5 Ways I Have Met Some Amazing Friends in Korea

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From: America, Canada, Korea, Australia…. Languages: English, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Japanese…. Work: Engineering, Accounting, Teacher, Events Coordinator

Before I came to Korea, I was curious about exactly what it would look like trying to make friends on the other side of the world. Here are some ways I have met some incredible people.

  1. EPIK—Choosing the EPIK program was a fantastic choice for multiple reasons, and one of those reasons was that it introduced me to some incredible people my first day here. I hadn’t been in Korea more than two hours and I was already sitting with a group of teachers talking about life, laughing, and trying new foods together (I still remember expecting barley tea to be sweet and then destroying a triangle kimbab since I didn’t know how to unwrap it yet…ah, first day seems so long ago). Other English teachers here have warned me that it can be a bit difficult at first to meet people, but every EPIK teacher I know has more friends than they can visit in the space of the year. Obviously the EPIK Orientation when you first arrive is the perfect way to meet people-you spend nine days with other people who are new in the country and ready for adventure just like you. But I was surprised to find that being a part of EPIK has continued to introduce me to all kinds of people. I made some solid friendships during orientation but each time I visit any of those friends, I meet so many more people (from EPIK or otherwise). I am grateful!
  2. Travel Groups—As much as I enjoy traveling independently, having someone plan everything for you is sometimes just too convenient to pass up. For one of our three day weekends a group of friends and I decided to go through a travel group to visit the Jinju Lantern Festival and Namhae (see my vlog about it here). I loved every moment I spent with them but also made so many new friends. I remember sitting at the back of the bus introducing myself to a whole squad of people the last day only to discover they were also on my island! It was so unexpected and delightful and has resulted in some epic (excuse the pun) island hangouts!

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    Yay Octoberfest!!! 

  3. My co-teachers—When reading about co-teaching I read a plethora of horror stories about co-teachers and when I arrived to Korea that was one of my biggest concerns. I knew getting good co-teachers was important. I have one main co-teacher (who is one of the kindest people you will ever meet) but a multitude of other teachers I work with and every single one of them is fantastic! I was delighted when I found out some of them are my age (age is so important in Korea). The overlapping age and my feeble attempts to speak Korean resulted in dinners, coffee dates, and lots of volleyball. (And playing volley ball has resulted in getting to know more of the people my age in the area.)

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    Note that the mounds of food in the picture are only a fraction of what was actually there…

  4. Language Exchange— Many of my friends in big cities have some pretty incredible language exchanges, and it’s been great meeting the people that they have met through that! I live on an island so large formal language exchanges aren’t as easy to come by, however, I did use HelloTalk which a language exchange app. I started using it when I was began learning Korean a couple months before I came and just kept using it when I got here. Speaking with native Korean speakers not only helped me learn the language but also ask questions like, “How do I turn on my heat?” and, “How bad is the Typhoon this weekend going to be?” Through this app I actually discovered a lot of people in my area and have gone to coffee, hiking, and the beach.
  5. Random Meetings—I think seasoned travelers expect the unexpected but, as a newbie, I am always surprised by how many people you can meet without really trying. Some moments include, the day I went solo hiking and ended up spending a while day with someone from England. Or that time I ate tteokbokki at my favorite place by my house and a Korean lady introduced me to her son… ok, so she may have been hoping we would become more than friends but I’m just saying… you it’s not hard to meet people.

One of my co-teachers asked me the other day how I had so many friends that made me stop and think about it. I wish I could go back to slightly nervous me right before I left America. I wish I could tell myself that it is all going to be alright. There are some fantastic people on this side of the planet and I am so blessed to have met them. Koreans, other teachers, and random travelers, I have met so many people with so many stories from so many countries…  I am so very grateful for all of them.

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Secret Life of Jang-mi: Loving Those that Are Themselves so Well

The sun was slanting bright against mountainous countryside as the bus drove on. I had adventured far from my home island Geoje to visit a friend in Daejeon and was drinking in this new side of Korea. In some ways, it was just like any road trip back home in the USA. Get snacks, stick in headphones, probably sleep for a little… look at the trees go by. But it was totally different in other ways and it left me pondering why I love Korea. What about Korea in particular pulls on my heart so much?

IMG_6322.jpgI sat staring sleepily out the window at the ubiquitous sand colored buildings that rose up in city clusters (chaotic and condensed cities) and then melted back into rustic fall colored mountains. I contemplated peoples’ accusations of Korea being the same everywhere you went. People said if you visited one city in Korea, you have visited them all. There are the same Paris Baghettes, Angel-in-us-Coffee, 7 Elevens, and Starbucks. This doesn’t bother me. Perhaps I haven’t been to enough Korean cities but I feel like many cities have their own unique thing to offer on top of all the many coffee shop chains and convenience stores. But that aside, there is something about the cafes and convenience stores themselves that fascinate me…

The novelty of these places is exciting. Since it is my first time in Asia it is obviously going to take more than a couple months to get over all the new things I am seeing. I am still excited to buy things from the little convenience stores–it makes me feel like I’m in a Korean drama. I still have yet to try all the new coffee drinks, learn how to order them, and have a completely Korean conversation while doing so. It is still a new exciting adventure to eat out, yes, even at Starbucks. Some of the drinks are the same but some are new and always exciting to try to pronounce. There is a feeling of novelty but also something more…

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This drink was a new adventure and actually not tasty at all, haha! I picked it up when the bus stopped hoping for something sweet. Surprise–So bitter!!! (Also you can see a tiny bit of my sweet potato in the background which was one of the best sweet potatoes ever grown and baked!!

Speeding through the country side in a bus (or train or car for that matter) is a bit like looking through looking through a photo album. You catch a picture for a few seconds and then you turn the page. You are not able to see what’s on the other side of that building, what’s over that ridge of trees, or what’s just beyond that river bend (yes, there will almost always be Disney references in my posts). In the bus you have to be content just to look, enjoy the beauty, and be curious from a distance. A tiny old house at the edge of a river with smoke rising caught my attention. I wish I could have dinner there. I wish I could ask the woman who lives there to teach me how to make Kimchi and ask the man what he thinks of his job, what he likes about this part of the countryside. I would appreciate a dinner/conversation like that. I would appreciate them, perhaps, partly for the same reason I appreciate the Starbucks and Seven Eleven. It would be something new and interesting but again…it’s more than that.

A fisherman has a life that is distinctly different than mine. The Starbucks here is distinctly Korean with its collection of Korean style drinks (Koreans don’t mind stuff floating in their drinks that surprises many new-comers (me included at first) and you might find rice or fruit bits in any given drink here). The convenience stores have their own unique cultures with quick foods and tiny outdoor tables. These places are distinct. This sometimes makes me feel very foreign and sometimes makes me feel very triumphant when I fit in. They are not just new to me but also very themselves. There is a strong and definite culture here not my own that I am able to share in. Culture. That’s what it is, a distinct culture. That is a reason I love Korea so much.

IMG_6292.jpgSo there I was speeding South as the shadows starting to color in the mountains, thinking about why I love all the boring un-unique restaurants and little fishing villages. I watched the sky grow a darker blue and thought about how much I like new places and people. Yes… we travel to get a new perspective, see a new type of beauty, become a new type of person. It’s something I knew I wanted before I came, but I didn’t know it would look like this. I didn’t know that it would sometimes look like a Grape Smoothie from Starbucks, like the fall foliage-d mountains, or the broken conversation with the lady at the convenience store. Of course, Korea is giving me more life lessons than how to make small talk and order drinks, but little things like this saturate my life and make it rich and colorful. It is gently challenging and completely exciting. And it’s the back drop for all the deeper conversations and new perspectives that I find here.

It was black by the time we crossed the bridge over into Tongyeong and the mountains were just shadows, the sea was a patch of darker black in the night, the villages were a cluster of star-like light gathered around the edge of the water. I found myself getting incredibly excited. I was almost back in Geoje! The roads were busy. Many people travel on the weekends and Sunday night always means heavy traffic, but I kept staring out my window and got a thrill of happiness when we were back on my island. I love Geoje best out of anywhere in Korea. I think all of Korea is beautiful, and I know everyone finds those little details they love about their home here. Actually, many Koreans are shocked I like Geoje. It’s a ghost town of what it used to be, apparently, and is a rather small unexciting island really. Why didn’t you go to Seoul? Or why not Busan? And Busan was my first choice. Many people tell me that their hometown is prettier the this island and that mainland Koreans can be nicer. Why Geoje? I get the question all the time. (And to clarify, every person I have met from Geoje is very kind!)

I stepped off the bus, and I couldn’t wait to throw down my heavy backpack and get honey lemon tea from the Seolbing (Korean dessert) café right by my apartment. I needed to upload some pictures to my computer and study Korean (aka watch more of Descendents of the Sun).

So why Geoje? I kept playing with the question as I walked home. Well, I didn’t actually know what Geoje was before I came to Korea so I have to thank the EPIK program for placing me where they did. And I love Geoje for the same reason I love all of Korea–here my life is sometimes challenging and always exiting. It is rich and colorful. It is surreally beautiful, and it is very itself. My neighborhood is dotted with convenience stores and at night filled with those classic neon signs which I think of whenever I think of downtowns in Asia. The novelty, the distinct island laid-back-ness, the distinct Geoje accent, the distinct ship-worker bustle, the distinct Korean culture…. Geoje is its own place too.

Perhaps… it is a rather tiny island with not as much to do as other places, but it doesn’t have to be busy. It doesn’t even have to be more distinct than other places. It is very much itself. And I love Geoje because it is here that I am becoming very much myself. As I am challenged and delighted daily with new perspectives and beauty, I learn much and grow quickly, I hope for the better. And what better backdrop for a girl trying to become a better person than mountains reaching for the sky and the deep sky-blue seas reaching for the horizons?IMG_6382.jpg

5 New Habits I Made in Korea

I was so curious before I came what Korea was going to be like and how I would adapt to it so I thought I would share a few little Korean habits I have picked up while here.

  1. I say “maybe” a lot now. Koreans will often add “maybe” to statements that are actually quite declarative. “Maybe, it is very dangerous to go there.” It seems to be something that makes their sentence politer and I’ve found myself saying “maybe” and “I think” more as well.
  2. I eat rice all the time. It feels weird if I don’t have rice for a while, and the rice here is really good! It’s always perfectly sticky for chopsticks but not too sticky and they have so many different kinds. I love them all.IMG_5707.jpg
  3. I bring the little tissues in my purse everywhere. Toilet paper may or may not be in any given public bathroom and even if it is, it may not be in the stall. It’s always safest to have a cute little packet of tissues for any occasion. Koreans also have the wet wipes that are often used instead of napkins and I have a pack of those as well. (It even has an adorable little kakao friend on the packet, how cute /Korean is that?)
  4. I use two hands to give things. Money, drinks, papers, it’s more polite here if you use both hands.  Not everything needs to be done this way. If one of your hands is full or it’s a less formal situation it’s fine but it is a pretty polite thing to do. Even shaking hands should be done with two hands. It’s fun seeing peoples’ faces light up when I say “Bangabsumnida!” And shake their hand politely.

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    Taking drinks like this with two hands might be overly polite for the situation but the people at the cafe still seem to appreciate it!😀

  5. I bow all the time. You probably saw this one coming! And I’ll be completely honest with you, I don’t really know exactly when to bow all the time but I figure trying can’t hurt and I try to watch when other do it around me. 

There are so many other little things like taking of shoes at school/restaurants, paying more attention to people’s age, drinking with my head turned away from people who are older than me, hiking more, going to café’s more… I freaking love Korea and can’t wait to see what else I learn while I am here!

How to Get Better at Korean

I’m going to say right now that this is entirely from personal experience. I studied Korean two months before coming here just practicing simple words… their word for hello took me a long time to master and they had a different alphabet. Then applying got too busy and I stopped studying and just showed up in this country with the ability to read barely read their alphabet and the words “hello/thank you” in my vocabulary.

It has been two months and two days and I have now had multiple mini conversations that were entirely in Korean, I am able to sometimes understand the small talk of my students as they all walk by chatting away. I have told my Korean friends that they need to give me a month and a half and I will speak with them entirely in Korean for a whole conversation. I was told that it was possible to learn a language in three months so that has been my goal. Three months… four months if I push it. That means the goal is December…

While it is not necessary for an English teacher to speak any Korean here (especially in bigger cities), I think it is the key to making friends here, having good relationship with co-workers, making life easier, and conquering one of the biggest personal goals I have had.

What’s my plan of attack? How have I been doing it so far?

  1. HelloTalk. Pros: You can meet and speak with Koreans wherever you are in the world and begin practicing immediately. I have not only practiced my Korean daily with some people there but have also asked many cultural questions especially when I first got here. One of my friends spent a while trying to help me get my hot water set up. So kind and very appreciated!! Another pro: There is a voice record option so you can get some great feedback! This has really made a huge difference with pronunciation! Koreans comment on it all the time which is super encouraging! Another pro: You make some amazing friends. I have met up with a couple people from the app now and I am so grateful to know them. They are not only great teachers but great people and we have traveled Korea together! Obviously, use common sense.. which brings us to the cons.. Cons: There can be creepers. Sometimes you just have to block or report them. Some of my friends refuse to call it a language app and use it just like Tinder… I like to call it a multipurpose app. Meet locals. Personally, I’m not looking to get a boyfriend from it, I just really want fluency in the next month… but one of my friends got it for the same reason and she is now dating a great Korean guy… so there’s that. Con: It can be overwhelming. I eventually deleted it because I already had so many friends (many of whom actually like really close to me here in Geoje!) and I just can’t keep starting new conversations. It can take up a lot of space on your phone. But if you are just getting started, don’t let that stop you. It’s the perfect way to get started!
  2. Learn Kpop. Pros: I learn so much better if I am singing, it just sticks so much better. And Kpop is known for being pretty catchy so it’s the perfect mix. I learn quickly and painlessly and enjoy singing so it’s a win win win! Pro: You learn grammar structures on accident. I learned a couple songs and you can’t help but start to notice patterns and then all of a sudden it clicks and then you hear your co-teachers use the same pattern and your brain explodes! Without anyone teaching you any painful grammar rules you learned a new part of the language! Pros: You would be surprised at how applicable the vocabulary is to real life. At first I was a little sheepish… I am learning phrases like “I miss you,” “All my love,” “Our love is like a firework”… I’m not sure how often I will be using any of those with my co-teachers… but then suddenly my co-teacher says something about “all classes” and I realize I know the word all… and people talk about the firework festival and I know what they are talking about! One more pro: It helps you connect with your students like you wouldn’t believe! Cons… Not any real cons to this route unless you dislike Kpop or hate singing.
  3. Talk to me in Korea (TTMIK): Pros: FREE. Well, everything I have been talking about is free but this is like free courses, very official and clear. I love the teachers and how they break each lecture into roughly 20 minutes portions and repeat often. Clear easy lessons that you will learn from. While you can get everything online I did end up buying a couple of their books because they were they best Korean language learning books I could find and I am so glad I decided to. I’ve definitely used them a lot and it’s made a difference. Cons: Some people say that it is boring… which I don’t really understand because I think the teachers are pretty entertaining but I know its all personal taste. Speaking of personal taste… have you seen that drama? Which brings me to my next point:
  4. Watch Kdramas: Pros: You can listen for an extended period of time and its fun. Turn of the subtitles to make it harder. While I haven’t watched very many, this has introduced me to some expressions that don’t really have equivalents in English are have been really helpful to know. It can also be helpful to teaching intonation… careful though! That’s also a Con: You don’t want to be speaking like a melodramatic high school girl who has gotten her heart broken because her secret wealthy boyfriend is struggling to breakup with his finance… Once you come to Korea, dramas aren’t really quite as necessary. Just listen to everyone around you.
  5. Always be Trying: Pros: You will get better. If you are always trying to talk on your language app, or at the grocery store, or to your co-workers, you are guaranteed to get better. If you google translate what all your groceries and appliance buttons say, you will eventually start to catch on. If you try to read as much Korean as you can, you will eventually start to get faster. If you want to be fluent, this is guaranteed to work. Cons: This is one of the most exhausting things you can do. It can be exhausting on its own but doing it will adapting to a new way of life and a new job can be one of the most strenuous activities you can do. I slept more when I first got to Korea from sheer fatigue every night and I didn’t even do it all day, just practiced a little at a time. One more con: You are almost guaranteed to offend somebody or make some socially awkward mistake just because you don’t know any better. Either you say the word itself wrong or you don’t realize that you can’t ask that sort of question to that sort of person because of the culture. So far, I’ve only been mildly rude by accident so I’m hoping it doesn’t get much worse than that! But despite these cons, this is the way that is guaranteed to work!

So there it is! My method up till now and how I am hoping to be fluent in three months… Will it happen? I will keep you posted!

10 of my Favorite Things about Korea

I’ve been living in Korea for about a month and a half now. So much time has already flown by! So I wanted to share a couple things I really love about Korea and living on my island of Geoje-do. Not the big general things like the culture and the language (which are totally awesome!), but the really personal details that I love so much about my life here.

  1. I love the little filled fishes that ajuma’s make here on the street corners. These mini deserts seem to be the cross between a donut and a waffle. I really like the red bean paste and you can get them filled with that or filled with a lemon cream-delicious! img_5468
  2. I really like my Etude House tea drop eye highlighters. I got two because they were so cheap and I had been wanting to get these for so long. I absolutely the sparkly big eye asian look. As much as I liked my usual dark slightly smokey eyed look before I came here, wearing something sparkly and bright is so me that it makes me happy every time I put it on!

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    I’m also pretty excited in this picture because of the sangria I found!

  3. I love the little bread shop on the corner by the department store in my neighborhood. It is filled with breads that are filled with creams and pastes and I enjoy them all (I know because I’ve tried them all). There is a strawberry cream filled one and a red bean paste filled burnt rice bread which are so weird and delicious. And honestly, my favorite thing about this store is the lady who works there. She is always so kind and so even when I am not getting bread I’ll be sure to wave at her through the large glass windows.

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    These is a burnt rice bun with red bean filling-perfect breakfast!

  4. I love the statue of Mary outside the little Catholic Church that I found. I think it’s cool that no matter how tiny and squished in the churches are in Korea, every one I have seen have a lovely Marian Grotto.
  5. I love leaving my toothbrush at school. Koreans are super big into toothbrushing which I think is great! That way you don’t have to stress about eating a really spicy flavorful meal because you know every teacher and student is going to rush to the sink right after and take their toothbrush from its spot on their shelf and brush their teeth. And it makes the school feel way more like home to me.
  6. I love the bus stop by my main school. It’s right on the edge of the sea and the horizon is filled with purpleish blue islands fading away into the distance. Sunny or gray, it is absolutely amazing and I feel so blessed every time I walk to the bus from school. There is a long dock from the school to the bus stop so I get to walk over the sea every time I work at the main school and I always have to take a moment to just drink it in. So beautiful. IMG_5695.JPG
  7. I really like the KakaoTalk friend Muzi. So KakaoTalk (Korea’s talk app) has all these little characters that apparently have different and personalities, way more options that the generic smiley faces I’m used to adding to texts! So Muzi is my favorite little guy. He is technically an emoticon of an adventurous, fun-loving radish wearing a bunny suit but he looks like a cute little bunny to me and I like the little guy! I definitely use that emoji most when texting and I actually just got a Muzi toothbrush and notebook. Just too cute! mujiLike look at that adventurous little radish!
  8. I love eating super hot and spicy Ddokbboki while standing at the street food counter. I have always been ravenously hungry when I get it but it’s so amazing every time! It’s sweet and spicy (like most things here) and I love the chewy texture of the noodle things in the sauce. Eventually I’ll learn to make it myself but its always cheap to just buy on the way home, and I like the experience of standing on a street corner and eating it too!

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    That’s a whole lot of delicious you are looking at!

  9. I love being called “Teacher” in tiny Korean accented voices! My students are all adorable and I am so grateful to be at the schools that I am at.
  10. And I love white Konglish Sweaters! Why white? It’s just a personal preference of mine at the moment, but what I really love is when they have large English words on them that sometimes make sense and sometimes make no sense at all. Its just so refreshing coming from an English speaking country where we have asian characters printed on stuff to see people who can’t speak the language sporting big roman letters on their clothes. I don’t know why I love wearing them so much but they make me so happy. I just bought a sweater that says “Whatever you do” scrawled across the front which is fine but on the sleeve it also says “The city of Uk Popular” which makes me laugh every time!

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    This one even came with the little black skirt!

There you have it: a glimpse into some of the little things I love so much! Words cannot fully express how happy I am to be here! To all my friends and family back home, thank you so much for all the support and helping make this dream a reality. I love you all so very very much!

How to Visit Seoul with Almost no Money

Let me give you the scenario:

I have only been in Korea for a few weeks and am super eager to explore.

I learn that Chuseok (one of the two main Korean holidays) gives us an extra long weekend and plenty of travel time.

I have not been paid yet at this point and don’t have anything in my Korean bank account… and very little in my wallet.

I wanted to see Seoul which is on the other side of Korea from where I live…

The Solution:

Go to Seoul the ridiculously cheap way!

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Here’s me and my buddy Ryan

I am here to tell you that it is possible to travel to Seoul for less than $300 and have an out-of-this-world-awesome time! Here are 5 tips (heavily sprinkled with anecdotal details):

  1. Take the cheap train! We took the slow overnight train. So we left late Tuesday (11pm) and got to Seoul around 4:30am. Was this conducive to healthy sleep schedule? No. Was it a blast? Let me answer that question by saying there were lots of snacks, giggles, and singing in the mini Norebang involved. It was a fantastic choice!! If I had the money, I think the KTX (their fast train) would be worth it because its so much faster but I was able to get a ticket for only $28! So less then $60 round trip! It just takes a little of hide and seek to find the good deals.

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    Laughing, Talking, Singing and Snapping Friends when I should have been sleeping…

  2. Use Airbnb to find a super cheap place to stay! I paid $55 dollars for three nights. I think this was the place…  I love hostels because they are so cheap and you often meet some pretty cool people! I met some cool people from Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, China and a couple of other places that I forgot. Some of them even joined our group for sight seeing a couple of days!
  3. Find the free stuff!! Because we went during such a big holiday some of the palaces were letting people in for free. Gyeongbukgung Palace was absolutely beautiful with gorgeous grounds stretching out in every direction. The detail of the paintings were stunning and it was sandwiched between hazy green mountains and silvery skyscrapers. Classic Korea. This was just one thing but there are so many classes, events and random free stuff in Seoul that its worth doing a little research and finding enough so you can help.
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    Feeling so much like a Princess walking around this palace!

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    How is Korea always so beautiful??

  4. Eat the street food! It’s delicious so I would want to anyways but it’s also pretty cheap and depending on what you get can be super filling! Walking through Hongdae  at night with freshly made hot food with all the lights and live music… one of my favorite things! Hongdae is also amazing for the cafes! We went to a raccoon cafe (less then $2 total if you get the cheapest drink!) here and it was a couple hours of pure awesome! The furry little creatures kept going for people’s drinks and phones, it was hilarious! The energy in Hongdae is amazing and the nightlife is crazy awesome!
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    Shopping a little at Hongdae… I could spend a whole week in this part of town and never get bored…

  6. And something I have mentioned throughout this post-travel with friends. I traveled with a group I had met through EPIK Orientation and they are a group of fantastic human beings! We actually ran into lots of EPIK teacher there so it got to be quite the party! Traveling in a group like this not only makes the trip lots of fun but also let’s you split all the costs (for room, food, taxis etc!). On top of that, the people in your group may have connections (“I have this one friend we can stay with”) or may know about more stuff that slipped through your research (Thanks to all my friends who brought me along for the free events!!)
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    Amazing people right here:)

What else did we do? We went to the Eye Trick Museum ($14) and spent a whole morning laughing and taking ridiculous pictures. IMG_5203.jpgAnd we ate food in Itewon (that’s the foreign section of Seoul so it’s filled with foods we hadn’t seen in a while) like Burritos!! It was exciting!!IMG_5038.jpg

And made so many memories. This trip was a fantastic decision and I will definitely be back.

Want to see a clip of our time there? Check it out! 

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Seven Things I’ve Learned Living Seven days in Korea

Ok, for those seven days I’m counting the days I have lived on Geoje Island. I was staying in Busan for about a week before that but a week ago today I moved in and really made Korea my home.

  1. I’ve learned just how beautiful Korea can be. Of course, a girl can dream of being a mermaid and living next to the sea but how often is it real life? How often to you lesson plan in your office with the wind rolling off the ocean and through your windows? How often do you eat lunch break looking at the glitter of the sea? How often do you get to ride the bus through sleepy towns half buried in the deep green of the mountains? Every day, is the answer. Every day when you live in Geoje.
  2. On a totally different note, I learned that I like squatter toilets as much as I thought I would which is not very much at all. I was told that they would be here but I was hoping I would be able to avoid them somehow. No such luck.
  3. I learned it’s ok not to use chopsticks sometimes. I’ve used chopsticks in America due to a partly Asian background, but I still was a little worried coming here and trying to eat with people who have used chopsticks daily their whole lives. My co-workers kindly put my worries by constantly being surprised at how I am “able to eat well” and “use chopsticks like a Korean.” Yay, I can eat food here!!! But watching everyone around me… I think I over compensate sometime and use chopsticks for things that don’t have to be. Next week, I will be that much better at really eating like a Korean.
  4. While we are on the topic of food, I have learned that Korean food is every bit as delicious as I hoped it would be. School lunches are like going out to eat every day. I think I’ve been very spoiled with my schools because the food is always delicious. I was a little sad that I didn’t take a picture of today’s meal which was Octopus-Tofu soup, Bibimbop (which is a massive pile of veggies, meat, and rice), kimchi, a kiwi, and caramelized-honey-drizzled sweet potatoes with walnuts. It was ridiculously delicious and I was stuffed afterwards. Should have taken a picture but when you’re starving and they give you a meal like that? It’s just time to dive right in.
  5. I’ve learned that Koreans actually do have amazing skin and hair. Seriously, you know how in movies even the random people walking down the street look great and it’s kind of hilarious because it’s not realistic? Korea is that type of hilarious. I love it!
  6. I learned that Koreans are very eco-friendly and it’s been a hard lesson. The first couple of days, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the hot water or the stove because they like to use as little energy as possible and you have to turn those things on just before you are about to use them. I thought my apartment was broken but it took too much emotional energy to ask my co-workers about it when there so many other things that I didn’t understand and had to ask them about. But then some of my fellow teacher friends began venting about the struggle to figure it out and I began to wonder if I tried hard enough, if I could get it to work. Google to the rescue! And some Korean friends from my HelloTalk app. (A super handy app where you can talk with people from all over the world to practice languages! I’ve found a lot of Koreans in Geoje who want to practice English and have kindly helped me practice Korean!) They talked me through Korean ways which was super helpful! Koreans don’t just leave stuff like that on, the way we do in America. There are buttons to press and levers to turn so that you can shut it off afterwards and conserve energy.
  7. And, finally, I’ve learned a lesson that I think is learned whenever you travel, especially alone. You learn the goodness of mankind. I know that there are terrible people in the world but I feel that, judging from the stories that I’ve heard and the stories I’ve experienced, travel also shows us the kindness humanity still has around us. The kind ladies at the bus stop that point the direction to go. The amazing welcoming spirit of all my co-workers who know I can’t understand their language but still will reach out to include me. Sometimes the struggle and the hard moments are what it takes to find those good people and remember the kindness of strangers.

There you have it, seven of the things I’ve learned living here on the island. Can you believe that ten days ago, I had no idea that Geoje even existed? How does a place go from non-existent to deep-in-your-heart in the span of seven days? And its only been seven days, what adventures lie ahead?

Ok, and if you want to read more about Geoje Island, here is another blog post (with pictures!) which talked beautifully about it and gave me lots of great ideas of future things to see!

The Secret Life of Jang-mi: First day Teaching in Korea or Returning to Toddlerhood

Welcome to the Secret life of Jang-mi🙂 Jang-mi means “Rose” in Korean and since my middle name is Rose my co-teacher thought it would be a pretty name for me. I 100% agree🙂 And I love it when Koreans call me Jang-mi^_^ its just so pretty!!

Anyways, this country is still pretty new to me but I just wanted to talk about my life here  to give all my friends and family a glimpse into what my life is like now.

Returning to toddlerhood… I have always had what you could call a childlike spirit but here I am truly beginning to feel like a child again. Those toddlers you roll your eyes at because they can’t eat right. That is me with the food here. First of all, while I may have mastered the square wooden chopsticks back home, the silver flat chopsticks here sometimes get me. Noodles and fruit especially love to slip around and often end up on my lap. Also, what do you eat with what? Unlike America which has forks, knives, and spoons galore, Korea only has chopsticks and spoons. Simple right? But what do you eat with what? Will I look like a petulant foreigner eating rice with my spoon? What about if it is so covered in sauce that it is no longer sticking together nicely for my chopsticks? Today I was eating one of the meat jelly things in the school lunch with chopsticks and really struggling so I just gave up for a couple minutes. A large eyed little girl shyly picked up my spoon and put it on my plate. Oh, spoon. Yeah, I know how to use one of those. I was dying inside from laughter.

Another food difficulty: I wasn’t sure if there was a specific time I was supposed to come eat lunch and leave. I finished my food and spooned all the uneaten items into my soup bowl. This is what Koreans do so that they can easily put all the food waste in one place. I learned this during orientation last week. This week and I’m a lot better with eating with flat metal chopsticks and eating food correctly but you can bet I’m still watching everyone around me like a hawk. That’s how she eats the pork? That’s how I’m doing it next time. You can mix those two foods? Wow, so that how it’s supposed to taste. So, anyways, I’m sitting there in the cafeteria with the food piled into my soup bowl and thinking through all the intricacies of Korean cuisine when a student notices my empty plate and rushes off. I don’t think about it much till my co-teacher rushes over and offers to help me take my plate. I felt a little guilty; I wasn’t waiting on her to serve me but I do appreciate her tutorial about where to put all the dishes. Korea is really particular about cleaning up after themselves and I love it. It’s just a little confusing at first. Anyways, I survived one meal, guys. I’m sure there will be more to come.

So the food situation here makes me feel young and ignorant but then there’s the whole conversation comprehension thing. They speak slowly and simply to me because I can’t understand if they don’t. Do your remember the brain exhaustion after your worst language class? That has now become my state of life. Do all the Koreans around me get annoyed with me because of this? Nope. Every time I say a word successfully they gasp and smile encouragingly, sometimes I even get applause. Which stuns me. I know less Korean than my 3rd graders know English. I want to be participating in the conversations my co-workers are having in 3 months. Is that realistic for me with three different schools to lesson plan for? I have no idea but its very isolating not knowing the language so I’m going to try. Plus, I love Korean. I don’t want to take a year to learn it and then leave as soon as I have can hold a conversation.

Meeting the Principal. I can’t really say this makes me feel like a toddler but it does feel like having a job interview with a three year old mind limitation which can be a bit stressful. Korea is super big on hierarchy and the Gyojangseongsengnim (Principal) is at the top of the food chain. All the Principals I have met so far are very gracious but I still need to be always thinking hard so as not to be rude. Arms folded? Means disapproval so I need to make sure that I don’t do that. Legs crossed? Shows you’re superior so I sit with my ankles together. Even the little noises we make can be taken differently. The Uh Huh noise I make to show I’m paying attention can actually be rude so I try to remember to just nod and smile. Shaking hands? You better be using both. So far, I think my teachers have been surprised that I am polite to them but if someone came to America to teach with me I would really appreciate any gesture they made to be polite to me. Since I couldn’t understand the flurry of Korean that inevitably came after my introductions I don’t know what they were saying about me but I could hear my name on repeat. Hopefully good things. Either way, they have been very kind and I hope I continue to do the right thing in the future.

So there you have it: I have become a child. Again. This learning to eat and talk is good for the soul. A nice dose of humiliation but also hilarity to keep me level🙂

An Unexpected Destination

“Under the sea,” he sang, “under the sea!” And I joined in. We hummed the “Little Mermaid” song as he drove down into the dark cement tunnel that ran from Busan to Geoje Island deep under the sea.

“When I was younger, I always thought that the tunnel under the sea would be glass. A child’s imagination….”  said the teacher who was driving me to my new home.

Well, I would love if it the tunnel was glass! This country is pretty magical, I wouldn’t be surprise if there was a glass tunnel cars could drive through. I was practically overwhelmed by excitement at this point as we drove under the ocean and I strove to read and get a translation for every road sign I could find.

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A teacher from my school was driving me from Busan to the island of Go-Jay which is going to be my new home for the year. I landed in Korea only a little over a week ago. It feels way longer than that. I’ve already been around Busan, have visited Spa Land with a great group of friends (Korean spas, I’ll have to talk more about those later…), attended the EPIK orientation which was filled with days of high quality lectures (like lectures from morning till night!) and hot Korean meals all at a a gorgeous mountainous campus (I’ve been told its definetely not the best Korean food… What? It was delicious! What’s the rest of the country like??). I’ve watched a stunning traditional Korean music and dance performance which left me speechless (there was break dancing like I have never seen and that is really saying something) and visited the UN Memorial Cemetery (which was powerful). I’ve added quite a bit to my severely limited Korean vocabulary . I’ve hiked to ornate temples in the sacred quiet of morning (and let’s not forget the first morning when I watched the sun rise all gold and pink above the gray green mountains that spread in every direction) and sang and danced my heart out at Norebang (Karaoke rooms). I’m not sure if there was every a week I’ve had with more emotions all at the same time.

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My view as I walked from classes to lunch.

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My food of choice while lesson planning!

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Where I go after classes for my fill of singing, dancing, and yogurt soju.

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The sun rising as we begin our morning hike…

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And about 20 minutes into that same hike we find this gem of temple as the sun strikes the wall behind it.

So much and I haven’t even been here two weeks! Whew!

So this is how it feels to leave everything you know. This is how it feels to make a bunch of instant amazing friends who are on the same crazy adventure and have that same excited energy. So this is how it feels to be utterly overwhelmed by how beautiful everything is around and how differently they do things. So this is what its like to be sandwiched between the mountains and the sea.

Seriously, is this real life? How is it so beautiful!

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Not saying it’s always easy.

But life isn’t supposed to be comfortable, right? Its supposed to be great!

So that’s how I ended up in the car with a fantastic Korean teacher who was giving me a Korean lesson and explaining the names of my future co-workers, speeding away into the gray stormy day. I haven’t felt this brain-sore since that time I entered the depths of collage.

And then there it was, my apartment! If you read blogs about it you will hear no end to the horror stories about what kind of apartment you might get through EPIK so I was waiting for the flickering lights in the hallway and the moldy bare room. Instead we stopped in the center of town in from of a row of stone buildings. The teacher with me insisted on helping me with my outrageously heavy and large bags (thank you!!!) and asked me if everything was satisfactory once I reached the room.

Satisfactory? The one room had a clean spacious wooden floor, an adorable little kitchen area, a bed with bedding and a massive desk with both a TV and a computer. Already much more than expected. The bathroom was clean and larger than I expected with nice shampoos and soaps provided by the last girl there, and also cleaning supplies! Its funny how excited that was! No shopping necessary for the next couple of days. It was a rushed look because I was off to see meet all the big shots at the school including the principle and my co-teacher. I was terrified that I would do something offensive or forget a word in Korean.

One word I walked away with after meeting all the people at my school: KIND. I walked in with a whole garden of butterflies in my stomach but Mr. Kim introduced my first to my wonderful co-teacher. And then to the principle and vice prinicple. They all made me feel very welcome with their large smiles and kind words. There was flurry of Korean as they sorted things out and then my co-teacher drove me back to my home to show me around the town.

Korea is awesome guys. Its so chaotic and squished in some ways, but gently beautiful and wild in other ways. Its so unexpected and new that I’m exhausted and overjoyed at the same time.

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It’s time for bed but I’ll be sure to let you in on the adventures of the future🙂

Dreams Do Come True

For the last five months I’ve gazed longingly at all the planes I’ve  watched far above my head while I drove to and from work. I spent so long praying I could go to Korea. It looked like such a beautiful dream as I watched from where I sat. The dreamy, little planes, sparking off the sun’s light suspended in the hazy pink of the sunset. The idea looked so magical. It sounds so crazy and impossible.

Does a dream look that pretty when it comes true I wondered so many times. When it gets all gritty and harsh with reality. Do dreams stay magical? I was definitely ready to work as hard as it took to find out. And I am so very grateful it all fell into place.

I couldn’t help but tear up a little as we pulled into the airport. I’ve been here so many times to pick up others with an aching heart, longing for my adventure. Well, my lovely friends, this is my adventure. This is where I face my dragons, grow strong, and see the big wide beautiful world.

And the adventure begins

This is the picture I took from the plane as I began the flight to Korea^_^
And right now, right at this moment, it is every bit as dreamy as it looked from the ground, only better. I’m in the clouds in my own sort of magic carpet and ready to see a whole new world.