Tag Archives: life in korea

Surprises that warm the heart.

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The days keep flying and I just keep wishing I had more time.

More time to read, write, work out, bake delicious food, travel, longer weekends, drink coffee, drink tea. Drink wine with my husband. I keep finding myself wishing for more time.  Our weekends here are precious and valued time that Tom and I spend together traveling Korea and (if we are lucky) sometimes with our friends!

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…and so when Tom and I were presented with the opportunity to volunteer at an International English camp a few weeks back we debated over if we would give up our “precious time” to spend a weekend with kids after working 40 hours with kids. – We all need breaks every now and then 😉 We had heard great things about the camp and decided: “What the heck! Let’s do it.”

So, three weeks ago Tom and I went with 40 other foreign English teachers to volunteer at an International English Camp about 2 hours away from our city of Yeosu. 200 Korean middle school students in grade two (equivalent to our 8th grade in America) lined the pavement holding signs and cheering as the foreign teachers got off the bus upon arrival at camp. This was only the beginning of a fun-filled weekend teaching the kids how to cook food from our native countries, playing games/sports, doing a talent show, having a massive bonfire (fireworks were included!), stargazing, and teaching them a little about the places we originally call home.The best part about this was being able to hang out and have fun with the middle school kiddos in a normal environment! No pressure of studying. Just conversation and having fun. I have talked a bit about the pressures that the kids have in Korea to study, perform, study, perform AND repeat. If you’re interested in learning what these kids go through or just grasp an understanding of our life as teachers in Korea click here for a short 20 minute documentary! The camp was a great opportunity for us to be immersed in the culture of Korea that we so dearly love while getting to know some of the most amazing kids in a fun environment.

It was a heart warming weekend to say the least.

At the end one of the boys gave a wonderful speech that made me cry. He said the camp had given him confidence to use his English in conversation without being scared. Through all the hard days of teaching…feeling like what we are doing isn’t making a difference… that I am not teaching them enough. It’s the moments like this volunteer English camp that reminded me sometimes it’s the little moments in life that make a difference. It’s the smiles, hugs, and love. It’s the company of spending time with kids. Just getting to know them. Having the opportunity at the International camp showed me that what we are doing CAN make an impact!

The weekend we spent with the kiddos was a weekend that warmed my heart. I realized how selfish I was initially to view it as giving up “my time” when the kids had done SO much to warm my heart during our weekend together.

What things have you been doing lately (or have others done for YOU!?!)  that warm your heart?

Learning Korean culture through hiking.

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Remember how I told you guys we loved to hike?

That’s pretty much an understatement.

This past weekend we found ourselves back in the mountains after taking a two week hiatus while Tom nursed a sprained ankle from playing volleyball.  I probably said (at least five times) ” I am so happy right now.” It had been two weeks of not hiking and while I had really enjoyed two weekends in our lovely little city of Yeosu I was itching to get back to what we love to do- hike.

7 peaks later and at our 7th National park we found ourselves loving the beautiful fall colors. We started at 10 am and finished around 4pm allowing plenty of time for us to be in nature together, climbing mountain peak after mountain peak, and time to just- think. It dawned on me near the end of the hike that (almost) everything I know about Korea I learned from hiking. I mean we have spent hours in the mountains so perhaps I am bias. Everything from food, culture, terrain, and just life in Korea I have learnt from days we have spent in the mountains. Let me break it down a bit easier for ya. I added in pictures from our weekend hike in Naejangsan National Park.

Korean Kindness-

Our first hike in Korea and not knowing a thing about how long it would take, what to pack, how much we would wanna eat, etc. We set out to find ourselves just a bit exhausted and extremely under packed when it came to food. There have been countless times we have been offered food, drink, or even just company, and it helps refuel us through the remainder of our hikes. Which brings me to my next point…Korean community.

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Community in Korea-

Ah! Where to begin. Koreans love family. They love community. They love togetherness. To be quite frank- I love it too. We love that they sit together in circles sharing food, drink, and laughter. We have seen people dancing, eating, laughing, and relaxing together at the top of the mountains. We have been invited to join the fun and we have sat next to groups admiring the fun. The community reflects back to what I have seen while I have been teaching as well. The students try to share treats, they share picnic lunches, and their class becomes a family. It’s all about community in Korea…and I love that.

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Korea is stunningly beautiful. 

Whoa. We have sat at the top of mountain peaks overlooking beautiful fall colored valleys. We have spotted cities from afar. Seen the sea that looks royal blue for as far as the world goes. Islands littering the backdrop of what looks like a painting. Gosh, the list just goes on: rivers winding through the base of a mountain, waterfalls, people on other peaks, mountain ridges giving you 360 degree views of just plain gorgeous. We’ve seen the seasons change from spring, to summer, to autumn , and have learned that each season brings a new look at beauty as we discover it through hiking. We have learned about the land from hiking Korea and we understand how to adapt for hiking as the weather has changed.

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Koreans are committed!

The majority of people we see hiking typically consist of an older population. They don’t give up and they are pretty tough. I love passing climbers on the way up or down and hearing them shout excitedly after I greet them politely in Korean. Korean’s are the hardest working people that I have met, but they sure do know how to celebrate when they get to the top of a peak. Photos, food, and soju (traditional Korean drink) galore. If they are into hiking they are committed right down to their matching outfits and ridiculously expensive hiking gear/outfits. They work hard and they play hard. They are committed to finish what they start and will encourage you along the way with their greetings in Korean. I love when they shout “ASA” (sorta like: “get it!!!!”) and “FIGHTING” ( sorta like: “don’t give up!!!” which sounds like “Pi-ting”)

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Tom atop a busy mountain peak in Naejangsan National Park!

Food

Tom and I usually pack nuts, trail mix, ham sandwiches, granola, fruit, and lots of water for our hiking treks. Koreans pack full on meals when hiking. I have even seen them pack hot water in a canvas and concoct up some delicious noodles at the top of a mountain. I never underestimate what they will pack when it comes to food. I’ve seen noodles, Kimbap (Korea’s version of sushi rolls) plenty of soju, and entire ensembles of pots/pans and a full on meal. We have learned that Koreans love to eat (don’t ask me how they all stay so thin) and they love to go all out with their meals- even at the top of a mountain.

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We had an absolute blast hiking this past weekend and I love being able to document our life here on the blog! Here are a few more of my favorites:

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This guy and the beautiful Korean fall. I am one lucky lady.

This guy and the beautiful Korean fall. I am one lucky lady.

Exhausted and full of sweat.  Pure bliss on one of the peaks.

Exhausted and full of sweat. Pure bliss on one of the peaks.

Almost done!!

Almost done!!

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Every good hike must come to an end… finishing at Naejangsa temple.

Being exactly where you are.

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My best moments of “thinking” come in the shower.

I realized this last week…when I was running. When I work out I am always thinking about everything that I need to get done. I’m jealous of those of you who see working out as a time of stress relief. This is what happens in my head when I work out:

“OK, I need to wash the dishes when I get home, make cookies, and shower. What will I teach tomorrow? My kids better listen. Tomorrow is Tuesday… will we be going out for dinner? Where will Tom want to eat? What’s our plan for the weekend? How are my sisters doing. Gosh, they are getting big. Only 67 days until I see them and get to HUG them. Will they be taller than me? Man that’s a long plane ride home. I wonder what book I will want to read on the plane. This past weekend was incredible. Korea is gorgeous.” (looking at the ocean or the mountains) and then I let out a scream (after my second time of almost getting hit by a car.)

…but when I am in the shower. All is silent except for the rushing sound of the water going over my ears. It’s my time. It’s the time during the day where I get to reflect, pray, think. There is no music blaring, I am not talking, No kids screaming. It’s still. The steam fills our ridiculously tiny Korean bathroom, and it’s still silent.

When I am laying in bed at night-  I am thinking about the next day.

When I am working out- My mind gets lost in my task list.

First thing in the morning- my brain is sifting through things I need to remember for the day.

– I tend to worry a lot, and it’s the time in the shower I feel God saying to me “Just. Slow. Down.”

Be right where you are. Right now. Just breathe.

I want to be the girl who listens, and not just listens, but listens well. The girl who can push back the worry or all the thoughts consuming my brain space, and just LISTEN. I always take notice of the people who listen well. Who give me their undivided attention. Responding appropriately with valuable input. I remember the teachers who went the extra mile, the friends who make the effort, and the people who just simply listen with hearts ready to receive.

I want to be that for others.

I want to be right where I am. Right now. 120%

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“Home is whenever I am with you”

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Almost 7 months ago (already) I boarded the plane with my husband at my side. To move across the world. Literally.

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We said our goodbyes,and I sobbed the entire shuttle ride to the airport. I had my best friend with me and I was so excited to embark on a new adventure, but why was I so darn sad when it came time to say goodbye?

Saying goodbye to my sisters, and thinking how much I would miss out on their lives while we were gone hit home (they are 22, 9, and 7!)…and geez louise. Not to mention Tom’s family. Who had become like my own family long before I married Tom. I love them to pieces. I think it’ s because up until that point we had been so busy getting ready for the big move that I honestly didn’t have time to process, and dwell on how much I would miss them. It felt right in my heart, but why did my heart feel SO sad when it came time for goodbyes?

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I look back at the pictures when we first got to Korea (7 months ago) and I think about how much we have grown since that time.

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The morning we left for Korea my mom came into our hotel room, and gave me a much needed pep talk.

She said a lot of things to me with teary eyes, but basically it was this:

“You will always have a place to come back to.”

“Tom is where your home is now.”

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” That we always can come back when we need help, advice, or a place to feel the love of your family.”

It’s like she just knew. She knew I needed to hear that. Moms are real good at that.  I wasn’t doubting the decision to move to Korea, but I just needed a little bit of reassurance that I hadn’t lost my marbles. Leaving comfort is hard, but man am I ever counting my blessings here. There’s too many to blessings to count. I know this though: I’ve never regretted traveling. It’s like each time I travel I am displaced from beneath the place I call comfort…and I LOVE it. I absolutely freaking love it.

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If money wasn’t an issue. I’d travel the entire world. I can’t even pick my top 5 places. I’d make stops back in Wisconsin/Minnesota to squeeze my loved ones, kiss my baby sisters on their cheeks, drink wine with my sister in laws, laugh, hang out, catch up, and talk with everyone that I love.

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My home is wherever I am with Tom,but I will always have pieces of my heart in Wisconsin/Minnesota.

Where would you go if you could travel anywhere?

Surfing in Indonesia? African Safari? Killer Whale watching in South America? The Great Wall of China?

Watching the sunset in Fiji? Climbing in the Himalaya’s?

Fijian village dancers.

Fijian village dancers.

How do you pick when there are so many places to see? Things to do? Do you just close your eyes, and point your finger, and then spin the globe?

Dear traveling: You’re way cooler than sliced bread.

…and moms advice is usually right- just in case you haven’t figured that out yet  😉

Jirisan Mountain AND Bijindo Island- Chuseok break

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I’ll admit it… Ever since we moved to Korea I have had it in my head that we should be “traveling” every chance we get (while this is something Tom and I both want to do) for whatever reason when I think of “travel” I think of airplane, leaving the country, and discovering a new country that I haven’t been to.

We have been really lucky to have had three 4 day (or 5 day) weekends since we started in April with another 4 day weekend coming up the first week of October…along with 10 days of vacation in August when we went to Malaysia, and also a really big 21 day winter vacation coming up in less than 100 days!!! Why is it that EVERY single time I find out we have days off or vacation days coming up that I feel the need to leave Korea when Korea still feels new to us? We have certainly not explored all that Korea has to offer, and I would even go as far to say that we haven’t even discovered 1/8 of it!!! Without fail, though, as soon as I hear we have vacation I am frantically checking AIR ASIA’s page to find the cheapest deals to travel Southeast Asia.

What I am getting at is simple: Some of the BEST vacations we have had have been ones where we stayed in Korea to explore and travel. Like Jeju island, Discovering the Shinan Islands, and this one- the one I am about to tell ya about! I’ve learned it’s the simple things that make me happy… AND that can happen just as easily (if not easier) while we discover more about Korea. Tom and I have a list started on the things we want to do in Korea that include things like: The tour of the DMZ, Making it to all 20 of the National Parks to hike (and hopefully more then once), Visiting all 33 of these beautiful islands, Staying in a traditional temple overnight, skiing with friends in the winter, and attending various festivals around Korea such as the famous Mud festival, Jinju lantern festival, and the tea festival that takes place not to far from where we live…just to name a FEW!

Korea has SO much to offer and I imagine our list will continue to grow the more we discover. For Korean Thanksgiving which fell September 18- 22 this year… First, Tom and I decided to hike in Jirisan National park. It was in Jirisan over the Korean Thankgiving that we hiked the second highest peak in Korea after tackling the highest peak in Korea at Halla Mountain on Jeju island in June. We spent two days camping in Jirisan National park before we packed up our stuff and headed to meet 6 of our friends for 2 more days of camping on Bijindo (Bijin island.) The city we first drove to was called Tongyong (about 2 hours from our city of Yeosu)  where we boarded the ferry. We did a lot of relaxing, a bit of hiking, sunbathing, swimming, and even snuck in some marshmallow roasting n’ s’more making. YUM. CNN wrote about this slice of paradise here where we first became intrigued with the thought of visiting Bijindo.

Don’t get me wrong… I am always excited when we decide to visit other countries (and I am so pumped to tell ya what our winter vacation plans are when we have 21 vacation days in January/ February this year!!!!) but it was such a great lesson for me to learn that we can still “travel” when we are traveling Korea.

Below are my FAVORITE pictures from our 5 days off (excluding the big hike as I know Tom will document the hike very soon):

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Exploring near the camp site in Jirisan

Exploring near the camp site in Jirisan

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Nothing like fresh mountain water...

Nothing like fresh mountain water…

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Goodbye Jirisan National Park and Hello Bijindo Island :)

Goodbye Jirisan National Park and Hello Bijindo Island 🙂

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Hiking Bijindo

Hiking Bijindo

Casual workout during our hike :)

Casual workout during our hike 🙂

Love this guy, this view, and hiking.

Love this guy, this view, and hiking.

The view from the top of the hike. STUNNING!

The view from the top of the hike. STUNNING!

Sunny and 80 all weekend. My favorite weather.

Sunny and 80 all weekend. My favorite weather.

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4 tents. 8 friends.

4 tents. 8 friends.

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The most beautiful sunsets I have seen in ALL of Korea.

The most beautiful sunsets I have seen in ALL of Korea.

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Sometimes the greatest adventures are just outside of our doorstep.

Our life as of lately.

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The past few weekends have consisted of a half marathon, saying goodbye to friends whose time in Korea is complete, drinking wine, spending time on the gorgeous beach just 2 miles from our apartment (just let me brag one more time! I have never lived by the ocean) catching an awesome FREE jazz concert, new bible study, and getting the classroom ready for another semester of school.

The Weather: Has cooled down quite a bit, and is now comparable to summer in Wisconsin/ Minnesota. This week has been low 80’s and the humidity has vanished quite a bit! We can hike again-after taking a 2 month break due to insane humidity. We are excited to get back to enjoyable hiking, biking, AND running!

Our Schools: Both of our schools are back in full swing of second semester! We are loving being able to commute to work together, and having a car makes our commute to work about 15 minutes. NO complaints there. Two out of my three Korean co teachers have changed at semester. I am so lucky to have two new awesome co teacher’s who help me teach the English classes. They ROCK!

Our Apartment: We finally have a couch, and our apartment is finally decorated. It took 5 months, but it is cozy. We have had friends come visit, and the apartment has crammed fit 4 guests-6 total adults! If only you knew how small it is with 6 adults in there!! BUT we are thankful (it’s paid housing) … it’s new… AND we don’t live in a huge apartment complex like many of the Korean apartment buildings. Ours is maybe 15 apartments total in a small building vs. the 30+ story apartments that are scattered around our city (and much of Korea.)

After 5 months in Korea: We are falling more in love with our city-Yeosu. The view from my school (on the mountain) over looking the bay are second to none. We have the sweetest landlords who bend over backwards for us. We aren’t taking a second for granted. We are SO incredibly thankful for the opportunity to live, teach, and travel Korea (and also all over Asia!). I think it’s safe to say that we will be in Korea (granted our jobs will have us again) for longer than a year. Life here is so amazing. It’s easy. It’s stress free. It’s incredible to me that we can travel… AND pay off my university debt…AND SAVE- all while loving our day to day life/jobs!

The view from my school- it really never EVER gets old. So stunning.

The view from my school- it really never EVER gets old. So stunning.

Getting ready to change the desks in my classroom into groups. I don't miss this typical "korean style" of desks in rows. Ick!

Getting ready to change the desks in my classroom into groups. I don’t miss this typical “Korean style” of desks in rows. I much prefer groups of four.

We love live music.

We love live music.

4 friends. A road trip to the middle of Korea. A half marathon AND 18 pounds of grapes.

4 friends. A road trip to the middle of Korea. A half marathon AND 18 pounds of grapes for finishing!

Saying goodbye to my dear friend Alyssa. Her pictures of Korea were a huge inspiration to us moving to Korea...and we have spent lots of time camping/exploring Korea with her and Pat (pictured left) Alyssa is off traveling for the next 8 months and Pat will join her for some traveling in November when his teaching contract is up!

Saying goodbye to my dear friend Alyssa. Her experiences in Korea were a huge inspiration to us moving to Korea…and we have spent lots of time camping/exploring Korea with her and Pat (pictured left) Alyssa is off traveling for the next 8 months, and Pat will join her for some traveling in November when his teaching contract is up!

Wine/Apples/ Wisconsin cheese a special treat for us on a school night. ;)

Wine/Apples/ Wisconsin cheese a special treat for us on a school night. 😉

New bible study in Yeosu we were invited to.

New bible study in Yeosu we were invited to.

Darren and Rozanne- off to live in Thailand! So happy to have met this dynamic duo through our friend Melody. They spent 5 years in Korea, and Tom and I really enjoyed getting to spend some time with them at the tail end of their Korean journey.

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Ungcheon beach- just 2 miles from our apartment 🙂