Land of the Morning Calm

Land of the Morning Calm
Haeundae Beach

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I have been majorly slacking on these posts. This is mostly because I have been focusing on my work more and spending time outside of work less. Recently, as I have become more comfortable with teaching, I have been inspecting how and what I teach and figuring out ways to improve. I have come up with some good ideas for next semester that may improve my teaching and help the students more. I sincerely hope that I get to stay in Middleschool because I have gotten to the point where I am okay at teaching it, I think.

Also, I have gotten more involved recently which has kept me busy. I have always wished I was better at speaking and specifically public speaking. A coworker recommended Toastmaster's and Jess (another coworker) and I checked it out. Boy, am I glad I did. Not only was it clear that the way the meetings are structured really helps you grow and improve your speaking, but it was clear that the members are all really supportive and really love being in the club. I have met a lot of really interesting, kind people as a result of trying something new, and I'm loving it. This coming week I get to do a book review which I am enthralled about but also slightly nervous. I feel that I could really change my life by learning how to communicate and connect to those around me better.

Additionally, I have been volunteering in a local foreign school in a first grade classroom which has been amazing. The teacher I am helping is such an accepting sweetheart and has made me feel welcome and the kids are a blast. Additionally, the teacher has been letting me know about foreign school job opportunities and other things about living in Busan. I am handing my resume into the school's vice principal just in case they are still hiring...

There have recently been a lot of changes at the school where I am working which has also kept me busy and on my toes. Some of the changes are good, and some are bad...But I think overall I will continue to enjoy my experience here in Busan.

I just want to say that recently I have been hit by homesickness. I miss my wonderful, albeit silly, family and I worry about missing out on parts of their lives. Because of the difficulty in scheduling a time to talk with them because we are all so busy, I don't talk to them nearly as much as I would like. While I see many opportunities here in Korea to gain teaching experience and set my life going in the right direction...the fact that any long term commitment would keep me away from them hurts my heart. Clearly the solution is for you all to move to South Korea. Okay? Great.

That also goes for my friends back in the states. I wish I could say with certainty that I am coming back to you guys for good, soon...

Anyway, I am looking forward to this weekend especially because we are getting paid, I get to see my friends at Toastmaster's and talk about I book I like, and on Sunday I am going to go on a picnic with my coworkers. :)

I hope you all are finding happiness and are loving life like I am. <3

Friday, January 13, 2012

The First Sunrise...Hello 2012. :)

This is going to be a bit of a dinky post, I'll admit. Also a very belated one considering it is well into the New Year and I'm just now writing about it...

For New Years Eve our group resolved to explore Busan together and stay up all night in order to see the first sunrise of the New Year. Why? Because we could. Also, the first sunrise is a big deal here. People convene on the beach to set off fireworks, drink, eat and set balloons free to ring in the New Year.

After a long night of floating around meeting many new people, dancing, eating Korean food and McDonald's, and of course the Korean Kareoke...We got coffee and made our way to Haeundae beach with the large, exhausted crowd who shuffled towards the sand in order to see the sun. I was surprised by the sheer number of people up at 6am on a Sunday morning, in the cold at the beach. Our group picked a comfortable spot to sit and commenced waiting for the sun.

We watched teenagers run around, a kite salesman trying and failing to keep a kite aloft, groups of people set off small orange hot air balloons with the occaisional firework. It was a bit foggy so as the sky got lighter we began to think we might not be able to see the sun. Thousands of white helium balloons were let go into the sky at once and four helicopters randomly flew by. Jokingly, upon seeing the helicopters, one of the guys in the groups turned to us and said "Guys, if those are from North Korea, and this is it...I just want to's been fun." Luckily, they were just random helicopters.

Just as we were getting up to leave thinking the show was over, people started pointing and shouting. Sure enough, we could see the top of the sun peeking through the mist. As time went on we saw more until it looked like a large egg yolk low in the sky. Satisfied we gratefully made out way home to a warm bed and slept. Seeing the first sunrise of the New Year is considered good luck. I hope all of you back home have been lucky so far in 2012. I know I have. :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Christmas Blessings

This time of year is always so busy and just flies by. In all the planning of festivities, and adjusting to my new work schedule, I have not been posting regularly (can you guess what one of my New Year's Resolutions is?) I guess I'll start with Christmas.

Happy kids!

I was worried that Christmas would be filled with loneliness and homesickness since I am far away from those I love. However, with a fellow coworker, I went to a local orphanage Christmas morning. We found all sorts of games and activities to do with the kids, picked up some candy, and then schlepped onto the Metro to meet other members of Volunteer Busan. Right away the group made us feel welcome and we huddled together talking excitedly about meeting the kids while we waited for other members. Once everyone had joined us, we piled onto a bus.

When we disembarked we were met by a wizened woman who smiled and motioned us into the playroom to get ready to set things up. A small group of foreigners had prepared a skit that involved the grinch so they set to putting their costumes on and painting the "grinch" green. The rest of us less dramatically inclined volunteers began sorting through the presents and frantically doing last-minute wrapping. Everyone went into action, there was no one just standing around. In a short time we had the presents organized by gender and age group and we were in shock with how many presents there were. SO HAPPY! Then we got to work planning the activities to do with the kids. We created three stations where kids could decide where to go and what to do. Once the kids came down, we were prepared and excited. You could tell so were they! They were mostly middle school aged kids, and mostly girls. Many of them smiled and waved as they came in and sat down to watch the very spastic Grinch try and steal Christmas.

Present time!

After a brief presentation of a donation of "Happy Points" for all the students which are basically gift cards to trendy places to eat (every middleschooler's dream; free food) the kids came over to our stations. Most of them weren't shy at all. Many of the girls came over when they saw we had origami and arts and crafts and got to work. Many of the volunteers are bilingual so that helped with the language barrier. The only group of children who weren't joining in was a group of older middle school boys who were kind of looking around like they weren't sure what to do. Since there were many volunteers at our station, I grabbed a bag of marbles and a Korean version of Jacks and sat down near them, showed them the games and motioned them over, preparing myself for them to decline. Almost right away when they saw the Korean jacks they came over and sat in a circle with me. I soon found that I am terrible at Korean jacks. Haha, but they put up with my lack of skills nicely. It filled you with so much Christmas spirit to look around the room and see everyone just having a ball sitting on a cold stone floor coloring or doing the limbo with string. Smiles all around.

An origami rose one of the kids made for me. Impressive.

After too short a period spending time with the kids, it was then time for presents! Then it was mayhem, which was to be expected. Some volunteers tried to organize the process but it quickly dissolved. In addition to presents, they also got candy and warm clothing to wear. It was reassuring seeing them put on warmer clothing, the orphanage was pretty high up and it was cold! After the present excitement, the kids went back to their dorms to put their presents away and there were still many gifts left which were donated to the orphanage for the play area. Then we set to cleaning up. With everyone's help, in no time, we had everything organized and straightened and made our way upstairs to the mess hall where the workers there had taken the large amounts of junk food the volunteer group had donated and arranged a spread that seemed like something out of Willy Wonka. Volunteers spread out amongst the tables and we waited for the kids to arrive. We were told that it's normal for the kids to take food and put it in their pockets for older siblings or friends who are working at part time jobs during the day.

All of the kids were very polite and hungry for attention. A group of girls motioned me over and tried to ask me questions but we were having difficulties understanding each other at times. The thing that struck me the most was how giving they all were. They shared everything with their table and would go to other tables to spread the food around. It was truly inspiring. The hardest part of the whole thing was the good byes. It seemed much too soon to be leaving but their dinner was on it's way (like there was any room after all the junk...ooops) and we had to catch a bus back. They stood out on the steps of the mess hall waving good bye and thanking us as we trekked back down the hill. The fuzzy feeling lasted for the rest of the evening. I truly hope that life throws some good fortune their way, they deserve it.

Om nom nom. Potluck dinner with friends!

Once we got back to my apartment we set about preparing the food for the potluck Christmas dinner my coworkers were throwing. I sauteed shrimp and built a fruit salad with a coworker. When I got to the party I was shocked by how much food we had! It was ridiculous. We all ate and talked and then ate, and ate, and ate. Haha. I ate so much, so quickly that I started feeling a bit woozy so I headed home early. As I crawled into bed, I did miss my family and loved ones back home but,I was so full of good feelings and food, I was happy. :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Seoul Weekend Update

The eventful weekend in Seoul came to a dramatic close with announcement of the death of the North Korean leader Kim Jeong Il. Many people back home have been asking me what the South Korean response has been and, from what I have seen, there isn't much response. In general, the South Korean people are just tired of the ridiculousness that is their northern counterpart. There is a general fear that things will get worse, but little hope that things will get better of their own accord. There aren't parties or military parades. When asked, many students are glad he's dead but worried about the future. It's interesting. Because of the nature of their relationship with the North, the middle schoolers I teach are the most politically aware teenagers I have encountered. It's likely they are just parroting what they hear their parents, teachers or guardians say, but it is impressive nonetheless. I've noticed many South Korean students here like Busan, but have problems with Korea. They want to leave and study in England or the U.S. They do not agree with the signing of the FTA and they can provide reasons why, often. It's interesting.

Philly Cheesesteak or silkworm larvae...decisions, decisions...

Before the big news, we had a very eventful weekend. The company I work for, Avalon, had a huge end of year party where teachers and staff from all over South Korea came. We took group pictures, some teachers performed in a talent show and got cash prizes. The most surprising point of the show was when a Korean performer came on stage and busted out 'Rock 'n' Roll' by Led Zeppelin. I was pretty shocked, it was impressive! Come to find out it was a woman too! She had short hair and glasses and wasn't wearing dresses like most Korean women do. The Ceos and important people in the company gave speeches. It was a beautiful venue. The bus trip up was almost 7 hours long and we took three rest stops on the way.

Fun times but reaaaaalllly long.

After the event ended, we met up with a couple of people who had attended the orientation in Seoul with our teachers and now live there. They took us out on the town to see the sights. While Seoul was a great place to visit ful of interesting places to go and eat, I have to say I'm glad I live in Busan. Seoul seems like it'd take a while to get used to. I think it may be comparable to nicer parts of New York City but the people are quieter and less pushy. The cab drivers are still insane.

After we ate, I had my first kareoke experience in Korea. I can say it was actually really fun! Unlike in kareoke bars in the U.S. in Korea you pay for a room for an hour and it's just you and your friends with a Kareoke system. So you and people you are comfortable with are just screaming along to ridiculous songs. Oh and I played the tamborine. So my father's dream of me becoming the tamborinist in a band is semi-actualized. We stayed out very late, visiting many places because it was so cheap. We didn't get to where we were staying until 8am! At that point after walking around in the cold and lugging our bags around Seoul, it was really nice to curl up on a blanket on the heated floor and sleep. We all stayed with this guy Gary who was a hero and made us coffee in the morning and then went with us to help us get the KTX back to Busan. While the bus ride up was free, the KTX took less than half the time and cost 48,000KRW which isn't bad. At some points the train was going 300 Kilometers per hour. It was such a whirlwind of activity I didn't get as many pictures as I would have liked and discovered too late that it's easy to take video with my iPod...But lesson learned and hopefully it's easy to upload video on here.

Hope everyone back home is well. I'm working on compiling a gift box for my family, but it's likely to get there almost a month from now...sorry. My classes are fun so far, but the biggest problem I'm having is figuring out how to make the students happy by making the classes fun and interesting, while still completing the work in the workbooks to make the administration and the parents happy. It's a difficult balancing act. We shall see.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Bukkoos Good-byes and a Snowball Fight (sort of).

After a long week of teaching, Friday rolled around and one of the old foreign teachers (Aaron) was celebrating his last day in Korea so, of course, we went to Smiley's for Korean BBQ. The name of the place is not actually Smiley's but it's called that because the owner is forever smiling.

He's aptly named.

Once we were all seated on the floor we proved ourselves mature adults by proceeding to start a "snowball fight" between the two tables by chucking our washcloths at each other. There is still controversy over who threw the first punch. The owners were good natured about our rambunctiousness luckily...We enjoyed a lovely, albeit somewhat silly dinner.

He makes this face...a lot.

I was at a table with Aaron's father and brother, Aaron, his girlfriend Namyoung, and Jay. We were definitely the cool table.

Making peace signs in pictures is cool.

After much meat and side dishes, we went to the local foreign bar HQ and talked and listened to music. I was sleepy so I went back earlier than everyone else who apparently stayed out until 5am. Such party people!

The next day we decided to have a movie night at one of my coworker's apartment. I woke up late and was starving so I went to a Vietnamese place that just opened up. It was a nice change of pace and a very trendy looking place. Maybe I'll have to visit 'nam sometime afterall.

Jess is thuper exthited for the Pho.

After a week long debate as to which movie we were going to watch, we finally settled for Robinhood Men in Tights as something on which we could all agree.

The boys are less excited about the Cary Elwes action.

We ordered pizza (not kimchi for once!) and enjoyed laughing at, and in the case of the females drooling over Cary Elwes, the movie. The next night we went to a dinner party at one of the ladies who works at HQ apartment. She made us homecooked Korean food which was amazing and we talked and watched Law and Order. It was a relaxing conclusion to a pretty busy weekend and week.

This coming weekend we are all taking a bus (possibly a train) up to the capitol city Seoul for the year-end company shindig. We are planning to stay there a night and travel back to Busan separately so that we can visit friends in Seoul (I know some people from my highschool in Vienna, Austria who live there!) and chill out with other foreign teachers in South Korea. I'm really excited to get out of Busan and see more of South Korea. In the future, we are planning on taking a ferry to Japan (or maybe the plane) and plans to visit other countries around South Korea are in the works. It's an exciting time to be alive. :)

Much love and good wishes for everyone back home <3


We went with a huge group of people including

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Barf-day to me. :oP

So last week was a whirlwind of action, good food, new places, goodbyes and, unfortunately, new relationships with the porcelian throne. On the first I was able to move out of the 'Love Motel' and into my new apartment. I'm trying to look on the bright side, but let me just say it's a good thing I have experience living in Third World conditions. Haha. Besides needing to be drenched in Clorox and vigorously elbow-greased, the apartment is very nice and the previous owners have left many items which can, at times, be confusing- tamborine anyone!? But the location is great, less than three minutes walk from where I work and literally on top of a convenience store that offers everything a Wawa would except for the hoagies (and the day-old meatballs).

Pictures of my new home. Where's Waldo?

For most of the week we newbies were thrown into teaching so we were busy during the day preparing for that and the evenings were spent trying to figure out how to get our clothes out of the Korean washers which are all in Hangul and will only let you have access to your clothing when IT wants you to. I'm on the fourteenth floor and if need be I can repel down this fire escape shoot thing that is built into the wall Batman-style....oooohhhhhh yeeeeaaaaah.

...I never liked her anyway. (Jean shop in a local mall).

The night before my birthday was great. I hung out with the other teachers at this great Korean Barbeque place and had a ball talking about our classes. After dinner we went over to one of the teacher's apartments and hung out until wee hours of the morning. Later that day, I woke up feeling a little under the weather, but well enough to greet the maintainance guy and have a conversation with him. Just as he left my health took a turn for the worst. I had been drinking Gatorade that for some reason was GINGER flavored thinking it'd help my health and that I was just dehydrated or something.

I didn't feel the need to hurl, however, until one of my fellow foreign teachers came knocking on my door asking if I wanted to come walk around with her in town because it was nice and sunny. In the middle of her sentence, I pushed past her into the bathroom, closed the door and lost the contents of my stomach. It was only seconds later that I realized that I had just closed myself in the bathroom with the light off and was standing in the dark. After a couple beats there was a tentative knock with a quiet 'are you okay?' coming from the other side of the door. 'Yeah,' I managed to splutter. She eventually said that she'd come see how I was doing later and quietly left. For the next day and a half I got to know my new toilet VERY WELL. The only thing that kept me sane was the fact that I had several good books to read in between puke sessions.

I woke up this morning exhausted but stable and made my way to the immigration office to apply for my Alien Registration Card. So, you know, I won't be deported or anything. I have slowly been feeling better and was able to eat solid food for the first time it what seems ages. As we were finishing up our meal at our favorite cheap place to eat near school, everyone started to get all shifty, but I was still tired and out of it. I didn't see the cake with candles coming until they burst out singing and it was plopped in front of me. The owner of the restaurant came over and gave me a hug. I was bright red and the cake had four (I turned 24) candles and a cute chocolate coffee cup on the top. It was heart-shaped and lovely. I was pretty touched, I nearly cried in my kimchi. The rest of the day was great. I had two gregarious classes that made it easy to teach, except this time I refrained from throwing fart putty at the kids because it sent some of the girls into hysterics.

All in all, life is good. :)

Surprise! That cake was soooooo good and cute! So nice of my new friends.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Health clinics in Korea are quite an experience. The government expects you to go through a rigorous and, oddly thorough, health examination shortly after arrival in the country. The thing that struck me most about the process was how open it all was, there were no closed doors and you could sit there and watch people getting their blood drawn and people shuffled through the hallways in the flimsy hospital gowns. There were different stations you circulated through with your records and got the clearance to go onto the next station. Kind of reminded me of an obstacle course. The first station was body measurements where they weighed you, measured your height, blood pressure, sight and, for somereason, chest size. This information was recorded and then you were sent to the next station where you were asked to give a urine sample and then they drew blood for testing. The doctor in charge of this station had a difficult time finding my veins in the crook of my arm. After failed attempts, he drew blood from my wrist which was unpleasant. After that it was off to the radiology lab where your chest was x-rayed. Sadly, we didn't get to see the pictures. The last station was sitting in a doctor's office while he asked you questions about your health history.

Afterwords I tried this thing:

Yup...squid jerky

It was super chewy and hard. It had an interesting flavor and consistency. I didn't mind it but not the best snack I've had since coming to Korea. The first Korean snack I had when I got to Gimpo:

Shrimp chips.

They are pretty good, have a very mild flavor and are a bit greasy, but they taste like shrimp. My first dinner in Korea was kind of a cop-out but I had been on flights for about twenty four hours and was ready to sleep, so I picked up some ramen. I was surprised to find that there is a HUGE selection here. In the States we have pretty much two flavors chicken and shrimp. Here they have ones with different kinds of noodles, bits of beef,'s pretty amazing. I can definitely say that Korean just-add-hot-water ramen trumps American ramen any day:

But still cheap: 1,000 KRW (roughly a dollar)

Speaking of food, during lunch today all the foreign teachers went as a group to eat and after we walked down to the local market. A huge tent covered the streets and there were stands where you could buy live eels, catfish and other kinds of fish in tanks in addition to vegetables, spices and fruit:

So many smells and things to see.

The reason for us going was to get these deep fried pastries that are served warm and are similiar to donuts. You add sugar and there is syrup and chopped walnuts inside. To die for. There are places there where you can choose your fish alive from one of the tanks and they cook and serve it to you.

After work, we all went out to get Korean barbeque at a place that the veteran teachers call "smiley's" because the owner is always smiling. The tables have a small fire pit in the middle where you cook thin slices of marinated beef yourself. They bring you tons of side dishes and leaves of lettuce and sesame leaves. You put whatever side dish you want along with the beef on a leaf and wrap it up. Kind of like a burrito or something. It was incredible and a really fun experience.

And of course, there is kimchi

Twas great food in a great city with great people. All in all, a great time. :)