Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas time in Busan

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas! It was a little odd being away from home this holiday season, but it was made easier with great company.

To be honest, it didn't really feel like Christmas. I had to work on Christmas eve and I didn't have the usual traditions that remind me it's close (like putting up the tree, etc). On Saturday morning I was able to wake up and skype with my entire family while they opened the gifts I sent them which I really enjoyed! They sat me in the corner and for a moment it felt like I was right back home. When my mom asked if anyone else wanted a piece of dessert and I said, "I do!" it felt like it was possible to just reach through the screen and grab it. The best part was convincing my brother to eat some of the dried squid I sent. He did not enjoy it whatsoever.

For dinner on Christmas night, about 30 friends got together in Hauendae for a buffet. It was delicious! So many choices and all western food. Finally able to use a fork. And the free wine wasn't too bad, either.

I hope this post finds you well. Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 20, 2010

More tension

I think to myself... There have been thousands upon thousands of foreigners that have come to South Korea to teach English and I know I'm not the first one to keep a blog about the experience. How many posts have been titled "tensions rise in Korea," or something along those lines? Go to right now and you'll see about 10 articles with a slightly varied headline.

All of this comes from the attack from the North that happened back in November. I wrote about it shortly after it happened, thinking nothing would come of it. But today, tensions rose again as South Korea held a military drill (ok, I don't know the exact term or lingo). The North said this was grounds for war which absolutely blows my mind, but more-so breaks my heart.

What if there is war? I'm registered with the consulate, I would receive word and I assume I would be asked to leave the country, which I would. But what brings tears to my eyes and a heavy feeling in my heart is the fact that all the Korean people living here have nowhere to go. So what, I get on a plane back to America? Well this will still be going on here. I could go through my entire year without war breaking out and I would return home and these people would still have to deal with the constant threat of attack.

When will the violence end? Why is it still happening 50 years after the Korean war "ended?" And how are these people so brave to deal with it their entire lives?

I've been here for about 4 months now. I'm terrified at the thought of war on the peninsula. But the Korean people are so unconcerned with it.

No people should be accustomed to bloodshed.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love is in the air

I went to a wedding this weekend which was an interesting event, indeed. I don't really know how to explain the weddings. I think I would compare it to a Vegas-style ceremony. The whole thing seemed somewhat rushed. It started almost as soon as we sat down. I wouldn't say it was as intricate or emotional as Western weddings, either (although I have no idea what anyone was saying). When we first got there, we got to take pictures with the bride, who is my director at school. Her name is Violet and she looked absolutely beautiful! I got a little teary-eyed when I saw her. Such a stunning bride.

We went into a big room inside a building used just for weddings, in a nutshell. It had several different rooms that all looked the same, all used for the same purpose. It was very open and it didn't feel private. There were a few songs sung to the couple then Violet and her husband bowed to both of their parents. They also poured the champagne and cut the cake (with a katana) but they didn't eat or drink it. Then the both of them walked out and some funky music was played. The couple came back and took group pictures, first with family and then with friends. My co-workers and I were the only "way-gooks" (foreigners) in the picture so I'm sure we'll stick out like sore thumbs. We didn't know what to do, so we just smiled dumbly at the camera. We all got tickets to a buffet so we went and ate with other people, presumably coming from other weddings. Violet came in to greet everyone after we ate and she was wearing a traditional dress called a "hanbok," again she looked beautiful!

It was different compared to Western weddings, no doubt about that. A co-worker of mine told me that there are still traditional weddings in Korea, but they are far less common and they involve roosters (no joke). But I'm happy I got to experience it! Something I was hoping I would during my time in Korea.

Alix and I put together the gingerbread house my mother sent to me. It didn't taste good, but I think we did a fine job constructing it!

PS. Wondering what to get for a wedding gift? Money. I believe about 20,000 - 30,000 is standard. Maybe a little more or less, depending on the situation. You'll get a white envelope at the wedding where you can write a congratulatory message and slip the cash inside.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A few more observations

Hello! A short update so everyone knows I am still safe, despite what you might have heard on the news. I keep a little notepad with me at all times so I can write down things I observe. I like to notice these little differences. It interests me, but it also makes me thankful for all the luxuries I have at home. Here are just a few more, continued from the last list.

-The holidays. I can't say for certain that Christmas is as commercialized as it is in the states, but I definitely think there are some companies making bank on this special day. I don't have cable and I don't watch TV, so I can't say whether or not television programs are flooded with commercials telling you to buy this toy or go to this sale. And there was certainly no Black Friday, obviously due to the fact that Thanksgiving isn't celebrated here. But a lot of stores do have giant Christmas trees put up already and Christmas decorations are readily available here. I asked my students if they celebrate Christmas, and I would say about 25% yes.

-Birthdays are different here as well. It's a little difficult to explain, and I know I'm going to probably give some wrong information, but here's how I understand it to work. Everyone still has their individual birthdays, but when you're born, you're already 1 year old. Then when the new years roles around, everyone has a birthday. So since I was born in 1988, everyone born in 1988 with me would turn 23 at the same time. You still celebrate your birthday on the day you were born, you just wouldn't say you turned older on that day. You're still 12 or 83 until the new year! And what I found most odd... If you were born on December 26, for example, you're 1. So then on January 1, you're 2. So when you're just a few days old, you're already considered 2 in Korea.

-I will often find myself speaking in Korean sentence structure. A student explained to me that Korean is very short, unlike English, where the sentences are very long. For example, and again this may be wrong, she told me that in English you could say "I have a lot of money." But in Korean, it would simply be "Money. I have." So students will often say to me, "Candy. Give me." or "Money. Give me." because that is how their sentences are structured. Since I spend a good deal of my day talking to little kids, I try to speak to them in a simple way. So forgive me if I come home and the first thing I say to you is, "Hug. Give me."

-The weather. Korea definitely has the extremes. When I first arrived in August, I remember getting off the plane and feeling mortified; how could it be so humid?! Apparently, July is the wet month, so I can only imagine the state my hair will be in. This winter has been brutally cold, as well. It doesn't snow which is nice, but it is windy. Having grown up in Illinois I would say that I'm accustomed to cold winters, but this cold has certainly tested my patience! I've heard that spring and autumn are quite pleasant, though it only lasts a short time.

-Food. Overall, I'm not very adventurous when it comes to new cuisine. I know what I like and I stick to it, which has proved to be troublesome during my travels. I would say the most curious I've ever gotten with food was eating snails and frog legs in Paris, which is really quite a shame. I accidently ate a little piece of squid here and thought I was going to absolutely lose it, but did my best to hold it all in. I've tried popular Korean dishes and I think they're quite delicious, but it's nothing out of the ordinary. I think it will take a lot more persuasion (and soju) to try the dog, bug larva, chicken anus or whale. Yes, certain restaurants here sell whale meat (or so I've been told). I think I would rather starve.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North and South Korea

A lot of people have expressed concern over the recent attacks from North Korea. I'll be honest, I don't know much about it. I don't have cable so I don't watch the news on television and I've only skimmed over a few news articles on But let me start off by showing you this picture.

I don't live anywhere near where the attack happened, but that doesn't mean people are not stirred up and anxious about it. Everywhere I went yesterday (restaurants, banks, stores, taxis) the news was on. I talked to many of my older students yesterday to see what they thought about the incident and it truly broke my heart to hear what they had to say.

I suppose I've been oblivious to the crisis these people are in. I have absolutely come to adore South Korea and its people. They are so kind and generous, seemingly unscathed by their neighbors to the north, primarily because we don't talk about the subject. It puts a pit in my stomach that these remarkable people may be in danger and they have to live in fear of what may happen.

Whenever I go into a class, I always ask "How are you today?" and I usually get the response "I am happy," or "so-so," but yesterday many students told me they were scared and angry because of what had happened. I have heard and read reports of South Korea being attacked but this is the first time I was in the country and got to see the reactions for myself. They cursed the north and their fear tactics, they told me their parents were angered and saddened, they told me they cried when they heard what had happened.

From what I've seen so far, South Koreans are very proud of their country. I think it angers them that their own citizens, even if it's a small number, are being killed and injured at the hands of North Korea. They explained to me that the rich in North Korea are very rich while the poor are very poor. They mourn, in a way, for the North Korean people. They talked to me about wanting the country to be reunited as a single Korea again, but that wouldn't be possible because of the corrupt leadership.

Because think about it. What if war broke out in America, for some reason or another, and every state west of the Mississippi River was one country and every state east was another. If you had family to the east and you lived on the west side, too bad. You can't see them again. No communication, no meetings, nothing. You become a victim of circumstance and you lose loved ones because of it. It's hard to believe that several families in South Korea have relatives north of the border and they might never be able to see them again. Could you imagine it? It makes you so grateful for all your freedoms.

So what's going to happen now? I have no idea. Will South Korea retaliate? Who knows. I'll continue to watch the news and be aware of any changes, but I don't necessarily feel fearful that I'm in any danger. Apparently attacks from North Korea are an annual event, it's something these people get used to. And that's what breaks my heart. The fact citizens living in South Korea know they are under possible attack at all times. One student told me that the Korean war is not finished, it's just stopped. No one won, no one lost. Perhaps the only way to "win" this war is with a reunited peninsula, but I'm not so sure that's ever going to happen. Families might be divided by one miniscule border for the rest of their lives.

If I'm in any real harm, I'm sure I'll be able to leave the country to return home, but I don't foresee that happening. I think perhaps the part that really upsets me is that even if I do return home, free of harm, what's going to happen to the Korean people living here? They don't have a safe haven to flee to. Where will they go? I told several students they and their families could come stay with me and they got the most ecstatic, hopeful looks on their faces (even if it was half way joking). But in all honesty, I would let each and every one of them stay if they needed to.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day trippin'

Our school had the day off yesterday. I'm not sure if it had to do with the college entrance exams many students took (comparable to the ACTs or SATs) but I'm not one to complain about a day off. Took a trip to the city of Gyungju, the old capital of Korea. It was only about an hour away and was really cheap to get to by bus. I'm told this entire city is a world heritage site, or some of it at least. It was so pretty with the trees changing colors and provided a nice getaway from Busan, if only for a small time.

Those aren't hills, but tombs.

A lot of couples took bike rides during the afternoon.

The weather and the changing trees were beautiful.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy pepero day!

Happy pepero day to you and yours! What is pepero? I didn't know before today, either. They're kind of like breadsticks dipped in chocolate. Today was sort of like Valentine's Day for teachers. The students are supposed to bring pepero for all their teachers. Apparently they chose 11/11 because the numbers look like the food. How clever.

There's also an international food festival going on in Busan, although it may be finished now. One of my students went and I asked her what America had to offer. She told me nachos. That makes sense...

Melissa and I went hiking last Saturday. I hadn't gone on any trails yet, which is unacceptable and disappointing. I made my way to her neighborhood for a small yet challenging hike. It was nice to get away from the concrete for a while.

Best wishes to all reading!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Alive and well

Not much to say, so I'll let the photos do the talking.

This was taken the Friday before Halloween so we had a little party. This class usually misbehaves, but I still adore them. Say hello to Ben, Kevin, Alice, Sophie and Stacy.

Like I've mentioned before, the kids really like to say people "died." They also like to play with guns and knives and they bring these fun little trinkets to class. No big deal. I couldn't see this going down very well in an American school.

And finally... Some friends and I went to a "Wii-room" last night. You just go and play Wii! It was a ton of fun to just sit around and play tennis and bowling for a few hours and it was so cheap. We had a great time and lots of laughs.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A day in the life

I decided I would try to give everyone a little peek into what life in South Korea actually consists of. I'm always finding things that are specific to Korea, but I haven't documented them for everyone to read yet. So here they are.

-I've been asked what my blood type is by several Koreans. When I say I have absolutely no idea they look at me as if I grew a second head. They're shocked. I guess a blood type tells a lot about a person, so I usually just make an answer up.

-I really can't explain to you the noises you'll hear in Korea. I think my favorite, and one I find most bizarre, is the war-like propaganda I'll randomly hear coming from fruit stands. I'm not kidding. You walk by a little stand in the back of a van selling something like herbs or fruit and there will be a bizarre voice yelling something from a loud speaker. It really is difficult to explain. One friend told me about a comic he read in which two people were walking by this bizarre event. One friend asked what was going on and the other said, "Either the nazis are invading or nectarines are on sale." And it's so true.

-Socks. There are entire tables dedicated to selling socks at various markets here in Busan and I've heard they are a popular gift to give.

-It's totally normal for hospital patients here to leave the hospital for a little bit and roam the streets, gown on and IV drip attached. I've seen patients in restaurants, stores, taking walks. It's just no big deal.

-Service. People here really will do their best to always make sure you're accommodated and comfortable. From my short time in the country, I see that they really do aim to please. My best example of service comes from a man working at a 7/11 right outside my apartment. I go in the store frequently to buy all sorts of items: water, food, candy, beer. One time I went in and the bar code on an item didn't work right, so he gave me a free energy drink for my "time wasted," which was about 4 seconds. Another time I went in to buy just a bottle of soju, so he gave me a bag of potato chips for free, because he didn't want me to get sick. He's the best.

There are so many other things I have noticed about the culture and people, I could go on for days. I make it a point to jot down these observations so I can write about them, share them, remember them. This is just a small chapter in what could be a book about, "Why Korea is so Awesome."

Monday, October 25, 2010

A rock fest and fireworks

I did a bad job of keeping the blog updated, didn't I? Things have been a little busy the last few weeks, but to be honest I just got lazy and didn't feel like updating. I've snapped out of it and have stories to share!

Let's start with two weekends ago: the Daejeon rock festival. To sum it all up, it was an awesome time. There were about 50 Busanites on the bus and I got to meet a lot of great people from all over the city. The trip there and back was about 4 or so hours, including stops. A friend of ours popped in a Beatles CD when we were almost there and the bus turned into a big karaoke session which was definitely a sight to see (and painful to hear). We finally arrived in Daejeon and had a bit of trouble finding our hotel. There was a good amount of traffic and our bus got lost, so we had to turn around. Easier said than done. The bus literally stopped four lanes of traffic backing up so we could turn around. It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. Finally arrived at the festival and listened to some good tunes. To all of our surprise, the festival was shut down at midnight. We obviously thought it was a joke when an emcee got on the mic and told us all we were being shut down, but alas, it was no joke. Feeling a bit discouraged because we didn't get to hear the band we came to see, we thought the trip was going to be a bust. But with some phone calls and persuasion, we followed the band to a bar named Yellow Taxi where they played to a crowd that danced and sang all night long. I really don't think the show would have been quite as good if they played at the festival. But since it was a smaller, more intimate crowd (that followed them to a bar in an unfamiliar city), I think it was a bit more special. After the show, about 20 of us piled into one pretty big room (divided into 3 rooms) to hit the hay. Woke up, found food, went home. Great weekend.

This last weekend was the Busan Fireworks Festival, and I can tell you one thing. It did not disappoint. There were actually 3 shows, one on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but the last was supposed to be the best. I heard a lot of people would show up, but I didn't know exactly how serious it was going to be. We arrived on the beach at about 4 in absolute shock as to how many people were already there. Long story short, we sat around and played cards, talked, wandered around until about 8:30 when the show began. I really have to say, for as frustrating as it was to deal with such an enormous crowd, the fireworks were beautiful. They lasted for about an hour and it was "an around the world theme," which was pretty cool to see. It definitely topped any fireworks I've ever seen (yes, even Rantoul's display).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Officially in Busan one month today. Where does time go?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good-bye, vacation

Well, Chuseok is done and what a week it was. I'm actually happy I didn't end up going anywhere because I feel like I really got to know Busan better. I met some new people, made some new friends and created a ton of memories I know I'll never forget.

As I mentioned before, I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish over this break, and I got to mark a majority of them off. I had my first noraebong experience which was nothing short of amazing. There were about 8-10 people in one room dancing, eating, drinking and singing karaoke. I have never experienced anything like it and I think I was laughing a good 95% of the time.

We also went to a temple, although I'm not sure the name of it. It was so beautiful and serene, unlike any part of Korea I've seen yet. There were a lot of people there that day which I'm assuming was because of the holiday. I would like to visit another temple when it's not so packed because it really did make me feel at peace. I feel like you could do a lot of soul searching there.

I feel like this break solidified the fact that I'm going to spend the next year in Busan and I know I'll be just fine. I've met some amazing people who have helped me get through the somewhat challenging transition to life here. I've been here for almost a month even though it doesn't feel like it all and I really feel like I'm almost completely transitioned. I know that's a bold statement and trials will still arise, but it's definitely getting easier. Even small things like using the subway or getting the right garbage bags was an overwhelming thought 3 weeks ago, but now it's no big deal. I can direct a taxi driver to my apartment with no problem and I'm starting to learn the language more and more.

Although I had a great break and I'm happy I got more acquainted with the city, I'm happy to go back to work. Normalcy is welcome at times.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Happy Chuseok! I have the entire week off thanks to this wonderful holiday, which is similar to Thanksgiving in America. I hope all those who celebrate it have a wonderful time with loved ones.

Liana and I had a little adventure today and discovered another part of the city we'll call home for the next year. We went to Nampo-dong and I really liked it. It wasn't as bright and overwhelming as other parts of the city. There were several open markets and a lot of people shopping at them, but I enjoyed myself. After we shopped for a while we went to a small Italian restaurant we stumbled upon and had some delicious fettucini and bianco pizza. There was a park next to the restaurant so we wandered over and went to the top of Busan Tower for some great views of the city. You don't realize how big it is until you see it in such a way. It really is remarkable.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Go Lotte Giants!

We went to the baseball game on Saturday and I had a blast. It really is just like American baseball but so much more fun. For one, they have cheerleaders and they lead the crowd in chants and cheers throughout the game. When I go to games at home, it will get exciting at times when something is really going on. Here, it was fast paced and loud the entire time. Every player has their own chant. But they're very simple and usually to the tune of songs I recognize. The beer is also very cheap and the woman who walked around selling it also sold dried squid, but I wasn't brave enough to sample it. Don't be alarmed by the sight of us with plastic bags on our heads. Employees will pass the bags out toward the end of the game to tie around your head then we use them to pick up our garbage when the game is done. How clever and convenient. We went to dinner afterwards and ate galbi, which is kind of like strips of meat you cut and grill yourself. It was delectable.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


There are a lot of updates now. I just kind of copied everything I had been writing down so far. I don't think I'll have this much to say at once every time, but I talked about what I thought was interesting so far. Still having a great time and slowly becoming adjusted to life in South Korea. Stay tuned!

Korea Day 4

I moved into my apartment today. Jeff picked me up from the motel and helped me move all my stuff. I'm so happy it has an elevator. I got everything moved and settled in a bit, but there's still more I want to do. There are so many things to get used to. How to deal with the trash, how to pay with bills, etc. Still so much to learn.

Today was my first day teaching and there are a few things I noticed.

I really need to do the workbooks before I expect the kids to. For the most part, my books didn't have answers written in them but I figured that would be okay since it was basic English. No. When I'm doing 13 things at once it's hard to pay attention to the story and try to take attendance and make sure everyone understands what's going on, etc. Someone would ask me what a word meant and I wouldn't know where they were in the story or there would be a problem but I didn't know how the book wanted the students to answer. There was one point when I even told the kids to do a problem the wrong way and they knew I was telling them wrong. They laughed at me. I felt so dumb.

Some of the words are difficult to explain. For example, I had to define the word mineral. I know what a mineral is, but it's kind of hard to describe to smaller kids. A little one named Joseph whom I adore looked it up in his dictionary and showed me what it meant. Again, I felt so dumb.

I think the funniest part of my day happened outside of the classroom. I wanted to make a nametag for my desk, so I got a piece of paper and wrote my name in red and put some stickers on it. Julie, the teacher who sits next to me, said that it's not good to write my name in red. I didn't know what she was talking about and then I suddenly remembered reading that in Korea, you only write the name of dead people in red. She told me that was right so she flipped the paper over and told me to write the name again, which I did.

And now, a few pictures of magnificent Busan so far.

Korea Day 3

Finally able to sleep through the entire night. Unfortuantely, I ate lunch at McDonalds. I told myself I would avoid familiar food as much as possible, but I was hungry and I knew what a cheeseburger was so I decided to eat it. The menu is a little different here. They have what's called a bulgogi burger. Bulgogi is just a popular meat dish here and they made it into a burger. Clever. It also serves a shrimp burger, which I thought was different. And the happy meals come with corn instead of fries. Everything comes with corn.

I learned a lot just from going to the school and watching Amy teach the classes. And it's a lot different here than in America. In one class, there is only one high school student named Krista that I really like to talk to. She told me that one time she decided to shave her eyebrows off, just for fun. When she went to her public school, the teacher pulled her out of the room, sat her down and slapped her a few times. For shaving her eyebrows off! I guess Krista's mom wrote a letter to the school, but not much else was done.

Education is extremely important here and Korean children are always in school, it seems. Amy told me that after they finish their day at public school, many kids will go to "academies," math, art or science for example. As well as their English lessons. They literally learn all day. I was even told that when they take their tests to determine what university they can get into (sort of like the ACT's in America) planes aren't allowed to fly over the schools since it might disturb or distract the kids. It's that serious.

Not only is the schooling different but the students are as well. Whenever you ask one of the students why another student is missing that day, they say he or she "died." They think it's the funniest thing ever. They also sharpen their pencils with razors and act like they're shooting each other with guns. This is just normal every day behavior for them. But I think this is because you aren't allowed to have guns in Korea. Crimes, at least gun crimes, are pretty low here from what I gather.

I know that I'm going to really like the children. There are a few brats and that's natural, but they're all sweet and do some hilarious things. They all have English names and I'm able to remember several of them because they're the same names of my friends. I even had the privilege of naming a new student and he picked Kyle, which I gave him as an option since it's my brother's name. He's an awesome kid. It's the funniest when talking to the young kids because they're not afraid to tell you how different you look or how big you are.

Korea Day 2

I followed Amy to all of her classes today to see how she teaches and interacts with the kids. Each class lasts about 40 minutes and the number of kids in each class really varies. As the day went on, the kids got older and spoke better English. Her and I also went to a kimbap shop by the school for some bibimbap, which is a hard dish to explain. It has rice, egg, lots of vegetables. It was delicious and even better... cheap.

I made it back around 10:00 pm and don't have to be in til 2:00 tomorrow. I plan on watching TV for a bit then gradually falling into the best sleep of my life.

Korea Day 1

First, I'll tell you about the flight. I thought this was going to be the worst flight I've been on yet since it's 14 hours and then some. But I was surprised. I had an empty seat next to me the entire flight so I could stretch out more than usual which helped tremendously. But overall, the plane was just very comfortable. We got warm towels and slippers as soon as we boarded which I had never received before. Not only that, our plane was the perfect temperature. Normally I'm cold and wiping my running nose the entire flight but I didn't have that problem this time around. I was able to sleep a good 6 hours which I hope will aid in the jet lag somehow.

Once I arrived in Korea I knew it was going to be an amazing year, but a challenging one as well. I would like to think I'm an accomplished traveler, having been to Europe twice and navigating through several countries on my own. But Korea is different. I actually feel like I'm in a new place, a foreign place. For the first time since I've been out of the states, I feel like I'm a foreigner. The biggest problem thus far has been money. I wasn't going to get money at the currency exchange, but I'm really glad I did. I have enough to get me through a couple days, but I'm definitely going to have to use an ATM at some point to get more cash out. Apparently international ATM's aren't that common here, so I'm going to have to go on a little search to find one. Spoiled me, I thought they would be as common as they were in Europe. This is something I have to get used to. Europe and Asia are both different continents than North America, yes. But just because Europe and Asia are foreign to me doesn't mean I can expect the same from the two of them. If that makes sense. I need to begin to separate the two.

When I got here my boss Jeff met me at the airport. He's very nice, but shy and soft spoken. He took me to the motel that I'm staying at until Amy, the girl I'm taking over for, leaves on Thursday. It's a nice, quaint place. I felt bad because I didn't take my shoes off when I came in the room. Jeff explained to me that in Korea it's very rude if I don't take my shoes off before I go inside. I knew that, but it didn't occur to me when I was struggling to bring an 80 pound suitcase inside. And even though he's not here anymore, I still take them off before I come in. So I don't feel so bad anymore.

He also did an indirect mention of "fan death." If you don't know what that is, google it. Basically, it's a strange superstition Koreans have about fans, heat and dying in the middle of the night. He told me that I shouldn't keep my fan and air conditioner on all night with a closed window. I kinda of giggled to myself because we don't have this thought in America, but apparently people have actually died due to this. And you know what? I don't doubt it for a second. Why? BECAUSE IT'S REALLY HOT AND HUMID HERE. I'm not kidding, as soon as I got off the plane I was amazed by the weather. I don't know how to explain it. It's just a sticky, muggy, heavy, wet feeling you get as soon as you step outside. It really is unbelievable. My hair is a mess.

Other than the humidity, I think I may be slowly falling in love with Korea. I met up with my friend Andy that's here and we went to lunch. We ate at a chicken place but I'm not sure what the name of it is. He ordered a chicken dish and asked me if I liked spicy, but I think my definition of spicy and Korea's definition differ. It was hot, but very good! It was just pieces of chicken and some sort of noodle in a hot sauce served with rice. Yum. He also told me there was a button to press if we wanted the waiter's attention and when it went off it sounded like a chicken. I wanted to press it but didn't have reason to.

I'm a little overwhelmed at the moment just because I have absolutely no contact with the outside world. My phone doesn't work and I can't connect to the internet from the motel. As soon as I move in I'll be able to get online which I'll feel a lot better about. It's a little hard to hear everyone talking about events, places, things they know about Korea. They all seem so familiar with the area and culture and I'm so unfamiliar with it. But I know it will get better.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I have been doing an awful job at updating this blog so far. I have so much I want to say, but I've only been able to log in at internet cafes so far. I'm staying in the motel for one more night and then I move into my apartment tomorrow. I've been writing down everything at night so I'll be able to post it once I'm moved in. I just don't have enough time to think of everything I want to tell you when I'm sitting in these cafes.

I'm in the "funny rock funny" internet cafe, sitting in the "no smocking zone." There's also a "smocking zone" and a "couples zone." Not sure what the couples zone is for certain, but sometimes the English gets a little mistranslated. That's how we wind up with "smocking zones."

I'm going to the school today at 2 and I'm teaching my first class today. I promise to let everyone know more about the experience as soon as possible. According to CNN, there's a typhoon headed our way. Welcome to Korea!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I made it!

This is going to be a very short, un-detailed post. But I just wanted to let everyone know that I arrived safely in Busan! I promise to update when I have the time, a clear mind and less jet lag. Love from South Korea!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Before I go

It's a funny thing, preparing to leave friends and family for a year. I've been away before, but never for this long. I don't exactly know how to feel sad at the moment because I'm so excited to live in Busan with a new job and a place to call my own. Saying goodbye is hard but in all reality, I'll be back before you know it. Before I know it. And although I'm sad, I'm so incredibly excited and ready to begin the adventure.

I was thinking about it... When I went back to Florence in 2010, I went to all my favorite spots I discovered in 2009. I went to the Dublin Pub and talked to Sergio, our favorite bartender, who told us that my good friend Massimo had moved back to Rome shortly after we left. I went back to Sacchi, a small bar that still had the same exact deal to offer, five shots for five euro. I went back to Eby's and he whipped us up a batch of the infamous "Laura and Heather shots" while, ironically, wearing the exact same plaid shirt. Everything and everyone was the same. Life had gone on just as I had left it. People went about their day oblivious to whether or not I was there. And although I missed Florence and the inhabitants dearly, life went on.

That's how I feel about the situation I'm in now. Yes, a year is a long time. Yes, I'm going to miss everyone from home. But yes, life is going to go on and we're going to learn and experience so much in this short time away from each other. Don't be sad I'm leaving, be happy we're going to embark on life's journey together, whether we're walking right next to each other or skyping from half way around the world.

Eby, 2009

Eby, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Considering Korea?

As I prepare to leave for Korea, it occurred to me that other people are in the same position I was a short while ago. How did I go about finding a job, applying for it, getting a visa and so on. It seems a daunting task and at times it can be overwhelming. All you need is a little patience and advice. While I can't provide a miracle pill to calm nerves, I can give a few words of wisdom.

First, you need to find a job. If you want the help of a recruiter, simply google "recruiter for teaching English in Korea" (or something along those lines) and you will get hundreds of hits. Find someone you trust and they will walk you along every step of the job and visa process. Although they are usually necessary, beware! Recruiters get money for placing you, so they may not always have your best interest in mind. There are many honest, trustworthy recruiters available; find the one that suits you!

For a more direct alternative, visit Dave's ESL cafe. You can post your resume or browse jobs in areas that interest you.

Once you have a job lined up, you're going to need all the appropriate documents. If you want to be considered for a visa, you will need:

  1. Original diploma or notarized copy
  2. Sealed university transcripts
  3. Resume
  4. Passport information page
  5. Passport sized photos
  6. Criminal background check with apostille* seal
  7. Health statement
  8. Contract with employer
When I applied for my visa in June 2010, I had a copy of my diploma notarized and apostille sealed. This worked just fine, but I don't know if the rules have changed since then. You may need to send your original, no exceptions.

*Wondering what an apostille seal is? To put it simply, it's a seal proving authentication. I had to get the seal on both my diploma and background check. I'm from Illinois and didn't live terribly far from Springfield, so I drove to get the seal. However, it is possible to receive it through the mail, although it takes significantly longer. I believe you will first have to get the documents notarized (which I got taken care of at my local bank). Here is more information about services in your state.

Once you've got all your ducks in line, it's time to send everything off to your future employer. I recommend using FedEx so you can track your package.

After a week or two, you will receive a visa issuance number. Take this number to your nearest Korean consulate along with the following documents:

  1. Visa application
  2. Passport
  3. University transcripts
  4. Passport photo
  5. Copy of contract, diploma, background check and health statement

Remember, the two lists above are only a basic outline of what you'll need. You may need numerous photos and seals or a different kind of background check; the rules are constantly changing. Make sure you do your research before you visit the consulate to apply for your visa. If you have any questions, give them a call! Here is a list of consulates located in America and Canada.

You're going to have to leave your passport at the consulate. If you live close, you can pick it up in person. If not, it's going to be mailed. If that's the case, make sure you bring a prepaid, self addressed envelope. Once again, I recommend FedEx. Wouldn't want your passport lost without a tracking number, would you?

I went to Chicago to receive my stamp and it was a painless process. I had a small interview with an employee, though I say "interview" loosely. I was asked questions with another future teacher about whether or not I had experience with children, what my life motto was and how I got such a fabulous tan (no joke). Take it seriously but don't lose sleep over this step.

And then you're off! Your employer will send you your flight information and before you know it you're going to start on your amazing adventure abroad.

Best of luck!

PS. You should definitely bring a few passport photos with you to Korea. You're going to need them for your health check and it never hurts to have a few, just in case you need them for future purposes!

Saturday, August 7, 2010


The last 25 days have been an exhausting, emotional, daring, beautiful adventure. I would not have changed a single thing about it.

Since I'm home now and can kind of put everything into perspective, it's hard to believe that 51 people did what we just did. There were a lot of long hours on the bus, some dirty hotels and ridiculously rude waiters, to name the least of our problems. But we all looked past it and found the true beauty in the adventure we were on.

This trip definitely would not have been the same had it not been for the wonderful people I met. I know I'm going to keep in touch with a few of them. Because no one can impact a person's life in the way they did without continuing to stay in contact.

My favorite place was London and I didn't think it would be. It was a vary warm, welcoming city, and we had some of the best times there. On the second day, we took the hop-on, hop-off bus tour and had a picnic in the middle of the city. A memory I will never, ever forget. It was at that time that everyone was getting to know each other better and get more comfortable with one another.

My least favorite place was Paris and I didn't think it would be. Everyone was just sort of rude and stand off-ish to us. The city didn't seem particularly warm. It was entirely too crowded and I didn't get to know her in the way I wanted to. All I saw was the typical tourist hotspots, long lines, and angry, impatient people. But it goes without being said that Florence is still my favorite city in the entire world.

I have about three weeks at home now to spend as much time with family and friends as possible. Then I am on my way to Busan! I'm so excited to embark on this journey and I know it will be a lot different than the last month I just spend abroad. Perhaps when I travel alone, I will be able to get a true sense of what it means to be a traveler and not just a tourist.

Thanks for following along on this incredible journey... but it's not over yet.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Florence and Nice

Sorry for the lack of updates! We stayed in an authentic Italian hotel which didn't have wifi, but it was kind of nice to disconnect for a while. Florence was amazing! Just as I left it... I went to all my favorite spots, bars, old apartment, markets. Two days was just not enough there, plain and simple. We are now in the French Riviera! Our hotel is in Nice and the city is beautiful. We went to Monaco today which was also breathtaking. I've actually been here as well, but with scenery this incredible, it will never get old. Tomorrow we leave for Barcelona and the rumor is that we have a VERY long bus ride. But the desination makes it all worthwhile!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


We have arrived in Lucerne! It really is quite pretty here. We are going to sleep in tomorrow morning then take a walking tour of the city. We are also going up Mt. Pilatus tomorrow which I'm really looking forward to. It's supposed to be an amazing view. I'll look forward to sharing the experience with everyone.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Hello from the beautiful city of Paris! I know I haven't written in a while but to be honest there wasn't too much to see or do in Amsterdam. Yet we made use of our time. We have arrived in Paris and it is nothing short of breathtaking. We took a cruise on the Seine River and saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time at night all lit up. Something I will never forget. Today, some of us went to Versailles and the palace of Louis the XIV. I hope that's right... Louis the 14th, that is. It was incredible. It had a large garden in it that we sat around for a while. Tonight we are going for a spectacular, genuine Parisian meal. Perhaps I'll give frog legs a go. Then tomorrow we are taking the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower for what I'm sure will be a breathtaking view of the city. We also have an absinth tasting tomorrow which we're all looking forward to. We had the option of going to the Moulin Rouge, but there was limited seats and it was crazy expensive. So instead we're going to drink wine and have a picnic under the Eiffel Tower. But now I have reason to return to Paris so that I might see the show. There's so much going on and I know I did a bad job of giving details. If I remember more then I will be sure to let you all know. Au revoir!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Hello from The Netherlands! Everything is beautiful. But then again I think every city I visit is amazing. We already saw a lot of very interesting things. I don't think anyone could begin to understand until they actually see it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Hello from London! The city has been amazing so far. Today we had passes for the hop on, hop off buses so we went all around the city. We saw Big Ben (which I'm told is actually the bell inside the tower, not the clock), Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace. And of course the infamous Abbey Road. I had fish and chips for the first time and I surprisingly liked it. We all had a picnic and then a man gave us all free drinks for some reason. Tonight we are taking a Jack the Ripper tour which should be interesting. Then off to Stonehenge tomorrow!

Friday, July 16, 2010

North Wales

Made it to North Wales. It was a little chilly again but a very beautiful and serene country. We went to a castle today but I'm not sure I know what the name of it is. We also went to a town with the craziest name. It closely resembled this: fsjsjsisbdjdishandfoeusysd. And that's not a joke. Then somehow got a free dinner from the hotel we're staying at. So overall a very nice day. We are seeing a bit more of the country tomorrow then we'll arrive in London tomorrow night! Updates upon arrival.