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 :-)"