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: 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.

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

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.

20170601_162736

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.

20170602_150045

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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: Haeinsa 해인사

Despite living in another country without a car and with little working knowledge of the language, I have found that it’s quite easy to venture outside of my city and explore Korea. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Haeinsa (해인사), a temple founded in the year 802 and one of the three jewel temples in South Korea. Various national treasures are enshrined inside the temple. Perhaps the most notable is the Tripitaka Koreana, which are woodcarved blocks that make up the entirety of the Buddhist texts. There are over 81,000 blocks which took 16 years to complete. The temple has housed these texts since 1398. Despite this temple holding so many precious items, it is still an active temple.

해인사 sits atop a mountain in the Gayasan National Park (가야산) about 45 minutes outside of the town of Hapcheon (합천). Getting to the temple involved taking two buses, one from Jinju to Hapcheon and one from Hapcheon to Haeinsa. Hannah and I had about three hours after arriving in Hapcheon until the next bus to Haeinsa, so we decided to explore Hapcheon, only to stumble upon a smaller temple where an active service was taking place. This temple was also on a small mountain along the river that runs through Habcheon. Sitting along the river and listening to the Buddhist chants was calming and peaceful, despite my inability to understand what was being said.

Following this short walk, we decided it would be best to get some lunch and head to the bus terminal. Hapcheon is by far the smallest place I’ve gone in Korea so far, and the options for food were limited, so we settled on instant ramen in a convenience store. Then, we were off to Haeinsa. Our bus to Haeinsa took us through winding roads and even deeper into the mountains, reminding me of various scenes from the film Okja. When we made it to our stop, the bus driver was kind enough to tell us to get off the bus with a simple English phrase “Haeinsa, get off here.” We exited the bus only to find that the temperature in the mountains was noticably cooler, which I found to be a relief after a warm walk in the sun earlier.

Walking around the temple was an experience unlike any I had before. Throughout the property, there was different sculptures and buildings, all with their own purpose and function. Many of the smaller buildings housed statues of Buddha and it seemed that people could go into the buildings to spend some time in meditation and reflection. Walking throughout these buildings, I was overwhelmed with the sense of peace that often comes with visiting somewhere so sacred.

Despite the various obstacles that Hannah and I faced in getting to Haeinsa and the bus we almost missed to get home, our trip to Haeinsa was beyond worth it. Along with deepening my understanding of the new country I call home, this trip really sparked my interest in Buddhist teachings and philosophies. It only seems fitting that I find some books on Buddhism and make plans to visit the other two jewel temples hiding in the mountains of Korea.

 

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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. 

Adventures in Teaching: My first two weeks as an educator

After two weeks of teaching, all I have to say is that teaching is hard. Quite possibly, it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done. I tried not to kid myself going into it; I knew that my babysitting experience and time as a tutor for other college students would pale in comparison to what it was like to stand in front of a classroom full of children who have a limited working knowledge of the English language. While I knew what my experience wouldn’t be, I didn’t really have expectations for what it would be.

So far, teaching has been a learning experience, probably more for me than for the kids. Every day, I’m challenging myself in new ways to get into a different headspace. My first task as a teacher was making lesson plans for the first week of class. My perception of time has never been great, but the entire first week, I found myself with extra time at the end of lessons, at a loss for what to do next, which usually just resulted in rushed games of hangman and pictionary. I like to think that over the last two weeks I have gotten better at predicting how long activities and lessons will take, but it isn’t an exact science.

Another area I’ve been struggling with as an educator is determining what it appropriate for each age group. At my academy, I teach elementary and middle school students. What works well with one group obviously doesn’t work well with the other, so getting in the right mindset to make lessons for each one is difficult. It seems like finding the right balance between instructional time, learning reinforcement, and fun activities to really help the concepts stick is another area where there isn’t an exact science. While one grammar lesson may take 15 minutes to present, another may take 25 minutes.

One moment that sticks out in my memory from my first week as a teacher is the day I realized that some of the words I use regularly are not words my kids are familiar with. I was teaching a grammar lesson and as a part of a comprehension check, I asked “does everyone understand or is this confusing?” I got a lot of blank stares and eventually one kid asked “what is confusing?” My response was, “I don’t know, I need you to tell me what’s confusing.” That went on for a while before my co-teacher told me that the kids were asking what the word “confusing” means, not that they were confused with the lesson. Talk about an embarrassing but enlightening moment.

While teaching hasn’t been easy, I like to think I have gotten better with each lesson. My understanding of what my kids know and how to present new information to them has improved. It’s so rewarding when a concept clicks for the kids or when they come into class with smiles on their faces ready for a new lesson. As a teacher, I’ve seen each day as a new opportunity to stretch myself and grow in my new role, and as a chance to make a lasting impact on the kids I work with. Each one of them is so dynamic and eager; I am so grateful for the opportunity to educate them, and I am excited to see how far we all come by the end of this semester.

Traveling Korea: Suncheon 순천

Chuseok is a Korean holiday that most western websites describe as “Korean Thanksgiving,” as it is a celebration of the Harvest and a time when the younger generations leave their homes in the city to visit their families in the countryside. This extended holiday meant that I got a five-day weekend, which presented itself as the perfect opportunity for me to venture outside of Jinju and explore more of Korea.

IMG_1187

I had planned on camping over Chuseok, but ended up getting a sinus infection just a few days before the trip, so instead, I turned to Google to find some day trips near where I live. After quite a bit of searching and multiple suggestions from other people, I settled on going to Suncheon ‎(순천). I was drawn to Suncheon’s Wetland Reserve area. The photos of the reed fields captivated me, and I wanted to see it for itself. I think in a way, it reminded me of the landscape where I grew up: natural beauty just beyond the edge of a city. After doing more research, I pinned down some prices and found out that along with getting into the Reserve, my ticket for the hike would also include a trip over to the National Garden. Between the hike and the garden, I had a full day planned.

So I scoured bus time tables and packed up my backpack, ready to hop on the bus at 9:20 the following morning. Looking at my map, the bus station looked closer than it was, but something pushed me out the door at 8:00 that morning, and I made it with time to spare. That time to spare was used jumping from window to window to buy my ticket because I wasn’t pronouncing the name of the city perfectly, but in the end I did get my ticket because I had written down where I was going in Hangul that morning and was able to show it to the woman at the bus station.

After I arrived in Suncheon, I spent the next hour waiting for another bus. It wouldn’t have been so long had I not questioned if I was at the right bus stop and walked to another one, only to miss the bus I was supposed to be on. But when the bus finally came back through, I was on my way to the Wetland Reserves.

The Reserves were even more beautiful that the photos. The walk through the reed field was peaceful, the sound of wind rustling through the tall reeds while crabs scurried around on the ground below the walkway. The journey through the reeds was a few kilometers, leading to a winding path up a mountain. From each overlook, you could see the reed fields, rice paddies, and wetlands. I even got to talk to some people along the way. A nice older woman asked me where I was from and if I was traveling alone. When I told her I was a teacher in Jinju, she got incredibly excited. Throughout the day, people would continue to ask me where I was from and share a friendly smile.

After making my way through the Wetland Reserves and sucking down an iced Americano while I charged my nearly dead phone, I boarded another bus to the National Gardens. Although a lot of the flowers were no longer blooming and boasted only their deep green leaves, it was still something to behold. Each section of the garden was dedicated to specific plants–some by type, others by the kind of garden you would find them in, and some by the region of the world where they came from. The gardens spread out in all directions, and after a long day of walking on my blistered feet, I did not get to venture through the whole garden, but I am determined to go back in late spring.

While I was nervous to venture outside of Jinju on my own, I’m glad I found my way to such a beautiful part of the country. It won’t be long now before I hop on another bus and journey somewhere else.

 

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

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.

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.