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.

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.

Minimalism Challenge: Week Three

As to be expected, week three of my minimalism challenge was the hardest week yet. It’s also the week I broke open my closet and did an assessment of what I brought with me from the States, and what I have actually worn since being here. I knew before even opening the closet that there were things in there that I’ve put on, only to take off immediately in favor of something I wear more often with more confidence. 

The past weekend was a great chance for me to clean out, as my neighbor and co-worker had a clothing swap party. She was kind enough to let me join in on the fun and her guests could come over to my apartment and take the clothing and jewelry I was ready to part with. Everything that remained at the end went to the second hand shop downtown.

But clothing and jewelry wasn’t the only thing that went this time around, although that did make up a majority of the week’s clean-out. I also continued to go through my kitchen, and went into my laundry room to do a quick assessment.

Below is a list of the 133 items I cleaned out in the third week of my minimalism challenge:

  • 38 wooden skewers
  • 25 magnets
  • 21 articles of clothing
  • 19 pieces of jewelry
  • 9 nose rings
  • 3 vacation souvenirs 
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • 2 hair accessories
  • 2 small kitchen things
  • 2 bike accessories
  • 2 power adapters
  • 1 lone earring with no match
  • 1 broken pair of headphones
  • 1 small drawer unit that fell apart in my hands when I tried to move it
  • 1 sleeping bag
  • 1 small travel makeup bag
  • 1 broken Christmas ornament
  • 1 Tupperware lid I missed the first week
  • 1 empty container of fabric softener that has been empty since September

Looking around my apartment, I can see the difference the last three weeks of cleaning and decluttering has made. My space is more comfortable, cleaner, and brighter. I don’t have to shove aside things I don’t use in order to find the things I do. While I’m not sure how much further I’ll be able to go, I’m glad I made it this far.

If you’re interested in doing my minimalism challenge, or interested in the original challenge, which involves working with a partner and making a bet as to who will make it the the furthest in decluttering, comment below! Happy cleaning! 

Hong Kong: First Impressions

As soon as I stepped off my plane I remembered how overwhelming the Hong Kong airport is. It’s huge, full of stores and eateries. This time around, I learned that the airport has its own rail system, much like the Atlanta airport in Georgia. I spent a decent amount of time in the airport, working my way through immigration and customs. I breezed past the baggage claim, my backpack full of everything I’d need for my five days in Hong Kong. For the second time, I attempted to locate the free showers in the airport only to fail once again, and made my way to the counter to buy a transit pass.

One thing I forgot about Hong Kong is that it’s currency is also dollars, but Hong Kong Dollars are very different than US dollars. The first time I was in the Hong Kong Airport and went to Starbucks, my coffee and sandwich cost $99, which equated to about $11. I forgot this fact when I swiped my bus card to leave the airport and it showed that the trip would cost $33, leaving me with only $67 left. Then I remembered that $33 HKD is like $4 USD.

When I finally stepped off the bus downtown, my first thought was that Hong Kong reminded me of New York City, only cleaner and slightly less crowded. All around me were signs written in English and Chinese. It was the first time I had seen so much English since I left the States in August. It was an odd feeling, being able to read and understand the signs that surrounded me.

Since it was still early, only about 9:00 a.m., I decided to find breakfast since the last thing I had eaten was a muffin at the rest stop on the way to Incheon. I walked toward the harbor, thinking it was nearing 10:30 rather than 9:30 and that I could just tough it out until lunch. When I realized that my watch hadn’t updated to the new time zone, I settled on finding the Starbucks near the harbor. Besides, I was tired and in need of coffee and wifi.

Before finding the Starbucks, I found the clock tower that was built in 1915 as a part of the Kowloon-Canton Railway. The clock tower is all the remains of the Kowloon Station. The tower overlooks a beautiful harbor-front view. I took a moment to just breathe, enjoying the view of the part of the city that sits on Hong Kong Island opposit the mainland.

For lunch I went to The Green Common and ate a Beyond Burger for the first time in MONTHS. Living in Jinju there aren’t a lot of vegetarian alternatives, especially not veggie burgers, so I savor end every bite, knowing that I probably wouldn’t be able to splurge again on such a special meal. By the time I was done with lunch, I still had plenty of time to kill before I couldcheck into my hostel, so I wandered around, making my way toward where I’d be staying. All I wanted at this point was a shower and a nap. Once I was finally able to check in, I got both.

To finish out my first night in Hong Kong, I ate dinner at a small Indian food vendor, found a supermarket nearby to pick up food for breakfast the rest of the week, and made my way to the harbor front to watch the Symphony of Lights. This light show happened every night, complete with fireworks. The display lasts ten minutes, but people started lining the harbor front over an hour before the show began.

I watched the display, amazed that I was sitting in Hong Kong, surrounded by strangers from all over the world. My first day in Hong Kong was coming to a close, and I realized just how grateful I was to be sitting there. Everything that was happening was all because I took a chance that changed my life for the better.

Minimalism Challenge: Week One

I’ve written about minimalism a few times before, noting that my inspiration to live a more minimal and meaningful life began back in February after watching a documentary from The Minimalists on Netflix. Before moving to Korea, I sold, donated, and got rid of 90% of my possessions, but after watching some minimalism videos on YouTube today, I thought it might be a good time to check in to see how my minimalism journey is going here in Korea. I haven’t really checked in since I got here, but I also haven’t accumulated much. That being said, there was a decent amount left behind in my apartment, and much of it I have never used.

One thing I came across in my video watching was this thing called the “Minimalism Game.” Essentially how it works is you declutter your space a little bit every day, getting rid of the same number of things that it is the day of the month. For example, on the 1st, you get rid of one item, and on the 12th you get rid of twelve. I love the idea of this challenge, so I decided December, the last month of the year, would be the perfect time to take it on and make sure I am really starting off on the right foot in the new year.

Since I am fairly busy between work, Korean lessons, and other things I do outside of work and studying, I decided to adapt this challenge to better fit my schedule. Rather that go through my possessions each day, I decided to add up how many items I would discard each week, and dedicate one day a week to minimize. Typically I clean my apartment on Sundays, so that will likely be the day I minimize as well. Since I discovered this challenge on a Tuesday, I decided to kick it off right after work, gathering up the first 45 items that I would be ridding my apartment of for the first week.

One of the great things about decluttering is it doesn’t always mean getting rid of large items like clothing, shoes, etc. So to start, I tackled some of the most annoying kinds of clutter that have been piling up on my table, in my fridge, and in my cabinets.

In the first week of my minimalism challenge, I was able to get rid of:

  • 19 papers, including old bills, receipts, and outdated resumes
  • 1 Pringles lid
  • 4 Tupperware lids with no matching containers
  • 1 Tupperware container with no lid
  • 2 half used jars of spaghetti sauce that were no longer edible
  • 1 stained wine glass
  • 1 bag of stale cereal
  • 7 packages of expired seaweed
  • 1 expired jar of tea
  • 1 package of jelly
  • 2 lids for pots I don’t own
  • 4 spuddy potatoes
  • 1 twist tie for a bag of mushrooms

This brought me to a total of 45 items in the first week, and I never even opened my wardrobe. 

I have to admit, it feels great to have all the expired food out of my cabinets. Much of the expired food was left behind by the teacher who lived in this apartment before me. But rather than getting rid of it, I just kept pushing it aside and letting it take up space in my cabinet. Now, I have more space to organize the food I have, which will make it easier for me to keep track of what I have and visualize my meals more easily. 

Next week, I will be going through my apartment attempting to get rid of 84 items. 84! It seems like such a big number, so I am eager to see how easily I can find 84 items in my apartment that aren’t adding value to my life or serving a purpose.

Life in Jinju: Three Months an Expat

Every time I think about how much time has passed since I moved to Korea, I am taken aback. While I don’t feel that my time here has been dragging by, it also doesn’t seem to be racing by as quickly as it has been.

This week marks three months since I first arrived in Jinju.

Three months since I started one of the most formative journeys of my young life.

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Before coming to Korea, I heard over and over again that this experience would change me, but no one could ever really elaborate on how I would change. Likely because everyone’s experience is unique and results in personal changes that cannot translate to another person. Even so, I am only just scratching the surface of the changes I am undergoing.

Be Gentle With Yourself. After All, You are All You Have.

The most crucial change I am undergoing is undoing years of damage I have done to myself with my thoughts and words against myself. Until moving to another country, I didn’t realize just how critical I was of myself, just how often I put myself down and put harmful thoughts on repeat.

While I spent a decent amount of time alone back in the States, it wasn’t until I only had myself that I realized just how much I had mistreated myself. There is no distraction from my own thoughts and feelings, because the majority of the time I am awake, my friends are asleep. That makes me the only person I have the majority of the time. At least in the sense of having someone who really knows me and my life before Korea.

Travel More

Jirisan

My time in Korea has also brought me plenty of travel opportunities. I’ve done a few day trips as well as extended weekend trips since arriving in Korea. I’ve gotten to experience festivals, beautiful hikes, and plenty of public transportation.

I also have more travel planned. In December, I will leave Korea for the first time since arriving. I spent weeks trying to figure out where to go, knowing that one of my top priorities was to finally go to a Disney theme park. So after researching the parks, travel expenses, and visa requirements, I settled on Hong Kong, where I will spend five days. I can’t wait to share all of my experiences from my trip.

Homesick, but Found

Snowfall in NEPA, 2016

Finally, my first three months in Korea brought with it the expected bouts of homesickness. Each time I felt a longing to be back in Pennsylvania, I could directly pin down the culprit that brought about this nostalgic melancholy. First was homecoming, which happened the weekend after Hannah left Korea, making it a double whammy. This homesickness only lasted for one day.

The next came when Pennsylvania experienced the first big snowfall of the year. As much as I hated driving in snow, I cannot deny its beauty. Sitting inside watching the snow come down while reading a book and drinking tea never fails to warm me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will experience snow in Jinju like I did back home.

But other than those two major experiences of homesickness, I have not felt any overwhelming sadness to be in Pennsylvania. Life in Korea has been good to me. I’ve made many friends, traveled, and even started learning the language. All in all, I’d say that these three months have treated me well, and I can’t wait to share what month number four will bring.

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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. 

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.