Culture Shock

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Moving overseas means making all new friends. It’s scary when you unpack your suitcase and think about how alone you are. At first, it seems like you’ll never figure out all the things that are different.

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Some people go for a year, don’t make friends, and then go home. They have stories of going to see sights alone, and of trying to watch TV in another language.

I guess that’s okay if you are the sort of person who really enjoys that stuff, but I am not.

So, I joined everything!

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I joined the Seoul Hiking Group, the Suwon Knitters Society (above), and even started a D&D campaign (below).

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I love meeting new people because it helps you learn more about ways to see the world and ideas you never had.

It opens doors to having new experiences like going to a Korean wedding (I am in the back of the photo) and seeing how different culture celebrate milestones in their lives.

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My apartment was dubbed “Isengaurd” (yes, like in Lord of the Rings) because it was in a white tower. And Isengaurd was a place for people to come and hang out.

I even got cake for my birthday (below), although it was a sugar-free green tea cake with tomatoes in it because that is how adults eat cake in Korea (sweet cakes are only for kids.)

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I had a struggling artist living on my downstairs couch for awhile after he went through a bad breakup.

I hosted group meetings to plan events, and I even helped throw a few big parties with my friend who was a DJ.

Basically, I made my home a place where people could come when they wanted to get together, and I was rewarded by being part of a lot of unique and interesting experiences.

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In South Korea, we have electronic locks (above) instead of doors that use a key. They feel that it is more secure, and it means not carrying keys since everyone takes the very fast and amazing public transportation.

I think all of Suwon knew the code for my door (which was the numeric progression 2468.)

After all, South Korea is rated as the safest country in the world. There’s no fear of anyone stealing your things, and even shops leave merchandise out over night. (It was surreal at first to be in a place when elementary school kids rode the subway alone and people just trusted each other.)

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It was fun to have a constant stream of new and different people in my life.

And it’s good to have unexpected adventures (as long as you always make it to work excited to teach!)

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Teachers come to South Korea from English-speaking countries all over the world, so I met people from New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland, and different parts of the United States.

Of course, I also met a lot of amazing people who were from the Middle East (who ran shops) and from Africa (restaurant owners and things like that.) And we all muddled through in English and Korean trying to communicate.

My favorite part is how it’s popular to put English cuss words on everything from children’s clothes to buildings. Check out the name of this beauty salon:

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It was nice to see all new things, as well. New types of buildings, new ways of doing business, and new scenery.

It really got me interested in International Business because I realized that LG, Samseung, and other companies are Korean, and yet their products fill American homes.

My friend Elizabeth wrote technical manuals for Samseung printers that would be shipped to the US, and I was always amazed at how much of the things we use everyday back home are from South Korea.

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Even when it comes to silly things like the clothing and jewelry, you could really make a lot on a Korean Imports store. And it’s interesting to study the complications of that kind of cultural exchange.

Once, Chevy tried to sell the Nova in Mexico. This is hilarious because in Spanish, Nova literally translates to “No go.” So they tried to sell a car whose very name implied that it didn’t run.

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And in China, Pizza Hut tried to open a chain of stores without knowing that the Chinese don’t eat cheese. Rather than giving up, they actually launched an ad campaign to convince Asia that cheese was healthy. Imagine that!

I actually took some classes in International Business through Coursera (free online college) because I found it so interesting.

Anyway, the point is, there are so many new things that you think about and so many ideas that you get when you are in a new place, and it’s fun to have that experience.

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If you have ever thought about just taking off and doing  year overseas, my advice is to do it.

If nothing else, it was hilarious to watch another country do elections. In South Korea they have several political parties all represented by different cute animals.

And yes, the party representatives do dress up as the cute mascots and go lobby for votes.

Moments like that are the kind of moments that I really enjoyed; when you stand back and just realize how different other cultures are and how neat that is.

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If I had to say one thing about going overseas, it would be this: You only regret the chances that you don’t take.

Even if it’s just for a week some day, everyone should get out of the US and see something new.

I feel like establishing international contacts is a neat foundation to lay because it opens potential for all kinds of things in the future.

Plus, you end up with some really cool pictures.

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Seoraksan National Park

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There is a place on the northeast coast of South Korea called Seoraksan National Park. It is one of the most beautiful and challenging places that I have ever hiked, and I hope you get the chance to go there some day.

I went with my friends Will and Ash. I only had a weekend, which is not enough to do the whole park. But, I did what I could.

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There are some easy activities, like taking the cable car up to the top of one of the peaks, or enjoying tea in one of the temples. We did do those things the first day, but we also did the really hard hike to the Ulsan Bawi mountain on the second day, and then climbed the 888 stairs to the top.

It was a very difficult hike, and it took us most of the second day.

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On the trail up to the stairs we came upon a temple, a place to refill out water bottles, and some quirky rock stacks.

The views along the trail are really amazing. I did it in October, which is really the best time of year. It’s cool, and the trees are starting to turn. I went about a week to early to see the best of the colors, but it was the only time I could make it.

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The picture above is of Dragon Ridge, which you can see from the Ulsan Bawi trail. However, that is a two-day hike and I didn’t have time for it.

Instead, I did the second-hardest hike in the park.

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We stopped halfway up to have a picnic lunch that we brought and play a little frizbie. Will is the kind of kid that likes frizbie. It’s not my thing, but I like to make my friends happy.

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Sure, there is a temple to stop at along the way. There are places to get water. It’s a great trail that is well, worn.

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However, the air is thin and it’s a long hike.

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However, if you get to the top, it’s an amazing feeling.

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Don’t go for just one day. The mountains make it very hard to predict what the weather will be like, and there is way too much to see in a day.

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Instead, go for a weekend, or even an entire week. It’s a huge park with far more trails than I was able to do, and you can easily spend a week just hiking around.

Here is me with the flag on top of the mountain. Such triumph!

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Camping is permitted, but I stayed in the nearby village of Sokcho and took the bus in each day. I didn’t have a tent and all the gear needed to camp since I moved to Korea in suitcases.

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No matter how long you go for, try to do one of the hard hikes. I didn’t have time for Dragon Ridge, but I am told it’s amazing as well. It’s really worth it for the views, which on a clear day extend all the way to the East Sea (or outside of Korea; the sea of Japan.)

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