Friday, February 28, 2014

Being Sick.

Well, it finally happened.  I knew it would, especially with the way I've taken very little time to rest over the past month while illnesses have run rampant around this little town.  I've spent nearly the entirety of this week sick.  I was really tired last week, which I thought might mean that my body was fighting something off.  Then after battling a stomach bug on Sunday, on Tuesday night I just started feeling terrible.  I've spent the rest of the week in bed.

I may be closer to 25 than 24 at this point, but being sick has really made me just want to be at home, laying on my couch where my parents can take care of me.  My neighbors in Jeomchon have been great about offering to help, but there is really no replacement for home when you're sick.  I love living by myself, but this would be one of the times when it has serious downfalls.

I'm REALLY hoping that when I wake up tomorrow I feel better.  I don't think I can spend another day laying in bed.  And I DEFINITELY cannot spend another day watching TV.  I think my brain is melting.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The season of change

"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere.  That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."--Miriam Adeney

My friend Jackie sent me this quote months ago, but it's only recently I can really feel the weight of it.  I love my life abroad, but recently I'm realizing that the decision to come to Korea has made my life infinitely more complicated.  I'm not sure I will ever feel completely "home" ever again.  For the rest of my life, I will have friends that live around the world.  It's a tremendous blessing, but at the same time, even when I return to NH, home will never quite be the same because my heart won't ever fully be there ever again. It's always going to be in Korea, South Africa, and Hong Kong to name a few. It's a blessing, but one that is going to take time for me to lean how to be comfortable with.

Things are rapidly changing here in Jeomchon.  Not only are the days getting longer and warmer (it's light when I leave work AND there aren't any temperatures lower than 45 degrees in the forecast!), but this is also the time of year when people leave Korea. It's the season of goodbyes.

I've never been good at dealing with change.  I mean, I'm the girl who cried every single year when I had to move out of my college dorm room. I know change is a part of life, but I just don't deal with it well--especially when it means losing people who are important to me.  I know it goes with the territory of being abroad, but as much as everyone says I'll get used to it, I'm not sure I ever will.

Luckily, I don't have too many goodbyes to say.  Jeomchon will lose the majority of its people in August, and most of the people leaving this intake weren't around too much.  However, I did have to say goodbye to Jackie, my friend from Hong Kong who I met way back in September.  Jackie is one of those people it was easy to become friends with.  She and I got close really quickly and managed to create quite the amount of memories in only six months.  Saying goodbye to her really sucked, even though I know that I WILL see her again (next time in Hong Kong!) And of course I know that we can easily communicate through Kako, Snapchat, and Skype.  Still, trips to Seoul just won't be the same.  I'm glad we got to have so much fun together, but my experience in Korea is definitely going to be different without her here.  This goodbye was by far the most difficult I'm going to have to least until August, but I don't even want to think about that yet.
It's amazing how quickly you can get close to people.  So happy that I met this girl.  Already looking forward to reuniting in Hong Kong!
Things are also about to change at school.  Many of the teachers at school are leaving and new ones are coming in.  Things are being shuffled around, and today I had to move all of my stuff to a new desk (which made me realize I have way too much stuff). On Monday the new school year will begin and I will have a bunch of new students.  I've enjoyed my laid back schedule the past few months, but I'm looking forward to having a routine again. In the midst of these changes, I'm looking forward to having some stability returned to my life.  

In the meantime, I'm about as emotionally drained as I could possible be.  Between the traveling I've been doing over the past month, the chaos of this weekend, and saying goodbye to Jackie this morning, I'm just about ready to lock myself in my apartment for the next week.  I love being around people, but I eventually get to the point where I need to shut out the world and recharge--I'm definitely at that point now.  

Until next time!

A quick weekend in Busan

This weekend I took a trip to Busan  for my friend Jackie's last weekend in Korea. The weekend turned out to be a bit chaotic, but it was awesome to spend some time on the beach, especially since the weather was equivalent to NH's weather in April.  We spent our day by the beach and ended our exploring by trying some chicken feet.  Yes, chicken feet...because when you're in Korea, why not?  They didn't really have much meat on them, which was strange...I mostly felt like I was just sucking off the super spicy sauce.  Apparently they're supposed to be good for your skin though, so I'll let you know if I see any improvements in that department.  Overall, it was a memorable weekend, although by the time I got back home I was completely exhausted.  Not too much else to say, so I'll leave you with a few pictures of beautiful Busan.
Yes, that is my friend swimming in the water.  And yes, all of the Koreans are wondering why the crazy foreigner would ever go in the ocean in February. 

Mmmmm chicken feet!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Valentine's Day and Korea's Couple Culture

The other day I received a Valentine's Day card in the mail from one of my friends back home.  I put the card that says "Happy Valentine's Day" in large letters on my desk in the teacher's room.  I didn't really think anything about it, but then yesterday one of the other English teachers came over to greet me and said, "Oh, you have a Valentine's Day card?"  I proudly replied that yes, one of my friends had sent it from home.  She looked at me and said "But you're a girl?"

I had forgotten that in Korea Valentine's Day is a day where girls give guys chocolate.  Then, in March (I think March 14th, also called White Day), the guys give the girls candy.  So, what is just one day that celebrates love in America, is split up into two days in Korea.  But don't worry, there's also a day for all of us single people out there as well. April 14th is Black Day, a day where single people eat jajangmyeon (noodles with a black sauce).

You might think this is a bit much, but it's not surprising given the fact that Korea has a very strong couple culture.  Just about everyone in Korea wants to be in a relationship.  Ok, most people in America do too, but the idea of being single and ok with it is completely foreign to most Koreans.  Hence why to this day, when I get asked if I have a boyfriend and reply that I don't, I always get asked "why not?!"

When you're walking around Korea, it's not uncommon to see couples wearing matching clothes.  Yes, guys and girls alike, both voluntarily walk around wearing identical clothing.  I noticed this A LOT last time I was in Seoul--especially when it came to having the same winter jackets. You can read more about this phenomenon in this article:

This is an outward display of relationships, but there are also many other couple traditions. In Korea, couples celebrate their 100 day anniversary.  If you look along walls at touristy places you can see couple names with a "100" written around them.  I also heard that they celebrate every 100 days...but I've mostly only heard my students talking about the importance of the 100 day mark (maybe that's just because of the nature of high school relationships?)

Another definitive thing about Korea's couple culture is the prevalence of couple rings.  When I first arrived in Korea I was confused as to why everyone thought that the fact that I wore rings meant that I had a boyfriend.  Then I found out that it's common for couples to wear matching rings--I'm not sure if there's a certain amount of days they wait before they get the couple rings, but it's pretty common and thus, the reason my students always point to my rings and say "oh, boyfriend?"

Everywhere you go in Korea there are photo opportunities for couples.  You see large hearts everywhere, with couples lining up to get their picture together.  One of the things that surprised me when I first came to Korea was how comfortable guys are with being "cute".  My male students don't have any problem singing an emotional love ballad or admitting that they want a girlfriend.  I don't know about you all, but I can't imagine any guys in American being ok with wearing matching clothing with their girlfriends or voluntarily wearing any rings besides a wedding ring.

These are some of the main ways Korea's couple culture manifests itself.  There are other romantic holidays--Pepero Day and CHRISTMAS....Yes, Christmas is not about family here. Instead it's all about going on a romantic date.  Anywho, some people are really bothered by the couple culture here, but for the most part I just find it interesting.  The only thing that really bothers me is the idea that if you're single it's a bad thing--that you NEED to be in a relationship. Of course, this attitude is also prevalent in America, but I have noticed it much more strongly in Korea. I always try to tell my students (especially the girls), that it's ok to be single and that they should be ok to feel free and independent.  I don't think I really get through to them, but hey, you never know.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thinking of home.

"You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you." --Frederick Buechner

Homesickness can strike you at the most surprising and unpredictable times.   Sometimes it's a conversation with a friend from home, a song you hear, or just a memory that comes out of no where and hits you in just the right (or wrong) way.  There's not always any rhyme or reason. It can happen at the times when you're most happy and content with your life.

This is what happened to me this week.  In the midst of one of the high points of my "I love Korea" periods, I had a Skype session with one of my best friends from back home.  For some reason, in no way because of anything in particular that my friend said, after we finished talking all I could think about was home. My thoughts were consumed by how much I miss my friends, and how awesome it would feel to hang out with them again. I kept thinking about all the things I left behind and how drastically different my life is now from last year.  I thought about my old classroom, my old students, and my old routine.  I thought about all the foods I miss eating and the bars I miss hanging out at.  I thought about dance and going out to brunch after class on Saturday mornings.

Although I've been saying I'm pretty sure I'll stay in Korea for another year, in my head I started thinking about my options if I decided to go home for good in August.  I started to convince myself that I could somehow be financially stable enough to move back home at the end of my contract in August, even though I don't even know where I'll begin to job search or how long it will take me to get into a teaching job again.  

It's strange how suddenly homesickness can knock you off your feet.  It doesn't come gradually, at least for me.  Instead, it sweeps me away and captures my thoughts, almost entirely. It's as abrupt and powerful as being punched in the stomach and having the wind knocked out of you.

Naturally, I know what these feelings are.  It's what every person living abroad experiences from time to time.  And it really is only from time to time.  I've in no way experienced the aggravating effects of "culture shock", but homesickness has gotten to me a number of times over these six months.

As I've said a number of occasions, the amazing experiences of living abroad come at the expense of number of things--the most difficult of which is being away from friends and family.  So, even though I spend a considerable amount of time on here talking about how awesome my life here is (and it is awesome), I hope no one at home ever thinks that it means that I miss you any less, because I don't.  I think of you all constantly, and I've spent way too much time daydreaming about how incredible and fulfilling it will be to be reunited with you all again.


Monday, February 17, 2014

6 months.

It's official--I've been in Korea for 6 whole months.  I'm officially halfway through my contract.

6 months ago at this time I was overcome with nerves, excitement, and nearly paralyzing uncertainty about what I was doing or why exactly I was even doing it.

I can still recall my feelings from my last day at home in such a complete, vivid way.

I remember feeling sick to my stomach the whole day before I left.  I remember the absolute lack of appetite I had, forcing myself to eat even the smallest bites at the Mahrajan.  I remember having to wear sunglasses outside at night as I tried to eat that said food because every time I looked around I started to cry.  I remember stressing over attempting to pack my life into two lonesome suitcases.  I remember crying as I hugged my parents goodbye and the long car ride to the airport with my sister that I wanted to go faster--just to get it over with, yet didn't want to end because I knew that then I would have to get out and everything would be real. I would really have to leave.
Hard to believe it's been  6 months since I said these hard goodbyes. Don't be fooled by our smiles--there were plenty of tears behind those sunglasses. 
I remember thinking I had to be crazy.  I remember thinking I had made a huge mistake for deciding to leave such a great life behind.

But still, I got on the plane and moved to a country I had never even been to, not knowing what town I would be living in or what exactly I would be doing for work.

I remember all my thoughts and feelings from that time so clearly, but I couldn't feel more distant from the girl I was at that time. Six months later, I wouldn't have done a single thing differently.  These have been the best six months of my life.

Over the past six months, I have met people who have welcomed me and made me feel comfortable in a country that is on the other side of the world from my homeland.  I've had the privilege of teaching the best behaved students I've ever met (not that EVERY class is well-behaved, but some are hands down the best I've ever worked with).  I've traveled around Korea and spent weekends exploring cities I had previously only ever heard of, and sometimes never heard of.  I traveled to Thailand, pet tigers, rode elephants, and saw some of the most impressive man-made sights I've ever seen.  I've made friends with people from around the world, experienced strange and sometimes uncomfortable cultural differences, expanded my worldview, and overall, had my life impacted in millions of ways that have changed me in ways I'm not even sure of yet.

Over the past few years I've struggled with my tendency of living in the past. I spent a lot of time (especially during college) thinking about things that could have been.  There were relationships I wish had gone differently, and decisions I wish I would have handled in other ways. My tendency of staying stuck in the past was a terrible habit, and ultimately destructive to my happiness.

However, these days I don't find myself living in the past at all.  Yes, I'm still a person that spends a lot of time reflecting, but now I am thankful for everything that has led me to this point--everything that has led me here.  If there had been anything that had been different, who knows if I would have ended up here, having this experience that for some reason or another, I think I was always meant to have.

I love my life in Korea.  In many ways, this job feels like a break from reality.  When people tell me they admire me for doing what I'm doing here, I can't help but laugh. Yes, it's not always easy being so far away from home and sometimes I get sick of having a language barrier or feeling like an outsider. However,  having taught in the US before coming here, I know that life here is easy (ok, maybe I'm a little impacted by the fact that right now is vacation.  I may feel differently once school starts up again).  But I have so much free time both at home and at school that I've experienced minimal work-related stress. Seriously, there are so many times when I'm deskwarming and I have to stop and think "They're really paying me to just SIT here?"  Even when it's mind-numbingly boring, I know that I'll never again get paid so well to do so little.

But perhaps what has really made my time here so great is the people. The community in Jeomchon is exactly what I was hoping for but never imagined I'd actually get when I decided to come to Korea. And it certainly doesn't hurt that my friends all live in my neighborhood and we get to hang out all the time.  It's kind of like college, just better because instead of having to study all the time while being continually broke, we finish work at 5:00 and get a paycheck every month.  Of course, perhaps best of all, I get to travel around, often with these great people, and I make enough money so that I haven't had to stress about making ends meet. If that isn't living the easy life, I don't know what is.

These are all things I know I won't experience when I leave this life behind. It's something I'm poignantly aware of.  As much as I have thrown myself into my life here, with every amazing experience I have I am simultaneously aware of the fact that my time here is fleeting. It's a bittersweet awareness that eventually I'm going to have to say goodbye, whether I'll want to or not.

So cheers, Korea.  I have learned so much about Korean culture, done things I never could have imagined, and cultivated relationships that I hope will last a lifetime.Thanks for the best 6 months of my life.  I'm still waiting for that whole culture shock thing to happen to me, but even so, I can only hope that the next 6 will be just as amazing.


For the next week and a half I will be teaching a one hour class every day.  The class was open to my students, so I wasn't entirely sure of how many students to expect today.

What did I get when I walked into the class this afternoon?

11 of my most rambunctious boys...and 1 girl.


But really, I had a great time with them this afternoon.  There's a lot of energy, but it was fun because they're students I can joke around with.  And since it's a small class, if I have problems with them there's plenty of room to split them up.  

Plus, I get to teach the class all on my own.  Don't get me wrong, my co-teachers are super nice, but it doesn't matter how well I get to know them, I'll never be comfortable having someone else watch me teach.  It felt awesome to have my own classroom today--it reminded me of what teaching was like back home.  I think I almost forgot how much I missed it.   

Plus, there's nothing more entertaining than having a bunch of teenage boys beg you to play "Let it go" from Frozen...things that just wouldn't happen in America.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What I've been up to: Mungyeong Saejae and Adventures in Seoul

Hello again! It's been quite a busy week on my side of the world.  I didn't have to go to school last week ( because my school is awesome and nice to me), which means I was free to spend time with friends and do some exploring.  It was like having a surprise week of vacation, which was pretty fantastic.

Last weekend my friends from Seoul came to Jeomchon.  My friend Jackie, who I met back in September is sadly returning to Hong Kong at the end of the month, so it was meant to be a farewell celebration for her since she has become friends with many of the Jeomchon people over the past few months.

She came down on Friday night, and then our other two friends, Doug and Ji Young, came down a few hours later.  Saturday we had plans to go to Mungyeong Saejae.  Mungyeong Saejae is Mungyeong's claim to fame.  It was a road that connected Busan to Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty and as such, it was an important destination for scholars, government officials, and those involved with trade markets.  Mungyeong Saejae is one of Korea's famous destinations, so usually when I'm in cities and have to tell people where I'm from I say "Mungyeong, as in Mungyeong Saejae."  People don't typically know Mungyeong, but they typically know of Mungyeong Saejae.

After missing the noon bus from Jeomchon, we eventually ended up getting a ride to Saejae. Our afternoon started a little later than we had planned, but we were fortunate that the weather was nice.  It was rainy in Jeomchon, which made me nervous, but out by the mountains it was just cold enough to be snow, not rain.  Luckily, the temperature wasn't too cool, and although we walked for hours along the trail, and I was never uncomfortably cold.  The snow was fresh and beautiful, which I was happy about because otherwise I'm not sure the barren trees would have provided a picturesque view.  Overall, we had an enjoyable day at Saejae full of fresh air, snow, and good conversation .  I'm really looking forward to going back there in the spring when the trees are full and green again!

After we got back to Jeomchon, we got some dinner and then met up with other friends for some drinks.  In typical fashion, we were out pretty late, which after noraebang, turned into an early morning.  By the time we finished noraebang it was already after 6 AM, at which point our friend Tony volunteered to make breakfast for everyone. Obviously we weren't going to miss our chance for bacon and pancakes, so we went over to his place to end our night/start our morning.  What time did we get to bed? 8 AM.

Naturally we slept most of the day away, but it was well worth it for a night as fun as it was.  The next day Ji Young and Doug had to go back to Seoul, but Jackie stayed in Jeomchon with me because she already finished work and I didn't have to prepare for school the next day.  We had a quiet night of hanging out at my place, eating ice cream, and watching the Olympics.

Monday was also a low-key day.  We met some friends for lunch, then at night we had a movie night at my place with a few other friends.  I FINALLY got to see Frozen. Although I hear it was quite popular back home a few months ago, it just recently came to Korea and my students are OBSESSED. I knew I had to catch up and see what it was all about, and it definitely didn't let me down.

Tuesday Jackie headed back to Seoul because her mom was coming from Hong Kong and she had to meet her at the airport.  This wasn't the end of my activities though--that night we had a birthday party for one of our fellow Jeomchoners.  It wasn't a late night for me though because the next morning I was off again, this time to Seoul to meet up again with Jackie.

Less than 24 hours after she left, I was back with Jackie--this time on her home turf.  Since her mom was visiting, Jackie wanted to do a bunch of day trips, which I was pretty happy about because despite the fact that I've been to Seoul a ton of times, I haven't seen many of the tourist attractions.

Our first destination was Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon.  It was a beautiful day, and we had some great views of Suwon.  Overall, some good sightseeing.  After we finished Ji Young met up with us and we grabbed lunch, then headed to a multibang for some fun.  It was my first time going to a multibang, and it was awesome.  Multibang's are rooms that you can go to to watch movies, play video games, or even sing karaoke.  We spent our time playing wii--Mario,Guitar Hero and Mario Kart.  I hadn't played any video games since college, so I thoroughly enjoyed getting my competitiveness out.  Plus, the free snacks were a definite plus.

We ended our night by getting a few drinks, but left in time to catch the subway back to Seoul.

Thursday was an early morning for us.  We went a bit outside of the city to a tourist destination called Petite France.  Petite France is in the countryside--only a few minutes from Nami Island, where I went back in October.  Petite France is inspired by the book "The Little Prince", and in my opinion is mainly a destination for taking pictures (have I mentioned that Koreans LOVE photo opportunities?)  It wasn't that I didn't like it, it's just that there wasn't a whole lot to do there.  There was an awesome view of mountains in the background though, and I can imagine that the place comes alive a bit more in the spring, summer, and fall when it's warmer outside and flowers are in bloom.

Still, we had a good time, but after a few hours we had seen just about all there was to see, and we headed to our next destination--the Garden of Morning Calm.  This garden contains an abundance of flower displays during the spring/summer/fall, but during the winter they decorate the entire place with lights.  It's really quite clever--instead of losing money during the season, they have found a unique and beautiful way to keep people coming during the cold weather.

The display was really beautiful.  There were tons of people, which really made me glad we weren't there one day later (Valentine's Day) or on the weekend.

After a busy day, we were totally exhausted.  We grabbed some Mexican food (YUM!) then headed home to get some rest.

Friday we slept in a bit, then headed out to Hongdae.  We grabbed some Italian food for lunch (I have to get my western food fix while I'm in the city!), then we went to the Trick Eye Museum.  This is a really cool place where there are different pictures you can take pictures with.  It was really cool, but unfortunately it was PACKED.  We picked a poor time to go because there were tours from Hong Kong, China, and Thailand all there at the same time as us.  So basically, we had to wait to take any pictures, and it was just plain crowded.  By the end I was just really sick of taking pictures and ready to get away from the crowds of people.


Cheese! Oh how I miss eating good cheese. 

Before we left, we also visited to Ice Museum, which is in the same building as the Trick Eye Museum.  When you go to the Trick Eye Museum, you automatically get admittance to the Ice Museum as well, so we figured we should check it out.  The Ice Museum was really small and COLD (go figure!), so we didn't stay there for too long.

After we finished in Hongdae, we headed back to the bus terminal and I caught a bus back to Jeomchon.

Yesterday we had a going away Braai (South African BBQ) at our friend's place since he is leaving at the end of the month. I'm preparing myself for my first round of goodbyes because despite the fact that I want nothing to do with them, they are rapidly approaching.

I'm really exhausted from a solid week of activities, but I'm really thankful that I had time off from school to enjoy with Jackie. She and I became close really quickly, and I think I'm in denial that she's actually leaving.  I can put off thinking about it for a bit longer because on Wednesday she and her mom will be back in Jeomchon, then this weekend we will all head to Busan together.

February has been a really busy month, but as always I'm thankful for the opportunity to do so many cool things with awesome people.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What a week!

It's been quite the busy week for me here in Korea.  I didn't have to go to school this week, so it was kind of like having a bonus surprise vacation.  I'll write more about what I've been up to over the past week soon, but basically last weekend my friends from Seoul were here in Jeomchon.  One friend stayed with me until Tuesday, then Wednesday I went to Seoul where I did a ton of sightseeing and exploring up until this evening when I finally came back to Jeomchon.

It's been a busy but awesome week for me.  This week I have to go school, but my friends will come back to Jeomchon on Wednesday, then Friday we will all head to Busan for the weekend. It's been quite the whirlwind month!

On this Valentine's Day I am especially thankful for all of the wonderful people in my life.  I'm not the girl who gets sad to be single on Valentine's Day--my life is FULL of love, even as I am on the other side of the world from my dearest friends and family.  And for that, I am truly thankful.


Friday, February 7, 2014


My students have a WEEK of vacation?!

I went to teach my first class today and my second grade girls were moving all of their stuff to their new classrooms on the third floor.  I'm not sure who was more sad about it, me or them.  They don't want to be third graders because well, their life is going to be hell for the next year as they prepare for their college entrance exam.  However, I don't want them to be third graders because the second grade girls have been my favorite classes to teach this year.  They are so sweet and enthusiastic, and it always made my day when I got to teach them. I really think they are my favorite group of students I've ever taught, either here or in the US.

So, I sadly went back to the teacher's room when another teacher told me to come to the gym.  There was an assembly where I guess some students got awards, but I couldn't understand anything since it was all in Korean.

After that, the students grabbed their bags and left school and my supervisor told me to come because we were going to lunch.  Ummm ok!

So, after a quick lunch, I was home before noon.  Not such a bad Friday!

I'm really glad my students have some actual time off, even though I'm sure many of them will spend it studying anyway.  I'm also looking forward to having next week off, although I've had plenty of time off over the past few months.  But you can't ever really have too much time off, right?

I have friends visiting this weekend so I'm finally done posting things on here for a while!


Home sweet home.

 Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating! 

For this month's blog carnival, we were asked to write a letter professing our love to the one place we love the most.

I'm not the most creative writer (as I'm sure you can tell by now!), so I thought about skipping this one.  However, the more I thought about it, the harder it was for me to decide what my favorite place actually is. There are so many places that I love and think about often, and I found myself coming back to this thought frequently, as if it wouldn't leave me alone. What is my favorite place?!  I was surprised at how hard it was for me to answer. However, after giving it considerable thought, I decided there's no place like home. While I'm often professing my love for Korea, I realized that I love my hometown of Manchester, NH in a very different way.

So, I decided to do the writing prompt. Here it is. Perhaps the first love letter that has ever been written to Manchester.

Dearest Manchester/Manch/Manchvegas (if you really want to be one of those people that uses that nickname...just kidding I sometimes use it too),

You're the largest city in New Hampshire, which isn't saying that much, but regardless means you face unique challenges in our little state.  You're the "ghetto" part of New Hampshire, or at least that's the word many people use to describe you. However, I think that quite honestly just goes to show that most people are lacking a true understanding of that word.  But I'll admit it, you have your problems.  You're not the most beautiful place (although, I argue you have your moments). You're not always safe, and you don't offer the most interesting things to do.

You have your faults, but when others offend you I find that I am always defensive. I get defensive even when I know what the other people say is true, because I feel that they don't really understand you. They don't know the whole story. You have given me everything I ever needed, so when people dismiss you it's as if they dismiss the relevance of an important part of my life. You're home, and there's no replacement for that.

You are the place where my parents grew up and met.  The place where my parents went to school.  The place where they were married, had children, and watched us grow up.   You're the city that my parents can drive through, reminisce, and tell stories about--even if some of those stories are somewhat disturbing ones from my dad's day as a cop. But still, you have significance to my family's history, and to me that's substantial in understanding my own identity.

Furthermore, you are the place where I was educated from kindergarten through high school.  The place where I made friends, stressed out about homework, and discovered what I liked and didn't like. Despite the fact that people always say how terrible your schools are, I know that I received an education that allowed me to excel in college.  People love to hate on you, but all I know is that while my peers at college were struggling to adjust to college workloads during our freshman year, I was getting top marks in my classes.  Maybe things are different now, but because of what I received I continue to believe in what's possible.

You provided me with a solid education, but perhaps more significant are the relationships that I've formed in your presence.  You're the place where I fell in love with dancing and consequently met the women who became my role models. The women who without any doubt molded my character, especially during my impressionable teenage years.

So, I recognize you are not the most glamorous place.  You can't compete with the sophisticated charm of Portsmouth. You don't contain the staggering beauty of the mountainous northern towns. And you certainly don't have the money of your affluent neighbors.  I will always encounter people who make judgments about me when I tell them you are my hometown.  But regardless of these things, you are the place where the true, unconditional support in my life remains. The people who love me the most can be found within your borders- whether it's at my parent's house, my church, or the dance studio. You are the background to my most important memories, and I can't separate the person I am today from your influence.

I'm glad I'm not with you now. I needed to leave you--it wouldn't be right for me to stay. However, I know when I return, whenever that may be, that I will be filled with a sense of security and comfort that I will only have in your presence.  I'm not sure I'll ever want to stay with you forever, but I know that I'll always believe in your potential.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Korean Surprise: Graduation

Last night I was talking to one of my friends and she said "Oh you guys have graduation tomorrow, right?"

It was news to me.  Although, I knew graduation had to be coming up at some point.

This week has been exhausting.  Although it's not technically the school year, everyone has classes this week.  Apparently there are laws that the students have to be in school for a certain amount of time, so they throw in this random week of classes that are ultimately meaningless for the students.

So, you can imagine how fun it is to try to have classes with students who know that it's a waste of time. 

This has been one of the craziest weeks of classes since I've been in Korea.  As I was leaving school last night, one of my classes of boys was literally hanging one of the boys out the window. They were hanging onto his upper body and his legs were dangling out the window--it was quite the distance down. 

So that nearly gave me a heart attack, but I think accurately sums up the kind of energy I've been dealing with in the classroom this week.

When I got into school today my co-teacher told me "Today is the graduation ceremony.  So no classes today."


Although, technically I had a little warning on this one.  But I definitely welcomed this surprise with open arms--especially since today I would have had 5 class, all with the boys.  

Gradation was definitely different than it is in America.  No caps and gowns, for one.  A few speeches and awards were given out, but I think it's definitely not as big of a deal as it is in America.  I didn't teach the 3rd grade students, so I feel like I would have been more sentimental about it if they had been my students.  But mostly it was a long ceremony that I couldn't understand any of.  Soooooo that was that. 

Still, today was great because my supervisor told me that the vice-principal said that next week I don't have to go into school.  I wanted to clarify this to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding, so I asked her what I should do next week.  She told me "Maybe just enjoy outside Korean culture."

No complaints here.  She also told me that the two weeks after I only have to go to school from 2-5:30, and I only will teach one class from 2-3:00.

So, that is awesome, and I'm quite frankly really lucky to have a school that's letting me do that instead of just desk warming for 8 hours a day. I'm pretty lucky. Scratch that.  I'm really lucky.

This job has its stressful moments.  But at the same time, we have it amazingly well as EPIK teachers.  Our jobs aren't THAT hard, especially compared to teaching back home in America. It's going to be tough to get back into a routine when the new school year starts in March, but for now I'd prefer not to think about that :)

Thailand: Final Thoughts

If you actually read all 6 parts of my Thailand posts, I truly applaud you.  I know a few of you appreciate the play-by-play, but for most people it's probably pretty tedious.  However, this blog is as much for you all at home as it is for me.  When this trip fades into the depths of my memories, I want to be able to remember all of the mundane details of every day.  So, sorry for the length, but I have a few final thoughts about the trip.

Although I didn't quite feel the impact of Thailand in full force while I was there, I find that the more I think about that time there, the more I am realizing how remarkable it was.  In a way, it seems that I was constantly surrounded by so much, and it's only been afterwards that I've been able to really process it all.

When I first got a glimpse of Thailand, I immediately knew I wasn't in Korea anymore. As soon as we left the airport and got in the taxi I started noticing how things were different.  And it all started with the driving. I thought driving in Korea was crazy, but Thailand brings it to a whole new level.  There are essentially no rules to the road, and there are motorbikes EVERYWHERE.  It's amazing, and really I'm just glad that we survived the roads.  Just about every time we got into a vehicle I felt like I was gambling my life.  It was kind of like being on a roller coaster. You really feel like you could die, but when you don't you feel triumphant-like you've just survived something great.

But that was only one of the reasons I instantly knew I was in a very different country.  I've become so accustomed to seeing signs in Korean, but obviously the writing in Thailand was in Thai (shocking, right?!)  In Korea I can at least read signs, but it was almost like being back at the days when I first got here and didn't understand anything. I was, once again, illiterate.  I was reminded how even the smallest things were different in the beginning of my time in Korea.  For example, the bathroom.  In Thailand we had to pay 3 baht to use the bathroom.  What?! You have to pay for the bathroom?!  And once you get's not pretty.  The squatters in Thailand are different from the ones in Korea, and let me just say not for the better.  There are also little spray-type things that people use instead of toilet paper.  Think of the little sprayers in kitchen sinks.  Yeah, those ones.  In the bathroom.  Ummmm what?!

Ok, that's a lot of information about the bathroom.  Sorry.

So, yes there were things that immediately struck me about Thailand.  Driving and toilets, but also the palm trees, street vendors, kids riding around on motorbikes with their parents (no helmets), the broken down houses, the smog in the air.  There are a million things that hit me at once.

But still, perhaps more poignant was how everything was incredibly catered to tourists.  I have not seen so many westerners my entire time in Korea. Even in Korea's cities where there are more westerners, it doesn't come close to Thailand. There were tourists EVERYWHERE.  I knew the places we were going to were touristy, but I never anticipated there would be THAT many.  And the really amazing thing to me was that there were people from ALL over.  In Korea, if I see a westerner, I almost know for certain that they are from an English speaking country.  In Thailand, there were people from all over--especially from China and the European countries.  I think we heard just about every language there is, and it made me realize once again how lucky we are to be born speaking English.  It truly is the international language--even people form other European or Asian countries had to use English to communicate. To have a brain that is programmed in English is a huge benefit when traveling, and it's definitely not something I take for granted.

Since Thailand's economy depends so desperately on tourism, we were always being asked to buy things.  You can buy little elephant or Buddha trinkets at just about every turn.  When the vendors see you, they see an opportunity to make money.  By the end of the trip this started to get to me.

Although, I get it.  Because another thing I'm taking away from this trip is a renewed awareness of how privileged I am.  I don't think of myself as rich, but in comparison to so many people in the world, I am rich.

On our ride back from the elephant park one of the ladies in our van was talking to the Thai man who was our guide.  She asked him if he's ever traveled to any other countries, and he replied by saying that no, he hasn't.  He told her that he's too busy worrying about day-to-day things to even think about traveling.  He has to worry about eating and paying for bills and taking care of his family. The option of going to another country just isn't there. Traveling in itself is such a privilege, one that the majority of the people can't enjoy.

When I look back on the experiences of my life, I really get overwhelmed when I think about the opportunities I've had.  The thing about traveling that amazes me is it makes me realize that I could have just as easily have been any of these people. None of us choose the circumstances we're born into, and I just happen to have been born into good ones. I've had  rich life in so many ways, and I guess sometimes I wonder why and what I can do with it.

One a different noet, another thing I took away from this trip was a sense of reassurance that living in Korea for a year was the right decision.  When I told people I was moving to Korea, many people asked why I didn't want to just keep teaching and travel during the summers.  My main response was that I thought living in another country would be a completely different experience from traveling, and I wanted the experience of living in another culture.

I don't think I could have been right about that.  I saw Thailand, but I feel like I only got the faintest sense of what that the country is really about.  I got a feel for it, but really everything is so catered to the tourists that at times I had to wonder if I was seeing the actual country or just taking advantage of cheap shopping opportunites.

Living in Korea has provided me with an opportunity to experience life in another culture.  There are many things I'm yet to learn about Korea, but I feel like I know this culture now.  I can understand it, and the country that used to be "some place over there" is now my home.  Korea has a piece of my heart now.  I have Korean friends.  I crave bibimbap, dakgalbi, and kimbap.  I can read Korean and say key phrases. I can navigate my way around the country's transportation system. I get Korea. And when there's something I don't get, I get how to deal with it.

I saw Thailand, but I know Korea.

Don't get me wrong, there's real value to seeing another country.  And if anything, this trip made me want to see more.  But there's also no replacement for really knowing a country.

With that said, if I ever travel to Thailand again, I'd love a chance to go to the less touristy areas so that I could really get to know the culture.

One final thing that really surprised me about the trip was how homesick it made me.  Don't get me wrong, I was happy the whole time I was there, but I haven't missed home in such a tangible way since I've been in Korea.  Maybe it was being twice removed from my home country.  But most likely, it was probably seeing Megan.  In Korea, I don't have any real connections to home in my everyday life.  Being with Megan was like having a part of my old life right there with me, and I could think of home so vividly that it really caught me off guard.

Of course, being in Thailand also made me realize how much I adore my life in Korea.  I was so happy to come back and see my friends here.  I didn't see my Jeomchon friends for two weeks and it felt like an eternity.

I had an awesome time in Thailand.  I did things I never could have even imagined.  It's a place that even three years ago I probably didn't even care about seeing.  But now that I have I'll never forget it. I'm truly thankful for that.

But perhaps traveling isn't only valuable for the experiences you gain and sights you see.  Perhaps it's valuable because when you come back home, you have a renewed sense of appreciation for home.

With that said...I'm home now.  I saw my friends and my clothes are clean.  I already feel the desire to travel again, and I'm already thinking about where I want to go next.  I'm a homebody, but I'm afraid I'm also a traveler at heart.  I have a feeling the battle between these two things is going to be a central conflict in my life for quite some time.

Thailand Part VI: Bangkok

Our overnight train was supposed to arrive in Bangkok around something like 6:30 AM.  However, we were hours late, so by the time we got to our hotel, checked in, and showered, it was already time for lunch. After getting some lunch by a place near our hotel, it was time to explore Bangkok.  
Our hotel room the last night.  We splurged on this one...I think it was a shopping $30 for the night.

The crazy street our hotel was located on

More delicious smoothies with our lunch.
We had been watching the political situation in Thailand closely in the weeks leading up to our trip.  If you haven't seen, there have been widespread political protests, and for the past few weeks there has been a "shutdown Bangkok" movement that has aimed to shutdown the major intersections and government buildings in the city.  The protests have turned violent on multiple occasions, so we were glad we didn't have much of an interest in seeing Bangkok.

Originally the only thing we really cared about seeing in Bangkok was the Grand Palace, but as we set out and used our map to walk in the right direction, a man with a tuk-tuk offered to help us.  He told us a bunch of places we should see, and told us that for only 50 baht he would take us around for the day.

50 baht?!  That is not even two dollars.  We thought something seemed strange about that because that's way lower than any of our other tuk-tuk rides, and he was offering to take us to a bunch of different places.

But we ultimately accepted his offer anyway.  He sent over one of his younger drivers, who was super friendly and I think quite enjoyed talking to us.  He took us to a temple first, then to another temple with a HUGE Buddha.  It was here that we saw a man selling birds in little cages.  His sign said if you buy the birds and set them free then you will have good luck and happiness forever.  Figuring you can't ever have too much good luck and happiness, we of course bought some of the birds and set them free in the temple.

Setting the birds free...because why not?

Megan is so small compared to the Buddha! 

At this temple, we met a local man who told us that that day was some sort of holiday, which meant that certain places that aren't typically open were and some rates for transportation were lower.  He kept telling us about some place where foreigners go to buy jewelry at a low price, then resell it in their home countries. I think this guy really would have talked to us forever, but we eventually somehow managed to get away.

As we got back in the car our driver told us he was going to take us to some kind of Expo. Again, he told us some of what the man by the temple had told us--something about taxes and low prices.  Ok, whatever we thought...couldn't hurt to go check it out right?

When we got to the "expo" it was a place that was full of fine jewelry.  Some of it was beautiful, and the price was good, but Megan and I had NO intent whatsoever to buy fine jewelry on our trip.  Let's get real.  We were bargaining to be able to buy things for $2-3 at the Chaing Mai night market.  We were definitely not looking to buy any fine jewelry.

So, we looked interested, but then said we were all set and escaped that awkward situation.  When we got back in the tuk-tuk our driver told us that he was going to take us to yet another place where we could buy things tax-free.  Ummmm ok, if you must.  This time there wasn't fine jewelry, but a random assortment of souvenirs. Again, we managed to escape and get back in the tuk-tuk.

Ok, now we were REALLY ready to move on with our tour of Bangkok.  Except our driver told us that he then had to take us to one more shop.  At this point I was getting irritated.  I asked how many more we had to go to and he said this was the last one.  He said we didn't have to buy anything, but we had to at least appear interested and spend some time in there or else he wouldn't get free gas money.

I was pretty annoyed at this point, but I figured what the hell, it's only one more stop.  So, this time we were brought to a place where they make custom clothes for you.  Again, I had just bought some super cheap clothes in Chiang Mai.  There was no way I had any need for custom tailored clothes.  I think the people could pretty easily tell that we weren't going to buy anything, because it didn't take long for them to move us to another part of the store with the more typical type of souveniers we had seen a million times (elephants, Buddhas, scarves).

Finally, we went back out and were on our way...this time not to another store.  I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised by this situation because my friend Jackie had told me that things like this happen all the time.  She actually told me to try to take the subway because of things like this.  I know that tourism is the main industry in Thailand--when they see westerners all they see is money.  And I get it.  They don't have many of the opportunities we do to earn a livelihood.  They don't live off of much money, and to them we are all rich.  And by comparison, we are rich.  But still, by this point in the trip I was getting sick of people looking at me and just seeing money.

Luckily, our driver was done bringing us to stores and we finally got to go to our next destination.  He brought us to a pier where we could then pay to take a boat through a river.  Our driver told us how to bargain with them and told us not to pay more than 1000 Baht.  When we went they wanted to charge us much more, but we asked for 1000 Baht, and the man accepted the price.  1000 Baht was actually kind of expensive (about $30), but we were at the end of the trip so we figured why not.
On our boat! There was only one other guy on the boat with us.  He was from the Ukraine and super friendly!

Oh hey, there. 

The boat ride took us through some pretty dirty looking water and behind some extremely broken down buildings. During our time traveling through Thailand, we got a few glimpses of what the living conditions are like in parts of this country.  While I'm sure there are plenty of people who live in fine conditions, I saw a lot of broken down homes similar to the buildings we saw along the river.

All in all, our boat ride was enjoyable.  When our trip ended, it was time to walk to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace.  By that point it was pretty warm, but we eventually found the entrance.  It was 500 Baht to enter the Palace, but well worth the price.  This was by far the most extravagent of all the places we visited in Thailand.  Once again, my pictures don't do any sort of justice to the beauty of this landmark.  However, if you ever get the chance, it's a really a "can't miss" in Thailand.  Gold, shimmer, and shine everywhere.  I'm glad it was our last stop in Thailand, because I don't think anything else would have compared.

Amazing detail on every wall.

After we finished at the Grand Palace, we were hot and tired so we headed back to the hotel for a bit.  After taking a rest, it was time for dinner (and beer).  Our hotel in Bangkok was located in a pretty rowdy area.  There were tourists EVERYWHERE and the Thai people cater to that accordingly.  There were shops, food places, music, you name it.  We spent a while wandering around the street and ate our last bits of street food.  Although, we did pass on the scorpions that people kept coming up and offering us.  No thanks.  We also got asked multiple times if we wanted to go to a sex show. Gross.  Just a little reminder that Thailand has its dark side--that is unfortunately a huge industry in the country.
Goodbye, Thailand!

Pineapple and what I think is a banana/chocolate pancake.

We tried to stay up later, but eventually we got tired and went back to sleep for a few hours before getting up at a disgusting time (3 AM) to go to the airport.

It's always depressing when vacation is over, even more so when you have to say bye to your friend, who lives on a different continent.  I wasn't happy to say bye to Megan, but now we can just look forward to her adventure to Korea :)

My first flight went to Hong Kong, then from Hong Kong back to Korea.  I got back to Incheon around 6:00 PM, and one thing is for sure: Korea has never felt more like home.

I spent the next few days in Seoul with friends, then came back to Jeomchon on Friday morning.  I had an amazing time in Thailand, but there's truly no place like home and there are no words to describe the feeling of relief that I felt when I entered my apartment again.