Korean School Lunches

As an EPIK teacher you are entitled to lunch at school everyday. It is not free, but it is very cheap at about 3,000won per meal. You can opt-out of these lunches if you don’t like them.

I decided to give school lunches a try for a while before deciding if I wanted to continue or opt-out. After a few trial weeks I decided to continue with the school lunch because they are pretty good! The food isn’t always amazing, but we all know I’m super lazy and there’s no way I’m waking up extra early to make lunch when the school lunch is perfectly fine!

I spoke to one coteacher about the preparation of school lunch. Unlike most public schools in America that just heat up frozen nuggets, she said that Korean cafeteria staff make all the school lunches.  I’m sure there are a few things that are frozen and heated up, but as far as I can tell most of our food is freshly made and prepared by the cafeteria staff. Continue reading

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Chuseok in Ulsan

Ok! I am finally going to update about my Chuseok holiday weekend! Better late than never right?!

What is Chuseok?

Chuseok is often compared to Thanksgiving. Both are celebrations of harvest. While Americans give thanks for all the good things in our lives, Koreans give thanks to their ancestors  and preform ancestral rites ceremonies.

Chuseok is on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, so every year the date changes. This year Chuseok was September 27th. The holiday is actually celebrated for 3 days–the day before, the day of, and the day after–and are considered “red days”, meaning no one goes to school or work. This year the three days fell on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We were also given Tuesday as a red day, called a Holiday Makeup Day. The explanation I was given for this was because the holiday fell during the weekend when people already don’t work. So, we all had a 4-day holiday weekend! Continue reading

New Apartment!

I have some amazing news: 1 week ago I moved into a new apartment!

Confused?  The apartment I was living in when I arrived in Busan had mold because of a leak somewhere in the building. The landlord didn’t really care or bother to make an effort to fix it. I would clean the mold, but every time it rained heavily the wall would get moist and the mold would return. There were even a couple days were I could hear the water dripping inside the wall! >.< I got sick with bronchitis and pharyngitis back in the middle of October and could not get over it for. When I was still sick and coughing weeks and weeks later, my school decided to move me. Actually, my coteacher’s had been trying to get me to move for a few weeks. But me being me, I stupidly felt bad about moving out and kept saying “No, it’s OK.” My co-teachers, principal, vice-principal, and the school office manager are amazing people. I am so lucky that they care about me so much and help me as much as they do!

My new apartment in a high-rise building which is slightly closer to my school. Instead of taking both the train and a bus, I now only need to take the bus to school. That alone has been really nice! It is still really close to the Pusan National University area (PNU) that I can walk there in about 15 minutes and still visit all my favorite cafes, shops, and restaurants.

The apartment itself is really nice. I believe the building is only a year or two old, so everything is in really great condition.

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View of the main room.

As you can see my room is pretty large!! …And also quite empty at the moment. Continue reading

100th Day

Koreans don’t count things by months like we do in Western culture. Instead, they celebrate the 100s. Babies have a huge party on their 100th day of life and couples exchange rings and other gifts on their 100th day of dating.

Today is my 100th day of living in Korea. I can’t believe how fast the time has flown. It feels like I arrived here only only month ago, not three! Even though I miss home almost every day, I’m really loving life in Korea. I’ve made many friends and have seen and done many exciting things (which I REALLY need to catch up on blogging about!).

My 100th day is falling in the middle of a really exciting week for me. You’ve all read about my leaky and moldy apartment. I’ve been sick for over a month now, and my school finally had enough. On Monday they signed a lease for a new apartment for me! It’s bigger, closer to my school, has tonsss more storage, and most importantly there is NO MOLD. I will start the moving in process tonight and on Sunday one of my coteachers will help me move my larger/heavier items with her car. I am very excited!

I’m excited to see what the next 100 days have in store for me. Maybe a trip to Japan? Maybe a 9th grade class where not a single student falls asleep? ….Who am I kidding? That will never happen!

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To celebrate, here is a blurry and terrible photo of me standing in front of the “Tree of Thanks” my 8th graders and I made in my classroom.

❤ Natasha

수능: The Korean SAT

Today is one of the most important and also scariest days of a Korean child’s life. Today is the second Thursday of November. Today is the day of the Suneung (수능), the KSAT.

The exam lasts from 8am until 5pm and includes many subjects such as: Korean language, English, science, history, social studies, math, vocational education, and an additional foreign language.

Unlike the SAT in America, the KSAT is only offered once a year. Right now, high school seniors across the entire country are sitting in silent classrooms and completing the exam that will determine the rest of their lives. If you fail the exam–or fail by not being accepted into the university of your choice–then you must wait a whole year to take the exam again.

The entire country gives way to this exam

Schools and businesses are urged to delay their opening so that there are less people and less traffic on the roads while the students are hurrying to their testing locations (which are typically not their own schools).

The stock market opens an hour late.

Students running late to the exam can call the police for ride to their exam. Handicap students can call an ambulance for a ride. Taxi drivers and people on motor bikes also give rides to students.

Teachers, administrators, and parents driving their children to the exam will have signs on their cars and are given the right away, even driving through red lights is OK.

Everyone is quite. Drivers of cars and buses are asked to drive more carefully today to reduce honking. Coffee shops, cell phone shops, and makeup stores which are usually blasting music out their doors are quiet. Airplanes are grounded in the entire country for 30 minutes while students are taking the English listening portion of the exam.

Families of those taking the exam climb mountains to special Buddhist temples or sit in churches all day to pray.

Reach for the S.K.Y.

During the Busan International Film Festival, I watched a documentary called “Reach for the S.K.Y.” which followed three students as they prepared to take this exam. S.K.Y. stands for the top three universities in Korea: Seoul National University, Korea University, Yonsei University. SKY is Korea’s Ivy League.

Only 1% will be accepted to one of these universities. There is so much pressure from society on Korean students to enter one of the SKY schools. Anything less is a failure. This is a small country, and the job market is very, very competitive. Graduates can spend years trying to get a job, or even an internship. Being a graduate from a SKY school means you have a much better chance of getting a great job quickly.

During this movie I could feel the stress put on the students. I cried a number of times, including when one teacher told his student that he had failed the practice test and will fail the upcoming KSAT because he got one question wrong.

Repeaters (those who fail the exam the first time) can attend academies where they live in dorms with other repeaters and study all day for a whole year to prepare for the exam.

Below is the trailer for Reach for the S.K.Y. The trailer alone can give you a sense of the stress students feel because of the exam.

Good luck to all the high school seniors taking the exam today! Hwaiting!

Additional reading:

Korean Herald: Korea enters full ‘Suneung’ mode

Arirang News: Over 630,000 applicants to take college entrance exam on Thursday

A Month in Review: September 2015

I have decided that instead of posting a ton of mini blog posts about little things I do during the month, I would post a Month In Review at the end of each month that would include all the little things. Larger or longer things I do will still have their own posts.

This first one is obviously LONGGG overdue!  Sorry!

First Night Out

A few days after arriving in Busan I met up with a few other EPIK teachers in the Kyeongseng University area for chi-mek (치맥). Chi-mek means ‘chicken + beer’; in Korean beer is mekju (맥주). Korea knows how to do fried chicken!

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Guide to EPIK: Visa Application

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Just 1.5 days after receiving my placement e-mail, the FedEx man dropped off my contract, NoA, and INSA. These are two very important documents when applying for your visa. The process seems to vary slightly by consulate, but this is my experience with the Korean consulate in New York City and filling out the visa application.

A fellow Busan EPIKer helped me figure out which documents I needed to bring. The New York consulate website is a little confusing and lacks a lot of information. You can always call the consulate directly to get the list of required items for the E-2 visa.

DISCLAIMER: THESE POSTS WERE WRITTEN FROM MY EXPERIENCES as a successful applicant DURING THE FALL 2015 EPIK INTAKE. FUTURE PROCESSES OR FORMS MAY DIFFER. ALWAYS READ EPIK’S INSTRUCTIONS FIRST as they are “law”. USE MY INFORMATION AS A SUPPLEMENT ONLY IF IT APPLIES.

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Things EPIK Doesn’t Tell You (or at least not straight away)

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There are a few things that I wish I had known at the start of my EPIK application process. None of these things would have stopped me from applying to EPIK, and it shouldn’t stop you either. However, it would have been nice to know more about what to expect from the start so I could have gone a little less crazy! (I admit, I did not do a whole lot of research about the actual application process before applying.) Today, I am sharing some things I learned, in hopes that your application process goes smoothly and with less questions and less crazy panicking!

DISCLAIMER: THESE POSTS WERE WRITTEN FROM MY EXPERIENCES as a successful applicant DURING THE FALL 2015 EPIK INTAKE. FUTURE PROCESSES OR FORMS MAY DIFFER. ALWAYS READ EPIK’S INSTRUCTIONS FIRST AND USE MY INFORMATION AS A SUPPLEMENT ONLY IF IT APPLIES.

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The Quest for the Perfect Kimbap

My American friends all know how delicious kimbap 김밥 is because I forced them all to try it at some point and got them all addicted to its amazingness. One of the things I was most excited about doing when returning to Korea was eating a whole lot of Kimbap! What is kimbap? It looks like sushi, but it’s not. It’s better!

Initially I had a pretty hard time finding a kimbap place near me. I even mentioned this to a teacher at my school and the next day there were three rolls of kimbap on my desk! I have no idea where he got this kimbap, but it was amazingggg! Even the other Korean teachers I shared it with were saying how good it was. I need to find out where he got it.

I was also given some peach. My coteachers love to feed all sorts of snacks at school.

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Igidae Park: The most beautiful hike in Busan

I’m going out of order here, because a couple weekends ago I went on my second hike. I haven’t even posted about the first one yet!

A couple other EPIK teachers and I went to Igidae Park to check out a beautiful trail we found online. This hike was actually more like a walk-hike, a wike? Is that a thing? The trail is on the side of a mountain right on the coast. At times the trail is right over the ocean. The trail is a mix of dirt paths and wooden steps and pathways.

It’s a really beautiful “wike” and something that not many foreigners in Busan know about. The views of Gwangalli and the bridge are amazing. We had a really sunny and clear day (in the beginning at least) and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the view.

You can also see evidence of previous military activity, like lookouts and an abandoned basketball court.

If you plan on going on this “wike”, proper footwear it’s still recommended! It starts of flat, but as you go further in there are more and more steps. I wore Keds, and that was a mistake! There are some pretty tough parts if you’re out of shape like me! ou

I highly suggest packing a lunch and finding a nice spot with a pretty view on one of the areas where you can walk out onto the rocks to eat it. Makgeolli (rice wine) is also a great idea when hiking!

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