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.

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.

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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

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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. 

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. 

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. 

 

Living in Korea: How I Got Here

When I first applied to teach English in South Korea I had no idea how lengthy or intense the process would be. While the first few steps went rather quickly, there were many weeks spent in waiting for one thing or another before I could move further along in the process.

If you have considered teaching English abroad, don’t become discouraged–while the process was lengthy and some steps were incredibly overwhelming, the peace that comes over you when you finally land in South Korea is incredible, and makes the entire process worth it. There’s something incredibly calming about feeling the wheels of the plane touch down and the little voice in your head whispering, You did it. You’re finally here.

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So, why Korea?

For the purposes of transparency, one of the biggest factors that led to me seeking employment abroad was a quarter-life crisis. I had spent the majority of 2017 and 2018 doing research on graduate PhD programs in English and studying for the GRE. When I took the GRE again for the second time and came out with identical scores to the first time I took it, I panicked. My scores only qualified me for two programs, programs that had acceptance rates below 10 percent. It definitely didn’t help that I really disliked the town I was living in and felt that I didn’t have the means to get out. So, in fear of getting stuck somewhere I was incredibly unhappy, I applied to some recruiters with the encouragement of one of my friends.

How I Got Here

When I began looking into teaching Korea I chose to go the route of using a recruiter rather than searching and applying directly to jobs. I applied to a few recruiting agencies, but heard back from Korvia within 24 hours about an intake interview. The next recruiter I heard back from after I already had an interview set up with a school. Since I didn’t know much about the process and didn’t really know anyone else who had taught abroad, my recruiter at Korvia helped me to navigate the entire process, from an initial intake interview where they got to know a little bit more about me to aiding me in filling out and submitting my appliation to the school where I sought (and gained!) employment. While I can’t speak to what it’s like to just apply for jobs on your own, I can say that using a recruiter made the process a lot less stressful for me.

The applications to teach in Korea are pretty lengthy and they can seem overwhelming, especially when they ask questions about your weight and how many tattoos you have. When I read that question I wondered if I should even both applying considering I have a few visible tattoos, some easier to cover than others. But after reading some blog posts and other websites, I decided to keep moving forward.

Another part of the process was putting together a video introducing myself. I watched so many videos from past and current teachers on YouTube so I would have a better idea of just what should be included in the video and how to make the best impression.

After Hiring

I still remember where I was when I got the job offer from my school. I was sitting in my office at my current job, and the first thing I did was call the two people who wrote my letters of recommendation. Then I went to my director’s office and told her about the job offer, and that I would be accepting the job offer the following day after reading over my 18 page contract. She was one of few people at Misericordia who knew I was considering taking a position overseas, and her support never wavered. I am still incredibly grateful for her support.

So after I accepted the job, I had a long list of things to do before I could leave for Korea less than three months later. First, I had to get an FBI background check, apostilles for my background check and for my college degree, copies of transcripts, and more passport photos than I could keep track of. Along with working full time and getting all the documents I needed, I also needed to finish my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification. To teach overseas, you need to complete a 120 hour online course, and some schools require a classroom component as well. I did not have to complete the classroom component, but spent countless hours completing my online course and taking many notes. I received my certification from myTEFL.com.

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Once all my documents made their way back to me, I completed my certification, and got all my passport photos taken, I sent everything off to my recruiter in Korea. Not long after, I received my Visa Confirmation Number and made my way to New York City. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to live close enough to the consulate in New York, so I took a bus in to apply for my visa. The following week, I returned by train and picked up my passport. I would leave for Korea in just under three weeks, so having my passport back was a huge relief. My flights were booked, my bags were packed, I said goodbye to my friends and coworkers at Misericordia, and I had moved out of my first apartment and spent a few weeks visiting family and friends back home. It was finally time to go to Korea.

If you are considering teaching English abroad, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have and point you in the direction of resources I used regularly before coming to Korea.

 

Life in Jinju: My First Month

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve been in Korea for an entire month. I waited months that felt like an eternity for the day I would board my flight to get here, and now an entire month has passed since my plane touched down in Incheon.

Reflecting on this past month, I’ve noticed that for the first time in quite a while, I feel truly happy and at peace with where I am. After years of unrest and discontent, this change in demeaner is a welcome change. When I think about my future, the door is wide open with possibility, and I no longer feel trapped in a place I have no business being (looking at you, Wilkes Barre). Perhaps this happiness is simply me living through the honeymoon phase that comes with moving somewhere new, or perhaps it is the overwhelming relief that comes with finally leaving somewhere I was desparate to escape. Either way, I hope this peace has come to stay.

And while I could say that every day has been a constant high, that would be a lie. There are moments where I feel overwhelmed and moments that are mundane, but such is life. But as I sit in a coffee shop, sipping an iced vanilla latte, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of life, I know that I am in the right place. I’ve met so many incredible people who come from all walks of life, but we all have one thing in common: we left the comfort of our home countries to come to Korea in search of something more. Not all of us are searching for the same thing, and I don’t know that all of us will find what we are looking for, but I know that this journey has brought us together.

As I continue through this period of my life, I’m sure I will be met with surprises, obstacles, hardships, and overwhelming joy. I can’t wait to see what my second month in Korea brings.

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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. 

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.