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.

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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.

Holidays Away from Home

Although this isn’t my first year living on my own, it is my first year living so far from my friends and family. In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, I was a little skepticle about how I’d spend Thanksgiving, my first holiday in Korea. But as Thanksgiving day approached, plans became more concrete and I was prepared for nearly an entire week of celebrating with friends and plenty of food.

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The first holiday invitation to come was from the woman that my coworkers and I take Korean lessons with. She invited us to her home on Thanksgiving day to enjoy a meal together. It wasn’t your traditional Thanksgiving fare. Rather, it was a table set with Korean food, including some tofu for me. We spent a few hours talking with her and her husband, hearing stories from their time living in the United States and also talking about our own experiences before coming to Korea.

Earlier that week, I have dinner with one of the many friends I’ve made in Korea, and once again I enjoyed some traditional Korean foods made specially without the meat. We stayed together long after the food was gone, filling the room with laughter and warm memories.

With the weekend came Friendsgiving. While I’ve celebrated Friendsgiving in the past, this one was special because all of us were spending our first holiday away from home. We all crammed into a studio apartment and ate mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash, soup, and for the meat eaters, chicken. As we began to eat, we shared what we were thankful for. For many of us, it was that our lives all converged together at that moment in time. That we had each other, and that whatever it was we were running toward, or from, had brought all of us together in that room.IMG_1655

For dessert, we had korean pancakes with cinnamon sugar filling, fruit, truffles, and apple pie. The room was filled with laughter and stories from people who came from all over the world. It was everything I could have asked for this year.

But it doesn’t end there. The following night was the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the International Church. This event is the one everyone looks forward to because it is all the foods of Thanksgiving–turkey, stuffing, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, and even pumpkin pie. Where they managed to find all of those things in Korea, I’ll never know. But it didn’t matter, because sitting in the crowded church basement surrounded by my friends I felt right at home.

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As an expat, holidays can be difficult. We’re reminded of just how far we are from wherever it is we call home. But for me, I spent the week surrounded by caring people. I was reminded of the kindness of others and the importance of community. This Thanksgiving has given me so much to be grateful for.

Life in Jinju: Two Months

Day in and day out, it’s easy to lose track of how much time has passed. As each day comes and goes in my new life, I sometimes forget that it’s already been over two months since I first arrived in Korea: excited, hopeful, and a little overwhelmed.

Now, as I sit in my 4th floor apartment, it truly feels like mine, and in turn, feels like home. As much as I would like to admit it has been smooth sailing since the day my flight touched down, that would be a lie. While the majority of my experiences in Korea have been positive, there have been moments of hardship. The most prominent was the bout of homesickness I experienced the weekend of my university’s homecoming, an event I always enjoyed attending. The first few weeks of teaching also overwhelmed me as I adjusted to working with two incredibly different age groups and skill levels doing something I had never done before.

But for each moment I felt overwhelmed, I’ve experienced abundant happiness. In my two months in Korea, I’ve made incredible friends from all over the world and have spent my free time exploring and making memories with them. My best friend took the long journey to spend a week with me, allowing me to show this amazing place to someone else. I’ve even found a great church community after spending time church hopping, hoping to find somewhere I would want to go every Sunday. Teaching has become easier, although it will never be easy, and I feel overjoyed when I see my kids understand something they didn’t before. My desire to see the world and learn more about this vast, dynamic planet I live on, grows each day, and in my free time, I travel around my city, this country, and soon, I will venture outside of Korea.

If you had asked me a year ago where I would be right now, I’d have told you I would be completing applications for PhD programs back in the States. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming an expat, but now that I am here, I couldn’t see my life going any other way. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2018 has in store for me.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Life in Jinju: What City Life is Really Like

Find any person and ask them their opinion on living in a city and I guarantee that they’ll have one, whether they’ve ever lived in a city or not. I will be the first to agree, living in the city is not for everyone, and by the same token, living in a rural area (or as I like to call it, the middle of nowhere) is not for everyone.

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I was quite young when I first realized that I’d like to live in a city someday. Growing up, I’d go on school field trips to Philadelphia almost every year and always enjoyed myself. In high school, I went on trips to New York City, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C in America and countless cities as an exchange student in Germany and Austria. In college, I found my way up to Boston, over to Dublin, and into Galway. My first year after graduation took me to Norfolk, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Toronto. Every city pulled me in, and I was absorbed by the hustle and bustle of life that filled every nook and cranny. My discontentment with life in Wilkes-Barre, a city by definition but not in reality, grew each and every day.

So when I received my placement in South Korea, I was thrilled. I’d finally get a taste of the life that had been calling out to me for years.

By Korean standards, Jinju is a small city. For all my American readers, Jinju is larger than Pittsburgh but smaller than Boston in regard to population. Considering Boston and Pittsburgh are two of my favorite cities back in the States, I’d say I really lucked out.

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So what is living in a city really like? For me, it’s everything I wanted. To say I miss having a car and driving would be an absolute lie. I love that I can walk wherever I need to go, and if I want to venture a little further out than I can go on foot in a reasonable amount of time, I can just hop on a bus or call a taxi. Traveling to other cities is just as effortless. I walk to the bus terminal, I buy a ticket, I go. Bus schedules are easily accessible online, tickets are affordable, and the busses are reliable.

Living in Jinju, I have close access to so many things I enjoy. There are coffee shops on nearly every corner. When I want a taste of home, all I have to do is drop into the local Starbucks. I recently discovered my favorite cafe just a few blocks from my apartment. It has a cozy interior and a rooftop patio. It’s stunning and I’m sitting there enjoying a vanilla latte as I write this. Then of course there are other amenities I need. I live less than five minutes from the grocery store, which is more like a Target than a Redners, so not only can I buy food, but I can also pick up any home goods I may need.

One of the best parts of living in a city is that there is always somewhere to go and something to do. While I enjoy spending time by myself in my apartment, it doesn’t take much for me to get cabin fever, so even just being able to walk outside and go downtown  to window shop or walk the path along the river is great. There are festivals, open mic nights, live music, and all the things I craved when I was living back in the States. So while city life may not be for everyone, I’d say it’s definitely for me.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

 

Traveling Korea: Andong (안동) & Pohang (포항)

On a sunny October weekend, I was lucky enough to take a trip to two new places in South Korea, Andong and Pohang. The trip was an overnight adventure planned out and taken by my school, so on a cold Saturday morning, I boarded a large travel bus full of students and those who work in the offices downstairs and headed to Andong, a small city about three hours away from Jinju.20170601_130817

Andong is located in the North Gyeongsang province in Korea, and is a cultural center in the country. One of the famous places in Andong is the Hahoe Folk Village, a traditional folk village located just outside of the city. Andong is also famous for its traditional folk masks, which were abundant in the folk village. In fact, part of the trip was making our own masks in the village! After completing the masks, we were given time to walk through the village before heading to lunch. After lunch, it was time to get back on the bus and head to our next destination: a Confucian temple. If I haven’t made it clear, I have a fascination with temples and Eastern philosophies, so I was happy I got to see another temple. The final stop in Andong was the Woryeonggyo Bridge, the longest wooden footbridge in Korea. The bridge was definitely a beautiful part of Andong and a great opportunity to take some photos.

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Following our excursion to the bridge, it was time to head toward our hotel in the city of Pohang. We drove for over an hour, stopping off to eat dinner. The food at this restaurant was fantastic. The cook prepared me a vegetarian-friendly soup with a spicy broth, plenty of veggies, noodles, and tofu. After dinner, it was time to get back on the bus and drive to the hotel. This was my first overnight stay somewhere other than Jinju since arriving, and I was curious to see what the hotel would be like. My room reminded me of the rooms I stayed in night after night as an admissions counselor when I went from one Hilton brand hotel to another.

After settling into the hotel, myself and the others set out to find a cafe, finding a cute place down the road with an outdoor seating area on the roof. It was the perfect place to have a latte and get some writing done.

In the morning, we boarded the bus once again and went for a hike. The views were spectacular and the weather was sunny and cool. At the base of the trailhead was another Temple (woo!) and a small festival. It was a great way to spend the morning. The afternoon was spent beside the ocean at the Homigot (호미곶). 20170602_150743They’re in the shape of two hands, one on land and one in the sea and symbolize the coexistence of humankind. It was an incredible afternoon and my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean. Being able to touch the Pacific Ocean may not seem significant to many, but to be able to see and feel something that always felt so far away was significant for me. I feel that my moments spent next to the ocean were symbolic of just how far I have come, and that I am coexisting in a new way.

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Every opportunity I have to travel Korea reinforces just how at peace I feel in making the decision to come here. Those who took the same journey told me how transformative this year would be for me, and I feel myself changing slowly and in small ways every day. I can’t wait to see what the rest of Korea has in store for me as I continue my travels in this amazing country I now call home.

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Traveling Korea is a series of posts about my various trips outside of Jinju. All posts on these travels can be found under the tag #travelingkorea.

Annyeonghaseyo, that’s all I know

I do this funny thing in my head whenever I imagine someone speaking to me in another language. In my mind, they are speaking German, because I know German, but it’s still a foreign langauge to me. So whenever I imagined scenerios that could play out in Korea, the person was always speaking to me in German, and I understood them. Reality is far different than these made up scenes I play out in my head because in Korea, the people actually don’t speak German, but Korean. Shocking, I know.

What I have found so far living in a country where I cannot speak the language outside of a few phrases is that it is not as hard as I thought it would be. That being said, I have had a few run-ins where my lack of knowledge and technology has failed me.

Perhaps the hardest thing for me to do without knowing Korean is go grocery shopping. This is an activity I prefer to do solo simply because I can’t just pick and choose anything and hope for the best. There is a LOT of meat in Korea. And sometimes it’s just thrown into things for fun, so I go through every single item I pick up and translate the lable using the photo option on the Google translate app. Of course this generally only applies to pre-packaged foods. Although I have also learned it would be a good idea to translate the lables of paper products so I don’t accidentally buy scented toilet paper again.

Going out to eat can also be difficult as a person who doesn’t eat meat. I have learned how to say “tofu” in Korean, which is a start, and in my wallet I carry a slip of paper that reads “I am a vegetarian, no meat or fish please.” Having this slip of paper has been a lifesaver, especially when I went out for dumplings and the two options that looked meat-free ended up having small bits mixed in.

Outside of food, the language barrier between myself and others hasn’t been too bad. I’ve only had two run-ins where I felt utterly overwhelmed by my inability to speak Korean. The first was going to Mass that was entirely in Korean. I know, what was I thinking? I was thinking I should be familiar enough with the Order of Mass to follow along. I was wrong. The other was just walking around downtown one day on my own. I really wanted facemasks from Daiso, and on my way home, I passed by some sort of protest. I was led to a table and asked to sign a petition. I did, even though I have no idea what it was for, but couldn’t explain to the person that I don’t have a Korean phone number and that I actually don’t know my address. After flailing my hands around a bit, I was handed one of those tiny Korean smoothies that Lara Jean’s little sister drinks in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and went on my way.

I hope that with time, I can learn enough Korean to get by, that these instances of confusion and inability to communicate lesson, and that the language barrier diminishes, even just a tiny bit.

39,020 feet above the ground

There are few things I love to do on a plane more than watch the flight map. Something about seeing the little animated plane follow a destined path across the globe is incredibly satisfying to me, especially because I know that like the little plane on the map, I am also following a destined path across the globe.

I’ve never been on a flight so long. I didn’t even realize planes could stay in the air for almost sixteen hours. I also didn’t even think I’d fly up and over the North Pole, but it looks like I’m learning something new every day.

At this point, I am over halfway to Hong Kong, the first leg of my journey to South Korea. I made my way to the airport in evening of August 28, fully prepared to spend what would seem like a lifetime going through TSA and waiting in my terminal, drinking coffee so I wouldn’t immediately fall asleep when I got on the plane. To my surprise, going through TSA was quick, but passing time in the terminal was slow. Once 12:00 rolled around, everything was closed, and it was just me and a big group of strangers, all going somewhere together.

I passed the first 7.5 hours of my flight watching movies. The in-flight selection was surprisingly good. When I could no longer keep my eyes open through another movie I settled for music and games. When 6:30am EST rolled around, I decided that I could finally rest. By some miracle, no one took the seats next to me, and I was able to lay outstretched and sleep. Well, at least for an hour at a time before some sound or urge to roll over woke me up.

Now here I am, 10:30am EST and wide awake. I’ve caved and purchased in-flight WiFi. After all, I do have 6.5 hours to go until Hong Kong, and sleep seems like it may be a thing of the past, at least until mid-afternoon.

So here I am, 39,020 feet above the ground, just waiting to arrive at my destination and watching as the little animated plane makes its way across the world.

Where It Really Started

So I’m sure it has crossed your mind at least once: what kind of person just decides to move to a country that they have never been to, and what initially sparked that sense of

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adventure? I’ve thought about that myself, because I’d never been to Korea, and didn’t really know anyone who had. But I have had other experiences abroad which stick with me even to this day, inspiring me to see as much of the world as I can in the time I have on this earth.

When considering the experience that started it all, I can handsdown say it was my experience as an exchange student in Germany. When I was seventeen, I had the opportunity to participate in the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) through my high school, which has a sister school in Gladenbach, Germany.

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I started studying German in seventh grade as a part of the exploratory language program at my school. I was required to take an exploratory course in Spanish, German, and French. Once I went to high school, I was able to choose which language I would study, and I chose German, primarily because of my family ties to the country, as well as to Austria, another German speaking country.

I loved learning German, so when I learned about the exchange program, I immediately applied, and was fortunate enough to be chosen to participate. I had never been on a plane before, let alone left the country, and I was giddy with excitement.

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2012 GAPP

Traveling to Germany helped me realize just how big the world is, and how much you can learn just by being somewhere new. Before traveling abroad, I had a lot of misconceptions about the world, primarily life in other countries. I learned quickly that my views, which had only been informed by my hometown upbringing, were more narrowing than what this great, broad world really had to offer.

After arriving back in the States, my time in Germany was all I could think about and all I could speak about. I knew that one day I wanted to see more of the world, no matter what it took. I began researching other places to go, continued learning German, and started reading travel literature. My life really was changed by that single trip. Perhaps that’s why when I learned about teaching English in Korea, it was the only thing I thought made sense for where I am right now in my life. Without the GAPP program, I don’t know that I would have even developed such a strong sense of adventure and a deep desire to travel the world.

Why Korea? And Other Questions

Since making the decision to move to Korea I have gotten a lot of questions. Some of these questions come from friends and family, while others are from complete strangers who overhear a conversation I am having. I decided that answering these questions all in one place would be helpful for those who may be curious, but nervous to ask about why I chose to move to Korea and what I will be doing there. So here we go!

Question 1: Why South Korea?

I decided to move to South Korea for a few reasons. One of the biggest reasons was that I felt like I was in a rut. While I loved my job, it wasn’t enough to cover the expenses of living on my own with student debt. Not to mention I felt trapped living in NEPA and needed a way out. After taking my GRE again, my hopes of grad school were slashed. While I was a great student and had a laundry list of extracurriculars and conferences I had attended, I knew that test scores and the school you went to for undergrad played a huge role in an admissions decision into a good program. Even the schools where I qualified only had acceptance rates between 8-9% each year, and I didn’t feel comfortable wagering everything on such a slim chance.

So after talking with a close friend, I decided to look more into teaching English in Korea. One thing led to another, and now I am leaving in exactly two weeks!

Question 2: What will you be doing there and how did you learn about it?

I will be teaching English as a foreign language at a language learning academy. The school works with different age groups, like pre-school, elementary school, and middle schoolers. I found this position by applying to recruiting agencies in Korea. The agency I worked with, Korvia, is one I found after reading an extensive blog post by Drew Binsky, who has since become one of my travel idols. My recruiter at Korvia is amazing, and she has helped make this process smooth and stress-free.

When I applied to Korvia, I didn’t really know what to expect, but within 24 hours I received an email requesting an interview with the company. I passed the first interview, and a week later I had an interview with my school. Three days after that, I was offered the job.

One thing to note about working with a recruiter–Korvia is free. People often ask if I had to pay the recruiter to find me a job. I did not. I did, however, incur other expenses, such as getting an FBI criminal background check done, and getting certain documents apostiled, which is just a fancy way of saying I got an official stamp from the US government that allows the Korean government to accept my documents as authentic.

Question 3: Do you speak Korean?

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I do not speak Korean, other than a few phrases. As I get closer to my departure, I have gotten a lot more serious about learning Korean. I have been teaching myself Hangul, the Korean alphabet, as well as learning important phrases, like hello, my name is Christine, nice to meet you, thank you, you’re welcome, yes, no, and excuse me. I really enjoy learning languages, and Korean has certainly been a challenge. Some of the resources I have been using to learn Korean are: Duolingo, Drops, Talk To Me in Korean, Korean Class 101, and learn-hangul.com. I also low-key love k-pop, which is a great way to just expose myself to the language as I’m driving or cleaning out my apartment.

Question 4: Have you been to Korea before? Have you traveled outside of the US?

No, I have not been to Korea, or any Asian country for that matter. But I have traveled abroad. When I was 17, I was an exchange student in Germany, and I went to Ireland after my junior year of college, just for fun. On those trips, I also got to visit Austria and Northern Ireland. Both of these experiences abroad were formative for me, and I do not feel apprehensive about moving to Korea.

Question 5: Are you going with anyone?

If I waited for my friends to travel with me, I’d never go anywhere.

But in all seriousness, no. My friends and I are all on different paths in life. Some are getting married, some are starting graduate school, and some are still finishing undergrad. A lot of my friends are in medical or STEM professions, which means teaching English isn’t really on their radar.

I would never expect anyone in my life to abandon their dreams or career to uproot their life and move to another country with me. That is both selfish and unrealistic. While I am not going with anyone I know, I have started getting to know the other girls who will be arriving with me who have also never taught English abroad before. This experience is new to all of us, and I think that’ll allow us to bond, and of course we will be there to look out for each other.

Question 6: Are you nervous? Scared? Excited?

I honestly don’t know the last time I was so excited for something happening in my life. I don’t feel nervous or scared, primarily thanks to the world of youtube. I have spent hours watching youtube videos from other Americans who have moved to Korea to teach English. So while I can’t predict exactly what my experiences will be, I feel prepared to head to Korea and educated on what to expect when I get there. And once again, my recruiter, Jina, has been amazing and helpful every step of the way.

Question 7: Do you have a teaching certificate?

Yes, I am certified to teach English as a foreign language, which means I am certified to teach English abroad, but not here in the US. I did not major in education or receive an education certificate from MU. I completed my TEFL certification online back in June. Again, I used Drew Binsky’s recommendation (and coupon code) regarding where to get certified.

Question 8: Where will you live?

My school is providing me with a furnished apartment. I’ll be able to walk to work each day or take a bus on those rainy and chilly days. Oh, and I’ll finally have my own washer!

Question 9: What are you doing with all your stuff?

I sold it, donated it, and only kept what I needed.

Question 10: Will MU hold your job for when you come back?

If and when I move back to the US, I will not be coming back to NEPA, at least not for anything more than a visit. So no, they are not holding my job, and I wouldn’t let them even if they offered. My time has come to leave NEPA and not look back. My job was a great starter position and it allowed me time to figure out my next move, but I think my time working in admissions has come to an end.

Question 11: What is the weather like there?

Well, Korea, like NEPA, has four seasons. The caveat here is that I will be further south, so winters won’t be nearly as cold as these mountain winters, but the summers will be hotter. And humid. So when I packed my bags, I had to pack for four seasons: shorts, sweaters, coats, tank tops, jeans, hats, gloves, scarves, flannels, etc. Packing a year’s worth of stuff has been somewhat stressful, but now that I have packed everything I need into two checked bags and one carry-on, I don’t know what I’ll ever own anything more than that.

Feature image from: http://freeassembly.net/news/kiai-to-visit-republic-of-korea/korean-flags-2-500/