Archives for category: South Korea

When Steven and I started thinking about moving to Korea, we guessed that if we stayed here for three years, we’d pay off most or all of our student loans. That didn’t mean we were committed to staying for three years. It just meant that Korea might be the rainbow that brought us to the pot of gold and way out of a huge portion of our paychecks disappearing at the end of every month. When we got the jobs, we sold almost all of our furniture, let our friend Evie take what we couldn’t or didn’t want to sell, and moved about twenty boxes of personal items into Steven’s parents’ attic. We drove our car, our luggage, and our dog to the end of the country, said goodbye to our friends and family, and flew across the Pacific Ocean.



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We arrived in Busan with a built in support system: Kate, Chaz, Kelly, and Kat met us at the airport, and Kayse arrived within days. I remember a lot of rain at first, followed by the worst humidity. School was boring for the first month – it was the end of the semester and the teachers wanted to finish the work they had started without incorporating me into it. I finally got to teach English Camp lessons (not the whole camp, but parts of it) for three weeks in July and August, and my vice principal at that time let me leave in the afternoons. We met Amy, Meghan and Kyle, and Rena and Patrick, Vas, and Marybeth (who at the time was only visiting from Japan), and we hung out with them all a lot – drinking, singing, swimming, more drinking… The first few months were easy, breezy, save for the fact that I was sick a lot. The food did not agree well with me, although I loved eating it. Every morning at 10 a.m. I had a spicy bathroom adventure. We moved into our crappy apartment and started working on buying furniture and decorations to make it into a home. We started taking Korean classes and picking up bits of the language. Kayse, Steven, and I spent many hours at Brown Chip in PNU and Caffe Benne in Seomyeon studying. My friend from high school passed away in August, and that was tough.


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We had a week long break for Chuseok and that was followed with a free week long trip to Seoul for orientation. We met lots of new friends and had a great time just hanging out with a ton of other foreigners from around the world who had made the crazy decision to work for EPIK in Korea. I missed the Fireworks Festival because I was sick, and came close to missing the Halloween party craziness in KSU – but everyone forced me to come out, and everyone got insanely drunk (when in Rome…). I started to fall in love with K-Pop (Miss A and Narsha, specifically). In November we had our first North Korea scare (the attack on Yeonpyeong Island). Almost six months in and I finally figured out the stupid bus route to my school. I missed being home for Thanksgiving but made up for it with a long night of delicious food and Mafia at Meghan and Kyle’s. I kept growing my hair out. That semester I worked with a substitute teacher while my main co-teacher was out of the country, and that was tough. He didn’t speak English and he also hit the kids when he wasn’t happy with them. I was anxious for Ji-Eun to return.


The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit. (Wade Davis)


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Had a terrible Christmas – our water pipes burst from it being so cold and we only got one card/gift in the mail from my grandparents. We spent HOURS in a bus in traffic trying to get to and from an orphanage, and I was in a terrible disposition. It wasn’t a great day. I started the Teeny Tiny Book Reports on this blog, and through those books got back into my passion for working on abolishing human trafficking. In January, Kate and I went to Seoul for a conference put on by Not for Sale and Onnuri Church, and I got to meet David Batstone. I started a small group of friends and invited the Busan community to join me in learning about trafficking issues. Winter Camp was cold but fun, but my new VP made me stay at school all day with nothing to do. That sucked. Winter in Korea kinda sucked. Kayse’s mom and sister came for a visit, and it was fun to show Korea off to people from the outside. Ashley showed up at the end of February!


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The new school year started, with the triumphant return of Ji-eun, who literally trusted me enough to let me start teaching one lesson all by myself every week, and treated me as a co-teacher the other two lessons a week. I also had a new co-teacher, Miss Shin. She was very sweet, if not a little shy. She had never taught English, nor worked with a co-teacher, so teaching with her was fine but a little boring. But it was a good rhythm, and much better than the previous semester. I had tons of stomach issues and finally was diagnosed with gastritis. Got medicine and changed my diet, which helped a lot. We went to the DMZ. Meghan found out she was pregnant, and in May she and Kyle went home. Kate and Chaz made preparations to leave, and that was hard.



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We made it through our first year and went home for two weeks. It was crazy manic fun. We came back renewed but also CERTAIN that we would only stay for one more year. It only took a couple of months to realize that our second year was a million times better than the first year – we knew more Korean, we knew how to explore more, we knew which restaurants to avoid, etc. I started my human trafficking blog. Ashley and I went to Japan and met Rebekah!


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I read the worst book of my life (Divergent). I struggled with the idea of staying a third year, and also looked forward to it. I wondered what would come after I finally left this country. I attempted to go to the Fireworks Festival, but after sitting on the beach guarding an area for all of my friends, it started to rain and I left. I learned about the Korean emotion called “jeong.” I met Young, who was substituting for Miss Shin for the semester, and Young and I became insta-friends. I bought my first scooter.


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Winter was whatever: cold, English Camp, boring, vacation. Chelsea and Ian left. Nikki showed up at the end of February, which was great!


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The new school year began. Ji-eun trusted me with teaching all my classes on my own (with her help, of course), and Miss Shin returned with lots of new ideas for making class better. She trusted me to start teaching a class on my own and started to utilize me better in her lessons. Our scooter was stolen. We bought a new one. Our scooter was returned. We sold it. Ashley, Nikki, Kayse, and I were in a dragon boat race with all of Ashley’s Ulsan friends.



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We prepared for Kayse to go home, and she was gracious enough to take Sasha with her. We had a murder mystery party for her going away party. I cried through a teacher dinner on the day she left. Steven and I went to Japan for our vacation. I got LASIK surgery on my eyes! Someone I know died. My last summer camp. There were some typhoons. Psy went viral. I learned how to French braid. We got to know Jayna, Charlie, and Sarah. I thought about becoming a substance abuse counselor.


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I watched the seasons begin to change and understood that it would be the last time I saw fall on these mountains. Elizabeth came for a visit, which was AMAZING. We went home for Steven’s sister’s wedding. While home, my DMACC advisor insisted I reconsider my future, and look into the MSW program at U of Iowa. We came back. I applied for grad school. I started doing Korean tutoring with Gen and Pete with an amazing Korean friend named Minja – she’s an excellent teacher.


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Kat came for a visit. I read some good books. Last winter camp. Wine Train. Got one of the only good hair cuts I’ve ever gotten in Korea. It was cold and we hibernated. Ashley left. So did Jayna, Sarah, and Charlie.


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It started to get warmer. We didn’t have many foreign friends left (only Nikki and Shikara), so I spent most of my time with Koreans (Young and Yoonjeong, Ji-eun and Yongjin, Minja). Seomyeon suddenly became the coolest place in Busan. My mom and her boyfriend Jack came for a visit! I started to sell the furniture and pack everything. I found out that I got into the MSW program, but that I would not be considered an Iowa resident (basically making it financially impossible/insane to pursue the program at this time) – that was a pretty tough day.

June 2013

Rebekah came for one more visit, and we spent the entire month packing, purging, selling, and preparing to leave. I write this on my last full day in Korea. I still can’t believe it.


I know some things and I don’t know some things… but we’re basically debt free and ready to start the next chapter!


Photo on 6-19-13 at 10.45 AM

Hello! ~ kimi teacher!

my name is Lee ga yean.

teacher is very kind.

I’m Here your go America news.

I’m very sad.

teacher is very happy teaching.

I am very fun English.

Please, don’t go away.

Dongpyeong There is some money left.

We are together study. ~

your going is I’m very sad English study

😦 I’m sad. ~ Please, don’t go away.

Please ~

I love kimi teacher. – Lee go yeoan –

Dear World,

This will be the second time in the last 3 years that I will be moving abroad. Trans-Pacific. Changing zip codes, changing phone numbers, changing time zones, changing languages, changing everything. Shedding all my furniture, half of my worldly possessions, and almost everything that I would cobble together as “normal.”

It is not a pleasant experience.

The last time I did this, we sold almost everything. The bed. The desk. The TV. The couch (THAT BEAUTIFUL COUCH!). The computer. The futon. The entertainment center. The chair, the dresser, the end table, and the dining room set went into a friend’s garage. Anything not traveling abroad went into storage. Everything going with us had to fit within 4 bags at less than 50 pounds. And I thought that was hard.

But it wasn’t, not really. Because I wasn’t saying goodbye to my stuff, or my friends or family. Not really. They were always with me, on Facebook or e-mail. They were home whenever I went back on vacation, and they would still be there when I finally returned from Korea.

This time, it’s so, so different. I’ve lived here for three years. I picked up a serious set of language skills for a language that will have very little use to me in America (especially in the mid-west). Sure, I had to shed my furniture and many worldly things again, and who cares? But the relationships I’m leaving behind… well, I’m really leaving them behind. I have many, many Korean friends now, and it will be very difficult if not impossible to see them any time soon, if ever again. They can’t really communicate with  me via e-mail because they aren’t comfortable communicating very well in written form. We communicate by talking, by drawing pictures, by body language, by quickly looking up words as we go. That can’t be done from a distance. That’s not going to happen anymore.

That’s a heavy sadness to carry around.

With most of our things already packed, with furniture being bought daily, with friends coming by to raid our cabinets, cupboards, and crannies, we’re feeling less connected here. We mailed things home, we are canceling the phones and the internet and the utilities, we are unregistering our scooter, we are snipping all the tethers. In that regard, every day is difficult to get through. It’s like everything around us reminds us that we no longer belong here. It’s time to go.

But my relationships – to people, to a society, to a language, to this very specific form of adaptability – where does it go? What happens to it? And what happens to me? Where do I go from here?

And here’s where I get very, very emo. I’ve lived abroad for three years, and for three years my friends from back home were incredibly strong and kind to me. They sent me mail, letters, Skyped with me, sent me messages, kept me up to date on their lives, and didn’t forget about me. It’s been amazing, and I’ll never be ungrateful or forget that. But in the last month, it’s like all communication from back home has dried up. Right, not all – I’ve gotten the occasional, “Are you ready to come home?” and “How are you feeling?” from a friend or acquaintance. But my closest friends, it’s like summer hit, and blam, they have literally disappeared. I’ve messaged them, I’ve called them, I’ve tried to Skype with them, but all I get are answering machines and “Seen” checkmarks, but no replies. I know, it’s life, people are busy, it happens – I do understand that. I don’t take it personally, and I know I can’t expect people to always be extending themselves around the world for me. But actually, these last few weeks may be some of the most emotional and difficult days of living abroad. I just wish my friends were more available to make that transition easier.

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  • reading and writing the Korean alphabet
  • speaking and listening to and in Korean (high novice/low intermediate)
  • basic HTML/CSS
  • ukelele
  • poetry memorization (eh… kinda)
  • how to roll gimbab

it’s rainy and im stubbornly loving my life, even as it slips away

this life i chose

this life that molded me

into someone that wont belong, wont fit

quite right

in the life

i left


Photo on 5-31-13 at 10.33 AM

Assignment: Create an advertisement for a museum of your choosing. Draw a picture of the museum, and also put it on the map. Write two sentences: What can you do there? and Where is it?

Welcome to the ??? Museum

You can come here? No, you can’t.

You don’t know where.


Today was a particularly good day. My mom has been here since Friday, and we’ve PACKED our schedules so full with things already, that we were all exhausted when we woke up today. Luckily, I only had to give speaking tests this morning, which is a very low energy teacher activity. It was Teacher’s Day today in Korea, so many of my former students who are now middle schoolers came back to say hello to me – which also kept some of my rowdy fifth graders too scared to come to my classroom and bother me. I saw one of my FAVORITE Koreans today, Chaeyeon – she was a fifth grader my first year, and she is the sweetest student I’ve ever had. She is silly and clever and thoughtful, and I love seeing her.

This afternoon I decided that we needed to put our feet down and buy tickets, and when I went and checked the prices, they had SKYROCKETED. I was mortified by the prices, which I have diligently checked every day for the last two months. But I just kept hitting refresh and rechecking, and I saw the prices plummet in a matter of 20 minutes to a price that was nearly as low as I’ve ever seen it. We booked them, and the flight is GREAT. We leave in the afternoon, only have to spend a few hours in Narita (the most boring international airport on the planet), we fly in to LA and have an 8 hour layover, so we’ll hopefully have time to see our friend/son Josh or go out and do something fun for a few hours, and then we’ll fly in to Denver where Kayse will pick us up! AND after booking, we found out that the long flight from Japan to LA is only 10 hours AND it’s on SINGAPORE AIR, which is the #1 rated airline in the world, and has been for 18 years. The seats are the most comfortable, the attendants are the friendliest and most helpful, the food is supposed to be the best food you can get in the air, and the entertainment is supposed to be wider and more diverse than any other flights. I AM SO HAPPY.

Off to downtown to go experience some more medical tourism before picking up my mom to FINALLY go get some meat dinner and enjoy a round of Catan over some beers.




Three years and I’m finally a tough disciplinarian. Helps that my co-teacher has my back.