Garden of the Morning Calm – Seoul Hiking Group

After an exhausting day and faux-rescue on Wunaksan it was time to relax at Korea’s Garden of the Morning Calm.  This colorful light show reminds many foreigners of Christmas and is fitting to visit in the winter.  Multicolored lights adorn trees and bushes throughout the massive garden.  Its a popular spot for Korean couples who can be seen frolicking hand-in-hand and posing for romantic photos.

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They have everything from love-struck bow & arrows to giant mushrooms, butterflies and other crazy concoctions.  The brilliant display mixes a rainbow of colors with our imagination to create a fantasy wonderland.  Its best to go after sunset so you can get the full experience of tunnels & lighted pathways.  Give yourselves an hour or two to explore but you don’t need all night.  It really is the perfect way to relax after spending your day on the nearby mountains.

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Christmas at a Hagwon in Korea

Its Christmas Eve, my first one in South Korea, first one away from my family and my first one at a hagwon here in Seoul.  I’ll leave out the administrative shortcomings in this post since Christmas is a day to be happy and celebrate the good times.  (don’t worry the anecdotes about how crazy my hagwon continues to be will come out in the next few days.)  We had a big party today (Tuesday) for Christmas Eve, no school on Christmas and a Christmas concert Thursday!

Today’s events were a ton of fun for the kids!  Our schedule which was overemphasized in Monday’s meeting changed at least twice without any warning but you’ve gotta be able to go with the flow in the states too right?  We started the day with a sentence on the board to get them in the spirit.  “Today is Christmas Eve!”  Normally I’d never use a word as big as Christmas but they all figured it out pretty easily.  When they finished they had some playtime and snack time as usual.

We were slated to go to Santa for presents after snack but my principal came to let us know we were starting late.  We practiced our concert routine and were about to start again when the phone rang.

Our Santa had a black and white Ramones t-shirt on beneath his baggy costume.  He smelled of cigarettes and reminded me of my last hangover.  Even so, the kids were super excited as he called each one up by name and gave them a present!  It was a really cute ceremony but after a few minutes they noticed his hair didn’t match the beard and the shirt kept popping out.  They kept saying “사기꾼 (sagiggun)” so I asked my coteacher what it meant, she laughed and “fake.”

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6 ways to enjoy the holidays while living abroad

Here are 6 simple ways to brighten your holidays if you are a long way from home!

This year I’ll be celebrating my holidays outside of the United States for the first time.  Heck its my first time really being away from home!   Yeah, sure I was away from home at college near Boston I always managed to get back to New Jersey before the last decorations were hung.

I first realized how different the holidays would be in Seoul during Thanksgiving.  Okay, so maybe I ate Turkey three times that weekend but it wasn’t as good as my family’s usual feast and what REALLY makes the holiday is of course, family.  That being said I am grateful for my work family and friends here for helping me feel at home while living nearly 7000 miles away from my folks.

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1) Celebrate and spend time with fellow expats.  

Chances are they are in the same situation as you and missing their family too.  If you are from the same country you can bond over traditions that you share.  If you are from different countries than you get even more insight into how the world celebrates a particular holiday.  I brought dreidels to all my Thanksgiving celebrations turning it into Thanksgivukkah and was surprised at how many Americans had never played before!

2) Celebrate and spend time with the locals.  

Chances are they have heard of your holiday; especially if its Christmas.  I was surprised to learn how few Koreans knew about Hanukkah but didn’t let it get me down.  I took it as an opportunity to reciprocate all they have taught me about their culture.  Every country celebrates holidays differently and it can be fun to experience the traditions and notice similarities.  You’ll be surprised at how many of the locals want to show you the way they celebrate. I’m excited to see how Koreans get into the holiday cheer even though they don’t decorate or have nearly the same shopping craze as Americans.

3) Continue your old traditions

Even if its just listening to Little Drummer Boy or Last Christmas on repeat, play your favorite songs and games.  It will keep your spirits up even if you are homesick.  You can email mom for grandma’s recipe and share it with all your new friends too. (she may even get the hint and send you a care package)  If you always donate to the needy then keep it up!  There are needy folks everywhere.  If you usually volunteer at the local food bank to help the hungry then talk to your local friends and find one at your new locale.  Whatever it is you do to bring the holiday spirit out in yourself I’m confident you can find a way to make it happen around the world.

4) Presents! 
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