Orientation and Allergies Abound


The EPIK Orientation started on Tuesday and has been going through until now. The classes are long and informational, teaching techniques, tips, strategies and lesson planning. I have met a lot of new people in my class most of who are headed to 강원도 (Gangwondo) with me. There are also my friends that I made in 서울(Seoul)  and new friends I am making here in 대전 (Daejeon). I am enrolled in an advanced Korean class although it is a mixed level and was shuffled again, and I was placed in a higher class since my understanding of Korean is good. I switched initially and last minute switched back to the beginner advanced class which is mostly in English. I have really enjoyed the class so far and since it is only 3 days I would like to continue having a fun time.

Last night I broke out in a rash on my upper body, at first I thought it was a heat rash. So I took a cold shower and refrained from putting anything on my skin. I took an antihistamine this morning and I still had the rash on my body. I made a trip to the nurse and she told me I needed to go to a clinic and receive a shot for the allergic reaction. So after asking my teacher, I decided to go there during my lunch break. Talk about being nervous and wondering whether you will be able to communicate correctly about what is happening with your body in a foreign language.

I grabbed a taxi and we drove about 5 mins down the road  to the clinic. I found the entrance and went to the fourth floor. I told the lady in Korean that I had an allergy and I needed a shot. She told me that they do not give shots and I needed to go to the next building to 엠제이피부과 MJ Skin Clinic which was located above starbucks. Now nervous I had to go to a different building I headed out and made my way to the next building. At first I was looking for MJ in English and then realized it was spelled out in Korean. Upon realizing that it took me a few minutes to figure out which door I was supposed to go in to reach the 10th floor of the building.  I finally made my way in and approached the counter with a little apprehension.

The young lady behind the counter asked if I had been before and I told her no. I asked if she needed my passport and I handed it over. She then told me to take a seat after whispering to her colleagues about something.  Just a note that this whole conversation was in Korean. Luckily a few minutes later I was called 크리스 since the computer must not have let my name be typed out any longer. I headed back to the Dr.’s office and was created by a very nice dermatologist who happened to speak English. I was so pleasantly surprised! I had expected to have a conversation in Korean.  Since I am unable to get a shot she prescribed me some antihistamine cream and medication to take once in the morning and once at night. My diagnosis was contact dermatitis.  My skin is still red and I have bumps which are itchy as hell and very warm. She asked what had changed since I left I said I have used all of the same products for about a week and a half now and suddenly broken out in a rash. So for now I am told to stop all products, though it could also be a piece of clothing I wore or something else I came into contact with.

I never thought I would be making a trip to a skin clinic in Korea. Let alone during the first two weeks. The whole ordeal taught me though that motion with your hands and body can convey messages if you do not know the vocabulary. Luckily, I know enough to get by and it has made me proud to realize just how important that is.


As an update the cream cleared up the allergic reaction within two days.

Packing part 2 and arriving in Seoul

Finishing packing was very daunting as the suitcases were emptied and rearranged an additional two or three times. In the end I was able to cram my life into two fifty pound suitcases, a carry on bag, a backpack, and a small purse. All of it was heavy as hell.

My mom dropped me off at the airport and it was a brief goodbye as the line for the security check was extremely long and slow moving. I slept for a bit on my first flight and met up with my fellow Epik teachers J and S at San Francisco. It was pretty cool as we recognized each other almost instantly and we were able to all sit together on the plane to Seoul. The plane ride was long as usual but we met up with two other Epikers at the airport. I checked my luggage at the airport for five days for 90,000 won which wasn’t bad. It was awesome not lugging the extra bags around with me.

The five of us took a taxi from the airport to the guesthouse in Dongdaemoon (동대문). Check in was on the fifth floor and our room was on the third floor. Unfortunately, there is no elevator in this hostel so my legs have been getting a lot of exercise. After dropping our stuff off we decided to head out with the others who have arrived and went to Itaewon (이태원). We went to a sports bar which and had drinks for awhile. I grabbed street food with some of the girls as we had not had dinner yet. It was delicious. The area is known for having a lot of expats. I got home with a small group around 3:30am after we tried getting a taxi for 45 minutes in the cold. I was so grateful to climb into a warm bed.

On Tuesday, we went to find breakfast in the area around the hostel but not much was open so we found a shop that served soup and ramyun. We explored the area after and ate hide ok (호떡) for a snack. Its a fried pastry like thing with sugar and nuts inside. Later in the day we went to Insadong(인사동) the traditional Korean market area in Seoul. No one really bought souvenirs but we did buy face stuff and B.B. cream. After a nap, a large group. Of us went to dinner across the street for Korean BBQ. We all headed together as a group to Hongdae(홍대) an are near Hongik university which is known for clubs, a younger crowd and indie music scene. We took five taxi cabs over and I was in charge of one of them since I know how to speak a little Korean. We had to stop and ask directions, and one girl practiced asking while I listened.

The first thing we did was to get cocktails in a bag and drink it on the street. Drinking on the street is legal in Korea. We then went to a club promoter who offered free drinks for everyone but the group was split up inside the crowded space so we all didn’t get that free drink. The bartenders blew whistles to the music and danced at the same time. So sometimes the drinks were a bit slow coming out. Our next stop was a place called Suzie q’s and it is a chill bar with a DJ that plays records the whole night. He had an extensive collection and a lot of oldies were played that we all sung along too. Deciding to switch to a faster pace scene we headed over to gogo’s which played a mix of hip hop and pop. The bucket drinks were great and everyone had a good time. We left the club at 5:45am and grabbed a burrito from a street cart. We were able to take the subway back when it opened at 6am(it closes at midnight).

I didn’t sleep well but I decided to head out with a group to chunggyechun (청계천) it’s a man made river in Seoul and it was nice to stroll through it. We ended up near gwanghwamoon (광화문) and went to kyobo books to show the extensive book selection. We did get a bit separated as I wanted a coffee and a few others wanted a cigarette so to avoid stares of the girls smoking in the street we went off. It was nice to sit and relax we later had BBQ again in Insadong and then made our way back to the hostel. I was in bed by 9:30 pm…felt like an old lady . A large group went out again and were out until early morning so I’m glad I decided to stay in.

Packing Part 1…

I dread packing. I hate it. I always over-pack and wish I had under-packed. With that being said trying to whittle myself down to two suitcases, a small carry on, and a backpack is daunting. I give credit to those who can only have one suitcase. I don’t know how you did it. This will be the third attempt to try and pack my suitcases. The carry on needs a little shuffling work but is mostly planned out.

I was thinking about this while I was driving earlier…packing is a metaphor for life.  The hardest thing about packing is letting go. What to let go of and why. Will I miss it? Do I need it? Do I just want to take it with me? And if so, why? My shit (as I lovingly call it) really has a life of its own. I think it embodies how I view myself. Why am I clinging on to shorts that are 4 sizes too small with only a glimmer of hope that I will once again fit into them? I do not know the answer to that and they have been placed back in my closet for safekeeping. A shirt I like but do not particular wear but I just might wear it because you never know…never know what? Ah…you mean going places and envisioning yourself somewhere that you probably might not be or go to. Yeah, probably shouldn’t pack that.

Packing is frustrating. It shows that I cling on to material things for silly reasons. One day I will fit into this, oh I wore that when, oh I really like this, I wish I could bring that…the excuses not to part with anything. But in reality, I have to make choices and whittle down my clothing choices in order to fit my life into two suitcases and at the end of the day I have never been a fashionista.

Nope. I’m a yoga pants and sweatshirt kind of girl. Mostly because I used to work 6 days a week and all I did was live in work clothes and never really went out anywhere. I just wanted to relax on my one day off, occasionally I would go out in yoga pants maybe jeans. The yoga pants were easier since I will be damned buying a size up at this point. My own stubbornness has gotten the best of me. Moving to Korea is hard in the sense that I don’t particularly care what I look like. In Korea, fashion and looking presentable is important. I want to roll out of bed with my hair a mess, pajama pants on, a tank top, and flip flops and run down the corner of the street to buy a coffee. Yes, just like that. It might even happen while I am in Korea as old habits die hard.

So as I cast my clothing aside piece by piece, the weight on my shoulders becomes less and less. There is no reason to cling to things that hold no meaning. Time to get crackin’ at that packing again. I plan to be finished by Sunday. I figure the coming blizzard will give me quality time with my suitcases.

Once,  I finish packing I plan on making a list and taking photos so that it can help others in the future.

Kimchi Dongdaemun Guesthouse

Since I am arriving 5 days before orientation I needed to find a place to stay for the duration. Luckily a fellow EPIK person recommended Hong Guesthouse, now known as Kimchi Guesthouse to me. As I was in charge of booking a 4 person bed private room. The rate is 80,000 Won or roughly ($73) a night divided by 4, not so bad!

I have emailed Kimchi Guesthouse on numerous occasions and the whole staff as been wonderful about answering my numerous questions, as well as, changing the details of the stay via email. I would like to thank the staff members:  Robin, Sam, and Ted.

Some people may be wondering…”Who are you rooming with?” Well to break it down two of the girls I am meeting for the first time in person when my flight lands in San Francisco. We are all on the Singapore Air flight to Incheon International Airport.  Our other roommate will be joining us the next day from the UK.  Thanks to facebook meeting strangers is faster, easier, and you can recognize their faces almost instantly in person. Kind of stalker-ish…but it works out great!

I’m excited to meet the ladies and to be rooming with them at Kimchi Guesthouse. We are staying at the Dongdaemun location. After having such great customer service just via email correspondence with the staff at Kimchi Guesthouse I am really looking forward to staying there in two weeks!  So if you are interested in where I am staying and you may need a hostel at some point in Seoul check them out!


Visas and IDPs

Last Tuesday, I picked up fellow EPIKers one at the Train Station in CT and the rest in MA on the way to the Korean Consulate in Newton, MA.  The ride up was a lot of fun and it was interesting meeting new people for the first time face to face. Nothing like getting to know each other than saying, “Hey….I know you on facebook, you wanna go to the consulate together?” *Gasps of horror* Strangers entered my car and they were all fabulous ladies!

We made our way to the consulate on a mission as one of us had a problem applying elsewhere with paperwork and the like. We circled the street the building was on three times before we settled on just parking in the dunkin donuts parking lot across the street. We swiftly made our way across the street and up to the second floor. I organized all of my documents quickly, thinking I have everything here and presented my documents first. The clerk said , “I don’t need this, I don’t need this, I don’t need this. $45.”

My response was, “Isn’t the multiple entry $80?”

“No, all visas are multiple entry. $45.” She said without looking up at me. So I paid quickly and was super excited that it was less than I was expecting. The three of us moved through the line quickly, we had to make a side trip to the post office and walgreen’s for new passport photos for one of the girls but all in all it was super quick. Luckily, our visas would start to be processed and out for delivery by Thursday morning.

…Wednesday afternoon I get a phone call. “You have no postage for your envelope.” Slight panic set in for a moment as I distinctly remember buying stamps and watching them be posted on the envelope and if they weren’t they were inside waiting to be put on.

So I replied, “They should be inside the envelope if they aren’t on the outside.”

“No, they are not. ”

“Can you hold my visa for me? How long can you hold it?” I ask.

“We can hold it okay.”

…I realize I am strapped for time, I don’t have a vehicle to return to Boston, and I cannot get a second day off to retrieve it. Would they take a money order? A credit card over the phone? Nope. and Nope. An additional call would verify this for me.  So without further ado I jetted across the parking lot to the small post office in the grocery store and bough two priority envelopes with delivery confirmation and postage on both. I even inserted a little note explaining what to do and saying thank you for your help in Korean.

After watching the passport sit in Nashua, NH for 3 1/2 days at a sorting facility it finally arrived to me today.  I am not ready to leave!


IDP (International Driver’s Permit)

The USA calls it an IDP…it should be an IDL (International Driver’s License). But that is just my opinion. So I went to the local AAA office today to renew my driver’s license since it will expire while I am abroad and to obtain the IDP.  Unfortunately, as I am standing at the counter the lady tells me, “You can’t renew your driver’s license. You can only renew it 4 months before.”

” I won’t be in the country and I am not going to let it expire. ”

“Well, you can mail it in to renew but you will have non-photo ID which you MUST keep with your current driver’s license that will expire.”

Well, so now I know I can’t get that done until later which kind of sucks but whatever. However, I brought the two passport photos for my IDP and it was obtained within 5-10 minutes. I was super impressed I could walk out the same day with it. I was glancing through the book and realized there is no Korean, so I hope if I get pulled over in Korea the officer knows how to read the English.


As I sit here writing, I have 13 days and counting…still so much to do.

Learning Korean

I was reflecting on my progress with learning Korean and if I think of how long I have self-studied the language it seems like a disappointment. I learned how to read Korean back in 2006 with the help of a Saturday Korean class run by Korean students at Amherst college. This helped me a lot when I went to study abroad that summer and placed in level 4 of level 6 for the beginner Korean classes.  And so years went by, I have watched numerous Korean dramas and listened to Korean music over the years. I dated and was married to a Korean man for a total of 6 years. I was able to converse in basic sentences over the phone and in person with his friends and family. At one point I even held a 1 hour conversation mostly in Korean with my sister-in-law.

Reflecting on this I feel I should be further along. I should have more confidence in speaking the language, reading and writing, listening and participating in conversations. When I was with my ex we used to try to have days we would just speak in Korean, however, it never worked. He or I would get frustrated by being unable to communicate with the other we resorted to English.  I was always frustrated that I could not express myself in Korean. My feelings, my thoughts, what I wanted to do. I would just shut down and speak English. Every time I would tell myself I am going to say it in Korean this time, English would come out of my mouth. I felt embarrased by the fact that I could not speak and that I made pronunciation errors.  I have corrected my ex on his errors and he always thanked me, and though I am thankful when someone corrects me, it makes me feel incompetent at the same time. This probably stems from me having low self-confidence. I don’t believe in my abilities nor do I push through walls to grow. I just get comfortable and stay where I am, even at my own dismay.

When I hear about others learning languages or reading language learning blogs I feel in awe of the people who acquire languages so quickly. Granted there is a lot of dedication behind that. Yet, it makes me wonder what have I done for 6 years that I’m not even semi-fluent?  It is  a question I ask myself. I look at all the books I have to learn the language and the resources available to me online and I pause. Why do I not make the time to learn? Just even setting 30 minutes aside? The question really bothers me.  Self-studying has always been hard for me, as much as I strive to be good at it.  I feel I am much more of an immersion person. I feel if I am under the pressure of learning to get by in life, to communicate to others around me, to be able to order food and take directions, I need to have that pressure.

With that being said, I am looking forward to my time in Korea.  I am looking forward to the fact that I am in Gangwon province and that speakers of English may be minimal. I welcome the opportunity to challenge myself in Korean. To rattle my brain and see what has been collecting dust in all the crevices. How much vocabulary is floating around unused? How many grammar structures do I actually know and understand? How much can I function by myself in another language? I look forward to that challenge to actually test my knowledge. I might surprise myself with what I do know. With that being said I have decided that at some point in the next year abroad I will sit for the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) and I am not sure what level I will pick to test for but I think I will shoot for Level 2 (High Beginner) or Level 3(Low Intermediate) as much as I would love to take Level 4 ( High Intermediate) I think it is currently out of my league so for now I will concentrate on one of the lower levels.

Goal: To sit for the TOPIK exam before the end of 2013 and either achieve Level 2/3

Now to start studying Korean diligently again.


Taking a piece of home with me

One thing that has bothered me most about leaving is packing. I have no idea what to pack. Not only do I not know what I truly need to pack, but rather what am I required to bring. So I decided to make two packing lists. After talking to many people and reading various blogs about living abroad; most suggest to bring a piece from home or something to make your new place homey. With that in mind I have come up with 5 items that no matter what are coming with me.

1. My Rilakkuma teddy bear:

When I was visiting my friend in Japan in 2005 her boyfriend at the time won me the bear from the machine. He has been a constant companion ever since. Always around when I sleep and always there if I need someone to hug. That might seem childish but when you are miles away a companion that always accompanies you is nice to have.


2. Blanket made by mom

My mother makes blankets by hand and most of the time they are gifts for other people, especially those close to us who are pregnant and expecting. She has churned out quite a few baby blankets this year. Originally I was going to take a small throw blanket that she had made recently but then she started a new design of a bigger blanket. So I asked if I could have it since I liked the colors. She has since finished this blanket and it is perfect to take with me since it is light and made of cotton.


3. Rangzen mug

So anyone who knows me knows I am an avid  supporter of SFT (Students for  a Free Tibet) and I try to buy their merchandise which is either made in the U.S.A., Nepal or India.  Having been abroad I know that a standard size American coffee mug is hard to find. So here it is a nice big mug for coffee or tea emblazoned with the Tibetan word rangzen (independence) on the front. It’s a nice piece of home and my favorite mug.


4.  My earring tree

Yes, an earring tree. I’m sure most people are not bringing earring trees with them. Mine is an actual tree made of recycled metal. I begged for two years to receive it as a christmas gift and finally did. It holds a great deal of earrings and can hold bracelets and watches at the bottom. I love its design and the fact it can organize my jewelry so nicely. I wish I had an organizer for necklaces but I don’t have one yet. I have a lot of big, fun jewelry that may or may not be appropriate for teaching we shall see.

Earring tree

5.  Condiment Set

This is a piece I saw at a fair trade store and I thought was really pretty. I have always wanted to use it in my first place and I think bringing it to Korea will be a start. I’m thinking it will be used for tea so most likely cardamom and sugar will be on one side or the other.


There is one last item I am bringing, however, it needs to be cleaned. I am planning to bring my wax warmer along with some wax  so that I don’t need to spend a fortune on getting it done over there and the service might be hard to find anyways. So what are you bringing with you? Is there anything from home that you must have with you?

When you are sick have 미역국 (Seaweed Soup)

One item I have been requested to do before I leave is to eat all of the food that is mine. There are odds and ends in all of the cupboards for various types of cooking, but my mom wants her space back after I leave. So my job has been to create meals with the remaining ingredients. At times I am lazy that I do not want to cook anything or look for the missing ingredients I need. I used to cook a lot of Korean food, however, as it is just me I am cooking for with maybe the exception of my mom, I do not cook much. I like leftovers occasionally, however, I dislike eating the same thing for five days.  With that being said one of the items sitting in my cabinet for a while has been 미역( Miyeok / Seaweed). The only thing I know how to make is 미역국 (Miyeok gook/seaweed soup). But I have been  unenthusiastic about going out to buy a missing ingredient.   So tonight as I was feeling rather sick and did not feel satisfied after eating a can of nasty Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, I ventured out to the store to buy the remaining ingredients.

I finished the soup in about 45 mins and luckily I was able to use up some of the dry shiitake mushrooms I have though I don’t think they are normally put in the soup. I bought some beef and sliced it up though next time I think I will spend the money and get a nicer cut of beef, so it isn’t as tough.  All in all the soup came out well this time and I can feel it clearing out my sinuses. Lucky for me, I will be enjoying this soup for the next 3 or 4 days.  I feel I have prepped myself a little more and it is just a little reminder that hey I can cook with Korean groceries so  I do not need to spend a fortune when I am in Korea.

Without further ado here is my soup:


My NOA has arrived

On Tuesday,  my NOA (Notice of Appointment) and contract arrived in the mail. I was excited to finally have my paperwork. I
felt like for the first time through this whole process with EPIK, I could say it is official… I am hired. I knew I passed my interview in November and on Christmas Day I found out that I was placed in Gangwon Province (강원도). But the reality is until the contract and NOA were in my hands it meant nothing. So even though I knew that I was going to teach English in Korea, it had not hit me that I was leaving.

Looking around my room at the things that need to be packed, organized, donated, and sorted, I have a lot to do. And unfortunately time is ticking away.  The realization that I am leaving in 4 weeks has not set in. Receiving the NOA and contract has definitely made leaving seem more real.   So the next step in this whole process is to go to the Korean Consulate in Boston to get my visa. I hope that I can obtain a multi-entry visa so that I can travel easy while I am living in South Korea.  I will be going to the consulate on Tuesday with a few other ladies who are also in the EPIK program. So it will be nice to do lunch after getting the visa. I shall let everyone know how it goes~


A bouquet for mom

Over the course of the last few months and the few weeks to come I have been thinking of the people to say good-bye to. My mom supports me 100% in this process and knows this is something I have always wanted to do and have put on hold for many years. She has become a bit of a ‘sap’ as I jokingly say. In reality, she is just going to miss her baby, the oldest, me. So, for Christmas I made her a present made of wire and buttons and made it into a tiny bouquet. A bouquet that will not die when I am away. She was a bit touched and it made her happy. Nothing professional but it seems to have come out rather cute. Sometimes a little gift of saying “Thank you for believing in me,” helps say I will miss you while I am away.


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