What is This Place? Notes on a Return Home

Everyone asks about culture shock, about strange foreign customs and scary food. But as strange as living abroad can sometimes be, particularly in Asia, there is one ugly monster that never fails to rear its head and make me scream while I try to run away at full speed. That horrible nightmare is also known as reverse culture shock.

Now, I’m no stranger to culture shock or reverse culture shock. I’ve been around the block, as they say. I’ve lived 5 months in Austria and had to readjust to the big, bad, high-school world in my hometown. I lived another 5 months in Argentina and had to come back to my University and deal with a mate deficit and loads of people who just couldn’t relax, in stark contrast to the Argentine lifestyle I’d learned to love. Arriving in South Korea and trying to figure out how life works wasn’t always a walk in the park. But coming back from 18 months of expat life? Now that’s some heavy hitting culture backlash. I knew what was coming but I definitely couldn’t have been prepared.

And to be honest, I may have needed all 18 months to be prepared for the return. Somewhere between six and sixteen months, a sickening feeling began to emerge every time I imagined a visit home. The stupidity of uneducated Americans, the ignorance about life outside of its borders and the thought of even having to discuss my “adventure abroad” all seemed like incurable diseases I didn’t want to face. But in the final two months I started having intense cravings for American food, missing Pittsburgh sights and attractions and looking forward to happy holiday times. Without these small bits of homesickness to overcome my fear of a return, I would have had quite a tough time getting on that plane headed back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Home sweet home, after getting adjusted.
Home sweet home, after settling in.

But, I did. And I’ve been back. And unsurprisingly, it’s hasn’t been quite as horrible as I originally envisioned. Actually there have been some wonderful parts. And some weird parts. And an incident or two after which I realized that my social skills were a little rusty and maybe those Korean tendencies to be direct and extremely nosy weren’t really appropriate for conversations with USAers. But I’m pretty sure I can declare myself adjusted and look forward to fun times ahead.

Now that this serious talk is over and dealt with, let’s have some giggles at my expense. Here are five things that made me tilt my head and nearly curse with confusion, because I’d forgotten that’s what the USA is like for a hot second.

Cleavage, Everywhere

Korea is not so big on cleavage, and their standards of modesty are pretty much the exact opposite of what the USA calls modest. In the USA, showing your upper body (arms, shoulders, chest area, cleavage, back) are all pretty standard and accepted, provided it’s in moderation. In South Korea, those parts of the body need to be covered and if you want to be a little risqué, then a sleeveless shirt or a little collarbone will do the trick. In the USA, a short skirt screams sexy and if you can almost see someone’s butt, then you’re probably trying to force down super judgmental thoughts about that person’s life choices. In Korea, short shorts, skirts and dresses are the norm and there are plenty of times that I’ve caught a glimpse of someone’s undies.

Anyways, I’m rambling. The point is that I arrived in the USA and immediately thought “Oh my gosh, boobies are everywhere! What is this place?” and was very uncomfortable for a long period of time.

Flushing Toilet Paper

In South Korea, toilet paper goes in the trash can next to you when you’ve finished using it. We can debate the merits of this versus flushing TP all day, but that doesn’t really matter. After 18 months of being in the same toilet-using routine, I was pretty caught off guard during my return to the USA. It wasn’t really glorious, it was just weird and flushing toilet paper just felt… wrong.

People “Dressed Up” in Sweats

I understand that everyone has their bad days, but there has to be an end to this weird fashion trend of wearing sweatshirts, sweatpants and other junk clothing, just to straighten your hair and put it in a messy bun on top of your head. And then put on a face-full of makeup. I guarantee you that person showered, too. It’s just ludicrous. What’s so hard about clothes, again?

Wearing Shoes Indoors

“SHOES ARE DIRTY!” Korea said. And now I’m supposed to walk into my house, still wearing them. Because if I don’t, I’ll end up with a wet sock from some puddle of ice that someone else tracked in, while wearing their shoes inside. Because apparently that’s how things work in this weird country where I was born and raised. Whatever.

Massive Portion Sizes and Nothing Healthy on the Menu (Except Salad)

This one seriously drives me crazy. I cannot order healthy food off of a menu, unless it’s in the salad section, and even then, it’s questionable. Or unless I go to one of the “hipster” health food restaurants, which seems a little counter-intuitive to me. Why would I eat unhealthy food, when the whole point of food is to make our bodies keep working? Why are healthy meals not mainstream? Man, the USA needs to get its shit together so I can eat a sandwich that isn’t ten thousand calories or perfectly healthy but three times the size of what a meal should be. (Please note: the exception to this frustration of mine is Pittsburgh’s iconic Primanti Brothers’, where you arrive expecting to clog your arteries and almost explode post-meal. Then it’s okay.)

My diet at American restaurants: bread, bread, bread and bread.
My diet at American restaurants: bread, bread and bread.

It’s not all weird, head-scratching moments, though. I’ve encountered a few things while being home that I forgot were so damn awesome about the USA. And I rejoice every time I’m able to partake in these luxuries.

The 24 hr Pharmacy

I know that Korea has really cool convenience stores, but RiteAid, CVS and the like are America’s version of the same kind of awesomeness. I love walking through the aisles and staring at garden gnomes, Valentine’s day chocolate boxes galore, twenty-five different kinds of hair brushes and my favorite section, the drink refrigerators with Arizona Green Tea. They’ve even got all the candy you could ever need, ugly Pittsburgh magnets, horrible stationary and cards and the print-it-yourself photo booths. All open 24 hours. It’s glorious and I love it.

Delicious Beer, On Tap

Oh, Korea… if there is anything you cannot do for the life of you, it’s all things made of wheat. Your bread is sugary and lame and your beer tastes watery and sad. In the USA, there is a beautiful beer culture where you go to a bar, order a delicious, flavorful beer that you’ve never tried before and then you enjoy it. Sometimes it’s a locally made craft beer, sometimes it’s a local chain, sometimes it’s a popular beer but only in Michigan. In any case, I am soaking up every moment I can with amber ales, dark lagers, bright hoppy brews and all of the other incredible, tasty and wonderful beers that the USA has to offer.

(Oh, and I can’t WAIT to go to Germany again in April.)

Drip Coffee

I’m a coffee addict, and South Korea tried to placate me with those sugary instant coffee horrors. It didn’t work, Korea, you hear me?! I am enjoying opening a bag full of aromatic beans, grinding them, filling the coffee maker with either six or eight cups (depending on my mood) and enjoying cups of coffee all morning, while I’m still in my pajamas. And visiting the coffee shop or a breakfast restaurant and getting cups after cups of delicious diner coffee, instead of an Americano.

Yeah, I probably couldn’t have worked this out in Korea if I had tried harder, but I didn’t and I really missed it.

Although I did have the best coffee of my life in Korea. An exception.
Although I did have the best coffee of my life in Korea. An exception.

Full-Sized Towels

No one will understand why this is so great until they’ve lived somewhere that forces tiny foot towels upon you for all of your post-shower drying needs. May I also remind my readers that I said “foot towel”, as in a towel that is only sufficient for drying feet? And that my hair needs a foot towel of its own, since it hangs only a few inches above my waist? Full-sized towels are angelic, warm, fluffy awesomeness that blankets your cold, shivering and wet body and then makes life happier and full of rainbows. Also known as a bath towel. Also known as the kind of towel the world needs to start using after baths and showers, everywhere. Cough, cough, Korea. *Points an angry finger across the ocean*

Cheese

Korea, why couldn’t you do cheese correctly? I’m so glad I can eat delicious mozzarella and melted cheese that actually stretches and add cheese to scrambled eggs without ruining them. It’s great. And enjoy sharp cheddar and the cheese that’s both orange and white and fresh cheese from a block instead of in slices.

And there are a few things that I miss, now that I’ve departed kimchi-land (and one of those things is not kimchi). I’ll just list them, as they don’t need much explanation.

  • Pat Bingsu
  • Saunas
  • Rice
  • The Korean Won (and prices in 100 won instead of 1 cent increments)
♫And I----I, will always love youuuuuuu.♫
♫And I—-I, will always love youuuuuuu.♫

Time has flown by this month, but it’s now to move on to warmer pastures, literally, because I’m going to Spain in a few weeks. And then I’ll have another five months of travel and I’ll have to face the reverse culture shock beast all over again in July. But hey, I’ve done it before and there’s not a bit of doubt that I’ll be facing it plenty of times over in the years to come. Because in the end, reverse culture shock is the reason we travel. It causes us to question what it is we once accepted as par to the course and it creates appreciation for small things we never realized we would miss. It’s what we’re scared of and overcome, because we have to. Friends and family and loved ones are waiting on the other side. Your life doesn’t change by going abroad, your life changes when you go abroad and come back. That’s the hard part. That’s the part that makes us who we are.

And I wouldn’t change that monster hiding under my bed for any reason.

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home

If I had to pick a favorite holiday, I’d stop for a moment on Easter, because of the copious amounts of chocolate involved, then I’d debate over Christmas and the great times with family and gifts and hot chocolate, but eventually, I’d conclude that Thanksgiving, with all of the aromas and haste, rows of seats and unearthly amounts of incredible food, is definitely it. Something about the big table, mixture of gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes and the fact that it’s usually not terribly cold, not just yet. So yes, after serious though, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Hands down.

One of the sacrifices that expats and long-term travelers, study abroaders and other world explorers all make is missing family events. Sometimes they are birthdays, graduations, unexpected funerals or just regular, annual holidays. As the missing family member abroad, I often try to Skype in for parties, send messages and generally just let my family know that I wish I could be there for the event. It’s never quite the same, but it’s something. And once a year, that event I’ve missed is Thanksgiving.

Three years ago, after my semester abroad had ended in Buenos Aires, I spent a month traversing the country and visiting every city I could get myself to. I made a choice to miss Thanksgiving in exchange for the adventures, a choice I wouldn’t take back. But not being there for the turkey, the stuffing, the family shenanigans and occasional mishaps was hard. Three years ago, in a mountain city of Argentina with friends I’d only met a week prior, we came together and did our best to celebrate. Me and Zoe, an American working in Bariloche, cut and boiled potatoes, prepared a casserole and readied chicken to be baked. Someone else would bring the pie. Ironically, the Argentines showed up, saw our cooking attempts and immediately fixed everything; turning up the heat on the potatoes and slicing open the chicken to cut cooking time in half.

Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.
Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.

We ate and laughed, and though the food was good, we enjoyed the holiday more for the people. But just as the smiling faces of friends were comforting to me, they were also a reminder of exactly what I was missing.

Almost two years ago, I signed my contract to move to Korea and teach English. On Thanksgiving, last year, I worked. The foreigners in town chose the following Saturday to get together and have potluck style Thanksgiving dinner. Two homemade pumpkin pies arrived, mashed potatoes were devoured (before I even got any!) and chickens were roasted, turkey hadn’t made its way into town. We had all of the classic fixings of Thanksgiving, aside from Turkey, and we stuffed ourselves to the breaking point in true Thanksgiving tradition. As the night wore on, it developed into singing and merriment which had to be taken outside. A long line of foreigners poured into the streets of this small Korean town, celebrating their holiday, like a single bit of sun on an otherwise cloudy day.

Last year's Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.
Last year’s Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.

A week ago, I labored over a cutting board, slicing carrots into strips, peeling ginger with my fingers and adding clove after clove of garlic to the mixture. The end result was far from pretty, but finger-licking good and I dutifully carried my Tupperware containers to the annual foreigner’s Thanksgiving potluck. We packed ourselves into the tiny apartment, ate a strange mix of foods including spicy pasta, bacon mac and cheese and roasted chicken. Mashed potatoes had been promised but not delivered, stuffing arrived almost an hour late and gravy was nowhere to be found. Pumpkin pie, store bought but a god-send nonetheless, was delivered several hours after we’d finished our food. Wine was consumed, ice cream was spilled and space was tight and cramped; what last year had felt very Thanksgiving-like, this year felt nothing of the sort.

The food was good, though, and the laughter was still there. What was supposed to be a Thanksgiving potluck was more of a strange miscellaneous potluck drinking-fest with pumpkin pie and stuffing. I had my fun, I enjoyed spending time with my friends, but at the end of the night, I wasn’t hesitant to go home. More than any year before, this Thanksgiving reminded me, painfully so, of what I was missing. Of what I’d given up to live abroad, teach and earn money in another culture and expand my horizons.

My five months in Argentina, one month of it backpacking and my year and a half of life and work in Korea are experiences that could never be replicated at home. They’ve brought me trials and lessons, laughter and new ways of thinking. My brain expanded to accommodate new languages, faces and customs. I’ve grown as a person and become more confident, daring and content with what I already have. But I haven’t lived as an expat without sacrifice; missing my favorite holiday and the family that go with it are a price I pay. Missing Thanksgiving three years running is part of that cost.

Is it worth it?

Yes.

Do I miss my family and mashed potatoes?

More than they’ll ever know.

-~-

Have you missed holidays while traveling or living abroad? What do you miss the most from Thanksgiving? Is there one holiday you refuse to miss?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

iPhone Photoessay: Ruins of Salamis in Cyprus

Back in January of last year, I met my mom for nine days of vacation in Istanbul and Cyprus. We didn’t have much time on this little island, just two days and some family friends to meet, but those two days were days to remember. We spent one afternoon climbing Saint Hilarian Castle and another day walking here, through the ancient Greek ruins of Salamis.

The weather was beautiful, the ocean was lapping against the shore in the background and the sky was a bright cheery blue. As far as iPhone pictures go, these turned out about as well as I could hope. (But yes, I’m still kicking myself for not getting a DSLR already! Argh!) Sadly, my memory is a little foggy and I can’t tell you exactly what all these pictures are of exactly, but hey, they’re still pretty. That counts for something right? And I remember which picture is of the ancient Roman toilets. Good enough!

[For more information, you can also read the Wikipedia page about Salamis.]

salamis ruins cyprus photo
When you’re greeted by a cute dog, you know it’s going to be a nice day.
salamis ruins cyprus january
Entering the ruins… we were the only ones there.
cyprus salamis ruins statue headless
Oh no, the statues don’t have heads!
gymnasium salamis cyprus picture
According to Wikipedia, this was a gymnasium.
pillars gymnasium salamis cyprus ruins
These pillars have all been restored as far as I know, which admittedly isn’t very far, but they look beautiful nonetheless.
public toilets salamis cyprus ruins
These are the public toilets!!!! But don’t ask me how they work.
gymnasium cyprus salamis photograph
Another view of the gymnasium.
salamis cyprus ruins field photograph
The green and the blue and the sun and the spotty clouds combined into a purely delightful view.
salamis cyprus wall ruins
There were a lot of parts of a wall and half formed arches, all overgrown and crumbling. That’s how I like my ruins.
snails grass salamis cyprus
Life in the dead city! These little snails were all over the place.
salamis cyprus ruins ocean
I can only imagine how gorgeous this city must have been in its glory days, with the sea in the background.
amphitheater salamis cyprus ruins photograph
The amphitheater is huge and you can run and climb all over it, since it’s been restored and isn’t actually thousands of years old. Only kind of.
amphitheater cyprus salamis statue
What amphitheater would be complete without a headless statue?
salamis ruins pillars cyprus
Unsure of what this is, but it was large and there were a lot of pillars involved. Perhaps the Temple of Zeus?
pillar salamis cyprus photograph picture
It’s so cool that you can still see the carvings at the top of some of these pillars. Incredible!
carved stone salamis cyprus roman
SO COOL. Could I have a Roman travel forward in time and carve some pillars for me, too?
exit steps arch walls ruins salamis cyprus
Saying goodbye to the neat walkways and old rocks.

Salamis, you’ve been a treat. And I’ll be back… with a better camera.

squiggle3

Have you ever been to Cyprus or to the ruins of Salamis? What do you think life was like in this city, back in Roman times? How did you like those toilets?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

My Top 5 Wanderlist

Everyone dreams, some of us of fancy cars and others of simply a day off. I dreamed of pizza last night, but that’s not the kind of dream I’m talking about. I mean the dreams of the heart, the mental bucket list. My fantasies are actually filled with solitary retreats and books or alternatively, spectacular jaunts abroad in fascinating locations. That probably comes as no surprise to readers, considering my recent Reading Roundup Series and the topic of this blog.

So, while thinking about all the places I’d like to visit, I decided to put them together in a definitive list. Why not? I found it too hard to rank them, though, so I’ve put them in alphabetical order. Enjoy this little trip across the world, though only in thought this time. One day.

Note: I’ve not included any photographs, since I didn’t want to steal and I don’t have of my own. I’d recommend doing a Google image search, if you’re curious about what these countries look like.

 

Egypt

This first one needs a provision: I want to visit Egypt, but as a man. I’m really put off by the sheer number of stories of sexual harassment coming out of such a gorgeous country. So if I could be a man for a month or so, I’d love to spend that month traveling around Egypt and seeing all the beautiful, super super old sights. The Pyramids, the Red Sea, desert landscapes and access to an ocean; the sheer variety sends my head reeling. And the food, oh the food! Legumes and vegetables? Right up my alley. An image search of “Egyptian Food” sets my saliva production into overdrive. As much as I’d love to do all of these things, I’m fairly sure that dealing with sexual harassment for the entirety of my trip would kind of ruin it. So I’d like to be a man, or I’ll just have to wait 10 years for the social climate to improve. Shame.

 

Iran

These days, the only things we see in the news about Iran are things like “nuclear weapons!”, “negotiations”, and “WWIII?” But the Iranian government is a far cry from representative of the people, fortunately (and unfortunately). I took a semester of Farsi, the language in Iran, and it sparked my interest in the country. My teacher was a strong, fierce woman with a palatable love for her culture and people; it must have rubbed off on me. I want to see the landscape, the rock sculptures and old ruins, but I more than anything want to try the food. Once again, that image search just blows my taste buds away. Warning, don’t look if you’ve not eaten lunch/dinner/breakfast yet, you’re only asking for it.

 

Norway

I’m not sure why, but I’m really fascinated with extreme northern climates, particularly the Arctic circle, these days. Norway seems like such a beautiful country, with Oslo down “south” and then extreme, gorgeous landscapes farther north. I may or may not have spent at least an hour or two recently pulling that little figure on Google Maps around and looking at the street views all over northern Norway. I’m also fascinated by the concept of 24 hour nights in the winter and the opposite, constant sunlight in the summer. Though in reality, I’m pretty horrible at enduring cold weather, so I fantasize about testing myself and getting through an Arctic Circle winter. Maybe I need to stop reading books about Siberia…

 

Tunisia

There are a lot of random reasons why I’d love to spend some time in Tunisia. First is the landscape; it straddles desert regions and the Mediterranean Sea, which means extreme land transitions. Rad. It’s also in Northern Africa, which means a fascinating coming together of Middle Eastern and African influences. That’s a culture I’d be ecstatic to learn more about. Then, the official language, Arabic, is one I’d like to tackle one day. And the cherry on top, the food looks pretty lip-smacking. If I had to rank these five places, I’d be tempted to put Tunisia right at the top of that list.

 

Vanuatu

I had never heard of Vanuatu until this week, when I was reading about seven volcanic eruptions that happened at the same time. It’s a tiny island, east of Australia, formed by several volcanoes, some that are still active. One of my life-list items is to see lava, so I was immediately interested in this tiny country. It also has a lot of cool indigenous cultures, which are known to be friendly and picture-happy, and it’s an island. Beaches! And one more big plus, one of the official languages is English, which means travel there is infinitely easier. Lastly, a quick Google search of the food there reveals some dishes that look straight up crazy; I’m in. Send me!

I could go on for several pages with places I want to visit, but these five are absolutely at the tippy top of my wanderlist. And now that I’ve written myself into a hunger and wanderlust frenzy, I’m going to try and deal with the half of that problem I can remedy at the moment: feeding myself. If only it was delicious Persian food!

-~-

Have you been to any of these countries? What places are on your wanderlist? Did you also dream about pizza last night?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

The Superpower You Can Cultivate: Foreign Language

This morning is a Saturday, and Saturdays are always a tough day to write a blog post. I dug through my purse to find my external hard drive, hoping that going over some old pictures would spark something that I could use. I quickly realized that I’d accidentally left my external hard drive at work and there would be no access to photographs until Monday. Shucks.

So, I headed over to the Daily Post, who has been posting different prompts for NaBloPoMo writers everyday. Most of these have been much more geared towards personal blogs, and I haven’t had a chance to use a single one yet. But the most recent prompt was a strike of luck. It read:

You get to choose one superpower. Pick one of these, and explain your choice:

– the ability to speak and understand any language
– the ability to travel through time
– the ability to make any two people agree with each other

Now, as a travel/expat blogger, I’m sure you can guess which one of these superpowers I would choose. Time travel, obviously! Jokes. No, I’m convinced that being able to speak and understand any language would be the ultimate superpower, for a myriad of reasons. I’m going to tell you about each and every one of them

Easier & Carefree Travel

This is a pretty obvious benefit. You could literally go anywhere in the world and find a place to sleep, eat and sightsee with minimal effort. Your safety automatically doubles, because if you’re lost you can ask for help, you can get warnings ahead of time about unsafe areas of the region and you are more likely to talk yourself out of any potentially bad situations. You can ask about bigger towels at some tiny, cheap motel and you can read the street signs in the area. Learning the language in a country you’ll be traveling in just makes everything, all around, way better.

A good Spanish word to learn is "Peligro", which means danger. Which is also not something you'd expect on a hill filled with bright yellow flowers.
A good Spanish word to learn is “Peligro”, which means danger. Which is also not something you’d expect on a hill filled with bright yellow flowers.

Hear People’s Stories

Sit down with your hostel owner and a cup of coffee and learn about his family, how he came to open a hostel, what makes him happy in life. Ask the person next to you on the plane where they’re going and what they do for a living. See an elderly Jewish grandmother in Germany and be able to listen to, understand and learn from her experiences in World War II. Ask a little girl what her favorite color is, her favorite book is and whether she has any younger siblings. People are fascinating and they have incredible stories to tell, especially those that live a different life than you. And from people like that, there are endless amounts to learn.

Always Find A Job

This reason is a bit superficial, but you instantly have job security. If you’re ever, and I mean ever, unemployed, speaking rare, difficult languages will solve your problem and quickly. Where there isn’t a translation position (which there always is), there are other corporate positions that just need someone to relay information between two global units of the same company. Talk about breathing easy!

Secret Eavesdropping

Oh, the things people say to each other when they’re alone… or think that no one can understand them. This one is especially lucrative, because you can always pretend you don’t speak a native language and hear both sides of a negotiation. Of course, this also comes with a downside: people say stupid, annoying things all the time. You’ll never again have the illusion that people abroad are less obsessed with the superficial than people in your country.

This line full of Korean people wanting to buy Prada is one example of conversations I'm happy not to eavesdrop on.
This line full of Korean people wanting to buy Prada is one example of conversations I’m happy not to eavesdrop on.

Insane Dreams

Have you ever had one of those bilingual dreams, where one person is speaking English and then in your dream you’re trying to come up with the German words for your response? And then French or Korean or Spanish comes out of nowhere and you wake up super confused? No? Just me? Well, if you can fluently speak and understand every language, everywhere, then you’re going to have some absolutely crazy dreams. That’s pretty cool.

Better Informed

You know when the news only reports one side of an international story? You know when all the newspapers all say the same thing, because there was only one person who was able to translate the Cantonese and that exact translation is the same source for every TV station? Speaking every language would put an end to these limited information scenerios. You could tune into foreign broadcasts, read the newspaper in Spain and even shoot out an email to a contact in Ghana. You would be the best-informed person around.

LEARN spanish travel informed
Learning Spanish means you can read about news in all of South America, from South American sources. That’s pretty valuable.

I’m going to let out a little of my teacher side, now. While it’s probably impossible to learn all of the 6,000 or 7,000 languages in the entire world, it’s totally possible to cultivate a little slice of this superpower. Just by virtue of being able to read this, you’re already able to communicate with nearly 10% of the entire world (a little over half of those people speak English as a second language). If you learn Mandarin, just one second language, you’ve just upped your percentage to 20-25%, depending on that ESL overlap. If you learn Spanish, with 406 million native speakers, you’ve just racked up another 5% of the world with whom you can have a conversation, not adding in second language learners.

You see what I’m saying here? You can actually have 1/4th of a superpower, if you want. Yeah, it’ll take a few years of hard work and looking like a fool (with your pants on the ground! Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) And true, it’s not something you can mindlessly do, you’ll have to put in the time and effort. But you could have one fourth of a superpower! Isn’t that awesome?

That’s why I’ve written a language resource page for Korean and shared other updates on my life, while studying other languages. If other people are inspired to study a foreign language, then they are actively making their own lives better. I’ve experienced these benefits firsthand and they are real. They are significant.

And for me, all of those reasons are what keep me going in my own language studies, be it German, Spanish or now Korean. It’s always, always been worth it. And I can promise it would be for you, too.

squiggle3

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Rural Korea

My area, particularly Waymok Beach is actually quite famous within Korea for its incredible sunsets. I live a few kilometers from the famed beach view, but my view of the sunset is usually pretty stunning, regardless. Framed by seemingly endless rice paddies, some beautiful cloud formations and a distant ocean, I’ve managed to capture a few killer shots. I also took a little trip to the nearby seawall to capture the photographs with the pagoda in them.

So enjoy this assortment of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve seen in my area, and my attempts to catch them on camera. Whoever said that the countryside was boring obviously didn’t look around long enough to catch these beautiful moments.

pagodasunset

 

IMG_0831 R ED

IMG_0918

 

IMG_0854 R ED

 

IMG_5449 R ED

IMG_9265 R ED

IMG_0884 R ED

squiggle3

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Photoessay: Bikes of Germany

Germany is one of those countries with its ducks all in a row when it comes to transportation. Public transportation is everywhere, convenient and cheap. Cars are small, sometimes battery powered and gas is expensive, which prohibits people from driving for dumb reasons. Scooters and motorcycles are more common than uncommon. Walking for long stretches is considered usual, and when you can’t walk, then the answer is to bike.

Biking is everywhere. Bikers have their own lanes, either part of the road or the sidewalk, and if you’re walking in the bike lane someone will yell at you and possibly just fly past you at high speeds, scaring you poopless. Most people have mastered one handed biking, biking with heavy bags, biking around sharp corners without wiping out. It’s amazing.

So, yeah, I took a lot of pictures of bicycles while I was in Germany. Why not?

motorbike germany berlin
Moto, moto, on the wall…
bike bicycle germany berlin
Biking gets you places and prevents heart disease!
beach travemunde germany bike sand
Bike to the beach, sit your butt in the sand, swim in freezing water, bike home and dry off in the process. Smart.
beach bike travemünde germany
Travemünde, Germany.
bike germany berlin street
People lock their bikes onto anything they can find, including street signs.
bike child seat germany building
Baby goes for a bike ride!
leipzig library bike bicycle
Everyone in Leipzig bikes to the library. Everyone.
munich bike bridge street
You can always drag your infant child around, too.
bike lane street munich germany
Brave souls, biking with the traffic.
bike woman street germany
Bike and sightsee at the same time!
bike germany graffiti wall
Bicycles and graffiti somehow go together quite well…
bike river bridge germany
Some people bike to the river, then relax for a while outside.
bike bush germany green
Or people just stick their bikes into the bushes.
germany potsdam bike tour path woods
Biking through Potsdam was one of the best things I did during vacation.
bike german berlin street river
If you didn’t bring a bike to Germany, you can always rent one.

squiggle3

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Argentina

First of all, I want to start with a moment of gratitude. This morning, I finished my morning run and had not accidentally adopted any dogs by the end of it. Pfew, a sigh of relief.

This blog began back in 2011, when I wanted to document my semester abroad in Argentina. Since then, I haven’t written a whole lot of meaty posts about the experience. The writing I was doing back then (on Tumblr) was mostly short, anecdotal or quick story-based with a photograph or two. I’ll have to remedy that, in due time, but for this post I’d like to reminisce on delicious Argentinian food. Because I’m hungry, and looking at a bunch of juicy steak is going to make that better, right? Right.

24 Jul 2011 1 Ovieda Apple Pancakes

Ordering in restaurants did not start out on the right foot, in Argentina. This was “pancake”. It was literally sugar, baked onto a metal plate with a little breading in it. Way too sweet!

27 Jul 2011 2 Alfajor y Cafe

A traditional alfajor, or sandwich cookie biscuit thing, usually covered in powdered sugar. For some reason, I just couldn’t get into alfajors, unless they lacked the outer covering and were straight dulce de leche. Then I was totally into alfajors.

DSCF2588

Speaking of dulce de leche, it was a key culprit of my horrible eating habits during this semester. I could never say no!

DSCF3188

STEAK! This was the first steak I ordered in Argentina, three months in, believe it or not, because I was actually a vegetarian before studying here. Needless to say, that didn’t survive my trip.

DSCF2829

The best part of studying abroad might be the melting pot of cultures all coming together in one place. His face hiding behind a camera, pictured is a friend from Argentina who studied in Germany. The cook, not pictured, is a German who was also studying abroad in Argentina and decided to make us a German meal.

DSCF2587

The panaderia’s, or bakeries were both my best friend and my worst enemy. I wanted to try all of the different pastries available, ever, so I made it my mission.

DSCF3194

This sandwich was literally as big as both of our heads combined. So we each ate half, and died finishing it. Gotta love absurd portion sizes.

DSCF2871

My attempt at “healthy” by eating a whole grain medialuna. or butter croissant. It was unsuccessful, but deliciously so.

DSCF2599

My apartment was directly above one of the most incredible empanada shops. They made them open faced, with little bread bowls and I ordered take out several times a month. So. Good.

DSCF2603

Oh look at that, more pastries. More dulce de leche. More drizzled chocolate, powdered sugar and other creamy white sugar concoctions stuffed into a butter-saturated pastry from heaven.

DSCF2853

I lived 20 minutes away from “Chinatown” (actually Asia-town), which meant I could go into the grocery and get an uncut giant roll of sushi, unwrap the plastic and just eat it while walking or sitting or on the train. It was awesome.

DSCF3459

Okay, so I didn’t consume all of this, but it was consumable. Bariloche in Argentina, or the little Switzerland of Argentina, makes their own chocolate and it’s SO GOOD.

DSCF3048

Sometimes you order a meal, and it’s just three different kinds of potatoes. Argentina has a LOT of different potatoes that you can buy, though, so that’s pretty awesome. Did you know there are 5,000 different species of potatoes? Now you know!

DSCF2635

THIS PIECE OF CAKE WAS DELICIOUS and I’ll never forget it. Ever. As you can see, Argentina is pretty talented in the cake/pastry/fattening sweets area.

DSCF3763

Argentina and wine go together, and tasting wine at a winery while in Mendoza, a wine producing capital? That’s just a must-do. Not tipsy scraping and destroying your knees while falling off of a bicycle on the way back, though. You don’t need to do that. Trust me on this one.

DSCF2690

Argentina is famous for its asado, or barbequed / outdoor grilled meat. This asado was a king of asados, I’ve never seen a layout quite so big.

DSCF3897

Bondiola, or grilled, huge pieces of pork put on a nice bun, covered in weird sauce and stuffed into your face as quickly as possible, before it gets cold or drips on you. I miss bondiolas.

DSCF3292

Instead of just plain ketchup, you should probably also opt for the mini fries on your hotdog. I don’t know why, but you should just do it.

DSCF3401

I wandered around Bahia Blanca for a long time, unable to find anything I wanted to see. This cupcake shop and peanut butter cupcake literally saved the day, and made sure I wasn’t a grumpy grumpy monster when I got back to my accommodation.

DSCF3603

Thanksgiving in Argentina: though I missed my family, I didn’t miss out on great food and company. Or eating bird.

DSCF3647

More asado, because it’s delicious. This time in someone’s backyard. Sausages and huge slabs of beef are the usual.

DSCF2594

And to round this little photoessay off, only more pastries would be fitting.

Did I mention I gained 15-20 pounds in those five months? Well, I’m sure you can figure out why. How is anyone supposed to say “no” to food this delicious? Or even stop at reasonable amounts? It’s just not possible. If you can stay skinny without upping your exercise in Argentina, I’m assuming your taste buds don’t work.

Good thing my next stop was Asia, or I’d have been in real big trouble. (Hehe punny me!)

-~-

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Random Snippets of Life in Korea

Today, I’m blogging from the road, literally, as I type this post up on my phone while the bus takes me to Seoul. Let no one say I’m not committed to NaBloPoMo!

Since my only resources are… well just this phone and the pictures on it, I thought I’d just throw some pictures together, explain them, and hopefully give you a laugh.

Here goes nothing!

20131117-090920.jpg

English gone wrong… I don’t know why food companies are so desperate to write English on their packaging, that they’ll throw anything together to make it happen. I wonder what those marketing statistics are on English words or Korean words on the packaging… does it really help? Who knows.

I’m also pretty sure the secrecy of this love will be in jeopardy if you give someone chocolate that blatantly has the word “love” on it.

20131117-090934.jpg

Thirsty? Drink this, it’s made of pine trees! I really have no words. Apparently it gives you extra energy.

Actually, the drink tasted quite okay. Just like a pine tree, as you’d assume.

20131117-090951.jpg

I keep these mini dinosaurs on my desk, mostly in an effort to block myself from putting papers down and making it messy. Somehow they end up in a tower every time students are around…

20131117-091018.jpg

Just in case the weirdness of middle school kids was in question.

Luckily, the tuna wasn't as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.

Do too many choices overwhelm you, terrify you or make you nervous? Avoid the tuna aisle of grocery stores in Korea.

20131117-091107.jpg

Just thought I’d throw in a picture of Mary, cause, why not. Go ahead and try to tell me she’s not cute. Try it. I dare you.

squiggle3

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Your Crash Course in K-Pop

If you’re anything like me before I came to Korea, you figure that Korea probably makes its own music, but you know nothing about it. This is your crash course in Korean Pop music, or K-Pop. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, it’s sung in both English and Korean and it’s kind of a big deal. Dive in. Your life may never be the same.

Image is Everything

This isn’t surprising in Korea, where image is already important. In music videos, it’s ten times more important. Everything you can imagine is done to the maximum: hair, makeup, set and backgrounds and more than anything, fashion.  This is pretty similar to any culture, but this is Korean style. Dialed up, it can look crazy. Oh and most of the artists have huge budgets… so it just gets insane.

Example: Hyuna – Ice Cream

Coordinated Dancing Rules

Remember Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” and N*Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye”? How awesome were those dance moves? If you’re a fan of coordinated dance, then you’re already a fan of K-Pop and you don’t even know it yet. While the USA music video industry grew out of their coordinated dances phase, the K-Pop world just made them bigger and badder than ever.

Example: Girls’ Generation – I Got a Boy

Boy/Girl Bands

Did you notice how many girls were dancing in the last video? They weren’t all back up dancers… that was the actual group. Girls’ Generation is one of the most famous artists with a million people in it (okay, so there are nine) and the boy band EXO, between their Korean and Chinese members has 12 people. INSANE! Most groups are less, and the magic number seems to be about 6. And if you haven’t guessed this yet, yes, the Boy/Girl Bands and coordinated dancing pretty much go hand in hand.

Example: BEAST – Bad Girl

Single Girl Singers

The alternative to the groups, are the solo singers, which are almost entirely women, with few exceptions. They sing plenty of sad ballads about being heartbroken or lonely, but there’s always the occasional single girl mantra or happy song. These tend to come and go in fame, one hit wonder kind of artists, sadly. Some of them are extremely talented (even if their choice of ballad is not).

Example: Lee Hi – It’s Over

K-Pop Fans

I’m going to put this simply: K-Pop fans can be obsessed and insane. More than you’ve ever seen. Belieber fans on cocaine. It’s a little bit cult-like and people all over the world go crazy for K-pop. If you’re not 300% in love with an artist’s music, it may be more stressful than fun to go to a concert, since K-pop obsessed teenage girls are known to scream, push, kick and let nothing get in their way of a potential sighting of their idol. God help you if you’re accidentally in a public space when a K-Pop band shows up to do a signing and fan meet… you will not be able to move and your ears might break open.

Example: A news story about international K-Pop Fans, one of which shows off her tattoos of the group ‘Super Junior”

It’s a Machine

Here’s a fun fact: K-Pop celebrities are fully manufactured. Scouted out in elementary or middle school school, the label takes them under their wing and makes them “trainees”. For years. Rigorous singing, dancing, music, English, everything under the sun lessons and a full-time life dedication are required. For years. And then when the label decides you’re ready, you pop out into the popular music scene like an egg freshly hatched. Awww, so cute. Except kind of torturous…

Example: This guy that was a trainee explains his daily schedule (in English, don’t worry!).

G-Dragon

Yeah, you’ve heard of PSY and that’s great, but in order to know anything about K-Pop, you NEED to understand who G-Dragon is. He is the biggest deal, biggest name, most famous, most insane and most arrogant, with a lot of reason. He’s legend. In his earlier videos, he’s androgynous as all hell, why does he look like a woman now? A man? Who knows. He doesn’t care. Basically G-Dragon doesn’t care about anything, except for his music, which he makes incredible. I could keep explaining, or I could just make you watch this music video.

Example: G-Dragon – “미치Go” (or “Go Crazy”)

Because he’s G-Dragon, here’s a second video: G-Dragon – One of a Kind

Congratulations, you’ve just graduated from your crash course in Korean pop music! YouTube can provide all advanced lessons on the subject.

squiggle3

What do you think of K-Pop, do you like it? Is it insane? Do you want to sign up to be a trainee and slave away for years, too?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.