March

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  1. Vegan cupcakes decorated with the Korean flag for my “going awaygook” party! (waygook is the Korean term for foreigner)
  2. The heavenly Haeundae beach, only a fifteen minute walk from my apartment! I feel so lucky.
  3. Me, hanging out at Haeundae. Note that it was warm enough to go without a jacket for most of that day! Cause for celebration.
  4. The view from inside a beautiful pavilion up high on Dalmaji hill.
  5. Dylan and I on a walk along the coast.
  6. The Song-do beach harbour front.
  7. An adorable hilltop park where we did some impromptu yoga.
  8. My friends Dylan and Mary overlooking the water.
  9. Me, upside down in Busan!
  10. Friends on a walk along the coast. We took this coastal walkway to find a park, but in the end the walkway itself was our favourite part! It offered the most stunning views of the water and the rocks below.
  11. On the bus up to the beautiful Beomosa temple.
  12. A glimpse of the gorgeous temple!
  13. On the bus on the way back down.
  14. Height differences between foreigners and native Koreans!
  15. My favourite pooch at the dog café we visited on a rainy, dreary Saturday.
  16. Me and the most cuddly kitty! This visit really brightened my day.
  17. Our friend Kendall took us to shabu shabu! It's a type of meal where you cook veggies in a pot of broth and then make your own spring rolls using rice paper. Then, once the broth has all but boiled away, you add rice and more veggies and stir it into a kind of porridge. Totally delicious!
  18. It's cherry blossom season here! I can't get enough of these gorgeous flowers. All the trees just exploded into bloom last week and I know they won't last long, so I am enjoying every minute.

A little glimpse of how I spent my March. As of Friday, I'll have been in Korea for an entire month, which is totally crazy. It's unbelieveable how fast that month went by! But as you can see from the photos, I've had an amazing time so far. I've been exploring temples, eating delicious food, seeing beautiful scenery, making great new friends and planning for upcoming adventures. In just a couple weeks I'll be spending the weekend in Tokyo!I'm happy with the little routines I've started to establish here, like a daily walk down to the beach and late-night yoga with my friend Dylan. I'm feeling relatively settled and happy, which is a great thing.

Inside My Korean Apartment

KAI can hardly believe I’ve been living in Korea for a week and a half. In some ways it feels like I’ve been here much longer than that, and in other ways it feels like I got here only yesterday. I’m settling in pretty well though overall, and I thought I’d share a glimpse of my apartment for anyone curious back home!

DSC_0124I live approximately 5 minutes walking distance from the school I’m working at, in a large apartment building right next to my friend Dylan’s building. I can actually see his window from the lobby on my floor where I wait for the elevators! I’ve never lived in an apartment tower before (I’m not the biggest fan of waiting for elevators) but it’s in a perfect location and so far has worked out great. My door has a keypad, which I adore, because it makes me feel like a spy punching in a secret code. 

DSC_0138It’s a relatively small apartment, but I still feel like I have lots of space to move around. I might need to invest in a couch so that I can have people over, but I’m also enjoying being able to practice yoga facing my big window. 

DSC_0129True to Stephanie form, I outfitted my space with as many pops of colour as I could muster. Luckily, the local dollar store chain, Daiso, is all too happy to oblige – they have lots of neons and rainbow colours for not a lot of money! The kitchen doesn’t have a lot of counter space, which I’m getting used to, but that being said, I think it actually has more than my first ever apartment! I have two gas burners, no oven, and a washing machine. I think I’ll be investing in a toaster oven soon. 

DSC_0137Here’s the view from the bed. On the far right is a big closet, and there’s another by the door. 

DSC_0131I was pretty relieved that I have a “Western-style” shower, one that’s closed off from the rest of the bathroom. In many Korean apartments it isn’t, so when you shower everything gets wet. I definitely had a hallelujah moment when I saw that mine had a real door and everything! The bathroom is right across the hall from the kitchen space. 

DSC_0146And last but not least, my beloved desk. I (crookedly) put up that pink wall decal (yes, from Daiso!) to serve as a kind of bulletin board, but I haven’t gotten around to putting anything up on it yet.

DSC_0007This is the view from my apartment if I lean precariously out the window to the right. Straight ahead of me on a cloudy day, the view is like this: 

DSC_0005Either way, not too shabby. The beach is just behind those buildings! 

The apartment is still a bit of a work in progress, but it’s growing on me the more I make it my own. I have all the things I need now to cook and clean, along with a few cute things that make me happy. I’ve heard that the apartments foreign teachers get can be kind of yucky, so I feel like I really lucked out. I like my little apartment! It’s going to be just perfect for my year in Korea.

Observations in Korea / 01

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I made it! I’m in Busan, living in a small apartment in a great part of town, about five minutes from the school I’m working at and only about a minute away from where my friend Dylan lives. Things really ended up working out perfectly – the timing, the job, and the location are all great. My coworkers are all Korean, and they’re all very sweet and friendly. My first few days were a bit rough in terms of the jet lag, but I think I’m slowly (sleep by sleep) getting back to my usual self with my usual energy levels. My apartment wasn’t quite as furnished as I had hoped (my kitchen contained the following: a few bowls, one wok, no cups, a spoon and a pair of chopsticks – the essentials), but after a few trips to the store, I’m getting settled in just fine. 

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On Sunday afternoon, following my first and only-so-far minor panic attack about moving halfway across the world all on my own for a whole year, I managed to wander my way to the beach, which calmed me and buoyed my spirits immediately. It’s a little chilly here at the moment, but still warm enough to sit in the sand for a while, enjoying the sunshine. Such a wonderful change from the cold Canadian weather. I’m sure there will be lots of things I’ll miss about Canada during this year away, but winter will not be one of them. The beach is a 15 minute walk from my apartment and is utterly gorgeous, so if you need me, I’ll be at the beach! 

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I recently began following an Instagram account of a girl who moved across the world from LA to Bahrain. She’s been posting her observations of what daily life is like in a different part of the world, and I thought it was such an inspired idea. I’m sure I’ll get used to so many of the small cultural differences and they’ll no longer seem interesting or remarkable, but for now I’m trying to record all the things that seem noteworthy about Korea – maybe you’ll think so too!

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  • A lot of the buildings here are done up with coloured lights and animations. We have that back home too, especially in Montreal, but it seems more prevalent here. The Gwangalli bridge is particularly awesome – it has all these neon lights moving around and although I was totally dazed from a long day of plane rides and time differences when I was driven across it, I still noticed how cool it was. 
  • Classical music is really common here. I’ve noticed that it plays in a lot of public places – on both my Korean Air flights en route here, they played classical music during boarding and de-planing, and I’ve heard it in the supermarket too. I even visited one convenience store whose door chime was Pachelbel’s canon! No complaints from me, it’s pretty soothing. 
  • Speaking of Korean Air, their flight attendants are dressed impeccably. Most flight attendants are, of course, but their uniforms are so crisp (they have these very architectural bows tied around their neck like the one shown here) and perfect hair. 
  • They sell shampoo and conditioner in Costco-size bottles with pumps just at the regular supermarket. I could not be more pleased about this. Also, when you buy hand soap, it’s packaged with a refill! Of course this isn’t true of every product, but it happens much more often here than back home from what I’ve seen so far. 
  • The tables at Korean diners have buckets sunk into the table with chopsticks and spoons inside. Very convenient. 
  • The major Korean alcohol, soju, is incredibly cheap. Like, $1 for a 375ml bottle.
  • In my building, there is one set of elevators for odd-numbered floors, and another set for even-numbered floors. At least, that’s what I was told, but I admit I haven’t experimented yet. 
  • Most apartments (from what I’ve seen), including mine, are unlocked by a code punched into a number pad, not a key. I love it.
  • There are sidewalk fruit vendors everywhere, selling mainly apples, strawberries and oranges for cheap.
  • A lot of the toilet paper here is lightly scented. 
  • I’ve seen a lot of people wearing face masks both while walking around and riding motorcycles. I’ve also noticed that people do spit more on the street and even inside. 
  • Korean potato chips taste the same as Canadian ones, except perhaps less salty. 
  • The majority of the cars I’ve seen driving around look very clean and brand new. That being said, I do live in a pretty expensive part of Busan. 
  • Their version of a dollar store is Daiso, which is a Japanese store. It’s full of brightly coloured, adorable things, and offers more than our dollar stores back home – I just bought a yoga mat and a cute little succulent plant in a vase for around $5 each. 
  • Taxis are very, very cheap.

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All in all, my first impressions of Korea are very positive. I live in a great part of town and I’m slowly discovering all the different things it has to offer, one step at a time! 

I’m Moving To Korea!

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I have some pretty exciting news to share today: I’m moving to Busan, Korea!

As I’ve begun to tell friends and family about this big move, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the decision and the details, and I’ll answer them Q-and-A style below.

What! That’s crazy. What will you be doing there?

I know, it’s pretty surreal. I’m going to be teaching English at a private language school to young Korean children.

When are you going? How long will you be there for? 

I’m flying out later this week. My contract is for 1 year, but I plan to go travelling around South East Asia for at least a few months afterwards!

Why Korea? Aren’t you worried about your Northern neighbours?

Korea has one of the best systems set up for foreign teachers to come and teach English. The pay is excellent, and the industry standard currently is to offer great benefits to foreign teachers, including health insurance, your airfare to Korea, and a furnished apartment. Also, my friend Dylan is currently teaching in Korea, approximately 5 minutes from where I will be teaching (!), so knowing someone there was a big part of my choice of where to go.

I’m actually not worried about North Korea at all. For the most part, the articles I read on the subject said something along the lines of this: “South Koreans are used to the shenanigans of the North, and they appear quite indifferent when it comes to anything relating to it. The only time you’ll hear about North Korea is when you talk to anyone from home.”

How did you get this awesome gig!?

I’m going to write a more in-depth post about the process of getting from point A, deciding to go, to point Z, actually arriving in Korea, so stay tuned for more details in the near future.

Updated: Here is my post on getting an ESL teaching job in Korea!

Why do you want to go halfway around the world for a whole year to teach English to children?

There are a lot of reasons.

  • I’m not ready to settle down and start building my life in one place just yet. I have the adventure bug, and this job seems like a great compromise.
  • I still want to travel and explore! While I’ll be working a regular job during this year away and I’ll have just 2 weeks of vacation (same as most entry-level jobs), the difference is I’ll be somewhere exotic and I can travel to awesome places on weekends like Tokyo or Shanghai!
  • I want to save up as much money as possible to fund the education and experiences I want to have over the next few years. It’s possible to realistically save $17,000 teaching in Korea, which means a lot more freedom for when I return to Canada.
  • I hope to gain a lot more skills. I’m going to use the time in Korea to learn how to teach and relate to groups of people (including adorable children!), get more leadership and educational experience, pursue other passions like photography and writing, and take steps towards launching a business.
  • I’m especially excited about this opportunity to immerse myself in a completely foreign country with its own language, customs and traditions I still know relatively little about. It’s a whole new world, and it’s going to be hilarious and inspiring and frustrating.
  • I absolutely don’t want to regret not doing this later.

Where exactly will you be living?

I’m going to be living about 10 minutes from Haeundae beach, which is the biggest beach in Korea, and pretty beautiful too.

Do you speak Korean?

No, but I’m learning. Surprisingly, knowing Korean is not a pre-requisite for being an ESL teacher in Korea, but I’ve learned how to say hello (annyeong-haseyo!) and thank you (kamsahamnida!) as well as a couple other phrases, and I’m learning how to read Hangul, the Korean alphabet.

Are you a trained teacher?

Equally surprising, being a teacher is not a prerequisite for being an ESL teacher in Korea either! They’re mainly interested in attracting native speakers of English, so the pre-requisites are to be from a country whose official language is English and to have earned an undergraduate degree in English – the language, not the subject. It’s also an asset if you have experience working with children, or as a tutor – I’ve done both, which helped during my interviews. But many of the schools provide their own curriculum and lesson plans, so teaching experience isn’t mandatory.

What are you most nervous about?

Being gone for a whole year! A year feels like a long time. I’m also nervous about the realities of teaching children, navigating a culture so different from my own, not speaking enough of the language, whether I’ll be able to eat vegetarian/vegan, and offending a Korean accidentally!

What are you most excited about?

So many things! The chance to live in a completely new culture. Spaland. Living ten minutes from the beach. Interacting with adorable kids every day. Cheap bibimbap. Being a relatively short trip away from Japan, China, Thailand and other beautiful exotic locales. Living on my own again. Getting to be a goofy teacher. Exploring all of the awesome things that Korea has to offer.

Will you be blogging about your adventures?

Of course! It’ll all be right here on the blog.

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Did I miss any of your questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below! I’m truly thrilled about this next great safe adventure in my life, thanks for following along.