Koreans Hate Christmas

Okay, I’m being dramatic with the “Koreans Hate Christmas” title. But I was a little surprised when I shouted, “Next week is Christmas!” to my students and was showered in a storm of booing. Turns out that Korean Christmas is quite different from western Christmas.

In Korea, Christmas is for couples. One Korean friend said couples like to hike up a mountain and watch the sunset. It sounds romantic until you realize that Korean winters are brutal. The wind cuts through your jacket and clothes and you can forget about your small appendages. They’ll freeze off.

Christmas in Korea is more like our Valentine’s Day. Couples might exchange gifts, have a romantic night out, and declare their everlasting love for each other. On the other hand, those who aren’t so lucky to have found their soulmate will be spending it “with Kevin” meaning they will be “Home Alone” and possibly watching the movie without a mate.

There’s a legend that Myeong-dong in Seoul turns off all their lights at midnight to allow couples to steal a kiss amidst the crowds. There’s very little evidence of this being real but the sentiment is nice.

There are some similarities, though. Christians attend a Christmas service. Christmas music blares from the downtown shops. You’ll hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” more than you will ever want to hear it. Stores decorate and sell Christmas themed items. Some Korean families decorate their homes and put up Christmas trees. Children are told that Santa brings presents to all the good girls and boys. Parents buy presents for their children but not nearly the amount that western parents do. My co-teacher said she gives each of her children one gift. My Korean friend said that her parents left her a gift under her pillow. After the children are grown, Christmas is rarely celebrated.

When living in a different country, it’s nice to have familiar things around the holidays, but it’s also nice to experience it with a different twist.

 

 

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2016 Korean Culture “Workshop”

Yearly Culture Trip 2016 – Tongyeong/ Geoje
One of the best things about working in Miryang for the GOE is that the Miryang Education Office organizes a yearly culture “workshop” for the Guest English Teachers (GET). “Workshop” is a code word for an excuse to get together, drink, and have a good time. This takes place during the week and lasts for 2 days and 1 night. Tourist attractions, meals, transportation, and accommodation is paid for by the MOE. You are also paid your regular work pay. Pretty sweet deal, right? This year we went to Tonyeong and Geoje.

Day 1

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Dara Park

We took a large charter bus to Tongyeong where we were to take the Hallyeo Waterway Observation Cable Car. Unfortunately, the wind was too strong and we had to postpone that part of our trip. Next, we went to Dara Park to watch the sunset… only the sky was hazy and the sun was nowhere to be seen. It didn’t stop us from taking in the scenery and snapping a million selfies. We ate dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant where we were served pork ribs (galbi) and beer. On our way to the hotel, we stopped at a convenience store to buy more beer and snacks.

Night 1
Our accommodation was a nice hotel. It was traditional Korean style so there were mats and pillows. Not the most comfortable bedding by Western standards. :/ There was a little kitchenette and an amazing view. We all decided to gather in one room so we could play games, drink, and chat before going to bed.

Day 2
We started the day with a buffet breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast was Western style with scrambled eggs, sausage, cereal, toast, etc. After stuffing our faces, we loaded on to a “Pleasure Boat” that took us to Hallyeohaesang National Park on Jangsado Island. It was rainy, but once again, didn’t ruin our party. The island was beautiful and led to many goofy photos and some inappropriate conversations.

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Hallyeohaesang National Park

Since our coordinator felt bad about us missing out on the cable car experience, we were rushed to see it. Up we went where we saw… nothing. It was so foggy that you couldn’t see anything but fog. At the top, the wind broke our umbrellas and our pictures showed nothing but blurry faces.

Lunch was a traditional Korean lunch that’s famous in the Tongyeong region. It’s basically a broth soup, seaweed wrapped rice, and seafood in red sauce. As tasty as it was, we were all dying for something hearty to eat and rice wasn’t cutting it.

We ended the trip at the Geoje POW Camp Historical Park. To me, this was a little odd for an attraction. It featured a lot of history, but it was also a bit insensitive if you ask me. There was an area where you could zip line to experience the terror and bravery of the prisoners who escaped and a trick eye mural where you would pretend to throw a bucket of water on to POWs that were bathing in a river. Top that off with a healthy dose of Korean propaganda (POWs were treated within the rights as set forth in the Geneva Convention. POWs had better meals than the active Korean soldiers.) and you have a tourist attraction.

The weather might not have cooperated with us for this trip, but because our group of GETs are awesome people, we still managed to have a great time. We are all really grateful to our coordinator for putting on this “workshop” for us.

Korea: Love-Hate-Weird

10 Things I Love about Korea
1) Korean BBQ
2) Accessible and cheap public transportation
3) Service (Free stuff)
4) Deskwarming (I get paid to sit around and do whatever I want. I never understood why this is a common thing that foreigners complain about.)
5) Drinking culture (Pouring for other people is fun.)
6) Fast internet, widely available
7) Instant person-to-person bank transfers
8) Legally drinking in public parks
9) K-Pop/ Noraebangs (private karaoke rooms)
10) Street food

10 Things I Hate about Korea
1) Feeling obligated to eat mystery meats.
2) Personal space culture differences.
3) Drinking culture (I saw a girl in tears because she felt like she was being forced to drink.)
4) The weather
5) The smell of beondegi
6) Lack of diversity and lingering racial stereotyping
7) Constant fear of getting hit by a car, bus, motorbike, etc.
8) Lack of accessibility to foreign foods, ingredients, spices
9) Lack of laundry drying machines
10) Abundance of stray cats (this is more of a regional thing, but it’s the thing I hate the most)

10 Weird Things about Korea
1) Eggs come in a carton of 10 (and brown eggs are more common than white eggs)
2) Apartment ceilings are wallpapered
3) Most Korean milk is ultra-pasteurized and therefore will refuse to die months after the “expiration date”
4) The 4th floor is rarely found in buildings because the word for four also means “death”
5) Shaking your leg, especially while eating, is bad luck
6) Wearing plunging necklines or showing your shoulders is considered inappropriate for ladies, and yet wearing mini skirts that barely cover the bum is fine
7) Students have each subject 2-3 times a week; unlike the US where they study the core subjects 5 days a week
8) Koreans wear large, puffy coats inside the building during winter while keeping the doors and windows wide open
9) There is no Rice Krispies cereal here.
10) Korean fusion cuisine – corn on pizza, french fries on pizza, ice cream on salad

What do you think of my list? Would you add anything?

A Year in Review

It has been a year since I started working for Gyeongsangnam-do Office of Education (GOE) and what a year it has been. I have made friends from all over the world, met some amazing people and had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. It is because of this that I decided to renew my contract with GOE for another year.

When I first started this blog, I thought it would be a way to share my experiences. Little did I know that I was going to have so much fun that I wouldn’t have time to write those experiences down! With a year of experience under my belt and my lesson plans ready for the next year, I am hopeful that I will do a better job at keeping up with the blog.

If anyone out there is wondering whether or not putting your life on hold is worth is: it is. For some, Korea is not what they expected it to be. But I can’t think of a single person I’ve come in contact with that would say coming to Korea was worthless. For me, coming to Korea has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of my life.

Interview #1: EOS in Suwon

The Email
I got an email from a recruiter saying that a school is Suwon was looking for someone who spoke Korean. I have been learning Korean for the past 3 years, but my abilities hardly reflect someone who has been studying for so long. I explained this to the recruiter knowing that it would probably mean I would be passed by for an interview. However, the next morning I got another email with an interview request for that evening.

I was pretty stoked. My first interview! This was really happening! I spent the whole day researching example interview questions, practicing my responses, and asking my Korean friends for advice.

The Offer
Here’s what the job offer looked like:

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Why I’m No Longer Nasty

“Nasty” (noun): a fan of the blog, Eat Your Kimchi

One of my all-time favorite blogs was Eat Your Kimchi. A married couple from Canada moved to Korea to teach English. They started their blog as a way to show their family and friends back home that Korea wasn’t some destitute Third World Country and to chronicle their adventures. Months later they discovered that they had viewers and not just the ones back at home. They started to branch out, featuring KPop and making jabs at the music videos through skits and satire.

I owe a lot to Eat Your Kimchi. It was through their weekly installments of KPop Music Monday that I was able to fall in love with KPop, then fall in love with Korea, and ultimately embrace who I am being an American in a Korean body. However, I have noticed a drastic change in their structure over the years. When I started watching them, they prepared skits and I was genuinely able to laugh out loud. Each week, I had something to look forward to. No matter how crappy my weekend was or how sucky Mondays are, I knew I would have a good music video and a good hard laugh in KPop Music Monday.

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