Tag Archives: United States

On the Road to Nowon

26 May

It’s late May and its hard to believe that I have been in South Korea for 5 months already.  In some ways this seems like a long time, in other ways it seems like the blink of an eye.  After 5 months I have settled into some ease with my life and ways here in Paju City and English Village.  I no longer sit on the subway in Seoul frantic that I will miss my stop, attracting attention and usually assistance from concerned Koreans also on the subway.  I can now relax and join the regular rhythm of other passengers using my smart phone until my destination arrives.  When in class students often ask how long I have been here.  I ask them to guess which usually starts at 5 years, 3 years, 2 years.  When I share I have been here for only 5 months their eyes gape open and the mouths drop.  There are some teachers from US and other English-speaking countries who have been in South Korea for years and some have invested the time and energy required to learn the language.

This past week was a great respite from my recent steady pace of teaching many and sometimes challenging middle school students.  I spent my week teaching in an area called Special Programs.  The beginning of the week I taught a small group of middle school students visiting from a rural area of S. Korea here at English Village for only two days.  There were only 30 students and I was told that was their entire school.  Wow!  The students were friendly, kind, and generally well-behaved, with English levels above our typical student here.  There were just a few English Village teachers working with them and it was a nice break to work with a small group of teachers and interact with this easy and engaging group of students.

Later in the week I taught a program of high school students visiting from a prestigious language school here in S. Korea.  When I first met some of them it was an immediate treat to meet mature students with a near fluent capacity with the English language. We were able to connect a bit and talk in a way that is often unavailable with students.  I also found some ease slipped into my teaching and the emphasis, while still on learning English, was more relaxed and conversational.  My concern was less on being understood and more on teaching the lesson at hand.

I learned some of these students had studied and lived in the US or Canada for a year or longer.  I asked them how they liked it and their faces lit up and they said “we loved it!”  I asked them what they liked about it and their response was “it was relaxing!”  Here in South Korea there is such an emphasis on education, students hardly have time for anything else.  Many students are literally in school all day, often attending English schools call Hagwans into the evening as late as 10pm.  It’s not unusual for students to fall asleep in class because… they’re tired.  This pace is currently deeply meshed into Korean culture and I can understand how studying in the States or elsewhere would be a welcome break!

The weather in Paju is a well-formed Spring beginning to slip into Summer.  I had a wonderful day yesterday enjoying the warmth on my body and spending a little time in Seoul.  I began with my morning chiropractor appointment and then grabbed a quick bite to eat at Tomatillos, a taco and burrito type joint in Itaewon.  Itaewon is an area of Seoul that tends to cater more to English-speaking foreigners and is the part of town where one of the US military bases is located.  It was such a treat to enjoy the simple pleasures of a day out and a bite to eat.

Later that day I went to an area of Seoul called the Nowon District. I went their to meet someone for a purchase — some new to me speakers for my iPod/smart phone, courtesy of Craigslist.  The benefit of this outing, in addition to the speakers, was the simple joy of traveling to a new area of the city.  Nowon is on the outskirts of Seoul and is the highest population density in Seoul, with 619,509 people living there.  It is surrounded by the mountains Suraksan and Bukhansan which you can see in the distance beyond the walls of people and commerce. It was fun to continue my experience of saturating myself in a country so new and different from my life in the States.

On the subway yesterday I was sitting down and there was a seat open next to me.  A grandmother motioned for her youngish grandson, about 7, to take the seat next to me.  I saw him look at me then look at her and shake his head.  I had flashbacks of my own shyness when I was a child and hesitancy towards things and people who seemed different.  Also many Korean children have little to no experience with people who look and speak different from them.  I tried to bridge the gap and patted the seat next to me inviting him to take a seat.  He did and easily settled in to playing his video games.  When they got up to leave the grandmother smiled and grabbed my hands and said something to me, I don’t know what.  Then she motioned to the grandson to say good-bye to me and we waved and smiled and they departed the train.

Today is a day of chanting with my SGI Buddhist group in Seoul.  The group is chanting for five-hours today!  Quite a long time but also a very powerful practice.  As members we can come and stay for as long as we like.  I imagine I will stay for nearly the whole time.  Then afterwards run a few more errands in Seoul.

This week we have a refreshing break with no programs on Monday or Tuesday.  What a treat and also a time to catch up on some of the English lessons I am developing for future programs.

Happy Sunday from South Korea!  My best to all of you and feel free to write.  It’s always good to hear from you!

Spring Outing

10 Mar

I am hearing and seeing new things at English Village.  Birds are flying in v-shapes overhead.  There are more people wandering the streets on weekends.  I notice voices of other teachers outside in the evenings.  The birds are even starting to sing.  It seems the Christmas trees in front of our “City Hall” have even been taken down.  Plus the collection of snow on the English Village campus has shrunk to a minimum. Could it be… is it possible… that Spring is coming?

Talking about Spring in Paju, South Korea automatically strikes up conversation of local weather.  It seems that Paju is in some sort of bad weather vortex on the peninsula of South Korea.  It has long, particularly harsh Winters (we are colder and get more snow than our neighboring Seoul, just an hour away).  Hot, humid Summers (I am told, yes, for some reason Paju is hotter than Seoul too).  And then there is monsoon season.  I don’t know that much about it except for stories of water flooding through the hallways of buildings and being encouraged to buy rain boots. I hear that Spring and Fall here are fabulous… for as long as they last… which is rumored to be comparatively short to Summer and Winter.

As the freezing cold weather appears to finally be breaking away, I can feel myself and the world around me starting to come out of hibernation.  I am beginning to have a desire to do something other than bundle up and stay warm for dear life.

On that note, I took a little outing this week on one of my days off.  As I am working weekends this month, my “weekend” currently is on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  This past Wednesday was such a fresh day I actually felt inspired to go out, take a little walk and explore the area.   I learned recently that the outlet mall that I knew was “somewhere around here” is in fact in walking distance just a straight shot down the road.  So I took a little walk and made my way to the post-office first (so long Flat Stanley!) and then the neighboring “Paju Premium Outlet Mall”.

Now, my first observation is that “Paju Premium Outlet Mall” sounds suspiciously like “… Philadelphia Premium Outlets”.  Before coming to South Korea I stayed in Philadelphia for a few months acquiring my Korean work Visa and preparing for my trip.  How surprising it was to leave the States, travel to the other side of the world, arrive  in the foreign lands of Asia only to find… another Premium Outlet Mall.  Hmmm…  That said, I enjoyed my walk down the street, a beautiful day, and the splendor of just spending some time away from work and “off campus”.

Walking around in Paju is no easy feat – especially for this woman who lived in the flatlands of New Orleans for 13 years.  Paju is what you might call… hilly.  You cannot go any direction outside of English Village without surmounting at least one if not two hills.  This is not a complaint mind you.  But for me and my hamstrings it is… an adjustment.

I arrived at the outlet mall to find a seemingly endless array of shops and restaurants, piled up three stories high.  I ran into some colleagues from work in the food court and joined them for lunch.  Afterwards I continued to peruse the daunting supply of high-end shops including DKNY, Coach, Nike and Calvin Klein.  I bought myself a smoothie at Smoothie King (yes the Premium outlet mall comes complete with Smoothie King and Aunt Annie’s pretzels… sound familiar?).  Despite my periodic moments of deja vu, the outing was a treat and I was glad for the diversion.

I returned home the same way I arrived…on foot. The two hills I easily surmounted on the way there looked a bit more oppressive on the way back.  I considered taking the bus, but my pride got the best of me and I trudged my way back over the hills and made my way home.

I have enjoyed swimming lately as well.  We are lucky to have a gym here on the English Village (EV) campus that is open to the teachers and staff at EV as well as the community.  As I am now off on Wednesdays and Thursdays it gives me a little time to sneak in for a swim when it’s not as busy.  Usually Korean moms and kids start to arrive in the afternoon just about the time that I am leaving.  It’s funny to watch the little girls staring at me – in a friendly way.  I am usually the only foreigner in the locker room and I am sure quite a surprise and literally a “foreign” sight to the young Korean girls.

Our last quiet week of work has nearly come to an end as we will have students again this coming week. I am grateful for the promise of Spring arriving and all that brings.

I am wondering, has Spring sprung wherever you are in the world?  If so, what will you be doing as the lovely Spring days fold in?  Any suggestions for how to spend a spring day in South Korea?  It’s always great to hear from you!

Featured image at top from the second floor of the Paju Premium Outlet Mall.  Clearly a close cousin of the Premium Outlet Malls in the United States.

Flat Stanley Visits South Korea

3 Mar

He arrived a little over a week ago.  He was in fact my first visitor.  He didn’t arrive by airplane or train or even boat.  Instead he arrive by… US Mail.  His name is Flat Stanley.

Perhaps you have heard of him… if you have children…or grandchildren or even nieces or nephews.  Flat Stanley arrived in South Korea courtesy of one of my nephews in Kansas City.  His class read a story about Flat Stanley and were then invited to send him to visit friends and relatives in other locations.  Perhaps Stanley got more than he bargained for as he was put in an envelope and traveled to South Korea.  It took him over two weeks to arrive, but thankfully he arrived in one piece… seemingly happy… and flat… ready for his week in South Korea.

Admittedly Stanley did not arrive for the busiest or most exciting week at the Paju English Village.  We are having a bit of a break now preparing for the upcoming surge of new students and programs.  But Stanley was welcome to hang around and that he did… spending time with the other English teachers and sometimes just kicking back.

One day Stanley came with me to Seoul, just an easy bus ride away.  Stanley enjoyed the bus and when we arrived in Seoul he was amazed at what a busy city it was.  Seoul as you may know has over ten million people living there.  Stanley and I perused the streets and did a little people watching.

Later I sought out a local establishment called Gusto Taco to grab some lunch.  Gusto Taco is a tiny little restaurant in Hongdae, an area of Seoul, and is known for its fabulous tacos and fresh ingredients.  They even make their own corn tortillas from scratch and slow cook all of their imported meats.  I tried the house specialty – pork tacos, and they did not disappoint!  Of course as I don’t eat refined sugar, I had to be sure there was no sugar in anything I was eating.  They assured me that everything was made from scratch and what I got was a delicious healthy and satisfying lunch.  Flat Stanley didn’t eat any tacos.  He said he wasn’t hungry…

The owner of Gusto Taco is an American who is married to a Korean woman.  He used to work on Wallstreet and a few years ago he and his wife headed to South Korea.  They started Gusto Taco to, as he said, “give them something to do.”  It seems they have put great care into the product they have created.  They even have a mascot – “Gusto Taco” himself.  Stanley got to meet Gusto and while he was friendly enough, I am not sure that he and Stanley really hit it off very well.  It was a fun meeting nonetheless.

Just yesterday Stanley had an opportunity to learn to make cinnamon rolls with me and some other English teachers here in Paju.  We were being trained in a new cooking lesson for our Korean students. Stanley had a great time with the other teachers and excelled in baking.  His cinnamon rolls were tasty and looked lovely!

Well, now our week is complete and Stanley’s visit is coming to an end.  I will be sad to see him go.  He was a great houseguest, didn’t take up much room or make a lot of noise.  He also got along great with the other teachers here at Paju English Village.

When will he leave do you ask?  Well his travel plans back to the States are not confirmed just yet.  But likely it will look something like a walk up the street to the local post office on Wednesday, returning flat Stanley to his envelope and then sending him on his way for the adventure back to Kansas City in the United States.

It’s been a pleasant visit here with Flat Stanley.  As he prepares to leave, it has me wondering… who will visit me next in South Korea?

Turkish Delight

24 Feb

Don’t let the title alarm you.  I’m still in South Korea. It’s a Sunday afternoon here and for me… it is a work day.  I am working a two month weekend shift – that is I work the weekends and have two days off during the week.  English Village is open 7 days a week and sometimes there are programs on weekends.  When there are, we need staff around to teach.  Therefore, until the end of March, that includes me.  I am not alone in my weekend working escapade… but it is a smallish group, about 6 other English teachers.  Today is a quiet day of work and not much action at the English Village.  We still have our regular winter coat of snow… the one that seems to be replaced regularly whenever the old one starts to melt.  Since I have been here, snow is no longer a surprise for me.  It is a regular occurrence… to wake up and discover… it snowed again.  I am unsure how long this will continue.  I have heard rumors that sometimes it snows in April.  I try not to think about that…

This week I have been finding my way in my new rhythm of working on weekends and having Wednesdays and Thursdays off.  This past Thursday I went to run my errands and walked to the grocery store down the street.  It was about 11am and for some reason, the store was closed.  I don’t know why.  So, I walked back and then later took a cab to a bigger grocery store further away and..it too was closed.  It seems to be some great mystery as to why these stores were closed.  It was no holiday.  The best answer I have heard so far is “sometimes stores are just closed”.  Hmmm… surely there must be a reason…  Any ideas?

This week I taught college students visiting from a university in South Korea.  I really like teaching college students.  In general they are bright, mature and ready to learn.  The students arrived on Monday and departed on Friday which is typical for many programs here.  I noticed they left with more confidence in themselves around English speakers and more confidence in their own ability to speak English.

Friday night I wandered off campus with another teacher to grab a little bite to eat.  We are in the city of Paju, but it’s really not much of a “city”.  There is mostly open land surrounding English Village and little clusters of businesses and restaurants are not too far away.  Our dining destination for the evening?  Kim’s Kabob.  Doesn’t sound very Korean, does it?  That would be because… it’s not…

I am a food lover who is super sensitive to refined sugar… and Koreans put sugar in almost everything.  Therefore  it can be challenging for me to find food I can eat in Korean restaurants.  Not long ago a fellow teacher was talking about a Turkish restaurant nearby.  Aha!  I thought… it sounded like a culinary adventure with my name on it!  And so… I found my way to Kim’s Kabob.

I heard that the owners, Korean, had lived in Turkey for 8 years.  When we arrived at the restaurant we found a simple but welcoming restaurant with friendly Korean owners.  As they did not speak English and we did not speak Korean, a lot of pointing and smiling was done.  On occasion, I sheepishly offered a grateful but humble “gamsahabnida” (korean for thank you).

It was a delight to see the menu – a visual cornucopia with a selection of fresh meats and platters inviting our appetites to take note!  We decided to order a few different things and share them – an eggplant salad as well as a beef kabob and beef and chicken platter.  My dining companion also ordered some lovely bread that looked delicate and lightly crispy on the outside and virtually “empty” on the inside, like a baloon.  The menu did not disappoint!

It was fun to eat out for a change and enjoy food that was simple and basic but delicious.  It was strange to notice that at around 7pm on a Friday evening we were the only ones in the restaurant.  I am not sure why – but it certainly had nothing to do with the quality of the food or the hospitality of the hosts…  Perhaps it’s somehow related to the grocery store being closed… part of a Korean mystery…

It was a brisk walk back but not far really.  As we got closer we saw the English Village sign lit up on the hillside in “hollywood” style, leading us home. Just a hop, skip and a jump and I was once again within the walls of the English Village campus.

And so today my Sunday continues to unfold in its easy leisurely manner.  I am enjoying a cup of tea surrounded by my fellow teachers, each equally entranced in their computers while I type away at my blog.

I am wondering, for those of you who live or have lived in Korea, what is your favorite place or places to eat in South Korea?  Do you have a secret dining destination where you love to escape?  And for those of you Stateside, or anywhere else in the world… perhaps you have a favorite recipe to share?  Something simple and Korea friendly, perhaps your favorite crock pot recipe? (With just a hotplate to cook on, the crock pot is my current appliance of choice!)  It would be fun to see!

As always, thanks for checking in!  It’s always great to hear from you!

Being at Ease

2 Feb

It’s been a great Saturday for me.  Nothing too exciting.  It’s the weekend and I spent the day taking it easy.  Cleaning my apartment, sorting things, going to the grocery store.  I gave myself a Reiki treatment, did some yoga and put some black beans in the crock pot.  Tonight I will watch a movie.  I have to say it has been a great day!  Just what I needed.

I realized today as I was walking to the grocery store that I am starting to move out of  “survival phase” in my integration to life at the English Village in South Korea.  I have been here long enough that I am now fairly content that my basic needs will be met.  I have a kitchen full of foods that are healthy and satisfying.  I have a fluffy pillow and warm blankets.  I order regularly from iherb.com to get the healthy foods I want and need but can’t get in South Korea (delivery only a flat fee of $4.00!).  I have some basic spices and seasonings in my cupboard and with the assistance of my lovely crock pot I am able to cook some yummy meals for myself.

I can also get myself to Seoul without too much distress and make my way around a bit on the subway.  I have overcome some simple, but necessary challenges of traveling by myself to and from Seoul… like making sure I exit the subway at the exit number where the bus stop for the bus home is located (this is very important!  A few times I exited at random exit numbers and emerged on the streets of Seoul and had no idea where I was, let alone where my bus was!) And I am now confident that I know my bus stop well enough that I won’t accidentally miss it or pass it by, even at night.  It’s the little things!  So I am starting to feel a more… relaxed… and at home.

I am very grateful for my connection to the SGI Buddhist group in Seoul!  They have been a wonderful respite and a place to connect and meet new people when I want on the weekends.  This weekend on Sunday I will be traveling to Seoul to join them for their monthly world peace chanting.  Afterwards I will join a few members to go grab a bite to eat.  Really nice.

It’s a quiet winter day here on the English Village campus.  The snow has mostly melted and today this sun is shining.  While it is warmer, there is still a descent bite of cold in the air.  Our busy month of January programming and teaching is complete.  We have had a few days of light teaching this week and I am told a light week to come before our upcoming 5 day holiday (It is the Korean New Year).

As you may know, I am in Paju, south Korea which is a small community of about 250,000 just an hour north of Seoul.  The surrounding area is pretty spacious… much wide open land with little clusters of business – stores, restaurants and other things I can’t tell what they are since I don’t read Korean.  I am told this area is agricultural  and has a Korean military base not far away.  Paju Premium Outlet mall is just a short bus ride away (shockingly similar name to the outlet chains in the United States) with American movies and some familiar brand names and shops.  We’ve had a few days of weather here where it’s not so cold that I am huddled into my own being like a turtle seeking its shell. I am actually starting to look around and notice my surroundings a bit more.

Picture 002

A quick look at the area surrounding the English Village in Paju, South Korea, the land still barren in the dead of winter.

The English Village campus is somewhat remote.  While we are located in the city of Paju, we are surrounded by much land and are a 5 or ten minute walk from the grocery store and a fifteen or twenty-minute walk to nearby restaurants, post office and other commerce.

We have pretty easy access to “getting around” with the bus stop just outside the English Village grounds and a bus that goes directly to Seoul.  There are other buses that take you to nearby shopping areas and cities and with the assistance of our friendly security staff, we can easily catch a cab when needed.

I was at a clothing swap earlier this week.  A staff member is leaving and she hosted a swap as an opportunity for her to give away clothes and other items that she won’t be taking with her when she leaves Korea.  When we were chatting she mentioned that living at English Village is like “Korea light”… which is true.  Nestled in the comfort of our English-speaking environment, we get to experience many of the comforts and ease of home.

That said, we don’t have to go far to be immediately immersed in the world and culture of  South Korea – just beyond the Hollywood-like sign of the English Village.  For me, I find it’s a nice balance… as I continue to ease my way into life and work in South Korea.

Special Programs

12 Jan

Well it has been another week of growth, new opportunities and challenges here at the English Village in Paju, South Korea.  It’s hard to believe that I have been here for almost a month already!  I certainly don’t feel like a seasoned staff member yet, but I at least feel like I am more comfortable and familiar with the basics… which is good.   There is still more to learn, that’s for sure!

This past week I had the opportunity to work in a different area of programming at the English Village called Special Programs.  I was told early on by another staff member that the one thing you can count on at the English Village is change. So far I have found that to be true.  It seems that one must always be open for things to be different  – your daily schedule, what area you will work in, who you will teach with…

So I was moved over to Special Programs.  I am not sure for how long… perhaps a week, perhaps for good.  Time will tell.  So far I really enjoy it.  There is quite a bit of diversity in the students and curriculum in Student Programs.  There are also sometimes opportunities to work with and teach adult and college level students, which I like. In this past week I taught elementary and high school students from South Korea, Japan, and even a few students from Russia.  I also taught classes for a group of visiting adult teachers from South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Russia!

It was really fun for me working with and teaching the adults!  Their English level is so high and of course discipline isn’t a problem – so the focus gets to be more on teaching and learning English.  I taught subjects this week like “phrasal verbs” “idioms” and “slang”.  I am finding that beginning to teach English is also serving as a refresher course for myself.  Speaking English and teaching it to others are two different things.

I had to laugh while teaching slang… to notice how confusing the English language can be – words that typically mean one thing, but when used as slang mean something else.  One slang word on their worksheet was “the John” which many of us know is an informal word for the bathroom ( or the toilet, the WC, the Loo… depending on where you are from…)  A student asked “why is it called the John?”  I have no idea.  So I googled it and I learned that the slang term comes from Sir John Harrington who was the inventor of the first flushing toilet.  Who Knew!?

At the end of the week we had a closing ceremony for the adult students and I was surprised to find myself tearing up a bit.  The students all had such bright energy and were such kind people.  Their enthusiasm and appreciation for learning was really wonderful and it was fun to have the experience of teaching and connecting with them.

The cold weather continues on with a new dusting of snow arriving last night.  And so with the cold weather, outside of teaching time it is still mostly hibernation for me.  I am doing my best to cook up a storm in my tiny little kitchen thanks to the wonders of my new crock pot, my latest purchase in South Korea.  Today I am making Jamaican Fish.  Here is the recipe if you’re curious!  Since I don’t have an oven, I am learning there are MANY things you can cook in a crock pot that you would typically bake… sweet potatoes, even brownies!

As always, thanks for reading and stopping by!  Life is good in the frozen land of English Village as I stay warm and settle a little bit more into my world of newness and change teaching here in the northern peak of South Korea.

Photo of Korean women cooking up a storm at an indoor market in Seoul.

Leaving the nest

6 Jan

After being in Paju City living and working at the English Village for the past few weeks, it was about time to leave the nest. Nothing dramatic, mind you, but a little outing. It was my first trip to Seoul. It was rooted in a practical matter – shopping. With the freezing cold temperatures outside, I was glad to get out, but for just a little bit. With my long down coat, three pairs of socks, gloves and scarf… I was ready to go!

I joined my friend Chris, one of the American staff here at the English Village. He and his wife have lived and worked in South Korea for the past three years. As they eat a strict gluten free diet, they are perfect guides and companions for my adventures in healthy eating in South Korea. With his wife’s nudging I was invited to join Chris on one of his regular shopping excursions. We stood outside the grounds of the English Village and waited for bus 2200, the bus that travels to Seoul practically non-stop about every 15 minutes. The journey takes about 45 minutes.

We traveled on the cold bus across the frozen land. About half way through the journey I was asked by the bus driver to be quiet. It was a simple gesture. The bus had stopped and when she walked by me she looked at me, put her finger to her lips, and made a “shhh” sound. Okay… was I talking too loud? Chris assured me that it was in part because we were foreigners but that also in general it is considered rude to talk loudly on public transportation. Koreans in general have much quieter speaking voices then Americans. In class we are always encouraging Korean students to speak up so we can hear them. My traveling companion Chris has a more soft-spoken voice. And me, well I had flashbacks to my 7th grade teacher letting me know in the middle of class that my voice carried…as well as my inability to whisper to my sister or my mother when I was a child in church on Sundays. Chris let me know that his wife had the same problem. Loud voice – good for teaching – I guess not so good for South Korean public transportation. I did my best to lower the volume and the journey continued.

In no time at all we were in Seoul. The bus stops at a subway station stop and we made our way down stairs the underground transportation system. Chris hooked me up with a “T-money” card, an electronic card when loaded with a little money is a fast and easy way to pay for the subway and other public transportation.

Chris was a good steward of the subway system giving me little tips for when I might negotiate the system on my own. The subway system in South Korea is quite well planned and seemed almost more scientific in its organization then the European systems I had become more comfortable with. We traveled about 7 stops away and then we arrived at our destination. What was on the shopping list for today? Baking goods. As Chris and his wife eat gluten free, they did a little research and found an area where local bakers go to buy gluten-free flours and specialty items as well as baking materials and goods. We wove through little streets lined with outdoor shops until we arrived at our destination.

I was impressed that Chris and his wife had found this area on their own. Just past rows of shops selling carpet, yarn and other unimaginable materials was a cluster of shops with a variety of fresh baking related products. I had come along in part out of curiosity and thinking perhaps I would find something that I wanted/needed for myself as I am still building my little “kitchen” in my small studio-like apartment on the English Village campus. My cooking tools are currently a dependable two ‘burner” hotplate and a crockpot. Our little apartments don’t have ovens as is typical in smaller South Korean apartments. So while baking is not currently on the agenda for me, I thought it couldn’t hurt to check things out.

We arrived at Chris’ favorite little shop filled with fresh flours, sweeteners, nuts, sprinkles, you name it. I found I eagerly dug in like a child happy to purchase more items to feed my budding little home. I bought some almond flour… for… who knows what, fresh coconut, raw pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and oats. They also had some spices so I bought some bay leaves and cloves. And they had a few random canned products, more “american style”, including tomato paste and black olives. I had not seen either of these products in Korean grocery stores so I snatched those up too! I was happy with my little purchase. We made our way through a few other shops in the area then headed back out to the main street.

I found this neighborhood, a maze of tiny shops and my first impression of Seoul, to be… beautiful. Not beautiful in any way that is particularly lavish or breath-taking. But beautiful mostly in its utter sense of foreignness to me. Just amazing.

We walked across the street and took a stroll through a local indoor market. We found dozens of little stands busily preparing food. Most of the food looked similar – something that looked like a potato pancake, and other items that looked egg based with some vegetables and meats. The Korean women knew just enough words of English to invite us to have a seat at their stand. We wove around a bit and settled into a small little informal restaurant/stand.

Chris and I stayed for a quick bite, sharing a large bowl of soul with eggs, dumplings, noodles and green onions. We also shared the potato like pancakes filled with seafood. After lunch we made our way back to the subway station. Seoul was beautiful but… it is just too cold for me to linger. In no time at all we were on the bus, this one heated, and soon on the interstate returning to Paju City and English Village.

On the ride back I noticed rows upon rows of similar looking high-rise buildings that ran for it seemed perhaps miles. What is that? I asked. Chris said they were high-rise apartment buildings. In truth the scene kind of gave me the creeps… like something from a futuristic science fiction movie or something. But Chris shared that something like 45% of the country’s population lives in Seoul and the surrounding areas. Many people!

On the ride back we listened to two Korean girls giggling uncontrollably about something…bahavior that seems typical for Korean little girls. One of the girls turned around and took a good look at me. I am told it is not unusual for Korean children to stop and stare at Foreigners (yep, that’s me! I’m a foreigner!) as it is not all that usual to see non-Koreans in Korea (although more common in the Seoul area…)

And now I am back safe and sound in my mostly warm apartment. The cold is leaking through the windows and underneath the door but I do my best to stay warm. It is the weekend but the halls of my apartment building and streets of the English Village and calm and quiet. I cooked a nice dinner for myself on my hot plate.  It feels good to be warm and settled in for the evening.

A funny thing happened on the way to Korea….

12 Dec

Greetings from the “midpoint” of my journey to South Korea!  After spending a few days with my family in the mid-west, I left in the wee hours this morning for Korea. With over 19 hours total travel time, I knew I was in for a big day!

My mom, who is always there for me, got up this morning at 3:30am and made me scrambled eggs for my trip.  By 4am we were out the door and on the one-hour trek to the local airport.  We arrived with great ease and found our way to the gate.  There was a small delay entering through security as an alarm was going off.  The security guard, with his laid back mid-western fashion, joked, “maybe it means that the bacon is ready!” Eventually, it stopped and we were allowed to proceed.

All seemed well as I waited to depart for my 6:10 am flight traveling to Denver then connecting to San Fransisco and then the long flight to Seoul Korea.  It was about a half hour before my flight was to leave when the “on time” status came off the flight board.  There would be a delay.  There was a plane maintenance issue and we would have to wait for a new airplane.

Eventually we loaded onto a new airplane and in one hour and 40 minutes we were landing in Denver.  My flight and several other passengers’ connections were very tight and so they allowed us to deplane before the others.  Moving as quickly as I could down the long corridor to my next flight I arrived at my gate only to find it abandoned and desolate.  No sign of life anywhere.  It appeared they departed… and quickly leaving no sign that they were ever there.

I was rerouted to a later flight to San Fransisco and also changed to a different airline for my flight to Korea as I would miss my connection in San Francisco.  That’s okay, I thought.  Doing my best to “go with the flow” while also doing my best to keep track of my checked-in luggage looking out for  it in a manner somewhere between a pit bull and a protective mother.

Then arrival in San Francisco.  Next?  Head to the ticketing agent of my new airline to get a boarding pass.  It turned out that their flight was full and there was no room for me… or the Korean man also rerouted making his way to Seoul via St. Louis, Missouri.  We were directed back to the ticket counter of our original airline, United Airlines.

There we met a very friendly staff member willing to take his time to help us and go out of his way to make sure that all was well.  His first suggestion?  Rerouting our flight through Shanghai arriving in Korea around midnight on Wednesday Korean time.  Hmmm… I don’t think that is my flight!  “What about tomorrow?”  I asked… can’t we just stay the night and take the same flight out tomorrow?  He was quickly agreeable offering ways to cover additional expenses… giving us complimentary meals tickets for lunch dinner and breakfast tomorrow.  And while he couldn’t pay for the hotel upfront, he hooked us up with a discounted hotel rate with promises of getting reimbursed by the airline.  So I took it!

And here I sit… quite content… at a pink Spanish style chain hotel just a stone’s throw from the San Fransisco airport.  I have Internet, a big cumfy bed.  In truth I am grateful for an afternoon break and a good night’s sleep before my 12 hour flight to South Korea!

So here I am!  I am on my way… and content to be delayed until… my late morning flight tomorrow.  Tonight is sure to include a relaxing evening in the comfort of a quiet hotel room, a good night sleep… and tomorrow…once again…on my way to South Korea!

My Indiegogo campaign, “Gypsy Woman Goes to South Korea, ” is still going strong.  I invite you to visit the campaign and watch a brief video about my journey at www.indiegogo.com/southkorea.  And while you’re there, if you’re inspired to make a donation, that would make a world of difference to this Gypsy Woman! Thanks for stopping by!

And as always feel free to write and connect.  I’d love to hear from you!

Don’t be fooled by the photo above.  It’s not the Golden Gate Bridge!  Alas, it is the view from the San Fransisco Airport while waiting for my hotel courtesy van pick-up!

The Road to South Korea Just Got Shorter

5 Dec

The scenery is starting to change.  The bright leaves of fall have given way to naked trees.  My laundry that has been scattered all over my room is now finding its way in an organized fashion to my suitcase.  And my Passport, previously mostly barren except for a stamp here are there from Germany and England, now has a Korean Visa in it.  Funny, it seems I am going to Korea…

I am in that busy hazy phase prior to making a life-altering shift.  You know the one, where you tend to the immediate details at hand preparing you for something that… hasn’t fully consciously hit you yet.  Yep, that’s me.  Although it’s starting to hit me… waves of excitement and anxiety are finding their way to my body.  I wake up before the sun rises, before the busy little bodies in the home where I stay rise.  I get up and I start to work… on whatever I can think of to do next to make sure I have everything cared for before I leave.

Bye the way, did I mention that I am leaving on Tuesday?  As in less than a week from today?  I was patiently riding on the slow visa train to Korea when all of a sudden, I switched tracks and landed on the express.  And here I am wandering in everything I want to make sure is complete and wondering about the little things I am not thinking about that still need to get done.

Last week it suddenly dawned on me… that I needed to buy a plane ticket.  I felt sort of like an expectant mother who had gotten so comfortable in the process of pregnancy that I almost forgot about giving birth.  And then one day, the alarms sounded… it is time!  It is time NOW!

So here I am bustling in the wake and energy of my plane ticket purchase preparing for my imminent trip to Korea.  My new place of employment, the Gyeonggi English Village (GEV),  is ready for me to arrive and to begin training for their new program.  I will be teaching English at a hands-on-learning campus created to immerse Korean and international students in the English Language.

Happily I will be making a brief stop in the mid-west to visit with my family – my parents and my sister and her family.  My gut says its important to spend some time with them before I leave, even for just a few days.  I will leave for Korea from there.

This is not something that happens for me every day – preparing to travel to Asia!  It’s my first time there.  I am grateful for a few little tokens of comfort like knowing that I will be picked up at the Seoul airport by a taxi driver sent just for me who will be holding a sign with my name on it.  It’s funny I have always seen that scene played out in the movies, but it has never happened in my own life… until now.  I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it!  From there I will be taken to my apartment on the GEV campus.  Yes, my own apartment – a luxury that I have not had the pleasure of since I have been traveling.

I am wrapping up my time here at the family residence in Philadelphia that I have called “home” for the past 3 months.  The youngest boy has been feeding me a steady diet of hand-made presents, since I won’t be here for Christmas.  Practically speaking, this home has been a perfect place for me to be at this time of transition and visa making.  I have been just a stones throw away from the post office, UPS office and other “city needs”.  Additionally I have been most fortunate to have use of a happy, thriving, macintosh laptop computer.  It’s a lovely toy, if even for the short-term, and especially with the expected death of my slow but well-loved PC laptop… hanging in there for now, but… it doesn’t look good.

I am trying to make the most of these last few days here… preparing the family as best as I can to transition to life without an extra set of hands.  I did my best to stock up on groceries and even cooked a few casseroles to put in the freezer for a little added comfort and joy when I leave.

And now, well,  I keep walking the walk of “what is there for me to do next?” on my road to South Korea… getting shorter and shorter as the days go by.  A busy and expectant time!

If you’d like to learn a bit more about my journey and trip to Korea, I invite you to view the video I created.  It’s on my Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/southkorea.  And while you’re there please consider a contribution of any amount to support the continuation of this long lovely journey and big school of life.

Thanks for joining me from time to time on the road.  Much more to come!

Photo of Forbidden Road, my favorite “getaway” in near-bye Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia, PA.

My Next Big Step!

28 Nov

Well the time has come… I just can’t keep it a secret anymore!  I am ready to share the NEXT BIG STEP on my journey.  After taking the leap and buying a ticket to Europe over a year and half ago and recently returning to the States for a few months of preparation, it is nearing time for me to depart on my next adventure.

Where am I heading you ask?  Well…I will be traveling to South Korea to live and work for a year teaching English as a Second Language!

Here is how this NEXT BIG STEP came to be.
While traveling in Europe, as I am sure you can imagine, I was always open to, looking for and wondering how I could earn some income to support myself as I travel.  I lived very modestly and simply but as time went on I was nearing the edge of my finances.  I needed to find a way to earn money and travel.  It was suggested I look into teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).  I explored this in a light and curious way about 6 months into my journey.  I searched online for jobs and schools.  I read blogs of others who had traveled and done the same. I met other travelers who were preparing for jobs teaching English.

My initial investigation was into jobs teaching English in Europe.  My inherent enthusiasm began to dwindle as I knocked on virtual door after door only to hear repeatedly that if I was not a citizen of the EU or did not have a permit to work in the EU, I would not be considered for a job.  This seemed like a catch 22 as the only way I knew for an American to get a work visa in Europe was to be sponsored by a company.  Alas, and so it goes…  I was sure there were Americans teaching English in Europe and that somewhere there were indeed jobs to be found, but how or where to find them was a mystery to me.

The next question that arose was certification.  I have a Master’s Degree in Education specializing in Higher Education, but with no experience teaching ESL. I wondered if I needed to get a certification in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  The programs vary widely from quickie on-line courses to in-depth courses where you get your certification on-location.  The better courses come with a price tag which didn’t help my initial call which was – replenish the well and earn some income.

Unsure of where this would lead, I did my best to take in information and stay open to new possibilities.  Later into my journey a trusted friend urged me to more seriously consider teaching ESL.  At this point it seemed pretty unlikely that I would get a job teaching English in Europe, especially without a TEFL or TESOL certificate, so I expanded my outlook and began looking into teaching in other countries.

When I opened the ESL door wide open I started reading about and looking into the best places to teach English for Americans.  There are many countries that easily welcome Americans to teach English and many are willing to hire you without a TEFL or TESOL certificate.  Still I wanted to be mindful as I was seeking a quality experience.

I was referred to a website called Dave’s ESL Cafe by a fellow traveler.  This site lists jobs teaching English in Korea, Thailand, Japan, and all over the world and is well-known in the ESL community.  I found it to be a simple and straightforward website with plenty of job listings primarily in Asian countries.  I scanned through them regularly, curious and yet nervous about working and teaching English.

One day I found a job listing that peaked my interest.  It wasn’t a typical teaching job, but in a learning environment created to be like an English Village.   Children came to the Village for a week-long experience in speaking English.  Teachers were more like facilitators and learning was active and hands on.  With my background as a leader in experiential education and creating workshops where students learn by doing, the seemed it may be up my alley.  The job was in Paju City, South Korea, about an hour outside of Seoul.  I was interested, but I ignored it at first and continued on with my day.

Later that night as I was going to bed, my intuition whispered to me “take a leap!” and apply for the job at the English Village in South Korea.  So, excited but nervous I submitted my resume.  Time passed by and I heard nothing… but still in the back of my mind I had a “feeling” that something may come of it. Then one day, just a few weeks before my time commitment was to end at my helpx exchange in France, I got an email from the English Village in Korea asking if I was still interested in a position.  Yes!  Yes I was interested!  I was scheduled for a Skype interview at 4:00 in the morning my time…ugh…  All went well and I was offered the position.  That was the beginning of a long process in preparing to work and teach in South Korea.

This news changed my travel plans and redirected me to the States.  The process of obtaining all the documents needed for a work visa would be much easier in the US.  Presently, about three months into the process of obtaining a visa… I am getting closer and nearing the final steps.  Yippee!  And Oh my God!….

I am really looking forward to being in a learning environment again and strengthening some teaching muscles I have not used in a bit.  I am also grateful to begin a travel opportunity that will support my financial needs. In the meantime… there is a bit of a financial gap… between now and when I receive my first paycheck.  My staff contact in Korea reminded me recently that I won’t actually receive a paycheck until I have been there for a month.  With my extended time in the States preparing my visa and the continued gap of working in exchange for room and board and no income, I have some unmet financial needs.  This is what inspired me to … TAKE A LEAP…. and create a campaign on Indiegogo, the on-line fundraising resource, to raise funds to support myself during this time of transition and the continuation of my journey.

Please visit my Indiegogo campaign. Preparing this campaign has been fun and inspiring.  I have invested some time and created a video/slide show presentation called “Gypsy Woman: an unexpected journey”.  I would love for you to check it out. If you’re inspired… make a little donation.  No amount is too small… really…or too large.  I am excited to share my story and my journey with you through this campaign. Also… if you’re inspired… please share my campaign with others… maybe someone you know who might enjoy my story and mission.

And for now… the path continues.  I am not sure of the exact date of my departure to South Korea as the visa process seems to have a mind of its own.  But likely I am about 4 weeks away from leaving for South Korea.  Wow…my next big step!

Photo of Gyeonggi English Village in Paju City, South Korea.

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