Oedo Island, Geoje, Korea

Oedo, GeojeOedo, Geoje  Oedo, Geoje

Oedo, Geoje

Oedo, Geoje

Oedo, Geoje

Oedo, Geoje

Oedo, Geoje

Oedo, Geoje

I spent the weekend on Geoje island exploring and eating good food with good friends. Yesterday we took a ferry to Oedo island, a completely stunning tropical paradise. The island was created by a husband and wife team for more than 30 years before unveiling it to the public. Apparently it used to be a rocky island like neighbouring ones in the area, but to see it you’d never believe it. The whole place is lush and green with spots of colour and absolutely gorgeous views.

The ferry made us nauseous (big time) but when we docked at Oedo, it was instantly worth it. The place is wonderful, with sweet gardens tucked away in corners, interesting and modern statues everywhere, palm trees and pathways with a roof of branches. Any way you look there is a beautiful vista, and in the end we just sat in the spot that offered the best panorama of the place. It was easily the highlight of my weekend and one of the best places I’ve visited in Korea.

How to Learn Korean

Learning Korean

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been making an effort to learn more Korean. I know what you’re thinking: I’ve been here for six months, so what have I been doing all this time?! My mom agrees with you, and is always (rightly, I might add!) reminding me to learn more of the language. I think after the initial period of getting settled, coupled with the mini-upheaval of changing jobs, I never felt like I had the mental space to tackle such a task until lately.

In my defence, Korean is one of the 4 hardest major world languages for native English speakers to learn. The others are Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. The research estimates that you would need 2200 hours of dedicated study to become proficient in any of those languages, which makes the whole thing seem a bit hopeless! But fortunately I spend 8 hours a day talking to cute munchkins who are incredibly skilled at speaking and writing Korean, so I’ve been using them to my advantage.

1. Learn to read Hangul

Hangul is the Korean alphabet with 24 vowels and consonants. It’s actually one of the easiest written languages in the world, even though it looks a bit scary at first. Unlike Japanese and Chinese character systems, Hangul is based on sounds. It was created by King Sejong, quite a popular guy in Korea, back in the the 1400’s. His goal was to improve the literacy rate of the Korean population by making a system so simple that anyone could learn to read it. It was said about the characters: “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.”

It’s true though! It doesn’t take long to learn the alphabet, maybe a couple of hours.

I had a lot of success with this infographic, Learn to Read Korean in 15 Minutes. It’s a cute cartoon, but it’s also really effective. I still remember most of my consonants based on the memory aids they give you.

I also love the app Memrise, which I used to solidify my knowledge of Hangul. The system uses smart, user-submitted memory aids to help you learn new letters and words, and they’re usually very on point and helpful. Memrise has all kinds of courses for language, trivia, general memory training and more, and it’s all free. I used this course for Hangul.

Of course, learning the characters often doesn’t help much because although you can sound out and read words, you don’t actually know what the Korean word means. So while I can sound words out phonetically, it doesn’t really help me unless I learn the word itself.

2. Learn some basic phrases

To my credit, I did learn some basic phrases when I first moved to Korea. I try not to go anywhere new without knowing the words for “hello” and “thank you”, and Korea was no exception. Here are my top 4:

  • ????? (annyeong haseyo) = Hello!
  • ????? (gamsamnida) = Thank you
  • ????? (mian hamnida) = I’m sorry
  • ???? (eolma eyo) = How much is it?

You can also learn phrases from an app – there are tons on the app store or online. One that I downloaded (but admittedly have not used much) is this Learn Korean Phrasebook. It’s fairly extensive, very easy to use and has voice recordings of each phrase from a native Korean speaker. It’s helpful to have around in case you need to learn something new in a jam, but I usually prefer learning phrases organically from my students or my friends. I also know how to say “I love you!”, “stop that” (3 different ways), “let’s go”, “don’t go”, “turn right” and “turn left”, among a few other things.

I also very recently discovered the Youtube channel Talk to Me in Korean which will hopefully teach me even more!

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3. Learn helpful words

This is where my students come in. I have a few classes that have an English spelling test every 2 weeks. I recently began telling them that on the day that I teach them their new English spelling words, they could teach me Korean spelling words, and that we’d have our tests on the same day. This doesn’t take up too much class time, they absolutely adore teaching me Korean words, and I get to learn something new! I’ve been writing out my words on an index card with the English translation, and practicing them each day while saying the words out loud.

Thus far, I know the words for chair, eraser, orange, pencil, crab, flower, book, earth, sun, bag, hand, finger, face, he, she, we, and person. It’s pretty awesome to see the patterns between the letters and start to recognize some words as I hear them spoken in class.

There are some courses on Memrise that look great for learning individual words as well, like this one for the 100 Most Frequent Korean Words.

4. Practice!

Of course, the most helpful thing you can do when learning any new language is to practice, practice, practice. I’ve been trying to practice saying the phrases I’ve learned to my classes (and laugh when they gasp and ooh and ahh and get excited over my attempts to speak Korean) and to shop clerks (it’s thrilling when they understand and reply without batting an eye). I try to learn new phrases from native Korean speakers both mini and adult, and use the new words I’ve learned as much as I can.

Despite the title of this post, I have definitely not finished learning Korean and it’s very possible there are better ways to learn it that I don’t know about. Do you have any tips on learning Korean, or languages in general? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Observations in Korea / 04

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I am almost exactly halfway through my time in Korea. It's whizzed by for the most part, and I can barely believe we're halfway through September already! It totally snuck up on me, and in some ways it feels like I've been living in Korea forever. Even these past few weeks, there were a couple times when I honestly couldn't remember whether a few things were done differently back home because it's been so long. I've never been away from home or my family for this long before, and with the changing of the seasons I've been getting a touch more nostalgic and wishing I could hang out at home with the people I love. That being said, Korea continues to be equal parts hilarious, baffling, frustrating and awesome, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of my time here plays out. Here are some more random observations from the past few months.

Most of the escalators here work by motion sensor (ie. only start if there's someone walking towards them) which seems like an awesome, efficient way to save energy. What I do find strange are the constant public service announcements on escalators, reminding you to hold the handrails with both hands (??) and watch your children, etc. This was one of the things I couldn't remember whether we had in Canada – do we?

Speaking of public service announcements, there are usually several every day on any major beach in Korea. They're broadcasted from speakers, reminding you in several languages to watch your valuables and that you're not allowed in the water after 6PM.

The oceans in Korea are patrolled and controlled big time, which feels different from home. You're not allowed to swim past a certain buoy line, not even at your own risk, without being shouted at through a megaphone. On the few days this summer when they deemed the water unsafe (a process that to the naked eye, looked a little arbitrary although I do understand it can actually get quite dangerous), lifeguards patrolled the whole coastline, not letting anyone into the water past their ankles. One such time I tried to reason with the Korean lifeguard, saying “Could we walk out to our waists? We can swim!” He replied, “I know you can, but I can't let you because they can't,” motioning to our fellow Korean beachgoers. I don't know if his statement is in any way true or not, but his logic doesn't make a lot of sense to me either way.

Foreigners need to get a health check in order to secure their visa to work in Korea, and it's a pretty intense process. Blood work, urine test, height and weight, vision test, hearing test (I've never even once gotten one in Canada), and a chest x-ray. Most of which begs the question: but why? Some parts I understand, but others not so much. Also, I had a full health check done when I first came to Korea, but when I changed schools they required me to do a second full check even though it had only been 3 months.

DSC_5068In Busan, it is very common for locals to bring their own music on hikes or walks and listen to it out loud through speakers.

Many children here are utterly terrified of teeny tiny dogs – as in scream, burst into tears and run away or hide behind their parents. Big dogs are pretty uncommon in Korea (a byproduct of the fact that most people who live in cities live in apartments), so I haven't observed what they're like around bigger animals, but it's pretty bizarre to watch. I've even seen some teenagers and adults equally scared!

Korea is a country in general very fond of its air conditioners, but for some reason, gyms are not air conditioned. They'll have fans going and leave the windows open, but it makes for a pretty sticky, sweaty experience.

Most gyms provide clothes to work out in and plenty of towels with your membership. This seems very handy if for example if you wanted to stop by on your way home from work but didn't want to deal with the laundry.

At most beauty stores or counters whenever you walk in, you instantly have one of the several employees practically right at your elbow, and they follow you around the store wherever you go. I'm someone who dislikes when people hover even mildly close by in stores, so this for me is always a bit much.

DSC_5023It's really common in Korea for people to order few dishes and share them all together out of the same pot. This tradition has carried over to Western-style food too – I've often seen a Korean couple splitting a single burger.

The men in Korean couples very frequently carry the woman's purse everywhere and all her shopping bags if she has any.

Selfie sticks are really common here. They're everywhere, all the time, with people of all ages. Heaven forbid you ask someone to take a photo of you, right? Not to mention the fact that they look pretty ridiculous. That being said, Korean photoshoots are legendary – it's not strange to hear the clicking of a phone camera dozens of times in a row for identically posed photos – so perhaps they know that no stranger would be willing to take as many photos as they would ideally want!

In the summertime, a lot of Koreans often pitch camping-style tents on the beach for a beach day. From what I understand this is to avoid the sun, as many Koreans don't like to tan and often swim fully clothed.

Taxi drivers are a force to be reckoned with. They'll often get mad and scold you if you get in the cab facing the wrong way from your destination, and some (so I've heard) won't take you if they decide where you're going is too close by or too far away.

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Spam is a luxury product here. It comes in fancy gift sets for Chuseok, paired with cans of tuna and bottles of olive and grapeseed oil as a deluxe package worth upwards of $30.

Stores and restaurants can get built overnight in Korea, or at least within a matter of days. It's totally normal to see a gutted storefront transformed into an operating business within two days or less. Renovations happen extremely fast as well.

Squatting is common among people of all ages – from babies to teenage boys to moms to business men and of course grandmothers and grandfathers. It's amazing and inspiring to see how easy it is for them to get into such a deep squat and be totally comfortable in it.

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Once again, I could go on for hours talking about cutesy phone cases as big as my head, exercise machines in public parks, and how often random locals ask to take pictures with us foreigners even if we're doing nothing in particular. There are so many things that are different here from back home. Whenever I start to forget I live in a foreign country (which believe it or not, can happen!), I'll experience something very Korean and be reminded again. But despite all the differences for the most part it's a great place to live, especially because we are surrounded by so much absolutely stunning nature: mountains, beaches, beautiful skies and rocks and forests. All in all, it's a very interesting place to call home.

See my other observations posts here.

Summer 2.0

The seasons have changed for me, here in Busan. The weather got cooler overnight, though we’ve still had days like today that were blazing hot and sunny. But whenever it starts cooling down, it instantly feels like fall and brings up all kinds of nostalgia and feelings and memories. I love the fall, but this year it’s been feeling like life is going by really quickly and that the seasons of my life are happening faster than ever. I’m sure this is not going to change anytime soon, which is why I’m so glad I decided to try and document my year here in Korea through videos. Over the past month, I didn’t shoot as much and as a result a lot of things are missing from this video. Even so, I’m so happy that even a few of the great memories I have got preserved this way.

I’ve been experiencing so much in the past 6 months since I arrived in Korea – so many ups and downs, but mostly ups. The second half of summer had a different feeling from the first – more growing and thinking was going on, lots of dinners out and beach days and my solo adventure in Japan. Life was busy in August, but we still managed to enjoy our summer evenings, celebrating often with picnics and wine. I saw a ton of gorgeous sunsets and a few sunrises, went kayaking and surfing, learned some acro yoga, read some good books, and soaked up as much of the summer as I could. It was such a great one.

The video this time is short and sometimes wobbly but always sweet.