On Returning Home…

It’s been ages since my last post, which has been becoming more of an occurrence.  I guess no news is good news.

A handful of updates:
*I’ve begun studying for the GRE exam, which I plan to take in January
*I’m leaving Korea and US-bound in March–after FOUR years (contract ends at the end of February)
*Classroom stuff is going swimmingly and I’ve been able to try my hand at video editing, which is pretty fun.

GRE Exam
In case you weren’t aware, the GRE is a graduate school entrance exam.  It’s not required by all schools, but as I want to keep my options open and I have some free time, I figured it couldn’t hurt to have it under my belt.  I bought a big (and I mean BIG) book with lots of practice questions and it’s really helpful.  I’m feeling dumber than a bucket of rocks as a lot of it has leaked out of my head, but I have a nice frosty winter to re-learn a thing or two.  ha

It’s true, it’s happening.  I’ve mentioned it on and off for awhile now, but it’s really happening.  I’ve been reading a lot about reverse culture shock and repatriating online as I’ve been experiencing a wide range of emotions.  At first it was relief and excitement, and everything around me seemed to be brighter, warmer, crisper and more cheerful.  Now, I’m feeling so…lost and I guess anxious would be the right word.  I keep going back and forth (with feelings, not on the decision itself) about whether I’m making the right decision, or whether I should just keep traveling for a bit.
Leaving feels right and it frees up a lot more possibilities, but the money is so addicting.  The other part that really gets me is that I’ll have a good amount saved up by the time that February gets here, more than I’ve ever had in my bank account at one time.  Ever.  Then I go home and buy a car and it’s all but gone.  Not even an expensive car…just a general used car.  It’s so depressing.  I was thinking about how far that money would go if I were to keep traveling after Korea, and I could go for about 8 months.  Maybe longer if I stayed in SE Asia.  It hurts me knowing that cars are essential in the midwestern parts of the US.  :-/

I feel like I’m on an emotional roller-coaster.

With the reading that I’ve done though, it’s really reassuring that I’m not alone in this.  I’ve also talked with friends who have already returned and they’ve given me advice as well, mainly: have a plan and keep busy.

I’m half-tempted to make a pit-stop in England before returning to the States because (1) I love it there (2) I have friends from Korea there who I haven’t seen in about 2-3 years.  (3) The Harry Potter Studio Tour in London
I do have a free return flight from Korea, which would get me there…I would just need to pay the return from London to Chicago.  Which takes away from the car fund.

I also really wanted to fill up my passport pages before it expires (in 2019, I believe).  I know going home isn’t permanent, but it feels like it.  I think that’s where part of my anxiety is coming from.

Anyway, this blog in particular was really helpful in fighting back the current anxiety that I’m feeling, especially in the comments.
*Have a plan B
*Make time to travel in your own country–which I’m actually working on as well!  I want to drive the PCH next summer.  It’s been on my bucket list for a very long time, and it would be great to see the west coast during the summer.  PLUS, I could stop in Cali and visit a friend from Korea who lives over there 😀

This is from the above-mentioned blog:
it seems that in life doors are always opening to us that we didn’t even see when we were all the way down at the other end of the corridor, so be brave, take one step at a time, and remember that even in going back, you can still be moving forward!”
(Steph 5/24/2013)

Anyway, that’s enough for now as it’s late (as usual).

I just found this and it.is.perfection.

Anyway, goodnight! 😀

Life So Far in 2015 (and bits about my trip home)

I’m back in Korea and settling back into daily life here.  I’m actually pretty happy because I’m doing a nice job of kicking jet lag in the teeth.  Thankfully in most part due to work, heh.  The first night I slept about 4 hours even though I was exhausted…(1 car trip to the airport in LA, 3 flights, an overnight sleep in the airport, a 2.5 hour bus ride from the airport and a taxi ride to my house). Yeahhhh…that makes for a very sleepy me.
Work has also been keeping me busy, especially that first day.  The first day I not only was on 4 hours of sleep, but we started our new term (new students, updating the classroom, clearing out stuff from any old students) and catching myself up from what the sub did while I was away.  We also just got our student rosters on the first day of classes (typical hagwon-style).  Then my classes, which are back-to-back.  So, by the end, I was completely wiped out.  I finish now around 8:30, but I stayed til 9:30 entering grades from the tests they took while I was away and updating my classroom for the new classes/students.

Yesterday was much better. I don’t mind staying late if it’s going to help make things run more smoothly for the following days.  Also, I bought two maps off Amazon while I was in the US–one world map and one map of the US.  They’re actually pretty big, which I was expecting to an extent, but I was still a bit shocked at the size when I opened them up.  I’m really happy with them now that they have a place in the room though.  I also took down our Christmas decorations yesterday.
Combined with doing laundry, unpacking, making meals and meeting a friend for brunch…my past two days have been crazy.  It’s also rough with new students because you begin again with everything, so I realized I took for granted how much my kids had learned and I’m working on teaching our routine to my newest bunch in my beginner class.  It’s a good opportunity to tweak things, but also exhausting when you need to explain everything again. My last bunch were (are–just in my next level class) fairly self-sufficient and now I’m going to be working on those skills with the new kiddos.

I’ve heard that jet lag goes away more quickly when you travel in one direction rather than the other, and it looks like it might be east–>west.  🙂  I was kept pretty busy at home too and I didn’t adjust any faster, I was just exhausted.  I know you’re supposed to ease yourself back into the time change–keep active and adjust your lifestyle to the new one–but go slowly at first…but life doesn’t always allow for that.  I’m just keeping an eye out for signs of illness now.

Anyway, so home was great…maybe a bit *too* great because coming back was a bit rough.  My mom took off work for most of my time at home and she helped me a ton by taking me to and from various places and treating me to meals at my favorite places.  I ate tons of great food, went shopping (and spent too much money…oops…), reunited with friends and got to spend my first Christmas at home since my last in 2011.
I bought my second cousin (we need a better term for that–this one sounds awkward) Jordan a personalized book from iseeme.com.  They have so many cute books there and the prices are reasonable.  Since I’ve ordered two (another for my friend’s nephew here in Korea) I get all sorts of discount codes in my email too.  My Korean friend said that she could tell it was a “Western-style” book because it encouraged kids to be whatever they wanted, and not only a doctor or scientist.

This one here.
The books are super cute and great quality.  If you’re poking around the site and debating ordering, I’m 100% satisfied with the books and will use them again if the need arises.  🙂

Next I went to Los Angeles to visit some friends and be a tourist 🙂  I’ve never been to the west coast, so that was pretty cool too.  I had a day flight, so I got to see some of the scenery from down below and the deserts were pretty awesome…Nevada, I’m guessing.  Maybe I’ll have to look at that giant map in my classroom, heh.
I spent 5 days there and saw most of the main touristy things there…and maybe fell a bit in love with California…
Walk of Fame                                                       Hollywood Sign!

Cool shopping center in Hollywood–This is one of the best locations to view the Hollywood sign (at least from where I saw anyway).  They have a hiking trail sort of by it, but you can’t get to the actual sign itself (saves it from vandalism etc.)

Venice Beach–It was a rainy and oddly chilly day in December, so there weren’t many people out.  The beach has a bike trail which I thought was awesome.  It’d be nice to be able to run/bike etc on the beach without having the sand flying in your face (and minus all the extra effort of running on sand).

Introduced to the gloriousness of deep-fried Oreos…

Venice Beach

Santa Monica Pier

I also went to In-and-Out, which everyone recommended I do while on the West Coast.  Overall another great (and delicious) trip.  For New Years, I went to my host-friend’s friend’s place and we had a party there.  It was basically a big bbq.  Anyway, that was cool too.

I thiiiink I’m all updated…I still need to upload those journal pics from my Japan trip, but my journal is at the gym and I don’t start up again there until Monday (wanted to get re-acclimated here and not need to worry about missing gym time on top of everything else).
I’ll take updated classroom pics when I get there today now that everything is all caught up.

Random Junk on My Mind:
**I got a new laptop battery and my laptop now lasts hours instead of 30 minutes when unplugged from the wall (hurrah!)
**Wishing my brain would stop with the decorating ideas for my apartment–trying to save for post-Korea (and maybe Budapest…)
**Signed up for ultimate frisbee again in the spring
**Munch-a-Saurus is back in my life (my hamster)
**PENPAL LETTERS made it to the US…finally…after like a month, sheesh.  That’s longer than a care package.  Such a huge relief though.  I think I’m still waiting on one more envelope (1 of 4), but all the letters are pretty much finished by the sounds of it and headed back this way.  We just changed classes around, so it could get interesting, but still relieved that they’ve made it over.

**Also must finish report cards by Friday…already ready for the weekend, but thankfully it’s Wednesday…
**I brought back a ton of stuff for my students too–Pixie Stix, Warheads (sour candy), maps, Mr. Sketch scented markers (which they’re amazed by… 🙂 ), Crayola crayons and colored pencils (Crayola wax crayons are about $10/box here) and a Magnetic Poetry kit.  I got my kit when it was on sale for Christmas though 🙂  We just put it out yesterday and it might be a bit hard, but better than the ABC letters that were up previously.  I’ll give them a few months and report back 🙂

*BREAKFAST IDEAS?–Any chefs out there?  We have like 4 kinds of cereal here and I’m getting burnt out with my oatmeal.  Help 😦  I’ve been doing combinations of fruit, yogurt and oatmeal, but looking for something else.  I was thinking of doing more eggs but they’re always too brown and dry and that puts me off making them.  (Plus, more mess to clean up.)  Fruit is expensive here btw.
Thinking about these breakfast cups...easy, healthy, quick and minimal mess.

Another doozy of a post.

Christmas at Home…

I’m sitting here in my apartment in my bed on Christmas Eve and I wanted to make a special post.
I’ve been asked a few times by (mainly) Koreans as to how we celebrate Christmas at home in America.  Christmas seems to be sort of comparable (as far as size and importance) as maybe St. Patrick’s Day back home.
Some people get into it, and there’s more “stuff” available this year than there was last year, but they just don’t do the commercialism aspect of it like we do.  It’s also a romantic holiday here (ie: Valentine’s Day).  It’s thought of to be a bit sad if you’re without a “somebody” on Christmas.  Mostly department stores and coffee shops are the ones that get into it.

I wanted to start off with my own memories of Christmas at home and then sort of wrap it up with the differences.  Just a reminder, but these are my own personal observations.  They aren’t meant to offend anyone or…I don’t know…start some sort of internet war.  Just what I’ve noticed here in my city and with my (nearly) 2 years of experience here.

Christmas has always been my absolute favorite holiday.  I love the sense of warmth that it usually (minus Black Friday) brings during the middle of the frigid winter.  I love seeing the lights in the trees and drinking hot chocolates…and just the anticipation that it brings.
I grew up in a split-level house (stairs at the main entrance, with a downstairs and an upstairs) and I remember that we always put up the Christmas tree together on the day (or weekend) after Thanksgiving.  It was a tradition and the whole family was there together.
My mom usually baked a lot of holiday cookies (especially sugar cookies with the sprinkles on top).  We had one of the artificial trees and we put it up in the living room upstairs.  Every member in the family had a red and white stocking with their name written on it in cursive in colored pipe cleaner.  My brother was the exception as he had a character reindeer stocking that opened up at the mouth that let Santa put in the gifts.
We kept the big box of holiday decorations in the garage behind a wooden door.  We’d usually have a fire going in the fireplace downstairs with a Christmas CD in the CD player.  We’d drag the box up the stairs and put the tree up (faster as we got older and wanted to be done with it)…tree then lights and garland and finally ornaments.  Both my brother and myself have (my mom saved them) several handmade ornaments that we made in school.  My mom also bought us each new ornaments each year at the craft shows that she liked going to.
My dad would hang the lights on the outside of the house and my mom, my brother and I would put the lights in the front bushes in front of the house.

Stores and shops were all decked out in their red, green, silver and gold and advertised sales for this and that.  Christmas parties are HUGE and frequent.  Secret Santa parties and Tacky Christmas Sweater parties on top of family celebrations.

I loved riding in the car and going to see all the Christmas light displays in each of the neighborhoods.  It was sort of a competition to see who could deck out their house the most for Christmas.  I love seeing the lights in contrast with the white snow and dark, wintry skies.

We’d also go to a light display called Santa’s Magical Kingdom
about 20-30 minutes from our house.  We would all pile in the car and drive out there on a night in December.  They had visits with Santa and ice skating (if I remember correctly) too.

We also visited Santa at our local mall each year.  We got to sit on his lap and tell him what we wanted for Christmas.  Then an “elf” would take your picture and you’d be on your way.  There was a full North Pole creation at each mall…and a massive line (although I notice that more now than I did when I was a kid).

We celebrated Christmas throughout most of December at school and did Christmas activities and performances.  I took dance and we always had a winter recital.
We had a week off for Christmas and New Years during elementary school, two weeks (pretty sure…) for middle school and high school.  In university, we had a month off after our final exams.
I remember they’d also have horse-drawn carriage rides downtown for all the couples (or families) and you’d get to go on a small tour of downtown St. Louis in a carriage (driver and all).  The top was open and they’d give you a warm blanket so you wouldn’t freeze in the winter weather.–(we usually did this when we did the Santa’s Magical Kingdom thing)

I remember also sitting on the couch in our downstairs watching Christmas movies with my family and eating Christmas cookies with milk.  You also always remembered to put out Christmas cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, we’d put out the cookies and head to bed early. Later, they had the “Santa Tracker” on the news on TV, too.  I remember that both my brother and I would wake up super early on Christmas morning…whoever woke up first would go wake up the other one.  We’d run down the hall to the living room and examine the presents and then head downstairs to get our stockings.  The stockings always had smaller gifts, like candy, chocolates or small stuffed animals.
Our parents would usually be up (because of us..ha) or we’d go wake them and urge them to hurry.  We weren’t allowed to open presents unless they were both there.
I remember how LONG they seemed to take to get ready.  My dad always wanted to get the camera and then my mom would joke about how we needed to eat breakfast first.
We’d open presents together as a family and then eat a special breakfast, usually French Toast, scrambled eggs and bacon.  (or pancakes).
After breakfast, we’d get ready for church and attend the Christmas service.  We’d come home and my mom would start on a dish to bring to my Grandma’s house for Christmas.  If it was snowing, my dad would likely be outside shoveling the driveway or playing with us and our new toys.
In our family, all the aunts, uncles and cousins all get together at my Grandma’s house for Christmas (or another family member).  Each family brings a dish so it isn’t all left for the host family to whip up themselves.
We’d visit my other Grandma and Grandpa on Christmas Eve and eat Christmas dinner there and open presents as well.  My family from Chicago would usually come down as well and we’d celebrate together.

On Christmas Day, we’d head over to my Grandma’s around 5pm and socialize then have a massive dinner together.  As a kid we’d play with our new toys and talk about what we got.  We might watch a Christmas movie in her front room or play outside.  As an adult, I got to have wine and play Risk, a board game (what now seems to be a tradition).  We would get everyone together and take a big family picture as well.

We’d keep the tree up til early til mid-January and then start taking down all the Christmas decorations before we got back to school.

//I was going to talk in more detail about Christmas in Korea, but it’s going to have to wait.  This post is long enough.  🙂
Christmas in Korea is coming soon.