Home Our Lives Our Travels Advertise/PR 50 by 50 Home Image Map

Monday, March 31, 2014

How I Got Here {Expat Experience: A Link-Up}

Happy Monday Y'all! 

I hope your weekend was great. Matt and I were able to meet up with a friend of mine from my Hawaii days. We met up in Itaewon- had some delicious food and even better conversation. But now it's back to the grind. :) 

Today is the last installment of the March Expat Experience that Molly put together for us. It's been a great month answering the prompts given and really exploring our expat life. 
{If you missed the first and second weeks of the link up click here and here.} 

Week 3: The Process of Moving Abroad 

For us, the process of moving to Korea was relatively easy. The hardest part for us was deciding where to move to. We knew we wanted Asia, but exactly where, we weren't sure. 

Once Korea was decided upon we just sat back and relaxed- just joking- we freaked out and got stuff ready. It was a little different for us because Matt actually got to Korea three months before me because I needed to finish my teaching contract in Hawaii and finish moving ourselves out of Hawaii. 
(That was probably the most stressful part because moving all of our stuff from Hawaii to Georgia was a pain.) 

Here is the process of how we up and moved to Korea: 

1. Sign the teaching contract
2. Apply for an E2 Visa {You can read all about our Visa Process here.} 
3. Pack 
4. Get to Korea
5. Medical Check {You can read all about my medical check here. } 
6. Immigration Office 
*Just for fingerprints and random stuff. You will need a passport sized photo.* 
7. Alien Registration Card
 *This will be sent to your workplace.*  
8. Done 

Okay- so it seems pretty easy, but it can be really overwhelming. Like what the heck do I pack? 
We each packed two 50 pound suitcases, a small carry on, and a personal item. We had done a bit of research on what they would and wouldn't have in Korea before we started packing for Matt. 

Since Matt was going first, we packed what we thought he would need and then if he couldn't find something- I would ship it or just pack it when I came. 

Here are some things I would pack if I was coming to Korea for the first time: 
1. Medicine- They have pharmacies here, but I've found the medicine to be a bit different. Sometimes not as strong as I want, and sometimes too strong. 
We packed: cold medicine, allergy pills, excedrine migraine, and then stuff for stomach problems- you know just in case. 
2. Deodorant- Just go to Costco and get yourself enough for however long you'll be here. Koreans don't wear deodorant. I have seen deodorant at the foreign market in Itaewon, but it's really expensive and there's not a lot of variety. 
3. Clothes- This is obvious, but I will never find my size clothes here in Korea. So I packed up what I thought would be enough for the year I would be here. I've also ordered stuff from Old Navy a couple of times and had it shipped. Also, don't bring nice clothes because the washers here will destroy your clothes. This tip goes for shoes- if you are bigger than an 8 1/2 bring shoes! 
4. Top Sheet for the Bed- They have bottom sheets, but I haven't found a top sheet since being here. Now- it hasn't killed me, but if it's going to bother you- pack a thing of sheets. (PS- I haven't found good quality sheets at all.) 
5. Personal Medicine- Whatever you are taking bring at least a 3 month supply of it. 
6. Spices- We've been able to find a lot of spices, but somethings they don't have. So I brought a ton of cooking spices with me, and it's been so helpful.
7. Outlet Converters- We bought a couple at Radio Shack, and they are great. We bought a couple here in Korea and they are kinda crappy quality, so I would just pick them up in your home country. Matt recommends getting a transformer converter… whatever that is…
8. Personal Documents and Pictures- Make sure you carry on all your personal docs (marriage license, birth certificates, etc) You'll want tons of pictures of your family around. 

Things Not to Pack: 
1. Towels- We read that Korea wouldn't have big bath towels to buy, so Matt brought a few with him. But they have them. 
2. Tampons- If you are in a bigger city- you can find tampons no problem 
3. Extra Contacts- Just bring your prescription and you'll be fine 
4.  Toliteries- They have western brands of most of these products. You will find shampoo/ conditioner, body wash, lotion, contact solution, razors. They have it all here! 

And I think that's all I have to say about packing. I would make sure everything you are not taking to Korea is somewhat organized and in a safe place back home. There have been a couple things I've wanted my mom to send me, and I'm glad I had everything organized so I knew exactly where to tell her to look for it. 

{Matt at the airport- man was that a hard three months apart} 

I hope this was somewhat helpful. If you have any other questions let me know. 

Linking Up with Molly 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Letters #30

Happy Friday Y'all! 

And just like that March is basically behind us. It seems like Spring is finally here in Korea. Although I'm sure it will be way to hot pretty soon here. 

On to the letters. Really this week was pretty boring, so this will be nice and to the point. 

We did happen to see Captain American on Wednesday, so Dear Captain America, I really had no desire to watch your movie. I had a hard time watching the first one, and really didn't need to see the second. However, my dear husband really wanted to see it and so we went. And I actually loved it. It was a really good movie, and I would probably see it again. Although, I don't know if that's because not a lot of movies come here, or because it was that great. 

Dear Korean BBQ, Like always, you were the perfect end to my work week. Always so delicious and a perfect way to unwind and spend time with my love. I love that we have our own special place we go to each week and that we are regulars. I love that the employees all pretty much know us and always have huge smiles when we walk in the door. 

This week was even more exciting because a 'fight' broke out between a group of guys while we were eating. I say 'fight' out because it was basically two guys holding onto each other while their friends try to pull them apart. But one guy did slap another guy, so that was exciting. 

Dear Cherry Blossom Festival, I am so excited that we will be traveling down south next weekend  for the festival. We will be stopping in Busan for a few hours, and then heading over to the festival. I can't wait to see the cherry blossoms- I hope it looks as wonderful as all the pictures show. This destination was on our Travel Plans for 2014, so I am happy to be crossing places off our list. 


Weekly Inspiration: 

Megan over at Megan Joy Jaunts, shared the Plaza de Espana this week. I have to admit, Spain has never been on my top travel list, but I love reading Megan's stories and seeing all these wonderful places. 

Miho at Wander to Wonder, talks all about the wonderful Hyde Park over in England. I have to admit- this post made me a little jealous. I miss living right next to Hyde Park and being able to wander through it on a daily basis. 

And Casey at The Road Less Traveled shared her amazing experience at the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio in London, and again, I was filled with a bit of jealousy. I can't wait to Harry Potter world to open up in Osaka so I can get a little piece of the HP world. 

I hope y'all have a wonderful weekend! 

Love, Alex 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Final Words On Japan

Well,  I've finally shared all of our Japan vacation with you guys. I have had the best time reliving our vacation these last couple of months. Japan was our first international trip since becoming expats, and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect place to start our wanderlust adventures. 

While I have shared every place Matt and I were able to visit on our four day trip, there are still some things I wanted to mention. I want to talk about the random things that happen while you are on vacation. You know- finding ATMs, getting on busses, hotels, budgets, etc. This post will be a bit lengthy, but it's stuff that I want to share… so bear with.

{Oh Gion} 

 Hopefully, these things will help anyone that is traveling to the Osaka/ Kyoto area of Japan. 

Public Transportation: 

Like Korea, Japan has a pretty amazing public transportation system. (I would even go as far as saying- it is better than Korea's.) On our vacation, we took both the subway and the bus to get around. We avoided taxis because they seemed pretty expensive and we really didn't need a taxi to get to where we needed to. I believe the taxis in the area started at 600 Yen (about $6) if you are interested. 

{The taxis did look pretty cute though} 

So let's talk about the bus. I was really scared to take the bus because I actually hate taking it in Korea. That is how I get to work, but when we go into Seoul- we always take the train. Anyway- in Korea, the bus signs are in hanguel, so unless you can read Korean it's hard to know which stop is yours. That always freaks me out. But in Japan, the buses have the screens in Japanese and English, so it's really easy to navigate. We used the bus a lot on our second day when we went out to Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera. Another thing I love about the buses is how comfortable they were and how smooth the ride was! In Korea, I always get so bus sick because the drivers drive like maniacs, and the roads on my bus route are really bad. But that was not the case in the Kyoto area. 

A one way bus ticket was about 200 Yen, but you can get a day pass for 500. I believe the bus drivers have them, and the city information desks sell them. I'm not sure where else you can get them. I would recommend the day card, especially if you are taking the bus a lot. 

*Bus Tip* You get on at the back of the bus and then exit through the front. While exiting, you also pay. 

{I would recommend finding a subway and bus map. We picked up this guide at the information kiosk at the airport. It had maps of the different areas in Kyoto, maps of the bus and subway, and tons of great information.} 

Subway- This was the form of transit we took the most- other than walking. The subway stations are pretty easy to navigate. Again the signs are in both English and Japanese. Each station is assigned a number, so when you are buying a ticket you just plug in the district and then the station number. (It sounds weird, but after your first time, it gets easier.) Matt and I got confused a couple of times, and the station employees always helped us out. You get these little paperish tickets to use. The ticket prices vary based on how far away you are going. If you get off at a different station than you planned, there are fare adjustment machines to help you. 

One thing that really surprised me was that not all the ticket machines were in English. This made buying tickets a little more difficult, but we could usually figure it out. The larger stations did have the English option, but the smaller ones usually didn't.  Also, the machines weren't as up to date as I would have expected. 


*We took the Kansai Express from the airport to Osaka for about 1,100 Yen per person and it was perfect. It was so easy and worth the extra cost. 

*Subway Tip* There are sections on the platform that you are supposed to line up to get on the subway. (Usually yellow or green) I noticed the Japanese seemed to stick to the queue, unlike in Korea. 


We stayed at the MyStays Hotel in Kyoto. It was about a 10 minute walk to the nearest subway station, and about 25 minutes from the Gion district. I would probably stay in the Gion district if we went again, but the price of this hotel was pretty nice. It wasn't the largest room, but it was perfect for us. The bed was so nice. The bathroom had full size bath products. It was just what we needed. The staff was friendly. The price of the room didn't include breakfast, but we didn't need that. If you are looking for a place to lay your head- this would be a good place to pick.


Okay, I don't know if was just us, but on our second night in Kyoto, we had the hardest time finding an ATM. Our plan was to pull out all the money we budgeted before leaving Korea, however, we forgot, so we only had about $400 on us when we got into Japan. We exchanged that at the airport, and just assumed we would find an ATM later. 

Saturday, we started looking for one in the Gion district. We found two, but neither would accept foreign cards. (We had our Korea card, and two cards from America.) At this point, I wasn't really freaking out because I figured there would be an ATM we could use near the shopping district in Kyoto. That evening we found tons of ATMs, but either they wouldn't translate to English, or they wouldn't accept foreign cards. We tried about 6 different ATMs. At this point, I was freaking out. We had enough money for the rest of our trip- if we really tightened up- but I wanted the money in my hands just in case! We finally found a machine that would take foreign cards, and we were able to take out the money we needed! Such relief! 

We actually ran into a group of American girls that asked us if we knew where a CITI bank was because they were having the same problems. They had tried the machine that worked for us, but it didn't work for them. Luckily, I had seen a CITI bank so we could kinda help them. I don't know if other people have had this problem, but just be aware. I would recommend just getting all your money out before hand. I know that's what we will do in the future! It just never occurred to me that we would have this problem in Japan- we've never had problems like that here in Korea. 


Okay, so I know when I see other people's budgets it really helps me get a sense of what's doable in a certain area. It also really helps me plan. Matt and I are in no ways total penny pinchers, but we do always have a budget to stick to while traveling. Sometimes this budget is less than the average, and sometimes it's more. I budget in terms of days- i.e. I set a dollar amount for each day. While on vacation, I have a notebook to record all spending. Although each day has a dollar amount, I record my spending in categories. Really- you just have to find the system that works for you. 

For Japan, I budgeted $190 per day. Here is what our total budget looked like: 

Osaka/ Kyoto Trip: 4 days, 3 nights 
*Budget includes both myself and Matt* 

Airfare: $831.40 
Bus/Subway/Airport Transit: $124.40
Total:  $955.80 

Hotel: $64 per night 
*All nights in Kyoto 
Total: $192 

All Meals and Snacks: $212 
Average Per Day: $53 
Total: $212 

En Tea: $40
Kinkaku-ji: $8
Kizumdera: $6
Ryozen: $4 
Osaka Castle: $12 
Total: $70

Sweets: $13
Geisha Print: $16.80
Dolls: $56.00
Magnet: $4
Massage: $65.20
Lockers: $7 
Total: $158.60 

*Taking out airfare and our hotel our daily average was $141. $49 under our daily budget. 

Overall Budget: $ 1,588.40 

Now of course, we could have reigned in our miscellaneous spending, but eh what the heck! We still came in under budget. If you want to cut even more costs- you could probably eat a bit cheaper as well. 
If you are looking for another Japan budget- make sure to check out Chelsea's over at Lost in Travels

One last thing before I go- AERO Plaza. Right next to the Osaka Airport is AERO Plaza. And it's a pretty cool place. It has restaurants, a few shops, a hotel, a spa, and quiet rooms for you to use. After Osaka Castle we had about five hours before our flight. But I was looking like this: 

My feet hurt. My back hurt. I was tired and ready to go home. So we went over and hung out at Arrow Plaza. We decided to splurge on a thirty minute back and foot massage to kill some time. Looking back, I wish we would have just rented the quite rooms for a nap, but the massage was pretty cool. Arrow Plaza is a great place if you have some time to kill before your flight. There is a free shuttle bus to take you to the airport when you are ready. And there are lockers for your bags while you are walking around. Matt and I used the lockers at the subway stations a couple times while in Osaka, and I think it's the way to go. We just pulled out our passports and left the less valuable stuff in the lockers. 

Anyway, I hope this way too long post was somewhat helpful. If you have any questions- feel free to ask! 

Happy Thursday Y'all! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Get In My Belly {Travel Tuesday: Food}

Happy Happy Tuesday! 

It's time for another Travel Tuesday, and this week there was a prompt given by the lovely Tina over at Girl Meets Globe. 

The prompt for today is food. This is actually perfect because I really wanted to share some of the food from our trip to Japan. (Surprise- Surprise- I'm still talking about Japan.) 

While on our three day trip to Japan, Matt and I tried some really great food. When we got into Osaka, Matt and I immediately went to Zauo- which is a restaurant that you catch your own fish and then pick how you want it prepared. We had heard awesome reviews and we really wanted to try it. We tried calling for reservations before we left Korea, but we could never get an answer, so we decided to just show up. Unfortunately, they were all booked for the night and for the rest of the weekend. {That just means we have to come back to try it!} 

Honestly, I was really disappointed because I wanted Matt to try this place, and we didn't have a back up plan. We were thinking about going to our hotel, but then I turned and saw this giant crab and knew where we were. Luckily, I had read Mallory's post on food in Osaka and I knew she tried a okonomiyaki place nearby. We were saved! 

We went to Chibo to try okonomiyaki which is like a pancake made of flour, eggs, cabbage, meat and seafood. It's all blended in a bowl, and then cooked on a grill. Luckily, we were able to sit right in front of the grill so we could see everything. We got the Hiroshima Style okonomiyaki set and it came with the Okonomiyaki Dotonbort, Chibo's Salad, Hiroshimayaki Mix (a noodle mix thing), and an omelet wrapped around pork. It was all so delicious. For our first meal in Japan, it set the bar pretty high! For all this food and two cokes we spent about $40. 

The weirdest thing Matt ate on the trip was Takoyaki (octopus balls) and an quail egg. *Notice- I said Matt because I was NOT eating that stuff. No thanks. 

Right before going to Yasaka Shrine- we stopped at a small noodle house. I wasn't the huge fan, but Matt loved it. It was a pretty small place and it was just one man cooking for us, and we were the only ones in the place. I really liked that aspect of the meal. Above you can see the quail egg. Matt just sucked it out.

Takoyaki Stand- I really thought they were just potato balls until I poked around and saw a little tentacle, at which point I handed them over to Matt. He loved them. 

We also ate at a restaurant called Kyosikian along Ponto-cho dori Street which is along the 'river' in Kyoto. There are tons of restaurants along this street. Kyosikian is in the basement of one of the buildings, so you can't see the river that well- but the food is worth not having the view. We got sashimi , grilled fish, and soy beans for about $35. The food was excellent and again we had the place to ourselves. I would highly recommend this place. 

The last place we had dinner at was Oynai, and it was delicious as well. We had sashimi again, gyoza, steak tips, an omelet, and two desserts for $40. So good! 

Overall- our food experience in Kyoto and Osaka was amazing. I'm glad I branched out tried new things, except the octopus. Matt and I usually had a small breakfast, snacked during the day and then had a larger dinner and I really thing that's the way to go. 

Another yummy thing we tried were the Japanese rice based sweets. After our tea ceremony we picked up a pack for about $10 and they were so delicious. We enjoyed snacking on them for the remainder of the trip. 

So what's the weirdest food you've tried? And what's the best? 

Travel Tuesday
{Linking up for Travel Tuesday} 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Osaka Castle {Japan}

Happy Monday Y'all!  
For today's post, I want to share the last place we visited before leaving Osaka. I still have a couple Japan posts I want to share with you, but hopefully they will be done soon.  

Osaka Castle 

Osaka Castle was built in the late 1500s by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The story goes that Toyotomi loved gold and had the exterior of the Main Tower covered in gold accents. This castle was important in a lot of the wars throughout the country, and helped unify the nation. After a fire and some other damage, the castle was reconstructed in 1931. In 1955, the castle was recognized as a Special Historical Site. The inside of the castle is now a 6 story museum. 

You have to pay to get into the museum, but the views from the top of the castle are pretty cool. We checked out the museum, and to be honest I pretty much ran through. Matt really enjoyed it, but I was so tired I just wanted to go to the airport. 

 The walls surrounding the castle. 

Even though I was so ready to go back home, I really am glad we stopped by Osaka Castle. I think if you are in the area- you really should stop here. The park was really nice to walk through and it's free just to see the castle. You only pay to go inside the museum. It's a beautiful castle to see and it's so different from the palaces here in Korea. 

Basic Information
Cost: 600 Yen for museum *Under 15 FREE
Hours: 9:00 - 5:00 {Closed from December 31 - Jan 1}
Location1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 540-0002, Japan
*We took the train and it was really easy to get to. Here is a list of all the options to get there. 
*Lockers are provided for 100 Yen for bags or jackets.* 
{For more information click here

Have you ever been to Osaka Castle? Would you go? 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reflections: Month 7

Happy Sunday Y'all! 

It's pretty unusual for me to post on Sunday, but I really wanted to get this post out there. 
Although my 7th month anniversary of being in Korea was over a week ago, I still wanted to write a reflection. I really like these monthly reflections because they help me see where I am at, what I have learned, and it's a great way to track the time. 

As of March 10th, I have been in Korea for 7 months. The time has really flown by. There are times that I have been really frustrated with Korea. There have been times that I feel so sad that I am not back in Georgia spending time with my family. But for the most part, I am so happy I am here. This was just a dream Matt and I planned, and for some reason, it came true. In the next couple of years, Matt and I will hopefully be adding to our family. We will be starting graduate programs and truly entering the adult world (does anyone else feel like they are still kids? Or is it just me?). If we hadn't taken this jump to Korea- I don't know if we ever would have this opportunity. 

For this reflection, I wanted to join Molly's monthly debate on learning the lingo. This month, the topic question was: If you travel or move abroad, should you learn the language? 

Before moving to Korea my answer was yes. Of course, you should learn the language. How easy it will be once you are living in the country and really immersing yourself in the culture. No hesitation- yes. And when I knew we were moving to Korea- I still thought my answer was yes. 

Fast forward to living in Korea- and ummmm- Korean is flipping hard. And really immersing yourself as an expat is hard. At least for me. I have always struggled with my relationship between my co-workers. Matt and I have like two Korean friends, and their wives are Japanese, so the common language is English. When we do our shopping or eat out, people usually flip to English, or gesture enough that we can get around. 

Which brings me to my next point- learning Korean is not necessary for where we live. Signs are in English. Most people speak enough English. And when Koreans look at me, they do  not expect me to speak the language. For me, it was like the best excuse- I don't need to know this language! I'm saved. 

But I don't want to be saved. I want to challenge myself. I want to learn Korean. My thought is this- if you are living in a country with a foreign language- at least try. Hey, you might not get it. You may leave the country with only basic phrases, but at least you tried. 

In the last month, I have been studying Korean pretty hard. I have learned the alphabet and am getting pretty good at reading the language. (I have no clue what it means, but I can read it!) 


I try to study from  my Rosetta Stone program a couple times a week, and this week my goal is to study an hour a day. I also ask my co-workers a lot of questions. This helps strengthen our relationship, and they really enjoy sharing their language with me. I have a notebook full of my notes, and I try to look over those on a daily basis. I also watch a few Korean dramas, which actually really help. Right now, I am at the start of my language studies, but I can see myself improving. 

When my students say, 선생 I know they are saying teacher and I look over. When I see the word
 모텔on a building I know it means 'Motel'. (PS this literally is just the letters Motel- just written in Hanguel. Motel is motel in Korean.) I can write my name in Hanguel - 알렉스  호 (Alex Ho- which is spelled Allegsu Ho in Romanized Korean.) 

These small steps make me so happy, and they encourage me to keep learning. 

Molly posted a quote from Flora Lewis that says, "Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things." 

I completely agree with this quote. Yes, I know the word for apple, or egg, or girl, or boy, etc. but I also am learning more about Koreans and their language. When I really started studying, I started to understand and respect the people I was surrounded my. They became people that were having conversations with one another, not just people I tuned out because it sounded like noise. (Korean sounds very different than English.) When I first moved here, I hated the way the language sounded. It literally gave me a headache. I thought the women always sounded like they were yelling at each other, but from studying I've learned so much. I love the way the language sounds, and I think that makes me love Korea a little more. Plus, there's no greater feeling than understanding a word that someone said in a foreign language! 

My hope is to be some what conversational before leaving here, but I know I will have to study a whole lot before leaving. I don't think learning another language is for everyone, but at least learn a few phrases when you get to the new country. And I think if you don't learn the language- it doesn't mean you aren't trying to fit in. While language is an important part of the culture, it's not the only way to immerse yourself. 

And that's where I sit on the language issue right now. This last month has really been a month that I've taken the time to study, and I am really enjoying it.

If you want to join Molly's debate over at The Move to America- make sure to #jointhedebate 

So what do y'all think? 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Letters 29

Happy Friday Ya'll! 

Like always, I am happy the weekend is upon us! I have a few things to catch up on and am looking forward to having the weekend to do so. I also may be meeting up with a friend from my Hawaii days this weekend, so I am very excited for that. 

Here are this week's letters: 

Dear Week, You moved oh so slowly, but finally Friday is here. Thank you for being a pretty mellow work week. I can't believe we only have a little over a week left in the month of March. I am telling you guys- the year is moving by fast. {Mom, just think May 2015 will be here sooner than think.} 

And speaking of work, Dear Bizarre Lessons, For real- what were the creators of the book thinking? Like mmmm- what English is necessary for Koreans to know? Oh I know! Outdated Dance moves! Sometimes I love the books because I really don't have to lesson plan, which is a nice break from 'real' teaching, but other times the lessons are just so odd. This week I taught the "Running Man"- "The Shuffle" and the "T-Step". And by teach -I did NOT demonstrate. 

Dear Divergent, I have finally started reading you- even though the movie comes out tomorrow back in the states. My goal is to finish the book by Saturday morning. The movie doesn't come to Korea until April, but I still want to challenge myself and binge read. I am about 25% done with the book (as of 11:42 pm Thursday night) and I am really enjoying it so far. 

Dear Dad, I am so beyond excited for your visit. Now that it is official, I am allowing myself to be truly excited! I can't wait to share Korea with you. I can't even imagine all the stares you are going to get. I look forward to watching you walk around here. 

And we have some exciting news! Dear Tokyo, I can't believe it, but we will be visiting you in a little over two months! Tickets and hotel are booked. Matt and I decided to take a combo birthday trip back to Japan to visit Tokyo. We will be doing one day at Tokyo Disney and the other two will be for exploring the city. It will be a fast trip, but so so worth it. 

And now to my - Weekly Inspiration

This week I loved Mallory's "A Response to an Almost Expat" - she wrote this little advice piece to her sweetheart who is about to embark on the expat journey in Japan. I loved her advice, especially when she says to Be Excited! {Mallory and Mark blog over at Sweet Smores

Sammy at To Days Like This, shares all about her overseas tattoo experiences and really gave me a lot to think about. I don't know if I'm brave enough to get one, but I really enjoyed reading about all of Sammy's experiences. 

PS- If you didn't catch that- Matt and I have extended our Korea stay for another 7 months past the end of my first year contract. We will now be leaving Korea around May of 2015. (At least, that's the plan.) I figured I could announce it on the blog since most of our family and friends know the news already, and if you didn't- SURPRISE! 

Happy Weekend Y'all! 

Love, Alex 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gyeongbokgung Palace {Travel Tuesday}

Happy Happy Tuesday! 

For today's travel tuesday, I'm going to show you a pretty wonderful place that is here in Korea. I know I've been all over the place lately going from the U.K, to Japan, to Korea, and back. But you know- sometimes I just like to shake it up. During Valentine's weekend, Matt treated me to a stay in one of Seoul's nicer hotels, and we spent the weekend exploring around Seoul. One of our favorite places we stopped was at the largest palace in Korea. 

Gyeongbokgung Palace 

Gyeongbokgung {the Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven} was built in 1395 during the Joseon Dynasty and was considered the center of Seoul. During the first Japanese invasion in the late 1500s, the palace was looted and a few buildings were destroyed. The palace was reconstructed in 1867 by the Prince Regent, and he added a few more buildings to the palace grounds. And for a while, all was good. But during the second Japanese occupation in the 1900s, the palace was torn down and the main gate was removed. Since 1990, there has been a reconstruction movement to rebuild the palace to how it was during the Joseon Dynasty. Today there are still areas being worked on, but it is still an amazing site to see. 

 Geunjeongjeon Hall - The Throne Hall- {National Treasure No. 223} Important state functions were held here. 

 This is the seven finger dragon made of gold. I don't know the significance, but it's a pretty amazing piece of art. It's on the ceiling of the main throne room, so make sure to look up when you are taking your pictures. 

Gyeonghoeru- This pavilion is the largest elevated pavilion in Korea. This was used for royal banquets and entertainment. The outer 24 columns symbolize the 24 solar terms that mark particular astronomical or natural events of each year. The pavilion has a great view of the palace and of Mt. Inwangsan to its West. 

I was loving the brick work in this section of the palace. It looked so different from the surrounding buildings. It was so detailed. 

 Heungnyemun Gate Compound - What's so amazing to me is this place is smack in the middle of modern day Seoul. This old palace is surrounded by these skyscrapers. It's so crazy. Plus, it's insane to me how old this palace is. I know a lot of it was restored, but it still dates back to the 1300s. 

On our way out we were able to see the changing of the guards ceremony. We didn't even know this was happening while we were there, but I'm glad we caught it. It was pretty interesting to see. I have some video, but I'll share it with y'all when I do my post on the other palace we saw the same day. 

I love the detail Korean architecture has. The colors and the patterns are so beautiful to me. If you guys are in the Seoul area, I really think this should be on your list of things to see. It's one of the big 5 palaces in Korea and it's a pretty amazing site. 

Basic Information
Cost: 3,00 Won, Children 1,500 Won, 6 and Under FREE
Hours: 9:00-6:00 {Final admission at 5:00}
*June through August extended till 6:30
November through February closed at 5:00 
Location: 161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul {Easy access from Subway line 1} 
*Free Guided Tours are offered in English at 11:00, 1:30, and 3:30 
{I believe- The ceremony is every day, except Tuesday, at 11:00, 2:00, and 4:00 at the main gate.}

*For more information click here.  

Travel Tuesday
{Linking up for Travel Tuesday} 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Reason I Left {The Expat Experience: A Link Up}

Happy Monday Y'all. I hope your weekend was a great one. Matt and I just hung around the apartment and had a nice and relaxing time. I'm already looking forward to next weekend. 

Anyway, it's time for the second week in Molly's Expat Experience link up. 
{Just in case you missed it- Molly blogs over at The Move to America and it's pretty awesome, so you should check it out.}

A couple weeks ago, I talked about an unexpected challenge since moving to Korea. This week the topic is all about why we left, and I'm pretty excited to talk about our reasoning for moving to Korea since I've never really explained it. {PS- This may get a little long.} 

Week Two: The Reason I Left 

After Matt and I were married, we moved back out to Hawaii so we could finish up with our undergrad programs. The greatest thing about going to BYU-Hawaii {other than getting a bunch of leis when you graduate} is it is such an international school. 70 different countries are represented at BYU-Hawaii. While we were out at school, we were surrounded by all these students from all these amazing countries and our wanderlust was sparked. 

I graduated in December of 2011 and then went back and finished my student teaching with a license in secondary education in April of 2012. While Matt was finishing with his program, I started teaching at a middle school in Mililani. It was a perfect scenario  I was able to both support our little family while Matt finished school, and I was able to get teaching experience right out of school. At that point in our lives, we were really content. We were happy with how things were, but we were always looking ahead. When we thought of our future- we came up with a couple of options: 

1. I teach for a second year and Matt apply to a graduate program in Hawaii
2. Move back to Georgia and I teach and Matt go through a graduate program 
3. Move to Florida to teach and Matt go through a graduate program 
4. Move to Asia and teach English 
5. Apply to be in the Peace Corps 

Any option would have been fine. I could work and support us and Matt could quickly get a masters in Social Work. The plan was Matt would go to school- then I would stop working and I would go to school. Financially,  that would have been great. The problem was- it wasn't the adventure we were looking for. I was afraid if we put off option 4 or 5- we would never have the chance to do it in the future. So we decided that grad school could wait, and we started taking the steps to make option 4 or 5 work out. 

After a lot of research and a lot of contemplation on our part, we decided teaching in Asia was the best plan for us. We made that decision in December of 2012, and started making the plans right away. We chose Asia for a couple of reasons 1. We had a lot of connections because of the university we attended 2. We would be able to save the most money and 3. Matt is half Chinese/ Japanese so we wanted to be able to explore that side of his ancestry. 

We would have been cool with Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Korea- I just wanted a place in Asia that was more modern and a little more Western. I had a roommate in my pre-marriage days that lived in Korea and loved it, so I was really open to that idea. My professors through the School of Education had contacts in Hong Kong, so that's were I thought we would end up… However, I just casually mentioned our plans to a Korean friend at church and he happened to know a director of a school here and then bam we had jobs. It was actually really easy for us because our friend helped us out so much. By April of 2014 (about a day after Matt graduated), we had a signed contract for Matt to start June 1.  

And we never looked back. Okay, at times I feel nervous because we will both be starting our graduate programs at the same time when we get back, but I am really happy we jumped into teaching overseas. If I'm being honest, sometimes I really hate the teaching part. Teaching here is quite different than teaching back in the states. But then Matt and I go explore some really cool thing and it makes it all worth it. 

This was a big sacrifice and a big change from our lives in Hawaii. We miss our families a lot. We miss the comforts of home. I wish we could be going to school at different times. But I am so thankful we have this opportunity. This is such a great experience and I really wouldn't change anything. We will only be in Korea for another 13 months, and I want to take advantage of every opportunity we have. 

If you are thinking about the expat life- here are few tips. 

Helpful Hints When Thinking About Becoming An Expat: 
1. Have a backup plan- Sometimes plan A doesn't work out. Shoot sometimes B and C don't work out. Always have a back-up just in case. Matt and I really felt the Peace Corps was perfect for us, but the more research we did the more we didn't feel it was the right fit. Luckily, teaching in Asia was our back-up, and Matt applied to schools in Georgia just in case, and just just in case- I didn't terminate my teaching contract in Hawaii until I signed a contract for Korea. 
2. Do Your Research- Make sure you know what you are getting into. Try to know the country you are planning to move to. Figure out what you should bring from home. Know your options. Nowadays, there is so much information out there- it makes the research a lot easier. 
3. Really Take Your Internal Temperature- Try to really think about how you would feel. Ask yourself questions about the move. How do you feel trying new things? Are you flexible? How do you feel being surrounded by a different language? What is a squatty potty? Can you travel home on your visa? Are you picky about food? The biggest question I asked was- Can I live without seeing my family for a year? Regardless- if you are moving to an English speaking country or a country in Southeast Asia or South America- there is going to be culture shock. You have to really know yourself and what you can handle before jumping into the expat life. 

I am so happy we have this opportunity, and I'm really happy I finally shared our story. Sorry if this got a little long winded. If you have any other questions for us, please let us know. 

{Linking up with Molly