Saturday, December 27, 2014

Waving Goodbye to 2014!

This year is coming to a close, and I can't believe it!

Fun times in Busan!

 For me, 2014 has been full of ups and downs, but I'm still going strong.

So, what's going on with Little Lady? A lot of things in a short period of time! Here are some of the most exciting things that have occurred this year:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Barcelona Blues: Why It Wasn't My Favorite City

I was pumped for Barcelona, after so many people telling me that I would just love it there! I gave myself more time to stay there than in the other cities. I booked a train to Barcelona, which took some time. I wasn't able to find a decent host on Couchsurfing, so I decided to just book a hostel in a smaller, all female room.

Arriving at the train station, Sants, I was so confused. That's because they had the long distance train, the regional train and the metro going through there. That's good and dandy, but at the same time the signage there didn't make things obvious. There was lots of figuring out to do. I knew that I was supposed to take a train a couple of stops, and I knew my destination station, so I waited in a line to talk to the one lady at the information desk that was open. Good. Which train am I actually catching? With no map, I wasn't sure. Called the hostel, and got no answer. Then I had to buy the ticket. A bunch of different looking machines. Which one do I use? Finally got my ticket. I go to the right platform, but they had a few different trains running through there. Had to ask again. The first two trains weren't right, but the third one was. The lady told me it was my train. Good.

I get to the hostel, ready to check in. This hostel was called Urbany Hostel on a street called Mediana. I added one night, then with the city's tourist tax and the hostel's key deposit, my bill was over 100 euros. So, I pulled out my lucky 200 Euro bill I got from the exchange house in Seoul. The guy at the counter looks at me like I'm crazy, then tells me that they don't accept 200 Euro bills. They asked me to pay by credit card, and I declined, knowing that my U.S. Bank charges very high fees when using their card overseas. My Korean bank card was for withdraws only, and they cost money too of course. I wanted to be careful. I wanted to use that precious 200 Euro bill I had. Can't go to waste, can it? I asked to go to the bank later to exchange it for smaller bills, which should be free. They said okay.

Why am I telling this in detail? You'll see later.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My First Adventures in Spain: Madrid and Basque Country

After a stressful first semester at work, I decided to embark on my first journey to Europe. I spent a few weeks in Spain. While there, I wrote a bit about my experiences. As anyone would imagine, it was like a big side step from the daily life I am used to.


I spent a lot of time sipping wine and munching on tasty olives when I was in Spain.
My trip took a long time, obviously. I flew from Seoul, to Beijing, to Amsterdam, then finally to Madrid. The middle, long flight was unfortunately terrible! My seat was in the middle of a two-story plane, looking at a blue wall, and next to a toddler. It was a bad ten hours, but it ended eventually. Beijing's airport was messy and disorganized, I and had to constantly ask around to find out what to do and where to go for my connecting flight. It was full of conflicting information from different people. Amsterdam's airport was fantastic, though. Completely the opposite, and I was impressed with everything being automated. I saw a huge tribute to the victims of Malaysia airlines flight 17 outside of the airport. The lawn was covered with flowers and stuffed animals, which I thought was sweet. I wasn't able to get a picture, though.

About 22 hours later, I finally arrived to Madrid feeling like a zombie.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Question: Going Back to the U.S. After Ferguson?

Plenty has been happening while I've been on vacation in Spain

I'm a political and news junkie, and most weeknights you would find me on my bed, reading and watching the news. I'm almost always listening to political commentary whenever I get the chance. Even while vacationing in Spain, I'm still finding out what's going on via my cell phone and trusty tablet PC.

For the last week or so, I've heard the news about yet another black man killed by a police officer inappropriately. Since I've been paying attention, I realize that this is something that happens all the time. I see that black Americans are stopped by police, harassed, arrested for malicious reasons and often killed when they really shouldn't have been.  

However, this particular case has been all over the news, it looks like the people of Ferguson are rallying against it, and the happenings have been posted all over my Facebook feed. Political pundits on all sides are commenting on this story.

In light of all the coverage, I ran into a question posted in a Facebook group. Does the current state of affairs concerning police brutality against black people in the United States affect my decision on whether to go back?

I thought this was a good question to ask myself, especially as an expat that has been living in South Korea for almost four years now. I first moved abroad over four years ago, and I recently have thought about moving back.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Single Black Female: My Own Experiences Dating in South Korea

My favorite dates always include a good meal!

I didn't specifically come to Korea to date, but to teach. However, I do make dating a mild priority while I'm here.

One of the first lessons I learned was:

Some are More Successful than Others

Dating is mindblowingly easy in Korea if you are of a certain demographic. I think we can all guess what that demographic would be. Here's an example:

I first came to Korea in 2010. I was working at a small kindergarten with two other foreign coworkers, both of whom were male. One was American.

One Sunday morning, I headed to the American's apartment looking for help. He told me that he could assist me. He offered me some water, and vented some of his frustration to me.

He ranted about a Korean woman who simply wouldn't leave him alone.

You see, they had met on a night out, where he made the mistake of giving away his phone number to this particular gal. She kept calling and texting him. He showed me the texts where the Korean woman kept asking to meet up with him at night, presumably for sex.

While this guy didn't like that girl, I noticed the thing that stood out: A Korean woman was begging this guy for sex?

I was in a relationship at the time, but the idea of it stuck with me.

Friday, May 30, 2014

From Spring to Summer with So Much to Do!

I decided to have some photos taken! © j i m i z e l l : p h o t o g r a p h y

It's Spring now, and the weather has really improved drastically! My life is just moving along, as usual.

I have been transitioning to my new job pretty well, and it has definitely been a big change. There is also a lot more work, but I really love it! Most of my kids are well-behaved and eager to learn. Having my own kids and classroom really makes a difference, because I can develop a real relationship with every student and watch them all progress. This works wonders with classroom management as well, because I can put real procedures in place that the kids and I follow every single day. I love all of my second-graders, no matter how bad ::wink::

Gifts from the students on Teachers' Day!
My first round of parent-teacher conferences are over, and it was really nice meeting all of the parents. Well, mostly moms came, but some dads did as well. I was surprised at the excellent English skills of so many of the parents. The school provided translators, but only a few actually needed them. There's also a culture of parents always hovering around the school, usually toward the afternoons. This hasn't really been a problem, but it's certainly a change from hagwon life where I never met any of the parents! When meeting them for the first time, a surprising number of them were very reasonable and even chill. I really liked that.

 I'm almost finished with the TeacherReady program too. It has not been without its hiccups, however. Somewhere along the line last winter, around the intensive season at my last hagwon job, I fell behind on the assignments.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sometimes, a Good Korean Friend Can Truly Be Hard to Find

Wow! I'm in shock right now.

But let me begin with a story from awhile ago.

When I first arrived to Korea, I was starry-eyed and open to all of the new possibilities that the country could offer. I knew I would be exposed to a new culture, new food and new people. I knew I didn't speak Korean, but I was hopeful that I would be able to make good friends here easily. After all, I am a friendly person who likes meeting new people.

On that hiking trip some years ago. The woman referenced in the post is not in this picture

One day, I went on a hiking tour with a group of strangers. About half of them were Korean, and the other half were foreign students, military and teachers like me. I figured it would be a good way to meet new people.

While riding on a bus toward the mountain, a slightly older Korean woman approached me. Her English was good, I thought. She made up some small talk, asking me all sorts of questions about where I was from, and what I was doing in Korea.

When we talked about our hobbies, it appeared that we didn't have much in common. We weren't into the same leisure activities, didn't listen to the same types of music, nor did we have anywhere near the same sense of humor. We were different people, and that was okay. However, I did notice something. She stuck by me.

Throughout the bus ride and the long hiking trail, she made sure she stayed with me. The lady kept chatting and chatting with me. Even when I wanted to just walk, she seemed to always have something else to say. At the end of the day, she made sure she got my phone number.

Once she had that, she kept texting via SMS and calling, asking about when we were going to meet up again. She really wanted to hang out with me. Was she my new Korean friend?

Sense anything wrong yet?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Touring Bogotá, Colombia's Capital for a Day

Bogotá, as seen from the top of Monserrate Mountain
While teaching a group of Korean ten year-olds recently, I noticed a misspelling of Colombia in the textbook. When I pointed out the mistake, the kids insisted that it was spelled correctly, showing me a  Korean-English dictionary entry on a smartphone for places like British Columbia and the District of Columbia. I asked the students to spell Colombia again, with the second "o". They finally saw Colombia, the country.

"Oh teacher! You are a genius!!" Well, I try.

I taught English in Bogotá, Colombia for about seven months. It was my passport to the beautiful country. If you're interested in teaching in Colombia, you can learn more here. But this entry isn't about teaching there.

From Bogotá Resident to Tourist

My mom made plans to visit me in July, 2012. As a result, I purposefully avoided the majority of Bogota's tourist attractions until she came. I wanted to see them for the first time with my mom to keep it interesting.

Bogotá is the capital city of Colombia. Left is El Norte and Right is Bolívar Plaza
For her visit, I allocated only one day for Bogotá. Why? Because even though Bogotá is an enormous city, there really aren't that many interesting touristy things to see. For the average tourist, I think one to two days in the capital are enough.  In the end, we did about a day and a half in Bogotá, with the half day being the same day she flew out.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

From a Hagwon to a Private School ... A New School Year with a New Job!

Recently, I finished my contract with a language academy in Gyeonggi-do. My next stop is to make my move to Seoul for a new position in a private elementary school! I only applied to three positions, without needing to use any recruiter. I'm pretty excited about it. 

A new school year came in March!

So what is this new job about? It's definitely different from what I'm used to. First, it's a private school, and not a public school or a hagwon (academy/cram-school). I'll be a 2nd grade homeroom teacher. Instead of strictly teaching the English language, I'll be responsible for teaching the school subjects too, aside from Korean and specials (such as art, music or gym).

This school is a bilingual, and my 2nd grade class will have about 30 students in it. At almost any given time, half the students will be with me and the other half will be with the Korean homeroom teacher.

I have my own classroom
I'm psyched for a few reasons. This seems like a great school, and I got really good vibes from all of the teachers and supervisors I met there while interviewing. I haven't met everyone though, since the school has quite a few native teachers working there. I also like the idea of finally getting my own class of students. That way, I can concentrate on the same group of kids. At a hagwon, for example, it's difficult to address learning or behavioral issues with individual students because I'm teaching so many different ones who are coming and going. Finally, this is what I've been studying and it's great to be at a school where I can utilize my new skills.

Adding to that, it'll be nice to be living in Seoul for the first time. While most of my social life takes place in Seoul, I've spent an unreal amount of time and energy traveling back and forth. It sucks having to decline invitations when places are too far, or traveling for about 2+ hours in general to meet up with buddies. It looks like those days will be coming to an end!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Wonderland: The Garden of Morning Calm and Chungnyeongsan Recreational Forest

The Garden of Morning Calm's winter lighting festival

For Valentine's Day weekend, I decided to head north of Seoul with a travel group to check out the Lighting Festival at The Garden of Morning Calm.

I had taken that week off from work, and didn't do many exciting things (unless you think going to immigration is entertaining). This little day trip was a good way to end my week.

Valentine's Dinner at On The Border in Pyeongchon

But first, there was Valentine's Day! In Korea, it is tradition for the woman to give the man a gift for the holiday. Likewise, there is another holiday, called "White Day," which falls a month later on March 14. Then, the man is expected to give the woman a gift. However, for the single folks, their day is on April 14, where you all gather together to eat black bean noodles, called Jajangmyeon, and wallow in your sorrows!

Who can say no?

In my case, I decided to take my date to a restaurant. The week before, I showed him some tacos I made, and subsequently found out that he hadn't tried Mexican food before! He's Chinese, and doesn't typically eat the expensive foreign food in China. Recalling my good experience last time, I took him to another On The Border location, this time in Pyeongchon. It has the same yummy, mid-priced food. This one can be reached by heading out Beomgye Station exit 4, which is on Seoul Subway line #4. This location is right inside the Lotte Department Store on the 8th floor, next to TGI Friday. This On The Border's phone number is 031-8086-9805.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Is There a Racial Bias in Recruiting in Korea?

A sample of a job advertisement I found back in 2012. I guess I don't qualify.

There are tons of positions to be had throughout Korea, the majority of which are either in public schools or in private academies, known as "hagwons". Most of these jobs are obtained through recruiters. These are the middle men whose job is to find qualified candidates for open positions in Korea.

Why do we have recruiters? Well, since the majority of job candidates speak little Korean, and the majority of school officials speak little English, recruiters are a necessary evil. From the job candidate's point of view, recruiters introduce them to job opportunities they wouldn't have found otherwise.

One day, I began the job hunt for my next position. At this point in the game, I much preferred dealing with schools directly, although I was still open to recruiters if they happened to have the type of position I was looking for. While looking at a desirable position, I thought about the particular recruiter that was offering it. I was pretty sure I had sent my resume to that recruiter before, but I never remembered them ever replying back. I took to my magical e-mail search function.

I was half right. Since 2010, I had sent them my resume 3 times. I had only heard back from them once. In that case, they wanted an interview, but requested a picture beforehand, not realizing I had already sent them one -- it was in the top-right corner of my resume. Nonetheless, I complied by sending an additional photo. I never heard from them again. This, in turn, caused me to think of all of the other resume black hole experiences I've had. I was wondering how I'd have fared in the job search if my skin were a different color. Would I have been treated differently?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Change in Diet -- My New Challenge

These lamb chops from a restaurant were amazing! But I'm trying to eat less red meat.
 On the way to improving my health, I have been thinking a ton more about the types of food that I'm eating. Often times I'm in a rush, and I just feel too lazy to shop and cook! But I want to make a change to that.

What am I doing now?

I'm skipping breakfast. I feel like I'm always out of ingredients, and I just don't feel like picking up more. I also don't feel like getting up to cook every day.

I'm eating out a lot. As a young professional, I find myself eating out at restaurants. I'm ordering take out instead of cooking my own meals. This isn't so bad, but the best Korean foods, such as soups, are either impossible to take out or are too expensive. So I find myself gravitating toward stuff I shouldn't be eating so often.

I know it could be worse -- I could be eating at places like McDonald's, Pizza Hut or KFC! They're tempting, but I try to avoid them like the plague! The thing is, I know I could be doing better.