One Month Left

It’s hard to believe that my second year in Korea is coming to an end.  In many ways I am happy and ready to move onto something new, but I’m also sad that this chapter of my life is ending.  I’ve met such interesting people here, good and bad, and I’ve learned SO MUCH.

I’ve had so many experiences here that it’s almost like my 4 years of  university squished into 2!  I will say this year has been easier than last – for many reasons.  I was beyond the culture shock that slapped me in the face half-way into my first year, and I settled into a, shall we say, healthier way of life.  (For the most part. :))  It probably helped having a Korean boyfriend who is and has been so supportive the past year.

So what will I miss about this beautiful country?  Chatting with the cashiers at the the grocery store, my students greeting me with “Hi Teacher!” throughout the day, and some good friends.  People who have shared their culture with me and other expats who were also ready for an adventure.  These are just a few things.

I remember the month before I left for Korea.  I spent 5 months applying and preparing for this job, that it shocked me when I actually got my notice of appointment (official letter that I needed to apply for my visa).  Was this really happening?  Was I ready for it?  Did I want to go?  Yes.  I needed to move here.  It has been one of the best decisions of my life.  I will sincerely miss this country.

I will leave Korea the morning of August 17th.  My friend and I plan to spend time in Beijing, and then take the trans-Mongolian railroad through to Ulan Ude, Russia.  From there, we will meet our friends (who will take a ferry from Sokcho on Korea’s East Sea, to Vladivostok, Russia and then take the trans-Siberian to Ulan Ude.)  We will make our way through Russia, and then our group will split and a few of us will go onto Europe, stopping in Krakow, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, Calais, Dover, and finally London.  It will be one hell of an adventure.

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Couplewear

One of my blog posts should be about couplewear, so why not my second to last one?  Couplewear is everywhere here, although I noticed it more when I first arrived in 2010.  (Maybe I’m just used to it now. 😉 )  Nevertheless, you still see people here wearing matching shirts.  The REALLY devoted couples match from head to toe: same t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers.  I’ve heard this is a sort of test Korean girlfriends give to their boyfriends, but then again, maybe the guys really want to wear it.  This fad has been compared to the shirts in the U.S. with the finger pointing to the other shirt.  (You’ve seen them, right?)

I’ve even seen entire families wearing matching clothes.  But the weirdest one was probably on Nami Island.  There was a mother and her (pre-teen?) son in matching t-shirts who were taking pictures together and acting cute.  I thought they were dating!  Nope, the woman was his young-looking mother.

You get the idea.  I thought it was funny at first – why would you want to wear the same polo shirt as your boyfriend?  It looks kind of weird.  But then my boyfriend bought us matching t-shirts for our 300 day anniversary and my heart melted.  (By the way, couples celebrate by days here – 100, 200, 300… a few months before my friend got married, she mentioned that she and her boyfriend were celebrating their 1,000 day anniversary.)

Anyway, Jaeyoung bought us these shirts.  They’re kind of adorable.  More special than the same polo shirt, anyway.  😉  And we’ll be wearing them on our trip to Sokcho this weekend.

The front of the shirt, so I always have to stand on the left

The back of the shirt. I did not make him buy it or wear it!

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Udo Island

Udo is a tiny island off of Jeju, and is a good afternoon trip.  When you get to the island, you can rent ATVs or scooters to make a big loop around it.  We opted for the ATVs, and had a great time (Jaeyoung was glad he didn’t have to worry about us on the scooters!)

About 10 minutes into the trip, we found a cute cafe.  I admit, I wanted to stop because of the name:  “Ha Ha Ho Ho.”  It had a beautiful view of the ocean and great hamburgers!  (Not the most Korean of foods, but with a  peanut sauce made from Udo’s homegrown peanuts, it was great!  Mom and I tried the peanut burger, and Jaeyoung went with the cheeseburger.  We also had it with Jeju’s orange juice.

Can you say, "Yum?!"

Can you say, “Yum?!”

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Outside of the cafe with our ATVs parked on the side

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Inside of the cafe

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These windows overlooked the ocean.

If you have 3 or 4 hours when you’re in Jeju, I recommend visiting Udo.  It a fun side-trip, and the scenery is beautiful.

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So much has happened in the past month!  For one, my mom visited me here in Korea.  She arrived on Mother’s Day and left on the day after her birthday.  It was nice that I could take some days off to spend more time with her.

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Mom’s room at the traditional guesthouse; I had to decorate it for Mother’s Day!

Mom saw various parts of Seoul.  For the first 5 nights, she stayed at a traditional Korean guesthouse, which was a new experience for her.  She had her own bathroom attached to her room, which made her feel much more comfortable.  The guesthouse was right in the middle of Seoul’s attractions, so places like (right-click to open in new window) InsadongGwangwhamun, Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung were all within walking distance.  She saw N. Seoul Tower and did a tour of the DMZ as well.  We were taken out for a traditional Korean dinner 3 times – by Jaeyoung, my co-teachers, and my landlady.

Our big trip out of Seoul was to Jeju island, which is described as “the Hawaii of Korea.”  It is beautiful, but I think Hawaii must be warmer. 😉  We stayed in the same “love motel” the first and fourth nights, a hostel our second night, and a pension the third night.  These places were all new experiences for my mom, who preferred the cheap and clean love motel!

On our first night in Jeju, we stayed in a motel, also called a love motel because people can rent a room by the hour. This place – Namsan Motel in Jeju City – was only 30,000won (about $28USD) for the night! It was extremely clean, and it was my mom’s favorite place we stayed at. We actually stayed here on our 4th/last night in Jeju as well.

Mom and Me at Seopjikoji

We rented scooters and toured around the island for 3 days. We pretty much made a big circle around the island, seeing all the places of interest to us. My boyfriend, Jaeyoung, led us the entire way, having made the trip on motorcycle 6 years ago.

On her birthday, I treated Mom to a visit at a jimjilbang, or a Korean sauna.  We went to differently heated saunas and pools, and she got scrubbed from neck to toe by an “ajumma” (old Korean woman).  At every sauna, they have these women who scrub the dead skin off you and wash your hair.  At the end, our skin felt so soft!

Mom left on May 24th, and I think she’s still talking about the trip. 😉  I felt really lucky to have shown her so much of Korea.  Korea usually isn’t on top of people’s list of places to travel.  My mom said she wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t for me!  But she kept saying, “Now I really know why you love this country.  I understand you much more.”  It is comforting to know she will understand my reverse culture shock when I return to Ohio in the fall.

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Spring, Midterms, and Upcoming Visits!

I know, it’s been a long time since I’ve written… after winter camps and vacations, the new school year began in March and we are already having midterms next week.  Winter seemed to last forever – it didn’t get warm until Easter Sunday.  But now spring is in Seoul, the flowers are blooming, and every one is in a happier mood.  The students are still as rambunctious as ever, even with the upcoming tests.

And there’s another reason to be excited – my mom is coming to Korea in 3 1/2 weeks!  She’s arriving on mother’s day and leaves the day after her birthday – she planned that one right. I’m so excited to have her here and show her my life from the past two years.  Jeju island is definitely on the list, and hopefully we can see the island by scooter.

So things are going well in the Land of the Morning Calm.  My students continue to make me laugh, and I’m still excited to go into work every day.  Can’t complain!

My contract does end in August, though, so after my friends and I travel along the trans-Mongolian and trans-Siberian, I plan to return to Ohio and apply to graduate school for the fall of 2013.

The Han river, about a 20 minute walk from my home

The first signs of spring, walking to the subway from school

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A Weekend Trip to Boseong Tea Fields

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I went to the Boseong, an area about 5 hours south of Seoul where they grow green tea plants.  We went for two reasons: first, the tea fields are a famous part of this province (and one I wanted to see before leaving Korea in August), and second, they were having a light festival from December – January. As a child, I looked forward to bundling up and seeing the annual Columbus zoo lights with my family and neighbors, so this was a perfect opportunity to have a similar experience and forget winter for a bit.

Boseong itself is a tiny town compared to the rest of South Korea and although we stayed in the town the first night, a rooster woke us up bright and early!  

On Saturday, we moved to our pension outside of the town.  We felt lucky to get this pension, since it was within walking distance of two major tea fields.  However, we soon found out that the location was the only good part – the big window was drafty, and the room was not clean.  It was more expensive than the place we stayed in town.

But, we made the best of it. In the afternoon, we went to the most well-known tea field, and in the evening, we walked down to the light show, which we could see from our pension!

Walking into the tea field

Walking up to the top

The View

Taking a break with a green tea latte and green tea ice cream - both are delicious!

Day View from the Pension

Night View from the Pension

Korea may have hearts everywhere, but I thought this was clever; the picture before is in the middle of the heart.

Where people could sit and take pictures together. Families were lining up to do this!

The entrance

People's wish cards for the new year

Dragon's head

Dragon's tail

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A Second Christmas in Korea

Christmas this year was really special.  We had a Christmas Eve potluck dinner at Naomi’s (since her apartment is the biggest. :))  The food and company were great, and as our friend Andy said, “We did well (with making the food).  Does this mean we’re real adults now?”  Naomi made mulled wine (yum) and I made egg nog.  We even had a secret santa where none of us correctly guessed who bought our gifts.

On Christmas morning, I skyped with my family (for 2 1/2 hours!) and in the evening, my boyfriend and I looked at the lights downtown.  Christmas here is a big holiday for couples.

With our Secret Santa Gifts

With our Secret Santa Gifts

A Merry Christmas cake - common here

Part of the Christmas decorations downtown

Downtown - we stumbled upon an area where you could take pictures with different decorations

Part of the Christmas decorations downtown

For New Year’s Eve, 10 of us went to a pension in Gangwha-do.  It’s a couple of hours west of Seoul, but was a great to ring in the New Year.  Last year, we stayed in Seoul for the New Year’s festivities, so we enjoyed getting out of Seoul this year. 

I can’t believe 2012 is here and January is over! Last year was great and I can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store for me!

New Year's Eve wasn't windy, so we could have a fire in the fireplace!

The owner said we were the first people to have a fire this year.

What would New Year's be without (fake) mistletoe?

The Outside of the Pension; we had the right side of the 2nd floor

A very windy New Year's Day! Ready to go home.

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