Tag Archives: beach

Let’s wrap this up?

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I’ve been a neglectful mother to my blog that I began nurturing back in late 2011. Writing is like a good workout for me. I think about it daily. I put it off and make excuses because IT’S HARD. Yet, I crave the satisfaction of walking away from the computer upon hitting the blue ‘Publish’ button after writing a time consuming and well-crafted post. Coming home has been fantastic, yet I feel as though I’m walking around constantly missing something. Did I forget my make-up? Do I have pants on? I am no longer an expat or a teacher in Korea and on top of that I have lost my ‘Travel Blogger’ title. Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic for what is next and I know I am ready for it, but I also know it is going to take some time and I miss having the blog platform to go to late at night or when I’m feeling creative.

photo5I may complain about not having a full-time job at the moment, but I know in a few weeks (fingers crossed) I will be missing mid-week beach visits like this one.

I arrived stateside about a month ago and it’s been a crazy yet wonderful return home to New England. Mere hours after landing in Boston and still battling jet-lag, my family descended upon Schenectady, NY for my brother’s graduation from Union College. After a weekend of reminiscing and lamenting to my parents as we passed early morning kegger remnants and sleepy-eyed students that, “Oh, those were the days…” we packed up my brother’s life and headed home. In the back of my mind I was thankful I was currently post-expat and not simply post-grad. Looking at the newly diploma-ed youngsters did bring me back to memories of late nights full of you-won’t-believe-it stories, but I also recognized that although I was job-less and living with my parents like many graduates would be for the summer of 2013, I had 17 months of Korea under my belt and in some mysterious way I knew the adventure was going to guide me to what was next.

photo2Portsmouth, NH, oh how I missed you!

I’ve spent the past month catching-up with friends and family, enjoying New Hampshire’s beach-lined coast, and missing Korea, and all the friends I left there. Oh, and when I’m not stuffing my face with hummus, making small-talk with (English speaking!) strangers in Starbucks and Trader Joe’s, loving the salty air and familiar landscapes of my beloved Martha’s Vineyard (Where I WILL own a house someday.), and sweating it out at my dearly missed Bikram yoga classes, I’ve been learning the art of NETWORKING, because really people, THIS IS HOW YOU GET A JOB.

photo1Early morning lessons and networking with Stonyfield Social Media experts!

I won’t bore you with all the details, but finding a full-time job is a full-time job and as hectic as it’s been it’s also been kind of fun. I’ve entered rooms full of strangers and forced myself to mingle. I’ve woken up at 6am to eat bagels and sip coffee with other ‘Social Media Enthusiasts’ at the #PortsBkfstClub. I’ve reached out to company owners and New Hampshire leaders through LinkedIn and friends of friends of friends. I’ve answered questions about my past and done so honestly and I’ve gotten fantastic responses to my answer, “I was teaching and living in Korea and I just got home and now I am job searching…” Korea gave me Psy socks, a new appreciation for barbecue, and life-long friends, but it also gave me a sense of confidence and the assurance that everything is going to work out. I’ll have to revisit Korea someday and thank the old jimjilbang ajummas and my Korean students, because if you can survive a naked scrub-down from an old woman and manage to control a room full of horse-dancing Korean speaking children all in one week, you can do anything.

photo3Catching up with old friends is hectic. We couldn’t stop chatting to take a photo!

I’ve come to the realization that while living and teaching in Korea may stand out on a resume timeline, it definitely brightens the page rather than tarnishing it. I’ve had to formulate some creative answers to show people how my time in Korea prepared me for my future career in marketing and communications, but it’s been a good exercise for me to find multiple ways to tell a story. And isn’t that exactly what I was doing in Korea? Staring back at adorably clueless Korean faces after explaining a lesson in English forced me to find a different way of expressing myself. I want to continue to create stories and find clever ways of telling them and luckily I’m re-entering the world of communications where content marketing is “about continuous storytelling. It’s about a steady stream of storytelling innovations—large and small—delivered as an ongoing pulse. A drumbeat.” (Read more from Jake Sorofman’s blog post here.)

photo4You can travel around the world, but nothing beats a familiar summer sunset from your porch.

It is encouraging to see that people are still using this blog as a tool for living the ‘Expat life in Korea’ and I hope to remain a resource for those of you who have questions or comments. As my job search continues I am also working on creating a new blog for my new adventure. Who knows, ‘The Expat Comes Home’…and FINDS A JOB? Or perhaps overdoses on hummus? You’ll have to stay tuned. So, I guess this isn’t about wrapping it up, it’s just the beginning!

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Filed under devan teacher, korea in the news, travel, yoga

How to Stay Sane Until Spring (Korean Winter, we’re through.)

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I wrote recently about finding a summer-ish oasis hidden on a side street in my Korean city. Writing that post made me ponder a few other remedies that have helped me cope with winter in Korea. Because, like I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of you, winter. I didn’t even really realize I was in a winter funk until a week or so ago when I was walking to work and caught a whiff of that Spring smell. I think it’s made of one part melting snow and two parts bright sunshine. Oh, and there were birds singing, I swear. Although snow did fall a few days later, this morning commute added a bounce to my step and placed not-too-distant and pleasant visions of biking along the Han River and wearing cute skirts in my head. So, if you’re like me and need that final push to blast through the rest of Winter into Spring, here are 10 things I am doing or plan to do asap:

1) YOGA

I wrote about my love of yoga awhile back. Then my membership expired and I neglected to go back to my studio to pay for 3 more months. I told myself I would do yoga at home but I missed the hot studio, the disciplined yet nurturing instructor, the sense of class camaraderie and most importantly the elated and endorphin filled walk home after each class. I plan to return to my studio later this week and get back to improving my Triangle Pose.

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2) EAT HEALTHY

Just like your mom always told you: Winter is all about staying healthy! Go stock up on fresh veggies and fruits at the supermarket. I like to shop at Homeplus in the evening after work because I usually find discounted produce (for smoothies!) at that time of day. Also, if you haven’t already checked out iHerb you should. I like to order my favorite gluten free breakfast bars and coconut water from this website. The prices are reasonable and the products arrive 1 or 2 days later.

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3) SEOUL TOWER

Although it made for a cold afternoon, I recommend checking out Seoul Tower in the winter. With less foliage you can see for miles and the view is amazing.

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photo credit: my awesome friend James

4) GET ACTIVE OUTSIDE

Sometimes you just need to get outside and be active. Bundle up and go for a walk. I promise you will feel better upon your return.

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5) SOCIALIZE

Your apartment may seem tempting for a night-in, but get out and be social with friends. Find a favorite coffee shop or bar and enjoy each other. *bring playing cards*

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6) MUSEUMS

Winter is a great time to check out the many museums Seoul has to offer. In the past month I visited the MOCA, the National War Memorial and Museum and the Anish Kapoor Seoul Exhibition at the Leeum Samsung Museum. 2 of the 3 were free and the exhibits were fabulous.

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 7) COFFEE SHOPS

Spend a cold day in a coffee shop and study up on your Korean.

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8) STUDENTS

The winter months don’t seem to bother my students one bit. They burst into class each day excited to tell me about their time at school. They are always happy and so full of energy. They make me smile and laugh at the smallest things and just that can turn around a day.

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9) PLAN FOR SUMMER

Start planning that awesome summer trip now. Although Mud Fest is a few months away who says you can’t start taking notes for an epic trip. I also love outdoor music festivals, so I can get lost on the Internet searching for the summer line-up of acts coming to Korea.

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10) WINTER FASHION

When all else fails, throw on a cute fluffy animal hat and count how many strangers smile at you as you walk around feeling warm and fashionable.

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photo credit

How do you deal with Winter? Or maybe Winter is your best friend, and in that case, please let him know I’m ready to break-up.

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Filed under cuter in korea, devan teacher, food, seoul, travel, uijeongbu, yoga

Koh Samet: I wish you were here, or maybe not.

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I have no intention of making you jealous, but I have to inform you that I am writing this blog post from a beach chair 4 feet from the water on the small island of Koh Samet in Thailand. It is late afternoon and the beach area in front of my resort (My bungalow is $20 a night!) is starting to clear out for the day. I personally think dusk is the best part of a beach day. The sky’s color is spectacular, the sun isn’t as intense as it was a few hours prior and I can finally tell by looking at my skin that yes, I in fact did manage to tan and not burn after hours of frolicking in the surf.

I tell you all this because upon traveling to the island from Bangkok, where I spent 3 days being social and saying goodbye to 2012, I have come to the realization that solo-travel may just be the best thing I have done so far in 2013. I admit I was a bit nervous to embark on my solo winter vacation to Thailand. I had traveled alone before but those trips were always only short jaunts from one place to another to meet friends, family or study abroad groups. Because my other expat friends in Korea did not share my vacation days and I knew I didn’t want to stick around Seoul for another week of winter, I booked flights to Bangkok and a hostel for the first night and hoped for the best.

Bangkok proved to be a bustling yet non-intimidating and easily navigable city. I’m not sure what I expected, but my desire to be beach-side and maybe Hangover 2 clouded my judgements and I hoped to leave the city shortly after my arrival. I was pleasantly surprised by Bangkok. I spent 3 nights at the Refill Now! hostel (Please stay here if you are ever in Bangkok!) and made time to explore the splendidly colorful Grand Palace via water transportation, get lost meandering the hundreds of stalls at the famous Chatuck weekend market, wander the backpacker’s party street of Koh San until the early morning hours, and celebrate NYE with a friend from home who now lives in Thailand.

After a whirlwind tour of Bangkok I was more than ready to find a map of Thailand and choose an island to getaway to for the remainder of my vacation. My friend had to return to work so I was left to travel solo and any solo-travel-nerves I might have had when I booked my trip a few months back vanished as I made my way to the Bangkok bus station. I was ready for some quality relaxation and I didn’t mind that a few couples and groups of friends eyed me curiously (I think this was just in my self-centered imagination.) on the ferry from the mainland of Rayong to Koh Samet. I think the lone traveler is mysterious. I imagined an outlandish alter identity for myself, although I do think ‘English Teacher in South Korea’ is pretty darn cool and adventurous. My 20 year old self would have been self conscious, I know it. She would have told herself everyone thought it was strange she was traveling alone and that she must be a lonely cat lady. My 25 year old self, having successfully matured (a bit!) and gained some wisdom in a large part due to her year abroad in Korea, brushed these people and their non-existent thoughts aside and realized she would probably never see them again and she was about to embark on an epic island getaway.

My first full day on Koh Samet is nearly over and I look forward to 2 mores days of sun and fun. The nice thing about vacationing alone is that you are free to do exactly what you want to do exactly when you want to do it. If I want to sleep in I can. If I sporadically decide to stay in the ocean for an entire hour flopping around pretending to be a mermaid no one is impatiently waiting for me on the beach. If I want to go to bed at 10pm there is no judgement. I have also found that the lone traveler is sometimes the most sociable. While a large group of friends may seem intimidating, when you are on your own you are more likely to be approached by others. On the ferry to Koh Samet I met 2 guys who teach in Japan and were vacationing like me. Many young people at my resort beach have also been extremely friendly.

Although I love to socialize, I am using these last few days in Thailand to relax, work on my tan (using SPF!), catch up on all the books I bought for my iPad in 2012 and recharge for the next few months of teaching in Korea. I would tell you all about the delicious pad Thai I plan to consume tonight, but a beach massage advertisement just caught my eye. A one-hour-full-body-massage for about $9…oh, don’t you wish you were here?

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“Like, what should we do this weekend?”

As an English teacher in South Korea, when Thursday rolls around each week I usually itch for my upcoming weekend plans. I have learned to take full advantage of my weekend time in Korea and I hope to continue with this new approach to my free time when I return home. I love the tired yet accomplished feeling of a Sunday night following a jam-packed weekend of experiencing new things and people in Korea. When I find myself without plans midweek, I use the following 5 resources to find inspiration for weekend outings. I hope you find them helpful and please feel free to comment with alternative ideas. I promise, armed with these resources you won’t find yourself uttering the annoying answer to a friend looking to have a memorable weekend, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

1) Expat Websites and News Sources: Some of my favorites include Groove Korea, Seoulistic, Chincha and 10 Magazine Korea, but there are many more. This past weekend I attended a rocking block party in Hongdae that was hosted by Chincha. I had a blast: I met some interesting people, enjoyed great live bands and had a bit too much fun with the prop-packed photo center. Today in 10 Magazine Korea I read about all the Halloween events happening in Seoul.

2) Twitter: Many of my friends continue to make fun of my Twitter obsession, but it has proved to be a helpful tool in Korea. Even if you don’t want to Tweet, if you follow the right people you can stay informed about events going on in Korea. I can thank Twitter for letting me know about the free Psy concert I attended a few weeks ago. Thanks Twitter.

3) Travel Groups: Before coming to Korea I remember how comforted I was to find a Facebook page for Adventure Korea. Because Korea is a popular place for foreigners, there are a handful of companies that focus on planning excursions for this demographic. I have gone on three trips with Seoul Hiking Group and I can not speak highly enough of these mini vacations. After a week of teaching it is lovely to go on a trip that is completely organized for you. Who didn’t love field trips when they were younger? I have seen some great places in Korea, including Jeju, and I have also met some great friends from all over Korea. When In Korea (winK) is another great website.

4) Personal Blogs: I did extensive research before making the decision to move to Korea to teach and I believe a majority of the helpful information came from personal blogs. I felt reassured reading about real experiences from real people living and teaching in Korea. I know each person has a different story to tell of their time in Korea, but there are many shared experiences that I have encountered in blogs. I remember finding an extremely helpful diagram of a Korean heating panel on a blog back in February when I was shivering and baffled by the 4 buttons near my light switch. I have a list of about 10 blogs that I check weekly. There are some talented bloggers in Korea who are informative and also put a creative and comedic spin on the Expat experience.

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5)  Facebook (of course!): Facebook is not just for procrastinating. Facebook has helped me stay in touch with other Chungdahm teachers who live in different parts of Korea. With the help of Facebook I was able to plan a Busan beach weekend to visit a few friends from teacher training. I can also thank Facebook for a handful of friends in my city of Uijeongbu. In the first few weeks in my new city I came across a Facebook group for foreigners. I joined the on-line community, attended a weekly ‘Waegook’ dinner that was advertised on the group page and walked away from the first dinner with new friends. The Facebook group is also a place where people post event invitations and community information.

These are just a few resources I use. Where do you go for answers when someone asks, “What should we do this weekend?”

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Filed under music, seoul, travel, uijeongbu

Korea Burn – Leave your wallet at home.

After spending a weekend at Korea Burn this September, I realized that although I have been in Korea for more than 7 months now, this country will continue to surprise me with each weekend excursion. On a Monday night my friend called an emergency meeting to persuade a group of us to ‘apply’ for last-minute Korea Burn tickets, Tuesday I enlisted the help of my co-teacher in purchasing a tent from a Korean website, Wednesday and Thursday night were spent texting my friends back and forth regarding our to-do lists of making matching costumes, finding glow-sticks and glitter and buying bug repellent and Friday night I found myself staring at an empty suitcase wondering what the heck one brings to a Burn.

Korea Burn was inspired by Burning Man, the annual festival in Black Rock City, Nevada. The festival in Nevada lasts for a week and includes art installations and performances inspired by the participants. The festival’s core values include participation, art, self-expression and experience. The festival in Korea lasted for only a weekend but everyone involved followed the main mission statement of Burning Man. The celebration centered around a constructed wooden man with arms open to the sky. The structure was set ablaze on Saturday night and this act brought all of the festival goers together to watch the fire show. The weekend participants were encouraged to follow these 10 principles:

1) Radical Inclusion

2) Gifting

3) Decommodification

4) Radical Self-reliance

5) Radical Self-expression

6) Communal Effort

7) Civic Responsibility

8) Leaving No Trace

9) Participation

10) Immediacy

(If you are interested, you can learn more at http://www.koreaburn.co.kr/)

I found the idea of ‘Gifting’ to be the most interesting. The organizers encouraged us to leave our wallets at home, or at least in our tents. How could a massive beach party of foreigners survive without the flow of cash? Even if we were willing to gift the snacks that we brought (soju soaked watermelon pieces cut into stars and hearts), could we really rely on strangers to bring the rest of the party supplies and also to be giving with them? I was amazed at how generous people were as soon as we arrived at Gijipo Beach on Saturday morning. As soon as we found a spot to pitch our tent (which is a story in itself – trust me), we changed into our Burn Costumes (Burn Costumes can be WHATEVER you want them to be, believe me, I saw it all.) and headed to the beach. One of my favorite gifting moments was when I traded an original poem for a crispy slice of bacon. It may have been the best piece of bacon ever. I think the rest of the weekend is best described with pictures. It was one of those weekends that will stay with me. And the fact that this took place in Korea is just icing on the cake. I traded a hand-knit scarf for this cake of course. Gifting is key.

 

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blur the line between work & play: Korea Burn

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.”

Arnold J. Toynbee

Some Korea Burn play –>

 

 

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Vacation Travel: Don’t forget to pack the right people.

I arrived in Seoul smack in the middle of February, an unsympathetic month following the excitement of holiday cheer in December and the promise of new beginnings in January. February rudely reminds you that winter has no plans to retire anytime soon and you better start planning a vacation if you want to remain sane. Shortly after settling into my new life of teaching and living in Korea, I met a handful of new friends and we compared teaching jobs, living arrangements and vacation dates. I was ecstatic when I realized I shared the same summer vacation with two of my new friends. Even though we had just started our lives abroad, we quickly began planning our first adventure outside of Korea. I think the planning is half the fun!

We decided to spend a week in Taiwan in late July. We booked our flights in the spring and then we all became busy teaching and living life. Time flew by, as it does in Korea, and before I knew it, it was a week before my vacation. I found myself panicking and I soon realized I was stressed about my upcoming week off from work. Is that even allowed? I was nervous about traveling for a week with new friends. I loved meeting them for coffee and laughing over teaching stories and exploring Seoul on the weekends, but would we work together as a traveling trio? Perhaps one of us might surface as an annoying diva and make us all suffer for the week? Would another throw caution to the wind and make irrational and dangerous decisions in a country we knew little about? Was it possible that one of us was secretly a vacation dictator and would order the group around with daily itineraries and little time to rest or be spontaneous? I knew these girls socially, but would we mesh in vacation world?

Sadly, for those of you hoping for an entertainingly disastrous story, we got along splendidly. With only a hostel room booked for the first two nights and a travel book in hand, we made the week a pleasant one and came back to Seoul still friends. The three of us worked well together. We each brought something to the table.

One friend shared with us her country connections. She had studied abroad in college with a girl from Taipei. On our first night in the country’s capital the friend and her sister gladly met up with us near our hostel and took us on an exclusive tour of one of the city’s famous night markets. I can say with much certainty that I would never have tried Stinky Tofu  if it were not for these sisters coaxing us to hold our noses and “just try it”. They were extremely generous and proud to share a bit of their culture with us. Throughout our stay in Taiwan, even though we eventually ventured outside of Taipei, this Taiwanese friend stayed in contact with my friend and gave us travel advice and even made sure we were safe when an unexpected typhoon greeted us at the beach.

My other companion, having been in Korea for 2 years and an avid traveler, was the one who got us places. She told us early on in the trip, “I never guess, I ask for help.” When I almost wasted $15 in buying the wrong metro card, she quickly squashed my idea and marched us over to the information booth a few feet away. She showed the attendant by pointing to a map which station we needed to get to and he then sold us individual trip tickets that were less than $1. This friend was confident and direct in getting the right information. In situations where I might tend to swing and hope for the best, she made sure we made contact with the right people and got us what we needed as travelers in a foreign country.

Toward the end of our vacation as we sat enjoying drinks at a beach-side bar one night, we eyed a few foreigners lingering nearby. We assumed they were like us: teachers from Korea on vacation. With a deck of cards, full beers and little knowledge of actual card game rules, we knew we would benefit from more friends at our table. After a few awkward moments I turned around and called them over. “Could you help us…?” I offered a silly question that made them smile and move their seats, and from there we went on to have an epic night of cards, beers, beach and new friends. The next day my travel companions complemented me on my ability to socially ‘break the ice’. I have no shame in being the first one to confront strangers, just as long as I can rely on my friends to keep the conversation going once it has begun.

I hope to travel much more in the coming months. I have a few long weekends, a winter vacation and the option of travel after I leave Korea to look forward to. My first vacation taught me that as important as logistics are, it is crucial to make sure these plans involve the right people. I lucked out and packed the right companions without even realizing it. Now I just need to decide where to travel to next…

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