Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Learning how to teach is dangerous

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I am currently at teacher orientation in Seoul.  It's meant for all of the teachers who are part of EPIK (English Program In Korea) from across the country.  It's been a great way to get to know people and make new friends to visit in the coming year.

First and foremost, it's been a really great way to learn how to teach ESL.  Each day, we've had great lectures on everything from how to plan a lesson, to how to work with co-teachers, to how to do a great power point presentation & game.  I've found it all immensely interesting and informative.  (I certainly hope that I feel the same way in the coming weeks!)  Some teachers at the orientation have already been here teaching in their schools for a few weeks, but for whatever reason or another were only able to do the orientation now.  That means they went into their teaching jobs without any formal instruction from the Korean government. It's all sink or swim.  I feel grateful that I am not in their shoes.

But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and so our long days of lectures are sporadically mixed with a bit of fun.  We got to watch a group of professional taekwondo-ers do some pretty amazing jumps, kicks and board breaks.  On tuesday, we got to try our hand at the same thing, although to a far less spectacular fashion.

I even did something I never in my life thought I'd be able to do.  I broke a wooden board.  Yes, a real, solid  wooden board.  What's that you say? Pics or it didn't happen?

We had to write down our wish for our time in Korea on our boards.  If we broke it, our wish would be granted.  I cut mine straight down the middle.  BAM!  I still might not be a black belt, but I think this officially makes me some one not to mess with! ;-)

***As a side note to Dan, Taekwondo means: "Tae" bottom half (kicking, jumping, running), "Kwon" top half (punching, striking), "do" philosophy of martial arts, a balance.  Homework complete!***

Sunday, April 21, 2013


안녕하세요 (hello) from Korea!

After a wonderful vacation in some amazing places with Fabian, I have now arrived in Seoul Korea to start my orientation.

But before I tell you about my arrival here, I'll wrap up the last few days we had in Istanbul.  On our "bazaar" day, we haggled hard and got some pretty Turkish style plates and of course the requisite magnet (for me) and shot glass (for Fabian).  After our shopping day, we took a $2 ferry ride to the Asian side of Istanbul and enjoyed wandering the interesting street markets.  So now Fabian can say that's he's been to Asia and we can both say that we've been to a rare intercontinental city.  Check that off the bucket list!  The following day we visited Topkapi palace, which was interesting, but I think Fabian thought it was better than I did.  We also explored the modern and trendy Beyoglu area, and took a lovely tour of the Bosphorus. On our final day together, we checked out the beautiful Cora church and ancient city walls before we met up with two of Fabian's friends from Ottawa who are currently posted at the Embassy in Ankara.

Despite the wonderful time we had together in both Istanbul and Switzerland, it was so, so, SO hard to say goodbye to my Fabian at the airport.  As expected, I cried.  Alot.  I had to apologize to the girl sitting next to me on the plane for crying so much.  But, mixed with the tears was a sense of excitement and pride.  This is what I wanted to do: live in a new city, a new country.  Mixed with fear and nerves, was joy that I am living my dream.

Touring the Bosphorus - I miss you already, my love!

Fresh off the plane from Turkey.  Anyonghaseyo Korea!

So far, I have to say the experience has been great!  Once again the flight with Turkish Airlines was great (I guess there is a reason they have been voted twice as Europe's best airline), my bags arrived intact and my clearance through customs was quick and painless.  I had a driver waiting to pick me up at the airport and brought me straight to the orientation center.  I arrived as the welcome dinner was in full swing, but I wanted to change and take a quick shower to freshen up before meeting all my fellow teachers.  So, I found my roommate, a nice Irish girl, so I could get into our room and sort out my things.  She invited me to join her and some of the other teachers for a drink at a local bar, and I gladly went so that I could get to know people.  Why not since I wasn't all that tired?

The bar we went to had a "self service" feature where they had all the bottled drinks in fridges and you just got what you wanted and paid for everything when you left.  Pretty handy, although my drink wasn't really all that cheap ($6 for a vodka cooler)...maybe I'll stick with soju from now on since it's supposedly much cheaper!

Here in the orientation center they seem to try to give us newbies a "gentle welcome" to the country.  The breakfast this morning was very western (bacon and eggs) and there's even a "north american style" outlet in my room!  I also haven't seen any kimchi yet.  The water taps are opposite from ours (push the tap down rather than up to turn on), but aside from that, everything's pretty much the same as here.

Every one's been very helpful and friendly and welcoming and I've had a chance to talk with a number of teachers who've been here for a while and it has calmed a lot of my worried and makes me even more excited about this experience.

Today's first item of the day was the full-on medical check (everything from hearing and eyesight, to blood and urine tests and xrays), and in a short time we have the official opening ceremony for this orientation week.  It promises to be a great way to start my time in Korea!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The pre-adventure adventure

When my trip to Korea started to take shape last November, I immediately started to look at flights to get me there.  As a neurotic planner and travel nut, it is in my nature to start researching flights and trips as early as possible, always trying to find the best deal and the most exciting route!  When I came across a fantastic deal with Turkish Airways, which would not only cost me less than my flight allowance budget, but would also permit me a stopover in Istanbul (a whole new city and country to visit), I was chomping at the bit!  I spoke to Fabian about my find, and we decided why not make a holiday out of it so that we can make a quick stop in Switzerland to visit his family (a mere 2.5 hour flight away) and spend a few days exploring the city together?  One of his great passions in life is history, so to experience the richness of this ancient city is definitely in his "Top 10" list of places to visit.

And so, here we are!  9 days into our 12 day trip through Europe (and part of Asia)!  Sadly, that means we only have another 3 days together before we see each other again in January - a very long and lonely 8 months from now (SAD FACE!) :'-(  But, we've tried to make the most of our time together.  As mentioned, we were able to spend almost a week visiting his family and friends in Switzerland which was wonderful.  This was my second time meeting his family, and they are just as nice as the first time I met them last year - maybe even nicer! :-)  We had many laughs playing games with his mother, sister and nieces (I can't recommend Mow enough as a great game for all ages), a wonderful night with many of his oldest and dearest friends, and of course, ate more delicious food than I probably should have!

We also made a special effort to do some wedding planning.  We have decided that given our mutual love of the mountains, we would get married in Switzerland!  Details are still not firmed up, but we're aiming for summer of 2015, which would give us time to save money and plan together after I get back from Korea.  We met with a wedding planner, and looked a few venue sites, so things are promising and moving along well for now.  Given that we're so far from the date and we have a lot of other things on our mind now (like travelling and my move to another country), we'll be able to sort things out in the weeks to come.  Having spent the day driving through the beautiful, mountainous area of Valais though is always a pleasure.  How can it not be when you have a great view like this while drinking your chocolate milk?

The "black triangle-shaped" mountain in the middle is the Matterhorn!

We arrived yesterday in Istanbul and immediately hit up the shops for many free samples of Baklava and Turkish delight.  The weather has been pretty cold, grey and windy, but this is easily remedied by eating more free samples of Baklava and Turkish delight.  I have been pleasantly surprised by the food here in Turkey.  Having been to the sole Turkish restaurant in Ottawa only once, I didn't think there would be so much great food.  But so far, I've really enjoyed our meals.  Another not so pleasant surprise I've found being here is that the cost of things are higher than I'd thought they'd be.  That's not to say that things are necessarily expensive (after coming from Switzerland, nothing is "really expensive"), but they're much more comparable to prices in Canada, which, for whatever reason, I didn't expect.

Regardless, we've had a good day and a half so far, and have seen the whirling dervishes, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Baslisica Cisterne, and the Hippodrome.  

The view from our room at the wonderful Sultan Hill Hotel

Inside the amazing Hagia Sophia - unfortunately half the room was blocked off for renos, so it was only half as amazing as it could have been, which is still pretty amazing!

The eerily beautiful Basilica Cistine

Outside the Blue Mosque

We also went for the required Turkish bath, one must experience at least once in a lifetime.  It was really quite something.

Tomorrow is "Bazaar day", where we will visit both the Grand and the Spice bazaars.  I really look forward to seeing all the colours and smelling all the strange and wonderful scents...and eating all the free samples of baklava and turkish delights!

Monday, April 8, 2013

A farewell to home

Today is the big day!  Today is the day that I leave Ottawa for the next 14 months!  Filled with excitement, nerves and the worry that I've forgotten to do something, I've been up since 4am.  After a 5 hour packing session on Friday, I am ready to go, but as always, I have that dreaded "I feel like I forgot..." feeling.  Of course, all of my to do lists items are checked off, but I suppose it's inevitable.  Today, Fabian and I will take trains, planes and automobiles to get us to our first stop on my journey to Korea: Switzerland!  (yes, I'm taking the long way 'round)  Stay tuned for beautiful mountain scenery!

This past weekend was filled with both tears and joy.  In addition to it being my last weekend in Ottawa, it was also my 30th birthday.  Both of these reasons were, of course, enough for celebration, but add on my recent engagement, and you've got yourself a great happy birthday/going away/engagement party!  I am grateful to the 40 or so friends who came out to celebrate with me!  I will miss them all very much!  In particular, I am thankful to my Fabian for helping organize the event, and to my great friends Allison and Chris, without whom the party would not have been as awesome as it was!  A highlight of the night for many was the photo booth that was set up.  Thanks to Allison's seemingly bottomless tickle-trunk, many great moments were captured!  See for yourself:

A night full of laughs, and even a couple "special guests"!

Gangnam style! 

Lucky me, even Psy made an appearance!

With the good, must come the bad, I'm afraid.  I cried many times this weekend while saying goodbye to so many special and important people - my mom and family who came up for a birthday brunch, and my many friends. I know I will see them all again soon, but it's always hard to say goodbye.  Thank God for Skype!  I'm not convinced I would be able to do this adventure without technology.

As I take this next step in my journey, I have thought about some of the things I feel that I will miss.  Obviously my family and friends are at the top of the list, but I realized the other day that I will also miss some of the even more basic things of my life like asking a shop keeper where to find a particular item.  I don't know how to say "where's the toothpaste?" in Korean.  Or sitting in a waiting area and understanding what people around me are saying.  These are the things I both look forward to experiencing and dread all at the same time.  It's a strange feeling.  And of course, the food.  I will miss our food.  Sure, I like bulgogi and bibimbap, but those that know me well, know that when I love a certain dish, I stick with it. Sadly, there will be no midnight poutines in Korea.

I will miss my home here in Ottawa, with its history and culture and small town feel, with big city amenities, but I know I will be back.  In the meantime, I am excitedly looking forward to new views, new places and new experiences!