Grateful, flattered and a big ‘Thanks Mom’

Thankful, humbled, flattered, honored & feeling blessed.  The last week brought lots of good news and opened new doors without closing any.  Whether its good karma, good luck or simply I that had great parents who raised me right I keep getting more and more opportunities to thrive in everything I enjoy.  Thanks mom!  A belated happy mother’s day to you (don’t worry I woke her up with a Skype call as I went to bed.  Time zones are funny like that).

On that mother’s day Skype call my parents commented that it seems like my “life is in between vacations.”  I’ve got a good job that affords me plenty of time to travel but more importantly living in Korea means I’m always traveling.  So how could things get better than they already were?  I had no idea until these last few days.

Over the weekend I attended my 2nd Google Apps for Education Conference.  It was amazing, I learned a tremendous amount to help me personally as an educator and independently with productivity tricks.  (stay tuned for an overview of the best tips & lifehacks!)  At the end we were invited on stage (roughly 200 attendees) to do a “Demo Slam” (a 2 minute presentation of on an awesome Techno trick).  I won a cool laptop bag but more importantly while networking later in the evening they asked if I would present next year!  What an honor.  I of course said yes and have already begun preparing a trial presentation for my coworkers.

The networking continued as I met dozens of teachers from international schools all over Asia.  Uh oh.  All over Asia?  Yeah, I don’t know when I’m leaving Korea but there’s no guarantee leaving Korea means returning home.  Especially if I can get into a fancy international school and explore some new corner of the world!

Already on cloud 9 from the conference I finalized my summer plans and have begun coming to the realization that I’ll be spending 3 weeks in Thailand this summer!  Brian and I are hoping to jump on motor bikes and explore the northern jungles in between beach days and hopping over to Cambodia to see Angor Wat.

Hours after those tickets were purchased I was asked to be a Teaching Mentor!  I was taken aback.  He couldn’t truly be asking me to be his teaching mentor?  I’m still young.  Aren’t I?  Okay so I’m almost 30 (with dreamy thoughts of a destination 30th on the beach!) but I’ve only been teaching for a handful of years.  I’ve always known I was good with kids and thought highly of my teaching abilities but never wanted to be pretentious.  I guess I’m inspiring more than just my students but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to be a mentor.  Does it?

I confided in him that I wasn’t sure I was qualified but IF I meet the requirements I would be happy to oblige.  Then I started to think back to the mentors in my career.  Most if not all of them mothers by now so happy mothers day to Roe, Judy, & Sue; they were some of the most influential teachers in my early career.  Can’t forget Dr. C and all my amazing professors.  I know I’m not quite among their ranks but in makes me proud to know I’m on track!

So like I said.  I’ve got it pretty good.  The truth is after leaving that crappy hagwon I have had few complaints and many thanks.  Thank you mom & dad especially for helping me become a son that you are proud of.  A person that I’m proud to be.  Thank you to all the mentors and role models in my life from Aunts, Uncles & extended family to coaches, scout leaders and of course my teachers!

Two months that flew by

I can’t believe I’m already into my third month here in Seoul!  It feels like only yesterday that I was sitting at Forte’s pizzeria eating my favorite two slices, Bacon Chicken Ranch and Caeser Chicken Salad pizza.  Man those would be delicious right now.  I mean the food here is out of this world; both in tastes and “creativity?” but in many ways it doesn’t compare to what we have back home.

I’ve tried creepy meals and dined with new friends, sang my heart out at 3am in a Noraebong, danced until the subway started running again at 5:30am, hiked to 4 different peaks in Bukhansan National Park, visited Buddhist temples and 3 Royal PalacesI fenced my heart out and beat up a bunch of Koreans, enjoyed my brother’s visit with hikes, great food and learned about the Korean war while crossing into the DMZ.  The list goes on and on.  Its all been a great 2 months and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

I’m already feeling like I’m going to stay on for at least a 2nd year although I am pretty certain I want to find an international school instead of a hagwon.  We’ll see what happens with my new administration in the next few weeks; so far I met the new director and she can speak English at least ten times better than Mrs. Yi; she also seems to be much more knowledgeable about what an ESL classroom really needs like oh I don’t know, phonics?

My apartment is mostly set up but I am still looking for a few things.  I’m hopeful that today’s paycheck will arrive  before I leave for the day so I can start scouring what the expats are leaving behind on craigslist as they leave this lovely country.  I figured out how to use a “dehydration” cycle on my washing machine that cuts down drying time from 3 days on the rack to about a day and started cooking my own meals too!

So far I mostly just eat cereal for breakfast & make omelets.  I’ve got some frozen dumplings & bulgogi burgers that I’ll throw together with ramen.  I’ve learned how to make a few Korean dishes by teaching Cooking class in school and will start expanding my palate at home.

My after school classes are going well.  Clinic on Mondays just got a new student so I’ve gotta revamp the lessons a little; my Tues/Thurs book club finished their 4th book and I’m helping them with their writing and studying techniques before we start Judy Blume’s Fudge-a-Mania & Doublefudge.  Its a little odd that I asked for more advanced books in September and was given 2 easier Magic School Bus chapter books for October and then jumped 3 grade levels to the fudge series for November.  It’ll be way more challenging but I think they are up for it!

My Wed/Fri clinic is a lot of fun.  I’ve got 2 K-7 kids who are really enjoying the lessons we do and they are actually excited about getting homework!  We do a lot of conversation and just started talking about comparative adjectives.  My “shy” student is coming out of her shell as she realizes she has a better grasp of English grammar than my “bossy” student who keeps trying to cheat at phonics hangman.  All in all I really enjoy all my students I just wish I didn’t have to teach 2 hours everyday after a full day of Kindergarten.

Speaking of the full day Kindergarten they are reading & writing better already!  We put up a sight word wall, a phonics wall and have been working on creating our own sentences rather than just copying from the board.  They love centers which I do 3x a week and even my girl who is ran away from me in the beginning of the year will laugh and smile with me.

I still have so much to explore around Seoul and about Korean culture.  I’m planning on heading to the east coast this weekend to go hiking in Seoraksan National Park in the last few days of fall foliage.  I am excited to try the winter sports out here as it gets colder and still need to find a gym & jingabong (Korean Bath House).  I start my language exchange classes in the next few weeks and am excited to be able have more Korean than simply being able to order a meal!

I can’t wait to start traveling around the region and taking weekend trips outside of the city too.  Japan & Hong Kong sound like they are affordable & worth taking a weekend to and I just started planning a longer trip into Vietnam.  I was accepted into the beta for a crowd funding travel website, http://www.Trevolta.com, and am putting together a team to try and get a sponsored tour of the amazing country, including Son Doong Cave.  I’m looking forward to my trip to Boracay for New Years and joined another website called http://www.Couchsurfing.com to connect with like minded travel enthusiasts who will help me experience life like a local wherever I go.

Thanks for following my journey these past few months.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the updates and I will certainly keep them coming!  Keep reading, commenting and enjoying as I keep living, learning, traveling & teaching.

Ben & I go to a village, a palace & a hike

Ben arrived late Saturday night!  I was waiting in the subway station when all of the sudden I got an email saying he was in my apartment.  He managed to come out a different subway exit and beat me home; good thing I emailed him my door & room code.

We took it easy Saturday night and caught up over some Kkanbu chicken, a chain that sells some excellent dishes. We ordered Sweet Tender Chicken which is basically sesame chicken but more tender and a little more kick.  Before bed we looked through our guidebooks and solidified \plans for the next few days all while maneuvering around in my now cramped studio apartment.  He slept on my foam mattress which took up most of the floor space that his luggage left open.

Sunday we planned on seeing a Hanok Village, hiking up Namsan to the Seoul Tower and wandering through Namdaemun Market.  They are within 10 minutes of each other a great way to spend our bonus day (Ben was supposed to arrive late Sunday night but with the government shutdown got out of his assignment 2 days early.)

We hopped on the subway and headed to Chungmoro station which was a short walk from the Hanok Village.  Following the sign we made a sharp left and saw a traditional Korean house.  On closer inspection it was aptly named “Korean House” and the sign mentioned the word “hanok” in Hanguel.   Unsure if this was where we intended on going we stepped inside to find  a smattering of Korean’s in authentic wedding regalia and an info box indicating that this was a great venue for weddings, meetings and other events.  Pretty sure this wasn’t what we were looking for we left and kept walking hoping to find the actual Hanok Village.

A Hanok is technically a traditional Korean house but its more of a small community.  There are separate buildings for men, women and different families and this was only one building.  Walking a few more blocks and we soon realized we were going the wrong way and looked at our map before deciding to head back the subway to reorient ourselves. Upon arrival we immediately realized that we had taken the wrong left turn out of the subway.  Skipping the sharp left we instantly saw the Hanok Village a mere hundred meters ahead.

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Once inside the village we saw traditional Korean dancing and listened to music while wandering around the sandy courtyard.  We passed on some kids crafts and games before finding ourselves staring into an ancient Korean household.  The glimpse at this home from centuries past showed a more common lifestyle than the royal life I had previously seen in at Gyeongbokgung palace.

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Inside each structure were samples of what little furniture they used along with some rugs and tapestries.  There was an old kitchen with logs underneath big black cauldrons and elaborate screens along the walls.  Some of the doors had intricate carvings while most passageways were open air.  Continuing around the village we saw more of the same style house when we both realized how hungry the walk here had made us.   We hoped to try a traditional Korean meal in the Hanok but unfortunately the only food was from a vending machine.  We left the village in search of an eatery but I made sure to pause and pose as Ben took a shot of me as a Hwarang (the Korean equivalent of the  samurai) defending against the Japanese invaders.

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We wandered down the street Looking for some authentic Korean and quickly passed on the Domino’s and Outback at the corner.  Eventually we found a hole in the wall lunch joint in the basement of the skyscraper towering above.  We picked it largely because of the pictures out front and were happy to find pictures in the menu too!  I was glad I knew enough Korean to order since the waiter didn’t speak any English; Ben got  bulgogi jeongol, a bulgogi hotpot with veggies and a side of rice and I got the samgyetang, ginseng chicken soup (same as what I had after the palace I mentioned earlier).  Our banchan came out and was shortly followed by the entrees.  We decided to skip Namdamun market and head to Changdeokgung, a nearby royal palace, and devoured the rest of our meals leaving just enough so that we could each try both dishes.

The palace was a short subway ride to Anguk station.  Changdeokgung is a UNESCO World Heritage site and full of vibrance and beauty.  Unfortunately the cloudy sky above made the scenery a little more dull than we would have liked.  Not letting the weather bring us down we strolled through the palace grounds.

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We came upon throne rooms and majestic staterooms.  The buildings had a similar feel to Gyeongbukgung but the layout of the palace was entirely different.  Changdeokgung is laid out to be in harmony with nature and the surrounding landscape.  It is laid out in a a seemingly chaotic nature although the architects in fact took great lengths in designing the second of Korea’s “Five Grand Palaces” to provide good feng shui with the nearby mountains.

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Walking around and around we stumbled upon the secret garden at the rear of the enclosure; sadly it was sold out.  I guess I’ll just have to visit again. Wandering back down we found a section that was a little less elaborate, likely the old servants quarters.  Even though it was not as colorful the design was still beautiful and the layout of buildings and trees provided a nice scene given the dreary sky.

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The sun was making its way toward the horizon when we decided to start out towards Namsan.  We wanted to arrive around dusk so that Ben could get a glimpse of the city in daylight and see how the landscape changes as the populous switches their lights on to bring a brilliant glow to the blackness of night.  It was a short trip to Myeongdong subway stop and Namsan was at the top of the hill.  We briefly looked for a place to grab some grub but were unable to find anything in English and decided get something at the top.

Heading upwards the ramp switched back and forth between stairs and a steady path.  It curved around to the left and leveled off before going back downhill.  Wait, downhill?  We want to go up!  Were we going the right way?  Stopping at the first sign with map we decided we’d taken a wrong turn and turned around.  Luckily there was still plenty of light and the rubberized path was quite pleasant to walk on.

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We passed joggers and hikers, a small team of runners, a few bikers and a restaurant with a trickling fall out front.  Checking out the menu it looked appetizing but we opted to keep hiking when suddenly our path hit the road and we were next to the cable car.  We were back at the start but decided to hike the rest of the way and were glad to have some confirmation that we went in the right direction.

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This path rarely leveled out and seemed to be an endless series of stairs.  It curved in and out of the forest giving teases of the beautiful view at the top.  We kept saying we would wait for pictures when suddenly there was a walkway out of the forest with a spectacular scenic overlook.  I took a panoramic shot with my phone while Ben took a handful of photos with his new Nikon 7100.  A brief water break and we continued upward.

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With Seoul Tower growing larger we knew it couldn’t be much farther.  Step by step; up we went.  At the next staircase the hum of the cable-car grew louder and was quickly followed by a view the massive gondola and Seoul Tower through the trees.  A few more steps brought us to a snack hut where we declined the fish-flavored roasted roll up in favor of a corn dog.  Just up the next set of stairs we found the signal fires and remnants of the ancient walls that protected the city.

Happy to be on the flat pavilion at the top we took in the sights and Ben snapped a few more shots of the city.  The sun hadn’t quite set yet so we decided to wander down below deck; only finding a souvenir shop and some overpriced restaurants we settled on grabbing some ice cream at Coldstone.

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By the time we finished our chilling snacks the sky had gone dark.  We walked over to our favorite overlook and Ben pulled out his spider-like tripod.  He wrapped it around the railing to steady his night shot and snapped a few more.  Hopefully I’ll be able to add his pictures in soon!

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The walk down was much less eventful and thankfully faster.   Monday I’ve got work and Ben will be exploring the city on his own.  We’ll meet up for dinner after work Monday and Tuesday but our next big adventure will hopefully be to Suwon to see Hwaesong Fortress!

En route

6 hours of flying down and here I wait in San Fransisco.  In just under 3 hours I’ll board my Singapore Airlines flight to Seoul and be sitting on a plane for another 12 hours as I traverse the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  Excited?  Absolutely!

With my extra week at home I managed to see a few more good friends, some that I hadn’t seen or talked to in quite some time.  I loved their reminders that the last time we spoke, maybe as much as 2 years ago, I was talking about teaching in Korea and well, now I am!  If I can do it so can you.  Set your goals and go for it!

The nervousness has mostly died down.  I barely slept last night between repacking and all the adrenaline pumping through my system.  It still seems so surreal and I’m not sure if I believe that I’m actually going to be finding my home for the next 1+ years in the coming hours.

Friends and family, you will be missed. I’m terrible at farewells but gave out lots of hugs with only a few tears shed and plenty of my signature “until next time.”  Although these days I’ve been telling everyone next time is in Seoul because everyone is invited to come visit!  I’m already pumped for my brother’s visit in October.  We wanna check out Bukhansan National Park, the old city in Seoul and see if he can get us a special DMZ tour through one of his buddies on base.  But right now that seems too far away to think about.

I can’t wait to meet my coworkers and my students on Thursday and set up my apartment this weekend.  Its hard to fathom that I’ll be spending my upcoming weeks exploring a new city and new country.  Lets hope the culture shock isn’t too bad, I know the food will be great, even if it isn’t as good as my pizza joint back home.

Signing off for now.  See you in Seoul!

T-2 weeks

Two weeks from today I will be boarding a plane and saying my last goodbyes.  Only problem is I still don’t have a plane ticket or know where my apartment is.  The good news is that I’m in DC right now and the last step for my E-2 visa will be available for pickup Thursday!  After Korea receives my documents I should get my actual flight and apartment pretty quickly.

I cant believe its nearly time to leave.  I feel like only yesterday I was going on Skype interviews and unsure which country to go to.  Now I’m practically an expert on notarizing and apostillization, have had a goodbye party in two cities and should probably start packing and moving things to storage.  I’ve compiled my mental packing list but will undoubtedly leave packing my luggage to the last week.

These last few weeks in the states seem to be full of coincidences.  I ran into one of my first fencers/students the day I sent my farewell letter to the high school team I coach.  Yesterday I was wandering around DC and opted to visit the American Natural History Museum which happened to have a temporary exhibit on Korea.  It was really interesting and I enjoyed learning about some of the culture and traditions.  It definitely got me more excited to go!

As a whole I’m still pretty pumped to go.  A lot of people are asking if I’m nervous or scared.  I’ve had a few moments but usually don’t get a lot of anxiety so I think this is following suit.  Although I’m sure once I actually arrive in Seoul and culture shock sets in I’ll have a few more nervous moments.  I’m told Koreans have a great cure for it though.  Soju + Karaoke

The whole concept is still so surreal to me. This has been something I hoped to do since I was little and its finally happening!  I can’t imagine how much I’m going to miss my family and friends and to be honest haven’t really thought about that yet.  I hope modern technology can help alleviate some of the homesickness that I’m sure will set in after arrival.