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. 

The Most Valuable Thing You Own

Last year for Christmas, my friend Hannah got me one of those prompted journals where you answer one question every day, for five years. The idea is that you write every day, and see how you grow and change over time. One question for the month of October that really made me stop and think asked What is the most valuable thing you own. This question stopped me in my tracks because I have been thinking about the value of material objects ever since I watched the documentary from the Minimalists back in February.

As I sat looking around my apartment, I thought about all the things I rid my life of before moving to Korea. I tried to put a value on the things I brought with me, but I just kept thinking about what it took to get to where I was. The weeks I spent cleaning out my apartment were agonizing, not because letting go of things is hard, but because realizing just how much I let things pile up in my life was a hard pill to swallow. Letting go of so many of my material possessions was freeing. I imagine that many people feel that freedom when they stop putting stock in the things they own and start measuring their life by how much they’ve lived.

So I sat on the question. I thought about what mattered in my life, and about the concept of ownership. Yes, I own things, but my things are not a reflection of the life I have lived. I thought about my experiences, my memories, and my own personal journey toward fulfillment. In many ways, I believe I own those things more than anything in my apartment, because those things can never truly belong to someone else. I can share my experiences and tell my stories, but they will never truly belong to anyone other than me.

 

Traveling Korea: Andong (안동) & Pohang (포항)

On a sunny October weekend, I was lucky enough to take a trip to two new places in South Korea, Andong and Pohang. The trip was an overnight adventure planned out and taken by my school, so on a cold Saturday morning, I boarded a large travel bus full of students and those who work in the offices downstairs and headed to Andong, a small city about three hours away from Jinju.20170601_130817

Andong is located in the North Gyeongsang province in Korea, and is a cultural center in the country. One of the famous places in Andong is the Hahoe Folk Village, a traditional folk village located just outside of the city. Andong is also famous for its traditional folk masks, which were abundant in the folk village. In fact, part of the trip was making our own masks in the village! After completing the masks, we were given time to walk through the village before heading to lunch. After lunch, it was time to get back on the bus and head to our next destination: a Confucian temple. If I haven’t made it clear, I have a fascination with temples and Eastern philosophies, so I was happy I got to see another temple. The final stop in Andong was the Woryeonggyo Bridge, the longest wooden footbridge in Korea. The bridge was definitely a beautiful part of Andong and a great opportunity to take some photos.

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Following our excursion to the bridge, it was time to head toward our hotel in the city of Pohang. We drove for over an hour, stopping off to eat dinner. The food at this restaurant was fantastic. The cook prepared me a vegetarian-friendly soup with a spicy broth, plenty of veggies, noodles, and tofu. After dinner, it was time to get back on the bus and drive to the hotel. This was my first overnight stay somewhere other than Jinju since arriving, and I was curious to see what the hotel would be like. My room reminded me of the rooms I stayed in night after night as an admissions counselor when I went from one Hilton brand hotel to another.

After settling into the hotel, myself and the others set out to find a cafe, finding a cute place down the road with an outdoor seating area on the roof. It was the perfect place to have a latte and get some writing done.

In the morning, we boarded the bus once again and went for a hike. The views were spectacular and the weather was sunny and cool. At the base of the trailhead was another Temple (woo!) and a small festival. It was a great way to spend the morning. The afternoon was spent beside the ocean at the Homigot (호미곶). 20170602_150743They’re in the shape of two hands, one on land and one in the sea and symbolize the coexistence of humankind. It was an incredible afternoon and my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean. Being able to touch the Pacific Ocean may not seem significant to many, but to be able to see and feel something that always felt so far away was significant for me. I feel that my moments spent next to the ocean were symbolic of just how far I have come, and that I am coexisting in a new way.

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Every opportunity I have to travel Korea reinforces just how at peace I feel in making the decision to come here. Those who took the same journey told me how transformative this year would be for me, and I feel myself changing slowly and in small ways every day. I can’t wait to see what the rest of Korea has in store for me as I continue my travels in this amazing country I now call home.

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Traveling Korea is a series of posts about my various trips outside of Jinju. All posts on these travels can be found under the tag #travelingkorea.

Without Roots

I think it is inevitable that as we grow, we always believe the people and places we love will grow with us. I think back to 2015, a year full of authentic optimism, a year when I truly believed I could and would call the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania my home forever.

Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at my own naivety, my lack of foresight for how drastically my life would change.

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Waking up on the cold February morning, I felt as though I were being suffocated. The walls closed in around me, pressing ever closer as the mountains began to push in on the edges of the valley where I found myself.

No.

That was only me. Growing, breaking through the bounds placed on me by this place. I knew I could not stay. There is no outlook for that life, no imaginary future that comes to mind. Only the image of a life lived far beyond the mountains here.

I can always feel it, when I’ve outgrown a place. The weight of isolation pushes down on my chest, forcing every breath, each step labored.

I often wonder if anyone else feels this discontent, or if I am alone in it. I wonder if we all outgrow the places we have been, but perhaps some people choose to stay, despite the weight. The weight is just something they become accustomed to carrying.

Or perhaps some people are truly happy where they are. Only some of us are predisposed to a restlessness that keeps us from rooting, from remaining planted.

Across the Sea

When you think about the most important people in your life, friends and family, is there anyone you would cross the ocean for? Is there anyone who would cross the ocean for you?

20170602_232348Traveling around the world to see someone is not an easy task. It takes planning, acquiring time off, and booking a flight, which gets quite pricy when it comes to international travel with multiple layovers that lead to about twenty-four hours of travel time. It’s almost unreasonable to expect someone to go through so much, to dedicate the time and commitment to such a huge trip, yet one of my best friends did just that.

When I found out I would be moving to South Korea, my friend Hannah almost immediately started planning her trip to come visit. She already had a passport, plenty of available vacation time, and a desire to come see Korea. All she had to do was budget and make sure she could swing such a large trip nine months before her wedding. But an extra shift here and an extra shift there made it possible.

IMG_5270Seeing a familiar face from home after living in another country for a month was nice. Having someone to share my experiences with, to sit on the roof with, to hug, to laugh with, and to share the highs and lows with, face to face, was more than I could have asked for.

So while it may be a long time before I sit in a cafe sipping hot chocolate with a childhood friend again, I will carry the memories of Hannah’s visit with me, a reminder that yes, I do have someone who would cross oceans for me.

Homesick for Homecoming

After almost six weeks of living in Korea, I experienced by first bout of homesickness. While it only lasted for a day, it was still enough that it was front and center in my mind throughout the twenty-four hours.

There are a lot of different events that can trigger homesickness for people. For some, it’s being surrounded by people speaking an unfamiliar language. For others, its being outside of the bubble we’ve grown accustomed to, such as certain foods, TV shows, and surroundings. And probably the most common: not being able to see friends and family for extended periods of time.

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For me, homesickness came creeping in when I was online and saw photos and videos from the Homecoming football game at my alma mater. I had attended homecoming every year for the past five years, but this year, I was on the other side of the world. Even more, many of my friends would be heading back for the event and Misericordia is on a winning streak, something I never witnessed in my time living in Northeast Pennsylvania.

The homesickness was unexpected, and came over me suddenly. Even in the months leading up to my move to Korea, I didn’t experience any second thoughts or doubts, I knew I was making a good choice for myself. I was more than ready to leave Misericordia and Northeast Pennsylvania behind without a second thought. But there were times, though few, that I enjoyed being in Northeast Pennsylvania. Homecoming Weekend was one of those times.

If I learned anything from this small encounter with homesickness, it’s that it is inevitable. There will always be something, however small, that makes us miss the place we came from. But the anticipation of homesickness, knowing that it will happen, should not keep us from taking chances and pursuing new experiences. After all, it isn’t just the positive experiences that help us to grow, but the painful ones, as well.

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. 

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.