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3 Things you need to know about Gwangbokjeol (Aug 15), the National Liberation Day of Korea

광복절

August 15 is one of the most meaningful days to Koreans. It is Gwangbokjeol, the National Liberation Day of Korea . You can see many Korean national flags “Taegeukgi” hung in the street or on the windows of the houses.

1. Why is Gwangbokjeol so special?

광복절5


It’s not “goodbye.” It’s “안녕히 계세요.”

2-3 students

Goodbyes are always tough. But yesterday, during my last day as an English teacher at Ulsan Sports Science School, I experienced a whole new level of emotional farewells. Over the past year, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by wonderful coworkers and enthusiastic students, all of whom consistently went above and beyond with their generosity, kindness and sincerity to make me feel welcomed and cared for.


10 EPIK Haikus

As my year with EPIK comes to a close, I find myself thinking a lot about the experience. Below are 10 haikus that reflect what I’ve learned while living, teaching and traveling in South Korea (though really they’re applicable to anyone teaching or living abroad anywhere!).

 


15 Korean Expressions That I’ve Learned

Having been married to a Korean for 4 years gives me the opportunity to develop my understanding about the Korean culture. Learning how to speak Korean fluently can be challenging and frustrating at the same time. I don’t know why I find it difficult to master the Korean language. When I decided to move to Korea with my husband and our 2-year-old son, I have accepted the fact that whether I like it or not, I have to learn the language in order for me to communicate well with other Koreans especially with my in-laws who couldn’t speak and understand English. When we arrived in South Korea on April 2, 2015, we stayed at my parents-in-law’s residence in Uiryeong County, Gyeongsangnamdo for 3 months. I’ve learned some Korean phrases/expressions just by listening to their daily conversation.

Here are the Top 15 Korean Daily Expressions that I’ve learned so far…

1.) Annyeonghaseyo!


Community Supported Agriculture Part 2: More Fun with Fresh Veggies

By Taryn Assaf

Summer can be a difficult time for farmers. Weather can be unpredictable, with high temperatures, too much or too little rainfall; crop eating pests are at their peak. That hasn’t stopped the gorgeous leafy greens and fragrant herbs from growing on Gachi farms. Most people would be weary of buying greens with little holes in them, bruised fruits, or yellowing herbs. We prefer perfection: our greens rich in colour, glistening in the supermarket spotlights; our fruits shining and vibrant; and our veggies without a spot of dirt. You’d be hard pressed to find any evidence that most produce ever existed in an ecosystem. How much food goes to waste simply because its appearance is deemed less than perfect?


Vlog Entry #19: The Countdown Begins

In just 34 days, my time in Korea will have officially come to a close! As part of the countdown, you’re invited to submit any and all questions you have about my experience this year! It can be related to teaching, traveling, living in Korea or anything else…within reason. Write in the comments section below and each day I’ll answer one question!


My last 72 hours in Korea: Exploring the outskirts of Incheon

You know what’s complicated? Personal finances abroad. I discovered the other day that my Korean Exchange Bank check card cannot buy international plane tickets unless they’re from a domestic Korean airline, such as Asiana or Korean Air. So instead of flying out to Vietnam on Wednesday as planned I am now flying tomorrow morning.

I’ve been staying at a really the Globetrotter’s Lounge, which is conveniently located in the middle of nowhere Incheon.


ISC’s Open Lecture Series July Event: “War, Peace, Reunification”

We can easily forget as foreigners living in Korea that we are living in a forcibly divided country still at war. Join the ISC in a reunification tour to explore regions of significance to the inter-Korean conflict. You can sign up at http://bit.ly/1eTvmEL 


How CDI-Cheonan (ChungDahm International) Screwed Me Over

This is a really difficult post for me to write, because I am so enraged and sad about what happened to me at the company I work(ed?) for, ChungDahm International. (Shame on the name!)

Please know that every hagwon and every teaching job in Korea is different. Just because I’ve had a nightmarish experience doesn’t mean that everybody does, and it certainly doesn’t mean that South Korea is a bad place to live and work in. This post is about my personal experience with a specific branch of one company.

A little backstory…

I had been planning on working with ChungDahm for over a year. I heard they pay well and on time, and seemed to be a reputable company. Before I came here, I’d been in contact for months with my recruiter. I should have known by the sounds of her ominous name, Misty Crooks, that something was up with ChungDahm.


All the Coffee in Korea (An Evolving List)

Would you like a little T'aegukki with your coffee?

Would you like a little T’aegukki with your coffee?

How much is “All the Coffee in Korea” anyway? That answer, to anyone who has walked this country’s occasionally wide, but often narrow streets, is about as obvious as a large, hairy, broad-shouldered waygookin is in a sea of small, curious hangookin children.

A lot (just in case the comment above didn’t make a lot of sense).


Making irresponsible decisions one hangover at a time!

You know what sucks? Not getting paid for eight weeks. Know what extra sucks? Funding an international move and not getting paid for eight weeks. Know what extra extra sucks? Being really bad at budgeting. Like me.

I came here with about $1,200. That, plus my plane ticket reimbursement, is all gone now.  Basically, I am terrible at budgeting. I feel really dumb and irresponsible for spending all my money and now I have to make it till July 5th without so much as a cent. WHY, NICOOOOLLEEEE, WHYYYYY? (Don’t worry, though, I have enough ramen and banana chips to make it through.)

To my defense, eight weeks is a fucking long time to go without a paycheck. Probably anyone would have a tough time. But I do have a weakness for expensive coffee and creature comforts that I need to exterminate ASAP.


How To: Prepare for and Pass the Epik Interview

Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I'm not just going to tell you exactly what happened in my interview, because that doesn't seem fair. What I can do is tell you all the dumb things I wish I hadn't done and the useful things I wish I had done, in hopes that you will have a better time of it than I did.

First off, make sure Skype works on whatever computer you plan to be in front of during the interview. I know this seems obvious, but trust me on this one: check and double check so there won't be any unforeseen technical difficulties. You know what they say about people who assume.


It’s been a month!

I’ve been in South Korea for a little over a month now.

Here are my thoughts.

Teaching at Company X in Cheonan is just okay.

Positives: I love the autonomy I have in front of the classroom. No supervisors are there to look over my shoulder. No one’s yelling at me and telling me what to do. Inside the classroom, I’m da boss, and it’s pretty great. I take pride in the work, and feel really good when things go smoothly in the classroom. It’s actually really fun experimenting with what works and what does not work with each group of students. There’s a lot to learn and it’s pretty much all on me to figure it out. In that sense, I like teaching.


New book is out! How to Thrive in South Korea: 97 Tips from Expats



Stop answering all those newbie questions! Just send 'em to this book.

Chef Bob Burger

 

Chef Bob Burger is a tasty place to eat in Cheonan and you should go there.

It’s located near the Starbucks, but unfortunately I can’t give you exact directions because I don’t really know how to do that in South Korea yet.

They serve “burgers” with rice “buns” instead of bread buns. The meat of the burger is a mystery to me, but so far I’d be willing to bet the meat I’ve eaten inside them is from a cow and occasionally a tuna fish that ran into a lot of mayo.

You can order for here or to go, and it’s really cheap. Anywhere from 2,000 3,500 won for a burger. You can also order a side of ddeokbokki, which is a mixture of really squishy rice and fish cake in a hot sauce. Ddeokbokki is good in small amounts and bad in large amounts. Chef Burger Bob has nice ddeokbokki.

 


MERScation Continues: Sunday on Daecheon Beach

As I mentioned in the previous post, the MERS scare has caused a beautiful rarity for us teachers in Cheonan: SCHOOL HAS BEEN CANCELED! Most of us are experiencing a glorious four to five day weekend.

In celebration of this vacation, I went to Daecheon Beach with a group of twelve foreign teachers and one native Korean. Daecheon Beach is about an hour away from Cheonan via Korail. Korail is basically like America’s Amtrak, but with nicer, velvety seats. I spent the short trip gazing out the window at rice paddies, which was a relaxing and fun activity in and of itself.

Once we got to Daecheon, a new friend introduced me to the best goddamn food on the planet: dakgangjeong. Dakgangjeong is wonderful chicken with a peanutty flavor. 

 


MERScation

MERS.

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome is alive in South Korea! Looks like this lurking deadly virus and I decided to arrive in Korea around the same time. MERS has a 40% fatality rate, which isn’t at all comforting, and some of the confirmed cases are in Cheonan where I live.

Consequently, very few students showed up to school yesterday and those that did all had on little masks with little cats or rabbits printed on them. My last class yesterday had three students, and the four of us were all slaphappy and giggly about the upcoming four day weekend. Felt like the day before Christmas break.

For today (Friday) and Monday, classes at the academy I teach at are CANCELLED. If you know what company I work for or know anything about South Korean hagwons, you will realize how rare and special the gem of a four day weekend is.  So far, it’s been great! Shopping! Potential Beach trips! And let’s not forget the deluge of hand sanitizer!


Culture Shock in South Korea

The first time I went abroad was to Argentina. I was fifteen years old, and absolutely fascinated by the concept of culture shock. I thought culture shock would be like a disease: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment. I thought that it would be easy to recognize and consequently easy to overcome.

I soon realized, though, that culture shock isn’t easy to deal with at all. That realization lead me to have really negative attitudes towards Argentina. At the time, I hated the country and couldn’t wait to go back home. A similar thing happened to me at sixteen when I went to China. I was way too overwhelmed with the differences to handle myself.

Now as a pseudomature pseudoadult, I am way more capable of living and thriving in an Eastern culture. Most of my time so far in Korea has been so busy and stressful (work, studying for the LSAT) that I’ve barely had a moment to breathe and look around at my surroundings. Nonetheless, some things have shocked me. In both pleasant and unpleasant ways…

1. Pleasant: Ice cream on top of a salad, served with fried chicken. Exactly what it sounds like. Not half bad, either.

IMG_03201-e1273478914487


Samgwangsa on Buddha’s Birthday

Every year it comes. On the eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, Korea celebrates Buddha’s Birthday. Among all of the holidays and festivals in South Korea, Buddha’s Birthday may be my favorite!

In Korean, they call it 석가탄신일 – seokga tansinil – or 부처님 오신 날 – bucheonim osin nal. In a literal sense, that means something like “the day when Buddha came.” A few weeks before the holiday itself, Buddhist temples all over the country begin preparing. They hang lanterns all over the temple and the grounds nearby. Sometimes the displays are modest, like at the small hermitages up in the remote mountains. Other times, the displays are large, lavish, and immensely colorful. There is one temple, however, which is simply breathtaking in it’s lantern display: 삼광사 – Samgwangsa.


An Ominous Night Out

Guess what???????

I made it through my first ever week as a teacher!! And what a week it was.

I’ve been go-go-go since leaving the States on May 12th. So this Friday, I needed a much deserved drink goddammit!! I also wanted to meet some of the other local foreigners in Cheonan, so I went to this place called Cantina with a bunch of my coworkers.

I sat for a while with a local Korean man. He gave me a few informal Korean lessons, and genuinely seemed surprised at my interest in the language. Then he sternly warned me not to “waste my time” drinking at bars every night like the other foreigners. I was bit taken aback by this, although I’d read before coming here that many foreigners spend almost all their free time drinking or “partying.”


Missing comforts of home in Korea

 

Here's another one I've already read about in a ton of blogs: around the 3 month mark of your time in Korea you'll really start missing the comforts of home.  It's my own fault.  I should have sent myself a care package.  I should have learned more Korean.  I should have brought a friend or boyfriend with me.  I should suck it up and deal with it.  This one gets a little sappy - be forewarned that I'm not actually upset just went down a rabbit hole of memories.  I'm missing the comforts of home.


Visualize Whirled Peas


I dream in Skyscanner part I

Probation, Farts, and Broken Electronic Devices: My First Day Ever as a Teacher

Yesterday was a big day for me. For the first time in my life, I got to work in a field that truly interests me: teaching! I was really nervous, and since I only had one week of training in Seoul, I was pretty unprepared.

To make matters worse, I was pulled aside before the class began and told that I was “on probation” for failing this one module of training we had to cover in Seoul. That definitely didn’t help to quell my nerves, and made me feel really uneasy about operating in South Korean business culture. To me “on probation” sounds so sinister. WHY ME?! But basically, what probation entails is nothing more than the Seoul trainers re-evaluating a video of me teaching in four weeks. Hopefully no big deal. And hopefully by then, they’ll pass me. If not, I get sent home.


What’s Passed is the Past

The training week for Company X was nerve wracking at best and nightmarish at worst.  The point of training week was to get us as prepared as possible for our first day teaching. You can either pass or fail training week, and if you fail you are sent home.

X’s training week layout makes sense for the company: They’re bringing in international teachers with only one year contract, so they need to train them as fast as possible and as cheaply as possible in order to make the most amount of profit.  They gave us nice shiny Samsung tablets and set us up for free in a nifty hotel. And the office building that training was conducted in was clean and comfortable.  And I think I made a friend or two. But the positives end there.


Training Day 1: A Terrible Afternoon at the Medical Center

I know I said I wasn’t going to post this week because I’d be too busy, but my first day of orientation was a special form of hell that definitely merits a ventpost.

Part of training with my company (that shall remain unnamed) includes, on the very first day of orientation, a medical exam. I never expected that a job position as an English teacher would demand such a humiliating, physically draining medical exam.

For one thing, we were told to fast before the medical exam, so during the morning training session I wracked with hunger. That’s why it was physically draining. It’s no big deal for me to skip breakfast and be a little hungry, but something about the jetlag and the act of being in a completely foreign environment made me SOOOO motherfucking HUNGRYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! I could hardly pay attention to the material we were covering!


Bukansan National Park: Finding Serenity in Seoul

Bukansan holds a Guinness World Record for the most visited national park in the world, with five million visitors a year. Today, I decided to be one of them and I’m glad I did.

You get to Bukansan by taking Line 4 to Gireum Station, then getting on some random bus (I can’t remember which one; I just followed someone who was going to the same place.) The closer and closer you get to Bukansan, the more the city changes from sleek and Westernized to traditional and calm. Surrounding the national park are high tech hiking clothes outlets, like Black Yak and North Face. It’s interesting to me that practically no Koreans would even consider hiking without their matchy-matchy pants and long sleeve shirts. How do they not pass out from heat exhaustion?!?!!!!  To them, I must’ve looked pretty crazy hiking alone in vans and casual street clothes. Oops.

Oh, and entry to the park is free!!! You just pick a route and go for it! Woo-hoo!


My first 24 hours in South Korea

Can I tell you something? I don’t actually like airplanes. Twenty-six hours total in flight. Nightmares, people. NIGHTMARES.

Things got better after the flights (there were three). Since I’ve already been to Seoul, I felt a sense of familiarity at Incheon International Airport, and on the subways.  It was weird after all those hours traveling to feel such a strong sense of returning.

I chose to stay at Dustin Guesthouse, a place I visited during my first trip to Korea. The first people I met were some Southern army boys boasting loudly about their affection for guns. Weird to travel halfway around the world to hear that conversation.


How to meet people in Korea (or at least Busan!)


You're going to have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your Prince (or Princess!).  Thankfully there is a mixed bag of great people in Korea.  Photo by Joel Gale Photography

Moving to Korea? 12 tidbits to consider...


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