A Travellerspoint blog

Merry Christmas! (even if it is a few days late)

“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.” – Elizabeth Drew

overcast

Merry Christmas! Or more importantly, 몌리 크리스마스! Granted it is now three days past Christmas but who cares. I will tell you to have a wonderful Christmas if I feel like it, which I do, so deal with it. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas full of family and food. My Christmas was definitely not per the norm but it was still a good one. As I said before Christmas is a couples holiday here in Korea and so not exactly celebrated the same as back home but I made do with what I had.

Christmas eve I went out to dinner with KB and KL and we sat and ate and talked for quite a while. Unfortunately it was not a typical Christmas meal but it was still delicious (mmm I love Indian food). We then went and really experienced Korean culture at 노래방. And we experienced this culture for 3 hours because Koreans really love us. So what is 노래방 you ask? Karaoke! It is translated into 'song room' and Korean culture really loves 노래방 (no-ray-bong, if you want to pronounce it). We paid for one hour (which was slightly expensive, 30,000 won, but not so bad when you split it between three people). We began searching through songs and picking what we wanted to sing and generally having a good time while slowly watching our meager hour dwindle down. We were getting close to under ten minutes when suddenly our meter jumps back up to 30 minutes. Well, alright then, we'll take it. We continue to find songs and fill our time when yet again the ten minute mark jumps back up to 30. There is a culture in Korea known as 'Service' which just basically means you get stuff for free. If you are at a restaurant usually you get sides or something as service. If you are at a store and spend a certain amount of money (or for foreigners who use Korean) they employees will sometimes tack on some extra goodies in your bag. Buy a certain magazine and get samples of different advertised products. Service is everywhere in Korea. Love it. So we are sitting in this room that we only paid one hour for and our time just doesn't ever seem to end. We ended up getting two extra hours free for a grand total of 3 hours. Plus at one point in the night one of the workers brought us chips.

Yay service.

So yes, that was my Christmas Eve. AND I finally have had my very first white Christmas. It started to snow around 1030-11 on Christmas eve. We walked home at 330 in the morning with a fresh inch and a half of snow on the ground. It was lovely. When I finally dragged myself out of bed on Christmas day I was able to talk with people from back home so that was extra nice. I don't get to talk to them as much as I would like because of the time differences and (certain people who shall remain unnamed, you know who you are) do not have webcams yet. Good thing that instant messaging is good enough when you want to catch up with people.

I have finally come to a point in teaching that I recognize from back home! Vacation is soon so classes have stopped being about learning learning learning and more like fun fun fun. We watched a movie in class for the first time. I just kept thinking 'yup this is more like it.'

Oh life... I have caught another cold. I was wondering when it would happen because I can hear the coughing and sneezing wherever I go but I was hoping I could hold out and not get sick. Wishful thinking. It's not too bad, your typical cold, but it still sucks. I just hope I am better soon because winter vacation has started therefore I am off work for the next two weeks! Woot! Which also means I am travelling!!! Yay!!!

January 3rd through the 10th I will be in Taiwan! I didn't have a lot of notice for planning a trip or I would have chosen to go somewhere warmer like Vietnam or the Philippines but tickets were too high when I finally got around to looking for them. I am excited though, I have always wanted to go to Taiwan and this gives me a chance to explore. I am actually going to be doing something I have never done nor ever dreamed I would be doing, completely flying by the seat of my pants. I have a hostel booked for the first two nights but then I have no idea what I am doing. I don't know if I will stay in Taipei or head farther south. I am going to look into tours or just hopping a train and seeing where it takes me. I just know I will have to be back in Taipei for my flight home. I do believe it will be a grand adventure.

I am going to be spending the next few days glued to my computer as I research different things to do and see in Taiwan and hopefully have a list of potential things and places and also a little know-how before I head out, I am not that daring... I will have to know at least something first. I will try and blog at least a few paragraphs about each day while I'm gone. Depending on internet connections and all.

But until then I am off. Stay warm! Until the next time...

Posted by cstravelsabroad 17:14 Archived in South Korea Tagged vacation christmas taiwan teaching Comments (0)

Learning 한글

"Not all those who wander are lost." ~ JRR Tolkien

sunny

For my entire school life this time of year is thriving with Christmas related activities culminating in two glorious weeks off of school to celebrate Christmas and New Years and then back to the drudgery for the second half of the school year. LIfe is no longer so. I do finally get to do fun activities related to Christmas with my students because they already took their final for the year but I have Christmas day off and nothing else. It's very weird to me.

Oh well, that's what happens when Christmas is celebrated as a couples holiday and not a huge family affair. Which brings me to a completely different note about Koreans and their couple obsession. There is a special day every month for couples. Valentines Day is no longer the lone holiday specifically celebrated by couples, oh no, they have something every month. It is quite elaborate here for couples. Oh well I digress. Back to Christmas. I don't know if I'll finally get my white Christmas or not... which makes me sad but it is definitely cold enough for it to stick if it does snow. I went shopping today, and while there were Christmas trees and snowflakes and lights and reindeer noses and Christmas music playing, it didn't feel like Christmas. I don't know why I am not feeling any of my Christmas spirit but it probably has to do with being so far away from home (or more likely not having a Christmas tree or watching the amazing Christmas specials on tv).

Oh well I will just have to get out of grinch mode and into Santa mode via my wonderful students. I am definitely having too much fun with making Christmas related lesson plans. My students love it though so that is all that matters. And I have definitely become very attached to my students so when they are happy I am happy. I look at their smiling faces and I can't help but smile along with them. It was very sad looking at them on Monday and thinking about the awful tragedy that happened in my home country last Friday. I cannot imagine something like that happening to them and just thinking about it was making me sad. My heart definitely goes out to any and everyone who was directly affected by the violence. I will miss a lot of my sixth graders come March when they head off to middle school. *sniff*

At least I get my fifth graders for one more year! Shhh, don't tell anyone, but they are my favorite class. I love Monday, Tuesday and Friday's the best because my day is mostly the fifth grade classes.

Let's see, how's life been going this past week? It's been cold. Really cold. I love it but at the same time I wish I could still feel my hands after I've been outside for longer than five minutes. This past weekend I had two holiday parties and they were a lot of fun. Granted I love anything where I get to go and meet people and socialize. Yay socializing! And Saturday I got to cook for the first time in a LONG time and it felt wonderful. It was quite the experience though because I ended up mashing potatoes with a ladle with holes in it... yep... experience really sums that right up. But I was back in my element. I didn't realize how much I missed cooking until I cooked again. The party was with Hands Korea and about 30 of the native English teachers who came through them to teach in Korea. We had a nice dinner, a white elephant gift exchange, and then went and spent the night in Hongdae. Loved every minute of it. I also went to a smaller gathering with my close friends here and did much more low key things like making paper snowflakes and listening to Christmas carols. Both were awesome in their own very different way.

One of the fourth grade teachers is helping me to learn Korean. I can read the language but it takes me forever and I can understand basic stuff but it is no where near what I want my level to be so I bought a book and she is helping me. It is quite exciting when I look at something and read it and am like "oh man I know what that says!" I do a little happy dance. On the inside of course, I am not a complete idiot. (And for those of you who I know are going to ask "what does that say?" the title of this blog just says "Learning Hangul" - which is the Korean language.) I am slowly becoming more Korean. I made 김치 찌개 (kimchi soup) on my own, I purposely choose 젓가락 (chopsticks) instead of a fork, I use their sounds of astonishment and wow, I'm starting to dress like them (colors and shoes and hair accessaries), and I can't seem to say anything correctly in English anymore. Yes I am the paradigm of speaking English... trust me, even though I cannot currently remember what this word means, I can help you, I promise! Learn from me! *shakes head at self* Although it all seriousness it's pathetic sometimes, I am losing a lot of my vocabulary and when you're talking to people and you are trying to make it more simple you tend to drop things like articles and prepositions... which is really really bad!

I need to start studying English and Korean so I can stay relevant in my classroom.

OOH, I went and saw The Hobbit in 4D. I didn't know what a 4D movie was but I figured I would just go with it, why not? Well let me tell you, if that is the future of movies, I am completely ok with that. And for our friends out there who do not know what a 4D movie entails, let me enlighten you my friend, let me enlighten you. First the movie was is in 3D so you have to wear the annoying glasses but coupled with everything else it was so worth it. For the first step of awesomeness: the seat moves like a roller coaster (up, down, side to side, forward, backward, and shakes and rumbles). Second step of awesomeness: you feel the wind (there are huge fans attached to the ceiling and there are jets in your seat that blast you with air when appropriate. Arrow whizzing past your head? Air jet. Dragon flying by? Air gush.) Third step of awesomeness: there are bits of the chair back that move so if a character falls down or something like that your seat will poke you. Fourth level of awesomeness: smells (yes, smells. That has the potential to be awful but thankfully all we smelled were flowers when Bilbo was running through a field.) Fifth level of awesomeness: lightening struck in our theatre during the lightening storm in the movie. There were warnings about water but I never felt anything but whatever. Everything else was beyond amazing! I cannot wait to go to another one.

Well I am off to plan my winter vacation: destination unknown! Until the next time!

Posted by cstravelsabroad 01:45 Archived in South Korea Tagged friends christmas seasons hangul firsts Comments (0)

It's Beginning to look a lot like...

"Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are." ~ George Eliot

sunny 18 °F

I have never truly experienced winter. Where I am from it gets cold but it doesn't get COLD. One of the things I was looking forward to the most was experiencing all the seasons in one place and boy am I getting my wish. Winter has come and it has come with all its glory. Walking around in single digit temperatures, in tights and a dress, is now something I can say I have experienced... and hopefully will not ever repeat. I at least had my down jacket on. I'm not sure if my legs will ever really forgive me though.

I did get to play in the snow though, so really, that is all that matters. For some reason I cannot fathom Korea doesn't quite grasp the concept of salting sidewalks and streets to prevent ice. I have already slipped twice and had that moment of panic when you almost fall but don't more times than I would care to count. It is going to be a long winter. Also I still need winter boots... I really need to get on that.

It is weird that I am not getting ready for winter break at school. I am still not used to the idea that winter vacation is 4 weeks long and starts in January. I will have the 25th off of work but nothing else. Oh well I have the 19th too (but that is election day- which is a holiday here) I'm not quite sure why, but hey, who am I to look a gift 'day off of work' in the mouth? Although winter break is 4 weeks I don't have that much time off work. I get my two week vacation (dates that are still to be determined) and then I have three weeks of winter camp that I will have to teach.

My theme: fairytales. Come on, is there any universe out there were I wouldn't choose fairytales as a theme for a classroom? In answer. No. If you know me at all you know how obsessed I am with fairytales and now I get to share that obsession with a bunch of Korean elementary school kids for three uninhibited weeks. I have to have my lesson plan turned in by Friday and I am having way too much fun thinking of activities and stories and games. Most of which I will have to scrap just because I know the level will be too high for my kids but it is fun to think about anyway.

I notice that I do that a lot now, think way too hard and long about activities for my students, they are growing on me. I hate to say it but I definitely have my favorites. I am proud of myself though- I have finally learned most of the names of all my extra-curriculum students. It took me almost four months... pathetic I know, but it took me almost 3 months for the kids to accept the fact they had to choose English names. That's what I get for having students used to having a native English teacher who also spoke Korean and therefore could pronounce their actual names. I also am growing to really love teaching. I don't know if I will continue to love it but I find myself thinking of going to grad school when I get back to the states and focusing in Education. I always said I never wanted to be a teacher in the states but I can say the idea doesn't repulse me as much anymore. Even more surprising is how I would most likely go for elementary now rather than high school. There are just way too many fun things to do with younger kids and seeing that "ah-ha" moment in their faces. I can't imagine that happening as much with older kids. Granted all the experience I have with older kids was substitute teaching, and we all know students are always on their best behavior with substitues... said no one ever.

On an annoying note I have to figure out my vacation plans all over again... things and dates changed so I will be traveling solo. I am not sure where I will be headed but if things work out I will cross the Taiwan Lantern Festival off my bucket list. Woot. Oh well, I didn't come half way across the world to just sit at home during my vacations. I will travel and explore and go to new places and meet new people. Yes!

I received my first package from home which made me very happy. Shout out to a great best friend from home who gathered all my wish list items and shipped them to me. There are some things from home I am not going to live without. And I do not read enough Korean to comfortably purchase some things and others I just cannot find in Korea. Or I am unwilling to pay 8000 won on black tea. I'm in Asia for crying out loud why is tea so expensive?!

Alas that is what friends from back home are for. So thanks again! Lesson planning and sleep beckons to me so I shall be off... until the next time!

Posted by cstravelsabroad 05:40 Archived in South Korea Tagged snow adventure love seasons teaching Comments (0)

Old and New Loves

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

storm

I am finding that I am falling back into old ruts. I get up and go to work. Come home and watch tv, talk with friends, maybe walk around bits of Ilsan. Fall asleep and then do it all again. I haven't been going on many adventures on the weekends because I am not wanting to spend as much money because vacation time is coming up. It's not a bad routine it just that "routine" is not why I travelled half way around the world. But I am going to deal with the routine for a bit longer because it is just too cold to go traipsing around Korea aimlessly. No grand adventures right now... just little ones to random bits of Korea.

But with all this lack of movement I am reveling in old and new loves. Old loves would be wonderfully entangling tv and beautiful musicals. I have fallen into the deep dark pit that is freeprojecttv.com and have caught up with all my tv shows from back home. Oh tv why mush i love you so? You'd think I would be more inclined to go out and live my own life rather than waste away watching made-up version of other people's lives... yeah, nope, still love it. On a slightly less hermit-like scale I have found a musical buddy in Korea. I mentioned I went to see Rudolf in my last post but we also went and saw A Tale of Two Cities a few days ago. It was beyond amazing. Shout out thanks to my sophomore English teacher who made me read, and subsequently fall in love with, A Tale of Two Cities. I cried just as much at the end of the musical as I did at the end of the book. There is an actress that was in both and she has one of the most amazing voices I have heard! Which leads me to the one thing I absolutely do not like about Korean theatre. There are no soundtracks available. If you know me at all you know I am slightly obsessed with soundtracks, and by slightly, that is pretty much what my iTunes library consists of, but I cannot get the soundtracks from these two musicals because Korea just doesn't do that. If you want to hear the music from their musicals you just have to keep going to the musical. They may release a few songs on youtube that highlight the show but never all of them and never on CD.

Fail.

At least with A Tale of Two Cities I could get the broadway cast soundtrack on iTunes. Not as good but I can deal.

But that brings my to my new love. K-pop and Korean dramas. Don't judge me. You'd do it to if you were surrounded by this much eye candy at all times. And hey, it's great for learning Korean language and culture. Don't judge me.

I have so much Korean music now it is ridiculous. I don't understand 99.9% of it but that is ok because I could listen for hours. This guys and girls are quite literally trained for years to be just what the public wants them to be. Every girl is supposed to be the girl next door and every guy oozes romance that you practically fall all over yourself when you see them. Case and point on the subway we saw some guys who looked like they were in a K-pop band sauntered into our car and every girl became instantly flustered. KL couldn't even format a complete sentence and the girls across the aisle from us had to stop applying their make-up because all concentration centered on these guys. I wish I was making that up. Eye candy. Yum.

The school year is winding down, which is very odd for me, but at the same time it makes so much more sense. I am not sure how I feel about my 6th graders leaving me yet. I have grown quite fond of some of them. It's going to be an interesting next few weeks of review though. Most of my classes have finished their books and so now we are just going to review and review some more. They are really going to be prepared for their finals. Yup, elementary students have midterms and finals here. Crazy. I am also going to start planning my winter camp soon. I will apparently have 6 hours a day for 3 weeks of classes to prepare. Although this may be up for debate because I think I have my first contract issue (but more on that to come later if I find out I am correct). But for now we are moving right on past that.

It is supposed to snow on Wednesday!! I am beyond excited. I have to go and get some winter boots though my feet are already protesting. And I have to break down and get some ear muffs... I hate how muffled my hearing gets with ear muffs on but it is just too cold not to anymore. I was always sad I never experienced a real winter before so I can't really complain now that I have to deal with everything that comes with having a real winter. Oh well... I still love it! I just wish it wasn't so freezing in my school. Saving energy is very important here so we have heaters in our rooms but the hallways and bathrooms do not and it gets cold. We didn't even have hot water in the bathrooms until today. I had to buy a little blanket because of the draft that comes through the windows and doors in my room. I can't really complain though because some people I know only have heat for certain hours of the day and they have no control over it. My controls are in my room so I can be toasty all day long. Score.

Well, it's late, and it's only Monday... it's going to be a long week. But until the next time!

Posted by cstravelsabroad 04:22 Archived in South Korea Tagged culture friends adventures seasons television Comments (0)

Winter Is Coming

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." ~ Fitzgerald Muller

semi-overcast

Oh life. Especially life that has happened since my last post. I say again. Oh life. Or as I say now... 아이고... The last few days before the open class were spent frantically trying to prepare for our second open class. The first open class I had wasn't that bad. Our vice principal came and we were video taped, that was all, easy as pie. Well not this one. If I thought my co-teacher was stressed last time she probably needed to be hospitalized this go around. We spent way too many hours at school, writing, rewriting, fixing PowerPoints, messing with the VR-studio (blue screen technology), recording, rerecording, fixing grammar, helping students memorize, helping students with hand motions, helping students... oh and teaching all of our normal classes. As my co-teacher so eloquently put it... there was probably about 40 hours of prep for a 40 minute class.

We stayed until almost 8 o'clock on Friday evening trying to get a 2 minute news report to record right... considering we started right after school that's three and a half hours... working on less than two-minutes of video. All because the VR-Studio really didn't want to cooperate. We would have video then no sound. No sound but great video. The mic would echo horribly. The picture would fuzz in and out. The poor students who were helping us... they were rewarded with pizza.

I had a wonderfully relaxing weekend of nothing but catching up on television shows and doing some much needed cleaning and laundry (and yes I find cleaning and laundry relaxing. Don't judge me.) But all good things must come to an end and Monday decided he needed to show up. And yes I am personifying Monday as a male. Deal with it. It has no other option but to be a man.

Hectic chaos is all I can say. I don't know if I've explained the importance of open classes here but Korean teachers are evaluated by how well they perform during these open classes by their managing teachers, vice-principals, principals, other Korean teachers, other Native English teachers, and people from the Board of Education. So I do not really blame my co-teacher for being so nervous and wanting everything to be perfect. Tuesday we really couldn't even function very well and neither of us had any appetite for lunch so we went back up to our room and waited for 1:50 to roll around so we could start our class. We had to wait almost an hour after the normal time the class is scheduled to start to allow time for other teachers and everyone to finish with lunch and get to our school. At this point I don't even think I could tell you what happened during the next 40 minutes. Have a room full of 27 nervous fifth graders and about 30 onlookers makes for a very interesting class. We ran way too long but the kids were great and we did ok in the end. I really hope it is a long time before we have another open class.

The rest of the week was the easiest thing in the world. Once something more stressful happens you no longer think of old stresses as problems but vacations from the bad things in life. It really adds perspective.

Fall has definitely ended and Winter has started to rear its head. The daily temperature is hovering in the 30s (sometimes getting up to the early 40s) and dipping to mid 20s at night. I am so thankful I purchased a down coat before I came to Korea although I need to look into some winter boots soon. My two-year old Target brand "Ugg" boots are not going to make it through winter here.

Oh random bits of news. The bus workers almost had a strike in Korea this past Wednesday. A lot of my fellow teachers and I were worried how we were going to get to work because a lot of us commute via bus. The bus drivers were striking against a proposed law that would make taxis able to claim benefits under public transportation laws. I don't know details all I know is one of the benefits would be that taxis could drive in the bus only lane on the roads. That would just spell bad on so many levels. Bus drivers here are already ridiculously scary and they have their own lane add taxis (the second scariest form of transportation in Korea) and you are just asking for trouble. Thankfully the buses didn't strike and I want able to get to work fairly painlessly but I hope that means that taxis will not be able to drive in the bus lane.

Although these two "stressful" events happened right next to each other (Tuesday = open class, Wednesday = bus strike) the two events actually brought me closer to my co-teacher. We don't really talk about things other than classes and she answers questions that I have about certain things but we bonded a lot during these few days. We laughed and talked about things in our pasts, what we liked, how we relaxed, etc. It was really nice. I have another Native English teacher friend, KL, here and she is always telling us about her co-teacher and what she does with her and it sounds really nice and like a really great way to be introduced to a new culture. I don't hang out with my co-teacher or go to her house but it is nice to be able to talk with her like a friend rather than just a source of information. A main difference is she is younger than me whereas KL's co-teacher is in her 40s... haha. Technicalities. I have a "friend" relationship instead of a "mom" relationship. I hope we can continue to get closer.

Korean culture is very different than what I am used to and some of it is good while others just doesn't make much sense to me. One of the things is age. Age determines how someone acts and what they so to that person. It has a lot to do with respect and I like that but at the same time it is thoroughly confusing.

I have been engrossed with Korean dramas lately and it is teaching me so much about the Korean culture and I catch myself mimicking them. Sounds, phrases, actions... it's catching. It's going to be very odd when I go back home and I have been so used to the Korean way of doing things.

I spent the weekend with KL and KB again. Saturday I experienced my first musical in Korea. I love musicals and KL also loves musicals. She had her birthday recently so we went to see Rudolf in Seoul Saturday night. We spent the day walking around and doing some shopping in one of the market districts, I didn't participate in this part but I experienced my first haggle-deal in the market, this old man wanted KL to buy a pair of boots and the exchange was priceless. He kept calling himself "oppa" (which if you've hear Gangnam Style you've heard the term) but it is basically "older brother" but girls call older guys "oppa" as a cute term of endearment, mostly in boyfriend/girlfriend situations and as a way to get what you want. I found out that my listening skills are a lot better than I thought though because I could pretty much understand what he was saying! Yay! Not yay was the fact he wanted a hug and kiss before we left... ah well... with the good comes the bad.

The musical is actually a spin-off from the musical Elizabeth. It's based off an Austrian royal family and was beautiful! The actors and actresses had amazing voices and the set was beautiful. I will definitely continue to see musicals while I am here. Even with everything being spoken was in Korean, it's the theatre, if you can't understand what is happening either you or the actors do not belong there. Plus I am working on my Korean so every little bit helps. We already have plans to see A Tale of Two Cities the musical and the 25th anniversary of Phantom of the Opera. Eeep! I love it! And I am so glad I found another person who is as in love with musicals as I am, it makes life easier, haha.

It was a bit weird not having a Thanksgiving dinner this year. I missed the wonderful food but there is plenty of wonderful food to be had here that I will not be able to get back home so I am going to enjoy it while I can. It was a little weird at first seeing all the Christmas decorations start going up in the middle of November but then I realized Koreans can do that... they don't have another holiday between then and Christmas so it wasn't awkward but it is definitely making me happy. Christmas is my favorite holiday because of the atmosphere and the decorations and the all-around joy that is everywhere. I hope I get to experience my first white Christmas this year. *cross your fingers*

Well that is all for now... until the next time!

Posted by cstravelsabroad 04:37 Archived in South Korea Tagged culture seasons openclass Comments (0)

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