Unexpected Food Adventures in Korean Schools:

Coming to a new country I expected there to be odd moments with food. Moments which leave me confused, possibly delighted and possibly disgusted. I just thought I would share some of the memorable dishes I’ve eaten at my schools here so far.
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Episode One~The Shrimp: “Do you like shrimp, Lucca?” a co-teacher asked me hestitantly. I love shrimp. Those are the little pink things you eat in pasta with garlic sauce, right?  I nodded and all the teachers frolicked to the caffeteria excitedly. I paused as a heavy Styrofoam cooler was open to reveal massive gray prawns, their large black eyes watching me judgementally. There were “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” from all the teachers around me who love their food the fresher the better but I was still feeling a bit intimidated from the staredown and even more indimdated by the knowledge that koreans have been known to eat things live. I watched nervously but relieved as the teachers brought out pans and little stoves to cook them at the tables and jumped every time something hit the lid of the pan. The little guys sounded so angry and I was getting scared of them; this was my first time eating prawns and they seemed to have a lot of attidude. The lid finally opened back up to reveal pink, quiet food. In fact, they almost looked like the pasta shrimp I was used to having but they still had so many little legs all poised to attack and their little eyes still watched me so judgementally. I’m telling you, I have never been this scared of my food until coming to Korea. I probably would have sat for a very long time with my plate of sauce, nervously holding my chopsticks, if a kind coteacher hadn’t taken it into his heart to get them ready for me. And they were amazing. In America I usually buy food from the normal grocery store and don’t really have the time or money (or motivation) to go to do my own fishing or catching or growing. Here in Korea my tongue is getting spoiled with things straight from the sea or from the mountain gardens. So if my teacher were to ask again, “Lucca, do you like shrimp?” I would still nodd excitedly even though I know exactly what I’m getting myself into.
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Delicious but daunting for a girl who hasn’t eaten much seafood previously… 

Episode Two~The Little Squidlings: So, my life in Minnesota hasn’t included much sea food and when I moved to Geoje I was excited about the new wierd foods I would be able to discover dinning on an island. Now, when I see squid on the menu I get excited about having a familiar tasty food but this was certainly not always the case. I remember almost screaming the first time I found a baby squid in my pasta and taking about a half an hour before I build up the courage to close my eyes and eat it. But one of my first days the teachers table had a plate of beautiful purple squidlings. Ok, I’ll be honest, I don’t know if they were squid or octopus and I barely remember how they tastest. I was in shock at the fact that they did not appeared to be cooked, were as long as my hand, and were meant to just be eaten whole. I still am not sure if I liked them. My brain was still trying not to be afraid.
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I don’t think the ones I had actually had the eyeballs still but you get the idea..

Episode Three~The Tomatoes: Don’t they have tomatoes in Minnesota? Yes they do and I eat them on sandwitches and in salads if I have to, and I have eaten them in school lunches here on a fairly regular basis, but the other day they were in an unusual sauce. You can expect the sauces here to be really sweet or really spicy here in Korea and often both and you will never know until you bit into it. I’ve had apples in sauce that was actually peper sauce (that made me a bit sad) and I’ve had cucumbers and strawberries in a sweeter sauce (which surprised and delighted me). But today it was straight-up pure honey. I always felt like tomatoes as a fruit is a bit of a lie. I mean, in my opinion tomatoes trying to claim the same level as strawberries, grapes and mangos is just arrogant and untrue but drenched in honey I realized something. My goodness, tomatoes can be downright delicious. I realized this by the end of eating them, of course. The first few bites were pure confusion. Why was there honey on my tomatoes? That’s like putting honey on pizza! Oh, wait, Koreans do that too…
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Well… honey and sweet potato and corn and mayonnaise and shrimp and pretty much anything else you can thing of… 

Episode Four~The Salty Creatures: I really don’t remember what these creatures are called. I just sat down to lunch one day with my plate of veggies (drenched in lots of sauce of course). I am still pretty terrible at learning vegetable names here (there are so many new ones and they are all pretty similar) and I’m even worse at remembering those names. I thought what I was about to bite into next was some other vegetable but my chopsticks paused. They were a bit too silvery to be veggies, even though they were mixed with almonds and dressing like a salad. I stared at the unknown food item wondering if they would be sweet or spicy. I picked up an almond sliver for a flavor check. Salty. Very. Very. Salty. And I realized that all the little silver things had little black eyeballs. What is it with Koreans and food with eyeballs??! It is so unnerving! In fact, I still will not eat these little fishy things when they show up on my plate. Yes, I did try them at one point and yes, it was a bad idea. I do not like them, Sam I am.
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So many eyeballs! 

Episode Five~The Oysters: The vice principal came rushing into the teachers office with a massive styrofom box and proudly took of the lid. A massive cloud of steam floated out and all the teacher gathered excitedly around. My co-teacher told me “Gool.” I staired at the container confused. Honey? Nope, my bad. Not Ggool, just gool. Oysters! I don’t remember having oysters once back home. I’ve had them here in soup and been rather confused but found them pretty tasty. But when they opened up the package this day there were mountains of shells some still salty from the sandy seaside. (By the way, back home I love collecting seashells and any shell is exciting. Here, sea shells are just like peelings and I can’t tell you how strange that makes me feel. It’s waking up and finding out gold is just the dust that keeps collecting on the mantel piece. Not the most annoying thing in the world but just something you have to deal with. It makes me feel oddly wealthy or spoiled, I guess. And yes, I still collect seashells but not from my plate because that would be weird!) My co-teacher handed me a shell containing a massive oyster.
MY GOODNESS oysters are amazing!!
And, I really wanted to open one up myself. I got so excited about cracking open the shells you would have guessed I was pearl hunting but I didn’t even need to eat the oysters at that point, I just had fun opening up sea shells and finding the perfect little meal inside. Of course, I also enjoyed eating them and ate my fair share and my co-teachers told me that here are they are ridiculously cheap. I’ve actually seen them all over the rocks by my school but never really made the connection before.
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So these are a couple of the food adventures I’ve had at my schools so far. It doesn’t even count all the voluntary food adventures I’ve put myself through. Like the time I found bugs as a side dish for my octopus, the initial shock of finding out that beans are a main dessert ingredient here, or the time I found an whole massive octopus in my soup (or the time I found an octopus running away down the side walk for that matter). Moving to Korea has made me think more about where everything comes from and it has taught me to value fresh and local. I see all the fisherman in the morning pulling in the fish that ends up at the markets by my house and watch the ajummas collecting oyster shells in the afternoon. Of course, there are moments of unpleasant suprise, but overall all the meals here including (and especially) school lunches fantastically delicious. In fact, I am afraid I may be getting very spoiled indeed. #IslandLife
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My Top 5 Biggest Fears Before I Came to Korea…

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Don’t worry folk: no people were hurt in the making of this post!

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.

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      I now love solo traveling around Korea (and the rest of the world)!

    3. 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.
    4. 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.

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      No bugs but a T-rex did attack me at a subway station once!

    5. 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. 13995603_1465534776793731_2357964290194198540_o

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.

A Day of Teaching in Korea

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. IMG_6001.jpg

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.

IMG_5831.jpg12pm: 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.

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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.

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Playing around with the heavy bag!

??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!

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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 🙂