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.

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.

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. 

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.

 

 

A Day on the Farm

Back in July, I had the opportunity to visit my friend Blyss in Ithaca, New York where she is doing summer research with the Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University. Knowing I didn’t have much time left to spend with her, I took the short road trip for the weekend and had an amazing time.

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Blyss is one of my absolute best friends. She’s is cool, compassionate, and has a deep concern for the environment and living things, which is the thing that really forged out best friend bond. So when I visited her, it was only natural that we would journey to the local farm animal sanctuary a few towns over. Originally, we had planned to go hiking and swimming at Watkins Glen, but a few quick Google searches told us that there was also a sanctuary in that area, which is something we had wanted to do together for quite some time.

Farm Sanctuary encompasses 271 acres and is home to over 500 farm animals, all rescued from a life of pain and suffering. Most days, you can take a tour of the farm, led by one of their guides. The tour includes seeing cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and goats, all of which have their own unique personalities.

 

Even though it was a scorching hot day, Blyss and I loved every moment we spent on the farm. The animals brightened my day, and reminded me of all the reasons I decided to stop consuming meat and animal products. Even on the days it seems hard, the days I am craving cheese like you would not believe, and on the days I go to a restaurant and the only thing I can eat are french fries, it is worth it. Like people, animals can experience a wide range of emotions– but when they are living in the conditions prevalent in agribusiness, these beautiful creatures feel limited emotions– fear, anxiety, apprehension, and pain. By spending an afternoon with these animals, I was reassured that all the challenges of eating vegan are beyond worth it.

Goodbye to you, MU

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of leaving my job as an admissions counselor at my alma mater was the realization that I was not just leaving a job, but a place I cared about and felt deeply attached to. Now, don’t get me wrong, I definitely felt out of place living in Northeast Pennsylvania, but MU was my home for nearly five years. Those five years were filled with laughter, love, tears, friendship, heartbreak, stress, and accomplishments that formed me into the young woman that I am. So when it came time to finally say goodbye in order to move on to a new job in South Korea, I was full of conflicting emotions– excitement for the future, and sadness for what I would be leaving behind.IMG_6052

I spent days writing goodbye cards to everyone at the university who had a positive impact on me. Some were easier to write than others. Some resulted in me sobbing in my office. But I knew that the hardest goodbyes were not really goodbye, but see you later. Cliche, I know, but cliches serve their purpose, and in this case their purpose is to make a transition easier.

Working as an admissions counselor, representing a place I loved so much, was a wonderful experience. The people I worked with helped me to grow as a professional and as a person. I am so grateful that I had to opportunity to give back to a place I love, and I put my heart into every interaction I had with a prospective student. I hope that the students I helped bring into the university love it as much as I do, and I hope that they are able to build the same impactful relationships I have.

It feels strange to be moving on to my second career at the age of 23, but it also feels incredibly right. My life in NEPA felt too small, too restrictive, like a pair of jeans that no longer fit. When you no longer fit in a place, trust your gut, and take a leap. Saying goodbye is never easy, but if you wait until you are ready, you’ll never go.