Guest Post: Mike – GOE

Happy December! The school year is almost over. One more month plus that weird week for graduation and then we’re done!

The following is a guest post by my friend Mike.* (Names have been changed.) Mike’s perspective is especially interesting in that he is a vegetarian and did not particularly enjoy his time in Korea. Since writing this post, Mike has completed his 1 year contract and moved on. If you’re looking to teach in Korea, it’s always nice to read as many different perspectives as you can.

This is Mike’s story:

Anyong Haseyo,

I’m Mike and I’ve lived in Korea for 10 and a half months now. No, this isn’t my opening statement for Korea Anonymous, but I do have some confessions before I get into this. Confession 1: I’ve never written a blog piece before so apologies for this. Confession 2: I am a (strict) vegetarian, and as such I am on the periphery of Korean social culture which invariably centres around food and restaurants. This has no doubt had some considerable effect on my ability to integrate into Korean society, and certainly affects my views of life in Korea. Confession 3: Before this, I wrote a 3 page rant about Korea… I was trying to write this blog post and it just developed into a looooong, rambly rant.

I consider myself somewhat well traveled. I’ve visited around 30 countries across 4 different continents so far, and I’ve liked all but two of the countries I’ve visited; Bulgaria and Korea.
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Pepero Day

November 11 is Pepero Day in Korea. Pepero is a Korean snack. It’s a thin breadstick covered in chocolate and other flavors. If you’ve ever had a Japanese Pocky, it’s basically the same thing. The date being 11-11 is to the likeness of Peperos being long and thin, just like the number one.

According to the most reliable source on the internet, Wikipedia, Pepero was originally given to friends on Pepero Day in hopes of being taller and thinner. From my experience, the current trend of Pepero Day has changed since then. It’s more like the Valentines Day for friends. You go, Glen Coco! In my main middle school, giving Peperos are banned. I think it has something to do with money, status, bribes, and the makings of a Korean Millennial Generation. That doesn’t stop them from sneaking them in and swapping anyway.

At any rate, if you would like to participate in Korean culture, make sure you buy some Peperos and give them to people you pretend to like.

Things I’ve Learned in Korea So Far

  1. How to eat grapes
    – Don’t eat the skins.
  2. When a Korean child uses that yells-everything-at-an-unreasonable-volume voice, my listening comprehension goes from >10% to 0%
  3. How to get water

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Step 1: Get metal cup
Step 2: Dispense water
Step 3: Drink water
Step 4: Put metal cup in hole under cup cupboard thingy

Seriously. Everything seems so easy and yet so unfamiliar. Do you have to pay for the water? Why are there two dispensers? (One is hot water the other is cold.) I had to sit and stare at people drinking water for 15 minutes in order to figure out literally how to pour myself a glass of water.

4.  How to order food at the Lotte Department Store’s food court.

5. If there are no open tables, it’s perfectly fine to sit across from a stranger.

6. When you’re food is ready, you can leave your cellphone, purse, and wallet in front of said stranger as you go get your food.

7.  There are phone charging stations at most cafes that you can use for free.

8.  You must buy 쓰레기 봉지 (trash bags) at the grocery store check out counter for your non-recyclable waste.

9.  How to use the Naver maps app.
– Seriously a life saver.

10.  How to order something for take-out. (포장해주세요.)

11.  My Korean name is probably the English equivalent of “Bertha.” It’s unattractive and old-fashioned. When I tell Koreans my birth name, they respond by laughing or telling me I can change it. My favorite response was Shepard’s, “Ohhh. That is… unexpected.” ^^

Miryang Rompings

September 12, 2015
I’ve mentioned before how awesome my co-workers are. They make an effort to talk to me and make sure I’m comfortable. The first few days in Miryang were a little hard on me because I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t know how to navigate around the city. I would take walks around my neighborhood but never found more than a few restaurants, convenience stores, and a car wash. I was sure I landed in the Mansfield of Korea.

My co-teacher, Sunny, told me that one of the teachers lived in the city and could show me around. Jeong Hee is the same age as I am, single, and male. I can’t know for sure, but I’m fairly certain that many of the teachers tease him about me and another female teacher that started the same time as I did. Jeong Hee agreed to show me around the city and took me to some of the touristy spots. Our last stop was a coffee shop. Just outside the coffee shop, we ran into three of our students who immediately burst into squeals and screams upon seeing us. I couldn’t help but laugh under my breath but Jeong Hee kept a straight face. Jeong Hee said something to them before going into the shop. As he ordered, I could see the girls outside the window taking pictures of us on their cell phones. We took our food upstairs to the dining area and saw two more of our students. They didn’t make as big a fuss as the other girls when they saw us, but Jeong Hee was staring them down. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I stared them down too. The girls sunk down into their seats asking, “What? What? Why are you doing that?”

Work should be fun on Monday!

Mountain Hiking in Changwon

August 30, 2015
Hey Andrea. Let’s hike up a mountain!
Okay. Have you ever hiked up a mountain before?
No. But I like hiking back home so how bad can it be?

Heh. “How bad can it be?” My host Se Na gave me directions to the mountain trail entrance. She used a temple as a landmark. Piece of cake.

Temple 1

Success! But where was the trail? There was a sign that blocked the road. A few translations came up with “grounds, worship, silence, spectator, forbidden.” Well that can’t be the right road. I asked help from a couple doing yard work at their home. The man looked at the map sketch Se Na gave me and explained I was not at the right temple. He walked me across the street and motioned where I should go, all the while talking in Korea. He watched as I went on my way until I couldn’t see him anymore.

Well crap

Well crap. Did I go the wrong way? This is where Sena said the entrance was. Where does this trail lead?

Where does this leadlead

Success again! This time I got the right temple.

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The actual hike was a lot of fun aside from the 100% humidity and the fact I was wearing jeans, Chuck Taylors, and carrying a purse. A few side trips led me to some really cool sights. And seriously? What’s the deal with the exercise equipment ON THE MOUNTAIN? And there were multiple outdoor mini gyms. I passed at least three.

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While I was huffing away, I passed by two older Korean men. They later passed me when I took a rest. As they passed, one of the men handed me two pieces of candy and told me, “It’s hard to reach the top.” Eventually we all reached a plateau where we sat and picked up a conversation. The other man gave me a bag of what looked like some brownish green liquid. Turns out it’s some kind of onion juice. “It’d be good if you drank it all,” he told me. Uhhh- ok. Down the hatch! It actually didn’t taste bad. I’d drink it again.

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It was my second long conversation in Korean since I got here. They told me I should marry a nice Korean man, asked about my adoption and family back home, and talked about wild pigs that lived on the mountain. They also advised me that this was a good place to turn around and head back down.

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I originally took this picture to try to capture the baller Korean hiking gear that everyone donned. Little did I know that these two men would turn a fun little hiking adventure into a lasting memory.

Korea Day 3: Meeting Shepard

Today was a hallmark for me. I finally got to meet one of my language partners in person! His English name is Shepard, and he’s one of the most dedicated people I know. He was kind enough to take a bus from Busan to Changwon to meet me. Shepard taught me how to order food at the Lotte Department Store’s food court, how to order food for take out, and the most valuable tool of all – the Naver navigation app. More than that, over the past few months of knowing him, Shepard has taught me about how to live everyday working towards your goals. Shep’s goal is to become a UN ambassador. And, to put it in Konglish, everyday he lives life hard. Instead of applying for an easy military duty, he aims for the most difficult and dangerous. He only sleeps for 3 hours at night. He sacrifices time with his friends and yet cherishes his close relationships. Every morning he asks God to give him more adversity if it will make him a better, kinder man.

Shepard is more than just a language partner. He is a brother, a role model, and a friend. I couldn’t be more grateful to know him.