NaBloPoMo: Completing the Challenge

A totally unrelated photograph from Lübeck, Germany.
A totally unrelated photograph from Lübeck, Germany.

November, you kicked my butt into gear and then quickly disappeared. When I set out to do the NaBloPoMo or National Blog Posting Month challenge, I’ll admit that I was a bit hesitant. I don’t commit without serious thought, and worse than anything is committing and falling short. My worst nightmare was to set a challenge for myself and then fail, in the public eye. I also worried about bombarding my readers with too much content, losing subscribers and the negative effect NaBloPoMo could have on this blog. So I almost didn’t sign up, I almost signed up with an obscure personal blog that I don’t even use, I almost clicked out of the window to “sleep on the decision”, also known as forgetting about it.

But I didn’t. I said to myself: “Sally, don’t be a butthead.” (Yes, really.) I realized that if it would be over-blogging and bombardment of content for the smaller amount of readers I have now, it would be the same amount of over-blogging next year, just for more readers. And it was something I wanted to undertake, I wanted to complete the challenge, but I was just nervous. I didn’t think very much about all of the positive things it could do for my blog, though I knew, in theory, that it would make me better and stretch my limits.

So I simply took the plunge, bring what it may. Which turned out to be a whole lot of positives.

It made me think hard, and then force myself to produce.

Whereas earlier I was blogging more or less on inspiration and ideas, this month I blogged on demand. I learn a little about harnessing ideas, creating brainstorm lists and coming back to them later, when it was writing time. I learned about sparking inspiration by looking through old photos or just putting pen to paper and seeing what happened.

It forced me to revisit topics I’d left behind and undone.

I went back to Turkey and Cyprus, putting together photos and information about my trips. Without NaBloPoMo, I may have never gotten around to it. The “(Delicious) Things I Consumed In…” posts will now be a series for small trips I take, thanks to this.

This was also a downside of NaBloPoMo, as I remembered that I haven't eaten Baklava in about a year.
This was also a downside of NaBloPoMo, as I remembered that I haven’t eaten Baklava in about a year. Tears.

It forced me to branch out into new areas.

New topics this month include my hometown, Pittsburgh, my school lunches, getting into pop culture like K-Pop and writing the first post about Argentina since I’ve stopped writing on Tumblr. My topics were all over the place, but in a good way. Creativity upgrade complete.

It put my brain into blog-mode.

Wherever I was, I considered if there was something about this experience I wanted to put in blog form. If so, then I made sure to take the necessary pictures and write down any important information.

It put me on a schedule.

I had to find an everyday rhythm and with that, I was able to plan ahead. I made it my goal to write my post every weekday before lunchtime, and on Fridays I would think about my weekend plans and when I would sit down to write for the day.

Practice, practice, practice makes better.

I had to change that cliched phrase a bit, since writing is one of those things that will never be perfect. But the practice has helped me write not just better sentences, but work out the formatting and overall layout of my blog posts to be more readable and fun. I feel like I’ve improved a lot, even in a short amount of time.

It drove traffic like crazy.

I know that more content means more people looking at what you’ve written, but I expected that to be somewhat off-set by people overwhelmed with all of the new writing and falling away until it was over. In reality, people viewing the site increased by 150% this month! The bunches of content didn’t overwhelm my readers as much as I thought. That’s a relief.

If I could celebrate with this piece of cake from Argentina right now, I would.
If I could celebrate with this piece of cake from Argentina right now, I would. But I’ll settle for a nap.

There are other small things NaBloPoMo has done for me, like sparking some beneficial research and introducing me to the challenges of blogging from my iPhone, but the above are the big ones. I’m so glad I decided to take on this challenge, because despite all of my hesitations, it’s proven to be a really wonderful tool for making myself and my blog better.

I also now dub December my NaBloProMo, or National Blog Promoting Month, in which I do my best to market all the content I’ve already written to a bigger audience and try to get it seen. Yes, new blog posts will also be happening, but oh dear, I really need to take a rest. That was hard. But I did it.

See all of the NaBloPoMo posts here:

1// NaBloPoMo, Yo
2// Weird Noms: Salt & Seaweed Flavored Pringles
3// An Honest Review of 16 Months Studying Korean
4// Working in a Small, Private Middle School in Rural South Korea
5// The Characters of Sambong
6// You Know You’ve Been in Korea Too Long When…
7// iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Istanbul

8// How To Stay Warm In Winter Like a Korean
9// Foreign Movie Pick: “Friend” (2001)
10// Mini iPhone Photoessay: A Week of School Lunches
11// Pepero Day in Korea
12// Typhoon Haiyan, Human Suffering and Responsibility
13// iPhone Photoessay: St. Hilarian Castle in Cyprus
14// Featured Photograph: Red, Green, Yellow, Orange
15// Your Crash Course in K-Pop
16// The Slow Decline of Days
17// Random Snippets of Life in South Korea
18// Language Misadventures: How I Adopted and Unadopted a Dog Before 8am
19// iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Argentina
20// Photoessay: Bikes of Germany
21// Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Rural Korea
22// 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best
23// The Superpower You Can Cultivate: Foreign Language
24// My Top 5 Wanderlist
25// 11 Christmas Gifts for Travelers, Vagabonds and Wanderers
26// iPhone Photoessay: Ruins of Salamis in Cyprus
27// Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home
28// Featured Photograph: White on Water
29// A Look Ahead: The Last Month in Korea
30// This wrap up post, you’ve just read it!

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Have you noticed an improvement in my writing since I started? Did NaBloPoMo overwhelm you with content? What did you think about the challenge?

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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]

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accomplishing things in Korea: technology

I’m aware that the rest of the world may have already figured this out ages ago, but I am feeling prettttty accomplished right now. I figured out how to do something that completely changes my life. the world of technology is wonderful but dark and mysterious, and I’ve finally managed to cast light on one of the more important secrets hiding in the murky depths of cords and plugs and screens and stuff: I now am able to get my computer screen and audio to play on my TV. Continue reading accomplishing things in Korea: technology