Long Haul Flight Essentials

Flying from Manchester to Korea is no joke It involves a minimum of two flights covering around 5,500 miles, with at least 14 hours of travel. We’ve travelled via London and Istanbul in the past, and this year we’re going via Frankfurt. That means that tomorrow we’ll be taking a two hour flight followed by a layover of around two and a half hours in Germany, then a further ten hour flight to Incheon. With that much time in the air and good amount of experience travelling long haul in the past, we’ve definitely got our in-flight essentials down for this trip. There are a few things that just make that much time sitting in one place more bearable, and even fun!

Luggage 18.12.17

We’re flying Premium Economy with Lufthansa this year which means we’re entitled to one cabin-sized suitcase plus one laptop-sized bag/handbag per person in addition to a couple of 23kg cases each in the hold. We’re not taking full advantage of that as I have no idea how we could physically move amount of stuff around with us, but we are taking one of these super light cabin cases from IT Luggage with a few clothes, shoes and my smaller handbags inside. That’s mainly just in case our main suitcase gets lost as we don’t want to be without anything at all once we land if the worst should happen! I’ll also be carrying my LV Neverfull GM as it’s the largest and most travel-friendly handbag I own, and Jod has one of these backpacks which are great for travel thanks to all the pockets, padded laptop section and the integral charging cable.

What to Wear

If you’re anything like us and are always trying to wrangle a free upgrade, it’s worth thinking carefully about what you’ll wear to travel, as you need to strike a balance between looking presentable and being comfy – think Selena Gomez, queen of airport style. Layers, neutral colours and luxurious fabrics are definitely king when it comes to travelling in style, and loads of the items i’ve chosen are currently on sale, yay!

 

This year I’m planning to wear these skinny jersey joggers and a black modal vest top as a base layer with an oversized cashmere jumper from Whistles (sadly sold out, similar here from Uniqlo) and black leather jacket from Reiss on top (sold out, similar here). It’s always a good idea to wear shoes that can easily be slipped on and off for security so I’ll be wearing my white converse and putting some White Company cashmere bed socks on during the flight to feel extra cosy. Mine were a gift (because honestly, who buys themselves cashmere socks?!) but I wouldn’t be without them now… so snuggly.

Little Treats

It’s no surprise that air travel is terrible for your skin as the air is so dry and the cabin often fluctuates between freezing cold and stiflingly warm. The best thing you can do to combat this is drink plenty of water and try to avoid alcohol, but if your skin has a tendency towards dryness anyway then it’s not a bad idea to pack a few products to help you maintain moisture. Start off with a  micellar water like this dinky travel sized one to take off any makeup, then apply a sheet mask (I like this SKII one) for as long as possible. Finish up with an eye cream and rich moisturizer like my favourite Glossier Priming Moisturizer Rich. It’s also a good idea to regularly slather on some lip balm, I love this Diptique one.  Remember to decant any liquids and creams into smaller pots and bottles and keep them in a clear plastic bag for getting through security.

glossier-priming-moisturizer-rich-1
Source

Our long flight from Frankfurt is overnight so we’re hoping to be able to get a bit of sleep if possible. Generally on long haul flights you’ll be provided with a small pillow and blanket, but these are generally a bit rubbish! I’ve tried blow up travel pillows in the past as well as the bean-bag type ones, but they just don’t support your neck properly and can leave you feeling even worse an unable to sleep at all. This memory foam one is pretty bulky which can be a pain, but it is SO comfortable, soft and supportive. It does make you have about three chins when you do up the strap, but you’ll be so deeply asleep you won’t even care that you look like Jabba the Hut from the neck up.

Black out masks like this one are also brilliant for helping you get to sleep as they completely block out any light and are super soft. If you hate the feeling when glasses/eye masks touch your eyelashes, this will definitely be a game changer as it feels like there’s loads of space inside the mask. Plus, it comes with bonus free ear plugs to drown out the sound of screaming babies!

In Flight Entertrainment

Does anyone else hate it when the in-flight entertainment system includes 2 random episodes from a TV show and then no more? Do they not realise we all want to binge watch the whole series?! To combat this we download a box set onto each of our laptops (this year we’re going with the American Office and Pushing Daisies) so that we can be guaranteed something good to get lost in for a few hours. You can also download individual episodes from Netflix onto your phone if you don’t want to take a laptop away with you, although I don’t think I would fancy staring at the tiny screen for hours on end!

 

I’m a pretty bad flyer, partly because I hate the noises, so this year my dad has very kindly offered to let me borrow his noise cancelling headphones. These are great for helping you ignore all the weird engine noises and are also perfect for listening to some white noise (I like rain) to help you sleep.

We often like to watch the same thing, especially if it’s something we’ve downloaded just for the flight, so this headphone splitter is perfect for ensuring we can both listen comfortably, and it’s so cute!

A Good Attitude

I honestly think that the best thing you can bring with you on a long haul flight is a sunny disposition and some good manners. Take it as an opportunity to sit back and relax for a few hours, treat yourself to watching that film you’ve been dying to see or try out that new moisturiser. Don’t view a long haul flight as a traumatic thing to get through, but as the start to your amazing vacation!

P.S We’ve always found a good attitude to be key to getting better seats and nicer drinks on flights, so that’s even more reason to be nice to everyone on board 🙂

130 Hour Tefl.org Course Review

Earlier this week Jod and I completed the three day in-class component of our TEFL course through Tefl.org. It was a fantastic experience and we both said afterwards that it’s one of the most fun things we’ve done together all year,  so thought we would write a review for anyone else considering the course or just wanting to find out a bit more information.

Background

There are a ton of different organisations offering TEFL certifications but we opted for a 130 hour course from Tefl.org.uk based on this video review. When you’re spending hundreds of pounds on something online, it’s always comforting to hear about someone else’s experience to reassure you that it’s not a big scam, so the video definitely helped us feel better!

We had read online that when looking for work as an English teacher overseas it’s a really good idea to have a TEFL course under your belt even if it isn’t an official requirement for that country because it sets you apart from other applicants. In the same vein it’s better to do a course that includes an in-class portion rather than an online only one as you’re able to absorb so much more information when you see it delivered in a practical way, and you can also ask questions if you’re unsure about anything. With that in mind we chose the 130 hour course because it contained the most in-class hours (30 over 3 days). You can go up to 150 hours but the extra hours are just more online modules and, as I’ll explain later in this review, we really don’t think the online portion is the best value for money.

The full cost of the course is £389 per person but they constantly have a 30% off sale for courses with an in-class component so you shouldn’t pay more than about £275. In contrast the 100 hour online only course is £259, so you might as well pay an extra £16 and go for the course with classroom hours. They also offer a course with only 20 in-class hours that’s delivered over a weekend instead of during the week, so that might be easier for those who have a more traditional working week. Our current working hours are pretty flexible, and I would say it’s worth taking holidays to do the longer course if you can because the more real life practice you can get the better.

It’s worth remembering that depending on the location of your course, you’ll have to pay transport costs too – it cost £100 between us to get return tickets to Manchester for three days. We also had to change the date of our classroom course a couple of times due to some funerals. The first change of date was free but we had to pay £75 per person for the second one, so try not to change the date unless you absolutely have to.

TEFL Course Manchester
The “Classroom” for our TEFL course

Classroom component

We attended the course Monday 4th December to Wednesday 6th December and it was held at the Manchester Conference Centre (within the Pendulum Hotel on Sackville Street). It’s a ten minute walk from Piccadilly train station and was very easy to find. The course lasts from 9-6 each day, but the first two days we were finished by about 5.30pm, I think it just depends how quickly the group is able to complete all the tasks in the afternoon. Our trainer was called Caroline and she was absolutely fantastic. She was enthusiastic, supportive, funny and had loads of great stories and advice from working as an ESL teacher all over the world.

There were 20 people on our course which initially neither of us were keen on, but it was actually great being in a big group because we got to hear so many ideas and work with loads of different people so it never got boring. There was a real mixture of people looking to change careers and move abroad, those who had already been travelling and wanted a reason to go back, existing teachers in UK schools who wanted to learn more about ESL and people looking to teach online. I’m not sure if we just got lucky but our group was fantastic; everyone was SO kind and supportive and we laughed so much over the three days. I really think you get out of it what you put in, so if you make the effort to answer questions, chat to people and contribute to group discussion then you’ll really enjoy it.

For anyone else planning to attend a classroom-based course through Tefl.org, lunch wasn’t provided on any of the days but there was lots of tea, coffee and biscuits. The Conference Centre is also only five minutes walk from Oxford road so there’s a ton of places to eat nearby on your lunch break. Here’s a little run down of what we did on each of the days:

Day One Icebreaker exercises as whole group/ break/ structure of a lesson/ warmer exercises in small groups/ lunch/ classroom management/ break/ practice immersion teaching (other students tried to teach us in languages other than english – this was really fun!)

Day Two Recapping day 1 in small groups/ whole class feedback/ vocabulary warmer / controlled practice example/ break/ grammar – tenses/ grammar lesson planning in pairs/ lunch/ planning, delivering and observing grammar lessons in pairs/ feedback

Day Three Coffee and donuts with whole class discussion about job hunting, interviews etc/ functions/ planned, delivered and observed production lesson elements in pairs/ break / levels and assessment/ lunch/ planning, delivering and observing skills lesson in pairs

Positives:

  • The classroom course was very practical with loads of varied tasks and tons of chances to get up a do some teaching (from a ten minute warmer on the first day to a half hour lesson on day three). The fact that we were able to plan and deliver so many lesson elements in a short space of time increased our confidence really quickly and by the end we both felt really excited to get out to Korea and start teaching.
  • It was brilliant to meet so many other people from all walks of life that we could bounce ideas off and laugh with. We swapped Instagrams with a lot of our fellow students and are really hoping to meet up with some of them again around the world!
  • Having a trainer who could offer real life tips that had worked for her and share experiences was so useful, and she was really flexible in her teaching style. We were encouraged to take as many or as little notes as we wanted depending on how we personally learned, and she gave us loads of ideas for what to do in real lessons and brought the (sometimes dry) theory to life. We were also provided with a magazine-style textbook that contains loads of examples of activities to try in our future classrooms.

Negatives:

  • Because we were in a big group lots of activities had to be done in pairs and groups e.g. sample lesson planning and delivery where as in the classroom this would be done alone. This did help build confidence but it meant we had to compromise on some aspects of the lesson depending on who we were working with.
TEFL Course Notes
We took lots of useful notes

Online component

The 130 hour course is spread over four modules; the pre-course task (a general introduction that you have to complete before attending the classroom sessions), grammar, teaching methodology and video observation. Within each of these are a variety of units that break the content down into manageable chunks e.g. tenses/classroom management/teaching young learners. This makes it really easy to dip in and out of, as you can complete some of the units in as little as 30 minutes. The units are delivered through video lessons delivered by teachers talking directly to the viewer, chunks of text and also videos of real ESL lessons.

At the end of each unit there’s usually either a quiz or an assignment to complete. You need to get at least 70% to pass a quiz, although you can repeat them as many times as you like and the majority of them are just true/false answers or multiple choice. The assignments are fine too, usually around 100-200 words and once they’re submitted you get the results within 48 hours. I kind of felt like the assignments were a bit pointless because sometimes they would ask you to plan a whole lesson in 120 words which is impossible, it’s as if they just want you to write something so that they can say that the course is “tutor assessed”.

Positives:

  • The course introduces you to a lot of good theory (especially about grammar) and it’s given in a variety of ways.

Negatives:

  • Some of the classroom videos were boring and there are A LOT of them to watch, especially in the video observation unit. A good portion of the 100 hours is just taken up by watching someone else teach a lesson which isn’t very exciting. I personally didn’t find it very engaging.
  • The classroom videos are also 99% focused on teaching adults so as someone who knows they want to teach children, that can be annoying as the set up is very different.
  • You can only submit one assignment at once which can slow your progress down if you feel like you’re on a roll. I also didn’t feel like the feedback from the assignments was particularly useful as it wasn’t detailed.

Manchester Christmas Markets Food 2017

Nothing to do with the course but we did take the opportunity to go to the Christmas Markets while we were in Manchester!

Overall

Personally I feel like the value of the course comes from the In class component, and I’m glad we opted for the 30 hours of classroom time rather than 20 as spending time actually interacting is what helped build our confidence and get us really exciting about teaching. If I had paid a couple of hundred quid just for the online stuff (which is basically stuff you can get from a couple of textbooks and Youtube videos) I would be really annoyed. Overall I’m really pleased that we chose TEFL.org as our training provider and would definitely recommend them to anyone who’s planning to teach abroad for the first time, but if you’re thinking of doing an online-only course I would definitely reconsider.

Thoughts on Body Image in Korea

**Reader alert: this post contains a whole bunch of navel gazing that’s probably of no interest to anyone, but I’d genuinely love to know other expats’ thoughts on this topic if there are any of you reading this!**

2017 has been a big year for us so far. Jod graduated from university, we’ve both been undertaking more responsibilities at work, we decided to move abroad, and I’ve lost some weight. I’ve actually lost 60lb, over four stone for us Brits, and it’s completely changed my life. I’ve been overweight for the past ten years and must have tried to slim down fifty times since I was sixteen, using all manner of diets. I’ve bought shakes and bars, joined countless slimming clubs, cut out whole food groups and more, but nothing’s ever worked until now because I’ve never stuck at anything longer than a couple of weeks. The short term lure of delicious crisps, chocolate and cheese always won out over long term change, until now.

Blairah Sarah Weight Loss 1

I’ve no idea what was different about this year, but for some reason the will power stuck around after the second week in January, and by the end of March I had already lost 35lb. I stopped drinking alcohol in January (for charity) and ended up staying sober for most of the year. I started getting up early before work to go walking and in February when a friend suggested we sign up for a race together, the girl who never even attempted the 800m in high school athletics started running and didn’t look back. Jod even started running with me and we did a race of our own to celebrate our two year wedding anniversary! Later on in the year I started going to yoga with my mum, and sometimes on my own, something I never would have been brave enough to do when I was bigger. I stuck to a healthy eating plan loosely based on Slimming World, sometimes going to the group but mostly doing it alone, plodding along and losing a few more pounds every month.

By the time summer came around, I was suddenly fitting into size 10’s (US 6) when 16’s (US 12) had been too tight back at Christmas. I still find it surreal when clothes shopping that I can pick something up in a size small and be reasonably confident it will fit. It’s bizarre to be able to wear what you want when for ten years you’ve tried to become an expert at dressing just to camouflage your wobbly bits. The low level anxiety I always felt when out in public and sweaty-palmed panic at having my photo taken have all but disappeared. I’ve found my love for clothes again and can find comfort in going for a run when I’ve had a stressful day, when last year I would probably have just binged on a whole cheesecake and then cried about it afterwards instead.

Blairah Sarah Weight loss 2

I’m sure I probably shouldn’t tie up so much of my self-worth in what I look like or what I weigh, but I know that I feel so much happier and more relaxed than I ever have before, and that’s very important. I like knowing that I’ve achieved something I always thought was impossible, and now I feel brave enough to take on all kinds of new challenges.

Is that an appropriate segue into moving to Korea? Probably our biggest challenge so far! Not only are we moving to a country where image is everything (did you know South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world?), but we’ll also be stood in front of classes of students who I’m sure won’t hold back in commenting on what we look like. I used to be so insecure and constantly worried about what people thought of me ALL THE TIME (what a narcissist, eh?) but over the past few months I’ve finally started to just chill out and enjoy myself, are those feelings of self-doubt going to creep back in because we look so obviously foreign?

Blairah Sarah Weight Loss 3

I’m still five foot eight and pear shaped so I’m definitely not dainty by any means, especially by east Asian standards, and I wonder how it’s going to feel to be considered “big” again when I’ve worked so hard to be smaller. Will I be able to find any clothes that fit or will I have to order everything off ASOS and thank God for worldwide shipping?

How will I feel about not being in control of what I eat during social situations? In Korean culture groups often share a large communal meal and it’s unlikely we’ll be the ones to choose what to have. There’s also probably going to be a lot of alcohol involved as we put ourselves out there to try and meet new friends. I don’t want to offend anyone by refusing food and drink, but I also need to make sure I don’t slip back into old habits, overeating just for the sake of it and drinking past the point of tipsy.

Blairah Sarah Weight loss 4

So far my plan is to stay as healthy as I can during the week with oatmeal, fruit, school lunches and veggie stir fries as main meals, and relax at the weekends. I’m going to bring a few cans of Frylight in my suitcase for low calorie cooking at home and probably ask my mum to send more when we run out. I’m also going to buy a set of bathroom scales on our very first shopping trip and weigh myself once a week, tweaking as necessary. We’re going to try to keep running, find a yoga class and take advantage of Korea’s gorgeous mountains and hike at the weekends.

I know it’s important to relax and have fun and take every opportunity offered to us throughout our limited time living in Korea, but I’m also not prepared to sacrifice my improved mental and physical health because of a series of poor choices. It’s something I expect to struggle with, but I can only try my best to find some kind of balance. Wish me luck!

Delicious Korean Food

Jod and I both love cooking and playing around with new ingredients, but even though we’re staying in an Airbnb this year rather than a hotel we’re still planning to eat out for almost every meal. Partly because I’ve been on a diet all year in preparation (60lb lost so far!), partly because it’s reasonably cheap to eat out in Seoul and partly because we’re big believers that going out to eat where the locals eat is part of exploring a new culture. With that said, here’s some of the best and most interesting food we tried in Korea over our last two trips.

We’ve split them up into three sections. First up is traditional Korean, covering dishes that might immediately spring to mind when you think of Korean food. Next up is snacks and street food; some of our favourite items that can be consumed on the go. Then finally there’s international flavours, definitely some interesting dishes in that category!

Traditional Korean

Korean BBQ

As with a lot of the items on this list, part of the fun of this meal is that you cook it yourself at the table (or, if you look incompetent and confused like we obviously do, a kind waiter will come over and cook it for you). The amazing smell of the meat grilling from tables all around you fills the restaurant and makes you feel super grateful for the plentiful side dishes that you can nibble on while waiting for it to be ready! Creating each mouthful of deliciousness from the bounty of different dishes on the table is like nothing else there is, and it’s rare that two bites are ever quite the same. There are a ton of different protein options but our favourites are pork belly and beef.

Budae Jjigae

This particular dish has its origins in the 1950s when the influx of US soldiers to the country during and following the Korean War meant that American military delights like canned processed meats found their way into more traditional Korean meals – Budae Jjigae literally translates to “army stew”. Everything from hot dogs, ramen noodles, beans, vegetables and the ubiquitous spam all mingle together in a spicy red-pepper based broth. Super yummy, although probably not the healthiest thing on this list…

Like many Korean dishes jiggae’s are meant for sharing, so sadly this is something you’ll find pretty difficult to enjoy if you’re a solo traveller. As in, they’ll flat out refuse to serve it to you in a restaurant if there aren’t at least two of you eating. Don’t lose hope, though! We spotted a D-I-Y kit in Homeplus that can satisfy all your cravings while you sit alone in your apartment…ahem.

Dak Galbi

Both of the examples pictured are from Yoogane, a chain of casual restaurants that I kind of liken to a Korean Nando’s. Young couples, groups of friends and families all pile in and enjoy delicious chicken at a reasonable price. There are a ton of options for customisation and there’s pretty much something for everyone, see what I mean? Dak Galbi is a kind of spicy chicken stirfry but you can add various veggies, noodles and even cheese to satisfy any craving. Our favourite way to eat it is by adding rice right at the end when you’ve nearly finished. All the yummy spicy bits stuck to the bottom of the pan get mixed in, making the best fried rice you’ve ever tasted. FYI, the prices on the menu are per serving and the side dishes here are self-service, kind of like a salad bar at the back of the restaurant.

Korean Fried Chicken

I’m not sure how long fried chicken has been a thing in Korea, but I feel like it’s done well enough to be considered a classic at this point. Maybe it’s because they use the whole chicken, maybe it’s because of a double-fry or maybe it’s just copious amounts of deliciously addictive MSG, but Korean fried chicken is seriously great. The best place we ever tried it was at a little place in Gangnam on our Honeymoon that had sadly closed down by the time we visited again a year later. The sky high rent prices and short lived popularity of trendy food items mean that sadly happens all too often in Seoul, but on the bright side there’s always something new and exciting to try! There’s at least a million other fried chicken spots that we haven’t even discovered yet, and I’m up for the challenge.

Korean Fried Chicken and Sausages

Snacks and Street Food

Beer/Snack Cups

Such a clever idea for hot summer days when you’re in need of a cold drink and something delicious to eat but you want to keep a hand free. There are a few different options for protein including pork belly, chicken, steak and my personal favourite: squid cubes! Plus you get veggies, fries, pickles and sauces, all in a little tray that balances right on top of your cup of either beer or soda. This particular place near Anguk station also served clam chowder which was yummy but did kind of defeat the object as we then had to use all our available hands to eat…

Beef Steak Squid Cube Cups

Croquette and Iced Strawberry Latte

Soft, pillowy mashed potato based dumplings stuffed with all manner of fillings, coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried, need I say more? We’ve tried various flavours including curry, sweet corn and kimchi and all of them were pretty great. This one was from Edae and while I ordered from the little hole-in-the-wall shop, Jod picked up an iced strawberry latte from the café across the street. An amazing combination, but enough calories that you should probably definitely share!

Croquette and Iced Strawberry Latte

Chicken Cup

Lots of the street food options are served in little cups with toothpicks so that they’re super easy to eat on the move. There are tons of different mini fried chicken options, some of which are coated in a sweet and spicy sauce and served with various accompaniments. Some of the best we tried came with little mini hash browns/tater tots and rice cakes before being smothered in the liquid gold that is plastic cheese. The one pictured below was pretty good and had some kind of chopped nuts throughout which added some extra crunch.

Cup Chicken

Doshirak and Kimbap

Convenience stores are everywhere in Seoul and each one is filled with tasty snack options completely different than what we might pick up in the SPAR at home. Doshirak are like a Korean lunchbox filled with different items that are great for trying a few different things at once, they’re also often endorsed by kpop stars which can be a bit unnerving. Imagine picking up a microwavable spag bol in tesco only to be greeted by Gary Barlow’s smiling face from the box. Kimbap looks similar to a sushi roll but larger and generally doesn’t contain any raw ingredients. The rice is also seasoned differently and has a fantastic sesame flavour that compliments the typical fillings of veggies, egg and sometimes meat or crabsticks.

Doshirak and Kimbap

Fried Cheese with Special Sauce

We’re truly heading into the world of the weird and the wonderful now, friends. Fried mozzarella with rice cakes on a stick? That doesn’t sound too strange, until the lovely smiling lady on the stall asks “White chocolate sauce?” expectantly. Obviously we said yes because why wouldn’t you, and it was actually pretty good. Would recommend, just for the experience if nothing else.

Fried Cheese Myeongdong Street Food

Tornado Potato Hotdog

We saw these tornado potato things everywhere and only really ordered one because they looked fun. You can get them with or without a sausage through the middle, and rather than the generic hotdog we were expecting we were actually delighted to discover a chewy, slightly spicy, almost-chorizo surrounded by the super savoury deep fried potato spiral. Head to Myeongdong to try one for yourself.

Tornado Potato Hotdog

Poop Bread

Our last street food favourite is mostly based on the comedy value. Who wouldn’t want a delicious sweet bread stuffed with either red bean and walnut or chocolate sauce, all served in the shape of a poop? Yummers. Poop-themed-food seems to be a recurring theme throughout Asia from my (admittedly limited) Google searching, and we also visited a café where poop-shaped, chocolate-coated waffles were served in tiny porcelain urinals. This was actually super delicious especially when served with caramelised banana, a frosty chocolate shake for me and a beer for Jod.

International Flavours

Pizza

You might think the world had reached peak pizza when Domino’s started selling one with a hot dog stuffed into the crust, but you haven’t even begun to fathom what they do to pizzas in Korea. The first one we tried had a hash brown crust, but was also topped with a combination of camembert, steak, tomatoes, spinach, basil  a red wine sauce and mayonnaise. Try to imagine that being served at Pizza Express. The second one takes the cake though, with toppings including smoked cheese, bulgogi beef, potatoes, ham, feta and pesto. Once you get to the crust, however, prepare to be dazzled with the flavour of… banana mousse?! Which you can dip into the accompanying blueberry sauce. I honestly don’t know what the Italians would make of this monstrosity, but it was definitely fun to try.

Sashimi

The Korean version of sashimi is called hweh and we’ve heard mixed reviews. It usually refers to fish native to Korea (which obviously makes sense) and a lot of these happen to be quite a different texture to those that are typically used in the Japanese version. I’m saying all this to essentially explain why we’ve so far been wusses and haven’t tried it. What we did try though, was some of the most amazing raw fish we’ve ever had on a super late night in Gangnam last year. The salmon was buttery and delicious, the tuna was meaty and flavourful and the octopus ended up being my favourite out of everything. It wasn’t cheap but it was super fresh and we definitely had happy bellies that night. The price was also offset a bit by the fact that we also ordered skewers of fried chicken skin for about 30p a pop, and my word they were good.

Chinese Lamb Kebabs

Finally, finally, finally we’ve arrived at possibly my favourite dinner option on this list; Chinese lamb kebabs. These juicy, fatty little cubes of lamb arrive at your table pre-threaded onto metal skewers that you then slide onto this rotating grill thing over hot coals built right into your table. The ones in the centre cook first and once they’re done you dip them into this crazy cumin/salt/seasoning stuff and enjoy. We’re not sure if you’re supposed to order something else with them to make it a more complete meal but I honestly don’t think you need anything else when the chargrilled meat tastes this good.

Chinese Lamb Kebabs Korea

Do you have any favourite Korean foods or recommendations for what we should try next?

Seoul Winter Vacation 2017 – Pre-Trip Planning

In less than three weeks we’re heading to Seoul for the third time in as many years for a ten day winter vacation. Why Seoul again? Because even with our previous visits we’ve only just scratched the surface!

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Surrounded by mountains – Source

Although less than half the size of London (by area) it has a population of 9.7million; over a million more people live there than in the UK Capital. This increased population density means that businesses have had to get creative to work with the amount of space available. Unlike in Britain where we have a row of shops at street level, in Seoul you have to think vertically and look up to the 2nd , 3rd , or 4th floor to find the bar, café or store you’re looking for. Shops and eateries often tend to be high concept, well designed experiences that set them aside from anything else out there. All this means there’s so much more fun packed into a smaller area, without even beginning to consider the miles and miles of underground shopping available in dozens of subway malls. As someone who loves shopping and food, Seoul offers the ultimate opportunity to see and do the maximum amount in a short space of time. The go-go-go pace might not suit people who like to chill on a beach doing nothing for a week, but we’ve found it completely addicting.

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Businesses are stacked ontop of one another – Source

There are so many fantastic galleries, museums and restaurants to explore, often at almost criminally low prices. The subway system is a piece of cake to navigate and, FYI, pretty much everything in the city is a feast for the eyes and an Instagrammer’s dream.

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It’s so easy to make this stuff look great – Source

Besides all that, we’ve never visited in the Winter before and can’t wait to see how Seoul changes in the cold weather, and to try a ton of new street food and seasonal treats.

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Heavy snow like this isn’t too common in Seoul but it sure it pretty – Source

So now that we’ve covered the “why”, let’s move on to the “what”! We’re aiming to pack as much as possible into our short stay, and for me that always means having a plan. On our honeymoon in 2015 I might have let my type-A personality run riot a tiny bit, assigning an activity for every hour of the day meaning that by the end of the trip we were totally burnt out. Last year I went too far the other way and we definitely wasted a lot of time while we were there trying to figure out what to do instead of just going and doing it. We’re trying to strike a balance this time so that we can do everything we want to whilst still taking the time to relax and enjoy ourselves rather than rushing from place to place.

Together we’ve come up with a rough itinerary so that we know which area of the city we’re heading to each day but with the flexibility to choose what to actually do when we arrive depending on how we feel that day. If you can’t tell by the way, I’m definitely the organiser/stress-head in our relationship while Jod is the one who stays laid-back and goes with the flow…

We’re also splurging on a few extras this time to make sure that our travel experience is super comfortable and relaxed. I hate flying in general and Jod’s long legs and inability to get comfy mean he can never normally sleep on a plane, so we’re hoping that the little touches of luxury will help us feel really well rested and ready to hit the ground running when we finally arrive at our destination, rather than bogged down with jetlag like we usually are! With all that said, here’s our rough plan for our 2017 winter vacation, I’ve tried to include links wherever possible for anyone planning their own trip…

Monday 18th December – Take the train to Manchester Airport and stay at the Radisson Blu for 1 night. We might head back into Manchester for dinner, or eat at the hotel, and get in one last gym session before the tsunami of holiday eating hits!

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The Radisson connects right to the airport terminal – Source

Tuesday 19th December – Check in for our flight just after 09.00, head through Fast Track security and then to the Escape Lounge where we can have breakfast and chill out before boarding. Our first flight leaves Manchester at 12.35 and arrives at Frankfurt at 14.15 (local time). We have a couple of hours in Frankfurt airport and then board our second flight which leaves at 16.40. This is a longer flight at around 10 hours so we’ve chosen to fly Premium Economy with Lufthansa. This includes more legroom and a bigger seat as well as a seat configuration that means we’ll be sitting together without anyone else on our row. No more climbing over strangers to use the loo!

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Lufthansa long haul Premium Economy Cabin – Source

Wednesday 20th December – Land at Incheon International Airport at 12.00 (local time). Once we’ve made it through immigration and found our bags we’re expecting to pretty knackered, especially if we haven’t slept on the flight, so we’ll head over to DarakHyu, Korea’s first “capsule hotel”. It’s located right in the airport and while it doesn’t look anything like a typical Japanese capsule hotel (it has a shower in the room…) it’s mega cheap to rent by the hour just to get a bit of a sleep. I first heard about it from watching this video, where you can see a little tour. We’ve pre-booked from 13.00-18.00. Once we’re rested and have psyched ourselves up to speak Korean for the first time in eighteen months we’ll get a bus or subway into the city. We’re staying at a super cute Airbnb in Hapjeong with a movie projector and a collection of board games and are planning to check in, drop our bags off and then go explore Hongdae and get some dinner and drinks.

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A capsule hotel, but not really – Source
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Yes, there is a ladder up to the bed – Source

Thursday 21st December – Explore Hongdae and Edae. These are two of Seoul’s main university districts (did you know the city has 18 universities?! Me neither until I just Googled it) so they each have loads of cheap shops, restaurants and entertainment.

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Super chill Hongdae – Source

Friday 22nd December – Get up early and head to Yongsan to take the KTX train down to Gwangju. One of the most exciting parts about this trip is that we’ve been given the  opportunity to visit the school where we’ll be teaching next year! We’re going to meet the teachers, have lunch and observe Songwon’s annual English competition before going to dinner with the very kind Rachel and James (the school’s current English teachers). We’ve booked a private room at Guest 145 hostel for this night and can’t wait! I’m probably looking forward to this day the most out of the whole trip.

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The KTX train, Korea’s “bullet tain” equivalent – Source

Saturday 23rd December – Get the train back up to Seoul in the morning (this takes about 2.5 hours) and then spend the afternoon and evening hanging out in Gangnam. We have really fond memories of this neighbourhood as it’s where we stayed on our first two visits, so we’ll check out some old haunts and maybe grab a burger at Shake Shack.

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So much neon in Gangnam – Source

Sunday 24th December – We might have a look at Common Ground (a mall made out of shipping containers with a load of food trucks) in the early afternoon, but the main plan for today is to spend the evening at Lotte World – the world’s largest indoor theme park.

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Possibly the most hipster mall ever – Source

Monday 25th December – Merry Christmas! We’re going to spend the morning watching Christmas Movies on the projector in our apartment (specifically The Muppet Christmas Carol & National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – classics!) before heading over to Myeongdong to eat loads of street food then taking a cable car up the mountain to visit the N-Seoul Tower. This is the highest point in the city and we’re hoping to catch the sunset before heading back down to find some non-traditional Christmas Dinner!

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There are over 40 different kinds of streetfood served in Myeongdong – Source

Tuesday 26th December – If we’re brave enough we’ll attempt to visit a Jimjilbang – kind of like a spa but where everyone’s naked. Anybody taking bets that we’ll chicken out? We also want to visit Sinsa and Apgujeong to café hop and look at all the fancy shops. I hear there have recently been a few price increases for luxury goods in Korea so it’ll probably just be window shopping, but a girl can dream…

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Each cafe in Sinsa is cuter than the last – Source

Wednesday 27th December – We’re planning to go to Insadong for our fix of traditional food and culture today. This is a great place to pick up souvenirs for friends and family back home, and is one of the prettiest parts of the whole city with traditional hanok houses and palaces galore.

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Every single storefront sign in Insadong is written in Hangul – Source

Thursday 28th December – This day is a mixture of old and new. We’ll first walk around Seollo 7017, an urban sky garden built from a disused section of highway that rises above the city. The garden exclusively features plants native to the Korean peninsula and is a new addition to Seoul since our last visit. After that we’ll go south of the Han river to one of our old favourites, COEX mall – the biggest underground shopping
mall in the world, perfect for a cold day and a great opportunity to make any last minute purchases!

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Seollo 7017 begins near Seoul Station – Source

Friday 29th December – Time to head home! We’ll aim to get the airport around midday and might check out the KAL lounge for some lunch. Incheon airport is pretty cool and includes an indoor ice skating rink and a full cinema so there’s plenty to keep you occupied even if your flight is delayed – as we discovered in July last year when we spent about 12 hours waiting to had home via Turkey. Our flight leaves Incheon at 15.20 and arrives in Frankfurt at 19.00 (local time) then we’ve got a 2 hour layover before finally landing at Manchester Airport again at 22.15 (UK time) and going through Fast Track Passport Control. We’re planning to book an airport pick up with MD Travel because we’ll be too late to catch the last train, but I still need to sort that out.

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Incheon Airport has been awarded the title of “Best Airport” every year since 2005 – Source

Once we get home we’re pretty much straight back into work after a quick sleep and then we’ll begin the countdown to our next visit, the only difference being that next time we’ll be staying for good! I’m planning to blog the whole trip this year, but we’re also considering vlogging after getting addicted to channels like Kara & Nate, The Endless Adventure and Samuel & Audrey while researching. Watch this space!

Hope this blog was helpful for anyone planning their own vacation to Korea!

How we got our Teaching Jobs in Korea…

…as a married couple.

We had toyed with the idea of moving abroad to teach for a couple of years, but have always known that there was no point in making any serious plans until we had both finished with uni. Back in the summer after graduation when Jod was becoming really disheartened with applying to dozens of jobs every week for months on end and never even getting an interview, we started to talk about the idea more and more. All the reasons described in our previous post became more and more important to us until we couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

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Jod in a post-street-food coma in Myeongdong

Once we had made the decision and told our parents (which, by the way, was one of the most unpleasant things I’ve ever done), we started to get serious about the job hunt. There are two main routes to ESL employment in Korea; the EPIK program and Hagwons. EPIK (English program in Korea) is a scheme run by the Korean government to get native English speakers teaching in public schools around the country to improve the fluency of students. These jobs typically come with quite low teaching hours (around 22 each week), 8.30-4.30ish schedules and decent holidays, but the program is very competitive and successful applicants don’t know where they’ll be teaching until they arrive. Less and less teachers are hired each year even though more are applying, but the pay is good and there is a lot of support offered in terms of a 10 day induction and the chance to meet other people on the program. We initially applied to EPIK through Korvia, a recruiter that came highly recommended online. Honestly we didn’t feel like we were given any support or guidance with the application process and we were rejected as soon as we submitted our initial documents, without even the chance for an interview.

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Insadong, one of our favourite neighbourhoods in Seoul

This was a bit of a blow, but we didn’t let it dishearten us too much as we knew we had the option of finding a job at a Hagwon. Hagwons are sometimes described as “private academies” and typically offer kindergarten provision during the morning and after-school English lessons during the afternoon and evening for children from elementary right up to high school age. The most common hagwon jobs involve either teaching around 9am-6pm for mainly kindergarten or 2pm-10pm for older children. If that seems pretty late for children to be having lessons it’s because it is, but Koreans are serious about education, and many children study until late at night, every night. Some of the benefits of hagwon jobs include better pay, the chance to work with more English speaking teachers (in an EPIK job you’re usually the only native English speaker at your school) and the opportunity to choose exactly where you’re going to be teaching. Negatives include the fact that you’re kind of at the mercy of the parents who are paying huge fees to send their children to these academies and that you may be expected to teach many more hours a week (typically 30) with less support, and sometimes on weekends. There are lots of horror stories online about hagwon teachers being paid late or not at all, or hagwons closing unexpectedly and the teachers being deported without notice. Generally, however, if you work with a reputable recruiter and do your research, you should be able to find a decent gig. Our task was complicated slightly by the fact that we’re a couple who wanted to teach at the same school, so we had to apply for specific couple jobs which don’t come up as much as jobs for singles. This is because the individual hagwons actually own the apartments where their teachers live, so if they don’t happen to own an apartment big enough for two, they aren’t going to hire you both.

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The future of streetfood – pork belly, chips and beer that you can hold with one hand!

After our bad experience with Korvia we were a bit wary about working with a recruiter so we initially applied for a few jobs ourselves directly through Dave’s ESL Café job board. We had three or four interviews but we weren’t very excited about the schools; we either didn’t gel with the interviewer or saw red flags that made us pull back. During one interview the principal literally said “Oh. You’re not American?” as soon as we started talking, and then cut the interview short. A lot of hagwons are based on US or Canadian curriculums and so the schools are looking for teachers from those countries to help provide some cultural context for their students. It’s kind of understandable, but also a shame for us.

After a while I sent a message to Amanda, one of the Teacher Representatives at Teach ESL Korea, to try and increase our chances of success. Although they’re a recruiter, they work in a different way to the others. Rather than sending applicants a list of schools looking for teachers, they build a detailed profile of each candidate and then make these available for the schools to view. If a school thinks that a particular candidate would be a good match for their vacancy then they ask Teach ESL Korea to arrange an interview. That’s how we were put in touch with Julice (our recruiter), Rachel and her fiancé James, who offered us an interview to take over their jobs next year. We started reading up on the school they teach at, Songwon Elementary, and quickly learned that we were being offered a really amazing opportunity. Not a public school but also not a hagwon, Songwon is a private school in the truest sense of the word with all the advantages of both kinds of school, seemingly without many of the disadvantages. We would be able to work “normal” hours, together, have decent holidays and a great salary. Not only all that but Songwon is actually one of the most prestigious schools in Gwangju and is serious about providing its students with a fantastic education (one of their alumni went on to become the first South Korean astronaut!)… it almost seemed too good to be true. We went into the interview with a really positive attitude and just tried to be ourselves and really show our enthusiasm for both teaching and Korean culture. Luckily we gelled with Rachel and James straight away, bonding over food and travel, and we came away feeling hopeful but also very aware that there would be a lot of competition for these jobs.

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Gangnam looking peacful on a Tuesday night…

As luck would have it, Rachel also works part time as a recruiter for Teach ESL Korea so she was able to give us a lot of support and help us maximise our chances by suggesting we make some introduction videos to help convince other teachers at the school why we should be hired. There followed a frantic evening where we learned that neither of us has any kind of future in broadcast journalism, but somehow we managed to cobble together a few minutes of footage that we sent off to Amanda, Julice and Rachel with fingers crossed. We knew there were two other couples being considered for the position and that we would have to wait around a week to hear back.

Trying to be practical and not put all our eggs in one basket, we continued applying for other, more “typical” hagwon jobs. After a few days we interviewed with a Kindergarten we were really keen on. The location was near Seoul and the principal spoke perfect English, was really easy to talk to and was enthusiastic when we described how we would like to teach. We had a second interview and also each sent a short video lesson so that they could get an idea of what we would be like in the classroom. We were thrilled when they offered us a job, but both really had our hearts set on Songwon Elementary and the community in Gwangju that Rachel and James had spoken about in our interview. I sent an email just to find out if the school was any closer to deciding, explaining that we had received another offer but were still very keen and after a few tense minutes waiting to hear back we received the good news – they wanted to offer us the job! Obviously we just about bit their hands off and the rest is history!

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Jod is excited because we found frozen citrus soju

It’s still around three months before we start teaching but we’re already so excited and have even made plans to pop down to Gwangju and visit the school for the day when we’re on holiday in Seoul at Christmas. As far as the application went, I can’t recommend the team at Teach ESL Korea enough. The whole process was clearly explained to us, there was fantastic communication the whole way through (despite there being three different time zones involved!) and everyone has been so friendly and helpful. If anyone out there is considering applying to teach ESL in either Korea or China, I would definitely recommend them. I’m also pretty confident that if we had worked with them on our EPIK applications we would have had a much greater chance at being accepted, but in a way I’m glad we didn’t because then we wouldn’t have got the job at Songwon.

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Traditional hanbok in Insadong

That’s it for tonight…we’re currently knee-deep in visa application paperwork, so wish us luck with the next stage of the process!

Why?

….as in “Why are you moving to Korea?”

This is by far the most common question we’ve been asked since we started telling our family and friends about our plans way back in August. Even though we’ve been to Korea twice before on holiday people still don’t really understand what it is about this mysterious country that keeps pulling us back. Some people seem confused about why we want to move abroad at all, and other specifically think it’s strange we would choose Korea, especially with everything that’s going on in the news. Also, while we’re on that note, if one more person says “North or South?” when we tell them we’re moving, my eyes might roll fully into the back of my head, and then I’ll really struggle teaching…

I feel as though when people ask me I usually get a bit flustered and defensive, which I don’t mean to. It just sort of feels like people can be quite judge-y when they ask, and it’s a bit disconcerting when people question your life choices right in front of you. I don’t think people would be as forward about saying “You’re getting MARRIED?! To HIM? Oh no, I wouldn’t do that.” Anyway, hopefully this post will more clearly some up the main reasons why we’re making this big life change, and why we’re doing it now.

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The view from our hotel in Gangnam, 2015

1. For the Experience

Both Jod and I are going to be teaching English in a private elementary school in the city of Gwangju in South West Korea. We’re hoping to develop great skills as teachers and get experience working with children of all different ability levels. Seeing cute little kiddos progress in some cases from zero to conversational in a short space of time will be a great motivator for us to be the best teachers we can be, especially for Jod who wants to train to be a primary school teacher when we get back to the UK.  As rewarding and challenging as we hope teaching will be, that’s just the start of the amazing experiences we’re aiming to have by living in Asia for a prolonged period of time.

Not many people in the West consider Korea a tourist destination but it has some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery you could imagine. From Buddhist temples high up in the mountains to pristine beaches and green tea fields that seem to go on for miles, there’s so much for us to explore. We hope to use our weekends off to travel around the country and have experiences nothing like those we’re used to – temple stays, camping weekends and island hopping are all on the agenda.

We’ll be lucky enough to get a few breaks from teaching each year and because of Korea’s central location within East Asia we should be able to knock a few other countries off our bucket list too. So far we’re considering Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Bali and of course China, but the choices are pretty limitless!

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Coffee shops are everywhere & ideal for lesson planning

2. To Save Some Money

ESL teachers in Korea get a truly fantastic deal. Not only is the wage decent compared to working similar hours back in the UK (We’ll be earning 2.2million won/just over £1500 per month each) but taxes are lower, cost of living is cheaper and our rent will be completely free as our apartment is provided for us by our school. We also lucked out in getting a job where lunch is provided (that might not sound like much but imagine the savings over 2 years if you got a £3 meal deal every work day…) and within a short bus ride of our apartment. Public transport is incredibly cheap in Korea compared to the UK as is eating/drinking out, and this means we’re hoping to be able to live fairly comfortably off one salary while putting the other straight into savings. Two years should be enough time to pay off our debts, save for a deposit on a house and maybe even get a car when we arrive back in the UK. I’m sure there will be some months were we splurge and don’t save as much as we’d like, but hopefully we’ll be able to get ourselves in a more comfortable financial position fairly easily and have fun doing it.

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This delicious budae jjigae plus rice and side dishes cost about £8 between us

3. To Meet New People

We’ve heard that the expat community in Gwangju is one of the best in Korea with tons of opportunities to meet people from all around the world. There are running clubs, yoga classes, hiking groups and volunteering opportunities at the local animal shelter, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is such a great chance for us to learn more about the world around us, and I haven’t even touched on the fact that Korea is a very sociable society in general. As our Korean language skills (hopefully) improve, we hope to integrate ourselves into the culture at our school and create some amazing memories and form friendships that we’ll hold onto for the rest of our lives.

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Soju is the king of spirits in Korea

4. For the Food

It’s definitely no secret that we’re both obsessed with food and Jeolla Province (where Gwangju is located) is famous for the quality and rich variety of its cuisine. We love Korean food and can’t wait to explore the amazing culinary heritage of this region, especially as eating out is so cheap and convenient that most apartments don’t even have ovens! Luckily traditional Korean food is pretty healthy with lots of vegetables, soups and stews, but there’s also a plethora of treats to enjoy on the weekends; from chocolate covered bingsu (shaved ice) in the summer to brown sugar syrup stuffed Hotteok (pancakes) on cold winter days.

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Dak Galbi fried rice from Yoogane

5. Because we can

We’re still reasonably young (well, Jod is…), have no mortgage and no children. This is the best time for us to do something “crazy” before we settle down and figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives. The world is full of bad news, but we would rather take a risk for a huge reward than play it safe and regret it forever. And anyway, as long as we have each-other we’ll always be at home, wherever we are in the world.

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On our second wedding anniversary, after deciding to move across the world together.