September 27, 2010

Busan, South Korea Part 1

Over Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) myself and 9 of my other English teacher friends went to the one of the southern most cities in Korea: Busan. (Also can be known as Pusan)

Busan is the second largest city in South Korea with the population of 3.6 million. Busan is also the 5th largest port city in the world. Busan can be described as similarly to Barcelona because of its ocean side location, second city syndrome and large night life. Also Busan is Chicago's sister city!

The trip from Seoul to Busan can take as little as 2.5 hours if you book a KTX train (speed train built like the French TGV). However, we booked our trip pretty last minute so we were stuck on the normal train that took 5 hours. The ride was actually painless and we all enjoyed the Korean country side along the way.

The train was pretty average; however, it did have a "party car", which included multiple computers, arcade style video games, noraebangs (karaoke rooms) and a snack shop. All of these amenities were in full use the entire ride.

We stayed in the center of the city at a cheap and clean Japanese business hotel. The first day was pretty rainy so we wondered around and found a Paradise Casino near the famous Haeundae beach, where Olivia won a whopping 4,000 Won ($3.40) .

That night we decided to wonder around the area near our hotel. After being rejected from a "Over 40" club, we found our way to the The Diamond Hotel. After being escorted by a staff of 10 into the club in the basement of the hotel, called Arabian Night, we found ourselves right in the middle of a low budget KPOP video. Unfortunately, the hotel club was only offering bottle service at the lowest price of 250,000 Won ($216.00), so we decided to move on to a Korean Hof (beer bar) and call it a night.

The next morning we decided to embark on our first Korean hike. Hiking is the most popular sport in Korea. The county is very mountainous and many of the major cities are surrounded by beautiful mountains with paths. Since the country is obsessed with hiking, most people think they should be wearing intense hiking gear at all times. We refer to these people as urban hikers. They wear hiking boots, gloves, backpacks, masks and visors when they are walking in the city parks and on sidewalks. Korean's also believe being pale is beautiful so they want to be protected from the sun at all times, leading to the face mask while hiking.
We spent most of the day exploring Igade Park in the southern tip of the city over looking Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches. A majority of the hike was along the cliffs near the ocean and it was beautiful. Busan really got me interested in exploring more parks and trails in the Seoul area. (Mom and Dad I know you would love all the hiking here!)

After the long hike we enjoyed a delicious Korean dinner and decided to check out the night life near Kyungsung University. It was a perfect night of street soju drinking, a bar called GHETTO that played great dance house/hip hop music and had 1,000 Won shots ($0.80). We made some new Korean friends and ended the night with some late night street food.
Overall, the first couple of days in Busan were perfect! Great city, full of fun and interesting things to do. In a couple of days I will post more about my trip including our visit to the largest department store in the world and the largest fish market in Korea!

Thanks for reading!

KPOP FRIDAY (tuesday)

Sorry I missed last weeks KPOP video. I was in Busan for my first Korean vacation and it was great. Pictures and stories from Busan are soon to come!

I did not want to jip anyone on their KPOP. Here is a song called Lollipop by Big Bang and 2NE1. I actually heard this song while I was in America. Once I got here I was reintroduced to it and fell in love again.

Please enjoy Lollipop by Big Bang and 2NE1!

September 20, 2010

Simply Korean

After a great weekend of exploring Bucheon, Itaewon (Seoul's foreigner's district) and Guri (a suburb my friend Eric lives in), I am already off of school for the week. I only had to work on Monday and all students and teachers get the rest of the week off for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). Well it is actually a celebration of the good harvest, where Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food; however, all Koreans will describe the holiday as Thanksgiving. If you ask any Korean women about Chuseok they will say they hate it. They have to spend the week at their in laws home in their husbands hometown cooking traditional food and cleaning up after the entire family. Not what I call a thrilling vacation.
Traditional Chuseok Meal

Well Chuseok has a different meaning for me. I am heading off to Busan tomorrow for 5 days with 10 fellow Badgers. Busan is the second largest city in South Korea, located at the south eastern tip of the country. It is known for its beaches, mountains and clubs. It should be a great trip and I am really looking forward to some quality beach time.

For now I want to leave you with some of the pictures I have been taking since I arrived in Korea. When I started this blog, its main purpose was the share my photography and I have not done much of that yet. In this post I want to show you some of the everyday things I have found to be "Simply Korean".

September 16, 2010


Happy Friday everyone.

This week has been another wonderful week in the Korean peninsula. I honestly can't believe I am already on my 3rd Friday, meaning my 3rd KPOP song.

In class this week the students were choosing English names. I had a slide in my powerpoint that had a bunch of popular American names for boys and girls to give the kids some starting ideas for names. I had pretty standard names up there like Tom and Sara. Most of the kids chose normal names but some of them were creative. For some reason I got a couple of boys loving the name Johnson and it was a lost cause explaining that was a last name, so about 10 boys in my school are now named Johnson. (Jenner they would love you!) A couple kids named themselves Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt(as their English first names). I love hearing English name stories from my other teacher friends here because the kids get so creative. A few of the best names I have heard kids pick are Ke$sha, Eugine, Murderer and Ronaldo.

So back to KPOP. Lucy was on my list of popular American names and every time I read it out loud all the kids screamed LUCIFER. After being confused for about 3 straight classes, I decided I needed to get down to the bottom of this LUCIFER business. Hoping Lucifer wasn't a popular Korean name, I asked my co-teacher what all the Lucifer screaming was about. She explained it was one of the most popular songs out right now and all the kids LOVE it. I obliviously went straight to my computer and watched the music video. Totally KPOP Friday material.

I hope you enjoy Lucifer by SHINee. The dance moves and wardrobe is unbeatable. Happy Friday!

Black Sandals and White Socks

This is my wonderful Middle School, where I spend most of my time during the week. Bugok Middle School is 30 minutes away from my apartment. I have to walk 10 mins to a bus stop and take the public bus 20 mins to my school. The commute was very intimidating at the beginning considering everything is in Korean and you pretty much just have to look out the window and press a button to open the door if you think your stop is coming up. However, I finally got the hang of it.

One thing that is amazing about schools in Korea is that they have a no shoe policy (well at least my school does). You can not wear your street shoes inside the school. All kids and teachers change into fake Adidas sandals with white athletic socks the second they get into the building. Their thought process is that they want everyone to be as comfortable as possible during work and they want to keep their school clean. So all the women wear heels to walk to work and change into slippers once they get there. Korea has got it right.

I teach every student in the school in a two week cycle. So that is 1,500 kids every two weeks that go through my classroom. Way too many names to remember. Every class I teach there is a Korean English teacher in the room with me, which I have found to be extremely helpful because the kids are fairly poor at English. One of my co-teachers told me Bugok is a poor middle school and the children who attend our school don't have enough money to go to private after school programs like many of the other children in this country. It is totally common for kids of all ages to go to their public school from 8:00am to 5:00 pm and then if you are wealthy, attend two to four private after school academies called Hagwons until 1:00 am. Koreans place the highest of importance on education and distill the most intense work ethic I have even seen on their children.

So far I have had an amazing experience teaching here. Everyday there is something strange and interesting that happens; making my life here NEVER boring or monotonous.

I mostly have to make up my lesson plans on my own and just cover a few key learnings from their English text books. During this two week cycle I decided to teach a lesson using a Justin Bieber song called Baby. Saying that the students love Justin Bieber is an understatment. They adore him. The girls scream every time his picture comes up on the powerpoint.

Sometimes I think he is more popular here than in the USA. I play the Baby music video and most of the kids already know all the lyrics; however, they can't understand me when I ask them "How was your weekend?" One example on how our pop culture has no borders.

Another thing I found interesting is that when I was playing the Baby music video Ludacris come on and raps for about 30 seconds. And every time Luda come onto screen all of the children burst out in laughter in unison. WHY???? I don't think I will ever know why Luda is hilarious to them.

Check out the Justin Bieber Baby video to see what all the hype is about!

Overall, these first few weeks teaching in Korea has been everything I have asked for: a huge challenge, rewarding work and something completely different. I am so happy to be here and excited to share more of my teaching stories as they unfold!

This is a picture of the student drawings right outside of my office. One Korean middle schooler decided to draw Oprah. (top right)

This is the picture that greets everyone who walks into the school, placed at the front door. A group of Korean students in uniform giving thumbs ups.

September 9, 2010


Happy Friday everyone!

This week went by so fast! My time at school makes the weeks fly by and before I know it it's time to meet up with all of my Wisconsin friends in downtown Seoul to go out for the weekend and explore the city. Tonight we are all going to meet in an area of Seoul called Hongdae. Hongdae is where the largest/best art university in South Korea is. This area of Seoul is known for its "Korean Hipster" scene and the copious amounts of clubs and bars. I am so excited to spend a weekend here with some good friends!

As I am sure all of your have been waiting anxiously for this: here is the KPOP video for this week. The group is called 2NE1 (read as twenty-one). All my girl students love them and they have a new hit song that I have gotten many recommendations for. The song is called Clap Your Hands. ENJOY!

September 8, 2010

Location, Location, Location


I realized I never actually explained exactly where I am living in South Korea. The city I live and teach in is called Bucheon. Bucheon is a wealthy suburb of Seoul that is approximately 15 miles south west of downtown Seoul.

Bucheon is on line 1 (blue) of the Seoul Metro and is around 1 hour from the center of Seoul (Seoul Station). My metro stop is called Songane (highlighted in yellow and with a red star on the map). The Seoul Metro Rapid Transit (SMRT) is very extensive and covers 1/3 of the entire country. It looks extremely confusing and overwhelming; however, it is quite intuitive once you get the hang of it. Check out this interactive map to get a better feel for Seoul’s metro system.

Lastly, I want to leave you with a video tour of my apartment. As I said before, it was very dirty, practically unlivable. After tons of cleaning, the apartment finally looks like it is mine! I hope you enjoy it! Look forward to a KPOP post tomorrow and a post soon about my first week of teaching at Bugok Middle School soon.

September 2, 2010


안녕하세요 (Hello in Korean)

Every Friday from now on I am going to post a K-POP music video. K-POP is short for Korean popular music and it is very similar to the boy band, TRL music phase America went through in the early 2000's. K-POP is everywhere and everyone has their favorite band and song. My middle school girls are completely obsessed and addicted and always ask me what my favorite songs are.

I am going to try to use my new 13 year old friend's K-POP knowledge to build my music library so I can be respectable in Korean standards.

However, I did know and like one K-POP song before I came to South Korea. It is called Sorry Sorry by Super Junior. For some reason Annie Sampson and I came to love this song and would listen to it on repeat last year (she even learned the dance moves.) My love for "Sorry Sorry" earned me major points with my girl students on my first day of school, because I had an answer when every student asked me what my favorite Korean song was. I even did the little dance move when I responded. I think they are going to love me forever because of that. (Thanks Annie!)

14 Hour Air Korea Trip and Arrival in SK

Hey everyone!

Sorry it has taken me so long to get this second blog post up! I have had a very long/stressful/interesting week and finally have time and internet to get this blog up and running again.
I guess I should start with my flight over here.

I left Chicago on Thursday August 26th with over 140 pounds of my belongings, and honestly I wish I brought more. It would have been helpful to have some more comforts from home like more American toothpaste and Ranch dressing; however, I know I am going to get used to not have it.

The flight itself was pretty painless. This should be an overstatement considering it was a 14 hour journey; however, Air Korean had a 20 plus American movie selection and an open bar policy.

Once we (myself and the 45 other Wisconsin graduates going to teach for the year) arrived in Korea our lives immediately changed. As soon as you grabbed your luggage and walked through the doors of baggage claim your "co-teacher" swooped you up and took you off a far away land.

My "co-teacher", David, is an English teacher at Bugok Middle School (the school I teach at). David is the teacher who is in charge of taking care of me during these first few weeks. Even though he is an English teacher his English is far from excellent, which made my first few days in Korea pretty stressful.

After an hour of being lost in the Incheon Seoul International Airport parking lot, David and I began our two hour drive across the one of the longest bridges in Asia, Incheon Bridge.

We hit rush hour traffic and since it is monsoon season in Korea there was heavy rainfall on the bridge. After hours of waiting and driving, I finally arrived in Bucheon at my beautiful Korean apartment. I am living on Jung Dong-Daero in a building called ESTIMA or in Korean 에스티마.
It is a very small traditional Korean studio high rise apartment. This is my view from my one window in the apartment.

The former native English teacher at my school (Bugok Middle School) lived in my apartment for four years. Stuart (the old English teacher) was the dirtiest human being live. He must have never cleaned the apartment once in four years and left it absolutely disgusting for me. When David and I walked in the apartment reeked of old food and mold. There were flies and bugs swarming everywhere and cat hair covered every square inch of the tiny apartment.

David went on to say that Stuart smelt so bad that all the students would make fun of him and the teachers would not want to sit near him. All I could think was: Great, I have to live in the smelly kid's apartment.

After hours of cleaning, only a small section was of the apartment was livable and David left me to drive home to his family. We made plans for him to come back later that weekend to help me clean some more. After many hours of cleaning and emails to my American program contacts my apartment is finally clean enough to live in! Make sure to check back in for a video tour of my clean apartment being posting soon!

As I said, the first few days in Korea were pretty high stress considering the jet lag, dirty apartment, no internet and lack of native language. However, I am excited to say a week later I am extremely happy and love living here.

I am going to leave you with a couple of pictures I took of life in Bucheon over the past week. I should have some time tomorrow to write another post about my first couple of days teaching at Bugok Middle School. Thanks for reading!

SOJU: the Korean alcohol that is everywhere you look A typical Bucheon building.