Tag Archives: Korea

TEFL copyWell, after months of having “our fishing lines in many ponds” (as my wife would say), the week came upon us quite suddenly and unexpectedly when we had to make a decision about what to do next year.  This was not only our first big decision as a married couple, but also one of the biggest decisions either of us have ever made in the sense that the outcomes of any of the decisions were quite obviously and radically different.

After months of applying, thinking about possible scenarios, and waiting, we heard from pretty much everywhere within 3 days of each other.  My philosophy with jobs is that I’ll get one when I get to a place.  I never really plan it out before, but just go and find something to do for a while.  Brittany, however, had a few different applications out in the ether, which meant that our possible scenarios were painted from these plans.

After hearing back early from an international school in Kyrgyzstan and a PhD program in Boulder, two of our top options got swept away.  So we had anxiously been waiting to hear from other PhD programs and international schools, when they all came at once.  Brittany was accepted to UC Santa Cruz with $40,000 of funding for the first year only, offered a job at an international school just outside of Seoul, and to top it off, offered a job at her old school in Denver.  So we had 3 very different, very good options, and we had to decide within just a few days, due to the terms of the offers from the international school and university regarding funding.

I’m more of a seat-of-my-pants kind of person, whereas Brittany likes a plan of sorts.  This actually made the decision-making process quite difficult.  Whereas I imagined myself adjusting well to any place, I think Brittany was worried that I would be restless in some situations.  Of course, I wanted to make sure that Brittany was happy and fulfilled in any choice she made.  Then there were separate considerations of making and saving money so that we are in a position to have greater freedom to pursue interests of travel, business, leisure, and adventure (sooner rather than later), and greater ability to see friends and family and to start a family (sooner or later).

That said, nothing covered the entire spectrum.  We love living and traveling in Korea, but we miss friends and family in the States.  The PhD program in Santa Cruz was still pretty far from family and would leave us in considerable debt for some years after, but academia and exploring a topic in depth is attractive to Brittany.  Denver is wonderful and where our hearts often are, but we would have limited travel time and spend more years being a little stressed about money.

Obviously, it’s difficult to weigh any of these matters as being more important than the others (we tried), and then constantly considering and trying to communicate what might make the other happier was a big challenge.  We both saw any of the options as awesome choices for many reasons, but none of them stood out as the absolute right thing to do, not even for one of us.

Our decisions all hit at once, and we had only until the end of the week to make one.  We were able to have a surprisingly logical and well thought out discussion.  It became clear that while going to school in and living in Santa Cruz was an exciting thought, it probably wasn’t the right move for our lives.  Among other things, there was the probability that we would be in quite a bit of debt for many years after.  And we both agree, debt sucks.

While we miss Denver and will probably be back there one day it isn’t quite the right time.  We are happy clams traveling on this side of the world for a while, and doing so for a couple more years gives us plenty of time to travel, and it will set us up well financially to have more adventures and eventually start a family in Denver.

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So we’re going with the international school in Korea, which means we better start studying our Korean more intensively^^  We are very excited that Brittany will be working at an international school with a very strong curriculum (the freshman class this year spent a semester analyzing the Odyssey in English and modern works inspired by the Odyssey), beautiful campus, good salary, free housing, and best of all…13 weeks vacation!  Plenty of time to visit friends and family or travel.

For the time being, I am waiting with sparse hope to hear back from the same school regarding a teaching assistant position.  Apparently there are minimum visa requirements and it’s unclear whether or not my experience meets these.  If that doesn’t work, it’ll be kindergarten or hagwon again!  But I would be so jealous of those 13 weeks…

-Ryan

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Seoraksan

Seoraksan

Last weekend we decided to (finally) head out for our first sojourn out of Seoul since moving in in August, and joined a tour of Seoraksan National Park, located on the eastern side of Korea. We got up before sunrise (a shocking 6 AM alarm, one of only three times we have been required to get up at the ring of an alarm in the last three months), and caught the tour bus.

When we arrived at 1 PM we were given the choice between an easy hike and a difficult hike. Daredevils that we are, we opted for the difficult hike, and set off with hundreds of other people, enjoying the sight of the tanpoong, Korean for the red, yellow, and orange autumn foliage.

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The trail up was quite like a line at an amusement park, complete with foot-traffic jams that left us at a dead standstill on the trail. Every ten minutes or so, we would come across a large establishment of restaurants where hikers could unload and grab some food and alcoholic beverages before continuing on their arduous journey.
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Early in the hike, we heard a helicopter far in the distance and saw two men running up the mountain with stretchers roped around their back. Soon after, the helicopter was hovering directly above our heads, moving only slightly for about ten minutes. By the time the helicopter left, all of the leaves were blown off the trees, and we were scrambling through six inches of leaves on the trail. Hopefully the person the helicopter picked up is okay. It is important to heed such advice:

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The crowd started to thin out as the hike got steeper and turned into a pretty solid set of stairs.
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The stairs were just attached to solid rock, barging their way straight to the top. I avoided looking down as the stairs were always shaking and vibrating with people going up and down, but the view was amazing.
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We finally made it to the top, and could hardly see over the crowd crammed at the top. Vendors selling medals and pictures certifying one’s ascent of the mountain were crammed in with tourists moving to get a glimpse over the railing. We took one look at this bumbling crowd, I shoved my camera in the air to snap a few pictures, and promptly turned around and headed right back down.
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Luckily we found small turn off with a slightly lower viewpoint off the mountain, much less crowded than the first, and got to take some time to appreciate the views of the surrounding mountains and the Eastern coast of Korea, stretching all the way to the Sea of Japan.

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On our way back down, we got to grab some ice cream cones and relax a little before heading back down. IMG_5240 copy

On the bus ride, we were sleepily waiting to get to our hotel when we heard “Ryan Dunn” from the seat in front of us. It turns out that Ryan’s friends coworkers were on the trip and meant to keep an eye out for him. We spent the night in a small mountain town playing cards, under the hostile eye of the hotel worker whose television program was interrupted by our presence in the lobby.

The next morning, we went on an easy walk through Jujeonggol Valley. The water was perfectly clear and the rocks underneath were differing shades of red, blue, green, and orange, making the river quite magical.

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The trip was wonderful, and we’re hoping we can go again at a time that there are less people; this was one of the peak times of the year due to the autumn foliage, but hiking in general is just a busier affair in Korea than in the US. Even with all the people, Seoraksan was beautiful, and a nice break from Seoul.

Gyeongju

After a few issues finding jobs, we finally got some ace positions in Songpa-Gu, Seoul.  So, after much confusion and a lot of scrambling for jobs, we arrived in Seoul with a month of free time before we actually start.  So, as was once suggested to us, when in doubt, we headed south.

We wrapped up our time in Seoul by going to drop our luggage off with our new school. After lugging 200 pounds of luggage across the entire Seoul subway system, we showed up good and drenched in sweat to meet our new boss for the first time. After giving us ice water and ensuring that we weren’t about to pass out (even though we looked like we might), we were able to tour our school, meet the current teachers, and say hello to some of the adorable and enthusiastic students. The school is relatively small (with only two foreign teachers and about 5 Korean teachers) and 7 or 8 classrooms. Everyone at the school was wonderfully kind.  The bosses even took us to lunch where we had our first Hanjeongsik, or Korean set menu, which included plenty of fermented vegetables, soups, rice, pork, and fish.

The next day, we left Seoul to make our way Southeast. We are now in Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty (57 BC-935 AD), a dynasty that ruled the Korean Peninsula for 1000 years. There are a lot of historical and museum-y things to be seen, but we spent the first night spending a ridiculous amount of money on two shots of whisky (though the bottomless Doritos and chocolates that came with it almost made up for the cost) and hanging out in our somewhat dingy hostel with wet and hairy bathroom floors.

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Then came our second experience with han-jeon-sik, and the time we learned the name for good.  Koreans are not big on breakfast, so hearing that western breakfast could be found down the road, we headed off with thoughts of eggs and buttered toast.  The Korean waitress, seeing that we knew none of what the menu meant, pointed to han-jeon-sik nodding approvingly.  Assuming this would be the western-style breakfast and approximating its meaning to be first meal (as hana is the Korean word for one), we happily agreed.  What we forgot, however, is that Korea is Hanguk, and the prefix han actually signified this was a traditional Korean meal.  We soon had another traditional Korean feast sitting before us, including a whole fish, bowls of anchovies covered in chili sauce, a sort of mayonaisse and cucumber salad with tiny eggs in it, and plenty of kimchi (fermented and spiced vegetables) – at 8 AM.  So we learned something new today.

After our breakfast, we started walking to view some of the tombs and other sites in the town. Unfortunately, it’s over 100 degrees and the most humidity either of us have ever experienced. We were driven in within a few hours, but got to meander a little.

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oldest surviving astronomical observatory in East Asia

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This trip feels much more like a foreign country than Seoul did. Even though the language is so different (and the weather), there are strange things that make it feel the same as home.  Korea, like anywhere foreign, feels strangely familiar at times, despite its differences.  Thankfully, the coffee craze is on in Korea, and we can indulge as we adjust to our new country.

Twenty-three more days left of wandering before we start our new jobs, and some beautiful places to see.  Next stop, Busan.

Korean-less In Korea

So…here we are, fresh off the plane in Korea, making our semi-obligatory arrival post.  Turns out, being able to read hangul (the Korean alphabet) does not directly result in being able to speak with anyone.  At all.  We are very good at thanking people and saying hello, though.

Still, reading hangul did allow us to order some tasty udon noodles with squid and deliciously spiced ramen with kimchi. And it allows Brittany to sound out Korean words like a 4 year-old, probably pronounced awkwardly and incorrectly. We don’t know because even if we pronounce something right we don’t know what it means.

We are staying in Incheon (a city a little outside of Seoul) for the first few days and have spent a lot of time walking to random places.

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walking in the park

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outdoor exercise equipment!

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we were surprised to find large farms growing in the backyards

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and we are very impressed with the adorable law enforcement

For those who were curious, Finding Nemo is good anywhere in the world.