It’s back-to-school time again, but this time without these two. I’m feeling a little nostalgic so this post goes out to you, Gloria and Bjoern!

At some fancy-schmancy restaurant/hotel in Daegu. Thank you Keimyung for this nice birthday present (for Bjoern)! July 2011

And for good measure, the food was awesome!!


Beginning with an early 8 am departure from Daegu, my friend Young-eun (영은) and I set out for a day in Seoul. I almost didn’t make the train. . . but that’s another story. On the KTX, it’s less than 2 hours to Seoul and we arrived before many shops and things were open. First stop: Changdeokgung Palace.

The clay figures are spirit guards.

In the “woman’s quarters”

After we had spent what seemed like a dignified amount of time traipsing around and absorbing a little history, it became very important that we move on to the bigger and better aim of the trip: eating good food! Young-eun’s husband is from Seoul and kept calling and sending recommendations for good lunch spots. We eagerly set off from the palace in the direction of a good meal.

Only to be delayed by crazy old streets that didn’t go where we thought they would.

But, we did get to see some interesting things like this:

This the East/West Design Center, tucked away in a quiet old neighborhood. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the building is stacked vertically. What you see is the traditional building and then to the left is a modern, glass extension.

We also discovered some really interesting small galleries. I bought some fantastic rice earrings! I also shared with Young-eun the phraze, “I’m a sucker for. . . ” In this case, “I’m a sucker for interesting jewelry made by young artists.”

A REALLY cool bench!

And finally, LUNCH!

After eating we explored another near-by area, stumbling into a couple exhibition openings, bargaining for more jewelry, looking at many paintings and finally resting in the subway. I cannot fully explain here how much walking we did!

Only 11,000 km from NYC!


And then finally to 홍대 (Hong-dae), a university neighborhood. At this point I was too tired to take pictures any more so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that this was a great neighborhood. It was young and trendy with lots of people, music, food, etc. The morning was full of Korean history and the afternoon/evening was a good picture of modern Korea. For dinner we decided on a quick and cheap option, 라면 (Ramyun- the Korean version of Ramen) after our lunch splurge.

What you CANNOT tell from this photo is how spicy this was! In my year in Korea, this was the first time I had to give up on my food. I tried to temper it with rice, then with mandoo (steamed dumplings), but eventually I threw in the towel and left with red, burning lips.

Hmmm, feelin’ a little loopy.

After this I headed back to the train station and caught the 9 pm KTX back to Daegu. It was a fabulous day exploring a few neighborhoods in Seoul and hanging out with a new friend, but I was glad to get home to my small city of 3 million people. Can you believe that? 3 million people can feel small.


I find myself constantly talking about life in Korea, saying “Well, this time last year, I didn’t know that the semester was actually ending in December.” or “This time last year, I had never tried jjim dalk (찜닭).”

I don’t know that I can make a complete list of everything I have learned this year in Korea because the funny thing about learning something is that it’s hard to remember that you didn’t know it. But I’m going to try. . .

This time last year. . .

1. I didn’t know that the school calendar is different from America. Korean universities begin the year in March and end in December. But, wait for it, graduation is not until February.

2. I didn’t know any Korean language apart from “Hi”-Annyung ha-sae-yo (안녕하네요) or “thank you” Kamsa hamnida (감사합니다).  Korean language (Hangeul) might be easy to read, but the grammar and nuances of the language are EXTREMELY difficult.

3. I was terrified to ride in a taxi because I didn’t trust the system and could never say where I wanted to go. Now I can easily tell a taxi driver how to get to my apartment or to my place of work. 🙂

4. I also felt a little strange riding in taxis because I was so used to driving myself. And. . . I felt a little guilty for the  “luxury” of having someone drive me around. But I have adjusted and now more fully appreciate the service of the taxis, their relatively cheap price and the way they can bring me to places I could not get with buses or subway. For instance, this morning I went to the dentist. I took a subway part way and a taxi the other part of the way!

5. I felt very uncomfortable with the way everyone stared at me. I can’t say that this has totally changed but I am not surprised by it any more.

6. I was very frustrated by what I perceived as a “lack of planning” in many things at school. I am learning, still learning, to be more adaptable. The Lord is really growing me in this area, helping me to become more flexible. Because ultimately my lack of flexibility when someone brings something last-minute reveals a heart that thinks she is the most important thing (and above all else).

7. I had only tried a few Korean foods and couldn’t tell the difference between good food and bad food.

8. I was unprepared for the stark contrast in seasons. Daegu summer is exceptionally hot and humid while winter is bitter cold and dry. I didn’t even have good winter shoes!

9. I had never ridden the KTX, the fast train, to Seoul.

10. I didn’t know the grading procedures at school- how to grade my students, how to input the grades, the fact that I’m required to grade on a curve (of sorts).

11. I didn’t realize that I live rather luxuriously by Korean standards, in an apartment the size of most families’ (with 1 or 2 kids).

12. I didn’t understand the kindness of strangers.

13. I thought the bells on the tables in restaurants was kind of ridiculous. Now, though, I see their brilliance. When someone at the table needs something, they ring the bell. That frees the restaurant workers to help the people who need it and not constantly walk asking if their tables are OK. That also frees those eating to enjoy uninterrupted conversation.

14. I didn’t know there were different Korean accents, that people in Seoul speak differently from those in Daegu.

15. I was just getting to know people at my church in Daegu.

16. I was just learning that my work, teaching in a content area in English, was different from what most other “foreigners” were doing in Korea.

17. Oh, and I was just getting used to being called a “foreigner” and not taking offense.

18. I didn’t know there was a small supermarket and bank around the corner from my apartment, only because I had never walked that way on the street before.

19. I could only do one thing every day because each excursion took all my energy. It was all I could do to figure out how to get there and back, handle a few interactions with people in broken Korean/English, and accomplish a task.  On work days, I went to work and then back to my apartment and that was ALL I could manage. On the weekends I could handle one thing, like a trip to the store on Saturday or church on Sunday. But if I tried to do more than that I would fall apart. . .

20. I was very offended when someone asked me my age and marital status at the first meeting. I mean, it still feels awkward, but now I understand it. In Korean language those 2 questions are how you determine what kind of language to use in your conversation. Even though that doesn’t apply in English, the cultural custom still follows.

21. I thought I couldn’t find any clothes in Korea that would fit me.

22. I was still eating a lot of bread products. It’s not that I’ve now cut bread completely out of my diet, but I eat it very seldom. I’ve happily converted to rice.

23. I would cringe when I heard someone walking behind me clear their throat and spit out the phlegm (also known as “hawking a loogi”.  How do you spell that?). . . .but wait, that still grosses me out. It’s very common here and not considered impolite. I don’t know that I’ll ever adapt!

24. I had memorized my phone number only and didn’t really know what my address was.


I KNOW there’s got to me more than just 24 things, but this is all I can think of at the moment.


By the numbers:

4- more weeks of class in the Fall 2010 semester!

2- months of vacation starting in January!

309- my office number (that was also my office number @ SCAD)

32- days until Christmas

5- hours I spent last weekend in the DMZ (the de-militarized zone between North and South Korea)

2- Thanksgiving dinners this week!

3- more days and then I’ll start listening to Christmas music!!

This is how meetings go for me a school:

First, a few days before a meeting I get a text (in Korean) or better yet, someone talks to me. I mean,  if I’m lucky I get a few days. And If I type the hangeul into the translator, then I might really know when and where.

This time it was for a high school contest on Saturday afternoon. I asked and confirmed that it would be a couple hours from 3:00- 5:00. Saturday. . . well, OK. 2 hours is not bad.

Then, then on Friday, someone tells me that. . . no, in fact I have to be there at 2:30. OK, got it.

But then, on Saturday morning, I get a wake up call. Literally. “Karin, university arrange lunch. 12 pm. I leave ticket for you in mailbox.” What?? I am going from a now a simple couple hour event to a  day-long event!

I raced to get there by noon, springing the big bucks for a taxi, only then to realize that it’s not a group lunch. I have been late to group lunches in the past, and that never looks good.  But, surprise, this is not a group lunch, just a lunch at a restaurant that I don’t have to pay for.  (Now, I acknowledge that lunch is a nice gesture, but I would much rather be at home for a few more hours. it’s SATURDAY!) I sit at a table with a nice Korean man,  who turns out to be a high school art teacher. He knows about as much English as I know Korean so we talk a little, but mostly just eat.

After that I have an hour and a half to wait before we are actually meeting. . . at 2:30. Hence this blog post. I need to be home. I have an exhibit to hang tomorrow and there’s still work to be done!

김닭 is one of my favorite foods in Korea!

Not only is this a photo of one of my favorite foods, but this also documents the first food delivery to my apartment. Anything and everything can be delivered here in Korea, it’s just a matter of knowing how to ask. My friend, Sarah, wrote for me what to say on the phone. I practiced and then made the call. Then half an hour later this pot of deliciousness came to my apartment.

This dish is made of chicken, onions, glass noodles, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, rice cakes and peppers all stewed together in a sweet and spicy brown sauce. I like to eat it with a little rice to give my mouth a break from the spiciness every few bites.

In the beginning of February I went to Changsha, China to visit my cousins!! It was a great trip!!

Drew and Rachel, with their son, Titus, have lived in Changsha for the last year and they were AMAZING hosts.

bubble tea!

There was a slide down the mountain! It was so fun we did it twice.

This is at a small park where Mao briefly lived when he was young.

Delicious food!

I visited the embroidery center of the Hunan Province.

Yup, that is an entire pig!

Titus and I

I was in Changsha the week before the Chinese (lunar) New Year and the city was full of red lanterns like these. The weather was really cold and damp, but something about the lanterns made everything feel a little better.

I said before I left that what I really wanted to do was not see all of China (not EVEN possible in a week) or even all of Changsha, but to just learn a little about the country/city through the eyes of my cousins. Some days we didn’t do more than just a trip to the market, but other days were busier, as evidenced in the photos. It was great and good way for me to see a new place!!

Korea vs. China– from my observations, some of the differences

  • small (K) vs. big (C)
  • ethnically homogeneous vs. ethnically diverse (there are MANY people and language groups in China)
  • some western foods available vs. many western foods available (this was a surprise to me)
  • in-floor heating vs. no indoor heat (thankfully the apartments where Drew and Rachel live DO have heat)
  • lots of coffee vs. no coffee
  • food is mostly steamed or stewed vs. food is mostly cooked in oil
  • many English translations vs. no much translation
  • public transportation is clean vs. public transportation is dirty
  • Americans can visit any time vs. Americans must pay big $ for a visa to enter

Korea and China– some of the similarities

  • washing machines without center posts + hang dry
  • squatty toilets + don’t flush the toilet paper
  • I am a minority/foreigner
  • public transportation is good and reliable + taxis are cheap
  • McDonalds and KFC

Don’t you want to go too? If you have the chance I highly recommend it!

In December in Daegu there were  lights on a couple trees on campus, a decorated Christmas tree in every subway station, some holiday displays in the stores, but NO publicly played Christmas music. I asked about it and was told that it was outlawed a couple years ago.

“What, no Christmas music?”

I didn’t realize how much I associate music with the holiday season. As December began I quickly realized that I would have to take matters into my own hands. Thanks to a reminder from my sister I listened to the KBCO Holiday channel on-line, and thanks to an e-mail link from a friend I discovered NPRs Christmas playlist. Between the on-line music and my own stash I was still able to envelope myself in the sounds of the seasons (as long as I was home or in my office), but I missed hearing it as I walked downtown or in the stores.

Like the lack of music, Christmas in Korea was a very quiet season, so different from the craziness of the season in the U.S. Then in addition, December was a very busy month at work: planning my classes for the Spring semester, guiding all my students in their final projects, lots of end-of-the-year parties, and piles of grading. I didn’t really forget about Christmas, but I almost did. Somewhere around the 17th I realized that I didn’t have any plans. I tried not to be depressed, I tried to be brave, but I couldn’t help it. For the first time in my LIFE I had no plans for Christmas!! Could it be true?

After a few days of sad prayers, the Lord answered me with an invitation from my friends Heather and Kevin. They live in another city in Korea and although we didn’t really know each other before, we were part of the same (fabulous) church in Savannah. It was so nice to spend a few days with them and get out of town. Although I wasn’t traveling to see my own family, the 3 hour train trip put me in the Christmas mood.

Their real-life Christmas tree!

At my house I had the cutest little Charlie Brown tree. I really thought I took a picture of it, but now that I’m going back through my photos I can’t find it.  Anyway, when I walked into their house on Christmas Eve, I was surprised and so excited to see a real tree!!

Kevin & Heather playing

I made them some place-mats.

On Christmas day in Korea it was Christmas Eve in the U.S. which was perfect since usually the biggest family gathering and celebration happens then. All my family had traveled to be with our extended family in Minneapolis. As thankful as I was to be with friends, I was still really missing my family. With skype I was able to join them, sisters, cousins, parents, aunts, uncles, grandma, for about an hour as they sang carols and read the Christmas story. Sometimes I was just in the room and other times I got to talk with people. I cried a lot when I heard them singing and cried when I saw their faces, and I cried even more when they let me make a song request, partly because I was sad and partly because I was so happy to be able to “be” there. Alongside with another cousin who lives in China, we were all in the same room together. Isn’t that cool?

I stole this photo from my sisters FB page. I’m there on the left 🙂

It was good for me to join with them for a little bit and helped me to feel connected when the reality of the distance should have meant we were disconnected. When I hung up I felt happy to have shared in the celebration of Christmas with my family and free to get back to my life in Korea.


As much as Christmas was void of many of the traditions I know and love, but it still was wonderful. A friend gave me a list of advent readings and as I read the prophesies of the Messiah, through the story of Jesus’ birth, and finished with His death and resurrection, I was acutely aware of what I really celebrated in Christmas. It was sweet. I have heard many people say this before, but I’ll go ahead and say it again: without the noise of the season, it was much easier to reflect on the wonderful gift of Jesus!

Before I end this post, I have to mention the Pepakakor. In my family these Swedish gingerbread cookies are an essential flavor of Christmas. You wouldn’t have Thanksgiving without turkey, you wouldn’t have Valentine’s Day without chocolate, and you definitely wouldn’t have Christmas without Pepakakor. Since I don’t have an oven, I had resigned myself to their absence. . . but then, a friend with an oven invited me to make Christmas cookies with her. Oh the joy, oh the surprise!

Here they are in all their goodness. We didn’t have any cookie cutters so we just used a glass to make the circles. I ate a bunch, brought some with me to Kevin and Heather’s house and am saving a few in the freezer for a future date.


As I just re-read this post, I am really struck by the number of people who gave me the gift of friendship this Christmas. Friends reminded me how to get Christmas music in Korea, a friend helped me to bake my favorite cookies, friends invited me to stay with them for Christmas, a friend gave me a list of advent readings, and there are parts of the story that I didn’t even recount (like all the friends who sent me gifts).  It is easy for me to feel isolated and alone here, but by writing this, the Lord just gently reminded me that I am not.

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