Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Five Things I Love About Korea

We've been living in Korea for just over 7 months now. Many of the experiences have been amazing, whilst life has of course been interspersed with challenges along the way. Here are five of my favourite things about Korea.

1. The 24-hour culture. Working hours here are long, 9.30am - 6.30pm at a minimum but longer for many people. At home this would mean that you'd miss out on most shopping opportunities, except perhaps on a Thursday (I know in Leeds the shops stay open til around 8pm on Thursdays!). Here, you can go shopping til at least around 10pm in most places, including malls and markets which means you don't have to wait for the weekend. Many places are open well into the early hours of the morning. I actually much prefer to visit these places on weekday evenings as they tend to be a little quieter and less crowded. Au contraire, supermarkets do not open until about 10 or 11 in the morning, so popping to Tesco (or the equivalent) on your way to work isn't really an option.

2. Not knowing the language. Now, I know - this sounds very strange, but hear me out. Whilst I have picked up some Korean and made an effort to at least learn to read the language, I can't understand most of the conversations taking place around me, for example on the subway. At first this felt incredibly alienating and I felt lonely and as if I was stuck in my own head, but as the months have gone on I have come to really appreciate this. As an adult, I have never really been a fan of my own company. My anxiety can come on quite quickly if I am alone with my own thoughts, but since living in Korea I've started to find a real solace in just sitting and mulling things over. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say that I would want this to always be the case, but for now, and for some rest-bite from the day-to-day madness of the classroom, it can be some very valuable down-time!

3. The food. When I first came here, the thought of eating rice every day was enough to make me shudder. But, as with everything, you soon get used to it! I'm not the most adventurous person when it comes to food but since living here I have been more open to trying new things and have rarely regretted it (with the exception perhaps of octopus. No, no, no.) Some flavours here are a very acquired taste, but I've found so many things I love. Also, the snacks here are excellent. In the early weeks I craved things from home, my favourite crisps and chocolate but now, whilst those things are nice to have as a treat, I have found Korean substitutes I really love. I just wish they made small packets of crisps as my waistline is not thanking me at the moment. Whilst I will be glad to go home and enjoy roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, nice cheese, cous-cous, proper bacon, unsweetened cereal... ok, lots of things... I don't find myself hankering after them too much any more.

4. The public transport. Seriously, the UK could learn a thing or seven from Korea in this regard. Public transport, mainly the subway and busses, are fast, reliable and extremely affordable. To get from one side of Seoul to the other on the subway takes around 45 minutes and costs around £1. Yes, £1. The bus drivers may be a little erratic at times (hold on tight or you will fall over, as I have nearly done so many times) but you'll only have waited a couple of minutes and again, it will barely cost anything. They are available 365 days of the year, and the busses run well into the early hours, with the subway running from around 5am - 11pm most days. #impressive

5. The cost of things generally. Whilst some things can be unexpectedly pricey, the cost of doing things here makes it easy to jam-pack weekends with activities. Alex and I have recently started going to baseball games, and it can cost as little as 12,000 KRW for a ticket (that's £8!) Even the premium seats only set us back £11.50 each. You can eat out for £5 each easily, often making it cheaper to eat out than cook for yourself (I do miss cooking, but with such a tiny kitchen I've been grateful to have the option!). Many things are free too; sports pitches (we love to play badminton after work), museums, exhibitions. Combined with the aforementioned affordable transport, there's really no excuse not to get out and explore the city! 

These are just a few of the things I love about living in Korea. Some of them may be specific to Seoul but, having travelled to other cities around Korea, I would say that most apply across the board. 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

A Year in Korea #1

2 months, 1 week and 1 day ago, Alex and I got on a plane at Manchester airport. 25 hours later we arrived in South Korea. Months of planning had led to that point, and the previous few weeks had passed in a crazy haze of packing, excitement, goodbyes and stress. Having been granted a year long career break, many ends had to be tied up at work, and then we had just 7 days before we left the country. Lots of people had only known for a few short weeks that we were leaving; keeping it a secret in case it didn't all come together was one of the hardest parts of planning this adventure.

My first few days in Seoul were surreal to say the least. With a 9 hour time difference, the jet lag was impossible to ignore. Less than 24 hours after we arrived we began work at a Hagwon (private English academy) in Gangseo-gu. We shadowed the teachers we were replacing for 3 days, and then from day 4 we were on our own. (Luckily on day 4 we also moved into our apartment, leaving behind the questionable "hotel" we had been put up in!) Every morning I teach a kindergarten class, and then from 2.50 - 7.10pm is elementary school; I have 5 separate elementary classes, 4 of them 'Gifted Honors', ranging in age from 8 - 16.

Wearing the traditional Hanbok for Seollal (Lunar New Year)
 As I was saying, the first few days, or indeed probably the first 2 weeks, were surreal. My body felt as if it was on a different planet, my brain couldn't quite get around the fact that we were on a different continent... Everything smelt different, everything sounded different, everything tasted different. Around a week in, I remember crying with sheer frustration one evening. I was incredibly hungry, having eaten only a slice of toast all day, but my body was rejecting pretty much anything Korean I tried to eat, making me sick every time I tried to eat a meal. Combined with still being jet-lagged and exhausted from starting a new job, it seemed pretty hard at the time. Looking back, I was being way too hard on myself - I should have just eaten a McDonalds!

Somehow it's now been 2 months. In many ways, I still don't think I've entirely realised the enormity of having moved to a different continent. For some people, I guess such an experience would be predominately exciting - in a positive way - new experiences, new discoveries. Don't get me wrong, I'm really enjoying those things too. But if I sit quietly and think about just how far from home I am, the sense of panic begins to build really quickly. Homesickness has been my biggest battle so far, and it's only been in the last few weeks that I've almost managed to get a hold on it. To anyone who's never experienced extreme homesickness it can be hard to explain the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach or just how trapped you feel. The simplest of things can become almost impossible because they remind you of home - like making a cup of tea, or even listening to music. Once you get past that point, and you can once again enjoy the things you find comforting, I think you're on the right track.

Of course, it helps a hundred-fold that I'm not doing this alone. As well as moving 5000 miles away, Alex and I have also moved in together - and that has by far been the easiest part of this! There's nothing I enjoy more than finishing teaching for the day and going home to relax and unwind with him, and the weekends have been really lovely. Having lived here before, Alex knows some cool haunts, but we've been exploring together too. Our love for parks and being outside and walking for hours has very easily translated to Korea and every Sunday we've been making the effort to get outside to see what we can find.

So, a year in Korea - 2 months in! I'll try not to wait another 2 months before updating this again because I want to record and remember as much of this experience as I can, and I'd love to share it with other people too. There are hundreds upon hundreds of travel blogs, but before we came here I really just wanted an honest account of what it would be like to do this - the good bits and the bad. Some things will probably always need to be a little bit sugar-coated but those of you who know me know that I tell it like it is. So I hope you'll enjoy these updates and a glimpse into what it's like to live and work in South Korea.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016



The single most sought-after feeling in the entire world.

Impossible to buy, invisible to the eye, revered and feared and wanted by so many.

I didn't expect to fall in love, certainly not so quickly and definitely not quite as hard as I did. And it was like falling; like forgetting who I was and where I was and why I was - nothing seemed to matter any more except the fact that this person, this kind, generous, wonderful soul loved me too.

Being loved so strongly by someone else opens us up to all sorts of new and wonderful vulnerabilities. Whilst you're lying entwined, all brushing fingertips and heads close together on the pillow in the warm light of a quiet Sunday morning, another person is seeing you for everything that you are. No secrets. Nothing hidden. And you have to believe that despite everything you might dislike about yourself, they love you anyway. Being loved forces you to love yourself more, and to realise that maybe, just maybe, you're not as unlovable as you thought you were.

Love is opening your eyes in the middle of the night to find them already looking at you. Not in a scary, plotting to kill you way. In an "I woke up and you were on my mind and I just needed to watch you sleep" kind of way. Love is wanting to know everything about them from the very first date, wanting to ask and ask and ask and feeling like you could remember even the smallest detail as if it were the most important thing in the world. Love is missing them 10 minutes after you've said goodbye, and never feeling quite right when they're not there.

And love is scary. It can make you second-guess everything, read far too far into the simplest of statements and leave you in a crumpled heap at the thought that something might have gone wrong. Because love makes you invest everything you have into the happiness of another human being, and the fragility that comes with such a complex state of being leaves us exposed, naked and vulnerable.

Somehow, when you're in love, you just feel everything more strongly. And it's addictive. Every day I think I couldn't possibly feel any more passionately about him than I do, and every day - every conversation in fact - I'm proved wrong. Love has changed my outlook and has changed my life. It's given me the conviction to follow my heart, to trust my instincts and to let go of the little things that previously seemed so monumental. To think"fuck it" and just say the thing that might sound too this or too that. To realise that life is precious and to be so sodding grateful that I know how it feels to love, and to be loved, and that really, that is the most important thing of all.