Wednesday, March 9, 2011

6 Month Mark!

Last week marked six months in Korea. It's been full of surprises, challenges, adventures, good friends, and lots of learning and growing. Here are my favorite observations, surprises, experiences, and random thoughts from the past six months:
Oh cheap and abundant avos how I miss you!

-Oats (and pretty much any grain besides rice), avocados, vanilla (and other baking supplies), and proper cheese are difficult and expensive items to find in Korea. BUT, I haven't really missed cheese all that much.

-If you're considering coming to Korea and you're female, don't come single (or at least without an imaginary boyfriend). There are two reasons for this: 1) It is not okay for a person to be single at any point in their life in Korea. They will be extremely concerned for your wellbeing and try to find someone for you. And you will be asked by EVERYONE within the first five minutes of a conversation (on average) whether or not you have a significant other. 2) The dating world is rather dismal in Korea (once again if you're female). I wish I had known these two pieces of information before coming to Korea. I would have created an imaginary African boyfriend which would have served a dual purpose: relieving me of the hassle of constantly being asked if  I've "made a new boyfriend" (as if you can just mix the right ingredients and make them), and providing another way educate about race.

-Whether or not kimchi cures and prevents all illness is still to be decided in my opinion, but what I do know is that I can't survive without the spicy, crunchy, flavorful, deliciousness that is kimchi. I'm a little concerned about my wellbeing when I return to the non-kimchi eating world.

-I didn't realize that loving a country's food would be such a way to successfully integrate myself into a new culture. By loving Korean food "I am Korean", according to my Korean friends that is.

-Just like I've always said, it is totally possible and easy to find amazing, kind, and wonderful people in every corner of the globe. I am overwhelmingly grateful for my friends here.

-The Korean language is not as difficult as it might appear. Saying just one word in Korean (assuming you don't look Asian) will result in Korean exclamations of pride and joy and unfortunately the assumption that because you speak one word of Korean you must be fluent.

-Surviving in a country where you only speak a few words of the language (okay I guess I speak and understand more than that now) and initially couldn't read the language is actually easier than it might seem. Having white skin and top notch miming skills assist in survival.

-Not all Asians look a like. Even though some Koreans assume that someone with "Asian" features can and should speak Korean. I liken distinguishing between the different Asian nationalities as distinguishing between the different European nationalities. It is totally possible to identify the difference between a German and an Italian, but often the distinctions are blurred. I think perhaps as an American I have a harder time differentiating because almost every person in my country is a "mutt" of some sort. I never thought about whether or not I looked "German" even though I have German blood until I came to Korea. I have had multiple people tell me I look German and ask me "what I am". I always respond "American". I guess race and nationality are defined a bit differently in a country where 99% of the population is full blooded Korean. I've never really thought about my race until coming to Korea.

-Racial stereotypes are a result of past bad experiences, education, and simply whether or not you've been exposed to someone "different". Funny that I had to travel all the way to Korea to have my first experience with racism. I am grateful that I grew up "colorblind".

-In Korea it is very simple to cook, realize you are missing an ingredient, throw on your shoes, walk to the store and return less than ten minutes later with the missing ingredient. I am beginning to take this convenience for granted.

-It is not uncommon to see couples wearing matching outfits here. I'm not a fan. Reason number 492 why it's unlikely I will date a Korean.

Not an uncommon sight. 
-I probably see more passed out drunk people on an average week than I did in college. And these sightings are usually around 9 pm and are of middle aged smartly dressed Korean businessmen. Yes there is a huge drinking culture here. I attribute it partially to the fact that Koreans work the most hours of any country in the world. The average Korean adult consumes 81 bottles of soju per year.

-The Seoul subway system is almost ALWAYS crowded anytime of day or night.

-Eating out is CHEAP, delicious, filling, and healthy. Even better the food comes super fast.

-I miss being a student even more than I thought I would after graduation. This longing has driven me to devour books faster than I can get my hands on them, study Korean, and spend hours reading about random subjects that interest me. I need to go back to school.

Here's what I'm looking forward to and planning for the next six months:

-Trips to the Philippines and Bali, Indonesia!!!

-A Buddhist temple stay

-Barbequing on one of the many islands just off the coast of Incheon. Please come fast warm weather!

-Teaching 1st and 2nd graders with no knowledge of English by myself.

-Experimenting with cooking some Korean foods.

-Remembering to treasure the good moments of everyday!

Here are some of my favorite pictures of the first half of my year in Korea: 

Gangwha Island with my friend Shea. Jan. 2011
View from my apartment. 
After a race at the Olympic stadium in Seoul. Feb. 2011
Oh Korean hikers and their kimbap! Jeju Island-Hallasan Nov 2010
Jeju Island. Nov 2010
Korean exercise equipment. 
Busan fireworks! Oct 2010
Halloween: Juno and Bleeker. 
Korean wedding with a friend. Sep 2010
View from the roof of my apartment at night. 
Seoraksan national park. Sept 2010

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