Tag Archives: taiwan

My 2012: While you were busy Googling ‘What is a Gangnam?’…

meandpsy1

Any worries I had about ‘losing touch’ during my year abroad in Southeast Asia were quickly shattered one July night while I lay in a hostel bunk-bed in Taiwan. I opened my iPad to find an adorable yet slightly chubby Korean man decked out in hip glasses, a funky suit and an irresistible smirk busy bombarding every one of my bookmarked websites. That moment and many more in the following days and months reassured me that my move to Korea would not hinder my mission to stay relevantly informed about all things social. I could in fact keep in touch with friends, family and my growing passion (slight obsession) with social media creation and strategy. Gangnam Style gave me a slight home-court advantage. While most Americans were busy Googling: ‘What the heck is a Gangnam?’, ‘Where did K-Pop come from?’ and ‘Who is Psy and is that his real name?’ I had time to catch up on my backlogged and favorited Tweets from Mashable, Gawker, Social Media Examiner and more.

At first my fellow teacher friends in Seoul eagerly posted the horse-dance video, just for kicks, to all available social wall space. Then, when the YouTube view count refused to plateau, I casually mentioned the video in Skype conversation with a friend who was enjoying the summer in New England. She giggled at the elevator dance scene and commented, “Wow Devan, Korea looks like a fun time.” A week later a second reply was digitally served, “So, you know that video you showed me? It’s here. It’s everywhere. It’s blowing up.” And although I scoffed at my real-life and Twitter friends who continued to miserably misspell ‘Gangnam’ in posts and had never been out clubbing in the song’s swanky section of Seoul, I was proud of Psy and the small yet fiercely determined, extremely successful, technologically advanced and warmhearted country that I chose to call home in 2012.

As I prepare to return home to NH in the next few months and further my career in social media strategy and communications, many details are uncertain. Job searching is a job in itself, but throw in 7,000 miles and a 14 hour time difference between you and your target professional setting  and it becomes almost as challenging as mastering the horse-dance while fumbling through a few Korean lyrics about “a girl with that kind of twist”.

I know some may question why I up and left a marketing job in Boston to move to Korea to teach ESL and eat kimchi at every meal. I don’t think I will be able to answer this question fully for another few years, but I can say I am happier now than I was a year ago and I spent 2012 in close proximity to one of the year’s biggest social media stories. My time in Korea will always and forever be smack dab in the middle of ‘The Year of Gangnam Style’. Or maybe I have that mixed up: Psy’s year of fame just happened to occur during ‘Devan’s Korea Quest.’ Please, just for now, let me believe the latter to be true.

meandpsybest

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Filed under departure, devan teacher, korea in the news, music, seoul, travel

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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I was going to write a ‘Top 10 List’ & then this happened.

I found myself wallowing in a bout of homesickness last week. Rather than sulk in my apartment and dream of lounging dock-side on Martha’s Vineyard sipping a Blue Moon and hogging the guacamole bowl, I sat down and scribbled all the things I am loving at the moment about my present situation. If you’re interested, here it is, feel free to add to my list. Cheers! *shot of soju in hand*

I love…

1) soju.

2) the huge H&M and Forever 21 stores in Seoul.

3) surprising the older Koreans on the subway when I give up my seat for them.

4) bars that never close,  interesting bar snacks and learning how to play darts.

5) being inspired by Korean fashion.

6) when my takeout pizza is presented as a gift.

7) how my students love me.

8) not having to remember a key for my apartment because I have a keypad instead.

9) outdoor restaurant seating that magically appears in good weather.

10) paying bills within seconds at the ATM.

11) cooking my own meat at Korean BBQ. It’s the real deal: hot coals, marinated meat and scrumptious sides.

12) learning about Buddha and Buddhism.

13) public transportation. The subway is English friendly, fast, cheap and clean.

14) the 7 Eleven steps from my apartment.

15) not having to be at work until 1pm.

16) being the token foreigner at my yoga studio.

17) my small apartment, sometimes I complain, but it is cozy and easy to clean.

18) the free exercise stations everywhere.

19) Ssamjang (쌈장 ) sauce at Korean BBQ. Yes, it deserves it’s own spot on this list and it deserves a place in American cuisine. (Ssamjang is a thick, spicy paste used with food wrapped in a leaf in Korean cuisine. The sauce is made of doenjang, gochujang, sesame oil, onion, garlic, green onions, and optionally brown sugar. -Wikipedia)

20) that just about everything is cuter in Korea: coffee cups, bus cards, stationary, trucks, etc. #cuterinkorea

21) the moving ramps for grocery carts at Homeplus.

22) the walking/running/biking path along the river near my apartment.

23) not having to obey an open container law.

24) the service button at restaurants.

25) kimchi, yeah it’s growing on me.

26) cheap underground shopping.

27) receiving mail from friends and family.

28) meeting foreigners and bonding instantly.

29) the adorable coffee shops. I also appreciate being able to visit my first love, Starbucks, when I need a fix.

30) Korean kindness and hospitality.

31) not having to remember to pay rent each month – it’s on my school.

32) bowing instead of shaking hands to say hello – my palms get sweaty.

33) cheap travel to exotic locations. I can’t wait for Taiwan in July!

34) staying in touch with friends & family back home via snail mail, email, Facebook, Skype, Kakao Talk, FourSquare, Pinterest, Spotify and Instagram. Sometimes it feels like I never left.

35) creating a place for myself on Twitter and in the expat and travel blogging community.

36) fantastic conversations with new friends about the future – inspiring!

37) drinks on a necklace. Yup.

38) freebies with every purchase. I have enough travel samples for at least 5 vacations. A free sun hat with a new bottle of perfume – why not?

39) Casablanca in Haebangcheon: Best. Sandwich. Ever.

40) the new Shinsegae department store in Uijeongbu.

41) Temple Stay experiences.

42) kimbap’s deliciousness.

43) my rooftop.

44) the small plastic bag holders for wet umbrellas outside every store when it’s raining. Genius.

45) jjimjibangs.

46) free phone charging stations.

47) street food after a crazy night out.

48) norebang. Can you say ‘Call Me Maybe’?

49) my acupuncture doctor.

50) free festivals. My love began at the Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

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