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…

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korea: the beginning

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cherry blossoms in jeongeup

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.

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welcoming ceremony at EPIK orientation

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.

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beverages of jeongeup

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.

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my wednesday middle school in the mountains

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).

lastly—

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?

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