Friday, July 9, 2010

Top 25 Things I'll miss in Korea

1. Heated toilet seats

2. Vitamin C drinks

3. No tipping

4. Sitting on the floor

5. Wearing slippers at work

6. E-mart escalators

7.Korean commercials

8. My-chew candy

9. Korean aerobics class

10. Traveling so easily

11. Heated floors

12. Kim-bop

13. Random encounters with drunk old men (on any day of the week)

14. Cheap purses

15. Bargaining

16. Service (free food/drinks at restaurants)

17. Funny English translations

18. Awkward broken English/Korean conversations

19. Pineapple Fanta

20. Melon popsicles

21. K-Pop

22. Little kids saying hello on the streets

23. Call buttons on restaurant tables

24. Friends

And of course…


Thursday, July 1, 2010

T-minus 25 days...

Well, I officially have only 1 month left, wow. It’s hard to believe. I had a dream a few nights ago that my life in Korea was actually all a dream. It was really strange, because usually I wake up from a dream thinking everything that happened was real, but this dream I woke up thinking everything that happened was not real. Which makes sense, because a lot of the things I’ve done many people only dream about. It made me really happy to think about how much I’ve enjoyed being here and how many great experiences I’ve had in a just one year. I’m super excited about coming home, but I honestly am going to be truly sad to leave. Not only am I going to be sad to leave my good friends I’ve made here and the cutest kids in the world, but I’m going to really miss Korea in general. Some people hate Korea, and before coming I heard some bad things about Korea and Korean people. And I don’t know if it’s because I’m living in a smaller town, but my view on Korea/Korean people is all positive. Of course they do a lot of “different” and strange things here, but that to me, makes it better.

I couldn’t be happier that I made the decision to come here. It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve done in my life. It was a great way to travel, a wonderful teaching experience, a good life experience, and I met some awesome people along the way. I’m ready to come home, see friends and family and eat some lasagna.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Open Class - Korea soccer

Last week our school had 2 days of Kinder Open Classes. This is where the parents get to come into the class and observe as you teach their students a “typical” everyday lesson. Except, for the fact it’s nothing like how a typical class goes. These parents pay a lot of money for their kids to go to this English school so they expect a lot, therefore we were put under a lot of pressure to uphold a high standard of teaching. We picked a lesson and made a lesson plan, which was turned in to our boss for approval and any critiques. We practiced the same lesson with the kids for about a month and were even told to give the kids scripts, so they can memorize what to say during the lesson. is it a real lesson I’m teaching or just a play put on for the parents? Either way I don’t think anything could be more nerve racking then standing in front of all my student’s parents and teaching a lesson, making sure to call on all the students equally, and trying to remember my “lines” of the script.

After teaching each of my 3 open classes there was a meeting with the parents. My Korean partner teacher, who also teaches their kids everyday goes in the meeting with me and discusses what they thought of the open class and any other topics, while all along I’m just sitting there, looking pretty since I can’t speak Korean. Talk about awkward, especially when I hear “blah..blah..blah..Caroline-teacher…blah..blah”. I think most of the parents like me for the most part, but who knows.

To relieve all the stress of that week, Whitney and I made our way up to Seoul for a weekend dedicated to just shopping. We hit all the markets and shopping malls to pick up all the Korean stuff we wanted to get before leaving Korea. We returned to Gwangju with our backpacks/duffle bags jammed packed with gifts and knick knacks to bring home.

After getting home around 10'o clock we quickly dropped off all of our purchases, threw on our Korean soccer gear and jumped in a taxi to go to the world cup stadium to watch the world cup game. Korea vs. Uruguay. Beer, chicken, and a stadium full of screaming fans made it feel like I was actually at the game. They played the game on the big screens and had everything you would have at an actual game, even cheerleaders. It was a good time, even though Korea lost. I went home and tried to stay awake for the USA game which was playing at 3:30am, but ended up just crashing on the couch from such a long day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


This past weekend Gwangju had a “Pink Ribbon Love Marathon” to raise money for breast cancer. Which I think is pretty cool that they do that here too, it just makes you think how countries can be so different in many ways but there are certain things that we can all relate to, and it’s a comforting feeling to know we do the same exact thing in America and probably in lots of other countries.

On Saturday morning at 8:30 we made our way down to the Gwangju World Cup stadium. (Which is still a mystery to me why the taxi drivers have a hard time understanding us when we say it…because it’s the same in Korean) We arrive at the stadium and wonder around the tents for a while getting stopped a few times with people asking “May I take a picture of/with you?” “Sure” I say, as in a few months I won’t be treated like a celebrity anymore. Erica, Whitney, and I also got free shampoo samples for taking a picture with giant shampoo character bottles. Still not sure if that’s normal or not, I’m starting to forget what is normal and what things I’m just used to now. I was walking home from work the other day and I saw an old man on a moped smoking a cigarette. I kept walking thinking nothing of it, and then I looked at Whitney and said “Do old men smoke cigarettes while riding mopeds at home? “ I don’t know.. I know they definitely don’t ride mopeds on the sidewalks back home.

Anyways, we met up with some of our other foreign and Korean coworkers, did some group stretching, watched a mini Korean rap concert and started preparing for the run. That was until the MC announced something in Korean making literally the whole crowd stop in their tracks, scream and run up to the stage. While all the foreigners stood around having no idea what was happening. Little did we know “the most handsome man in Korea” was in Gwangju on the stage in front of us. Yes, that is his title, and that’s the only reason he is famous. Apparently he recently married the “most beautiful woman in Korea”.

After all of the commotion it was time to start the run. Erica and I were the only ones signed up for the 5K, everyone else was doing the 10K. I’m not a big fan of running and I thought the 5K would be enough of a challenge. Well, we lined up with all the other 5Kers, and somewhere between lining up and the fireworks signaling the start we somehow got on the 10K course, and we didn’t figure it out until we got to the “half-way mark” which was what we thought was the finish line. As I was running up to the big 5K sign, I was feeling really good and proud of myself for running pretty much the entire way. All that excitement about finishing went down the drain when I realized why people were looping around and still running. I was confused and waited for Erica who was right behind me, we were so upset that we went on the wrong course that we decided just to walk the rest of the way back. What made us more angry was when the police man came up behind us on his motorcycle and told us “hurry up, you’re last!” Everyone we past kept cheering us on and saying “cheer up you can do it!” and “fighting!” We would try to explain that we went the wrong way or as Erica kept saying “We fucked up”. Making them tilt their heads like dogs trying to understand. At one point I was trying to ask the volunteer water boys if there was a shortcut and that we were supposed to be running the 5K as I held up my hand gesturing 5K, the boy thought I was giving him a high five…not comprehending anything I was saying. We could only just laugh it off and continue our long walk back to the finish line. The taxi driver we hailed also probably thought we were pretty ridiculous and lazy, and declined us for reasons unknown. We eventually made it and got our banana and pink medal.

Have you ever come in dead last for a marathon? I have.

Cardboard cut-out of the "most handsome man in Korea"

Who we later saw in person.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Temple Stay

Since I’ve been in Korea, I’ve wanted to do this thing called a temple stay. It’s where you go to a temple for a weekend and learn about Buddhism and see firsthand how the monks live. So last week Jay, one of the Korean teachers helped us get a reservation and book a night for the temple stay. She originally was going to go with us, but something came up, so it was just Erica, Steve, and me. We started mid morning with the usual meet at ECC plan. We took a taxi to the bus terminal and after a little confusion with town names we finally got the right tickets and got on a bus to “Buan” not to be confused with “Muan”. After about an hour bus ride we arrived in Buan, and since we running a little late, instead of trying to figure out the city bus schedule to the temple we decided to just pay the couple extra won and jump in a taxi.

We eventually made it to the temple, arriving a little late, but we only missed the “orientation” which was all in Korean anyways. Lucky for us there were two Korean girls that spoke English, also attending the temple stay. So she helped us get dressed in our “monk” outfit and helped us get our little gummy shoes. We were then taken to our little “huts” and told us dinner would be at 5. Steve was taken to another hut with 2 other guys. Dinner wasn’t too bad, typical Korean food…

After dinner we had “tea time”. It was a traditional Korean tea ceremony with the monk. We all sat on the floor gathered around this little table and as the monk was setting up and making the green tea, we were told to ask him any questions we had. He spoke no English, but our friends were nice enough to translate some interesting things he was saying. Such as how monks believe in a second life, so there is no need to rush through life and figure everything out, and a few other interesting beliefs. I’m sure it would have been a more interesting discussion if it was in a language I could understand. But it was really cool, non the less. I asked him why monks shave their heads, which was probably irrevelent to the conversation, but I wanted to know, and that was the only question I could think of at the time. He said it was something about one of the pains they have and something about rebirth each day or something…I don’t know the translation was kind of confusing. He had a good sense of humor though, he made fun of us a few times, being the only foreigners, and at one point when discussing our ages he asked me to marry him. Good times.

So after downing about 12 cups of green tea, we headed back to our huts and called it an early night, considering we had to be up the next morning at 3:30am. Well 3:30 turned into 4:00 for me in Erica, since our temple stay helper man didn’t wake us up as he promised. We quickly rolled off the floor and got in line to go to the temple. We took our spots in front of Buddha (or the 3 Buddha’s I should say-past, present, and future) and started the bows. It was a pretty surreal experience, with the monks doing their chant and banging their drums. It was still dark outside and I was still half asleep, so it almost felt like a dream. The bowing was definitely harder than I expected. It was the full bows from standing - to your knees – to your head on the floor. Then back up, and then down again…and so on. I’m not sure how many we did, but we later did 108 bows, which wasn’t too bad. I actually enjoyed it, because it was slower and it was very relaxing. (The 108 bows stands for something, but don’t ask me, because I don’t know)

Anyways, after all the bowing it was finally time for breakfast. Little did I know would be the worst breakfast in my life. So we get our bowls and silverware and everything, and we take our spots on the mats on the floor. The monk was there and he was going to show us the traditional way to eat breakfast. We did this whole rinsing of the bowls thing first, which was just swishing water around in one bowl and then pouring it into another bowl and so on. He picked some volunteers to help serve the food, obviously not us because we were clueless. Lucky for us we got to serve ourselves the rice as she came around with the pot, and also the seaweed soup and kimchi and the other mesh. This was good, because Korean culture (and especially Buddhism) you have to finish everything on your plate, no exceptions.

The rice and kimchi was no breakfast burrito, but I ate it. When everyone was finished someone came around and poured water in our bowls to clean them out. We were supposed to grab a radish to use as a sponge to rub off the leftover rice on our bowls, but I didn’t get one and the man next to Erica forced her to get one, but she ate it not knowing that we were supposed to save it. So after rubbing the bowl with my fingers and swishing the water from bowl to bowl again (we had 4 bowls) another person came around to collect the water in the pot. NO food though, we were supposed eat the remainder rice kernels. When the girl brought the pot of water up to the monk, he looked in it and saw one tiny piece of food floating in it and told her to give back the water. So that big pot of community dirty water was then distributed back into our bowls and yes, we had to drink it.

After gagging that down, the more difficult task was getting up from sitting Indian style for 2 hours. I never thought my legs could hurt so much from just sitting. Once breakfast was over we helped clean the floor and clean the dishes and then filled our water bottles to prepare for “trekking”. We all piled in a small little van and they brought us around the mountain to a part where we could hike up and then we could just hike back to our temple.

The hike was fun. It was a little too hot to be wearing our long sleeve outfits, but other than that it was really nice. Everything was so green and we stopped at some really beautiful spots with lakes in between the mountains and also a really pretty waterfall.

All in all it was a really great weekend and it was probably the best thing I’ve done since I’ve been here. It wasn’t touristy and it was so authentic and traditional, it was just an awesome experience.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fright Hike

This past weekend I somehow agreed to go on a hiking trip to Jirisan (지리산) : the mainland’s highest mountain, which pretty much means the highest mountain in South Korea: 1915 meters/6,283 feet. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but figured it would be fun, and I only thought about how hard it was to go up, not down… We left Saturday morning and 2 taxi fares and 2 bus rides later we were at the mountain. I was ready to go with my mini backpack filled with only Gatorade and food. We started off pretty well, there were 11 of us, so everyone split up and went at their own paces. I figured I would be with the slowest group the whole time, considering I don’t do a whole lot of hiking. My excuse was “There are no mountains in Florida!” Anyways, I surprised myself and broke off from the group to go a little bit faster. I met up with a few others from the group a few times, but I was by myself most of the time going up, which was actually kind of nice. Everyone met at the shelter that we were staying in, which was a little more than halfway to the very top. I was exhausted and very excited to rent my used blanket and sleep on the hard floor.

The next morning a few of us woke up early to watch the sunrise and to continue to hike to the peak. It was all going pretty well, until I got about halfway up and I started to realize that we would have to come down this same way. This trail to the peak was about 2 hours long and was straight up, if that gives any perspective on what is was like. It wasn’t just a dirt trail either, it was giant rocks that had to be climbed. So I finally made it to the peak after falling behind from pure panic of having to go down. The top was absolutely beautiful, but I honestly didn’t enjoy any of it, because all I could think about was going down. If I’m not in a harness or secure in an airplane or something I am really afraid of heights. So let’s just say going down the mountain was one of the scariest things I’ve done. I thought I was going to fall and then just keep tumbling down. I went down on my butt on the really steep parts. Oh and the mini frozen waterfalls along the rocks didn’t really help either.

Mickey, one of the Korean teachers at our school stayed with me, because she was taking it pretty slow too. We ended up walking the whole way down together, and she taught me a new Korean word that sums up the whole trip: Chuketta!! (It’s killing me!)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mom's visit

So my mom came to visit me a few weeks ago. I was super excited. I still had to work, so she got to come in and see the kids and watch me teach, which was nice, because it’s really hard to explain my schedule and exactly what it’s like to teach these kids. There’s not too much to do in my town, but I found a few things for us to do. I took her to a traditional outdoor market where the vendors sell everything from sting-rays to the insides of pigs, and all sorts of other things. I also took her to a few of my favorite restaurants and had fun watching her struggle with sitting on the floor and eating with metal chopsticks. I luckily managed to get Friday off, so we could go up to Seoul together for the weekend before she left that Sunday.

My mom booked a really nice hotel for us to stay in, which was a nice change from tiny little bunk-bed hostels I usually stay in when traveling. Seoul was great, lots of street shopping and fake purses. We went to three of the best markets in Seoul. Insadong – many shops with souvenirs and celadon pottery. Namdaemun – a large outdoor market where you can buy just about anything. Designer purses, wallets, fur coats, jewelry, etc. And lastly, Itawon - famous in Seoul for shopping and eating American food. It’s located right outside the military base, so it’s full of Americans and English speaking vendors. It’s personally my least favorite shopping area, because of this. All of the tourists go there too, so the vendors don’t bargain and their prices are much higher.

On Sunday we did some sightseeing. We went to the Deoksugung Palace and were able to dress up in Hanboks, and see the changing of the guard. From there we walked to the city hall area and down to the biggest palace – Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was a little chilly, but it was a nice sunny day, and not too crowded. That night we went to the Korea House and watched a traditional show, with dancing and awesome drum performances. At the end they ran out and got people from the audience and they dragged my mom up there to end the show with drumming and dancing. I was laughing so hard, I could barely hold my hand still to take a picture.

The whole time my mom was here I realized that I’ve kind of adapted to living here; the food, the people, the customs. My mom would point out things and say “Oh, that’s odd!” and I would have to take a second look and think “That happens every day, hmm but yea I guess it is odd”. I’m used to seeing old ladies carry things on their heads, and eating seaweed almost every day, and taking my shoes off everywhere, and people bowing to me, etc.

It was a great visit, and I am so happy that she got to come over here and see what I’ve been doing and experience Korea!