Saturday, December 5, 2009

we are moving!

ok, after 100 posts, and much fighting with blogspot we are moving our blog . . .

you can now visit us at:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

better in america

we talked about the things that are better in korea.

here are some things that are better in america than in korea
no, we are not bashing korea, just pointing out differences . . .

1: forming lines. we've mentioned this before, but we need to mention it again. we've been cut in front of, people jump in taxis while we are actively opening the door etc. in america its a lot more orderly.
2: personal space. kind of goes with #1 a lil' just one "normal" scenario. i (daniel) was sitting on the floor with my legs crossed at a school dinner when a man sat "next" to me. by next i mean he was straddeling me, one leg on each side of me! then he had one hand on my back, and another on my inner-thigh! YIKES! he stayed there for about 5-10 minutes? totally normal.
3: tie fashion. in korea there are sequins and glitter on 99% of koreans ties. actually thinking about it, is that good or bad :-p
4: privacy in public bathrooms. there are randomly placed OPEN windows in bathrooms, and the doors of public bathrooms are often kept open.
5: quantity of soap and toilet paper in bathrooms. its hit and miss finding these things in korea :-p
6: school safety. its very common to see every student carrying INSANE box cutters in every class.
7: public garbage cans. as much as people in korea want to recycle this makes them not put public garbage cans all over the place. in koreas downtown there are a couple?
8: safety for people on the sidewalks. walking down the street you need to dodge people, scooters AND cars! keep your head on a swivel people!
9:gift giving. as much as the gift giving is awesome, once you give a gift you NEED to give back. when you give back then the person who gets your gift feels obliged to give you something in return. then when you get another gift you have to give another gift. its reciprocity gone MAD people :-p
10: giving people the right of way. in korea whether its walking down the street or driving, there seems to be no given right of way. this causes many "awkward stranger dances" with people, or people just running in to you. we have heard stories where koreans who havent gotten out of the way of army tanks, and have been run over by tanks. true or not, sadly it is believable.
11: coffee. even though i am a self-described "coffee snob" the vast majority of coffee (99%) in korea is instant coffee. we have gone to a coffee shop and watched the barista open up a thingy of instant coffee and serve it to a customer. YUCK!
12: planning ahead. in america people LOVE to plan ahead. in korea its often common to go to work, and walk in a classroom with NO students. then a teacher will call you and say "todays classes are all canceled due to exams" another scenario, you will be sitting in your office with no class, and a teacher will ask where are you? you are supposed to be teaching!" also, you can ask anytime during the semester and ask "when are finals" and no one will know. i JUST found out the dates for finals just two weeks before finals. since i love schedules, this has been the most difficult thing to adjust to.

we have absolutely loved our time here, and have adjusted very well and the differences we just smile and say "we love it here"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Adventures in Riveraland

Since today is Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to do a review of memorable Thanksgivings past. Here is a brief overview of the Daniel and Tova Thanksgivings since we've been married:
Thanksgiving 2005 ~ Detailed in this blog. I'm not going to spoil the surprise.
Thanksgiving 2006 ~ Spent in Alpena. I got to meet many of Grace's relatives for the first time!
Thanksgiving 2007 ~ Spent in Jacksonville in a tiny apartment with Daniel and JL and Grace.
Thanksgiving 2008 ~ Spent in Miami in a crowded, family-filled place with Orlando and Ricardo fighting over something ridiculous. This included many fact-finding Google missions together that (not) surprisingly resulted in BOTH Orlando AND Ricardo even more convinced that they were correct.
Thanksgiving 2009 ~ Spent in Korea. We won't have much of a celebration, if any. This makes me both homesick and reminded of how much I do have to be thankful for.
As I said, today's blog will be focused on Thanksgiving 2005 ~ the first Thanksgiving Daniel and I had as a married couple. We had such high expectations for this Thanksgiving. This was to be the "parade the new wife around the family" Thanksgiving. I was supposed to meet Daniel's awesome grandpa and aunts and uncles and cousins and all that. As you can probably already tell, this was not what wound up happening.
Daniel and I put all our junk in Bob (our little Scion xa we'd recently acquired). We mapped out the trip. We'd decided that our best bet was to go from Madison, WI up north through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, then down through the glove to Alpena. We timed it just right for our arrival. We loaded Anners, our cute little muttley, into the car. We set off into the evening on our journey.
The drive was going incredibly smoothly. Annie was the best car-trip dog you could ever imagine. Give that punkley a pillow and put her no further than 4 feet away from her people, and she's set. We had the maps and the coats and everything we needed to brave Michigan in late November. We drove and drove, stopping in Green Bay at one point and stopping at the Brett Favre (I think?) McDonald's that was a stone's throw away from the stadium. We kept driving on into the night, hoping to make it up through the Upper Peninsula before we got too tired. We finally got into the UP, and things were going just swimmingly.
We were following the little highway 2 through the UP. We made it to Escanaba pretty easily. A little while after that, we encountered our first Lake Effect Snow. We were in the middle of this crazy swirling white blackness. It was like nothing I've ever seen. We were moving along at about 2 inches an hour, trying our hardest not to freak out (okay, so that was just me). Every now and then, we would be passed by an SUV that seemed to think nothing was going on at all. We finally decided to stop at a hotel when we realized we'd gone 2 miles in the last 20 minutes. We pulled over to a little Comfort Inn at the side of the road. We came in, and the desk person gave us their last hotel room. The tiny hotel was packed to the gills with holiday travelers that had been stranded in this tiny town. We were SO thankful that it was a pet-friendly hotel. We grabbed a few things from the car and headed in to our room.
In the morning, we looked out and saw a sea of white. There was snow EVERYWHERE, piled higher than I would have thought possible. We realized for the first time that we were literally right across the street from Lake Michigan. While we were driving, we were hugging the lake the whole time, and I had no idea! We saw that some parts of the road had been cleared, and the sky was pretty clear as well. We decided we would pack up and try again. When we went down to check out, the desk dude said, "Are you sure you want to go anywhere?" As it turns out, the snow the night before was horrible. The highways in the UP had been closed a little further ahead because there were too many fatalities.
We decided that it was too important for us to get to Alpena to give up at 6 am. We thanked them, checked out, and headed off down the road.
We made it about 5 miles ~ TOPS ~ when the snow hit. It was the same as the night before ~ insane, blinding snow. We couldn't see a foot out the windows. Everything was so white! We turned around and headed back to the hotel after we realized it was too dangerous to continue. Almost the second we'd turned around, the snow stopped. It completely disappeared! We said, "Okay, let's try again." We turned around and made it maybe a mile before the snow hit full force AGAIN! We tried this again and again, failing each time. Finally, when we realized we'd been covering the same mile or so for an hour, we decided to go back to the hotel and stay there for Thanksgiving. When we got back, the desk person chuckled and said that we could have our room back ~ they hadn't even bothered to clean it when we left.
We got back to the room, put our stuff in, and tried to figure out what to do. After all, it was Thanksgiving! We couldn't just do nothing to celebrate! Unfortunately, almost everything was closed down. It was too dangerous for people to drive to work.
Daniel and I did what every sane person would do. We went to the gas station next door and got our Thanksgiving dinner.
This was the menu for Thanksgiving 2005: Turkey (tortilla chips). Stuffing (salsa). Sweet potatoes (graham crackers). Gravy (peanut butter). Pumpkin pie (a giant hershey's kiss). We then finished off Thanksgiving in style by watching a 24-hour marathon of "Deadliest Catch". (Thank you, cable TV!)
The next morning, completely defeated by the Upper Peninsula, we packed our things and headed back to Madison. It was a sad Thanksgiving, but certainly a memorable one.
This year, we're going to brave the UP at the end of December. Hopefully I will NOT have another blog entry like this one.

Monday, November 23, 2009

its better in korea :-)

so after almost a year in korea we have found some things that are just better in korea than in the states.

i am not at all hinting that korea is better than america, but being from a country (the US) that prides itself in taking the best from other cultures, here are some things that we think America could learn from korea :-p

1: chicken strips. seriously so much better in korea than in america. a wonderful balance of spicy and juicy with some awesome added at the end.
2: fermented food, i.e. kimchi. sorry, had to give korea props for preparing a dish in a way that makes most americans queezy :-p
3: shopping carts. the wheels on the front and the back pivot. sheer genius i tell you, sheer genius
4: teachers field trips. when a majority of the field trips can be classified as "life-threatening" then they are awesome.
5: oral hygiene. my students brush their teeth after almost every class.
6: gift giving. in korea people find ANY reason to give a gift. its so nice. a week doesn't go by without walking in to your office and finding a box of something on your desk for some reason or another.
7: school parties. they have so much fun, and its definitely a bonding experience.
8: recycling. they recycle everything. even having recycling bins at the beach.
9: drying food. they will dry ANY kind of food.
10: umbrellas. they use them for all four seasons.
11: tv. its not the actual t.v. programs, but their format. minimal commercials, and most shows last 45-50 minutes with a 10-15 minute break in between. very nice to use that time for doing the dishes etc. :-)
12: the use of garlic and onions in their food. seriously one of the best things! they eat RAW garlic and onions. i love going to dinners, and being served raw garlic and onions. that makes my day. but not only that. what makes it the nest is that after being served i eat the raw garlic and raw onions and NO ONE looks at me funny :-p

so that's our "top12" list of things that are better in korea :-)

hope you enjoyed :-) next time things that are better in america :-)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

ad hoc

in korea sometimes you need to find the randomest things ever to get by.

the reason why, is because sometimes you dont know where to get things, so you have to improvise with things that you can find.

other times a very simple project can be very expensive which makes you improvise. for example . . . i wanted to hang a picture. then i thought "if i wanted to hang one picture i would have to go buy nails AND a hammer." i then weighed the pros and cons, and i thought "is it really worth the 10 bucks for a hammer to put up one picture?" so then the improvising starts :-p

sometimes people classify this as "ghetto" but sometimes we have to embrace that living in korea.

so with that backdrop here is todays blog:

when we moved in to our new apartment we had some closet doors that didnt close all the way. we would close the doors before leaving for work, and then come home and they would be open.i used some cardboard to make sure half of the door remained closed,
(the piece of cardboard is wedged at the top of the door frame and held on there with double-sided sticky tape :-p)

but the left hand door was pesky, and didnt respond well to the cardboard treatment.

so what do you do in korea with limited tools?


seriously, we tried velcro. :-p

it looks like this:
(look at the top left corner of the door, and where the door would close :-p )

we put on the velcro the first week we moved in, and it is still working, and we are happy with the results :-p

i would list more ghetto fixed things in the house, but they all involve double-sided sticky tape so its not as fun as velcro :-p

until next time people!

Friday, November 13, 2009

random = typical

so again, with the cultural differences theme, this is a compilation of things that happened in one hour, which just made me laugh

1: I got a phone call in my office, and my co-teacher told me that I had to leave right then to get a chest x-ray. all the male teachers are getting them (i dont know why, i just follow directions :-p). i asked if i needed a coat, and he said no. expecting to hop in a car to go to the hospital, which is only a 5 minute drive from my school i go find my co-teacher. he takes me to the schools parking lot where there was a mobile x-ray bus thingy, where all the men got there chests x-rayd. so today i got my chest x-rayed randomly, only in korea :-p. (no one has told me anything about the results so i guess it was ok :-p)

2: when getting the chest x-ray my co teacher asked me if i had anything metal on. i said just my belt. he said "no, i mean any metal attached to your insides" i laughed . . . a lot :-)

3: then i asked him if i need to take my belt off. this was now his turn to laugh at me :-p he was like "sure, and while you are at it, take off your shirt, your socks, and your pants." he then laughed and then said "no, you dont need to take off your belt. why would you need to take off your belt" i said maybe cause it was metal and he said "we arent going to be x'raying down there, just in your chest. you can keep your belt on. if you want though, i can announce it to the whole school, and tell them you are taking off your pants for the chest x-ray" touche' co-teacher, touche'

4: my co-teacher gets his x-ray before me. he says "please dont look at my x-ray. i will be very embarrassed if you see my insides "it was again my turn to laugh at him :-p

5: also, while waiting to get the x-ray (outside in the cold, and drizzle with no coat) we were talking about a field trip that i need to go on. he said "you know what? i would love to go to that place, but if someone told me i HAD to go, then i would not want to go" (i totally agree!)

and also, who knew that getting a chest x-ray would be so fun :-p

6: lastly, in class my co-teacher was trying to figure out if a 9 volt battery was working. i promptly picked it up and put it on my tongue. my co-teacher looked at me like i was trying to kill myself. i asked him why he was looking at me so weird and he was like "cause you are trying to electrocute yourself with the battery. be careful you dont want to die" it was then my turn to look at him like he had a third eye growing in the middle of his forehead. apparently the only time he EVER had done this was when he was three, and proceeded to laugh hysterically. i laughed cause i was like "why is this weird" and promptly checked another battery with my tongue, which made him almost fall on the floor laughing. i guess in korea they dont do that :-p

and that is why my co-teacher and i get along so much.

seriously, we are very much alike, and like making fun of each other :-p
I only have a month or so before i am passed on to my next co-teacher :-/ so sad

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

cultural differences

sometimes, after living in a different culture there is a sense of comfortability with the cultural differences. you usually just smile and nod and think "only in korea", some differences you just leave smiling and grateful for such experiences, and then there are sometimes where the differences are so maddening that they make you want to rip your hair out.

here are a couple that happened on the same day, all involving taxis :-p

last monday was a terrible rainy day. usually i walk to school, but with the rain i decided to take a taxi. i crossed the street and tried to hail a couple of taxis. a man was on the other side of the street. he saw me trying to hail a taxi. he crossed the street and walked towards the traffic a little bit so he was about 20 feet away from me. when he stopped he started trying to get a taxi! he totally cut in front of line! he knew i was trying to get a taxi, but that didnt stop him. (this hasn't been a one time thing. "lines" in korea are very amorphous)

i was really upset, cold, and wet from the rain. then to make matters worse the taxis were stopping to ask the guy where he was going, and tried to piggy back a fair with him. (piggy-backing is normal in taxis in korea) they didnt pick him up, and then when i tried to wave them down they would stop and ask me, even though the taxis had some of my students in them and it would be easy to piggy back fairs. i decided to start walking to school, and catch a taxi further down the street 'cause there was no way i was going to get a taxi any time soon due to "line-jumper"

i finally got a taxi after walking in the rain for 20 minutes, my socks and shoes thoroughly soaked. i was in a terrible state of mind.

while in the taxi, stewing, we passed the main intersection by my school. there is a "cop dude" who directs traffic in the mornings, since there are 1,000 students at my school it needs a "cop-dude" to direct traffic. when i see him every morning he bows and says "good-morning" with the biggest smile on his face, proud of himself to be able to communicate with someone in another language. i always respond with a bow and saying hello in korea. he loves it. he is a very cute old man. he makes my mornings :-) again, faithfully, he was there in the rain, in his poncho directing traffic.

after school,with my socks still wet, i was still in a grumbling state of mind. its tough when you are raised thinking that an action is totally rude, and go to another culture and it be "normal"

so i was grumbly, and it was still rainy, so i took a taxi home. i saw a taxi coming and did the customary waiving to get the taxi to pick me up. in the rain, through the windshield, i saw the taxi driver and it was the "cop crossing-guard dude"! (some taxi drivers wear uniforms that can be confused as cop uniforms) he recognized me while still in his taxi stopping and was waving to me excitedly. he had the biggest smile on his face, and the frostiness in my heart started to melt a little. when i got in he was so excited, and happy to see me. he, very animatedly, tried to tell me that he was the same guy that i saw every morning, and he was the same person who said hello every morning. he did this all in korean, but i understood enough to know what we was saying. i tried to tell him that yes i remember him. i think he understood me :-p

at this point i was starting to forget the "line-jumper" and started to think more about the small things that i LOVE about korea. this guy, i dont even know his name, and the extent of our conversations is a "hello" every other morning was so happy to see me! he truly felt like we had a connection, and even though, to me, that connection might be shallow, to him it was a deep connection.

its so true when people tell you to try and ignore some of the cultural differences that you cant understand, and focus on the positives. in all honesty, i/we have found that the people who are having the toughest times in korea seem to only focus on the differences they cant understand.

i choose to focus on "random cop looking but really a taxi driver who moonlights as a glorified crossing guard" over the "line-jumper" :-p

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I love my job. I love my coteacher. I love absolutely everything about my career in Korea. I am having a blast.

My coteacher and I taught a class on Friday that we needed to tape. (There's an upcoming contest for the Korean teachers that she needed it for.) It was a blast.

After the class, BoRam approached me with the video camera. She wanted me to describe my thoughts about the class. I took that opportunity to share some completely mature thoughts that show evidence of how incredibly well-educated and wonderful I am.

Enjoy. :-)
Here is a link to the video, just in case it's not working:
(Thank you, Dad!!!)

Everything referenced in the video is a true story, by the way. :-)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

funny thing happened while shopping at the store :-)

so, in korea they offer some pretty sweet action things when you buy a product.

sometimes the pairings are weird, for example a roll of paper towels when you buy 4 cans of spam. and sometimes they are the coolest things ever.

back in january we went to e-mart and i saw a lady giving away free snowman ear-muffs

all you had to do was to buy some febreeze (which we didnt need at the time) and the cool ear muffs were mine . . . guess who bought some febreeze that day :-p

so then that takes us to this weeks shopping. we went to buy some awesome cereal, but we had a choice, either get the normal box that looks like this . . .

or get a box with something random and free attached to it. the choice was obvious, we choose the box below . . .
we didnt know exactley what was in plastic bag so delicately taped to the box, but we knew we wanted it (and by we i mean me (daniel) so i got home and immediately opened the bag, and this was in it:
and this is a picture of our fan . . .

apparently you are supposed to put your fan in the bag like this:

and then you are supposed to zip it up. if you look closely you can see a handle, to carry it?

i dont know why you are supposed to do this with your fan. koreans are a firm believers in "fan death" so maybe this is supposed to help with it? (if you sleep in a room with fan on then the fan someway somehow kills you) i dont know, but at least we got a bag for our fan. something we have been missing our entire lives, and now we dont know what we would do without it :-p

Thursday, October 22, 2009

quick update

so everyone . . .

it looks like we are going to be staying a second year

and it looks like we are getting close to getting vacation dates

when we know these things we will let you know!

another year in korea? i guess so :-)

Sunday, October 18, 2009


ahhhh busyness :-p

it seems like no matter where you live, no matter what you do, you still face the same obstacles in your life. those things are: managing time, money, and relationships.

for the most part tova and i have been doing very well with so many aspects of our lives here in korea. it hasnt been until the past couple of weeks that we had to truly tackle the managing time thing.

tova and i both will tell you that we strive to be good stewards of our time. at times we have been successful and at times we have failed. but the past couple of weeks, and until december are a completely different beast . . .

we HAVE TO watch every second of every day. if we dont then we leave things undone that really need to get done.

a couple of weeks ago we were approached by the office of education and given the opportunity to teach some extra classes. we gladly accepted the challenge not knowing what we were getting ourselves in to. now i am in the process of re-writing a wizard of oz script to include a dorothy AND timothy, and doubling up on the lion, tin-man, and scarecrow. should be rather interesting. we are going to tape the play when they perform it and definitely post it. it should be awesome!

on top of this my school has asked me to start another HUGE project with my 2nd grade class. this is two large projects in one semester, and time is ticking.

so we are juggling a lot of balls, but we are thoroughly enjoying it.

we are also to crunch time about making a decision on staying a second year or not. please pray for us as this is a big decision. we dont have any job prospects in america, at this time, but at the same time its tough to say good-bye to "normal" life for a whole 'nother year. my pops has said "you can do ANYTHING for one year" and we have done that? will this adventure be as exciting a 2nd time around?

we miss you all, and will tell you when we have vacation dates/going home dates as soon as we know

it seems like there are so many things up in the air, but then we think about the One who holds us in our hands, and we have some kind of peace come over us that lets us know that "everything works together for good for those that love the Lord" then the busyness doesnt seem that overwhelming :-)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Essay ~ Don't Laugh At It!!!

** Still need to edit... This is for a province-wide essay contest. Picture this formatted well with perfect grammar and spelling. It's long, so read at your own risk. **

Many people of all ages have been bitten by the traveling bug. They have this burning desire to see the world, to experience new things, and to live an adventure. I am decidedly not one of these people. I have always been very comfortable in my boring, predictable life. Sometimes I wonder how I became an English teacher in South Korea, since Korea is pretty much as far away from home as I could possibly be. The decision to come to Korea was a difficult one. My husband and I talked it over and thought about it for months before even applying. However, the time between applying and getting on the plane was incredibly short. Therefore, looking back on it, this has been one huge whirlwind, one that I am excited to share with you.
My name is Tova Rivera, and I am 26 years old. I have been married for a little over four years now. My husband, Daniel, and I were happily going about our lives in Florida. I was an elementary school teacher and Daniel was finishing his degree. Although we discussed coming to Korea many, many times, we actually didn’t do as much research on our new country as we probably should have. Daniel and I came to Korea in December 2008. We left our family, our lives, our friends, and everything familiar to come on this adventure. Adjusting to life in Korea has been exciting and difficult in many different ways.
When we first came to Korea, I was completely unprepared for what I found. Our first night, we stayed in a hotel near the airport in Incheon. It was all so strange. We had to take off our shoes before going all the way into the hotel room. The shower in the room didn’t have a curtain. You had to put your key in a little thingy by the door in order to work the lights. When we turned on the television, people were speaking a different language. The decorations looked completely different. That night, Daniel and I started to realize the huge change we’d made in our lives. I was a little happy about it, but mostly terrified still.
In the morning, a van took us to Chuncheon for our first orientation. We were in an office with a few other crazy waygooks who’d up and moved halfway across the world. As we went over our contracts line by line, the excitement started to build. We actually had a purpose for being in this new land. At lunchtime, Francesca and Albert took us for our first ever Korean meal. It was a strange affair. We took off our shoes at the entrance and sat on a heated yellow floor. There were about a million small white dishes filled with things I’d never eaten: whole fish (scales, eyes, bones, and all!), noodles, kimchi, and so much more. We ate a ton and had delicious persimmons for dessert. This was the life!
After lunch, we were told there would be a ceremony telling us where we were working. We also were to meet our new coteachers. I became extremely nervous at this point, as I had no idea what was going to happen. Unfortunately, neither one of our coteachers were able to attend. Daniel and I met one of his lovely coworkers, who was kind enough to take us to Sokcho. The few hours in the car were mostly filled with silence, as I looked around at the scenery and thought about the completely new world I’d just thrown myself into. That night was filled with another huge Korean meal (beef barbeque – yum!) and my first ever E-Mart trip. At E-Mart, I saw so much food that was completely foreign to me. In a tiny little corner in a forgotten aisle in E-Mart, we found a dusty jar of Goober Grape (“America’s favorite!” it proclaimed). We grabbed a loaf of bread and a baggie of plastic spoons. Our coteachers then whisked us off to our hotel, where we were to stay for a week before moving into our apartment.
Motel Neo is a cute little hotel on the edge of a beautiful lake in Sokcho. We proceeded to unpack as much as possible (who knew closets don’t exist in Korea?!) and get settled into our new home. We put the Goober Grape carefully into the fridge, the bread on top of the TV, and the spoons somewhere on the vanity. We discovered the in-room internet and promptly made our first ever Skype call home. We assured our family and friends that we had, indeed, made it safely to our new home. We discovered the efficiency of drying rain-soaked clothing on the heated floors. We checked the TV channels, finding quite a few Brad Pitt and / or Angelina Jolie movies. That first night, we slept soundly, happy as clams in our new temporary home.
The next morning, we decided to explore the city. Daniel and I chowed down on a delicious Goober Grape sandwich (which is surprisingly difficult to get out of the jar with plastic spoons) and headed out the door. We decided to check out the area around Motel Neo first. It couldn’t be that difficult to find our way back to our little hotel. We walked for what seemed like hours. We eventually found our way back home after deciding that Sokcho must be at least 20 square miles. The next few days proved to be fairly mundane, filled with things like stopping at local GS 25s, Buy the Ways, and Family Marts. We found food that was amazingly delicious, food that was pretty strange, and things in between. I quickly learned that the key to culinary survival in Korea is to not expect things to be the same as they were back home. For example, buying a Hawaiian pizza in Korea might result in a pizza that has fruit cocktail on it. True story.
The worst part of that first week was, hands-down, jet lag. Daniel didn’t get jet lag too badly, but I got completely beat up by it. Jet lag had me crawling into bed around 9 am after getting up around 7. Jet lag had me nauseous and begging Daniel to just let me sleep all day, every day. Jet lag had me wondering why in the world I’d decided to move all the way to the other side of the earth. Jet lag had me regretting every minute of that plane ride when I didn’t sleep. I didn’t think I’d ever get over jet lag, but I did. It happened right around when Daniel and I started working at our schools.
As an elementary school teacher, I was terrified of teaching high school. I know with absolute certainty that I can handle myself in a room full of kids around 11 years old and younger. However, I had never worked with teenagers, and that was terrifying. Luckily, the EPIK teacher I replaced still had a week to go on her contract, so I got to come in and shadow her all week. It turned out to be a fairly uneventful week, as they were on the very end of units I hadn’t seen. My role that week was to be a monkey in the zoo; to let all of the students watch me, check me out, investigate me, and feel me out. I went into each class shaking before I got up in front of 36 intimidating girls to introduce myself. In some classes, they wanted to know everything about me, from my age to who I voted for in the presidential election. In other classes, they just wanted to get on with their studies.
The first week ended in tears for the kids, the teachers, and the leaving EPIK. It also ended in many parties, or meetings as they’re usually called. This was my first introduction to the drinking culture that exists in Korea. I do not drink alcohol of any sort, and this was not something I knew before we came to Korea. On that first night, I learned how to respectfully accept a shot, how to drink it, and how to reciprocate. I drank more soju that first night than any amount of alcohol I’d ever consumed. After the party, we went to a norebang (again, my first) which was very entertaining. After that, everyone went to a bar. It was a crazy and interesting night.
After that, Daniel and I moved into our first real home in Korea. We moved into the top floor of a 15-story apartment building in a massive complex. This was completely new to me, as the highest apartment buildings where I’m from are three stories. We had a beautiful view of mountains, lakes, and the East Sea. We quickly learned that you must turn the hot water on before taking a shower, and that floor heating is the coolest thing since pockets. We learned how to hang our laundry after washing it (no clothes dryer!), and how to gauge the correct timing of the laundry (at least two days before you need to wear the clothes). We learned that recycling is a requirement in Korea, and that you must keep your food garbage in a little yellow bag in your kitchen until you’re ready to throw it out. We began exploring our neighborhood and getting settled even more.
Then we began our first week of actual teaching. I was to teach a two-hour intensive course for third graders and a one-hour intensive course for teachers every day. This added up to three solid hours of teaching every single day for three weeks. I had no clue what to do and no idea how to even begin this task. As a high school teacher in Korea, I have no textbook to follow. I tried to find interesting activities and lessons. In my first teacher’s class, I failed miserably. I felt like I was fumbling around and completely lost in what to do. I tried greeting the other teachers in the office and saying goodbye every day, only to be met with either polite smiles or chuckles. At times, I was corrected on what I was saying (who knew that anyanghikahseyo and anyanghikaeseyo are so easy to mix up?). I felt like I had made a massive mistake in coming to Korea, and that I wouldn’t ever really fit in.
As time went on, I began to get to know my fellow teachers better. I began to see that their chuckles weren’t as much in mockery of me and my pitiful attempts at speaking Korean as they were in gratitude that I was trying. I began to see the “little” things my coworkers were doing to try and welcome me into their fold. I was invited to join teachers in the cafeteria for lunch. I had teachers offering to walk me to and from work. I had teachers asking me for help with their English. As I settled in to my new routine, I started to see how many people were welcoming me into their country and how badly they wanted to be able to communicate with me.
There were so many mistakes I made in those first few weeks (even months). I definitely accidentally insulted a few teachers by not eating a lot at my first dinner in Sokcho. I wish I had known before accepting the dinner invitation that I was expected to eat quite a bit. I didn’t ask my coteacher for help with lesson planning in the beginning, as I looked at it as my burden, not hers. She asked me a few times if I needed help, and in my pride I always chuckled and said, “No, it’s okay.” Those first lessons were horrible because of that mistake. I didn’t know how to approach my principal and vice principal. If I had learned a few short phrases, I would have been much better off.
I wish I had known much more about Korean culture before I came to this beautiful country. I am still learning a little more every day, and I try my hardest to show that I’m making an effort in everything. Any little one- or two-word Korean phrase that I can learn and use in practical contexts (pepulayo!) helps. Every time I use a Korean word or phrase with my fellow teachers, I feel their gratitude and acceptance. I may have botched up quite a few things in the beginning, but I think they understand that I come from a completely different culture and that it’s difficult for me to fit in. I’m so grateful to my school for being so kind and forgiving.
I think working with Korean high school students has been an incredible opportunity. I really respect all these students go through in their daily lives starting from such a young age. Coming in, I expected to work with students who had attitudes and behaviors similar to American high school students. I found that, although there are many similarities, Korean students value education much more than American students tend to. I discovered that Korean students truly want to feel that their time is used well in school. They want to feel challenged in their studies.
One of the most difficult things about teaching Korean students is finding a good balance. As an EPIK teacher, I know my classes should be lighter, more conversational, and really engaging. At the same time, my students want to learn quite a bit during their allotted one hour a week with me. I am never quite sure if I’m doing enough for the students or if I’m pushing them too hard. Thankfully, I have an amazing coteacher and a wonderful team of teachers to work with. They do an excellent job planning units, lessons, and activities that are both difficult and engaging. I think that listening to the Korean teachers is one of the most important things to do.
In orientation, everyone told us exactly that: always work with the Korean English teachers. They know their students and the curriculum really well, and they are trained to teach English. I can’t reiterate that fact enough. Teaching in Korea would be absolutely miserable if I didn’t get along with the teachers I work with. They are some of the funniest, most capable people I have had the pleasure to work with. There is always a little bit of a language barrier, but a little humor and patience will get you through without any problems. I am so happy to be part of the EPIK program.
I believe the EPIK program is excellent. I think that much of the program has been thought through very well, and the goals and expectations have been clearly laid out. I have been very impressed with EPIK since coming to Korea. I can see the students becoming more and more comfortable speaking with foreigners. Students will approach me and Daniel no matter what we’re doing or where we are in Sokcho to start up a conversation, regardless of if they’ve even met us before. It’s wonderful to see such enthusiasm and willingness to try.
I think there are a few things EPIK could change to become more effective. I think these changes, although most are minor, would help to transition foreigners to life in Korea as well as improve the quality of education. I think EPIK should stagger the start dates of new foreign teachers, provide more individualized training during orientation, and encourage schools to look at the EPIK classes as supplemental to their regular English classes. Those minor changes should help EPIK improve its program.
One of the problems I faced when I first started in my school was the overwhelming newness of everything. I wasn’t sure how to walk to school, where everything was in relation to everything else, and how to go about planning for my lessons. The EPIK I replaced was able to show me some of the ropes, and I would have been completely lost without her. She was able to tell me some of the things I could expect, some issues I might run into, and her guidance was absolutely priceless to me. If every EPIK was able to stay for an extra week after the new EPIK arrived, they would be able to introduce the newbie to other foreigners in the community, show them around school, and have the newbie observe some classes. These things would help the new EPIK transition to a new community, understand what is expected of them, and start off more confidently.
Another problem I faced in Korea occurred during orientation. I thought orientation was extremely well-planned and very interesting. The only problem was that many EPIK teachers had come at different times. I had been in Korea for a few months before orientation occurred, and I had already encountered many of the issues and situations that were discussed in orientation. I really would have appreciated more tailored discussion time. Also, some of the orientation sessions were in very large groups, so it was difficult to get some questions answered. I think having smaller, more individualized sessions would have been excellent.
One issue I have faced at my school is probably very different from school to school. I know the coteachers go through training when learning about the EPIK program, but I don’t think the other teachers in the school go through training. I think every school would benefit from a mandatory training for all English teachers that work with EPIKs in any capacity. I feel that some of the Korean English teachers are not sure as to how to use the EPIK teacher. Since EPIK is a relatively new program for many schools, I believe all English teachers would benefit from some form of training in order to implement the program well.
I think South Korea is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have absolutely fallen in love with the land, the culture, and the people here. I have discovered that even a travel-bug-a-phobic like me can pick up my roots and land in a completely new world and feel like I’ve found my home. I will not be a lifer like some foreigners, but I absolutely will always cherish the years I will spend in Korea. I have learned so much about myself and teaching while here. I look forward to taking some of the techniques I’ve learned in Korea back to the States. Thank you, Korea, for welcoming me with open arms. Thank you, EPIK, for giving me this opportunity.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Making Kimchi ~ Thank you, Matthew Campbell!

A great friend of ours in Sokcho made kimchi the other day and posted the pictures. Being a great Facebook stalker, I decided to totally steal the pictures and the captions to make an interesting blog post of my own.
All of the food was bought and prepared by Matthew Campbell. All of the pictures were taken by Matthew Campbell. All of the information comes from Matthew Campbell.
Thank you for the blog material! :-)

Cabbage! Yum.
All sliced up. Just waiting to rot. :-)

Lazy cabbage.

Since cabbage is the star of kimchi, it only makes sense that it would be the star of this post.

Cabbage. :-)

Cabbage. Pretty cabbage.

Salt? I think. I'm pretty sure.

Cabbage with salt all over it.

Salted cabbage.

It's still chillin in some salt.

Now, the salt is getting washed off.

Washing off the salt.

The cabbage is drying. It only makes sense after chillin in salt for a while and then washing it off.

The ingredients. Looks delicious to me! :-)


Red pepper powder.

The starch is ready.

Garlic is getting chopped.

Green onions.

Salted fermented shrimp.
By FAR my least favorite ingredient. Do you see the eyes? Not a fan.

Asian pear and apple.

Getting ready!

Looks delish so far!

Apple, pear, and onion puree. Yum!


Ginger without the outside. Wierd.

Straight from M.C.: Note: Ginger is in a bit of water. It's really chewy so soak and squeeze out the juice into the mixture. Throw away the solids.

Mixing the ingredients.

All finished! Now they just need to sit there for two weeks to rot, and you have delicious, homemade kimchi!!!! I think I might actually ask for a recipe ~ minus the shrimp, of course. :-)

Thanks again, Matthew! :-)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

what kind of person am i?

as a general rule i am a VERY cautious person. i LOVE change, but you have to give me a couple of years to gear up for it and plan for it :-p (i have these two personalities raging within me, its kind of fun :-p )

a very wise person in tovas an my life said that our personalities are the type were God has to make us change things in our lives cause we both like our routines and dont like change.

us moving to korea is one of those things. i needed to get in a different career field, and financialy it was pretty rough going for us.

many of our major moves have happened because of outside forces forcing us to make a move.

many people from different circles in our lives have told us that they were surprised that we actually moved to korea because they "would never picture us doing something like this"

so put those thoughts aside and move on to the past couple of weeks

over the past two weeks tova and i have had a chance to hang around a lot of fellow foreigners.
we do not have too much physical interaction with the foreigners for a variety of reasons so it was nice to be able to meet some people in the same boat as us.

in talking to them it made me realize what a different life tova and i are living compared to some other foreigners. it was interesting to hear some stories

one person hopped on a bus and got off at a random stop and had to find their way back home.
some one else talked about hiking up the mountain and spending the night in a tent
another story was of ordering some interesting food off a menu.

its funny cause even though we are living in another country tova and i are still our same selves in a lot of ways.

when we order pizza we go for pepperoni, and thats all
we dont visit too many different restaraunts cause we want to know what we are ordering when we order it.
we hike up mountains, but we havent spend the night in a tent etc. . .

i have made the comment to tova that "we are the worst people ever to be living in another country" and to a certain extent its true. we like understanding whats going on around us etc
but on the other end this is definitley the best situation for us, and the best decision we have made in our young marriage.

we have had to deal with some things that might seem trivial but they stretch you.
for example, having almost EVERYONE staring at you as you walk down the street cause you look very different from everyone else. its not a racist thing, its just people are genuinley curious.
also, its helped us get be used to the unexpected. its very common for classes to be canceled last minute, or to be added last minute. its very normal for someone to tell us that we need to pay 100 bucks that day, and also to be told that in 5 minutes you need to go to a teachers "meeting" and stay out with the teachers until very late.

so, in hearing their stories i wonder what kind of person am i? am i the crazy type of person who would move to another country (which everyone tells me i am not, and i dont think i am like that), or am i still the same cautious person that i believe i am, or am i somewhere in between. i think its a cautious person with a hint of crazy :-p

its always a learning experience, every day, every minute living in korea

thanks for reading another post. and to leave you with probably the most popular pizza in korea:
its wedges of potato, ham, bacon, mushrooms, and sourcream. actually pretty tasty, and one of those things that we went out on a ledge and ordered without knowing how it would turn out :-)see we are going out on a ledge :-p . . . sometimes

Saturday, October 3, 2009

ahhhh korea . . .

over the past couple of months i have really gotten in to a routine . . .

now, sometimes routines are good, but sometimes they are bad and need to be broken . . .

in all honesty lately its been been bad routines that i have been needing to break out of, but have not known how i got in them, or how i could get out of them.

i think a BIG reason why i have found it so easy to fall in to the same "bad" routines is because in so many ways i feel really comfortable here in korea. we have been so lucky to have great jobs, and a great apartment that every now and then we kind of forget that we are in another country.

then comes the past couple of weeks where i have been reminded that i am definitley not in america :-)

in korea teachers "meetings" are very important. its a time where the teachers kick back, relax and enjoy each others company. these parties, oh i mean meetings :-p can get very lively and they are a lot of fun, even when you dont speak korean and have no idea whats going on.

last week i went to one meeting where i was talking with some teachers and when they found out that i was married for over four years and didnt have any kids the tone changed in the room. they were all concerned for my health (both physically and mentally) and they couldnt understand why i didnt have kids yet. (you should have seen their faces when i told them the reason was because i was too young :-p )

then for my classes i had to proof read pen pal letters from 360 of my students. one student wrote in his letter "my girlfriend is very cute, but overweight, sometimes i worry cause she eats lots" my co-teacher said "this is the first time you are going to talk to someone in america, do you really want to tell them that your girlfriend is overweight" and without even thinking the student said a resolute "YES!"

then at another teachers meeting i had another table full of co-workers concerned as to why tova and i dont have kids, and then someone "read my palm" and told me that i would have two kids :-p i was informed later that this person always reads palms when they have had too much to drink :-p

then today is chuseok . . . chuseok is koreas thanksgiving, the 2nd biggest holiday. its so big that the schools give the teachers bonuses to cover their travel back to visit family cause EVERYONE visits family on chuseok.

so tova and i went to have a bbq with some friends on chuseok. when we got there, our normal place of grilling had a couple of korean families there enjoying the beautiful day. when they saw that we were there to bbq they were naturally intrigued why some foreigners would be grilling. they came over and introduced themselves and asked us what we were cooking . . .
they did this all in korean . . .

we tried to talk with them and tell them we had full spreads of food (chicken ka-bobs, potatos, pasta salad, hot dogs etc). apparantley something got lost in translation and they thought that we didnt have any meat (they were very concerned that we would grill and eat and not have any meat). they left and we thought it was nice that they came and said hello.

two minutes later a man from one group came with a HUGE plate of sliced pork and took my tongs from me, took over my grill and started cooking pork for us! then another woman from another group came and gave us a huge bottle of soju (korean whiskey) this is a HUGE sign on acceptance and it showed that they respected us. then a woman from another group came with even MORE traditional korean food. squid, fish etc . . .

then the man who is still taken ownership of my grill yells to his daughter. two minutes later she comes by with cups for us to drink from, traditional korean pears, and then asked us if we wanted some kimchi (no meal is compelte without kimchi). a friend of ours and myself like kimchi so we said yes. the girl comes back with a bowl full of the most delicious kimchi EVER (seriously, it was soooooo goood!)

we talked with this man, exchanged cups with him (very traditional korean thing) and had a great time as he helped us cook some food.

then i realized, again, that i love korea. sometimes its takes moments like the ones that i have said to kind of gently remind you that you are in a different place. (even in another country you need that sometimes)

at that moment God reminded me that some people move to change things in their lives, others take big changes that have happened in their lives (being laid off, death in the family etc) to make even more changes in their lives. i was gently reminded about the complacency that has been in my life over the past couple months, and God really spoke to me (yes He spoke to me while the korean man was grilling on my grill :-p)

God reminded me that i am in a different place and i can really take advantage of things being different to make the changes in my life that i want for the better. it could have been over a loud speaker and it couldnt have been clearer. i was reminded that i have an opportunity that very few people have, and that i can either take full advantage of it and come out so much richer as a person, or let this opportunity slip through my fingers and have nothing to show from this experience other than some cool pictures and a couple of funny stories of people reading my palm, and random strangers hijacking my grill. parable of the talents anyone?

maybe this will be the needed kick in my pants to gently remind me to get things back on track.

so i will quote a famous theologian who i empathise with. this theologian was plucked from a very normal life and then transported to a very different situation, and had a moment of understanding when she realized things were different . . .

"yes toto, this isnt kansas anymore :-)"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


so here is a picture blog of our latest adventure:
climbing ulsanbawi. ulsanbawi is a tall mountain thingy at the national park here in sokcho.
so of course we need to start with the obligatory picture of the HUGE buddah statue :-p

so this is where we are headed to. the map said it was going to be over a kilometer of "hard" hiking. yeah, we were in for a long day . . .the rocks of ulsanbawi are rather interesting. they are almost like a stark white when everything around them isnt. also there isnt any foliage on it, it makes ulsanbawi rather distinctivealong the way there were a couple of random temples. so we stopped and took some pictures. rather cool. this is about the coolest temple fountain we've seen . . .we think some random monks are interred in these . . .another random temple along the way . . .also, along the way was heundeulbawi. . . literally translated it means rocking rock. the goal is to push the rock off the ledge, even though its impossible. pretty much its famous for being a rock :-peven though there were stairs for part of the hike it was a literal climbing of a mountain. at many points the stairs were more like a glorified ladder then stairsthe rock above the stairs fell and is percariously perched above the stair case. it would be nice to think this was the first time we thought we would die along the hike, it wasnt, and it wasnt the last either :-pagain the rocks looked really coolthe coolest thing about the hike was at the top they set up a mini tourist trap! now the last thing you need after hiking for 5 hours are people trying to sell you stuff. about the most humorous thing up there is that one guy had a bull horn. what makes this funny? the top portion was only 10 feet wide by 30 feet long. if he just talked you would have been able to hear him :-p

tova was happy that we survived . . .i was ecstatic apparantley :-pand a view of our city from the top. thats pretty much our whole city. its tiny, but we love it
in total we spent about 5 hours going up (including stops for pictures, and random temple viewage) and two hours climbing down. it was pretty awesome. we had a great time, and we were sore for the next week:-p until next time . . .