Reflections: Two Years in Korea

Today is the first day of 2018! Time flies, as they say. This past month, as I’ve finished my last full month of teaching for the school year, I’ve been reflecting on all of my time here.  Two years ago I arrived in this small town in rural South Korea, knowing next to nothing. I was nervous out of my mind and filled with self-doubt. I couldn’t stop thinking…how is it possible that they hired ME to teach a bunch of middle school and elementary school kids who speak a different language than me?

goodbye 2017

From the moment I stepped into my first classroom, nothing was what I was told it was going to be. Nothing could have been farther from what I had imagined it was going to be. Before I moved here I thought I would be teaching cute little elementary students every day and working at the same school at least most days of the week. None of these things were true. I taught at five different schools, one different school each day. Middle school was especially a challenge for me as I hadn’t expected to be teaching that age group at all and I just do much better with younger students in general.

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For my first three months, I barely slept at all. My coffee addiction jumped off the charts. From finding the right buses to get me into the countryside at the right time to planning twenty unique lessons a week to trying to understand the social norms of a new culture and society and the stress that comes with starting a new job in general…I was a mess, to say the least.

coffee

Despite all of the madness, I ended up staying a second year.  This was partially due to all the work I had put into my first year–planning lessons and figuring out life here, and partially due to the fact that I actually started to (gasp) LIKE it here.

My friends here like to joke “If we can make it in this job, we can literally do ANYTHING.” And I really do feel like I can do anything now. Everyone’s job in Korea is different due to different school settings and different coworkers, but generally we all share the “WHAT IS HAPPENING” feeling at the end of the day. To my friends here…we made it through the year. Congratulations, you’re amazing.

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Last year, I made some New Year’s resolutions on this blog, so I thought I’d revisit them to check in with myself, and see if it’s even worth making new ones this year (haha).


  1. Hike 3 Korean mountains.

  2. Intensify my Korean language studying. Finish through TTMIK Level 3.
  3. Yoga Revolution! And a continued exploration of yoga throughout the year.
  4. Visit 3 new countries. (I’ll start with Hong Kong in January!)
  5. Blog once a month, rather than sporadically as I have been.
  6. Stick to my new budget and pay off my last student loan.
  7. Choose to be happy and light in the everyday madness.

Well! It wasn’t so painful after all. I hiked, I studied Korean although I took an online class rather than continuing my self-study (I plan to continue that once I get back to the US and have a lot of time on my hands). Yoga! Always saving my life, one breath, one asana at a time. I visited Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan this year as well as (kind of) North Korea on the DMZ tour. Does that count? I DID pass the border underground. As far as my student loan goes, it’s not quite finished but will be in February(!)

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I can’t say I chose to be happy and light EVERY day, because, you know…I’m human. But I felt a definite weight lifted this year…a weight of caring too much what people think and worrying about small things. I feel a lot more in tune with what I need for myself and open to the continued search for all things true and light in the universe. In that sense, life has been lighter.

2018 should be an exciting year. I will visit northern Vietnam in January, finish up my contract in Korea in February, and travel around China and Japan in March and April before heading back to the USA.

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In the US, first I’ll visit my mom in Colorado, head to Minnesota to see the majority of my family members and then head to the west coast to visit friends and my little sister, who is having a BABY! That’s right. I’m an auntie now. I have no words for how exciting this is. After that, who knows! I predict more exploration of myself and the world around me and even more freedom as I finally move about the world debt free! (Wooo!)

If you have read this far, thank you for following along on my journey. Thanks for being a part of my life, or if we don’t know each other, thanks for existing and fulfilling your beautiful part of the fabric of the world. Here’s to the new year, lovely people!

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three years ago today

You know how Facebook has those reminders? “On this day in ‘x’  year…” Today Facebook reminded me I was in Amsterdam three years ago.

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Well, three years ago, I was a mess. My life had fallen apart and I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I had lost all sense of who I was. Or maybe I realized I had never really known who I was.

So I quit my job and got on a plane. I wandered around six European countries for almost two months trying to find myself… or at least survive the winter in lovely places.

“On this day in 2014” I was cold, so I went into a small cafe and ordered an espresso and a scone. Two men were running the cafe, and there were no other customers. They asked me where I was from and told me they were from Turkey. With my espresso and pastry in front of me, a giant window to my right side and two men rambling about whatever was on television in Turkish to my left, I took out my notebook and began to write.

I wrote it all. All of my regrets and fears and hopes. I wrote down the truths I had lied to myself about, finally being honest.  And before I knew what was happening, I was sobbing uncontrollably in that little cafe with the two Turkish men and the news on TV and the beautiful view of a canal through the window. I was embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do. The floodgates had burst open from within me.

The men quietly slipped to the back room, turning the volume down on the television. They could have rolled their eyes and carried on, or they could have turned up the volume. Instead, they gave me a minute alone (a rare thing traveling around from hostel to hostel).  After I recollected myself, one of the men reappeared with a second espresso. “Here,” he said with a small sympathetic smile before disappearing into the back room again. I tried to protest, but he was already gone.

The kindness of strangers, for real.

My memories of Amsterdam in general are nice, but faded. But I can vividly remember this particular hour. I remember the realization of loss, the deep sense of regret and the sensation of my self returning to my physical body, ready to feel the painful things.

I didn’t return home a totally changed woman. I had a lot of things to let go of before I could really start to be free. The process of unlearning all of the things I thought I knew took months…years…honestly, I am still unlearning and relearning every day.

Three Decembers later, I needed the reminder of how far I’ve come. I needed to look at myself through the eyes of the Amanda in that cafe in Amsterdam that day.

If you feel like your wheels are spinning too, look back. And then look forward at yourself through the lens of the person you were back then.

I think you’ll be surprised. I think you’ll find that you’re doing just fine.

x

 

 

Ground

Moonrise Collective

She could feel the earth stinging her feet every time she took a step.  It’s why she kept running, running, running.

She heard some distant call beckoning her away from the place of the present.  And she lifted her feet off the stinging ground and let the wind carry her away.

What she left behind her wouldn’t be realized until later, some far off moment where clarity could be found.  She would climb a mountain and reach the peak and in the beauty of the clear blue sky, amongst the clouds and sunshine there it all was.  Amongst the beautiful things, there was the truth.

She saw them, the broken particles carried from place to place because they no longer fit inside of her… but they had nowhere else to go.

Echoes of well-intended advice floated between her ears, sounding jumbled to her mind.  No, it was clear now.  The…

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more

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with every sunrise
every sunset
another day passes and
we edge closer and closer
to the end we want to deny

the breath in our lungs
every
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
a chance

what is this life
if it is not a recurring cycle of breath
and movements of our bodies
and thoughts of our minds
and
and an endless
desire

for more?

where
do you want
to be?

you
should go there.

Prisms

Moonrise Collective

and then
sheets of glass fell swiftly
onto
concrete

sheets of linen
swayed gently
in the summer
breeze

often
i am taken back to a time
when the leaves fell from the trees
and
i didn’t know
the taste of
bittersweet

seeing
clearly through wide eyes
as if for the first time
like a floating soul
above the constraints of time
transcending
my body

and now
windows
left open
and the musty cabin
is filled
with a freshness
it has never known
before

the summer rain fell
and the fine dishes
gathered dust
and the
mirror rusted
and the
ivy grew
outside

the vision
the broken glass
still on the ground
refracts the sunlight
and makes colorful prisms
dance
where there once was
nothing

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vacations of an efl teacher

My first year contract is complete! Well, it will be in one week…during that time I won’t have much real work to do, though.  So, essentially, it’s done!  I can’t believe it.  I also can’t believe I signed the contract to stay here another year, but I did.  School schedules are a little strange in Korea, there is a winter vacation for the month of January and during that time most teachers will teach at least one winter English camp.  The first week of February is this weird week of classes and graduation before the real end of the semester.  The new school year begins the first week of March.

Working in Korea as an EPIK teacher, I get two chunks of vacation time, 8 days in the summer and 10 in the winter (you also get 5 extra days if you renew your contract).  This is one of the really nice perks of working here.  Although I’m not a fan of deskwarming when the students don’t have school, I am thankful for my chances to travel.  And deskwarming isn’t so bad anyway.  It gives me a (forced) opportunity to make cooler lesson plans, study Korean, catch up on the news (oh, wait, that’s super depressing these days) or even better, to sit down with a cup of Korean instant coffee and write.

Summer vacation in August was rather busy.  After teaching 3 summer camps (so much work!), I flew off to meet my lifelong friend Mary in Thailand.  I was excited to finally travel with her after all of our years traveling separately and to see another new country. Thailand is great, but 9 days is definitely not enough.  It’s not long enough to really get a good feel for any country that large.  Even so, it was nice to get away for awhile and not think so much about waking up early and getting to school and lesson planning.

Our itinerary looked like this:
Day 1: Bangkok.  Coffee, Thai massage, Food
**Thai massage. So good. Holy wow.**
Day 2: Bangkok. Temples, Palaces, Coffee, Food
**Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace are stunning to see, but go early in the morning to avoid massive crowd sizes**
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Day 3: Day train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (8:30am-7:30pm. A seriously long train ride)
**I recommend flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to save time and energy.  Some of the views on the train were nice but to me I would’ve rather been out of a train doing something.**
Day 4: Chiang Mai.  Coffee, Food, Thai cooking class
**Take a cooking class in Thailand! You’ll be amazed at what you can do**
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Mary and I at Siam Rice Cooking School (Highly recommended!)
Day 5: Chiang Mai.  Coffee, Temples, Worked on lesson plans at coffee shops (yay), Food, Amanda’s illness begins…
Day 6: Chiang Mai. Sick. Chiang Mai Ram Hospital Visit.  Felt like death.
**Chiang Mai Ram Hospital is a nice for foreigners because their level of English is good enough for communication among all of the staff.  There are probably other good ones in Chiang Mai but I can’t speak for them**
**Also, dear Mary, thank you for accompanying me to the hospital when I felt like death.  Having sick friends on a trip is the worst, because you feel fine but you also want to help but you don’t want to help because you’re on vacation and you want to do stuff! In any case, your sacrifice will ever be remembered.  If your friend takes care of you on their vacation, you’d better be damn grateful!**
Day 7: Chiang Mai.  Sick. Feeling less like death after medication. To a spa for facials.
Day 8: Flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, Taxi to BKK Airport, Waited forever for flight, One last Thai massage in the airport.

If I got the chance, I would like to go back to Thailand.  I was so worn out from the year that I don’t think I was much fun to begin with (sorry Mary), and then I got seriously sick in Chiang Mai and missed out on a lot of natural wonders that would’ve, I’m sure, made the trip much more full.  3 full days while traveling is a lot of time out, sadly, so I missed out on hiking in some beautiful natural places and hanging out with elephants and eating a lot of delicious food.  (Sidenote, I’m convinced food poisoning is the closest a human can get to feeling death while still managing to stay alive).  All in all, I’m happy I went, and I was glad to travel with Mary (finally) but I don’t feel like I had enough time in the least bit.

In January I was able to take all my vacation at once.  EPIK teachers are allowed 10 days in the winter for vacation, and then if you are renewing your contract they give you a bonus 5 days.  I combined my vacation days with the Lunar New year (설날) and had a nice chunk of time away from teaching.

For 10 days, I was back in the US visiting family and friends.  It was good to be back to see the people I love, but honestly it also felt strange.  I had this weird feeling that I was foreign in my own country, even though I certainly also feel foreign in Korea.  Maybe the concept of “home” is just lost on me.  I went through my old things and went past my old apartment and drank coffee at my old regular places.  But it was different.  Or maybe it’s me who is different now.  One thing is for sure, though…it felt amazing to breathe such clean air again.  A “cold” that had been lingering for months suddenly went away after spending a few days in the Minnesota air.

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Snow and Sunshine in Minnesota

 

I was also able to participate in a sister march for the Women’s March on Washington.  I saw women (and men) of all backgrounds and beliefs come together to support and fight for women’s equality in a way that is accessible to all.  I won’t get into the politics of it all here, but I will say that I do believe now is a very important time for women to stand together peacefully and make our voices heard.

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Before going home (to my Korean one, that is) I went with Riza to Hong Kong and Macau.  Hong Kong is small, and the 5 days and 4 nights we spent there was pretty perfect.  It would’ve been nice to have about 2 more days to move a little more slowly and visit a few more cafes, but all in all I was not disappointed even with less than a week.  I was pretty rested after my vacation at home and I was ready to go all out and do things all day, so we were able to pack it all in.

This trip’s itinerary:
Day 1: Arrived around 10am, ate probably the most delicious wonton soup of my life, lost Riza’s passport, found Riza’s passport, took the train into the city center (Tsim Sha Tsui) to drop off our bags and freshen up.  Visited: Kowloon Park (lovely!), Garden of the Stars, Coffee Academics (cafe)

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Bruce & Riza

Day 2: Took the MTR to Tung Chung Stn and the bus to Ngong Ping Stn to get to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island.  This was probably my favorite place of the trip..it felt so peaceful there and the Buddha is beautiful and massive.

Went to Victoria Peak on the tram, visited the ladies market in the Mong Kok neighborhood (scored my only souvenier of the trip…a denim bag with a cat on it…)

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View from Victoria Peak

Day 3: Day Trip to Macau! Took the Ferry from the Kowloon ferry terminus to Macau.  It seems very easy to just buy tickets when you get there.  We used TurboJet.  It was so warm in Macau! Saw the ruins of St. Paul, Senado Square and headed to the Venetian Macau.  I think  my favorite thing about Macau were the pretty blue street signs with both Chinese and Portugese.  And the egg tarts…oh, the egg tarts.  Ferried back and slept for about 12 hours from exhaustion.

chinese and portugese signs macau에 대한 이미지 결과

Day 4: Hiked Dragon’s back (so windy, but so lovely!) Then we rested before watching the Chinese New Year parade.  It was huge…people were waiting hours before it started to get a good view.  The parade consisted of several floats and performances by groups from all over the world.  A little crowded, but cool to see.

Day 5: Eggs Benedict at Urban Coffee Roasters Tsim Sha Tsui (highly recommend for food and espresso…best flat white I’ve had in Asia thus far), packed our things, chilled out a bit and headed to the airport.

Pro-tips for Hong Kong (not sure I can call myself a pro, but…): Get an Octopus Card for the MTR (rail transport) at one of the customer service centers in an MTR station, go to the Lantau Island Buddha early in the morning (preferably on a weekday) for lovely views and less crowds…same goes for Victoria Peak (another tip, don’t get your hopes up too much for Victoria Peak as it mostly felt like a tourist trap to me despite the nice view).

I love love love vacaion time.  I’m already trying to hold myself back from planning my next one.  I’m thinking Taiwan or Japan next, or maybe Indonesia or the Phillipines.  Or… okay, enough for now.  Teaching abroad is not only great for the experience of living in another country, but you’re also given time off to explore nearby countries.  Now excuse my while I re-open my other tab…the flight search engine…