several thousand words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are several:

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Because food is the most important, here is a picture of the not-quite-a-Chimichanga I ate at a nearby Mexican place. I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was to find it.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

And the chips. And the sauceless salsa. It was still delicious.

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We made plant books in science class a few weeks ago. They pressed flowers and leaves and wrote about stems and systems. My favorite is the magnifying glass. Such creativity!

Christmas

Christmas has come to my house! This is a little light-box thing I got from a place called Butter. They have cheap home stuff like towels and candles and decorations, and they finally put out their holiday stuff. I was lucky to get out of there with only this.

Fabrics

I’m getting addicted to flowers and fabric. Everyone in my school and friends circle knows it now. I’ve become the Floral Mania. 

Rainbow Socks

Finally, the socks I made. First time I’ve tried socks in several years. They actually fit! 

ottermei.

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autumn in Korea; biking by Paldang Dam

A walk in the park...

The beautiful park near the dam; definitely the best picture, which is probably why I put it on the homepage…

I realize my last couple of posts make it seem like I’m slipping into a melancholy and grey-tinted depression…and that’s not at all true. Sure, life is murky and strange these days (part of adjusting), but I’m not dour and weepy and quite as poetically philosophical as I sound.

On the contrary, when I have fun, I really have fun. Fall here is incredible. Coming from Texas, whose version of fall tends to be, “Hey, it’s November! Time to bring the temps all the way down to 80 and kill the trees! Whoooo!” having any kind of transition to winter is a treat. I never knew what fall was. Here, I call it Autumn, because holy pancakes, Batman, the colors and weather are sublime.

I feel like Anne of Green Gables, with the shining waters, warm reds of Octobers, and now the promise of a chilly, mystical November. Perfect for my writing and tea-drinking desires.

PaldangDam2

The dam itself. Dam.

In honor of the season, my friend and I went biking by the Paldang Dam, about an hour outside of Seoul. You can rent bikes there cheap; 10,000won ($10) for the day. We got the cute ones with baskets, and trundled off. Now, my friend is a marathoner, so she probably considered our five hour outing a light jaunt. My sedentary thighs were not so happy, but I muscled (ha) through and had a grand old time. The leaves were just beginning to turn, and the mountains were a beautiful ombre of every tree color imaginable.

Fallcolors

Lotus2

I’d never seen lotus in its natural environment. Those strange roots they serve at school come from these? Incredible.

Restaurant

It’s a big touristy spot, so there was a really nice restaurant about halfway down with bibimbap and really incredible pajeon. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the name of the place was. I was too hungry to care, so I had some tunnel-vision going. Food.

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The off-roading; where we lugged our bikes up a very steep hill. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

 

We also had a bit of an off-road adventure to get to a nearby park. The bike path doesn’t go to it, as far as we know, so we lugged our bikes up and down forest trails, slipping and sliding and being laughed at by the men behind us. Hey, you guys arrived twenty minutes after we did. Take that.

It was so worth it though. The park was quiet, lush, and right on a kind of peninsula into the dam area. It looked more like a lake, really, and with the mountains and lotus leaves, you could believe you were in the middle of nowhere. Never mind the ahjumma’s next to you dancing to their trot music.

 

PeacefulRiver2

We stopped for coffee and to rest a little at the park; I got mine iced, which flummoxed the vendor, but it was warm in the sun. And I really, really wanted a picture of the man selling chestnuts. He had the most incredible beard I’ve seen here. But in beard-language, it could have meant “nice old grandfather” or “seriously creepy.” I didn’t want to take the chance.

It was a nice way to spend Halloween, at any rate, since Korea doesn’t do much for the holiday. And as it’s beginning to be really cold here, it was the perfect opportunity.

ReadyforKimchi

Cabbages getting ready for kimchi.

Floof

The floof. That’s what I named it.

PaldangDam

Tis me. I’m very happy.

otter.

a little update; a list

Grey Days

Grey days

I’m not settled. And that’s okay. I feel bad and out of sorts and scattered all over the place, but I’m giving myself grace to take longer than two months to settle into a new life, new job, new country.

What’s going on with me, people ask. How’s life in Korea? I say inane, good-sounding things because the honest answer is weird.

“I don’t know.”

I don’t know how life is here. I haven’t lived much of it yet. All I’ve done is get a little used to my new job, visited a few places, gotten better at reading Korean, been terribly sick several times, discover that kids can be completely irritating…

Most of my comments about life here are complaints, which I refuse to entertain or share. That’s why I don’t write much. I have a lot of worries and complaints, and if I share that negativity it gains force.

So, a list of what is good;

  • School lunches; seriously, having one really good, healthy meal made for me every day is wonderful. I’m not cooking much and eating out is hard alone, but at least I get one good meal a day.
  • All my internet and phone set up; for the first month, it was hard to feel really a part of life here. When I lived in Taiwan, I didn’t have a smart phone, so I walked around blind. But when I’m out here, I can check bus lines and information and it’s amazing.
  • Walking places; this one is kind of a mixed blessing. I don’t like having to walk when I just need eggs or milk or something, but it’s nice to walk around and not feel unsafe, and it forces me to get exercise. A bonus.
  • English speaking co-workers; had I gone the traditional route and ended up in a Korean public school, I would have most likely been the only foreigner, and who knows how well I could have communicated with my peers. At my school, I’m one of many foreigners, and even the Korean teachers speak really good English, so I can communicate easily and get close to them. Plus, they hold barbecues for us at school. Meat win.
  • My American friend; she’s the one who introduced me to the job, and she lives in my building. She also occasionally invites me to do things. Often enough I feel like I have a life, rarely enough that my introvert self isn’t overwhelmed.

I heard somewhere that when you don’t know what to write, write a list. As I’m so fond of them, I thought it was a good idea.

Hopefully I’ll start writing again. It’s cathartic, but difficult to know what to share and what not to.

otter.

 

 

I’m in Korea…

…at last. Actually I’ve been here over two weeks. But I’ve been so busy and so without internet that I haven’t had a moment to write. 

Where to begin? Dragonflies are everywhere, darting between pedestrians, over the river near my apartment, past the cyclists. The humidity shakes the air and makes it feel like the earth is sweating. I close my eyes and I can hear my students’ voices; after only a week their personalities are ingrained in my head. 

The walk to my school is variegated, like a patchwork quilt of different sights; a church with nuns in full habit, a Burger King/gas station, a seafood store with live fish in tanks, a construction site, gardens in the space between the sidewalk and fences…and my friend tells me that the trees I see are cherry trees. Spring is going to be something else.

For the second time in my life, I have moved around the world and not felt it. The hardest part is always the trip over. Asia itself doesn’t faze me. I was thrown in the deep end here, having only a day before starting work full time. Jump and swim. Now the walks to school, the stores, and stations seem familiar. I’m blessed to have a very good sense of direction. Now that I’m used to how my area looks, I can go to a place once and go again no problem. 

There is so much to say now, it’ll take weeks to tell it all. At least I won’t run out of material for a while.


The river near my apartment. It’s about a quarter mile walk. The water is so shallow you can see the backs of the fish swimming. 

  
  

On the way to my apartment. Paris Baguette of course. It’s as common as Starbucks, and contrary to the sign on the door, does not open at seven. 

Until next time,

otter. 
 

Taiwan–looking back, again

taiwanstreet

Typical Taiwanese street. How I miss you, Family Mart.

~TB to a year ago when I was remembering a year ago…~ This is so important now that I have three weeks until I move.

It’s been nearly a year since I moved back home from Taiwan. CRAZY. Most of the time I forget I was ever there, and when I try to dredge up the memories, they have some dream-like quality to them.

It’s insane to imagine that the me that’s sitting here in my hoodie and gym shorts was once running all over Taiwan with no guides, using the Metro like a pro, buying fruit milk from market vendors and biking with mountains behind me. Cuh-razy.

I miss that girl. I do. She was adventurous and spoke Chinese with ten year olds. She had to make big life decisions and work a real job. She was pretty cool. And then she got home and re-discovered Netflix and junk food and sitting at home all day. For shame.

I need the kick in the pants that my Taiwan memories give me. I need to close my eyes and smell the chocolate mocha drinks, feel the humidity and sweat, feel the rough spongy turf the kids played on, see my co-workers beckoning me, laughing at obscure Chinese jokes, and feel the burn in my legs after a lightning fast late night trip to 7-11 to get my favorite spicy chips and passion fruit juice.

It was probably the best year of my life so far, and I miss it like crazy. Sure, there were some bad times, but man was it ever awesome.

So what’s the point of all this reminiscing, you ask? Aside from sparking my memory troves, recalling who I was and what I did a year ago are really helpful. I get kind of freaked out by my future these days, what with it being all impending…only a year away…(breathe in, breathe out)…

In Taiwan, I was a fully functioning independent adult who made hard choices and survived through some tough stuff. I lived. I thrived. I learned a lot. I can do it again.

I can travel and make new friends and fit into a totally different kind of life. And in Korea, I’ll have some advantages. I’ll be living there long-term, so there’s a lot of incentive to learn the language. I’ve also already started, and I can read Korean. That’s huge. I can pronounce street names and bus stops! Huzzah! I’ll actually like the native food. I’ll be living on my own and won’t need to deal with team-life stress. I will most likely have air conditioning. There will be snow at some point. And I’ll be getting paid a lot more.

Huzzah again. Huzzah a million times, because I lived in Taiwan and rocked it, and I can rock Korea!

otter.

P.S. since it’s been a year. So I was freaking out a year ago about moving in a year, huh? Pretty weird that it’s less than a month away and I’m not freaking out. I guess another year of knowing the fact gets you reconciled. How bout that. I had forgotten how awesome I was in Taiwan though. I mean, I really didn’t have many problems there. Thanks, past self, for being awesome! You’re helping future self in ways you can’t imagine! Muah.

my dream, my old friend

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This is the story of my path to Korea. The story of my dream.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by Asian culture. I can’t pinpoint the reason, other than its otherness. Reason enough for the human soul to be caught and captivated. The strange and beautiful things I saw in books and on TV thrilled me. My mother had lived in Japan when she was small, and so our house was laced with influences of the Orient. Chopsticks when we made stir-fry, the entire series of Godzilla movies on VHS, beautiful dragonware china, pokemon cards, Japanese language books, and of course, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z on TV.

But it wasn’t just that. My parents had lived in Belgium after they got married, and my mother had studied French, so we also had French song tapes and Spanish song tapes, and books about the Arctic circle and sled dogs. We grew up, my brother and I, surrounded by the rest of the world. It never seemed too big or far away or foreign. We never felt that it was closed off to us. I dreamed of traveling the world my whole life, and spent most of my time deep in books. I think those early days also gave me the love of language I still have. Singing along in French and Spanish just for fun, finding funny ways of saying everyday words, imitating accents…it taught me to love and to play with sounds, important for a future linguist.

When I was a child, I had normal dreams. Artist, vet, then when my horse phase was strong, horse-breeder, jockey, Olympic equestrian. In junior high school it was illustrator overseas, living in Britain with a house in Japan. In high school I started getting interested in languages, after pulling Mario Pei’s The Story of Language randomly off the library shelf. Bless you, Mr. Pei. I started seriously learning Japanese, then Swedish, looking back to my ancestry. I entered college, with one eye ever on my freedom after school to travel. To do something.

Then came Taiwan. The turning point. I don’t know how many people my age can claim a turning point in their lives, and maybe it’s too early to see if it actually was. But certainly Taiwan has given me the dream I’m currently working towards. Before Taiwan, I just wanted to travel. I wasn’t keen on teaching (another story), so that part was actually kind of awful for me in the beginning. I was dreading the teaching part of the experience. But a year in Taiwan halfway through college… Dream come true, my friends.

While in Taiwan, so very many things happened. I have a backlog of stories and anecdotes, so I’ll save that for later, but suffice it to say that it was the best year of my life. I was independent for the first time, working a full time job, living in a foreign country, with the freedom to do anything. I was also making more money than I had ever before. Eight hundred a month without paying rent! Riches.

But a funny thing happened there too. I began to love teaching. I don’t think I saw it that way at first. I thought I loved playing with my students, in class and out, that I loved making them laugh or getting interested in what I was saying.

Slowly, I realized what was going on. It was a bit of a revelation, I can tell you, and actually one that I still fight, believe it or not. I grew up NEVER going to teach. That was the one thing absolutely outside of my identity, probably due to all the bad experiences I had in public school before I was homeschooled. The me, the soul part of me, reeled from this abrupt change. But it made sense. I had been a natural teacher my whole life, enjoying helping my friends with work and sharing (teaching) my friends and family things I’d learned or read. The world was laughing at me.

I accepted it quickly though, because I was also getting interested in Korea at the same time, and it was the easiest and most logical way to live there. I still can’t explain “why Korea” when someone asks. I say it’s because I was already interested in the Korean language, and that’s true. I think Korean is the most beautiful language there is, but that’s also hard to explain. Do I need to? Cookie dough is my favorite ice cream, Korean is my favorite language. Done. Fine.

But that was just the impetus to look into Korea as a whole. I was also already watching Korean dramas, and while I knew that dramas are not any good sort of representation for real life (I’d also watched a LOT of Taiwanese dramas before going to Taiwan), I was intrigued by the kind of ideals I saw portrayed through their show writing. The culture behind the shows, so to speak. How they made characters react to certain situations, and who was slated as the good or bad guy and for what reasons. Deep stuff, I tell you.

At any rate, I read about Korea, I found Eatyourkimchi and watched all the videos, I tried Korean food for the first time and nearly died of joy…a lot went on in Taiwan to fuel my passion for Korea. Despite your warnings, dear school nurse, of Korean men.

So Korea it was. I had notebooks full of plans for living there, teaching there, blogging there… It was pure joy. But there was also the Big Gap. The two years of black hole college waiting to suck my fervor and joy away. I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

I’m on the other end now of it now though. Graduated, job in hand, counting down the weeks. Weeks.

I wonder what other people’s dream stories are like. Whether they’ve changed as much, and as often, as mine. Whether they’re working on their dreams now. I hope you are, friends. I hope you never let go of dreaming.

otter.

a few updates; dreams come true

AustinCollage

It’s rare I take pictures of myself. I’m not a selfie-centered person. But this has created the odd conundrum of me not knowing what I looked like most of the time. Sometimes I do want to remember that fun day I looked nice and rode in a car with my best friend for four hours to Austin and had some crazy good food…yeah, or maybe I just want to join my generation. Whatevs, yo.

But, yes, indeed, I was in Austin this week. I have relatives down there, and my cousin took me to to all the hot-spot awesome eateries and local joints. I mean, it sounds like we partied mightily, but really we went thrift shopping and comic book store-ing, and then went home to watch Doctor Who with burgers. Aw chyeah. My kind of vacation.

Although it’s a strong contestant, the watching Doctor Who and burgers and tea dueling (you heard me), are the not the reason I called this post “Dreams come true.” No, my friends, I have news.

I passed the EPIK interview a couple weeks ago, and while that in itself was amazing and wonderful and something I’m incredibly grateful for, I will have to turn it down. I will turn it down for a better offer that came from an unexpected source. Long story short, I have a friend who teaches in Korea and her school was hiring so she sent me a message right after my EPIK interview. After getting more information and looking up the school, I immediately sent in my resume and started praying I’d get in. Honestly, this school is perfect. It’s exactly what I wanted to look for after I got into Korea with EPIK, and it has the same benefits if not slightly better. Her school is a private Christian international school outside of Seoul. They prepare their students for enrollment in overseas schools and have a ton of extracurricular stuff; music, martial arts, gardening, drama, debate…everything. They’re also bilingual, so almost all of the courses are taught in English. And get this – that means I’ll be a regular home room teacher, not just the ESL (as far as I know; that may change). I’ll teach science and math and history and grammar…the whole nine yards, including idioms like that.

Honestly, this terrified me at first. I’ve never thought about teaching anything other than English, and I have no experience to do so. However, I know I can do it. I was homeschooled so I know the mechanics of teaching, as well as how to pick and choose curriculum and make things interesting. But it’s going to be so good. I mean, as an ESL co-teacher in a normal Korean school, it was likely I wouldn’t be a real teacher. And I don’t mean that the way it sounds. English teachers can’t interact with the students like the native Korean teachers – we just can’t communicate in that way for the most part. Plus, ESL teachers are rarely permanent. Schools know they don’t often last more than a year or two, and that means they can’t be a real part of the school policy building. I have no idea how much involvement is normal, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not much.

In this school, I’ll be a normal staff teacher who can be involved in curriculum planning and discussion. In fact, during my interview, they were telling me about some changes as if I was already there and part of it. It was brilliant.

I’m beyond excited. I was happy to get in with EPIK, and I have no problems with them. But this will be so much easier, and so much more challenging at the same time. Yes, I’ll be a teacher with greater responsibilities and more work, but I’ll know someone already who works there, and who knows the school and has told me all about it. That unknown factor with EPIK kept me from feeling one hundred percent calm. I just couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t be in a bad situation.

Because of all this, I’ve laid out a calendar of things to research. Beginning with general teaching theory, I’m going to get materials and information on teaching math, science, humanities, and then brush up on grammar and English right before I leave. There isn’t much time left now…it’s coming up fast, and I’ll be in Korea before I know it.

Wish me luck!

otter.

EPIK Interview

Hey guys!

Just last week I had my EPIK (English Program in Korea) interview, and since mine was a little different, I’m going to outline what happened. Now, I did pass, so it was successful, but before I had it, I researched all about what other people had gone through in their interviews. I looked up all the questions, wrote my answers, and practiced them beforehand, so I felt pretty ready.

So, what usually happens is once you have your interview time, you’re supposed to get on Skype half an hour or so beforehand to check your camera and let the interviewer add you as a contact. This doesn’t always happen, so I wasn’t surprised when they added me right before the interview.

The first surprise was that the interviewer was American. Maybe this is standard so maybe I just missed that fact, but I wasn’t expecting it. It was nice, of course, not to have any language barrier. So, first things first, we went through my application. You MUST print out your application so you can edit it along with the interviewer. I had some minor errors to correct, and then we went on to the lesson plan. Now, here, I have a bit of a bone to pick with Korvia, my recruiting agency that helped me with my application. I know they have ten years of experience working with EPIK, but many of the changes they suggested for my lesson plan I disagreed with. I’ve taught before, and I know how to make an effective lesson plan. However, I made those changes, and they were pointed out by my interviewer as things to be changed. Back. I didn’t mention my recruiter’s instructions, but agreed with him and made notes. It was just a little frustrating, but nothing too major.

So then he asked me basic questions; all the ones I expected. He asked about my previous teaching experience in Taiwan and how I liked it. Then, about 12 minutes in, he said they were having technical difficulties and would need to call me back. It’s Skype, so naturally I expected issues.

Here’s where things went a little weird. When he called me back, it was someone else. Another American. He made some passing remark about surprising me, and then went on with the questioning. Perhaps it was just this guy, but his questions were hard. And not listed on any of the sites I’d checked. Thank goodness I’ve done interviews before, because I would have been a bit thrown off.

I made a note of a few of his questions, not verbatim, but as well as I can remember:

– America is an egocentric nation (he did actually say this). How do you expect to fit in here with a Korean mindset?

– Say your co-teacher is really dominant and teaches all the classes, and you’re just the English parrot. How would you address having more of a role in the classroom?

– What would you do if your co-teacher teaches the students something wrong?

These questions aren’t that hard, but they did throw me off since I wasn’t expecting them at all. I wasn’t asked about my teaching philosophy or how to adjust to other cultures which were questions I was actually prepared for.

Overall, it was stressful, as any interview is, but hopefully this will help anyone looking to get into EPIK soon. I was prepared, but I wish those questions had been listed to think about beforehand. Maybe because EPIK has tightened up on requirements and are cutting jobs lately, they’re trying to filter a bit more effectively. Whatever the case, don’t take this interview lightly. If you guys are about to interview or are thinking about EPIK and have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me!

otter.