Retail Detox: January

The first month of my shopping ban went more smoothly than I expected. When I set out on this journey, I had already started Project 333, which eliminated any desires I had to purchase new clothing. Although my wardrobe is the smallest its ever been, I find that I genuinely like everything in my closet. I wear each and every item I selected for this three month project. In fact, when I do have to walk through downtown, I don’t even look at the clothing in the windows.

Other areas of the shopping ban are proving more tempting, but I’ve managed to stay strong. I have always loved stationary. Back in America, I had so many journals, but rarely managed to fill any of them. The same goes for notebooks. When I filled up a journal at the beginning of the month, I will admit that my first thought was that it’s time for a new one. And trust me, the journals and notebooks here in Korea are so cute. But I have more journals that are half full. Why not fill those up first before looking to get another one?

A potted green plant seen at a cafe in Gyeongju, South Korea.

And yet in other areas, I haven’t even considered buying items I included in the ban. Books written in English are hard to come by in my small Korean city, and I find the cost of international shipping off-putting, so I haven’t even looked at books. If something comes out that I really want to read, I use my Audible subscription and listen to the audio version. While it’s not quite the same as reading, audio books have become a staple in my life.

Take-out coffee is also proving easier not to buy than I expected. Perhaps it’s because I spent most of January teaching winter camp, and I arrived to work before any coffee shops were even open. The only place that I could have gotten take-out coffee were the convenience stores, and the sugary coffees have definitely lost their appeal to me since moving here.

I know that thirty-one days without shopping for non-essential items isn’t a huge feat, and that as time goes on, it will become more difficult for me to adhere to my self-imposed shopping ban. But knowing how to avoid the temptations of shopping, and acknowledging that shopping isn’t a hobby and isn’t something I need to do to feel happy are starting points to reshape the way I think about shopping and what I truly need in order to have a life of happiness and fulfillment found in experiences, not things.

Traveling Korea: Gyeongju (경주)

What I Saw

Before diving into winter camp, I knew I’d want to do something when it was all over to celebrate. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to go visit a friend of mine in another city, but after some consideration, we decided to all take a trip to Gyeongju instead.

Located about two and a half hours northeast of Jinju, Gyeongju is a city overflowing with history. The city was the location where the Silla dynasty ruled for thousands of years, leaving behind historic sites and relics. The first site I saw in Gyeongju was Cheomseongdae, an old observatory dating back to 632 AD. This historic treasure was easily seen from the road, and I passed it many, many times throughout my time in Gyeongju. At night, the little tower was lit up with colored light, giving it a nice glow. Moving past Cheomseongdae, we ventured to the Gyerim Forest, a small forest where people believe the Gyeongju Kim clan originated. The myth goes that a golden box was discovered hanging from trees within the forest by passerbys who heard a rooster cry. Beyond the forest, there is a Confucian school.

In the evening, my friends and I went to the Donggung Palace and Woji Pond. The palace dates back centuries to 674 AD, and the artificial pond reflects back the beautiful scenery of the palace grounds. At night, this area was stunning.

The last tourist site we went to was Bulguksa, a Buddhist temple with a rich history and many incredible artifacts, including gilt bronze Buddhas and two stone pagodas in the temple courtyard. Throughout the temple were lotus lanterns. Attached to each was a wish written by someone. At night, these lanterns are illuminated, as are the wishes. Despite the large amount of people swarming the temple grounds, I felt at peace. My friend, who is Korean, told me that all of the wishes brought her joy because each one shared something positive. I even got to make a wish of my own by stacking a small pebble on top of one of the many rock towers. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that it comes true!

What I Ate

Each region in Korea is famous for a different kind of food. Luckily for me, Gyeongju is famous for its soft tofu soup. While the soup is typically made with some type of animal stock, my friends explained to the owner that I don’t eat meat and she offered to make me a soup without the animal stock. Instead, my soup was flavored with soy sauce and some green onions. The soup was delicious, and so were the sides that came with our meals. Along with my soup, I had white rice, seaweed, and various other vegetables with red pepper sauce.

For dinner, we had kimbap, again typically made with ham, but a special roll was made without it so that I could enjoy kimbap with my friends. Along with our Kimbap we had Doritos, popcorn, cheese, and crackers. It was a hodgepodge of a meal, but every bite was amazing. We ate our meal, enjoyed traditional Korean blackberry wine, and played an intense game of “Would you rather.”

Between lunch and dinner we spent some time at a cafe, where we had Americanos and Korean rice cakes. I adore Korean rice cakes, and these ones were still warm. Of course, I wanted to know if the different colors meant different flavors (it didn’t), so we all shared the various colored rice cakes. Walking to the Palace, we grabbed some street food, including a sugary deep-fried donut and a grilled cake filled with a syrup-like substance and nuts. Both were warm and delicious.

On Sunday, we grabbed lunch to-go from the vegetarian restaurant near our guest house. While all the food that weekend was amazing, I have to admit that the take-out was my favorite simply because it was my favorite food: falafel. I haven’t had falafel in nearly six months, and I’ve missed it. Even though my pita had some pretty interesting add-ins like apple slices, it was still amazing.

Traveling to new parts of Korea is something I look forward to and wish I could do more often. I’m grateful that my friend took the time to plan such an amazing trip. Each thing she planned for us was something I’m glad I got to experience. My next trip will be to Seoul at the end of February, and I am excited to see what the bustling capital of Korea has in store for me.

January Update: Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Doing

January has been quite a crazy month for me, and I have to admit, I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to blogging as I would have liked. Amid all the winter camp chaos and using my weekends to catch up on everything I wasn’t able to do during the week, I had to put my blog on the back burner. But I’ve learned, and now when the next camp rolls around I’ll be more prepared.

Winter Camp

The first full week of the month started Winter Camp. Planning for camp started way back in the fall, and by the end of November my lesson plans were finished. Despite having written down how camp would go, I really had no idea what to expect. I would be teaching a different level, and multiple classes a day. Even prep time was minimal throughout the day, so I spent most of December and the last week before camp making sure I had everything I needed made and ready to go.

Naturally, I was nervous about camp, as I tend to be nervous about most unpredictable circumstances, but after the first day, I was back in the groove. Teaching lower level elementary students turned out to be a lot of fun. While they were filled to the brim with energy, they also really seemed to enjoy being in class.

Each day, we read a page or two in the book I chose for the class, The Sword in the Stone. We also played large group games with the other classes, and did in-class activities, games, and crafts.

In the early evenings, I had a group of middle schoolers. These students were also a lot of fun, but it took a bit more coaxing to get them to come out of their shells. But by the end of camp, the students were having fun with the games and activities. They even surprised me on the last day with a note they all wrote little messages on for me. It was incredibly thoughtful and very kind.

So even though I spent the majority of my days at work, the last three weeks of camp have been a lot of fun and a great experience for me. I hope the students feel the same way. Come next week, it’ll be time to start thinking about the spring semester and getting a head start on planning that out.

Graduate School

Another exciting life event that happened this month is that I officially went back to school. I knew when I completed my undergraduate degree I didn’t want to wait too long to go back for my master’s degree. I hadn’t anticipated that I could complete it online, or that I would be living in Korea, but life has a way of surprising us all.

I spent a good amount of time back in September researching different online English programs in order to find the best one for me. I knew I wanted to pursue something that would equip me with the knowledge to teach at the college level and allow me to take courses in literature. I settled on a program that allows for specialization in college teaching in conjunction with literature and writing courses.

When I received my acceptance, I was incredibly excited. The thought of going back to school for a degree I wanted to pursue was satisfying. Even when I was stressed about finding my textbooks and wondering whether or not I would get them before the semester starts, I just had to keep reminding myself that it would all be worth it. And it will be. I’ve already started reading my textbooks and am frequently checking the online learning portal to see if any assignments have been posted yet. It really is a great feeling knowing I’m finally doing what I’ve wanted to do since my senior year of college.

Everything In Between

Aside from working and eagerly anticipating graduate school, I’ve also kicked off the new year with some new habits. My coworker Sam and I have been going to the gym after work every day. Living and working in a city allows me to walk everywhere, and since I live and work downtown, everything is accessible. While gyms are far more expensive in Korea, I decided the investment in my health would be worth it. I actually look forward to going to the gym at the end of the day. And that includes all those days I was at work for twelve hours.

I’ve also been working on some other projects that I’ll hopefully be announcing within the next month. So far, 2019 is turning out to be the year I finally stop dreaming and start doing all the things I’ve wanted to do for far too long.

A Busy Life and Living with Intention

Every winter it seems I find myself tangled up in a busy schedule that leaves little time for me to relax, at least not if I want to get enough sleep to keep powering through the days ahead.

This winter has been no different, with my first Winter Camp spanning from January 7th to 25th. The days are long, but the work is incredibly fulfilling. Even though I feel happy each night when I finally make it home, I’m fairly exhausted by the end of the week.

But even with my busy schedule, I’ve still managed to make intentional living a priority. Each night after work, my coworker Sam and I go to the gym for at least half an hour. I’ve been using my lunch break to catch up on my reading, and when I wake up in the morning, I make it a priority to read at least one news article. When I walk to work in the morning, I listen to The Daily and I don’t go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink.

Some days, doing these things feels like work. More than work feels like work, actually. But I know if I don’t do it, everything around me will begin to pile up and I’ll be easily consumed by the chaos. What these last few weeks have taught me is that allowing my space to become a mess triggers my stress more than stressful situations actually do. If my house is literally in order, I find it much easier to cope with the daily challenges I am presented with. It feels great to come home at 8:15 p.m. to a sink free of dirty dishes and a bed that’s made.

Sure, when life gets busy I might seem easier to forget our intentions and let life has its way with us. But taking the time to take care of yourself, even in the smallest of ways, can make a huge difference.

Vegetarian in Korea

One of the biggest challenges I have living in Korea is finding food I can eat that wasn’t prepared in my own kitchen. Living in a small city by Korean standards, my options for eating out tend to be pretty limited. After nearly five months of living in Jinju, I’ve become used to it and have really grown my culinary skills. I guess I’m lucky that I’ve always loved to cook.

I stopped eating meat nearly two and a half years ago for many reasons, the biggest one being my health. The hormones pumped into livestock exacerbated some already existing health problems and I decided to see how my health would improve without it. I also watched one too many documentaries on industrial agriculture and decided that was not something I wanted any part in. I knew when I moved abroad, my feelings wouldn’t change and that I would somehow find a way to stay true to my beliefs and do whats best for my health.

There are many reasons that it’s difficult to find vegetarian meals in Korea, the biggest one being the sheer prevalence of meat. Similar to America, most dishes are centered around meat. In fact, many restaurants do not offer any options without meat, and not knowing the language makes it difficult to ask for something without it.

Another reason it’s difficult is how common hidden meat ingredients are. Soups are typically made with some type of animal or fish stock, and different types of fish sauces are used to flavor foods, so even something that is seemingly vegetarian-friendly might not be. What makes this more difficult is that many people tend to forget that these ingredients are not vegetarian-friendly.

Saladen avocado salad with sesame dressing

But although it’s hard, I have found a way to make it work. Typically, I just prepare my own food at home, picking up staples at the grocery store and outdoor market, or ordering hard to find ingredients online. Since moving, I’ve probably learned how to prepare tofu 50 different ways. I’ve also found some really great places around Jinju for when Subway just isn’t cutting it. So whether its homemade chana masala or a hearty salad from Saladen, being vegetarian in Korea really isn’t that bad.

Ulsan: A Festival of Lights

Early in December, my coworker asked me if I would be interested in taking a trip to Ulsan the weekend before the new year to go to their light festival. Wanting to see more of what Korea has to offer, I quickly agreed.

So in the week leading up to our planned trip, we arranged bus times and booked an airbnb before making our way to Ulsan early Saturday morning.

We arrived in Ulsan around noon. Stepping off the bus was a great relief for me, as I never quite outgrew my tendency to suffer from motion sickness. Shortly after arriving and my stomach settled, we decided the first order of business would be to find lunch. It turned out to be quite the challenge. Sam is gluten free, and I don’t consume any meat products, which leaves very few options we can both eat in Korea. Fortunately, there was an Indian restaurant nearby, so we braced ourselves against the wind and made our way out of the bus terminal and into the downtown.

Ulsan is a much larger city in Korea, with a population of about 1.1 million, making it much larger than Jinju. Known as an industrial powerhouse in Korea, Ulsan is home to the world’s largest automobile assembly plant, owned by Hyundai. But despite being an industrial city, Ulsan definitely had a lot to offer for anyone visiting the city for a day or two.

Sam and I went to Ulsan specifically for the Light Festival, a large display of lights set up in the Ulsan Grand Park. The displays at the festival included the Zodiac, Under the Sea, Superheroes, and a large maze of lights leading to a giant Moravian-style star. Dotted throughout the festival were tents with space heaters inside, which we much needed as it was a cold December night. It took just under an hour to make our way through the entire display.

Following the festival, Sam and I went toward the University in Ulsan to find something for dinner. We found a restaurant that had a variety of soups for Sam to choose from, and French fries for me. We stayed there for hours, telling stories, drinking soju, and talking about the various things that brought us to that very moment.

When the soju was gone and it was nearly midnight, we made our way to our airbnb. The next day, we would catch a mid-morning bus back to Jinju.

A Year Without Shopping: January

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve put more time into thinking about what I want my New Years Resolution to be, often considering how I want to challenge myself in the new year weeks before midnight strikes on January 1st.

This year, I decided to challenge myself in a big way. I would give up shopping for a year. For twelve months, I will not buy new clothes, new shoes, or new accessories. If something happens and I desperately need to buy anything in the aforementioned categories, I will buy them second-hand.

The Shopping Ban

  • Clothing, including casual wear, outerwear, professional clothing, and activewear
  • Shoes
  • Accessories, including jewelry, purses, bags
  • Electronics
  • Home decor
  • Home wares, like bowls, plates, cups, cutlery, etc.
  • Convenience store lunches
  • Take-out dinners
  • Take-out coffee or other take-out drinks
  • Books
  • Journals
  • Candles

Shopping Ban Exceptions and Rules

  • Second-hand clothing, following the one in, one out rule
  • New headphones in the instance mine break or stop working
  • Gifts for other people
  • Textbooks for class
  • Monthly subscriptions to Audible and Spotify
  • Groceries, toiletries, and cleaning products
  • Having clothing tailored or mended

There’s a lot of reasons I decided to go on a twelve-month shopping ban. The most obvious reasons are financial. If I am not spending money on clothing, convenient lunches, or other material items, I will have more money to travel and pay for graduate school.

Other reasons are more personal. I’d like to lesson my environmental impact. The fashion industry is one of the most destructive forces on our planet. If you’d like to learn more about how fast fashion is impacting our world, I highly recommend watching The True Cost on Netflix. The best way to leave less of a mark is to lessen consumption. And quite honestly, since starting Project 333, I’ve realized how little clothing I actually need to have a functioning wardrobe. After all, I have a washer and am able to do laundry as often as I need to. And quite honestly, have a smaller wardrobe helps me save time in the morning and helps me to have my own signature look thats versatile, functional, and comfortable. Avoiding convenience eating will also help me to be environmentally conscious while also avoiding foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional value.

Along with being more environmentally friendly, not shopping will help me to be more intentional with my time. I’ll no longer spend weekends wandering around downtown looking at clothing and shoes. Because let’s face it, shopping is not and should not be a hobby. Instead, I can spend that time with friends, trying new recipes, being active, writing, and working toward my master’s degree.

So January 1st will officially kick off my twelve-month, self-imposed shopping ban. I am excited to see where this journey will take me, and I am looking forward to all I learn along the way.

Chasing Happiness

It’s the time of year when people begin to make resolutions, often weighed down by the guilt they harbor after weeks of holiday treats and parties. For many, resolutions involve some new fitness regiment or a crash diet to “cleanse” after the new year begins and the holidays are once again behind us.

While health is important, convincing yourself to adopt new habits out of guilt and shame is a sure-fire way to fail. I’ve come to this conclusion in two ways. One was influence from someone I follow on Instagram whose posts and messages always challenge me to think about health and food in new ways. The other is living in another country where there aren’t six straight weeks of holiday celebrations. Instead, holiday meals pretty much take place the day of the holiday. There were no Christmas cookie parties and office ugly sweater parties, so I was able to forgo the sugary, though delicious, treats this year.

I’ve also been putting a lot of thought into what I’d like my intentions for 2019 to be. While I do want to work out more and try my hand at some awesome new recipes in the kitchen, I know that ultimately, I want to live a happier life in 2019.

So many people talk about “achieving happiness.” If only these key pieces fall into place, they will finally be happy and fulfilled, but what I’ve come to learn is that happiness is not a destination. You don’t just arrive at happiness and stay there in a perpetual state. Instead, happiness is something that must be sustained. There are no key pieces that ultimately lead to a happy life. 

Happiness must always be pursued and how we come to happiness will change as our lives and circumstances change.

And it’s important to remember while in the pursuit of happiness, there will be bad moments, there will be bad days, and there may even be bad weeks, but if you truly want happiness, you can’t forget to find joy in every day, otherwise you may just fast track yourself to a bad life.

So while I have set many intentions for 2019, including the intentions to be more active and go a year without shopping, my ultimate intention is to keep chasing happiness and build on all the joy that I found in 2018. 

Minimalism Challenge: Week Four

This week was the final week of my minimalism challenge, and I am not going to lie, I have been dragging my feet to go through this final stage of decluttering. Mostly because I’ve known since week three that I would not be able to find 220 more items to purge from my apartment, which is now the most organized, clutter-free space I have ever lived in.

With that being said, I forced myself to take inventory today, December 31, and discard any lingering items that I did not need and were taking up space in my life. Some of these things were passed over in the first three weeks, while others were things I had decided to hold onto, only to change my mind this time around.

Week Four’s Items

  • 80 sachets of tea
  • 11 aluminum food trays
  • 10 receipts
  • 5 store membership cards
  • 4 manuals
  • 2 reusable water bottles
  • 2 paper shopping bags
  • 2 cables
  • 1 empty tea jar
  • 1 paint brush
  • 1 magnet
  • 1 candle with a crushed wick
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 lighter

Week four’s total: 122 items

Minimalism Challenge Total: 386/475

Although I came up a little bit short at the end of the challenge, I still believe I have done an excellent job decluttering my apartment and minimizing my possessions. Now, everything in my apartment has a place. I don’t spend time searching for things, and I actually use the things I own. While there are still some things that remain, hidden away, I have also taken care to be mindful of the next person that will live in this apartment someday.

Not only was this minimalism challenge fun, it was also eye-opening. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but clutter is clutter. Whether it is in the form of too many pairs of shoes or a bag full of bags shoved under the kitchen sink, it still takes up space in our lives. In fact, since undergoing this challenge, I’ve been able to store things under my sink, because it’s no longer overrun by things I don’t use or need. I don’t think I’ll be able to do this challenge again any time soon, especially with my New Year’s Resolution to undergo a year without shopping, but I know that I should check in every month or so to make sure I throw away all the receipts that I have shoved into my wallet.

2018: The Year the Road Diverged

At the end of 2017, I wrote a reflection post after looking back on the whole year in an attempt to sum up the year into one neat, damaged, package. For the conclusion of 2018, I will attempt to do the same thing. 

2018 has been quite the year. I started the year in Clinton, NJ, celebrating the new year with my close friend Katie and her quirky family. We ate dinner at nearly 11 p.m. and watched the ball drop. In the morning, we ate Jersey bagels and I headed back to NEPA. That New Year’s Eve had been so different from any other I experienced, and looking back it was a sign of all the new and wonderful experiences that were to come.

The new year also meant studying hard for the GRE. I spent hours every day studying. I had a study plan that I followed diligently, using the various expensive study materials I had splurged on in order to really nail the $300 pre-graduate school test. By May, I felt ready to take the test. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, I received similar scores to the first time I took the test, only showing significant improvement in the one section I did not study for. These test results were crushing. Nearly every school I was looking at to pursue my PhD had high score requirements and acceptance rates under 10%. 

It was there that the path diverged. I had a choice: I could continue to live unhappily in Northeast Pennsylvania or I could make a drastic change. I loved working as an admissions counselor. Traveling was amazing and I got travel to so many places I had never been before. I even reconnected with someone from high school when I was in Arlington. We still talk to this day. 

But as much as I loved my job, I hated my life when I left work. I was lonely. My friends had graduated and moved on. The area didn’t really have much to offer me in the way of things I find fulfilling and enjoyable. I wanted to live in a city, but I didn’t know how to make that dream a reality.

So after talking with my friend about the challenges I was facing, she encouraged me to look into teaching English abroad. I had considered teaching abroad as a back-up plan if I didn’t get into graduate school, but this was the first time I had considered it as a precursor to graduate school. Even today, I could tell you exactly which table I was sitting at in the Wilkes-Barre Starbucks when I submitted my applications to recruiters to get a job in Korea.

With taking a new job also came saying goodbye to my old job. And my old life. I spent nearly two months having one last lunch, one last drink, and one last trivia night with friends across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Most of the time, it didn’t even feel real. And when it did, it’s because the tears streaming down my face were a reminder that everything was going to change.

Between the New Year and the GRE, I also made a major change in my life. I left my job with Kay Jewelers after four years of seasonal and full-time employment. The stresses of working for a company whose values did not align with my own were too draining, and I dreaded going into work to the point that I avoided the mall even when I wasn’t working. Despite the fact that the income I earned at Kay was helpful to me, the toxicity of the job was wearing me down in detrimental ways. So I left Kay and found other ways to make ends meet.

Finally, 2018 was the year I traveled. In 2018 alone, I visited three new states: Georgia, Michigan, and Vermont. I also went back to Boston and visited Ithaca for the first time. I spent time in New York City when I was getting my Visa and saw parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. I even went to Canada on a spontaneous road trip with my best friend. All of that happened before I got to Korea, where I traveled even more. And I’ll be ending my year the same way I started it: with travel. 

Overall, 2018 is the year I truly came into my own. I started to live a life that reflected the things I love and the things I value. I took a giant leap of faith, and haven’t looked back. And I’ll continue looking forward to all the amazing things to come in 2019.