Moving to a completely new country that I had never been to came with lots of unknown variables and inevitably some fears. Here were my 5 biggest fears before coming to Korea:
- The cold. Everyone goes on and on about how frigidly cold Korea can get in the winter which scared me because I don’t do well with cold. At this point people usually stop me and point out that I am from Minnesota so I should be used to the cold. But I’m not… and I was still nervous about coming. So, how cold does it get here? It does get pretty cold (depending on where you are), however, there are lots of ways to get around this. The Korean’s undol heating system, their constant use of hot packs, heat tech gear and obsessive hot tea drinking all help a soul brave the winter.
- General safety concerns as a girl. I was going to the other side of the world by myself I wanted to know whether Korea was a good place to embark on solo adventures. It doesn’t take much research to realize that Korea is probably one of the safest places that you can go as a solo traveler. The crime rate is low and the people respectful. I am, however, living by the shipbuilding docks and there are all kinds of characters there (Korean and foreigner) and my Korean friends have reminded me multiple times to just stay alert, especially when it’s dark out. Staying alert, avoiding areas you know aren’t as nice (or don’t know as well), and being careful about where you go after dark is just good common sense no matter how safe the general country is.
- Natural disasters. Earthquakes and typhoons are completely new things to me. The first time I felt an earthquake here I was really confused… I thought a big bus was driving by but then it just kept going. Same with a typhoon. I remember walking to school in the rain soaked because my umbrella had snapped in the wind only to realize that we were in the middle of a typhoon. My co-teachers were shocked I had still come to school. Thankfully, neither the typhoons nor the earthquakes were dangerous where I was and I don’t think Korean natural disasters are any worse than they are in other places.
- The bugs. I’m just keeping it real here. You can ask any of my friends. When they asked me what I was most afraid of before coming to Korea, I would respond the insect life. What kind of insects does Korea have? Will I be able to cope? The bugs are bigger than the ones I am used to but there is nothing any more bizarre then what I have seen back home. (spider picture) I have not seen anything which gave me nightmares yet.
- This is not something that scared me but something that scared a lot of people I talked to: North Korea. Actually whenever I would tell anyone I was going to Korea the first or second question they would ask was North or South? And then they would talk about the fact that the Koreas are still technically at war. Which they are but they’ve been at this cease fire for a while and are ready for anything else.
So there you have it: Korea is incredibly safe and I’m glad I came. The general concerns are nothing to stress over and certainly nothing to keep anyone from coming.
What does my day look like?
I was always really curious before I came to Korea what my day would look like. Of course, everyone has really different lifestyles but here is one EPIK teacher’s typical day:
7am: When I am supposed to get up but usually I sleep in and then make a mad rush for the door and barely catch the bus. It works and I still have then next 20 minutes-30 minutes to fully wake up before I get to school and start teaching. Many people walk to school which sounds nice to me (public transportation used to really scare/overwhelm me), but I have to catch a bus since all of my schools (I teach at three) are pretty far away. Living on island though definitely has its perks—the ride is absolutely gorgeous and has become something I really look forward to.
8am: I usually get to school around this time and wish all my co-workers a good morning, collect my materials for the day, drink tea, and check emails. My schedules are different at each school so class start time is different each day. I teach Elementary level and absolutely love all my adorable students.
12pm: Around this time I get to stop teaching and eat lunch which is always incredible. The schools provide large healthy meals which is another one of my favorite parts of the day. Lunch is a time to connect with the students or other teachers, practice Korean, try new foods, and learn what they are all called.
1:30: After break it’s back to teaching. I usually only have one afternoon class and many of the teachers I have spoken to don’t have any so after lunch it is just time to lesson plan. I peruse Waygook.com and the rest of the interwebs for game ideas and type up my schedule for the next day and usually try to get ahead or the next week as well to keep it less stressful for myself.
3pm: At this point I usually am done with lesson planning and start blogging or check emails or study Korean or talk with my co-teachers which is a nice relaxing way to end the afternoon.
4pm: I leave different schools at different times but around 4 is when it’s time to start packing up. Time to trek to the bus stop… which is always lovely! I still have not gotten over how beautiful Korea is. Somedays I go with my co-teacher to play a game of volley ball or go out to dinner which is always a great way to mix up the daily routine and get to know my fellow teacher better.
5pm: After school it’s time for Korean class, coffee with one of my Korean friends while we practice each other’s language, volley ball club, a work out at the gym by my house, an adventurous dinner with another expat teacher, a movie night, or a mini hike before the sun goes down. There is never a dull moment! The city I live in is pretty small compared to a lot of places my friends ended up at so there isn’t as much to do really (no big official language exchanges or events) but I still feel like I have an overwhelming amount of options and try to do just enjoy every moment. I’m always trying new foods and really trying to learn the language.
??Pm: I get back home and pack my bags for the next day (which helps me when I make the mad dash the door the next morning. If I don’t pack the night before I will probably forget something). Due to the time difference my friends at home are usually just getting up at this point so sometimes I end up skyping them till late hours of the night. Then it’s time for a quick shower and bed to rest up for the next busy day.
So there you have it: a day in the life of an EPIK Teacher. I am so grateful for where I ended up at. It’s the perfect blend of city and natural beauty but, then again, much of Korea is like that. I am so grateful for all the new experiences I get on a daily basis. It really is incredible!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
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 🙂
If you don’t know me I’m obsessed with languages and I would really like to learn a bunch fluently in the near future. I am definitely not the only one with this dream and or the only one struggling to make it happen. If you are at interested in languages in any way, shape, or form, I have found something you need to see:
But why should you listen to me? There are hundreds of guaranteed, well-tested language programs and they all tell you that they are miraculously easy and make you completely fluent. Believe me, I know because I’ve tried a crap ton of them and done research on substantially more. I have done hours of research and would like to share with you why I think that this site is amazing!
1. Free! There are so many sources out there that you don’t have to pay for, I am personally very against language sites that make you pay. It’s hard to believe its free but I’ve been using it for a couple months now and I haven’t paid a penny for my advances in Italian, Spanish, and German! Ok, and even if you have already found a program that you pay for and that works perfectly for you, this is perfect free review so you should still check duolingo out:)
2. Time Efficient. I work all hours of the day, and you probably do to. Even if you don’t, it’s nice to have a program that maximizes your precious time. The lessons are generally 20 questions long and you can set how many how many lessons you want to aim for in a day. They are condensed enough so that you can actually learn something in that fragment of time so you don’t need to spend hours studying. Even if you have hours to study (don’t laugh, some people do during vacation), I would use duolingo as part of your curriculum because it is good practice:)
3. You Can Hear the Language. It’s one thing to be able to read the language; learning to associate the quickly spoken sounds with the words we’ve learned on the page can be tricky. Duolingo really helps this process. Make sure you have headphones or speakers so that you can hear the language being spoken at the same time. They also have a microphone option so that you can practice speaking it. I practice it whenever I am using my phone but don’t on my laptop. Which brings me to my next point…
4. It’s Portable! You can get the app on your phone so you can practice it wherever you go! Talk about time efficient. I used to do mine on my lunch break or when I have a couple extra minutes in the car. It’s super convenient.
5. Makes Grammar Bearable. This is a personal plus. I love to speak languages with friends or listen to the way they sound but the technical grammatical side of languages is my bane. This program seamlessly ties in grammar with the rest of the lesson so it’s not painful at all. I would recommend adding some additional studying in this area because it might help to actual see grammar rules and such, but it is really helpful in solidifying your skills in this area.
So lets review, you will learn grammar painlessly and be able to understand the language when your hear it spoken through this portable free program that makes the best use of your time. I’m pretty excited about this! I hope it helps you to! 🙂
So I was running on a treadmill, in a rather ill-lit basement, squeezing something of a work out in between exhausting lesson planning. I was worn out in every sense of the word and stuck in headphones–the soundtracks on my playlist are the only thing that keeps my legs going. Buried in work, new confusing situations, growing up financially, and all kinds of relationship changes, I’ve had a lot to process and running always helps clear things up. Even if you aren’t fresh out of college you can probably relate to facing chaos or transition in life.
I was listening to the Big Hero Six soundtrack and it was one of those triumphant songs… I hope you are listening to it right now to get the full affect. I tried to understand what it made me feel. “I feel brave” is not really strong enough to capture the feeling. “I want to be a better person” isn’t really specific enough. “I want to climb a mountain” is probably closer… but not quite right. “I want to win” is almost right. “I can win… I am winning.”
It’s the feeling that drives Olympic runners break new world records, it’s the feeling that brings people to the tops of mountain few have reached before, and it’s the feeling brings people to finally ask the one they love out to dinner. And it’s beautiful.
Out of all the chaos in the day and all the confusion…running on a rickety treadmill late at night listening to the Big Hero Six I found a lot peace and remembered a part of myself a person should never forget–the feeling of wanting to win and knowing that you can. It’s powerful.
Why winning is so important? This probably sounds like a stupid question to some people but for me its an honest inquiry and often times very specific. Why do I want certain things? Are the dreams I want to win valid? Are they truly important? I think about the languages I want to learn, the places I want to see, the person I want to be. I have had some pretty amazing experiences, and I want to have them again but I want to know my own motives. Everyone is going to find different motives for their dreams, many people are going to find a variety of reasons for wanting to win. For me there are two reasons that I could think of right away.
The first reason I want to win is quite briefly beauty. I want to gain things, experiences, or skills which I feel brings me closer to beauty.
The second reason is a little more complex and much deeper. When I think about the amazing sense of victory that comes with keeping my eye on the prize and winning it; when I think about the amazing sense of peace that comes with living the dreams of my heart won by hours of heart work and incredible blessings, it is not just satisfying or enjoyable. Suddenly standing on that mountain, my own personal mountain, I feel very close to God. I think, it is when we remember that we are meant for more, that we are meant for greatness and can achieve it, we remember who we really are.
Some people laugh at them as pre-failed attempts: New Year’s Resolutions. I personally like them. I think that having a goal for a year often does help me and probably helps others (even if it is for a sadly short period of time). So let’s talk about how to make a real resolution: one that really matters and one that you are actually going to do.
First, I always like to start by looking back. Before we leave the old year completely, lets think about what mattered this year. What memories stick out the most in your head? What things really impacted you as beautiful or meaningful moments in your life?
Here are my top five memories from 2014:
1. Last New Years Eve/Day….that’s not cheating right? It was under the Eiffel Tower with little fireworks exploding around me and my friends while we drank champagne and shouted Bonne Année (Happy New Year) at the swarms of happy (and often drunk) people passing by. It was an amazing book end for an amazing year.
2. My Last night in Rome, my last moment’s looks at St. Peter’s Basilica to be exact. A place so crazy, famous, and beautiful had been home for me since the first moment I saw it. Yes, it was painful to leave but it was because I loved where I was so much. Whenever I am horribly romesick I can’t help but also be incredibly grateful as well-the entire four months there was magic and made me who I am. Its cheesy and 100% true.
3. Singing at a park at midnight with some amazing friends. It was 11:30pm on muggy summer night when the stars were shining that me and some of my friends decided to go to the park. It’s against social norms to go there at age 22 unless you take a small child as an excuse but if you go when no one else is awake no one cares. We climbed things, we ran around, and we sang whatever songs came to our heads (from Phantom of the Opera to Frozen). In other words, we were little kids again and it was awesome.
4. Reading An Ideal Husband at the Wilde Roast. Oscar Wilde did not fail to amuse me and reading the play aloud with the best cast of friends was perfect. And once the restaurant closed (notice that it was Oscar Wilde themed? it was just too perfect!) we went outside into the cool summer night and sat perched high up on a stone ledge sandwiched between a gothic style church and a glittering city skyscraper reading quality literature and laughing at the jokes made by a great author. It was fantastic!
5. Making gingerbread with my family. This one is really quite simple but really important. It happened just a little bit ago. Fresh baked gingerbread + homemade caramels + family + laughter till you’re sore from it. . And that is pretty much all you need to make something really really beautiful.
Some things I learned from it all is that starlight makes things magical, beauty can give you strength, and dreams can be fulfilled – you just have to work your heart out to give your heart what you want.
And with that in mind, here are my five resolutions:
1. Learn three languages. Perhaps not fluently but substantially would be nice. I already know a decent amount of German, Spanish, and Italian so really this is just a resolution to keep studying them and trying to be a little more serious about it so that the next time I travel I will be a little more proficient.
2. Lose 15 lbs of college weight. I’m pretty happy where I am but this one is a classic so why not add it to the list of resolutions?
3. Do a handstand. I love to hip hop dance and I can’t do a handstand which is a bit of a travesty. So I am going to fix that. I have already started working towards this and its tough but I’m pretty confident it will happen before the end of the year.
4. Pray 1/2 hour a day. I want to better every part of me–mind, body, and soul.
5. Get an article published. I have been really working on editing and writing more articles. It’s a lot of work and reading through articles for hours has made me realize that if I want to get published I have to step up my game. So that is what I am going to do.
So those are my resolutions. What are yours? Look at last year to see what you would want to do better, or what you couldn’t imagine missing from your life.
My year has been a combination of 65 hours+ work weeks that pushed me to my limit and a plethora of childhood/big dreams becoming a realities that are now treasured memories. 2015…. bring it on! 🙂
Is this just me?
There is something you have seen a hundred times, something powerfully beautiful, or maybe even subtly beautiful but it is something you have only seen on a page or screen. It is something that makes you think about things differently like the spires of a gothic cathedral that makes you look up or the soft colors in an impressionist painting or the stretching line of the ocean. It makes you feel different just by looking at it on the page but you have never actually seen it in physical form. Perhaps you have an art book or a travel guide for that trip you will take “some day” or you have seen the place in your favorite tv show…There is something you hold dear about that particular thing, that particular piece of beauty…And yet you have never even seen it.
I have so many places like this. It’s really magical knowing that there are whole new worlds of beauty just outside my finger tips that I can’t quite reach.
But perhaps… I can. I remember the first time that I saw St. Peters. The incredible columns were ones that I had seen hundreds of times before in my life when watching papal events or reading art books about the Vatican. I walked between the pillars and suddenly realized I was standing in the beautiful pictures that had already captured my heart.
It is an odd sensation to suddenly realize you are at home when you have never yet been to a place. And yet… it is possible
Coming back to America, I have found that my life is filled with less of these awe filled moments. I am too busy working to be a tourist here and I am focused on what I need to do more than the moments that need to be. But yesterday I went the museum with a friend who shares my passion for art and far surpasses me in my knowledge of it.
At one point she told me to close my eyes and moved me through the gallery. Some how, miraculously, I didn’t trip but finally paused. She told me to open my eyes.
Van Gogh’s painting of the Olive Trees were right before me.
It’s random, I know… but not for me. Olive trees say Rome, beautiful memories, the sense of peace and home that came with resting in Italian country side. I have loved this painting before I saw it because of all the memories it had for me. We had often talked about Van Gogh–how the pain in his life had ended up bearing fruit of loveliness. Suffering often results in despair or beauty like nothing seen before (sometimes both).
Crying with beauty. It doesn’t happen very often. Perhaps for some, it never happens at all. But for me, it is one of those rare moments in life where everything seems to come into clearer focus. Its a moment where I am completely at home.
So now that I have made some pretty big long term goals, it’s important that I start with smaller goals. It’s the beginning of a new month, it is the perfect time to start. Ordinarily when I think about November, I think no more lovely fall colors, frigid cold without the sparkle of snow, and gray days. I’ve decided to rethink this November. This November is a time for new beginnings. For starting to achieve all those big goals I have set before me.
So this November I am going to Write a Book. Nanowrimo is an amazing community for writers who want to complete a novel, meet other writers, and get amazing rewards for all their hard work. I did it last year and it was completely awesome. I am pretty exited to start it again this year! So breaking it down day by day: I will type roughly 1,700 words a day.
This month I am going to get a Whole Lot Stronger. This website has some incredible challenges for every level. I have picked out the core challenge and the burpee challenge. One top of these challenges I am planning on boxing when I have a little extra time and learning some new dance moves. However, day to day my goal will be: complete one day of both of the challenges.
This month I am also going to Pray More. My Catholic faith is incredibly important to me and I want to make sure that I am taking time no matter how busy my schedule gets to really think about the things that really matter to me. So every day I play on praying for 1/2 hour as well as either going to mass or praying a rosary every day.
This month I am going to reach a Conversational Level of Spanish. I plan on going through books that I have, memorizing verbs and grammar rules, hanging up vocab signs and phrases in my bathroom, and reading through some spanish books and practicing with my brother. Breaking it down day by day: I will be practicing spanish for an hour a day but on top of that I will be practicing it whenever I go into the bathroom.
Let November begin! 🙂