Things I wish I knew before moving to Korea

As I’ve been reflecting on the last year in Korea I can’t help but think about the move here and what I would have done differently if given the chance. The whole process of PCSing to a new country was brand new to me as my Hubby and I have only been together for barely three years now. The first big move of my life was after the wedding when I packed up all my stuff and moved from California to Texas. Then barely a year and a half later we were getting ready to move to another country. Before that I had never moved more than 40 minutes from the town I grew up in. So doing a huge move halfway across the world was a big deal to me and we didn’t have a lot of time to do in.

We had been dealing with rumors of moving for months on end. First it was Georgia, then it was New Mexico, then it was Georgia again, and then the idea of Korea was tossed around, possibly Italy, back to Georgia… It went on for the longest time I wasn’t sure what to expect anymore. Then, during the last half of June of 2017 we were given the official papers for PCS to South Korea. (Yay!) Our arrival date was set for August 3th. (Crap.) That gave us a little less than a month and a half to get everything set up: pack the house, make travel arrangements, get our cat ready and leave. The second biggest move of my life and I had so little time to prepare. Through the whole thing I felt like I was being constricted by anxiety and stress, so once everything was said and done it was nice to be able to breath and relax again.

Had I known then, what I know now, I would have planned things so much differently! So here are 5 things I learned PCSing to Korea:

  • Put 90% of your belongings in storage. That’s right. Pack it all up and store it. Except clothes and the basic of basic furnishings you really don’t need it, trust me. You think you do cause you want to make your new place homey but really, you don’t need to. If you’re anything like me you’re spending most of your time exploring the surrounding areas. Plus anything you think you need can be borrowed or bought second hand from base.

When I started working on the packing I made two lists. One list for what was going to Korea with us and one of what was going to go into storage. The “going to Korea” list consisted of basic furniture: bed, couch, desk, bookshelf, and nightstands. I honestly should have left it there but hindsight’s 20/20. I added a small bookshelf with a selection of reading material I thought might keep me occupied in down time, everything needed for our office, all my camera gear, extra clothes (not counting what was going in our suitcases) and a selection of art to decorate our future home. Over the year we’ve collected more books and local art that will either have to be sold before we move or shipped back to the states out of pocket since we are already at max on our weight limit.

  • Book hotel stays at residence inns if possible. Once all you’re belongings are packed up and you’ve cleaned the place out you probably have to return the keys to a landlord, rental company, or the next homeowner. This means, unless you managed to book your flight perfectly you’re probably hanging out for a bit till its actually time to leave. To save some money and your sanity, spend the little extra money on a residence inn that has a mini kitchen in the unit so you can still cook for yourself. This saves your sanity, your wallet and whatever diet you many be on.

Our flight was set for bright and early Monday, July 31 so we had to get everything cleared out of the house and return the keys by Friday afternoon to stay in line with our rental company. To make it more difficult I had to have a last minute surgery on Thursday so we ended up getting everything done by Wednesday, returning the keys 5 days early and checked into a hotel  close to the airport. This was just the beginning as we didn’t get to move into an apartment until late August, so it was restaurants and fast food everyday for a month. The first home cooked meal after being in hotels for so long was a like drinking water after getting lost in a desert. It’s also taken me forever to lose all the weight I gained during this time.

  • Pack light for traveling. You’ll thank me for this one. Don’t be afraid to pack the basics of the basics. Capsule wardrobes are your friend and the less you have to pack, the less you are carrying around with you. Your home goods will get to you  faster than you think. Use hotel laundry services or a nearby laundry mat if you need to wash clothes. It’s better than dragging around overstuffed suitcases.

By the time we finished packing we had one suitcase each of clothes and necessaries, one carryon each with the our important documents for ourselves and the cat along with a some extra clothes just in case the suitcases went missing, two backpacks with entertainment for the flight and then a huge duffle-bag with all of my husband’s military gear that he would need for the next month or so while we waited for our home goods to get to Korea. It would have been pretty easy to manage had I not been on strict post surgery rules where I wasn’t allowed to do any exercise or heavy lifting for at least two weeks. This meant my poor husband had to carry almost everything while I used one of the four wheeled carryons as a walker and holder for the cat carrier.

  • Research your future base. This will help you find out what’s on the new base as well as what’s around it. It wasn’t until after our arrival that I learned you could borrow furniture and some basic home stuffs from the loan closet on post. There are also plenty of people who are trying to sell second hand goods while they prepare to PCS out while you are arriving. Buying cheap on arrival and then reselling or donating on the way out saves you a little money and a lot of stress during these big moves.

This info might be old news to some people in the military but to a couple of newlyweds it was amazing. After looking at what was avail to borrow from the loan closet I looked at the things we could have just put in storage. The kitchen in our Korean apartment could best be described as miniature with out oven/microwave barely big enough to fit a single 9×13 pan. Half of my kitchen goods could have stayed in storage and in the last year I have mastered the art of one pan meals to cook on the stovetop.

  • Don’t be afraid to take your time house hunting. In Korea you go through a real-estate agent to look at apartments and houses. There is a list of approved agents you can work with and it’s perfectly ok to go to a few offices to see what they have available before you make a selection. Don’t let anyone, even yourself, push you to make a rushed decision.

After several delays and a couple weeks we finally completed in-processing and got to our assigned base. We checked into our fourth hotel (that’s a story in itself) and started to look at apartments with a real-estate agent who was suggested to us from a new acquaintance. Unfortunately the agent only had a couple apartments available to us, two of which were in the same complex. Because of so many delays in our arrival we had already pushed our current hotel stay to the max and if we didn’t find a place and get the paperwork done by the end of the week we would have to go to another hotel. Stressed about the idea of having to pay for another hotel and our poor cat who was already over all the traveling we made the choice to settle on a unit that was partially furnished so we wouldn’t be sleeping on hardwood floors until our home goods arrived. While I do enjoy our current residence sometimes I feel like I settled too quickly before really thinking it out completely.

  • Use  the resources available to you. In your research of your future base you probably learned about a whole lot of resources you have available to you besides the loan closet. Things like relocation readiness classes, language classes, and even tour trips. You maybe be moving to a new country but you aren’t alone.

It’s really important to have a support system in a big move like this and one thing I’ve learned to appreciate about the military is that there are people here to help you out. Our new unit sent us a welcome party upon arrival to the base who helped us with our luggage and even brought us the first home cooked meal we’d eaten in over a month. They gave us maps of the areas, recommended apps for our phones to help us with translation, travel, and on post activities. It was a really stark difference from the last military bas we were at and I was actually pretty overwhelmed by how much we had available to us and just how awesome our unit was.

It was a rollercoaster getting here and to sit back and thing about it a year later I can’t believe everything we went through and still managed to make this place our home. I’m hoping that other families that have to PCS to Korea learn from my mistakes and have an easier time in their plans getting out here. And remember, this is a big opportunity for your family to experience something new and you aren’t alone.

Never too late for a second chance

Today marks the one year anniversary of living in Korea. I’ve been reflecting on the last year and thinking about what I’d like to do with the next one. I’ve finally found my confidence to set out and do solo adventures and met some pretty interesting people who have encouraged me to stop being a scared little hermit. Hermit is probably the wrong term. I’m having to face facts that I’m introverted. 

I started this blog with no real intentions at all other than to share stories of our adventures and I really fell off the wagon on that aspect. Winter was cold and boring with me spending most of my time reading on the couch. Then in spring my family came to visit and we did a country wide tour so I was busy busy busy. I’m still kicking myself for not putting more effort into even attempting to blog during that time cause it really would have been perfect.

Looking back at my failed attempts to blog I think the biggest thing holding me back is my fear of other people’s opinions. Silly, right? The whole point of writing a blog is so other people can read it and you can maybe get some feedback. See, what happened was I started reading a lot of other blogs (cause you know once you show interest in it the internet suddenly starts to advertise similar things you find interesting) and I got wrapped up in my self doubt because of it. Blog advice pieces like “How to Start A Successful Blog” and “How To Tell If You’re Actually A Good Blogger” or “What Not To Do As A Blogger.” While I read these I allowed my anxiety to get the best of me. Telling myself: “Nobody is going to care about my blog. I shouldn’t write about this. This piece is too long or too short. You’re not going to attract any readers if you do that….” etc. I stopped before I even got a chance to even get started.

So today, after doing some reflecting and really, really thinking about it all, I’m going to give this blog another try. Do I have a style? Not yet. Am I gonna follow a particular theme? Maybe, maybe not. I am just gonna dive in and see what happens. I can’t get better if I don’t let myself try first. So, here it goes…. 

For The Love Of Science

For the last couple of days we’ve had some amazing weather. Its been warm out, almost up to 60 degrees, and as I’ve said previously, I’m loving it. This last week we took the time to go to the Gwacheon National Science Museum. I’ve been feeling very nostalgic for home and back in the city I would always spend afternoons at the museums in Golden Gate Park. I know some people might find that really boring but thankfully my husband and I love learning about new things and it’s exciting to walk around and see the exhibits.

It’s very easy to get to the museum. We took the subway from Pyeongtaek train station to Seoul Grand Park and there was only one transfer from Line 1 to Line 4 at Geumjeong station which happens to be on the same platform. No having to run up a flight of stairs and across the station from one platform to another and then have wait a while for the next train (cause the one you wanted just left the moment you arrived). This time we actually lucked out because both trains happened to arrive at the same time and we literally got to step off one train, walk across the short platform, and step onto the next train. That never happens. (At least not for me.)

Once at the Seoul Grand Park stop we exited the empty station right into the park itself. The sun was warm, the breeze was light and the Museum was almost imposing. Seriously, you exit the station by staircase/escalator and at the top of the stairs there is a large path directly to this massive building. It’s the most impressive building I’ve seen as of yet since arriving in Korea. Inside the main building there is a basic science hall, natural history hall, children’s hall, Korean traditional science hall, advanced science & technology hall, science future and fiction hall, and a creation hall. There is also a special exhibition area, a restaurant, and souvenir shop. And that’s just the inside! Outside, throughout the park are different exhibits including an insectarium, an observatory, a planetarium, dinosaur park, wildflower garden and several playgrounds for kids to run around and play on. You could easily spend an entire day here and not see everything it has to offer and we were very excited to see what we could see.

 

 

 

We bought our tickets and decided to start off with lunch. After placing our jackets in the free lockers offered on the main floor we headed up stairs to the restaurant for food before taking in the exhibition halls. The restaurant is very nice and has a variety of foods offered. After we ate we headed to the traditional science hall and as we walked through we noted that unless the display was a larger item there were very few translations. This became more and more apparent as we moved from hall to hall and the more we saw, the more our enthusiasm for the place started to wane. It really was sad because there are so many interesting things to see but unlike art, with no explanation you honestly have no idea what is going on. And let’s be real, science isn’t exactly a place for interpretation. There was a lot of displays that I really would have loved to know what was going on such as the natural history hall and the Science Fiction and Future hall.

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One of the displays in the science fiction and future hall that was discussing possible jobs of the future. I do believe I found my future job: Plant psychology! Although I would have loved to read what the rest of what it said.  I love my green babies and already talk to my plants all the time so this is my calling.

Either way, it was a great day and I’m glad that we took the chance to check it out. Also, as of writing this, I learned they offer English-speaking tour guides for 2,000 won per person. So, we are definitely going back!

Hello, Spring? Are you there?

I can’t believe it’s March already. I feel like February flew by and I really couldn’t be happier. There was a moment of panic for a bit where I had to freak out over the “lost” time but I’m actually really glad because spring is almost here!!!

If you haven’t realized this by now, I’m completely over winter. I’m done with being so cold all the time. Done with the poofy jacket. Done with freezing my face while attempting to walk to check the mail. Just done. And it’s finally starting to warm up!

Well, sorta. While the temperatures are starting to rise, that wind chill is real. Today I went to run errands and decided since it was mildly overcast with the promise of sun I’d walk. Stepping out my door the hallway was actually a little warm so I was really excited.  Walking through the lobby of our building and out the front door I was feeling that warm spring vibe. I had a skip in my step and was ready to get blast my headphones and enjoy a nice long walk. Three steps away from the front door and out of the front patio and that arctic wind slaps me in the face. I was seriously ready to second guess my life choices but went ahead and braved it out.

Despite the freezing wind I did manage to have a good day and got a lot done today. I’m hoping to keep up the productivity this month and get out of the winter slump. I’ve got a couple of adventures planned out this month and some fun projects I hope to complete. Lets see if I can keep this going and get stronger by the time spring gets here for real.

(Almost) Surviving Winter in Korea

Before moving to Korea I did some research on the weather. I took a look at the seasonal averages and thought I’d be prepared.

As you can guess… I wasn’t.

Korean’s winter is typically December through February with the coldest month being January. Temperatures can average between minus six degrees and three degrees Celsius. This was there I took my first wrong step. I’m so used to thinking of temps in terms of Fahrenheit that when I looked up the averages I was reading 21 to 37 degrees. So in my mind I was thinking, that’s doable, I could totally do this. Visiting areas that are prone to snow were not new to me. I once lived a few minutes away from Tahoe for awhile. There was one winter in Texas that was so cold everything froze over. Not to mention the several winters spent going to the mountains for sliding adventures. I could totally do this.

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Lucky us, this year turned out to be the coldest year Korean has seen in 20 years! There were several days where it dropped close to -20 degrees Celsius. That’s three times lower than the average! As you can guess… I wasn’t ready. I spent most of the winter inside our apartment because it was just too cold to leave. Snow jackets and boots were not enough.

Now that winter is coming to an end and the slightest hint of spring is in the air I’m wondering if there was anything I could have done different. Was there more I could have done to starve off the winter boredom and depression? We tried to make the best of what we had, trying out new cafes and still getting out to new areas to explore despite the freezing temps. I’m also very proud of the amount of books I read thanks to all the down time.

Although, I won’t lie about the fact that I can’t wait for this winter to officially end and for some warmth to come back. To get out of this winter funk and start moving around some more without having to done layer upon layer of clothing just to go to the corner store for some extra milk.

 

Sensory Overload

We finally got the chance to go to Insadong to explore.

Insadong is a neighborhood in seoul that is very popular for teashops, art galereies and a great place to shop for souvners. Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jogyesa Temple are within walking distance to Insadong’s main road. From everything I had read it’s great place to go for souviners and arts and crafts.

I was really looking forward to checking out the area and had this image in my mind that it would be a lovely day of admiring art, enjoying some tea, and going window shopping. As always, the expectation did not match the reality.

We woke up in the morning and it was so foggy that we could barely see the railing outside our windows. For a little bit we were worried we’d have to scrap the whole trip because I was paranoid about road conditions to the train station. After a cup of coffee we decided to go ahead and get ready for the day anyway and see if the fog burns off at all. So we did the morning routine and checked the fog a little later. It had definitely cleared up a bit but I was still too hesitant to go to the bus stop. Anthony decided to call us a taxi and we headed out the door only an hour later than we had originally planned.

Once at the train station we picked up our tickets. We still had a little time before our train arrived so we went to the bakery to pick up some breakfast sandwiches. There is this egg and toast dish that they make with thick garlic bread, a slice of ham and a poached egg in the center that I can’t get enough of. Breakfast in hand we headed to the train platform.

Turns out our train was there already and as we stepped off the escalator it started to close its doors.

Ensue running scene with us rushing to our car, breakfast in one hand and bags in the other. Thankfully the doors opened once more and we jumped into the first available one.

It’s never an adventure unless one thing goes wrong.

Once in our train car we took our seats.  Of course our seats weren’t next to each other, they rarely ever are. (I will figure out the system to fix that sooner or later, I swear.) Thankfully I almost always stash a book or something in my bag every time we go out so I was able to read while on the train.

Once we got to Seoul station we got to the subway to head to invading. We’re getting better at the subway system around here where it’s almost seamless for us to pick the correct direction we need to go in.

Arriving in Insadong was interesting. You exit the subway station, walk down the street a little ways and then make a left turn. As soon as you turn you’re hit with a wave of sights, smells, and sounds. We were advised that weekends are the best time to go because that’s when all the street vendors are out and we weren’t disappointed. Vendors with hand crafted goods, food and trinkets were lined along the sidewalk. The shops had tables and stands outside their shops with their wares on display.

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There was an artist painting ona canvas surrounds by pieces of his work and people were stopping to admire. There was a cart with hand crafted journals and another with incense and decorative burners. A shop with boxes upon boxes of handmade ceramic cups and bowls. Across from that was a shop of paintbrushes of all sizes including some as big as myself.

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My senses were being attacked with the scent of sweet waffles and red beans, egg bread,  and fish cake. The street, which had been blocked from traffic, was filled with people walking around, shopping, and vendors. At one point I was so over whelmed it felt like I got sucker punched in the stomach and I just looked at my husband like a deer in headlights. He laughed a little at me and led me into a relatively empty art gallery. The silence and calm was much-needed respite to regather my senses.

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After admiring some art and selecting some pieces to send back home to friends and family we braved the street again. Off the main road are lots of little alley ways where traditional tea shops and restaurants are located. These pathways look almost forgotten in comparison to the crowded main road. We stopped in one place for some tea and snacks. Another location, called TeaStory, was actually a tea shop and mini museum where I was able to purchase some tea to take home with me.

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We didn’t get to see everything before the excitement of the day caught up to us. After dinner and a promise to return soon we headed home. It felt like there was no way to see everything in one day, at least not with the late start we had gotten. Insadong is definitely on the top of my list of favorite places to go, even with the crazy crowds.

 

Full Speed into a Brick Wall

I seem to have bad luck when it comes to setting goals for myself.

January I wanted to do more. I wanted to get out of the house and do some solo adventures while the hubby was on night shift. I also wanted to write more and start my goals for the new year. Well, it’s already two days into February and all I managed to accomplish last month was to clear out my reading list.

The freezing cold temps here in Korea has made it difficult for me to get out much without bundling up so much I can only waddle around. I seriously admire anyone who can live in these environment consistently. I’m sure by next year I’ll be a little more used to it (fingers crossed) but this year is just miserable for me. So I spent the majority of January curled up in the warmth of my home, wrapped in cozy blankets and drinking crazy amounts of tea.

At the end of the month I sat down and made a list of goals I want to accomplish over the next month. I set up a couple challenges for myself and even plotted out a couple of outings for myself that involved indoor activities so I don’t have to freeze to death. Day one was off to a good start. I completed all the errands I had set out for myself to do and went to meet up with some new friends for coffee. Come evening time I was feeling a little drained but passed it off as just being tired from a long day of activity. I went to be early to sleep it off.

I awoke this morning feeling like I got run over by the KTX (the bullet train here in Korea). All the desire to do things but my body having other plans. So here I am, sick and stuck at home whether I want to be or not. I’m really not winning at this active life thing here at all.