Being Environmentally Friendly in Korea

To be honest I’ve never really been someone who was overly aware or concerned with environmental issues when we were back in the UK. It just wasn’t something I thought about. Since living in Korea, however, a combination of things has resulted in Jod and I thinking a lot more about our environmental footprint and the impact our actions have on the wider world around us.

Part of it is probably down to the fact that we have to be much more aware of how and what we recycle (Korea is awesome in this respect!) as there are strict sorting rules for all trash including pastic, paper, glass, metal and food waste. If you’re trash isn’t sorted correctly, the bin men won’t take it. Simple as. Plus, trash bags here are clear so if you’re trying to sneak a banana peel or milk carton in with your non-recycleable waste, they’ll know and will leave you an angry note and possibly a fine.

Another part of our change in mindset is due to having a lot more time on our hands than we did back home. We have hours between classes that we can fill watching documentaries like Cowspiracy, After the Spill and Blue Planet 2. Coupled with a wider interest in international news now that we live abroad, we’ve definitely been thinking a lot more about taking responsibility for our own actions when it comes to the wider world.

Although Korea’s recycling programme is excellent, the fact that China recently decided to stop processing so much plastic for recycling from around the world means that we need to use less plastic altogether. Recycling should really be the last option before landfil! Here are a few ways we’ve cut down on our plastic use here in Korea.

Straws

Every single drink in Korea seems to come with a disposable straw, wether that’s in a convenience store, cafe or restaurant. We used to buy at least 2 iced coffees every morning on our way to school (it’s been averaging around 34 degrees every day…) and would throw the straws away without thinking about it. All the news articles about Starbucks pledging to remove  disposable straws  made me look into the issue a bit more. I had no idea that straws are often too light to be effectively picked up in recycling processes so many end up in the ocean where they can irreprably damage marine life. We bought some stainless steel straws and now keep two in our bags, and two at home so that we can sip our iced coffee in comfort wherever we are, without worrying about disposable straws ending up in the noses of sea turtles.

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Reusable Bottles/Cups

As well as plastic straws, drinks in korea always come in disposable, takeaway-style cups, even if you’re sitting in a cafe. There also seems to be a misconception that the tap water isn’t safe to drink here. In a 2015 survey, only 10% of Koreans said they regularly drink tap water and we see huge crates of bottled water being delivered to other apartments in our building. Not only is the cost of always drinking bottled water incredibly high, it’s also terrible for the environment as plastic water bottles take hundreds of years to break down. It’s also completely unncessary as tap water here is completely safe to drink! It actually undergoes more rigorous monitoring and benchmarking than tap water in the US (see previous link). If you’re really concerned you can obviously use something like a water filter jug that are easily available here, but we don’t bother with that.

We keep a stainless steel jug in the fridge filled up with tap water at all times so that it’s nice and cold whenever we want a drink, and we carry reusable water bottles around with us so that we don’t have to purchase bottled water when we’re out and about. There are always water fountains in parks and on hiking trails here so filling them up is no problem. We’ve also got thermos bottles for keeping our coffee hot in the winter, and can use these at coffee shops like Starbucks, Holly’s, Ediya and any other takeout coffee place.

CSA Vegetable Box

One of the things that we noticed straight away on moving here is the amount of plastic that’s used in fruit and vegetable packaging. For instance, in our local convenience store, a single banana comes on a polystyrine tray covered in cling film… it’s mind boggling! Our local supermarkets also package up all fresh produce to an astronishingly pointless degree, and the only place we can get (some) plastic-free fruit and veg is the closest LotteMart (about a ten minute bus ride away). It’s obviously a bit of a pain for us to bring back loads of stuff on the bus, especially if it’s busy, so we managed to find an alternative solution.

The Gachi CSA from Veggiehill is an organic vegetable delivery box that arrives at your house once a week. There’s no plastic, everything’s in season and you can add on fruit and eggs too if you like – although that takes the cost of a couples box from a reasonable £20 per week to £45! I wasn’t kidding when I said in a previous entry that fruit is EXPENSIVE here.

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Toiletries

K-beauty is a huge trend around the world and the amount of makeup/haircare/toiletries available here is enough to make anyone’s jaw drop. Sadly though, it does tend to come with a ridiculous amount of plastic packaging that often can’t be reused as anything useful. To combat this, we’ve switched over from shower gel and our usual smellies to bar soap (this one, from L’Occitane), bar shampoo (this one, from Lush) and bar conditioner (this one, again from Lush). We’re also planning to switch to bamboo toothbrushes this week as soon as I get chance to make an iHerb order, as we haven’t been able to find any in shops over here.

…And that’s just the start of the changes we’ve been making.We still have a long way to go to reduce our waste and our future plans include things like re-using shipping boxes in craft projects with kids at school, getting some muslin cloths so that I don’t need to use cotton rounds to take off my makeup, making or puchasing eco-friendly cleaning products when ours run out, getting a tofu press  so that we don’t need to use paper towels and transitioning to a more plant-based diet. Watch this space!

A Whirlwhind Weekend in Jeju

Last weekend we were lucky enough to go on a weekend trip to Jeju island with our co-worker Youri’s hiking group. You might remember the group from our day trip to Sinsido back in March. We said at the time that it was our favorite day ever since arriving in Korea and so we knew going into this trip that we were going to have an amazing time surrounded by warm and friendly people. There were a few things making me nervous though as we pretty much didn’t know anything in advance such as where exactly we were staying, how we were getting there, how difficult the hike would be, or anything really…

Youri had invited us along almost 3 months ago so we had been looking forward to the weekend for a long time and had already paid our KRW150,000 each (£105). With everything accounted for in this price including all food, drinks, transport and two nights accomodation it was an insainly good deal as we’ve heard Jeju is usually very pricy. I take my hat off to Youri and her husband for organising everything for over 40 people at such a great price, I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been!

We started the weekend by meeting up at a park in Sangmu at about 9.45pm on the Friday and were greeted by huge smiles from Youri and her husband as well as tons and tons of boxes which they explained were full of snacks and beer for the trip. By 10pm everybody had arrived and we all boarded our coach (disco bus – check out those lights!) and set off for Mokpo. It took just under an hour to get there and we passed the time listening to music and to speeches given by various members of the hiking group… all in Korean so we were pretty clueless but we made sure to try and clap/cheer at the right points!

At the Mokpo ferry terminal we were each given a bag of snacks and our tickets for the overnight ferry and I noticed mine and Jod’s both said “room 303” on. I thought that was strange as Youri had said we would be split into men and women in the accomodation and I was expecting dormitary style rooms with bunkbeds for some reason. We boarded the ship which was kind of like a small, old-style cruise ship with a restaurant, shop, arcade, karaoke room, bakery and all sorts of other things to see.

Following the rest of the group along one of the corridors we were surprised to see everyone take off their shoes and then pile on in through a huge opening covered with a curtain into a big room with no furniture, but lockers along one wall. It turns out tonight we would be sleeping all together in here, full clothed just curled up on the floor! This was so much fun for us as we had never done anything like this before and I was really excited for a new experience (heads up – this trip was full of them!), although a bit worried about how tired we would both be tomorrow for the hike…

We dumped our bags and heard an announcement saying that the ship was about to depart – it was around 12.30am. Some of our group bedded down right away and others headed up to the top deck for some food and drinks. We followed them up and enjoyed delicious fried chicken (Korean fried chicken is seriously the best, it’s ALWAYS crispy) and an ice cold beer. Being Korea in June it was still warm outside even at that time of night and with the ocean breeze, and it was lovely to get into the holiday spirit. I was pretty tired by this point as I’d been up since 5am and we’d been at work all day so Jod nipped back to the room with me and helped me set up a makeshift bed out of my backpack and jacket, and then went back upstairs to carry on the party. I popped my headphones in and was surprisingly out like a light. The room was pretty dark even with the curtain rather than a full door, and I didn’t hear people coming in and out throughout the night. It definitely helps that Korea is so ridiculously safe so I didn’t feel worried at all about having all of our stuff out in the open, like I might have done if we were somewhere else.

At 5am the lights in the room were turned on which woke me up and I stumbled to the bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth and change into my hiking stuff. It was crazy busy in there but I managed to freshen myself up and was feeling quite human and pretty excited when I got back to the room. I can’t say the same for Jod though, he required a bit more persuasian before waking up and getting ready!

I hadn’t felt the ship moving at all the whole time we were aboard which was a relief as I definitely didn’t want to start the weekend with motion sickness! I suffered from it really badly when we rode a coach to Busan the month before so I had taken the precaution of taking some travel sickness medicine the night before and it worked a treat. If anyone in Korea is considering going to Jeju for the weekend I really can’t recommend the ferry enough. Prices are so cheap compared to flying, you save on the cost of a nights accomodation and you can even get a private room if that’s more your thing – a basic twin is KRW131,000/£90 between two of you, not bad at all.

By about 5.45 we were off the ship and on our way to our first stop – breakfast. We piled into a traditional Korean restaurant just after 6am, pretty much filling the place just with our group. We were greeted with baskets of lettuce, smoked fish, black pork skewers and various banchan like dried fish, different types of kimchi, egg-battered tofu and more. We also had rice, soup and grilled fish which I found really difficult to get the bones out of with my chopsticks in what would become a recurring trope of the weekend. There was SO MUCH food which we struggled with a bit, not being used to eating a meal like that so early in the day, but we did our best as it was definitely needed to fuel what would come next.

We drove towards our main destination for the day – Hallasan National Park. The focal point of the park is Mount Halla – a shield volcano and the tallest mountain in South Korea at 1,950m (twice the size of Scafell Pike). As we got closer the mountain really loomed large on the landscape and looked very impressive indeed. We checked the weather forecast on our phones and were relieved to see that the temperature would only reach around 24 degrees rather than the 30 we had been expecting. We arrived at the coach park, put our lunch in our backpacks, had a last-minute dash to the loo, snapped some photos with the group and then we were off at about 7.50am.

I was really pleased that the steepest and most difficult  part of the hike was first and was through a forest. That meant lots of shade and lots of beautiful birdsong to keep us distracted, and the comforting thought that once this part was done, the rest would be easy! With so many people in the group we all headed up at different speeds. Jod and I ended up reasonably near the front of the pack and settled into our own pace. It turns out Jod’s pace was quite a bit quicker than mine though as after the first twenty minutes or so I lost sight of him and I also couldn’t see anybody behind me. That meant the climb was really peaceful and I didn’t have to worry about anybody hearing my huffing and puffing, that is until a literal mini-train of people zoomed up past me through the forest, why did nobody tell me there was a ride to the top?!

We were again really impressed with how mantained the trail was, there were lots of handrails for the really steep parts and 99% of the first hour was up stone or wooden steps. While that was good for getting in a rhythm, just imagine climbing up a really steep staircase for an hour…. ouch. I was beginning to understand why Korean people wear their head-to-toe long sleeved hiking outfits made from technical fabrics. I had splashed out on a pair of hiking pants for the trip (even accidentally haggling the price down by 50% due to a communication error) and they were so comfortable and cool. My top half was a different story, however. I was wearing a regular vest top with a hooded jacket over the top. I didn’t take the jacket off for the whole hike as I didn’t want to get sunburnt or bitten which meant the back of my vest top ended up wringing wet through. I was SO sweaty and gross! Still beats the sunburn Jod got just wearing a teeshirt though…

We met up at the point where the trail changed from red to orange on the map and enjoyed a drink from a cold mountain spring – bliss! The next hour or so felt amazing after the first part, like a walk in the park. We were out of the forest now and  it really didn’t feel as if we were so high up. We mostly walked together except for one part where Jod raced on ahead and two old Korean men each took me by the hand and shouted after him “Hey you! Don’t forget your wife!” and scolded him for leaving me – hilarious! They were so cute and were asking us all about where we were from and what we thought about Korea and did we like kimchi…ha!

At about 10am we reached a mega impressive rest stop with bathrooms, sleeping rooms, tons of benches and places to sit. We found the other few members of our group who had already arrived and sat down to chill with some drinks. Of course in Korea you can’t drink without anju (snacks) so a couple of the guys whipped out their pen knives and chopped up a few whole cucumbers for us to share, which I just thought was the funniest thing. We waited in the sun for the rest of our group and just after 11am everyone had arrived. We opened our lunches which were doshirak boxes with hotdogs, kimchi, dumplings, vegetable pancakes, cherry tomatoes and other bits and bobs along with boxes of rice. We ate up and then just carried on relaxing, chatting and enjoying the atmosphere – Koreans sure know how to hike. Jod even had a nap for about half an hour although I did have to keep waking him up to put more suncream on!

Finally at about 12.20 we started our descent, down the other side of the mountain. It was so beautiful and the views of the valleys beneath us filled with clouds and lush, green vegetation reminded me of something from the land before time or jurassic park – my photos really don’t do it any justice at all. I remember thinking I was really glad we didn’t come up this way as although quicker it was steep steps right from the top almost all the way down and the people we passed coming up in the midday sun looked like they were having a bloody hard time of it!

The very last km or so was back though the forest and as we crossed little babbling brooks, saw the sun streaming through the trees and even found a cute little cat lying lazily next to a tin of tuna I was saying to Jod how happy I was and what a great time I was having being outside and seeing all this beautiful nature. Literally about 5 seconds later I was distracted as I was taking a step and went right over on my ankle. The pain was instant, shooting through me and I was sobbing on the floor before I even really knew what had happened. I’ve gone over on my ankle loads of times as I have zero balance (evidence: still can’t ride a bike at the age of 26) and was even congratulating myself in my head earlier that day on how well I was doing to negotiate all the steps so well without incident. Not so.

Straight away a really kind Korean man ran up from behind us, crouched on the floor with me, rolled my sock down and started liberally spraying my ankle with some kind of ice spray. At the same time, his wife was gesturing to Jod to help me sit on the edge of the step so that my trousers wouldn’t get dirty, Korean people really are the sweetest. I could tell it was a bad sprain and I was feeling so pathetic and crap for ruining things and really trying to stop ugly-crying before anyone in our group came across us. We waved the Korean couple on their way and they were nice enough to leave the can of ice spray with us which I thought was so lovely. After a couple of minutes Jod helped me up and I hobbled the last half km to the carpark leaning on him. It was absolute agony to put weight on my left foot and it had already started to swell and bruise.

We waited to meet the rest of our party in the carpark and in that time I managed to pull myself together and stop crying. It had started to feel a bit numb by this point and I was just trying to think really positively and not let it ruin the rest of the trip. I’m writing this a week later and while the swelling has mostly gone down, there are big purple and yellow bruises on both sides of my foot and it’s still pretty sore! I didn’t really rest it for days afterwards so that’s probably why, but at least it wasn’t broken.

Once everyone was back on the coach, our next port of call was a small beach front with a stall selling fresh seafood. Youri said that the famous Jeju female divers dove around here which was very exciting!

Some of our group headed into a tent to enjoy some of the seafood. We tried some special soju that’s made in Jeju and shared some plates with all kinds of…things. Haha I have no idea what anything was except for the octopus which I really enjoyed. Whatever the orange thing was nice too although I definitely wasn’t a fan of the seaweed, it tasted to me like when you’re swimming in the sea and accidentally open your mouth. Jod and I would never have been brave enough to order anything like this if we were on our own and the chance to try stuff so fresh out of the ocean was brilliant.

I just remembered too, we were sitting in the tent at picnic tables and at one point everyone on one side stood up and the table nearly capsized! I really thought I was going to end up on the floor again.

After the seafood we were treated to some iced coffees by a nice chap from the hiking group (much appreciated in the heat) and then were back on the bus to head to our hotel. We stayed at the Raja Tourist Hotel and were split into groups of four for our room allocation. Youri, two other ladies and I went up in the elevator to our room and I don’t know why after the ferry but I was really surprised that there were no beds! There was a regular bathroom, dressing table, mini bar fridge, TV, wardrobe, etc, but no beds. I thought originally that these rooms were cheaper because the hotel doesn’t have to wash any bedding or anything but it turns out there were matress pads, duvets and pillows in the wardrobed for us to make our own little floor-beds, so I’ve got no idea. Either way it was another fun first for us!

We had showers, got changed, watched some TV (all in Korean, obviously, so I haven’t the foggiest what was going on) and then all met up back downstairs. It was a ten minute bus journey to our destination for dinner, and we were greeted by tons and tons of seafood when we entered the restaurant, unsurprsing really as we were on an island!

We enjoyed a delicious, spicy seafood stew packed with beansprouts and other veggies, huge prawns, scallops, clams, crap, abalone and probably more. It was all so delicious and probably our favorite thing that we ate all weekend. Once we had eaten most of the seafood we added noodles to make a kind of spicy, seafood ramen – lush. Alongside this we had banchan, smoked fish (so delicious) and a huge tray of hweh (thinly sliced raw fish – mackeral and something else) which I was obsessed with. I feel like I ate most of it by myself and then I felt bad but it was so good dipped into some wasabi/soy sauce. Again this meal was something we would never order ourselves and it was so helpful to have people show us how to properly eat all the shellfish with chopsticks. There was also a lot of beer and soju consumed and so many toasts!

After dinner Jod and I went for a walk/limp around the area near the hotel and then pretty much just crashed for the night. I was SO tired and again slept like a log, waking at about 6am.

I may have slept really well on the floor, but I don’t think it was so good for my foot as when I woke up it was so swollen and I couldn’t put any weight on it again. I perked up after some painkillers and by the time we went down to breakfast at 7am I was able to walk again, thank goodness. Breakfast was traditional Korean food and I had a small bowl of garlicky cabbage soup along with a plate of rice, kimchi, japchae (glass noodles) and a fried egg. Jod managed a bowl of soup and a cup of strong coffee – he didn’t sleep as well as me!

Our first stop for the day was a lookout point where we could pretty much see the whole island including planes taking off and landing. Jeju is really pretty and it was great to see it from this vantage point, even if walking up to it was quite painful on my rotten foot.

Next we went to look at a volacanic rock formation that looked like a dragons head, although to be honest we spent most of the time watching planes again. They looked so close in real life! Jod bought some sunglasses from a gift shop too so he was very happy, and we bought a magnet for our fridge at home. There were tons of different boxes of orange chocolate for sale everywhere (Jeju is famous for it’s oranges) but we managed to resist thinking they would probably melt on the way home anyway.

The next place we visited was a fish market back in Jeju city. I have to be honest and say by this point in the trip we were kind of fished out and fancied a break so instead of spending the 1.5 hours allocated walking around the market, we just did a quick dash around, tried a sample of orange flavoured rice cake (actually very yummy) and then found a Starbucks to enjoy their free wifi and air conditioning. I at least tried a hallabong juice which is a special kind of mandarin grown on Jeju, and Jod had an iced latte. We definitely felt refreshed and restored after that and met up with the rest of our group right on time, after a quick pitstop to a chemist to pick up some more painkillers.

This being one of our last coach rides we were treated to more speeches, clapping and cheering. The atmosphere the whole weekend was just amazing and so much fun, everyone was really in the party spirit and it was completely infectious.

Our very last Jeju activity was lunch at another traditional restaurant. I didn’t manage to get any pictures of this meal as I was actually really hungry and couldn’t wait to dive in, but it was delicious. We had mackerel simmered in a spicy sauce (which, again, I absolutely butchered with my chopsticks) with rice and banchan, including my all-time favorite banchan dish, sesame beansprouts. I managed to snap a photo of Jod after lunch looking very cool in his new sunglasses.

After lunch it was straight to the ferry terminal where for some reason this time Jod and I were able to completely bypass the queue and go through a special “foreigner” ticket check and walk straight onto the ship, woop! That meant we were the first in our room (303 again) and could put all our stuff down and get comfy. Everyone else arrived a little while later and the ferry departed at about 1.30pm.

Immediately everyone started to crack open the beers and hand around plates of oranges, cherry tomatoes and peanuts for anju. At one point Jod was called over to a group on the other side of the room (bro time) but I was advised not to go with him for fear of a lady drinking too much (!) so I chilled out with an audio book and after a while went out to explore the ship. The upper decks were really peaceful and the views were just amazing with clear, blue skies as far as the eye could see.

As I was sat outside listening happily to my book, Jod suddenly appeared out of nowhere which was a lovely surprise. We took some photos and then met up with some other members of the hiking party in a little seating area.

20180603_160913We were chatting to a guy who had been a navigator and had visited London a few times. His English was fantastic and he was so lovely telling us all sorts of stories and asking us about our lives. We met and chatted to so many wonderful people this weekend and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. At one point he fetched us some Shin Ramen and seemed really surprised that I didn’t find it too spicy – he kept waiting for me to cough and splutter, haha!

20180603_161701As we sailed through the Shinan Islands back towards Mokpo, he told us there were 1004 islands and all about their history, as well as telling us the best points to take photos.

We finally headed back to the room to collect our things, and disembarked at around 6pm along with a big crate of Jeju mandarins each. After that it was just an hours bus ride back to Sangmu in Gwangju, then a quick taxi ride and we were back at our little apartment in Pungam. We had the most wonderful weekend with so much packed in and made tons of amazing memories. We’re so greatful to Youri for inviting us along and to everyone in the group for once again making us feel so welcome. Even so, I was still pleased to get back to our little home, and our comfy bed 🙂

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What are Korean Supermarkets Like?

Korea just keeps surprising us. After saying last week that one of the things I really miss from the UK are our supermarkets, Jod and I happened to stumble on an amazing one today right in our neighborhood. I’m not sure how we had never noticed it before, but it’s awesome! So far we’ve been taking the bus to a huge Lotte Mart about twice a month to do a big shop where the prices are okay and the selection is good, topping up on fresh stuff from a smaller and more expensive but closer grocery store a couple of times a week. The BK Mart that we found today is a perfect in-between with a great selection of items and good prices within walking distance – yay!

I snapped a few photos just to show what the inside of a Korean grocery store is like and the kind of things you can expect to find inside.

Right when you walk in the door there’s usually any special offers and in-season fruit. Anything in season tends to be cheaper but as watermelons have only just become available they’re still pretty pricy. Like £12-15 for one. Crazy.

This supermarket has a seperate temperature controlled room for the fresh vegetables and salad bar – fancy! Next to that you can find lots of DIY-meal kits that are perfect for cooking on a table top grill like the one we just bought. There’s kits to make spaghetti carbonara, budae jjigae, jjajangmyeon, ddeokbokki and more. We’ve tried a couple of these before and they’re delicious but pretty pricey for what tends to be just some noodles/rice cakes and a packet of sauce. It’s much cheaper to make your own.

Next are two huge sections we definitely don’t have in the UK – a whole wall of different types of dried fish and a huge display of seaweed. Korea is definitely a paradise for seafood lovers so it’s a shame we’re not that keen on it!

I was so pleased to find these little jars of nuts and dried fuit for about £2 per jar. These will be so handy for making flapjacks and adding to homemade granola. We also found both sweetened and unsweetned almond milk which I haven’t seen ANYWHERE else including in fancy department store food halls. They have 1.5litre bottles and little mini cartons so you can enjoy them on the go, too.

We found a really decent imported food section which included such delights as Waitrose baked beans, marmalade, tinned peas and lime juice. Opposite this is the typical aisle of ramen which you’ll find in every Korean grocery store, no matter how small. Instant noodles are so cheap and there are literally hundreds of different flavors, I just wish they weren’t so unhealthy!

As well as aisles of cleaning stuff and household essentials there’s also the chilled and frozen sections. There was lots of beautiful fresh fish and big chest freezers full of dumplings, ice cream and even chocolate covered banana slices (OMG).

I didn’t snap any pictures of the butcher’s counter or the lobster tanks but rest assured everything looked yummy. There’s also a bakery that smelled like cinnamon rolls and nearly had us drooling.

20180522_155233Before we knew it we had wandered round the whole store and it was time to pay. Jod picked up some beer and chocolate milk and that was it! I’m sure we’ll be back soon to stock up on yummy food. I hope you enjoyed this tour around a Korean supermarket!

Three Months in Korea

Yesterday marked three months since we left the UK and I couldn’t help but be amazed at how quickly the time has passed. It’s so strange to think that when we arrived we were bundled up in coats and scarves and walking through snow flurries when today it’s due to hit 30 degrees Celsius with glorious sunshine, and it’s still only spring!

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I sent my mum a message to tell her it had already been three months and she asked if we had made a good decision. I replied that I don’t think there’s been a day so far when I haven’t stopped for a second and thought to myself “I’m just SO happy right now”. There are so many things we love about living here and it still feels really exciting, but that’s not to say that everything is perfect. There are, of course, things we miss from the UK and fleeting moments of homesickness. In the interest of balance I thought it might be interesting to write about the three things I absolutely love about living in Korea, as well as the three things I miss the most.

Top 3 things about living in Korea (so far) 

Teaching

I feel so relieved about this one. We were both really worried about settling into the role of a teacher but it ended up happening much quicker then either of us had anticipated. A huge part of this is that we were lucky enough to end up at our particular school. Our teaching hours are low, the students are kind, sweet and funny and our korean co-teachers are lovely (case in point – mid way through writing this post we got taken out for lunch by our co-teachers to celebrate Teacher’s Day). I feel like we get enough freedom to be able to teach in our own style while also being given enough support whenever we need it.

We definitely appreciate that this isn’t always the norm when teaching (especially compared to the UK but also within other schools in Korea) and are so grateful that we ended up here at Songwon. I’m not saying that every lesson is perfect and there are definitely times I have felt completely and utterly out of my depth, but the feeling you get with a good lesson or just a nice interaction in the hallway is so, so lovely. It’s also made me think more about what I might want to do when we eventually do return home, and there are so many ideas running round in my head at the moment!

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Adventures

So far during our time here I’ve spent an afternoon naked in a Korean spa with a load of strangers (and one friend!); hiked around a beautiful island with a group of wonderfully friendly Koreans; learned how to play more American drinking games than I can count on both hands; been to a baseball game (and bought the cap to prove it); visited a new city for the weekend; stayed in a hostel for the first time; hiked our local mountain trail; danced in a club with friends until 5am; hung out with people from Manchester, Korea, Ohio, The Netherlands and Finland and so much more.

In the next few weeks we’ll also be taking a day trip to Seoul to attend a vegan festival, hiking around Jeju for a weekend and then going back up to Seoul to see Nick and Sarah and show them what it is that we love so much about this fantastic country.

There are so many new and exciting things to do here and meeting new friends to experience all of this with has been one of the absolute best parts about moving. With that comes sadness too as we know most people don’t stay for too long, and I know I’m going to be really tearful when we start having to say goodbye to people. That said, thanks to the internet we’ll all be able to keep in touch and it’s amazing to know people from all around the world. Bring on the reunions!

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Freedom

When I asked Jod what his favorite thing about living in Korea is, he said “that most days feel like being on holiday” and that’s so true. The weather definitely helps as it’s just been gorgeous and warm for the past few weeks, but there’s also all the free time we have now. We have every weekday evening free along with the energy to actually do stuff which is so alien to me! Weekends stretch out just waiting to be filled with fun activities, and random days off seem to crop up all the time. Not having to pay rent and the reduced cost of eating out and drinking also means we have more financial freedom than in the UK, and for the first time since graduating uni I’m actually paying debt off instead of building it up. All the stress I was carrying around about so many things has melted away and I catch myself randomly smiling as I walk down the street. It sounds so cheesy but it’s true, we both feel incredibly lucky and happy to be here.

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The 3 things I most miss about the UK

Family and Friends

This is definitely the hardest thing about living so far away. A couple of weeks after we first started teaching I got a horrible cough and cold, and knowing that I was thousands of miles away from being able to get a hug from my mum was just horrible. Sometimes I wake up thinking “Wouldn’t it be nice to go round to mum and dad’s tonight and sit outside if the weather’s nice”, and then get a little lump in my throat when I realize we can’t. I feel guilty that my parents have to deal with the stuff at work that I used to do as part of my job, and that’s no fun at all.

If we had moved here ten years ago I’m sure I would have found it really, really horrible and probably would want to come home a lot more. However thanks to the internet, the ease of using apps like Kakao Talk and free video calls, I still speak to my parents multiple times a day and keep in touch with everyone else through Instagram and Whatsapp. I can send people pictures and videos of everything that we’re up to and that does make the world feel a lot smaller, and makes it much easier to be so far away.

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UK supermarkets/cheap produce

When I boarded the flight to come here, I certainly wasn’t thinking “goodness, I’m really going to miss Tesco” but i genuinely do! While eating out can be really cheap here, particularly traditional Korean food, we’ve found that cooking at home can quickly get expensive. Fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are all expensive and there’s no equivalent of budget supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl, the prices tend to be similar everywhere. Most fruit and veg can only be bought in quite large quantities and everything is wrapped in so much plastic. As in, a single banana sold at the convenience store or a coffee shop will be in a plastic pouch – crazy! My environmental guilt is definitely through the roof.

Some of my favorite staples for cheap and healthy meals like oats, couscous and wholewheat pasta are either very difficult to find or expensive so we’re having to think more creatively when cooking and completely base our meals around what’s in season, which is a good thing at least. We don’t have an oven here either although we are planning to buy a toaster oven in the next few weeks so hopefully that will make cooking cheap, healthy meals at home a bit easier, and I think meal planning will help us make the best use of our grocery budget.

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Understanding how things work

Although the sense of freedom and adventure that we have here is great, it was really tiring at first to feel like a toddler in every situation. Gwangju is quite a small city (compared to Seoul or Busan) and there’s a lot less English used here, obviously. That means that the first time catching a bus, getting a taxi, going to the bank, buying garbage bags and all the other things that we could do in the UK without having to think, felt really challenging. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for people coming to the UK who can’t speak English, and it’s certainly given me a lot of empathy for people in all sorts of different situations. Personally I’m always worried about embarrassing myself and painting foreigners in a bad light so I tend to panic and get in a flap. Jod is much more logical than me so he usually takes charge, thank God! In any case, people are generally more than happy to help out when we look lost and it’s getting better with every passing week. I think in a way we’ll feel sad if we ever get 100% comfortable here, because then it won’t feel so exciting any more!

I’m really curious to see if I still feel the same way about all of these things once another three months have passed, and considering how quickly time seems to be passing I’m sure I’ll be writing my next reflective post in the blink of an eye…

Recent Highlights

Ooops! It’s been ages since I posted anything but you know what they say about time flying when you have fun and all that…

Here’s a few highlights from the past few weeks that I definitely want to remember.

On St Patrick’s Day we spent the morning exploring our neighborhood and getting delicious breakfast from Isaac Toast before walking around the reservoir (our favourite/only running route so far). Later in the afternoon we travelled to Suwan in the North West of the city to meet some friends, dressed in green of course!

After checking out the area we spent a couple of hours putting the world to rights while sitting in the sun outside of a 7/11. I love Korea – the land where it’s acceptable, nay – encouraged, to drink outside wherever possible.

Once it started to cool off we headed to a BBQ restaurant for sam-gyeop-sal (three layered pork belly) and pork neck (omg so good). At some point Jod, Chris and I each thought it would be a very good idea to eat some very spicy chillis. I didn’t find it TOO bad and after a hell of a lot of water Chris was okay, but Jod ended up being unable to speak and we went home shortly after… a very memorable evening!

At some point over the next week our Alien Registration Cards arrived which meant we could actually do stuff like get bank accounts, get phone contracts and (more importantly) get paid! We have come to love our bank because they have an amazingly chill queuing system with numbered tickets, comfy chairs, TVs and free, delicious coffee.

One warm and sunny Sunday we met up with the gang to go to our very first baseball game! Our local team is called the Kia Tigers and we are now full on baseball converts – I even bought a hat! It’s traditional to eat fried chicken and drink beer while you watch baseball here and far be it from us to go against tradition… Although we also saw plenty of people getting pizza delivered right to the stadium. Did I mention that I love Korea?

Having Korean phone numbers and bank accounts means a whole new world of convenience has opened up for us here, including the wonder that is YoGiOh. This is a delivery app somewhere between Just Eat and Deliveroo and covers every single restaurant you can imagine. Traditional Korean food is SO CHEAP to order and it usually arrives between 15-30mins after you order. Your food is often delivered with proper plates and silverware and once you’re finished you just pile the dirty dishes outside your door and the delivery driver comes by to pick them up again later. There’s also no tipping here.

Around a week ago we were surprised when our school’s principal took our entire department out for dinner after work. She took us to an Italian place that serves pasta, salads and steak grilled at your table on hot stones. The food was delicious and it was so nice to be able to talk to our co-teachers outside of work and get to know them a little better as they’ve all been really helpful and kind. I hope that the next time we’re able to eat with the principal our Korean will have improved enough to be able to thank her properly ourselves and tell her how much we appreciate it!

We were also treated to a delicious dinner by Yeonhee, the very kind daughter of one of our co-teachers. We’re really looking forward to hopefully visiting a Korean pub with her soon!

One thing I’m loving about Gwangju is the abundance of awesome cafes where we can sit and chill and plan our upcoming adventures. Generally I try to stick to an iced Americano but it’s impossible to refuse the allure of a croque monsieur on a saturday morning…

Last weekend we celebrated Laura’s birthday with delicious mexican food (thank you Chris and Amanda!) and  SO MUCH BOOZE. We picked up this cake from Paris Baguette and it was delicious.

Last week we were lucky enough to see the cherry blossoms bloom. They only lasted a few short days and were so beautiful. All our students told us how amazing it would be and they were right! We enjoyed seeing all the themed displays in shops and had some Cherry Blossom flavored drinks in Starbucks, the milk tea is SO GOOD!

As well as all the fun we’ve also really got into the swing of teaching and I love all my students! It’s amazing how even if you’re having a kind of a down day (for instance, if you fall up a set of stairs first thing on a Monday morning – ouch…) the little ones can say something hilarious that just lights you up from the inside. We had some very sudden and bad family news this week so it was especially helpful to be surrounded by smiling faces each day.

We’ve also been working hard to improve our Korean and so far have had four lessons. I’ve been trying to make time a few times a week to really study hard so that I’m not too far behind as I do find reading hangul really difficult to do quickly. Last week before our lesson we spent some time just chilling in a pretty garden in the city centre draped with fairy lights as the sun went down. The huge random statues of giraffes and polar bears were so surreal, but than again, so is this whole adventure.

Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher in Korea

6.00am Alarm goes off. Press snooze.

6.05am Alarm goes off again. Groan as Jod turns the bedside light on. Get out of bed, turn the hot water on and walk to the kitchen, grabbing the washing basket on the way. Dump everything in for a quick wash then fill the kettle and turn on the hob (our apartment came with a stove-top kettle and I actually really like it now). Put away the dishes from the night before. Go to the bathroom and brush my teeth.

6.10am Kettle boils. Make 2 cups of strong black coffee (large for me, small for Jod) and take these into the bedroom. Go back to the bathroom and have a very hot shower until I feel alive.

6.20am Morning skincare routine. Oil cleanse, caffiene eye gel, hyaluronic acid serum, moisturiser.

6.25am Dry off and go back to the kitchen. Put the washing on “dehydrate” for ten minutes. Go back to the bedroom and drink some coffee. Start nagging Jod to get up and drink his coffee and shower. Scroll through Instagram. Remember that I watched a video last week about how apps with “endless scrolling” are really bad for your concentration but my mind drifts away before I can finish the thought…

6.40am Jod gets up and puts the washing on “dyhydrate” for another ten minutes, then has a shower. I make the bed then blow dry my hair and do my makeup.

7.00am Jod gets out the shower and irons anything we’re going to wear that day while I hang the washing up on the drying rack in the kitchen. I am crap at ironing and Jod is crap at hanging stuff up so it’s definitely better do to it this way round.

7.05am We both get dressed and I get breakfast ready. Porridge and cinnamon stewed apples that I made a few days ago for me, and buttered toast for Jod.

7.15am Breakfast time. We eat meals at the table together which is really nice because we never used to in the UK, but then again in the UK we had a lovely comfy sofa to sit on. My porridge is yummy but the bread we bought from the bakery last night turns out to be brioche so Jod essentially eats half a slice of buttered cake before he can’t manage any more.

7.25am I do the dishes and set them out to drain while Jod makes a cup of tea in his flask to bring to school with us. Like the old man he is.

7.30am Time to leave for school. I put my shoes on while Jod fannies about for another five minutes.

7.35am We leave and take a bag of rubbish out with us to leave on the curb next to our apartment building. It will magically be gone by the time we get home tonight. The weather today is really grey and cloudy and I wonder if we should have brought umbreallas. Feel glad that I didn’t pack my big winter coat away the other day when it got to 23 degrees Celsius.

7.40am Stop at a convenience store on the way to school to pick up sweets to use as prizes in our last lesson today.

8.00am Curse the fact that our school is on top of a hill and think, once again, that I really need to get in shape by summer or I’ll be dead before the year is out.

8.05am Arrive at school, put our outdoor shoes into lockers and put on our teaching slippers. Feel hella cool in my starry pool slides. Get to my classroom and turn on the computer. Spend the next twenty minutes finalising stuff for my classes today. Print a load of questions for a game based on frog and butterfly lifecycles, package up sweets into little parcels for the prizes later and double check my schedule for the day.

8.25am Meet back up with Jod and go downstairs together for our morning classes. I have ten students aged 7-8 (I think, Korean ages are confusing!) that I see for 50 minutes four times a week. I teach them Science in English and today we’re scheduled to complete our first unit on “Living Things”.

8.30am Morning class starts and the kids are super cute today but full of energy and obviously ready for the weekend. I try to play more games than usual on a Friday so that they can burn some of it off, and a couple of them take longer than I had planned so we only end up doing one page of book work. Decide to finish the unit on Monday instead rather than rushing through it, and do a final competition quiz to assess their understanding of the topic so far.

9.20am Morning class ends. At the end of the lesson the hardest working students get stickers that they can swap for prizes at the end of the semester. They REALLY like these stickers. I meet back up with Jod and we head back upstairs to our own classrooms.

09.30am The bell rings for the first lesson but we have periods 1 and 2 free today. Two Korean co-teachers drop off some of the students’ English Diaries for correcting. These can be hilarious and heartbreaking in equal quantities. Korean kids work really, really hard and some of them write about how tired they are because of going to academies for extra tuition after school and how they wish they had some time to play. We teach nine year olds who aren’t eating dinner until ten o’clock at night because they’re doing so many extra lessons, and then they’re worried about not having enough time to do homework… so sad. Lots of the diaries are funny too though because they write about us. I’m about 70% sure they don’t know it’s us who reads them as they hand them in to their Korean teachers. I correct the newest batch and then give them back.

10.15am Set up my classroom for the next lesson. It’s a creative thinking module where the kids work in teams to solve a mission using materials provided within a time frame. I move the desks around so that there are three clear teams. I write the name of the mission and the team names on the board.

10.25am Go to Jod’s room to make a coffee.

10.30am Get an instant message from one of our Korean co-teachers asking if I can cover the next class alone as another teacher is not at school today. I say yes, of course! I teach almost all of my lessons alone (which I love!) but the creative thinking lessons are usually taught with a co-teacher as it can be really difficult for the students to understand everything being asked of them in English, particularly for the lower levels. This is a middle-ability group and most of the lesson is “taught” via a video so a lot of it is just keeping the kids on task and trying to make them speak English as much as possible, so it should be fine.

10.45am Go to the co-teachers room to collect the mission materials and the USB with the video on. Quickly prepare a vocabulary game to play in case there is time left over at the rest of the lesson. Finish my coffee then browse asos because I have a voucher.

11.10 Period 3 starts and the students swarm in. I have their name tags ready in their seats so that there won’t be any fighting over who is on which team. I explain the concept of the lesson and then go to play the video when suddenly the computer freezes. I spend the next ten minutes trying to fix it before going next door to get Jod who manages to get it working almost straight away. Feel really glad that I prepared the vocabulary game as they end up playing that while we sort out the technical difficulties. The rest of the lesson goes really well and the class speaks tons of English, result! The only problem comes when the bell goes before we have time to properly test their creations thanks to the delay at the start. I decide that everyone is the winner and they seem happy enough with that. Everybody lines up, I thank them for being such a lovely class and send them on their way.

11.55 Find Jod and walk to the cafeteria together. On Tuesdays and Fridays we don’t teach during fourth period so we eat early, yay!

12.00 Lunchtime. Today we have rice, budae jjigae (spicy stew with all sorts in), chicken wings, squid and vegetable pancakes, some kind of leafy kimchi and a packet of dried seaweed. Once again I am defeated and can’t manage all the rice or the seaweed. They definitely feed us well here! We eat lunch at long tables with the students and spend a lot of the meal waving at the little ones when they stare at us.

12.20 As we walk out of the lunch room one of my third grade students runs up to me and gives me a huge bear hug around the waist shouting “Sarah Teacher!!”. I have my hair in pigtails today and a group of girls starts chanting “Sarah Teacher so cute! Sarah Teacher so cute!”. My heart feels like it might burst with how adorable they are.

12.25 We get back to our classrooms and chill out as we have period 5 free as well as the extra long lunch. I make another cup of coffee before planning my last class of the week. I have a different fifth grade home room class each week for 40 minutes and with 30 students it’s by far my biggest class (all my others have between 9-14 students). Last week I trialed a drama lesson where I split them into four groups and gave them each 15 minutes to write and practice a short play in English with a title provided by me. They then performed and voted on the best play with the winning team getting prizes. It went down really well so I decide to do the same with this week’s students but change the play titles. Last week they were “Aliens land in Korea”, “A Kpop group are really secret agents”, “Students locked in a zoo” and “Hunting for hidden treasure”. This week I decide on “Exploring the jungle”, “If students ruled the world”, “The Queen of England visits Gwangju” and “Mission to Mars”.

1.00pm I take a look at my timetable for next week and try to figure out where in the textbook the students will be up to, then take a photo of the relevant pages so that I can plan ahead. We teach from the same textbooks as our Korean co-teachers but they see the students more frequently than us, so it’s not always easy to keep track. I try to think of some interesting activities so that the book work isn’t too dry.

1.04pm Get distracted almost instantly by more asos, Refinery29 and Spotify. Text a friend to arrange to do something tomorrow (St Patrick’s Day).Listen to the new Years & Years song on repeat. sloooowly drink coffee. procrastinate. For over an hour…

2.25pm Find Jod then head downstairs to the right fifth grade homeroom as my classroom isn’t big enough to fit all the students in. Spend the last five minutes before class watching a group of girls sing, dance and do the splits. They’re actually really quite impressive.

2.30pm Period 6 starts. The drama activity goes down really well again and the plays are even better than last week, but the kids are LOUD. I’m happy to hear them speaking in English so much but I feel really bad for the poor home room teacher sat at her desk in the corner trying to grade journals while chaos reigns all around her.

3.10pm School is over, hooray! For the students, anyway. We’re contracted to stay in School until 4.30 so we go and hang out in Jod’s classroom. He plays video games on his laptop while I do more general interenet browsing on the computer. Lots of kids have violin lessons in most of the English rooms (including mine) for an hour after school. They keep all the doors open so it’s like listening to some kind of frenzied symphony. I don’t know how they concentrate! We talk about what went well in the drama lesson and what we might do differently next time, and agree that today has been a good day.

4.25pm I asked Jod if we’ll be leaving on time today and he says yes, definitely.

4.30pm I stand up to leave and Jod suddenly remembers about ten more things he needs to do before we can leave. I sit down again.

4.35pm We leave and walk home through the neighbourhood. The sun has come out and everything is warm and sunny and lovely because it’s the weekend and YES!

4.55pm We stop off at the 7/11 closest to our apartment to buy beer, soju and snacks.

5.03pm Arrive home, put the washing and dishes away while Jod pours us each a shot of soju. We toast to the end of another great week! In Korea you never drink without eating ‘anju’ (drinking snacks) too, so I accidentally eat a sharing sized bag of pizza flavoured crisps all by myself over the next hour or so. Oops. Remember that I’m supposed to be getting in shape for summer but then reconcile that with the fact that it’s the weekend and you only live once and all that.We catch up on our YouTube subscriptions and I reply to a text from my dad. Almost text my mum but then remember it’s still early Friday morning in the UK (her day off) and she’ll hopefully still be asleep in bed so stop myself.

7.00pm Jod gets his guitar out and starts playing a fabulous collection of songs from Taylor Swift and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I sing along and the beer and soju make my voice sound AMAZING. Maybe. Our poor neighbours.

8.00pm The singalong somehow turns into Jod trying to teach me how to play the guitar. Just one short hour later I’ve (sort of) learned a chord. If you can believe it I’m actually not that bad and can now play something close to Wonderwall if you squint your ears. If that’s even possible.

I can’t take any credit for it though, Jod’s just an excellent  teacher. I send some videos of me playing to my mum and dad, fishing for compliments as always.

9.30pm All plans to go out for dinner are now out of the window as neither of us can be bothered to leave the warm and cosy apartment and speak to other humans. Instead Jod goes back to the 7/11 to pick up some ramen which we eat in bed like the slobs we are while watching 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. We are living that crazy party life, for sure.

10.00pm I hit publish on this post and slip gently into unconsciousness…

A Killer Week

A little bit late with my recap this week because we were having too much fun at the weekend to do any writing, as you’ll see…

SUNDAY (4th March)

Jod and I have started a new tradition; each weekend we have each get to have a whole day where we choose exactly what we both do, and the other person can’t complain (much). For Jod this generally means not getting up until the afternoon and generally being hermits and not doing anything of value…ahem. Last weekend we did that on Saturday, although I did clean the whole apartment so I didn’t feel like a complete slob. That meant that Sunday was my turn to choose, and I definitely prefer doing more social/outdoor stuff!

We left the apartment at around 10am and headed to our favourite bakery to get some snacks, then to the entrance of a hiking trail in Pungam (our neighbourhood). We were definitely under-prepared compared to all the Koreans in their specialist hiking outfits with poles and backpacks, but we managed just fine carrying our plastic bag of sandwiches as we scrambled up rocks on some parts of the trek! It was a beautiful day and we definitely didn’t need our coats, we ended up carrying those all the way up too as it got hot really quickly.

It was incredible to see such great views of the city and we were so impressed at how well maintained the trail was with steps, walkways and signposts. There was also absolutely no litter except for tons of orange peel that people must have been munching on as snacks all over the mountains! All together there we 3 or 4 little peaks and we finished the highest one feeling pretty great but with tired legs! It took around 2.5 hours to do the whole trail (including stopping to eat our sandwiches!) and it was a great way to spend a Sunday morning. I put the name of the tallest peak into into google translate and it said that it’s called “Golden Mountain” and it definitely lived up to it’s name with the sun shining on all the fallen leaves. We’re so lucky to have a walk like this less than 15 minutes from our apartment.

Once we got back home we chilled out for a while before going to a Holly’s Coffee across the main street from our apartment to do some work. We wanted to write some plans for our morning classes for the week and also think about our introduction lessons. Jod had an iced vanilla latte and I opted for a strawberry cheesecake hollycino which was every bit as delicious as it sounds. I just love how pretty cafes are in Korea and this one is no exception.

We had been out to eat the night before and it ended up being a complete failure with us both eating really expensive and bland pork tonkatsu in some kind of sports bar, so I was determined to be braver and go to a traditional Korean restaurant in the evening. We picked a place, took of our shoes, sat on the floor at our table, looked at the menu and thought “now what?”. Our Korean is still pretty terrible but we can recognise odd words so pointed at the two things on the menu that we could read “gamjatang and mandu”, pork bone stew and dumplings to you and me. The server brought over our banchan (side dishes) which was swiftly followed by the main part of our order. We shared everything although my favourite was definitely the dumplings filled with minced pork and spring onion and dipped in chilli oil because I’m a fatty fat fatso. The whole thing cost just over £8 and was totally delicious, we’ll definitely visit that restaurant again.

MONDAY

The next day it was time to head off to school for our first full week of teaching. The vast majority of our classes just involved us introducing ourselves to the kids and playing some ice breaker games to help learn their names, so it was a nice, easy first week.

Lunch on monday was vegetable curry and rice, noodle soup, salad with sesame dressing and a mini bulgogi (marinated beef) bun. 20180305_124917

Our only afternoon class was cancelled so I spent the time drinking coffee and finalising my semester plan for my morning class. I have to admit I’m loving having my own classroom as it’s really nice to have somewhere to sit and think quietly sometimes. I want to try and make some more fun and interactive displays for the walls, any ideas?

Feeling brave thanks to our excellent dining experience the night before, we decided to visit a different restaurant for dinner. This time we went to a different traditional korean place specialising in soups and stews, but this time we sat on chairs as I don’t think Jod could take another cross-legged experience so soon after the last one. We each got spicy broth with beef and different types of noodles. This place was a bit more expensive (the meal was £12) but the banchan was better. I think this place does cold noodles in the summer too which will be great when it starts to get really hot and humid. It’s already 21 degrees here as I write this post!

TUESDAY

Another day, another school lunch. This time we had rice and barley, seaweed soup, eel (or mackerel) stew, some kind of leafy kimchi, chicken drumsticks and glass noodles in soy sauce and some kind of crispy fried dough thing. I actually had three absolutely dreamy classes today full of bright and chatty kids so even though this lunch wasn’t my favourite, I was on a real high all day.

After school we went on a half hour run to stretch our legs around the reservoir in our neighbourhood. We got there just after sunset and the lights all around were so beautiful. One of our co-teachers said that when the cherry blossoms arrive in spring it’s even better, so I can’t wait to see that.

We went out to eat (AGAIN!) to the same restaurant as the night before, except this time we got some grilled pork to make lettuce wraps, a milky beef and dumpling soup and some extra dumplings too. This was waaaaay too much food but that’s what happens when you convince yourself that a 5k run is equivalent to a marathon because you’re in a new country.

WEDNESDAY

Wednesday had some more great classes and I got given my first little handmade gift from a student which was super sweet! A girl in one of my fifth grade classes made me a little sign to keep on my desk with all my rules on – so cute!

Dinner on this day was fried rice, pork bone soup, pickled veggies, kimchi, yakult and a mini waffle with strawberry jam. Really tasty.

I’m pretty sure for dinner on Wednesday we had veggie stir-fry but I can’t find a photo! We definitely cooked at home, anyway…

THURSDAY

On Thursday we had our first experience sub-teaching a creative thinking module to second graders. This involves them watching a video about a “mission” that they then have to complete using provided materials with a time limit. There isn’t really any actual teaching as the video explains everything, so it’s more about crowd control. The little kids are pretty adorable but boy to they get giggly and nervous when a strange teacher they’ve never met before asks them a question in English!

Lunch was rice, spicy pork and potato soup, kimchi, some kind of meatball and little fish nuggets in sweet and sour sauce – yum. We were both starting to feel a little tired by this point in the week so as soon as we got home from school I slipped into my snuggly Glossier sweatshirt and leggings and did a total pampering facial including a face mask. It was exactly what I needed and even though it will never be as good as a bath (I miss bubble baths so much!) it was a pretty decent substitute. Dinner was basic rice, veggie stir-fry and fried eggs for me, with pork for Jod.

FRIDAY

Woo hoo! This was such a fun day because our lessons got swapped around at the last second and first thing in the morning we suddenly had to each teach a class of 30 fifth or sixth graders. I pulled a drama lesson out of thin air and in forty minutes managed to get four separate mini plays written and performed by the students. It was an awesome feeling to see them speaking English and having fun as these kids are so busy and don’t often get the chance to just mess around and be silly.

The total high from that lesson was somewhat dampened down by the end of the day, however when we were told that from the following week almost ALL of our regular English classes would be replaced by creative thinking classes following the program I mentioned before. That meant no scope for creativity or lesson planning and just repeating the same four lessons for a whole month with different students, so I was pretty deflated. It’s really tough to expect students to conduct that sort of lesson in English 100% of the time so I was pretty sad that we wouldn’t be able to help them develop their speaking skills in a measurable way. As of today (Wednesday 14th) the school has reversed that decision and we will be teaching regular lessons again from next week, but we’ll see as things can change very quickly here…

Lunch on friday was rice, seaweed soup, glass noodles and fishcake, kimchi and spicy chicken wings. After school we went to the big Lotte Mart super market near the World Cup Stadium to get food and some jackets for hiking so that we don’t need to bring our coats along in future. There is a huge outlet store next to Lotte Mart and we each got an Asics hoodie for less than £20 – with zipped pockets too!

SATURDAY

Saturday was my choice again and I sure as hell made it count! We started off by getting a bus into the city suuuper early and met one of our co-teachers at 7.30am as she had invited us along on a trip with her hiking group. Gradually the coach filled up with around 40 people who were all super kind and welcoming even though we didn’t really have any idea what anyone was saying…

We knew it was going to be a good day when the organisers handed out bottles of water and tangerines to keep us going on the hike, followed by mini buckets of fried chicken for breakfast. Why don’t we do this in the UK?? Imagine driving up the the Lake District at 8am for a spot of walking and just munching a deep fried chicken leg on the way… We drove into the countryside for around 45 minutes then stopped for a bathroom break (which my tiny bladder appreciated) and then maybe another 40 minutes to our destination – Sinsido island. There was also a quiz on the bus and they very kindly asked a question in English so that we could win some prizes. Don’t worry, we did share them with the rest of the bus 🙂

Once we arrived at the island it quickly became apparent (again) that we were under-prepared compared to the Koreans! Everybody had proper walking gear on as well as backpacks and we wondered what they were carrying. We just had trainers and our new jackets that we had been so proud of the night before… It started off a little chilly but soon heated up as it was a beautiful day – I even got sunburn.

We walked for a couple of hours around the island including scrambling up some pretty steep and rocky bits for some beautiful views. I was fine going up but terrified going down, I seriously felt like I was just going to fall over and roll all the way to the bottom!  I really don’t think the pictures do this place justice as it was just beautiful and we couldn’t believe that it’s so close to Gwangju. It’s connected to the mainland by a huge bridge and is obviously very popular with hiking groups as we saw loads while we were there, so I imagine in the summer it gets really busy. I feel like I should also mention that there were tons of food stalls, vending machines, clean and free public bathrooms and water fountains all around the island too.

20180310_105303After a walk along the beach we stopped for “snacks”. Jod and I each pulled out our tangerines from the bus as well as the two cereal bars we had brought, and got a pretty huge shock when everyone else started unloading their backpacks…

Suddenly the picnic table was covered in an amazing spread including noodles, kimbap, kimchi, tons of side dishes, an amazing sashimi salad prepared by our co-teacher and then cake and fruit. We felt so guilty that we hadn’t brought anything to share but everyone kept saying “eat, eat!” and pretty soon we were absolutely stuffed. As we were eating other members of the group started chatting to us a little more which was great as they were all so kind. I think some of them were nervous to speak English, but their English was definitely better than our Korean! Some lovely people gave us sake and beer too which definitely made it easier to talk…

After this we walked back to the bus and drove to a tall building where we went up to the observation deck to look out over the islands. We were starting to feel really sleepy by this point and thought we were going home when we boarded the bus again, I think Jod actually dropped off at one point. Suddenly, however, we pulled over next to a bustling fish market and all headed upstairs to a restaurant. We sat on the floor at long, low tables and watched as bubbling pots of fish stew cooked away and multiple side dishes were presented along with big trays of raw fish. We were already so full from the “snacks” from earlier but the food was so good that we couldn’t help but eat more! There were copious amounts of beer and soju consumed as many different people stood up to make toasts and we made new friends with those around us. Everyone was so nice and we were made to feel really welcome all day, we can’t thank our co-teacher enough for inviting us along. We will hopefully go on more trips with this group including a weekend in Jeju island in June which should be amazing!

Once we eventually got back to Gwangju at around 6pm we made plans with a friend I made through Instagram called Laura who is from Manchster. We met up in a coffee shop in Sangmu (espresso was needed) and hearing her accent was like a hug from home! She took us to her friends’ apartment where we spent the evening hanging out with more kind, lovely and hilarious people. Our super cool hosts Chris and Amanda taught us how to play beer pong, I got eyelash extension recommendations from new friend Kat, and William cemented our opinion of Korean people as some of the nicest in the world by helping us get a taxi home after midnight. Such a great day and night, safe to say we were shattered on Sunday and Jod definitely exercised his right to stay in bed all day! Here’s to another week…