Lantern Festival in Daegu

May was filled with many three and four day weekends, making it possible for more fun and the ability to travel further within South Korea. One of the (many) benefits of working as a public school teacher is getting all the national holidays off, so I try to take advantage of the breaks when possible!

Everything’s colorful in Daegu

I traveled down to Daegu (located in the south eastern part of South Korea, but not on the coast) in mid-May with a few other English teachers. Daegu is commonly referred to by locals as “Dafrica,” as it’s a city known for being dry and unbearably hot. Despite the premise of this impending uncomfortable weather, I still wanted to see the Lantern Festival for Buddha’s Birthday. This particular lantern festival is known throughout South Korea and many foreigners even travel from outside the country to see it.

Lanterns at one of the temples

Lucky for us, we found out they released extra free tickets the morning of the event so we waited in line…and waited…and got tickets into Duryu Baseball Stadium to see the festivities leading up to the lanterns being lit up close and personal.

I’ve seen many photos of lantern festivals and attended some in the past, but nothing of this magnitude. I waited patiently, watching as thousands of families wrote their wishes and prayers on the lanterns before lighting them. The first few lanterns seemed to trickle into the sky, then all of a sudden it was just a barrage of colorful, lit lanterns. It was hard to not be overcome with emotion and amazement watching all the lanterns float off into the night. This was truly one of the most memorable events I’ve ever been to and I would encourage anyone to go and see it if their travels allow.

Lanterns being lit and floating into the sky

Of course, we ate many tantalizing local delicacies while in Daegu, too. You didn’t think I’d forget to share the details on that, did you?! Stay tuned for my next blog post that features the Vietnamese restaurant/market we visited along with one of the largest night markets in South Korea (and perhaps the world!), Seomun Night Market in Daegu.

Have you been to Daegu? I’d love to hear what places you visited and what food you ate while there! Leave your thoughts below in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and check in for my regular posts over on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Getting to Know Korea

It’s safe to say spring weather was short lived not only here in Korea but back home, too. Only three months into my stay and it already feels like North Carolina summers with the humidity over 80% and temperatures slowly creeping over 80. It’s right about now when I start wishing for chilly winter weather again. The grass is always greener on the other side, right?!

This month I wanted to highlight a few of the gracious Koreans who have helped to make my stay here in Korea so enjoyable and comfortable. Aside from the regular hweshiks (dinner with other teachers – more on this in a later post), I’ve had the chance to really get to know my teachers and bond with them outside of class. Below are a few questions I wanted to ask (especially the food ones!), but also through the curiosity of my friends and family back home. I plan on introducing more of these wonderful people to you later in the year, too, so stick around!

Koo Kyoung Hee
Koo is my main co-teacher. She was the one who picked me up the first day from the Gyeonggi Office of Education to bring me to my apartment in Songuri. She is in the middle of planning her wedding, yet still makes time to take me out to things like my first Korean baseball game (Go Doosan Bears!) and help me with anything I may need to help feel more at home in Korea.

Ko Eun Byeol
Ko is my co-teacher on Tuesday and Thursdays at my city school. We teach the fifth and sixth graders together all while sharing a love for KPOP and family stories. I’m also proud to say I helped show her the wonderful store that is called Costco.

Kim Jaehee
Jane is the first grade teacher at my country school. Although we don’t teach together, she has been the reason why my Hangul knowledge is growing. She was kind enough to put together some worksheets so I can practice bit by bit.

What is your job? How long have you worked there? Why do you love it?

Koo: I am an elementary school teacher. I’ve worked here for two years and two months. I love kids and spending time with them.

Ko: I am an elementary school teacher. I’ve worked here for two months. I think the students are our future and I want to help make it a better place, so I teach.

Jane: I’m a teacher in elementary school. I’ve worked for two years. I like teaching and also being a government employee.

Where are you from?

Koo: I’m from Suwon.

Ko: I’m from Gwangju, in Jeolla-do Province.

Jane: I was born in England and lived there until kindergarten, but my nationality is Republic of Korea.

What is your province known for (food, statue, etc.)?

Koo: Beef ribs and Hwaseong Fortress.

Ko: Gwangju is known for art, such as the Gwangju Biennale. Gwangju is also known for grilled short rib patties. Jeolla-do Province is known for food, in general, with all of it being delicious.

Jane: Pocheon is famous for Sanjeong Lake.

What is your favorite food?

Koo: My favorite food is pizza.

Ko: My favorite food is sushi.

Jane: I like a kind of Korean soup called 찌 개 (jjigae).

What is a traditional food/dish in your family?

Koo: Grilled back ribs and gujeolpan (platter of nine delicacies).

Ko: My family likes japchae and we cook it for each person’s birthday.

Jane: Not that much, but if I have to choose a food, it would be dumplings made by my mom.

What is a great place to visit not many people know about?

Koo: Gyeonggi-do Office Street for cherry blossom season.

Ko: I think the Korean palaces are very beautiful. Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, etc.

Jane: Actually, my favorite places are always crowded. Ilsan Lake Park is one of my favorite places. There is a beautiful lake and I like the peaceful atmosphere there.

Why do you love Korea?

Koo: It has an inexpressible history, four seasons, it’s an IT power and you can travel from top to bottom in one day.

Ko: I’m from Korea and think Hanbok is a very beautiful way to dress. Korea has many beautiful places and delicious food. Korean food is very light. I hope many non-Koreans visit Korea.

Jane: Koreans are warmhearted people. They love to help others. Though we will be more individualized as time goes on, we are still warmhearted.

What is something you wish non-Koreans understood about Korea?

Koo: Koreans are poor at expression but they are more friendly than you think.

Ko: Korea has a painful history including the Korean War and Japanese colonial era. I wish non-Koreans would know the correct awareness of Korean history.

Jane: We’re safe.  Although, we are the only country still in war, we’re not as dangerous as the news makes it seem.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into the lives of some of the touching people I’ve met here so far. Is there something you want to know about Korea that wasn’t mentioned above? Feel free to leave your thoughts below in the comment section and don’t forget to follow me for regular posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

Let’s Talk Lunch

Two months have whirled by in Korea and I am finally on the up and up. My six-week-long cold ended up being a chest infection and I spent a lot of time resting and recuperating. I’m happy to report I’ve since spent more time socializing and getting to venture around my area now that I’m feeling well. I’d like to think a big part of the healing process came through both modern medicine (thanks to my English speaking doctor and pharmacist across the street!) and the scratch made meals every day at school.

Clockwise: spicy chicken with vegetables, orange slices, kimchi, potatoes with peppers and ham, cabbage soybean soup and white rice with purple forbidden rice

School lunches are always a hot topic, but especially with last year’s video of Japanese lunch culture surging again in popularity. I know there were mixed reactions from people, particularly in regards to the kids cooking, preparing, serving and cleaning up the meals. However, there are many similarities here in Korea when it comes to school lunches. For example, at both of my schools (and nearly all in Korea) all students and staff eat lunch together at the same time in the cafeteria. Everyone eats lunch from the cafeteria, as it’s the norm and seen as a good way to bond with other classmates and coworkers while eating. It’s also a great way to partake in a hearty, healthy meal that doesn’t break the bank for about $4.00 a lunch.

Clockwise: Korean pear, spicy sesame tofu, kimchi radish greens, yukgaejang (spicy beef and vegetable soup) and rice with millet

School lunches in Korea are what every parent hopes their child will be served: a variety of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and protein. They’re as balanced as possible and use a plethora of produce and ingredients sourced from within Korea. My school even has a little garden where some of the vegetables for lunch are grown! I’ve developed a love for the steel lunch trays that perfectly divide each dish and keep it from spilling over into the next compartment. It’s also the best way to taste a bit of this and that without getting overwhelmed with one item. This is especially beneficial on days when I’m fond of one banchan (side dish) over another and I haven’t committed to just one of them as a side dish, which would be more typical in a Western meal.

On average, 3-4 lunches every week have been pescatarian, highlighting all kinds of seafood, soybean sprouts or tofu. I say pescatarian because even though there may not be visible fish or shellfish in the dish, dried seafood and fermented seafood sauces are used to enhance the flavor and aroma of many dishes. Kimchi is also to be expected, whether it be the more common napa cabbage version to diced radish or even radish greens.

Clockwise: chili onions and carrots, grape frozen yogurt, smoked duck, tofu cabbage soup and white rice with purple forbidden rice

I’m allergic to tree nuts, but there’s maybe one or two days out of the whole month where there will be a dish with nuts in it. My main co-teacher, Koo, not only prints the lunch menus out for me each month, but she highlights the dishes that contain nuts. My Hangul is a work in progress, so it’s life saving that she translates the information for me! There are eighteen dietary restrictions designated on the menu, so you know there is great care that goes into making sure everyone stays safe from whichever item(s) may be a problem.

I can’t complain about the mostly favorable and hot meals I get Monday through Friday, along with the feeling of comradery with my co-teachers and students. They’re also a far cry from the lukewarm meat casserole and mushy vegetable blends I had for school lunch as a kid. Not saying this can’t hit the spot from time to time, but the lunches here are colorful and vibrant. You can also tell the cafeteria kitchen team puts pride and care into the dishes they cook and serve up with a smile and Mashikehmogoseyo, which means “Please enjoy your meal.” I look forward to every school lunch when I can taste and experience a new Korean dish!

What are some school lunches that stick out in your mind? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Checking in from Korea

March 19th marks the one month anniversary of my time here in Korea. I’ve packed so much into this initial month and I figured it was time for an update to share what I’ve been up to since landing in the currently very cold South Korea!

The flights over were incredibly long, but bearable. The Olympics were still going on at the time and we even had a few athletes on our flight, which was cool. Orientation was the first week and a half and consisted of heavily scheduled days and nights filled with classes on everything from learning Korean to general information on being an English teacher in Korea. We even had a fun field trip day out to Jeonju Hanok Village. The highlight of this, for me, was learning the history behind Bibimbap in the birthplace of Bibimbap! In Korean, bibim means mixed and bap means rice. Therefore, the dish literally translates to mixed rice. Our teacher emphasized the importance of using odds and ends of whatever vegetables you have on hand to craft the dish. Basically, Bibimbap has been on the food waste fight train long since before it became trendy. You can’t be mad about that or with how gorgeous the dish looks below!

Bibimbap from Jeonju Hanok Village

The last day of orientation we found out where our teaching placements were. Native English Teachers (NET aka myself) are placed all over South Korea, with a different NET teaching at a different elementary, middle and/or high school. I’ll be honest, I freaked out when I found out I was placed in Pocheon. Try googling it. Nothing pops up and if it does, it’s all desolate farmland. After many long, deep breaths and waiting to see where I actually lived before freaking out further, I thanked my lucky stars when I discovered my apartment is in the town of Songu-ri, one of the most populated and accessible towns in Pocheon. I also knew I was going to be okay when my school took me out for a welcome dinner to the most swaggy Korean barbecue restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. The photo below may make you drool in hunger, beware. They also call Songu-ri the Gangnam of Pocheon. If you’ve heard Psy’s song Gangnam Style (here’s a refresher for you, in case you need one), then you know Gangnam is an extremely affluent area of not only Seoul, but South Korea, in general. Restaurants and shops are bountiful and varied. My apartment is mere steps from anything I could possibly need. If you’ve watched my Instagram stories, you also know of my new obsession, Homeplus. I can walk there in two minutes to grab groceries, houseware needs, clothes and anything in between.

Galbi (seasoned beef) sizzling away

I teach at two elementary schools, one that’s a 15-minute bus ride out into the country and one that’s a 15-minute walk from my apartment. I teach grades 3-6, which is different because of Korean age. This would equate to around 2nd-5th grade in the states. I’m enjoying both schools, but really like the school I’m at out in the country. I teach there more days of the week and teach the after school classes. I’ve had more of a chance to bond with the kids and especially loved our lesson this week on St. Paddy’s Day and Dr. Seuss.

Reading Dr. Seuss and noshing on Green Eggs and Ham

My Korean is still shabby, but I’m practicing every day and picking up more words as I go along. I live in an area where very few people speak English outside of my school, so learning Korean is a must. When all else fails, thank goodness for Google Translate. It has saved me on more than one occasion!

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for next month’s post on all the great Korean dishes I’ve been dining on so far. Until then, follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for updates!

TNC Foodtracks Vol. 3

Here’s my last stateside Foodtracks for a while. Thanks to all my sweet friends for making these family dinners and food memories happen before I leave. It’s been bittersweet being able to spend time with everyone before I venture off to the other side of the world, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. See you on the other side for Vol. 4 in South Korea!

1. Mama Carlton’s Bolognese

Deep in the heart of Duplin County lives some of the sweetest people, specifically the Carlton family. Mama Carlton whipped this up for us on our girl’s trip and I still lick my lips and daydream of how great this Bolognese is. Slightly spicy, tons of vegetables and yummy pork sausage. I mean, it is DuCo, after all!

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2. Quinn & Paten‘s Chicken and Pastry

The Soulfull Sisters continued their hospitality in the Triangle by sharing a piece of their family history with me in the tangible, tantalizing form of chicken and pastry. This version uses Anne’s pastry with crisp sweet peas and egg for added texture.

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3. Gran’s Chicken and Pastry and Southern Hospitality Spread

Sweet Gran lives down in Four Oaks and uses Atkinson’s pastry in her chicken and pastry. Not to be outdone by that delicious dish in and of itself, she crafted a bounty of all the area’s finest: creamed corn, butter beans, field peas, hush puppies, pickles and relishes and chicken salad.

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4. Mocktails with The Whimsy One

Nothing better than fizzy seltzer with a heavy splash of lemon juice. Refreshing in the middle of winter or on a scorching summer day. Bonus points for the gorgeous mug and garnishing ala Tony B.

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What’s in my bag?

After scouring the internet for all things South Korea and suggested items to pack, I’ve finally consolidated the list and feel confident I have enough of the comfort staples to get me through the year without feeling like I’m bringing all of my worldly possessions along for the ride. Korea is also a readily-accessible country, so I’ll most definitely be shopping at local shops, too. I’m also thankful for the friends who will be able to visit and bring me any items from home I may be missing.

Clothes

I love a good deal on wardrobe items I need, along with hitting the thrift store racks to supplement other clothing essentials. My work dress code will be pretty casual, but I’ve packed a few pairs of dressier pants and casual pants to alternate, depending on the weather and occasion. The majority of the blouses/shirts I’m taking are easily packed without wrinkling, which will be great not only for packing but when I wash them in Korea. I’ve heard washers are readily available in apartments, but not dryers. So that’ll be great when having to air dry everything.

Shoes

Who doesn’t love shoes? When it comes to shoes, I’m all about efficiency in them for multiple occasions, as well as ones that will be comfortable enough to withstand the wear and tear of many miles spent exploring a new country. I’ve packed a variety including boots for the extreme winter weather as well as my latest obsession, flats from Rothy’s. I’ll be packing a pair of cozy Tieks along for the adventure, too.

Work essentials

All the necessary needs not only for teaching, but for documenting my time abroad! Laptop, tablet, phone and GoPro (now you know why I really needed that GoPro, right, Elliot?!) along with all the appropriate adapters so I can properly charge up without frying them when I’m in Korea. I purchased one universal adapter (pictured in next section), as well as a few individual adapters specific to adapt to a C/E/F outlet. It was relieving to see a majority of my electronics were already in the right voltage range for both the U.S. and Korea. Here’s a handy little reference guide if you haven’t had to deal with this issue before. Another thing I made sure to do before leaving is convert my money from U.S. dollars to Korean won. Just one less thing to check off the list now and not stress about once I land in Seoul.

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South Korean money is pretty

General travel essentials

I fly often for work, but it’s not my favorite pastime. Anything I can do to make this upcoming 19 hour flight more relaxing, I will do! First off, this travel pillow is a beast because it’s super supportive as well as offering “cooling” or “warming” sides. Water bottles are key to keep me hydrated and keep me moving back and forth to the bathroom. Another sexy accessory I will be rocking are compression socks. DVT is real, people, and I do not want to experience it! I also bought a Brita water bottle to use for when I land in Korea, as I’ve read the chlorine taste is strong in the water. I’m a little obsessed with dental hygiene, so as you can see, I am bringing my own stash of toothpaste, too. Not pictured are the many toothbrushes and dental floss to accompany them.

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A few travel staples

Snacks

South Korea is a mecca for all foods I love, but snacks are essential to tide me over in the interim times between traveling and settling into my new home. I also think most people have some sort of portable snack in their bag at any given moment. Or am I biased because I hang out with dietitians and that’s our normal?! Seeing as I’ll be in orientation for a week or so before setting up my apartment, it’s going to be even more crucial I have these on hand so I don’t get hangry. Nobody wants that, regardless of what country you’re in.

88 Acres bars, seed butter and granola

Hannah from 88 Acres was so generous to provide a slew of samples for me when I let her know I was moving out of country and looking for nut-free, portable protein options! These goodies hit the spot and are perfect if you don’t have a huge sweet tooth (me). They’re packed with enough ingredients and flavor going on so as not to just rely on the “sweetness” so common in many bars I’ve tried in the past. I’m really digging their triple berry bars because the tartness from the berries perfectly balance out the slightly salty, crunchy seed blend. The dark chocolate & sea salt seednola has been awesome over plain coconut yogurt for an afternoon pick-me-up or a late night snack. Lastly, their dark chocolate sunflower seed butter is HEAVEN. The richness of the dark chocolate flavor hits the spot for me when I want to dip an apple or pear into something or, let’s be honest, just a spoonful by itself!

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Thanks for the samples, 88 Acres!

Somersault Life Co.‘s sea salt and dutch cocoa sunflower seed crunchy bites

These bad boys have been in the snack rotation for a couple of years now. Again, I prefer salty over sweet items, so the sea salt ones satisfy when I need a savory snack on the run. I’m also the person who prefers 70%+ dark chocolate, so their dutch cocoa bites are equally addicting. The true cocoa flavor is almost bitter and I love it. Sometimes I’ll even put a few of each in a snack container so I get my fix of both. Super wild, right?

This is by no means comprehensive of everything that made it into my two suitcases and two backpacks for the trip, but I figured it’d be fun to share to see what I thought I needed and look at it later to see if there were a few things I could’ve done with or without.

What do you pack when you’re traveling? Does my list match up with some of your must-haves? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you can stay updated with my adventures in Korea!

TNC Goes to South Korea

Well, it looks like I’m heading to South Korea!

I’ve been accepted to teach English as a foreign language in South Korea and will be moving there in February. This once in a lifetime experience was presented to me and I jumped at the chance to take on this new opportunity. I’ll be teaching for one year in Gyeonggi, the province surrounding Seoul in northwestern South Korea.

As a GET (Guest English Teacher), I’ll be able to explore two of my passions: teaching and cultural cuisine. This position will allow me to tour through the food and nutrition of South Korea as well as build upon my teaching and culinary skills. I can’t wait to teach the elementary kids English by incorporating fun cooking and nutrition topics into the mix, too!

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I’ve always wanted to travel to South Korea and I can’t wait to venture throughout the country to absorb what makes each city so unique and special. I’m also super excited as a few friends are already planning to visit me while I’m there. I know that’ll help cure some of the homesickness I’m sure to feel at one point or another!

Of course, I do have some nerves about moving halfway across the world. It’d be silly to say it’s only going to be all butterflies and daisies. However, I know it ultimately will be a great experience to challenge myself and grow as a person both professionally and personally. I hope you stick along for the ride to see my adventures here and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Have you been to South Korea? Do you have any must-see sights or must-stop food spots? Comment below so I can check them out!

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss next week’s post on what I’m packing for the big move!