January Update: Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Doing

January has been quite a crazy month for me, and I have to admit, I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to blogging as I would have liked. Amid all the winter camp chaos and using my weekends to catch up on everything I wasn’t able to do during the week, I had to put my blog on the back burner. But I’ve learned, and now when the next camp rolls around I’ll be more prepared.

Winter Camp

The first full week of the month started Winter Camp. Planning for camp started way back in the fall, and by the end of November my lesson plans were finished. Despite having written down how camp would go, I really had no idea what to expect. I would be teaching a different level, and multiple classes a day. Even prep time was minimal throughout the day, so I spent most of December and the last week before camp making sure I had everything I needed made and ready to go.

Naturally, I was nervous about camp, as I tend to be nervous about most unpredictable circumstances, but after the first day, I was back in the groove. Teaching lower level elementary students turned out to be a lot of fun. While they were filled to the brim with energy, they also really seemed to enjoy being in class.

Each day, we read a page or two in the book I chose for the class, The Sword in the Stone. We also played large group games with the other classes, and did in-class activities, games, and crafts.

In the early evenings, I had a group of middle schoolers. These students were also a lot of fun, but it took a bit more coaxing to get them to come out of their shells. But by the end of camp, the students were having fun with the games and activities. They even surprised me on the last day with a note they all wrote little messages on for me. It was incredibly thoughtful and very kind.

So even though I spent the majority of my days at work, the last three weeks of camp have been a lot of fun and a great experience for me. I hope the students feel the same way. Come next week, it’ll be time to start thinking about the spring semester and getting a head start on planning that out.

Graduate School

Another exciting life event that happened this month is that I officially went back to school. I knew when I completed my undergraduate degree I didn’t want to wait too long to go back for my master’s degree. I hadn’t anticipated that I could complete it online, or that I would be living in Korea, but life has a way of surprising us all.

I spent a good amount of time back in September researching different online English programs in order to find the best one for me. I knew I wanted to pursue something that would equip me with the knowledge to teach at the college level and allow me to take courses in literature. I settled on a program that allows for specialization in college teaching in conjunction with literature and writing courses.

When I received my acceptance, I was incredibly excited. The thought of going back to school for a degree I wanted to pursue was satisfying. Even when I was stressed about finding my textbooks and wondering whether or not I would get them before the semester starts, I just had to keep reminding myself that it would all be worth it. And it will be. I’ve already started reading my textbooks and am frequently checking the online learning portal to see if any assignments have been posted yet. It really is a great feeling knowing I’m finally doing what I’ve wanted to do since my senior year of college.

Everything In Between

Aside from working and eagerly anticipating graduate school, I’ve also kicked off the new year with some new habits. My coworker Sam and I have been going to the gym after work every day. Living and working in a city allows me to walk everywhere, and since I live and work downtown, everything is accessible. While gyms are far more expensive in Korea, I decided the investment in my health would be worth it. I actually look forward to going to the gym at the end of the day. And that includes all those days I was at work for twelve hours.

I’ve also been working on some other projects that I’ll hopefully be announcing within the next month. So far, 2019 is turning out to be the year I finally stop dreaming and start doing all the things I’ve wanted to do for far too long.

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.

Ulsan: A Festival of Lights

Early in December, my coworker asked me if I would be interested in taking a trip to Ulsan the weekend before the new year to go to their light festival. Wanting to see more of what Korea has to offer, I quickly agreed.

So in the week leading up to our planned trip, we arranged bus times and booked an airbnb before making our way to Ulsan early Saturday morning.

We arrived in Ulsan around noon. Stepping off the bus was a great relief for me, as I never quite outgrew my tendency to suffer from motion sickness. Shortly after arriving and my stomach settled, we decided the first order of business would be to find lunch. It turned out to be quite the challenge. Sam is gluten free, and I don’t consume any meat products, which leaves very few options we can both eat in Korea. Fortunately, there was an Indian restaurant nearby, so we braced ourselves against the wind and made our way out of the bus terminal and into the downtown.

Ulsan is a much larger city in Korea, with a population of about 1.1 million, making it much larger than Jinju. Known as an industrial powerhouse in Korea, Ulsan is home to the world’s largest automobile assembly plant, owned by Hyundai. But despite being an industrial city, Ulsan definitely had a lot to offer for anyone visiting the city for a day or two.

Sam and I went to Ulsan specifically for the Light Festival, a large display of lights set up in the Ulsan Grand Park. The displays at the festival included the Zodiac, Under the Sea, Superheroes, and a large maze of lights leading to a giant Moravian-style star. Dotted throughout the festival were tents with space heaters inside, which we much needed as it was a cold December night. It took just under an hour to make our way through the entire display.

Following the festival, Sam and I went toward the University in Ulsan to find something for dinner. We found a restaurant that had a variety of soups for Sam to choose from, and French fries for me. We stayed there for hours, telling stories, drinking soju, and talking about the various things that brought us to that very moment.

When the soju was gone and it was nearly midnight, we made our way to our airbnb. The next day, we would catch a mid-morning bus back to Jinju.

Minimalism Challenge: Week Four

This week was the final week of my minimalism challenge, and I am not going to lie, I have been dragging my feet to go through this final stage of decluttering. Mostly because I’ve known since week three that I would not be able to find 220 more items to purge from my apartment, which is now the most organized, clutter-free space I have ever lived in.

With that being said, I forced myself to take inventory today, December 31, and discard any lingering items that I did not need and were taking up space in my life. Some of these things were passed over in the first three weeks, while others were things I had decided to hold onto, only to change my mind this time around.

Week Four’s Items

  • 80 sachets of tea
  • 11 aluminum food trays
  • 10 receipts
  • 5 store membership cards
  • 4 manuals
  • 2 reusable water bottles
  • 2 paper shopping bags
  • 2 cables
  • 1 empty tea jar
  • 1 paint brush
  • 1 magnet
  • 1 candle with a crushed wick
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 lighter

Week four’s total: 122 items

Minimalism Challenge Total: 386/475

Although I came up a little bit short at the end of the challenge, I still believe I have done an excellent job decluttering my apartment and minimizing my possessions. Now, everything in my apartment has a place. I don’t spend time searching for things, and I actually use the things I own. While there are still some things that remain, hidden away, I have also taken care to be mindful of the next person that will live in this apartment someday.

Not only was this minimalism challenge fun, it was also eye-opening. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but clutter is clutter. Whether it is in the form of too many pairs of shoes or a bag full of bags shoved under the kitchen sink, it still takes up space in our lives. In fact, since undergoing this challenge, I’ve been able to store things under my sink, because it’s no longer overrun by things I don’t use or need. I don’t think I’ll be able to do this challenge again any time soon, especially with my New Year’s Resolution to undergo a year without shopping, but I know that I should check in every month or so to make sure I throw away all the receipts that I have shoved into my wallet.

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.


Minimalism Challenge: Week Three

As to be expected, week three of my minimalism challenge was the hardest week yet. It’s also the week I broke open my closet and did an assessment of what I brought with me from the States, and what I have actually worn since being here. I knew before even opening the closet that there were things in there that I’ve put on, only to take off immediately in favor of something I wear more often with more confidence. 

The past weekend was a great chance for me to clean out, as my neighbor and co-worker had a clothing swap party. She was kind enough to let me join in on the fun and her guests could come over to my apartment and take the clothing and jewelry I was ready to part with. Everything that remained at the end went to the second hand shop downtown.

But clothing and jewelry wasn’t the only thing that went this time around, although that did make up a majority of the week’s clean-out. I also continued to go through my kitchen, and went into my laundry room to do a quick assessment.

Below is a list of the 133 items I cleaned out in the third week of my minimalism challenge:

  • 38 wooden skewers
  • 25 magnets
  • 21 articles of clothing
  • 19 pieces of jewelry
  • 9 nose rings
  • 3 vacation souvenirs 
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • 2 hair accessories
  • 2 small kitchen things
  • 2 bike accessories
  • 2 power adapters
  • 1 lone earring with no match
  • 1 broken pair of headphones
  • 1 small drawer unit that fell apart in my hands when I tried to move it
  • 1 sleeping bag
  • 1 small travel makeup bag
  • 1 broken Christmas ornament
  • 1 Tupperware lid I missed the first week
  • 1 empty container of fabric softener that has been empty since September

Looking around my apartment, I can see the difference the last three weeks of cleaning and decluttering has made. My space is more comfortable, cleaner, and brighter. I don’t have to shove aside things I don’t use in order to find the things I do. While I’m not sure how much further I’ll be able to go, I’m glad I made it this far.

If you’re interested in doing my minimalism challenge, or interested in the original challenge, which involves working with a partner and making a bet as to who will make it the the furthest in decluttering, comment below! Happy cleaning! 

Sleeping in Airports: Incheon

If I went back and told my teenage self that I’d be sleeping in an airport in Asia in my mid-twenties, she’d never believe me. And yet here I am at nearly 4:00 a.m. sitting in the Incheon airport waiting to go to Hong Kong after a restless two hours of sleep prior to moving through security and immigration. 

Airport security in other countries is so much less intimidating, less scary, than TSA in the United States. In fact, the whole process of moving through security seems to get easier and easier, perhaps because I am finally growing used to what needs to be done and what cannot make it past the security checkpoint in the airport. This past year, I boarded a plane six times, not including the one I will board in less than an hour. While that number may be low to some, it seems odd for a girl who didn’t set foot into an airport until she was seventeen. 

This trip to Hong Kong is my first time leaving Korea since I arrived back in August. I left from Jinju, taking an express bus to Incheon, the city, not the airport. The last bus to the airport leaves Jinju around 2:00 p.m., which seams odd considering there are multiple flights leaving the airport at 4:30 a.m. A bus leaving Jinju at Midnight would never make it in time to catch one of those early morning flights. So I took the last bus to Incheon at 6:00 p.m. and boarded the subway. I’d need to take two different trains to get to the airport, each taking approximately 30 minutes. 

The train dropped me off in the terminal and I went about trying to find the best place to sleep. As it turns out, many others were doing the extract same thing, so my mission turned from finding the best place to sleep to finding an available place to sleep.

Now, I wait to board my flight to Hong Kong, the exhaustion I feel only outweighed by the anticipation for what I will find in the streets of Hong Kong.

Adventures in Teaching: Fall Semester

I still remember my first two weeks of teaching. More specifically, I remember how much of a train wreck I felt like. I always seemed to have extra time at the end of class and I didn’t know how to explain grammar structures in a way that made sense, nor did I include enough activities that helped to reinforce everything the kids were learning. I just tell myself everyone’s first two weeks are like that.

By the end of the semester, my kids were having fun in class. We played lots of games and I finally got them to speak in full sentences, through constant reminder and lots of encouragement. We did lots of worksheets and examples on the board. I finally figured out how to use warm-ups to tie lessons together. By the time my last day of elementary class rolled around, the kids didn’t want to go home. Instead, they asked to play one last game — a spelling game — before it was time to say goodbye. I was even given thank you notes and small gifts from some students. 

I learned a lot this first semester as a teacher. The most important thing I learned is to be flexible and to always have extra activities planned. Working at Jinju Academy has given me experience with so many different age groups, including pre-school, elementary, and middle school. By far, middle school is the group that challenged me the most. In many ways, working with all these age groups will continue to help me growing as an educator who is dynamic and flexible.

But now, the fall semester is over. I’ve said all of my goodbyes to the kids, and it’s time to prepare for what comes next: Winter Camp. Then, the Spring semester will begin. 

I’m so grateful for all the ways I was able to grow in the Fall semester. Teaching is a challenging career, and I have a newfound admiration for the teachers in my life and all the teachers I had growing up. I especially admire my high school German teachers, one of whom even took the time to give me advice in teaching foreign languages back in September when I was struggling to find my footing. Teaching isn’t easy, but every day it gave me a reason to smile. 

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.

************************************************************************************

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. 

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.

IMG_1652

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.

IMG_1659

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.