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. 

The Most Valuable Thing You Own

Last year for Christmas, my friend Hannah got me one of those prompted journals where you answer one question every day, for five years. The idea is that you write every day, and see how you grow and change over time. One question for the month of October that really made me stop and think asked What is the most valuable thing you own. This question stopped me in my tracks because I have been thinking about the value of material objects ever since I watched the documentary from the Minimalists back in February.

As I sat looking around my apartment, I thought about all the things I rid my life of before moving to Korea. I tried to put a value on the things I brought with me, but I just kept thinking about what it took to get to where I was. The weeks I spent cleaning out my apartment were agonizing, not because letting go of things is hard, but because realizing just how much I let things pile up in my life was a hard pill to swallow. Letting go of so many of my material possessions was freeing. I imagine that many people feel that freedom when they stop putting stock in the things they own and start measuring their life by how much they’ve lived.

So I sat on the question. I thought about what mattered in my life, and about the concept of ownership. Yes, I own things, but my things are not a reflection of the life I have lived. I thought about my experiences, my memories, and my own personal journey toward fulfillment. In many ways, I believe I own those things more than anything in my apartment, because those things can never truly belong to someone else. I can share my experiences and tell my stories, but they will never truly belong to anyone other than me.

 

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.

Across the Sea

When you think about the most important people in your life, friends and family, is there anyone you would cross the ocean for? Is there anyone who would cross the ocean for you?

20170602_232348Traveling around the world to see someone is not an easy task. It takes planning, acquiring time off, and booking a flight, which gets quite pricy when it comes to international travel with multiple layovers that lead to about twenty-four hours of travel time. It’s almost unreasonable to expect someone to go through so much, to dedicate the time and commitment to such a huge trip, yet one of my best friends did just that.

When I found out I would be moving to South Korea, my friend Hannah almost immediately started planning her trip to come visit. She already had a passport, plenty of available vacation time, and a desire to come see Korea. All she had to do was budget and make sure she could swing such a large trip nine months before her wedding. But an extra shift here and an extra shift there made it possible.

IMG_5270Seeing a familiar face from home after living in another country for a month was nice. Having someone to share my experiences with, to sit on the roof with, to hug, to laugh with, and to share the highs and lows with, face to face, was more than I could have asked for.

So while it may be a long time before I sit in a cafe sipping hot chocolate with a childhood friend again, I will carry the memories of Hannah’s visit with me, a reminder that yes, I do have someone who would cross oceans for me.

Homesick for Homecoming

After almost six weeks of living in Korea, I experienced by first bout of homesickness. While it only lasted for a day, it was still enough that it was front and center in my mind throughout the twenty-four hours.

There are a lot of different events that can trigger homesickness for people. For some, it’s being surrounded by people speaking an unfamiliar language. For others, its being outside of the bubble we’ve grown accustomed to, such as certain foods, TV shows, and surroundings. And probably the most common: not being able to see friends and family for extended periods of time.

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For me, homesickness came creeping in when I was online and saw photos and videos from the Homecoming football game at my alma mater. I had attended homecoming every year for the past five years, but this year, I was on the other side of the world. Even more, many of my friends would be heading back for the event and Misericordia is on a winning streak, something I never witnessed in my time living in Northeast Pennsylvania.

The homesickness was unexpected, and came over me suddenly. Even in the months leading up to my move to Korea, I didn’t experience any second thoughts or doubts, I knew I was making a good choice for myself. I was more than ready to leave Misericordia and Northeast Pennsylvania behind without a second thought. But there were times, though few, that I enjoyed being in Northeast Pennsylvania. Homecoming Weekend was one of those times.

If I learned anything from this small encounter with homesickness, it’s that it is inevitable. There will always be something, however small, that makes us miss the place we came from. But the anticipation of homesickness, knowing that it will happen, should not keep us from taking chances and pursuing new experiences. After all, it isn’t just the positive experiences that help us to grow, but the painful ones, as well.

Life in Jinju: Lights, Lights, Lights

The start of October brought me much more this year than the chilly weather I desire so badly after a hot and humid summer. In Jinju, October also means the beginning of a two week celebration: the Lantern Festival. The festival is held along the Nam River and at the Fortress, which I am lucky enough to be able to walk to in about five minutes. Lanterns depicting scenes from the Japanese Invasion of 1592, fairy tales, and popular culture are put on display throughout the grounds of the fortress and on the water. The bridges connecting the banks of the river are lined with lights, creating a dreamy, fairy tale-like experience as one walks from one side of the festival to the other. All along the sidewalks, lanterns hang overhead, lighting the way.

Along with the intricate lanterns scattered throughout the festival, festival-goers also had the opportunity to send their own lantern, along with their wishes, onto the water. These small lanterns attracted crowds of people who all filed into a tent to write out their hopes, dreams, and wishes for the upcoming year, which they afix to the lantern before taking it out to the river to watch it float down. Hannah and I got our lanterns, wrote out our wishes, and sent out lanterns down the river, side by side.

Of course, no festival would be complete without food. Venders set up along the riverbanks, selling everything from buckets of chicken and potatoes on a stick to cotton candy and watermelon juice served right in the rind. Of course, my favorite were the potatoes on a stick with chili pepper seasoning.

The festival is also a great opportunity to see some fireworks. The opening night, fireworks were sent off into the sky around 8 p.m., a perfect time considering the festival started on a Monday and Tuesday was a work day. While most fireworks are pretty universal, there were some fireworks I had not seen before back in the States. October 3 was a holiday, so in true celebratory fashion, there were more fireworks. While I did not venture out to see these ones, I was able to see them from my window. Before the festival wraps up, there will be one more night of fireworks.

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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: Haeinsa 해인사

Despite living in another country without a car and with little working knowledge of the language, I have found that it’s quite easy to venture outside of my city and explore Korea. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Haeinsa (해인사), a temple founded in the year 802 and one of the three jewel temples in South Korea. Various national treasures are enshrined inside the temple. Perhaps the most notable is the Tripitaka Koreana, which are woodcarved blocks that make up the entirety of the Buddhist texts. There are over 81,000 blocks which took 16 years to complete. The temple has housed these texts since 1398. Despite this temple holding so many precious items, it is still an active temple.

해인사 sits atop a mountain in the Gayasan National Park (가야산) about 45 minutes outside of the town of Hapcheon (합천). Getting to the temple involved taking two buses, one from Jinju to Hapcheon and one from Hapcheon to Haeinsa. Hannah and I had about three hours after arriving in Hapcheon until the next bus to Haeinsa, so we decided to explore Hapcheon, only to stumble upon a smaller temple where an active service was taking place. This temple was also on a small mountain along the river that runs through Habcheon. Sitting along the river and listening to the Buddhist chants was calming and peaceful, despite my inability to understand what was being said.

Following this short walk, we decided it would be best to get some lunch and head to the bus terminal. Hapcheon is by far the smallest place I’ve gone in Korea so far, and the options for food were limited, so we settled on instant ramen in a convenience store. Then, we were off to Haeinsa. Our bus to Haeinsa took us through winding roads and even deeper into the mountains, reminding me of various scenes from the film Okja. When we made it to our stop, the bus driver was kind enough to tell us to get off the bus with a simple English phrase “Haeinsa, get off here.” We exited the bus only to find that the temperature in the mountains was noticably cooler, which I found to be a relief after a warm walk in the sun earlier.

Walking around the temple was an experience unlike any I had before. Throughout the property, there was different sculptures and buildings, all with their own purpose and function. Many of the smaller buildings housed statues of Buddha and it seemed that people could go into the buildings to spend some time in meditation and reflection. Walking throughout these buildings, I was overwhelmed with the sense of peace that often comes with visiting somewhere so sacred.

Despite the various obstacles that Hannah and I faced in getting to Haeinsa and the bus we almost missed to get home, our trip to Haeinsa was beyond worth it. Along with deepening my understanding of the new country I call home, this trip really sparked my interest in Buddhist teachings and philosophies. It only seems fitting that I find some books on Buddhism and make plans to visit the other two jewel temples hiding in the mountains of Korea.

 

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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.