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.

Life in Jinju: Four Months

And just like that, four months has gone by. I can still remember sitting in the exact spot I am now writing my three month reflection post, amazed that three months had gone by so quickly. I’ve heard people say that the passage of time accelerates as you get older, and I am starting to believe that this statement is true.

Hong Kong

December was an eventful month, full of excitement, friendship, and travel. For those of you who regularly read my blog, you know that I went to Hong Kong this month, visiting Disneyland, Victoria Peak, and various other attractions around Tsim Sha Tsui where I stayed. This trip was the first time I left Korea since arriving at the end of August.

Traveling to Hong Kong helped me to become even more confident as a solo female traveler. Even though I had to sleep in an airport, and even though I almost missed the last bus to Jinju after my flight landed, everything worked out perfectly. It took me a few days to recover from the two hours of sleep I got in the airport and then the late night I had after returning from Hong Kong, but the trip was revitalizing.

New Habits

I also took on a lot of challenges this month, the biggest one being my one month minimalism challenge, where I decluttered hundreds of objects from my apartment. Now, I feel more energized and less overwhelmed. Everything I own has a place and a purpose. Plus, having a nice, organized, and minimized apartment is a great way to kick off the new year.

Along with cleaning house, I also took on some new habits in December. I started doing yoga again, beginning before I left for Hong Kong and immediately picking back up when I returned home. It’s been a great way for me to end my day, or kick of my Saturday mornings. Although its only been a few weeks, I can feel my balance improving and my confidence improving. So shout out to Adrienne over at Yoga with Adrienne for being an awesome resource for at home yoga.

I’ve also abandoned my horrible habit of leaving unwashed dishes in the sink for days. It takes a lot less time to just was a dish after using it than it takes to wash the 12 I let pile up in the sink over time. By always washing my dishes when I make them, I’ve had more time to read, journal, and write. Not only that, but my pots and pans are always clean when I go to cook something, which is definitely a plus.

New Experiences

Finally, December brought about some new experiences right here in Jinju. The first experience was spending Christmas away from home for the first time ever. While Thanksgiving kicked off the holidays away from home, Christmas has definitely always been more of a gathering holiday for me than Thanksgiving. I woke up early and started my day by FaceTiming with my parents in Virginia, my sister in Pennsylvania, my brother in Oklahoma, and my Nana, who was hosting Christmas Eve dinner, in Pennsylvania. I spent the rest of the day with the friends I have made here, eating, drinking, and being merry.

Another new experience I had this month was getting acupuncture for my back pain. Although I’m still unnerved from the whole experience, at least I can say it is something I have tried in my life.

December has been another good month, one that went by far too quickly. I will spend the last weekend of December in Ulsan with my friend, visiting the city for its Light Festival. And then, before I can even wrap my head around it, 2019 will be here, and a new year will start all over again.


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.

Jirisan

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. 

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. 

 

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. 

 

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. 

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: 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.