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Korea

    Jjimjilbang Korean Bath House

    To be honest, I’ve been hesitant to write about Korea. There are SO many expats here and nearly as many blogs and resources. Living abroad in Korea doesn’t feel as much of a novelty as living in the Middle East was. Plus, we are still figuring things out here and I don’t feel anywhere near qualified to share information! And on that note… maybe this post will break that cycle.

    We went to our first jjimjilbang (찜질방) this weekend! A jjimjilbang is a bathhouse. We adored the hamam in Turkey and were excited when we heard bathhouses were also popular in Korea. We were told before we moved here they were more intense than hamams because you’re completely naked! (No towel or swim bottoms in the bath area!)

    We met two friends this weekend to celebrate a birthday and they showed us the ropes. We took the subway to Ohmokgyo (오목교), had dinner at Burger Joint in the Hyundai mall, and then walked a short ways to Paragon Spa.

    First, we checked in and got our numbers, two small towels (three for the boys for some reason!), and clothes for the commons room. We took off our shoes, put them in our locker assignments, and got our keys. From there, the boys and girls split off to their separate quarters. There was a large locker area where we stored our bags and stripped down to nothing but our keys.

     

    Jjimjilbang braclet num ber

     

    Then we went into the bathhouse room! There were four different pools at four different temperatures. My friend said her family used to go to the 찜질방 once a week. Most Korean houses and apartments don’t have a tub, so they visit the 찜질방 for a good soak. There were massage jets in the second to coldest pool. The coldest had a waterfall jet from the ceiling that felt really good on my shoulders.

    There were also scrubbing services (to remove dead skin), which I did not do, but David did. He said it was a lot more up close and personal than the scrubbing at the hamam! No towel over certain areas. Ha!

    The spa included free soap, scrubbing salt, and toothpaste. You could pay extra for scrubbing, massages, manis, and pedis. There were also saunas. We peeked inside, but left quickly. I couldn’t breathe in the wet sauna. The dry sauna was slightly more tolerable, but it was 88 degrees Celsius (190 Fahrenheit)! I missed out on the cold sauna room.

    After about an hour of hopping between the tubs and showering off, we put on the spa clothes and met the boys in the commons area.

     

    Paragon spa clothes

     

    David and Leah in front of bamboo wall

     

    Bamboo reed wall

     

    I was amazed by how much was offered! TVs, a computer room, a play area for kids, a restaurant, a snack bar… Our friends had brought a board game and we hung out on the provided mats and played it. We also got some food from the snack bar. The plum juice was so good! Instead of using cash, we gave the cashier our bracelet and it recorded our purchases in their system. We paid at the counter before we left.

     

    Snack area

     

    Friends

     

    I thought we looked a little like inmates in the spa clothes:

     

    Leah at Paragon Spa

     

    I loved the commons area. It felt like a really huge living room! Everyone was lying around and relaxing. There were also sleeping rooms for guys and girls, but unfortunately we couldn’t stay the night because of a cross country meet in the morning. We left around 11pm, but a large group of people were just arriving at that time! This city seems to never sleep.

     

    Common room

     

    Water feature

     

    We loved it and hope to go again sometime soon!

    Address Info:
    Mokdong Paragon Spa and Sauna/Jjimjilbang
    917 Mok 1(il)-dong, Yangcheon-gu, Seoul
    Phone: +82-(0)2–2654-3387
    www.paragonspa.co.kr

     

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    Korean Money

    Korean currency is called the won (KRW). Bills are available in 1000, 5000, 10000, and 50000 increments. When we shop, we try to think of ₩1000 as about $1 USD.

    The expat abrev, so we’ve been picking up, is to say something costs “5 thou” or “34 thou.” The zeros have really been throwing me off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handed a cashier the 5 thou bill thinking it was the 50 thou bill. Oops. I need to remember the lady is on the 50.

     

    Korean bills and coins

     

    The exchange rate is not exactly even. Today, ₩1000 is equal to $0.85.

    It’s strange not having a 20 or 100 bill. Unless you specify, the ATMs usually spit out 10 thou bills, which can get bulky if you have a decent amount of cash on you. There are also 1 and 5 won coins, but I haven’t come across any of those. They’re not widely used, and most items are rounded to the nearest 10 won.

    These coins are worth about 50¢, 10¢, 5¢, and 1¢. Just knock off a zero:

     

    Won coins

     

    The art on the bills is very pretty:

     

    Won bill art

     

    Korean Won Detail

     

    Aside from cash, we’ve found credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.

    The cost of living is higher than the States and Turkey. The price of food kills me. (We spent less than $200 a month in Turkey on groceries!) But we’ve also found that eating out can be super cheap when you have a big group of people sharing heaping communal plates.

     

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    Still Settling In

    I feel like this could be the post title for the next six months. Still settling in. We’re in the middle of our third week in Seoul.

    I’ve been trying very hard not to think of it this way, but I have also been processing it as six weeks since we left Turkey. If you Google “culture shock” you’ll find the term “honeymoon phase.” And while I would like very much to be there, I’m not yet. (That is not to say I am not grateful and haven’t been enjoying this place and meeting new people.) While I have one foot nearing the honeymoon phase, the other foot is planted in the grieving process of leaving our last home.

    It sounds overly dramatic and it’s definitely not what I expected. 

    I feel like it’s worth noting this is not a cry myself to sleep at night kind of grieving. I cried once about it when we were in the States for three weeks and haven’t since then. It’s more of a sense of loss and sadness. I know it’s part of the transition of settling into a new home.

    I subscribe to a lot of blogs and I recently read a post from about someone’s first home buying experience. And it resonated with me. Let me explain.

    The first few days on my own (while David was at new teacher orientation) revolved around shopping trips. We needed x, x, and x for the house, and I mapped out the subway routes to get to the stores. On Saturday, we went to IKEA and eyed some of the couches there. Our employer provided a couch along with other basic furniture, but we were missing the pull-out couch we lived on for the last three years. We decided to use part of a housing stipend and went for it. A few days later, IKEA delivered it and David spent a couple of hours putting it together.

    Once it was constructed, I started second guessing it. Did we pay too much? Should we have waited longer before purchasing it? Moving to a new country and reestablishing your house is not so cheap. You can only fit so much into a handful of suitcases. There are everyday household items that “need” to be purchased like an ironing board and a wall clock and hangers and a broom. While I pride myself on being a smart shopper, costs add up. I was feeling bad about spending money and then the couch was kind of big and was it the wrong size for the room and did we make a mistake?

    And then I read the blog post by Rachel Schultz. And it talked about making a house an idol and that idols never satisfy. And it woke me up. “As Tim Keller defines it, an idol is making a good thing into the ultimate thing.” I had turned the idea of home and making a home into an idol. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and a place. And when I gave up the ideal and the idol, I felt a little more free.

    Settling in is a process. It takes time. And it’s okay that’s where we’re at right now. 

    //

    Here are some photos of what we’ve been up to.

    David finished orientation last week. His classroom is decorated and ready for students:

     

    David's classroom

     

    I’ve been accumulating succulents here and there around town. I found the cutest plant shop in Itaewon called Pida! I got my first air plant. It’s planted in driftwood. Swoon:

     

    Air plant

     

    Grocery shopping looks a little different now:

     

    Spam Aisle at grocery

     

    I went out Friday night with some girls to celebrate a birthday. After dinner, the 12 of us shared a whole mess of patbingsu. We devoured two more before these arrived:

     

    Patbingsu

     

    David and I tried to go to a festival on the Han River on Saturday, but couldn’t find it. We did find a little water park. It was nice to dip our feet in the water to cool off a bit. It is HOT and HUMID here! We also browsed the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Korea has the cutest everything for sale.

     

    Han River

     

    David played basketball Friday morning and woke up Sunday with a super swollen foot. He was in a lot of pain, so we went to a hospital to see a doctor. We were blessed by two new friends who took us and helped translate and navigate. The x-ray came back clear and they wrapped his leg almost up to his knee. (Maybe a little overkill.) Nothing like seeing a doctor your third week in-country and the day before school starts. The hospital made us wear face masks:

     

    David at hospital

     

    School starts tomorrow for David! My goal for Monday is to get more information about language school.

     

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    First Days in Seoul

    Here’s a glance at our first few days in Seoul. (We haven’t taken a lot of photos yet. Most of them have been of food.)

    We flew into Incheon Wednesday afternoon. It’s a beautiful, modern airport. Everything was efficient, clean, and quiet. People systematically got into lines and there was no pushing or shoving. Now, I’ve been told that’s not always the case on the street, but it made clearing customs and retrieving luggage easy. We did have a problem that delayed us a few minutes. The embassy put 25 years on David’s visa rather than 25 months. Officials had to change it in the system before they let us through.

    People from the school met us at arrivals. There was a big group of new teachers who were on our same flight. We kept our overnight bags, put stickers on the rest of our luggage to be delivered to our apartments, and went to Hotel Capital for the night. It was nice to not have to worry about getting unpacked right away.

     

    Incheon airport

     

    Luggage truck

     

    Thursday morning, we did paperwork at the hotel, then they took us to our apartment. We live in a nice two-bedroom apartment. (I’ll write more on that soon.) Three teachers showed us around that afternoon. We took a bus to a mall to shop at a department store called eMart for home supplies.

    Friday, David had his first day of new teacher orientation. He saw his classroom for the first time! This photo looks crowded, but there’s a ton of space behind and to the right of the desks:

     

    David's classroom

     

    David had Saturday off. Our friends we met in Turkey (who are Korean) were in country. They were so sweet to drive two hours to visit us! It was a joy to see familiar faces and spend time with them. We walked the Insadong area. We also stopped in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace and visited the (free!) museum of King Sejong, the man who invented the Korean alphabet.

     

    Gyeongbokgung guard

     

    King Sejong

     

    Touring with friends

     

    Sunday, we attended church Gangnam style (in the Gangnam area) at New Harvest. It was an encouragement to worship with other believers and to meet some new people.

    After church, we walked our neighborhood. Our streets are VERY hilly! We also braved the subway and bus system by ourselves. We made it back to eMart only to find it was closed. Several of the large chain stores are closed two Sundays a month to give mom and pop shops a chance. Fortunately, a store called Modern Home was open, so we were able to grab a few essentials like pillows and coffee mugs. We’re hoping to get to Ikea soon to finish furnishing our apartment.

     

    Neighborhood view

     

    Subway

     

    What We’ve Eaten

    No need to worry – we will NOT go hungry in this country.

    • We had our first meal at KKanbu Chicken. We ate some delicious chicken that came with pickled onions.
    • On Thursday, our tour guides took us out to Craftworks.
    • A Thai restaurant.
    • Another fried chicken place. We laughed at their menu. The land of Korea – where technology flows like milk and honey and discarded iPads are recycled into restaurant menus. (They put paper under the screen.)
    • Our friends treated us to our first Korean BBQ! You grill the meat yourself.
    • Patbingsu… Our friends also introduced us to shaved ice topped with red bean paste. It sounds weird, but it was good! The bean paste tasted a little bit like peanut butter. The texture of the ice was different than American snow cones. They also ordered a coffee style version that had granola and ice cream over it.
    • New York Brick Oven Pizza. Made delicious because there is pork in this country. Amen.
    • Boba (bubble) tea! We love the tapioca balls.
    • On The Border mexican. There are a lot of international restaurants in our district!

     

    Friend Korean chicken

     

    iPad menu

     

    Korean BBQ

     

    Patbingsu

     

    Bubble tea

     

    Other First Impressions

    • Holy humidity. Thank goodness for air conditioning and dehumidifiers. Granted, we moved to Korea during the rainy season. We looked it up, and apparently a normal humidity level is 40. Our dehumidifier read our rooms at 81!
    • There are a lot of churches.
    • Even more than churches, there are a ridiculous number of restaurants.
    • Groceries and home supplies are expensive. ($5 for a bottle of hand soap!?)
    • Clothing is super expensive. (A pair of mens pants at H&M in Turkey cost 30TL, which was about $11. Here, they are ₩50,000, which is around $43!)
    • Recycle all the things! Recycling is required and huge here. We could have upwards of 5 trash bags: paper, plastic, glass, food waste, and trash.

    I think I will explore some on my own today. Pray I don’t get lost!

     

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    Facing Transition

    Moving abroad and cross-culturally is hard.

    We’ve been in Korea since Wednesday afternoon. (!!!) Even before we left the States, I started making a mental list of things I wanted to be intentional about during our transition.

    I’m a list maker and a self-acknowledged Type A. When we traveled with David’s family around Turkey last month, I’d often be several feet ahead of our group. David told his dad it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying myself but “it’s because she’s goal oriented.” And so, I’ve created a list of reminders for myself. If you’re preparing to expatriate, maybe they can help you, too.

     

    Six transition tips for moving abroad. | novelbenedictions.com

     

    1. Approach life abroad as a learner.

    Everything is new to me. The alphabet, the language, the cultural expectations, the food, the history, the public transportation, the roads. Essentially, I’m a child starting at square one. Now is the time to be a listener and an observer. When that doesn’t answer my questions, I can ask the locals and other expats. (It’s beneficial to learn from both!) Having lived overseas once before, I’ve observed how a humble and willing attitude goes a long way in the learning process.

    2. Be flexible.

    Flexibility is a part of the learning curve. Initially, everything will take a lot more time. I will get lost and miss buses and subway connections. Communicating with the locals in the handful of words I know in Korean will be difficult. I’ll have no idea which brands to purchase at the grocery store. Factor in a little extra time for errands and know they might take longer than expected.

    It’s also good to remember that processes and transportation can change over time. Cities are constantly growing and evolving. What might have been true a year ago might be completely different now. What I learn today may change next month!

    3. Comparison is the thief of joy.

    This is something I learned the hard way when I moved to Virginia after college. I met some very sweet people, had a great time, but in my mind I unfairly compared them to friendships I had for years and years. I left that night discouraged and sad. David helped me realize how ridiculous my disappointment was. No two friendships are ever the same, and that is not a negative thing! Relationships take time to develop.

    David and I also want to be careful about comparing Korea to Turkey. Sometimes, making a comparison is logical. It is our most recent point of reference and a culture we loved. Of course I will make connections to previous knowledge as I navigate the unknown… but I don’t have to verbally express every thought. I don’t want to be “that person” who constantly talks about the last place I lived. I want to experience Korean culture for what it is. Will some things be the same? Yes. But it would be unfair to constantly measure Korean culture against another country.

    4. Be patient and gracious.

    This is one of the hardest. Transitions are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically challenging. It’s a stressful process to find our new normal. It all takes time. I need to be patient and gracious with myself. I also need to be patient and gracious to my husband as he adjusts, too.

    5. Do not fear. Be brave.

    In addition to my Type A personality, I tend to be something of an introvert. With David working at the school, I could easily be content to stay at home most of the time. I need to be — and I’m telling myself right now to be — brave. Get out there, get lost, learn the streets. Be brave with the language. Yes, I will pronounce everything incorrectly and say the wrong words too many times to count. Practice anyways and welcome correction.

    6. Cultivate community.

    Cultivating community is an essential piece of adjusting to a new home. In an ideal situation, the new community will welcome you with open arms. They will help you learn how to use transportation, teach you survival language basics, and readily invite you into their homes and their lives. This may or may not be the reality. (Keep in mind, they may still be grieving their friends that left days or weeks before you arrived.) If the community doesn’t reach out to you, sometimes you must actively seek and foster community yourself. I think one of the best ways to do this is to invite people into your home. Going out to eat is fun too, especially in the first few weeks of living in a new place when you’re learning how to shop and cook. In the words of one of my college professors: “There’s just something about having everyone’s legs under the same table.” Reach out to others, both the new expats and old expats.

    7. Finally, and most importantly, trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.

    The Father is good and loving. He is faithful and He provides (Matthew 6:25–27)! Be in the Word, put Him first, and eventually, everything else will fall into place. Will that make the process easy? No. But I can find contentment and trust in His calling for my life.

     

    I hope that writing these out will help ingrain them in my memory!

    Do you have any tips for adjusting to life in Korea?

     

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    17,000 Miles

    It’s been almost eight weeks since we last updated here. A lot can happen in two months. A lot HAS happened in the last two months. Nearly 17,000 miles has happened.

     

    Passports

     

    After we finished the school year, David’s family traveled to Turkey and we toured them around the central and western part of the country for two weeks. We loved showing them our home and visiting a couple of new places as well. It was a goodbye tour of Turkey for us. After the family left, we returned to Ankara to pack up our house and say our last goodbyes. A few days later we flew to Michigan for a week, drove to Arkansas for a week, drove back to Michigan for a week, sorted and packed everything again, flew to South Korea, and landed on Wednesday.

    We’ve been in Seoul for almost 48 hours now. We spent our first night in a hotel and stepped foot in our apartment for the first time yesterday. The weight of it all is still sinking in.

    For now, we’re unpacking, moving furniture around, and getting acquainted with the city and David’s new job. We’re making lists and planning shopping trips for things like tupperware, and pillows, and toilet brushes, and picture frames.

    Please pray for us as we settle into this new place! There are so many things to learn. We know that no matter the challenges that lie ahead, we can trust that:

    Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:22–24

    I will share soon about our transition and first impressions and our travels this summer!

     

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