When She Said Beauty was Stronger than Pain

When I was really little, I remember my mom reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to me and, of course, I absolutely loved it. But there was one line that really bothered me where C.S. Lewis describes the main characters, some children my age, trudging through the snow overnight. He describes how beautiful the landscape was the moonlight reflecting off of the snow but how they were too tired to really enjoy it.

This bothered me for multiple reasons. I think I may have been a bit jealous that they were able to find the wardrobe that led to a magical world, and I felt that they should be enjoying every moment because they were so lucky! On top of that, there are so many books with grand adventures in beautiful landscapes and the characters always seem to preoccupied with whatever is going on to realize how lucky they are to be horseback riding through towering mountains and along sparkling blue seas. I remember little-me making a promise to myself that no matter how painful or exhausting my got life, I wanted to always see the beauty. pexels-photo-947196.jpeg

When my family went through hard times I would rewrite the promise in my journal and try to remember what I had meant, what I had felt when I made that promise. There were times so black that there seemed no beauty to see. I remember carrying the promise all the way through university where the class load and work overwhelmed me. Despite always being busy, there was always time to stop and admire the bright purple buds on the tree outside of the library. Of course, there have been plenty of wonderful days in my life as well, where beauty had no filter of pain and could be enjoyed in an easy golden light. Lately, my life has been so bright. Living abroad on an island, sandwiched between emerald mountains and sparkling seas, I have found it very easy to stop and appreciate the wonders of nature and there has been plenty to enjoy.  

It was this past weekend that made me again think of the promise, always see beauty no matter how bad the pain. So let’s fast forward to the moment I am standing with my running shoes sinking into the mud, frozen, exhausted and afraid. After a couple weeks of gloriously warm weather, spring took a day off which happened to be the day of the famous Gyenogju Cherry Blossom Race, leaving all the runners in their tank tops and shorts in below freezing weather. The wind bit through my thick winter coat which I was reluctant to take off, and I kept worrying about my weak knees and ankles that had caused problems so I hadn’t trained the two weeks prior. I followed the shivering crowd out to the windy field and stopped.

Above the mountains, and illuminating the elegant ridges of an ancient tower, the sun rose still deep gold in the early morning air. And suddenly, the fear of not being able to finish the race and the bitter cold was less important. Beauty was here. And I was grateful to be here, too.

Then there was a crack of glittering fireworks, and an explosion of fluttering confetti filled the air as the runners set off. The 10k course was set around a lake which was well-known for thick cherry blossoms and peaceful views. As I ran I stared up at the branches of fluffy white. These trees were just past their peak which meant more pink of petal-less flowers were showing and the white petals were floating gently through the air. It was magical. And the people around me weren’t running to set a record. They were running to see beauty too. Girls in flower crowns and somehow flawless hair down (leave it to Koreans to have perfect hair even when running), laughed and chatted and stopped to take pictures of each other. And I stopped worrying about whether my ankle would hold; I started drinking in the morning air which grew warmer and brighter. I listened to the sound of friends laughing, the volunteers cheering encouragements in Korean, and the sound of traditional Korean music performances. There was a rocky cliff side rising triumphantly above the fading pink trees, there was a glint of pale lake blue behind a thick grove of still full white blossoms. Everywhere there was something beautiful to see. pexels-photo-1005648.jpeg

Beauty like this is always a gift. Flowers, a sunrise, or a long peaceful walk with good friends—in happy times is good for the soul. But when there is pain, beauty has a specific power. It has the power to keep us going.

Suffering is isolating, it makes us reflect inward and see our weakness and vulnerability. Often times, pain is something we want to hide because it is connected to a trait in ourselves that we find unattractive or we find the pain itself ugly. Even when we do want to share what we are going through, it’s hard to verbalize and hard to truly share even when we want to. And it is when I am suffering or even just tired that it is too easy to get distracted by all the hardship to remember how important beauty is.

Beauty can raise our eyes from the pain we see in ourselves and give us something to marvel in for a moment. Perhaps a glorious night sky cannot change a sorrowful moment but the shock of awe which we feel when we gaze up and away from our wounded hearts can make our hearts stronger for the next day. It fills our heart with something more than the pain we feel.  pexels-photo-355465.jpeg
Running beneath the cherry blossoms in spring, I remembered how easily pain can shrink when it sees beauty. Fears and aches shrink to a smaller size when faced with the powerful strength of loveliness. And I hope that when I face deeper, darker pain again, I will have the courage to look up towards beauty and remember the strength there is in Him.pexels-photo-849810.jpeg
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Reversing the Timeline Lie

I was chatting with my co-worker’s seven year old daughter. When the matter of age came up she confided in me, “I just can’t wait to be 30.”

I asked her if she meant thirteen; English was her second language so the mistake would be understandable.

“Nope,” she explained, “I want to be 30 so I can be married and have a cat.”

Which left me pondering my own timeline.

I’m nearing 30 and I am neither married nor own a cat. And there is a social pressure that I seem to be facing more and more lately that I like to call “The Timeline Lie.”

What is the timeline lie? It is the social idea that you have to have obtained a certain relationship, career, or achievement by a certain time or you will have a less fulfilled life and increased chance of loneliness. I have seen strains of this in so many aspects of my life but currently the pressure to hurry up and date and get married is especially intense. After all there are only so many times you can hear: “When are you getting married? Do you have a boyfriend yet?” Before it starts sounding like, “Would you please hurried up and get in a relationship so I can stop worrying about your excruciating loneliness?”

pexels-photo-165263.jpegLonely or not, I feel a bit bad for my co-workers who are so concerned about my well-being and my glaring lack of a boyfriend. Even my worried coach has started trying to set me up with people in whom I have no interest because he feels like I should stop coming into the gym on weekends. He explained that Saturday and Sunday are meant to be romantic days with your significant other. But despite all the pressure to get married sooner rather than later, I have had long conversations with friends who bemoan marrying too young. They talk about how they wished they could be single and free just a bit longer.

In other words, the timeline lie goes both ways.

So what’s the truth?

My fate is to be the fun aunt, the bridesmaid, the loner? Or should I lower my apparently impossible standards just a bit so I can make that 30 year deadline? Or do I just have to be patient and wait a little longer for my happily ever after?

I think all these questions are just fragments of the timeline lie still floating through my life.

Now.

Right at this second.

I think it’s time to stop thinking of singlehood as the “Not Married” stage of life and give it’s own identity. It’s time to embrace every stage of life for what it has to offer. My life is so different from my co-worker’s. She rushes home after a full day of work, stressed about in-laws and cooking dinner for her sick child who will probably keep her up all night again before her next full day of work. I listen sympathetically but can’t relate as I hit the gym right after work then meet up with friends and take a long, hot uninterrupted shower before a full night of rest. That, my friends, is the single life. Time is abundant because it is all our own.

When I am married there will be a new set of ups and downs and that stage of life will also be beautiful. Despite all the sacrifices it will take, I do want to get married someday and have a bunch of adorable babies. It will be more than worth the struggles, and will be a grand adventures of its own.pexels-photo.jpg

But I will not waste time now thinking about what it will be like or sitting, wishing the day will come faster when now is its own unique gift. The timeline lie is so dreadful because it takes us away from opportunities we have in front of us and makes us believe we are more lonely because of our stage of life. It makes us believe we are doing life incorrectly because we are doing it differently, because we got married too early or too late. We went to university or got a career too late. That is the  greatest danger of the timeline lie: it has us looking elsewhere.

Our lives are now.

And the truth is:

Now is the Happily Ever After.

Now is when we can be grateful for the good days and learn from the bad. Now is when we can build relationships that bring us joy whether they are romantic or not. Now is when we can pursue our dreams. Now is whe we can chose to happy because now is what we are given. We owe it to ourselves to do what is right for us in this moment. We owe it to our friends to appreciate at whatever stage they are, be happy for them, and honestly share where we are as well. Happiness is not chasing a rigid timeline; fulfillment comes from entering into what we are meant to be at every stage of life.

In an alternate reality where everyone goes to university at the correct time, gets a prestigious career directly after college, and has a guaranteed love-of-their-life who will appear the day they turn age twenty-two sounds like a very boring reality indeed. I think it’s time to start ignoring any social pressure which dictates when we should do things or what stages of life will be the most fulfilling.

Our lives are now. Let’s live now beautifully.pexels-photo-697243.jpeg

The Unseen Verona

I will take you there on a train coming from Venice and heading towards Rome. If you leave Venice at 7:05 pm you will get to Verona at 9:22pm and then transfer to a train which will leave at 23:36 and get to Rome by 6am. That will give you two hours in my Verona. Follow me now as I take you onto the train I rode myself.

Verona is where the bard lay his scene; he colored the city as his stage and filled it with his characters. Verona is where there are gucci stores filled with modern day Juliets, an old Roman arena, and a large piazza spilling with Christmas market goodies. But I want to show you a Verona which you can reach neither by great books nor modern jets. This Verona is a place which is nowhere else, a Verona filled with fairy dust and eventide and can be explored through these words, or never seen at all.

In my Verona leave your umbrella stashed in your backpack. The downpour has just stopped and left the train station greasy with sitting rain. Walk down the road till you reach the main street which is not the heart of romantic Verona but we are going to pause here. Reflective puddles rest on inky blue cobblestones which glimmer from the white Christmas lights wound around the trees. With the taste of surreality in the air we can begin to see the moment unfold.

There is music in the background as you head towards the second largest arena in Italy. Close to the musty Roman stone structure, it’s dark and quiet. Peer inside. Nothing plays games there now, nothing but moonlight and rainwater smiling back. Walk to the other side and there is an odd combination of modern and ancient as a group of people dressed as Santas give the scene a contemporary soundtrack of jazz and rock music playing from black bulgy speakers.

Pass the fashion centers where there are large magical wreathes of light hanging above the uneven streets. Head to the Christmas market and listen to the merry bells while waiting for mulled wine. Behind you stands a kind Italian man who tells you “Piacere”, which means “please to meet you,” and you tell him in enthusiastic but weak Italian that you are only visiting for a semester but that you love this culture. As you walk away sipping the sweet warm wine, you know that you will never see him again but your life is a bit better for those fifteen seconds.

Now we find ourselves in a quieter part of town where we can see the balcony of Juliet if we press against the iron rungs of the closed gate and look in. If it was day and you went inside, you would just be a tourist. You would smile because Romeo and Juliet are made up characters. It is not fiction now. Here, late at night, they have shut the gate because Juliet has gone to bed. For an instant, Juliet is as real as me.

You see, it would be so easy to say that it is just Verona at night… maybe it is… but have you ever seen Verona just at night? Have you ever been to a place which you have only seen through a curtain of glitter made by rainy reflection and the shadow of magical darkness.

It doesn’t last forever or the spell would be broken. We walk back along the slope of the old city moat which has a depth lost in darkness. Look closely and you can see your silhouette against the old reddish stone wall. Your transient shape is, for a moment, etched against the enigmatic remnants of history.

If you take the night train now to Rome it will probably be uncomfortable because I can’t afford any better. The seats are hard and dirty blue and have sharp edges. But before you go… I didn’t mention the center of this Verona, the deepest heart of my Verona.

I have saved the best for last. It’s on the way back to the sleepy station. Walk a little slower, a little more reluctantly. Try to breath in the soft Verona magic and open your eyes for the most wondrous moment of all.

Stars there, hundreds and hundreds of stars. Hundreds and hundreds of stars all flickering have fallen and flutter between the shadowy leaves of the largest tree. These tree branches aren’t like that of other trees, wound with pretty lights. There is no string of lights, every leaf winks white light as the wind makes the tree sigh, aye me. The entire spectacle glitters like heaven. Spin slowly, very slowly, while looking directly up at the celestial body only a couple feet above your head, just out of reach but only just.

Then everything blurs. All the hundred of lights on the tree began to dance and melt together. Blink quickly so you can keep seeing how beautiful it is, don’t let the tears fall. But the light still dances and the tears wrenched from a too-happy heart still fall. Its a funny thing–crying because something is so beautiful. If you haven’t cried from beauty, do it before you die. If it sounds unrealistic, you need to see a little more of reality. Please, find your own place that is no where else but your heart and which only those to whom you show your heart can see it.

Train to Busan–Questioning Humanity

Train to Busan is a highly entertaining zombie flick, and is packed full of fun themes and issues to untangle. While the milky-eyed, writhing zombies do make quite an impression, the movie isn’t just focused on them but on how each person responds to them. And, my goodness, I love talking about how monsters mess with our identity. Image result for train to busan

Let’s start with the main character (Seok-woo) played by the handsome Gong Yoo: a fundsmanager and a cliche too-busy working divorced father. He has a daughter, Su-an who is the absolute picture of innocence and is too cute for this world. (How could he skip her little singing recital when she is that tiny and wide eyeed and adorable??) They end up on the train to busan because all she wants for her birthday is to see her mother.

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On the train Seok-Woo meets his apparent opposite: a blue-collar burly man who is still very much in love with his wife who he is traveling with and proud of their unborn baby telling Su-an, “I mde that.” He also tells Su-an that her dad is a “blood-sucker” and when his wife tells him he shouldn’t say that sort of thing in front of the man’s daughter Su-an shrugs and says sadly, “Everyone is thinking it.” And, unfortunately, Seok-woo doesn’t seem to be that great of a guy. In the first scene he assured a customer that all funds are safe and then turning around to sell all of his own in a matter of seconds. If that scene and the fact that he is a neglectful father didn’t incrimante him enough, he also tells Su-an that she has to stop thinking of others and should only think about herself.

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After some quick character development the train is off and the scenes are set with satisfying clean whites and blues, shiny cars, and crisp buisiness suits. All this will slowly be broken, bloodied, and blurred as the scenes continue and the themes tangle up. Themes of governement corruption, society’s corruption, community, business, family are all fantastically woven through the film but I just want to focus on one theme for now.

Let’s talk about identity. Fear is such a powerful catalyst. Monsters that inspire fear teach us everthing about ourself.

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The burly dad who starts as comic relief quickly becomes a fist throwing, always brave hero when faced with the undead. His loving spunky wife is always looking out for the safety for Su-an and proves Seok-woo completely wrong. If the funds manager had only looked out for himself and hadn’t stopped to save that family, he and his daughter would have ended up dead. In one scene  they are running from zombies and Seok-Woo’s innitial panicked reaction is to close the door on the pregnant women and her husband in fear of the zombies behind them. He changes his minds at the last minute and let’s her in with just secons to spare. Later they come back to save both Su-an and him, proving that “Look out for yourself”  may not be the best tactic.

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A new character: a panicked CEO on the train is constantly locking others out, trying to leave without them, or throwing them in harms way to save himself throughout the movie.  On a train crawling with bloodied, twitching, growling creatures, he is so clearly the true monster on board. He is also the embodiment of Seok-Woo’s words, “Look out only for yourself.” It’s horrifying to think that he is what Seok-Woo would have been if the zombie breakout hadn’t happened when it did. Surviver or not he is a monster so much worse than the mindless zombies.

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And how does our protagonist, Seok-woo, react in the face of fear? He still has his daughter to think of and realizes that only way to save her is too work together with others. He started the movie living life mindlessly as a “bloodsucker” (a zombie in his own right) but is now forced to face all kinds of terror if he wants to see Su-an again. He becomes more brave and selfless as the movie continues, stoping to save multiple people as he fights through zombies to be reunited with his precious daughter. Facing monsters makes him face utter fear and rise above it.

Facing the monsters makes him human. Image result for train to busan zombie

These morphing characters are acted so brilliantly that we find ourselves caring about them whether we want to or not but it’s not just about whether they survive; it’s about who they become. And it’s not just about the characters on the screen. The brilliant setting of a train gives the audience the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in with the zombies, and it raises new type of fear beyond the usual jump scare zombie gore, its the subtle question of what kind of person you are at your core. The movie challenges a society which conforms, challenges individuals that chose to live without caring about those around them, it challenges people who live mindlessly. While someone may live in  thoughtless way day to day (as bloodsucking fundsmanagers zombies for example), when crisis strikes everyone is forced to either completely succumb to the monster inside themselves or rise above it.

 

What would you become if faced with a car full of zombies? Would you get bitten as you bravely fought to save others and become one of them? Or would you fight for only yourself at all costs and become a monster worse than them? Who is really human in the end? Perhaps it’s not the virus that makes the true monster, it’s the human that’s too afraid to become the hero.

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9 Reasons I Love Korea

Since day one, I have been in love with Korea and all its bold surprising flavors, rich history, and wonderful cultural quirks. It’s been over a year and so many things which once confused, shocked, or surprised me now seem impossible to live without

  1. First let’s talk about the food. How did I ever survive without street food? Roasted sweet potatoes, savory dumplings, and ho-ddeok (basically pancakes with the syrup on the inside so they are perfectly transportable!) are just some of my favorites. I feel like there are always new food stands popping up with new flavors and foods to try so it’s an endless tasty adventure and a real life saver when I am too lazy to cook.

    These little breaded balls of octopus are so weird and so satisfying.

2. Korean Winter Survival Tactics. I was repeatedly warned about brutal Korean winters. The weather here does get pretty cold, but thankfully Koreans have some great tricks up their sleeves when it comes to dealing with the frigid temperatures. Hot packs are fantastic little packets of heat to hold when walking around or great for keeping in your pocket when you are teaching and the co-teacher decides to leave the windows open. I also love the heated floors! Noting like toasty toes and make you feel better after a cold day and the ondol system is effective at keeping the whole room nice and cozy. Heading to the spa is another of my favorite ways to defeat the chill. Korean spas usually have a wide variety of hot pools, saunas (sometimes with fun themes!) and warm places to lay and relax (my personal favorite is when they have message chairs!). The cold is a wonderful excuse to head in doors and pamper yourself for a day.
3. Korean Skin Care. Before I came to Korea my idea of washing my face was splashing it with water. Walking through Myeong-dong was a moment of profound skin care enlightenment. I like to try some products out of curiosity (what even is snail gel?), some products because they get rave reviews (so this cleanser will solve all my life problems?), and some products because they are just too cute to leave behind (when anything comes in a panda shape I feel the need to give it a home!).

This is me realizing I may have gotten more masks than I realized…

4. Scissors at the dinner table. When I first sat down and they handed me a pair of scissors with my noodles I was a bit intimidated and confused. Fast forward a year I feel like the table is incomplete with a nice set of cooking shears. Quickly snipping up a piece of meat on the grill is so much quicker than using a knife. Do you have a vegetable that is too big to eat in one bite? Scissors to the rescue! I’ve started replacing knives with cooking shears more and more.
5. Cute cafes. A good friend or a good book and a delicious treat is my recipe for a perfect afternoon. It seems like there is always a new cafe to be discovered. Sometimes I opt for a memorable experience at an animal cafe (raccoons, cats, dogs, sheep… so many options) or sometimes I want something with cute theme and some adorably shaped treats. Sometimes I pick cafes based on what dramas they appeared in and other times I go for their specialty dessert. I’ve been cafe exploring here for a year and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the Korean cafe world, perhaps because I keep going back to my old favorites (including but not limited to the Mr. Healing cafe with the message chairs and the tiny little one by my house that has amazing mango smoothies and a suit of armor for decoration!).

6. The ocean. I was obsessed with the ocean long before I started traveling, and I’ve always wanted to live near the it so how perfect is the Korean peninsula? I love gorgeous sandy beaches like the famous Busan beaches but also love the mountain enclosed bays like the ones on Geoje and Namhae. Also, something I was completely unaware of before I came: Korea has thousands of islands! So many of these have beautiful hiking trails, dinosaur footprints, adorable cafes, and of course beaches. Some are easy day trips and some take a little more effort to reach but there are so many wonderful options for exploring that island excursions have quickly become one of my favorite past times!

Gwanganli Beach, Busan

And a bit of island exploring


7. Norebang, the singing rooms. My idea of Karoake before I came to Korea was standing up in front of strangers and hoping my voice didn’t crack. A bit intimidating and nothing like my experience of singing in Korea. Norebangs are now one of my favorite places to head after drinks, for drinks, or sometimes just because it’s 4am and people are ready to start singing! The songbooks are filled with all kinds of options and I’ve found myself belting out German and French oldies with new European buddies, singing Bon Jove with Koreans friends who know the lyrics way better than I do, and dancing to Korean beats with my fellow teachers after a Soju filled work dinner.
8. Adorable student notes. Realizing how respectful students are here was a bit of culture shock but that may be because I was previously working with high schoolers. I feel so lucky to be teaching English to some of the cutest elementary students on the planet; they can make a bad day good with their smiles and notes. Some of my favorite notes are the ones that come complete with tiny illustrations. Of course not every day is perfect, but my students make work pretty amazing and their love and excitement has made my life so much better.
9. The Mountains.

The first sunrise of the year in the Land of the Morning Calm.

I was always obsessed with the ocean but living in Korea has really made me appreciate the beauty of the mountains. I love hiking to the top and catching a golden pink sunrise (the one above was taking from the tallest peak on Geoje island). I also love watching how the slopes fill up with cherry blossoms in the spring or explode into color in the fall. I love walking through groves of bamboo or finding tiny hidden temples. Just incredible!

 

So there it is, some confessions of just a few of my obsessions here in Korea. I’m excited to see what new cafes, products, spas, and islands I discover in the year ahead!

An Interview With Joseph Steven Van Dorn: On Fitness in Korea

Running (and fitness in general) can be a whole new game in Korea. When I first started running here my head was filled with questions: Where can I run here? How do I sign up for races? And where am I supposed to find protein powder?? If you have any of the same questions, I would like you to meet Joseph Steven Van Dorn: an EPIK teacher who has finished over 20 marathons and has some great insight to into Korea, the EPIK program, and running.

Running

Background:

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I moved to Korea roughly a year after graduating at UC Irvine with a degree in Biology and English literature. I never had a chance to study abroad during college, so I really wanted to work abroad. Though I originally wanted to work in Germany, I changed my path to Korea after learning about the teaching opportunities there. I am currently working the same teaching job at an elementary school in Seoul, but I am pursuing my master’s of education on the weekends. Once I obtain the degree in January of 2018, I hope to start teaching English language at a university in Korea. I would also love to publish my novel, and hopefully become a novelist and language professor one day.

Why did you choose to come to Korea and why did you choose (and stick with) the EPIK program in particular?

After Germany didn’t work out, a good friend of mine suggested looking into Asia. I was ultimately drawn to Korea because of a Korean American in my town, who shared all the awesome parts of Korean culture with me. Plus, the collective benefits in Korea compared to Japan and China were superior at that time. Though  I could have come to Korea much faster if I applied to a hagwon, I read too many articles warning of the potential dangers of ending up in a bad hagwon. I instead threw my energy into the EPIK program through a recruiter from Educon. Educon and EPIK helped me get a position in Seoul, and for that I am eternally grateful. 

How long have you been running for? Why did you pick running in particular? 

I ran track in high school from 2004 to 2008, and switched to half marathons and full marathons in college. I never had the grace to excel in sports like basketball or football, but I was always able to outrun my fellow athletes. The idea of a sport purely focused on running fascinated me, and I became a dedicated runner. After switching to long distance running in college, I now race anything shorter than a 5K. Running brings a certain order and purpose in my life; training for a race requires fitting in a daily run, and that structure influences your entire life. Runs also give me time to destress and ponder the issues in my life. The convenience of the sport cannot be beat either; all you need is a pair of shoes and some space to get a good workout.

What other sports/activities (hobbies) have you done/like to do? 

Though running is my primary hobby, I have many other interests. I enjoy hiking, cycling, swimming, and scuba diving. Reading and writing are big passions of mine, and I also enjoy more nerdy activities like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons.

What do you feel is your greatest athletic accomplishment? 

As of now, my biggest athletic accomplishment is probably completion of “The Devil’s Dare” in 2016. I wanted to try something difficult that year, so I created a challenge that required completion of the following: six 10Ks, six halfs, and six fulls in a calendar year. Though it kept me tired and insanely busy, I felt incredible pride after finishing the goal at the Taipei Marathon in December of 2016. My running goals for 2017 are more mild, but I will most likely attempt a similar challenge in the near future.

That’s pretty incredible! How do you set your goals? What are one or two things you do that you think are the keys to your success?

My goals are usually driven by a target race, usually 2-3 months ahead of now. After picking a race, I prepare a running plan to condition my body for that race. My training is determined through various resources like halhigdon.com, the wisdom of my running friends, and my own personal experience. The key to success is sharing your goals with others. The support of your friends and the accountability push you to work out even when you rather sleep all day. Training with others is also a big help, as you are far less likely to quit a workout if you are with a friend.  

Fitness in Korea: 

Are there are any fitness related challenges that you are feel are specific to Korea? How do you overcome these challenges? Any special tips for people running in Korea?

The biggest challenges to runners in Korea are finding places to run and signing up for races. When I first arrived in Korea, I was very nervous to run outside, as I was unfamiliar with the culture. Over time, I grew less anxious and with a little courage, I ran around the neighborhood. Since then, I have run in countless neighborhoods around the city, thanks to some tips from my running club. This same group gave me information on upcoming races and helped me register. Through their help, I was able to overcome these challenges.

Is it hard to find healthy foods/needed supplements/protein sources in Korea? What is your diet like? 

Although I should, I don’t really put too much consideration into my diet. I use energy gels during longer races, which I can find at a running shoe store in Seoul. Friends of mine who care more about their diet usually buy their items from iHerb.

Has the yellow dust affected your running? 

Even when the air is bad, I still go out for a run. I am worried about the long term effects, but I think the long term effects of continuous exercise outweigh the potential harm.

How do you think running (and other activities if applicable) has impacted your time in Korea? 

Running has significantly enhanced my experience in Korea. Because of my running friends and training, I became faster than ever before and I have participated in countless races.

You have also traveled to nearby countries for races, right? What is that process like? (Was it fun? Stressful?) 

So far, I have only traveled to Taipei for a race. I traveled there just for the weekend, and it was stressing coordinating with my friends and combining social time for race preparation time. Thanks to my lovely friends in Taipei, however, I had an amazing experience. I will probably do the same race again this year!

Anything else you would like to share? 

The aforementioned running club is called The Seoul Flyers, and I invite anyone interested in running to join us for a group run and race. Type our name into Google, and you should find our website with all relevant information. seoul flyers

What are Open Classes Like?

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Open classes!!!
I heard the words floating around multiple times and talked with other teacher friends who were stressing out over them. Like most extra school requirements in Korea, open classes were not well explained to me and were a source of rather nerve-wracking mystery. So I decided to share my experience and make it a little less of a mystery to anyone curious and hopefully less nerve-wracking.
What are they? Basically, teachers from other schools come to critique you and your co-teacher’s classroom to make sure you are both doing well as educators. Since your co-teacher will look bad if you look bad, co-teachers are usually pretty stressed out about open classes and will rehearse them like plays which means they aren’t always like real classes and that you don’t have to worry too much about messing up.
How much prep time did I have? I was told about a month in advance and my co-teacher was incredibly flexible. He opened up the calendar and asked me point to the day I wanted. I was able to give myself plenty of time to plan and prepare but I know this is not always the case. Some teacher are just told what day and told what lesson they will be presenting. My co-teacher not only let me pick the day but also the lesson and section that I wanted to focus on so we both knew we would be comfortable with what we were teaching.
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How difficult was prep? Prep on my end was incredibly easy. My co-teacher and I would bounce ideas of each other and came up with an easy engaging lesson. While I did the bulk of planning, he did the bulk of prepping materials and formating the lesson plan (which I think is the hard part). We kept the games simple and the objectives clear so we both knew exactly what to do. I’ve heard some people have to prep more and other people have co-teachers who completely take over prep so I guess it can really vary.
How much did you rehearse the lesson? I have heard of teacher rehearsing weeks in advance till the students are trained when to raise their hand and which words to say till they are basically little robots.
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That was definitely not the case with us. We didn’t practice till the day of and it was just a quick review of what games we were doing. My co-teacher may have practiced with the students more while I wasn’t there, but together we only reviewed the lesson once.
What was the day of open classes like? That day the guest teachers arrived and it was more relaxed than I expected. There was, of course, lots of bowing and handshaking and then classes began. Our open class was recorded but I don’t think this is the always the case (in fact, I think this is pretty rare). It went smoothly. The students knew and enjoyed the games so there was positive energy, and we had timed it perfectly; it was over in a flash. Even the troublemakers in the class behaved perfectly because of the pressure of the strangers in the room and the fact that they were being recorded.
Overall? While it may be a bit stressful teaching with an extra audience, it’s basically a chance to show off the adorable students and the latest fun game you have found.

How Does it Feel to Finish up a Quarter of my Life? Aka Dear Little Me ~

I have lived a quarter of a century and probably over a quarter of my life. How do I feel about that? Here’s the answer…

As a little kid I was one of those big dreamers. I was pretty sure I was going to be a director if I wasn’t an actor. I loved setting up camera angles, talking about costumes and casting, and loved watching massive projects come together. And I would be an interpreter for the UN; I loved languages and was constantly learning vocabulary words for new languages (which I would unfortunately always forget as I rushed on to a new language and new words just a short time later). And my heart was dead set on being a writer. I was constantly filling up note books and flash drives with novels and spent hours with friends creating worlds and adventures. But I was going to be a runner too, I wasn’t fast and pretty convinced that I would never be anything better than painfully mediocre but that didn’t stop me from visualizing great races and breaking through the finish line. Forget being a runner, I was going to be a superhero! And here is one of my nerdier but also one of my oldest dreams: I was going to go to a really awesome college. I think it was the fact that some of my earliest memories are of the times when my parents were in college, there was something a bit glamorized about it for me–a life of friendship and constant fun with the prestige of academia was something I was looking forward to since age three (no, I am really not kidding). And of course, I wanted to travel the world and have adventures in the great wide somewhere.

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Fast forward from childhood (wherever you chose to define that) to adulthood (I’m calling myself an adult at 23 because I feel like that’s when three year old me would call me an adult). I guess it takes a while to realize that you are actually all grown up.

I was at one of my best friend’s houses. We had known each other since we were little so when we get together it feels like we are children still. We eat copious amounts of sugar, laugh hard, and make up grand stories about grand adventures. I remember it so clearly, washing my hands in the bathroom of her house and then looking up at the mirror and getting startled. Little Me looked up and realized that I had some how grown up.

So I took a moment to look Little Me back in the eyes.

Dear Little Me,

I just wanted to tell you that you have seen the world. You come from a poor, loving family but the fairy tales were right. If you work hard and keep smiling you can save up and see the world. You had fallen in love with Rome long before you went there but it was even more beautiful in real life with it’s cobblestone streets and beautiful marble fountains, with chaotically colorful churches and rich wine. And you finished college. That was one of the oldest dreams, wasn’t it? You made beautiful friends who you will love and cherish forever and the university you went to even had that air of prestige and academia you always wanted.

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And little me… the best part is that you are still a dreamer. You are studying languages every day because you still want to interpret and you still work on all your novels. You are more fit than you have ever been. And now you know you are beautiful, not in the superficial outer way but you have worked at what matters to you till you know you are beautiful inside. You are beautiful to yourself and you know that you are beautiful to God no matter what you do.

There are have been moments in the past when I looked at the 13 year old olympians, 16  year old actors, or even singers who are my age and wonder what the heck I did with the last two decades, but in that moment facing the mirror I knew. Little Me had dreamed big dreams and had chased the ones that mattered. I knew I had made countless mistakes in the past but I am grateful to all who loved me and brought me to this point. To the point where I look at myself in the mirror and realize:

I am who I had wanted to become.

So what do I do now? Turning twenty-five, that’s pretty exciting. What are you going to do with the next twenty-five years?

I will keep dreaming big dreams and chase the ones that matter. As I look at the mirror today, I know that someday I will look at it again and have to face who I have become. Perhaps 50 year old me or 75 year old me or 100 year old me will look and that mirror and think of that starry eyed 25 year old me and have to tell 25 year old me what I did with the time I have had since. And I praise God for every moment in between because I intend to use every moment to make something beautiful.

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5 Things You Should Know About Finding a Gym in Korea:

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There was “Judo, Personal Training, and Crossfit” written in massive neon letters across the wide circular building. I had just moved to Korea and was thrilled to see something like this so close to my apartment. I don’t really enjoy judo and didn’t speak much Korean at all at the time, but I was excited about crossfit and headed over the first chance I got. There was an army of young children in middle of class, all looking very intense and official as they stood facing each other in pairs but the whole class paused when I came in. It seemed to take a very long time as the instructor walked over to where I was standing and began to speak in Korean.
“Crossfit?” I asked.
He looked incredibly confused.
After uselessly repeating it a few times I pointed up at the sign which didn’t help his confusion at all. He motioned one of the students to come over and help him communicate more. An Elementary student ran over and easily said hello and asked what I wanted. I asked yet again for crossfit which the student told his teacher. After shy, “Wait here!” the instructor ran to his phone and hurredly began discussing something. The army of small children looked between their flustered teacher and the now very confused me.
The end of the story is that there was no crossfit involved at all. And no personal training other than Judo related training.
1. The label on the gym is not always correct. This episode was the beginning of my struggle to find a gym and was not the first time I realized that the English labels on Korean things are not always accurate. (My friend once opened up a package labeled sandwich and found only cheese. It was a crushing moment.) Since my attempt to join the Crossfit gym, I’ve learned a bit more about finding fitness centers in Korea.
2. The gyms here can be outrageously expensive. My gym back home was $10 a month and came with plenty of weights, a wide variety of cardio machines, and a swimming pool. If I want a gym like that here it’s $350 a month. All Koreans I have talked to are not at all surprised by the price that I am completely agahst at. There are cheaper options but they are not easy to find.
3. Language Barrier. Let’s say you find a wonderful deal on a gym like I did: 170,000won for three whole months. The treadmills barely run, the weights room is a bit cramped, and there is no pool, but it works. They may not speak English. My Korean friend helped me set up a membership the first time and I studied Korean really hard before I tried to renew it three months later. This may be different in bigger cities but it’s hard to find a gym with English speakers where I live and I’m guessing that’s true in many smaller towns.
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My Gym:) “Two Man Fitness Center” 

4. There are outdoor gyms as a cheaper (aka free) option. Brightly attired ajushis and ajummas can be found there at all times of the day doing the stretches and cardio-like excercises. When I do these machines I often feel (and definitely look) like a kid goofing off. I don’t know how many of the machines are supposed to help and I don’t find all of them very challenging. BUT they often have a variety of pull up bars as well so that’s always fun. Since my new years resolution is to do 10 pull-ups by the end of the year (I can’t do one at the moment), I’m pretty excited about this! So these outdoor gyms are great free alternatives to the ultra expensive indoor ones and great for summer (or great all year around for those immune to the cold).
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You don’t normally see stuff like this as a part the outdoor gyms but this is by the side of a hiking trail by my house. Super cool! 

5. There are all types of gyms in Korea. It may take a while to hunt them down (my gym is on the fourth floor of a side street building and the entrance is tucked behind a restaurant), but they do exist. There are crossfit gyms, boxing gyms, ones with swimming pools, and pretty much anything else you could want. There are lots of other active options two like dancing, archery, teach sports, and yoga. Again, many people I have talked to say they had to look a bit before they were able to hunt one down but they are there if you keep looking. I’ve found the volleyball club I joined to be one of the best things ever! The language barrier is a bit annoying (for my coach much more than me) but Koreans are kind and have been super helpful in teaching me how to improve!
Exploring how to achieve my fitness goals in a new country has just been another part of the adenture and I’m excited to make some gains this year!

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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