Saturday, 28 August 2010

...Recommended Books...

Here are some recommended books to get you in gear if you're preparing to travel, work, or live in Korea:

Friday, 27 August 2010

Trip of a Lifetime...

This is it...the final itinerary.

We left Canada on Aug 18th 2009. Our expected return date is Dec 23rd 2010 (Christmas Eve Eve!).

What's next for us? 112 days of nothing but the shoes on our feet, the bags on our backs, and the wide open world begging to be explored.

One chapter has come to an end, and another is about to begin!

So long Korea! It's been a hell of a ride...

*** (492 days from start to finish) ***

- Ken & Jess

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The End is Near

In four days, we’ll be hitting our one year mark in Korea.

Holy crap.

There were far too many ups and downs to reminisce about in a single blog entry. It’s been good, it’s been bad, but most importantly, it’s been an experience. One thing’s for sure; I’m glad we wrote it all down.

I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday, so to have a website full of memories that we can keep for the rest of our lives is absolutely invaluable. And to be able to share our adventures with you, the readers, has been so much fun.

It’s hard to believe that just barely over a year ago, neither of us even knew that we’d be teaching in Korea. The idea was seeded in a small conversation, grew into an application, and resulted in an opportunity, which we eagerly grabbed a hold of. There aren’t many times in our lives when we can simply let ourselves be guided by the winds of opportunity, and we weren’t going to let the chance slip past us. 

Man, can life ever throw some wicked curve balls.

To quote some motivational poster I read somewhere, written by someone, at some point in history, probably for some very important reason:

"Learn to embrace change, and you'll begin to recognize that life is in constant motion, and every change happens for a reason. When you see boundaries as opportunities, the world becomes a limitless place, and your entire life becomes an adventure."


- Ken

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Summer Vacation in Busan

Ken and I decided to take a spur of the moment trip to Haeundae this week. This area of Busan is known for its popular beach – a large, sparkling, stretch of crystalline sand, bordered by frosty blue waves that beautifully break on the shore.

Haeundae beach is infamous for the thousands of people who visit its waters on a regular basis. In the 2008 Guinness Book of World Records, Haeundae was recorded to have 7,937 parasols firmly planted in its sand at one time. Stories have been spread about the beach being too overcrowded – enough to ruin any day trip or vacation spent

Originally, Ken and I had planned to spend our entire summer vacation of ten days in Jeju-do, but it being pretty much the top summer destination in Korea, we would’ve spent over fifteen hundred dollars alone on the flight and motel fees.

Knowing the probable outcome of heading to Haeundae for a few days, Ken and I went for it anyways. We knew we were deserving of a little sand ‘n’ sun after running weeks and weeks’ worth of English camps.


Upon arrival in Haeundae, Ken and I scouted for motels. About five or six blocks from the beach, there were several alleyways that were filled with flashing neon signs for motels. We had seen them once before and knew that our best bet was to focus on those brightly lit areas.

After finding several motels marked at 80,000 –100,000 won (80-100 CAD) per weekday, and 90,000 – 140,000 won on the weekends, we finally settled on a motel where the manager bargained his price to 60,000 won for Wednesday night, 70,000 won for Thursday night, and 80,000 won for Friday night. Ken and I didn’t complain. We had found a swanky motel room fit for a hotel, complete with a Jacuzzi, a wide-screen plasma TV, a couch, and a computer equipped with high-speed internet.

In the morning, Ken and I planned to head straight to the beach. The sun beamed with golden streams of sunlight, cottony clouds decorated the skies, and cool, salty air swept between the tall buildings. However, there was one problem – Ken had forgotten his bathing suit! Afraid of being caught nude by the beach police, Ken and I went in search of some swim trunks to wear for the next few days. They were incredibly easy to find. The streets were littered with shops and stands selling swim wear, sunglasses, sandals, all from 5,000 won – 60,000 won! We easily bought two pairs of summery swim shorts directed ourselves towards the water.

The beach wasn’t at all what we expected. Although there were thousands of red, white, and blue parasols lining Haeundae’s shores, there were still men calling out to visitors to rent parasols. They were quite inexpensive. At 5,000 won for the two of us, we were shown to a spot in the rows and rows of blue umbrellas sticking up from the soft sand. A large beach mat was set up between two parasols, and we were set. We didn’t need anything else, not even the yellow swim tubes that were being rented for 5,000 a piece.

The strips of parasols seemed to make a relatively safe environment in which to leave our things. There were beach bags, purses, shoes, and towels left under almost every parasol. Obviously, we didn’t bring our wallets to the beach, but took out enough money for lunch and other little luxuries. There were men and women walking through the lines of umbrellas taking advantage of thousands of resting visitors. They sold bottled water, boxes of fried chicken, beer, soda, and pat-bing-sue (shredded ice with sweetened red beans, ice cream, and fruit).

It was finally time to enter the water. The turquoise waves crashed upon us and left our eyes burning from the salt, but the crisp, cold water was undeniably refreshing after each dive into the waves. Ken and I weren’t sandwiched between other people in the water, but rather, everyone had their own space to aimlessly float on their tubes, or swim with the waves. During our timeouts from the water, Ken and I rested and people-watched. We saw several men, bodies smeared in tanning oil, strutting their stuff along the beach. There were also some scantily-clad women, choosing to dawn petite bathing suits and stiletto heels. In contrast, there were many people who played it safe and wore shirts and shorts over their bathing suits. We saw one young pair of parents who had dressed their delicate daughter in a bee-striped bathing suit, complete with a set of foam, black wings.

The popular Haeundae beach scene cooled down at around six o’clock in the evening, and visitors started to leave. The lifeguards and jet-ski patrols had finished their duties, and were herding swimmers onto the shore. The police patrollers were getting ready for their nightly rounds, making sure that no one was to enter Haeundae’s waters while it was dark. Garbage collectors began to sweep the littered beach, moving quickly to beat the shimmering sunset before the sun gave out completely. Amazingly, almost all of the thousands of parasols and sandy beach mats had been folded up and put away for the night. All of the swim tubes were deflated and piled under a few tarps. By seven ‘o clock, the beach looked impeccable, as if it had been untouched all day.

After drying off in our motel, Ken and I went in search for some good ol’ city grub. Through the salty mist that filled the air, we found a large selection of outdoor cafes, outdoor stands, boisterous bars, seafood restaurants, mouth-watering grills, and several chain restaurants, luring us in with their rich aromas and brightly-lit signs. We treated ourselves to chili-shrimp pasta, a parmesan-crusted, chicken quesadilla and smoothies at TGIF, which amounted to around 40,000 won – the same price as one dish at a seafood restaurant.

However, our night wasn’t over. We worked off our supper by taking a stroll around the beach (so romantic!), and found many little bits of entertainment along the main streets. There were stands set up with mini games, such as scooping up a certain number of fish to win a prize. Ken won me a little stuffed leopard after throwing 32 darts and popping 20 balloons on a wall (to be fair, I threw a few of those darts, and Ken had had a large can of Heineken beer before starting the game). We dubbed our spotted animal, “Dah-teu” in honour of the game from which we had won him.


For the next couple of days, the weather was perfect enough to be outside, but the water was a tad chilly to swim in all day. Our time was filled with romantic walks on the beach, tough geocaches around the area, a hike up to Haeundae’s famous lighthouse, and plenty of movies, beer, and pizza.

Haeundae was everything we had hoped for in a vacation. During those four days, we hadn’t had a care in the world. We soaked in plenty of rest and relaxation, had a blast in the sun and water, and returned to Andeok with amazing tans.

- Jess

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Geocaching with Sunny’s Family

Geocaching has led Jess and I to discover some absolutely beautiful off-the-beaten-path areas during our travels. I could write all day about the benefits of geocaching (everything from exercise to simply spending time with your loved ones), but I’ll save that for some other time. Besides, it’s always better to experience it first-hand.

Jess and I have introduced our hobby to countless people already, and Sunny’s family was more than eager to learn about this mysterious treasure hunt where according to the site (, “You are the search engine.”

We located Andong on the geocaching website, and to our excitement, found a few “caches” located nearby. I let her daughters plug the coordinates into my GPS, and we headed out in search of the elusive treasure boxes.

The first cache was located on a newly-constructed wooden bridge, crossing over a beautiful river on the outskirts of Andong. I had used the trip over to explain to them what they were looking for, so when we arrived, they immediately took off in search of the hidden log book. Once at the approximate site of the geocache (at what we call, “ground zero”), the girls started to poke and prod in every nook and cranny of the bridge. Within minutes, the oldest daughter called out that she had found it! We all crowded around her to glimpse at the contents of the container, and passed around the log book for each person to sign. We took a few group pictures, and headed off in search of the second geocache.

Fueled by the excitement of our first geocache find together, the group persistently marched the 600m climb up the hill to the second geocache. The daughters took turns as GPS navigators, Jess and Sunny scouted, and I busied myself digging through every spider web-filled hole I could find. Sunny’s husband stood off to the side, and watched us on our frantic (and seemingly futile) search. After about fifteen minutes, he casually walked over to a stone wall and pulled on one of the pieces. It slid out to reveal a small hollow chamber with a Tupperware container neatly tucked away inside. He took it out, and stood for a few brief moments with a beaming smile on his face, not quite sure what to do next. His daughters quickly took it from him and opened it up to see what was inside. It contained the usual log book, pen, and geocaching rules, but in addition to these things it also had a trackable “travel bug” which was later logged on the website and mailed to Krystal to hide in Canada (it’s “mission” is to travel as far as possible from geocache to geocache). After we had all signed the logbook, we sealed up the cache and placed it back in its hiding place.

Never a dull moment when you’re out geocaching… especially with great people.

- Ken

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Meeting Sunny’s Family

Certain key factors can either make or break your teaching experience in Korea. One of the most important, in my opinion, is your co-teacher. As Jess wrote about earlier, Korean co-teachers have an extraordinary weight on their shoulders, and are expected to carry it voluntarily.

Sunny, my Korean co-teacher at Gucheon Middle School, has been an absolute pleasure to work with. Her cheery disposition and warm smile always did the trick of cheering me up during the rough patches of my contract. She took every challenge in stride, and never hesitated to go above and beyond the call of her duties. Today was a perfect example of her willingness to help in any situation.

An unusual pain in Jess’ back (don’t worry, it was nothing serious) forced us to make an unplanned trip to the Andong hospital. We gave Sunny a call mid-trip to find out the clinic hours, and she insisted on meeting us at the bus terminal in person.

She greeted us at the terminal with open arms, escorted us to her car, and drove us to the hospital. Along the way, we found out that she initially had dinner plans with the in-laws, but that she was “Dynamic…just like Korea!” She didn’t even think twice about re-shuffling her plans to help us out.

Our hospital “adventure” was slightly chaotic to say the least. To make a long story short, there’s absolutely no way that Jess and I would’ve been able to see a doctor without Sunny’s help. The hospital was a fortress of corridors, side wards, and people bustling around in every direction. Each step of the way, from triage to testing, was a good five minute walk away. Blindly running around the hospital corridors trying to translate each and every sign would’ve been impossible on our own. Luckily, this story has a happy ending. We did what we had to do, and headed out happy and healthy.

Instead of going directly back to the bus terminal, we accepted her offer to visit her apartment and meet her family. Her high-rise was only a few minutes away from the hospital in the quiet outskirts of Andong. There we met her husband and two daughters, and spent the afternoon chatting with them like old friends. Her husband doesn’t speak very much English, but that didn’t stop him from joining in the conversation whenever he had the chance. Her daughters were quite shy at first, but quickly opened up once the conversation started rolling. They were sweet, soft-spoken, and very inquisitive girls with an obvious desire to practice their English conversation skills.

Later in the evening, we all went out for a delicious jjimdak (a very spicy chicken and noodle dish) dinner, and finished the evening off with iced coffee and a movie. After the movie, we returned back to their apartment, and were promptly invited to spend the night. As Sunny prepared one of the girl’s rooms for us, her husband opened up a bottle of wine and pulled out some roasted garlic for us to snack on. We stayed up with them all night talking about our year in Korea and reflecting on some of the best and worst times.

Today started off a bit rough, but it certainly ended on a good note.

- Ken

Friday, 6 August 2010

My Co-Teachers

Over my past year here in Korea, I’ve had seven Korean co-teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both males and females, at the levels of middle and high school.

In the month of March, the beginning of the new school year, there was a turnover of two of my favourite co-teachers.

One of them was my high school co-teacher of my secondary school. She was always eager to help in class, but only ever pitched in when she needed to do so. Luckily enough, she was replaced by a temporary teacher, who had just spent four months in the New Zealand and the Philippines studying English. My new co-teacher treated me like a sister, and we would socialize in English during our lunch break, laughing at jokes that the other Korean teachers couldn’t understand.

The other teacher leaving was my main co-teacher. She had to rotate schools because her five-year teaching period was up at my main school. She was always on top of everything, knew exactly what events were coming up that concerned me, and took care of tasks that dealt with the Regional Offices of Education (all of those fiddly documents that had to be co-signed by varying levels of authority throughout the school). I was the oblivious English teacher, with an awesome co-teacher who took care of me like an adoptive mother.

One of the most drastic changes I encountered this year was the switch-up between my main co-teacher and a new Korean English teacher from Yeongyang. For the first couple of months, I felt as though he didn’t really care an ounce about me. He’d always say, “I’m sorry, but I’m busy with documents,” interrupt me during my classes with his own personal questions, and forget about key documents and events pertaining to EPIK teachers. At first I thought he was negligent, but as I observed him towards the latter of his second month, I saw that he was truly overloaded with paperwork and was seeking the help of other teachers round the clock, trying to familiarize himself with a different school system. Acting as a volunteer Korean co-teacher for the first time would have to wait, coming in second to working long hours to prepare for a new year at a new school.

I keep forgetting that my Korean co-teachers are acting as “volunteers”. They devote their time and effort towards wholly taking care of me, a foreign teacher they know only slightly. Their work is priceless, and it’s easy for me to forget that fact. Unfortunately, with Korean teachers who are new at the role of “co-teacher”, it can be easy to forget tasks-at-hand, misplace documents, or accidentally neglect the foreign English teacher with whom he or she has been partnered. (*Note: If this is happening to you, it will be extremely helpful to know another teacher in the region, just so you can stay on top of deadlines, required documents and EPIK teacher conferences.)

I have to remember that co-teachers are completing duties for two, and that at many times, their work will extend beyond their calling, from hospital visits to all of the ordeals that foreign teachers have to deal with everyday (workplace relationships, arguing with the school administration, issues with cultural differences, broken boilers, etc.). A foreign teacher’s crap becomes his or her co-teacher’s crap.

So, cheers to our co-teachers. Cheers to the ones who are overworked, but still find the time to talk with us, walk with us, work with us, and deal with all of the good and bad experiences that we have, every single day.

- Jess

Sunday, 1 August 2010

My Summer English Camps

On the first day of my Summer English Camp at Andeok School, I was fully prepared for the eight energetic munchkins that were a fraction of my middle school students.

I had prepared plenty of activities for them, with a list of sixteen tiring, but competitive games as fillers. From ‘English Limbo’, ‘Guess the Pyramid’, ‘English Mafia!’ to ‘Family Fued’, my students were continuously active throughout the afternoon, furiously trying to beat each other in a heated game, or working hard on a comprehensive activity to practice their English skills. I rewarded them with a full day of making and cooking pan pizzas. Everything was made from scratch. We made a record of eleven round, mouth-watering pizzas, in just an hour and a half.

My students were a godsend. They were excited enough to come to class everyday, even though there wasn’t any air conditioning in the English room, and they always showed up with the best attitude. I guess that their positive energy gave me the drive I needed to make sure that I had given 100% into making the camp as exciting as it could be. My first week at my main school went off without a hitch.

My second week of camp, this time at my secondary school, turned out even better than I had expected. Except for the first day (where five out of twelve students showed up…I was pretty discouraged), I had my full class of twelve eager students for the rest of the week. Despite the warm rain that was gently tapping on our classroom windows, my students and I made the most of our time indoors, by going on a school-wide treasure hunt, designing and building English games, and drawing colourful, detailed maps of the town. It was a busy, but fulfilling five days.

For the School-Wide Treasure Hunt, I prepared sets of twenty puzzle pieces hidden all over the school grounds. Each team of students had to read the clues on their clue sheet, find the location of the clue, collect the puzzle piece, assemble it with the others, and finally, answer the question on the completed puzzle. I camouflaged the puzzle pieces pretty well, so activity took a total of two hours. It was utterly exhausting to prepare and execute, but it was altogether satisfying in the end.

For two of the days where the downpour was quite ridiculous, my students create maps of their towns (since some of them travel across several towns to attend school), and designed and built their own English games. For the maps, I awarded points towards creative design and labels (roads, buildings, fields, etc.). For the games, I looked at the rules (written in English), how well the game played, and the design. It was amazing to see what the students could create with merely paper, crayons, scissors, and glue.

I rewarded these students with a delectable chocolate cake, drowned in a chocolate glaze. Again, everything was made from scratch. It took quite a while for me to create the recipe, especially since the entire thing had to be cooked in the microwave. Suffice to say, the cake was a success, and all of us were wishing that I had brought with me some milk to complement the velvety chocolate concoction that we had created.

Sometimes English camps can turn into your worst nightmare, but sometimes, with a little careful planning…and a little stress, they can end up being exactly the way you want them to be :).

- Jess