All posts by alana6716

Life in the countryside of South Korea with EPIK

Moving to the middle of nowhere

Adjusting to the countryside in Korea was a process that took me many months to make work for me. When I was placed in Angye-myeong in Uiseong country in the province of Gyeongbuk in October of 2010 I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. When I applied to EPIK through Reach to Teach recruiting I didn’t specifically state whereexactly I wanted to lived. I thought I would be happy living anywhere in Korea.

Upon getting placed and settling into my new apartment my friends in bigger cities were enjoying meals together after work at Mr. Pizza, going to the movies together on Friday nights, and coffee meet ups at Sleepless in Seattle on Tuesdays while I felt stuck in rice paddie land searching for the reason why I was placed in my tiny town in the first place.

Reasoning with myself

One of my first weekends after I had settled in I took the bus up to Seoul to drown myself in all things foreign and wonderful; coffee shops galore, kebabs and Indian curries in Itaewon, endless shopping in  Myeongdong with bright lights and music pumping, and enjoying the subway rides around the city. I loved Seoul but the idea of taking the bus back to Anyge (three and a half hours southeast) sounded unbearable.I was drowning  myself in all the wonderful things that Korea afforded me and returning to the quiet town of Angye made me feel resentful.

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A really nice girl who I know through a friend invited me out with her friends for Thanksgiving celebration in Seoul. Most of the teachers were teaching at hagwons around the city and were super cool. I couldn’t help but feel completely sorry for myself and feeling quite miserable for the place I had to return to on Sunday night as they all talked about the cool places they were discovering around Seoul and how they spent their free time after work.  What was there for me back in Angye? What on earth was the point of a year in the land of makkoli, rice, and a whole lot of nothing?

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Angye (from the rice fields)

Tami became my sounding board and gave me some advice that stuck with me.As I look back six years later this was exactly what I needed to hear. “Focus on your goals for the next year of your life. You are going to save so much money by living there. Learn more about Korean culture and immerse yourself. You can always come to Seoul on the weekends.”

The next morning on my walk to school those words stuck with me over and over again in the back of my mind as I walked past the locals who were practically now my neighbors.
With a new goal in mind that I had to set for myself I had to learn how to adjust and try to enjoy my placement. I had to learn how to get comfortable spending a lot of time on my own during the week. I had to immerse myself in what I did have in my town; places to go for quiet walks to reflect, trying and discovering local restaurants, and making friends with those who lived around me.

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Angye, Gyeongbuk Province, South Korea

Deciding to enjoy my time

First thing I began doing was getting to know my local community. I started learning names of the bank tellers, pharmacists in our only pharmacy in town, and exploring the restaurant scene that offered only Korean fare.During the cold winter months in my first contract I became friendly with one of the restaurant owners who offered me a free Korean dinner if I tutored his daughter for an hour in English. She was very shy but her parents really wanted her to learn English from a foreigner. For about a month plenty of side dishes and bibimbap was waiting for me on the table and I couldn’t believe that all of that food for for me. I started to realize that as humble an offer as this was it wasn’t worth my time to sit for an hour with the owners daughter who wasn’t interested in learning in the first place and me talking to her. Nevertheless, that was worth the experience though.
Passing by a large chicken coup one day I spotted a beautiful dog who started following me to school one day and back to my apartment after passing by the shop. I soon fell in love with this beautiful creature. The obstacle of not being able to converse with the owner all seemed to fade away because she accepted me and seemed to enjoy my company. She was a widow and always invited me in especially during the cold winter months. Soon to follow however was to find out after being home on vacation in the USA for a month was that this animal friend of mine was run over by a car. I will always remember the kindness and commitment to sticking by me that this creature showed me.

img_1480Acceptance is key
Being immersed in my local community familiarized me with all I had to be thankful for. As small as Angye was I held deep gratitude for a safe community where locals recognized me and invited me often to share a snack. One afternoon walking through the local market after work I heard my name being called through the crowd. I turned around and one of my students had a big box of strawberries for me. “This is for you, teacher.” I will never forget how that moment made me feel and I will carry it with me forever. Sometimes in our lives we are called to do something we aren’t ready for and unwilling to accept. Find the quiet time when you are called and accept it graciously.

Why it’s better to travel alone

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Dragon Tiger Tower, Taiwan

Traveling alone makes me feel like I am in control of what I want to see, explore, eat, and do all at my own pace. Wanderlust is something that has taken control over me ever since I took my first trip abroad to Mexico at the ripe age of seventeen with my  best friend. Since then I have explored more than forty countries on every continent except for Antarctica.

I can say that I have traveled a lot by myself in the past six years. Bali, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and  South Africa. Many of the other countries I visited were on my cruise ship with shore excursions and friends. The travel I did on my own taught me so much about self reliance, how to read a map, figuring out the public transportation system (trains, buses, high speed rail), trusting my instincts, and being guided by my own natural intuition.

Top reasons for why you should travel solo NOW !

  • Build your problem solving skills
  • Learn to navigate the public transportation routes
  • Eat and dine whenever you want
  • No negotiation because you aren’t in a group
  • Mingle with more people at your own pace
  • More flexibility for last minute changes
  • See more, Do more!
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Taking a rest of cycling in Kyoto, Japan

Look. Traveling solo isn’t for everyone but it is something you should try at least once in your life when planning to see new places. Some people feel funny sightseeing alone and looking at magnificent places without someone special along side them but you don’t have to look at it that way. For me there is nothing more celebrating than making plans of places I want to visit without negotiating with others along the way. “What time do you want to eat? What do you want to do next? What do you want to do tomorrow? Do we have enough time there? Well if you don’t want to go there, I will go and meet you later” I seriously cannot imagine having these conversations when I travel because it will just complicate my plans and ideas. Trust me that you will meet really cool people during your travels. Once you take those baby steps and prepare your trip you will look back and realize that traveling alone was the wisest decision you have made. And in the case that it’s not for you at least it’s something you can add to your list of things you did in your life that you learned from that you can share with others!

 

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Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali

 

 

My personal travel style: super ‘travel’ savvy

A local kimbap shop in rural South Korea

My personal travel style would have to be titled “travel savvy” while still being on a budget. Enjoying local foods, cafes, markets all at the local level instead of finding “western” places. When I am traveling I cannot afford to plunge into expensive hotels however I steer very far from backpackers and cheap hostels to my favorite, airbnb.. Let me explain.

There are a lot of places to see in the world. There are a lot of things that I have done and more that I want to do. With that said, whenever I am traveling I find unique ways to cut back on travel costs while still traveling in comfort while enjoying all that’s around me. Let me give you a perfect example.

Two years ago I spent a week in New South Wales, Australia on my own and my main focus was Hunter Valley and seeing the Blue Mountains. First thing first I did a little research on public transportation in that area. Renting a car, organizing a private tour and hiring a taxi was out of the question. In the Sydney Tourist Information Center they actually recommended me joining a tour but when I found out what that would cost me I refused. I knew there was a much cheaper way.

I began my adventure in Sydney Central Train station with a one way ticket booked to Katoomba which was roughly a two hour train ride through gorgeous scenery and mountains before reaching my final destination. The train ticket cost me no more than 20$ Australian dollars. I pre booked a youth hostel ( but now I always travel with Airbnb) that had good reviews right in town near the train station and a two day hop on hop off red bus that toured me all around the Blue Mountains regions. Two days was the perfect amount of time to see all of the beautiful highlights that this region had to offer.  My rule of thumb is to always compare my dining options and find the best deal to get the most for my “bucks”.

I never cut back my spending on foods to eat a cup of noodles or cheap snacks instead of local meals to save a couple bucks. However, you will see me eating in s super fancy type restaurant. Instead what I do is sort out all of my options of places to dine locally by asking around and using tripadvisor to steer me in the right direction. As a lover of food and fresh ingredients I absolutely love trying all the foods that are native to where I am visiting.

Do you travel on a tight budget? What kinds of goods do you find your cutting back on? What do you not mind spending money on?  I would love to know!