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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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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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!