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.

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.

Life in Jinju: Into the Woods

When I was moving to Korea, one of the things I was incredibly excited for was the hiking. Growing up along the Appalachian Trail, it was hard for me to stay away from the outdoors after discovering a love of hiking at seventeen. After being in Korea for a little over two weeks, I have finally made it out to the mountains that have been hiding in my backyard.

Approximately 70% of Korea is covered in mountains–that’s a lot of green peaks lining this beautiful country. My city, Jinju, is nestled in a river valley between mountains. Saturday when I was out with the various new expat friends I made, one was talking about going for a hike Sunday morning. Loving a good hike, I asked if I could tag along. I hadn’t realized that about 15 minutes from my apartment there was a trailhead.

Here is Korea, the trails are incredibly well-kept with bathrooms, gazebos, and even outdoor gyms along that paths. What was even more amazing to me was the view I was able to get of my new city along most of the trail. To one side, I saw endless countryside, and to the other, a view of Jinju like none I have seen before.

Although I was eager to hike, I hadn’t taken into consideration that the temperatures are rising again after a cloudy, rainy week. While I wake up every morning hoping Autumn has finally arrived, I am disappointed day after day as the thermostat climbs. This morning it was nearing 80 degrees Fahrenheit and was quite humid by the time we got the mountain, but I was able to push through the steeper inclines and made it out with only a tiny bit of sunburn on my face.

While today’s hike was only a couple of hours, it was great way for me to gear up for my backpacking trip next weekend over Chuseok, a Korean holiday celebrating the Harvest. Chuseok will also be my first venture outside of Jinju since I’ve arrived, and I am beyond excited to be spending it in the mountains surrounded by my new friends here in Korea.

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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. 

A life that looks like mine, thoroughly.

A few weeks back I was reading Eat, Pray, Love for the first time after my best friend and I bought the book to read together. Spoiler: she read it a few months before I got around to it and just kept telling me how much I needed to read it. So when I finally had time to sit down with it, I quickly understood her hype.

Early on in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert references the Bhagavad Gita, explaining that it is better to live life following your own path imperfectly than it is to perfectly imitate someone else’s life. This part of the book stuck with me, as I’ve always felt a lot of external pressure to live a traditional life, one that included marriage in my early-to-mid twenties, having children, owning a home, and working in a mind-numbing job.

And the more I reflected on that path in life, the more anxiety I felt, because deep down I knew that I would never be satisfied living that life. My goals, dreams, and aspirations could not fit within the confines of a traditional life. Instead I wanted to travel, test out different careers until I found one where I felt I was making an impact and growing, pursue a masters and potentially even a doctorate degree, and wait well into my thirties to get married. I don’t foresee home ownership in my future, because I see myself always on the move, not settling anywhere long enough to justify such a large investment. I know that this feeling could change, but like marriage, I don’t expect it to come until much later in life, if at all.

Prior to reading this book, I hadn’t considered that maybe it would really be okay to follow my own path, even if it meant making a lot of sacrifices and taking risks. In the back of my mind I would still try to factor in when I’d get married and how to explain over and over again that I don’t want children and that I don’t really think I will change my mind. Trying to explain that the life most people live is not the life I want for myself is difficult, and I often feel unheard. When people ask me invasive questions about dating and about whether or not I think I should hurry up so I can get married and have a family, I know that they are asking from a place of concern, but it often feels as though they are minimizing my own personal goals in life and tying my purpose more closely to a domestic life than the purpose I feel called to.

So while I could have tried to perfectly play the part in a life that wasn’t mine, I took off down another road. One that looks dangerous and full of uncertainty to many, but to me is full of endless excitement and adventure. While I may mistep and while my journey may not be perfect, I know that I am living a life that looks like mine, thoroughly.

A Day in Jinju

Although I arrived in Korea about three days ago, today was the first day I really had a chance to get out and explore–not for lack of time, but lack of energy. My travel was mostly sleepless, and my first night here was the same. I spent the first night unpacking my bags in the wee hours of the morning because I was poorly adjusted to the time change. Yesterday, I fell asleep at 4:00 p.m. and slept soundly until 3:30 a.m. after waking up only once. I guess you could say adjusting to a 13 hour time difference is pretty difficult.

Since today was the day my contract officially started, today was busy, busy, busy. The morning started with an early morning visit to the doctor for a physical with my supervisor, Sam, and Mikaela, my two new coworkers who also just arrived in Korea. Mind you, this was no American-style physical. It involved the normal things like height, weight, and blood pressure, but also included a chest x-ray, echo-cardiogram, dental check, vision test, drug test, and blood work. The most surprising part of the whole experience was how quickly it went. Never before had I had such a speedy doctors appointment.

After the doctor, my supervisor took myself, Sam, and Mikaela for some breakfast and coffee, which we enjoyed at a park in Jinju. Next came our trip to Daiso, probably one of the greatest stores I have ever been to. Imagine a dollar store but with really cute, quality products. I could have spent all day wandering through Daiso, spending too much money. While I was able to pick up some things I forgot to get at emart the previous day, I did make some impulse buys.

I arrived back to my apartment early in the afternoon and cooked myself some lunch, discovering that even “sweet” sauces are quite spicy. So following another spicy meal, I decided to would be fun to go explore Jinju a little bit. Walking through the streets of Jinju felt so natural. For years, I have wanted to live in a city–a city where I could walk to everything I needed and use public transportation for those things just a bit further away, and I was finally doing just that.

While wandering around, I came across so many cool places in Jinju. The downtown area was bustling with shoppers zipping in and out of shops. I stopped into a few myself, looking for some make-up products and just browsing around. All the shop employees were so friendly and patient, even though we couldn’t speak the same language. I also found myself in the middle of a traditional market, full of fresh produce, fish, and baked goods. The market was just as hectic and chaotic as those you experience in America or see in the movies. Just walking through was exhilarating. After exploring the market, I decided that it was time to venture back to my apartment. I had been walking for quite some time, and I took in a lot of downtown Jinju. I was even able to find the youth center where I would be working come Monday!

Moving to a new city can be both scary and exciting. Fortunately for me, I came to Jinju with a pre-existing support system. The two teachers who were already here have been so kind and helpful, and my two new fellow teachers have been open to explore, spend time together, and take it all in. I am so excited to see where this year takes me.

Love on the Emerald Isle

After going to Germany as apart of the GAPP program, I knew I had been bit by the travel bug, and hard. From that moment I knew I wanted to see more places, after all, there was so much of the world out there left for me to explore. Being young and in high school made it difficult to travel, and it wasn’t until 2016 that I was able to venture outside of the United States again, this time on a solo trip to Ireland.

I traveled to Ireland through EF College Break, a travel agency that specifically works with young adults to help them make their travel dreams come true. When I first learned about EF, I couldn’t stop looking at their website. The very first time I went on and read about the different trips, I knew I was done for. I started working extra hours at my job to save money, and after eight months I booked my trip to Ireland. EF made my trip possible only because they allow their travelers to make monthly payments rather than pay everything up front. These monthly payments meant I could keep working and paying off my trip while I was in school, and even though making payments each month came with a lot of added stress, each time I logged in I felt a sense of joy knowing I would soon be traveling again.

Ireland was a beautiful country and I met so many amazing people. My experiences in Ireland were vastly different than my experiences in Germany: in Ireland I felt like a tourist. I was staying in hostels, traveling with a group of young Americans, some of who became great friends, and took a giant tour bus from city to city. Even though I felt like a tourist, I was so grateful for the things I got to see and do. To this day, the Cliffs of Moher are one of the most breathtaking sites I have ever seen.

The people of Ireland were also incredible. Everywhere we went, people were kind and welcoming. They taught us Irish dances and one particularly kind group of people sang us a going away song the day before our flights back to the States.  That memory stays with me, as do the many memories I made in pubs, on hikes, and in sharing a room with five other girls. Travel changes you. It helps you to grow and stretches your worldview far wider than you ever thought possible. It makes you feel incredible, yet so infinitely small at the same time. It makes you realize that no matter where you come from, or what language you speak, we are all one people, and when we stop focusing on the differences, we have far more in common than you could ever imagine.

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.

8/26 Two Days Out

I am now two days out from leaving the US and traveling to South Korea to begin my journey as an English teacher. Time feels as though it has been moving slowly, yet it is hard to believe that nearly three months have passed. When I first found out I would be moving to Korea, it felt so far off, an entire lifetime away, and yet the time has finally come. My bags are packed, my flight is booked, and I am constantly thinking about how on earth I am going to stay awake until 2 a.m. to board my plane.

People often ask me if I am nervous, and the answer has always been no. Two days out, that is still the case. While the path I have chosen to walk is not traditional, not typical, and not fully understood by others, I know it is where I am meant to be. I have always felt a strong pull out and away. In other words, I have never felt rooted, but always restless, ready for the next big adventure, perhaps because each adventure steers me closer and closer to the road I am meant to walk.

These next few weeks with be difficult, I understand that fact. I don’t speak Korean and I don’t know anyone, which I’m sure will feel incredibly isolating at times. I know that I will face these challenges, and I don’t know if being aware they will come, and come soon, will make my response to them any better than if I were going in blind. But somewhere along the way I learned that to let fear stop you from living will result in an unfulfilled life, one full of regret and what ifs, and that is not the life I want for myself. So two days out, I am still excited about the path I have chosen, and not once have I asked myself if maybe this was all a mistake. And I think that will be enough to see me through.

 

Feature image from: http://trip-suggest.com/south-korea/south-gyeongsang/jinju/

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.

Beauty in the Green Mountains

Vermont is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Everything about my time in Vermont was breathtaking. The air was fresh, the hikes were incredible, and the small town of Bennington was vibrant.

I visited Vermont back in June with my friend Lindsey, another avid hiker and childhood friend. Knowing that our lives were taking us in drastically different directions, we decided we needed a weekend getaway, and both of us really wanted to visit Vermont. Both of us knew that the Green Mountains were perfect for a walk in the woods, and both of us desperately needed one. We headed out on the road for our four hour road trip, arriving in Vermont around dinnertime on a Friday. The night was spent exploring the small town of Bennington, particularly the local brewery. They had a wide variety of craft brews, my favorite of which was named the Nor’beaster. After a winter full of Nor’easters, it only felt right to try that beer.

Southern Vermont in early June is perfect for hiking. The temperatures are mild and the mud season is mostly over, making for optimal hiking conditions. Saturday we spent the day in the mountains. The Bald Mountain trail was near our hotel, and had promising online reviews. So we ascended, tackling the different challenges that came about on the trail, which would suddenly turn from a gradual incline to a steep mountainside. Once we found an acceptable overlook, we slung up our hammocks and enjoyed the view.

When we came back down the mountain, we spent the rest of the day exploring other sights nearby, including the gift shops in town, the covered bridges hidden in the back roads of Bennington, and North Bennington, a town nearby. Sunday would also encompass exploring, this time in the form of another hike from Lake Paran to the home of American poet Robert Frost. This hike was much simpler than the one Saturday, and we enjoyed views of the lake, wildflower fields, and and lush green forests Robert Frost once enjoyed. We wrapped up our trip by visiting the Bennington BattleMonument, which offered stunning views of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York.

Life in Vermont seemed simple and quiet, which is the kind of life I enjoy for a few days, but never longterm. My retreat to the woods was refreshing, and needed after a few high stress weeks. What made the trip even better was the friend I got to share the journey with.