Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some AMAZING resources

I've come across some absolutely incredible resources and thought I'd share them with others.

First and foremost, Eat Your Kimchi is THE go-to site for teaching English abroad, as it is what got me started in my entire process.

If you are interested in learning Korean:

This has been a great resource for me to study Hangul, Korean written language.

Out of the kindness of his giving heart, this amazing man offers full out classes. Real. Legit. Classes to learn Korean, both written and spoken.

If you are interested in teaching in Korea:

Here you can find some job offers

Also, Dave always knows what's up with foreign teaching jobs and resources.

For the travelers:

Beninkea is a great new hotel franchise that is nice and affordable. It aims to bring in foreign travelers, which can be a disadvantage when it comes to full culture immersion or can be a relaxing reassurance that language won't be a struggle or personal comfort zone won't be challenged.

If you're going for the more socialable approach to traveling, these guesthouses might interest you.

I'll share more when I find them!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's not crazy, it's Korean

So I've been here a mere 5 weeks now but have already noticed some things about Korea that are amazing while some others are perhaps not so good. I plan on keeping a cumulative pros/cons list of Korea. Disclaimer: Be it known that this is only my personal observation and is subjective in every way. Rest assure I am culturally sensitive, aware, and courteous.

Let's begin on a positive note:

Pros of Korea.

1. Free Stuff. Koreans love to give away free stuff. When going to a bar for drinks it's quite normal to be given free food. Often times the snacks are simple peanuts or mystery finger food or rice chips while other times you receive a whole plate of fruit or crackers. (Called 'service-ee')This is only where it begins. When ordering food, you don't get just what you order but your meal is also accompanied by many side dishes and usually soup. The side dishes can be refilled as many times as you'd like. Many Koreans would argue that these side dishes are simply part of the Korean meal. To me, an American, it's free stuff. Furthermore, this Korean perk often times shows up randomly. For example, I went to buy a new cell phone. (detailed post about that experience will come later) I walked out of the store with not only a new phone but also a wall charger, a computer charger/ISB, head phones, a back up battery and a charger for the backup battery. WOW! Excellent! Also, I had to go buy some more make-up and when I got home I realized that I also received a skin treatment package, lotion, and some other stuff that is still unbeknown to me as to what it is. (Mysterious items are limitless to foreigners.) Yes, Korea is very good at giving away free stuff and I am more than happy to take it off their hands.
2. Public Transportation is availably EVERYWHERE. I live in a small town in the norther part of the country and here I can easily use the bus to get around the city. If I want to travel outside of the city, I can simply go to the bus terminal and buy a bus ticket to anywhere my little heart desires (within the boundaries of South Korea). When traveling in Seoul the underground system is extremely easy to use. The signs use both Hangul and English so navigating is never a problem. However, if/when a problem does arise, Koreans are always delighted to help, which takes me to my third pro-point.
3. Koreans are very nice and they are always so happy to help. A fair amount of them speak English, even if it's broken. It's not uncommon to find Koreans that will go out of their way to help foreigners. I have come across people that have offered up and given free rides, which meant I didn't have to pay for a taxi, ones that have walked with me to a desired location, and others that will stop and give me directions until I have figured it out. It's also very common for random strangers to approach me and say "Hello. How are you?", especially student aged Koreans. Several have opened their homes to me and have invited me to join them at a personal family event. They are always excited to share Korean culture, language, and love.
4. Service is amazing in restaurants. The servers are always so delighted (or so they appear to be) to get you anything you want and do it so quickly. It's not uncommon to see servers doing a speed walk around in order to get customers what they've requested as soon as possible. Servers are always so polite and speak to customers using the politest form of the language. Also, Korea has a great system where if you want a server you have two options: press the 'call bell (that literally goes 'ding dong!') that is on the table or just call a server to the table using a simple phrase that translates to 'here' or 'there'. Then wait about 2.5 seconds (if that) and a server will be right over to assist you. After being a server in the States for 6 years, going to Korean restaurants are quite the thing to experience. Every job in Korea is valued and they all recognize that without one the people that hold certain jobs, society would not function properly. No job is looked down upon; (aside from those that work for the double barber poles) each person is respected as having a job and is treated with great value as a contributer to society. This is quite different from my serving experience in the States where servers are often times treated as the scum of the earth and are disrespected quite a bit. This really ties into a previous point I touched on earlier about how respectful Koreans are overall to each other. It's something that their culture has successfully maintained and is something I wish Americans would adopt.
5. No tipping anywhere for anything. This was REALLY weird for me to get used to initially in restaurants because I always want to thank the servers to being so faithful and hardworking but in Korean culture, tipping is seen as being somewhat of an insult. There is no tipping the servers, the taxi drivers, the hair stylist, the nail tech, etc. This ties into the idea that every job is respected and seen as a valuable contribution to society; there's no need to tip because they are working hard enough to make the money they do. Tipping to Koreans is making a suggestion that you pitty them and their job, that it's below standard, that they obviously need more money because their job is so terrible. Overall: it's an insult and you don't do it. The money I would have spent on tipping adds up quickly and it's really nice to not have to do it and I'm working on becoming accustomed to it.
6. The kids are just...different I spend half the time implementing classroom management here than I did in America. While kids will be kids, they respond much soon and much easier. There is INCREDIBLE support/force/fear from the parents so the kids MUST perform well in school. They respond REALLY well to the "You've disappointed me" look, which works really well on them. Korean students are programed not to fail and are not ok with it because it's like committing social suicide. Controlling them is half as much work, which means there is still effort put towards behavior management but not nearly as much as during my student teaching.
7. Crime? IS there a Korean word for crime? I have NO IDEA how this happens but there is hardly any crime in Korea at all. The evening news consists of the weather report, road closings, updates on festivals, the latest trends in farming, and some world news. If you know anything about Korean culture you know that 'saving face' is a big problem (refer to 'cons' item #1 below) so it is possible that they don't broadcast all crime. However, I can personally attest to the fact that Korea is EXTREMELY safe and have never felt more at ease when walking down the street in downtown after dark. This is confirmed when I talk with my Korean friends about crime here. They say that it's never been a problem and they have never felt scared about being hurt or robbed at any time. It's an incredible phenomenon that I simply can't explain. The children here have an incredibly pure, innocent child hood that has been lost in the States. Middle school and high school students walk the streets of down town late into the night with no adult around. Bags are left unattended in shopping carts at E-Mart. On a slight digression of this topic, it's wonderful to know that my 6th grade students are seeing movies or going to the park or playing family games on their weekends as apposed to drinking and going to parties where they do things that are much too mature for their age, as my students did in America. Many Koreans still wait until marriage to sleep together and PDA is just not seen. Physical actions are still considered sacred and are reserved for the couples that have been together a respectable amount of time. The innocence in a Korean student's eyes is the most beautiful thing I've seen in a long time.
8. Sharing meals is the age-old Korean style of eating. When eating out, most of the time (I would say about 80%) the meat is brought to you raw and a designated person will cook for the group. (explaining how the person is "chosen" will put me off on a tangent. If you so choose to follow, come a long but if not just skim until you see the closed parenthesis. So in Korea, age is a BIG deal; it affects language, social customs, social norms, and eating and drinking etiquette. So the 'designated' cooker is "chosen" based upon the company of the group. I am using ' ' and " " because there exists another miraculous phenomenon in Korean culture that is unfathomable to many foreigner; Koreans just know who should do what, what role each should have and they just do it. There's no complaining, no 'it's not fair' and while there may be teasing and exchanged looks it all turns into laughs and jokes. This can be seen in many different scenarios. For example, when with Korean friends at their house they all just help clean up afterwards and they all just do their part. There is no, "what can I do to help?" Everyone KNOWS what must be done so they just do it! Wow! This is also seen in their language. To a non-native Korean speaker, their language is extremely ambiguous but to them, they just know what each their talking about and can fill in the blanks, accurately too! There's no one saying in a rude, judgmental voice: um, you need to be more specific. But I've digressed from my digression. Anyway, in Korean culture, if there is a guest of honor he or she will never do any work but rather the one closest to the guest of honor will cook the food, cut it up, and keep the meal going. Mean while, another person will pour ALL THE DRINKS for EVERYONE at the table, not just their own. When with a group of friends, the oldest will usually do the cooking because it is the oldest amongst friends that is supposed to be the care-taker and the looker-after-er. [that's a very technical term] More often than not, someone will just start cooking and take on that role. I have yet to see a time when Koreans won't step up and cook for others.) So then the individual will take the meat that's been cooked and prepare their lettuce wrap or whatnot. It is extremely common for Koreans to just reach over and eat off each other's plates without asking. This is embedded in the culture and it also signifies that the people eating together are close. This goes for soup, drinks, main course, anything. Even when dining in American restaurants such as Outback, On the Border or TGI Friday's Koreans still share. If there are 3 people at the table, they will order 1 salad, place it in the middle of the table and share it. They will then order 2 meals and do the same. I've also never met such keen problem solvers as I have with my Korean friends. I have no idea how they do it but they have the entire thing figured out in a matter of 1 minute and it's a done deal. No arguing over meals or pouting or whatnot. (Wow. The more I write about Korean culture the more I want to abandon my American friends for all of my Korean friends.) Koreans are amazing at sharing when it comes to anything. When one person gets a snack while waiting on the bus, it's ALWAYS passed among friends and a sharing is always offered; if one person goes to get coffee after dinner they come back with 4 cups for everyone to share. It's incredible. When in Korea, you will always be taken care of and it's something I really wish Americans could learn.
9. You scratch mine, I'll scratch yours. The drinking culture in Korea is fascinating and somewhat intimidating before you have it down pat. If not done properly, it can be seen as very insulting and selfish. Koreans care about the group before anything and always want what's best for everybody. When drinking alcohol (which they do nearly at every single dinner and then thereafter; weekdays mean nothing to Koreans--they drink! on any day that ends in y.) there is certain etiquette that should always be followed. First rule of thumb: never pour your own alcoholic drink. Water, cider, soda, juice is ok and every thing that I'm talking about in this point refers to alcoholic drinks. It's allegedly bad luck for the person sitting across from you if you pour your own drink and it's just rude so don't do it. Second rule of thumb, hold your glass when accepting a drink with 2 hands and when pouring a drink hold it with two hands. The two hand rule is seen throughout their entire culture: when giving/receiving gifts, when shaking hands, when doing anything that involves your hands it shows respect to use two of them. Third rule, make sure the eldest person's drink is filled first then pour around the table. Set the bottle down because someone will lift it to pour your drink. This is where the pro comes in: Koreans are always looking out for each other and will fill each other's drinks continuously throughout the night. If your drink starts to become empty, it will be filled by someone around you and it is expected that you do the same for them. With two hands, of course.
10. Cost of living is so cheap! Well, at least where I live. I'm in a rather rural area with a small down town area and the cost of living here is about half of what it was for me in the states and I'm from midwest America. It's great. I'm talking food, beer, groceries, cell phones, you name it, it's cheaper. Well. Aside from foreign products. Domestic products are super cheap, which I think encourages people to buy domestically. I paid $70 for a single bottle of Jameson Whiskey. Daaaangg! Yeah but that's MUCH better than the alternative: Korean Whiskey. eeeeewwwww
11. They REALLY know how to use the earth's resources. I have never traveled to any country that uses all of the earth's resources like Korea does. They use the entire body of any animal they kill and not the way we do in the States. The spinal chord is used to make a soup that is supposed to be really good for your health, the tail of a cow is also used in a soup (which is not too bad, actually) that is supposed to be good for your complexion, roots of plants are used as side dishes, the list goes on and on and on. And the things they can do with rice! Wow! I'm still fairly unfamiliarly with Korean food and have a lot of learning to do in that department but I do know that they use everything that the earth gives them in a very admirable way.
12. Composting is the way of life here and I love it. There are no garbage disposals but rather we put any food that would go in the trash or in the garbage disposal in America into a yellow bag. The yellow is the designated color for compost food, green is trash and white is recycle. In the sink is a plastic filter-like thing that catches all of the food while cooking or washing dishes. Then you empty the filter into the yellow bag and put it in the freezer until full to prevent odor. When the bag is full you simply place it in its designated place for pick up. AAALLLL of Korea composts: at restaurants, after my school lunch, everywhere. It's fantastic.
13. Please recycle! Korea is excellent about recycling. You can recycle about anything and you don't need to separate it. All of your recycled materials are put into the designated white bag and placed at the designated place for pick up; it's so convenient and too easy not to do. Even fast food places have segregated deposits for recycled materials and trash. They are also on the street.
14. Universal health care!!!!! Is incredible and it's cheap. Medicine costs next to nothing and a doctor's visit will never deplete your wallet. Korea is a socialist country and it's fantastic. My apartment bills (gas, water, electric,) are divided up evenly amongst the entire building so my bills turn out to be about about 50 bucks a month. Amazing.
15. Social progression is happening slowly in Korea. They are a country that is rich with culture and full of history. The older generation is having a really hard time letting go of Korean conservatism and understandably so. They are the generation that experienced the Korean war and gained victory over Japan. (side note: so many Koreans hold up the "peace" sign in pictures but to them it is a 'V' for victory of Japan, not peace as it is in the States.) They have a large amount of pride and really don't want to see that lost in the younger generations. However, times are a-changin' and social progression is a big part of Korean culture right now. It's a very exciting time to be in Korea to see things change. Woman are gaining more powerful roles and are starting to be seen as equals (though Korea still has a loooonnng way to go with that), being homosexual is still social suicide but it's creeping its way in. That will come with future, future, future generations but the ball has been put into motion nonetheless. Pop songs are starting to become a bit more American (I REALLY think that Western world influence has A LOT to do with some of these changes) in that they are becoming a bit sexier though not racy like in the States. Divorce is something that is frowned upon a lot but is becoming to be something that is more of an acceptable option for those that need it. Koreans certainly don't use divorce as a crutch the way Americans do but for so long the social stigma of divorce deterred unhappy couples from separating or abused women (yes, it happens here too) from being able to be free and safe. The younger generations are really progressing Korea socially and I'm excited to see where it will go in the next few decades.
16. Culture is so plentiful here and it makes me wish that my home land had a rooted culture. After attending traditional events such as birthdays and weddings, it's so amazing to their culture and to see tradition. From the traditional wear to the bows it's all so beautiful and it's something I'm very envious of as an American. Koreans are EXTREMELY proud of their country and their culture and have great respect for it.
17. Kids = custodians. The kids at my school clean like they get paid to do it. 3 times a day (morning, after lunch, before going home) they clean the school. The classrooms, the hall ways, the windows, the bathrooms. It's incredible and they do a darn good job too! There are no custodians at my school--only a man that locks the doors at night.

Ok, now for the cons...

1. Saving face happens like you wouldn't believe. If you know anything about Korean culture it's that they save face. This means that they only want others to see the good in things, that they won't tell you bad news until last minute in hopes that it will go away or change, they will lie to cover up mistakes, etc. Saving face is seen in many different scenarios and Koreans have a very hard time admitting they are wrong. I think this all starts when they're in school and they are programed to not mess up and are taught that being wrong is equivalent to life failure. Koreans are excellent at faking happiness too. There is not public disagreement and confrontation only happens in very private places. Coming from a society where we are very open and honest about our feelings, this is quite challenging. The last minute changes and updates are also difficult to manage but deep breaths always help.
2. What's a gym? Ok so they HAVE gyms but I think I should call them "gyms". There isn't much need to work out because Koreans sort of have a naturally slim body structure and stay slender so not a lot of money is put into gyms. The equipment is very limited and facilities are very small. I run outside when I can.
3. What's deodorant?! What do you MEAN what's deodorant?? Yeah, Koreans don't use deodorant. I call it the 8th wonder of the world because as a 6th grade teacher, my classroom smells 8 times better than it did when I was teaching in America. wow! How do they do it? I'm not sure but Koreans also rarely sweat. Their bodies are much different from ours in many ways: little sweating, they process alcohol much faster than Westerners, and they can squat for hours at a time. Some attribute it to the kimchi others say it's an eternal mystery. So why is this a con then? Because it's next to impossible to find deodorant here, that's why!
4. Last minute changes happen frequently. This is not the saving-face-last-minute-changes it's the "oh, we decided to do it differently" last minute changes. It happens all. the. time. Too often to provide examples.
5. Lack of convenience is often times frustrating for me. It's sort of Korean style to have stores that specialize in one thing and so finding a Wal-Mart type store is rare. There are a few such as E-Mart and Lotte Mart but even then they don't have everything I may need. The options are limited because for whatever reason, competition amongst companies doesn't really seem to happen. There are about 2 different brands to choose from with most things. Wal-Mart, as much as I loathed it, was extremely convenient and I could always count on them having anything my heart desired. I'm getting used to going all around down town for different things I may need.
6. Mold, mold, mold is everywhere is a big Korean problem. Natural ventilation is used as much as possible, which leads to mold. It's not treated most of the time and has kind of become a normal thing for many. It's in apartments, dorms, and other living places. I have some in my place but not bad and I bleach it regularly.
7. Fried chicken or friend chicken? Those are often times your only two options. There is a fried chicken joint on every single block. They are everywhere and Koreans do love their fried chicken! It's a mystery to me that I simply can't explain: how they eat so much fried chicken but keep their slender physique. So many places serve fried chicken and it's both tempting and annoying.
8. Can't. Be. Wrong. The students have a really hard time with being wrong and making mistakes. This makes it difficult for me as a teacher to encourage them to try. I have tried to explain that part of learning is messing up and their final goal is to be successful so if they want t to accomplish such a task then the way to go about it is not to resist but rather to participate fully. It's been a struggle but progress is being made. They almost refuse to do anything in front of the group out of fear of messing up or being embarrassed. Often times students won't volunteer because they are scared they "might be wrong" but when I encourage them enough to say the answer they are almost always correct. It's a matter of creating a comfortable environmental for them. Also, it helps a lot when I act like a fool to show that they can be silly too. I've learned that it helps a lot to try to learn their language in front of them. They think it's hilarious when I can't pronounce a Korean word or when I mess up on my grammar or something like that. But I make a point that learning another language is difficult and in order to learn, you must mess up and be willing to try.
9. What is that?? The food is often times mysterious and sometimes I have no idea what I'm eating. While it's good that they use the earth's resources to its full potential, it also yields problems for foreigners who have no idea if it's a root or a worm or a fish. There's only one way to find out!....
10. Work, work, work. Student are way over worked. They go to school during the day then a lot of them go to Hagwons after school which is night school. It's the exact same thing as their public school but much more strict and much more challenging. These kids are worked to the bone when it comes to school and are pressured so much that Korea has the highest suicide rate of any country. There is a certain time of year when national testing occurs and suicide rates spike due to students feeling that they can not perform as they are expected to and commit suicide. This is a problem.
11. Random spam texts are very common and are very annoying. They are advertisements mostly and they are annoying.
13. Watching clothes dry is like watching grass grow. Dryers are slim to none in Korea and are non-existent in apartments. Clothes are either hung dry (most common) or are taken to the cleaners (expensive). I'm constantly doing laundry because I can't do it all at once--there is no where to put all of my laundry to have it dry. It takes planning ahead and patience.

Well, I think that about does it for now. As I said, I want this to be an on-going list of things I observe. I will post when it has been updated and will provide the link.

New Findings

West has a favorite dish that is called Sam-Gye-Tang; it is a whole chicken in a ginseng (picture to the left) broth that is stuffed with rice. She has been here for 7 months and has yet to find it. It became my mission to find Samgyetang in Icheon. In order to continue along with this story I first my backtrack to a prior one.

I feel confident in saying that with those who travel, it's always an underground mission to find "your bar". That bar you can go to, relax, talk freely with the bartender, etc. A couple of weeks ago, a friend led a group of us to a place in Icheon called Jenny's Mini Bar. Instantly we all knew that this was "our bar". Jameson is only 5,000 won a pop (cheap!) and the bartender is this adorable Korean man named Sung who has a soon-to-be-wife named Jenny (yes, the owner). They just opened the bar a mere few months ago and have somehow become the foreigner's bar. It can possibly be explained with the reputable selection of foreign drinks they have including the Jameson along with Bailey's and Beck's Beer and even Guinness ($11 a bottle!) Sung will play any song you ask him to but if a request goes unsaid the jams coming from the loud overhead speakers are always American, which echoes off of the exposed cement walls. The top shelves around the bar are decorated with an assortment of empty bottles while the bottom ledge in front of the window has delicately placed plants and wheat grass. To West, it was a taste of Portland and to me it was a taste of downtown KC. We regularly visit Jenny's bar and has become our default go-to place. Having gotten to know Sung we asked him where we could find some Samgyetang. He gave us directions to a place that has it and West's face lit up. We would make it our mission to find this place.

This brings me to Sunday night. We had a general idea of where this place is but general is always sketchy. West and I began on our journey to find this place and cure her long-time craving for a fairly healthy meal. We both had thought that Sung said something different in his directions so I decided to used my broken Korean and ask. (Koreans are ALWAYS happy to help you and will usually go out of their way to do so if they are able to. Even if they don't speak English they will still try to help you. I've learned that young people usually speak the best English and are ALWAYS the most excited to exchange words with an American.) We asked one cute young couple first where it is and they sent us in the right direction. From there we had no idea where to go and were in doubt when a middle school aged girl randomly said HELLO!, which is a very common occurrence, and asked where we were going. She suggested we don't complete our mission but rather go eat where she serves. haha. Smart. We said we were set on trying this dish and she told us to keep walking in the direction we were. Lastly, when we felt like we were either close or completely far off we asked a young woman again where to go. She walked a few steps out of her way to direct us and make sure we were going the right way and pointed as to say 'it's just over that hill.' We kept walking and a few minutes later, I recognized the dish written in Hangul and sure enough, we had found it.

It was delicious and a bit hard for me to eat because it is a whole baby chicken in a pot with broth and ginseng around it and stuffed with rice. The content look on West's face made it better though. We raised our glasses in a toast to successfully completing our mission and devoured our over-due Samgyetang. Delicious.

And now, for something else....

Icheon, my home town in Korea, is widely known for two things: rice and ceramics (Korean word is toe-ja-key). Sunday, West and I decided to venture to the ceramics village with the pure intentions of 1- exploring and 2- laying down a good amount of money in order to obtain some of the finest ceramics around. Oh. Right. And 3- get her dad a (belated) birthday present. And so we took the bus to a certain point then took a taxi. (The bus ride cuts down on the taxi fare even though taxis here are EXTREMELY affordable; every bit you can save helps.) The taxi driver actually took us way back into a part of the ceramics village that West had never been before. It's just about a half mile of ceramic stores. Some have ceramics that are indigenous to Icheon while others say "Made in China" on the bottom of them. Fortunately, West has quite the extensive knowledge when it comes to pottery because of her background in throwing clay (this is the term used for forming clay on the machine that spins as you mold it) and so she knew the signs for original as apposed to shop-made. Together we both gasped multiple times at the beauty of the work with each shop we went into. Bowls, plates, cups, tea cups, spoons, chop sticks, decore, vases, and much more line the walls of each shop and consume the medians between the walking aisles. Needless to say, it was overwhelming for both of us, as we each wanted to purchase many items in each store we entered. The crafting is beautiful and the end products are seductive in a way that leaves you wanting to hold each one and give it a more personal home. Lucky for us, the Sunday sun was setting and the shops were closing. I went home with a coffee cup, a large bowl that is ideal for my habitual cereal eating habits, a vase for my fresh flowers,a tea cup, a bowl for my apples, and two tree-ring coasters. West managed to find a gift for her father and a few more items for herself.

We'll be back again.

Our goal now is to find where we can throw clay ourselves to make our own pottery. It will happen.

Pictures are coming soon, fear not.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Whole New World

Well, well, well. Here I am, living in Icheon South Korea. I'm not visiting, I'm not temporarily staying; no, no, this is where I reside. It's slowly but surely occurring to me that I have an address that takes up the entire vertical measurement of a regular sized envelope and ends in South Korea. The journey to get here has been an exhausting one but has proven to be worth the anxiety, panic attacks, and GERD symptoms (refer to picture 1 above then Google it) that I experienced prior to my departure. For the sake of my 6 faithful readers (Hi family and Red), my own selfish desires to create a paper trail of this experience and my embarrassingly bad memory that will create severe frustration when trying to recall this whole thing 5 years down the road, I will retell my journey from moment of take-off to the present. So go grab some Kimchi, turn on that rice cooker, polish up those chop sticks, leave your shoes at the door and be sure to take toilet paper with you when you go to the restroom because you KNOW there won't be any there. Oh. Wait. I think that last part is only applicable to me. Anyway. Kick back and enjoy my journey thus far.

September 29: D-Day for my mother but Easter for me. (I chose Easter to align the symbolism of new life and accomplishing something great. While it's not as legit as rising from the dead, accomplishing a long-time dream is pretty remarkable if you ask me. Plus I like bright colors and little baby chickens.) I had been preparing myself for this day for many years. It was just a year ago in the summer of 2009 when I was in Korea for a short month and the idea of waiting 365+ days to return felt like an eternity. Moreover, knowing that I still had to complete my undergraduate degree and make it through student teaching and earn enough money for a plane ticket was somewhat discouraging, as I didn't want to go home after English Camp in Korea. However, the days did pass and before I knew it it was time to leave. I had all my documents in my backpack that I had worked so very hard to obtain; well, aside from my college diploma. I was leaving the country without having it yet, which is very uncommon but had managed to sneak my way around the system. I had books to read, my Asia Travel Guide, and of course my iPod. At 4:30 am, my family and I packed up the van with all of my luggage. My mom faithfully helped me pack and we managed to weed through my overabundance of clothes and I settled for limiting myself to my dad's Army duffel bag, my LARGE suitcase that weights 15 pounds when empty, a small suitcase that was supposed to be a carry-on but became too full, my purse, and my backpack. When we arrived at the airport at 5:30 am (the plane was scheduled to leave at 7:47 am) I checked my luggage. The LARGE suitcase weighed 97 lbs (limit is 99 lbs), and the others were under the weight limit, which avoided an over-weight charge. The total price for all of the luggage was $400. Nope, no typing error. Four. Hundred. Dollar$.

I sat in the airport with my family for a few minutes before going through security. In the few weeks leading up to September 29, I had really tried to take in every moment I could--the drives to work, the nights spent with friends (refer to picture 2 above), the Sunday lunches with family; I really aimed at making those moments memorable and as I sat in the airport and watched the people come and go it was certainly another one of those moments. I would not see my local airport for many days thereafter nor would I be able to see my family in person for a long time. There wasn't much to say until it was time to go. The hugs ensued, the tears flowed and words of endearment were exchanged. I managed to get in my last hugs before going through security. I had only a little bit of time before my plane boarded and it had not yet hit me that I was actually moving to Korea to begin my career, my life dream.

I flew into San Fransisco and had about a 3.5 hour layover. I had planned it that way as I did not want to be rushed or stressed. I spent that time walking around, talking to my amazing friend Justin and simply relaxing. It went by rather fast and was actually pretty paranoid the entire time that I would miss my flight or that I had misread by flight time but after looking at my reservation multiple times, I had to trust that it would all work out. After all it had worked out up to this point so that I could even have a job in Korea. I had faced two denials and had felt that I would not be teaching English this year. However, the stars did align and I would soon be teaching 5/6th grade at Shinha Elementary School. I got on the Boeing 777 flight to Incheon, South Korea. Such large planes are set up in a way where there are 10 seats across--3 seats then isle then 4 seats then isle then 3 seats. My seat was reserved in the right grouping of seats, middle the wing. Dang it. I took a deep breath of air and slowly released it, as I had rehearsed with my mom. The culmination of nerves, anxiety, excitement, and disbelief put sweat on my palms and butterflies in my stomach. I continued to breath deeply and slowly so that I might find relaxation and comfort for my 12 hour flight to the Eastern world.

During the flight, (refer to picture 3 above) I finally fell victim to the Eclipse spell (and am still nursing the wound on my neck) and watched the first and second movies of the succulent vampire serious. (Team Jacob) I managed to fall in and out of slumber though never enough to feel well-rested. The meals were delicious but awkwardly timed. I listened to some Korean pop music, watched a few episodes of Glee then the Office. I started to watch the Karate Kid but was unable to finish because by that time, it was time to land. We were scheduled to arrive at 6:45 pm but touched down at 6 pm. Nice. I filled out those confusing immigration papers as best as I could and eventually exited the plane.

I followed the crowd to immigration and waited in a very short line that kept me waiting a mere 15 minutes. I was very lucky because this process usually takes an hour or so. I made it through customs just fine and was then left to figure out where to pick up my luggage. Most signs in Korea are written in both Hangul and English and an international airport was no exception. I found the luggage claim area then walked quite a ways to find my specific claim spot. As I walked up to it, I saw my first LARGE bag going around. I pulled it off and waited a couple more minutes for my other two to come around. Excellent. So far so good. I put all of my belongings on a cart (which are free) and made my way towards the exit. I was told that there would be someone at the airport to pick me up. I had no idea where he would be or where to go to meet him. I just kept walking until I walked through large sliding doors which exposed the crowd of people who were waiting for their loved ones. I was the only Western face in the crowd at that point and figured I wouldn't be hard to spot. I look around and didn't see a sign immediately but later saw one that read, "Quinlin Odonelle Welcome to Korea" He was waving me down and so we were off.

I was put in a van with my luggage and taken away. I had no idea how long the drive would be, though I was expecting a duration of about 2 hours. Many things were running through my mind at that point like I wonder what my apartment looks like. However, I would not be able to find out for a few days because it was not yet available for me. In the mean time, I would stay with the other American teacher from my school and this too had me a bit anxious. We had been e-mailing back and forth prior to my arrival but the initial meet is always nerve-wrecking not to mention my personal hygiene was that of a person who had been traveling aaallll day. We arrived at her apartment around 9:30, a couple hours earlier than what she was expecting. My boss was there to greet me and together West and I carried my luggage up the three flights of stairs. She shot a few jokes my way about how much I had brought and is still on the jokes list to this day. I felt prepared...$400 worth prepared. We managed to find a spot for all of my belongings and she gave me the 360 degree tour--I turned a full 360 degrees from one central location to get the tour. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was and she had created an environment that was aesthetically appealing and emotionally relaxing. We stayed up a bit and talked for a while but she had work in the morning so we slipped into slumber a couple hours later.

The next morning she awoke and left for school while I slept in but only until 9 am. I was anxious to get up and explore but was limited because I had no idea where I was and was told to be ready to go at 12:45, which is when she would come back to get me and take me to school so that I could watch Sports Day at Shina Elementary. I killed some time on Facebook, wrote a couple e-mails and then got ready. After West came to get me, we stopped at a little place to get some food and took it with us to the school. It was Sports Day that day, which is where the students partake in a multitude of activities including sprints, races, dances, and showcases. I watched all of the girls perform a beautiful traditional fan dance that was extremely well-orchestrated and meticulously rehearsed. West and I giggled at the thought of what it would be like it try to teach about 200 American kids to do what they did. We laughed, shook our heads, and looked off into the distance with a sigh that could obviously be interpreted as "yeah right". The boys then did their traditional dance and we both watched in pure amazement. It was a gorgeous sunny day (which is hard to come by in Korea during the Fall) and adorable Korean children were all around with their proud families that came out to support them. We then watched different races and such. West then took me up to the English room and showed me the desk that I could call my own. It was a moment for me--having my own work desk and seeing the classroom. She said, "I'll give you a moment" and left the room. It was appreciated.

Later that night we went out for dinner with the teachers at a traditional Korean restaurant. We sat on the floor and ate amazing pork that we cook ourselves. The food was great while the company was a bit awkward. We attempted to talk to some of the Korean teachers but found a clear language barrier. West and I sat talking until we were the last ones there. I had so much to learn from this woman and she was more than happy to share.

We returned to her apartment that night and had a few drinks and shared in great conversation in an attempt to better understand one another as people as well as co-workers. I still can't imagine how different my experience would have been had I not had West. She was a true breath of fresh air.

The next day was Saturday and I was finally able to move into my own apartment. However, when I say move I mean put my stuff in it because before I could move into it, I had to clean it. The American teacher before me that lived in that apartment had left it in an unbelievably containment state that required 18 hours of cleaning from me in order to make int livable. As aggravating as it was to spend my entire Saturday, Sunday, and part of Monday cleaning, when it was all said and done and I felt extremely accomplished and currently feel more ownership of that apartment having spent so much time cleaning it. It also motivates me to KEEP it clean. A few days later, I was finally able to unpack my belongings in an attempt to make this place feel like home. I hung pictures, spread open my Mizzou blanket, and strategically placed the few items I had brought around the room. The smell of the room was still one of mold and mildew and the energy of the room was still not my own. It was going to take some time but at least it was a place to stay...a place to call my own. (pictures are coming later)

On Monday, I had my first day of work. I was introduced to my Korean Co-teacher, showed around the school, and given a rough sketch of what would be expected of me. I would be teaching a regular class, an after school class, a parent's class, and a teacher's class. My day starts at 8:30 am and goes until 4:45 pm. I observed West and her co-teacher then gave a "get to know me" lesson to my after school class. I observed and watched for the first couple of days then was told to prepare the first lesson plan for Friday. I have access to an abundance of resources but didn't know exactly what they wanted of me. I struggled to write my first lesson plan but found out that it was not what they wanted. Since then, I have figured out how to acclimate my lesson plans to their liking. There are many things I love about Korea and then there are some things that I find myself venting about.

That weekend, West took me into downtown Icheon where I met her group of friends. We had fried chicken (which can be found 3 to a block in Korea. Try to figure that one out.) and beer. We relocated to a different bar after eating where we had a few more drinks. The buses stop running at 10:30 here so we took a taxi ride home. The cost of living here is such a beautiful thing. It's very inexpensive and completely reasonable. Saturday night West and I went out for sushi, which was as good as what I was expecting.

From then, I have been working long hours at school in an attempt to have my lesson plans completed, my materials made for my extra class, and the seemingly unnecessary paper trial completely covered. It's a lot of work but as is every job. I am extremely lucky with where I am and have incredible support around me.

I received a 300,000 won settlement, though later than what I was told I would. I was then reimbursed for my plane ticket and let me say that the exchange rate for Americans right now is AWESOME. I made out with about 100,000 more won than what I paid in dollars. Faaan-tastic. I just got my first paycheck, which came in the form of cash. I don't have a Korean bank account yet because I don't have my ARC (alien registratin card). I was given a temporary cell phone until I can buy my own, which requires an ARC as well. It's pretty old school but I'm just happy to even have one until I can get my own.

I've been slowly but surely figuring out the bus system in Icheon. I always know that I can ask; Koreans are very nice people and will always help you if they can. A good amount of them speak a tiny bit of English so when it's coupled with my broken Korean, we can usually manage. The most difficult thing is usually trying to tell the taxi drivers where to go but I'm figuring that out too.

A pros and cons list of my observations thus far is soon to come.

I'm sure I left many exciting details out and failed to cover my entire experience thus far so feel free to ask questions or demand an elaboration on some point.

It is my goal to update this regularly.

Until next time.