Life in Jinju: My First Month

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve been in Korea for an entire month. I waited months that felt like an eternity for the day I would board my flight to get here, and now an entire month has passed since my plane touched down in Incheon.

Reflecting on this past month, I’ve noticed that for the first time in quite a while, I feel truly happy and at peace with where I am. After years of unrest and discontent, this change in demeaner is a welcome change. When I think about my future, the door is wide open with possibility, and I no longer feel trapped in a place I have no business being (looking at you, Wilkes Barre). Perhaps this happiness is simply me living through the honeymoon phase that comes with moving somewhere new, or perhaps it is the overwhelming relief that comes with finally leaving somewhere I was desparate to escape. Either way, I hope this peace has come to stay.

And while I could say that every day has been a constant high, that would be a lie. There are moments where I feel overwhelmed and moments that are mundane, but such is life. But as I sit in a coffee shop, sipping an iced vanilla latte, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of life, I know that I am in the right place. I’ve met so many incredible people who come from all walks of life, but we all have one thing in common: we left the comfort of our home countries to come to Korea in search of something more. Not all of us are searching for the same thing, and I don’t know that all of us will find what we are looking for, but I know that this journey has brought us together.

As I continue through this period of my life, I’m sure I will be met with surprises, obstacles, hardships, and overwhelming joy. I can’t wait to see what my second month in Korea brings.

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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: A Week of Eats

Since moving to Korea, the most common question I get is how’s the food? Living in South Korea has altered my diet in a few, significant ways: I drink way more coffee and I eat way more rice.

For the most part, I have been doing quite a bit of my own cooking. It’s easier for me to throw together simple veg friendly meals in my own kitchen then try to muddle my way through a menu written in a different language, but I have found quite a few places that serve up some great food. So without further ado, a week of eats in Jinju.

Drinks

 

Like I said, LOTS of coffee. Back in the States, I hardly ever drank coffee, and when I did it resulted in some pretty intense side-effects. I had completely cut out caffeine, and when I drank it I’d have an elevated heart rate, shakey hands, all of it. So I’ve been quite surprised that I’ve been able to drink coffee again with few side effects.

Food

 

Above are some meals from this past weekend (if you can call french fries a meal). Bibimbop is incredibly common here in Korea and is almost always a safe, meat-free option. Every bibimbop I’ve had is different. This one featured some shredded cabbage and the sauce was delicious. When I first arrived in Korea, my first meal was bibimbop with a side of pickled radishes. That bibimbop featured some tasty mushrooms and other veggies. The french fries were incredibly American: deep-fried potatoes are similar no matter where you are in the world. They made for a delicious dinner before a night out.

Birthday Treats

 

Not even a month after getting to Korea, I celebrated my 24th birthday. My coworkers got me a birthday cake and my supervisor brought some more traditional treats from the open air market, including corn, sweet potatoes, and some baked goods. Everything was delicious and I am so appreciative for such a kind birthday surprise.

Home Cooking

I do a lot cooking at home, especially on nights when I work. My go-to meals typically involve mushrooms, sprouts, and whatever other veggies I have in my fridge. I also love rice noodles, so they typically appear in my home cooking. I’ve also been experimenting with tofu, trying to find just the right way to cook it to maximize crispiness. I think I have finally unlocked the key to perfect tofu: really heavy objects on top of it to drain out as much water as possible followed by some time in the freezer.

My diet in Jinju is a lot different than it was back in the States. Sometimes I find myself missing my standard American fare, but for the most part, the flavorful, spicy food of Korea has been excellent. If I’m really missing tastes from home, the international section at the store usually has something I can whip up, or I can go grab a vanilla latte, and all is well again.

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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. 

Adventures in Teaching: My first two weeks as an educator

After two weeks of teaching, all I have to say is that teaching is hard. Quite possibly, it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done. I tried not to kid myself going into it; I knew that my babysitting experience and time as a tutor for other college students would pale in comparison to what it was like to stand in front of a classroom full of children who have a limited working knowledge of the English language. While I knew what my experience wouldn’t be, I didn’t really have expectations for what it would be.

So far, teaching has been a learning experience, probably more for me than for the kids. Every day, I’m challenging myself in new ways to get into a different headspace. My first task as a teacher was making lesson plans for the first week of class. My perception of time has never been great, but the entire first week, I found myself with extra time at the end of lessons, at a loss for what to do next, which usually just resulted in rushed games of hangman and pictionary. I like to think that over the last two weeks I have gotten better at predicting how long activities and lessons will take, but it isn’t an exact science.

Another area I’ve been struggling with as an educator is determining what it appropriate for each age group. At my academy, I teach elementary and middle school students. What works well with one group obviously doesn’t work well with the other, so getting in the right mindset to make lessons for each one is difficult. It seems like finding the right balance between instructional time, learning reinforcement, and fun activities to really help the concepts stick is another area where there isn’t an exact science. While one grammar lesson may take 15 minutes to present, another may take 25 minutes.

One moment that sticks out in my memory from my first week as a teacher is the day I realized that some of the words I use regularly are not words my kids are familiar with. I was teaching a grammar lesson and as a part of a comprehension check, I asked “does everyone understand or is this confusing?” I got a lot of blank stares and eventually one kid asked “what is confusing?” My response was, “I don’t know, I need you to tell me what’s confusing.” That went on for a while before my co-teacher told me that the kids were asking what the word “confusing” means, not that they were confused with the lesson. Talk about an embarrassing but enlightening moment.

While teaching hasn’t been easy, I like to think I have gotten better with each lesson. My understanding of what my kids know and how to present new information to them has improved. It’s so rewarding when a concept clicks for the kids or when they come into class with smiles on their faces ready for a new lesson. As a teacher, I’ve seen each day as a new opportunity to stretch myself and grow in my new role, and as a chance to make a lasting impact on the kids I work with. Each one of them is so dynamic and eager; I am so grateful for the opportunity to educate them, and I am excited to see how far we all come by the end of this semester.

Traveling Korea: Suncheon 순천

Chuseok is a Korean holiday that most western websites describe as “Korean Thanksgiving,” as it is a celebration of the Harvest and a time when the younger generations leave their homes in the city to visit their families in the countryside. This extended holiday meant that I got a five-day weekend, which presented itself as the perfect opportunity for me to venture outside of Jinju and explore more of Korea.

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I had planned on camping over Chuseok, but ended up getting a sinus infection just a few days before the trip, so instead, I turned to Google to find some day trips near where I live. After quite a bit of searching and multiple suggestions from other people, I settled on going to Suncheon ‎(순천). I was drawn to Suncheon’s Wetland Reserve area. The photos of the reed fields captivated me, and I wanted to see it for itself. I think in a way, it reminded me of the landscape where I grew up: natural beauty just beyond the edge of a city. After doing more research, I pinned down some prices and found out that along with getting into the Reserve, my ticket for the hike would also include a trip over to the National Garden. Between the hike and the garden, I had a full day planned.

So I scoured bus time tables and packed up my backpack, ready to hop on the bus at 9:20 the following morning. Looking at my map, the bus station looked closer than it was, but something pushed me out the door at 8:00 that morning, and I made it with time to spare. That time to spare was used jumping from window to window to buy my ticket because I wasn’t pronouncing the name of the city perfectly, but in the end I did get my ticket because I had written down where I was going in Hangul that morning and was able to show it to the woman at the bus station.

After I arrived in Suncheon, I spent the next hour waiting for another bus. It wouldn’t have been so long had I not questioned if I was at the right bus stop and walked to another one, only to miss the bus I was supposed to be on. But when the bus finally came back through, I was on my way to the Wetland Reserves.

The Reserves were even more beautiful that the photos. The walk through the reed field was peaceful, the sound of wind rustling through the tall reeds while crabs scurried around on the ground below the walkway. The journey through the reeds was a few kilometers, leading to a winding path up a mountain. From each overlook, you could see the reed fields, rice paddies, and wetlands. I even got to talk to some people along the way. A nice older woman asked me where I was from and if I was traveling alone. When I told her I was a teacher in Jinju, she got incredibly excited. Throughout the day, people would continue to ask me where I was from and share a friendly smile.

After making my way through the Wetland Reserves and sucking down an iced Americano while I charged my nearly dead phone, I boarded another bus to the National Gardens. Although a lot of the flowers were no longer blooming and boasted only their deep green leaves, it was still something to behold. Each section of the garden was dedicated to specific plants–some by type, others by the kind of garden you would find them in, and some by the region of the world where they came from. The gardens spread out in all directions, and after a long day of walking on my blistered feet, I did not get to venture through the whole garden, but I am determined to go back in late spring.

While I was nervous to venture outside of Jinju on my own, I’m glad I found my way to such a beautiful part of the country. It won’t be long now before I hop on another bus and journey somewhere else.

 

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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.

Korean Doctors, Elementary Night Owls, and Culture Shock

I’m sure you’re expecting that me to say that when I arrived in Korea I was overwhelmed with culture shock. That these last few weeks have been an endless series of events that shocked and unnerved me, or even just caught me off-guard. While for many people, culture shock is common when visiting or moving to a new place, I have to admit my experiences with culture shock have been minimal.

I can chalk up my lack of culture shock to the insane amount of prep work I did before I got here. In the months leading up to my move, I spent countless hours reading blog posts and watching YouTube videos from other expats who have been living in Korea.

That being said, I have still had some moments of culture shock.

Since I’ve gotten here, it seems like all of my culture shock has revolved around medical care in Korea. When I arrived, I had to get a health and wellness check done. Back in the States, this type of exam would involved height, weight, blood pressure, breathing in and out, and making sure that your spine isn’t all wonky. In Korea, it’s so much more than that. While I did start with blood pressure, height, and weight, it wasn’t long before I was getting an eye exam, a dental exam, a chest x-ray, echocardiogram, a urine test, and a blood test. What was the most shocking was the lightening speed that I went through this entire proceedure. Back home, I would have needed to dedicate multiple afternoons to all these exams, but in Korea it only took about an hour. An hour. And there were three of us. Crazy, right? And when I had to go back for a second round of blood work it took about 10 minutes and cost $7 without insurance. That’s right. $7 without insurance. 

I’ve had more exposure to the Korean healthcare system since my medical exam, because I came down with a sinus infection. Once my insurance kicked in, I was off to the doctor’s office. My appointment took 10 minutes and I saw the doctor immediately. No messing around with height, weight, blood pressure, just straight to the reason I was there. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, the next thing that happened was shocking and uncomfortable. You know the device that dentists use to suck all the saliva out of your mouth? Now imagine something like that going up your nose into your sinuses. Not the most pleasant thirty seconds of my life, but it sure was nice to be able to breath again. When I was all wrapped up with the doctor, I went out to pay for my appointment. My supervisor told me “forty-five hundred Won.” I tried reaching for a 50,000 Won bill, not realizing my appointment had cost less than $5. When I went to the pharmacy, I was just as surprised when my four different medications and nasal spray came to a whomping $7.

Outside of my experiences in healthcare, my other moments of culture shock include when I learned that my elementary school children go to bed later than I do. Perhaps I’m just not good at late nights, and maybe they’re not good at mornings. I don’t really know, but I was pretty surprised when some of them told me they regularly go to bed at 11:30 p.m.

I’m sure as time passes and I expose myself to more of Korean culture I will experience more culture shock, but for now, I am adjusting just find to living in a new place on the other side of the world.

 

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. 

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.

Life in Jinju: Week One

I can’t believe an entire week has passed since I touched down at Incheon Airport in South Korea. Getting here was enough to make me avoid getting on another airplane for a long time, but I am happy to report that I have settled into my new home quite nicely.

 

After arriving in Incheon, I had some downtime before I boarded a bus to Jinju, the city where I would be living. I knew little beyond the fact that I had an apartment to myself somewhere within walking distance of the school where I would be working. After getting off of the bus in Jinju, I was taken to my apartment where I dropped off my belongings before going to dinner. I was exhausted and quite honestly was in desperate need to a hot shower, but it was nice to get to know my new coworkers and supervisor.

Once I got home, I took in my new living space–an apartment similar to a studio with a small kitchen, bathroom, living space, and laundry area, which may be my favorite space in my whole apartment. While my new apartment is definitely smaller than the one I had back in Wilkes Barre, my new space is cozy, bright, and the perfect size for the more simplistic life I am working to embrace. I am fortunate that the former teacher left behind a good deal of furnishings and supplies in the apartment, so when I ventured out to emart and Daiso, I was able to spend less on necessities and pick up a few things to make my space feel like home.

I spent my first weekend exploring Jinju. Saturday I was able to take in a lot of sights as well as experience the traditional market downtown. Sunday I spent the day trying out different churches in the city, including a Catholic mass that was completely in Korean. Between church services, my coworkers and I had some of the best pancakes I have ever had at a cute coffee shop. That night, I experienced a traditional Korean BBQ–almost. While my coworkers ate pork, I was able to get tofu and mushrooms to grill up. The side dishes were also veggie-friendly. While it’s harder to find veggie-friendly options here than it was back in the States, it’s definitely doable.

This past Monday I started work–the real reason I am here in Korea–and I couldn’t be more excited for classes to start on Monday. Each morning I walk about 15 minutes to work, rain or shine. I love that each day I have no choice but to move around and be active on my walk to and from work. Yesterday and today I got to meet some of my students through level testing. The rest of the time I spent developing lesson plans, coming up with games and activities to play to help the students learn English, and finding worksheets online to reinforce grammar points. While I’m nervous to find out if my lessons were planned well, I’m also excited to just get into the classroom and get to know my students.

Even though it has only been a week, I feel incredibly at home in Jinju. I can’t to see what else my time here has in store for me and all the amazing places I will get to see while I’m here.

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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.