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Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

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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