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! 

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.

Korea: Q&A

Korea?? But why? When? What? Huh?? So, I’ve been asked a lot of questions by a lot of people and I wanted to answer some here and hopefully give you a tiny glimpse into my whirling brain at the moment as I prepare to leave the country for a whole new adventure.

Why Korea? Honestly, I felt peace the moment I first thought about it. It was totally a God inspired thing. And here’s some other great reasons to go to Korea: delicious food, epic language with a whole new and exciting alphabet, you get to live in a lovely mountain-filled, ocean-surrounded country with perfect internet. Not to mention they have the freakin coolest festivals ever (check my bucket list out if you want an idea of where I’m hoping to go)! And I’ll get to teach English which I love to do while meeting amazing new people and getting to share an amazing new adventure with old friends! I could actually answer this question all day but you get the point.

But I mean, why study abroad in the first place? I’ll be honest, I didn’t entirely understand the question at first. Why would you not want to get paid to travel? I don’t see the dilemma… Of course, now that I’m actually doing it and thinking about all the struggles I am going to face, I am starting to understand the question. Moving to a whole new country and embracing a whole new culture is going to be painful at points. Still, I’m counting on that. I’m not planning on constant vacation, I’m planning on being challenged and growing as a human being.

Aren’t you going to miss your family? Yes. A lot. And all my friends. I used to be the girl who was traumatized by moving when I was little, always afraid of saying goodbye, even if it was just for a second. I’ve cried for hours over people leaving. How the heck is this girl planning on making it on her own for an entire year? The crazy thing is, I know I can do it, as painful as it will be. I can promise every single person I love, I will always love you no matter where I am, how you/I change, how long its been since we’ve talked… you are, quite simply, stuck in my heart. I am no longer afraid of space or distance because I’ve met the right friends, friends who understand you instantly again even after years apart. Even more impressive, I’ve had some beautiful relationships with people who I get closer to even when we haven’t talked for years. And that is only because I know some pretty amazing people who I am so incredibly grateful for. And while nothing can take away the pain of a goodbye, I have met people who have taught me never to be afraid of a goodbye. Besides, I’m pretty excited to share this dream with you. Unlike the shaky uncertainty of technological communication in Rome, Korea has internet and I plan on playing around a lot on social media. I hope you all realize I’m taking you all with me in my heart and on my phone.

Girrrlll, you got guts. Really? I mean half the people I know do crazier things so moving half way round the world to a country I’ve never been to before doesn’t sound like the most gutsy thing I could do. Yes, I know it’s not going to all cherry blossoms and beaches either. It’s going to force me to reach new level of independence. It’s going to force me to reach out to people and look past myself. There are going to days of linguistic humiliation or cross-cultural fails. Students are great but every teacher knows that they are going to test my patience probably at least once. I’ll have to stick up for myself since I won’t have a hoard of people doing it for me. I’ll have to make decisions and actually say no to things ( this may sound like stupid little things to learn but decision making is not my natural forte and I’m still learning that I can say no to things and not be a horrible human being). And there are so many unknown variables right now like what city I will live in and what age I will teach… Ok, this whole thing is completely terrifying, let’s be real. And I can’t wait!! I’m going on an adventure!! From what I hear adventures are supposed to be a little scary and a little hard or its just a vacation.

Sounds like fun but don’t they have different beauty standards? They are pretty obsessed with appearance and have a very specific idea of what it means to be beautiful. Turns out, so does America and I don’t perfectly fit either country’s ideal perfectly. Sure I’m going to play with makeup and fashion while I’m there, that just sounds like fun, but I’m not going to sacrifice my confidence for anything. I am really grateful for the friends that gave me a heads up that this country can take it too the extreme. They can really care a lot about looks and that combined with brutal honesty about what they think of you can be kind of searing. I have no idea of this is something that is just some people’s experiences or if it has changed but if not I’m in for some trial by fire. I’m going to say right now if it ever starts getting to me I’m going to ask for a couple words of affirmation from y’all to get me focused and remember what it is that really matters about a person.

You are going to try their make-up? Don’t they have bleach? Well… their products don’t exactly have bleach in them, usually. However, they often have sunscreen in their creams and melanin inhibiting chemicals. I plan on trying to avoid both of those if possible. I happen to love the sunshine and my tan. And if I get a little paler, let’s be real, I feel pretty ghost-like after a winter in Minnesota when the sun decides to take a nine month vacation. The solution is quite simple: get some fresh air and sunshine again. It’s not irreversible.

Ok, when do you leave? If my visa paperwork goes through, I’m going August 15th. That means I have to do everything. Right. Now. Why is there so much paperwork? And so little space in a correctly sized suitcase?

So there you have it. To all my family and friends- I love you and I can’t wait to share all my new adventures with you! God willing, when I see you again in person I will be that much better of a human being and we will be that much closer. Onto new and wonderful adventures! 🙂

In Europe’s Shadow

Why this Book?

I’m going to tell you a secret… I know very little about the Cold War but that wasn’t the reason I picked up this smudgy thick white history book off the library shelf. I’m kind of obsessed with Sebastian Stan at the moment. When I found out that he is from Romania, I went to check out a book on it (don’t judge) and ended up learning all kinds of things and enjoyed the book for its own sake and loving Romanian culture for its own sake.

Here’s the thing about this book: I am not really sure if the author and I would get along. I find Kaplan old and cynical, especially when I first picked up the book. I was, however, very intrigued by his totally honest and foreign voice, and I was delighted by how well he knew the country and people of East Europe. This author is like one of those professors who you like to listen to because they are so smart and bitingly honest but you hate to take tests from because they are always so mean about it. (Thank God I don’t have to take a test from this guy!) I loved reading the book because I feel like (while I didn’t learn as much as I should) I learned a lot.

What is the book like? 

With Kaplan’s voice in mind I must tell you he paints a vivid picture of Romania from World War II to the present. Names and dates often blurred in my mind, he knew them all so well but for me it was like meeting too many people at a party. What I can remember is the clearly depicted travel scenes he gave from his own journey and the personalities and culture of the people he met. (And my hope is that next time I meet these people in books I am able to remember them because now I have a reference point.)

The experience of looking at the desolate communist tortured country through his eyes helped make history real. He describes a people worn down from hardship with a culture all but washed out by communism. However, even as he washes out the colors of culture and paints a cold bleak black and white picture of the the pain Romania has been through, he loves to reminisce about the beauty of the past and hint at the possibility of better times. “The communists destroyed the landscape, but deep down they destroyed nothing. It is only a matter of recovering the tradition. Tradition and modernity cannot exist one without the other. You can only rebuild the past.” While he seems to think the newer Romanian culture is a bit fake and forced its not all negative. The vibrant picture he paints of the Latin West merging into the Oriental Byzantine East in Romania fascinated me. He compares it to the Italian city of Ravenna which made me want to visit. “Romania is a fusion of Roman Latinity and Greek Orthodox Christianity, so that ancient Rome and Greece live on, however vaguely and indirectly inside the Romanian soul.”

A Couple of More Quotes that Intrigued Me…

“How distinct the colors were! We think of the past in Black-and-White because of the state of photography at the time. But the past before the ages of smokestacks economies was even richer in primary colors than the world today.”

“The ultimate purpose of human existence is to appreciate beauty, and beauty requires a spiritual element-an imitation of another world.”

 

 

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.