Gyeongbukgung Adventures

My adventure to Gyeongbukgung Palace was well over a month ago and with the helter-skelter that has been my work life as of late, I have seriously neglected to put anything up. For those of you who have followed me thus far, sorry, I swear I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet! Anyway, back to the important stuff!

On one of my many adventures to Seoul I decided that I need to go back to Gyeongbukgung Palace and take in all that I saw when I first arrived to Korea in February, though this time I was going to do it in STYLE! Enter the Hanbok, Korea’s traditional clothing, and its insane affordability (renting of course). With my two close friends and a camera, we decided to end our time in Seoul by stopping at one of the many rental shops and renting hanbok to walk around the palace. For 2 hours it will only set you back 10,000~20,000 won ($10-20) or for a day only 25,000~30,000 ($25-30)! I don’t have a specific shop recommendation as there are over 20 all in a small area offering the same type of deals.

Travel Tip: If you wear hanbok to a palace  in Korea (in most cases), you DO NOT need to pay an entry fee. It is more than the entry fee, yes, but it 100% worth it! (If you dont believe me check out these pictures!)

History Time: Gyeongbukgung, built in 1395, is also know as the Northern Palace because its location is furthest north when compared to the neighboring palaces of Changdeokgung (Eastern Palace) and Gyeonghuigung (Western Palace) Palace. Gyeongbokgung Palace the largest of all five palaces and considered by many to an example of the building found during the Joseon Dynasty and as such the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond have remained mostly intact since all of the palace buildings were restored under the leadership of Heungseondaewongun during the reign of King Gojong (1852-1919) following the  Imjin War (Japanese Invasions, 1592-1598).

Living in Korea means that I can explore these places of cultural heritage and learn more about the country I am falling in love with more every day!

Learning a Language

Language is a fun thing that constantly evolves and just when you think you have learned it another things changes. That applies not only to a person’s native language but to any language they are trying to learn. I believe that learning a language means opening your brain up to new knowledge and having everything that you knew before recategorized. Most of the time its the best thing that happens to you but there are some days when your brain goes, “Can I not today?”.

Today I want to talk about how I go about learning a language and the ups and downs that come with it. For starters, I am a person that relies more on auditory and visual learning and have a slight anxiety about actually speaking, in fear of making a massive slip. What has worked for me here in Korea is language exchanges, meeting with Korean people who wish to learn English and then me who wants to learn Korean. On Tuesdays I meet with a teacher who already speaks English but helps me with my conversational Korean and Thursdays I meet with a girl close to my age who speaks about as much English as I do Korean. Both are different and equally as beneficial due to the fact that I learn different things with each person. One is about the grammar, proper sentence structure and pronunciation while the other is casual banter which ends up centering around vocabulary.

I want to be at a certain level of proficiency and I find that sometimes I get frustrated when I am not progressing as quickly or as accurately as I initially pictured. That being said this language exchange set up has great things in store for me and I plan to give updates on my progress at the 3 month, 6 month and 1 year mark. Mainly to see how far I have come in the course of a year and share the ways that have worked for me in terms of learning Korean. So to all you language learners out there…

Get to it!

New Year, New School

Having neglected to post an update in the past 3 weeks (wow, its been that long already), I have decided that I have learned a lot in the previous weeks and that it is time to share some of what I have learned! First, moving to another country is hard, partially due to a new environment and partially (maybe) due to language. Second, culture is something that takes time to learn and you will make mistakes again and again until you get it right. That’s just life though.

I liked Korean culture, food, language and the like before coming to Korea but I don’t think you can be prepared or really understand the aforementioned until you live there. My first two weeks consisted of being amused by the pace of life, confused at certain impracticalities, and utterly embarrassed when I accidentally cussed in front of a parent (thankful her child was not present and she thought it was hilarious).

When I first arrived in Daejeon, South Korea, my school took me for a health exam as all teachers have to complete one and it only set me back roughly $100. It included 2 different types of drug tests, an EKG, a chest x-ray, labs, dental inspection and a mental health evaluation (which was a joke, btw) and it was all done in under 2 hours. Talk about efficient! Health care is so much more affordable than people expect and I am so thankful for that.

However, there are things I have some to take for granted back in the US. Such as access to food of any type… I really am craving guacamole at the moment and decent salsa. Thanks mom for sending some my way! Also, I miss online banking. For a foreigner in Korea, banking, especially online banking, is an ugly dinosaur who has yet to catch up to modern times. Think that I’m being too harsh? Even my Korean co-teacher said that she only uses it for taxes at the end of the year since its too complicated to mess with all the time and she doesn’t understand it. There are several different enrollment processes and its all in Korean.

Another thing I am appreciating about the US is that I can understand almost everyone and be understood and that may seem like a funny thing to mention but I don’t speak Korean and I struggle. I did come here being able to read words (meaning is a different story) and speak survival sentences but that is my limit as of right now. Sometimes it takes an embarrassing moment and a kind-hearted person to understand your good intentions and correct you. For example, yesterday a mom came to drop of her child’s indoor shoes and I went to get them from her. She doesn’t speak English and I thought to myself “Oh, I know the word for shoes in Korean. I’ll just say ‘shoes’ and she’ll understand enough.”

Korean lesson time: the word for shoes  is 신발 (shin-bal) and the F word is very close, just change Shin to Shi…

And that is what I said to a parent as I pointed to the shoes. Her eyes got very big and she realized that I had meant to say something else and corrected me very kindly before bending over to laugh hysterically. Only then did I realize that I had just cussed at her instead of saying ‘shoes’. Yay for language learning and messing up hah. I am really excited to see where this language journey will take me and how much I will improve by the end of the year!

The school that I am at now has a great workplace environment and they really take into consideration all that non-Korean teachers have to go through and for that I will be eternally grateful!

Until next time!

Pyeongchang 2018- Getting There!

One of my dreams growing up was to go to the Olympics and see the USA win a gold medal, and while I didn’t get to see a gold medal match I did get the opportunity to watch the US Men’s Hockey team take on Slovakia (and win I might add). There is something surreal about being in another country and watching your homeland team compete, especially when you know that you won’t be going back to your country for a while longer. It becomes a sort of home away from home when your countrymen and women are by you cheering your team on to victory and there is nothing sweeter.

For those of you who may be coming to the Olympics later on, here are some tips on how to make the most of your time! I can only speak from the commute from Seoul to Pyeongchang, so keep that in mind. There are several ways to get to the Olympics from Seoul and they all vary in price and time. The fastest and most expensive option is Korea’s special Olympic KTX train (bullet train) and it will take you roughly an hour to get there and set you back anywhere from 180-145USD as it appears you can only buy a 5 day or 7 day pass. It is a good option if you plan on going more than one day AND you plan on commuting. Another train option is the Mugunghwa (the regular train) which takes about 6 hours and only costs about 20USD. The next option is renting a car and driving the 2.5 hours there yourself and is not something I highly recommend. Why is that? Parking is limited at the event and if you are from the US you might find it hard as street names are in Korean. On to the bus options, you can take a bus to the event from many different companies and the best option is to google it and pick what fits your needs. I, however, took a free shuttle that took about 3 hours to get to Pyeongchang and didn’t cost me a thing! The service is called E-Bus and was pretty easy to use; there is a 2$ reservation fee per ticket that is refunded upon boarding the bus. Plus, they give you a free gift bag upon boarding the bus that had snacks and other little knick-knacks in it! Note to consider: the E-Bus drivers do not speak English so its best to learn some survival phrases if it concerns you or just follow the other passengers on the bus.

Another thing to consider is investing in a transportation card as you can pay for your rides on the subway, bus and even a taxi. Additionally, some cards can be used to buy things in the convenience stores! The cost to buy one can range between 2500-3000 Won and how much money you choose to put on it. You can reload these cards in the subway station and when you leave you can refund the amount that is on them. Pretty nice, right?

As always, good luck on your travels and enjoy the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics!

Hours and Miles

Every once in a while I think that is good to have a reflective piece rather than an experience piece. While some people only write about the bright and shining events in their travels, my goal is to address every aspect of moving abroad with sincerity and that includes the emotions.

As I have mention in a past post, I have always wanted to teach abroad, see the world, and have an “Eat, Pray, Love” type of experience. However, leaving people, security, and things behind is easier said than done as I can go from being excited as hell to thinking what am I going to do if I can’t talk to my family daily. It’s part of growing up, spreading your wings and leaving the nest, but it’s also a process.

Hours and Miles, comes from a realization that the only thing that separates me physically from my loves ones is the hour difference of living in different countries and the miles it takes to get to Korea. It DOES NOT, though, change any of the feelings I have for my loved ones so putting it in this perspective, life really won’t change!

So if you worry about the changes in life as you head off to new things, think, what really changes? Just the Hours and Miles!

So it’s time… to pack?

Packing has always been low on my priority list no matter how long the trip, and this is no exception. If anything, packing to spend a year abroad is much more challenging as you must condense your life in whatever suitcases you have (unless you are luck enough to afford long term storage). I will admit to being an over-packer or useless packer in the sense that I usually bring a lot of things that I don’t end up needing.

That being said, I am still struggling to detox my life. It is a process to take survey of your life and go through the various things that you have collected since middle school and then decide what you can, need and really should part with. After all, what use will my elementary school medals for Figure Skating or my middle/high school ribbons for Track & Field be in my next chapter in Korea. Have I looked over them in the past years? Not really, yet it’s a part of me that I can’t quite throw away. That aside, I came up with categories for packing over the past week that I figure would be a decent start before I began to pack and from there I could expand in my next post.

The list is as follows:

  • Documents
  • Toiletries/make up
  • Pants
  • Tops
  • Work out/sports
  • Undergarments
  • Home decor.
  • Misc

Getting to the GO!

With the Christmas season in swing and my last semester of university coming to an end, I have neglected to post updates on the visa status and what the next 6 weeks will hold. To cut to the chase, I did receive my visa and I was all sorts of happy and wistful as I looked at it but I can say with certainty that I haven’t had a doubt about going on this journey. I’ve found inspiration at every corner and even in the most random of moments to light my way. However, there are the few questions that I think many soon to be ex-pats hear or will hear and I want to address some of those now.

For starters, I often hear, “Korea? Like North Korea?” which to no end makes me scratch my head in wonder and to which I usually reply sardonically, “Yes, that exact one except a bit more to the south.” Another thing is that in the US when you tell people you’re going to teach English abroad their first thought is that you are going to Spain, France or Italy (basically somewhere European) because even though it is foreign, you won’t necessarily feel out of place. So once I tell them, “No, I decided to teach in South Korea”, I inevitably get the follow up “Why?”.

If you have read my previous blog then you know why and I won’t bore you by repeating myself. However, I think the “why” is an important topic to mull over in making a decision to live outside your home country. That “why” needs to be something, a feeling or goal (etc), that can pull you up when you hit low points or when you need affirmation that you made the right choice to up and move.

With that in mind, I’ve begun to start to thinking about what I need to wrap up in the States and what I need to get ready to go. I, like many other people, am a notorious over-packer so before I leave I will make sure I make a list of all that I am taking. Once, I’ve been in Korea for a couple of months I can update everyone on what actually was a necessity and what was just my anxiety about being unprepared talking.

Until next time!

London: Trips and Tricks

A couple of weeks ago, following the Paris trip, I was in London and looking forward to seeing all the historical sights and everything Harry Potter related. The primary purpose of this post is to outline some of the things I did but to also give other first time England travelers a bit of a head start.

Day one: Traveling from Paris was so much easier by train as it is easier to travel with wine in your suitcase and you don’t have to deal with all the misery that altitude has on your eardrums. The first day was just a quick walk around of sorts as I had an online final to take for school, bleh, but it was one of the most relaxing days of travel.

  •  Travel tip: There is a chain of hotels called Premier Inn and they have a sub-chain called “the hub”. I would highly recommend checking them out as they are affordable AND they are close to London’s main attractions.

On the list of activities for the day was a stop at Westminster Abbey, the London Bridge, Tower of London, and the London Eye (now renamed Coca-Cola London Eye).

  • Travel Tip: If you have apple pay on your phone you can scan your debit/credit card at the turnstile as you enter and exit the Underground you save a lot of money. This is because electronically it picks the best pay rate for all of your travel times throughout the day and compiles it into one payment on your card (at the end of the day). Some trains will also let you use this method!

On our second day we walked around, stopping to have a proper tea and scone, before heading to the showing of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 and 2. If you are a Harry Potter fan this is a must see as it can only be described as enthralling, magically, and unparalleled. If you can’t make the play you can, however, check out the Warner Bros. Studio near London where all of the franchise was filmed! It will take a train (use apple pay) and a bus (2.50 round-trip) to get there but it is completely worth it. We went on our last day and it was an amazing way to end the trip! Between these days, we went to Oxford to check out the University as it is one of the oldest and I love academic stuff. Like many college towns, it has its own unique atmosphere and some of that has to do with the buildings, literature and history of the town itself but overall it should be one of the things to check off your bucket list.


Back to Basics

Back to chronicling getting ready to go to Korea and I only have a couple of updates this time around. At the beginning of November I booked my flight to Korea and it was roughly $800 for a one way ticket. I went through Korvia’s partner, Orange Travel, and had them book the flight for me as it would save me about $80 when all is said and done. I have to say that once I got the booking confirmation I went through a range of emotions, ranging from happy to sad to ecstatic to worry. Overwhelmingly though, I have only happy thoughts about going on this journey and getting out there into the world.

Additionally, when I got back from London this past weekend I submitted my passport, travel documents, and the fee for the visa in the final step. If all is approved I will have my visa/passport in hand in about a week and a half. I think that once that arrives everything will feel more finalized and permanent and I’ll go through a similar range of emotions about getting read to go.

It is normal to have this type of range of emotion because no matter how ready you are to travel, explore the world, or live abroad you are still leaving something behind, whether it be friends or family. As long as you have people who can be your emotional support through it all you can conquer anything!

November in Paris

Over Thanksgiving break from school I was lucky to be able to travel to France and England (next post) and it was a wonderful experience. While I have been to England before this was my first time in Paris and it was new and a different kind of challenge. I have been to Italy and England and I never felt a language barrier as I can speak both English and Italian. However, I have no good working knowledge of French so at times I felt overwhelmed and worried I wouldn’t be able to convey what I wanted to or with accuracy. Probably a good indicator of how much I’ll need to work on learning Korean before I head there!

Anyway, I took an overnight flight from the US to Paris and flew into CDG and arrived the following morning. The first day in Paris consisted of getting to our lodging and then finding a nice little coffee shop to consume some caffeine in order to make it through the day. The cafe was quaint and full of greenery and the most amazing quiche!

Cafe in Square Jacques-Bidaut, Paris

After a coffee and perusal of the city we went back to our hotel and took a brief nap as I am not the best at dealing with jet-lag. Following that we walked over to the Louvre, which on Friday nights is free to everyone after 6pm, to check out some of the amazing art as well as the building itself. It was a great way to end the start of my journey!

La Louvre