I can hardly believe I have finished my year teaching English Korea for Chungdahm. In some ways it feels like the year has flown by, yet somehow I feel well acquainted with Seoul and have a good grasp on Korean culture. For better or worse, this year has been full of phenomenal growth. I have learned so much about myself as an individual, professional teacher, Canadian, and friend. Things that would be impossible to learn had I not ventured abroad. Living abroad is full of challenges that are so rewarding to experience and overcome and I know I am walking away from this year with fantastic memories and numerous new friends from all over the world. Last week I said goodbye to my coworkers, students and friends, and I am heading off to travel throughout Southeast Asia. While traveling and severance pay makes the transition from teacher to traveler much easier, I was, and still am so sad to say farewell to the city I have called home for the past year. I have decided to write about my favorite things in Korea that I will miss dearly below. I hope this blog is helpful to anyone considering teaching in Korea.
1. Korean Cuisine and Libations
Where to begin with the food? It's. So. Good. The numerous kinds of barbecue, rice dishes, street food, seafood and traditional dishes are all so delicious. Throughout my time in Korea I was able to try so many different kinds of Korean foods that I never would have been exposed to otherwise. My favorite Korean food is Jokbal, which is pigs trotters braised with soy sauce and various spices. It's pretty heavy so it's served with various light banchan (side dishes) that balances the fattiness of the dish. Bonus: Jokbal is full of gelatin that is said to promote strong wrinkle free skin, and the amino acid methionine contained in Jokbal is said to prevent hangovers... which leads to my next favorite thing about Korea. The drinks! While Korea is infamously associated with soju which is drunk in copious amounts by locals and expats alike, my favorite Korean alcohol is makgeolli. Makgeolli is fermented rice wine which is claimed to be Korea's oldest liquor. Makegolli is semisweet, filling and flavorful. To top it off, Makgeolli is chock full of probiotics so it's.. good for you? Beyond how delicious the food and drinks are, the process of dining and drinking in Korea is what makes Korea so special. Community and social life revolves around going out for food together and bonding over barbecue and soju after a hard day at work. There's something special about the way Koreans share everything when dining out and it is something I will miss.
2. The "Bangs"
"Bang" literally means room, but in Korea it's a word that carries a little more meaning. "Bang" is closely associated with fun, and this fun takes many different forms: from 24/7 smokey PC rooms filled with people dedicating hours of thier life to sitting in comfy chairs and leveling up to private singing rooms, emanating often embarrassing sessions of Karoke. My two favorites were definitely the jimjlbang and the DVDbang. The former is a 24hr spa with a bath house and a numerous of saunas. It's a great place to go to relax or spend the night at for $7-$10. DVDbangs are private theater rooms that can be rented for a movie with friends... I particularly enjoy going to one of these on a rainy or chill afternoon.
3. Convenience Stores
On any given summer night you will see expats and locals alike sitting around outside convenience stores drinking and chilling. You honestly can't walk one block in Korea without passing a convenience store, which have anything you need. I remember being pretty amazed walking into a convenience store during training week and seeing business man standing around making ramen and eating kimbap. It's funny what a big part of your life they become when living here. I probably popped into one everyday for something. When the weather is warm they become handy meeting places to kick back, or pregame with cheap drinks. An added bonus is that these marts are open 24/7, so it's nice to know that the basics are always accessible, and no more than a short walk away.
4. The Ease of Travel
South Korea is such a convenient place to travel to and from. Thanks to the KTX, which is South Korea's high speed railway system, one can travel from Seoul to Busan, (a major city in the South) within three hours. Seoul has an amazing subway system which is easy to navigate via the the Seoul metro app. I can't say enough about it.... the subway in Korea is awesome and connects Seoul with surrounding cities seamlessly while providing users with wireless internet! The bussing system while more complicated is more easily navigated once one learns Hangeul. Traveling outside of Korea is done through either Incheon or Gimpo airport. I traveled internationally four times while teaching in Korea and had pleasant experiences each time. South Korea is well connected with the rest of Asia, and direct flights are readily available, which makes taking advantage of long weekends simple and easy.
5. Festivals in Korea
Korea has a lot to offer in terms of how many unique and fun festivals there are. It's easy to find a special event or celebration to attend almost every month of the year. From Ice Fishing in winter, the Cherry Blossom festival in the spring, to the Mud Fest in the summer and Lantern Festivals in the fall there are no shortage of celebrations to experience. These events usually involve lots of street food and amazing opportunities to learn about Korean culture and interact with locals. My best weekends in Korea were spent at festivals- specifically Ice fishing and Holi Hai fest in Busan.
6. My Students
Oh the kids. Teaching in Korea gives you the incredible opportunity to develop relationships with some of the most interesting youngsters you will ever meet. My students have challenged me, pushed my buttons and made me laugh almost every day. My students are some of the most hardworking kids I know and it amazes me how they can be so motivated to learn after a full day of school. I am so thankful to have worked alongside some of the sweetest and goofiest kids who I will remember long after this year. As I will continue to work with children in other contexts, this experience has been an invaluable source of growth and education. My last day of work was exhausting and oh-so sad, but made me realize just how much I've bonded with my students over the past year. I am so grateful to have spent my days teaching them.
Beyond these major things, there is so much more to Korea that made my year a phenomenal experience. The glitzy streets of Gangnam, the ajummas I'd buy kimbap from, ondol floor heating in the winter, night shopping in Dongdaemun, Saturday hikes up Bukhansan, gorging on tteokboki post-club in Hongdae, Korean's unbeatable sock game, and the countless faces and friends that have challenged me along the way. Also dating in Korea is not a bad time. I'm so sad to say farewell but am so thankful for all this past year has thrown my way. On to the next adventure, thank you for everything Korea!