2018: The Year the Road Diverged

At the end of 2017, I wrote a reflection post after looking back on the whole year in an attempt to sum up the year into one neat, damaged, package. For the conclusion of 2018, I will attempt to do the same thing. 

2018 has been quite the year. I started the year in Clinton, NJ, celebrating the new year with my close friend Katie and her quirky family. We ate dinner at nearly 11 p.m. and watched the ball drop. In the morning, we ate Jersey bagels and I headed back to NEPA. That New Year’s Eve had been so different from any other I experienced, and looking back it was a sign of all the new and wonderful experiences that were to come.

The new year also meant studying hard for the GRE. I spent hours every day studying. I had a study plan that I followed diligently, using the various expensive study materials I had splurged on in order to really nail the $300 pre-graduate school test. By May, I felt ready to take the test. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, I received similar scores to the first time I took the test, only showing significant improvement in the one section I did not study for. These test results were crushing. Nearly every school I was looking at to pursue my PhD had high score requirements and acceptance rates under 10%. 

It was there that the path diverged. I had a choice: I could continue to live unhappily in Northeast Pennsylvania or I could make a drastic change. I loved working as an admissions counselor. Traveling was amazing and I got travel to so many places I had never been before. I even reconnected with someone from high school when I was in Arlington. We still talk to this day. 

But as much as I loved my job, I hated my life when I left work. I was lonely. My friends had graduated and moved on. The area didn’t really have much to offer me in the way of things I find fulfilling and enjoyable. I wanted to live in a city, but I didn’t know how to make that dream a reality.

So after talking with my friend about the challenges I was facing, she encouraged me to look into teaching English abroad. I had considered teaching abroad as a back-up plan if I didn’t get into graduate school, but this was the first time I had considered it as a precursor to graduate school. Even today, I could tell you exactly which table I was sitting at in the Wilkes-Barre Starbucks when I submitted my applications to recruiters to get a job in Korea.

With taking a new job also came saying goodbye to my old job. And my old life. I spent nearly two months having one last lunch, one last drink, and one last trivia night with friends across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Most of the time, it didn’t even feel real. And when it did, it’s because the tears streaming down my face were a reminder that everything was going to change.

Between the New Year and the GRE, I also made a major change in my life. I left my job with Kay Jewelers after four years of seasonal and full-time employment. The stresses of working for a company whose values did not align with my own were too draining, and I dreaded going into work to the point that I avoided the mall even when I wasn’t working. Despite the fact that the income I earned at Kay was helpful to me, the toxicity of the job was wearing me down in detrimental ways. So I left Kay and found other ways to make ends meet.

Finally, 2018 was the year I traveled. In 2018 alone, I visited three new states: Georgia, Michigan, and Vermont. I also went back to Boston and visited Ithaca for the first time. I spent time in New York City when I was getting my Visa and saw parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. I even went to Canada on a spontaneous road trip with my best friend. All of that happened before I got to Korea, where I traveled even more. And I’ll be ending my year the same way I started it: with travel. 

Overall, 2018 is the year I truly came into my own. I started to live a life that reflected the things I love and the things I value. I took a giant leap of faith, and haven’t looked back. And I’ll continue looking forward to all the amazing things to come in 2019.

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: 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.

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. 

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.