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Archive for July, 2016

Brian

In less than a week, Ashley and I will return to Michigan. I’m looking forward to being back home, but I’ll also miss some things about living in Korea.

First on that list is transportation. I don’t have a car in Korea, and I don’t need one. Sure, there are places I can’t easily get to and places I wouldn’t visit without one, but nearly everywhere I’ve needed to go has been a cheap and easy bus, train, subway, or cab ride away. The system is very extensive, convenient, and inexpensive. After several years of paying a bit more than a dollar to ride the Busan or Seoul Metro, I bought a four-dollar ticket for a ride on the DC Metro, which has longer waits between trains, and felt a small stab of culture shock. (And that was for a non-peak travel time, meaning it could have cost even more.)

I’ll also miss South Korean telecommunications. Until our bill decreased by about three or four dollars recently, we paid $30 a month for high-speed Internet and cable. I have truly unlimited data—with no hidden data or speed caps—for my smartphone, plus ample talk and text time, for the equivalent of about $52 a month. Comparisons between the speeds of Internet in various locations throughout the world usually put South Korea fairly high on the list, with much higher speeds than in the US.

What’s next on my list? Buckwheat noodles in cold broth, called 물냉면 (mullaengmyeon). I’m sure I could find some way of eating this wonderful summer food in America, but I can’t imagine it would be easy. It might not even be good. The thing about mullaengmyeon is that it’s really good when it’s good, but sometimes it’s just bland and disappointing. There are places where I know I’ll get an excellent bowl of cold noodles, guaranteed. There are places where I know I’ll be disappointed. And there are places where it could go either way. Until you try a place’s mullaengmyeon, you really can’t tell. So if I find them in America, I hope they’re in the first category.

I’m really looking forward to having no language barriers when I go back to America, but one nice thing about Korea that I will no longer be able to enjoy is the language barrier. Sometimes, it’s nice not to understand what everyone is talking about, to be able to tune out conversations. I can read on the bus because I’m not distracted by suddenly hearing, “…one more time, I swear, I’m going to go over there and give him a piece of my mind.” Isn’t that a conversation on which you wouldn’t be able to help but to eavesdrop? In Korea, I might be able to catch the gist of a conversation, but I’d have to try. The words wouldn’t simply infiltrate my ears, distinguished and recognizable over the generic sounds of talking.

And, of course, I’m going to miss the wonderful people here. I’ll miss my students and friends, although many of the latter have already moved on from Korea. Still, there are a few left whose company I really enjoy, and we won’t get to see them until we maybe meet again in America when we’re all back home and settled—or in some other country during a vacation, as some of our friends are from Australia, India, South Africa, Canada, Ireland, the UK, New Zealand, and so on. My students may occasionally give me a hard time (and I’m sure the feeling is mutual), but they more often bring a smile to my face and have a special place in my heart. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to them, especially this year’s 6th graders. I’ve taught them since they were in 2nd grade, and I’ll miss their graduation coming up in February.

There are some other great things about this country and living in it, but I’ll save some for…

Ashley

In no particular order, here are some things I’ll miss about living in South Korea.

Transportation – I know Brian said it already, but this is a big one for me. I have really enjoyed being able to get from one end of the country to the other, and almost everywhere in between, without needing a car.

I’ve also learned that, for me, riding trains is a very peaceful and meditative activity. It’s easy to maintain deep focus, breathe, and pray. I find my best thoughts as I watch the scenery pass the windows by.

Safety – Korea does have its problems, but here I’m generally not in a demographic that has to fear for my safety. Being in the US is definitely more comfortable for me, culturally, but I just feel much safer in Korea than I have on any of my vacations home. I haven’t made a habit of this because it’s a bad habit to have in the US, but a black woman walking home alone at night is no biggie, and you can even leave your belongings unattended almost anywhere here and no one will touch them. If you lose your wallet or ID, chances are high that they will be returned to you.

Health Care – Health care is truly affordable here in Korea. As English teachers we have access to the National Health Insurance Service. I am pretty sure that medical costs would be much lower than they are in the US even without that insurance (People I know have gotten LASIK/LASEK or had multi day hospital stays and treatment without breaking the bank). And we have full coverage with doctor visits, vision and dental. We don’t bear the cost for our every-other-year (mandatory) health screening, and preventative care is covered, so we don’t have to be having an emergency to be covered. Going to the doctor, dentist, or even buying a new pair of eyeglasses is not a burden on the wallet at all. It’s opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Random Positive Encounters – These can happen anywhere, I know, but there is just something special about meeting strangers in Korea and being asked if you are “Made in America.” I have had countless positive experiences with Koreans who are curious about my culture, or who just want to practice English or talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Elvis Presley. I have even had positive experiences with people who know almost zero English, and who are simply kind and beautiful human beings who have done their best to make me feel welcome in their country.

Some of these encounters, I would never have been open to back home. We learn as children not to take food or beverages from strangers, but here I have done both. In Korea elderly women want to give you snacks or fresh produce (that you have no idea how to prepare), juice, coffee, or little yogurt drinks. And you smile, and you take it, whatever it may be, and you google how to cook random types of squash. I will miss that.

Coffee Shops – Yes, I know that we have coffee shops in the US, but in Korea the coffee shop culture is different. They do generally have a coffee shop on every other corner, but every coffee shop is not a big chain like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. Whether you live out in the countryside or in a big city, you can find mom and pop type coffee shops, where you can meet the owners every day and they can learn your name and what you like to order. These small coffee shops each have their own unique ambiance and varying menu offerings. Spending hours talking with my husband or with friends in coffee shops is one of my favorite things to do. It’s nice to have options. If I ask myself, “Do I want a franchise experience today or a more personalized one?” No matter where I am, there’s a shop for that.

팥빙수 (patbingsu)  – Patbingsu is a shaved ice dessert with condensed milk and sweet Adzuki beans. It can have fruit, ice cream, cereal, chocolate, or almost anything sweet as additional toppings. During my first summer in Busan, I was actually a little grossed out by the sight of it advertised everywhere. Because, “Seriously, who would want beans with their ice cream?”  One day after classes when we were sitting around in the office, my co-workers asked me to try a basic version of it. It was just shaved ice, condensed milk, and Adzuki beans. I was surprised at my delight. Then it struck me that coffee is also made from beans and having it with milk, cream, and sugar is not strange either.

Ever since then, I have enjoyed the regular availability of this delicious treat. It can be found everywhere during the hotter months. Some Westerners don’t like it because of the beans, but I have enjoyed almost every variation of this dessert that I’ve tried. It’s nice to share with friends.

Walking paths – In Korea there are walking paths / bike trails in every town I’ve visited. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Podunk town or the big city, there are places set aside for people to get outdoor exercise. You can always find people riding bikes walking their dogs or jogging there. In Gwangcheon, the path is bordered by cherry trees (lovely in Spring) and runs along the river, past a small park, and up to the base of Mt. Oseo. In the afternoon, elderly people smile and greet us as we pass. Outdoor speakers add music to our evening walks.

Students – Of course, I will miss my students. Some of them I have watched grow up for four and a half years. Some of them, I’ve been teaching since they were in first grade. I’m going to miss their humor and fun, and I’m going to miss their honesty. I’m going to miss the graduation of the 6th graders I’ve been teaching since they were in second grade. I can’t count the many hugs I’ve received in the past four and a half years, or all the times I’ve been surprised into laughter by a student’s wordplay, quick wit or dancing skills. I’m going to miss these people.

Friends – Of course, I will miss my friends. These are the people that helped make life bearable. Despite all the good things I’ll miss, living as a foreigner in a strange land has not been easy for me. And these friends have been so special. These are the people with whom I had book clubs and Korean classes, attended prayer groups, chatted in coffee shops, had movie nights, game nights, girl’s nights, and rooftop barbecues. These are the people I worked with, climbed mountains with, and complained to about this and that. They say that friends are the family you get to choose, and they’re right.

 

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