The Most Difficult Puzzle

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Figuring out the Korean trash system. Korea has the most complicated, strict, impossible to get right trash throw away system. It’s been almost three months and I have yet to figure it out.

Everything has its own pile, you need to use the right bags and the apartment block workers are always there sorting it out, so I could never sneak in my garbage.  I try to only go at night so nobody can see me put things in their incorrect places. Other times I go and it’s been cleaned out making it impossible for me to intuitively place things based on what’s already there since nothing is there!

Today when I went, the apartment guy was there and I put my pizza boxes in the cardboard box pile, while I was flattening them the plastic thing came out, he picked it up and put it in a bag of small plastic things, I then got nervous because I had hot sauce wrappers and the pizza box ribbon inside, so I took them out while he was hovering over me unsure where to put them, he put them in another bag with no markings; I put my egg crate on the other egg crates with the plastic top because last time I was there the guy told me to leave it, this time however the guy(a different one) moved it into a bag of plastic stuff different from the other one; the wine bottle was okay to be put along with the other glass bottles, but I didn’t know this, so I held it up to him and he showed me. I thought it’d be different; the plastic cooking bottles were okay to be put with the plastic water bottles, except one of them which he moved somewhere else. I didn’t see where he put it because he disappeared into the little hut thing. I found out the normal black plastic bag I’ve been using for the bathroom needs to be put in the special blue garbage bags,  i’ve been throwing them on the pile because I thought it was okay. They probably knew it was me every time there was a black plastic bag sitting amongst blue ones. Apparently contact cases need to put somewhere else because when he saw one in my garbage he took it out and placed it on the floor. I don’t think that’s the proper place and if I started leaving my contact cases on the floor they’d probably evict me. There’s probably a ton of other things I’m putting in places where they shouldn’t be and it’s only a matter of time before I slowly get caught for all of them.

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Chuseok Part II: Busan

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The day we left Seoul was a traveling day, nothing was planned other than arriving to Busan. We did not however think we were going to arrive as late as we did. The trip under normal circumstances should have taken 3 hours 45 min to 4 hours 15 min. It ended up taking 7 and a half hours. We were in traffic from the time we left Seoul until we arrived to Busan. It wasn’t a huge deal because like I said we had nothing planned, but looking at the gps two hours and being no where close to Busan and not knowing how much longer we had felt like a joke. When we finally got to Busan and arrived at the hostel we were only 5 minutes past the 11pm deadline for check in; We all showered, changed and then found a place to eat. We looked for a bar or two, but decided to go back to the hostel for an early night. Most of us ended up staying up until 5:30am, so much for the early night.

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The following day we went to Gamcheon Culture village. Gamcheon is considered to be the Rio of Korea, it was once a slum and now it’s a tourist attraction. In 2009 it received a colorful facelift; murals, art work and sculptures were added, houses and alleyways were painted vibrant colors and they even added a little scavenger hunt to visit various locations and collect stamps. It was awesome and I think the group was pleasantly surprised, especially since most of them didn’t have any idea of what it was.

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Later that night we went out to the only place you should go out to on a Thursday night in Busan, Thursday Party! Yes, that’s the bars name. Unfortunately it didn’t look like we were going to be able to go at first. Our first day in Seoul going to the hostel Logan lost his wallet on the metro, up to this point it wasn’t an issue. At one of the bars in Seoul it almost was, but the bouncer ended letting him in. The bouncer at Thursday party did not, even with a picture of his passport on his phone. So, Logan, Sebastian, Joey and I regrouped at the convenience store, bought some drinks and brainstormed how we were going to get him in. We tried duplicating our stamps onto his arm, but none came out clear enough; we thought maybe he could hop the railing that was open to the street, but we didn’t know how Koreans would receive this, maybe they’d rat us out; I then remembered I had my license in my wallet! We say all Asians look the alike and Koreans say the same for us. I already had the stamp so I didn’t need to show it again. We planned that I would wait past the bar while the three of them would attempt for him to get a stamp. While we decided on this, the others left for a bar next door, before joining them we thought it’d be a good idea to try so that after we could go back. We set the plan into motion, from the sideline I saw the bouncer check the id, look at it and give him the stamp. They got in, got out, we joined the others, drank, listened to the music being played (it was a foreigner bar) and then spent the rest of the Thursday night partying at Thursday Party.

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The next day our only plan was to visit Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, or the water temple. It was a good thing too because we weren’t getting up much earlier than we did. It also took pretty long to get there. The temple is a Buddhist temple built in 1376 situated on the coast, this aspect makes it one of the most unique temples as most are found in the mountains. Because it was Chuseok it was flooded with Koreans and we spent about as much time there as one could walking around a temple, about an hour. On the way back we decided to forgo the bus and opt for a taxi instead. And me we, I don’t mean me, I was 100% for taking a bus back. The journey to find a taxi led us to the Lotte Outlets, a giant outlet mall built in a modern Greek shopping mall style. Every store you can imagine international and domestic brands were found there, there was even a department store for those who decided they didn’t actually want to shop at the outlets. As the only group of foreigners there (I’m basing this off of not seeing any) it was very interesting to witness and experience Koreans living and doing things in a very western way, something I would do back home. Nobody bought anything, but we did get separated from each other. We never found any taxis, but we were able to find a metro stop a short walking distance away.  It was Friday night, we had to wake up at 6:30am the next morning to go on a octoberfest/lantern festival excursion, but that didn’t stop Andile and I from indulging a Friday night out in Busan. It did however, for everybody else.

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Out till 4:30am, up at 6:30am was how my Saturday began, a two and a half hour bus ride to the German village, *there is a German village in a place called Namhe because the Koreans who went to Germany after WWII as part of Korea’s investment in their youth and future program, missed it so much that when they came back they decided to build a replica of a German village,* more drinking until 3:45. Another 2.5 hour bus ride (caused by traffic, was only suppose to be an 1.5) to the lantern festival in Jeju, arrive back to Busan around 11, shower, change, eat then go out for our last night out and the end to our vacation.

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As someone who enjoys solo travel those 9 days were exhausting with the only real reprieve from each other coming during sleep, however I could have spent another week with them and I think everyone else felt the same.  To spend 9 straight days together and not get sick of one another, is in my opinion how we know we’ve got ourselves a good group.

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This deserves it’s own special section:

After the water temple and finding our way to the metro from the outlets, we decided to go to a pizza place under Christian’s friends suggestion.  Pizza in Korea is normally not good (I can eat it, but I don’t fully enjoy it) and they put weird stuff on it like: corn, shrimp, sweet potato, and any other weird thing that doesn’t belong on pizza.  The Busan place, Slice of Life is the closest thing to New York pizza I’ve ever had outside of New York, bar none (I don’t think I’ve ever used that phrase before, but it certainly fits).  I almost want to say it was New York pizza, but you gotta be in New York for that. I obviously got a whole pie to myself.

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Check out my friends Sebastian’s blog for a different perspective on the trip

https://www.sebastianburger.com/single-post/The-7-circles-of-Holiday

Unexpected Changes

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During the interview they asked me a bunch of hypothetical situations, one was “what would you do if you arrived and they didn’t have an apartment for you and you had to stay at a hotel until they found one…?” While this didn’t happen, something along those lines did.

On Wednesday my co-teacher, casually threw into our conversation, “Joe, I think you’re going to be moving” no warning, no build up, just put it on the table. I responded dumbly, “like apartments?” “Yes” she responds. Up until that point, right before lunch I was having a good day. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but it wasn’t about apartments nor was it related to the topic of moving.  I then ask “why is this happening?” she responds, “the boiler is broken and the landlord doesn’t want to put in a new one, so he’s going to sell the apartment.” Well, that doesn’t make any sense at all; one, I don’t know of how many people are looking to buy a place in Boseong; two, I don’t know many people who would want to buy a place and have to buy a new boiler; three, instead of replacing the boiler and having a steady income for however many years there is a native English teacher, he’s deciding to forgo this and “sell” it.  Maybe I should buy it…

“When will I have to move?” I asked, “I don’t know, within the month.” the answer

Over the past two months I’ve come to really like my apartment, it’s big especially by native English teacher apartment size standards, it has two bedrooms, one of which I use for my bike and a large living room kitchen area with a couch and tv. Not everyone can claim these amenities, let alone a separate bedroom/living room area.

I’ve gotten use to where I live, going to my building, the view, how long it takes me to get to the bus, my running routine, sleeping in my bedroom, where things are and anything thing else you can associate with moving to and living in a new place.

During my conversation she says, “Joe, the other teachers will help you,” I responded “it’s okay, I don’t have too much stuff.”  It didn’t dawn on me until today that literally everything will have to be moved; the fridge, the washing machine, the bed, the couch, the pots and pans and all the previous stuff left by past teachers. Within a two month span, I’ll be moving like I’ve been living somewhere for years. Not something I was really planning on doing, but there’s nothing I can do. I just hope my new place is big enough to host thanksgiving and that’s it’s in the same apartment complex.

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Chuseok Part I: Seoul

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Chu-what….? Chuseok pronounced Chu-sock is the Korean thanksgiving. This year it was called the golden holiday because it fell precisely in the middle of the week, which prompted the government to declare the Monday (between the two weekends) a day off, giving us a total of 10 days.  From what my co teacher tells me it’s normally only 3 or 4 days. It would have been nice to leave the country and explore a new one, but flights were ridiculously expensive and besides, I’d only just arrived in Korea, I didn’t feel a strong urge to go traveling just yet.

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We decided on Seoul and Busan, Seoul is the largest city in Korean and one of the largest in the world with 10 million people and Busan is the second largest city in South Korea with 3.5 million people. We planned four night in each and by we, I mean my friends and I; 12 from orientation plus 2 who had been living in Boseong =14 for Seoul and 9 plus 1 arriving later for Busan. I’d never traveled with so many people before, my past travels were either solo or with a friend or two. As a solo travel I despised big groups staying at hostels because they’re usually set on each other’s companionship and rarely branch out to meet new people, which if you’re a solo traveler is something you must do. Also, even though you may be invited to join the group, you feel removed because of the past memories shared and talked about between them, things you can’t relate to. On the other hand, if you form a group of solo travelers, the common bond you share of being alone is something that others can easily relate to and join without feeling removed it. For the first time I was going to be one of those groups and I knew it was going to be an interesting experience.

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Large groups move slow, like a bear waking from hibernation, it takes time for them to fully be awake. We found this out our first full day when our plan was go to Seodaemun Prison and then either the Lee Samsung Art Museum or the War Museum.

*A little history about Korea, the Japanese forcibly took control of and exercised complete rule over Korea from 1910-1945. During this time they tried to wipe out Korean culture, their language, their customs and instill Japanese ones. During this time Korea was basically one giant cell, prisons dotted the country and hundreds of thousands of Koreans were incarcerated, tortured and killed.  Seodaemun Prison is one of these that has been preserved to serve as a reminder of this period and to remember those who for those who lost their lives trying to stand up to Japanese rule.  Today, this still remains a cause for contention between the two countries.

We successfully visited the prison and got a snack afterward (something I may have forgone if I was traveling alone), but by the time we had finished it was around 4 and both the museums closed at 6, we didn’t have enough time. So, we decided to go to Itaewon, a famous tourist district of Seoul. Itaewon was nothing special, full of overpriced shops and chain restaurants, but we did find a place that sold postcards. For some reason post cards hardly exist in Korea. I’ve never been to cities where they aren’t on every street corner, but here they are almost non existent. We then found a bar and hung around playing pool for a bit. Another great thing about Korea is that you don’t have to pay to play pool in any of the bars,  unfortunately where I live in the little town of Boseong, all the pool tables are pocket-less.

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The next day we made a conscious effort to try and leave earlier, which after going out the night before was a little more difficult. I believe we did, however we probably spent the same amount of time eating, mingling and running back to the rooms forgetting stuff. Our plan for the day was two things, visit the Bukchon Hanok village and Gyeongbukgung. The Bukchon Hanok village is a traditional Korean village, over 600 years old in the heart of Seoul and Gyeongbukgung is the royal palace built in 1395 not far from the Hanok village. Both of them are an odd sight to see, traditional buildings flanked by skyscrapers in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world.

*An introduction to my friends as I’m sure they’ll appear in more posts and I need to refer to them in this one: 4 are from South Africa (Robynne, Nicara, Andile, Sebastian); 5 are from England (Christian, Tom, May, Alex, Sanchez); 4 are from the US (Me, Melissa, Joey, Logan) and two are from Scotland (Lisa, Ryan).

The Hanok village was interesting to see, but underwhelming. Supposedly it’s 600 years old, but all the house are renovated so they look completely new,  I also feel I can find more authentic ones around my area. However, one of the best parts of the trip happened as we were leaving. Robynne and I had separated from the rest of the group and wandered into an art gallery in one of the houses. We started talking to the artist and he told us to sit down and asked if we were girlfriend and boyfriend. We’re not, so he ripped the paper he had in half and proceeded to draw each of us. I knew the group was going to be wondering where we were, standing around in the sun (it was hot out) and waiting; something I would have been annoyed at had I been on the other end. Eventually they left us, which was fine because we met them at the palace after, well, most of them. By the time we arrived to the palace the group had split yet again. Two polarizing half’s, one by the exit wanting to leave and the other just hanging with no time frame to go.  Later that night when we regrouped, it felt as if I hadn’t seen the others in over a day, even though only 6 hours had passed.

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Our third and final full day in Seoul is when the group fragmented the most. We had planned to divide into two groups to visit the War Museum and the Art museum. Upon waking I discovered that everything was closed, Chuseok was in full effect. Well almost everything, the Bukhan mountain hike was still open. I didn’t want to waste a day shopping plus I had nothing to get, Joey and Robynne felt the same, so the three of us set off. The others separated into two or three smaller shopping groups. Now I haven’t really mentioned it much, but every night in Seoul including the night before we had gone out drinking, the first night was the fireworks festival on the river, the second night we went to some bars and the third night (the night before this) we went clubbing. It definitely wasn’t easy getting up and even less so what we were about to do.

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The hike started calmly enough, thankfully the sun wasn’t out and we even joked about how easy it was; as time progressed we joked less about how easy it was, but whether or not we were going to make it to the top, the inclination grew and the steps became more frequent. Not far from the top, the steps were almost vertically and we were on the verge of collapsing, our shirts were soaked in sweat and our water bottles were empty. Three Empire State Building later we made it….to one of the parts (I don’t actually know how high it was, but we walked up so many steps I didn’t want to walk up any more the rest of the trip). Unfortunately it wasn’t the objective I had in mind, a granite cliff face where you have to pull yourself up by rope. That was even further and we started to go, but with enough persuasion from Joey and Robynne we stopped before getting too far. We would have been hiking back in the dark if we had continued to listen to me. It was only 2 o’clock but it would have required a lot more time to get there and even more to get back. Still, the one we reached provided beautiful views of Seoul and the surrounding valley, it was nice to get out of the city and into nature. It took us between an hour and a half to two hours to go up and about 50 minutes to come down. Afterwards we found our way back to the hostel, joined back up with the group and went out like it was our last night in Seoul, since it was.

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Check out was at 10:30am, we all made it!

Some cool places we ventured to in Seoul:
Arcade bar: A bar with an arcade theme and arcade games

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Bar다 (da): Tucked between clothes stores with only a stairway going up it doesn’t look like anything from the outside, it doesn’t even look open or that it has windows.  It did have windows and was the coolest bar we went to.  Hip, grungy, artistic and alternative is how the interior can best  be described.

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Meerkat cafe: A cafe where you get to play with meerkats! they also had two baby kangaroos, two raccoons, two foxes and various cats

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Take Me Out to the Ball Game…

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Take me out with the crowd, buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks……one song you definitely don’t hear at a Korean baseball game, but you do hear a plethora of others.

Each batter has their own song and when your team is up,recycled songs from the US with new lyrics are constantly being played to fire up the crowd. Nothing like hearing a Christmas song with new Korean lyrics in September at a baseball game in Korean to pump up the crowd. Unlike in the US where the batters song plays as they walk up to the plate and stops shortly after, here the song is continuously being played and sung while they are at bat. The song is also a made up song about the batter with his name placed throughout so the crowd can chant it. One of the batters lyrics was something saying handsome man and then after the crowd chanted “Lee Ho Min,” while another players songs lyrics was something saying the real handsome man and then the crowd chanted his name. You can only imagine the depth of the other players songs.

The constant noise singing and chanting while the batter is up to bat is one difference, another is that the fans from opposing teams sit on opposite sides of the stadium. So, when a team is up to bat only those teams fans are singing and making noise, while the other teams are quite. It was strange that there wasn’t any cheering for the pitcher when he had two strikes on the batter or if he struck a player out. The only exception was if one of the fielders made a catch. All the singing and chanting needs to be lead by somebody and they don’t use screens to do it. With that leads we have another one of our differences, Korean baseball games have cheerleaders and a cheer man organizing the chants. Intrigued by this new addition to a baseball game, I sometimes forgot that a game was being played. I’d look up at the scoreboard and see one out, turn to my friends and ask them, “when did somebody get out….?” Or “the inning started already….?” I wouldn’t be against borrowing this idea.

At US baseball games we have hot dogs, peanuts and crackerjacks, in Korea they have chicken and beer. You can’t go to a baseball game and not have chicken or beer.  Maybe you can pass on the beer, but the chicken is a must.  It’s like when you crack open an egg, you’re always going to get the yolk.  You’re also allowed to bring your own food and drink into the stadium.

In the US we have a 7th inning stretch, in Korea it’s a 5th inning stretch.

I don’t know if it was just the game we went to, but when they needed to make a bullpen change the pitcher came out in a car. In one inning they changed pitchers three times, so the driver really got a workout.

And that’s about all that I can remember, I’m sure there were others, but those are the most memorable.

The game we went to was the Kia Tigers vs the Lotte Giants. Ohhh! another one is that all the teams are named after and sponsored by major Korean companies.  Lotte is a conglomerate of different businesses, while Kia is Kia. The Tigers are/were the best team in Korea and represent the biggest city in the province I live in. The game we went to was a good game until the 8th when they let up 5 runs and ended up losing. That also put them in second place with one game to play.  The score didn’t matter to me though, it was an interesting experience and I only spent 20,000₩ ($17,45) for the seats and chicken and 40,000₩ ($34.90) if you count the bus ticket.

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I think we were the only foreigners there

The Search for a Korean Teacher

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You’d think finding a Korean teacher in a country that’s homogeneously the same would be easy.  As of now my journey has been been a roller coaster of hope and disappointment. Learning Korean is important for me, living here and not being able to speak it makes me feel disrespectful, buying fruits and vegetables I feel like a child pointing to things and holding up my fingers indicating how much, I feel awkward in the car of those teachers who offer me rides home unable to create small talk and the personalities of the teachers I work with remain hidden, as does mine. Fortunately, there are ways to communicate without language, but for me those are not enough.

There are many ways to learn Korean over the internet and through apps, but for me, the self discipline always fades after the first initial weeks. I need a teacher and I need that routine of them coming to my house.  I need that hour set aside for nothing but Korean. So far my success rate has been an abysmal zero. My first inquiry was to ask the other natives in town if any of the teachers at their school would like to teach me, but apparently like me they are contractually unallowed to give private lessons. Strike one, I thought. As if sensing my predicament,  fate decided to toss me a bone in the form of Chris, our orientation leader and program coordinator. He sent a Facebook message recommending some ways for us to learn Korean, most of them online except one.  An after school extra help service called Kumo in various subjects (for kids). They would send a teacher to your house for a half hour a week, they would teach you, give you a book, homework and tests.  It sounded perfect and promising, Chris had even used it and endorsed it. It’s as if my prayers had been answered. The following day I mentioned it to my Korean co teacher, she laughed saying it was for children, I told her Chris said you would laugh and she called the company for me. They gave her the name of the Korean teacher and she called.  I was eager to hear the news, but disappointed by the results. My co teacher (Ms. Su Hee) said the lady told her that because I was an adult it would be twice the normal price at 66,000 won about 66 dollars, and that she only teachers for about 10-15min, less than half the time of what she is supposed to. I thought it had to be a joke, how could she possibly think someone could learn a language like that. Su Hee called the company again, told them what happened, they said that was unacceptable, called the lady and then called my co teacher back. The lady said the reason for the price was because she said she was going to come twice a week (a lie)…….twice a week at 10-15 minutes is still twice the price of what it should cost. Strike two. Back to the drawing board I went. The following day my Su Hee asked me “Joe, how about learning through Skype,” I thought it could be a possibility. She had found someone who taught Korea to foreigners in the city she lives in. While promising, I didn’t want to jump on the opportunity just yet, I told her I’d think about it, I still had one more card to play.

Rewind three weeks ago when I first moved here. I think I wrote about it, but anyway I went in search for air to put in bike tire and I ran into another foreigner (Matt) accompanied by an old Korean man, Mr. Son who speaks four languages and has lived in Boseong for some time. I hadn’t seen him since that day and I thought it was due time I paid him a visit and he lived in the building across from me. On Wednesday before going to my flat I went to go say hi to him. I wanted to see how he was doing and after my two failed attempts also ask him if he knew any Korean teachers. He told me he would see what he could do and allowed me to borrow two books from his library, The Book Thief and The United States and the Division of Korea, 1945.  On Thursday I received a message from Matt (Mr. Son didn’t have my number) telling me to come to his place at 18:30, he found a teacher! I was excited about the prospect of finally finding a teacher. I arrived to his place at 18:30 expecting the teachers shortly, he told me there were two and they should arrive any minute. As the minutes dragged on and the sky changed color we waited. We went outside so he could smoke a cigarette and I asked him questions about his life. At 86 he still hasn’t forgotten English, it just comes out a little slower then it used to, mentioning many times during our conversation that he’s getting old and he hates it. When the sky was dark he told me to go home, he’d call me if they came. Disappointed I was resigned to the fact they weren’t coming, only to receive a call by Mr. Son at 21:30 saying he was sorry, but they weren’t coming, maybe another day. Thanks  for the call Mr. Son, but I had already gathered that. Like the sun fading from us as we sat on that step talking, so too faded my last opportunity to find a Korean teacher. Strike three.

“Culture Shock”

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Culture shock defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to.” However, I think shock is a very strong word and in today’s interconnected society it’s hard to be shocked by anything; we can prep ourselves on the internet beforehand and easily talk to and connect to people who have already been through a particular experience.  When moving to a new country your not shocked about different things rather you recognize them as differences and thing “hmmmm, that’s different or we don’t do that back home.” Living in Korea for three weeks now I have experienced and seen many differences, here are some of the ones I’ve noticed:
Koreans will ask you super direct questions seconds upon meeting them, like: are you married? Do you have a girlfriend? How old are you?
They hardly ever drink just water, I believe they have water storage capacities like camels
They have no traffic laws and people in cars do what they want, they also don’t realize there is a device that signals which way you are going to turn
When accepting things from other people, or if someone is pouring you a drink it you need to use two hands. For example as a lefty my right hand would support my left hand receiving the money or if someone was pouring me a drink or a shot my right hand would be under the glass
If you don’t eat rice for breakfast it’s not considered breakfast
They use that playground Astro stuff for the sidewalk
They don’t stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, I don’t know why they have them. I think it’s to signal to drivers that the pedestrians will be here if you want to hit them
Every time I want to use hot water in the apartment I have to turn it on, so I just started taking cold showers in the morning
They have different chalk board erasers, they’re like pillows for a new born baby
They’re very self conscious about their English, if you ask them “do you speak English?” They’ll answer “no” when from my experience they have no problem understanding it
In my schools we wear slippers, but then sometimes have to walk outside with them and then go back in, so why not just wear shoes? Wearing slippers definitely makes it feel like you’re not working
They have 7Elevens everywhere, something I would have never thought
They have claw games everywhere
On some seats they have bamboo seat covers over the cushions and they’re a lot more uncomfortable
The students and teachers eat together, but hardly anyone speaks to each other. Luckily I have my co teacher to eat with 3/5 days of the week
They have barber shop rotating blue and red signs everywhere, but the double ones give you something extra 😉
They love banners and will make a new one for almost any situation
The food is some of the spiciest food I have ever eaten. After only three weeks tobacco sauce tastes like water
Taxi’s are extremely cheap, like very cheap, I don’t know how they pay for gas and make money
They love volleyball at the schools, Wednesday is volleyball day and all the teachers play together
Just like Costa Rica I’m back to throwing toilet paper in the trash
It’s really hard to sit cross legged on the floor for a full meal
None of these things are “shocking” they’re just things you have to get used to and recognize when living here.  This is only some of the differences that I’ve noticed since I’ve been here, the list could go on an on.