The One

“How will it go? Where will it lead? Will tonight become a lifetime full of magic? Go with the flow. You might succeed meeting someone you don’t think is fucking tragic.” -First Date the Musical, “The One”

Dating has always been high on my list of dislikes. I hate the whole process. I’ve been accused of being too picky, and I guess there’s some truth to it as I only get real crushes about once every three years. I’ve never had a lot of luck, so part of this New Me kick has meant being open to new, potentially awkward things.

A few weeks ago, I woke up to a text from a teacher – we’ll call him “Matchmaker” – at one of my schools. He speaks very little English, and it was mostly in Korean, so I had some friends translate it. Basically, he said he had someone he wanted me to meet. I was having a rough week, and in my fragile state/desire to continue to put myself out there, I agreed to it.

You can't blame me for thinking this, right?
Blind dates always are, aren’t they?

I probably should have asked some questions prior to agreeing. I found out that the guy he wanted to set me up with lived in another city, so it took some time to coordinate schedules for a weekend when I would actually be home. I also learned later that he was at least 10 years older and that his job involved something I am completely against. Still, I figured that if this guy wanted to set me (a foreigner who speaks almost no Korean) up with his friend, he must at least be attractive or speak decent English. Reasonable enough, right?

I should say that I don’t consider myself really superficial. There have been plenty of times when I’ve really liked men who didn’t do much for me physically. There needs to be some physical attraction, though, and I tend to go for tall, dark, and handsome nerds. When it comes to Korean men, there’s no doubt that Daniel Henney would be my type, but I’m certainly not expecting to find a guy who looks like him. I’m not *completely* delusional after all.

I won’t lie. I was looking for a Daniel Henney gif and got distracted. Can you blame me? I mean, really…

On Saturday, I went on the date low expectations. Matchmaker picked me up to introduce me to his friend, and we went to a cafe. I had told him that I was sick during the week with a stomachache, which was true but more of an out if I needed it.

Not surprisingly, my date was more of a Psy than a Daniel Henney. Still, I tried to stay positive and hold out hope that we could have a good talk and maybe even be friends. As soon as we were introduced, I realized that was unlikely because he spoke even less English than Matchmaker. I couldn’t imagine how this would work. My stomachache was becoming more real by the second.

The next 1-1/2 hours were filled with awkward conversation, though “conversation” is a stretch. It was basically very broken English with one word sentences. “Baseball?” “A little. I like hockey more.” “Ice hockey?” “Yes.” “Oh! Baseball.” The majority of the conversation occurred through translator apps, which did not work very well. Matchmaker wanted to leave us “juniors” alone to go to dinner ourselves, but I said I couldn’t eat because of my stomach. They kept talking about “Next time, dinner” and something about Psy taking me to a music festival, as if these things were happening without regard to whether I was interested. Wait, what?!

Sarcastic, of course.
Sarcastic, of course. There’s a reason I’ve been called Liz Lemon.

After a long time of just “talking” at the cafe, we finally ordered something to drink. As terrible as it sounds, I started sending SOS messages to friends and people I knew in town. “Save me! I need out!” One person was actually going to “randomly” show up at the cafe, but I told him not to because I was going to end it on my own like the grown woman I pretend to be. I made a decision to be polite and finish my smoothie before I said anything.

misfitssavemebarry
This is amazingly accurate.

I stayed as long as I possibly could. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I told them I had a stomachache and needed to rest. Psy wrote something in his app that was possibly very sweet but translated to “I drink pain,” so I can’t be sure. Matchmaker drove me home and said Psy would probably text me later. (Matchmaker gave him my phone number without asking my permission.) Matchmaker texted me later, and I told him that it wasn’t going to work and that it was too difficult to talk through translator apps. I’m still not sure he got it, but if he says anything next time I see him, I’ll just be honest about my lack of interest.

Despite everything, I’m glad I went because I can now say with 100% certainty that this guy is not the one for me. Otherwise, I might be left wondering about what might have been. I also learned that I should never agree to something when I’m emotionally unstable and that I should always ask questions before agreeing to a blind date. Lesson learned. If Korea has taught me anything, it’s to laugh about everything because it’s all you can do sometimes. I guess until Daniel Henney learns of my existence, the search for love continues…

This is looking more and more likely every day.
This is looking more and more likely every day. Sorry, Mom.

Nightswimming

“I’m pining for the moon. And what if there were two, side by side in orbit around the fairest sun? That bright, tight forever drum could not describe nightswimming.” -R.E.M., “Nightswimming”

Moving to a foreign country allows you the opportunity to reinvent yourself like no other situation. When I moved to Korea, I made the decision to do just that. It’s not that I thought there was anything wrong with who I was before, but it’s easy to get too complacent. It’s nice to be able to go somewhere where no one knows your name or past and discover a lovelier you, just like the Pernice Brothers song. This past weekend gave me a chance to do just that.

Last week was one of the more difficult weeks I’ve had in Korea for various reasons that are not worth getting into here. In Korea, there are numerous companies that do trips for foreigners to different places around the country. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it because of the long, early morning bus rides and sharing a room with a bunch of strangers. (I don’t even like sharing a room with people I do know!) Surely, that wouldn’t be my cup of tea. Even so, my friend and I made plans to go on a trip to Geoje Island for Buddha’s Birthday, and I was a little nervous about the whole ordeal. At one point, I almost cancelled for a few reasons. After the week I’d had, though, I realized that a long weekend away was exactly what I needed.

When we first got to the island, I was a little surprised. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t totally impressed. The beach looked very small, and it seemed to be an older part of town with very little around. Shortly after arriving, we went on a tour to another part of the island. It was beautiful. Even though I was running on just a few hours of sleep, I got a second wind, and we went to explore. I don’t know what got into me, but I was climbing all over the rocks. It made me wonder why we weren’t staying closer to this part of the town, but I guess it’s because it’d be more expensive to stay there.

geojerocks
Beautiful.

After exploring for a bit, we went back with the group to check into our accommodations. They initially placed us four of us in a tiny room with one bed, so two of us would have had to sleep on the floor, and we’d be stepping all over each other. I hated to complain, but it wouldn’t work for us. They moved us to another room with all ondol, and it wasn’t as nice as the other room but worked for us because it had more room. I think we won the roommate lottery, though. Our roommates were a couple from Daegu, and they were awesome.

After getting settled, we basically spent the rest of the day just hanging out and doing some much needed drinking. We went to the braai that was offered as part of the trip with Waegook Travel and met some really cool people. We also got free cocktails, which were jungle juice. Before I knew it, I was feeling pretty social and happy. I don’t remember how it came up, but I think someone talked about going skinny dipping. (I do remember that the Waegook guys said that they would do the next trip to the mud festival for free for anyone who went skinny dipping.) Nightswimming has been on my bucket list pretty much ever since the song. It took a while, but I eventually decided that this was the perfect time and place to do it. A new friend and I left the big group and went to the other side of the beach to go nightswimming. The water was freezing, but as we learned in March when I went to Holi Hai (See “Synesthesia” post), that doesn’t bother me. No one seemed to believe that we did it, but it didn’t matter because we knew we did. It was liberating, and I’m so glad I can check it off my bucket list. New Lindsey!

On Sunday, I got to check another item off my bucket list: kayaking. I’m not exactly the most athletic person, but I always thought it would be fun. We ventured out to the island until my friend started feeling sick. There was a cave, but I didn’t see if we could go into it. Maybe next time if I ever go back.

The island we kayaked to
The island we kayaked to

Somehow, I managed to get out of bed the next day to go to Oedo Island. I’d heard that it was beautiful, but my expectations were admittedly low at this point. The ferry first stopped to see Haegeumgang. I don’t know much about it, but it’s apparently kind of a big deal. There was also a cave, but we didn’t go in it for some reason.

ferryoedo
Haegeumgang

The ferry eventually made it to Oedo Island, and I immediately felt like I was transported to a different place. Even though it is owned by Koreans, there’s a heavy European influence. The ferry took us to Oedo Botanica. Having been to Chicago Botanic Gardens this time of year and being disappointed, I have to say that these gardens did not let me down. They were beautiful, though Disney-esque. We walked all around the gardens and took a ton of pictures. I’d say it was worth the money and getting up early to see it.

Not bad.
Not bad.
Statues at Oedo. I have nothing to say.
Statues at Oedo. I have nothing to say.

Overall, it was a great trip, and I’m glad I went. I met so many awesome people. I challenged myself and did some things I’ve always wanted to do. I probably wouldn’t want to do a trip like this every month (It’s exhausting!), but I would definitely do it again and am already trying to decide what I want to do for the next one. It’ll likely be Namhae Island in June, but there are so many places to go and so many cool people to meet! I might have to stay another year just to be able to go all these places. For now, I think I’ll heed Dr. Seuss’s advice: “Out there things can happen, and frequently do, To people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things start to happen, don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along, you’ll start happening too!”

All These Things That I’ve Done

“While everyone’s lost, the battle is won with all these things that I’ve done.” -The Killers, “All These Things That I’ve Done”

Today marks three months since I arrived in South Korea. In a way, it’s actually kind of unbelievable. It really feels like it’s been so much longer. So much – good, bad, and somewhere in between – has happened in only three months.

I suppose I’ll start with the ways that I have already changed. I’ve become open to so much more than even I thought was possible. I mean this in every sense of the word. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I’ve had more “Korean surprises” than I can count. Some were good, many not so good. There are a lot of things I’m still struggling with and will continue to struggle with, but I’m learning every day.

I’ve grown accustomed to certain things in Korea. Things that felt awkward at first are now becoming second nature. I fully expect that whenever I do return to the US or wherever I go next, I will be bowing to everyone I see, just because it’s so natural now. There are still some Korean things I can’t get used to and probably never will (bathroom and hygiene habits, for example), but I just look at most of them as different, not “bad.” I’ve basically learned to ignore them.

malwakingaway
Me when I see some of these things I won’t even mention.

That’s the boring stuff no one wants to hear about, though. How else have I changed? What else have I done? I feel like the answers to these questions could each be a whole blog themselves. In a nutshell, a lot has changed. I’ve become less shy. I am and always will be an introvert, but I am much more adventurous than I ever was. I’ve met up with people I’d never met in person and gained a lot of new friends that way. I have met so many interesting people. There’s not a lot to do or a lot of people to meet in my little town, so I travel as much as I can, while still allowing at least one weekend a month to be the hermit my sanity needs me to be. I’ve done things and eaten foods I never thought I would, like octopus and silk worm larvae. I now can say with certainty that I don’t like them and don’t need to try them ever again. Still, it’s pretty bold for a vegetarian, especially one who never liked seafood.

Pretty sure I looked like this when I tried the octopus and silk worm larvae.
Pretty sure I looked like this when I tried the tiny piece of octopus and silk worm larvae.

In addition to trying new foods, I’ve opened up and taken chances I never thought I’d take. Some didn’t pan out the way I hoped, but they’re all part of the experience. I’m trying to be positive and hope some good comes out of them. I’ve been lost and found, literally and metaphorically, and I’ve learned to look at it as an adventure. I’ve made some amazing friends that I hope to have for life. I’m really living it and taking it all in right now.

momentswillbestoriesperks
I already have stories to last a lifetime.

So what hasn’t changed? I escape my small town as much as I can because it gets lonely/boring after a while. I still turn to the same thing I have for my entire life: music. I have always been passionate about music, but with so little to do, I feel like it’s even more of a constant in my life. I’ve been discovering all kinds of new music. I’m not pretending everything here is all rainbows and butterflies (especially as the culture shock sets in), but music, as always, helps me get through those hard times and makes the good times even better. Sometimes it’s nice to just tune out the world and forget everything. I should probably stop there because we all know this is a subject I can talk about for hours, and this is already getting long.

Do not disturb me when I'm in music mode.
Do not disturb me when I’m in music mode. Seth Cohen is my soulmate.

In the three months that I’ve been here, I’ve also managed to check a few things off my bucket list, such as the Holi Hai Festival, which I wrote a blog about a couple months ago. Another item on the list was to go to a lantern festival. (Thanks, Tangled!) I went to the Lotus Lantern Festival a couple days ago in Seoul. It was so beautiful and worth the wait. I can’t even begin to describe the peace and awe I felt at the temple. There’s still a lot left on my list, but I have many plans for more this summer.

lotuslantern
One of many pictures I took at the Lotus Lantern Festival. Pictures couldn’t do it justice.

“What’s next?” I’ve had many people ask me this question. The truth is that I really don’t know. I was thinking that I would try to transfer to Busan next year or find a job in a hagwon there because I really love the city. (I’m actually not as much of a fan of Seoul.) However, a transfer is very difficult, and I’d have to go through the whole application process again with no guarantees. I’ve also thought about going back to the US, but I’m not sure what I would do or where I would go there because I don’t want to do the same thing I was doing. Thoughts of teaching in Europe have also crossed my mind, but that probably won’t happen yet. As of now, the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to stay where I am. If I’m being honest, I don’t like my town, and I really don’t like teaching middle school. My province has a different curriculum than others, and I’m struggling with it. While I don’t know what I want to do, I do know what I don’t want. (Just call me the modern day, female Lloyd Dobler. “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career…”) For now, I’ll just take everything as it comes and whatever time I have left here.

Pretty much.
Pretty much.

Synesthesia

“I can see the colors running when I hear the music play…” –Andrew McMahon, “Synesthesia”

I’d wanted to go to Busan since I first started looking into Korea. When I heard about the Holi Hai festival, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my first trip there. I’d seen pictures and videos of people throwing colored powder and always wanted to do it. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to go.

This is how I always envisioned it, thanks to Andrew McMahon.

On Friday night, I took the KTX from Daejeon to Busan. I now wish I could take the KTX everywhere. It was so quiet, smooth, and easy. The hardest part was figuring out how to get to my motel. I figured out which bus to take and met a nice woman, who rode to my stop with me and made sure I got in a cab that knew where to go. She was just the first of many super nice people I met while I was there. I found out after I booked that it was actually a love motel. The room was disgusting. It could have been cool, but it was so dirty with hair and stains everywhere, so I was afraid to touch anything. I decided to look at it as another story to tell.

On Saturday, I successfully found Grayson, and we went to Busan Tower (without getting too lost!) and took a ton of pictures. It wasn’t the Sears Tower, but it was still beautiful. There’s nothing quite like seeing the water, mountains, and city all in one place. It made me wish even more that I could live in Busan.

The only bad thing was Lotte Mall blocking the view.
The only bad thing was Lotte Mall blocking the view.

We had lunch at Paris Baguette. It’s on pretty much every corner in Korea, but this was my first time there. Amazing! I got a bit addicted and have already had it again since then. I can see why it is everywhere here, and I have a feeling it will be my new weakness.

After lunch, we tried to get to Gwangalli Beach for the foreigner market. We kept asking people how to get to the beach or to one of the bars that was supposed to be hosting the market. No one knew, not even a cab driver. Eventually, we ran into a nice, young couple. They said they were going that way and would take us. It took 20 minutes or so from where we were, and we still weren’t certain we were going the right way. Finally, we saw the famous Gwangalli Bridge. We went to the market at HQ first. Jackpot! I had a Treat Yo Self moment and bought a brownie, banana bread, and Jammie Dodgers. Unfortunately, my luck didn’t continue at the other two bars. We got there fairly late, so all the good stuff was gone.

I was specifically looking for Jammie Dodgers and was so excited when she said she had some!

We tried to meet up with some friends but had trouble finding them, so we went to the Mini Stop for drinks. We grabbed a picnic bench outside and just hung out for a while. While we were there, the couple who got us there walked by, and we bought them drinks to thank them for saving us. We eventually gave up on trying to find our friends and went to dinner at Fuzzy Navel. I’d always heard that there wasn’t much Mexican food in Korea, so I was excited to find Fuzzy Navel. My burrito was definitely no Zapata’s or Cesar’s, but it was good enough.

We eventually went back to one of the bars for an international party. It wasn’t what I expected, but I probably would have known that if I’d bothered to read the invitation. It was even better. I met some really cool Koreans and talked with them for a while. I briefly ran into a couple of people from orientation. We left with a sweet Korean named Katharina, who lives near Grayson. We stopped by the beach to take some pictures of the Gwangalli Bridge. I’d seen pictures of it before, but it really is magnificent in person. Pictures could not do it justice. We took the subway back with Katharina, and she told me to stay with her the next time I’m in Busan. Once again, I was blown away by the kindness. In just 24 hours, I met so many people who could be considered the “nicest people I’ve ever met.” I tried to explain this to the Koreans I met. I told them how people in America don’t walk you to your destination when you’re lost. They didn’t seem to believe me.

After saying good night to Katharina, we headed back to my motel, so Grayson could see where to meet me on Sunday for Holi Hai. We weren’t sure where to go, so we asked a couple of guys. They didn’t speak English but read the address and were very eager to get us there. Again, they didn’t just gesture which way to go and actually cut through traffic to walk us there. I probably had a new reputation, but I didn’t care because it was another funny story to tell.

On Sunday, I checked out of the motel, and we walked to the beach. I found a few friends and eventually ran into my Daejeon crew. The festival was a blast. It was just as fun as it always looked. I was even sort of dancing.

How I normally dance
How I was dancing. Disclaimer: I only looked like this in my mind.

After we got covered in powder and paint, a few of my friends decided to go swimming in the freezing cold water. I was wearing jeans and planned to just put my feet in, but before I knew it, the water was waist deep. I guess my years of experience with the cold plunge at the jjimjilbang in Chicago paid off because it felt amazing and oddly freeing.

Dripping wet after running into the cold water
Dripping wet after running into the cold water

I obviously needed to change my clothes after getting completely soaked, so we went back to my motel to get my bags. I asked for a bathroom to change, and they ended up letting me shower in a room for 10,000 won. The room had not been cleaned after some people definitely had sex in it, but I looked at it as another funny story. Perspective.

I ate dinner with some Daejeon friends at Fuzzy Navel again, and then we took the KTX back to Daejeon. I can honestly say it was one of the funnest weekends of my life, and I will never forget it. Busan was everything I imagined, and I can’t wait to go back!

The Great Escape

Throw it away. Forget yesterday. We’ll make the great escape... -Boys Like Girls, “The Great Escape”

I officially made it to South Korea! I’ve been here for just over three weeks. It’s hard to believe it’s only been that long. It feels like so much longer. It’s truly amazing how fast your whole life can change. In three weeks, I feel like I’ve already become a new person. I’ve learned more about not only Korea but also the world and myself. Let’s start with orientation…

Me before, during, and after orientation

I was super nervous before I got to orientation because I didn’t know what to expect. In the past year, this was the second time I was leaving a comfortable life and people behind. This time was riskier because I was doing it on my own, across the world from everything I ever knew, and anything could happen. That’s the beautiful part about this whole thing: anything can happen. Despite all of this, I never felt so sure of anything in my life. After months of preparation, the time had come for my great escape, and I was determined to give it my all.

It turned out that orientation was a lot of fun. I learned a lot, as I continue to do every day I’m here. Probably the most important thing I learned at orientation was what waygooks like to call “Korean surprise.” I had always heard about this before, and after only three weeks, I can say that it is 100% true. It has already happened to me several times. Korean surprise is basically when something unexpected happens, often at the last minute. We heard many times at orientation that 95% of us would be teaching elementary school. Surprise! I’m teaching middle school, and so are a lot of my friends. My first week, I found out as my students were coming in my classroom that I had already taught them the day before. Surprise! Impromptu lesson plan! (They loved it!) As a social worker, I often had to think quickly – sometimes in what were literally life or death situations – but there’s nothing like a Korean surprise to really test you. The great thing is that I’ve learned to go with the flow and laugh about it. I feel like I can handle almost anything. (That’s not a challenge, Universe!)

Another amazing thing about orientation was the people. I never lived in a dorm when I was in college and never had a roommate. There’s a tiny part of me that felt like I missed out on the real college experience. Being an extreme introvert who can only tolerate people for 3 days max, I was nervous about sharing a room with a total stranger. Thankfully, my roommate was awesome, and we had no issues. I was worried I’d get someone who partied all the time, but I ended up being the one who tried to get out as much as possible. I knew I’d be placed in a smaller town, so I wanted to see as many people as I could while I had the chance. I forced myself to go out and do things I wouldn’t normally do and hang out with people I didn’t know well. I tried to eat with someone different at nearly every meal, which I highly recommend, even if you are as shy as I am. As a result, I made friends from all over the US, Canada, South Africa (My Korean sucks, but my Afrikaans is coming along!), and even a few from Australia and the UK.

After orientation, my lovely co-teacher picked me up right at the orientation site because it wasn’t far from my town. I actually was placed in a tiny town of about 40,000. There’s not a whole lot to do here, but it seems to have good transportation. (Much more reliable than the CTA!) I can take the bus straight to Daejeon or the KTX to Seoul, I think. People also seem pretty nice. Those things you hear about Koreans seem to be true – they really do go out of their way to help you. I’ve been given food, rides home, beautiful pictures (from the art teacher at my school) from people who barely even speak English. I don’t have a lot of friends here yet, but that’s fine because I love the moments of just walking around town and listening to music on my own.

Overall, I would say my experience has been pretty positive so far. I’m planning to try to travel more soon and already have my first trip to Busan planned for next weekend. I’m going to the Holi Hai festival, and I’m sure I will post another blog after it. For now, I’ll continue to take everything as it comes!

Faith in Leaping

So we’re scared. It’s okay. All the best things start out that way. -Jaron and the Long Road to Love, “Faith in Leaping”

In about 12 hours, I’ll be on the first flight of my (long) journey to South Korea. I’m obviously nervous but also very excited! It’s a little hard to believe this is all finally happening. Most people don’t know all that I’ve done to get to this point, so I wanted to take a minute to explain the blog title and how I got where I am now.

First of all, the title comes from the song “Faith in Leaping” by Jaron and the Long Road to Love. If you know me, you know that I’m all about music and lyrics. I always knew I wanted a blog with a title from lyrics, but all of the others I thought of were already taken. I finally remembered this title and immediately realized how perfect it was. Since I decided to do this, it seems like all I’ve done was have faith in leaping, which is, to me, a bit different than a “leap of faith.”

Last April, I decided to move to South Korea to teach English. Little did I know, that was only the beginning of decisions. Hagwon or EPIK? Should I stay in my beloved Chicago while going through the process or move back to North Carolina with my mom to save money? The company I was at for a couple years gave me an ultimatum that pretty much made that decision for me. I immediately decided to move in with my mom at the ripe old age of 29 to save money. I never would have been able to save money and pay off all my debt (except student loans) without moving home. It was certainly a risk – a leap – but I never doubted the decision.

Without going into all the long details, everything else just fell into place perfectly. I’ve never had a lot of luck in my life. Once I decided to go the EPIK route, I knew there was no guarantee that I would be accepted. In fact, I was pretty sure I failed my interview and was already looking into hagwons as my plan B. What if I made all these sacrifices, and they didn’t pay off? I kept waiting for something to go wrong, but I always had a plan B, C, D, etc. Still, I always knew this was the right step for me. It’s already been a long journey, but I’m lucky to have family and friends that have been so incredibly supportive. I guess that they, like me, just have faith in leaping.