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Korean Street Food: A Peninsular Culinary Adventure

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Korean cuisine is a cornucopia brimming with hot soups, stringy noodles, barbecued meats, unidentified vegetables and lip melting spices. With every pyeong of Korea’s megalithic cities given over to dining, it’s no wonder so much food has spilt out onto the busy streets. Good thing too, because it’s out here, free from the entrapment of four walls, where the street food connoisseur can chow down some of the best dishes on the peninsula. Here are some of the most popular street food delicacies:


Tteokkbokki (떡볶이)

The staple meal of the streets has to be Tteokkbokki. Chunks of rice cakes, slices of odeng and the occasional vegetable huddle together in a sweet and spicy hot-pepper sauce. Spiciness varies from the not-at-all to the lower reaches of hell, so you might want to inquire before you get your tongue around anything.


Odeng (오뎅)

Odeng, another street staple, is soft fishcake similar to cured ham… only much more fishy! Odeng is to be found in many dishes in Korea. On the streets however you’ll most likely find it skewered on a stick and simmering in a piscine broth (국물 guk mul). It’s standard protocol for customers to help themselves to Odeng. Just tell the ajuma how many you’ve eaten when it’s time to pay up.


Sundae (순대)

Pig’s intestine loaded with cellophane noodles and herbs… sounds a little gross, doesn’t it? Trust me, though, it’s outrageously moreish! This blood sausagey like dish is usually served with a side of onions, salt and samjang (쌈장 – yet another spicy pepper sauce).


Mandu (만두)

Originating from China, Mandu is also gobbled down in the busy Korean streets with a fervency. Encased inside each deep fried shell of mandu are chopped up noodles, rations of pork, and herbs.

Bondaegi (번데기)

Bondaegi is strictly for the adventurous palate! Served in a paper cup, bondaegi are boiled silkworm larvae.  You won’t find them everywhere, but they are quite a popular kids snack. Give it a go if you think you’re hard enough.


Boiled snails(달펭이)

Boiled snails. There’s not much to say about this treat really, other than that they are snails and boiled. No flavouring, no sauce, just edible molluscs in a bag. Yum!

Ice cream waffle

Okay, not very Korean really, but commonly found on the streets with a Korean twist; namely enough syrup to melt the teeth right out of your gums. Still, quite tasty though.


Bon appetite 잘 먹겠습니다!  

The smallest spattering of Korean is all you need when ordering street food in Korea. Just point, count on your fingers and smile; you’ll be fine. As a general rule: If there’s a stick poking out of it, help yourself. You can also drink as much guk mul as you like from plastic cups by the odeng. If the ajummas working at the stall assumes her foreigner customer to be a newcomer to the peninsula,  she may try to warn off the spicy food.


If you thought this food was weird, check out the bizarre way it’s advertised here: Bite Me: Misozoonistic Advertising


A note from the editor-in-chimp: I originally wrote this for Travel Wire Asia. You can read it there too. Also a huge kamsamnida to my friends here who volunteered to pose for me… and of course to the lady that paid for it all (who refused to be photographed)





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So, long October! My last full month in certainly kept me busy.

Rock Piles on Jirisan

I climbed the biggest mountain peak in Korea, Jirisan. We did a little miscalculation with the amount of daylight that we had left and nearly had to finish it in the dark. This was made even scarier by the fact that there were 'Beware of the Bear' signs up all over the forest. Check out the link if you want to see some good mountainside fashion...or not!

Proof 10 Auto Pencil Etude House

Trash, Treat or Stash continued with reviews for Etude House's GOBACK Firming cream, Proof 10 Auto Pencil and Rosy Tint Lips. Will you give any of them a try?

Dwaeji Guk Bap

If you're looking to do the touristy thing in Busan, the Sites and Bites post can tell you what to see and where to eat amazing food afterwards.

Kimchi Making Competition at Hongbeopsa Temple

I went to a kimchi making event at a temple with a HUGE golen Buddha. This turned out to be a competition, which I was completely unaware of. It I had known then I would have tried even harder and won a prize, obviously! I shared the recipe afterwards.

Banana Makeolli

I also shared the recipe for my favourite Korean drink, banana makeolli. Delicious.

ROKD and OH! Roller derby Mash Up

October was a big month for Busan roller derby. The team had a big meeting and a couple of practises. I also played for the existing ROKD roller derby team in our mixed scrimmage against OH! The military team in Korea.


It was the Busan Film Festival, and I fell in love with the film Prince Avalanche with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. You should definitely watch it. We also saw some very creepy things in the Cinema Museum.

Gamcheon Culture Village

Speaking of creepy, we got our caricatures done at the Gamcheon Culture Village. An old slum in Busan that has been transformed into an art village. We were watched by brightly coloured birds with human heads.


The hunt began for all the travel necessities that I am going to have to invest in. The first step was a good bag, perfect for day trips or weekends away.

Namsung Elementary School Sports Day

A typhoon hit Busan on the school's sports day, meaning that the craziness was even more chaotic as they did every event at high speed to try and finish before the storm arrived.

Jack O Lantern Nails

The month of October went out with a bang as Halloween was celebrated. We won 1st place in the Halloween themed quiz that we went to, no thanks to me!

So now we're into our last 23 days of being in Korea. We're going to be busy bees, lots of packing, sorting and selling to be done!

Follow me...

Surviving Korea (more like, Loving Korea)

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For some weird reason every time I seat in front of my computer to write I just can’t do it, I don’t know what to blog about and I get distracted easily… it sucks, I have been in Korea for 2 months and we’ve done quite a lot, the weird things is, we’ve been doing things we never did before, or things we haven’t really done in a while….

I’m not sure I will remember everything, but we’ve done the Touristy things available in Seoul, we went to chill by the Cheonggyechon stream, walked around Insadong, saw the royal guard change at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, ate Tteopokki in Tteopokki Town (I will never know how to Romanize that word, sorry), rented a Bike on a Sunday at Yeouido Park, Took the elevator to the 63 Building, strolled along the Han river, took the wrong bus (twice!) and ended up in the middle of nowhere at 10pm, Had Coffee at…well.. a lot of the Coffee shops in Seoul (Incluiding Audrey Hepburn's), Took a tour at the House of Sharing, Shopped and had Street food in Myeongdong, shopped some more in Dongdaemun, ate Hotteok in Nandaemun, went to festivals at the City Hall plaza, went clubbing in Gangnam, took the night bus (with lots of drunk people), went to a Korean wedding, assisted to weird festivals, flew to Jeju Island, got into TV shows, and pretty much everything that was on my Korean Bucket list, I guess I’ll just start with the Kpop things just to get them out of the way since we’ve done too many Kpop related things to be true….

Audrey Hepburn Cafe in Seoul 

Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam 

Meeting a (not very noticable pregnant) friend

G-Dragon's exhibit

View from the 63 building

63 Tower in Chuseok (Bad idea, it was too crowded)

K-Style class in Myeongdong

Bibimbap with friends

National Museum of Contemporary Art 

Hi Seoul Street Festival (More like---Sky festival^^)

After the first 2NE1 Concert we went to, some more followed, lol… we have been biten by the Kpop bug, and I’m embarrassed to say, sometimes I would find myself singing songs by who knows who, anyway, we got to see 2NE1 live and for free (yet again), they performed at Seoul’s Time Square to film “something” (apparently that something was a part of an episode of the famous show “The Bachelor”), my sister found out about the show on the same day, just a couple of hours before, we had to have the Digital single in order to be allowed in, so, we of course got it, we got ready and 1 hour before it started we were ready and started our journey towards Times Square, we arrive just 5 minutes before, no one asked for the Single receipt (pft!), we got to be in the 1st row and well… it was nice, I actually enjoyed it better than the 1st one, must be because we didn’t have to wait a billion hours to get in and this time I got to really watch the performance instead of taking pictures like a mental person lol, the show was less than an hour and by 7pm we were on our way back home!

CL-shii (lol)

Dara and the "lucky" Mexican fan
After that my sister was hooked with 2NE1, she got songs not even I had O_o, she started following Dara on Twitter and that’s how she found out 2NE1 would be doing a “Flea Market” in one of the most fancy areas in Seoul Cheongdam-dong, so, of course we had to go since Dara said “prices would be really low going from 10,000 to 100,000’s” ha!, we arrived a little late (got scolded for it L lol) and ended up lining up for a bit over an hour on the 1st freezing night of Seoul’s fall, I was even tempted to cross the street and get a sweatshirt at Chromes Heart but, I didn’t want to spend ALL of my money there lol, when we were close enough to go in, they wanted to let in just 1 of us (at the moment) but we said NO! and then this nice girl with the most perfect English and attitude came for us and let us in^^, by the time we got in the “good” and “cheap” stuff were gone, so we were actually just looking and checking if there was something we recognized (at least that’s what I was doing), I was checking the jackets until I heard someone yelling “DARA UNNIEEEEEEEEEE!!”, I turned around and she was there, next to me, so of course I hurried and asked her if we could take a picture together, she seemed to be scared because…well.. everyone was yelling her name, but she agreed and Diana came to take my pic and then she got hers, after that we left but not before thanking the girl for letting us in and have a nice conversation with her, all in all it was great, after that we of course Instagrammed/twitted our pictures with Dara and things went crazy (for a mortal like me), I started getting RT’s, Favorites, mentions, questions, etc, my phone stopped sending notifications and just gave up, by the time we reached home I had over 100 RT’s and then my sister’s pic was posted in a Fans site and mine was posted in a fans Instagram account (this photo got over 2,000 likes), it was CRAZY, people started asking where were we from and then one person saw my sis’ pic and recognized the lastname because she saw my previous picture with Dok2, we were then known as the “Verdin sisters” lol, it got to a point when people started saying the pictures were fake because apparently only Koreans can take pics with Korean Idols…

Dok2 & Gangsta Me (as if) @ the AOMG Launching Party

With Beenzino 
Some days before the Dara thing, we went to Jay Park’s AOMG party, we had RSVP’ed before but when we arrived things got weird, no one seemed to speak English, they didn’t have the RSVP list and decided to allow people in only if you had an app on your phone and showed them the invitation on the app, pft!, we had to download the app and then again they changed their minds, we had to line, they moved the lines and somehow we ended up at the back O_o, after asking them about what was going on and them not speaking English, they just let us in and even sent us to the VIP area… DAEBAK! Lol, the club was very 80’s, people in Korea is still allowed to smoke inside clubs, the music is not very good and people dance as if they were back in the 80’s, 90’s, once Ben Baller came into the stage to introduce Jay Park things got better and suddenly G-Dragon, Dara, CL, Lydia Paek and others were walking next to us to go to the stage, Jay sang a couple of songs with Dok2, and Beenzino and then G-Dragon and the rest went back to the 2nd floor, I had G-dragon next to me for a minute but couldn’t articulate a word, so I just randomly touched his arm…yup, because I’m awkward like that LOL, after that even Justin Bieber was at the club with his DJ and he also did some DJing, so, it was pretty much THE place to be, I’m glad we got in, ah!, also, Diana got to say Hi to CL (finally!) haha, I got to meet Dok2 (he is so cute and so short!) and Beenzino.

I think for now this is MORE than enough, I’ll save the Seoul Fashion Week-GD’s mini concert, MBC Recording with Crayon Pop, FT Island (Aaaand that will be my last Kpop Post [maybe]) and the Jeju stories for later.

-Gisela V.

The Julie/Julia/Gisela Project
Food & Culture

The Julie Julia Gisela Project



Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan, South Korea (Part 1)

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My trip here was mainly inspired/encouraged by the wonderful Seoul Searching's collaba-series with others bloggers about Colours in Korea. Although she did probably spell it 'colors' and thus is wrong. But I've always been one to head for a destination and have no plans or itinerary and see what grabs my mood. (In this case, Twitter)
Also, I just like wandering.
And the Gamcheon Culture Village is a perfect place for just that. A good half a day or more could be spent roaming around the maze of streets, taking pictures of all the coloured artifacts, strange mascots and graffiti (but not of yourself, you aren't interesting) and hunting down hidden art rooms.
A few years ago Gamcheon was no culture village, in fact at one point (years ago) it was the home to a religion called Taegeukdo (that I can't find any sources in English about!) that believed in the negative and positive signs on a battery a little too much. After that it became a refuge for locals during the Korean war, and now, tourists, thousands of them a year wander around every crevice and alley-way looking for 'CULTURE DAMMIT'.
It's an uncomfortable feeling, there are people living there, some of whom were probably alive during the 1950's and the tourists...students, kids, dogs, families,, we're just trampling through their neighborhood without a care. And after the third time you almost walk straight into someone's home or get attacked by deadly washing being hung to dry you have to wonder if the government really did the residence a favour by giving them artists instead of eviction notices. (The answer is probably yes by the way...)
But can you imagine living there?
I recently visited Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul, signs everywhere requesting people respect the residents...the ones rich enough to not to have to live in a tourist destination...the residents of Gamcheon probably have no such choice.
So, go, visit, wander and spend some time (and money), but be damn respectful of the people who have to live in a Lonely Planet hotspot.
*I had so many photos from here I've had to split this place in two, this post focusing on the close-ups, the next will be the wide shots...
How to get there:
Get to Toseong Station (Orange Line/Line 1). Only four stops from Busan KTX Station
Exit from Exit 6 and turn right at the crossroads (intersection, Yank).
Walk to the first bus stop (a small one opposite a hospital)
Take bus 2 or 2-2
10 minute journey. You'll know when to get off.
Other routes:
  • Walk from Toseong Station, 20 mins max and you'll see more interesting things and get some exercise.
  • Get a taxi, you lazy bugger. Ask for 'Gamcheon Munhwa Ma-Eul' (감천문화마을 in Hangul)
Coming back via bus you should get off at Jalgalchi Station.


Bats - Red In Tooth & Claw

This would the time to talk about my band (we're called 'Colours'), but we didn't exist then...have some Science Rock instead.


Gay Short Film Festival 2: The Gays Are Coming

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It looks like this short film festival is on its way to becoming an annual event!

Last year's 특징 (special feature) was how all the films were created using Smart Phones. This year, a majority were filmed using Smart Phones, but some were filmed with professional equipment. The theme is Second Life. As you can see in the above poster, the disparity between familial, professional, and social life will be explored.
Eight short films will be featured exploring transgender, lesbian and gay themes. As a busy grad student, I don't have time to translate the synopses of the films...

I imagine there will NOT be subtitles. Go practice your Korean!

The festival is on the 16th of November starting at 7:30 pm at the Seoul Art Cinema. If you can make it, please report back to TKQ. 

Shin Chaeho – On the Road to Mount Baekdu

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Shin ChaehoShin Chaeho (申采浩, 신채호, 1880-1936) was a Korean independence activist and a very controversial but influential historian. He was of the Goryeong Shin Clan (高靈申氏, 고령신씨); his pen name (號, 호) was Danjae (丹齋, 단재). In 1897, he entered to study Sungkyunkwan (成均館, 성균관). In 1905, he graduated with a doctorate from Sungkyunkwan was appointed as a teacher that year, but resigned in protest of the Japanese Protectorate Treaty of 1905 (乙巳條約, 을사조약). He joined the editorial boards of the Capital Gazette (皇城新聞, 황성신문, Hwangseong Shinmun) and the Korean Daily Newspaper (大韓每日申報, 대한매일신보, Daehan Maeil Shinbo) to further the cause of the Patriotic Enlightenment Movement (愛國啓夢運動, 애국계몽운동). In 1910, in response to the Japanese annexation of Korea, Shin Chaeho emigrated to China and joined various Korean independence movements. During this time, he wrote extensively on Korean history and nationalism, including the concept of the Korean race (韓民族, 한민족), rejection of China-centered view, which he called “Sadaejueui” (事大主義, 사대주의), and irredentist claims over Manchuria. He also was an anarchist and part of an organization called the Eastern Anarchist Union (東方無政府主義聯盟, 동방무정부주의연맹). In 1928, Shin Chaeho was arrested in Jilong (基隆, 기륭, Giryung) in modern day Taiwan for having forged papers while working to support the anarchist organization. He died of a stroke while in jail in 1936. Despite his opinions on China in Korea’s history, he had no problems with using Hanja, as most of his works were in mixed script and he wrote a number of Classical Chinese poetry, including the following composed presumably around 1920.

白頭山途中 백두산도중

On the Road to Mount Baekdu

人生四十太支離 인생사십태지리
貧病相隨暫不移 빈병상수잠불이
最恨水窮山盡處 최한수궁산진처
任情歌曲亦難爲 임정가곡역난위

The fortieth year of my life has been quite boring and dull.
Poverty and infirmity follow each other and do not even briefly leave.
Most sorrowful is the place where the waters have been depleted and the mountains have worn out.
To sing a tune to my heart’s content is also difficult to do.

南來北走動經年 남래북주동경년
來亦然然去亦然 내역연연거역연
從知萬事須自斷 종지만사수자단
俯仰隨人最可憐 부앙수인최가련

Coming south and running north, I move passing by this year.
To come also is like so and so; to depart is like so.
Even if one knows all things, one must have self-determination.
To look down and gaze up to follow another is most pathetic.


Human • life • four • ten • greatly • to be boring • to be dull
Poverty • illness • mutually • to follow • briefly • not • to move
Most • resentment • water • to exhaust • mountains • to exhaust • place
As one pleases • passion • to sing • tune • also • difficult • to do

South • to come • north • to run • to move • to pass • year
To come • also • like so • like so • to depart • also • like so
Although • to know • ten-thousand • things • must • oneself • to determine
To stoop down • to gaze up • to follow • another • most • can • pitiable


  • 白頭山(백두산) – Mount Baekdu is a famous mountain on the Korea-China border. Its Chinese name is Mount Changbai (長白山, 장백산, Jangbaeksan).
  • 支離(지리) – To be boring. In colloquial Korean, the pronunciation of this word has been corrupted to Jiru as in Jiruhada (지루하다).


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Temple Stay: Geumsansa Temple (Jeollabuk-do)

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The three story Mireuk-jeon pagoda at Geumsansa Temple (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Hello Again Everyone!!

Introduction to the Temple:

Geumsansa Temple (Golden Mountain Temple) was first established in 599 A.D., and the temple was built to pray for the Baekje king’s, King Beop’s, prosperity and good fortune. The temple is beautifully perched on the western foothills of Mt. Moaksan. Mt. Moaksan is known as the “Mother Mountain,” because it’s the cradle of many indigenous religions in Korea. Additionally, the mountain also looks like a mother cradling her baby. Later, in 766 A.D., the temple was further expanded by the monk, Jinpyo. In fact, the temple, at this time, became the head temple for the worship of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). The temple is best known for its beautiful three story Mireuk-jeon Hall, which is the only one of its kind in Korea. The other highlights at this temple are the Noju building divider, Seogyeondae lotus-based stone pedestal, Ocheung Seoktap five-story pagoda, and the Yukgak Tachung Soktap, which is a hexagonally shaped pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). There are simply too many highlights at this temple to see and experience to mention them all.

In total, Geumsansa Temple runs three different types of programs at its temple. The first is “Templestay: Whispering Together…”, which is a one night and two days program. The other program is the “Seon: Understanding Myself,” program that is a one week program that focuses on practicing Buddhism on a daily basis. And the third program is the yearly Temple Stay, where former participants gather to enjoy the program once more. This program is called “Memories of Templestay.”

The most common, and popular, program is the one night and two days program. Because of the number of monks and volunteers at the Geumsansa Temple Stay program, participants can interact more freely with monks at any given time. Also during this program, it features Seon meditation, 108 bows, a tea ceremony, and a walking meditation. It truly has something for everyone.

(Courtesy of the Geumsansa Temple Stay website).


There are two ways to get to Geumsansa Temple from Seoul. First, you can take subway line #2 to the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, and get a bus for Gimjae (about 2 hours 50 minutes). Across the street from the Gimjae Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take a bus directly to Geumsansa Temple (50 minutes), and then walk for 10 minutes to get to the temple.

And the second way you can get to the temple is you can take subway line #3 to the Nambu Bus Terminal, and then get a bus to Jeonju (about 2 hours 30 minutes). There’s a bus stop for Geumsansa Temple directly in front of the Jeonju Express Bus Terminal (about 50 minutes), and then you’ll need to walk 10 minutes to get to the temple. 

General Schedule:

Geumsansa Temple Stay features three different programs. It features a one week program that focuses on an authentic experience as a practicing Buddhist. The second is a yearly Temple Stay program, where past participants enjoy the Temple Stay experience all over again. And the final one is the one night, two days Regular Schedule program. Here is a sample schedule of what you might experience during this program:

Day One:

15:00~16:00 : Registration & Free Time
17:00~18:00 : Orientation (Learn About Temple Etiquette)
18:00~18:50 : Traditional Buddhist Meal
19:00~19:30 : Striking the Temple Bell & Evening Service
19:30~20:00 : Walking in Peace (Walking Meditation)
20:00~21:00 : Down Time
21:00~ : Sleeping

Day Two:
03:30~04:00 : Early Morning Service (Optional)
04:00~04:30 : 108 Prostrations (Optional)
04:30~05:00 : Seon Meditation
05:00~06:00 : Walking Along a Tranquil Forest Path
06:00~07:00 : Temple Breakfast
07:00~07:30 : Communal Work (Sweeping the Grounds)
07:30~09:00 : Making 108 Prayer Beads
09:00~10:30 : Tea-time with a Monk
10:30~11:30 : Temple Tour
11:30~12:00 : Comments and Feedback
12:10~13:00 : Temple Lunch
After lunch : Departure

*Bring your own toiletries (toothbrush, towels), T-shirts, running shoes and an umbrella.

* If you want to use your own room (only for you or with family or with friends), then +20,000 won per night.


(Courtesy of the Geumsansa Temple Stay website).

Geumsansa Temple Information:

Address : 39, Geumsan-ri, Geumsan-myeon Gimje-si Jeollabuk-do
Tel : +82-63-542-0048 / Fax : +82-63-548-1390
homepage :
E-mail :


Adults: 50,000 won; Teens: 30,000 won; Under 13: 30,000 won (Regular Schedule)

*Add 20,000 won if you want your own room.


Reservations for the Geumsansa Temple Stay program.


(Courtesy of Wikipedia).

The Good, The Bad, The Impossible All Have Something to Teach Us

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Hey, teachers, both ESL and good old fashioned first language educators: do kids annoy the shit out of you sometimes? Oh, absolutely! Children are unpredictable as hell. One day, the little angel can turn into a little asshole. Heck, they can do that in the span of one class. Then there are the ones who are never nice, the little sociopaths seem to want to stop at nothing to turn your psyche into a puddle of sad goo, waiting to be dumped into the nearest drain, flushed away with your self-esteem, hopes and dreams.

But not all experiences are like the bleak picture described above. If they were, I am not sure anyone would have the fortitude to withstand a day in a classroom, let alone a year. For those that could, you get my eternal gratitude, and any drugs I could find for you.

Even the assholes usually have a reason why they are assholes. And, like their swing toward terror from angel, terrors do occasionally swing back to angel, often unexpectedly.

One of my younger students, “Evan,” used to be a royal pain in the ass. I would never label him a terror, but whenever I saw a class list for the day including him, I may sigh and say to myself, “let’s just get through this.” I wonder if that was reflected in my attitude, as well. Because one day, several months ago, he asked out of the blue, “do you like me?”

It caught me a little off-guard. “Of course,” I said, mostly true but with the silent wish, “if only you would shut the hell up and pay attention sometimes.” From that point forward, this kid who never before paid attention has done just that, and has even confided in me his love of drawing, most recently showing a pretty impressive drawing of something called “Tobot.” He also said he is in the middle of drawing the KTX Korean bullet train, which he said is really hard.

“Ella,” this tiny, bug-eyed little girl, started out sweet and then went all batshit crazy for a while. Lately, she has mellowed considerably. She has gone back to sincerely sweet, while her English skills have just not been able to catch up. It’s as if she matured enough to recognize she was stuck in the hagwon and she could make the best of it or the worst of it. Who knows? She’s a kid! That’s the point. Kids are unpredictable. I was. Sometimes, we can’t rationalize something, we have to just accept what’s happened so far and do what we can to guide the present situation in as positive a direction as possible. Of course, easier said than done, but it’s definitely a worthwhile investment of our time.

Some students just work better with others than others. “Lee” has liked to draw pictures of me and some of the other female Korean teachers on the back of our school’s “coupons (rewards)” with hearts around us. “Alex” often gives me a snack if he has an extra one on hand. “Sally” calls me “Cute Bear,” which I absolutely adore.

“Steve” left about a month ago. He was one of my favorites and never stopped being one of my favorites. Slightly chubby, this 12-year-old always asked me and Michael, the other foreign teacher, “do you have a hamburger?” and would say, “welcome to Genius Class” whenever we walked into his classroom. Unfortunately, that “genius” moniker stuck, and he was shipped off to a smart middle school in another part of the city.

“Cole” is at an age, 12, where it seems like he is trying to assert himself as a dominant figure. When he first arrived at the school, he was quiet and did his work. Once he gained an audience, he became a terror, so much so that after several months, one of the Korean teachers who had him since the beginning washed her hands of him and he was put with another Korean teacher, because he had become impossible. No matter what, he has not wanted to listen. If he is not talking or shouting or generally being a jerk, he’s shutting down completely, without an audience, without a reason to care.

There are those who are obviously going to be your favorites and those you might need to put some extra effort into winning them over. And, yes, there are going to be a few you’re just not going to get. It really is “win some, lose some” sometimes. It doesn’t mean you never try, but recognizing when the rest of your students in a class are suffering because you’re trying so, so hard on one student, and then reluctantly letting them go, also is important.

But, just because you let go now doesn’t mean you have to forever. Like “Ella,” they may just come back on their own. I did not set out here to become a lifelong teacher. I possibly still won’t whenever my time in Korea is done, but these kids have had a profound impact on me in just these past nine months. And that includes not just the easy ones, but the ones you have to work for and the ones you’re probably never going to get. All of them have something to teach us.

Hat tip to Tom Gates over at The Red Dragon Diaries for inspiring this post with a great one of his own on how to speak English to your students (and teachers)!

“Harry.” Unpredictable at times, but has always been a great kid.Image
“Kevin” left in late May. He popped back for our school’s Halloween fun day, and holy crap, has he grown in just a few months.

We have fun.
I grew out my hair for Halloween. “Lily,” “Misha” and their visiting friends approved for some reason.
Lucy” is a great example of putting a student in a situation where they will need to extend themselves a little more than they had before. She was moved recently to one of the smarter classes, mainly because they are in her age group of sixth grade. But, it also has had the effect of helping her English skills and confidence improve. I mean, she had enough confidence to stand next to this guy.

Having fun with the kids for summer camp.
teve. Aw, I miss that little hamburger.

JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.

Guest Post: All Foreigners Come Back

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About two years ago Conor wrote a real nice piece about me as I had just left Korea. It’d been a pretty long journey for me as I’d been there for five years. As Conor wrote I was pretty excited to do some things I’d been saving and planning for a while, but beneath all that was some anxiety as my long term plans were still unclear.

It’s a long story but the short version is my first job out of college was teaching in the Midwestern United States. It was a tough place with a lot of challenges, and after two years I decided to leave. I had the idea in my head that I accomplished something, and thought I now deserved some fabulous life or something like that. Basically as soon as I left my life went downhill. Lots of different things went wrong, had some ugly experiences etc. One thing led to another and I ended up taking a job in Korea.

I was hesitant to go, but I was really upset and angry about how my life turned out. Looking back on the previous few years I felt I had nothing to show for myself. Suwon South Korea ended up being my new home, where I taught English at a public middle school.

Almost as soon as I arrived things turned around. The saying probably is true that there’s nothing like your first year in Korea. The kids were so excited to see me. Do you know what it is to walk into a room and have 40 kids cheering for you? One of them would write “Handsome James” on his tablet and hold it up like a sign. I couldn’t walk the hallways for a while because the kids would see me and get so excited.

Jim’s middle school in Suwon.

That first year I didn’t go out much, but I was happy because I pretty much had a good time at work every day. I made a few new friends, and eventually started getting out more, doing the whole Itaewon and Hon Dae thing, seeing bands etc. During breaks I also got to travel to a lot of places I always wanted to go. I went to Japan a few times, Australia, the Philippines, India, China, Thailand, and a bunch more.

Along the way I changed a lot, and one day when I was out playing basketball with my kids something really hit me. I should have kept that job in the Midwest. It took me almost ten years to figure it out.

I never thought I’d do five years in Korea. Especially those first three, I generally believed every year that “next year” I’d be going home. Cut to the end of 2010, it was almost 2011, I had some money saved up and had been in prayer about leaving at the right time. I was working on my birthday which is right before Christmas when I found the note on my desk. Due to budget cuts, once my current contract would run out on September 30th of 2011 I would not be renewed.

Several other foreigners would have the same fate. I’d heard rumors this was coming, so it wasn’t a total surprise, but still it really hit me. This is it, it really is over now. If this had happened a few years prior I’d have been more upset about it, but I just accepted that it was time to go.

So I soaked in every moment of those last nine months. It helped that the new batch of kids that came in were fantastic. That last year was probably my second best year in Korea as far as the job went.

Then that day came Conor wrote about that I hopped on that bus, and I was excited. In just a few weeks I’d go to the New York Comic Book Convention and meet the legendary Stan Lee. I’d do a cross country road trip; self-publish a few books and sell them at shows, and do all these things I’d been planning and saving towards, but then what?

Jim with his poetry book at the Poet’s House in New York City

Culture shock was something I’d never experienced, but coming back to my hometown that’s been getting worse and worse, seeing old friends go through hard times, not seeing people you expected to see, and just generally being back in western culture was a lot to deal with. Reverse culture shock hit me hard. When a westerner comes back from Korea their friends and family tell them they’re glad they’re back where it’s “safe.” They say this because they love us and they mean well, but they don’t understand that we were quite safe in Korea, maybe even more safe than at home. I’m eating pasta at a Pizza hut in Suwon when some high school boys I don’t know come in. They’re excited to talk to me and offer some of their pizza. I’m walking down the street and some Korean teenage boys walk the other way and it’s “Hi what’s your name where are you from? You are very handsome! Nice to meet you!” Now I’m not saying they’re perfect angels who never do anything wrong. I’ve heard “Fuck you James” a few times as well. But in my own hometown that summer I was back a 15 year old boy followed me and a friend down the street yelling and cursing at us acting like he wanted to fight us. That never happened to me in Asia.

Doing my cross country road trip was great. I’d seen a few old friends I hadn’t seen in 10+ years, went to a few places I’d never been to before, but some of it was really heavy for me too. I went back to my old school in the midwest and ran into a few old students. One of them even said to me “We told you not to leave and you fucking did anyway!” I was coming face to face with what I did wrong.

However there was another personal situation which I won’t get into which was clouding my judgment, and I kind of blew a chance to go back to my old school. Now I was in a situation where I needed to start working soon and didn’t’ know what to do. Times like this you go with what you know, and, Korea being Korea, I was quickly offered a job.

All foreigners go home, and a lot of foreigners end up coming back. Almost exactly a year after I’d left I was back in Korea. Even though the reverse culture shock was hard to deal with, I wasn’t happy to be back. It was for a lot of reasons, but in short I was only coming back for a job and didn’t like that being the only reason I was coming back. I was real pissed off for a bit, but luckily it wouldn’t last.

This time I was out in the country side, kind of like being out in the midwest. The kids were great. I got to see a few friends that were still in Korea, got to meet Conor’s +1, and made some new friends along the way.

Still I knew what needed to be done. Last summer at maybe 2 in the morning I made a phone call and got the news that I got my old job back. I did feel bad for having to break contract with the Korean school, but I figured I’d do the summer camp so I wouldn’t totally screw them over.

Jim’s new/old school in the US

I was ready to leave Korea this time, and that’s the thing. I wasn’t really ready to leave the first time. Coming back helped me realize that I shouldn’t stay in Korea forever, as much as it’s a good life and an easy life, I’m not meant to be a lifer.

So what’s the point of all this? I don’t know. Conor asked for guest posts and this came to mind. I guess I’d want fellow teachers to know that there is life after Korea. Reverse culture shock can be really hard to deal with, but maybe reading this will help someone out there.

Both times when I went to Korea I did so hesitantly, but both times that country gave me a lot of healing and got me straightened out inside. In some ways Korea really saved my life. I’ll be forever thankful for that.


This post is guest post. For more on guest posts and how to submit pleasefollow this link.

smiley jim

James Murray currently teaches high school social studies in the mid-western United States after traveling the world a bit. He enjoys movies, old cartoons, and a tall glass of milk. When he has spare time he attempts to write. In 2012 he started Hard Coal Studios for his self published comic books, poems, and prose. His website can be found at and he blogs at

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