MONTHS 11 AND 12: May 15, 2015 – July 14, 2015 (The One Year Mark)

365 days ago I stepped off a plane, tired (I don’t think I had slept in 30+ hours), excited, hopeful, nervous, and just wishing that I had made the right decision. At the time, a year seemed like a long time. I had never been away from home that long, and even though I had always wanted to travel and live abroad, it was still a pretty daunting thought knowing that when I landed, I was alone. I didn’t know anyone here, I didn’t speak the native language, and even though I had watched a ton of Youtube videos and read a ton of articles, I still felt like, for some reason, I was unprepared. I was obviously excited though, just ask any of the friends I hung out with before I left. I felt like I was making the right decision, but obviously there’s always going to be the “what ifs”.

Thankfully, my gut was right. Korea has been absolutely amazing, easily the best and most exciting year of my life so far. I’ve started to learn a new language (although progress has definitely slowed these past 6 months, unfortunately there’s not really any language exchange groups in Dongtan like there was in Jeonju), I’ve eaten (and tried) food that I had never heard of a year and a half ago (I was forced to try Silkworm Larva (번데기) a couple weeks ago – the texture is terrible and I pretty much immediately spit it out (I got some Soju out of it though, so I guess it wasn’t too bad) – many of which I’ve come to love (Dakgalbi (닭갈비), whenever I return to the America, I will miss you). I’ve met friends from all over the world – from Canada to Ireland to England to South Africa to Palestine and, of course, Korea. I might have grown up in what is now one of themost ethnically diverse city in the US, but I feel like I’ve certainly been exposed to a lot more variety of people here.

Some of my favorite memories from this past year have been:

  • Noraebang Nights – I definitely haven’t gone to Noraebangs nearly as much in these past 6 months as I did the first 6 (where I think there was a good 8-10 week streak where we went to them one or twice a week), and that’s kind of disappointing. I had laryngitis one time, I literally couldn’t talk. The second I was feeling better I was back in the noraebang. We were at one for a good 4 or 5 hours for a Korean’s friends birthday, and ordered so much food and drinks that we had enough free time to last us another 4 or 5 (although we all had work or school the next morning, and I don’t think our vocal cords would’ve liked us). It’s always fun to get some nice galbi, down some soju and somek, and then head off to a noraebang and sing your heart out (and probably even more so when you can’t actually sing. One of my favorite quotes since I’ve been here is definitely “Ryan, I love your rapping but please never sing again”. I know you all secretly like my renditions of “Your Heart Will Go On”. Don’t lie.
  • PC Bang Nights – The 2nd night I was in Korea, I was taken to a really sketchy PC Bang that smelled terrible and looked like a dungeon by one of my coworkers (who definitely became my first friend here and introduced me to the place where I would later meet many more friends). We joke about it now, because it was definitely one of the sketchiest ones we’ve been too. We were there until 5 or 6am (which, luckily more me, was incredibly easy to stay up ’till because I was still used to Texas time). There’s been more than one time when we’ve done that again. I don’t play League of Legends on my own anymore (I’m kind of over it), but it’s still fun to just go chill with people while playing on giant monitors and battle stations more powerful then my laptop.
  • Game Nights – I haven’t gone to many PC Bangs since I’ve moved to Dongtan, but every Tuesday a few friends and I get together, play video games, watch terrible 80s movies, and just hang out, have fun, and enjoy each others company. It’s always a nice way to get over long days at work.
  • Winning Story – In Jeonju, I would go to a study cafe 3 times a week (sometimes more); twice a week to help out with an English study group, and once a week to get help learning Korean. I desperately wish we had something like this in Dongtan, I miss it a ton. There was almost always someone there wiling to hang out or so something, and it’s where I met the vast majority of my friends in Jeonju. I miss it a lot, and I make sure to stop by anytime I happen to be in the area.
  • League of Legends’ World Finals – Seeing 40,000+ people gather in a stadium built for the Olympics just to watch one game (that was best of 5) was just awesome. The growth of esports in America over the past few years makes me happy, because it would be awesome to watch something of this size back home too.
  • Being woken up 3 or 4 times in one night by one of my Korean friend’s moms. I was staying at his house and had a small cold. She kept giving me bananas, medicine, tea, and blankets. I’ve just found this echoes the kind of hospitality I’ve found Korea to offer (maybe it was her version of service).
  • All nighters. Whether it’s been staying up with a friend to watch the first sunrise of the new year, or partying in Hongdae or Itaewon, these are always fun.
  • Experiencing Korean health care. $15 for a doctor visit (and that’s including the medication)? Yes please. Oh, and that’s not including what you save with insurance.
  • Korea’s transportation system. Korea’s internet. Really, just about anything to do with Korea’s infrastructure.
  • Not Korea’s websites. They’re awful. I don’t want to download 60 million and a half security programs just to order something or check my bank balance. Get with the times.
  • Korea’s geography. It’s beautiful.
  • Honestly, there’s too many other things to list. These are all things that popped into my head while writing this, but I know I’ll think of of other things that could’ve just as easily made the list down the road. It’s been an absolutely incredible year that I’ll always remember.

Oh, and this is what I’ve been up to these past 2 months:

Photography Ventures

Pride Parade

Shortly after I last posted, I bought a new camera. I was previously shooting with a Canon T1i, which I had been using since 2009. I bought a Sony A6000, which I’ve absolutely loved so far. As far as photography goes, I’ve taken pictures of Korea’s Pride Parade for an article for AsiaNewsWeekly that friend wrote and I’ve also started contributing pictures to an online magazine that’s just starting up. Who knows if these will lead to future gigs, but it’s still fun to get contribute to something.

Busan and Birthday Parties

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In June, a couple of my Jeonju friends took me to Busan (the 2nd largest city in Korea) for my birthday. It was a ton of fun. The weather wasn’t too great (it was a little foggy and looked like it was going to rain), but we still hit up Haeundae Beach, probably the most famous beach in Korea (you can see it get destroyed by a tsunami here). After the beach, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then accidentally ended up wandering into the World’s Largest Department store (we went there to go to Spa Land, or as CNN calls it “the world’s most outrageous spa“). After the spa, we decided to catch a 1:30am (or was it 2am?) showing of Jurassic World in 4D. Our seats moved, air was blown in our face, water was occasionally shot at us (although it was more like mist), and it was overall a pretty cool experience, although I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you would pay for multiple times. After the movie, we watched the sunrise at some other beach who’s name I can’t remember, then went our separate ways (they went back to Jeonju, I went back to Dongtan). On my actual birthday, I ate cake and galbi, drank soju, went to a noraebang (you better believe Ramenem got 100% on Lose Yourself) and then drank more soju when I wanted water. Not the worst way to spend a birthday!

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)

In early June, a wave of panic swept over South Korea as a disease called MERS made an appearance in the country. My city was one of the earliest hit (I think the first or second death happened here), and school were quickly shut down. Ended up getting an unexpected week and a half off, so that was nice. Unfortunately, it was kind of a day-by-day kind of thing (my school’s director would shoot us all text messages each night telling us if we had to go into work the next day), so I couldn’t really go anywhere that wasn’t super close. If I had known that I was going to get a week and a half off, I probably would’ve tried to fly back home for a really quick visit and see my sister graduate high school. Oh well, I’ll try to be there for college.

Shakespeare

In late May, I saw the Seoul Shakespeare company put on a play of “Titus Andronicus”. I’m not a huge Shakespeare guy, but I really enjoyed it. Definitely the most violent play of his I’ve seen. One of my friends did the lighting for it, so it was also pretty cool to see months and months of stressful work come into fruition.

4th of July

To celebrate the 4th of July, some of us went to Muuido Island. To get to the beach we stayed at (we rented huts!) , we needed to take a bus to the airport, a bus to get on a ferry, and then another bus after the ferry. It was definitely a fun time though. The interesting thing about the beach we were at is that the tide brings the water really, really far out (I’d say it was probably a good mile or so away), which makes it really muddy. Families come out and go hunting for little crabs, which are incredibly common and easy to find once the tides brings the water out.

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I definitely think my favorite thing about the island though was that parts of it look like the island from Jurassic Park – it had some ridiculously cool looking rock formations and cliffs.

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Once the sun set, we all had fun celebrating ‘Murica day by watching one of our friends’ fire dance and enjoying the bar we all contributed into making (which we named “Bar 39”).

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Mudfest

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While this technically didn’t happen my first year (missed the mark by a few days), it is one of the things I wanted to do while I was here, and it’s not my fault if it’s not a year-around thing.

This past Friday a bunch of us hopped aboard a private party bus we chartered and made way towards a town about an hour and a half-ish away called Boryeong. Any other time of the year, this isn’t really a place anyone pays attention to (as far as I can tell anyway), but for 2 short weeks thousands of people flock to it for an even called “Mudfest” (it supposedly attracts more international visitors than any other festival in Korea). What is Mudfest? Exactly what it sounds like – it’s a festival geared towards the benefits of mud, whatever those happen to be. For most people though, you go to have fun an get dirty. You can go down giant inflatable slides that are, of course, covered in mud. You can wrestle in mud and enjoy a number of numerous “competitive events” where the losers are dosed in mud by the winners (although by the time anyone is declared a loser, most people are covered in mud anyway). It was a ton of fun, and if I’m still here next year I will definitely be going back.

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Outside of the designated mud area, there’s an outdoor concert (a friend and I ended up one stage – we followed random people up there. We played a game, but didn’t really understand the rules. It didn’t seem like much of the Koreans playing did either), street food, and a pretty nice beach to enjoy. At night, the beach the festival is on pretty much turns into an even bigger party, and most people hit the bars or the beach.

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So What Now?

When I came to Korea, I was expecting to be here for 365 days. July 15th, 2014 – July 15th, 2015. My current contract is up on February 29th, 2016. I haven’t quite decided what I want to do after that. I have at least a few people here who are trying to convince me to stay another year or so, and a couple friends who have been here even longer. One of my best friends just moved here, and he’ll be here until July, and my cousin is also moving here soon, so it would be nice to stick around and experience this country with them too. It’s definitely a pretty easy life, so staying here for a while more is definitely an option (although I don’t think I want to be here forever). I’ve also been told that I can get a master’s degree for almost nothing here thanks to scholarships, so that’s something I wouldn’t mind looking into.

There’s obviously the option of going back to the US and figuring out something there, but it seems to be a pretty common theme that people go back home without any plan of action, and then end up back here sometime down the line.

I do know that if I decide to stick around here another year, I’ll probably look into another Elementary + Middle School. Preschool and Kindergarten is fun, but it definitely seems to more of a headache then that age group was, and at times it feels more like I’m working at a day care then a school. I love the little ones, but I also miss teaching older kids (which is funny, because they’re the ones I was worried about teaching when I first got here. Back in the US, I only had experience with K-5).

Another benefit of staying here a little longer is that I’d be able to travel the world a little more (or at the very least, Asia). I’m going to Hong Kong next month, and a round trip flight there is only about $300, which is even cheaper than it was to fly from Houston to Phoenix and vice-versa when I was in college. It’s definitely not the only country around here where something like that is an option. In the US, if I want to travel to another country, I’m pretty much picking between Canada or Mexico unless I want to spend some big bucks (although I definitely want to knock the cross-country road trip off my list sometime).

Months 9 and 10: March 15th, 2015 – May 14th, 2015

Last time I posted, I had just moved to Dongtan. I hadn’t really found a group of people to hang out with yet, but I was feeling optimistic (even though I was (and still am) really missing everyone down in Jeonju).

Thankfully, that’s changed. I’ve found a really awesome group of people here, and I’ve had a pretty awesome past 2 months. I’ve pulled my first Itaewon all-nighter, I’ve been to the DMZ, and I’ve even had one of my photographs displayed in a gallery for the first time (and I still managed to drop down to Jeonju one weekend).

It definitely feels good to have people to hang out with again. Every Tuesday some of us get together and watch movies (all ’bout that Miami Connection), Game of Thrones, or play video games (lots of Towerfall!). I definitely think I’ve found a great crew here, but I also feel like it’s fairly difficult to make Korean friends, something I’m really missing about Jeonju (it was so easy there!). Last week we even celebrated Cinco De Mayo together!

Itaewon was pretty fun, but it’s definitely not something that I could see myself doing every weekend. For those of you who aren’t in Korea and don’t know what Itaewon is, it’s one of (if not the biggest) places in Seoul for foreigners to hang out. It’s right next to the US military base, so it’s pretty busy. There’s lots of bars and restaurants there that are aimed towards western audiences. The most memorable place that I’ve been to there is a Texas themed bar. We weren’t there too long (they were really, really busy and service took awhile), but it had everything from a good ol’ “Come and take it” flag to Texas themed drinks.

The most enjoyable place in Itaewon that I’ve been to was a bar in a basement (which is pretty common here) that had live music. It was pretty busy (but from what I’ve seen, most places in Itaewon are), but the owner was really friendly and a pretty cool guy. The music wasn’t too bad either.

Now, like I said, we were there all night (the last bus to Dongtan leaves at around 11:30, so unless you pay for a Taxi you’re stuck there until 5 or 6 in the morning when buses start to run again), and at one point when everything started to quiet down, we ended up in a Taco Bell. It must be a pretty popular place for a makeshift hotel, because there was a ton of people crashing on the 2nd floor.

In April, I went to the DMZ (and technically got to cross into North Korea – don’t tell Kim Jung Un!). If you’re ever in Korea, I definitely recommend checking out the USO tour (book early!), it was fantastic. We got to walk down into a really deep tunnel that North Korea dug (and South Korea found out about), visit the northernmost train station in South Korea (that actually had a train that crossed into North Korea and headed towards Pyongyang as recently as a few years ago, before North Korean soldiers killed a South Korean hiker who accidentally crossed into their country), and then visited the Joint Security Area, which had a couple buildings built literally on top of the border. Half in North Korea, half in South Korea. They’re intended for meetings, and as long as you’re inside of them, you’re legally allowed to cross between the two countries. After the JSA, we were driven to the location of the Axe Murder Incident and the Bridge of No Return. It was a little freaky though knowing that you were definitely being watched (and listened to). It was also weird knowing that you could technically enter one of the least free countries on the planet.

Me next to a JSA soldier. I’m inside North Korea in this picture:
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I think the most fulfilling event that took place over the past 2 months was definitely having a photo of mine displayed in a gallery after being into photography since junior year of high school (7ish years ago). It was displayed with a bunch of other foreign photographers in an exhibit themed around foreign photographers views of Korea at the 2015 Photo and Imaging Show, one of the top 3 photography expositions/conventions in Asia. I met a lot of awesome photographers through that opportunity, and I can’t wait to shoot with them more in the future. At least one of them has had pictures displayed in National Geographic and other magazines and I’m pretty sure a few may have been shooting professionally, so needless to say it was insanely humbling to know that my work was displayed alongside people like that (our work even made it into a book along with all the other exhibitions at the show!) I also managed to meet one of the guys who’s videos I religiously watched before coming here (and it turns out he lives in the same area as me and posted the video I linked in my months 7-8 update), so that was pretty cool too.

My photo that was displayed:
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When I popped down to Jeonju a couple weeks ago, we saw Fast and Furious 7, stayed up ’till 4am playing League of Legends, and then I crashed at the place I used to live at. The next day, we were thinking of going to the Zoo at night, but it ended up raining pretty badly. Instead, my friends took me to a jimjilbang for the first time. For those of you who don’t know what it is, this video says it all:

I was a little apprehensive at first, but I actually really liked it. I was a little sick when I was down there (found out about a week later when I decided to go visit the doctor because I wasn’t getting any better that it was mild laryngitis), but it definitely cleared me up and made me feel better for at least a few hours. The hot tub and sauna more than hit the spot. I seriously wish we had these things in the US for the same price they are here.

The only other major thing that’s really happened is that I went to my 2nd live eSports event – the 2015 Spring Split Finals for League of Legends. These things are really fun to attend live, but it wasn’t nearly as cool as World’s was and, like World’s, the games themselves were fairly underwhelming. At least the team I was rooting for won, which is nice, even if the player I wanted to see play didn’t have a chance to actually play. Hopefully 3rd time’s a charm and I’ll actually get 5 games next time I decide to go to one of these things.

Here’s a video of the Spring Split Finals:

Depending on how much things I do in the next month, I might post something just for month 11. If not, the next post will be month 12 in June and my retrospective on this past year.

Months 7 and 8: January 15th, 2015 – March 14th, 2015

I think from now on I’ll do a blog post every 2 months, just because I’ve kind of gotten used to Korea so it’s a little harder to write about.

In my last post, I said I was temporarily living in a place called Suji. Well, I didn’t like Suji at all, it was incredibly boring and wasn’t really close to anything. I never did figure out how to get to Suwon from Suji, but Seoul was only about 30 minutes away, so I went there just about every weekend I was there. The last bus from Seoul to Suji is at 11:30 though, so I wasn’t really able to do anything night-lifey. There really wasn’t anything worth noting in Suji, it’s pretty much just massive apartment buildings, restaurants that close early, and old people (I didn’t even have any PC Bangs close by!). Definitely not a fun city/town/whatever Suji was to live in. I think I was living there maybe a whole 2 weeks (before I realized how close it was to Seoul) when I decided to hop down to Jeonju for a weekend.

Because of that, there really hasn’t been too many things going on. For Korean New Year (or 설날), I had a friend come up and spend the night for a couple days. We just hung out in Seoul during the day, and at night went back to Suji and watched movies because there wasn’t really anything else to do. Another friend came up the next weekend, we went to Seoul and visited Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was in one of Psy’s music videos:

It was pretty cool visiting a  place that’s 700 years old (even if most of it was destroyed/rebuilt over the years). There’s a ton of history regarding the place.

It took about 2 months, but I finally moved to Dongtan last weekend. I haven’t seen too much of it yet because I got here Sunday afternoon and then worked all week, but it’s definitely a significantly livelier city than Suji. I’m really happy with the location I’m in. I’m really close to a lot of restaurants, it seems like there’s quite a few places that stay open fairly late, and there’s at least 2 or 3 PC Bangs within a few minutes from my apartment. I found out last night that one of the major foreigner hangouts in the city is a bar that’s only a 4 minute walk away, so that will be pretty nice too. I’m hoping I can figure out where to go to make Korean friends too, because one of my favorite things about Jeonju was how I had a pretty decent mix of native Koreans and other expats in my social circle. I’m sure that will come naturally in time though.

Last night I went to the foreigner bar and met a couple of the people here. One of the first people I talked to is from the Galleria area in Houston, so talk about a small world. Another person apparently plays PC games with a bunch of other people every week (and they get together and watch Game of Thrones episodes when those are airing), so I might go over to his place and hang out with them sometime. Everyone seemed really friendly, it was definitely nice to be around other native English speakers after being in what felt like the middle of nowhere for 2 months.

Something pretty cool about Dongtan is that it’s an incredibly new city and apparently wasn’t here 20 years ago. Most cities look like a mess when viewed on a map, but Dongtan is literally just half a circle:

The big green spot between “Family Mart” and the red dot is called Central Park. I haven’t walked around it yet (planning on doing that tomorrow), but from what I can tell it’s one of the city’s 3 defining features – the others being “Metapolis”, which are the 3 giant buildings you can see from anywhere in the city (I think 2 of them might be apartment buildings and then 1 might be a giant mall, or vice versa. Or maybe they’re all part of a mall of apartments on the top floors, I’m not sure. I just know they’re supposed to be pretty important), and the giant Samsung factory that prompted the city to be build in the first place

Here’s a guy walking around Central Park (you can even see my apartment building at the very beginning of the video!):

And it’s really hard to find any decent pictures of Dongtan, but here’s an aerial view:

That’s about it for the past 2 months update. Next Saturday I’m planning on going to visit the DMZ (I was going to go a month ago, I guess the tour I’m going on is so popular that you need to register at least a month in advance), which, if you don’t know, is the Demilitarized Zone. On the tour I think we actually visit a negotiation building that is literally on the border – half of it is in South Korea, the other half is in North Korea, so that should be pretty neat.

It’s been about 2 months since I was last in Jeonju, so I’d like to head down there soon too. I’m hoping these next 2 months will be a lot busier than the past 2!

Months 5 and 6: November 15, 2014 – January 14th, 2015

These past two months have been full of ups and downs. In November, my students finally had their “Open Day”, where they had plays, songs, and essays to show off to the parents. It was pretty cool to see the culmination of two or three months of work finally come to fruition. It was also nice to know that I’ll never have to hear “Let it Go” or “Love is an Open Door” again unless I choose to. Here’s some of the videos of the kids performing:

November also meant that it was Thanksgiving in America. Obviously, Koreans don’t celebrate it (they do have a holiday to celebrate harvests, but it’s not in November). I celebrated it in two ways – the first being that some of my friends and I got together and ate chicken, drank wine, and watched stupid YouTube videos. The second being that I got together with a Korean friend at a restaurant and had some Korean food, which we called my “Korean Thanksgiving”. It was necessarily anything special because we go to Korean restaurants all the time, obviously, but I’ll count it as something!

In November, I also went to the “Jeonbuk Museum of Art” where we saw some paintings by Picasso and Monet (along with some other people I can remember right now). One of the employees tried to tell us that one of the paintings they had was painted by Van Gogh’s brother, but we’re not sure that’s true because we can’t find anything on the internet that suggests he was anything more than an art dealer. That’s another story though…

In December, Jeonju got it’s first snowfall of the year. You know, before coming to Korea, I read that it was insanely cold during the winter, but it’s been anything but that. I think it’s dipped into the 20s a few times during the day and in the 10s a few times at night, but it’s far from unbearable, and for the most part it’s been in the 30s. The few times it’s snowed, it’s mostly melted by the following day. I don’t know if it’s just been a hot winter or people have been exaggerating a bit, but it really isn’t that much colder than it is in Houston. January and February are supposed to be the coldest months of the year, but it seems like it’s already getting warmer, so we’ll see.

Unfortunately, in the beginning of December I also received word that it would be my last month at the school I was working at. They were having some money issues and couldn’t afford to keep me on. Needless to say, I was more than a little bummed. I really wanted to stay in Jeonju, because I feel like I have quite a few friends there. For the next week or two, I looked for jobs in that area and had a few people looking for jobs for me too, but didn’t have any luck, so I expanded my search to “wherever-I-can-find-a-job-as-long-as-its-near-a-city”. I had a few job interviews, and one was looking pretty good. It was a school that was almost right in the middle of school, it had 600 students and 15 foreign teachers (so it was really stable), and I would be able to start in January. Well, January turned into February, and February turned into March. I didn’t really want to wait around for 2 months before starting a new job, so I started the search over again. With a week to go before my old job was over, I finally found a new one who accepted me instantly and told me I could start ASAP.

On January 9th, I packed up my stuff and left Jeonju. I’m now (temporarily) living in some town right outside of Suwon called “Suji” because the teacher I replaced is pregnant, I guess she’s pretty far along and her doctor doesn’t want her flying home yet, so I’m waiting until she has the baby before I can move into her apartment. The area I’ll be living in (Dongtan) sounds pretty cool, I’ve found quite a few hangout spots just by searching Google, but I can find absolutely nothing about Suji other than a blog post written 10 years ago that says if you live in Suji, you should probably just go to Suwon if you want to meet people, so I might go do that this weekend.

My new school isn’t too bad. It’s bigger than my old one, but I’m not too sure about the students themselves yet. In Jeonju, I was teaching Elementary and Middle School students. In Dongtan (where the new school is located), I’m teaching Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary students. It feels like it’s going to be easier and less work than my school in Jeonju was (especially with stuff like grading), but it also feels like it’s going to be significantly less fulfilling because it feels like I’m just babysitting the Preschool students, not teaching them. It still seems like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Then again, I’m just basing that on my first two days of work, we’ll see how I feel in 6 months.

The students are funny though, and really seem to like me so far. On Monday (my first day), one little girl kept backing away from me whenever I would get near her and almost cry. On Tuesday, she kept trying to hang onto my legs.

Month 4: October 15, 2014-November 14th, 2014

I’ve officially been in Korea for 4 months now, which means my contract is 33.3% complete. Just as I’ve said in past months, it still doesn’t feel like I’ve been here that long. There’s still a lot I want to do here (like visiting the DMZ), and the clock is ticking (although there’s always the option to potentially renew my contract when the whole thing is said and done).

This past month felt like the busiest one since the 1st month I was here. Some highlights have been:

  • Checking out another Buddhist temple that’s right outside of Jeonju. I’m not sure if there was an event going on or if it was a holiday, but they had a lot of scrolls hanging around. It definitely looked pretty cool.
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  • Finding a place in Jeonju that serves something pretty close to American style pancakes, so that’s pretty cool.
  • Attending the League of Legends 2014 World Finals. Watching two of the best teams (this event wasn’t an entire tournament, it was just one team vs one team – same thing you see in something like the Super Bowl) in the world duke it out and compete for $1,000,000 in front of 40,000 people in a stadium that was build for the 2002 World Cup was just an insane experience. For those of you who don’t know what League of Legends is, it’s currently the most popular video game in the world. There’s around 70 million active accounts, and it continues to grow year after year. This was the first year that the finals were held in Korea, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

    In South Korea, esports are a national past time, they’re huge here. Some of my students treat people like BoxeR and Faker like students in America might treat Lebron James or [insert other big sports name here].  Korean teams are considered to be the best of best, some actually have personal trainers, dieticians, and coaches that help them perform at the absolute top level. This year, Korea took home the gold for the second year in the row, with the Korean Team “Samsung White” beating the Chinese Team “Star Horn Royal Club”. Attending This was something I was wanting to do since the location was announced, and I’m more than happy that the other teacher I went with and I were able to get tickets (especially since first round tickets sold out in under 5 minutes).

    I don’t really think words can really describe just how massive this event was, so I’ll just link the video for the opening ceremony:

    Esports have grown in the west over the past couple years, I definitely hope they continue to grow because I wouldn’t mind attending events like this more often.

  • Attended two Korean Basketball League games and saw Jeonju’s team, “KCC Egis” play (they won the first game we saw, lost the second). I don’t think I’ve ever been to an NBA game, but tickets for the Korean equivalent as ridiculously cheap, some friends and I paid something like 7000 won for decent tickets, which is roughly $7. Court side tickets are only 30000 won, or $30. I’m pretty sure those would run you a couple hundred (maybe even a couple thousand depending on the team) back in the US. I’m going to try to go to these more often, because they’re pretty fun to watch.
  • Celebrated Halloween with my students by watching episodes of Scooby Doo, Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and playing games. A few of my students have been calling me “Kangaroo Teacher”. I’m not really sure why.

    kangarooteacher

  • Celebrated a friends birthday with 13 other people by going to a noraebang.. The owners kept giving us more service (more time added on the clock) because we kept ordering food and drinks. We got there around 11:30pm and left around 3:30am. By the time we left, we had enough free time to last until something like 7am. If it was the weekend we probably would have stayed (although I don’t know how well our voices would have been after 8+ hours of straight singing), but it was a weekday and some of us had to teach/go to classes (most of my friends here are university students).
  • One of my friends here wanted me to teach them how to take pictures, so we took a train one Saturday and headed to a (very, very) tiny town called Gokseong where we checked out the train village. We then took pictures of stuff there. It was fun.
  • One of the other teachers I was working with moved to another city, so there was some shifting of classes going on. I’m now teaching the classes he was teaching and another teacher is teaching the classes I was teaching. The younger students are a little more rambunctious than the other younger students I was teaching, but I think the middle school ones are a lot more fun (they definitely seem to be more on top of things). The other middle school students weren’t bad, but they were pretty quiet. This group does their work, but they’re also a lot more inquisitive and talkative.

    We’re also less than a week away from our plays and presentations (where the parents will come and watch the younger students perform scenes and songs from Frozen and Sound of Music and listen to speeches that the middle school students wrote). All of us teachers are looking forward to this, because it means we’ll never have to hear a song from Frozen or Sound of Music if we choose not to. The students have been practicing and memorizing lines for 2 or 3 months now, so it’s definitely been a long time coming. There’s still a few issues we need to work out, but we’ve had the students practicing on the stage once a week for the past two weeks, and this week the students were a lot better than they were two weeks ago. Progress is progress.

  • It’s getting to be fairly cold here. I actually woke up a few days ago with my phone’s weather app telling me that it had snowed some point overnight. If it’s accurate, it definitely didn’t snow enough to stick. I also realized that I’m probably going to need at least 1 heavy winter jacket, so I might go look around and see what I can find tomorrow. I ended up buying a scarf today, because someone told me I should have one.
  • Finally, here’s some pictures I took this month:
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Month 3: September 15, 2014-October 14th, 2014

Just like that, 3 months have gone by I was last in the US. It definitely doesn’t feel like I’ve been here 3 months, but in a weird way it also feels like I’ve been here a lot longer (largely due to the fact that looking back at everything I’ve done so far, it really doesn’t seem like I would have been able to get all of that accomplished in a year, much less 90ish days!). I’ve been incredibly busy while I’ve been here, and this month was no different.

Some of the highlights from this month have been:

  • Finally figuring out how to transfer money back to the US! Being able to continue paying off student loans, my car, and other bills seems kind of important, and I should probably continue to do so.

    It seems needlessly complicated, right now I’m using 3 banks. Bank A is my bank at home, Bank B is the bank I get my money sent to here, and Bank C is the middle man. I need to transfer money from my account at Bank B to an account at Bank C, who then automatically transfers it to Bank A. It’s pretty simple once it’s set up, but this was the easiest way I could find and I feel like there should be an even simpler way to transfer money internationally in the 21st century. Someone should get on that and give me a few million when you hit it big.

  • Lots of late nights. If there’s one thing that’s been pretty consistent since I’ve been here, it’s been late nights. Whether it’s because of parties, on-a-whim-noraebang sessions, hanging out with friends, or being an adult with important adult things to do like grading papers, there’s plenty of reasons for me to stay up late here. As someone who is much, much more of a night owl than a morning person, I’m really enjoying it. Thankfully I work from 2:30pm-8:30pm, so the late hours fit my schedule anyway.
  • Photography! I definitely think I’ve taken more (good) pictures this month than I have the previous 2. I’ve been trying to make it a habit to go somewhere at least once a week for an hour or two and just shoot some street photography, it’s been pretty fun so far. I also finally get around to buying a tripod, so maybe you’ll be seeing some timelapse stuff (or anything that requires a slower shutter speed) soon.

    I’ve been attempting to update My Photography Site at least once a week. Check it out if you haven’t already, let me know what you think!

    Oh, and here’s a picture I took of Jeonju, the city that I’m living in:

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  • Experiencing a Korean doctor’s office for the first time. Talk about efficient. Last week I came down with laryngitis, and another teacher ran me over to a doctor near our school. The place was packed, but we were in and out in under 20 minutes. They don’t mess around with customer service here, I don’t think I’ve really had to wait for anything yet (outside of my ARC, which took forever to get). It was also super cheap, I didn’t pay anything for the visit itself, and only paid something like $5 for the prescription.

    Oh, and the way they do prescriptions here is pretty neat too. Instead of giving you a bottle, directions, and saying good luck, they individually wrap each “serving”. If you’re supposed to take 3 pills 3 times a day for 3 days, the pills will come bubble wrapped in 27 different sections. It’s pretty conveniant, even if directions don’t really take all that long to read (and it’s even more convenient considering I definitely wouldn’t have understood the Korean).

  • Packages! I got my first care package, nothing much to say other than Korean Cheetos are terrible and American ones were a welcome sight! Beef Jerkey was also a plus, considering how expensive it is here.

    I also ordered a package from Amazon, just to see how much it would cost for me to ship an Amazon package here. It wasn’t too bad, I think it cost around $15. It even got here a week earlier than it was supposed to. Ordered some headphones and a Texas flag to hang in my apartment.

  • Naejangsan National Park. Last week, some friends and I went and checked out a National Park here. It’s supposed to be the best place to see Autumn Leaves, but unfortunately we were a bit too early for that. We might go back in a few weeks and check it out again. Even if we didn’t see a bunch of orange, red, and yellow leaves, it was still breathtakingly beautiful, and definitely worth the trip. There was some pretty great views, like this one (we hiked up the mountain from that lake!):

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    Here’s the view from the lake (you can see the point where I took the above picture on the peak of the mountain):

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  • The weather. It’s felt great here the past few weeks, definitely cooling down pretty fast. I think it’s dipped down into the high 40s/low 50s at night, and the average temperature has been in the 70s during the day. I’m pretty sure it’ll be close to freezing in a month or so, so I should probably enjoy it while it lasts. I’m hoping I can get around to going to somewhere where there’s snow when it gets cold enough, because I’d love to take some winter photography. Snow isn’t exactly common in Texas…
  • Frozen (and Sound of Music). In November, our students are going to be putting on a play to show off what they know. Our youngest students are doing the Three Billy Goats and the Gingerbread Man, and our 3rd-5th grade equivalents are doing Sound of Music and Frozen. It’s been a headache getting them to memorize their lines, but it’s definitely been interesting. I do have to say that by the time I’m done with this, I don’t think I would complain if I never had to hear “Let it Go” ever again (outside of a noraebang, of course).
  • K-Pop. I saw these artists live this month (and a few others who’s names I didn’t catch), mostly on a whim. I even saw Ailee twice, she was performing at a University Festival one week, and then a big city-wide festival (I think it was a big festival anyway, I saw a lot of ads for it) the next week. Went to both, didn’t even have to pay anything.

What am I looking forward to in the coming months?

League of Legends World Championship 2014.  For those of you who haven’t heard of League of Legends, it’s the number one game in the world right now. Something like 70 million people have registered accounts, simply put: it’s pretty big. For the past month, the world championship tournament has been going on, and it’s going to finish here in Korea. On October 19th, I’m heading up to Seoul for the day with another teacher to watch the Championship game. I’ve been paying attention to League since season 1 (it’s currently in it’s 4th season), so I’m pretty excited to be able to attend. I’m also really glad we managed to get tickets. It’s being played in a World Cup stadium, so there’s a ton of seats (I think there’s somewhere around 60,000, if not more), and first round tickets still managed to sell out in under 5 minutes. Should be pretty fun.

Winter! Everyone tells me that it gets incredibly cold here and to be honest, I’m not completely sure if I even have the right clothes to get me through an incredibly cold winter (thanks Texas!), but I can always pick up some more coats or something if I decide I’m too cold. I’m just looking forward to the possibility of snow (even though I’ve been told that snow is kind of rare in Jeonju) because it’s been too long since I’ve actually experienced a legitimate “winter”.

Continuing to learn 한국. I still have a long way to go before I’m even anywhere near fluent, but I’m seeing myself improve every month, so that’s pretty cool. When I got here, I didn’t even know how to say “My name is”. “Hello” was about the extent of my Korean. Now I can introduce myself, order food (depending on what the food is, if it’s something complicated I still need help), ask if a store has something (I might need to look up the Korean word for whatever it is I’m looking for though), tell a taxi to take me somewhere, and a few other random phrases. I’m currently trying to get one of the two number systems down, which shouldn’t take too long.

Month 2: August 15th, 2014-September 14th, 2014

On one hand, I feel like I’ve been out of the US for a lot longer than 2 months. When I look back on everything I’ve done since I got here, it seems like I would have needed a lot more than just 60ish days to do it all. On the other hand, it still feels like I just left the US yesterday. There’s still a lot of things I’m getting used to, things I’m learning, and things I’m figuring out how to do. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing though, because it makes every day feel like an adventure.

Just like in Month 1, I feel like I was pretty active in Month 2. I did something every weekend (my Saturday’s usually consist of me waking up, going to Winning Story (the coffee shop I mentioned in my Month 1 write up) for a Korean study group, then hanging out there until a bunch of us decide on what we want to do. We’ve gone bowling, gone to the movies, gone bar hopping, we usually grab lunch or dinner (or both), we’ve gone to a ton of noraebangs (Karaoke Rooms), and we’ve even just hang out in a pretty sweet park here until late in the night.

How was Month 2 different than Month 1?

For me, Month 2 really felt like the month where, while I’m still constantly meeting new people, I’ve really found my core group of friends for the next year or so. Last month, it felt like I was getting to meet people every day, and it felt a little overwhelming (even now, I’m still not completely sure what certain people’s names are and I might see them a couple times a week. Talk about awkward). I don’t think I met as many people this month as I did last month, but I definitely feel like I’ve gotten closer to a certain group. Last month, while I did a ton of stuff, I felt like I was kind of just tagging along and I wasn’t completely sure if the people I hang out with actually wanted me to be around them or not. I was pretty quiet, because I wasn’t completely sure what their personalities were like and how they reacted to certain things. This month, I felt like I was hanging out with them because they actually wanted me to be around them and really let my personality show a bit (especially the sarcasm!). I even have a nickname now, Ramenem. Whenever we go out for lunch, I usually have ramen, and when we go to Noraebangs, I always sing Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (I did “Rap God” once, that was incredibly difficult), so yeah – that’s that.

Last month, I mentioned that it felt a little weird without having a working smart phone (technically I had a working one, but I would have had to use international roaming for everything, and that gets incredibly pricey extremely fast). About 2 weeks ago I finally got a smart phone here, and I definitely think it’s helped socially. Instead of having to pull out a phone that felt like it was from the stone age, flip through menus while using buttons that don’t do what they should be doing, and constantly messing up text messages because I pressed a wrong button (seriously, whoever designed the UI for that phone should probably just be fired), I can get back to the 21st century. In the large scheme of things, having a smart phone is a relatively minor thing, but I didn’t realize how much I would miss having one until I didn’t have one. I think by far the most useful thing I’ve used it for is identifying Korean songs while I’m in a store/walking down the street/at a restaurant/at a ____. I’ve definitely discovered a lot of cool artists in the past 2 weeks. Oh, and the bus app is incredibly nice too, it’s super accurate. If I need to catch a bus for something, I just pull it up and it will show you where each bus currently is.

Muju Ski Resort

Last weekend was a major holiday here in Korea, Chuseok. It’s pretty much the Korean version of Thanksgiving. During Chuseok, most Koreans get of the cities and go back to their homes or just go on Vacation. I went with some of my friends to a Ski Resort about an hour away from the city we’re living in. It was a pretty cool place, even if we didn’t see too much of it (we were only there a night). We had dinner, hung out, and went to a noraebang before eventually going to sleep, and then in the morning we all woke up, had breakfast, and went up a gondola to see an awesome view of the surrounding area. If you want to see some pictures, there’s a bunch in the album on Facebook.

Other stuff that I wanted to mention that didn’t really fit in any of the categories above.

I guess word’s gotten out that I’m into photography, because I’ve been asked by a couple people to help them learn how to take better pictures (contrary to popular belief, the price of the camera has very little to do with how good the pictures you take are – the best camera is the one you have) and a few weeks ago I even took pictures of a Guitar study group’s performance. I’m actually considering buying another camera, the Sony DSC-RX100, just so I can have a nice camera that has manual settings without having to lug around an SLR and 2 lenses. This might happen a few months down the road though, maybe a Christmas present to myself. I have to say though, I don’t know if I’m into photography enough to buy one of the selfie sticks that I’ve seen a lot of Koreans carrying around. Maybe someday.

I tried some Korean drinks that aren’t soju this month – makgeolli and moju (couldn’t find a wikipedia article on moju, so you’re going to have to deal with the Korean tourism site’s small little excerpt). You can get Makgeolli in a bunch of different flavors, I’ve had normal, black bean, kiwi, banana, and honey. Normal and black bean Makgeolli tastes pretty terrible, I’m not a fan of them at all. Kiwi, Banana, and Honey were all really good though, they taste like smoothies. I could see them being pretty successful in Mexican restaurants, they kind of reminded me of margarita’s (only the alcohol isn’t nearly as strong). Moju tasted fantastic. It’s alcohol content is incredibly low (I think somewhere around 1-2%), and it felt like I was drinking Christmas. It tasted like cinnamon and milk. Would definitely recommend, but I’m not sure if you can get it in the US because it’s hard enough to find here.

I bought a bike a few weeks ago. It makes getting around this part of town even easier, but you also need to pay a lot of attention because people here are absolutely terrible drivers (especially the Taxi drivers). Depending on the time of day, riding around on it can be a little stressful.

Ryan the Teacher

Work’s been pretty great so far, I really haven’t had any complaints yet. The kids are fantastic – I don’t really think I have any bad ones, there’s just a few that have trouble sitting still. I think that’s to be expected though, they’re kids. They want to be up and moving around.

In November, they’ll all be performing different skits for their parents. Our youngest kids are going to be doing The Three Billy Goats and the Gingerbread Man, the kids who are 10-ish are going to be doing Frozen (I feel like by the time this is all said and done, “Let it Go” is going to trigger nightmares for me), and the oldest kids are presenting papers that they’re going to write. Pretty excited to see how it all turns out when everything is said and done.

The Future

For the months ahead, I’m really hoping I to continue improving my Korean. I’ve gotten better since I’ve arrived (especially reading it, even if I don’t necessarily comprehend what I’m reading), but I still have a very, very long way to go before I’m even anywhere near being close to fluent. I’m at the point where I can get Taxi drivers to take me to the general area of where I’d like to go, I can order food (although that can still be a bit hit and miss. I ordered coffee yesterday and the lady knew what I wanted, but then she asked me something else afterwards and I had no clue what she was trying to tell me. I got the coffee I wanted, so I guess everything worked out in the end), and I can locate a noraebang. There’s even been a couple times where my friends here were talking to each other in Korean and I was somewhat able to get the gist of what they were saying based on keywords and occasional brand name/English word. Learning a language definitely isn’t something someone can do in 2 months so, I know that my Korean will only get better in time as long as I try to use it as much as possible.

Aside from Korean, my goals and ambitions here are pretty the same as last month. I want to keep getting closer to people, keep getting to know them, and keep having fun.

In October, I’ll be going to Seoul for a day or two to watch the League of Legends Season 4 World Championship at Sangnam Stadium in Seoul with 45000 (that’s forty five thousand, not forty five hundred) other people. I’ve been playing League since Season 1, so I’m more than looking forward to it. Not to mention it gives me an excuse to get up to Seoul and see one of the largest cities in the world when it isn’t pitch dark and the middle of the night.


Finally, I know that last month I said that I may make a video tour of my neighborhood, but I haven’t really gotten around to that yet. I will eventually, but for now I’ll just suggest some neat Korean songs I’ve heard while I’ve been here. I really want to find some good Korean rock groups (I want to find the Korean equivalent of the Foo Fighters), but I haven’t really been too successful yet. I’ll try to throw in some variety and not just have a bunch of K-Pop videos. I have a pretty big playlist on YouTube for Korean music right now, so if you want a little bit more, just ask. I’m not going to mention everything.

Crayon Pop – Bar Bar Bar
It’s like “Don’t Stop Believin'” in the US. So far I’ve yet to meet a Korean that doesn’t know what it is and most of the foreigners here know what it is too. It’s the perfect noraebang song. Koreans can sing it, Foreigners can sing it (some of the Korean parts are pretty easy, so we can sing along to some of those parts too). It’s also incredibly catchy, so I’m warning you ahead of time.

Swings – Victorious 2
Pretty good Korean rapper.

Akdong Musician (AKMU) – 200%
AKMU kind of sounds like folk music to me, I’ve had them on repeat all week. I actually almost bought their CD yesterday, and that’s saying something because I can remember the last time I bought a CD. According to Wikipedia, the guy is 18 and the girl is only 15, so props to them for being awesome.

B1A4 – Solo Day
They rip off Super Smash Bros. at the beginning of their song, it’s catchy, it has aliens invading. Just really fun (and catchy).

DJ Hanmin – Show Me Your BBA SAE
I’m not the biggest fan of club music, but this song isn’t terrible.

HIGH4, IU – Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms
Catchy Song, IU has a really nice voice.

W&JAS – Star Chaser
Found this while browsing youtube one day. Not sure if it’s from a movie or an anime, but I really like the art.

San E, Raina – A Midsummer Night’s Sweetness (Acoustic)
There’s a non-acoustic version of this, but I like the acoustic version a little bit more.

FX – Red Light
This is pretty popular here right now, I’ve heard it quite a bit just walking around.

Kisum – Like It
Pretty good female rapper. I can’t find many other songs by her though, so she might be new.

And finally…

Girls Generation – I’ve Got a Boy
From what I’ve been told, Girls Generation is pretty much the most popular group in Korea right now, I figured I should mention them too. They’re a guilty pleasure of mine, a bunch of people and I used to sing their songs in vent while playing World of Warcraft. I know you’re jealous, right?