13 Defining Moments of 2013

I don’t usually pay too much homage to the change of the year. After all, it is just a number and on some level, the difference between 2013 and 2014 is just an arbitrary 24 hour period that happens to be a special one. Suddenly midnight strikes and everything has changed… not. But as I read through other blogs and their recounting of adventures, it got me thinking about what’s happened to me in 2013 and I started feeling a little nostalgic. I changed my mind; I’ll write about it after all, I’ll commemorate it. Because when I think about it, 2013 has been quite a year. Besides, who can resist the chance to link to at least ten previous posts and substantially increase blog traffic? Definitely not me! (Was that a trade secret? Oops.)

So I sat down and tried my darnedest to write about it. It didn’t go well, I slept on it and my dreams offered nothing. Rude, subconscious. Then someone used the title I was contemplating using, “A Year of Firsts” and wrote a pretty good post to rub it in. Later I searched “2013: A Year of Firsts” on the internet and realized there were about a billion posts with that same title, all over the internet anyways. And now as I sit here and think about it, I’m realizing that it should be my goal to make every year of my life a “year of firsts”. I should always be challenging myself. When I don’t think of the previous year as a year of firsts, then maybe that means I’m actually doing something wrong and I need to do some changes.

So back to the subject, I’ve settled instead on listing 13 things that happened in 2013, a bullet-listed summary of sorts, firsts and otherwise.

1

2013 will be the first full calendar year that I will have the pride (yes, I’m thrilled about this!) of saying I was 100% financially independent. I earned my own salary, paid my own bills, did my own grocery shopping, had to put up the money for those big purchases that my parents love to cover, like winter jackets and running shoes. Although my parents have always been beyond supportive and never put any stipulations on their handouts, it still felt really freeing to be on my own, financially. I guess you can say I’m a big girl now! (Tongue in cheek, I’m five foot three and will never be a big girl, woe is me.)

2

I bought my first car and it was lime green, fulfilling a childhood dream. Driving around my rural community completely changed my mindset; suddenly I wasn’t stuck in the countryside, I was experiencing rural Korea. Later I also sold my car and mourned the inevitable loss of Princess Fiona and her beautiful maroon pleather interior. Maryanne, treat her right, I’m entrusting you with a vehicle of great importance and prestige.

3

Double first, I still have never had an official cavity but this past year I nurtured and grew two troubled, slightly decaying spots on my back molars! I guess 2014 will be the year of more vigorous dental hygiene.

4

This year, I was also completely stationary. I haven’t lived in the same apartment for so long in almost four or five years, so that’s a little bit of a big deal, eh? College had me bouncing between universities, then dorms, sometimes countries and houses but for the first time since high school, I lived in the same place for 18 months straight. (No wonder I was so sick of that apartment by the time I left!)

Home sweet home.

5

I transferred my blog from Tumblr to WordPress this past May and finally joined the official blogging community. It’s been an incredible experience, I’ve made a lot of Internet friends and adore the friendships that have blossomed around my posts and in the comment sections. So now that I’m official… where’s the T-shirt?!

6

Sad but true, this was the year I accepted the loss of a lot of really close friends and also acknowledged that no one I’d met since then would be able to fill that void. Yes, I have a great boyfriend, but this is friend talk. And coming to the end of 2013, I’m realizing that I really don’t have many. But the ones I do have are precious.

7

This year, I made a huge transition, too. There was another frontier that I’d never crossed, and as soon as I felt a Kindle in my hands, I knew that a vast and enriching world had just opened up and I’d never be the same. I’ve always been a bookworm but I’d had to put that passion on the backburner when I traveled abroad previously, not wanting to splurge on expensive English books all the time and break my wallet. Getting my Kindle has reignited my love for literature and I’m now reading more than ever, more intentionally than ever and seriously feeling so… myself. That’s a good feeling to have.

I wish I could own these, but having them in E-book form is the second best option.
I couldn’t have read these books if it weren’t for eBooks.

8

This is a travel blog, let’s talk travel: I stepped foot in Istanbul, Turkey and Cyprus for the first time in my life. This trip was also with my mom, so there’s another first. (Not vacationing with my mom, vacationing with my mom abroad!) We spent a total of 10 days between the two and had a blast. And another first, I’d impulsively selected a city on the map and decided to vacation there, which I’d never done before. As my cousin might say, life achievement: unlocked.

9

One more first when it comes to travel, it was also the first time I really explored Germany. Now when I say that I studied German in college and the next question inevitably is “So have you been to Germany?” then I can concisely say “Yes!” instead of hanging my head in shame and then later explaining the difference between Austria and Australia. (I learned my German in Austria.) Now that some family news has come in, my travel plans for 2014 will give me even more chances to enjoy Germany and its delicious gassy water.

"Hey guys, I'm going to Germany tomorrow, so can someone take care of Mary for the next two weeks?"

10

Two thousand and thirteen will always be the year that my Christmas day was 38 hours long, thanks to cross continental travel and International Date Line magic. It will also be the year that I started Christmas morning hiking a mountain in Seoul and ended it laughing with cousins and gifts, next to a decked out Christmas tree in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

11

This past year, I completely paid off my government student loans and am ready to pay of the rest of my private student loans, which will make me completely free of all debt! I know that a lot of students carry larger loans than me and sometimes I feel guilty, but I also know that I worked my butt off to get to Korea, do well in my job, and get this dollar sign off of my back. And that feels really good.

12

I had a really serious realization this year, too: I hate cleaning. I am not domestic. I despise washing dishes. And when left to my own devices, I am disgusting! It sucks to come face to face with your own weaknesses, but I did this year and I’ll have to face those demons again, someday, once I’m ready to settle somewhere for another year or more.

13

The biggest, bestest, craziest and most life-changing part of this past year was hands down the adoption of my rescue puppy, Mary. I didn’t anticipate becoming a dog mommy at any point and I had to work really hard, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, to take care of her and myself. But I’m sitting here on my parents’ couch in the USA, covered in a blanket, and Mary is now eleven months old and fast asleep, cuddled next to me with her paw over her eyes to block out the light, being breathtakingly adorable. This month may be a bit of a trial for me (isn’t living in your parent’s home always?), but so far Mary has been my comedic distraction, stress release and the best bundle of crazy and cute that has ever existed, buffering me even from culture shock. I think that maybe ten years from now, when I look back at 2013, it’ll be defined as the year Mary arrived; that’s how much she means to me now.

IMG_7182 ED R

Mushy stuff over, it’s number time!

Planes Taken: 6 + 6 + 2 + 2 = 16 (Oh dear…)
Distance Traveled: 4968.5 + 4968.5 + 5090.8 + 5090.8 + 6846.4 = 26,965 miles
Time Spent on Planes: I refuse to do that math, for my own sanity.
Foreign Countries Visited via Airport: United Arab Emirates, China, Netherlands
Foreign Countries Actually Visited: Turkey, Cyprus, Germany, South Korea
Beds Slept In: 10
Apartments I Called My Own: 1
Hours of Christmas: 38
Miles Run With Mary: Countless
Miles Walked With Mary: Countless
Energy Mary Still Has: Countless
Dogs My Father Likes: 1

The Five Most Popular Posts of 2013

  1. 7 Ways South Korea Has Changed Me
  2. White & Pretty in South Korea
  3. How To Stay Warm in Winter Like a Korean
  4. 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best
  5. Meet Mary: Rescuing a Puppy in Korea

Resolutions for 2014

Brush my teeth more often. (See defining moment #3)

 squiggle3

What defining moments did you have in 2013? Are you ready for the new year?

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

An Honest Review of 16 Months Studying Korean

I came to Korea for a variety of reasons; money, foreign-ness, a new language and a high potential of personal growth were all factors that pushed me to buy my plane ticket. I didn’t choose Korea specifically for Korean, rather I wanted to learn a new language in general, so I choose Korea and therefore Korean. So while I never had any special interest in the Korean language, per say, I did come to Korea preparing to learn the language and hopefully end up conversational. It’s been one of my big ongoing goals throughout my life in Korea and early on in the year, I was also writing about my progress with Korean language updates on the blog.

[Previous Updates: My Initial Plan, My Brain Exploding, Tortoise-ing, Writing A Story About a Tomato, Improvements]

Recently I’ve been quiet on the subject. I never stopped learning Korean, but the structured studying ebbed and flowed, ended, started, slowed, disappeared and was often put aside for more pressing matters. I poured a lot of energy into getting this blog officially up and running, I started practicing my photography, I ended up with a rescue puppy and significant time commitments to make sure she wouldn’t eat my house while I was at work, everyday. But while I haven’t been cracking open a textbook everyday (or even on a weekly basis), I have been learning Korean in less direct ways, through conversation, random research on a word I’d seen, and sometimes Korean music/media.

So now that I’ve got less than two months left in Korea (eek!), I thought it would be a good time to take an honest look at my methods, my progress and what I could have done better. While I can have basic conversations with a Korean, or text message conversations (where I can take a minute to look up any unknown words), more in depth in-person conversations are still impossible for me. I can ask for anything I need in a restaurant, store, or from a co-worker, but their responses remain a mystery to me 50% of the time. I have room for improvement. But to say I haven’t gotten anywhere would be a gross misstatement of the truth. I’ve gone far, but Korean requires more of me.

[Related Post: Tips and Resources for Learning Korean]

What I Did Right

I started off on the right pronunciation foot. Before arriving in Korea, I got private help from a Korean-American in town who taught me the alphabet and the correct pronunciation for words. When I arrived in Korea, I started meeting a Korean weekly and practicing vocabulary and verbs. By spending time with native speakers in the very beginning, I was able to get the right sounds off my tongue from the get-go. (To this day, I’m complimented on my pronunciation by Korean speakers.)

I collected a variety of resources. Studying can be boring, really, really boring. But I collected a bunch of different resources, from internet to books to flash cards to conversation partners and used them all. It was this variety that made it possible to study so often in my first couple months. It’s hard to get bored when you’ve got resources that engage all of your senses!

I met a Korean weekly. This ended for tragic, unforeseeable circumstances, but the two/three months that it continued was extremely helpful. Sadly, once it came to a stop, there was no way to begin again and I never found a replacement partner. But I learned a lot while this was in session and I think it’s one of the best ways to up your Korean game.

What I Did Okay

I spoke Korean with Korean people, sometimes. You’d think that by working with Koreans, I’d have taken that opportunity to practice my Korean with them everyday. Sadly, those opportunities arose fewer times than you’d think. When my co-teacher spoke to me, it was understandably to communicate some kind of important information. Which meant she spoke in English to make sure I understood. As for meeting Korean friends, I ended up adopting a kind of half Korean, half English conversation style. While I did use some Korean, it would have been better if I’d really pushed myself harder and tried to say more complicated sentences.

I got a Korean boyfriend. You shouldn’t get a Korean boyfriend unless you like your Korean boyfriend; the foreign language practice should be a bonus. But I can’t exclude this, because it’s played a big part in my language development. It’s been invaluable to have a living dictionary, kind of, whom I can text a question and get a quick response, or ask to clarify some grammar point I don’t understand. However, we don’t speak exclusively in Korean which would have really upped my level over time.

What I Did Badly

I invested time in language projects that I didn’t use. I spent a lot of time making flashcards, which was helpful at least to make them. Sadly, though, I made them, used them one time and they’ve been collecting dust in a pile ever since. Instead of spending hours finding the right card stock, drawing the pictures, writing the words and organizing the cards, I should have just studied more from the book. Or used Quizlet. Or anything really. I’ve never been a huge flashcard person, so I’m not sure why I thought this time would be different.

I never replaced my Korean conversation partner. While it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t meet my first conversation partner anymore, it was definitely my fault that I never found another virtual one. My town is a third elderly, a third single middle aged men who work as laborers, and a third young children and their parents. It’s extremely difficult to find people my age in the neighborhood, so it’s understandable that another in-person conversation partner wasn’t in the cards. But I could have easily turned to iTalki, or any of the other Skype conversation exchanges available online. I didn’t.

I didn’t stick to a self-study schedule. Granted, once Mary came into my life, all schedules were thrown off. But I never had a consistent one to begin with, just a vague goal of “everyday” and some free time. If I had set aside certain times every week, then I think I’d have gotten a bit farther. My sporadic study sessions should have been regular. If I could go back in time, this would be the first thing I’d change.

At The End Of The Day

It’s funny how hindsight is 20/20 and looking back, I can see everything that I could have done better. But when it comes down to it, I’ve still learned a lot of Korean. No, we can’t discuss the intricacies of the USA political system in Korean (and a shame, because I’ve got a lot to say about that!). But I can tell you how to cook a classic American breakfast correctly. Still, I could be better at Korean by now, and it’s my own fault that I’m not. But while I can’t go back in time, I can apply these lessons to the next language on my plate. Like not to bother with flash cards, ever.

And when I get to my next foreign language (which based on history, is inevitable), I’m grateful that I’ll know, at least a little better, what to do.

[Related Post: A Critique: Benny the Irish Polyglot’s Language Learning Method]

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.

Review: My Local Guide Istanbul Tours

Big city, short vacation: a tour guide was the perfect answer.
Big city, short vacation: a tour guide was the perfect answer.

Istanbul is one of those huge cities with both way too many things to see and longer distances to navigate to get there. Because my mom and I had a short time in Istanbul, only five full days (we traveled to Cyprus as well), I suggested that we look into a tour that covered some of the most famous sites in a shorter amount of time, right at the beginning of our trip. The idea was that we’d see the must-sees and wouldn’t waste any time getting lost on the way there, and in the process get ourselves somewhat oriented to getting around the city. So I did a little blog research and came across My Local Guide Istanbul, also known as Salih.

Continue reading Review: My Local Guide Istanbul Tours

when a month flies by and you don’t even realize it

having a schedule, small moments to look forward to and a job to do will really steal time away, and right from under your nose. I spent a few minutes this morning staring at today’s date in disbelief. August? really?

technically, I’ve been in Korea for 5 weeks… but we’ll call it a month for the sake of nothing really, and because I feel like it. deal. already I’ve done so much, more than I could have ever predicted. time has gone both extremely slow and at hyper-speeds. it’s time to reflect a little bit, so here’s a short list of accomplishments, events and happenings that have taken place since I arrived in the glorious nation of Korea: Continue reading when a month flies by and you don’t even realize it