Saturday, November 6, 2010

서울의 가을

This weekend, we went on an EPIK organized cultural trip to Seoul.  We were able to visit at perhaps the most beautiful time of year, during the height of colourful autumn.  We saw a theatrical performance, a lantern festival, visited the national museum, and toured some palaces and villages.

Here are some of the things that we saw along the way...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bridging the Gap

Korean-American Pen Pal program at 
Sokcho Elementary School & American Academy


Saturday, October 30, 2010


After a wonderfully chaotic first two months in Korea, we wanted to share some reflections on working and living in this beautiful country. We chose ten points (and corresponding photos) that we thought most poignantly portrayed our experience thus far.   We apologize for the pause in our writing but we hope you'll enjoy this entry anyway!


In the past couple of months, we have not only jumped into a demanding full-time teaching position, but we have also launched a new life in a new culture, speaking a new language.  Taking everything at once might have seemed overwhelming, but we have just been taking it day-by-day solving challenges individually as they come our way.  While we still have a long way to go, we now have a solid grasp on the basics of living and working in rural Korea.  


In the past two months, we have been able to visit the coastal area of Sokcho and Yangyang twice --- once for business and once for pleasure.  During Chusok, or the Korean Thanksgiving, we visited Sokcho with a good friend of ours from Canada.  We went to Seoraksan National Park to hike the beautiful Mt. Seorak and enjoy the surrounding nature.  Afterwards, we stayed at a Jimjillbang, or a Korean Bathhouse, which was quite the experience!  It's open 24 hours and involves bathing, hanging out in all sorts of cool sauna rooms, drinking specialty juices (like persimmon punch) and having a giant sleepover on the heated Ondol floor with dozens of other Korean families.  


A stroll through Sokcho's main fish market is always sure to inundate the senses with the sights and smells of hapless sea creatures trying desperately to claw their way out of their tanks before it's too late..... The tanks line a long row of restaurants that allow you to choose your specific catch at the door.  Not long after you've just gotten settled into your "seat" on the floor will a variety of sliced raw fish and (sometimes) less savoury creatures be plopped right down in front of you, still twitching and fighting for their lives.    


Easy breathing and jacket envy are the name of the game for the hiking trails in Korea.  In the beautiful Seorak mountain near the coast, we had a pleasant but difficult hike with more than 5000 feet elevation gain. From a sea-level start to mile-high finish, however, there's never a lack of oxygen.  While the mist-enshrouded Seorak is a national favorite, it's the local unnamed Hongcheon trails which have ultimately won our hearts.  A network of hidden trails lines the ridges behind our apartments leaving much to be explored...


Although Christianity has a large presence in today's Korea, evidence of its Buddhist roots (once a mandated national religion) dot the countryside with beautiful temples and sculptures.  Surrounding the temples, you can find pristine meditation areas decorated with various Korean wildflowers and sparkling lakes growing lotus leaves.  Now, with a population divided almost 50/50 between the two religions, Korea proves itself as more than tolerant of a variety of practices and beliefs.


One of the most defining aspects of South Korea is the notorious relationship with North Korea.  As the Korean war never officially ended, the two remain separated by a few high fences and outposts along the DMZ line.  We've been able to visit a few, and get rare glimpses into the mystery of North Korea.  This one on the ocean allowed pictures to be taken, while the second--with a cool underground tunnel we got to explore--did not.  While tensions are high, there really isn't a lot of actual pressure from the North Koreans.  At this point they are simply too poor to wage war, and a victim to gawking tourists looking through coin-fed binoculars at their incredible communist country.


A month after arrival, Scott and I had a long discussion about what our personal and collective goals for the trip were.  Among the things mentioned were learning about Korean culture, developing relationships with local neighbors and co-workers, exploring the hills, valleys and coastlines of the countryside, and most importantly: providing the best possible English-learning experience for our students.  With so many wonderful options on our plate, it's sometimes difficult to balance work life and personal time, developing relationships with local Koreans and spending time together with just each other, learning the language, exploring the local haunts, and traveling away to other provinces and countries, all while leaving time to keep in touch with family and friends abroad and maybe squeezing in a load of laundry or two at the very end of the day...  Here, in a rare pause in our busy schedule, Scott walks the line beautifully in the peaceful backdrop of the Hongcheon foothills.


After Heather happened to meet the local paragliding crew at the top of Namsan, the high peak above our home town, we've been having lots of fun.  With an amazing view of the town (Heather's apartment is easy to pick out) Namsan is a beautiful part of our weekend experience, whether hiking, flying, or generally exploring.

Watching Heather fly off into the distance, gracefully floating along the ridges and seeing the surroundings from a different angle, brings a smile to my face.  The eternal, solitary mountains provided a deep contrast to the palli palli ga (Korean for "going quickly") residents bustling in the valley below.  Hanging from the sky, the kite that was let free, dancing with the wind, following a path of its own, Heather flies back down to the city.


In Confucianist Korea, you'd never feel lonely if you didn't want to.  Here, it's all about working together and taking care of each other.  In contrast to what you'd find in the States, it's the group accomplishments that count.  Meals are always eaten together and if one person brings in food, she always shares with the rest of her coworkers.  Similarly, if you ask a Korean what his first name is, he'll reply with his family name.  Koreans give off a community vibe which gives you the feeling that if one person prospers, the whole group does too.  At school, we teach as a team with our Korean teachers and have lots of fun in the process!


(photo: Park Jae Sung)

Of all the adventures we've experienced so far, the most beautiful moments have been with our students.  It has been an absolute joy to work with such creative minds and loving hearts.   They continue to inspire us to come up with ever more challenging and engaging lessons.  We learn just as much from them as they do from us.

We hope you enjoy reading our blog.  We miss all of you very much.  Please write to us as well and let us know how you've been!  



Sunday, September 26, 2010

6000 vertical feet later...

--Coming soon--  Heather and Scott's Chuseok adventure:  into the mountains, authentic bath-houses, going north of the 38th and stealth shots of North Korea (through coin operated binoculars).

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Hongcheon in relation to all of South Korea.

Hongcheon up close.
(It's about 3/4 of a mile between the two apts.)

I hope these maps give you a better idea of where the heck we're living these days! :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Scott!

Yesterday was Scott's 32... err... 23th birthday. For his birthday,
he decided that he wanted to be 9 years older.
Luckily for him, in Korea, babies are born one year old,
making him 24 in Korean years!

Snapshots of Seoul & the Korean Folk Village