The Other Side of Korea

I have now spent over two years living in Korea, and during that time, I have spent most of it in Seoul. In fact, I have rarely voyaged out of the main city to see what other things that this country has to offer. I have often thought of Korea as just Seoul,  the capital city filled with intense people that push and shove their way through life to get everything they want. After living here for that long, I have gotten into the groove of this hustle and bustle. I even started to wonder if there were any people in this country that wanted to slow down to experience life at a different pace. That was until I made my way down to Busan.

First of all, let’s get the big question out of the way. Yes, that Busan, the one made famous by the zombie movie released a couple of years ago. And yes, I did take the train to get down there, but I did not witness any zombies during the long voyage, unless you count the people who could barely keep their eyes open as they were gently rocked to sleep in a train car that had the heat up way too high. But it was a great symbol of the change in attitude that happened as we traveled through the rocky landscape of South Korea. The intensity of Seoul start to shed away with each kilometer we ticked away on the tracks until we arrived in the more laid back atmosphere of Busan.

Busan did not feel the pain and destruction caused by the north during the 1950s war. Because of this, there is more of a sense of history about the place. It has been able to hold on to the Korean culture a little more, and is more willing to share it with the world. It might have just been the fact that we stuck to more of the touristy locations while we were down there, and I live more in the suburb of Seoul, but I felt like I saw a bigger blend of cultures in this town than what I experience in Seoul. I think because of this more tolerant climate it has created a community that does not care as much about their appearance and the pursuit of success. People tend to enjoy themselves more because of this. I found myself not stressing out about the worries I had in life and was able to partake in the culture there.

Some of this might have to do with the many expansive beaches hugging the edge of the city. We spent our first day strolling along these. I have been told that Korean people will not visit the beaches after a certain day in the summer, but I found this not to be the case. Even though, they were not overcrowded with people looking for a spot to sunbathe, there were still many people enjoying the views. They just were not getting in the water, but I couldn’t blame them because it was only in the 50s.

The beaches are not the only feature in Busan worth checking out. Many people flock to the outskirts to see the impressive Haedong Yonggungsa temple. This is one of the more ancient structures still standing in Korea. It was built in 1376 and still serves many Buddhists that live in the area. The temple sits on a cliff looking out to the sea. We needed to cross over a bridge to see the massive Buddha built in the trees just above the temple. If you do visit, you need to stop on the bridge and look down to see two stone bowls place in nice pools next to a couple of intricate statues. If you can toss a coin into one of the bowls, you will be granted good luck. Many people gather at the edge of the bridge to try to get that luck granted from this experience.

Even though the temple was a great experience, it was the Gancheon Cultural village I enjoyed the most. The village was originally built during the Korean War as a place where refugees from the north could find safety and get a respite from the troubles they were experiencing. When you wander through its steep steps and narrow alleys, you can see this. It remained an eyesore in the middle of town until 2009 when students decided to spruce it up with a paint job. In Korea, this usually means grey, white or black, but these art students took a different route by supplying it with bright pastel colors, and hiding little interesting pieces of artwork throughout its windy paths. It is a fun part of any trip to Busan, and one that I would highly recommend. We waited until late afternoon to go and visit, but I would recommend spending the better part of a day down here because it doesn’t matter where you go around the place, you’ll find something interesting to see.

I am glad that I finally made it out of the big city to go and see another of Korea’s big cities. Even though Busan still packs over 3 million people in its borders, it definitely has a smaller town feel to it, and I was able to find a heart to Korea that goes beyond the Kpop and fashion world of Seoul. It quickly became my favorite place in Korea, and if you make a voyage out to this part of the world, it is worth the stay.

 

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Subway Culture versus Car Culture

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I am sure I will be accused of oversimplifying things again, but I do believe that there might be some truth about my thoughts. These notions bounced around my head over the weekend as I took many different subways to different locations all over Seoul to enjoy the Lunar New Year holiday. Does the mode of transportation that a city encourages its citizens to take help to create the personality of that community? Do we start to have a different mentality because we have chosen to drive a car as opposed to taking a subway?

If you think about it, there is a different point of view citizens have when being forced to travel under the ground as opposed to above on the streets. A strange thing happens when you walk down into those caverns. You leave behind a sunny day in a familiar territory, and take a series of tubes to find yourself emerging somewhere new a half an hour to an hour later in another part of that same sunny day. Where you left is hustling and bustling because it is situated at a subway station, and where you emerge has the same feeling because once again it is at an another important subway station. It makes you feel as if the town is always in motion.

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For some of the bigger cities in the world this might be the case. There might be so many people out there that there will always be somebody that will be wandering around the streets, no matter what time of day or night it is.

You don’t have this same feeling when you travel around in a car. Granted, there are times when you find yourself in the middle of a mad rush hour as you slowly push your car closer to its destination. As you get closer to where it is you are going to, you have to start taking the side streets to get there. The crowds slowly get smaller, and smaller until you find yourself all by your self.

There is also the distinct advantage of finding yourself above ground. There is a whole world around you that you can enjoy. The scenery isn’t just the long tunnel that takes you from one place to another. It give you context to how you got from one place to another. You do not feel like you have been magically transported to some other place in the city; instead, you took a journey to get there.

You are also in control of your route when you take a car. Granted the more complicated subway systems will give you a few options of how to get from point A to point B, but it is still through a tunnel that is as straight as day. There is no option to take a side path if you feel that it might get you there quicker, or make the trip more enjoyable. There is only one path that you can take in a subway.

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With all of these advantages a car has to offer, why would anybody choose to live in a subway community? What could it possibly have to offer that would rival the ones rules by the automobile?

There is a peace of mind that comes from riding on a subway, as opposed to driving a car. You no longer have to worry about how to get to the destination; you just let the train whisk you off to it. And in the meantime you can enjoy the ride there. Whether this is reading a book, or playing your favorite video game on your phone, you are not forced to experience the stress traveling by car can give you. Add on to the fact that traffic can be one of the worst things possible to experience, and you will relish every moment you get to spend on the relaxing subway.

But this is not the best part of a subway society. When you are on a subway, you are forced to interact with your fellow human beings. In a car, you are in isolation. In America, on the rare occasion that you are in the car with another individual, it is still somebody that you are so comfortable with that you usually spend the time in the car in silence. On a subway, you are forced to be right next to complete strangers and try to find a way to get along during the short time you are on the train together.

If you start to think about it, how does this constant connection with our community affect our perspective on life?

In the car culture, do we hide in our automobiles even more? Are we willing to let more people into our lives, or do we only allow the ones we feel comfortable with into our little box? How does the world look from behind a bullet proof windshield?

Or do we engage in the unknown every time we move from one location to another? Do with look with anticipation every time the door of our vehicle opens to see who might enter into our world? Are we willing to let those people into our lives just so we can share the joy of being alive?

How far does this go? Do we scream from our computer screens or do we engage in conversation with our neighbor? Do we hide behind our walls, or do we open our borders to new ideas?

It sometimes strange the things we think about while we are on a subway.

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The Danger of Complacency

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I am now a month into my second year of teaching in an international setting. It has been easier this year to make the transition into the teaching grove. By this time last year, I was still wandering the streets of Seoul with my eyes opened wide believing that I was on some magical vacation that would never end. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this foreign environment was now my home and I needed to figure out how to work within its confines. I struggled with this during my first year, and it felt as if I was starting my teaching profession all over again.

But then the second year came around. I touched down in Incheon Airport knowing exactly what I needed to do to get through customs. The bus to my neighborhood was now routine. I snickered and felt for the new teachers who wore the wide-eyed look that I wore the previous year. There was nothing that this country could throw at me that I couldn’t expect and handle. I was now a part of the team and I felt a sense of acceptance that I had not previously felt. The experiential education trip I was in charge of was going smoothly as the team the school had given me took on the challenge, leaving me to pick up some of the loose ends to make sure all the little details were accounted for. I could lace my fingers behind my head and lay in the tall grass without a care in the world. The trip would take care of itself, and there wasn’t much I needed to worry myself over.

Of course, you know that this isn’t that kind of story. Nobody wants to read about a man without any problems. There has to be a monster lurking around the corner the man doesn’t know about that will bring about his demise. My monster has a name and it called itself Complacency. This idea that you are in control of your destiny just because you have done something before could be the most dangerous idea that you can allow to possess you. First of all, you are never in control of your destiny. There is always somebody, somewhere that will create a problem for you that will delay the path you have laid out for yourself. Secondly, without any struggle you never grow as a person. It was this look for a struggle that caused me to give up my comfy home in the United States so I could grow as an individual and a teacher, and here I was in my second year already believing that I had everything under control.

I should have paid attention to the music industry’s warning about artists’ second albums. Critics always warn listeners about this album for any band or musician that exploded onto the scene after a successful first showing. They even have a name for it, the Sophomore Slump. These musicians who were so hungry for fame and finally got the chance to taste it, now had to create a follow up that lived up to what they had just done. They don’t know this though. After producing such a masterpiece, they believe they can do no wrong. They are invincible. They are creative. They are popular. Of course, all the drugs they are doing does not help them see what is really going on. What they eventually come up with does not come close to the fresh and original album they had just created. It falls flat because it is just a reproduction of what they had just produced earlier, and it is all because they became comfortable in the role that they were in, and chose not to challenge themselves to take a chance and move out of their comfort zone. They became victims of that beast, Complacency. Their devoted fans moved on because they felt the passion missing and no longer believed in the magic the band had produced on their first album.

This was the trap that I found myself falling victim to. The group I was working with had taken over so many aspects of the trip that I could rest and reap all the rewards when everything worked out beautifully. We had just been on this same trip four months earlier, and it was so fresh in our minds that we could not possibly think of what would go wrong. If television has taught me anything, it is when somebody starts to think this way, something inevitably will go wrong.

A series of logistical nightmares presented themselves to me two nights before the trip started. I soon found out that this was not going to be the same trip we were on last time. When we were at Boramwon last April, we had the whole facility to ourselves. This was not the case this time around. We were sharing the place with two other schools. I did not know all of the students we had taken with us because it was early in the school year, and I did not have the time to get to know them. Add into this mix a bunch of students running around from the other schools and I don’t know who I can discipline if I find them doing something out of line, and who I can’t.

This was just the first of our problems. Boramwon then threw another ruffle into the mix. Our perfect schedule did not work with them because they did not have enough guides to cover our events as well as the other schools who were also going to be at the place. I had to rearrange things quickly, and found out that there was this huge spot left over where we had no activities planned for the students. I had to come up with a couple of new things that fit in with our overall theme of ensemble on this trip. Luckily, I had a member on my team who was a P.E. teacher and he was able to come up with a bunch of activities that could fit into this empty time slot.

I thought even though we had a couple of minor bumps that things would be smoother from here on out, but that was not the case. The night before we left, I was told we had lost five of the dorm rooms we were going to use in order to house our students. I needed to quickly rearrange all of our dorms to make sure we could comfortably fit everybody into a room. Once again, another one of my group stepped up and made arrangements to make this work. There was nothing else this place could throw in my way to make things fall apart.

This is when mother nature took charge. There happened to be a typhoon hitting the shore of Japan the same time we would be having our outdoor adventure. Now I know where I was taking my students to was miles away from this force, but we were close enough that there was a steady rainfall coming down during the whole bus ride out to the facility. We were not going to be able to do all the activities we were hoping to do. The hike would be a little dangerous, and the mountain biking would be a muddy mess with the challenging courses maybe a little too challenging with the weather. In fact, as soon as we arrived at the camp, we huddled the kids in the lobby of the dry dorms and I went to talk to the director of the camp to work out plans to keep the students safe and get the keys to the rooms.

This is where a new wrinkle in the story comes along. We quickly changed our plans, and things looked like they would work out, but the place was holding our keys hostage. Apparently, just like United Airlines, they had overbooked. They needed somebody to give up some of their rooms, and we were the obvious choice. They wanted us to relinquish four more rooms on top of the five we had already given up. In order to make this happen, we were really going to have to pack these kids into the room, and at first, we were adamantly opposed to the idea. But then again, we couldn’t get into the rooms if they wouldn’t give up the keys. We had to work out a deal or put everybody back on the bus and take them back to the school. They had us more than we had them, and the only thing we could threaten them with was that we wouldn’t be booking any more business with them. With the struggle we had booking this place the first time around, this was not really a threat that they would consider. We eventually gave into their demands, and tried to make the most out of the experience we had designed for the students.

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That is the thing I learned from this trip that I could apply to every experience in life. Even if I have done something before, and believe that it should be easier the second time around, there is still an element of an uphill battle that I will have to deal with. This is the problem with being complacent about each of these challenges. When you lie down, the hill looks like a gentle plain, and perception does not change the rules of gravity. You need to pick yourself up to take on the challenge because you will be able to handle it a lot better standing up than lying down.

Granted, even though I came into this trip thinking that it would be really easy, and the unsuspected troubles surprised me, we were still able to put together a great trip. I really want to emphasize the word “we” because this was not a solo effort. There was a great group of people behind me that never lost sight of the ultimate prize. They also were ready for the challenges thrown our way, and I am glad that they were able to pick me up to make sure that I contributed my share to solving all of these problems. I learned as much from this recent experience that my students did, and it makes this experiential education trip one of the most memorable ones I have ever been on.

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My students got a lot out of the experience as well. The bus ride back to school was one of the quieter ones I have experienced. They were all worn out, and a lot of that was because we made sure that each moment was filled with adventure and excitement. Of course, there will be moments that they did not enjoy themselves, but when they look back at this weekend they will remember some of the fond ones, and they will realize how they have grown as an individual, just like I did.

The Challenge

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Books are important. Any educator will tell you that. You might even be able to dig that answer out of the more obstinate P.E. teacher with the help of healthy snacks and lot of hand signals. But those reluctant P.E. teachers would constantly complain that there is also value to their contribution to education that should not be ignored. Not every educator will feel the same when confronted with that idea. That pretentious English teacher with the curly mustache that he always needs to pet will be the first to tell you that anything you need to know can be found in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. And as much as I would like to agree with the opinion of that stuffy English teacher, I do have to give it to the P.E. teacher in this case. Some times you need to put the book down, and go out to experience life.

I have talked about this type of learning before, and I still believe strongly in the importance of it. The last school I worked in used experiential education to show at-risk students the value of putting their addictions to the side and seeing the world for what it has to offer. The strange thing is that this is the same thing that the Korean students I am teaching now need as well. The addictions are a little different though. One involves a bong; whereas, the other involves a book.

It is obvious to many people that there will be a pot problem in the high schools of Colorado, but nobody thinks that there could be a problem similar to it in South Korea. For many years, South Korea has been on the top of the list for the best educational system in the world. Sometimes it is number one, but sometimes it slips to number two behind Finland. Both countries have great educational systems, but they both take different approaches to education. Finland thinks that less is more, and South Korea doesn’t believe that it can ever get enough. Students are required to work exceptionally hard in school and when they get out for the day, it is traditional for them to go to hagwons, a kind of specialized tutoring center, where they are asked to study even more. Some of my students spend up to sixteen hours a day with their studies. They are constantly tired, and have a hard time keeping awake. From middle school until they graduate high school, these students spend their time in their books. It is their addiction.

Granted, a lot of this is due to their culture and history. Americans can take a lesson from the South Koreans about how to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get back on their feet. South Korea turned around their economy faster than any other nation in the world. They used to have one of the worst economies in the world, but now have the eleventh biggest one. The craziest thing about this is they accomplished this feat with very limited resources except their greatest one, hard-working people. This is where the notion of needing to work hard comes from and why the Koreans continue to push their children in this effort.

Now as a writer, I am always going to say that books are the greatest thing that has ever been, but like anything else there is a danger to them. Besides the obvious danger of introducing new ideas into the world, and pushing people’s thinking, there is another danger, getting addicted to them. The desire for learning is great, but when it comes at the expense of a person’s health, and takes away from them the chance to actually live their life, then education has gone too far. You can only get so much out of books. You get a lot more out of experience. A book will tell you how to do something. An adventure will require you to do it. That is where these trips come into play. We take our students out of their comfort zone, the safe world of stuffy books, and out into the world where they don’t know exactly what is going to happen.

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It is amazing to see these kids take to the challenges presented to them. They climb mountains, traverse rope bridges, ride on mountain bikes, and paddle on makeshift rafts. For many of these kids, they have never been able to experience this kind of life. Their existence was limited to the confines of the big city and their ideas of the world around them were only learned from books. Even though the intellectual challenges that they gain from this style of learning is great, they still never know how far they can take themselves and what mountains they can conquer until they are out scaling those stony cliffs.

This specific group of students took it even farther. They not only learned what they could do for themselves, but they also learned how they could work with each other. There were many times on the hike where I saw students helping each other out to make sure that they all got down the path safely. They cheered their peers to as they took the challenges that the adventure course offered to them. But the area that I saw them work together the best was on the pond with the rafts. My students were broken up into different groups and sent out onto five rafts with about eight students on each one. The four teachers that were chaperoning the event were placed on a separate raft. It took us awhile to get on the pond; whereas, the students had a little bit of time to figure out how to maneuver the boats around and how to splash each other. Of course, by the time the teachers got on the pond, we were the targets of their new attacks. The way they organized the boats on the pond made it difficult for us to escape their attack. Even though I knew I was about to get soaking wet on a cool spring day, the moment made me really proud. I was able to see a good portion of the sophomore class come together to work against a common enemy. It showed that the learning that we wanted to take place was actually happening.

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For these students, these trips are traveling through a dark long tunnel which sometimes does not appear that it will ever end. But halfway through that dark tunnel they start to see a small pinprick of light far away. So they keep on traveling to see if they can reach that other end. As they get closer to that end, the light gets bigger and bigger until they get to the other end. When they emerge from that tunnel the feeling of joy is huge. They can’t help but smile. For the most part, this is the same way that many people would describe their high school experiences.

For the teachers, these trips are the moments that they can guide the students through these new experiences. They can watch their pupils learn new skills as they go through these challenges. In the process, they get closer to their students and each group is able to learn about the other because we get to see each other out of the classroom environment. It all translates well when everybody gets back to the school. The students have experienced something new that they could never have learned from books and they trust their teachers even more and are willing to do the work that is asked of them. The teachers get to apply what they teach to something bigger outside of the classroom, and create those lasting relationships with their students.

With all of these benefits, you begin to wonder why more schools don’t try to create programs like this. Some day they will come around to this kind of thinking and each school will become the powerhouse of education that they can be. Until then, they need to continue to walk down that dark tunnel making their way to the guiding light.

The Staycation

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Our lives are busy.

I’m sure many of you are screaming at me for wasting those five seconds you spent reading that statement to be told something you already know. I’m sorry to state the obvious, but it is something that we all need to recognize from time to time. The big question is what should we do about it once we admit to ourselves that we need a break from our daily routine.

The conventional wisdom tells us that we should go on a vacation to some place fantastic so we can tell everybody about it. They will be jealous and will start to make plans about going to the same place. How do we know this happens, well, they start to ask us things about what we loved, and the things we would have skipped if we were given the opportunity to do it all over again.

The crazy thing though is we come back from these incredible vacations more exhausted than when we left. It is because we don’t stop with our busy lifestyles while we are on vacation. We just change the focus. We tell ourselves that we need to squeeze in as much fun as we can while we are at these places or the effort of traveling half way around the globe wasn’t worth the experience.

You know this is true. I’m sure many of you have made the statement that you need a vacation after you return from your vacation.

Why do we do this to ourselves? We know we need a break, but yet we go on vacation and run ourselves ragged in order to get it.

There is another option that more people are considering, a staycation.

What exactly is a staycation? It is where you pack a bag, find a hotel in the city you live in, and go and stay there instead of making yourself crazy by rushing to the airport, driving across the country, or making other travel plans that leave you more worn out than when you began.

It might sound like a cop out for really going on a vacation, but I am here to tell you that there are many benefits for enjoying this kind of break. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out and seeing the world, but I find myself not knowing much about the city that I live in. In fact, you probably have said sometime in your life that it take others to come to town for you to really go out and see the sights of where you live.

It also is less expensive than taking a vacation further from your home. You don’t have to pay for that travel expense. You just have to find a way to make it to the downtown area of the city you live in. For most people that means hopping in their car and driving there, and if you live in a big enough city, it means just getting on some public transportation and finding the route that takes you to your destination. The money you save on transportation costs, you can use on getting a little nicer place to stay and still save a bunch of money. It also means splurging on some better food.

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Add into this mix a national holiday, and you have something really special about your staycation. I know you are thinking that the holiday would have to be the Super Bowl, but the city I live in really doesn’t care much for that game (Yes, there are places out there that don’t care). The people of Korea were getting together to celebrate the Year of the Monkey. It was my first Lunar New Year in Asia so I wanted to go out and see how they celebrate this event. We picked a place downtown which we haven’t explored much of, Myeongdong, and got a hotel room right next to the subway entrance.

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It was the perfect place to experience this holiday. There was a huge shopping market right around the corner, which is not something I am usually excited about especially in Korea. They are interested a little too much in fashion which doesn’t excite me as much. It also doesn’t help that the clothes out here are a little small for me. But there was plenty of street vendors offering my favorite Korean cuisine, street food.

Koreans know how to do street food very well. They have a sweet bread that they cook an egg on top of. They will twirl a potato into one log chip and poke a stick through it. They then lightly bread it, fry it and roll it around powdered cheese. They will make a banana pancake, fill it up with Frosted Flakes, and Nutella. It all spells delicious. If you find yourself as one of those guys who have to stand around while your wife or girlfriend looks at shoes or clothes, you can always run out to the streets and partake of some of the local fare that is offered. The Koreans have figured out how to please both genders with the shopping experience. The only real problem was it was still cold, so I wanted to run back inside every moment to warm back up.

But Myeongdong has you covered there as well. There are various restaurants around that will satisfy your hunger that the street fare only tickles. There are offerings that show what Korea has to offer to world culture, such as Korean BBQ, and chicken and beer places. But if  you are in the mood for something else, you can find sushi, Indian, Thai, Italian, burgers, Chinese, and even pizza. My favorite was the Italian place underneath the CGV movie theater called Mad About Garlic. There are two locations that I know of in Seoul, and this is the second time that I have eaten at one. The atmosphere in the one in Myeongdong isn’t as nice as the one in AK Plaza, but the food is just as good. A little warning for those of you who don’t like spice, when Mad About Garlic says something is spicy, they mean it. For those of you who like spice, enjoy.

After you have eaten, are there places where you can enjoy the evening? Yes! What would an outdoor shopping place be like if you couldn’t have a few drinks and enjoy it a little more? The stores like it as well because it makes people spend more money. There are bars that make strong cocktails, and the craft beer movement has even seeped into the streets of Myeongdong. You can find a good IPA, or a hearty stout. And if a beer is not enough for you, you can always go with the traditional Korean drink, soju. It might be a little more expensive to buy it at one of the bars than the dollar fifty you will spend at a convenience store, but it is still a lot less than a beer. It makes the next experience you come across even more fun.

And yes, there is culture down here as well. You can take in the longest running play in South Korea, Nanta. If you don’t speak Korean, you don’t have to worry about it because it is blend of physical comedy, drumming, and audience interaction. It is a lot of fun no matter what your language barrier or your age might be.

Another fun little thing to do if you don’t mind making a fool of yourself in front of your friends is to go to a norabong. This is Korea’s answer to karaoke. You rent a room, and are given a book of songs you can sing. A waiter comes in dropping off cans of cheap beer while you shout into the microphones, and laugh at the scores the computer gives you for your performance. If you have lived in Korea, or just visited, and have not made it to a norabong, you have not lived yet.

If these activities are a little too low brow for you, there are some other places you can go that are more worthy of your sophistication. A short subway stop away is the Korean War Memorial. This museum gives perspective to America’s forgotten war. I will admit that what I know about this conflict comes from the TV show, M.A.S.H., and I don’t think that is very accurate. A visit to this place will clear up what you might have thought happened and what really did happen. So far, with all my experience in South Korea, it is the one museum that has moved me the most.

All of these experiences have made my first ever staycation a wonderful and relaxing experience. I have also learned more about the city I live in. I would recommend to other people that this is something that they should do as well. So the next time you need to recharge your batteries and are thinking about the place that will help you do this, start thinking about it from a different perspective and just…

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Stay.

The Changing Seasons

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I have been really lucky in life. Not everybody gets the opportunity to grow up in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Colorado. But I was one of the few people that can say that I have been able to enjoy all my life the warm summers in the magnificent Rocky Mountains, the snowy winters landscapes, and the joy that you get to feel as you get to see life come back during the spring months.

Even though I enjoyed all of these moments year after year, there was one time of the year when Colorado could not claim the beauty that makes it so memorable, and that is in the fall. Yes, there is that short window of time during late September and early October where you can enjoy the golden splendor of the aspens changing, but this is a short window, and afterwards there is not much to see until the winter snows come. Everything just turns an ugly shade of brown, and trees are nothing more than bare sticks poking out of the ground. It is not the spectacular vision you get the rest of the year in Colorado. In fact, there were a few times when my in-laws came out to visit Christine and me during the Thanksgiving holiday, and I was embarrassed to say that this barren landscape was actually the place that I convinced their daughter to move to. I would always try to explain to them that Colorado does not look like this all year long, and I could see them shaking their heads in agreement, but their eyes told a different story.

While growing up, I had heard about these wonderful places where autumn existed. During my elementary school days, the teachers would have us cut up different kinds of leafs with colorful construction paper so we could decorate the room with them. They would try to tell us that in other parts of the world this is the what autumn looks like. I would hear about the pilgrimages people would take to New England so they could look at the foliage out there, and I would wish I could some day experience the same beauty, but after every passing November, I would forget about that wish as the first snows of winter would collect on the ground. It wasn’t until this fall that I was able to experience the gradual change in the weather and see the color explosion that comes with this season.

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Recently, I was able to make it out of Seoul to go on a research and development trip for an experiential education experience that the school I work for is planning for my 10th grade students. We headed out to a camp called Boramwon to see what it had to offer. There was an adventure course, mountain bikes, and archery, but the thing that impressed me the most was the four mile hike that I took through the craggy hills surrounding the camp. It was a beautiful hike that allowed many opportunities to see the countryside of South Korea. The most amazing thing was seeing all of the different colors of fall. For the first time of my life, I was able to see bright reds, yellows, and oranges as they blended together with the usual greens of the pine trees.  I was blown away by the spectacle, and I realized what it means to experience fall colors. If ever you plan to make a trip out to South Korea and you don’t want to spend your time in the confines of Seoul, autumn is the time to come. The weather is mild and pleasant. The air is crisp, rejuvenating you every time you take a deep breath. Most importantly, it is the most beautiful time of the year I have seen while living out in South Korea, and it has been by far, the best autumn I have ever experienced.