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Why I was happy with a hagwon.

wpid-img_20150923_142530.jpgI began writing this post two months ago after a weekend away with some EPIK teachers. One of the girls, who I really admire and like, made a comment that made me really think about the reputation academies in Korea have and how all the fears I had before working at one were unfounded. I thought this would be a helpful post for anyone looking to come to Korea to teach, and may have been rejected by EPIK or wanting to avoid the public school route all together. Both public and private schools have their pros and cons, I’m just going to write about my experience and what I’ve learned over my last year in Korea.

A hagwon is an academy is Korean. Academies are after school schools where kids go to do extra studying on top of their already busy schedules. Hagwons have notoriously bad reputations in Korea because most of them put business before education. Hagwons are not regulated, they’re owned and operated independently from the metropolitan government. They have their own rules and can be kind of intimidating, but they can also be really rewarding.

Hagwons can be a crapshoot, even after all the years of teachers being forced to deal with 11th month firings, and lack of pension or healthcare. Recently a group of hagwon teachers got together and SUED their academy for poor standards: no vacation, no pension, no healthcare. The only reason schools in Korea get away with this is because people let them! They take job offers at schools offering the bare minimum of things: 3 month-long internship periods, no pension, no healthcare, no access to a current teacher. If no one says anything, they’ll continue to do it!

If the school is offering you a contract look for these main things: salary clearly stated, teaching hours clearly stated (no more than 30 hours or you could be killing yourself, it’s a lot of work), vacation days (usually 10 plus the 10 red days -national holidays), round trip or one-way flight (this seems to be the new trend a one-way flight but there are still some schools offering round-trip airfare), and the two biggies the LEGAL biggies: NATIONAL PENSION – which your academy HAS to pay into by law if you are a full-time teacher, and NATIONAL HEALTHCARE – also has to be paid into, legally. DO NOT take an extra $100-$500 a month and not get healthcare or pension. To be contracted as anything other than a full-time or part-time teacher on your E-2 visa is ILLEGAL! If you’re not getting healthcare or pension your school is breaking the law by filing you as an Independent Contractor. The last, and probably the most important is access to the current teacher. If the school refuses to let you talk to them that’s a HUGE red flag. The current teacher knows the ins and outs of the school. Talk to them before signing anything.

Now, scary stuff aside hagwons can be great. Shop around! As a newly graduated person with a B.A you’re going to have pick of the litter, if you’re patient. I had to wait quite a bit before finding my job. It took months. I had a few offers, and I nearly signed a contract, but I did some more research and found the academy I almost signed with failed to pay severance or even pay their teachers on time. Thank god for the internet because I found an old teacher on Twitter of all places. Had I not found her I would probably be writing a different story right now. The important thing is to have standards. All jobs have the same offerings but find one that caters to your hours, and has a good rep with their current teachers. Don’t jump on the first offer you get because likely, it’s not going to be the best.

I get really offended when people say things like “You couldn’t pay me enough to work in a hagwon.” or “all hagwons care about is money.” This stuff is TRUE for most places but my school was AMAZING. I have to be 100% honest I got very, very lucky. I had an amazing boss, super friendly coworkers, and mostly great kids. Of course there were kids I wanted to banish to the hallway for an eternity, but I had flexibility in my classes, I got to sing songs and do dances for kids, and even watch movies with my kids! We had a great curriculum that approached English in a way that was inviting. It was so much fun and super rewarding. When I listened to my friends talk about their EPIK schools and even other academies I felt pretty lucky.

Here’s some anecdotes and comparisons I made about my experience and the EPIK experiences I heard about:

  • EPIK class sizes are about 35-40 kids PER class. You see them once a week. My classes maxed out at 12 kids and I saw almost all of them 2 times a week. Smaller classes are so much easier to handle, especially for a first time teacher.
  • EPIK teachers seem lonely: one foreigner in school, your co-teachers aren’t always friendly. This is the case for most people. My school had one other foreign teacher and my Korean co-teachers did not hesitate to ask me questions, chat about kids, or invite me to dinner.  Even having one other foreigner was great because you had someone to chat with when you needed it. Contrary to popular belief being the only foreigner teacher at an academy is not a bad thing, nor does it mean your school is poor, some schools are just smaller than others.
  • Sometimes you have to teach at 1-4 schools a week with EPIK, transportation not provided. This means you could have to bus to different places during a single day. No thanks. I had a 5 minute door-to-door commute from my apartment to school. Some teachers got a bonus for working additional schools but the bonuses barely cover the monthly transit.
  • An academy allows you to get closer with students: learn their Korean and English names, and you can spend one on one time with them. I spent hours with my students joking around with them, etc. I could even see them outside of class and say hello. When you teach an ENTIRE public school it’s hard to remember each face and name. When you teach a smaller portion of a school at an academy you can make better connections with your students.
  • When there’s a problem with your apartment sometimes nothing happens. And your apartment (EPIK or academy) can be really crappy depending on how many teachers have used it before you. When I had a problem in my apartment my director had it fixed within the week I asked. I never had any issues. It really does vary school to school though.
  • Vacations: EPIK is WAY better for vacations. I think you get the majority of August off and the majority of January. At an academy the most you’ll get is 5 days in winter and 5 days in summer. If you have a good school. I am jealous of the EPIK vacation time. Second only to the university vacation time (like 10 weeks!!)
  • Bonuses: maybe $100 more, if that, plus your settlement bonus from EPIK. You’ll get more there but not much more than you would at an academy.
  • EPIK has the cushioning that is safe, but it’s not where you’ll make the most money, EPIK is a long-standing program with a good reputation so it’s more secure than most academies but some academies have been around for many years. My academy, though unknown to most foreigners, is pretty famous in Busan and has been around for 16 years.
  • If you want to make more money in EPIK you have to be working in a rural area which sucks most of the time. Being the only foreigner in a small town can be draining on the most confident of person. EPIK in a rural area can be super rewarding but also really difficult. Not for the weak hearted that’s for sure.
  • From what’s been going around the internet: the EPIK program is on the way out. This program was not meant to last. Each year there are more and more schools cut from the program due to lack of funding. It’s sad really.
  • Recently I’ve seen that the EPIK program is really discriminatory against tattoos. From a thread on reddit, several new applicants to EPIK were rejected right away and the one common factor: they all had tattoos. Or they all were crap at writing an essay, the jury is still out.

I just want to get my opinion out there! I’m not bitter that I got rejected from EPIK. I  was sad when I first found out, but also happy I got to work at my school. My school was wonderful and I could not have asked for a better first place to teach at! I think there are a lot of misconceptions about hagwons/hakwons/academies in Korea and before working at one myself I had my own reservations. Take your time, ask questions, and don’t feel rushed into anything. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t.  Check out Facebook for groups like: hagwon blacklist (bad schools in Korea), and Teachers in Korea. It’s full of people who have done the jobs you want to do. Trust your instincts and ask others for help!

Sorry for my lack of posting, I’m still adjusting to life in Canada again. I’ll have some more posts up soon! Thanks for your patience, I love you guys!

Until next time,
B.

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Home.

This post is a few weeks in the making. I had three posts up for my anniversary weekend, I should have staggered them so that I had some content going up while my life was going crazy. If you haven’t guessed from the title: I’m home. I’m home in Canada and I’m happy as a clam…ada. Now let’s talk about this in one of my favourite blogging styles; story time!

I’m home after a whirlwind year in Korea. For a time I was sure it was not going to be my last, but now I’m not too sure. I’ve met some amazing people during my time in Korea and I’ll always be thankful for them.

The last week of October rushed by. I had a quick beginning of the week, explaining to my classes it would be one of the last times they saw me, then introducing the new teacher to each and every class, and basically training her in two days. Not to mention two of those days were the school Halloween parties! SO much fun but not the common teaching time. Not nearly enough time but we had to deal with what we had… Which included a crash course in all things Academy on Friday evening. I talked until I couldn’t talk anymore and then we went out for drinks and more conversation. I hope my replacement, Ros, does great in Hwamyeong. I loved it a lot and I loved my school. I shed some tears when I left and my coworkers were so kind (cake and presents, like my birthday!!!). It was really hard to leave them, but this is what I have to do…

My final weekend in Busan was great. It was Halloween! Alice and I had dakgalbi at the best place in Busan, and then we met up with Megan and Oliver in Seomyeon for some soju at the Penis Bar. I would’ve felt incompletely doing anything else on my last weekend, to be honest. Then we finished off the night with some noraebang and snacks. It was a great evening! Until, of course, the taxi driver called me fat and told me I needed to diet. Man. I thought I could have a super happy last weekend but of course, someone had to ruin it… At least I tried to not let it bother me too much, and I still enjoyed my last few days in Busan.

I met up with some friends on Sunday evening and had a delicious BBQ dinner, followed by an amazing chocolate bingsu from Sulbing, the perfect final meal in Korea. Thankfully it wasn’t my last because Gillian, Megan and I had a delicious lunch at The Agit on Monday morning. I was happy to see all the people I cared about in Korea, and the byes were tough but I know it won’t be the last time I see most of them. I’ll be looking forward to my trips to California and New Zealand, so you guys better be ready to put me up ;). More on that stuff in a later post but for now, you guys know who you are, I love you and appreciate you and miss you lots! See you soon!

I packed everything up, had a bunch of stuff thrown out by the cleaning lady, but my apartment was sparkling and ready for the new teacher to move in. I shipped one more box home, and said bye to my coworkers one last time, and then we were off to the airport. My director made some funny jokes, thanked me for my work, and helped me to the check in desk. I was flying out of Gimhae Airport, which is super small, but since it was an international flight I still got there 3 hours early.

Of course, I was too early. The check in desk did not even open until 4:50pm, and I was there over an hour early. My flight was at 7:05pm, so I had a lot of waiting to do. I made friends with a girl in line, and we passed the time quickly. A few hundred dollars in overweight/extra baggage fees later, I was waiting at my gate. My trip home was starting and I couldn’t have been more excited. Until I realized my phone was not where I thought it was. I emptied my backpack, and dug through my carry on before realizing my phone was nowhere to be found. Distressed, I approached the Asiana staff member that was helping with our flight. She instantly took me over to the service desk where they had a staff member take me around the entire airport to search for my phone. I was treated so nicely and taken through security in a flash, and we finally found my phone waiting for me at the service desk. I shed a few thankful tears and gave the girls who helped me some chocolate for their help. I sat back down, one hour of waiting passed due to my phone emergency, and waited for my boarding time.

The flight from Busan to Guangzhou was only 3 hours, was had a simple meal and it was a quiet old plane.They only showed one movie but it was dubbed entirely in Chinese with Korean subtitles. I tucked into a new book and the flight flew by (no pun intended). We handed in Guangzhou and hopped on a humid stuffy bus to the terminal. After going through some extreme security I found my gate in the bowels of the airport… What’s next is my writing during the time in Guangzhou. I was a bit emotional but grabbing my pen and notebook helped me deal with it. Here’s what I wrote:

This is easily the worst airport I’ve ever been in. Worse than the shitty construction-riddled LAX with no signs… I found my gate in the musty bowels of the airport. It hasn’t been updated since the 80’s, or at least that’s how it appears, and it smells that way too. It’s honestly just the lower gates (A1-6) because the upper gates are all brightly lit and around nice smelling foods and coffee shops. But of course, a 15 hour International flight to JFK airport deserves to be boarded in the worst area. Maybe I’m just eager to get home, I’m writing this down while sitting in the dim light of the terminal. I was trying to psyche myself up for the trip so I could think about all the things in my near future… Here’s what I came up with:

Home is…
-Catching up with friends after not seeing them for ~1 year
-Eating familiar foods at familiar places
-Baking!
-Taking a nice long bath (without other naked women, but I still love you jimjilbangs)
-Buying clothing that fits
-Smiling at people and having them smile back
-Trusting others. (I tried to give someone in Korea the 400w they needed for a drink at Starbucks -they were holding up a line about 5 people- and she wouldn’t take it. Swallow your pride and accept the 40 cents. I just wanted you to stop wasting everyone’s time because you didn’t bring any cash with you)
-Watching TGIT with my momma
-Slower wifi
-Good morning kisses 😀
-Chats with my every talking niece
-Chapman’s ice cream
-PEROGIES!
-Running into people you know (and sometimes mutually avoid).
-People who know you unlike anyone else
-People eager to hear all the details of your life in another country.

I may or may not have found nirvana in the airport: an abandoned desk area where I can stretch out, put my feet up, and colour my adult colouring book…

It was a great hour and a half wait for the boarding to be called. No one bothered me (after the yelling Chinese couple left) and I was alone and so so happy. If I end up back there, for whatever reason, I know where I’m waiting out my boarding time. The 15 hour China Southern flight actually went without a hitch and with a few hours of sleep. I watched a movie or two, finished a book, and overall had a good flight. The in-flight entertainment on the China Southern Flight was one of the best systems I’ve ever used. Touch screen, lots of movies and other things, it was awesome! The 15 hour flight flew by and before I knew it, I was chitchatting with the border guards in NYC and then boarding my flight to Toronto. The plane from NYC to Toronto was hilarious in comparison to the giant plane I flew on from China to NYC. It was a quick flight, less than an hour, and before I knew it I was reunited with my family. Many hugs and breakfast later, I was settling in nicely to my new home.

I’m home now, meeting with some friends during the week before I start back at work next week. I love retail and I’m excited to get back to it before I buckle down and look for a job in my field. So what does me being home mean about my blog? Well, I’m still here. I’m going to be here as long as I have an audience, and as long as I enjoy doing this.

Bear with me, I’m going to keep traveling and find the dynamicness in every city I end up in.

Until next time,
B.

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Studio Ghibli Art event at the Busan Museum of Art

wpid-img_20151008_154950.jpgThis post has a plain title just so it is easily found via google. There’s little to no information on this event happening in Busan right now, so I’m hoping that someone else can see this and check it out!

I’ve been pretty lucky since coming to Korea because I’ve got to seen not one, but two, different Studio Ghibli art events. These events are basically non-existent outside of Asia so I feel pretty #blessed. Studio Ghibli is an amazing animation studio based in Japan. They release stunning 2D animation movies every few years and I’ve fallen in love with them more than once. One of their most famous directors is Hayao Miyazaki. He has won countless awards for his animations and whenever they’re released there is always some Oscar buzz surrounding them. I have seen several of the movies Studio Ghibli has released, but there are many I still need to see!

This post will discuss the art event currently going on at the Busan Museum of Art (until November 29th!!) with a small comparison to the Studio Ghibli art event that happened in Seoul earlier this year. wpid-img_20151008_155119.jpg

The Busan Museum of Art is a beautiful building located very close to the stop on the green line in Busan. The stop is just called “Busan Museum of Art” so it’s really easy to get to. The museum is about 5 minutes from the station and also super close to BEXCO and Centum City department store. The Studio Ghibili Art event was $12 for admission, and it was happily advertised on the light posts, a huge banner outside the museum, and all over the ticket office. The only reason I found out about it was because I had seen a quick ad in the subway station one day before work. I hadn’t seen any other posters until I got to the museum. I had a friend google in hangul so I could find out more information. I made my way down there one Thursday afternoon, an unusual day off for me. The museum is located really close to Haeundae beach, so really far away from my area of town, haha. I made my way to the museum after hopping off the subway and found the ticket office. Totoro brightly greeted me and I handed my money over. The admission was $12, or 12,000w. I made my way to the second floor, barely looking at the small guide I was handed.

wpid-img_20151008_155259.jpgThe exhibit was at the top of the stairs, and I could see the gift shop. Before going in the gift shop, I decided to look at the guide. There were 9 or so sections of the exhibit, ranging from different movies, an outline of the history, the directors, the museum in Japan, and other things. And of course, it ended in the gift shop.The guide was pretty helpful and it also showed me that cellphones and pictures were not allowed. This was pretty different compared to the event in Seoul, where pictures were basically encouraged.

wpid-img_20151008_155437.jpgThe art event consisted of many things. Lots of original sketches and plans, water-colour sketches, physical examples of some of the doors and windows they used in the movies, and my favourite: the full-scale models. They had artwork and displays from basically every Studio Ghibli movie. If you’re a fan of the movies, or just animation art in general, you’d enjoy it. I loved the model of the Teahouse from Spirited Away, it lit up and made sounds… it was stunning. I stared at it for a good 15 minutes, inspected every part of it… I was fascinated. As well, the model of the mine shaft from Castle in the Sky had many little peeky holes and openings that were really cool to see. Also the house from Ponyo was really cool. They even had little pieces of furniture in it. So sweet…

The guides in the exhibit were really helpful to me, they asked if I wanted an English language guide recording, or they’d point out something I might have missed. I was really happy about that. There were many staff working, perhaps to make sure people weren’t taking pictures or what have you. Of course the entire exhibit was in Korean (the writeups and explanations) but I had no issues going without the audio guide.

wpid-img_20151008_195949.jpgThe atmosphere of the exhibit was really chilled out. I was able to go right up to the sketches and look at all the details, there weren’t too many people there. It was nice and quiet and I think it was the best time for me to go to really enjoy it. I took my time and it took me over an hour to explore the whole thing. I think it was completely worth the money. if you’re expecting to be able to take pictures with the character or see big sized models, you’ll be disappointed. The exhibit at Yongsan in Seoul was amazing and I really enjoyed it, but I think I enjoyed the exhibit in Busan more. By watching any Ghibli movie people can see how much detail goes into the animations. The exhibit was great because it was so amazing to see all the little details up close. As a long time Ghibli fan, I really pleased.

One part I rushed through was the section on the Ghibli museum. I’m still a little bitter that I didn’t get to go when I was in Tokyo… It was sold out.. wahhh… I’ll have to go back in the future of course. It looks amazing and I really want to go back one day! The final portion of the exhibit was a little interactive. You could make a little house and stamp it with wpid-img_20151008_171627.jpgdifferent things. I made a few little houses and made my way into the gift shop.

The prices were a little crazy but I did buy a few things for myself and a few people at home. If you’re in Busan right now, or anywhere in Korea and are a Studio Ghibli fan, you should make your way down to Busan. The Studio Ghibli art event will be on until the end of November (the 29th) this year. It makes for a great activity alone or in a group. The Busan Museum of Art is closed every Monday but open daily from 10am – 8pm.

wpid-img_20151008_171654.jpgThe museum also has a super cool sculpture garden and many other cool exhibitions going on right now!

Here’s some more info if you need it!
Ghibli in Busan

Until next time!
B.

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Shoot ’em up – Gangwondo for the weekend

wpid-20151003_211254.jpgI always keep my eye on the events posted by the travel groups in  Korea. They’re really helpful sometimes and give people the opportunity to do things a little bit easier. I’ve went on two trips with WINK tours (which I don’t recommend because the owner is a dick but the trips I went on were fun) and now two trips with Enjoy Korea. I had saw the event posted called “K-pop, Caves, Coasters, and Shooting” and it seemed like a random mix of things. I like k-pop, I like roller coasters, I’d never shot a gun and I don’t really like caves but whatever, why not? I had put going to a k-pop concert on my Korea bucket list and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. My friend Alice and I booked the trip and made our wpid-img_20151003_143527.jpgway out to Gangwondo with our trip leader Rachel and the rest of the Busan group early Saturday morning.

The trip from Busan to Gangwondo was pretty long, about 5 hours in the bus. We were lucky and had little to no traffic but Alice had some pretty wicked bus sickness so she was very happy when we were finally up at the resort. We stayed at the every popular High 1 ski resort. This place will be the home for the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018 (in fact this was the reason for the concert). I should have prepared for the cold weather! It was fine in Busan but Gangwondo is way up at the top of Korea. It was pretty chilly up there, especially at night during the concert. Before the concert we were allowed to go on the Alpine roller coaster. This is a single track roller coaster cart that you control the speed of. Well, they say wpid-img_20151003_150555.jpgyou control the speed of it but you basically have to go fast the whole time as to not hold up the ride. It was so much fun. The ski lift ride up to the top of the Athena run was picturesque. The area is surrounded by mountains and it was stunning. I found myself marveling in the beauty of it, Korea really is a beautiful country but that idea can get kind of lost when you live in a big city area. The trees had started to change so you could see some nice fall colours. The ride was awesome and a lot of fun. When we finally made it to the coaster we had to wait a bit to ride but it was so worth it. I screamed my whole way down (because what’s the point of a roller coaster if not to scream?) and genuinely enjoyed myself. Alice and I grabbed some cheese bokki and then made our way to our hotel room.

wpid-img_20151003_145340.jpgThe room situations on the tour trips can be a bit upsetting at times. You all pay the same amount and some people get the better end of the bargain. In this case, Alice and I did. We were the first to our hotel room that we’d share with 6 other people and we claimed the only actual bed in the room. Pension style rooms usually have one or two beds and then a heated floor sleeping area with mats and pillows. We had 7 girls in the room and 1 guy who was dating one of the girls. Alice and I took the bed, exclaiming how happy we were about having a bed instead of sleeping on the floor, the couple took the couches (pushinwpid-img_20151003_182730.jpgg them together to make a makeshift bed), and the remaining girls (who were very lovely and friendly) all had to sleep on the floor mats. It kind of sucked but all in all our room was really nice. We had a full kitchen and a dining set area, and a TV. The sleeping area Alice and I had also had an ensuite bathroom. It was comfortable enough for us, but I felt bad for the girls who had to sleep on the floor. After we all got settled in, ate some food, and got ready, we were off to the concert! The concert was held in the parking area of the resort so the ride was super short, but it was freezing out. I put on the thickest shirt but even that wasn’t enough. I hugged myself for the majority of the concert and also danced around a lot.
Now K-Pop concerts are weird. That’s my impression of them at least. We all had assigned seats and we were in chairwpid-img_20151003_191942.jpgs and we weren’t allowed to get up and dance around like I would at any other concert. I still danced in my seat, stood up to get a few pictures, but the environment wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been. I would have been happy to dance the night away and it would have kept me a lot warmer too. The lineup for the concert was pretty awesome and I felt pretty lucky that I got to see some big K-pop artists. I was most happy about EXID (who performed first!), Shinee (which made Hannah very jealous), VIXX (my friend Vava loves them!), BTS, GOT7, and CLC. They had a lot of other performers too and even a local band play (they wpid-20151003_192648.jpgwere also good!). It was a good night overall and we ended it with some delicious pork bbq in the small town of Gohan. We were overcharged for our taxi as we headed back to the resort (he doubled the fare because he didn’t want to go up the mountain) and then we all fell into bed.

Sunday morning was a semi-early start, Alice and I stayed in bed until 10 and then rushed to get out of the room and meet everyone at the bus at 10:30. We made our way to our first stop: clay pigeon shooting. At least, that’s how they advertised it. We really shot some bright orange discs. This was my first time shooting a gun and it was a HUGE shotgun. My arms hurt from the kickback for days afterwards BUT I did hit the target twice. It was really fun, kind of expensive if you wanted more rounds ($10 for 5 more) but it was a fun experience! Everyone was really safe and the guys that worked there were patient and helpful with us. I had a pretty good experience, my guy wasn’t very vocalwpid-img_20151004_132545.jpg but I did get the target twice so I think that I was pretty successful.

Our next stop was the nearby Gosu Caves. We grabbed some lunch (donkatsu and pajeon) and then headed into the cave. I had a horrible time, I felt super anxious, there was a TON of climbing stairs and crawling through narrow spaces, I was having a hard
time. One of my new trip buddies, Nadine, and I left the group early and headed back to poke around the shops in the area. I thought the cave was interesting but there was too much climbing and it made me feel too nervous being inside of it. I’m not usually claustrophobic but it sure felt like it then.

After our cave trip we made our way back to the bus and back to Busan. Again the trip was about 5 hours, but we were back around 7pm. I fell asleep a few times on the bus, thankfully, so it went pretty quick.

All in all, I had a fun time on the trip with Enjoy Korea. There were some pretty annoying girls who thought they were entitled to perks not all of us were, but they were besides the point. It was a fun, random weekend and I’m glad I got to do a bunch of stuff I hadn’t before. Enjoy Korea is a good tour group and they try to keep to their schedules and entertain people in ways Wink didn’t. We watched a bunch of 30 Rock episodes and Drunk History on the bus trip so it made the time go by pretty fast. If I was staying in Korea I’d probably go on more trips with Enjoy Korea. And honestly if I do come back to Korea, I’ll probably look for a job in Gangwon-do. The area is beautiful and I had previously went up there for the ice fishing festival. It was just a nice wpid-img_20151004_104605.jpgbeautiful countryside place…

I’ve got a few more posts coming up soon, including my reflections and some other stuff! Look forward to it! 🙂

Until next time,
B.

Ps. Ailee is amazingly talented and rocked her whole set from a chair with her broken leg…Shinee were cute and gave us a great finale.

wpid-20151003_215150.jpgwpid-20151003_221816.jpg

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Big in Korea

I want to start this off with a disclaimer; these are just my personal experiences. I’m going to try to avoid making generalizations but I’m sure there will be a few in here. Today’s post is going to be about being Big in Korea.

I’ve always been a “big” girl, yes I’m overweight. Yes, I do know it, and always have. I’ve tried going to the gym but I usually fall back into the same patterns of overeating and under exercising. This is completely fixable and completely my own fault. I want to change, and I will eventually in my own time. That’s beside the point. I’m just going to talk about my experiences in Korea being a big girl.

Let’s start off with the informative bits: Can women (and men I think) get clothes in Korea if we’re not “Korean” sized? Yes! You can. Now they’re not always going to be in exactly your size, but you can find clothes in the subway stations and stores just like anyone else. A lot of the super cheap clothes in subway stations are in “Free size”, which sometimes can be an oversized version. I love summer clothes in Korea because there’s a lot of huge, loose, flowing shirts that look great oversized and sometimes they fit just right for girls like me.

You won’t be able to find bras here, especially if you’re over a C cup. Please bring those with you (I brought more than enough) because they’ll be expensive to replace and you’re more than likely going to have to order them online. Undies can be found at Uniqlo and H&M in larger sizes, but if you’ve got a big booty you might be better off coming prepared (like I did). Keep your eye out for American brands, I ended up with new undies unexpectedly when I went to Japan. They had an American Eagle Outfitters and I was super happy getting some XL Aerie undies.

Store brands in Korea like MIXXO and SPAO will carry “large” sized clothing (sometimes XL too) but remember those are  “Asian size”. It’s not typical of Koreans to be larger in body type, though there are “larger” people here, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to carry North American sized clothes. These Large sized clothes in Asian stores might be a size down compared to North American brands, like a Large would be a Medium in N.A, etc. Sometimes even American companies that usually go up to an XL or XXL will not carry that size run because there’s no market for it  here, aside from expats and tourists. Old Navy in Japan did not have XL sizes, or anything above a large in the ladies department.

H&M is basically the savior for expats in Korea. At least the ones in Busan who don’t have access to Forever 21 (there’s 3 in Seoul, come on!!). H&M’s sizes are the same world-wide. They have XS-L, sometimes even XLs in some of the women’s clothing (they carry XL in Men’s). I don’t really buy pants at H&M but as I’m “plus size” at home, I don’t expect them to carry pants in my size. I’ve seen them carry up to a 14, but I’m usually an 18 in pants so I don’t bother. I buy my basics like tanks and tees at H&M and my entire summer wardrobe came from H&M. I got lots of cute, comfortable summer dresses. And H&M also carries great maxi dresses. I have bought clothes from H&M at home so this was not unusual for me. I love getting deals at H&M and they have sales often so it’s pretty great. If you’re not too far above “plus size” in America (I’m on the lower end between 16-20) then you can fit in most H&M clothing.

There are also “big size” clothing shops in Korea. There are some bigger Koreans so it only makes sense. These shops are less common than the regular shops, of course, but they can be super helpful. One place I have bought a few things from, including Korean made jeans, is OKBT. This is OK BigTall, a plus size shop in Seoul and Busan that carries American brands. They also carry shoes in sizes above 9, or 255 in Korea. OKBT has lots of new styles and they change their clothes with the seasons. The prices are usually a bit higher than what you’d find at a North American shop but this is because the import everything. They have LOFT, Old Navy, Gap, Forever 21 plus, etc. They also have larger Korean made clothes, like jackets and jeans. I picked up a super comfy pair of black jeans for $45 that is arguably one of the best purchases I’ve made here, as well as a pair of blue jeans. I wear them a lot, and they go with everything. The clothes they carry can be life savers for women in Korea because they’re the only place you can go for winter jackets that fit, or clothes that aren’t entirely Asian sized. OKBT fits women who are seen as plus size in North America ranging in sizes from 16-24. I’ve seen posts on their facebook page of people who specifically make trips to Seoul and Busan to buy clothes.

Clothes are not the only things that come in smaller Asian sizes. Shoes for women stop at 250-255, which is about an 8-8.5. I know men’s go up to 280-290 (about 11-12 men’s) so it can be a blessing finding women’s shoes in a size 9. You can also find some locations of Payless Shoes! They carry up to a 270 in Women’s (size 10, my size!). I purchased two pairs of super cute fall boots that I wore all winter. The best part was that they were only $10 a pair. I have yet to get a better deal on shoes. I just googled “Payless shoes Korea, Busan” (because I’m in Busan). Most results will be expats talking about how excited they were to find a Payless shoes in Korea. The Payless shoes in Busan is at the Busan International Finance center stop (I think it’s stop #217 on the green line) and it’s located on the 3rd floor of the eMart, just outside exit 1. I’ll be heading there soon so I can replace my flats that have fallen apart while I’ve been here.

Now my experience otherwise: Koreans will stare at you. No matter if you’re huge or not, if you’re not Korean or don’t fit the common appearance of Koreans, they will stare. Some will be short stares, some will be extended stares that make you completely uncomfortable. I’ve gotten used to it, and usually I’ll stare back or make a stupid face. Most people will stop staring. I can’t blame them though, I’m so cute. Hahaha I’m kidding, I know it’s hard to stop staring at something new and different. I’ve stopped taking offense to stares. I guess I’m just used to it. It used to really bother me, but now it rolls off my back like water on a duck. I’m used to Canada, a multicultural mixing pot. Korea is a pretty homogeneous society. Even though there’s a big expat population in Seoul and Busan, and many other cities in Korea, the number of Koreans outweighs the non-Koreans (no pun intended).

I was really worried before I came about people making comments, especially my students. And it happened. When it first happened, the first time one of my students called me a “pig” or “dwegi” in Korean (I learned that one fast) I felt horrible. I almost cried. I never scolded them for it though, never lost my temper. Not with the little kids, but I was a bit short with the older kids who should’ve known better. I simply told them that they were being rude and it was unacceptable. It usually only happened once per new class I taught, every so often one of my younger kids will slip up and say something like “Teacher is fat” or “Teacher is pig” or some variation. It has gotten less hurtful each time. I’ve grown up with a lot of bullying and comments about my weight, so I’m certainly used to it. It still sucks, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I’m not at all condoning it, but it will happen. Prepare yourself. Even my friends who are nowhere near as big as me have been called pigs, or asked if they were pregnant. Kids have no filter, really. I’ve grown to love my middle school kids because they really don’t give a fuck about what you look like, as long as you let them study their vocabulary books at all times or are somewhat entertaining.

When my kids bully each other, like call one another fat (when they’re clearly not, they’re proportionate to their size), I get mad. I will tell them they’re being rude, and dole out whatever punishment I see fit. Usually some points or stickers are taken away. I really hate when my kids are rude to each other. I do hate when they’re rude to me but when they are rude to each other, it just makes me sad. I know kids will do whatever they want, but in my classrooms, I don’t allow them to be jerks to each other.

Everyone’s experience will vary. You could have a school full of angels that think the sun shines out of your butt, some of my kids do and I love them for that, but in reality not all of us will have that. There’s always going to be that one little jerk that wants to make the other kids laugh at someone’s expense. You just have to learn to deal with it. But never sink down to their level, and never punish them more severely than they deserve. Some people will send kids out of the class, or they will do some sort of physical punishment. I don’t, but you do whatever works for you. I think this is also just another part of the job. Being a teacher is for the thick-skinned people of the world. If you’re hurt easily, you’re going to have a bit of trouble.

All in all, it’s not hard being big in Korea. It’s almost the same as being big everywhere else. Like most things in Korea, it can come as a challenge but challenges were made to be accepted. I remember I often googled things like “jimjilbang Korea fat/big” just to see if there was any information out there. I hope that this post helps anyone, even just one person, because I know it would’ve helped me. You can go to a jimjilbang and fit in the clothes that are “one size fits all”. Sometimes it’ll be a bit snug, but like most things in Korea you’ve just gotta roll with it. It’s a beautiful country with lots of amazing things, and it’s becoming more accommodating as the years go on.

Until next time,

B.

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August Rush

wpid-img_20150820_162748.jpgContrary to the title, this post is in way affiliated with the 2007 movie. Though not a bad film, I just felt the words reflected
my month. I felt like I blinked and it was gone. August was a hot month! I started it off in Japan with my vacation in Tokyo, and then the month slipped away so quickly. Thankfully I had someone to spend the majority of the month with,
my boyfriend! He came down on the 8th and we were able to spend our anniversary together. It was so wonderful to be able to show him my life and have him meet people he’s heard of several times. I also loved taking him on a food tour of Busan. He got to eat all my favourite things, even the lovely dakgalbi.

My students were fairly obsessed with our relationship and they drew wpid-img_20150818_165521.jpgmany cute pictures on the board, haha.

We spent a few days in Seoul, as he flew in and out of Incheon, and so it was nice taking him around all the areas I went to when I was there for summer school. It was amazing to share that part of my life with him. It was so fun, honestly. He settled in quite quickly and even went off on wpid-img_20150808_221806.jpghis own. I was worried because he had limited Korean (read: none) but I made him get a wifi egg and he was good! We also went to a place called Dart stream, which is the home of the Korean FGC really, and since he loves fighting games, he had a great time there haha. I think he enjoyed his time here, but we’re both ready for me to come home!!

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As he left, my friend from England arrived. I’ve talked about Hannah a few times before, she’s the one who encouraged me to blog and she also blogs so check her out! We had a wonderful two weeks of food, drinks, and catching up. I had wpid-img_20150905_183330.jpgpreviously seen her in April 2014, and now it’ll be my turn to visit her again! I can’t wait to see where we’ll meet up next. We did lots of shopping, and even met up with one of our good friends from summer school! Jihun, or Ji as we called him, is a wonderful guy! He’s super funny, and he is so down to earth. He treated us to pajeon and then some yuk-hoe, or Korean beef tartar. I had raw beef! And it wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t get sick. Ji is also a huge fan of drinking so he made sure to get us nice and drunk the night we were together. He kept complimenting wpid-img_20150905_213358.jpgme on my drinking ability, saying I was truly Korean after my time here. He also tested me and made me order things from the waiters, it was very amusing.

It was nice to catch up with him. A lot of the students I did summer school with have graduated university and started working their “real” jobs, so it’s really hard to meet up but I was thankful to have met up with him! I love all the friends I made in summer school and I hope they’ll always be in my life.

Life has been good here, I’ve made many good friends and eaten wonderful things, and experienced so much in so little time. It’s really hard to believe that I’ve already worked here for 10 months! I am in the home stretch. Work has been going well lately, we’ve switched back to our normal schedule and I’m starting to interview replacements for myself and my coworker. It’s interesting being on the other side of it though!

I’m looking forward to my last eight weeks here, and I’ve got a bit of a bucket list to go through before I go home. That’ll be another post itself though, that’s for sure!

wpid-img_20150912_213800.jpgI’d like to thank all the new people I’ve had follow me since my Tokyo a go go series happened! I really enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoyed reading it! It might be a direction I’ll be going in the future, but I don’t think I’ll be posting as often as that! Three posts a week was a bit crazy, though very fun!

I hope you enjoyed this short monthly recap, I’ll be talking about my future or what I hope to happen soon and I hope you’ll stick around!

Until next time,
B.

1

Smellivision is HERE!

wpid-20150627_163343.jpgHave you ever seen 1600 of something in one spot? I can officially say I have now. I went to an event recently that popped up in Busan finally after making it’s journey across Korea. When I saw the WWF event 1600 Pandas was in Busan, I made sure that I was going to see them. They were only in Busan one weekend: June 26th-28th. My friend wpid-img_20150627_162942.jpgAlice and I made our way to Busan’s Citizen’s Park on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, after an extended lunch at The Agit. The pandas were on display from 12:00-5:00pm. We arrived shortly after 4 and there were still many people around. Busan Citizen’s Park is a huge, beautiful park that took 100 years to come to fruition. It was finally built-in 2012 and it’s just a wonderful place to visit. I’m thankful the pandas were there because now I know how great it is! After Alice and I got many a picture of pandas, wpid-img_20150627_130729.jpgwe grabbed some ice cream and we wandered around the park.

There are all the elements of a regular park: playgrounds for kids, splash pad areas, and then it expands. There are rolling fields for people to hang out and day-camp in, and there is a huge pond with a musical fountain and plenty of koi fish. There is also a sky waterfall that wasn’t working when we were there, but it still looked cool. We also saw a couple who brought their cats witht hem to the park. The cats were all kinds of distressed and it was pretty unsettling but hey, they weren’t my cats… Korea’s pretty careless when it comes to animal welfare. We walked around the park for at least an hour or two and then we wpid-img_20150627_163540.jpgheaded to Pusan National University, or PNU.

We had went previously for Gillian’s birthday, and we were going to PNU for one reason: to go to James Kitchen. THis place has been getting rave reviews on Busan Food, a facebook group for all the good restaurants in Busan, and when we finally got wpid-img_20150627_170519.jpgthere we were pissed because they were sold out for the day! So sad! We will try to go back sometime, but we settled for Papas Tacos, a place we also went on Gillian’s birthday, and we scarfed down a huge order of Frito pie add some steak tacos.

We explored all the areas of PNU, all the small boutiques. I didn’t end up buying too much but I had such a great day just shopping with Alice. PNU is such a chilled out area and it has a lot of great food and stores. As well, it has an all-cross intersection that really reminded me of Yonge and Dundas in Toronto… Made me think of home
wpid-img_20150627_212050.jpg*tear*. I finally got to sample the Croissant Taiyaki, a new popular street food. It was a fish-shaped croissant filled with apples. So good. After our feet were well tired and our stomachs were full, we made the journey back home.

Sunday was promising because I had made plans to go to Centum City! A group of us met in Hwamyeong for noon, because one of the girls lost her phone. Fortunately for us, she lost it near Dongbaek station! Do know where we went for lunch? SUSHI BERRY! Sushi Berry, if you remember was the American style sushi place in Busan. We all had a delicious lunch of tempura and sushi, and left super full and super happy. Olivia got her phone back and we were off to Centum city. After a bit of shopping, a bit wpid-img_20150627_174813.jpgof exploring the Zooraji (9F of Centum, arguably the best part.) we met up with some more ladies and then Olivia, Rox, Leah and I went to see Jurassic World in 4DX! It was my first time seeing a movie in 4D and it was SO COOL. The seat moved, there was air blowing in your face, and at times there were even scents pumped into the theater. The best one was before the movie started there was an ad for grapefruit juice, and you could SMELL the grapefruit. IT WAS SO COOL. I need to reiterate that: SO COOL. Going to see a 4D movie was a bit more expensive (19,000w), but totally worth it. I hope to see another 4D movie wpid-img_20150627_211527.jpgbefore I leave Korea!

After the movie was done, everyone met back up and we took the subway back home. It was a more chilled out weekend when it came to doing things, but some of those can be the most enjoyable weekends.

Here’s some more panda spam. I had a great time that weekend. Ahh. Thankful for many good weekends with good people in Busan.

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Next post will be about new food adventures and the monthly foreigner market!
Until next time,
B.