Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Slippers and spice and everything nice

Adjusting to life abroad in a new culture can be a frustrating task. But after waking up in Korea every day for the last 9 months, there are some things that still make me smile:

The spice of life (and food)

Chalk it up to my liberal palate or my stomach of steel, but I love everything about Korean food. Everything from the bountiful red pepper paste, the runny egg on a giant bowl of bibimbap, the sizzle and pop of marinated Korean barbecue, a giant slice of hot pepper tuna kimbap. I have even developed a taste for dried octopus. The tastes and flavors are so varied here, sampled in the seemingly infinite number of side dishes, that it rarely gets old. And when it does, or when a bowl of crunchy nuts turns out to be silkworm larvae, there's never a Mr. Pizza or an Outback Steakhouse too far away.


Every morning my school principal waters the cabbage that lines the main driveway. I bow to him as I pass and we share a smile. My smile is always more like a chuckle, though, because beneath his perfectly tailored three-piece suit his feet are shod in a pair of $2 slippers from E-mart. Slippers represent, to me, the antithesis of stress. No matter how dynamic Korea is being on any particular day, when I slide into my classroom in a pair of little rubber slippers, I feel instantly better. It's hard to take anything too seriously when you can see the toes of everyone's socks.

Festivals, festivals, and more festivals!

Koreans love festivals, so they have A LOT of them, for every age and interest. There is a firefly festival, a mask dance festival, a kimchi festival, and several sunrise festivals. If those don't rock your boat, there is a mud festival, a puppet festival, an ice fishing festival, and a whale festival. Into art? There are film festivals, music festivals, art festivals, and bodypainting festivals. Still not interested? Then try a fire festival, a trout festival, a ginseng festival, a silk festival, and one of the many cherry blossom festivals. Should I go on? How about a bullfighting festival, a wild tea cultural festival, a lotus lantern festival, or a fireworks festival?

I'll stop now, but not because I can't continue. I'll stop because if you haven't made plans to come to Korea already, you're probably dead.

A soak and a scrub

Koreans have amazing skin, and while I can't speak for any genetic predisposition, I can say that the weekly sauna and jjimjilbang visits can't hurt. There are few feelings in this world that are as refreshing as emerging from a sauna, freshly scrubbed with an Italy towel. After my first visit I was hooked. This is the first and probably last time I will ever write this statement: I love being naked in a steamy room full of other naked men. OK, maybe that's not totally accurate. I don't love that the room is full of other naked men. I don't actually care. I just love that I can be naked there, and no one else cares. Sure, there are some sideways glances - stares, even - but I chalk that up to foreign curiosity and move on. I go to the public bathhouses in Korea to soak and scrub off my dirt and stress, not to worry about what someone may or may not be looking at. I mean, let's be honest. EVERYONE LOOKS. It's a natural instinct when you spend 99% of your public life with multiple layers of clothing on. What's more surprising is how quickly that instinct wears off when you're neck-deep in water that's halfway to boiling.

Dynamic Korea!

Although Korea says that this slogan "succinctly illustrates the energetic image of Korea," to most Native English Teachers (NETs) it takes on a different shade of meaning. School schedules are known to change at the drop of the principal's hat, without much concern for the NET involved. Classes are canceled and new ones pop up with little warning, and we are always expected to roll with it. Some teachers find this infuriating. I find it refreshing. One of the main reasons I came to Korea was for a sense of adventure, to try something new. I didn't want just another average desk job to spend my time sleepwalking through 8 hours of work. I came for some excitement! That's why I embrace those "dynamic" moments when the computer doesn't work or I have 5 minutes to prepare for an unplanned class as an opportunity to test my creativity and have a little fun. "Dynamic Korea" adds a little extra spontaneity to my life. And who doesn't like spontaneity?


  1. Have you started writing for a Travel Agency? If not, you should get paid for such drooling compliments about your host country. (It does make me wish my travel allowance was heftier)

  2. haha no this was for a blog contest run by my recruiter. but it's all true anyway!

  3. Hey, congrats on winning the contest! This blog was fantastic and everything described is definitely making me look even more forward to teaching in Korea in February (just got the contract yesterday - woo!!).

    Audrey Eagle
    (Future CDL in Suji teacher)


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