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.
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.
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.
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)
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…)
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.
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…
Taking a small rest from cleaning my place, I grabbed my phone. ‘I’ll kill a few minutes with Facebook…why not,’ I thought rather unconsciously. So I sat on my bed and clicked that little blue and white icon and there it all was. My feed is full of tragic images of the victims of the recent Orlando nightclub shooting. Stories by survivors are emerging. Deeply terrified people crammed into bathroom stalls and corners, desperate to hold onto life.
Donald Trump emerges with his wildly inappropriate comments about all Muslims (particularly immigrants, despite the fact that the shooter was an American…), the occasional radical Christian pops up in a comments section saying disgusting things about how “the gays were being judged,” and the gun control debate rages on. Another rape case sheds light on white privilege, particularly the “good ol’ boys club” variety. News outlets are overwhelmed. Competition for readers results in more and more “shocking” (read: click-baiting) headlines.
Now, the fact alone that DT is even a presidential candidate astounds me to no end. Koreans and other various foreign nationals can’t seem to wrap their minds around it either and are continuously asking, “…but why?”
Anyone who knows me has probably heard me say this before. I am not a nationalistic person. [Before you have time to say it, I’ll answer your questions. No, I do not hate America. Yes, I respect those who have served on America’s behalf. No, I do not think the way America does things is working]. Nationalism, while sometimes unifying for a particular demographic, is overall divisive. Even without physical walls blocking our view of the neighbors, mental walls are as high as can be. They. Them. Those people. My personal loosely held conspiracy theory is that professional sports were an invention of governments (and/or those who benefit financially from war) to get average citizens comfortable with the idea of hating the “other.” But this is not a post about nationalism, so take me out for coffee one Saturday if you want to get into that. All of that to say…despite my non-nationalism, I still consider the United States “home.” No matter where I go or what I do with my wandering self, I think I’ll always feel that way.
And right now, I am deeply saddened by my home country. Since my move to Korea, I’ve watched ‘America’ from afar. I have felt embarrassment, disappointment, and bewilderment. But today I felt defeated, and I cried for the lost lives, and the lives that are lost every day due to hatred and violence. I don’t want to argue with you about guns. But is it not obvious to you, fellow Americans, that other developed countries don’t have this problem? I don’t really care if you like to go hunting in autumn, if you own a shotgun or a rifle or a pistol or live in the woods. I grew up where you did. Please don’t be defensive. Something needs to change. I wish it were not so, and maybe in the future there will be greater peace, but for now violence resides in the hearts of humans. And it’s too easy to go gun shopping. Easier than it was for me to get a driver’s license. The combination has been deadly. In these “discussions,” I’ve seen too many people shouting at each other, and I haven’t witnessed enough people listening.
And that, I think is the problem. We don’t shut up long enough to listen to each other. We come to radical conclusions based on misinformation. We choose hate because hate is easy. We don’t choose listening, we don’t choose love because love is painful and difficult. It means we have to examine ourselves and maybe even admit we were wrong. Sometimes, it means we need to give something up that we’ve held onto for most or all of our life. I use the pronoun we because the problem is in all of us.
I don’t have answers. I’m not writing today to promote a specific viewpoint, not at this time. I’m writing because I’m heartbroken. I’m sick of the hatred, and I’m tired of the violence. I am writing because it’s all I really know how to do right now about it all, sitting over here on my bed in Korea. I am writing for my LGBT friends and my Muslim friends. I am writing as therapy for myself. With everything in me, I am sending love and peace into the atmosphere. With everything in me, I hope that we can stand by each other, love each other, and march bravely into the future.
i have no car
can’t get to any place
without my own legs carrying me
or reliance on another
where you can open the window
close the window
spit out the window
and no one cares
where i am
i can see
ladies with backs bent
from years of service
to the earth
carrying the vegetables
to the people
where i am
i see a man who needs help
talking to himself
alone in his head
and everyone looks
the other way
“do you know my son?”
“do you know my granddaughter?”
“do you speak this language?”
“from where do you come?”
dark eyes looking into mine
hand reaching out to touch
my messy hair
i’ve been waiting
i let my legs carry me
through a little town
in the countryside
by the river
a cat is chasing a chicken
the running water
and the fear of the hen
are the only sounds
is where i met
the little girl
and her little dog
and we laughed
for lack of common language
she told me i was pretty
and i told her she was pretty
and she giggled
and covered her face
and ran away
invited to sit
pushed and shoved
and patted on the back
it’s another day
on the bus
I have been laying around in my little apartment all day feeling quite sick and even more annoyed that I’m physically unable to hike and travel a bit like I had hoped to this weekend (the 5-10 minute walk to the nearby convenience store was almost too much to handle, so…). I figured it was a good time for my long overdue blog update.
I can hardly believe how fast time seems to be moving. it has been just about two months since i landed at incheon airport feeling all dazed and confused after my ridiculous lineup of cancelled and/or rerouted flights around the US and my one very long flight from chicago to south korea. I found the counter where I could pick up my korean sim card, and then made my way to the EPIK counter with my arms full of luggage where I was told a bus would pick me up shortly.
orientation is a blur in my mind now. a combination of jet lag and recovery from being sick before leaving (am I always sick?) made me feel rather out of it for the first few days, and the schedule was pretty busy and tiring on top of that. we had teaching classes, lectures, meals, korean language classes and a demo lesson to prepare for. meanwhile, most of us were left wondering where in korea we’d be living for the next year, what grade levels we’d be teaching and how many schools we’d teach at. all in all it was good to have an introductory period to korea and to meet others who were doing the same thing, but it felt like a lot of waiting for answers.
at the end of orientation, we found out our fates for the year–mine was that I’d be living in jeongeup-si in jeollabuk province and that I’d be teaching middle school. what I didn’t know yet was that I would be teaching at 5 rural schools–3 middle schools and 2 elementary schools. at the time I felt pretty overwhelmed by the idea of teaching middle school kids when all I had mentally prepared for was teaching elementary school kids. now that i’m into the swing of things, teaching middle school and elementary school both have their pros and cons and it’s not as terrifying as I thought it might be. 😉
my apartment…..it’s not bad. well, it’s not bad anymore. when I first moved in, I found a pretty good sized population of weevils (flour bugs) feasting on some dirty dishes and pots and pans that the previous tenant graciously left behind. I’ll be honest, I was grossed out at the state of the place, particularly the cupboards (where most of the bugs lived) and the bathroom. BUT, I purchased some cleaning supplies and gloves and went to town. i’ve done a pretty thorough cleaning every weekend since I’ve been here and I’ve kept all my food refrigerated, and i’m happy to say that I have been bug free for a week! (meaning, I haven’t SEEN a living weevil for a week. are they still living in the cracks, waiting for me to drop a crumb? i try not to think about it). anyway, now that it’s been cleaned I’m pretty content with it. the size is nice for me and didn’t require me to buy much of anything to fill it up, and the bed is comfortable. it’s free for me to live here and it’s my own personal space, so I’m happy. a little shift in perspective and a positive attitude make all the difference.
my city….I genuinely like it. for a korean city, it’s small. but it’s not actually that small. it has everything I could possibly need or want apart from maybe an H&M, but it’s better for my bank account that the nearest one is 30-ish miles away by bus anyway. koreans love coffee shops. If you know me at all, you know that pleases me greatly. within 5-10 minutes walk from my place, I can get to at least 15 coffee shops. (mhmm, I’m counting). my relationship with espresso will continue to be strong this year. I’m even becoming a semi-pro at ordering coffee in korean (when I don’t get all shy and lose confidence, that is)! important phrases include: I’ll have one latte (or americano), please; one extra shot please, and I’ll have it for here/take out. anyway, enough about coffee…. the other foreigners in town have been really friendly and welcoming (thanks guys!) to myself and the other new teachers. there are, i think, less than 20 of us in total living in town. the nightlife here isn’t too exciting, but there are still a lot of restaurants, bars/clubs, and noraebangs (singing rooms). If i decide I need more excitement, it’s super easy to get anywhere else in korea by train or bus.
teaching….it’s definitely been challenging. the first few weeks were a little rough as I had no idea what anyone expected of me. it has gotten much better, and I feel like though it’s still a lot of work if I want to create quality lesson plans for my students, it’s become a lot more enjoyable. I’ve chilled out a bit on thinking I have to control every detail of what goes on in class and because of that the whole experience has been a lot more relaxed. It’s okay to use the mediocre textbook activities sometimes if it means I get enough sleep the night before. it’s going to be okay if I planned what I thought would be a really enjoyable lesson and the kids ended up with that “teacher I’m bored” look on their face. teaching, I’ve found so far, is full of all kinds of life lessons that need reinforcing. mainly, for me, letting go of the need for perfection and just going with the flow.
speaking of going with the flow… yoga. what would I do without my practice? my favorite thing to do after school is get on my mat and get rid of any negativity that I let seep into my brain & body throughout the day. I HIGHLY recommend Yoga with Adriene (youtube) and an app called “Yoga Studio” which I believe is only available for iOS? these two (free and/or very inexpensive) resources made me fall in love with yoga over two years ago, and my life has never been the same. (insert dramatic music here).
many friends and acquaintances have asked me various questions about how I found out about this teaching program, what tefl class to take and “why korea?” I worked with Greenheart Travel to apply for the EPIK program (English Program in Korea). I recommend everyone who asks, if you don’t want to apply directly through EPIK and you want someone to kind of hold your hand through the process (it’s an intense process, people!) then work with greenheart! I had a fantastic experience and it was nice having someone in my own timezone (USA Central) to work with and email if I had any questions. they recommend the International TEFL Academy tefl course, which I took. it was a little expensive compared to some others, but I found it to be pretty well organized and I learned a lot about practical ways to teach english. if you think this is something you want to try, then I say go for it. why not?
Happy 2016 everyone! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? It feels good to be back. As I’ve been busy applying and interviewing to teach in Korea, I’ve let time slip away without an update about my recent travels to Sri Lanka. (If you don’t already know, I am preparing to move to Korea to teach with the EPIK program in February). Now that I’m sitting around waiting to hear about my placement city and sign off on my official teaching contract, I have a little more time on my hands to think, process and write.
Sri Lanka was incredibly beautiful. Breathtaking beaches, brilliant green fields of tea growing throughout the mountains, the curiosity and hospitality of the locals and the FOOD. Seriously though, the food. My taste buds will never be the same. The group of people I traveled with went impressively well together-I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of people to hang out with for two weeks.
When someone asks me excitedly, “How was your trip!?” I genuinely don’t know what to say. I usually reply with a generic positive exclamation. I did, of course, have a seriously wonderful time in Sri Lanka, but how can I even begin to explain the impact that setting foot into another new world has on my soul? I can tell you I saw elephants and got sick with food poisoning for three days and got all dressed up in a saree and drank the local coconut liquor, but when I enter a foreign land something deeper always happens internally than I can describe to you with my words. Travel is a powerful experience–the most powerful, in my opinion. So, instead of a play by play I’ll just share a few of the thoughts which, strung together, make up a rough outline of “how my trip was.”
When you are an average American from the lower middle class who just flew across the world juxtaposed directly next to a Sri Lankan tea worker who makes 600 rupees ($4 USD) per day but is fighting for 1000 ($7 USD), you question things. You just do. You can’t help but think about the $4 latte you grab a few times a week on the way to work, or the little $7 airport salad you ate during your long and incredibly boring layover in Dallas, Texas. You can’t help but wonder about the concept of currency, and the man made idea that the American piece of paper in my right hand is worth more than the Sri Lankan piece of paper in my left. You also can’t escape the reality that though it is a man made idea, you must abide by the principles of these ideas if you want to participate in society like the other humans.
I learned that my acting skills are greater than I thought they were. Or maybe, it’s my eating skills. While the spicy food burned my mouth with the fire of a thousand suns, I was still capable of smiling politely and sitting casually at a table. I even came to enjoy the spiciness of the food, and I find myself adding cayenne pepper or some other spicy spice to everything in the midwestern United States where I live. It’s hard to find any meaning in midwestern food when you’ve just returned from Sri Lanka. I’m excited to try all the spicy food Korea has to offer.
I cannot express how hopeful it made me to see a country with a recent history of a horrific civil war full of such religious tolerance. Of course I was only around for two weeks but in that short time I watched Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians exist peacefully and respectfully together. The US could take some notes.
Stay tuned for my first post from Korea…I can’t wait to hop on another plane next month and be off on my next adventure. Keep in touch, please! And have a beautiful new year.
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reasons to be dissatisfied seem to be spewing out of every corner, brewing up down every street and springing up inside each of us. reasons to feel that you do not have enough, that you do not do enough, that you do not give enough or take enough…that you are not enough.
what is the source of dissatisfaction in your life? i know that i tend towards this when i am stationary, when i am not embarking on a grandiose adventure or partaking in my next seemingly meaningful endeavor.
i have come to believe, once again, that the greatest adventure of all has to do with the simple moments–an awareness that brings with it the appreciation for the moon lighting up the darkness, the joy that comes from delighting my senses of smell and touch with a cup of warm and strong coffee, the connection that comes from acknowledging the coffee farmer and having gratitude for his work, or the smallness i feel when i stand in the valley of mountains. the simple moments of a kind interaction with a stranger, or a child laughing, or a hug from my sister. daydreams are beautiful, but simple daily realities have now truly stricken me with their vast profundity.
if looking at wildflowers growing by the lake doesn’t make you cry tears of happiness–what does? if that’s my thing–what is it for you? what is beautiful to you? i thought i had to run circles around the world to find out, but the sublime is at my doorstep. the sublime is at your doorstep. it is in you as much as it is floating around in the sky on the opposite hemisphere of this earth.
what do you love? what brings you joy? i challenge you to make a little list of the little things in your daily life that make you happy. here’s mine:
one. time with close friends and family
two. meditation (while staring at trees, preferably)
three. yoga classes
four. new friends
five. cat cuddles
six. (responsible amounts of) wine
seven. being around trees even while not meditating
nine. deep, unstoppable laughter
ten. making lists with even numbers of bullet points