Tag Archives: culture shock

SpamNo… not junk emails.

Spam is a big deal here. We were confused when we were gifted two huge boxes of Spam, tuna, and canola oil from our school for the Chuseok holidays. I don’t think I’d ever tried Spam before, and had a very negative and judgmental perception toward it. After all, it’s canned meat. But around holidays gift boxes pop up like weeds at all the local grocery stores, and the boxes of Spam, in very nice decorative boxes, are found everywhere. And they’re expensive. I’ve seen gift boxes with 10 cans of Spam for sale for 30,000 Won, or about $30.

After receiving two more huge gift boxes with Spam and tuna for the Seollal, the Lunar New Year celebrations here in Korea, we came across a newly-published NY Times article about the popularity of Spam, particularly for gifting, in Korea: In South Korea, Spam Is the Stuff Gifts Are Made Of

The article explains the movement of Spam into Korea with the US military during the Korean War, when meat was rare to come by and Spam was a luxury item. Fast forward to today, and the article explores the enduring popularity of Spam here in Korea, including its use in restaurant dishes (in a stew called budaejjigae, which we haven’t yet come across).

A man in the article explains that Spam is gifted “on occasions of importance when one wishes to pay special honor and proper respect.” So we are grateful for our stored-up Spam, if for nothing else than the thought behind it.



Welcome to Earth

Last week we went to our school to meet with our director and get set up in a hotel to begin training for school. To our surprise, we were immediately escorted to our apartment- our dust-encrusted, yellow-linoleum, furniture-packed apartment. We spent a few days of intense cleaning, as the apartment couldn’t have been cleaned for at least a year. After shoving a coffee table, huge outdated tv, and table and chair set into the corner of our apartment to clear some space, the apartment was feeling a little more like home.

We started training with the teachers we were replacing the next day. This was no more than sitting in classes to observe how each of the books were taught. We each have about 8 different books that we teach from, and with the books switching over as the new semester begins, it took us all week just to figure out which book we should be teaching to which class. The school is disorganized in a lot of ways, but the kids have been nice so far and all of the teachers friendly and helpful.

As we’ve begun to settle in and stop moving around so rapidly, a lot of differences have started to stand out. Culture shock is a little harder to catch when you’re moving every three days, but now that we have a home that we’ll be living in for the next year, we’ve started to notice some differences between back home and our new neighborhood.

-Huge military airplanes flying over our neighborhood at low altitudes a few times a day. After hearing and seeing them for a few days, we discovered that the Seoul Air Force Base is in the city directly south of us. Even thought it’s very common, it’s still startling.

F-15 Fighter Jet

This is not my picture. The planes are impossible to get pictures of. We just included this picture to give you a proper idea of this occurrence.

-Soldiers in camouflage with rifles chillin’ on intersection street corners at 9 PM on a Tuesday like it’s no big deal. (this was just a training exercise, but took us by surprise)

-Taking off your shoes immediately when entering a living space or restaurant

-Really ugly, dirty, awful entrances, hallways, and staircases to very nice, beautiful apartments.

-Buildings that have stores/offices/schools/churches all on different floors, so you walk up to the fifth or sixth floor sometimes to get where your going. Often, the entrance to the staircase for the building seems to be hidden and/or nonexistent. We haven’t figured out how to get to many of them yet.


-Really awesome English t-shirts and signs. This one deserves its own post once we collect enough, but one of Brittany’s favorites that is everywhere is “Oh, baby in car!”

Oh, baby

-Deboning a chicken with chopsticks.

And then there’s differences in work. After we both spent time working in Title I schools the last one or two years, there’s a stark difference to our Korean private academy experience this year.

-Class size of 2-8 kids

-Working 6.5 hours a day and having almost no work to do at home.

-Working in the afternoons, meaning we can sleep in, eat a relaxed breakfast, do an hour of yoga, meditate, go to the gym, and eat a good lunch before starting work.  Our days feel way more relaxed.

Every classroom in our school is named after a body in the Milky Way; Ryan is Earth and Brittany is Sun. The kids were wonderful enough to draw cards, pictures, and posters welcoming us to the school. All of Ryan’s cards said “Ryan teacher! Welcome to Earth!” An apt welcome for our adventure in a new corner of the world.