Posts Tagged With: korean life

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.

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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

Categories: My 500 Words, South Korea | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My first taste of Korean life

Wow! What can I say? My first few days of Korean life have been so surreal! I don’t know how else to describe it. Everything is so new, different, and exciting, yet I still can’t really believe it’s real. How is it possible that on Tuesday, I was living my normal Canadian life, and now, just a couple of days later, I’m on the other side of the world, eating kimchi for breakfast and teaching Korean children English!?!?! How crazy!

And yet, it doesn’t really seem all that weird to me. How can it be that I feel completely foreign and confused about where I am and what I’m doing in this strange land, while also feeling like I’ve been living here for years, and that eating rice for breakfast isn’t anything out of the ordinary? I have absolutely no idea, but I think I’m just going to roll with it! Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet. Maybe the culture shock I am bound to feel at some point is just lurking around the corner, waiting for me to let my guard down so it can pounce! Haha. I don’t know, but I guess I’ll have to wait and find out!

I think the hardest part of my journey here was actually saying my goodbyes at the airport. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a big family person! Having never been away for a year before, I was a bit of an emotional wreck, (as I expected I would be!) especially after my sister presented me with a scrapbook of special messages and pictures from some of my closest friends and family for me to read when I am feeling homesick or lonely. Had I not already felt like crying, that book would have put me over the edge for sure! The flight, however, wasn’t as bad as I had imagined! Though I don’t think I slept much, the almost 14 hours on the plane to Seoul somehow still seemed to go by pretty quickly. I never once wanted to run screaming down the aisles, begging them to let me off the plane because I couldn’t take it anymore! This, of course, would have been a worst-case scenario, but I half-expected I would go a bit crazy, since I usually start to feel antsy and irritated on flights that are 5 hours or less!

After a quick layover in Seoul, I was boarding my second flight and final leg of the journey: to Busan and beyond!! Haha. The 40 minutes in the air from Seoul to Busan seemed like a breeze after spending over 13 hours in the air during the first leg! Coming into Busan, there was just enough light left to watch one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen – the sky was a bright orange colour across the entire horizon as the sun quickly dipped below. What a sight! Exhausted and feeling a bit numb, I made my way through the airport in Busan, praying that Jane, the director of the school I’ll be working for, wouldn’t forget about me. I had no idea how I would find her or how I would contact her if she never showed up (let alone how I would ever make my way to the school knowing basically zero Korean!) But I remember feeling eerily calm about this. I guess the exhaustion was doing a good job of numbing me! Haha.

However, there was no need to fear!! Shortly after I made my way through the Arrivals gate, a woman appeared in front of me, asking if I was Allison. I’m saved!!! Haha. Jane took very good care of me! She helped me load all my bags, drove me back to her house, where I stayed until Sunday, fed me some dinner, and showed me to my room to get some much needed sleep! Unfortunately, sleep was not on my side that night (or the next night…haha), but my adrenaline kept me running until the weekend.

Details about my first day of orientation/training at my new school will follow!

Categories: South Korea, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 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?

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

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Allison Burney

"To live will be an awfully big adventure." - Peter Pan

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