living in Korea

Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss About Korea ( and Taking a Break)

Yesterday I wrote about the Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Korea. That post made me a little sad because it made me remember all of the things I love that are soon to be gone. Today I decided to do a companion post that might help me feel a little better about leaving. Here are the Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss About Korea.

  1. Spitting. The man who lives upstairs from us spends a solid 30 seconds – 1 minute every single morning making horrible retching noises followed by enormous spits. It’s the soundtrack of my morning. Of course, different cultures have different standards for what is polite or rude. Some of the biggest differences between Korean culture and American culture (and generally Western Culture, I think) are these standards for politeness. Koreans, young and old, dainty and gnarly, spit with abandon anywhere and everywhere they want to. First they will hock up a huge loogie, by making retching and gagging noises in the back of their throats and then they will spit phlegm wherever they please and should that be where you are standing, they will not even look sorry.
  2. Shoving. It is very rare for Koreans to wait in line. When a bus or subway arrives, rather than waiting for the crowd of people exiting, they will all stampede the door, pushing, shoving, and throwing elbows to get themselves inside before anyone else. The elderly people are especially good at this and will intentionally elbow you or shove you out of the way if they think you are going to take their seat. I’ve literally seen old ladies throw an elbow, run to a seat, and then cackle in your face when they get there before you.
  3. Trash and Trash Smell. The residential streets smell like trash and rotting food all the time because there aren’t dumpsters or trash cans. Instead people set out bags of garbage or small pots with food waste (because all food waste gets composted). These are picked up seemingly at random, so you may put out a bag of trash that doesn’t get picked up for several days. Imagine a whole street with pots full of decomposing food sitting in 100 degree heat for several days and you can imagine the smell I’m talking about.

    Can you imagine this on every city street in America?

    Can you imagine this on every city street in America?

  4. Korean Work Culture/Emphasis on Appearance. Emphasis on appearances isn’t unique to Korea, but the importance of things looking good over actually being good is more pronounced in the Korean work environment than anywhere else I’ve seen it. To give one example – teachers in Korea often have to do open classes where the principal, parents, and other teachers can observe. These open classes are nothing like ordinary classes. They are scripted out, sometimes even practiced with the students beforehand. One of my friends said her Korean Coteacher actually drew out blocking for them during the class showing where she had to stand when. Much of Korean work culture is about elaborate performances to make sure things look good with very little emphasis placed on real results. In addition, seniority is valued above all else. If the principal decides to do something, no one can question them or make an alternate suggestion, even if it’s a bad idea. You always do what the authority says. This leads to a lot of abuse of power and also to really bad teachers (cough, my CoT, cough, cough) being virtually un-fireable after they reach a certain level of seniority because nobody under them can complain about them. Appearances also matter tremendously in hiring. For most jobs you have to submit a picture of yourself with your application. It is standard practice for these photos to be so heavily edited that they don’t resemble the applicant at all.And of course, there is the prevalence of plastic surgery here which is so commonplace that the #1 high school graduation gift for teenage girls to receive from their parents is double eyelid surgery.
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  5. Stereotyping/Racism. I’m not even the slightest bit going to suggest that Korea has a larger problem with race than America does. America has serious racism problems. The thing that is more unique to Korea is the cultivated ignorance of the outside world, the fundamental teachings of “us” vs. “them” and the acceptance of speaking negatively about other people’s race or ethnicity. Korea’s population is 98% Korean. Anyone who is not Korean is simply referred to as “waygook” or “foreigner.” I constantly hear teachers and other adults tell children things like, “Foreigners are picky.” and “Foreigners don’t like spicy food.” When I show pictures of black people in lessons, students either say, “Oh, Obama!” regardless of who it is, or they say something along the lines of, ‘Teacher, he’s like monkey!” No, I’m not kidding. There are no real enforced laws against discrimination. A few months ago Korea made international news when a school refused to hire anIMG_20141011_175749 Irish woman because she was Irish. They sent her a letter that said, “We cannot hire you do to the alcoholic nature of your kind.” Which is shocking on its own, but is ten times more ridiculous if you know anything about Korean drinking culture in which it is standard for businessmen to be passed out drunk together on weeknights. During last year’s ebola outbreak, a bar in Seoul put up a sign that said, “Due to ebola, no Africans are allowed here.” As though you could contract ebola just from being African. All of these things can be frustrating and disheartening as I have seen them being passed onto the next generation.
  6. Lack of Air Conditioning/Heating. This probably makes me sound like a brat, but it baffles me that Korean schools get away with not using the heat and air conditioning when the school is full of children. The purpose of this is to conserve energy, but it is wickedly hot here and this seems like cruel and unusual punishment for all of us. My school didn’t start using the air conditioning until the end of July, even though temps had been in the 80s and 90s for two months. Nothing better than super sweaty 6th graders in a stuffy room with no air circulation. The same goes for the winter when I wore my coat, scarf, and gloves all day long.
  7. Being Stared at ALL THE TIME. I know, I know, you’ve never seen anyone with such a “tall nose” and you think my eye color has to be contact lenses. But it’s weird when we are making direct eye contact and you are still staring unabashedly.
  8. Being Fat Even When You’re Not. I am an average – small sized woman in America. I am 5’3” tall and I wear an American size 4 (when it’s not holiday season). In Korea, I am an XL. Sometimes the salesperson will just look at me, shake her head and say, “Too big. No fit,” and not even let me try it on. This is mostly because Asian people are generally very petite with slim hips and straight legs, so although I’m not that big, I’m built very differently to most Koreans. Even knowing the reasons behind it, I’m still a woman and it’s still disheartening when I can’t squeeze myself into XL pants
  9. Street Cats. Dogs are popular pets in Korea, but cats not so much. There are feral street cats everywhere. As a cat owner, it breaks my heart to see these nasty, mangy cats all over the place, but the worst is the kittens. Just Sunday on our way home from Busan a little black kitten that couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old came out from under a car and rubbed against my ankles and tried to climb up my leg. It was starved for food and attention and so, so tiny. We brought it a little bit of food but unfortunately there wasn’t much we could do for it besides hope that it found its mother or someone took it in.
  10. Korean “Modesty.” So this one sounds worse than it is. It’s not that I have a burning passion to wear scandalous clothes. The issue is that what’s considered modest in Korea vs. the West is very different and sometimes very inconvenient. Basically, chests are immodest. Never ever should anything below a woman’s collar bone show. Arms are also pretty sketchy, so sleeveless tops and dresses (even if they come up to the collar bone) are frowned upon. It’s OK if you wear a mini skirt to work or if your shorts are so short that your butt hangs out a little. Just keep your chest covered. Probably best to just wear turtlenecks always. This doesn’t matter much in the winter, but when it’s 100 degrees and there’s no air conditioning and you have to wear sleeves and something up to your neck, things can get a bit toasty.

    Cartoon by Luke Martin

    Cartoon by Luke Martin

After making this list I’m feeling slightly better about leaving in two days. I’ll be taking a blogging break while we move and transition to our new life. I will still be trying to upload my weekly adventures since I’ve already made it this far, but otherwise you probably won’t hear from me until September. Thanks so much for all of your encouragement and well wishes. Can’t wait to share life as an ex-expat (just a pat? a re-pat?) with all of you!

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Korea

Well, friends, we are down to just three days left in Korea. Three. Days. In honor of our time here I thought I’d make a Top 10 list of things I’ll miss about Korea. Of course, I’ll miss more than this – I’ll miss my cute students and random people telling me I’m beautiful all the time, and maybe even (occasionally) CoT, but this is my top 10 list of things I really enjoy about Korea.

  1. Mountains everywhere you look. I grew up in Louisiana which is so flat that parts of it are actually below sea level. Then I spent 5 years in the Chicago area – also completely flat. When we moved to Raleigh in 2011 I was delighted by the slight roll the land, but it’s nothing compared with the legitimate mountains that surround Daegu completely and are present anywhere you go in Korea. They’re not Rocky Mountains or Himalayas, but they are still little bits of beauty poking over the city rooftops and I love them.
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  2. Excellent Public Transportation. While I sometimes miss the directness of hopping in my car and going exactly where I want to go, I have to admit that buses and subways in Korea are cheap, easy to use, and go anywhere you want if you can stick with it through the lurching, sometimes crowded bus rides. Taxis are also abundant and very cheap making life without a car completely doable. It takes longer to get where you’re going without a car, but I enjoy not having to deal with traffic or pay for car insurance and maintenance.

  3. Skincare and Makeup. Korea is famous for their advanced skin care and makeup products. I’ve become something of a makeup junkie in the last year and have enjoyed trying out lots of Korean products which are generally very affordable. Additionally, my skin is probably the best it has been in my entire life over the past few months so I’m really trying to squeeze backups of my favorite skin care products into our suitcase to take back with me!
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  4. Cheap Healthcare. I’ve had mixed experiences with the quality of healthcare in Korea, mainly just the running of unnecessary tests and tendency to over-medicate, but I can’t complain about how incredibly cheap it is (Average doctor’s visit is $3 – $4. Average prescription $4 – $5). I went to the dentist for a cleaning – $14. I went back to have a small cavity filled and while the price for this was comparable to what it would be in the states, it was 15 minutes between the time I walked in and the time I left. Of course, Korea is quite bad about things like basic hygiene which is why I was forced to share an ear thermometer with all the teachers at my school during the MERS outbreak when we had to record our temperature every day. As I predicted to my CoTeacher, this resulted in me getting an ear infection. But, again, the good news is that even though I had to go to the dr every day for a week to have it cleaned out, it only cost me about $15 or $20 total.
  5. Mandu, Bulgogi, Galbi, Tofu Jigae. These are some of my favorite Korean foods. While I don’t like all Korean foods, the ones I like, I REALLY like and I know I’ll miss them. It may take a while, but I will miss them eventually.
  6. Norebang.The word “norebang” is Korean for “song room” and these are basically like private karaoke rooms. These are wildly popular as an activity to do with your friends or with your business colleagues after a night of hard drinking (also popular). I sing constantly, but I have no talent for it. Nevertheless, I love those dark rooms with the disco lights and that mike in my hands.
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  7. Couples Outfits. Sadly, I never got Jonathan to join in this popular trend of Korean couples dressing in matching clothing. I did manage to get us a set of couples underwear last Christmas and while I can’t get Jonathan to wear them, it makes me happy that we have them!

  8. Feeling Safe Always. Korea is a very safe country with very low rates of violent crime. I have never once felt threatened to walk home late at night in our dimly lit streets or even to go running alone after dark. While I get a lot of attention here for my blond hair and blue eyes, and the staring can be annoying, I’ve never felt threatened by it in the way that I have often felt threatened by (particularly male) attention in America. I’ve never worried about locking anything here or leaving my laptop on the table in the coffee shop while I go pick up my order. During my years in Korea the safety in my own country has decreased dramatically and I am not looking forward to going back to that constant awareness of myself and who is around me and whether my car door is locked and whether that package looks suspicious.
  9. Service! Service is basically when a store or restaurant gives you free things to thank you for coming. It’s the best and it’s very, very common. Free drinks or desserts at restaurants (or occasionally an appetizer), free samples at beauty stores (and not like one or two foil packets, like whole free bottles of things, sheet masks, makeup samples, etc), or even super random things like socks or instant coffee.

    All the free stuff!

    All the free stuff!

  10. Friends, Korean and Foreign. We’ve made some good friends during our time here, both Koreans and other native teachers like us. It’s strange to leave somewhere and really not know for sure if or when you’ll see these people again. We are so thankful for the friendships we’ve made here and I really do hope to stay in touch with many of the friends we’ve made and to see some of them again someday, in America, in Korea, or somewhere else in the world.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 32: Summer English Camp and the Last Days of Teaching

Last week I taught the last classes I will ever teach in Korea. (Though I suppose no one really knows the future, so maybe they won’t be the last!)

While the regular school semester ended on July 24th, one of the weird quirks of the contract for native English teachers is that we are still required to go to work from 8:30 to 4:30 every day over summer vacation, even though school is not in session. Every school is different in terms of what they expect their native teachers to be doing during this time. Some schools will ask the teacher to teach some low-level classes to a small group of students who are behind, some will ask teachers to practice English with the students by calling them all at their homes, and almost all schools will require their native teacher to run an English camp that can last for anywhere between 2 days and 2 weeks.

Even with English camps and other classes, most teachers will end up with a lot of time doing what we call deskwarming. Sitting at our desks streaming TV shows and reading books because there is no real work to do, but we are still required to be physically present. Some days when I am desk warming I don’t see another living soul all day. (The regular teachers get vacation like the students do, so they might pop in and out occasionally to take care of something, but for the most part they are gone). Some teachers find this maddening. I don’t mind it so much since I feel like I’m basically getting paid to come sit at my desk and work on my own writing projects.

This summer is admittedly a little different because there’s so much packing and cleaning and sorting that needs to happen, so sitting at my desk for 8 hours really does feel like it’s wasting valuable time, but we are managing to squeeze everything in in the after-work hours and I think we’re going to make it. Wednesday is our last day of work. We’ll move out of our apartment Thursday morning and head to Seoul, then we’ll spend the night near the airport before flying to America on Friday. In the midst of all the busyness, I don’t know quite how to process all that it means to be leaving Korea permanently and to be returning back to a home that’s not quite our home.

This summer Jonathan and I each had a 3-day camp and we were able to help out at each others’ schools. His school is a bit bigger than mine and had about 4x the number of students attending, so it was significantly more stressful. My camp ended up only having 14 students total so it was very relaxed.

For camp we prepared themed lessons with special games and craft activities we wouldn’t normally have time or freedom to do within the normal curriculum. In the past I’ve done a Winter Olympics camp and a Harry Potter camp. This year we just did a bunch of random topics like music, sports, movies, dinosaurs, space, under the sea, pirates, and superheroes. As always, they liked some of the themes and activities more than others, but overall it seemed to go OK.

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My Co-teacher added all the cutesy stickers and fonts to the pictures. 🙂

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This is the big rock outside of my school. It says "Daegu Ehyun Elementary School" in case you were wondering.

This is the big rock outside of my school. It says “Daegu Ehyun Elementary School” in case you were wondering.

How cute is my CoT? This is NOT the infamous CoT, by the way. This is my other adorable, sweet and very helpful CoT, May.

How cute is my CoT? This is NOT the infamous CoT, by the way. This is my other adorable, sweet and very helpful CoT, May.

And so ends my two years of teaching in a Korean elementary school. While I’m ready for a break from teaching, I know I’ll miss these sweet little faces. I’ve learned so many things about teaching, about the world, about myself, about Jonathan, and about God during these years and although sometimes they have been very hard, they have been richly rewarding and fulfilling. Besides our decision to get married, both Jonathan and I consider Korea the best decision we ever made, even when we’ve hated it. This experience has shaped us profoundly and I believe it will continue to do so even as we move on to a new adventure.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure about my trip up Daegu Tower and out to a Korean village, you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 27: Cat Cafe

Before we moved to Korea I remember reading blog posts about how popular pet cafes are here. Pet cafes, like the name implies, are coffee shops where you can enjoy a beverage while being surrounded by puppies and kitties. What could be better than sipping espresso while petting a fluffy kitty of twelve? Since arriving in Korea we’ve visited a few pet cafes and while it isn’t something most people would do every weekend, it is a unique and fun experience. We decided to go to one of our local cat cafes this weekend to get our cat fix and to experience something we won’t be able to do soon one more time.

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When you go into the cat cafe you take off your shoes and go through the gate. You wash your hands and pay the admission fee (8,000 won or about $8 USD) which includes a drink you select from the menu. Then you are free to roam around or settle wherever you’d like. There are special cat treats you can purchase if you want, but you don’t have to.

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The cats are very mellow and wander around as cats do, climbing on the tables and sprawling lazily on top of people’s bags at will. The whole thing is probably pretty unsanitary, but also fun.

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The ones that look really grumpy are kind of my favorites.

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I don’t think its angry, that’s just how its face looks.

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This little girl had treats.

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I want a fat orange cat so bad. I think we need another ginger in our family.

Personally, I prefer the cafes that only have cats. I’ve only been to one that had dogs (the cats and dogs were on separate floors) and I didn’t feel good about the dogs being in that environment. While they were undoubtedly well-fed and received more attention than some dogs, there were simply too many of them in too small of a space and I felt like they needed to be free to run around and to have an owner that cared for them and bonded with them. In contrast, I feel like the cats in the cat cafe are better off than a lot of cats in Korea. Cats aren’t nearly as popular of pets in Korea as dogs are and there are street cats EVERYWHERE so the cats in the cafe actually have a really great life compared to most cats in Korea. I actually saw a dead kitten in the road on my way to school last week which made me so sad. I feel that the cats in the cafes are well fed and they have all the fancy cat trees and cubbies and equipment they could want, so they can decide when they want to interact and can easily get away when they need alone time. They all seem to get along with one another really well and get lots of attention and they are all very gentle.

Pet Cafes aren’t exclusive to Korea (in fact, when we were in Japan there was a bunny cafe, but we didn’t go to it), but Korea is the first place that we ever encountered them and so we will always associate them with Korea. We may not be able to go to a cat cafe in America, but we’ll have something much better – we’ll be reunited with our own fur babies, Bart and Ruthie, who have been staying with friends for the past two years. We miss their little personalities and presence in our home and they are just one of the many, many things we are looking forward to about being back in America.

Can you believe that we’re more than halfway through the 52 Weeks of Adventure?! Be sure to check out my most faithful co-adventurers, Pradnya and Jenn who have both come so far on this journey and shared so many beautiful adventures.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure about our photo shoot with Laura you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-two Weeks of Adventure #25: Adventures in Konglish

When we first arrived in Korea two years ago we were surprised to discover that there is English everywhere here. We were equally surprised to discover that the vast majority of it is grammatically incorrect, misspelled, or complete nonsense. The majority of store names, advertisements, and words on clothing are all written in English, though it’s clear that no one who actually speaks English was involved in their design or manufacture. To give you an analogy for what this is like, imagine if you went to the US (or England or another English-speaking country) and found that all of their stores had Chinese names and the people mostly wore clothes with Chinese characters on them, even though very few people spoke Chinese.

In our first few months we were constantly amused by this and tried to take pictures of especially funny examples when we found them, but if you live with anything for long enough it will start to seem normal. After a while we got used to all of the strange and bad English surrounding us and stopped noticing it as much.

On Sunday we met our friends downtown for lunch and decided to make a point to try to notice the ridiculous English we passed just on our way to the restaurant. Unfortunately some of the best examples are on people’s clothing and that’s much harder to get pictures of without being really rude, but we still found some gems without going out of our way.

Clothing store with this inspirational quote on it.

Clothing store with this inspirational quote on it.

Cafe Lucid

Contact Lens store

Contact Lens store

On the wall in one of our favorite restaurants.

On the wall in one of our favorite restaurants.

In addition to these signs we spotted on the go, I went back through my phone pictures and pulled out some favorites we have collected along the way.

Student's English notebook.

Student’s English notebook.

On the wall in the  English Village Learning Center

On the wall in the English Village Learning Center

Coffeeing

Best Coffee Cup of Life

Best Coffee Cup of Life

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Shirt I almost bought for my friend but resisted.

Shirt I almost bought for my friend but resisted.

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On a plastic surgery office. I’m hoping those “breasts” are the befores and not the afters….

This is on the wall in my English classroom.

This is on the wall in my English classroom.

And my all-time favorite – this tissue box found by a fellow native English teacher.

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I hope you enjoyed this week’s Adventures in Konglish. We are trying to remember to take more pictures of these things now that our time here is coming to an end. I know the photos will bring back memories and make us laugh for years to come.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure about our 5th anniversary trip to Busan you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

What I’m Into: April 2015 Edition

Even though I was counting down the days to the end of April and the beginning of our little spring vacation trip to Taiwan, somehow the end of the month What I’m Into post crept up on me. So here it is, a little late, but not forgotten. As always, I am linking up with Leigh Kramer for this monthly round-up.

What I’m Reading:

I’m actually super confused about what I read this month. I had to look back on Goodreads and check the dates because I couldn’t remember… yeah, it’s been that kind of month. Apparently, I read 5 books. I’m at 20 for the year so far which is on-pace for my goal of 60.

51gKBPHun-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. I really love Barbara Brown Taylor. This book was a breath of fresh after so many books (and sermons and churches and Christians) who intentionally or unintentionally separate the spiritual life from the physical world. This book made me feel so grounded in my body and to this earth. I especially loved the practical disciplines she suggested for making the world a place of worship. Things as simple as taking a walk or working with your hands. or being still and resting. The thing I loved most about this book was walking away feeling that a simple life could be good and honest and holy and true when so often I feel the drive to be more and do more, even from the church.

imgres-1A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. (First book in the All Souls Trilogy). Oh man. This book drove me nuts. I read it because several bloggers and fellow readers who have similar taste to mine raved about it. This book is Twilight for grown-ups mixed with The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Since I really hated both of those books, it makes sense that this book drove me crazy. However, if you really really liked either or both of those books, then you will love this. Diana Bishop is a witch who inadvertently discovers an old manuscript that all of the non-human community has been searching for for years. Vampire Matthew Clairmont stumbles upon Diana while in pursuit of this manuscript, and the two fall immediately, madly, and passionately in love despite the fact that a union between vampires and witches is forbidden. This book is 600 pages of almost nothing happening. And then when something finally does happen (around 400 pages in) it is resolved within 20 pages. I could not connect with the main character, Diana, at all. I didn’t understand her reactions throughout most of the book.  There was so much tea drinking and wine drinking and not-having-sex for somewhat inexplicable reasons (very reminiscent of Twilight) and what essentially felt like the same conversation happening dozens of times–Matthew saying, “No, Diana, you cannot do x. I won’t allow it,” and Diana saying, “Matthew, I am my own person I can do what I want.” And Matthew responding in awe, “Will you never cease to amaze me?” Diana also did a lot of telling people that Matthew was in charge and they all had to listen to him, which rubbed my feminist side the wrong way. And yet…at the very end of the book things suddenly got more interesting. And now I kind of want to know what happens in spite of finding this book almost painful at times. Dilemma.

imgresOrdinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down by Tony Merida. The author of this book is the pastor of a church in North Carolina that was supported by my former church in Raleigh. I picked this up because it was pitched as a sort of anti-Francis-Chan’s Crazy Love. It was supposedly about how God doesn’t call us to be radical, he calls us to be faithful in ordinary lives. But then came the twist. And the twist was convicting. Because Merida pointed out that our ordinary lives should be about extravagant justice and mercy, especially to the poor, the orphan, and the widow, because these things are the very fundamentals of what it means to follow Christ. I didn’t think this book was especially profound, but it was challenging and convicting.

imgres-2Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Lookby Emily T. Wierenga. I had a complicated relationship with this book. First off, I think it’s mis-marketed in a way. I didn’t get the sense that this book was about finding “home” even though the author shares life experiences that occurred in various parts of the world. To me it it was more about finding herself, coming to terms with her faith and with her family. The writing is poetic and moving at times, but at other times it feels like she is drawing connections without fully explaining them. In other words, it probably makes sense to her how these things are connected, but it doesn’t always to the reader. There were quite a few times when I wanted to know more or to understand more. Wierenga writes candidly about growing up with a missionary/pastor father who was distant throughout her childhood, about her struggle with anorexia as a child and again as an adult, and about the pain and the healing of moving home to help her father care for her mother who was ill with brain cancer. The stories she tells are poignant and evocative, even if some left me wanting more. Overall I thought this was a lovely memoir.

41YwlLvuaIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I also want to give another shout out to my friend Brett “Fish” Anderson’s book i, churchIf you are interested in a realistic view of the problems with the church coupled with a hope for how the church could be, you should check this out.

What I’m Watching:

Television: Finished The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (sometimes hilarious, sometimes just OK) and The Mindy Project and caught up on Pretty Little Liars (total guilty pleasure show). Still making our way through the new season of Community and staying current with Brooklyn Nine Nine (hilarious) and Nashville. Also picked up where I left off with The Good Wife a few months ago. I’m mid season-2 now and still love it.

Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron – entertaining, but I didn’t love that the villain is essentially a computer. I think Loki is one of the most fascinating villains in the realm of superhero mythology, so I missed him.

What I’m Eating:

Wraps. Guys, I just figured out that if I take a fairly boring salad and wrap it in a tortilla – Bam! Magic. I tried it out with a recipe of Bang Bang Shrimp and it was probably the most excited I’ve been about lunch in two years. Tonight I made buffalo chicken wraps. I sort of feel unstoppable. Follow me on Pinterest for more of what I’m cooking.

Photo by: cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com

Photo by: cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com

On the Internets:

My sister-in-law sent me this article called “I Followed My Stolen Iphone Across the World and Became a Celebrity.” It’s kind of long, but it’s so amazing. And hilarious.

This post from a sort-of-internet/sort-of-real-life friend Abigail Heath about wanting life to be a fairytale. I actually have a lot of thoughts about this that I plan to share in an upcoming blog post.

The news about actor Jonathan Crombie’s sudden death made many of us sad and nostalgic about the role his most famous character, Gilbert Blythe, played in our childhoods and adolescences. Here are two great posts that express some of my own feelings about what Gilbert Blythe meant to me and how one person, even playing a part, can impact the lives of so many: this one from Kelsey Munger and this one from Sarah Torna Roberts.

I was also moved by this piece “How Christians Have Sex” from my college friend, Rachel. I’ve always admired Rachel’s frankness, but more than that, the way she finds poetry in the raw truth. While our experiences are very different, this post gave me a lot to think about and I admire her courage and her willingness to express confusion and doubt in a world that prizes certainty and self-assuredness.

Also, just everything on my blogging friend Angela’s travel blog. Especially all of the spectacular apartments she and her hubby manage to find around Europe.

This video that my mom sent me made me cry. Let’s all walk through the door marked, “Beautiful,” OK?

On the Blog:

I’ve really tried to stay committed to posting three times a week though I admit that sometimes it’s a challenge. Thankfully, I have my 52 Weeks of Adventure posts and my Friday Book Chats to keep me focused. This month I wrote about unplanned loveliness, a coastal hike in Busan, a professional baseball game, and a major hair change. I wrote about my favorite spiritual memoirs, about books I own but haven’t read, about the most interesting fictional characters I’ve encountered, and about my favorite books to re-read.

I also wrote about my struggles with wholeheartedness in the midst of failures and about combatting shame with self-compassion. I wrote about gratitude and started a Thankful Thursdays guest series with this post from Pradnya Vernekar.

My most-viewed post this month was an open letter to my sisters about love and regret followed by my Geronimo post about giant leaps of faith which was part of a link-up with my friend Karissa.

Also, if you just can’t get enough of me, you can like my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram. I will probably follow you back if I can figure out how. 😉 And I will definitely keep you updated on flash Kindle deals and other stuff I’m discovering day-to-day.

What I’ve Been Up To:

Things are starting to crank into high gear as we make preparations to move back to America. At this point we are about 3 1/2 months away. For a while I was so excited for the next step that it felt like it couldn’t come quickly enough, but nowadays I’ve become more hesitant. I’m anxious about all of the unknowns of what comes next, but also realizing how much of this life I will miss and how quickly it will all feel like a dream. I am a complete mess of contradictory emotions.

We went through some major ups and downs as we considered whether or not we should buy a house when we return to the US (we landed on not, for the record) and I struggled through some serious homesickness when all of my college roommates got together a few weeks ago to help with planning my best friend’s wedding.

I continued to wade through awkward interactions with CoT this month (which have actually declined a bit as we’ve fallen into a routine) and got to witness the school’s Sports Day at the end of the month. It was similar to Field Day in my school growing up with tons of strange relay races and athletic competitions. There was also a lot of parent and even grandparent participation built in which I thought was kind of sweet.

The first-graders had to roll this giant ball around a cone and back in pairs. It was unbelievably adorable.

The first-graders had to roll this giant ball around a cone and back in pairs. It was unbelievably adorable.

We have two short trips planned for May, one to Taiwan and one to Tokyo, so I expect this month will move quickly. I have a few guest posts coming up this month for other blogs that I am excited to participate in as well as continuing my Thankful Thursday series with guest writers here on my blog. I really enjoy opportunities to collaborate with other bloggers and I hope you enjoy those posts in the coming weeks!

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure #16: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Growing up, my family weren’t huge baseball fans. None of my siblings played baseball or softball (or even tee-ball as kids) and we didn’t live in an area with a Major League team. My grandfather was something of an Atlanta Braves fan, but apart from catching pieces of  those games on television when I was at my grandparents’ house, I had no experience with baseball.

Jonathan, however, grew up with a sports-loving father and played baseball from a young age. He has many childhood memories of playing or watching baseball. He took me to my very first baseball game on our first wedding anniversary. We were in New York City so naturally we had to go to a Yankees game. It was an incredibly low scoring game, so I wasn’t overly impressed with the sport, but I enjoyed the atmosphere.

A few years later when we lived in North Carolina, there was a minor league team in Durham (the Durham Bulls) who actually had a really nice stadium not far from where we lived, so we went to a few games there as well as at least one Charlotte Knights game with friends who live in Charlotte. I could take or leave baseball, but I enjoy it as a social event.

Baseball is all the rage in Korea. In fact, our city has its own team (currently ranked #1) and stadium. So last Saturday evening we ventured out to Daegu Stadium to watch the Samsung Lions play. Fun Fact – Instead of teams being named after the city they play for like the Atlanta Braves or the Cincinnati Reds, in Korea the teams are named after their corporate sponsors. So Daegu’s team is called the Samsung Lions and they played against was called the KT Whiz.

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Unlike at American sporting events, people are expected, even encouraged to get food outside of the stadium and bring it in with them and the food/drink of choice for baseball games is fried chicken and beer. Food carts line the street outside of the stadium where people sell fried chicken, squid on sticks, tteokbokki, and kimbap.

Another fun fact about baseball in Korea is that there are cheerleaders who dance around in front of the big cheering section. Maybe this exists in other places as well, but in the US, cheerleaders are typically only present at football and basketball games and it would be strange to see them at a baseball or soccer game.

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There was a rowdy cheering section of the stands complete with Korean drums and lots of organized cheers, but they were on the opposite side of the stadium from our seats, so we were able to enjoy them from a distance. The stadium isn’t all that large though – in fact, it’s similar in size to the minor league stadiums I went to in North Carolina.

The Samsung Lions won 3 to 1.  I think. I was obviously deeply invested or whatever. (Actually, it’s not my fault because there was a family sitting in front of us who clearly live on the American military base and they kept pulling out insane snacks I haven’t seen in years. So I was obviously distracted). Go team! Score some goal point units!

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Injury. Ambulance Minivan to the rescue!

Injury. Ambulance Minivan to the rescue!

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure #12: Hiking Apsan

For those of you who don’t know, Korea is a very mountainous country. The city I live in, Daegu, is located in a geographic bowl surrounded by mountains on all sides which means any direction you look, you can see mountains in the distance (Well, theoretically. Often it’s too hazy from the air pollution to see them clearly).

Hiking might just be the most beloved of all Korean past-times. After drinking. And noraebang (Korean karaoke). Koreans hike in style. If you are a Korean and are over 45, chances are that 75% of your wardrobe is professional-looking hiking attire. It is both a fashion and lifestyle statement.

Koreans are also super into stopping to work out at these random outdoor gyms that are in public places everywhere you look. Check out their hiking attire.

Koreans are also super into stopping to work out at these random outdoor gyms that are in public places everywhere you look. You can see an example of standard hiking attire on this gentleman here.

Jonathan and I both enjoy hiking and we’ve been waiting for weeks for the weather to warm up enough to make it pleasant. On Saturday morning we took off for our first hike of 2015. We decided to hike Apsan, one of the tallest mountains in the area which is located directly south of the city. We’ve hiked Apsan twice (3 times?) before, but it’s one of the easiest mountains for us to get to since we can catch a bus right outside our apartment that will take us all the way there.

Sadly, it's not looking all that springy yet.

Sadly, it’s not looking all that springy yet.

The very first time we hiked Apsan we’d only been in Korea for a few months and were completely winging it on the directions. We came out at a nice peak, but not the one with the observation deck and the cable car. Each time we’ve climbed Apsan since then we’ve tried to take a different path so that we could arrive at the peak with the observation deck, but each time, the path we choose converges with the main path at some point and takes us to the same place we’ve been before.

We stopped at this little temple along the path on our way up. This basically looks exactly like every other temple in Korea, of which there are hundreds and hundreds.

We stopped at this little temple along the path on our way up. This basically looks exactly like every other temple in Korea, of which there are hundreds and hundreds.

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Cool dragon painting on the ceiling of the temple gate.

Cool dragon painting on the ceiling of the temple gate. My next tattoo? J/k.

I wish I could say that we victoriously found an alternate path this time, but after hiking excitedly for 20 minutes on a path that looked brand new, this path also converged with the one we’ve always taken. This time when we got to the top we decided to hike across the ridges and over to the observation deck. It took 20 – 25 minutes to hike over to the cable car and lookout point from the peak, but we eventually found it and were treated to a broader view of the city.

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Me, striking a traditional Korean pose. (That's not sarcastic. This is the standard pose for pictures in Korea.)

Me, striking a traditional Korean pose. (That’s not sarcastic. This is the standard pose for pictures in Korea.)

View from the observatory.

View from the observatory.

Jonathan giving me, "Smolder."

Jonathan giving me, “Smolder.”

Since we’d spent the additional time hiking across the ridge and I had a hair appointment to get back for that afternoon, we rode the cable car back down to the base. I am actually terrified of cable cars. I hate them with a passion. Nevertheless I have been in more cable cars in the last two years in Korea than anywhere else in my life. Go figure.

Hate cable cars so much.

Hate cable cars so much.

This was the view from the cable car. Apparently.

This was the view from the cable car. Apparently.

The air quality has been particularly poor lately since this is “yellow dust” season – the time of year when tons of pollution from China gets blown over into Korea’s air. I think this year has been worse than last year and I’ve definitely noticed my throat, chest, and eyes being really irritated lately. The cherry blossoms are starting to bloom which is always a brief, but beautiful time in Korea and we are looking forward to being outside more, so hopefully the yellow dust won’t stay for long.

Last year we did so many of the big things – we traveled to most areas of Korea and attended quite a few festivals and things like that. This year we’ve been a bit more focused on saving money, but we do still want to be sure to do the things we haven’t gotten around to yet. In May we have two short trips planned to Tokyo and Taiwan, so we’ve also been keeping things a bit chilled out over the past few months to save for those trips, but we are trying to assemble our Korea bucket list now that we only have 5 months left here. It feels like both a long and a short time and I really hope we can make the most of it.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 10: Putting a Ring on It

Living abroad can be exciting, but there are some really difficult things about it as well. One of the hardest things is missing out on important events in the lives of the people I love. Our first fall in Korea one of my roommates from college got married. On her wedding day I cried for hours because it felt so wrong not to be there. This week’s adventure is a story of me trying to be involved in the big moments from the other side of the world.

Last summer when I went home to the US for vacation, my best friend, Christina, flew out to my in-laws house to spend the weekend with me. At the time, she had just begun a serious relationship with a guy I’d never met – Andy. In the way of best friends, I knew almost immediately that this was it. He was “the one.” So I dragged her to every jewelry store in the mall and made her try on engagement rings. They’d only been dating for a few months at the time and I never would have done that under ordinary circumstances, but I was about to leave for another year and a lot can happen in a year. I wasn’t about to miss this.

Me and my Christina.

Me and my Christina. Can’t fight a love like ours.

See what I mean? You can totes tell they want to be together forever.

Christina and Andy. Not quite as much love as Christina and me, but you can totes tell they want to be together forever.

It might have been pushy at the time, but I felt pretty validated when Andy started asking me about rings in December. If I’d been there I would have just taken him ring shopping, pointed out what she liked and didn’t like, and graciously tried on as many rings as necessary for him to get a visual. But I was in Korea, so I did the next best thing. I made him a thorough, 20-slide powerpoint complete with quiz questions and prizes that plays Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” throughout the presentation. (Remember, Andy has still never met me in person and so undoubtedly thinks I am a complete freak. Worth it).

Put a ring on it

This is the final slide of the powerpoint I made for Andy. For the record, Christina was not being picky and demanding about the ring. She would have been delighted by anything he picked out. I was the one being picky and demanding.

So I “helped” Andy shop for a few months. There was much conferring. There was much secrecy. Then, a few weeks ago I was skyping with Christina and she said, “I think he’s going to propose soon.” At THAT EXACT MOMENT I got a message from Andy.

“Are you still skyping with C? I have an excellent update.”

“Ring has been purchased. I’m picking it up in an hour.”

I stayed stone-faced like a baller. I deserve an award for this. I have a VERY expressive face.

Last weekend Andy and Christina got engaged. (Hurray!) I knew it would be happening while I was sleeping Saturday night which made me so excited I hardly slept at all.

If I had been there I would have met Christina at the door with champagne and a Brides magazine and I would have taken her to get a manicure the next day. Since I am in dumb Korea (just because everywhere that is not where my friends and family are is dumb at times like this) I had to improvise. Another awesome friend of mine who lives near Christina agreed to act as my agent and got the champagne and the bridal magazine and other goodies and brought them to her apartment while she was out getting engaged. The whole operation was a big success.

Christina's engagement

Didn’t we…er he…do a great job? Look at that bling!

Now to tackle my next trial – obnoxiously inserting myself into every part of the wedding planning that happens in the six months before I get back home. Challenge accepted.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Year in Review: Daring Deeds and Amazing Adventures

For the past few weeks every time I’ve logged onto Facebook I’ve gotten a message urging me to share my Year in Review with my friends. When I scrolled through the timeline the Facebook elves had strung together I found that while I did some photo-worthy things in January, I apparently did nothing at all between then and April. Actually, according to Facebook, there is only evidence of my living at all during 5 of the 12 months of this past year.

At first I was kind of indignant, “Hey, Facebook. I DO things. I’m pretty sure I did things in March and in July and October. I’m almost positive.” But then I realized that real life could never be summed up in a Facebook album. Real life is both grittier and more beautiful.

Normally at the end of each month I do a What I’m Into post to summarize what I’ve been reading, watching, eating, and doing over the previous month. For these last few days of December I’ve decided to do a few year-in-review posts about 2014 before writing about goals and dreams for the coming year.

This post is about the adventures we lived this year. Not every adventure was fun and exciting. Some were difficult and scary. And of course, some were just plain boring. Everyday life is full of mundane moments, but my hope in reflecting on this year is that I will see these moments as part of the story too instead of only remembering the highlights.

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2014 was an epic travel year for the Dunns. Including Korea, we went to 7 countries this year – blowing our previous record (1 country) out of the water. 😉 Since our winter vacation from school comes in January we started the year with the trip of a lifetime – 18 days spent in China, New Zealand, and Australia. Jonathan and I agree that that trip (particularly New Zealand) was probably the greatest traveling experience we’ve had or will ever have. We were (and are) profoundly grateful for this opportunity and remind ourselves of it often when we have moments of frustration and homesickness because we never could have taken that trip if we hadn’t chosen to come to Korea. You can read about our trip and see more photos here and here and here.

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Wanaka, New Zealand

 

Sydney, Australia

Sydney, Australia

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

February and March were hard. They were long and cold and dark and especially after leaving the summer weather in Australia and New Zealand I struggled. I struggled with depression and with feeling like I didn’t belong. I struggled with my body and with my relationship with food. And I clung to my family and celebrated the beautiful friends whom I love so dearly.

In the spring, we did a bit of traveling around Korea to see the green tea fields and attend a cherry blossom festival. In May my parents came to visit us in Korea and we were able to do a little bit of in-country travel with them. Since the entire country of South Korea is about the size of the state of Indiana, it’s pretty easy to cover a lot of ground in a short time. We explored Seoul, Busan, and Gyeongju as well as our city, Daegu.

Green tea fields in Boseung

Green tea fields in Boseong

Mom and Dad visit

Hiking at Palgongsan with my parents

 

In the spring, I also joined a Bible study with one of the most delightfully diverse group of women I could imagine. There was both more eating and more cursing than any Bible study I’ve ever been a part of, but there was also more courage, more honesty, and more desire as well. The girls in this group have changed a bit from when we first started, but we are still meeting and it’s still one of the best things that happened to me this year.

In June I had an article published that went viral (in fact, I recently learned that it was Relevant’s most-read story of the year). To say I was unprepared for this is the understatement of the year. But I’ve learned so much through this experience and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunities I received as a result and am still amazed and humbled that something I wrote could have been seen by so many people.

In June we celebrated our 4th anniversary with a trip to the Busan Aquarium where I reminded Jonathan of how lucky he is to married to a girl who can do this with her face.

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I can’t believe I ever got someone to marry me.

 

But in June my best friend’s dad was diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer and all I could do was sit on skype with her and cry.

July was the worst. It was hot and so, so wet and humid and gray all the time. The semester crawled by and after nearly a year in Korea we were feeling desperate for a change. We were tired and sad and not altogether excited about the fact that we had just signed a contract to stay in Korea for another year. And all summer long I prayed bold prayers that seemed to go unheard.

In August our best friends here in Korea had a perfect baby girl. It was a privilege to walk beside them through the entire pregnancy, to meet Genevieve hours after she was born, and to watch her grow over the past 4 months. As a bonus, both of the grandmas were able to come to Korea to meet their granddaughter and they were able to stay with us (because we have a bigger apartment) so we had moms with us for most of September and October which was nearly as good as having our own moms here.

Josh, Laura, and Genevieve Louise Rhoads

Josh, Laura, and Genevieve Louise Rhoads

In August we also went home to America for 10 days to see our families and to stuff ourselves with enough of our favorite American foods to make it another year away from them. We spent 5 days in Louisiana with my family and 5 days in Ohio with my in-laws, but we didn’t make it to North Carolina where a lot of our friends and our cats are. Since we were already flying back to Asia, we stopped for a few days in Bali before getting back to Korea. The monkey forest was easily the highlight of that trip.

Family Photo, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Family Photo, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

In September we took a long weekend trip to Osaka and Kyoto in Japan where I had an unfortunate stomach incident and where we got to see some real live geisha headed to work. (Geisha is the plural of geisha – fun fact for you).

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The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

 

In October I read like it was my job. I read to avoid writing and maybe other parts of my life and instead I sat back and let some friends do the writing for me. I ran a guest series on various aspects of sex and the church and was inspired and encouraged by the brave words of my friends.

In November I ran the Dalgubeol Marathon (it’s only a half marathon so the name is misleading) here in Daegu and set a new PR at 1:57:06 beating my previous time by 7 1/2 minutes! I was so excited to break the 2-hour barrier, but I confess that I haven’t run a single time since then, haha. Maybe it’s time to set a new goal…

I also had a blog post that was Freshly Pressed in November leading to some lovely new blogging friends.

I celebrated my birthday at the beginning of the month with a visit to the coolest wine bar where we sat on cushions on the floor of this little alcove covered in thick carpets and sipped sparkly drinks and almost fell asleep because it was so warm and cozy and the only lights were from dozens of candles and it smelled like sweet spices from all the hookah (which, for the record, I did not smoke). I also dyed my hair brown and got these bangs that all the Korean girls have but that frankly feel way too cool for me.

To bang or not to bang...?

To bang or not to bang…?

Most recently, Julie, a friend of mine from high school, came all the way out to Korea for a visit. We braved the cold in Seoul and made it to some of the big touristy spots and made an entertaining stop at the Trick Eye Museum.

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Possibly my all-time favorite picture of Jonathan

Possibly my all-time favorite picture of Jonathan

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I even got to bring her to school with me for our winter festival and my coteacher made us pose with this tiny tree.

All the little Christmas icons are also courtesy of my coteacher.

All the little Christmas icons are also courtesy of my coteacher. Also, I messed up the timeline a little since clearly the bangs came after this.

We had a quiet Christmas alone together in our little apartment. Jonathan woke up with a fever on Christmas morning so we skyped with our families and exchanged presents and then we canceled our dinner plans and he got back in bed. It wasn’t romantic and it wasn’t a good story, but it was real and we were together.

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Novelty socks are all the rage here so we did manage to find each other some pretty excellent footwear as Christmas gifts.

 

Reflecting like this fills me with gratitude for opportunities that are frankly undeserved and that sing of grace in my life. Thanks to the many of you who have been a part of that.

Watch for my next post about the best books of 2014.