. It has been a dream of mine to teach on the university level and now I will. The good thing is that I will still be in Korea and can visit Uljin any time I want. I must remember that this is not "goodbye"; it is only "until we meet again". So long, Uljin. You will forever have a special place in my heart and will never be forgotten.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My next move...

The time finally arrived when I had to make a I stay or do I go? After being in Korea for close to one year, one has to weigh all options and decide if it is time to return to the homeland or stay a bit longer and see what happens. 

I have spent the last two months combing job boards (mostly and applying for positions both in Korea and back home. I applied for several types of positions, including private academies, public schools, and universities. I was interviewed and offered one position at a public middle school. I turned it down because of money and benefits. I then was accepted by EPIK (English Program In Korea) to teach in the public school system in the city of my choice. This looked like a good option, so I hung on to it for a minute, then decided it was just not what I wanted. Then came the offer from a private academy near Seoul. Hmmm..good pay, good housing, benefits not bad, but it still seemed like a dead end. What exactly did I want? None of these jobs were "bad", they just were not the right fit. Oh, and as far as jobs back home, I did not get so much as one single rejection letter.

I decided to really think about what I wanted in my next job. I decided on the salary I would accept and the benefits that were negotiable and non-negotiable. I created a target: University positions only. Now, let me explain how this works. Universities don't use recruiters. The easiest way to get in is to know somebody who knows somebody who can put in a good word for you. Then, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Competition is fierce and I was told by anyone and everyone who currently works in a university that this was the case. They were right. I cannot tell you the amount of resumes I sent out. Then I started getting responses from these universities. Then interviews. Then an offer! Then a better offer!!

I have finally settled on a position and will start the next phase of my career as a University Professor at a well-known university in South Korea. I'm excited, blessed, happy, and content with this decision. I'm looking forward to another year in Korea and advancing my teaching career in a new way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

So, you want to teach in Korea??

I seem to have been contacted fairly often lately by people wanting to work in Korea. I always find myself offering the same advice over and over, so I am putting it here so everyone can use it!

Now, on to the questions...

Q: What should I expect in terms of pay?
A: Most private academies start around 2.1 or 2.2 million won per month which equates to about $2,000 USD per month (give or take a few bucks). Public school pay varies greatly depending on experience and location. The lowest for your first year would be 1.8 million won and can go up to about 2.3 or 2.4 million won. Again, this varies by location. Visit this site for more detailed information.

Q: What about benefits?
A: Free, furnished housing along with airfare and insurance are pretty standard. There is a pension plan also which, as Americans and Canadians, you get back upon departure. Vacation at hagwons (private academies) is usually 10 days, however, public schools start at 18 days and go up from there depending on location.

Q: How do I know if it is a good school?
A: My first stop would be If the school you are considering is on this list, steer clear! Of course, you can always check the "green" list for good schools, though this is not updated as often.

Once you have checked this list, I STRONGLY advise speaking to the current foreign teacher. If they refuse to allow you to speak to them, steer clear.

Q: What should I ask the current foreign teacher?
A: Here's the list of "must ask" questions:
1. How long have you been there? (If they have been there for over one year, the school is probably doing something right)
2. Are you paid on time? (no brainer here...common problem at hagwons)
3. Tell me about the housing. (many of us put up a video on youtube)
4. Do you get along with the Korean teachers? 
5. Tell me about the curriculum. (If they say, "Oh, you just do whatever you want", run!!)
6. How do you schedule your vacation time? (Many hagwons have specific time your vacation is allowed. Find out if it is only when the school is closed for summer and winter break or if you can take a vacation when you need it.)
7. Why are you leaving the school? (if applicable)

Q: Should I use a recruiter or just get hired by the school?
A: That is totally up to you, but I would advise getting a recommendation for a good recruiter from someone who is already teaching in Korea. Additionally, never, ever, ever pay a recruiter to find a job for you. Nope, nope, nope....don't do it! I recommend my recruiter at People Recruit and many people have had a good bit of luck with Footprints Recruiting .

I think that just about covers the basics. Of course, I have only worked at a hagwon, so there may be other things to do/ask when applying for a public school position. Regardless, speaking to the current teacher is highly recommended. 

If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment and I'll get back to you! Good luck!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

So long, for now...

On the Subway in Seoul
Making good friends can be challenging as an expat and not having one of those good friends around can be even more difficult. This morning I bid farewell to yet another good friend I met here in Korea who is returning to the States for a month-long visit, then returning to another city about four hours from me. Megan is quite a bit younger than me, but we have had some incredibly good times together. She says when she first met me outside that little coffee shop in Pohang, she thought of me as "the cool aunt". LOL... We have laughed together, cried together, stayed up way too late together, and just acted plain silly. She has a joy about her that is contagious and people want to be around her.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day activities, we forget to let our "surrogate family", aka expat friends, know just how much they mean to us. It is tough to be in a country where the language is not familiar and the alphabet looks like kindergarten line drawings. These people who share the same language and customs are cherished. For all rights and purposes, they are our family. Megan is part of my family now. Although it's hard to think of this chapter of our fun escapades in Pohang ending, it is exciting to know she gets to see her family and will return to Korea in a month for another year of memory making events.

So long, my friend. Safe travels and I'll see you soon!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

12 Weeks left...

This time last year I had just begun what has proven to be one of the biggest adventures of my life so far. It all started with an email inviting me to work in Abu Dhabi that got me to start thinking seriously about teaching overseas. I mean, I had always wanted to travel and teach, but never thought it was possible. But it was!! Who thought I'd ever end up in Korea?? Wow.

So, here I am with 12 weeks left on my one year contract. The debate now is "Should I stay or should I go?" At the time of this writing, the answer is to stay in Korea. I have applied for positions back home, but the economy is still rough and it is difficult to even get an interview, not to mention an actual job. However, I have had numerous interviews for new jobs in Korea. Just yesterday I received an official contract offer from a private school and I have also been approved for a position with the public school system (EPIK). Decisions are tough, but must be made.

A lot has happened these past 10 months, including the much anticipated arrival of my youngest son, Bryan, in Korea. I'm thrilled at his adventurous spirit and his willingness to hop on my hot pink bicycle and pedal all around Uljin, exploring new places and seeing new things. He is frustrated at not being able to read Hangul, but is polite and the shopkeepers are kind to him. He has visited my school and talked with my students, been fishing in the ocean, rode on the back of my scooter, been to parties and noraebang (Korean karaoke), and experienced some night life in Seoul. Not bad for 10 days in a foreign country as a 16 year old American teenager! Of course, this is a SMALL town and there are no hot, juicy hamburgers or thick, juicy steaks to be enjoyed here. Nor are there any other western English speaking teens. We're taking a short trip this weekend and I plan to surprise him with a hot, delicious, all-beef hamburger. He'll be in heaven!

I'm looking forward to the next 12 weeks and the adventures we'll have. Mud Festival is just around the corner...

Until next time...


From my Korean co-workers and boss, I am always hearing about how I have "many friends". Well, yes, I suppose I do, though only a handful of really close friends. I like to be around people. Because of my travels and networking, I have friends all over the world! I like that!

Recently, one of my friends from "back home" came to Korea for ten days to check up on me...ahem..."visit" (so she says). It was so nice to have someone from home come to Korea and experience my life here. Though we did some touristy things, she really got a sense of what life is really like for me here and how I manage from day to day. What was interesting for me was discovering exactly how much I have learned since arriving here last September, as well as how much more I could possibly learn.

During her stay here, Jen and I visited Gyeongju where we saw the great burial mounds, played in a field of flowers, watched a music concert outdoors, visited the Grotto, and, of course, temples and palaces. Gyeongju was the capital of Korea at one time, so it is a very traditional city with many national treasures and historical things to see.

We spent a good deal of time in Uljin just living life day to day. We were able to go to a party with all of my ex-pat friends, enjoyed dinner with my boss and a Korean couple from town, experienced "Korean Karaoke" aka noraebang, ate street food at the market, and tried Korean barbeque. She visited my school several times, where she has become affectionately known as "Jennifer Teacher". She brought the game Memory, which has become a HUGE hit with the kids of all ages at my school.

We also took a day trip to Pohang and ate delicious crab, visited the shopping street, as well as our favorite tailor, Tailor Joe. He can make anything! Of course, Jen got a one-of-a-kind garment to take back home with her. What a treat for her!

Our final weekend was spend in Seoul. There we visited a Palace and were priveleged to be there over Buddha's birthday and got to see the Lantern Festival. It was a great treat for her and for me!

Sadly, she had to return to the States, but with new memories and a new prospective on Korean culture. It was a privedge and a joy for me to be able to share some of Korea with her. Now, when people comment about how many friends she has, she can share with them about her visit to Korea and maybe convince someone else to try this beautiful land.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter 2011-My Adventure at an African Pentecostal Church

Happy Easter! Being in Korea means I get to learn a lot about Korean culture. What's even better is that I have made friends from all over the world and have had the advantage of being in Korea yet also learning about my Canadian, South African, Australian, and English friends' cultures. I've tried all kinds of food and visited many places. However, it has been difficult to find a place to worship where the service is not entirely in Korean, especially since I live in such a tiny, small town.

I recently met an American soldier stationed in Seoul who invited me to attend church with him on Easter Sunday. I was ecstatic! FINALLY!! Church in ENGLISH!! With no sight of chocolate bunnies in Uljin and no hope of my little Korean church suddenly accommodating me with an English sermon, I was thrilled to accept the invitation and make the four hour trek to Seoul to celebrate Easter with people who shared my language.

Upon arriving at the church, I immediately noticed there were not many women in the midst. Happily, they did come in a bit later, though I was still the only Caucasian person accompanied by one Filipino and one Korean woman. The service began with praises in English, French, and a native African tongue.There were no words on a screen to follow and no hymnals to read. Even though the band, containing a keyboard player, drums, African drums, bass guitar, and trumpet had not practiced, they made beautiful, rhythmic music together.

As the music continued, the men all seemed to move forward into the front area of the room. They danced together in a circle praising God with song and dance. After the men left the area, the women all began to move forward. A beautiful woman in traditional African attire grabbed my arm and insisted I join them in dancing and praises, so (with a bit of protest) I did! It was amazing! I mean, here I am in the middle of Itaewon (Seoul), South Korea, in a basement church with a group of people of African descent, dancing and singing praises to God on Easter Sunday! This ain't your Grandma's church! Words cannot describe the feeling of knowing these people were praising the same God I was praising every year prior in a far different fashion, and now I was a part of their worship and being accepted as a sister in Christ. Amazing!

The praises and worship went on for quite some time. There was time for individual testimonies and people went forward one by one to give God praise for something in their lives and some even sang short songs. Just prior to the sermon, the pastor introduced me and asked me to come sing. I led the church in a popular chorus I was sure they knew, "Our God is an Awesome God". I was right...they knew it, the band chimed in and we all sang about our Awesome God!

The service continued with a short sermon being delivered in an unfamiliar African tongue and was immediately translated into English by an interpreter standing next to the Elder who delivered the message. Throughout the sermon, people were called upon to read passages from the Bible. They were read in English, French, and an African tongue so everyone could understand.
More singing and dancing ensued after the sermon and things finally wrapped up two and a half hours after beginning! To make things even better, the service was followed by a potluck lunch full of new and exciting foods I had never seen or tried! Though we had plans to return to the military base for a traditional American Easter brunch of ham and prime rib, we opted to stay and savor the delicious offerings of this potluck gathering. Oh! I am so glad we did! I had two kinds of rice with various seasonings on it, carrots that were both sweet and intensely spicy, along with spicy hen. It was absolutely delicious!

Somewhere along the way, I managed to make friends with this little miniature man who really took a liking to me. It was nice to see and interact with a child smaller than five who understood English!

It was a wonderful Easter Sunday. Though there were no Bunny Big Ears, jelly beans, or Peeps, this was a time filled with true praise and worship for the Risen Lord, which is exactly what Easter is all about.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Happiness Factor

Visiting the ocean near my apartment
"I have never seen you looking so happy."

"It's been a long time since I've seen that smile!" 

"I think you should stay another year!"

"You seem so happy there. Are you?"

These are just a few quotes I have heard in just the past 24 hours. This comes at a good time for me as I enter the seven month point in my contract and must start contemplating my next move. EPIK (the public school system in Korea) started accepting applications today for Fall 2011. Schools back home that have openings are in the midst of the hiring season now for Fall 2011, however, there are less jobs posted this year than in previous years.

What is it about Korea that puts that smile on my face? Is it Korea at all? Is it me discovering more about myself? Is it the students at my school? What is it about this strange land full of people who don't look like me or speak like me? How can I be happy in a land of which I knew nothing of until a few short months ago?

I think the answer lies within myself. Before I came to Korea, I did not know one single word of Korean. I had no idea what those symbols (called Hangul) meant that they could read. I was illiterate. I had done some basic research on the culture so I would not embarrass myself, but still did not know everything, and still don't. I think my attitude has made the difference for me in what I would like to call the "happiness factor". 

Some people come here with an attitude that Koreans are ready for change and want to be "westernized" and they were sent to westernize this ancient culture AND will succeed in doing so in one short year. That is so not going to happen! Others come to party, get a Korean girlfriend, and work as little as possible. Partying can happen, however, the rest is variable. Some come here to Korea to teach ESL to escape something back home. This is a viable option, but must be approached with the right attitude. 

Enjoying traditional Korean BBQ 
You see, I came to Korea because I have a love for teaching, a love for travel, and needed a break from my so-called "real life". I had no fantastic notion of changing the world, but did want to learn about it. I am fascinated every time I take a cultural trip and learn more about the Korean people. I am fascinated every time I go out with a large group of Koreans and witness hierarchy of the social structure and how each member of the party behaves. I try to speak the language and have found myself understanding quite a bit, though I am not always successful at answering. I respect the culture even though I don't always understand it. 

This is why I am happy here. I have embraced a culture I knew virtually nothing about. I have tasted food I never would have tried back home. I have visited places I have only heard about or seen pictures of. I have found an inner strength and peace within myself that allows me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things, visit new places, and make new friends despite not knowing the language and being moderately illiterate. 

The question I keep getting asked the most by friends and family is, "What are you going to do in September?" The answer is, I don't know yet. I do know I have a job here that I can continue or I can extend my Visa and move to a different part of the country for a different position. I have a comfortable place to live and I make enough money to pay my bills and travel. I could pack up and head home to a crummy economy with no job, no home, no car, and no certainty of what I'd find once I got there. I have heard, "Come home and struggle like the rest of us." Why? Why would anyone choose to struggle if they did not have to? Isn't the American dream to be successful and happy? To have "enough" is what everyone wants.

Maybe that is why I smile. Maybe that is why I seem happy. Maybe I actually have "enough". Funny thing is, I have so little material possessions, it would only take me about two hours to pack my whole place. Friends, I seem happy because I am happy. The only thing that would make me happier is to have all of my friends, family and my two boys here with me.

Will I stay abroad for another year? Perhaps. Right now I am happy and keep praying for guidance. I have applied to jobs here as well as jobs back home and in other countries. I am leaving it in God's hands to guide me to where I should be in September, and I have to trust that He will show me the way.

Until next time...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Deal or No Deal?

Yesterday I took a day trip to Pohang to visit friends and do some shopping. I did get one INCREDIBLE deal I simply must tell you about! I bought new glasses. Now, I know back home it would cost around $50 (at least) for an eye exam and I know some stores have cheap frames starting at around $39 or so, however, the average cost (based on an unofficial poll of my friends who buy glasses) is anywhere from $200-$300 for an exam, frames, and lenses. Well, dear friends, I left the eye doctor yesterday with an eye exam, frames, and lenses with a scratch resistant coating and easy-cleaning for 30,000 won (appx $27 USD). Yes, I am serious! Jealous? Read on...

I also found myself to be a bit hungry while trolling around Jukdo Market. As I made my way down the alley with all the fish and seafood, I happened upon some mighty tasty looking crabs. Now, I know back home you can find a decent crableg dinner for around $20 or so depending on the time of year and the restaurant. Well, how about 1 kilogram (appx 2.2 pounds) of delicious FRESH crab for only 15,000 won? (appx $13 USD) Yes, my friends, see my delicious meal that came with all of these delectable side dishes for a mere 3,000 won more. Yes, you see two oysters, mussels, shrimp, and a host of other Korean side dishes. I have yet to find a deal like this back home!

Now, on to the not so good deals. Every now and then one just NEEDS some ingredient from home to make life a bit more manageable abroad. Here are some our prices we have to pay (and are sometimes willing to pay) to enjoy the comforts of certain foods. (Prices courtesy of HomePlus in Pohang by the bus terminal)
One of my personal faves, Zesta Crackers...$5.00

How about some chocolate chips for about $6.00?
Hershey's Syrup for only $5.00 and real Maple Syrup from Canada for about $12.00?

To enjoy that expensive Australian steak you had to have, you can add your favorite A1 for just under $5.00 or marinate those pork chops in some Kikoman Teriyaki for about $6.00!
For a mere $6.00 you can enjoy your Special K and not pinch more than an inch!   
One must enjoy some Prego for about $4.50 per jar! While this is my preferred sauce, I won't pay that much.

So, there you have it folks. Deal or No Deal? What would you be willing to pay for these tastes of home? Funny thing is, the longer I am over here, the less I am willing to play for imports. I'm learning to do with what's available and am finding some American processed foods to be to much for my system to handle. I'm also becoming a better cook! :-) Of course, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned American burger with all the toppings! Yeah....I'd pay for that!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Being Grateful

I was talking to my son, Bryan, this morning and he was telling me how he is thankful to have the things he has in his life. The road has been a bumpy one (especially over the last couple of years), but he is one tough kid. He was telling me about being at a birthday party where the birthday child did not express (in his opinion) enough gratitude for the gifts received. He said he always says, "Thank you" even for the smallest things. He is right. He does. Bryan has experienced a loss of some material things recently, but tells me he is thankful for what he has and tries not to focus on what he does not have.

He then spoke of the people in Japan and how much they have lost and how he cannot imagine losing everything like that. "Mom, they have lost, their homes, everything..." The devastation in Japan is almost too much to even comprehend.
I have been glued to CNN for the past three days or so watching the stories unfold about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The images and stories are frightening, sad, inspirational, and surreal. It really makes one evaluate life and things we have and how quickly it can all be taken away.

The one thing that really stands out is how orderly and graceful these people are in the wake of disaster. People are helping people. It's not "every man for himself". It's like they completely understand they must work together for the greater good. No looting, no stealing, no meanness or malice. They are just a group of people crushed by great loss who are trying to put some sort of order back into their lives.

So, one has to wonder how things will turn out after this is all over. Will the Japanese people triumph over this great catastrophe? Will they become bitter and hateful? Will they remain proud and poised? Japan has done many horrible, horrible things to other countries in the past. I have even heard some Koreans say they are not upset about this atrocity at all because of the pain Japan has caused Korea over the years. Understandable but hard for me as an American to comprehend.
All I can do in the wake of this disaster in Japan is pray for the people and, in the words of a very intelligent 15 year-old, "be grateful for what I do have and try not to focus on the things I don't". At this point, I think that is all that our Japanese friends can do.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Birthday in Korea

I have so many things to be thankful for; a great family, incredible friends, a good job, and one more long, trying year on the planet. Yes, I have survived long enough to have a birthday in Korea. I must admit, I was not sure what to expect, so I expected nothing and got EVERYTHING!!!

Upon arriving to work, I was greeted by the Korean teachers with a Korean version of cheesecake, which is more like a light spongecake with some sort of "danish-style" cheese stuff in the middle. They were soooo happy to do this for me; excited even! The first picture is Jennifer and Ellie putting on the "Happy Birthday" candles and getting quite a kick out of doing so.

After the lighting of the candles, I received an odd rendition of "The Birthday Song" (second pic) where they all sang and clapped off-beat. It was truly awesome! :-) These women are incredible and I am so blessed to have such great people to work with!

They all enjoyed eating their pieces of cake with chopsticks out of paper cups while I just bit right into mine! I mean, I do manage macaroni and cheese with chopsticks, but cake?? Nah...I'll pass. It was very sweet of them to do this for me. Three of the teachers gave me gifts "in secret" as not to offend the other teachers who may have not given me a gift. I received very pink lipstick, some pink cosmetic that appears to be eyeshadow, and some hand cream. Their thoughtfulness is overwhelming at times. :-) (As I write this, I am having some trouble with a tendon in my ankle and one of the teachers is meeting me in the morning to go to the "Asian Medicine Clinic", aka acupuncture, to translate for me.)

Several of my students brought me gifts, including chocolate candy, a lollipop, triangle kimbap (I got three of those!), rice cakes, and a piece of coffee chewing gum! One class decorated the whiteboard with all kinds of sweet messages and sang to me, in addition to a couple of hand-written notes.

After school, I met with a local Korean teacher who bought me a chocolate ganache cake! Let me just say, as far as Korean cake goes, this one was INCREDIBLE!!! :-) I met up with a couple of friends later and we shared a pizza and the cake (videos on Facebook). On top of everything else, because of the time difference, I got two whole days of birthday wishes on my Facebook page. How cool is that? The best thing is, this was just ON my birthday and not even my birthday party!!! My party is not until Saturday! Wow!

So goes another year of my life. If someone would have told me I was going to spend this birthday in Korea, I would have never believed it. Now, I'm not even sure where I will be next year on my birthday. Regardless, I know I will be amongst friends, maybe new, maybe old, and will know I am enjoying my life and trying to make every moment count. I have a few plans for this next year, but, of course, am open to all the adventures and possibilities that may come my way. God has a plan for me and I have to believe and trust.

Until next time, keep living your own adventure....

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Six Month Check-up...

Wow. I am halfway through this one year contract and, my, how time flies!! If someone would have looked at me this time last year and told me this is where I would be, I would have totally laughed them out of the room. I mean, really? Korea?? C'mon! Who goes there?? Well, apparently I go there! :-)

These past six months have been exhilarating, happy, and fulfilling, yet at the same time been frustrating, annoying, and depressing. Living abroad is like living on a roller coaster. Up and down, up and down, up and down. Find a food you like--find a food you hate. Make new friends--miss the ones back home who know you best. See an incredible, breathtaking site--feel lonely because you know someone who would love to see this but he/she is on the other side of the planet. Communicate accurately to a taxi driver--end up paying too much for something because you cannot communicate effectively enough in the shopkeeper's language. Feel proud for taking this risk--wonder if everyone thinks you have totally cracked up. Yep, it's a roller coaster ride.

Here are a few observations I have made in these first six months about myself and living abroad:

1. Toilet Paper: It's not just for the bathroom and you should carry some with you at all times. Just because you go into the toilet does not guarantee there will be anything other than a place to *ahem* "do your bizness". It's also a good idea to carry hand sanitizer because there is never a guarantee of soap. :-) Additionally, TP can also be used to blow your nose, clean up messes, wipe a table, dry your hands, or as a napkin. Yes, this is an essential travel item here.

2. Korean English on T-shirts is a really bad idea. Misspellings, double meanings, and things that just don't make sense end up on these shirts. WHYYYYY??? I took this pic of my adorable student to demonstrate a right and wrong way to spell "beautiful". It was a spelling word that week and this is the shirt she just happened to wear. Additionally, how is it "smile" is correct in one place and not the other?? This is a huge pet peeve for a teacher of English!! Yep, this one annoys me and, people, this is just the tip of the iceberg of these kinds of shirts!

3. I am not Korean. Yes, I know this may come as a shock to many, but I am a tried and true, red, white, and blue, All-American girl-next-door. I like hamburgers, steak and potatoes, backyard barbecues, swimming outside in a (gasp) swimsuit, and, yes, I even like an occasional country song. I don't like kimchi or pickled radishes. I cannot bring myself to eat the fish from the market after it sits in the sun all day and I have yet to figure out why rice cakes and red bean paste are so darned popular! Though I do occasionally get a hankering for some decent Korean barbecue or even some noodles, I'm American. No changing that!

4. I am comfortable with people who are different than me. Here is the funny thing...I am more comfortable around a group of Koreans I don't know than I would be going to a party where everyone speaks English. I have not figured out why that is, but it is. The strange thing I have noticed is that there is a definite pattern in my life of me integrating myself into cultures and groups of people I have nothing or very little in common with. I find people fascinating! I enjoy getting to know them and learn about their cultures and how we are the same or different. Sometimes, I can get "sucked in" to a culture or group without even realizing it. This can be both good and bad, I suppose. I would like to think it is always good, but we all know getting sucked in to the wrong group can have major issues.

5. I have an internal GPS. I know my father will read this one and fall onto the floor laughing because I ALWAYS call him for directions. However, since being in Korea, I have been honing my navigational skills and can get just about anywhere without getting too terribly lost. I even carry a map with me along with phone numbers of trusted people...just in case. I have also discovered that if I get lost in a big city, just look for a McDonald's or KFC and I will find at least one westerner there who can direct me! :-)

6. I'm Independent and Strong. I don't know how I do it sometimes, but if I was not independent and strong, I would not survive. I would have already been on a plane back to what was comfortable and cozy. Instead, I made the decision to liquidate my life and move halfway around the globe for a year of unknown challenges and successes. It's been a roller coaster, but I'm still on the ride and holding on!

7. Family is Everything. My father and step-mother have been so very supportive of this adventure. Dad has made calls, ran errands, paid bills, secured a passport for Bryan (in the works), and just made sure my affairs back home stayed in order. I don't know what I would do without him. Hazel has obliged my cravings and picked up foods at the store she thought I'd enjoy and sent them to me. Ahhh...just a little taste of home goes a long way. My boys have also been supportive. I talk to them several times a week and stay actively involved in their lives. This is probably the toughest challenge I face here...being away from my boys.

8. Everyone Needs Friends. My friends back home send me messages on Facebook or funny emails. They keep me up to date on what's happening back home and tell me how lucky I am to not be paying $3.50 per gallon for gas! I know as I type this, I have a package on the way that contains some American goodies and surprises from a dear friend back home. I mean, you know you are loved when your girlfriend sends you new bras because you're shrinking and Fudge Rounds because you are craving them! My friends in Korea...well, we form a tight, tight network. Being in a small town keeps our little group pretty tight-knit and we look out for one another. We have regular get-togethers and exchange chats online or via text often. We are all here alone (aside from the two married couples) and we cherish our friendships. I only hope they know how much I cherish them! I honestly don't know what I would do without my friends.

9. I want Andol heating. No carpet to vaccuum and the floor is warm on a cold morning. Yep. I need this.

10. I miss my bathtub. Korean style bathrooms don't typically have a tub. Usually it is just a shower handle connected to the sink. The whole bathroom is truly a "bath" "room" complete with the drain hole in the middle of the floor. I intend to take the longest bubble bath in history when I return to the USA.

So, there you have it... my six month check-up. I've made it this far, so I think I can finish the race. Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Winds of Change...

Something that is both difficult and wonderful about being teacher in a foreign country is all the interesting people you meet. Not only do you meet people from your host country, you make friends with others who share the same language. I have have made English speaking friends from not only America, but Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, and New Zealand. While making new friends is wonderful, it is difficult when one comes to the end of that teaching contract and is faced with the decision to stay or go.

This past weekend I spent with one of the first English-speaking friends I made here in Korea. I had been in Korea for about two weeks when I ventured to Pohang in search of some good shopping. I happened upon two westerners sitting outside a Starbucks. They invited me to join them and I did. This photo was taken that evening before I hopped on the bus back to Uljin. This was the beginning of a great friendship. We have laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed. We have made fun of each others accents and have various misunderstandings over rules of games (pool, Uno), meanings of words (now, just now, now now), proper pronunciation (bill vs bull, milk vs mulk, etc...), and names of things (bandage vs plaster, stroller vs "pram", etc.) Through this all, however, I know I have made a friend who I will always think of fondly and have great memories of. From our late night talks to early morning (well, crack of noon) breakfasts, to launching "boats" into a rice paddy, to silly sleepovers where we talked for hours on end solving all the problems of the world, we made this friendship work on the basis of trust and honesty.

Until I met her, I had never had a friend from South Africa. I had never been to China or tasted Peking Duck. I never knew there could be so many different names for silly things like q-tips and band-aids. I never knew such a deep friendship could develop in such a short time and it would be this difficult to say farewell.

To my friend, Bronwen, I will say "Farewell", but not "Goodbye". Even if we never see each other face to face again, I know she will always be a part of my great Korean Adventure and I am blessed to have known her.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Record Snowfall in Uljin!!

As a midwest American girl, I can handle some snow. I even enjoy an occasional storm where we get five or six inches or more. I mean, it's kind of fun to get out and have a good snowball fight or build a snowman. This week, however, I saw more snow than I have EVER seen in one storm! This quaint, little, seaside town got almost a meter of snow in less that 24 hours! (That is about 3 feet for us American folk) The newspapers report this is the largest snowfall since 1911!! Yes! One hundred years ago was the last time they had snow like this! Global warming?? HA! So nice of them to include me in this historic event! By the way, that is a car under all that snow and it's not a snowdrift...

The interesting thing was how the Korean people of this little town handled all this snow. At approximately 9 a.m. Saturday morning, after we had accumulated about a meter of snow, the ladies of the apartment building knocked on the door and went on and on in Korean and pointed outside. This was translated by us English folk as, "Hey, there is lots of snow. Come shovel with us. Now!" For the next two hours or so the shoveling took place clearing a narrow path so people could get from the road to the building. Now, shoveling in Korea does not neccesarily mean with shovels. People used brooms, dust pans, plastic bowls, and even sleds. Yes, if it could move the snow, it could be used! Cars were completely buried with no hope of moving and there was no hope of me returning to the other side of town to my own place. The sidewalks and roads were not passable and, guess what? It was starting to snow...again!

The snow went on and off all day Saturday while our little group of foreign teachers gathered at one apartment for movies, pizza, card games, and chess. There was little else we could do! Sunday came bright and sunny, so move shoveling ensued. The Korean Army was even deployed to Uljin to help people dig out and remove the snow. We did finally uncover the mystery of where all the snow goes. They load it on to giant trucks and dump it in the river! What a great idea! Of course, where else could they possibly put it?

Monday morning came with, you guessed it, more snow! My boss apparently did not realize just how bad the snow was, so he actually opened school. I walked there in a blizzard ready to pull my hair out the whole way, only to find a mere five students had bothered to show up for class. He finally gave in to Mother Nature after two hours of no students and sent us home. I had to walk. In the snow. Uphill. Barefoot. (ok, so my boot developed a slight hole...) At least I discovered umbrellas have more than just one use and was able to keep the snow from blowing onto my face ;-)

Finally, Tuesday came with promises of sunshine and clear skies. The walk was much better today, though it seemed as though I was sloshing through mashed potatoes most of the time! At least it had stopped snowing...finally!

Today is Wednesday and we were blessed with another day of sunshine! I managed to dig out my scooter and move it into the sun for the ice to melt. I could not believe it started right up after being buried like this!! Ahhh, my hunk o' junk! Hey, it gets me where I want to go! Rumor has it we are getting rain on Thursday. I'm sure that will be just lovely.

I'd like to thank Korea for allowing me to be a part of an historic winter with record low temps (lowest in 96 years) and record snowfall (most in 100 years). Now, can we just get on with the Spring thaw already?!?!?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Heart of Seoul

I spent the last five days with a few friends visiting Seoul. It is a far, far cry from the little town of Uljin I currently call "home". In my opinion, Seoul, like many cities, its good points and bad. Of course, everyone does not agree on all things, however, I will take this entry to give you a few of my thoughts on the Heart of Seoul.

Seoul is a huge, bustling, crowded, lively city. If ever there was a city that never sleeps, I would think of Seoul. It seems like no matter what time, day or night, there is always something to do. I spent time shopping, sightseeing, soul-searching, eating and, of course, one cannot go to Seoul without checking out the nightlife. Our accommodations were simple and clean at Hong Guesthouse near Hongik University subway stop and we had easy access to everything we needed and/or wanted. Seoul is a place where you can find just about any type of thing you are looking for whether it is a great band to check out, an awesome dance club, traditional Korean fare, or a taste of home (
like Taco Bell or Quiznos!). Seoul truly can be defined as an international city.

Let's break it down a bit.

SUBWAY: I found the subway to be quite easy to navigate and definitely the easiest, cheapest way to travel around the city. Everything is clearly marked in Korean and English and maps are available everywhere. I have a "T-Money" card that is reloadable, so all I had to do was swipe that puppy on the reader and trot on through to my train. The trains run quite frequently and we were able to get just about anywhere in less than 30 minutes. Try doing that in rush hour back home! As far as safety is concerned, there was only one place where there were quite few homeless people sleeping in their little cardboard shelters. Other than that, I really had no worries.

PEOPLE: Hmmm...this is a tough subject. On one hand, people were generally friendly and helpful when I asked for assistance. I do take issue with the taxi drivers who did not seem to want to take you someplace that may only be a short ride. I mean, money is money, right? Guess not.
The restaurant staff are second to none! This seems to be true in most of Korea. Yes, even in Taco Bell! This is one thing I cannot seem to get used to in Korea. Wait staff are INCREDIBLE!!! I mean, I N C R E D I B L E!!! They hustle to your table to fill your glass and make you feel like the most important guest they have had all year. They don't meander around or act like they are too busy for you. These servers are there for you! They WANT to serve you. To top it all off, there is no tipping! I mean, I want to tip these people, but it is not customary. I feel a bit spoiled after dining out in Korea. I'm not sure I will be able to tolerate some of the lower standards some restaurants have back home.
The last thing I can say about people in Seoul is that there are LOTS and LOTS of them!! Seoul is crowded...very crowded. If you don't like crowds, Seoul is definitely not the place for you. People push and shove and move quickly, but if they stood and waited patiently, they would never get anything accomplished. That's just the way it is in Seoul. Deal with it, or go home.

SHOPPING: Markets, markets and more markets!! Of course there are department stores, specialty shops, food shops, foreign markets, and much, much more! We had great fun visiting Dongdaemun Market and Namdaemun Markets as well as Yongsan Electronics Market. We found great deals on hats, socks, souvenirs, clothes, electronics, and more. In my opinion, if you cannot find what you are looking for in Seoul, you probably don't need it! Additionally, it seems to me that everything can be bought in Seoul...for a price, of course.

EATING: Mexican, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, name it, you can find it. Itaewon seems to be the place for most western food finds as well as foreign markets where you can find blue cheese dressing, pop-tarts and even baked beans! Itaewon lured us with it's promise of Taco Bell, Quiznos, Cold Stone Creamery, Outback, Mr. Kebab, and many other fine eateries! ;-) Although not the safest place to be after dark, one can find food to satisfy the most refined palates as well as those of us who are ready to hurt someone for cheese fries and ranch! Head there during the day for lunch and shopping. You will not be disappointed!

SIGHTSEEING: There are so many things to see and do in Seoul, it is almost impossible to do it all in one trip. We managed a bit of culture by visiting the N. Seoul Tower and the Korean War Memorial. Both were well worth the time, though it was a bit foggy to see much from the Tower. There was, however, plenty of entertainment on the plaza level as well as many photo ops. The War Memorial was even more fascinating than I could even imagine.

NIGHTLIFE: Suffice it to say the night club streets are as jam packed as the actual clubs. The really good dance clubs charge a pretty hefty cover charge (around 15,000-30,000 won) but you do get 'one free drink'. Yeah, free...riiiight... If it is "Ladies Night", one can expect some freebies and plenty of hip beats to keep you dancing until the wee hours of the morning. I'm not certain what time many of the clubs actually close, but I do know many in our hostel rolled in between 5 and 6 a.m. and had been dancing all night! There are many street vendors offering wares and food for those who can party hard, and we even saw a man peddling cute little puppies (yes, for pets) in a heated enclosure. Yep, this city does not sleep!

OVERALL: My overall take of Seoul was simply this. It was a great place to visit. I'll definitely go back, but I would not want to live there. It's big, there are thousands and thousands of people, the subways are excellent, and the food is the best I've found in Korea. It is, however, just a bit too overwhelming for me. For now, I'll stay in my little seaside town of Uljin and enjoy the green grass, friendly people, fresh air, and salty sea!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Four Months In and Still Happy!

I get many emails and posts on my FB regarding how I like Korea and if I am still happy to be here. The answere is, "Yes, I am still happy to be here and I like Korea very much". Are there things that annoy me aobut living abroad? Sure! I mean, I desperately miss my boys and my friends and family back home, I have to go to Seoul to get decent Mexican food, and I don't know the language all that well, but I manage. I truly believe the good outweighs the bad. Everyday is new adventure. I see new things, meet new people from all over the world and try foods I would have never tried back home. I am more tolerant of people and their cultural differences and I am more open to learning about new things. I love the USA, but also realize we are not the be all, end all to everything and we do not have all the answers. It is interesting to see and hear what people think of Americans and at times frustrating because they view us as arrogant and condescending as a whole. Being away from America enables me to see why they feel this way and understand a little as to why they feel this way. I try to make a good impression of Americans and behave in a way that would make my country proud and bring honor to those I love. Sometimes it is hard because of what the rest of the world sees on the news everyday. All I can do is do my best and hope it is good enough.

The weather is cold here now. Winter is in full swing and you all know how I hate cold weather. I still ride my scooter to work, but look like an eskimo! lol I am finding myself eating rice quite often, but have not yet developed a tast for kimchi and highly doubt I will. I have managed to get a small grasp on the language and understand much more than I can speak. I do, however, manage to get my point across and usually get what I need.

I am becoming accustomed to cooking for one, but don't like doing it. I have made many friends and we get together often. For Christmas, there were 11 of us who gathered for dinner and had a representation of six countries. It was truly an international Christmas complete with turkey, chicken, stuffing, potatoes, squash, etc. Delicious!

For Thanksgiving, I was feeling quite homesick and my Korean co-teachers noticed. They took me out for a meal after work to make me feel welcome and a little less homesick. It was very sweet of them and was much appreciated. They were blown away when I took Christmas presents to work on Christmas Eve. They had no idea that I would get them anything. Granted, it was only homemade goodies, but they loved it all.

Korean people are very kind. I am treated well here and can usually get the help I need. I have managed to figure out the bus system and am able to travel often. I even bought some ski pants so I can go skiing...something I have never done.

So, my friends, yes, I am still happy in Korea. Though I have my days of sadness and homesickness and long for a delicious, hot, cheezy, yummy burrito, I know I only have eight short months left before I must decide where I will spend my next year. Until then, I will keep looking for new adventures around every corner and living life to the fullest.