Friday Introductions: That time I lived in Korea

Hi guys! It’s Friday again so guess what that means? It’s time for another Friday Introduction!

Today I’m excited to share with you guys a really special place in my heart. KOREA! I know you’re thinking Korea?! That’s odd! But I promise it’s a good story!

DISCLAIMER- Please excuse the horrible photos! Circa 2011/2012 before my days as a photographer and mostly taken on a phone! Haha, these in no way reflect my abilities these days!

In 2011 after I graduated from the University of FL I decided I want to live abroad and teach English. I has hoped to do that via the Peace Corps. I applied during college, interviewed and was accepted to teach English in Georgia (the country). Unfortunately that year Congress cut funding for the PC and by the time I was graduating, the “non essential” programs had been canceled and my offer to teach was rescinded. So instead I set my sights on a private job teaching somewhere in Asia! Korea already happened to be one of my top choices. My step- mom is actually half Korean so I’ve had a lot of Korean culture (and food!) in my life from my grandma. So I applied to be a teacher, was accepted, certified in TEFL and by the end of the year I was on my way to Incheon, South Korea to start my new job!

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I packed my bags and moved half way across the world, not knowing anyone, not knowing much about my job and never having taught anyone anything before in my life! Luckily, Korea is one the best places to teach English as a foreign teacher. They highly regard teachers in Korean culture and English is highly regarded in the curriculum. Every public school in Korea had (at the time) a “native” English teacher.

I was assigned to an elementary school on the outskirts of Korea’s 3rd largest city, Incheon. I was provided an apartment, dropped off one evening and expected to figure it out.. including getting to work the following day! Needless to say it was nerve wracking, scary and totally intimidating. To answer a much asked question- NO, I do not speak Korean! I did end up learning some basic conversational things, but at the time, I knew only thank you and please!

View from apartment in Sorae, South Korea

View from apartment in Sorae, South Korea

My neighborhood was a fishing village. This is a photo of the fish market with apartments behind it.

My neighborhood was a fishing village. This is a photo of the fish market with apartments behind it.

To make a long story short, in the end, I fell madly in love with my job as an English teacher! I taught grades 3-6 and had a play group with kindergarten. With the help of a Korean co-teacher, I taught English lessons every day for several periods to the different grades. I also was responsible for after school classes, summer and winter school. Words can’t describe how amazing it was to work with these kids! It was often challenging, exhausting and frustrating but watching them learn and grow and bonding with them over the year was the highlight of my time in Korea. I loved my job so much that I almost stayed another year!

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Other highlights of my time in Korea include traveling around the country- which is INCREDIBLY beautiful by the way- visiting the DMZ, eating A LOT of Korean food, drinking A LOT of soju (Korean saki), singing a bit of karaoke, and experiencing my first white Christmas! See more below:

Visiting A LOT of temples

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Visiting the DMZ

The DMZ has several “tourist” sites. We visited all of them. The first was a visitors center and museum that included a tour of one of the tunnels that’s been uncovered between North and South Korea. The tunnel is currently closed (by South Korea) but it is know that there are hundreds of similar tunnels that have been dug between N & S (by the N). These tunnels are part of a plan to attack Seoul by force if needed.

Another of the DMZ sites is an observation tower (below). You can walk up an look out at the North in the distance. There is a line drawn on the floor that you can not pass with a camera or phone (that is why the photos is taken from where I’m standing). If you want a close look into the North you can use the telescopes provided.

There is also a site near the DMZ of a train station. This station is new and shiny and never been used. It is the symbol of the future. There is a train line that runs between Pyongyang (NK capital) and Seoul (SK capital). It exists but obviously, does not run. You can purchase a symbolic ticket to Pyongyang.

The final and in my opinion most amazing and humbling way to experience the DMZ is to actually stand face to face with North Korea. A select group of daily visitors can enter into the United Nations neutral zone and Camp Bonifas. It’s here that you are briefed on the current political situation and the jobs of the soldiers stationed here. The camp is manned by South Korean, US and UN soldiers. It is here that your are taken to the actual line of demarcation. You are told to walk out single file, line up and listen to the commander. You can take photos but you are not allowed to talk, smile and make any hand gestures. Staring back at you is North Korea and North Korean soldiers. It is truly one of the most thrilling things I have ever experienced!

Outside the main DMZ “visitor center”

Outside the main DMZ “visitor center”

Looking into North Korea at an observation deck

Looking into North Korea at an observation deck

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Face to Face with North Korea

Face to Face with North Korea

North Korean building and soldier

North Korean building and soldier

The line of demarcation is that cement line you see on the ground in the middle. We were told we were being video taped by NK. The SK soldiers were not allowed to move from this “neutral” stance for their entire shift.

The line of demarcation is that cement line you see on the ground in the middle. We were told we were being video taped by NK. The SK soldiers were not allowed to move from this “neutral” stance for their entire shift.

Seeing a very extensive and beautiful lantern festival

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Going to Global Gathering music festival in Seoul and seeing Yolanda Be Cool in concert

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Visiting Busan, among many other beautiful places in Korea!

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Singing just a tad bit of karaoke

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Seeing the cherry blossoms bloom

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Seeing Lady Gaga in concert in Seoul

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Spending a lot of time trying to navigate this giant city - SEOUL!

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Visiting the countryside and more temples!

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Seeing the beautiful coastline and visiting Jeju Island (Korea’s “Hawaii”)

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And last but not least - Having my first white Christmas!

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That’s a lot but just a glimpse into the year I spent living and working Korea. It was the most challenging place I have ever lived or visited but was one of the best decisions and experiences of my life. I know my time there helped to shape who I am today. Living abroad is one of the best decisions for anyone (in my opinion!). Getting out of your comfort zone, being lost, scared, nervous, learning to communicate without language, learning a new language, making friends from new cultures and living in a culture so very difficult from what you know will grow and shape you into a more conscious human being. Go out there! DO IT!

Feel free to ask me any questions about my time in Korea!

Jessica Moody