Versus: US schools (college level) vs. Korean schools (again, college level) Part 2 of 2…

continuing from my previous post.

So… I had a lot of time on my hands when I wrote that last post. … and then school happened. So, as if dragging out a really long sentence… after 6 months, I will finish this thought on how the universities are different in the USA and South Korea.

First, to wrap up academics:

School books – text books – for the most part are REALLY REALLY cheap. Let me draw your attention to a post I wrote about college books (linked: here) which was written from my earlier experiences shopping for text books here in the US. Of course, when I say textbooks in Korea are REALLY REALLY cheap, this is what I am comparing it to.

I had started off the semester with three classes:

– Korean Language for Beginners (Thank you Dyslexia for making this class so much more fun than it could have been) 65000 Won

– Language Assessments for Secondary Learners 35000 Won

– Language and Culture 13 000 Won

My total cost for textbooks for these three classes was about $113.00.  In the US, this would be around $450.00.  I am seriously wondering why there is such a difference in price.

This is how I feel almost every semester with how much our textbooks cost.


I love my professors at Yonsei University. They are very patient, kind, and care about my success in class. I have teachers like that here in the US, but…sometimes, it did not feel that way. To be fair, maybe I just caught three awesome teachers in Seoul (all last named KIM) for the one semester I was there. Maybe I was just so distracted by the great experiences I had there that I was seeing my experience through rose colored glasses.

In either case, here are three things I noticed about teachers and classes in Korea:

1) When there is a class longer than an hour, often there will be a ten minute break in the class to give the students a break. Sha- right! (sarcasm) the break MUST be for the teacher. We would always take our breaks at the 50 minute mark in the hour to start ten minutes later. … as soon as :50 of the hour would hit. The teacher would finish their sentence and then poof! Disappear. If you had a question to ask, you should have asked it BEFORE (and in front of your class mates) the break happened. With inhuman speed the teacher runs out of the classroom not to be seen from for the next ten minutes. To which class would start promptly and resume for another 50 minutes. If he or she ran out of material, then they would put a video in or load a video from youtube. EVERY minute of class time is used.

In contrast, here in the US, time is much more flexible (for the most part). The teacher normally stays in the class if there is a break and may answer questions discreetly or for everyone to hear, depending on how the student asked it. Also, if the teacher wraps up their lecture a little early, they will stop and dismiss class. That is not the case in Korea, ….

2) Public Interrogation in Class!  In the US, teachers will generally NOT ask a student why there not in class last Tuesday. However, I noticed in at least one or two different classes, the teacher would ask where Mr. So-an-So was. …and then on the next class day when that person was in class, the teacher would ask him why he was not in class the previous day. WHAT?! ….in the US, teachers would not so openly potentially embarrass the student; however, in Korea, I think some teachers live for it.

3) Group Presentation. I hate them.  This is how a friend of mine put it. Generally speaking this is why I do not like group presentation for grades:

A little extreme, but it delivers the message well enough…

In Korea, the professors LOVED assigning Group Projects with these projects being a significant representation of your grade. The problem I have with this is that what I find acceptable levels of input does not normally match up with everyone else’s in the group. I love playing with groups. I just have a hard time with my grade being influenced by the work of others. That said, welcome to Life! …and choose your friends, group mates, and partners wisely, eh?  In case it needs to be said, it has been my experience, that group work is held to a minimum in the US. We normally keep those assignments few and very far between.

Closing thoughts:

Water Fountains….

In the US, they are around, but not nearly visible in every building or convenient. You have to hunt for them. However, in Korea, and especially on campus, they are everywhere! It makes filling up water bottles very easy. Here are just a couple of pictures of what I found all around:


And lastly… the clubs on campus, also known as student organizations.

In the US, it is unheard of to not allow someone in your club. If you pay for student fees, and that club uses, student fees, then you are in! No interview, no complex meeting, no …”maybe if we like you.” In Korea though, there is commonly an interview held. Want to try out for the basketball team? …Great, schedule an interview…and then maybe you can warm a bench for a semester or two…because you’re newer (albeit, maybe a better player). For me, I wanted to be a part of a rather special club that has a smaller membership. It took four emails and three trips to the student union offices to get me in touch with the president of the club. That can happen anywhere – in the US or in Korea, but what I was not expecting was the club interview. I passed, and helped introduce other international students to this club, but it was a challenge because where I am from, everyone is accepted into the club and welcomed with open arms.

This was just my experience. Others may have different experiences, either in the US or in Korea.


The best advice I can offer is for you to suggest that you keep an open mind. It is all about that new experience, right?

IMG_0417 IMG_0525


Versus: US schools (college level) vs. Korean schools (again, college level) Part 1 of 2…


This is my first post since having returned to my home in the US. I still have a lot to say about my time abroad though. I have been back at home in Tampa, Florida for two weeks now, and at least five times a day I sit in front of my computer wondering why I have not written on my blog. It is not that I don’t have the time. I HAVE TONS OF TIME! Topics? I have those too. In fact, in additions to today’s post that I am finally spinning out of my “wandering web” I would also like to write about:

– Another “Versus” about Technology: US vs. Korea

– Fast Food in Seoul, Korea

So… why not write? It is purely psychological. I have to give credit to my friend R. Petro who pointed out social media: ” Caution to me amigos who have just come back from being abroad: Do NOT look at any photos from your time abroad. It’s too soon. ”  Speaking for myself. I am really happy to be home, to be around my “creature comforts.” I have family and friends that love me and that I am so happy to hold in my arms again. On the other hand, I was constantly fed and stimulated by the people of Seoul in ways that I have not tapped into at home. To be writing a blog post is extremely uncomfortable, because with every word, picture, or video I am reminded that I am not where I was challenged the most, and where I was growing in a way that I have not in a very long time. I miss that. I am eager to return to it. So, my plan is this: finish up my last semester at USF (Tampa, Florida, USA) and evaluate if South Korea is where this body needs to be. In the mean time, I can look at photos and write these blog posts. It may be a little “reverse” culture shock…but its part of the cost of “doing business” when you travel abroad and return home. So… on with today’s post, my comparison between Schools here in the USA in contrast to my experience at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea!

Both schools are beautiful, as I hope most universities are. Both have very competitive sports teams. As I would never call myself an athlete nor pretend to follow any sports, I’ll politely avoid these to variables in my comparison.

As I prattle on and on take a walk with me. I’ll share with you some picture of Yonsei’s campus in the Fall and Winter taken between September and December of 2012. If you think this gives Yonsei a “homefield advantage,” then you may be surprised…


Where to begin? Well, Let’s do this the “Korean” way and start big and go small…

School Status

We have a little bit of this in America, but not anywhere to the degree that it happens in Korea. What am I talking about? Where you went to school holds a certain sway over what companies will or will NOT hire you. If you went to one of the big three schools (SKY – Seoul National, Korea Univ, or Yonsei Univ) you have a better chance of being hired if the people you are working with (or for) also went to that school you attended. Some view this as an indication of how well you fit in. The closest thing we have to that here in America is if you went to Harvard or Yale, then if the people that you would be working with also went to that school, THEN it could be looked as “favorable” as you being a good “fit for the company.” In my experience in the workforce here in US, we simply do not put that much stock into where one went to school. For us here in the states, its more about the individual merit and abilities.


Respect for Teachers

I will not go on and on about this. I will say this though, according to Confucius ideology as described in an article titled “Advertisements in Korea” by Young-A Cho and Douglas Ling, “a teacher [is] the epitome of an upright citizen, representing the virtues of learning and concern for the overall welfare of other members of society.”    I would suggest that we have a ways to go in this country (USA) as to how we treat our teachers. Teachers are NOT glorified babysitters, nor is it the teacher’s job to raise children. I know no one wants to hear a soap-box rant…but maybe we can at least give teachers an appreciation day. Korea celebrates May 14th as their Teacher Appreciation Day. … Let’s show our educators some love, shall we?

Corporate Support for Institutions

Corporations in Korea are extremely active in supporting institutions of higher learning.  Take for example, Yonsei’s Central Library. Libr.front

It is huge! Multi-level basement! 6-above ground floors! Numerous wings, including an art museum, touch-screen-displays all over the place!  Inter-active computer walls, etc. etc. etc. See below a video I put together showing off just some of its goodies. The corporation you can thank for this: Samsung. Thank you Samsung. I am not saying that corporations here in the US don’t care about academics…I just don’t see it on my campus at USF. I would love for that to change. Please see the video below for a limited tour of the Central Library @ Yonsei University. The library at my home university is a pale shade compared to this academic mecca! Perhaps this is less than charitable of me, but I do feel if a corporation would support education as strong as it is in Korea, that we would see logos of the company ALL OVER THE PLACE! In Korea, they take a different approach. Most people there feel it is everyone’s duty to care for one another. In this way, companies are less likely to compete for attention, and are more likely to share support to all the people, not just its consumers.

This is part 1 of 2. You can find part 2 here: link.

A very busy Saturday: Post 3 of 3: JimiJilBang

So, here I am, half a world away…and I have found THE most relaxing way to spend an evening…or a cold day. (Continuing from my adventures earlier in the day.)

For my friend in America, may I introduce to you: The Jimjilbang! 

I found a few really informative blogs online about them. Here is an introduction lifted from’s “20 great things to do in Seoul.” At the end of this blog, I’ll post a few others’ links so you can get a more complete snapshot. This is what TimeOut had to say though, some of which I will repeat below:

“20. Do the jimjilbang thang

There are few more enjoyable places in which to get a grip on contemporary Korea than the jimjilbang. A curious mix of sauna, spa and entertainment facility – and also doubling up as the country’s cheapest form of accommodation – these are unique.

First, put your shoes into a locker, and pay the entry fee: typically around ₩5,000 for the pools and sauna rooms alone, or ₩8,000 if you want to use other facilities or stay the night. Those choosing the latter course of action will be given a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, for use later. Then it’s into the changing rooms, which are segregated by gender; here you lock all clothing away, and wander naked into the pool area. After showering, you’re free to take your pick of sauna rooms, steam rooms and a variety of pools – some ice-cold, some turned green from gigantic teabags.

Those who venture into a jimjilbang will have to follow a few rules of etiquette. First, it’s essential to wash thoroughly before entering the water – the showers are easy to spot, and all have bars of soap. You’ll get extra points for using the abrasive scrubbing flannels, usually located by the door on the way from the changing rooms to the showers. The second major point to note regards entry into the water – diving into the pool is a big no-no. Follow the Korean lead and in no time at all, you’ll be relaxing in the most local way possible. There are jimjilbang all over Seoul, and facilities are fairly standard across the board; any local will point you to your nearest one. The most notable facility in town is the gigantic Dragon Hill (792-0001), just outside the main entrance of Yongsan train station.

Words by Oliver Duke. Edited by Jon Wilks. See the Time Out online shop to buy the Time Out Seoul City Guide, first edition. “

What does that mean? 

A few comments from me before we get into that:

– First, I am not sure I can add much  more to the conversation that has not already been noted by other bloggers. Still, I had a great time and that is what I will be speaking to.

– Second, for obvious reasons, I did not take my camera into the gender specific area. As such, some of the pictures you will see here are for the most part, from the internet. The last thing I want to do is make someone uncomfortable with flashing pictures of my friends sans clothing…and then posting them (though some may not mind, haha). Still, sometimes I like to be decent…

– Lastly, Why don’t we have these in America? (I heard there are maybe two or three in the country, but why so few?!)

Ok…what is a “jimjilbang?”

It can mean a few things to different people.

Here’s my short list:

A Heated bath place… a place with lots of hot tubs. A place to soak in hot tubs and shock yourself with cold tubs.

Bath Pic 1 (outside) Note: they ARE wearing clothing – the indoor, gender specific areas are NOT clothing optional…they are CLOTHING…um…NON-“optional!”

Bath Pic 2

Bath Pic 3

A place to sleep… cheaper than a hotel, but with less privacy. You’re here to sleep, so grab a mat and a brick shaped firm pillow for your head. the floors are heated and try to ignore the snoring neighbor.

Sleep Pic 1 

Sleep Pic 2

Sleep Pic 3

Sleep Pic 4

A place to chill… Go with a group of friends or on a date (maybe not a first date). There are places where everyone can gather to enjoy the  other amenities, like hot dry sauna rooms, cold rooms, coal rooms, large (heated floor) sitting area – complete with large tv to watch what ever Korean TV show (game show, music videos, K-dramas, etc) is playing. There may be massage chairs lined up along the walls. Think large gathering area.

Chill Pic 1

Chill Pic 2

Chill Pic 3

What to expect when you go.

(NOTE: This is just to give a general idea, every place is different and may have different pricing and/or amenities as to what they offer. )

Cost: most are around 12,000 KRW, and it usually covers 12 hours. If you arrive at 9pm,… great, stay until 9am! 🙂 I often chose this after going out with friends and realizing that the subway closed down. All my items were safely stored in a locker, and I could go relax in a hot tub and then on a sleeping pad for much less than a taxi or hotel room.

Location: They are all around Seoul, though the best one I have visited so far is the Dragon Hill Spa near Yongsan Station. (As in 500 meters to the left of it!)

FLOW: After you enter, you’re going to pay your fee. When I first went, there were a lot of us. We split into two groups by sex (gender).

They will give you a wrist fob or a locker key and cotton shorts/shirt set (MAKE SURE YOU GET THE RIGHT SIZE TO FIT YOUR FRAME!). Then move into the shoe locker area where there are small lockers to match your wrist key/fob. Put your shoes in the locker and then move to the area that is specific to your biological design.

As mentioned before, I did not take pictures of the gender specific areas. Use your imagination.

Once in your locker rooms, strip down! (scary thing for this self conscious westerner), shower up, scrub down…and when you think you are clean enough, repeat! There are standing showers and sitting showers. I found the photos below that can illustrate what the sit down showers looks like:

Imagine the gents above…but without clothes on. That image? …is more likely what you will see in the “wet area of the jimjilbang.” One friend helping another. That’s not uncommon for this culture. Helping each other scrub off dead skin is an activity of bonding, respect, and platonic intimacy between friends. It in no way is meant to be interpreted as sexually intimate, as we may assume from a western perspective. There are also hot tubs to soak. At Dragon Spa there were three different temp hot tubs and a cold tub. And Yes, this is a family friendly environment. Meaning you will see kids running around as if they were playing around a pool in someone’s back yard or so you may see older people (and people of various body types) going about their bathing ritual. While soaking in one of the hot tubs (43 degrees Celsius) I was feeling the heat penetrate into my muscles and I looked around. An hour before I was dreading and mentally preparing for being naked in public, something I am NOT comfortable with. However, while in the shower, and looking around, I felt that anxiety evaporate with the stress of the week. Seeing the boys run around and the grandfather across the way clear his ears just made a complete picture. Everything seems, well, natural. It was one of those defining moments for me when I chalked this one up as an advantage over western society. I will note, however, the comedy that played in my mind when I looked over to the sitting shower area and saw this younger boy (7 or 8?) scrubbing his father’s (or uncle’s) back. The father looked ahead and patiently let his son scrub away, he looked quite calm. In contrast, his son had this contorted face on with one lip wrinkled up and his brow furrowed. He looked like he was putting all his strength into it, and was scrubbing mercilessly. Was he drawing blood? The cloths that are used are like the dark side of the dish sponges in our western kitchens…almost like brillo pads. In my mind, I was drafting a scene of what happened earlier that day to draw such ire from this boy. Did he get grounded? Was he yelled at and given a strict punishment? …clearly, this time was payback…not that the father minded. I would like to imagine the ladies had a more serene experience, as the photo below would imply. According to my female friends though – the opposite is more likely as for the most part, the kids go with the moms and aunts. I find that more kids = more shrill laughter and more kids running around. I come to relax, so I hope that is not the case for my female counterparts.

After you shower, soak, enjoy the cold tubs, the heated stone slabs (to lay down on), and maybe drift to the steam rooms and the dry sauna rooms, you can elect to get a massage. I opted NOT to get a massage. I prefer for my massages to be in quite rooms with subdued lighting. This was NOT that environment. Anyway, after your explore the wet areas, you dry off, and put on the cotton clothes and are free to explore the rest of the jimjilbang (that is not gender restricted).

That is where you may find arcades, large living rooms, cold rooms, coal rooms, etc. Here are some pictures I DID feel safe to capture:

Me in the Cold room (around 9 degrees Celsius) sporting the jimjilbang fashion!

And then I came across a group of people from Taiwan… Isn’t that nice?

Then they adopted me…I think they wanted to take me back to Taiwan with them as their pet Westerner…I would not have minded at all.

After all that, you can go back to another round of “wet area soaking”, go to the restaurant at the top of the facility (I ate chicken with friends) or change back into your clothes and head back home.

How I feel now…

This was one of my goals coming to Korea. I had heard about these mythical (to me) places to go with friends and family, or alone, to relax. This is an indulgent (yet not expensive at all) way to spend an evening. The dorm beds are not that comfortable and I find that I prefer a good soak for less than $12 for a few hours a better buy than $60 for an hour massage. The cultural aspects of this experience is EXACTLY what I was looking for too. I find myself wondering why we do not have this more frequently available in America. Is it because so much advertising is spent on having the perfect body and individualism that being naked in front of others is so ghastly? I will be left to ponder this more. Maybe I should think about it this cold (36 F/ 2 C) evening (colder tonight) as I soak in a nice hot tub?

Here are a few other links to much blogs than what I have provided here, please visit them (they did a GREAT job!) and enjoy the read:

Other Jimjilbang Blog 1

Other Jimjilbang Blog 2

Other Jimjilbang Blog 3

My time here in Korea is entering its “sunset.” I am really missing home. I know though that I am already feeling conflicted. I will miss my time here in Korea and for a while will have a torn heart; missing the best parts of each culture. I still would like to return to Korea to teach English. I have a month left though…so I will make the most of this time!

A very busy Saturday: Post 2 of 3: Korean War Museum

…Continuing the adventure from Voting to Korean War Museum to …Jim jil bang: Dragon Spa. I left the US Embassy and with a little assist from the timing Gods and a little luck, I would be able to meet up with the REALLY large group of international students back at Yonsei Campus. Time slows down when you’re watching a pot try to boil water. Every bubble is a success, or a step towards the goal. Meeting up with this group was that process for me. I did not have the number of the person I was meeting, but if I was able to time the subways right, pick up the pace, and use my theme-park-people-dodger skills I had learned while working at Disney, then I would be right on time to meet up with the group. People-dodging is important. You can use this skill on a crowded sidewalk too. Its when you walk quicker than everyone else around you and move through the crowd like a hot knife in butter. Fast-forward a bit and I was crossing the large (6 lane) street that runs along the front gate at Yonsei – where our group was meeting. My heart sank. Where were they? Did I miss them? I looked down at my watch, and I was late. ::sigh:: Oh well… I’ll have to make it another time.  I’ll just walk through the gate and enjoy the walk back to the dorm. The moment I step into pass the gate’s threshold I see them! A lot of them! Oh my God…was it EVERY international student (about 700?) …no, it was about 80, but in that little space beyond the gate, we certainly were a presence. We waited another five minutes and were on our way. To the Subway! After a transfer or three…we end up at this place: I can not put to words the loss and pain I felt for this country during this time they entered into the shadow of their hearts. The statue you see in the picture above is of two brothers. One from North Korea and the other from South Korea. My country is no stranger to civil war. The construct strikes at primal chord, one that triggers pain, vulnerability, shame, and loss. If your family has ever experienced loss due to internal strife, then you can appreciate the weight this statue can press upon you. Admittedly, this photo does no justice to the breath of its impact. Moments before our group was jovial, loud, and eager to experience this memorial.  As we turn the corner and see The Statue of Brothers at the entrance, our voices fell to respectful silence and hush. All you can hear is the opera singing.  The brothers stand about 12 feet tall and are on a mound. Below is a picture of the sign describing it much better than I. We made plans to meet up later and split off into partners and groups or went along our ways to take this all in. My travel buddy is Kian – who is an absolute treasure and joy to be around. Here are a few photos of her being fabulous…

Kian trying to take off with a missile or two…

We walked around the museum for a bit and had a great time. I felt conflicted as i wandered the grounds.

On one hand, my heart was hurting for the amount of pain this country is still going through. The war that has split this country into two in so many areas: Economically, Socially, Politically, Culturally, even profound aspects of Language, are still very active today. There has yet to be a declaration of peace. As Kian and I walked around we talked about the possibility of these TWO countries making peace and reconciling. My outsider’s opinion is that it would take something DRASTIC and potentially CATASTROPHIC to rejoin North and South Korea. They are just a family that has grown apart.

On the other hand, my mind was really impressed by the technology of the time. The tanks, artillery, planes, and ships were a great site to see. See below for just some of the photos we took. We had fun, while holding a firm respect for the lives sacrificed.

….and the spirit of the people is inspiring too!

And then there is sacrifice…

Appropriately so, the Korean people memorialize not just their own country’s sacrifice, but many countries’ contribution to their freedom. Kenya, The UK, Switzerland, and many more (of course, including the US) are honored here. Of the US, New York had the most from what I could see.

Below are two videos of my trip to the Korean War Museum. The first is the general tour experience.

The second was while I was walking down this memorial, an impromptu (to me) martial arts demonstration started. …and yes, it started with screaming! (…scared the bald off my head too!)

After meeting back up with the group as the sun was setting, we ventured off to dinner and then to a jimjilbang. My adventure will pick up there in Part 3!

A very busy Saturday, Part 1 of 3.

This is mid-terms week and right now I should be studying…hard; however, as a psych student, I clearly remember that study breaks are important in keeping the mind fresh and open to information. After bombarding your brain with hours of information, take a break to purge or do something creative as this will help you to absorb better later on.

I am going to take this moment to reflect on my experiences from a few weeks ago. I had a jam packed day of Voting, Going to the Korean War Memorial/Museum, and then following up with going to a REAL jimjilbang! So, this blog will be part of a series of three:


I saw a posting on facebook that a friend on the exchange program was wondering about voting for the US election coming up. We looked it up online and found out that we had to go to the US Embassy here in Seoul to hand deliver our ballot. Fortunately, its only about 20 minutes away by subway and then a short five minutes walk from the station. Side note: I am really enjoying walking around everywhere. It is helping me reduce my weight and I love how lose these drawers (I am from the south) are fitting. We met at noon  I printed off my absentee ballot and gave a once over on all the things that are needed. Deceptively simple, all one needs is the absentee ballot, and a non-stamped envelope. This is where Korea discreetly reminds me that I am in a land far-far away. The Envelope.

Feeling a bit pressed for time, I run into the local convenience store at the dorm that is ALWAYS open! (Yeah!) They had ONE bundle of letter envelopes left. I gleefully purchased them and my friend Quan (from Orlando,FL) and I set off for the subway. Along the way I am read the ballot and bubbled in the appropriate responses.  I gave a chuckle when I see this person is on the ballot for President of the United States of America:

(The clip is a little long, but maybe watch it for a minute then move on with the rest of this blog.)

Ok, now I know for some they wouldn’t take a second look at this candidate, and I am not trying to advocate in this space for or against a candidate. I was just shocked. If you go on youtube and do a search for this person’s name, you’ll see why. Moving on. We take the subway as I am folding up my ballot, I go to place it in the envelope.


The ballot DOES NOT FIT!  …no, I am not saying that the 6 pages were too thick for the envelope, but rather the pages were too wide. Observation: the papers here in South Korea are of different dimensions. I know this is not Earth-shattering revelations, but I found this particularly hilarious. If this is the biggest problem of my day, then I am a blessed man. I ripped one end of the ballot (hoping it does not invalidate my ballot) and place into the envelope.  I go to lick and seal the envelope. …no good. They do not have adhesive on these envelopes. …and I left my tape at home (as I normally do). Again, not an issue…an embassy is sure to have a strip of tape that I may use, right? I mean, its an embassy!  We get to the embassy and find they are READY and WELCOMING!

Before entering into the embassy I will point out that the pretty brick wall you see there stands in stark contrast to the surrounding building and sky scrapers in the distance. Its like one of those cartoons where time passes by and the world develops around a property. Maybe this is an attempt for the US State Department to appear modest in this host country? …or cutbacks?

We get inside and are asked for our papers. ….no, not ballots, but our passport or other such identification. Not a problem, I brought my alien registration card and my giant ballot now in its properly reduced form. I thought all I needed to do was hand it over to an embassy person after taping it shut. Where did I get that idea? … that’s what the email said when they emailed me the ballot. Sounded iffy at best, but I follow directions, sometimes, and most certainly when I am at a government facility with armed people with big bang-sticks!

We turn the last corner in the building as we are ushered into…a community center?

Ok, This was NOT what I was expecting. What was going on here? There were Americans…voting, chatting excitedly and there was a PULSE to the room!  At home home in Florida – we have wonderful volunteers, but there is a DREADED SILENCE CAST UPON THE ROOM ::said with my best Vincent Price voice::. In contrast here we find:

 – A table with snacks on it: Nuts, Chips, Cookies, CHOCOLATE!

 – Volunteers staffing the polling location ranging in ages from late 20’s to around 50! SMILING!  (Who staffed this? Disney?)

 – The embassy seal/podium for people to take a picture with. Don’t believe me? Ha! Take a look!

This was a party! 

Admittedly, this was a lot more fun than what I was expecting. After a brief conversation with the happiest volunteer on the planet I found out that I was able to use my ballot but was given the proper envelope and all the fixings (security envelope to place around the envelope, some additional paperwork as an overseas absentee ballot, etc.)

I finished filling out my paperwork and put everything together. With great pride I labeled my envelope for it to be mailed to my county’s Supervisor of Elections. I then placed my envelope in a cardboard box wrapped in gold surrounded by smiling volunteers (as security?).  (I received a notification a few days ago that they had received it).

To make things a bit more festive, and I say this with all due respect to our host country, South Korea, it was really amazing to just look around and NOT feel like a minority! There were fellow exchange students, English teachers, and American Soldiers (just to name a few). We were all participating in a group activity with a singular intention: to do our duty in supporting our collective vision of leadership in America.

The reality is, we may not have the same vision, we may not be electing the same leader(s), BUT – the important thing [to me] is that WE showed up and participated. We may consider the right to vote an entitlement; however, from this land far-far away, I have a different perspective.

Being able to vote is a luxury and it has its costs. I am not the appropriate one to go on in detail about what those costs are. My cousin, who served with honor in Iraq, I feel would be a better candidate to talk about this. However, I CAN appreciate that not everyone has this luxury, and it can be taken for granted and it could be taken away. Wherever you are, if you have the option to vote for the leadership in your community, state, country, etc. Please do so!

Be a part of history and influence your tomorrow by taking action today. GO VOTE!

I look down to my watch and realize that time moves differently at the US Embassy! I am supposed to meet up with friends in the front of my campus to go to the Korean War Memorial! We left the embassy and made our way back to the campus. …and that is where part 2 will pick up!

Busan,… a nice try, but still an EPIC Fail! Part 2

(continuing from Busan, Part 1)

Content that everyone would have access to their rooms if they wanted, I ended up leaving the group in search of a quiet space for the night, as it seemed like the party was going to keep going…and going…and going.  This is part of the fun I missed. May I introduce you to KimBapShi (Mr. KimBap!)

For comparison …this is Korean Kimbap being made (lunch the next day):

I think Mr. Kimbap looks “de-ricious” but the actual kimbap rolls are more nutritious.

They ended up staying up most of the night. I, however, went in search with for a “jimjilbang,” which can mean a variety of things in Korea. It is a luxurious past-time here in Korea. Sometimes it is an ornate spa, complete with different hot tubs, massage rooms, heated rooms, ice rooms, saunas, steamrooms, complete with restaurants, game zones, and other things that in my mind sounds like an adult (though open to all families) relaxation zone! However, sometimes it can also just mean, a shower, locker room, and a mat in a dark room to lay down in. The bad news though? I lingered too long at the tower. The subway shuts down in Busan a little after 11:30pm and I only had about 15 minutes before the subway was starting to close down. I picked a near-by stop and found a wifi hot spot and started to search for a place.

My hope was to find one with EXCELLENT hot tubs, a massage service, and no kids. What I was able to achieve was finding with that was silent (no kids! Thank you Korean angels!) a really comfy sleeping area, free water/sprite/ and a nice shower area. It was not crowded, had a nicer shower facility, but I could not really call this a jimjilbang. It was more like, a cheap place to stay for the night with a shower and a place to bed down.  People left me alone. When you check in, they give you are robe to change into.  I still did not sleep very well, but better than I would have had I gone back with the group. When I get back to Seoul, I will have to go to a REAL jimjilbang. This experience just deepend my resolve to explore this traditional part of modern Korean custom.

I woke up a little later than expected and headed down to meet up with my group at our arranged spot. They had already gotten a ticket for a movie. I was surprised to see who showed up and the state they were in. They were zombies! As I came out of the subway, I made my way to my greeting party and only one was fully conscious. The other two were slumbering with our bags…heads bobbing with breathing. What the hell? Did they get any sleep at all? … answer: …one hour! Oh, I know how this day is going to turn out.

Synergy Demotivator

NOTE TO TRAVELERS: If you stay up all night, you do so at the cost of the next day.

We spent the next two hours at the same café we were at the day before. It was near the film festival and near restaurants. We met up with the rest of our friends to go see the movie. Let me tell you a bit about going to see a film at a film festival. It is my opinion; a film at a festival tends to draw the artistic dramas that are the fashion now at these showings.  From the options available, most the film read as movies that I would have NO interest in watching. I know this speaks for my lack of emotional depth with movies, but …I am simply not moved by plots like the following (click the links to read about each film):

Touch of the Light

The Woman Who Brushed Off Her Tears

In God’s Land

All of these movies “sound great” …but its just not my cup of tea.  Instead we found this one…:

The Cremator

This is what it says in the program: “Cao works at a small-town crematorium, but he’s also a secret match-maker for the dead. Secretly trading in “ghost-wives,” Cao sets about finding a wife for himself when he’s diagnosed with canocer, only to see his plan thwarted by the dead woman’s sister.”

Cao (Cheng Zhengwu) prepares a body for cremation in a scene from "The Cremator"

This sounds a whole lot more exciting that those other wristcutter-sadness flicks! I mean, how can this go wrong? There’s GHOSTS! There’s a quirky hobby! There’s a twist! It would have to go WAY out of its way to make this go bad… and so, it does. The entire script for the main character…Cao was this… are you ready? … sit down for this.. it was “ ::cough cough::” … THAT’S it! Ok, sure, he had a few lines here and there. But … poor visual timing, a complete lack of script, poor direction (just cough a few times and look sullen). I tried, so very hard to stay awake…, but I woke up to three points… a burial ceremony (MONK bites off a chicken’s head); another monk performing last rites over a grave (only humorous point in the move from what I could tell), as his cell phone rings, he answers, then goes back; and the obligatory nude breast shot in this “indie-art” film (is it by law that everyone movie have this?).  I found a review (where I took the photo from) that actually gives a much fairer review of this film. (go HERE).

I have not wanted to drop kick a director/writer so bad since the Matrix Revolutions.

So, with the disappointment of the movie upon us, we set out to the bus terminal to make it to our bus departing Busan.

We missed a wonderful opportunity to explore the city because we were all too tired to map out where to go, or what to do. It was nice to be out of Seoul, but…we failed to capitalize on the opportunity and I was as much to blame as anyone.  I will not let this failure capture and define my experience in South Korea! When you screw up, learn from it and make better choices!

Here is a list of our failures and the solutions that I learned:

– Come with a plan of things to do – but don’t get too attached, BE FLEXIBLE.

– The smaller the group, the easier it will be to make group decisions, the larger the group, the greater the likelihood that nothing will get done.

– When someone is taking too much control, be perfectly comfortably with breaking off from the group, but make clear plans to meet up with the group at a designated time and place, and stick to that!

– Speak up when you are uncomfortable with the direction of the group. Keep in mind, people appreciate it more if you have a solution when you point out a problem.

– Take however much you pack…and divide that in half – THAT is what you really need to take with you.

– Don’t forget clean underwear! … so, very important!

– Film Festivals – …you’re going to see a sad movie.

This trip has been great to impart on me the importance of every moment I am here in Korea. I let too much time slip in September, and in just a few weeks it will be time to return home. I need to make EVERY moment count!

Busan,…Part 1.

We all love to tell a good story. Friends and family love to hear when a plan works out. However, the truth is, sometimes it does not happen that way. A group of friends and I planned our first outing to leave Seoul, South Korea. For me, it was going to be the first time to travel outside of the city. I have loved my time in Seoul but by staying in one city, that’s all I get to say I did. On the other hand though, if I travel out and about – then I get to claim a more inclusive experience. Through the grapevine, we heard there is an International Film Festival in a city on the other side of the country – Busan. It was hard to suppress high expectations about this trip. A few of us LOVE seafood. We also love movies. This provided a few goals for me to achieve. – Watch a Film Festival – Eat some GREAT seafood in the country’s LARGEST port city. – Get out of Seoul!

To help keep things more manageable we kept our group small. Lesson to be learned here if you haven’t already – the smaller your group, the easier it is to make GROUP decisions, get sat at restaurants, fit onto buses, taxis, and generally get around. We took 9 people, which still worked out to be too large in a lot of cases. Additionally, it helps if everyone buys into what’s going on. It is ok if a few people just want to go with the flow, but people can also get burnt out by people who take charge to loudly and start holding the group hostage by decisions. Which is part of where my group went left instead of everyone chipping into the planning process. These are some of the lessons I learned this weekend. So, without going into too deep of details and turning this into a gripe-blog, I’ll share some interesting things that happened, some pictures, and the positive take-a-ways. We showed up to the Seoul Bus Terminal early Friday morning and bought tickets to go to Busan for a little over $21 each way! The bus ride was 4.5 hours and we were upgraded for free to the luxury bus seats. We did not know this of course, until we bought and boarder to come back on Sunday afternoon and notices the difference in the seating. The key difference is the seat size. These are the luxury seats. We really appreciated the trip to Busan a lot more than the one FROM Busan in the regular bus. We arrived in Busan a around 10:30p at night. It was too late to go down to the Film Festival to buy tickets for Saturday, so we resolved to get some food, make our way to the the “pension” (a small room for a group of people to sleep on the floor with a bathroom attached to it). The place we went to eat was our first opportunity to enjoy seafood in Busan and I was SO excited for it. Turns out that the 18 or so items on the menu were reduced to three items. The only seafood item that looked interesting to me was the Shrimp Ramen! The soup/noodle dish was slightly spicey and had three whole shrimp in it. I tore off the shrimp heads and enjoyed their offering, content this was just a humble beginning to the seafood that I would consume this weekend.  We left the dinner spot and headed to where we were bunking down for the night. We hopped onto a bus and then went to the hotel. Oddly enough, you can see the bus ride here (I am grateful someone caught the driving on camera as it really was sensational!) See below: Once we arrived we walked down one dark street after another. The smell of the ocean getting stronger. Eventually we ended up at the place, and it was…well, simple, yet traditional, or so we are told. We stayed up for another few hours and then fell asleep sometime around 4am to wake up at 10a to hit the road. We ate a large brunch and then off to the Festival! We ended up spending a lot of the day at a cafe figuring out what movies we wanted to see. Our group had a hard time keeping focus and deciding what we wanted to watch. Two of our members decided the most proactive thing to do was to go to the theaters to buy some tickets for movies we had expressed interest in. Word made it back to us that we were there too late. All the tickets were sold out for the day.  So, we left the cafe’ and went around town. We also had some fun with some of the creative architecture.  and ended up walking around in this area. After some miscommunication issues (this is when the wheels started to fall off the train) we headed for dinner. The plan here was to go to a seafood spot. We were warned by our proactive guide (who is a student with us and who’s family is from this area) that this was THE spot to go but that it would be a little more expensive than we were used to paying.   I figured that’s ok, this is a trip, and I am ready for a new experience. In comparison, the average cost for dinner has been around $8 US (9000 Korean Won) in Seoul, the busy center of all things Korea. How much more expensive could it be? What…double? 16,000 Won? I can manage that if its a nice sit down restaurant.  So…we go on a journey to this:

You can’t see it, but they’re alive…and moving! … And some are being cooked…in freshly cut up pieces on a grill. Not inside the restaurant, but on a make shift stove with hot coals in it. And by “stove” I mean a LARGE Canister that you may get at your local bulk grocer’s store (like SAMS club or Costco in the states). Nothing screams “Divey-Skeevy cooking” like an old woman bent over cooking your food on the street in what might been a thrown away can for “family size tomato sauce.” …oh, the cost? … about 30,000 Won! WHAT!? Are they charging by the parasite? Sanitary this was not…especially when them ripping the guts out of fish right next to the doorway you walk passed to sit down. Oh, have I described the smell? I’ll spare you the description. We decided this was not an option, though it was an interesting cultural observation. We moved deeper into the stank-infested rabbit hole to find my favorite option: Crab!

I thought! This is wonderful!….again, if I could just sit down. On the right side of this picture, you can see how close we are to the road. I did not see them cooking these, however, I also do not remember seeing a lot of people inside the sitting area. The cost could be part of the reason – coming in at 60,000 won to 100,000 won PER PERSON! Or it may be because of a lack of confidence from the locals. At this point, my dream of eating a king’s portion of seafood in this lovely port city was being flushed down the toilet, which would explain the stench. We tried one more spot, but, by this time, we have lost confidence that any of us would walk away from eating around here without getting sick. I groaned and confessed I was interested in something….else. As did many people in our group. This was not a cliff we were willing to jump off, much to the chagrin of the young lady playing the role of “neurotic-micromanaging guide.” She freaked out. I sympathize with her that she was looking to give us a “cultural” experience, but that’s not something you can force onto someone, much less a group of people. She blamed us that we should have spoken up earlier in the day, but what were we supposed to say? “I expect to eat in a clean restaurant and not be charged more than $18 for dinner? Eating freshly gutted eel off of a hobo’s grill is not an option for tonight’s dining options?” Group communication quickly disintegrated as our Korean Napoleon started stomping off threatening to “crawl all over anyone’s ass who complained about not having a seafood option” for the night. Somewhere along this conversation, the angels must have been smiling with sympathy on us and sent a random distraction. Too quick to snap a picture of but three or four small trucks passed by at the end of the intersection with GIANT pumpkins in the truck beds. GIANT PUMPKINS? …why? because this is South Korea, and random stuff like this happens all the time. It was like an episode of Family Guy, with a humorous random occurrence to break up the tension. We had all resigned to move to another area and head to a more populated area of town.

After another failed attempt at sitting down as a large group, we decided to split up. It was the BEST decision EVER!!! This is what we had for dinner in Busan on the last night we were there. It was a chicken dish with a dark teriyaki sauce. It also has onions, potatoes, carrots, and some clear noodles in it.

It was delicious and only cost us about 8,000 Won (a little under $8)/person. After this we decided a trip to Baskin Robbins was in order. We had experienced a bit of a culture shock earlier, and ice cream is a GREAT way to compensate and have something sweet and familiar to help restore comfort. 

I know you’re wondering – Almond Pistacio and Cookies-N-Cream.

We called the other group to see where they were and to see if they wanted to meet up. There must have been a miscommunication, because what it sounded like was that they went to the Busan Tower (pictures to follow), and that they were going to be unavailable to meet back up with our group to hand off the key to the room that everyone had paid into using. A suggestion was thrown out for our group to make other plans for the night. To which we decided was not going to happen. (Correction, I had decided I was going to break off with the group and meet up with them in the morning and everyone was already aware of this; however, that was NOT the decision of the other 4 people I was with, and they very much wanted to be able to go back to the place where all their stuff was for the night). We decided to walk back to the Tower and it was nice. Here are a few of the pictures I was able to capture:

It was really nice up there and I am glad we went. The view was amazing, but my camera did not seem to capture the beauty as well as the naked eye.

I’ll continue this adventure in another post. I’ll pick this up and share what fun I missed out on, where I ended up at over night, and how we closed the trip. Did we ever get to see a Film at the Festival? Did I get sleep? …come back to find out!

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