6 months in Korea

It’s exactly 6 months since I hopped on that plane and left England’s green green grass for South Korea. As with many English teachers out here, there was so much I thought I would have achieved by now; paid off my student overdraft, become fluent in Korean, seen most of Korea and half of east Asia, decided whether to stay for another year or not, grown to love kimchi, the list goes on.

Well, despite all of my grand predictions the truth is I haven’t done any of those things (sorry Mum and Dad!). No, I’m not fluent in Korean, but I can get by and I’m doing a weekly language exchange, so maybe I will be in another 6 months (ha, who am I kidding!). The furthest I’ve got from Incheon is Seoraksan on the east coast, and the furthest I’ve got from Korea is Tokyo; I really didn’t bank on this job malarkey getting in the way of my travel plans. Still not made up my mind for sure about renewing, and I absolutely cannot stand kimchi.

Without wanting to get into the whole smushy ‘I’ve grown so much as a person‘ spiel, I genuinely feel that I have learned a huge amount over the last 6 months.

Turns out that despite me insisting to my Dad over Skype a couple of weeks ago that I’d like to see him try to teach a bunch of 5 year olds English for the first time in response to a quip about not having a proper job, teaching really isn’t so difficult. Of course, I felt differently 6 months ago. I was absolutely petrified walking into that classroom for the first time; what if they don’t like me, what if their parents don’t like me, what if I accidentally teach them swear words.

By the time I’d got my head around teaching kindergarten I was faced with the dreaded 13 year olds. Flying them around the classroom like Superman and giving them Angry Bird colouring pages probably wasn’t going to wash with them. Time to actually impart knowledge. But that’s when the pressure really kicks in. Just how much about the quirks and exceptions of English grammar do we really know? How many times can you be told that, ‘teacher’, you’re spelling ‘favourite’ and ‘colour’ wrong before you start conforming to Americanisms? And why can ‘-ough‘ be pronounced in a multitude of ways?

Anyway, with a few minor mistakes along the way, mostly in the Geography department, both the students and I have got through the last 6 months largely unscathed (except for that incident with Ryan’s front teeth).

I’m sure there will be many more learning curves to come over the rest of my time in Korea, however long that may be, but it’s all part of the fun right?

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Sisterfood, Bupyeong

Sisterfood, a play on the words ‘sisterhood’ and ‘Asian food’, is a brand new restaurant that has just opened in the back streets of Bupyeong.

It was set up by Incheon Women’s Hotline, an organisation that helps immigrant women, often wives of Korean men, adjust to life here. It is run by a group of volunteers and offers advice, support and free English lessons to women.

We tucked into Vietnamese seafood noodles, Filipino rice cake and fried bananas, Chinese dumplings, Korean sweet potatoes, and of course, the omnipresent dish of kimchi. Everything was authentic and homemade, even the makgeolli!

Our boss’ wife is one of the volunteers, and all of the women there made us feel so welcome. I can’t wait to go back for some more feel-good food!

Happy White Day!

So, White Day 화이트데이 is finally here! After a month of torment and sleepless nights I will finally find out whether my Valentine will reciprocate my gift and my love (we’re about to celebrate our 6 year anniversary so he’ll be in the doghouse until next year’s White Day if he doesn’t!)

Although the 14th of every month has some kind of romantic significance for Korean couples (see here!), the 14th of February, March and April are the most widely celebrated. The girls give chocolates to their loved ones or crushes on February 14th, and the guys then have a month to consider their options before giving a present to the girls in their life on White Day.

White Day is observed in several countries across east Asia, including Japan, China, Taiwan and of course, South Korea. It was first celebrated in Japan during the 1970’s, after the National Confectionery Industry Association proposed an ‘answer day’ to Valentine’s Day. Consequently, many people think of White Day as nothing more than an elaborate marketing ploy, created purely to boost confectionery sales.

The tradition began by giving marshmallows or white chocolate, but recently gifts of jewellery, cosmetics and even designer handbags have become popular. According to department store statistics, the spending on White Day is much higher than during Valentine’s week, and increases by 10-20% each year. Unfortunately for the boys, they are expected to splash out a lot more than the girls!

Happy White Day!

A Korean wedding

Just two weeks after landing in Korea, Nath and I somehow qualified for an invitation to his boss’ sister’s wedding. As with many Korean weddings, it took place in a ‘wedding hall‘; a building designed purely for wedding ceremonies, complete with high ceilings, white drapes and extravagant chandeliers.

It was much more informal than any English wedding I’ve been to (all three of them that is!). As we arrived guests from several different weddings were milling around in the foyer, and people wandered in and out of the ceremony room even during the vows.

The mothers of the bride and groom, and the bridesmaids wore traditional Korean hanbok but the bride wore a big, beautiful, white princess dress. After a lot of bowing between the bride and groom and their parents, the ceremony finally got underway.

In many ways it was quite similar to a typical Western wedding, but what surprised us the most was how quickly it was over. The whole ceremony took 25 minutes, then we were led into the buffet hall as the next couple’s wedding began. I hate to say it but there was something slightly impersonal and conveyor belt-esque about the whole thing.

During the meal the bride, groom and their parents appeared on stage (to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune…) to cut the cake and say thank you before disappearing off to start their honeymoon on Jeju island.

Valentine’s Day – Korean Style!

It’s February 14th and love is most definitely in the air in Korea. But as usual, Koreans do things a little differently…

As if to avoid the awkwardness of presenting somebody with a Valentine’s present and them not give you one back, in Korea they have one day for women to give gifts to men, and another for men to give gifts to women.

On February 14th it is only women who give chocolates to men. Store-bought chocolates are given to a guy you like, but if you really love somebody you make them yourself!

Then, having had a month’s cooling off period to think about it, White Day on March 14th offers men the chance to give a girl a present, usually non-chocolate candy.

Korea also has a day reserved for those who didn’t receive a Valentine’s gift or a White Day gift. April 14th is known as Black Day, when the unlucky ones who did not receive any Valentine’s gifts get together and eat black noodles to ‘mourn’ their singledom and wallow in self pity.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, the 14th day of every month has some ‘significance’ for Korean lovebirds!

  • January 14th – Candle Day
  • February 14th – Valentine’s Day
  • March 14th – White Day
  • April 14th – Black Day
  • May 14th – Rose Day
  • June 14th – Kiss Day
  • July 14th – Silver Day
  • August 14th – Green Day
  • September 14th – Music Day
  • October 14th – Wine Day
  • November 14th – Movie Day
  • December 14th – Hugs Day