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Posts Tagged ‘expat’

As our time in Korea comes to a close, I decided to honor our profession and our experience abroad with the ABC’s of being an expat teacher in this great peninsula!

A is for Anju, the most amazing drinking concept since beer pong. Never give into a late-night urge for drunchies when you have endless amounts of everything from peanuts and french fries to nachos and rice snacks coming to your table with the beer.

Runner-up: Ajumma

B is for beondegi, the most wretched stench/snack combination ever concocted. Let’s take silk worm pupa, boil them until crunchy and putrid, then serve them with beer! Um… let’s not. Barf.

Runners-up: bibimbap, Busan

C is for Cheonbukdae, where throngs of hip youngsters gather to drink, dance and be merry on the weekends. It is also home to Pick It Pack It, the best burger in the ‘Ju!

D is for dakgalbi — the cheesy, noodley, oh-so-naughty Korean dish that is so comforting and homey that I had to try to recreate it at home!

Runner-up: Deepin and Deepinto

E is for E-Mart, since we couldn’t have survived without this mega-store around the corner.

F is for fan death. There isn’t anything better than an isolated population believing that you could die from leaving a fan on inside of a room and shutting the door. It will suck out all of the oxygen! Or wait… no, no it won’t.

Runner-up: Football

G is for gamjatang, the spicy pork-back soup that takes you straight into the home of (someone’s) Korean grandmother as she slowly stirs the pot, adding spices just so and making the most perfect bowl of stew you could ever dream up. BEST Korean food. Hands down.

Runner-up: Gaegogi

H is for holidays — from the traditional American ones (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day) to the special Korean days (Chu Seok, Solnal, Pepero Day) where we got a taste of real Korean tradition. A rare and wonderful experience.

I is for Itaewon, the “America” away from home and the only place to find hunger-satisfying foreign food, a multi-cultural community and normal-sized clothing all in one place.

J is for Jeonju, forever my home away from home.

K is for kimchi, the national dish of Korea and the star in culinary delights such as kimchi jjigae and kimchi bokumbap!

Runner-up: K-Pop (aka pure musical gold)

L is for Little River Day School, where I had the pleasure of working this past year — it brought me good friends, great memories and taught me a thing or two about teaching (patience. lots of patience.)

M is for the annual Mud Festival in Boryeong! From the rain and the endless amount of mud slides and pits, to the shower-less hotel and the amazing sea food, our experience at this yearly foreigner fun fest was one to remember!

N is for Norebang. Private karaoke room + friends + 24 hours + endless beer and snacks = best time ever. Done.

O is for octopus! I’ve never eaten so much of the sea creatures as I have in Korea — from live and wriggling to boiled nicely in a pan, I can say that I will never eat so much octopus again. Trust.

P is for Pizza School, the one place we could run away to and forget we had limited access to all of the foods we were craving — well, we could forget if we ignored pictures of things like sweet potato paste, corn, hot dogs and crumbled tortilla chips and other blasphemous toppings on the various pizzas.

Runner-up: Pizza Maru

Q is for Quiznos, which saved me from sliding into a deep sandwich-less depression over the past year. Every time we went to Seoul, this little gem was on the itinerary, pumping life into me with every bite of the Italian-style sub. Nom nom.

R is for Radio Star, the rockin’ live music venue that has hosted a multitude of awesome bands, kick-ass parties, fundraisers and general debauchery.

S is for sonsaengniiiim, the never-ending cry for (usually Korean) teachers heard by English hagwon workers around the country. So much for not speaking Korean in the class.

Runner-up: Samgyeupsal

T is for Trailer Park Boys, which is (thanks to our good friend Chris) one of our new favorite shows. You’ll never be the same after you experience the hilarity that is these guys from Nova Scotia (especially if you have real Nova Scotians to compare them to)

U is for the Ulsan Cup 2010, one of the best weekends I had during this experience. Me and my girlfriends (the cheerleaders) spent two days rooting, burger-ing and (trying to) cartwheel as the men of JUFC kicked their way to football victory — without ever conceding a goal!

V is for V-Day, the anti-violence campaign that I, along with other committee members, donated time and energy into from October to April, culminating in performances of one of Eve Ensler’s amazing collection of monologues, and a kick-ass concert.

W is for Wa Bar, our (ex) watering hole where we spent many a night icing each other, playing rounds of kings cup and cheering on the USA team in the World Cup — all while enjoying free baskets of french fries. R.I.P. Seoshin-dong location.

Runner-up: waygook

X is for xenophobia, the interesting phenomenon that I’ve experienced here. In America, people fight to stand out the most, while being “different” is generally shunned and avoided in Korean culture.

Y is for the year that I’ve been away. The longest I’ve ever been away from home, the time it took to build a new home here in Korea, and one of the scariest/best/awe-inspiring years of my life. I’ve grown so much and am going back a better person because of it!

Z is for zero, the number of regrets I have about leaving my life in the States to try my hand at being a teacher. With my best friend/boyfriend by my side, we made a lot of great memories.

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How has it been six months? Each week is slipping by more quickly than the one before it. We are so settled in our routine, moments of novelty in this captivating country have become more few and far between. It is home.

When we first arrived here in April, I was sure that this experience would affect me in a profound way — even if I wasn’t sure how it would just yet. Six months in… and honestly, I don’t feel too much different. Same interests, same clothes, same hair, same general life views. Same best friends. Same family I miss all the time. Same love and affection for my Boy. A slightly better understanding and appreciation of Korean culture and cuisine, but if that weren’t true I should literally just go home right now.

Same person… minus a huge, unrelenting mountain of stress that I never knew I carried until settling into my new life here.

The stress — this giant mass, which boiled over my body, suffocated my spirit with “what ifs,” and poisoned me with doubt. I was so trapped and didn’t know it until the toxic weight was lifted. Just…gone. Soothed. Quieted by reassurance in myself. The person I am, and already was when I came here.

There are two massive differences between my life in Jeonju and my life at home (other than finally living with the Boy, which has been magical). One — I make more than enough money than I could possibly spend each month, thus allowing me to pay down debt and put away a nest egg for the future (or a Christmas trip to Thailand, whatevs). Two — other than my better half, I am quite alone. Friends and family are an arm’s stretch away, and despite how amazing modern technology is, no Skype session will ever be quite enough when all you need want is to hug your mom. Here, I have been forced to rely on myself during times where I would normally turn to someone else for guidance — situation-imposed self-reliance, if you will.

This kind of independence is new for me. Although I am a self-sufficient twenty-five year old, I have always been quite a social creature. Even when I lived alone in L.A. I made sure to see my sister, friends and Boy as much as possible. My life used to be full of distractions to fill up my empty time — most specifically, a whole lot of electronic gadgets to make it so my free time wasn’t spent just being. My BlackBerry was glued to my hand, as was the Tivo remote, and I never left home without my MacBook. I was always one click away from someone.

Since being forced to fill my time in different ways, I have grown more introspective. Quiet. I allow myself to think about things, daydream for an hour on the couch, get lost in a book, or just take a walk for an hour on my lunch break. Unsurprisingly, shutting myself off from the millions of distractions has allowed me creative room to write again. I never wrote for fun anymore in Los Angeles — here, I’ll think something over and over again while in bed until I drive myself so crazy that I need to get up and write it down that instant. The blog has certainly been a good outlet for me.

I’ve also learned that it is easier to see your world with focused eyes when you step away from it, and as cliched as it may sound, it really allows you to realize how trivial some things really are. No more tossing and turning, going over and over the daily concerns in my head. It is hard, and damaging and utterly pointless. So what if I didn’t have the most money or those shoes or that apartment or the invite to that party? So the fuck what?

I’ve ridden out the waves of self-doubt to a calm acceptance — and appreciation — of the person I am. What my life is, at this moment. And funnily enough, it was when I forced myself to stop looking for greener grass on the other side that I finally realized how truly blessed I am. I like me. The me I am now, not the person I will be when I have everyething on my checklist.  I have the best family. My friends and I are as thick as thieves. I’ve found my soulmate. I am in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure full of culture and fascinating friends and art and exotic things I never even knew to dream about. I am exactly where I want to be.

So I try to hold on to that. Smile I catch students gossiping with their besties. Stop mid-walk and inhale the autumn air. Sip strong coffee slowly. People watch. Those moments are so rare when I am so present and aware that I can absorb it all in the blink of an eye. Appreciate the small stuff when I’m fortunate enough to remember to. I feel the same, but my eyes have opened just a little bit wider.

There will always be moments of anxiety, sleepless nights — times when the “have nots” seem to overwhelm. Our biggest challenge is accepting that. Instead of kicking, screaming and fighting the uncertainty, I try to ride it out. Let myself feel it, then move on. The feeling always passes when I am once again reminded of how amazing my life is. Even when I struggle, knowing that things will be Okay soon is the best I can do for me.

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After months of waiting, the 2010 Boryeong Mud Festival — Korea’s answer to Spring Break —  finally arrived last weekend. Ev, Smiley, Matt, Kristie and I hopped on a bus early Saturday morning, ready for our dirty weekend.

It is tradition for it to rain at the festival, and this year proved to be no exception. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts across the street from the bus terminal in Jeonju, and I really wanted a cup of black coffee. Usually, we drink instant coffee — the real stuff you need to get in coffee shops. I made the mistake of ordering an Espresso instead of an Americano, and ended up with this:

No matter though — Evan and I listened to mellow music during our hour-and-a-half bus ride to Daechon Beach, drifting in and out of sleep.

When we arrived to the “bus station” — an outdoor shack with a convenience store and a tin roof — it was pouring outside. Really spitting it down. Not wanting to be foiled by the weather, Ev and I threw on our ponchos we got for Fuji Rock (thanks Mom and Dad!) and braved the rain, while the others struggled with umbrellas. We may have looked like blue whales, but we stayed dry!

Despite the rain, the festival was already going off by the time we arrived. We finally managed to flag a cab, who took us to our hotel — booked by our friend Chris’ Korean girlfriend, Ja Yeon. Our room wasn’t ready, so we — backpacks, ponchos and all — went hunting for a proper lunch.

We found the perfect place a couple blocks from our hotel. Within a half-hour we were warm, somewhat dry, sipping on various fruit juices and munching on delicious fried chicken. Normally, you don’t get side dishes with chicken here, but they brought us a bowl of fresh toast — with whipped cream to top it with! Odd, but the creamy/crunchy combination really worked.

Once lunch was over, we finally got into our hotel room, changed into our swimwear, and tossed back some Hite, Cass and Soju while playing card games. After wetting our whistles, we put on cheapo ponchos we picked up at GS Mart and headed for the beach!

One end of Daechon was picturesque, simply beautiful.

The other end looked like Spring Break in Cancun — and we could not wait to join the party! We hurried over to the festival, which was full of mud pits, mud slides, mud art installations — basically everything mud-related you could think of — and lots of people.

The festival even has mascots — these people who had “mud faces” on. Annnd they looked a lot like black face. Eesh.

After jumping in a mud pit, we headed toward a huge water slide. Naturally, we decided to race in pairs up to the top. Smiley beat out Mike, and I, of course, beat Evan to the top. He hurried past me in the beginning, then slipped and fell the whole way down. Slow and steady wins the race people!

Next, we headed to the mud prison. In jail, people literally hose you down with mud. We went from sprinkled with mud to absolutely drenched. It was fantastic.

We weren’t the only ones soaked. When we headed to the GS Mart on-site, the line was out the door and the store was literally covered in mud from its inebriated patrons. At least they must have made a ton of money to cover clean up expenses!

We met up with our buddies Mark and Hae Yeon, who were still clean. Naturally, they had to be dirtied up to fit in with the masses!

We stayed at the beach until the sun began to set. We all headed back to the hotel to shower, tired and happy, only to find that the water in the room stopped working after one shower. Just one. So Mike and Evan haggled with the hotel owner, who eventually gave us all our money back and W10,000 extra. Mike and Hae Yeon helped us book a room at their hotel, which worked out perfectly because it was about a million times nicer than our original one.

After we washed up and changed, we headed out toward the beach for a dinner of seafood and sam gyeupsal. They were shooting off fireworks down there, and crowds of people huddled under umbrellas to watch.

The beach boardwalk was bustling with out-of-towners looking for fun. We gobbled up dinner — which was excellent — then had a beer before turning in for the night.

All in all, a top-notch weekend. :)

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Twelve weeks have now passed since Evan and I said goodbye to our family, friends and lives in the States to begin our journey in Korea.

I am simultaneously shocked at how quickly time has passed, and feel like I’ve been here in this life for years. Each day’s activities have become etched into a comfortable pattern, filled with school, kids, food, working out, friends, and nightlife. I feel so blessed to have this life, and we grow closer every day because of our expatriate situation.

My life has done a complete 180. In the City of Angels, I’d wake up at 6 AM (before that, 4 AM), already thinking of the tasks ahead of me at work. My days were filled with meetings and crazy deadlines, and my fast-paced job — which I did love — was one I could not ever turn away from. There was no shutting off the BlackBerry, no stopping the e-mails. At times I miss the writing and deadlines, but I never miss the stress of realizing I’ve forgotten my phone, or toting my beloved Mac Book from place to place.

I have discovered a tranquility here that I haven’t felt in a long time. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares about dropping the ball on assignments, but dream about people and places I love from home. I open my eyes next to my favorite person every morning, spend my days talking to and playing with children and my evenings cooking, eating, running and talking. When I’m lucky I squeeze in reading and writing.

As a writer, I feel like being in a new place with new experiences and a new perspective has gotten me out of the rut I’ve been in for awhile — it is hard to feel creative motivation when you’re writing for a living! I’ve been trying to set aside time to devote completely to writing. My inspiration is coming back :)

I miss home like crazy, but I know when I go back it will be as a person a bit closer to who I want to be because of this journey.

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Today marks the end of our second month living as expats in Korea, and I am shocked at how quickly time has passed in our new home.

Sometimes it feels like we have been away from our friends, family and American culture for a lifetime, but those are the rare, dark days filled with pangs of homesickness and and overwhelming urges to be “at home.” Most of the time, I am happy and content in our new life — our cozy apartment is home, and we belong to this community.

As I lay here lazily in bed, thinking up a grocery list and planning on which corner of the apartment to tackle first today with cleaning supplies, I wonder about all of you. What are my friends up to? When will be the first family barbeque of the season in Long Beach? For me, summer has always marked an even greater emphasis on get-togethers with my loved ones — dinners with fresh fare from the garden, concerts in the park, long days at the bay, etc. A daydreamer since birth, I tend to fall into periods of reminiscing in my alone, quiet time.

Today, a group of us have plans to cook tacos and hang out. The weather has finally warmed up for good — I think — and nothing says “hello summer” like sizzling steak and fresh veggies wrapped up in hot tortillas, topped off with icy cold beer.

Last night, after an unsuccessful attempt at going to the gym (it was closed), Ev and I listened to mellow tunes and made Ginger-Carrot Risotto for dinner, a favorite of mine from “Almost Vegetarian: A Primer for Cooks Who Are Eating Vegetarian Most of the Time, Chicken & Fish Some of the Time, & Altogether Well All of the Time.” The cookbook, given to me by my sister Betsy, is packed neatly in a storage unit in Lemoore.

One of the most useful tricks I’ve learned with the Internet is how to grab my favorite recipes from even the most obscure cookbooks when they’re out of my reach. Simply search the book on Amazon, choose the “Look Inside” option and search for your recipe. Easy as pie!

I started out the recipe by simmering a pot of “broth” (still don’t have any), green onion tops, sliced ginger and orange juice together on the stove.

Mmmm… it smelled so good bubbling away! Next, I minced up more garlic, the white part of the onions, a carrot, and orange zest to go into a large skillet with some butter.

I love the bite that ginger has. Usually, I put so much ginger in my food that I end up coughing when I eat it. Dee-licious. When I first shopped at the grocery store, I thought that they didn’t carry carrots. It wasn’t until a fellow teacher told me where to look that I found them — covered in dirt. They were black! Easy to wash, but if I hadn’t been told, I would’ve never known there were carrots under all that grime.

Once the veggies sauteed a bit, I tossed in the rice, and reduced some wine in the mixture.

Next, I began adding the broth (which I had strained through a strainer) very slowly, while listening to my Jams playlist :)

The risotto thickened up beautifully after simmering in the orange-ginger broth. Since I used spicy ramyeon seasoning for the broth, the end result had a nice kick to it. A splash of cream made the risotto delectable!

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74 days, 7 pounds, millions of home-cooked calories, plenty of beers and bottles of wine, two nieces, countless Scrabble battles, one going-away party, not enough Korean language practice, dozens of Scattergories squabbles, a stop in the mountains, a trip to the beach, thousands of miles on California highways, too many goodbyes, 10 square feet of storage space, a handful of holidays, precious family time, a bucket of tears, and 28 straight hours of buses, trains and automobiles after I left my apartment and my job in Los Angeles, Evan and I arrived in Jeonju, South Korea.

Annyeong haseyo, my friends. Thank you for an unforgettable eight weeks of funemployment — such rare opportunities seldom come in life, and we are so grateful to have shared it with you.

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