“525,600 minutes, 525,600 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?”
Well, the cast from the musical “Rent” didn’t necessarily have an answer in their song “seasons of love” and neither do I. I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year since I moved to Korea. I was once advised to write down my accomplishments if I had a hard time understanding how I had spent my time. So, I thought that’s exactly what I’ll do. I’ll do it month by month starting with August. All the links refer to previous blog posts. Here we go:
August was just sizzling, and because of the high temperatures and my new surroundings, I spent a lot of time and energy adjusting to life in Korea. I don’t have count on all of our trips to HomePlus and E-mart, since we needed to stock up on EVERYTHING. Our apartment was only sparsely furnished when we moved in, and there were no sheets, towels, or any kitchenware. I also remember several trips to the Seoul immigration office to get my Alien Registration Card. To all foreigners moving here, this is a necessary evil, and you can always find others to bond with over shared stories of waiting in line for hours at the immigration office. Before moving to Korea, I had imagined that August would be a relaxing adjustment period, but it turned out to be anything but. We did, however, get to explore Seoul a lot and get to know our new neighborhood. This blog post aptly summarizes my frustrations the first month, and this one summarizes one of my first weeks living in Korea.
Then, September rolled around, and I was going to teach my very first class at Sogang. For the first semester here, I had only around 25 students, and it was really quite manageable. I quickly realized that teaching in Korea is a lot different from teaching in Denmark. Students are much more hardworking, polite, and always prepared. However, since I was teaching morning classes, they were not always awake haha. There were also a few cultural quirks, which I had not expected but they sure made teaching more fun.
September was a really hot month too, and summer just seemed never-ending. My husband and I took long evening walks around Seoul and on Sundays, a trip to the Myeongdeong food street quickly became a tradition. They have the most delicious street food Seoul has to offer. Including foot-long icecream cones. Yum!
Last year, Korean Thanksgiving, Chuseok fell in September (can also be in October, since it follows the lunar calendar), and for a few days Seoul seemed almost empty. I wrote about my first Korean Chuseok here.
October was a busy month where I was so lucky to have two of my girls from Denmark visiting me with only two weeks in between their visits. We had so much fun exploring Seoul together and shopping and eating delicious Korean food. It was still quite hot, so at least during the day there was no need for wearing jackets. The leaves also gradually started changing colors and the Korean landscape was just so incredibly beautiful. With one of them, I also had a chance to visit the DMZ, although I did find that to be an overrated experience. The trip to the karaoke bar and renting hanboks, on the other hand, was a big hit! Here’s a summary.
On the more professional level, I also visited Seoul National University to give an Econ seminar, and spent a day in Suwon visiting Kyunggi University.
While the rest of the world was reeling from the American election, the cold started to set in here in Korea, and in a matter of days all the beautiful leaves fell to the ground. I remember feeling an almost symbolic hopelessnesss with winter approaching both literally and figuretively.
In the meantime, South Korea was in great political turmoil with demonstrations against then-president Park, who was accused of corruption, taking place at Gwanghwamun every Saturday all through the fall. We went to the demos a couple of times, and it felt amazing to feel that we were witnessing Korean history unfold before our very eyes.
In November, I definitely got busy with deadlines for work involving a project for a research institute in the city of Sejeong (also went there a few times), but still managed to study Korean. I applied for the Sogang Korean language program and took my placement test at the end of the month.
In December, I finally started studying Korean at Sogang University, and I absolutely loved it. I also went back to Sejeong, this time to speak at the Korean Institute of Labor. I also wrapped up my teaching for the fall semester and graded exams.
I was so busy all through the month that it didn’t really feel like Christmas at all. My husband was away in the Philippines for business over the holidays, so I spent Christmas eve with my Korean best friend, where we, despite the cold, visited and old Korean folk village in Ilsan in the afternoon, and then sought refuge from the frosty weather in a nearby coffee shop. I still remember the cozy atmosphere and a strange warm feeling when I realized that the decor in the cafe reminded me so much of my Grandmother’s home, where I spent all of my childhood Christmases. Even the pictures on the walls were the same style. In my friend’s words this was definitely another case of 인연 (a meaningful encounter).
January would prove to be the most challenging period for us yet, because during the first week my husband had to undergo surgery for appendicitis and was hospitalized for five days after. It coincided with my midterms at the Sogang Korean school, and I was stressed out of my mind due to worries and lack of sleep. We also went to Denmark on a short winter break, but because of my husband’s surgery, it ended up getting postponed by one week. We did end up having a great time in Denmark, though, and luckily my husband made it to full recovery after a few weeks.
The cold continued in Korea. Because of school, I had to leave Denmark a week before my husband since I had to prepare for the final exams at level 5. I also got to
fight with visit my friend in Ansan south of Seoul, and at the end of the month I made it to a service in the biggest church in all of Korea. Definitely an experience. The last weekend of February, my husband and I spent three days in the beautiful town of Gyeongju in the south-eastern part of the country.
This was also the month were I started working as a volunteer at the Playground cafe and bar every Thursday night.
The cold weather gradually subsided and I embarked on three new challenges. I began teaching again, this time two classes with more than 100 students in each. I guess the rumour had spread, haha. I also began studying level 6 at Sogang Korean, and I completed my most challenging task to date: acting as Korean-English-Danish interpreter for a Danish delegation of politicians. This was so interesting and challenging and it took me around Seoul, to the National assembly, and to Ulsan, Busan, Geoje island, and Daegu.
The month of the cherry blossoms finally arrived with warmer weather, and even though I was super busy with my midterms, hosting my in-laws, and teaching, I still got to enjoy the beautiful sight. I also went to my very first Korean wedding, which was definitely an experience. We also took advantage of the beautiful spring weather and hiked the Bukhansan mountain in Northern Seoul. Finally I went for the first picnic by the Han river this year.
This was maybe one of the best months in Korea. We had our awesome friends from Canada come and visit and we had so much fun touring Seoul and Busan with them for nine days. The Korean presidential election was a hot topic in the news, and eventually Moon Jae-in was elected.
I was so busy with exams, but still managed to have fun, and at the end of May I finally graduated level 6 at Sogang. I was also surprised by my students and my assistant for teacher’s day. May was definitely a warm month in more than one dimension.
Summer is here, and I really feel that my first year in Korea has gone by way too fast, but looking back over the months here, I can see that I do indeed have many accomplishments behind me. I’ve made some great memories, I’ve met so many fascinating people, I have learned so much about Korea, the language, and the culture, I’ve taken 18 (yes, eighteen) exams at the language school, I’ve eaten things I never thought I would, and I’ve downed a significant number of soju bottles. I also managed to do a quick getaway to Japan.
I truly feel that I’ve accomplished a lot during my first year in Seoul. Here’s a list in random order:
- I’ve given four public talks in Seoul and Sejeong
- I’ve published an article on the Danish labor market in a Korean journal called Labor Brief by the Korean Labor Institute
- I’ve participated in several Korean company gatherings and survived
- I’ve graduated levels 5 and 6 at Sogang
- I’ve had a few run-ins with the Korean media
- I’ve met with several Korean politicians
- I’ve learned a couple of thousand new Korean words and expressions
- I’ve realized that green tea may just be the best ice cream flavor
- I’ve taken my Korean to a level, where I start to feel comfortable teaching in the language
- I’ve grown as a person in ways I never imagined
- I’ve learned my soju-limit the hard way
- I’ve memorized significant parts of the Seoul subway map
- I’ve upgraded my skincare routine and have experimented with pretty much everything K-beauty has to offer
- I’ve realized that I’m a basketball and dart natural-born talent at my local gaming arcade
- I’ve bought and read several novels in Korean
- I’ve eaten more eight-armed sea-creatures – dead, dried and almost-alive than I ever thought possible
- I’ve scored the highest marks on my student evaluations and I’m d*** proud!
- And… perhaps because of that, I managed to extend my contract teaching at Sogang by another year
I look so much forward to spending the summer with my family and friends in Denmark, and at the same time, I’m so insanely curious and excited about my second year in Korea. I can’t wait to embark on the second leg of my journey and share it all with you here. Korea, I’ll see you in a few weeks! And when I come back, show me what you’ve got! I’m definitely ready for more!
Please enjoy the new single from Standing Egg, 너라면 괜찮아! (cuz it’s you).