Posts Tagged With: Korea

A Korean Christmas, Round Two

It’s the Sunday afternoon before Christmas.

In my head, I’m curled up in a blanket by the fire, sipping hot chocolate while I watch a marathon of Christmas movies with my family. It’s gently snowing outside, and the Christmas tree lights are sparkling, dancing across my living room.

In reality, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, sipping on a beautifully-designed latte, while Avril Lavigne plays in the background. There are so many people out and about today that it’s obvious Christmas is just around the corner. It’s December 21st. There are decorated Christmas trees in every coffee shop and in many of the stores that line the busy streets. English Christmas music blasts from those same stores, Mariah Carey declaring to the world that all she wants for Christmas is YOU!!

This is hands-down one of my favourite Christmas songs ever. When it comes on the radio when I’m driving home from an afternoon of Christmas shopping back in Canada, I can’t help but screech out with excitement and start singing and dancing just like Mariah Carey herself. Sometimes, I get so into it that I almost forget that I am, in fact, not Mariah Carey. When the song ends, and I’m forced to come back to reality, this fact dawns on me. My moment of glory is always short-lived, but no less enjoyable.

Today, though, hearing it is only another reminder that I’m not home. I’m here, in Korea, thousands of miles from home. Across the world, in fact. It would be hard to get much further away at this point.

This is one of the things I dislike most about living abroad. Outside of Canada, I’ve only ever lived for an extended period of time in Korea, but this will be the second Christmas season I’ve spent away from home. I have a feeling that it probably wouldn’t really matter where I was, though, because wherever it was, it just wouldn’t be home.

This sounds silly in many ways. I actually feel guilty saying it out loud sometimes. Maybe that’s why I’m sitting here writing it instead. It’s hard to have this conversation with people who don’t feel the same way about this holiday. Those kind of conversations tend to go something like this:

Me: “I really miss my family. I wish I was going home for Christmas.” Waaaaaaaaaaa.

Them: “Meh. Christmas is just a day anyway. It’s overrated.”

Or sometimes, like this:

Them: “Sorry………..” (with looks of sympathy).

Or, better yet:

Me: “I’m so sad I’ll be missing Christmas this year. I really wish I could be home to see everyone.”

Them: “Are you serious? You get to travel! You’re so lucky! What are you whining about!?”

I have to admit that these people have a good point. I agree that I am extremely lucky to be able to live abroad, to travel, and to gain new experiences. I know how fortunate I am to be here. There’s no question about whether or not I’m grateful for this opportunity.

In my experience, however, knowing this doesn’t seem to make the holidays away from home any easier. Having lived away from home for two years now, I’ve realized two things about myself; that I’m very much a family-oriented person, and that Christmas is an important time of year for me. I can tell myself a hundred times (and have!) to make the best of it, but it never seems to be that easy.

Of course, Christmas, and all the hype that goes along with it, isn’t for everyone. For some, Christmas means little more than a day off work. (Great! Finally a day to relax!) For me though, it means so much more.

I can listen to Mariah Carey’s Christmas CD on repeat (and if I’m being honest, I probably will!) but it won’t change the fact that the most important part of Christmas, for me, is still missing.

Categories: My 500 Words, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Plunge

I’m now only about a month and a half into my 25th year of life on this incredible planet, but already, a lot has happened in that time.

Even before my birthday, in the months leading up to this milestone in my life, some important events were taking place. I should note, though, that most of these “important events” happened in my apartment in Korea, with myself as the only guest. Seems far from Earth-shattering, doesn’t it? However, this series of little steps really did shatter my understanding of the world at that time.

So, what exactly did I do, you ask?

First, I read some books that literally changed my life and helped me climb out of the unhappy hole I’d been stuck in for the last several months (more to come on this in another post).

After I’d cleared my head of most of the junk swimming around up there, I found I had freed up a lot more time that I could use to focus on myself. I thought more seriously about what I might actually want to do with my life. The two things I came up with (besides sleeping way too much, of course!) were travel and writing. Deep down, I knew both of these passions had already existed in me for quite some time – I just hadn’t really believed I could do something with them.

I began reading blogs and articles I found online about these two passions, and the more I read, the more interested I became in actually doing something about them. That’s when I first discovered Jeff Goins‘ blog, and my mind seemed to switch gears; from then on it was full speed ahead!

I started thinking about my own blog again – that poor, lonely one I had abandoned over a year ago and had never touched since I’d been back in Korea. Maybe it was time to give it a go again! I also joined social media networks that I had been avoiding for as long as possible, thinking (more like pretending) they weren’t really all that important anyway. A writer just writes, right?


Each time I visited the page of an online travel magazine where freelancers can submit their work, I was faced with the glaringly empty boxes of all the social media networks I was not part of. The list went on and on: Instagram, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn… And worst of all, these boxes were mandatory! I had my work cut out for me. Joining and figuring out how to work all these new platforms was going to take some time.

The next thing I did was probably the biggest step yet, and that was joining the My 500 Words writing challenge. Now one week into this challenge, I can already see how it’s beginning to transform my views on being a writer. I still have three weeks to go, and I’m excited to see what I’ll be able to accomplish by the time I reach the finish line.

It’s amazing what happens when you start your year off right – taking the plunge into quarter-century life surrounded by family, in your cozy little Korean apartment, with a can of Cass beer in hand!


Categories: My 500 Words, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Views from Above

I’ve now called Busan home for almost two years.

During that time, there have, of course, been many ups and downs. But this is old news. When someone moves to a foreign country to begin a new adventure, they’d best not be expecting the sun to shine every day. (That’s a recipe for a nasty case of disappointment I’m afraid!)

Some things, though, will always catch you off guard. You can never prepare for them, no matter how hard you may have tried to imagine them before leaving home. And you can never control your reaction to them in the moment.

For me, one of these things is the mountains.

As someone who comes from a place with absolutely no mountains in sight until you’ve driven across at least three other provinces, this isn’t surprising to me. I’ve grown to love many things about my temporary home, but the abundance of mountains and the fact that they are so easily accessible is pretty high up on my list. Did I mention that there’s a mountain with a pretty great network of trails directly behind my apartment?

First, let’s get something straight, because at this point, you may be picturing me as the avid-hiker type, up at the crack of dawn to tackle the trails (unless you know me well, of course!). Unfortunately, this is not so, though sometimes I wish it were. In all honesty, you will probably never find me decked out in the full Korean hiking gear from head to toe, complete with poles and a visor. Oh, and don’t forget the kimbap and possibly/probably soju to share with your friends!

I’m certainly not serious enough about it to join the ranks of the Korean masses ready to take on anything that stands before them, but I do enjoy hiking from time to time. I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble upon some pretty amazing sights on my hikes in this beautiful corner of Korea.

I discovered one of those sights a couple of weekends ago.

A friend and I set out to do a little hike up the mountain behind my apartment, mostly to get some exercise and to check out some of the different trails. (Being the non-avid hiker that I am, I had barely set foot on my backyard mountain before this!) We started up the winding road, enjoying the unbelievably warm weather for mid-November. It was a gorgeous day, the sun beating down on us as we made our way higher and higher.

Then we came across a little park off to the side of the road. From what we could see, this “park” consisted of a couple of obscure statues and some rocks. Far from enticing, but we decided to check it out anyway.

And that’s when the best discovery of all was made!

Looking up over the tiny park, we noticed a big wooden patio with some tables and chairs lined up. Assuming it must be a shop or restaurant of some sort, we explored. What we saw next made me wish I had found this place nine months ago, when I first moved to the neighbourhood.

Standing on the patio, we looked out at the blend of light blue sky, baby blue water, deep green mountains, and the tall white buildings scattered everywhere in between them. A few fluffy clouds were drifting slowly overhead. I now knew why that tiny park had called to me. In that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Everything about this scene was enchanting.

That stunned feeling I get when I stumble across views like this never ceases to amaze me. I never know when or where it will happen, but it’s always a possibility. That’s one of my favourite things about Busan, and it’s one of the things I know I’ll miss the most!

A panorama of the view

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The 11 Best Things About TEFL

My 7th blog for Verge is up! I think this might be my favourite one yet…..

The 11 Best Things About TEFL

Hopefully, it will make you smile, too!

Alphabet practice!

Alphabet practice!

Categories: South Korea, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Encountering Language Barriers in Korea

So this post (my fifth of the series) actually went online in late February, but incase you didn’t get around to checking it out on Verge, here it is:

Encountering Language Barriers in Korea

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Korean Birthday and Halloween treats!

I’ve now been calling Korea my home for over a month!!!! Last Saturday was the official one-month mark, and more than I ever thought could possibly happen in one month certainly has!! This month has been full of good things, a few challenges, a lot of change, and sometimes, just plain old confusion!!!!

My ticket for the Busan KT Sonic Boom game!

However, I guess that’s to be expected. After all, the culture, customs, and language are all still very new to me. The language barrier is bound to cause at least some confusion at times. But one thing’s for sure – I have a lot to learn about this country! Good thing I still have 11 months left to work at it some more!

Since my last update, I’ve watched my first Korean basketball and football (soccer) games, celebrated my birthday in another country for the first time in my life, been paid to scare kids in a haunted house on Halloween (yes, you read that right!), and ate the best fried chicken I think I’ve ever had anywhere! Two weeks ago, the school I work at also moved to another location in a nearby neighbourhood, so we are now sharing our workspace with another school. That also meant starting over in a way for me. It was as if I had a second “first” day of teaching in Korea! It’s been a busy month!

The new school, called Kids Doctor, is on the second floor of an office building, and has basically turned a big office suite into a school, with classrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a gym (playroom for the kids). So although we now share the school space, JM is still separate from Kids Doctor, in that I still have the same teaching schedule, teach the same students, have the same director, and work with the same teachers. The main difference is the new location, which is about a 20-minute bus ride away from my apartment, and the fact that the school is laid out differently. Just as I was starting to learn (and remember!) where everything was kept at my first school – supplies, resources, workbooks, etc., here I am learning all over again! As they say, I guess nothing stays the same forever!

It’s been quite an eventful couple of weeks for everyone involved in the move I think, and was certainly another adjustment for me! Kids Doctor is a Korean school, so their students are taught in Korean, whereas the students attending JM are taught in English, even by my Korean co-workers. I also suddenly have about 10 more Korean teachers from Kids Doctor to try to get to know, and even more new students to meet! Everyday I run into more students I’ve never seen before. Sometimes, the really little ones (3 years old) will just wander into my classroom and stare at me for a few minutes, until I say “hello!” and smile at them. Then they usually get scared and run away without saying anything. Hahaha. There are at least as many Kindergarten students attending Kids Doctor as there are at JM, if not more, which means instead of 25 children running around, playing and screaming, there are probably over 50!!! And I thought my first school was loud at times!!!! Obviously, I had no idea what I was talking about! However, I’ve finished my second week there already, so I’m sure I will settle in more as I get more comfortable and get to know my way around.

Birthday mail from home!!!

In other news, my 23rd birthday was a very special one! I don’t think my first birthday spent away from home and in another country could have been much better! Not only did I happen to get to carve a pumpkin for the kids at school, but I got TWO BIRTHDAY CAKES!!! I couldn’t believe it!

The finished product! So excited that I still got to carve a pumpkin this year!

My co-workers found out it was my birthday halfway through the school day, and at the end of the day, my director surprised me with a delicious cake topped with fresh fruit! All of my co-workers, some of the students who were still waiting to be picked up, and some of the teachers from Kids Doctor all had a little birthday party for me and celebrated with me!

The director of Kids Doctor even gave me a gift even though I had only met her for the first time the day before! I was thrilled! Later on, I met some friends for a nice birthday dinner of Hungarian stew and rice, and was presented with my second birthday cake of the night!! Needless to say, I went home that night stuffed full of cake and feeling very lucky!

The sea of Snow Whites at school!

Halloween was another day to remember in Korea! Much to my surprise, I didn’t have to teach a single class all day! JM had Halloween parties for the kids all day, and all of the Kindergarten kids dressed up to come to school. Most of the little girls were one of the Disney princesses, with Snow White taking the crown!!

I’ve never seen so many Snow Whites all in one room in my life! There must have been close to 15 of them wandering around school that day!! It was quite a sight! Some of the boys dressed as Superheroes, and there was even a Woody and a Buzz Lightyear! I couldn’t believe it! I spent the day watching the kids play Halloween games, watching Halloween cartoons, handing out candy to adorable trick-or-treaters from both schools, and being a very scary ghost (dressed in plain clothes!) in the haunted house that my co-workers constructed!!! In fact, I played my part so well that I even made one of the little girls cry!!!! She was so terrified that she burst into tears and ran out screaming!!! What a terrible teacher I am! I had no idea I could be so scary! I felt bad for her. 😦

Another great day in Busan! I’m sure there will be many more surprises to come!

Birthday cake #1! It was delicious!

Cake #2 of the day! Also delicious!

So happy about this chocolate cake!

Categories: South Korea, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m published on Verge!

vergeAs you may know, I will be writing for Verge Magazine as a guest blogger during my time in Korea. Verge promotes the idea of travel with purpose – they believe that changing the world for the better starts with gaining international experience in a meaningful way. To help people gain this experience, Verge publishes extensive resources on opportunities to study, work and volunteer abroad.

I am thrilled to say that my first blog entry has just been posted on their website under the “Globetrotters” category! I wrote this post a couple of weeks prior to my departure, while I was preparing myself mentally for the huge step I would soon be taking. This entry reflects on the decision I made, and explores why I chose to move to the other side of the world to begin this new adventure.

I’m very excited to have the opportunity to write for Verge, and I hope you will enjoy reading my blog series from Korea!!! Click on the link below to view my first entry.

Preparing to Teach English in Korea

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“Are you Asian?”

After arriving in Busan last Wednesday evening on basically no sleep, I somehow still managed to be up bright and early on Thursday morning to get ready for my first day of training at my new job! I rode to school with Jane, and spent the day observing Renee’s (the teacher I replaced) classes and meeting my new students and co-workers.

Off to school on my first day of work!!

I quickly discovered just how lively the school is! Though the kids may be small, they have quite the lungs on them! Needless to say, I don’t think there will ever be a dull moment at JM (or at least never a moment of silence!)

Building my school is in

I spent Thursday and Friday learning all about what I’ve gotten myself into for the next year! I’m happy to report that I think I made a pretty good decision, and I think I’ll be quite happy here! JM is a fairly small English school, with only about 70 current students. I have 3 Korean co-workers and one other foreign co-worker from the States who are all very nice and extremely helpful! If they aren’t helping me with lesson plans or giving me activities to do with my classes, they’re showing me around the neighbourhood or suggesting interesting tourist places for me to check out around Busan. Often, they even bring treats to school to share with me!! I don’t think I could ask for a better group of co-workers, especially when starting a brand new job in a foreign country!

My very own desk!

I start work at 10 every morning, and work until 6 p.m. on Mon, Wed, Fri, and only 4 p.m. on Tue and Thurs! I read at least one book to the kids every morning, and teach mostly phonics, math, and different components of English like sentence and paragraph writing, comprehension and vocabulary. Most of my classes use workbooks that have all the lessons in them for each subject, so I don’t actually have much planning to do! However, I have a bit more freedom with subjects like Art and Music, so I can come up with my own lesson plans or activities for those classes if I choose to, which is kind of nice!

After my first week of teaching, I am slowly settling into my role, and starting to figure out my schedule a bit more.

I get lunches like this everyday at school! Yum!

I’m starting to know which classroom I should be in, and which books the students use for each class. I think I even know almost all of my students’ names, which is a pretty big achievement for me! (I’m normally horrendous with names!) Regardless of how comfortable I may get and how routine my schedule may get, I have a feeling that every day of teaching here is going to be a brand new adventure! What more could I hope for?

In other news, I also moved into my new apartment on Sunday! I’m all unpacked now and settled into my very first home of my own! I guess moving all the way to Korea to live alone for the first time ever may have been a bit extreme, but I do love my place! It’s a small bachelor apartment, and is right around the corner from work, so I just have a quick walk to the school in the morning – very convenient! I’ve also put up about a million pictures on my walls, so I can feel close to home even while on the other side of the world!

My apartment building

And finally, here are some funny moments from my first week of teaching for your enjoyment:

During one of my orientation days last week, a few minutes after meeting me for the first time, one of my students asked me, “Are you Asian??” To which Renee replied, “Are you sure you can see clearly with your glasses? I think you need new ones!!!” The student, however, was apparently dead serious and wasn’t meaning for it to be a joke. Hahaha. This MUST mean I fit in here after all…..right?? 😉

While I was reading a story to one of the Kindergarten classes, one of the little girls who is probably about 3 in Canadian age (Korean children are always a year older because when you’re born here, you’re automatically one year old) walked over to me and started petting my face and feeling my skin for a few minutes as I continued to read. When I couldn’t ignore it anymore because it was making me laugh, I stopped and looked down at her. When she realized I had stopped reading, she gave me a big grin and giggled, as if she had been caught doing something she knows is strange. I couldn’t help but giggle too! It was probably the strangest, yet most adorable moment of the entire week!

Anytime I ask my students to teach me how to say a word or phrase in Korean, it almost always ends with me getting laughed at to varying degrees! They seem to think it’s the funniest thing ever to hear me try to speak Korean! I don’t blame them, though, because no matter how many times I try, I can’t seem to get it right. Unfortunately, this learning Korean thing isn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped! I do my best to make them laugh and want them to have fun at school, so if my worse-than-terrible Korean skills can do the trick, I’m willing to sacrifice myself for their enjoyment – at least for now! If my Korean ever improves, though, I’ll have to resort to finding some other form of comedy to make them happy. Phewf – good thing I’m covered for now! 😉

My apartment!

Street my school is on

Categories: South Korea, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A new place to call home

IT’S OFFICIAL!!!!!! I’ve accepted a job offer. Contract is signed.

Meaning: I’M OFF TO KOREA FOR A YEAR!!!!!!!!!

Though I still can’t believe it’s really happening, it’s becoming more real everyday when each task completed takes me one step closer to departure!

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of events: phone calls with my recruiter, interviews with Korean schools, and conversations with myself trying to make decisions about my future Korean life. Do I want to work for a large company with a chain of private schools all over Korea? Or, would I rather work for a small school with fewer staff, and have a much better chance of getting to know everyone? What age group do I want to teach? Do I want my own apartment for the year, or would I be interested in a homestay option? So many decisions!

Having finally settled on a small private school called JM Story School in Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city and biggest international port, it was time to get the process started! There were errands to be run, paperwork to be filled out and submitted, and affairs to get in order!

I made a quick trip to Toronto to meet in person for the first time with my recruiter, May, the wonderful lady who’s been helping me with the entire process since I first applied. It was nice to finally be able to put a face to the person I’ve been emailing and calling over the past few months. She’s done all the liaising between myself and the Korean schools, finding job postings, setting up interviews for me, and negotiating contract details and living arrangements with the school directors. What a privilege it’s been to have so much help with this exciting (yet sometimes daunting!) process.

We stopped by the Korean Consulate to get my paperwork stamped and verified so that my employer in Korea can apply for my visa. Sitting in the Consulate by myself, waiting for May to arrive, I suddenly became very aware of my surroundings, and had some time to take it all in. Korean pop videos were playing on the t.v., and couples speaking Korean wandered in and out, easily accomplishing what they came in for in a matter of minutes. I looked at all the different stacks of forms sitting on the table nearby, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t read anything on them! This was certainly a new experience for me!

As soon as May arrived, we stepped up to the next open booth, and what happened after that, I can’t really tell you! The lady behind the desk began speaking to May so quickly in Korean that I wouldn’t have stood a chance of keeping up even if I could understand ANY of it! They carried on, with the lady behind the desk stopping her work every so often to smile up at me, and then dive back into rapid conversation with May. My only role in the whole event was to give the Consulate lady my phone number, and to pay her my $16 fee. We, too, had accomplished what we came in for, but it certainly wasn’t because of my part in it! In fact, it had almost nothing to do with my presence at all. I walked away from the counter feeling two things: one, overly grateful that May was there with me,  and two, something I can’t remember feeling in a long, long time – a sense of helplessness.

It suddenly hit me. This is soon going to be my new life!!! I’m about to immerse myself in a culture that is completely foreign to me. In a matter of days now, the feeling of being completely lost, confused, and possibly (more like probably!) even helpless at times, is going to become my reality.

Though it wasn’t exactly a comforting feeling at the time, I think I’m starting to come to terms with it. It’s not going to be an easy feeling to overcome, but I’m willing to put myself up to the challenge! I keep reminding myself that this is what life is all about. Overcoming our fears, making mistakes, and getting lost sometimes are all part of the journey.

After all, what’s life without a little challenge?

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My next destination!

And the next big adventure IS………

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