Saturday, December 8, 2012

"I Am Speaking Korean!"

Wow, two posts in one week?! I must be on a roll...

I thought I'd share a funny story from Friday night. If you read my last blog, you know that Andrew and I said no pizza for a month. However, before we even shook on this agreement we had one clause: We could only have pizza if called and ordered it in Korean (another bucket list item: order delivery).

Sadly, it had only been a week into our agreement and we were considering pizza. Before you judge, you have to know that Pohang had a bit of snow on Friday and the roads were covered in an icy mix. Koreans drive crazy when the weather is nice, we were not about to venture out in a taxi or city bus to get something to eat. This is where the clause comes in.

Before leaving school, I had asked one of my co-teachers, Belle, if she could quickly walk me through ordering a pizza. She said I can do it online with Pizza Hut. I thought to myself, this doesn't count, I'm not doing it in Korean. Then she showed me the ordering page and I quickly changed my mind. It was TOTALLY in Korean. Page after page, step after step, I decided right then that we were still within the clause. Belle was walking me through the steps and I was taking mental picture after mental picture to try to remember. Now I can read Korean just fine, but that doesn't mean that I understand it all. When we got to the end Belle said that she could just schedule the delivery for me, to have it delivered to our apartment at 7pm. I thanked her, informed her about our "clause" and said that we had to do it on our own....BIG mistake...

When Andrew and I got home from school, I wanted to show him the convenience of ordering online. We took a vote, and again, decided that we were without our agreement to order the pizza. This was no longer a craving was about safety, right?

We got on his Mac but sadly discovered that we had to use Internet Explorer to use Pizza Hut's online site. What, how strange we thought....Plan B. I was going to have to call.

We looked up the number and I practiced saying our address like 20 times in Korean. The thing is, I was told by my other co-teacher that delivery people would have a hard time with our apartment because it was a new building and it's tucked away. So I knew if this was going to work, I needed to have my pronunciation down pat.

Nervously I dialed the number. I had thought about my opening statement, "Anyounghaceyo, waygook salam baedal juesayo, Pohang Shi" which means "Hello, I'm a foreigner, delivery please, Pohang city." (Not like they wouldn't haven known by my horrible Korean). Then I was just going to lead with my address and then my order because I would not know which one she would ask for first.

"Ring, Ring, Ring," she answers. I go with my rehearsed line and then start with my address. She starts talking a hundred miles an hour and I have no idea what she is saying. I got nervous and tried my address again. She repeats two thirds of it back to me, incorrectly. Discouraged, I tried again. She says something and then hangs up.

I'm defeated at this point. I thought for sure I was saying our address right. Two minutes later my cell phone rings. I answer it and it's Pizza Hut! And the woman is speaking a little English!! WIN! I say my line, and then my address again, slower this time, really concentrating on my pronunciation. She asked me several times the name of our apartment building, I tell her over and over again and she's still confused. My guess is that she typed it into the system and nothing showed up because A) our building is too new, or B) My pronunciation is so bad she can't decipher what the heck I'm saying. You see, the name of our building is "Castle Ahoe." Even though castle is an English word, Koreans pronounce it differently, so I had to fake a Korean accent saying an English word if that makes sense.

We get through the address and the order and I even pay. She tells me it's going to be 50 minutes. I hang up and then celebrate a little feeling so proud!

An hour rolls around and my cell phone rings. It's the delivery man. He's lost. I can understand what he's asking me, but I didn't know how to respon in Korean, so frustrating and totally my incompetence. I repeat the street name because I know he is somewhere close. We end the conversation by him saying, "Ok, ok, ok." Andrew and I decide to go out and wait for him. Another 10 minutes passes and still no delivery man. I'm feeling so bad for the poor kid at this point. In Korea, delivery men deliver food via scooter. It's like 25 degrees outside and this sweet guy is lost and knows he can't call us back to give him better directions. I see a Korean man walking down our street. I stopped him, pointed to my phone and said, "Pizza Hut, hangumal." (Pizza Hut, Speak Korean)...embarassing Korean, I know. He's waves no and walks away. Two minutes later he comes back. Calls someone and hands the phone to Andrew. The guy on the other end begins speaking great English and then Andrew proceeds to tell him that we need to call this delivery man back, and have someone give him directions in Korean. Andrew gave the guy the number and then the nice man walked away.

We waited 10 more minutes out in the freezing cold. We think we hear a scooter and Andrew takes off running around the corner and was able to flag down the delivery guy. I apologized about a million times and we stuffed a tip into his scooter glove. (Tipping in Korea is not common, ever, but this whole situation was entirely our fault, and this guy deserved every cent of that tip.)

All in all, that pizza was WELL within the clause and I had never worked so hard for a pizza in all of my life. We didn't mind in the slightest that it was cold... YUM!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Random Happenings

It’s been a good month since my last blog. Nothing blog worthy has really happened in the past few weeks but I felt like I was abandoning all of my eight readers.

We are good and settled now, stuck in the inevitable routine. You think when you completely change your surroundings you escape monotony. So not true.

It’s getting really cold. Korea has winters about like the Midwest just minus all the snow with only a few flakes here and there. However, it is making our 45 min walk home a lot less enjoyable. We have caught ourselves paying the extra cash for a taxi or just taking the crowded city bus with all the other frozen commuters.

I am pleasantly surprised that my school has heat in the classrooms, it’s a HUGE bonus! My old school did not and I wore my coat, scarf and gloves all day while teaching. It’s so much more enjoyable to work when you aren’t suffering from frost bite.

Random Happenings:
I found out today that one of my co-teachers, Alice, and I are “runners-up” in a co-teaching video clip contest that we decided to do on a whim. I quote “runners-up” because that is what EPIK is calling it. However, it’s more like a consolation prize for participating because we were on of sixty…haha…runners-up. We were also the only ones from our province, so that has to count for something. Most participants were from Seoul and Busan.; the bigger cities with a lot more access to materials. I’m not making excuses though. Honestly, I wasn’t really proud of what we submitted. We had to video tape a 40 min class, then slice it down to a ten minute clip and submit an essay and our lesson plan. I was in charge of slicing the video clip. It was only the second video I have edited using a free program on Andrew’s Mac. I would like to participate again next semester and put more than two days of thought into what we were doing. If you want to watch it you can, I apologize for the cheesiness in advance. And I'm embarrassed to say that my cheesiness was actually scaled down...

A few weeks ago Andrew got roped into participating in a” teachers dance” for his schools fall festival. Let me tell you, he was super pumped (sarcasm). He would kill me if I posted the video of him dancing, so here is the link to the exact dance that they copied from YouTube. I personally like the wiggle and heart improvisation. Gives the classic YMCA dance some new life.

Andrew and I also started volunteering. It’s been pretty difficult to find a place because of the skepticism they have about foreigners, and it’s understood. But we visit The Deaf and Mute Cultural Center once a week. The woman who runs the place, Mrs. Kim, is so adorable and grateful to have any help. She holds classes for adults and children who are deaf or mute. Andrew and I entertain the children of deaf or mute parents in the back room while they take classes. None of the kids thus far, have issues of their own. The few people that work there, the cook and front desk woman are deaf however. We just hang out, and make up games as we go. Andrew brought Jenga this week and that was a clutch move. I sat and made bracelets with the girls.

Andrew and I also have this "Korean Lifestyle Bucket List" of things we want to do to better ourselves while we have the extra free time here. There are many random things on this list, and we are only in the middle of a few. I am proud to say that as of today, we are 65 days into our Bible reading plan. We wanted to read the bible together, cover to cover. I have an iPad app that tells us which verses to read to finish the bible in 180 days. We have't missed a day since we began! December is also our "no fast food month." This would be WAY easier if we didn't live abroad. This means no McDonald's, not even an ice cream cone, no pizza (my weakness), no quick convenient store junk food to hold us over on city bus trips...nothing! I also just figured out how to make brownies in our toaster over, but Andrew said that counts too...ugh. It's going to be a long month. I should have argued for February.

We found out that our ten allotted winter vacation days are set for January 21st-February 2nd. My school ends Dec 21st. However, I have to come in and teach, alone, to get my contracted 22 teaching hours in. Andrew and I only get Christmas day off. We will both be working Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day…boo.

It seems completely pointless and it is. Most likely, I will be teaching about 6 students for four hours a day, then sitting at my desk until my contract time is over, 4:40pm, alone. This will go on for the four weeks until my vacation. Then, we come back to school for two weeks and the students have another week off for their “spring break” before the start of the new school year which begins in March. I however, will not be getting the week off. I will be coming to school, with one other contract teacher, and sitting for eight hours a day. Unless I can convince them to give me the week off as unpaid vacation since Andrew doesn’t have to go into school….grrr. Does it sound confusing and dumb all at the same time? That’s because it is.

I will try to post again soon. Hopefully something awesome happens and gives me something to write about!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

To teach is to learn twice

A random “ah-ha” moment I thought I’d share…

You know the saying, “To teach is to learn twice.” Well, that came into full effect today. Call me dumb, but I didn’t really understand how we elected a new president until yesterday. Sure I’ve heard of the Electoral vote, and the president needs 270 electoral votes to win, but honestly, I didn’t really know what that meant in its entirety.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach English to a group of teachers at my school, we call it “The Teachers Class.” I always try to teach them things involving current events. This usually consists of me taking an article from CNN and then slicing and dicing it to a paragraph or two, creating a handout with key words and discussion questions. (The main goal of this class is so that teachers have a place to practice speaking in English with me and other teachers). With the election taking place on a Tuesday I thought it was the perfect “current event.”

So, I did some research, watched a few videos and educated myself in great detail about all things election night. It was important that I FULLY understand because I had to be able to break down this confusing process to a very elementary level of understanding, thus enabling me to gain a really strong understanding.

And good thing I did! The questions these teacher’s were asking me were tough and had I not researched so thoroughly I would have been embarrassed. Korean’s are very politically educated and even the students knew that November 6th was Election Day in the US, and they knew the names of the candidates! I bet you didn’t know that Korea is having their own presidential election next month and one of the candidates is a woman, the daughter of a former president! I really enjoy teaching the teachers because I learn so much about Korean culture, it’s definitely a win-win situation!

So, if you ever want to check yourself with how well you know and understand something, try teaching it to someone else. If you want to know whether or not you have mastered something, try teaching it to someone who is learning English as a second language :)
The worksheet I created for class

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Korean Living: Our Pohang Apt

Sometimes, pictures just say it better. Here are some images of our apartment here in Pohang, South Korea.
This is the view from the hall of our apt. complex, looking into our apt.
Immediately to the right, is our 'living room.' Here you can see our futon and our kitchen table
Here is the other side of the living room. Our kitchen table doubles as our TV stand. Sweet wallpaper huh?
Through the sliding doors of our living room is our laundry room. We only have a washer, Koreans hang dry everything.
View of our kitchen from the futon. Our mini fridge-microwave-toaster oven combo.
Our kitchen. Sadly we don't have an oven or a dishwasher. Just a sink and two burners. 
Our tiny bathroom. Notice the odd placement of the shower head? Yup, between the sink and toilet with no curtain. When you shower in Korea, everything just gets wet and it drains under the sink.
Just to the right of the bathroom is our bedroom. We made those curtains out of felt. The sun was AWFUL before we became crafty! To the right is our "closet." It is really just a floor to ceiling rack. 
View of the other side of our bedroom. Closet on the left, and our "dresser" that we recovered from a school's trash pile. The unit above the dresser is the only air conditioning unit in the apt. There are no heating vents. In Korea, the heat comes through the floor. Notice how close we are to the kitchen? Convenient for a late night glass of water!

I hope this gives you a better indication to what apartment living in Korea is like. Super small compared to the United States, but we make due!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall in Korea = More Food Trucks!

There hasn't been a whole lot going on in the past two weeks, but I'll give you a summary of the highlights:

Oct. 14th-
Andrew and I decided to walk around Bukbu Beach here in Pohang to enjoy some of the sites of Pohang's Annual Steel Art Festival. The idea stems from the fact that POSCO, one of the worlds largest steel manufacturers, is headquartered right here in Pohang. There was a wide range of sculptures and the weather was perfect to take in the sites and sounds of yet another Korean Festival.

Week of Oct. 15th-
Now that the temperature is a little bit cooler, one of mine and Andrew's favorite Korean snacks are back in the form of food trucks, Hodak! Hodak is a delicious pancake like dessert filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts. Because it is served so hot, it is only easily found in the fall and winter months. Andrew and I have made it a part of our 45 minute walk home from work as the truck in conveniently parked half way through our walk. And at only .50, it makes it that much more delicious!

Oct. 19th-
I thought I was going to have to wait until the spring to experience another Korean elementary school's Sports Day event, but I was wrong. On October 19th, my school held a three hour event Friday morning where students took part in dancing contests, relay races, obstacle courses and food trucks! (Yes, they had food trucks outside the school serving pizza, cotton candy, chicken nuggets and of course silkworm cocoons, (and yes I have tried gross as they sound)).

Sports day: racing, dancing and eating
For the past two weeks, students have been practicing for the big event. I remember when I was in school it was the most anticipated day of the year! It was basically recess all day followed by school lunches of hot dogs and hamburgers, but there was never any practicing. Here, each grade performs a dance number and they are ranked on them. They ranged from the ever-so-popular Gangman style dance to traditional Korean dancing. All were equally adorable and entertaining. Parents and grandparents come to cheer on their students and even participate in a few events themselves. My favorite was the 100 meter dash. Several groups of "mom heats" where the mom's were hustling at a respectable 80% followed by the "dad heats" which were so competitive it was hilarious. They were definitely going for bragging rights. The grandparents even got to "fish" for a few prizes.

All of the kids were so excited and it was sweet seeing everyone so happy. When it was over, kids left with sugar-filled bellies and parents left with typical Korean consolation prizes consisting of toothpaste, bar soap and Kleenex boxes. It was a good day to be at Dae Hung Elementary School. (Poor Andrew, was stuck inside all day  teaching middle school...)

Oct. 20th-
Bulguska Temple
The first time we were in Korea, in 2009,  we stumbled upon a really famous temple, Bulguska, in the city of Gyeongju (located only a 45 min bus ride from Pohang). The colors around this temple were so gorgeous because of all the fall colors that we were excited to return to once again see the breathtakingly beautiful site. So on Saturday, Andrew and I boarded an intercity bus to take us to Gyeongju and then took another bus for 40 min to get to the temple. The place was packed with families having picnics and couples holding hands. With our camera around our neck we were ready for the views. Sadly, our expectations were let down as the site had not been as maintained as it was three years ago. The beautiful pond (see earlier blog post), is now covered in some sort of vegetation so that you can no longer see the water. Part of the beauty was seeing the gorgeous fall colors reflected in the pond. This time around, the leaves must have peaked a bit sooner and there was no reflection in site. A little saddened, we still enjoyed the day walking the hills of the temple and basking in the sun of a perfect fall day in Korea.

Random Picture Inclusion:
Andrew's weekly pick-up game with some of his middle school students. First it started out with four students. Then word spread fast that Andrew Teacher plays basketball. The numbers have since grown...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Water.Fire.Light...and Cheesballs

Jinju City Lantern Festival
September 24th-
My co-teacher: “Sarah, we have three days off next week, because of holidays. So no school Mon- Weds.”

I wish I had been told prior to the Monday before. Andrew and I sat around talking about what we could do/where we could go for a five day weekend so we didn’t let this free vacation go to waste.

After a wild scramble of researching destinations, places to stay and pricing options, reality set in and sadly, we were unable to leave Korea. The most logical location was going to be Taipei, Taiwan, however, they were supposed to be hit by a tropical storm this past weekend, so we didn’t want to risk being hostel ridden as it typhoons…we already know what that feels like.  

So we went to plan B. Stay in Korea, but get out of Pohang for a little bit. So that’s what we did.

On September 29th, Andrew and I boarded a bus and headed to our “hometown” in Korea, Ulsan. We wanted to check out all of our old stomping grounds to see what had changed and what has stayed the same. After a quick hour and fifteen minutes, we arrived at a familiar bus terminal. I have to be honest. It was so strange being back in Ulsan. When we left in 2010, I never thought we would come back to Korea, let alone, step foot back in Ulsan.

Not much had changed to “new” downtown. We walked around a bit, got a smoothie and then got in a taxi to take a look around “old” downtown. Again, not much had changed. Some new shops replaced the old ones but the atmosphere was the same. We decided to save a little cash and walk the 30 min to our old apartment. Again, surreal feeling. As we approached our street, the first thing I noticed was my old school, and WOW, had that changed so much! Hakesong had gotten a fresh new paint job, an indoor gym with a skywalk connecting it to the main school and they got actual turf! No more dirt field! I was so excited for them, what a huge difference.

As we were about to board a bus to check out Andrew’s school, we passed his old haircut place. We took a thirty minute break so he could get his $10 haircut from a familiar face! Yeompo Elem. hadn’t changed much, but they got an indoor gym as well!
Costco: Cheeseballs and Crowds

Before leaving Ulsan we made a trip to the new Costco! Yes, Costco in Korea! We were like kids in a candy store, I wanted to grab everything in sight! We got there at 6:30pm and it was closing early at 7pm due to the Chuesok holiday (Korean Thanksgiving) that was the next day. The place was PACKED! Everyone was shopping like mad, the payment lines were the longest I had ever seen and there was not a seat left at the food court. Korean’s were stuffing themselves with Costco pizza and hotdogs. Andrew and I made a quick plan at how to cover the most ground in 30 min and then we were off. Cheese, salsa, chips, oatmeal, Clorox cleaning wipes, peanut butter, a blanket, and frozen ravioli. Doesn’t seem like much, but those items are EXTREAMLY expensive here and at Costco we could get more for our money! Something Andrew and I began to notice as we lurked at the Korean’s carts, curious as to what American products they gravitated to. Cheeseballs….the massive bucket of Cheeseballs you can buy at Costco, EVERY cart had one! We had a good laugh when we saw the cheesball display and there was only one left!! After about two mins, we saw two little kids run to the display and grab the last one with satisfying smiles. Hilarious! We loaded up our American goodness, and boarded a bus back to Pohang.

Sunday, was the actual holiday, so most of the city was shut down. Andrew and relaxed and took a long walk on the beach!

Setting our lantern afloat
Monday we decided to head to Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival. We boarded a bus at 10am and rode three hours south to experience one of the most popular festivals in Korea, the Jinju City lantern festival. When we arrived, I was happy to notice the festival was only a five minute walk from the bus terminal and there were tons of little motels to choose from. We picked a random one (worried that there might not actually be a bed since sometimes in Korean hotels you sleep on the floor) but it worked out great. $35, a bed, air conditioning and a private bathroom!

We ventured around the festival. It was filled with tents of carnival games, interesting street food, and random products for purchase. The place began to really get packed around 6pm, two hours before all the lanterns were going to be lit. They had literally TONS of lanterns. Hundreds floating on the river, thousands hung in archways with wishes and dreams attached and even some floating ones that you could pay $3 for to make yourself. Andrew and I made one together, wished for a happy marriage, and even got interviewed by a Korean news station about the process. We are famous now!

Setting our lanterns afloat was such a pretty sight. Glowing, and floating down the river, with our wishes attached, it was a special moment. Until an couple hours later when we saw where most of the lanterns ended up…such a depressing sight.  
Rough journey...

We lined the river with the other people there to get a good spot to watch the fireworks display and official lighting of the lanterns. It was supposed to start at 7:30pm, but it began fashionably late at 8:05pm and was finished at 8:15pm. But wow, what an AMAZING fireworks display! Korean’s know how to put on a show, this picture just does not do it justice. When the show was over, we thought we would go the back way out of the festival to “beat the crowd.” HAHAHA! Everyone took the back way. I had never been pushed and tugged so much in my life. I can’t even describe the scene. (For the KC people reading this, it’s like the cluster of people leaving Corporate Woods on the fourth of July, but times 100, because there are 48 million people living in a country the size of Indiana and I swear most of them were at this festival!) We successfully made it out, sweaty and alive.

We would have loved to have seen another country, like Taiwan, during our five day weekend, but then we would have missed something as neat as the lantern festival going on right in "our own backyard!"

Amazing fireworks display over a river of lanterns!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

All You Need is Love

Mine and Andrew's mantra these past two weeks, All You Need is Love. Sleeping on the floor, wearing wrinkly clothes, walking our little tails off, and trying to be patient with all these frustrating issues..."Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be, it's easy, all you need is love, all you need is love!" And how fitting since we are newlyweds. (cue the audience awwwwwwwww)

Ok, it’s been a little while, about two weeks since my last post. It has been an array of emotions, from frustration to joy and I will try my best to recall some instances.

First things first, on August 31st, Andrew and I moved out of that closet we were living in and into a brand new “mini two room” apartment. We were excited but annoyed at the same time. We moved in to an empty apartment. Literally nothing!! No bed, no closet, no table, no chairs, and no couch! So at the end of our first week of teaching, instead of celebrating, we spent Friday night at Homeplus (like Walmart) purchasing some necessities; a blanket, pillows, a cooking pan, two plates, two bowls, a trash can, silverware, 2 cups, milk, cereal and floor cleaner. For the first two weeks we were super strapped for money. We only brought over about $300 that had been converted to Korean Won, and the rest was in USD. (The banks close at 4pm, and we don’t leave school until 4:30pm, so we couldn’t exchange any money.) So we were only buying necessities so we’d have enough money to eat and take the taxi to and from school which is now more expensive because we live further away….ugh.

So with necessities bought, we spent the first night in our apt, on our hands and knees scrubbing the floors with floor cleaner. They were covered in dust and grime. Since we knew we’d be sleeping on the floor for several nights, we at least wanted it clean! (Pictures to come in the next post, when our futon gets delivered!)

The rest of the weekend we spent exploring our new surroundings. And we walked….A LOT. We are an amazing 5min walk to Bukbu beach which is full of café’s and seafood restaurants. We are a 25 minute walk to downtown, where there are more restaurants and a lot of shopping, and sadly, we are a 40 min walk to Homeplus L

Our second full week of school was ok. We both were exhausted from six nights sleeping on the floor but Christmas came early for us on September 5th when we finally got a bed and internet! Wahoo! Friday the 7th we were taken to pick out a closet so we could finally get out clothes off the ground. (Funny story about the closet: The school bought us a closet on Tuesday. It was waiting for us when we got home and I was so excited when I heard about it. HA! A closet…it was a foot and a half long horizontal bar that two of us were supposed to share! Ugh, I began fuming…and once again, Andrew had to calm me down. He talked to his co-teacher about it, and that’s why we were taken shopping to buy a new one on Friday! Yeah Andrew!)

Other furniture we have up to this point: a small table that Andrew swiped from a side of the road trash pile on our walk back from downtown (score, a FREE table!), a cubby type orange dresser that we took from another school’s trash pile on the way back from dinner at the beach (score again!), and the bed that the school provided. We are looking into buying a futon this week, so we are getting closer!

We have found a few Korean restaurants that we like so far. One ripped us off….grrr, and the other is fairly close walking distance which I’m sure we will frequent. I was able to order off the Korean menu and speak it entirely in Korean, so I was pretty proud of my selfJ

September 4th has proved to be the most frustrating days to date. Pretty much all amenities for foreigners require our Alien Registration Card (ARC). To get this, we had to wait on our medical check from orientation. After a week and a half, we had it in hand and went to a photo shop to get "new passport photos" because our American ones were the wrong size. So we each paid $12 to get a set of eight really ugly photos (you can't smile) when we really only needed one. So, we took our medical check and our heinous photos to the immigration office to apply for our ARC card. The immigration officer looked at our photos and told us he couldn't use them because the background was slightly gray and not  "white." Pissed does not even describe our emotion at that time. So we left, to get more ugly pictures taken. The closest place charged us $13 we have now spent $50 for the required one photo each with 15 useless pictures left over.

The frustration is not over yet. We returned to the immigration office with our "bright white" photos and our filled out form. He then asked us for our orientation certificate from EPIK. We tried to explain that we did not have this since we did not have to attend orientation. Well, he wouldn't let us apply for the card without it. LONG annoying story short, we had to visit that office three times before we finally could cost us $70...ugh.

On Saturday, September 8th, Andrew and I decided to try to find Pohang’s famous Jukdo market. It was super easy to find as it is full of over 2,500 vendors! An easy 25 minute walk and we arrived to the fish part of the market. Similar to the Busan fish market, it was full of flopping live fish, squirmy octopus and screaming vendors. Once we passed through that we made it to the home goods, the clothing and all the misc. I managed to by some rain boots for $10 bucks so I call it a success! It’s definitely a must see in Pohang.

Hopefully our ARC cards come in so we can get cell phones this week. Typhoon Samba is currently taking over Korea so it has been raining for three days straight it's supposed to rain for three days more....fabulous, I love typhoon season! ...."all you need is love."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I Wore a Shower Cap to School

Don't be fooled, there is a shower cap under there!
It’s been quite an eventful first week back in Korea, so here is a quick recap:

August 23rd:
We left Kansas City with two one-way tickets in hand. The first left MCI at 6:10am in route to Salt Lake City before reaching our destination in San Francisco. The other departed at 2:10pm from San Fran with non-stop service to South Korea! Buying these one way tickets was cheaper than buying a ticket all the way through. When we told people this, they all asked the same thing, “what if the first plane is delayed and you miss your international connection? They have no obligation to re-book you.” We let the comments sort of roll off our backs as we knew with a 4.5 hour padded layover time, this would not be an issue.

We left KC on time and landed in Salt Lake City without a hitch. We noticed that our flight to San Fran had been delayed 20 min. “Great,” we thought, we had time to get something to eat. Well, that 20 min delay turned into an hour, which turned into an hour and 30 minutes which then turned into a three hour delay. The panic began to set in and we were scrambling to find the number of Singapore Airlines to figure out what to do if we were to miss the flight! Luckily we made it San Fran with about 45 minutes to spare and we were ready to return back to South Korea!

August 25th-26th
We made it to orientation which was held the same place as our previous one, Jeonju University, “The Place for Superstars.” We found out our school and living location, attended the farewell dinner filled with memories the other teachers made (we did not have to attend the full orientation), and enjoyed a delicious meal.

August 27th
Because Andrew and I did not have to attend orientation since we had been through it before, we missed the mandatory medical testing. So at 7am on Monday morning, we took a bus with a few other teachers to “Medi-Check” where we answered questions behind closed doors, had our blood taken (sans gloves), peed in a cup, tested our eyes and hearing, got weighed and had our chest x-rayed. Super fun experience as you can imagine.

We then boarded a bus at 9am with the rest of the Gyeongbuk teachers and began our three hour journey southeast. We made a stop for lunch before driving 10 more minutes to an empty parking lot where we would meet our co-teachers who would drive us the rest of the way to our new homes.

Our lovely bathroom.
The scene was much more organized than last time. And by organized, I mean the Korean co-teachers held up big signs with our names on it. I was hoping for a young female teacher this time since my last one was an older male. Alas my wish was granted! Two women came over to Andrew and I holding up big pink signs with our names on them. Both spoke English well, we loaded our bags into the trunk and rode with them for about an hour and a half to Pohang, our new home. We were thrilled to learn that our schools were right next to each other, so we can commute together. Andrew is teaching middle school (he’s less than thrilled) and I got elementary school again! Before arriving at our apartment, Alice (my co-teacher) said that if it’s too small, they will try to find something else because it’s only single housing. Andrew and I weren’t too worried because we lived in single housing in Ulsan that was small, but we survived just fine.

The main room. Our twin bed.

HA! We should have been worried with a preface like that. Our Ulsan apartment seems like a mansion now! Let me set the scene. Most Korean apartments are high rises with hundreds of apartments in each unit. We pulled down a sketchy ally way to a tiny building with maybe 10 units. We hauled our stuff up the three flights of stairs to our new apartment. We walk in, take our shoes off and immediately to our left is a room that is 5x5 of wasted space, my co-teacher did not know what it was for. The bathroom would hardly be called a half bath in the states. There was a sink and a toilet with the shower head on the wall between the two. The main room is about 9x9. It has a table with two chairs, a desk with a TV on it and a TWIN bed for Andrew and I to share with no blankets, sheets or pillows (luckily we brought sheets, and are using sweatshirts as pillows!) The “kitchen” has a sink and a burner, no counter. A side table with a microwave on it, next to the fridge, which is next to the washing machine. Because of the sliding door, and the bed, the fridge door doesn’t open all the way, and you have to do the laundry sideways to fit. NOT LIVEABLE!

Andrew in the "kitchen."
She tells us to drop our stuff off then shows us the way to the grocery store. While on our quick 5 min walk over a bridge, we pass the railroad tracks, she tells us this is not a good part of town. “Ok great,” I think, “We live in a bad part of town!” She leaves us and Andrew and I are left to explore. We are actually right next to downtown which has a lot of great shopping and restaurants, so that’s good, but this apartment situation, is a problem. So we do the American thing, eat at Pizza Hut and scheme about how to get a new apartment…

August 28th
Andrew and I woke up at 4:30am… we are far too big to sleep in a twin bed. We ate cereal out of coffee cups using chopsticks because we have no bowls or spoons. It’s pouring outside and windy as heck, but yea…it’s our first day of school! Andrew has no umbrella, so I make a marital sacrifice and wear a raincoat and a shower cap…yes, a shower cap to school on the first day. We go outside, braving this insane weather to try to hail a cab. This takes about 10 minutes as we live on a side road, so we are both super wet at this point (except for my hair…I’m a genius) and take the quick 5 min ride completely uphill to our schools. We see middle school kids everywhere but there is not a soul to be seen outside my school.
Surprisingly easier than it looks.

I go in and there are no students. In broken English, a sweet women comes up to me, “Did you hear announcement?” … "umm…no," it was in Korean I think to myself. “No students today because of typhoon.” Ok, I think, soooooo what about the teachers? Are we supposed to be here? I have no cell phone to call Andrew or my co-teacher. I’m the only one in the teachers’ room listening to wind and rain and sweating to death because of course there is no air conditioning. After a few minutes the teachers begin to arrive, thank goodness, and again I’m told there are no classes.

I make my introductions and sit at my desk. I then sort through some administration items with a few of the English teachers. The rest of the morning was spent bowing, and dancing, you know, usual first day stuff.

Since there were no students today, there was no lunch, so we all went out to a delicious restaurant that I’m going to have to take Andrew to. When 2:30pm comes around, Andrew comes over to my school so my co-teacher can take us to get our bank accounts set up. He’s a little rattled a lot sweaty. He informed me that he was thrown to the wolves and had to teach five classes…which he was not prepared for, and they went less than desirable. Poor guy, I had a great day!

Alice and another co-teacher of mine, Belle, took Andrew and I to set up bank accounts. By 4pm we were done and we were told we were going to look at a few apartment options! We were so excited we could not stop smiling! NO MORE TWIN BED! House Hunter’s International here we come! The first two options were brand new and so much bigger than our current residence, the third one was in a super sketchy part of town, and the fourth one was older, but near downtown and closest to our schools.

We should find out later this week which one the school approves. We better hear something quick, as our current apartment lease is up Aug 31st!'s good to be back in a land where we are the VERY last to know anything...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Conventional Wisdom

We are now four days from departure. Our heads are spinning with “to do” lists and my stress level is at an all time high. Our biggest worry was not getting our visa’s back in time, but thankfully those arrived on Thursday, so that saved me from a complete nervous breakdown. Slowly but surly we are crossing things off our list while continuing to add a few oversights to the bottom…but we are getting there.

Today we promised Andrew’s parents that we would go to 8:30am church with them. I usually go to my church at the 5pm service purely based on the fact that I am not a morning person. But after listening to Pastor Brown’s sermon, I knew there was a reason we were called to be there this morning. I felt like God was speaking directly to us through the scripture and stories that were preached. Thus the inspiration for this blog post.

His sermon was on the idea of conventional wisdom. This is something that I touched on briefly in my last post but from my own perspective. Mine and Andrew's decision to return to Korea to teach English after a two year hiatus is definitely not conventional wisdom by American standards. We are choosing a path that most people our age view as risky. We gave up jobs at great companies, we’re getting out of the ‘rat race’ at a crucial time, we aren’t using our college degrees etc. By society’s standards we are taking the unconventional path.

Pastor Brown read from Ephesians 5:15-17: Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

The timing of these verses in my life could have only been the mastermind of God. I needed to hear those words in order to put some of my doubts to rest. By Andrew and I courageously putting our lives on hold and moving away from our families to teach English abroad, we are truly making the most of a given opportunity. 

Whew...I feel better about this whole decision!

So before we leave the US, and embark on our second adventure in Korea, I want to leave you with this final verse of encouragement from Pastor Brown. Think about your life and your passions; are they right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? If not, make some changes, follow your heart, make the most of every opportunity and live to be the person God is calling you to be J

Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Korea, We're Coming Back!

It’s been officially confirmed, Andrew and I have been placed in Gyeongbuk Province to teach English in South Korea!

“What?! You’re going again?” That’s the exact reaction we’ve both received from pretty much everyone we know. And our response is always. “Why not?”
After our whirlwind year teaching in Ulsan, South Korea from Aug 2009-Aug 2010, we were exhausted. We worked more hours than the average public school teachers, and we were ready to kick-off our Southeast Asia backpacking adventure. Sure, we knew we would miss our time in Korea, but we didn’t anticipate missing it that much

We came back to the USA in October 2010, and both secured jobs and places to live by the early part of 2011. It had begun. The American dream of “grownup jobs,” 401K’s, bills, future planning…etc. It has been a great year and a half since we’ve returned to our cushy bubble, but great just isn’t good enough anymore. Andrew and I were definitely bit by the travel bug and our typical American vacation allotment just wasn’t going to allow us to scratch that itch.Let’s fast forward to February 2012. During one of our usual nightly walks, the idea of returning to South Korea was brought up. Not seriously, but in a more “wouldn’t-it-be-great-to -live-the expat-life-again” sort of way. We then continued to talk about it, reminiscing in old memories. These talks occurred on a more regular basis until we decided that we were actually going to go through with this again.

Leap of faith...get it?
All it takes is a leap of faith and a commitment. A commitment to each other, a commitment to your school to fulfill your contract, and most importantly a commitment to yourself. Andrew and I love to travel. We love to explore, we love to try new things, get lost in foreign lands, meet people who couldn’t be more different than we are, and learn from them. We have committed ourselves to following our passions and dreams. Traveling is a passion, so we have taken another leap of faith, left everything behind, and we are once again heading to the 'land of the morning calm.'

We knew the application process was tedious and time consuming, but we didn’t anticipate the frustrations that we went through being that this was our second time around. Here is the shortened version:

We found a recruiter - we applied - the recruiter told us we were too late since we hadn’t started our background check yet ( in 2009 the background check took two weeks, now it’s an FBI check and it took 12…) – not to be discouraged we applied with EPIK directly – we passed the interview – we waited on our last document (background check) that we had to have in order to officially apply with the Korean Metropolitan Office of Education – we continued to wait – we involved our congressman to speed up the process – this failed – we still waited – 12 weeks later it arrived – we sent it off to DC to be apostilled – then we waited – and waited – four more weeks – then we finally mailed off everything – then we waited for a placement –we waited – we waited – then we waited some more. Seven months after the process began, we were finally placed (and not too far from Ulsan).

So, in a matter of one month’s time, Sarah was involved in a car accident (not her fault) and totaled her car, we quit our jobs, we are getting married, honeymooning in Mexico, moving me out of my apartment, and we are moving to Korea (again)! Whew…that is way too much life change for anyone!

Stay tuned for the next chapter in our lives as newlyweds in Korea...again!