Tuesday, February 5, 2013
I want to make another post here now, however, to reach a larger audience. I have news! This year, beginning in April of 2013, I will be teaching English in Ibaraki, Japan. This is a suburb of Osaka, a 20 minute train ride into town, and a 30 minute train ride from Kyoto.
This is pretty exciting. Some may be wondering about what I'm thinking and what the motivation is here. Good questions. Let me first say that I love Korea. My life here has been good, comfortable, and interesting. I will also say that it has been hard to live in Seoul. It is difficult to say what the greatest challenge was here, but I think a big part was how little time I had to devote to my own sanity and peace. I worked many more hours than in my first year in Korea, and had about an hour commute on top of that in each direction, leaving not much time for me to really explore, or even find my daily breath. With that and what energy it takes to really flesh out the challenges of a committed, live-in realtionship, I found myself stretched pretty thin. So, as my year began to wind down, I confronted the questions, "what's next?"
and "what do I need?"
Let's be honest: though I've loved this life of adventure, travel, and living abroad, I'm starting to feel ready to decide (somewhat) what my long term goals are, and develop a 5(ish)-year plan to work towards them. At the same time, I have some financial obligations, and some personal factors (my relationship, etc.) which lead me to want a little more time of this English teacher lifestyle. And, let's not omit, I have enjoyed teaching! It's not my ultimate career goal, but damned if it's not extremely rewarding and often pretty fun.
So, Japan's appeal, not in a particular order:
1. It's Japan. Come on. So cool. I had some experiences of Japanese culture as a child, through exchange students my family hosted, and just last year had the chance to visit for the first time. It's a fascinating, beautiful, inviting (at least to me) place.
2. This is maybe a similar thread, but I feel a great need in me for a restart--a new physical location, a new culture, a new everything to give rebirth to the parts of me that have felt stifled this year for numerous reasons. I know what I need to do, and I do believe that a person can work to meet their personal needs and goals in any setting, but I feel like a new physicality is so beneficial to kick-starting these things. It's kind of like how many people make new-year's resolutions. One can resolve to do something new any time, but that first of the year somehow helps one's mind to take a new approach. That, and I'm in love with discovering new (to me) cultures. It forces me to be challenged, uncomfortable, a little scared-in-a-good-way, and uncertain of almost everything from time to time. That, and it's so humbling! I feel it's so good for me!
3. Now that I'm only 2 months from paying off my student loans (YES!) I can spend a year saving for my future, so that I don't go right into debt again, should I return to school.
4. The proximity to Korea allows my partner and I to see each other fairly often, while we both pursue some separate goals, and have a little space to assess some things about ourselves as a unit, and as individuals.
5. My new job has a 4 hour day of teaching. Wow. Really. Such a step down from my current work schedule. It puts so much more life in the work-life balance. It's a 5 hour work day, including lesson planning, and a 6 day work week, but I think it's a fair trade-off. I have really learned the value of the time spent alone. It is so vital to mental health and fulfillment of personal goals. I feel like this year was almost a complete break from any attempt to achieve many of my personal goals due to this lack of time. I also felt pretty out of breath most of the time, just attempting to complete my work, keep track of friends, and foster a few (very few) personal relationships in Korea. I am a creature which thrives on community and human companionship, and the lack of time has not really allowed me to foster much of a community nor regular companionship in Seoul. This aspect is HUGE, and I can't state it's value enough.
6. Along these lines, the hours at this new job are in the afternoon-evening, which allows me to do a lot with my morning time. First of all, I can volunteer again. On a regular basis. I'll be so close to 2 major cities, and have already begun exploring ways to get involved. Also, these hours allow me to call friends and family back home almost any day of the week, much like my first year in Korea. This is pretty huge. I do love travel, and the benefits therein, but I definitely value my relationships at home, especially that of my family, and it has been hard this year only being able to call on weekends.
7. I get 6 weeks vacation, so that allows me a lot of freedom to explore the world in other ways. A little more travel in Asia, a few hops back to Korea, maybe even a trip home for the holidays. We'll see. It sounds like I might have quite a few visitors next year, so going home might not need to be in the cards. It's only a year, and it sure goes fast! You've got to take advantage of the opportunities around you, while they last!
8. The job, of course! It looks great. A chance to teach all ages, be in charge of my own curriculum, work with a Japanese co-teacher, and guess what, live ALONE in a 3-bedroom HOUSE! Not an apartment. This wasn't a deal maker, but such great luck. There's also only one other foreign teacher at the school, he's been there one year already, and he's from Portland, Maine! Something of a sister culture to my little hometown, I'm told. We've already talked a bit on skype, and I think it's going to be a great year. This small school atmosphere, in a suburb in Japan, affords much more of a cultural immersion than this year in Seoul has been, with 14 foreign English teachers at my school. I must say, it has been a wonderful workplace, but weird that I haven't been able to meet any new Korean friends except through Hoopie's already established network. I certainly didn't come here to meet other westerners, though I value them as human beings and friends. I'm looking forward to "losing myself" or at least feeling like a bit of a stranger in a strange land again. It's kind of amazing, disorienting, and exciting. And I'm sure there will be lots of things I cannot begin to imagine, as every place has its own set of challenges, beauties, and unique cultural aspects.
There's so much more I could say, but I'm going to stop there. I don't know if I'll pick up this blog again, but it's possible. Also worth mentioning, I will be home in portland from March 4th to March 28th. I will be staying with my folks and spending some quality time with them in The Beav, but definititely seeking re-connections with friends while I'm there. And of course, spending some much needed time in my beloved Portland. I am still certain, Portland will remain my hometown, my base, and eventually the place where I hang my hat. Nowhere is quite like it.
Thanks for keeping up,
Friday, March 16, 2012
Entrance to S.O.T.!
Hopefully I will keep up with you all on here on a semi-weekly basis. Also, for those of you wondering, my mailing address is:
931-26, 301 ho
You don't actually need the zip code, so Hoopie tells me. Send me letters! I will be excited to write to you as well. :)
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
As most of you know, I have arrived back in Korea for this, my second year of teaching English! However, my job and my situation are considerably different this time around. For one, my partner and I are living in Seoul, which is absolutely crazy. With over 10 million people living here, Seoul is the "largest city proper in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) world," according to wikipedia. A pretty drastic change from little ole' Pohang and it's population of 500,000! And believe me, it is huge. Greater Seoul is actually over 25 million people, meaning that more than a fourth of the entire population of Korea lives here. Nuts-o. Not only that, but the population density is greater than almost anywhere. At some point I will take some pictures on the subway during my morning commute so you can have some small idea of the implications of that. One word: sardines. Here's some fun demographic information for those of you interested, clipped right off wikipedia's article. Feel free to skip this paragraph if you feel your eyes glazing over.
"Seoul proper is noted for its population density, which is almost twice that of New York and eight times greater than Rome, though slightly less than Paris. Its metropolitan area is the densest in the OECD. Nearly all of Seoul's residents are Korean, with some small Chinese and Japanese minorities. As of 2009, the city’s population is 10,208,302. The number of foreigners living in Seoul is 255,501 in 2010 according to Seoul officials. As of the end of June 2011, 10.29 million Republic of Korea citizens lived in the city. This was a .24% decrease from the end of 2010. As of June 2011, 281,780 foreigners were located in Seoul. Of them, 186,631 foreigners (66%) were Chinese citizens of Korean nationality. This was a 8.84% increase from the end of 2010 and a 12.85% increase from June 2010. The next largest group was Chinese citizens who are not of Korean nationality; 29,901 of them resided in Seoul. The next highest group consisted of the 9,999 United States citizens who were not of Korean nationality. The next highest group were the Republic of China (Taiwan) citizens, at 8,717. The two major religions in Seoul are Christianity and Buddhism. Other religions include Shamanism and Confucianism, the latter seen more as a pervasive social philosophy rather than a religion."
So a lot of you want to know what's going on with me here! Since I've gotten back to Korea, it of course has been a whirlwind, but things are going really well. Hoopie and I have found a great apartment in a relatively quiet and safe neighborhood. It is pretty spacious for Seoul, and Hoopie was able to haggle with them, so we got an awesome price for rent! It's also a minute walk to the subway, and only 6 stops away from my school, no transfers! My commute is about 30 minutes, because I have a 10 minute walk after getting off the train. The apartment is awesome, but was not furnished at all, which is pretty standard actually. So, we've been spending the past two weeks visiting second hand stores and calling foreigners on craigslist for their old items. We're pretty much moved in at last, and it's starting to feel like home.
The first week at school was training, and let me tell you, I'm starting off PUMPED! This school is so much different than my last one, but in some really awesome ways. It's called S.O.T. which stands for School of Tomorrow, and it is a preschool/kindergarten/
So much to say about this school. The feeling in there is really that it is a place that cares about not only education, but the well-being and emotional development of the kids--helping them become caring, model little people. It has really seemed to me all of these past two weeks that every staff person genuinely cares about kids. There has been no "business" feeling that often occurs at korean hagwons which are only concerned with test scores, numbers, and dollar signs. It feels great! So what am I doing here? This is the best part! I teach only 3 main groups of students. My first group are 14 Korean 6 year olds (western 4-5 years old), which I will have every single day from 9:30am-2:30 pm. Beyond excited about this. I get them all year! AND, I am their first English teacher! This means I get to really see them change and grow, and man, are they ever cute. I also get to teach them such a variety of subjects. We do songs and games, science and art projects, phonics and reading, writing and math--the full gambit! And though the school provides my books and materials, art supplies and science projects, it is up to me how and in what time I execute lessons, as long as I get through all of the material on time. I am allowed to use my creativity to enhance lessons, change and add or omit as I see fit. I also get to decorate my classroom however I want, which is really fun. There are cubbies and baskets for their supplies, posters I get to make or get from the teacher supply closet, birthday decorations (we get to have birthday parties!) and so on. The school even has a field trip every month or so that we get to take the kids on, as well as regular fun assemblies and occasional academic competitions like spelling bees. I get planning time while the kids are at music class, P.E. or Korean traditional class. I also get to take them to recess! This school has so much freedom and control for me as their teacher, and so much variety! It's so refreshing and exciting. Of course, it will have it's challenges, but I'm so up for it.
My other two groups of students are elementary schoolers. One group is 12 students (Korean age 7) on MWF from 2:30-4:30, and another group of 5 (also age 7) MWF from 4:30-6:30. The first group are beginners as well, though they are older than my morning kids, and the second group are advanced learners. The curriculum is a little more focused, but again has a lot of variety and flexibility, and I am allowed the same freedom in my class of doing things my way, as long as we get through the materials.
On Tuesday I am allowed to leave right when I finish with my kindergarteners at 2:30, and on Thursday I have one more class until 4:30, which are 7 year old beginners, at the same level as my kindy kids.
Things are going so well! The first full week of classes was definitely draining and challenging, but not without some excitement. It's been a little rocky of a start, but with time, I am confident that I can do this and do it well. I'm so looking forward to doing this job, I think it's going to be a great fit. Also, I should say that my co-teachers are great. There are a lot of new teachers, and we all went through our training together. Everyone is really friendly and outgoing, positive and kind. We have gone out together a few times already, and I imagine we will all hang out a fair bit outside of work in the future. Most all of the teachers are right around my age; mid to late 20s, which also sets a nice level of maturity, I think. Everyone feels pretty even-keeled and fairly grounded; not a lot of party-girls from what I can tell. That feels pretty great as well. :)
Other than that, Seoul is working out pretty good! It's not as crazy as I thought it would be, probably since I'm not here as a tourist this time around. :) Hoopie and I are trying to settle in and get a feel for things, and it's not too hard since I've lived in Korea before, and he has lived in Seoul specifically in the past. Hoopie's friends and family have been extremely helpful when we need things (apartment hunting, furniture hunting, helping to ship my stuff from Pohang, etc.). And of course, it's nice to see them, as well as my friends from last year. We had a nice few days in Pohang, staying at his mother's house after I first arrived. And man, it's been awesome to do all of the things we need to do here with the benefit of him speaking Korean. I never knew how hard it was last year, comparatively! I also watched all of my co-teachers apartment hunt and attempt to orchestrate furniture delivery on their own, and it was a bit of an ordeal. Hoopie does it all so patiently and obligingly--I wish I could help him more, but he is so happy to do it. I'm really grateful to have him.
I will take pictures of everything soon and try to post them so that people can get a better idea of my apartment and my school. My schedule this year will make it a lot harder to skype during the week, but I want to keep up with everyone! Please utilize email when you can, and we can definitely do some weekend skype dates. Other than that, I will have to make appointments to skype you guys in my mornings, because by the time I get home, it will usually be 10pm your time on my early days, 2am on my late ones. I am ok to get up early occasionally--it's worth it to catch up! We will just have to plan that out. I leave my house for work by 8:10am my time, which is 4:10pm your time. I could do a 7:30 or 8:00 call sometimes, if we make a date. My hours for work one more time are:
I leave and get home about 45 minutes before and after these times.
I hope everything is going well with everyone, I'd love to hear what's been going on this past week and how everyone is doing. Send me an email!
I love you and miss you all,
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
This week, I finally posted about 250 pictures and videos from the past four months in Korea (and Hong Kong!) onto my flickr account. Just click any picture in this blog, on any entry, and they will take you to the rest of them via my flickr photostream. Here's a video of my little kids in class from when my mom was visiting. This is on presentation day, so they have to memorize a little story and recite it for the class. They're the cutest!
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I've also settled more and more into this relationship with this boy, Hoopie. I haven't said a lot about our relationship here, but I will say that he is loving, generous, kind hearted, and more than I could have imagined. I'm really amazed that we have come across each other through language barriers (his English is better than mine), cultural differences, and thousands of miles. The universe is crazy in it's complexity and possibility! The relationship is really positive, and it's bringing about some major growth and transitions in my life and his.
At this point, I only have 6 weeks left on my contract with my school, and I am making ready my plans for the future! My contract finishes on July 29th at midnight! At that time, I have a whole slew of travel plans that I look forward to with eager anticipation. From July 31 to August 12th, Hoopie and I are headed to Japan. I'm thrilled! I have not yet been to Japan, and I have been hearing so much about it since I have been living just across the sea from it. I actually had plans to travel there several months ago, but the tsunami changed that. I have been keeping tabs with a friend who is very connected to Japan, and she says I should come--Japan actually is promoting tourism a lot since the tsunami, and their struggle with recovery. She says they are really in need of the economic stimulation.
At any rate, Hoopie and I are still working on details of that trip, but we have ferry cruise tickets reserved--we are going! We will likely stay in Kyoto and Osaka for the bulk of the trip. I figure, I would rather have a relaxing vacation in a few majorly awesome foreign cities than a hectic (but probably still awesome) one, jumping around all over the country. That, and I really think I will be returning to Japan again in the next year because... I am coming back to Korea! Crazy. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
After our trip to Japan, I will be flying to JFK, and spending the next month on the east coast. I'll be seeing friends and family in NYC, Philly, DE, all over Virginia, and in D.C. It will be quite the trip. I've never been old enough to get a rental car, and I plan to do that there. I'm really excited about the freedom and flexibility that affords. Being an adult can totally rock sometimes. One of the major highlights of this trip will surely be meeting my new nephew, Aidan Cormac Meehan. He was just born on the 14th of July! He is beautiful. My sister is certainly looking forward to seeing me, but also to having the extra help. :)
At the end of this trip, I will be finally heading back to Oregon. By that time, it will be near the end of September. At that point, as I refresh by seeing family and friends and getting a good dose of home, I plan to live with Katie and her roommate while I search for sublets. I'll really take anything cheap and month-to-month located in NE Portland. (Portlanders, keep your ear to the ground for me!) I will be staying in Portland from the end of September until the end of end of January, most likely. Why? Well!
Let me say, that I miss the place. I miss my friends and family, I miss the food, I miss the blues dancing, I miss the bridges, the parks, the river. I miss the zines, the arty DIY of it, the microbreweries and fine wine. I miss Mississippi, Belmont, tabor, NW 23rd. I miss forest park and the bluffs, karaoke at the alibi tiki bar, riding my bike through the streets and the smell of basil, pine trees, and delicious food wafting from windows in the summer. I need my Portland fix. And during this time, I am delighted to welcome my boyfriend for a visit as well. He has never left Korea! I have so much of the great Northwest--my home--to share with him.
Don't get me wrong--Korea is great! But it's not home. I'm loving so many things about being here--the culture, the kindness and generosity of the people, the food, the beautiful mountains, my Korean boyfriend (haha), but I am so tied to Oregon, I just can't do without it for another year without a good dose to keep me going. During the time when I'm home, I plan to live it up. I will get part time work if I can, but mostly, I will hang out with my parents, my brother, and my friends, take short trips around the west coast, do volunteer work, eat delicious food, cook, dance, play my guitar, and make zines. I have saved a good amount of money this year, and though I don't want to squander it, I want to take advantage of the fact that I can afford to take it a little easy while I'm home. If I can break even on income and rent with a part time job, that would be ideal.
After this stint, I will return to Korea. The plan as of now is to come back to my company, but not at my current branch. I will instead be a "floater" or substitute teacher, based in Taegu, the third largest city in Korea. I will travel to all of the branches (20 are in Taegu, 5 in other cities), week to week, filling in for teachers on vacation and sick leave. I think it's the perfect fit for me. I love the idea that I get to travel around Korea a bit, and having different students and co-teachers every week. I love meeting new people! My company also has a lot of benefits that I really appreciate and value. Being based in Taegu is a huge perk as well, for many reasons. One being that since most of the branches are there, there is quite a community built from the foreign teachers at my school. They have a book club, a soccer team and a frisbee team, regular get togethers, Korean classes, even a gym offered free of charge to Moon Kkang teachers! I think it's going to be awesome.
There is so much that I am looking forward to. Life is so dynamic and exiting! And in my remaining time for this year in Korea, I have so many cool things going on each weekend. Traveling and opened mics, some band performances and salsa lessons, meeting more of Hoopie's family and maybe having one more blow out apartment party before I ship out. So much to do, so little time!
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Consequently, a good friend of mine works has close personal ties to Japan, but she also happens to work in the study abroad office at Whitman college. Part of her current duties there are to keep up with the disaster and keep concerned parents of exchange students in Japan up to date on the latest information. I'm finding it hard to know what is sensationalist media and what is accurate at times, so I sent her a questioning email, and this was her response:
"Hey! I'm really glad that you got in touch to ask about this. The past several days I've basically had to talk a bunch of parents down from panicking about evacuating their kids from Kyoto, but at the same time have had to get some plans in place should we actually have to get them out of the country. Kyoto was completely unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami, and continues to be unaffected (for now) by the nuclear situation. I'm completely glad to help, since I've been glued to the nytimes website and NHK news nonstop, and have learned more about nuclear reactors than I ever cared to know.
I just remembered that you said that you would meet up with Katie in Tokyo, right? In that case, I would be much more cautious about travel plans... although Kojiro and I still have friends and family there who are safe and calm, there have been constant aftershocks, some issues with shortages of food staples in grocery stores (though not as severe as the media would have us believe), and then there's the worry about radiation (although Tokyo is also unaffected at this point). The nice thing is that since you weren't planning on going until late April, you have a little bit of time to wait and see what happens. For me, it feels like it's been going on forever, but I have to stop and remind myself that it's been less than a week. So I would just recommend monitoring the situation for another week or so (and please, please, please feel free to get in touch with me again, since I'll be watching the situation closely anyway) before you make any decisions. Our travel agent also says that in times where an emergency is declared, airlines will sometimes refund or waive fees for canceling or changing flights, so you and katie could always try and change your itineraries to take a trip somewhere else (though I know that you were really looking forward to visiting Japan).
I've also been really annoyed with some of the sensationalist headlines that have been coming up, even on the nytimes (i.e. comparing the disaster to chernobyl and using terms like "meltdown" when the actual content of the articles just detail further containment strategies and scary, but non-catastrophic, releases of radiation). It's hard not to panic a little bit just seeing the headlines change all the time, but here are a couple of places that I think are worth checking:
Alerts/messages from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo: http://www.facebook.com/l/54affmPGroY--tTAIkY1AwjwbdA/japan.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-arch.html
NHK (Japan's national broadcasting channel) news in English: (seems to have the most up to date, and measured information available)http://www.facebook.com/l/54affBcKnIYgLYoiE30XIPnK1hw/guides.library.umass.edu/content.php?pid=196478&sid=1645175
I hope that helps! Kojiro is still fine (haha, very calm... and much calmer than me!), so is his family, and our friends in Tokyo. We've been incredibly lucky that this disaster hasn't affected us personally, but of course, the unfolding nuclear situation is always a worry.
Take care and stay in touch!"
That's all for now, but I'll leave you with one more informative but light video that another friend posted about the situation with the nuclear plant:
Sunday, March 6, 2011
This past weekend, I went with Hoopie for a nice day hike in Gyeongju. Gyeongju is the cultural capital of Korea, and is only 30 minutes by car from Pohang. I haven't spent a lot of time there except to keep medical appointments, so this was really the first time I got to see it. It is beautiful. Even before the hike, riding the bus through the town to get to the temple, I was overwhelmed with how traditional the city looks. It's completely different from everywhere else I've been in korea. Most cities here are spattered with high-rises and industry, and the only traditional buildings you see are temples, usually on the outskirts. Gyeongju, however, is quite different. The buildings are low, with pagoda rooftops and traditional facades. There are mazes of side streets running through the little houses, and hardly any chain stores or large marts. There is a river that cuts in and out of the city, reflecting the sun and making everything green and blue. It's beautiful. It made me feel more like I was in Asia than anywhere I've yet been in korea.
The hike was delightful. The weather was warm, but cool and breezy enough that we didn't overheat as we climbed the steeper parts of the trail. We began at the Bulguksa Temple, one of the most famous temples in South Korea, because it represents the height of Shilla architecture. I never tire of the brilliant colors on the eves of the temples, the spacious interiors of the courtyards, and the easy peaceful feeling present inside their walls. After looking around, we found the trail to Seokguram, another temple just a few short kilometers up the mountain. We took our time and played trail games, occasionally stopping to snap photos of the magnificent views, or just take a wheeze break. (In the midst of this, I realized I'm pretty out of shape!) Seokguram is incredible to see, as it's nestled into the mountain amid rocks and steep inclines--it really is an engineering feat. I want to return there at night to see how it looks when the lanterns are lit, and the view of the countryside below is dotted with lights of scattered cities.
Hoopie and I continued up the trail at my request--though we were getting hungry for lunch, I wanted to see the peak, and it was only another 1.3 kilometers, though quite steep. We munched some trail snacks, sipped our water, and continued on. We breathed heavily on the climb and carefully navigated around wide patches of mud, as well as left-over ice from the last snow. When we reached the top, the payoff was incredible. The trail opened up and we could see for miles. Vast ridges of mountains in all directions, rivers cutting through the valleys, and the ocean in the distance. What a beautiful country this is, I thought.
As the weather is easing into spring, I'm making a personal resolution to get onto the trails as often as possible. There is so much natural beauty here, though this country is so industrialized and western. Korean people really value their mountains, their hiking, and the peace of nature. As a northwesterner, I feel a certain affinity for them through this shared piece of culture.