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?

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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.

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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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my korea life: the halfway point

I’ve passed the six month point in my yearlong contract! How has living in Korea been this far?  How can I even begin to describe the changes I’ve undergone, the strange (to me) things I’m slowly adapting to or the interesting situations I’ve found myself in?  Let’s just say it’s been many things…amazing, terrible, beautiful, ugly…it’s been everything life normally is with the addition of the heightened senses you experience when you are wandering around a foreign land.

 

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friends!

Teaching has certainly been an adventure.  Teaching at five schools means I’ve gotten a varying array of experiences.  It means I always know what day of the week it is based on my location (I haven’t messed up and taken the wrong bus yet!)  Mondays through Wednesdays have me teaching middle school students–13-15 year olds.  I’ve had some really good days with these kids–many of them are so sweet and I love when the kids come to practice English with me before or after class.  I’ve also had many days where, looking out at my totally uncontrolled classroom, I’ve felt that I was a zookeeper rather than a teacher.  Just this week I had my first day of “giving up…” basically I lost control of the class to the point where the girls were having a screaming contest, some boys were playing “baseball” with my foam dice and the rest of the boys were doing things that will not be mentioned here.

Anyway, sometimes middle school kids go a little crazy in English class but overall, the longer I stay, the more respected I feel (by the kids). And they have so much studying in their lives that I kind of get the “go crazy in English class with the foreign teacher” thing.  Elementary school kids are just plain cute and it makes Thursdays and Fridays feel like a breeze carrying me into the weekend.  If I could choose, I would just teach cute little 3rd graders all the time.  Singing and playing and learning the ABCs and basic words with enthusiasm…. sigh.  I love them.

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some of my students being cute

Life in general has been good most days!  Living in Korea is so fun.  There’s always something going on and somewhere to go, and my city has everything I need for a chill weekend at home as well.  The job here can be stressful, but the weekends and holidays make it all worthwhile.  My friends here are really great; I know I’ve made some lifelong friends here.  It’s cheap to eat and drink here, public transport is so convenient and easy, and I’ve been traveling all over the country and all the while saving a bunch of the money I’m making.  It’s a great set-up overall.  Soon, though, I need to decide whether to stay a second year or head out and move on.  I don’t quite feel ready to commit to another year (seems like such a long time…) but I also feel a little terrified of the reverse culture shock and lack of life plan I’d have if I went back to the US.  I miss family, but I don’t have any specific thing I want to do with myself in the US.  I don’t know if I’m ready to live that life again.

I’m not going to say too much on this subject, but dating in Korea as a foreigner is….weird.  Things I’ve learned so far: guys (and probably also ladies) can be idiots all over the world, but the cultural difference adds in an extra dimension of confusion to the chaos that is the dating world.  Anyway, at this point I’m happily single, hanging out with my wonderful friends and meeting new ones, keeping an open mind but (the more people I meet) becoming ever more comfortable with the idea of being a crazy aunt to my little sister’s future babies and having a cat-child or two of my own.

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Visitors! I’ve had visitors.  Mary came to visit in the beginning of September and now my sister is here.  We’re sitting at a cafe in Busan overlooking the ocean as I write this, actually!  It’s been fun showing them around my adopted country and seeing Korea through fresh eyes again.  It showed me how far I’ve come in terms of understanding what the hell is happening here, as well as how much Korean language I’ve picked up from studying and just living here.  My speaking basically sucks, but I can read and often understand the gist of what people are saying.  It feels like a huge accomplishment even if I am incredibly far from fluency.

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Mary and I at Gyeongbukgung in Seoul

I’ve been a bad blogger, but I have lots of posts up my sleeve!  Stay tuned for my personal anthology of Korea’s themed cafes, a resource page for people interested in coming to work in Korea through the EPIK program and of course, more updates on my various experiences here.  Love you all!

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