Category Archives: Uncategorized

Setting your sights on teaching English in Korea

 

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My EPIK orientation in Seoul (October 2010)

So you’re thinking about teaching English in South Korea but you’re stumped on whether you want to teach at a public or private institution. There are many pros and cons in the decision making but overall you want to make the right decision based on your personal and professional needs. After three years in the ROK I can safely give you the best advice based on my personal experiences, my friend’s comments, and the information available to you on the internet.

Aside from which kind of institution you would like to teach at keep in mind the fact of your placement; you may be placed rurally. Be sure to be specific as to your preference of rural of city living. After living in rural Korea for more than a year I will say this now and say this again to any prospective English teacher: I would much prefer basing myself in the city so that I can easily get around by train and enjoy all the things that will make my life a little more convenient to have when living abroad: international dining choices, cafes galore, international expat meetups, choices of shopping, KTX and train stations to get around on weekday and weekends. If you are based in a rural placement you will be literally spending your Monday to Friday after school there with limited bus times returning to your town in the evening. Know that you can always visit countryside temples and hiking national parks on your weekends.

English Program in Korea (EPIK)

Public Schools in Seoul and Gyeonggi (province)(GEPIK)

Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education(SMOE)

KNOW: The English Program in Korea hires Native English Teachers in the provinces of Gangwon-do, Gyeongbuk-do, Gyeongsang-do, Chungcheongnam-do, Jeallanam-do, and lastly Jeju-do.
PROS:
• FREE accommodation provided by employer (Usually a studio or one room apartment)
• Regular working hours Monday-Friday 8:30-4:30
• Weekends OFF
• All national holidays OFF and PAID
• Communication with your regional coordinator in the case that you have questions that your co-teacher is unable to answer or solve
• Winter and Summer Vacation days OFF and PAID (At least 15 per year)
• Health care coverage (half is paid by your employer while you pay the other half; approx. 70,000 ($66 USD) deducted from your salary each month
• Regular monthly payment (25th of each month)
• Resigning bonus
• Regular contributions to pension & severance pay upon completion of your contract
• Free flight to South Korea provided by the government. Reimbursement given to you upon arrival
• Free orientation training in Seoul upon arrival

CONS of teaching in a public school:
• Last minute changes in the schedule that means that you may be teaching last minute classes or your classes are cancelled
• You cannot exactly choose your placement by city or town. You have to understand that many logistics change last minute so you are placed on need
• End of semester summer and Winter desk warming. Even though you are not scheduled to teach classes on these days you are required as per your contract to be at school during regular desk hours. This can possibly last for up to a few weeks.
• Choosing your vacation dates is planned last minute based on the dates of your schools summer and winter camp dates that the head co teacher usually decides. you cannot book ahead of time your dates for going home or elsewhere plans of abroad travel until vacation dates are planned
• Your co-teacher can make or break your teaching experience based on their personality and teaching style. That means, begin your contract on the right foot with your best intentions set
• You will be the only foreigner at your school. This can be good or this could be bad for you. If your coworkers and co-teachers are not very friendly to you or they are too shy you might feel very lonely and wish there were other foreigners there teaching English with you

Private Schools (Hagwons)
{Hagwons are located all throughout Korea in all metropolitan cities and small towns in the nine provinces through South Korea}. Keep in mind that Hagwons are after school study sessions that Korean parents pay to the private institution for their children to study and practice English with foreigners.
PROS:
• Later teaching hours ( after children complete public school at 4:30 they head to their private institutions to study with a foreigner)
• No co-teaching. You are the one in charge teaching the little monsters all that there is to know about English.
• Severance and pension contributions???
• Health care coverage (half is paid by your employer while you pay the other half; approx. 70,000 ($66 USD) deducted from your salary each month
• FREE accommodation provided by employer (Usually a studio or one room apartment)
• Free flight to South Korea provided by the government. Reimbursement given to you upon arrival
• You will have many foreigners at your workplace to socialize and mingle with to make the adjustment to living in Korea a bit smoother
• No desk warming EVER

CONS of teaching at private institutions:
• Hagwons can close at a minutes notice if there is not enough business which means you are out of a job.
• You have less vacation days per year in your contract compared to teaching at a public school. I have met foreigners who only get five vacation days per year.

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TO SUM IT ALL UP:
After weighing out all of my options I think that hagwons (as long as you research well) might be the best option for teaching English abroad. With little to non-existent desk warming you are at your workplace to work, not wasting time on youtube or fiddling your fingers thinking of how to spend your day at your desk. My biggest concern with EPIK was the amount of time wasted with next to nothing to do when my classes were cancelled due to testing and the desk warming I had to due before and after winter/summer camps. Lastly I realized that there is no upward mobility in future career aspirations being an English teacher at a public school in Korea. There are no opportunities to raise the bar or expand your job experience.

I recommend Dave’s ESL Cafe to browse job opportunities in South Korea and abroad. For information about life in Korea check out my list of vlogs on my Youtube playlist.

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Exploring the Blue Mountains

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In a fluke of a travel opportunity that came to me when my ship was based out of Sydney I decided to take myself and my carry on onto an adventure in New South Wales, Australia on my first solo extravaganza in OZ. Exploring Australia was a dream for me for a very long time. I can clearly recall sitting in the back of my world geography course in college studying the map of Australia while my professor was lecturing about the Great Barrier Reef. My listening was checked out for a bit as I pinpointed where Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, and Cairns were on the map. I was stunned to read about the aboriginals who still try to make a living in Darwin, around Cairns, and into the outback.

I couldn’t predict when my crystal ball would take me out to Australia but it came soon enough I believe.Seven years later after my fascination began to grow with visiting Australia I was striding off the ships gangway with my travel plans next to the Opera House and heading toward the botanical gardens ready to explore OZ. The smell of the sea air, the bright flora covering the grounds and trees I have never seen in my life made me want to just cry out of happiness. I had truly landed in OZ!

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The Three Sisters

With my sights set on exploring the Blue Mountains region I headed toward Sydney Central Train station to begin my journey. With a ticket booked from I was on my way to Katoomba out to explore the majestic Blue Mountains with serene and enchanting scenery outside my window. After snacking on Tim Tams and enjoying the Aussie accents around me my train arrived in Katoomba. Nested in the gateway of the Blue Mountains this cozy town has plenty of impressive cafes, restaurants, shops, and little nooks and crannies you just have to find for yourself. With my big map properly sprawled out and the best cappuccino in the world, I was making my plans.

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Leura Cascades

Now Katoomba is a place that is very easy to reach via Sydney and the sights there are sometimes compared to the Grand Canyon (just not as big).To completely enjoy the Blue Mountains region the best way to see everything is to purchase a hop on hop off ticket next to the train station upon arrival. I purchased the two day pass so I didn’t feel I had to squeeze it all into one day. There are more than a dozen stops with drop off points all around different hiking courses as well as little town centers to enjoy a bite to eat or some window shopping. From hiking around the Three Sisters to Leura Cascade Falls I was truly amazed by the incredible sights. Australia is such a fascinating continent that I hope I have to chance to explore more of one day.

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I really couldn’t have been more excited to be in Australia!

Oceania and beyond: Isle of Pines

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The more beaches I have the opportunity around the world to visit the more over development I see with my own eyes.

From the islands around the Caribbean such as Aruba and St. Maarten to Bali and Borocay, as much as I adore these destinations I still crave to soak in a piece of paradise that doesn’t have a lot of traffic and remnants from tourists. But if anyone were to ask me the best spot in the world for the best beach it would have to be Isle of Pines in New Caledonia. Off the southeast coast of Australia (about two sea days away) lies  the island nation of New Caledonia. French speaking New Caledonia offers breathtaking beaches around the island as well as smaller islands off the coast such is Lifou (the Loyalty Islands). As New Caledonia is not a common or known destination to many travelers it can still be reached by many cruise ships including Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean and P&O. As it is a fairly difficult and expensive place to get to on your own a cruise ship would be the most suitable way to visit.

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I visited Isle of Pines two years ago as my ship anchored into the bay. I truly felt swept away from society with a bit of curiously lingering. Truth be told I was blown away but the natural beauty, solitude, and the unsaturated footprints that tourists leave behind here. Pulling up to shore looking out the tender boat I witnessed a local man playing with a huge black and white striped water snake wrapped around a stick before letting it go into the sea. As my body cringed as it slipped away and began bobbing it’s head in and out of the surface I hoped I would never come face to face with one of those. With this sight leaving me feeling a bit queasy I began my journey exploring the wilderness of an island layered with towering pine trees lining the coast line sipping a young coconut.

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With gentle breezes swaying back and forth I staked my claim on the sandy shore and sat back to take in what I thought was some kind of dream. Isle Of Pines is a place that is mostly unknown to many travelers based on its location in Oceania. If you do however find yourself in Australia or New Zealand or are thinking of cruising in that part of the world, make sure that Isle of Pines is on your itinerary. There is simply no place like it on our planet Earth. I cannot compare it to any Caribbean island or paradise that is similar in some parts of Southeast Asia. The beaches are untouched. The locals selling coconuts are just as curious about you as you are about this place created by the heavens. I am a huge lover and fanatic about Isle of Pines and I hope that one day you are too!

Planning your safari

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Drums and drinks under the stars at Lake Malawi

Do your research
Where do you want your safari to take you? What main sights do you want to see? Dying to see the big five in Kruger National Park? Curious to go off the beaten path and camp inside a game drive and wake up to lions roaring in the middle of the night? Head to Zambia for that along the Zambezi River. Want to wrap up your sightseeing with the spectacular Indian Ocean for whale watching, snorkeling, and relaxation beach time? Head to the coast of Mozambique.

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Elephant sighting along the Zambezi River

Choosing a safari is very overwhelming with many fine details to be mindful of and with so many tour operators to choose from the decision making seems endless. The best rule of thumb is to really narrow down and to finally make your decision by focusing on the content, not the frame. Make a detailed list of what it is you really want to see. Take a look at the countries you want to go to. Check out Drifters Tours (based in Johannesburg) which gives you the options of longer safaris as well as short tours.

I took an unforgettable 24 day safari which included South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique with the main highlights of Victoria Falls, Chobe National Falls, Mount Mulanje hike in Malawi, camping on Lake Malawi, and sleeping in beach bungalows in Inhambane, Mozambique. For shorter safaris around South Africa check out Nomad Tours that depart from a few different places in SA. I did a 7 day unforgettable Swaziland and Kruger Tour that blew my mind. With regular game drives, free time in our base camp in bee hive huts in Swaziland and night game drivers followed by campfires under the stars in Kruger, my time there was well spent while spotting the big five.
Get all immunizations
As malaria is common in Africa with all of the mosquitoes, talk to a specialist on the topic of proper malaria medicines you need and whether or not you need a yellow fever shot. Your safari operator may be able to give you some tools and advice as well. Two weeks before departing from Johannesburg for my safari I began taking malaria pills. These pills gave me wild and crazy dreams, not to mention deep sleeps where I slept like a rock for up to nine hours without waking up. It took a while for my body to adjust especially with the wild food cravings I started to have. Be sure to take your prescribed meds after meal as I learned this the hard way.

Pack in layers
Like anyone planning to take a once in a lifetime safari might think that because they are going to Africa it is going to be stiffing hot the whole trip, wrong. I took a 24 day safari in June and because southern Africa is in the southern hemisphere the climate is opposite of my summer back home in Connecticut. As the sun was strong during the daytime the evenings became very cool where many layers were needed as the nights became freezing in the bush. I can distinctively remember opening my suitcase in the middle of the night to find more sweaters and long shirts to layer myself with because I was that cold. Just know that evenings may be chilly depending on which country and time of the year you are traveling.
Put down your camera
Of course you want to take loads of pictures to share with your family and friends back home but after a while looking through a lens during a once in a lifetime moment doesn’t really capture the moment. After a few game drives I literally had to just put the camera down to truly be in the moment to establish my reality. Viewing a mommy elephant with her baby crossing a river together during sunset doesn’t do itself justice when you are more concerned about getting the best shot. I distinctly remember paddling in my canoe with my group along the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia with crocodiles sunbathing without moving an inch. To my left I watched a family of elephants playing in the water at sunset. In these moments I had to pinch myself, asking myself If I had died and gone to heaven and was looking down at this beauty, if I was dreaming this, or if yes, this was reality. You will reach a moment in time during your safari where you literally put away your camera and just sit an awe of what you are viewing. I sure hope this happens to you.
Once in a lifetime memories.

Final Words
Finally, with all the tips here to gain so that you can truly have a once in a lifetime safari don’t forget all of the great things to come. Whether you are doing a five night or twenty four night over landing safari tour you are bound to create beautiful friendships with those traveling with you from all over the world. Imagine yourself under the stars at night drinking a hot tea sharing your travel experience with those on your tour. I won’t forget those experiences and I’m sure you won’t either. As most travelers are open minded, get yourself ready to exchange contact details at the end of your safari with beautiful photos and memories that will last you a lifetime. Lastly, put down your camera and enjoy with your own pair of eyes the majestic wildlife and scenery around you.

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Dhow sailing into Mozambique

Deskwarming: The obligatory task when teaching at a public school in Korea

 

 

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Situation A: My desk. Filled with photos of my dog. No class today.

An empty school. An empty parking lot. Maybe three teachers tops are presently at the school for the day processing paperwork and answering the photos for their “duty” day required of them in between semesters. And you, the foreigner are at your desk all day long trying to find anything that comes your way to pass the time more quickly. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Ahhh. It’s desk warming!

I will never in my life be able to forget the long days filled with sitting at my desk when 99.9% of the time I was sitting alone in a bare unheated office asking myself over and over again why I had to be there in the first place and what on earth was the purpose of my existence in a nearly empty school when I could be sitting in my apartment doing the same thing except in my pajamas but in front of my heating fan with a bowl of hot ramen to warm me up.

When you sign your contract to teach at a public school in South Korea you basically are signing your life away to many important tasks that you must fulfill in your duties and that does include desk warming. Desk warming are essentially days that can turn into weeks where you are required as per your contract to come to school like a regular school day except no children are there. All of the school staff have to rotate this task as well whether it be three teachers a day sitting in the main office doing paperwork for the school and answering phone calls. You however, the dear foreigner, waygookin, most likely will be joining them in the main office watching them or alone in your office next to the English classroom. Be prepared to fulfill these duties as it is a requirement and there is no scurrying out of it. Following the standard code of Korean way does prove your “diligence” as it is however a very strange concept of wasting time.

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Situation B: An empty classroom. All students are at home.

My desk warming days were ones that I will never miss. They were filled with endless cups of hot tea and instant Korean coffees,munching on choco pies, googling “how to survive desk warming”, watching YOUTUBE videos on desk warming, writing emails to my foreign friends who were also desk warming and browsing through waygook.org creating forums with the title “why do I have to do desk warming?”
In the winter they were long miserable days where I dreamed of being o

n a warm tropical beach laughing at my empty and cold office and never looking back. My days were spent with all layers of my clothing on including my winter jacket, scarf, hat, and sometimes mittens because the pipes had frozen and the cold air was coming through the windows.
Looking back I laugh more at my desk warming disaster in the winter months because of how cold the school was and no matter how many layers I had on, I was still freezing. My body wasn’t very adaptable to the drastically cold temperatures of winters in the ROK.

Drinking cup after cup of hot tea with honey to warm me up and slurping instant Korean noodles while drinking the steaming broth still could not warm my freezing body.
The only thing I can say to make you to make you feel better about your future of desk warming is that it will get better in the summer months because you will busy planning for summer camp while no classes are in session and usually your co-teachers will be planning the budget and outline of the camp. Oh, and you won’t be freezing! Instead, you will be snacking on Korean drinking yogurts, seasonal fruits, and ice creams to keep your body cool because Korean summers are very humid and sticky. Instead of freezing your buns off , you will be laughing back at yourself of your cold winter months at your desk with no kids. Good luck!

 

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Situation C: My entertainment on my walk back to my apartment

You can find more about how I spent my days desk warming here.

How to mend a broken heart: Dear Korea..

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Living in South Korea for three years of my life helped me evolve into the person I am today. A lot of memories were made.A lot of kimchi was eaten. I ate a ton of rice cakes on a daily basis. Yummy snacks appeared on my desk on a daily basis. When I told my close co-workers that I was cutting back on choco pies and rice cakes the treats mysteriously kept appearing. I explored every corner, crevice, city, province, that my guide book offered me in Korea. A lot of great people came into my life. A lot of great people left. A lot of visits were made at the swimming pool in Gumi to do laps where nobody would talk to me. I accepted that. I could ramble on and on of what I wish I was prepared for when I left Korea for life back in the USA.

I wish somebody told me that it was going to be hard. That not everybody would want to hear my endless stories. Stories about kimchi. Stories about my coteachers. Stories about how cool the public transportation system is all around the peninsula. Stories about he time I toured the DMZ- the most heavily protected borders in the world. Stories about all the cool cafes in Seoul including Hello Kitty in Hongdae. Stories about the moments that made me into who I am today based on the coolness I experienced.

I wish I was prepared to know that my pictures didn’t justify what I really experienced. That talking about my travels would be compared in translation to someones weekend at home at the bar or a birthday celebration. That I was going to feel extremely confused and sad sometimes. That I was going to feel at times that something in my life had died. That finding Korean food at home was going to pretty hard and non existent basically. That my chopstick skills didn’t impress everyone. That my thoughts would be consumed with my experiences and tales in Korea.

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That I was going to miss Korea for a long time. That I would still be talking about Korea almost every day until that day I would visit three years later. That soondubu jiggae would be my favorite food and I would long for yummy korean snacks that I could not find at home. That choco pies became my go to comfort food. That on cold winter nights back home I would be longing for Korean ramen.

I wish someone had told me that I was going to feel disconnected from the place that I grew up. That I would constantly compare South Korea to the United States.That I would always wish and talk about how great the public transportation is in South Korea and how I didn’t need a car when I lived there. That the healthcare system in Korea was awesome and seeing a doctor cost me $3 compared to the crazy $100 co-pay to see a doctor back home.  That I would love and embrace Korean strangers. That at any chance I could get I could try to talk to a Korean person and share with them how much I love Korea and that I lived there for three years and ask them if they had ever had the chance to travel to Dokdo and Ulleung Island like i had.

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Moving forward hasn’t been easy. At the beginning stages of initially leaving Korea it felt as if I was mourning a death of something so dear to me that I lost.However after a recent visit I made finally with South Korea, it really opened my eyes to how much of the world I have seen in the past three years and how much Korea has not changed. Of course I think I am not as homesick for Korea these days. It is not Korea I long for as a place now. Instead what I miss are the people who made my life better and showed me how to be a good friend and taught me how to learn to enjoy Korea. What I know now is that I will always have love for Korea and Korean people. That dried seaweed, bibimbap, chamchi kimbap, and soon dubu jiggae will always be my favorite Korean comfort foods. What I do know now is that Korea will always be there and I can always visit. It is a place I can always return to in the case that I need a reminder of how great I had it there.

Travel tips for planning your safari

My 2008 southern Africa safari sweeping up seven countries was truly a trip of a lifetime for me. The landscapes were truly breathtaking. The friendships made are ones I will never forget. After taking in all of the sights, animals, local cultures, and main points of interest I compiled my top advice for those interested in planning their first over landing safari in Africa.

Do your research
Where do you want your safari to take you? What main sights do you want to see? Dying to see the big five in Kruger National Park? Curious to go off the beaten path and camp inside a game drive and wake up to lions roaring in the middle of the night? Head to Zambia for that along the Zambezi River. Want to wrap up your sightseeing with the spectacular Indian Ocean for whale watching, snorkeling, and relaxation beach time? Head to the coast of Mozambique.
Choosing a safari is very overwhelming with many fine details to be mindful of and with so many tour operators to choose from the decision making seems endless. With different climates to consider based on the time of year you decide to travel packing alone I’m sure sounds overwhelming. The best rule of thumb is to really narrow down and to finally make your decision by focusing on the content, not the frame. Make a detailed list of what it is you really want to see. Take a look at the countries you want to go to. Check out Drifters Tours (based in Johannesburg) which give you the options of longer safaris as well as short tours. I took an unforgettable 24 day safari which included South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique with the main highlights of Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park, Mount Mulanje hike in Malawi, camping on Lake Malawi, and sleeping in beach bungalows in Inhambane, Mozambique. For shorter safaris around South Africa check out Nomad Tours that depart from a few different places in SA. I did a 7 day unforgettable Swaziland and Kruger Tour that blew my mind. With regular game drives, free time in our base camp in bee hive huts in Swaziland and night game drivers followed by campfires under the stars in Kruger, my time there was well spent while spotting the big five.
Get all immunizations
As malaria is common in Africa with all of the mosquitoes, talk to a specialist on the topic of proper malaria medicines you need and whether or not you need a yellow fever shot. Your safari operator may be able to give you some tools and advice as well. Two weeks before departing from Johannesburg for my safari I began taking malaria pills. These pills gave me wild and crazy dreams, not to mention deep sleeps where I slept like a rock for up to nine hours without waking up. It took a while for my body to adjust especially with the wild food cravings I started to have. Be sure to take your prescribed meds after meal as I learned this the hard way.

Pack in layers
Like anyone planning to take a once in a lifetime safari might think that because they are going to Africa it is going to be stiffing hot the whole trip, wrong. I took a 24 day safari in June and because southern Africa is in the southern hemisphere the climate is opposite of my summer back home in Connecticut. As the sun was strong during the daytime the evenings became very cool where many layers were needed as the nights became freezing in the bush. I can distinctively remember opening my suitcase in the middle of the night to find more sweaters and long shirts to layer myself with because I was that cold. I found comfort in my warm sleeping bag hearing the sounds of lions roaring somewhere out in the distance. Just know that evenings may be chilly depending on which country and time of the year you are traveling.
Put down your camera
Of course you want to take loads of pictures to share with your family and friends back home but after a while looking through a lens during a once in a lifetime moment doesn’t really capture the moment. After a few game drives I literally had to just put the camera down to truly be in the moment to establish my reality. Viewing a mommy elephant with her baby crossing a river together during sunset doesn’t do itself justice when you are more concerned about getting the best shot. I distinctly remember paddling in my canoe with my group along the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia with crocodiles sunbathing without moving an inch. To my left I watched a family of elephants playing in the water at sunsest. In these moments I had to pinch myself, asking myself If I had died and gone to heaven and was looking down at this beauty, if I was dreaming this, or if yes, this was reality. You will reach a moment in time during your safari where you literally put away your camera and just sit an awe of what you are viewing. I sure hope this happens to you.
Once in a lifetime memories.
Finally, with all the tips here to gain so that you can truly have a once in a lifetime safari don’t forget all of the great things to come. Whether you are doing a five night or twenty four night over landing safari tour you are bound to create beautiful friendships with those traveling with you from all over the world. Imagine yourself under the stars at night drinking a hot tea sharing your travel experience with those on your tour.Lastly, don’t forget to journal while you are on the road. It is important to jot down your thoughts and take note of the fine details of your day when you have some quiet time to with yourself.  As most travelers are open minded, get yourself ready to exchange contact details at the end of your safari with beautiful photos and memories that will last you a lifetime.

“Malling” in Manila

Upon arrival in Manila you may discover how hot and balmy the weather is and how you need to find air con ASAP! In the metro Manila area part of the lifestyle of living here is actually going to the malls to stay cool and get your errands done. Some people go to malls for window shopping or just to browse around while others go to malls to tackle many tasks at one location.

It’s sometimes overwhelming to discover which mall you actually want to visit because there are too many to choose from; SM Manila, Mall of Asia, Robinson’s, and so forth. In the Philippines, shopping malls offer so much more than just shopping. For many people in western countries going to the mall isn’t an everyday habit to “kill time”. We actually go when we literally need to buy something or window shop. But in the Philippines you go to the mall to eat meals with family and friends, pay bills at SM, do some grocery shopping, browse for home goods at Lowes, get a massage or foot spa, mail or send parcels, drop off the kids at kiddy play zones for a designated amount of time, watch a movie in the theater and also for other entertainment purposes.
Families actually walk the mall together to just simply get out of the house because they don’t have Air Con in their dwellings and want a change of scenery. I find this phenomenon and way of living mind blowing compared to the reasoning for malling in the west. But we need to factor my main point of seeking Air Con for the top reasoning for malling in the Philippines. Back home I never go to the mall unless Macy’s is having a sale and I have a surplus of coupons to shop around and buy what I need getting unbelievable deals to show my mom when I come back home. “Malling” in my family happens usually during the holidays when we are shopping for gifts and usually this isn’t done as a family. We usually go on our own and at our own pace. Malling in the Philippines is for multipurpose task running where you can get a lot of errands done in one place instead or driving around the city trying to find parking spots for all of the individual places you need to visit to get your errands done for; massage, mailing a parcel, grocery shopping, eating a meal, buying a light bulb, and finally breaking for a coffee with friends or family.
So whether you’re visiting the metropolitan Manila area before heading to another destination keep in mind that you are going to do some serious people watching here! If you head over to Starbucks or Bo’s Coffee you will find many students with their books open and a frappachino studying for endless hours. Security will greet you at the door and even open it for you with a lovely “Hello Ma’m or Sir” greeting. Back home we usually go to Starbucks to meet up with friends to catch up. Starbucks is usually a good meeting place for business or quick coffee dates. I think that any traveler will be surprised by the security greeting you from all entrances of the mall with wooden sticks briefly checking through your belongings making sure you aren’t carrying weapons. But how carefully are they really checking through your bags?
Be sure to eat some of the snacks such as buko juice, brownies, bibimka bread, and lumpia. I have come up with the conclusion that the reason why you will be paying a quadruple cost for the lumpia (usually 10 php each) in the malls is because you are essentially paying for the aircon that comes along with it! Take note at the salespeople in the store as you browse around. They usually greet you with “ma’m and sir” followed by “what are you looking for today?” as they follow you around the store. One thing that I like about retail in the Philippines is that you are never ignored! I can’t even come up with how many times I actually had a question or couldn’t find an item in the mall and could not find one salesperson to assist me or one that looked like they were interested in assisting me. Get ready for plenty of pleasant greetings, some good people watching, and oh..some Air Con!

Reunited with the past: South Korea

I had romanticized being reunited with South Korea since the day I left August 25, 2013.

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Closing that chapter in my life living abroad in Korea was a difficult one. It wasn’t an easy decision to pack up all of my belongings and move back home to Connecticut but I knew that the time had come. All of my friends were finishing their contracts and putting the pieces together to build a new life elsewhere. What would I be staying for?

South Korea was the place I had called home since I graduated university. It was the place where I learned how to pay all of bills.It was the place that was kind enough to me on Christmas eve to add a full book of passport pages before I flew to Thailand on a last minute trip.  It was the place where I had my first “real job”. It was the place where I conquered my fears.It was the place where I had covered all the land quite literally. I visited every province, almost every city, almost every national park, and even venturing out to Ulleung and Dokdo Islands. It was the place I had paid off all of my student loans. It was the place that felt so lonely at times but full of people I knew that cared for me. I knew that one day I would go back and visit.It was the place where I failed to understand everything but somehow felt that I knew everything about Korea.  That was one thing I knew for sure.

Fast forward to September 2016 and I was picking up my checked bags and going through immigration at Incheon Airport. All around me were Koreans. All around me were whispers of a language I could barely understand. “yogi-yo” (Come here)… I heard in the crowds as I gathered my bags in search of the AREX (Airport Railroad) to Seoul Station. Shuffling through the crowds of families and more Koreans I felt a bit out of place. I didn’t look like them. I didn’t speak like them. Did I still know them?

Spotting a 7-11 convenience store with bright florescent lights I remembered my dedication to my favorite Denmark Yoghurt drink. Quickly grabbing the last yoghurt off the shelf and checking out, an expressionless young high school kid  rung me out. Really? My disappointment was slowly starting to build up as I walked out looking and recognizing all of my favorite korean snacks. Really giddy to find the counter to book my AREX ticket and kind of bouncing around with all of my excitement I booked my AREX ticket with the lady at the desk. I was explaining my excitement with her about reunited with South Korea after three years. I felt compelled to share the reason as to why I was in Korea. Blank expressions. Bland “ok’s” and “I see” mumbled back at me as she handed me my ticket. Really? I wanted to just flop on the floor and cry. What exactly had I romanticized about visiting Korea specifically?  Oh wait, that wasn’t what I was expecting. That’s not how this was supposed to play out.

Looking out the window from Seoul Station all of the skyrises and LG and Samsung apartment complexes all mirrored one another. Soon the open land of rice fields swallowed up the emptiness that would follow. The countryside of Gyeonggi province looked empty. Quiet. Quite like how Anyge looked. A place that I’m not sure I could ever visit again. Rewind to six years ago that was my first stomping ground village where my emptiness swallowed me alive. Studying the land carefully out the window as we glided by villages and mountains we soon arrived in Gumi.

Arriving at Gumi station was a surreal feeling. It was my home for a year of my life. I thought back then that I had the best life. I lived right behind Gumi station and stones throw from downtown. Reaching the top of the escalator I checked all my heavy suitcases into a locker and with high expectations booked it to the same coffee shop where I use to for language exchange and coffee. My korean friend Eunye owned it but married a Swiss man so now resides in France so her mom operates it. There at the front counter was Eunhye’s mom. I have met her many times before. Her English was almost non existent but I always sat in her coffee shop with her daughter while she was in the back. My mouth was running a mile a minute in my own excitement and adrenaline to see her and pop in to say hi. All of Eunye’s travel photos were still on the wall and I was standing in the past. I was anticipating something more than a “nothing” response. Hmm… so I took the steps down Gumi station to a familiar hair salon that I use to visit.

The same round figured jolly lady who I once shared deep and challenging conversation on New Years Eve with was standing at the counter. I couldn’t believe my own eyes.”Your here!”  I had forgotten her name but knew exactly who she was. “Hi! Remember me! You curled my hair a few years ago but we talked a lot and you use to live in Ireland. I didn’t forget you!” I was literally filled with so much excitement to rekindle the past and share the picture of my hair that she styled so beautifully on my tablet. Holding the picture and asking her how she was I sank in confusion to receive next to nothing in terms of an expression, response, or acknowledgement for my present and excitement to see her. My “homecoming” reunion was seriously cracking right in front of me. To have been out of the country for three years now was realizing that Korea didn’t change. I was the once who had changed.

Reflecting on my week long jaunt with Korea was highlighted by my visit with a coworker from the last school I taught at. Jeong Im is my moms age but she opened her roomy apartment to me with open arms in Chilgok. Meeting me at the new tram station with bright hiking wear (totally ajumma style) the real Korea I knew was coming back. Treating me to a vegetarian restaurant we retreated back to her place eating and reminiscing over korean grapes which was purely nostalgia. Korean grapes are so deeply purple and a sweet taste of heaven in your mouth. Drinking chinese green tea on the floor and chatting I felt a rumbling that shook the whole room. A 4.5 magnitude earthquake had struck Gyeongju with aftershocks reaching the rest of the Korean peninsula.

The following day we found ourselves viewing the big city of Daegu from the tram that was recently built. Getting off at Seomun Market we toured the food stalls taking in the scents of fresh fruits in big red bowls, tteokbokki cooking over the stove, and ajummas selling hanbok. This was the Korea that I couldn’t wait to be familiar with again. Jeong Im and I settled on a small ondol style restaurant that served haemul kalguksu (seafood noodles). The warm steam made my nose run like crazy and the cold that I had been fighting for five days now was starting to heal. Seomun Market was a place I use to pass by when I use to visit Daegu. Our afternoon venture was so familiar and I loved it.

Jeong Im had recently retired and opened her own Korean style Jimjilbang spa. She had prepared all these wonderful spa treatments for me. With both of her kids moved out I felt like the third child she now had. Being treated with all these glorious spa treatments was I a princess for the day? I needed my tiara. After dripping sweat in the sauna a spa “menu” was prepared for me. Warm sweet potato, korean grapes, and a hard boiled egg with hot water. I will never forget the way that I felt in this moment. I could never come up with a gift savvy enough to wrap up my gratitude to Jeong Im in a box. No present could ever express how Jeong Im made me feel while I visited with her. Maybe I should just consider writing her a nice note and mailing it to her.

The following afternoon we reunited with teachers over warm songpyeon and an orange vitamin C drink (korean style). Sitting at my old desk that was once mine that faced the principal three years ago gave me a rush of old memories that were once my reality at that time.Every day sitting at my desk not understanding what anybody was talking about lost in translation while facing the principal was truly comical. I met the new principal introducing myself and listening him ramble to me about who knows what because well, I don’t speak Korean. I should have learned Korean beyond just learning the alphabet.   Sharing a steaming hot of seafood, side dishes, and warm rice with Mina and Hyun Ji who were my main coteachers at Jinpyeong Middle School really encapsulated the entire reason for why I went back to Korea. To share deep engaging conversation, laughing, and chatting together the past and present. Sharing with them where I am today. Telling my struggles with missing Korea. Explaining who I am today. This is the Korea I missed.

My visit to Korea surprised me. I think I expected everybody to be just as ecstatic as I was to visit a place I use to live. A foreign friend once told me that Korea was always going to be there. I was the one who had changed and change after all is not a bad thing.

 

My personal travel style: super ‘travel’ savvy

My personal travel style would have to be titled “travel savvy” while still being on a budget. Enjoying local foods, cafes, markets all at the local level instead of finding “western” places. When I am traveling I cannot afford to plunge into expensive hotels however I steer very far from backpackers and cheap hostels to my favorite, airbnb.. Let me explain.

There are a lot of places to see in the world. There are a lot of things that I have done and more that I want to do. With that said, whenever I am traveling I find unique ways to cut back on travel costs while still traveling in comfort while enjoying all that’s around me. Let me give you a perfect example.

Two years ago I spent a week in New South Wales, Australia on my own and my main focus was Hunter Valley and seeing the Blue Mountains. First thing first I did a little research on public transportation in that area. Renting a car, organizing a private tour and hiring a taxi was out of the question. In the Sydney Tourist Information Center they actually recommended me joining a tour but when I found out what that would cost me I refused. I knew there was a much cheaper way. I began my adventure in Sydney Central Train station with a one way ticket booked to Katoomba which was roughly a two hour train ride through gorgeous scenery and mountains before reaching my final destination. The train ticket cost me no more than 20$ Australian dollars. I pre booked a youth hostel ( but now I always travel with Airbnb) that had good reviews and a two day hop on hop off red bus that toured me all around the Blue Mountains regions. Two days was the perfect amount of time to see all of the beautiful highlights that this region had to offer. I didn’t do any shopping or go on any buying sprees. My rule of thumb is to always compare my dining options and find the best deal to get the most for my “bucks”.

I never cut back my spending on foods to eat a cup of noodles or cheap snacks instead of local meals. Instead what I do is sort out all of my options of places to dine locally by asking around and using tripadvisor to steer me in the right direction. As a lover of food and fresh ingredients I absolutely love trying all the foods that are native to where I am visiting.

Do you travel on a tight budget? What kinds of goods do you find your cutting back on? What do you not mind spending money on?  I would love to know!