Being Kind to Myself

I read A LOT about self improvement, self esteem, self love, self care, and the like. This is mostly because a year and a half ago, I was not taking very good care of myself. It was pretty standard for me to spend an entire weekend (which for me could be as many as four days because the organization I worked for only offered services Tuesday through Thursday) migrating from bed to couch back to bed, getting up only to pee or when it became absolutely necessary to find something to feed myself. I was, in short, extremely depressed, and every year for many years, it got worse.

An exact likeness. (Photo credit: Copyright All rights reserved by Jennifer Kehl)

An exact likeness.
(Photo credit: Copyright All rights reserved by Jennifer Kehl)

Then, I changed one huge variable in my life, and I realized how much I was hurting myself by living that way. I began to read advice blogs with a central focus of being really, really kind to, and taking really good care of yourself. (Paging Doctor Nerdlove and Captain Awkward are my favorites.) And, their wisdom in tow, I began to come back to the world. It came in really small steps. I began writing again. I began spending time with friends and family. I spent time reading instead of watching full seasons of television shows. I started walking and hiking.

And eventually, I came here to Korea. I wanted to develop myself more than staying my small hometown would allow. Part of it was escape–the trappings of my old life were all around me back home–but mostly it was just that there was so much in the world, and I was experiencing only this minuscule piece of it. I had wanted to travel for years, and, finally, I had the opportunity.

Once in Korea, developing new habits was pretty easy–my entire life had been shaken up, so I could mold my new situation into whatever I wanted it to be. I started just DOING THINGS. Lots of things–learning guitar, writing, singing, dancing, spending weekend nights at bars with new friends. I felt like I had a pretty good hold on my depression as well. Sure, these things in addition to my 40 hour per week job and by 2 hour daily commute were taking a lot of time and wearing me out, but I was pretty good about sleeping and waking up and keeping at it.

Gradually, though, my schedule, the stress of being in a foreign country where EVERYTHING is just a little bit harder than it is where you came from, just a little bit harder than it should be, and the feeling that this place is not and will never be my home became very difficult to deal with. Finally, I had a moment of difficulty with my partner whom I live 5 hours away from, making things challenging at the best of times, and everything sort of broke. This break coincided with my vacation from teaching, and I can’t decide if that was a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, it gave me some time to deal with what was happening. On the other hand, it gave me the chance to fall into some really bad depression habits.

Hello old friend. ( Photo credit: Some rights reserved by kurafire:

Hello old friend.
( Photo: Some rights reserved by kurafire:

Now, I am climbing back out of that hole AND trying to fix some things I’ve been letting slide for weeks.

First three orders of business:

1) Exercise 15 minutes in the morning 3 times per week. (Which was quickly amended to a specific number of squats and lifts to my toes plus stretching, nearly all of which can be accomplished while I brush my teeth or shower.)

2) Eat breakfast 4 out of 5 weekdays.

3) Drink lemon water and consume a tsp of maca root powder every morning.


I’m working up to doing real exercise, which is something I’ve always needed to do more of. Even 10 minutes of cardio a day improves your mood and your overall health. I expect that when I get to where I’m doing actual cardiovascular exercise, I will have more energy throughout the day and sleep better at night (which is going on the list next).

Eating is good for you. Eating in the morning helps you throughout the day. ‘Nuff said. I’m pretty sure this is one of those things everyone knows and no one acts on.

The lemon water and maca powder are efforts to clear up my skin. I don’t wear much makeup, and I want to feel good about my face when I look in the mirror; sometimes that is hard with lots of giant zits. My “witch doctor” friend back home suggested both of these to me ages ago, but I never succeeded in making them habitual. It’s time to start. (Plus it’s really easy to combine with the breakfast thing.)

I have a list a mile long (okay a page front and back with tiny script) of things I would like to improve. But, I’m breaking them into small achievable steps. I want to feel that chemical reward, that dopamine rush to the brain, each time I meet one of my objectives. Like every time I beat a level in Super Mario as a kid and then thought “one more time!” and looked out the window to find it was dark outside and everyone had gone to bed.

I’m recording everything in a journal and reporting it via Facebook to my friend, The Stumpy Giraffe, back home who is also working on self improvement. Gradually, these things will become habits, and I won’t have to work so hard to maintain them. Then, I’ll add new things. I’ll have pages of front and back tiny script things that I am doing to take care of myself.

I will fail along the way, but when I do, I’ll just start over. Or adjust my objectives and try again. I’m going to be really kind to myself as I work to be really kind to myself.

I want to feel good. But mostly, I want to feel like feeling good isn’t so much work!

Someday, maybe it won’t be.

(Thinking, I too would like to form better habits/achieve goals? This article explains the approach I’m taking pretty effectively, and the blog it lives on has lots of good advice about forming positive habits:

Dear Friend: Be Kind to Yourself

Last week, I started a new plan/initiative/pact with my friend The Stumpy Giraffe to support each other in taking better care of ourselves. Not long after the new year started, I got a message from her, a panicked sounding message about how she felt about her body, a desperate reaching out for someone to listen or relate or tell her to quit buying into that bullshit she’d been listening to–probably a bit of all three. At the time, I was also not in a very good place (post on that to come), and I proposed that we work together, using each other as support to set and work toward health goals that would make us feel better about ourselves.

She told me she really wanted to fit into a certain sized pair of jeans. I suggested instead that, “it should be more of a focus on feeling good about yourself no matter what size you are. Let the size thing be secondary to feeling healthy and liking yourself.”

And then my dearest friend said something that broke my heart:

“I just have no idea what it would take to like myself.”

It just about made me cry that my charming, funny, smart, caring, crafty, BEAUTIFUL friend not only didn’t like herself, but had no idea how to even start to do that.

I know depression. There was a time in my not too distant past that I felt like it was hopeless to want things for myself. That I must being doing something wrong or all the things wrong to deserve the feelings I had. I thought, who the hell am I to have opinions, to be here doing this job, teaching this class, participating in this conversation, taking up this space, this time, this person’s attention? I made myself very, very small. But through it all, there was one tiny thread holding me together–the belief that there was something somewhere in me that was worth preserving. No matter how much I hated the things I had let myself become–passive, obedient, timid, scared–I knew there was still something there to like.

This feeling is foreign to me.

Friend, this morning, I read a blog post you wrote several months ago which laid your feelings out quite clearly. I wish I had been following it more closely. I’ve been away, and I haven’t noticed the pain you’ve been suffering. I haven’t been there to hold your hand or tell you jokes or just listen to you bitch and yell about how unfair it all is while you try to work through it. I should have been there, and I am so sorry that I wasn’t.

Friend, I can’t even imagine how you are feeling right now, how you’ve been feeling, what it is to not see beauty in yourself. To be honest, I have a hard time even grasping the concept because I see so much beauty in you.

Let’s set your body aside for a moment because you are not your body, it is merely a part of who you are. Friend, you radiate love and compassion and generosity. I have never met someone (aside, perhaps, from my own mother) who cares about the people in her life quite the way you do. You do little things every day to let those people know they are cherished, from art projects with your kids, to checking in on your mom when she is sick, to goofing around with your husband in the kitchen while you make dinner, to sending your overseas friend a screen shot from your phone of an inside joke you share.

AND you do big things, huge, life changing things, for your people when you can. You stay home to take better care of and pay more attention to your kids. You live in your mother’s house to help her financially and to make sure she isn’t alone. You unflinchingly and unhesitatingly gave me a place not only to live, but a place in which I was welcomed as part of the family when I needed somewhere to go and people to care for me.

You are funny. Maybe not in a way that everyone gets, but in a way that draws on your personal experiences with people, finding humor in your shared experiences. Friend, the laugher you have brought me (and other members of my family throughout the years) is beyond value.

Friend, you are a smart, critical thinker. You pay close attention to the world around you. You love deeply, you live wisely, you give of yourself without worry or pause.

And Friend, all of that is housed in a body that rocks. You are physically beautiful. You have stretch marks and acne and more fat on your body than you’d like and hair that you’re never quite satisfied with, but we all have that. Friend, I wish you could have been with me at the public bath; I wish you had seen the dozens of women I did who are flawed in various ways as you are, as I am, as everyone we know is, all hanging out in their bodies and nothing else, unashamed.

Friend, I wish you could see you the way I see you, the way your husband sees you, the way random people on the street see you. We do not see the flaws, we see the person. We see a woman, sometimes happy, sometimes tired, sometimes enraged, sometimes baffled; we see her smile, laugh, cry, and we do not think: that fat woman with the acne and the bad hair cut is crying. We think, that woman looks sad. I hope she will be okay.

Friend, I hope you find the strength to be kind to yourself. Whatever you may think or feel, you deserve kindness. I wish for you that one day you will look in the mirror and realize that you like what you see, that a whole person is looking back at you–she isn’t perfect, but she’s perfectly likable, lovable even. It’s time she got the love from you she deserves. In the meantime, she does have my love–maybe it will grown and develop with her. Maybe it will bring her into the light.


EDIT EDIT: I did my first spoken word reading in Korea last night at a bar in KSU called Cafe Radio. It was so great to be back in front of a microphone reading my words again. When I was there, I was surprised by how much I had missed the concept of reading poetry in general. Of course, I miss Barley Rhymes and Hops on Birch, because they are populated and run by the best people in the world.

As it turns out, though, I also miss just sharing my work. I miss having a reason to put poetry together. I miss the bravery it takes to stand up in front of people (beer in hand, of course) and lay everything bare, to be open, to say here I am–well, part of me–take me or leave me.

WordZ Only gave me the opportunity to do that again. I’m looking forward to attending many more events in the future, and writing a lot more because of it.

Tell me what you think of my reading in the comments!

EDIT: Nick was actually featured reading this poem in Episode 3 of Barley Rhymes’s web series! Yay! Check it out:

I don’t really fit here.

Korea is beautiful. The ocean, the mountains, the forests… I see amazing, beautiful things everyday. But I don’t fit. I think maybe there are places where you feel immediately at home, as if you always should have been there, and there are other places that you merely exist in, no matter how much they have to offer. For me, Busan is the latter. There is nothing wrong with this place, but it’s just so very far from the person I am.

I wrote a poem on this theme, my first in quite a while, and I wanted to share it here with you all. (My brother also read it at the best spoken word poetry EVER, Barley Rhymes! You should definitely check out their web series. Nick doesn’t appear, but tons of other great poets do!)



There are birds here,
black and white,
that look like mockingbirds.

A thin, dark-haired woman,
smiles, wrinkling the corners of her narrow eyes.
Every morning she tells me
about something beautiful.
Today, she says
that when a Korean hears the song
of the black and white birds,
she will know
good luck is coming.

I step out of her car
and the bird we’ve been watching
picks insects
from between blades of grass–

In the hills behind my school building,
there are dozens of tiny farms.
One day, I stand on a road and watch.
A man squats over a row of cabbage
while the birds
fly in arcs from field to forest
above his head,
landing first on green house,
then rooftop,
then nesting in the nearby trees,

The sun sinks and their black bodies are silhouetted
against the grey and pale pink sky’s
dimming light.

Sixteen birds on a wire
turn their backs to my bus as it passes.
If they are singing, it is a sound
I don’t hear.

Are you mocking me,
bird in the grass
with your beak too full of bugs
to speak?

Or do you know
I’ve already had my share of luck,
enough to bring me here
to a country road
where you shower a man with your song,
to a setting so pastoral,
it seems pulled from a painting
in a history book,
removed from time
and set here
on this hill
just far enough from the highway
for the song birds to stay.

One evening, I walk through woods.
My path winds its way
around houses with crumbling concrete walls
that were once washed in brilliant white,
and then between fences
built to keep farms
and farmers in,
and then between clumps of bamboo shoots
and trees with fall reddened leaves.

Among the farm plots
sit small shacks, of plastic sheeting
placed against itself at right angles.
From one shelter,
across the ravine,
I hear saxophone notes.
They follow one another slowly,
then a few burst forth
all at once,
unable to endure the wait,
to sit back in a man’s breath
while the others
ring out clear,
in the cool air,
building a melody that settles
on foreign ears,
ears that are deaf to all language but this.

The notes rise and fall
and drag from her a sweet sadness.
She thinks of her home
and she smiles and cries all at once.
The notes penetrate her chest
and massage her heart
until its beats slow,
fill her lungs until her breath
comes deep
and low.
Her eyes close.

She stands there,
her non-conforming blonde hair,
her clothes that aren’t right,
her voice only capable of forming words
that don’t belong here,
and she listens.

The notes sweep up the hillside and break
against the edges of the ravine,
like water over the spillway of a dam.
The melody surrounds her
until she is no longer separate
from this country, from this world,
until she is no longer a woman
among the trees and
the breeze and
the sound.
She is sound.
She is breeze.

She opens her eyes
and a bird that’s not a mockingbird
flies silently by.

My luck has all been spent,
she thinks,
chest tightening,
eyes closing.

Alone in the forest,
slow saxophone tones
carry her home.

The Word of the Day Is: Vulnerability

UPDATE: I linked you below to the Barley Rhymes Facebook page because they’re YouTube site was unavailable, but it’s back! Watch Barley Rhymes Episode One here!

I started out my morning reading this post on my favorite blog, Paging Dr. NerdLove, and he hit on a topic that’s been on my mind quite a bit recently. NerdLove’s piece is skewed–necessarily given his audience–toward how being vulnerable is a boon to your dating life, but underlying the how to get better with women premise of the article is woven a complicated story about the myriad ways that vulnerability affects our relationships with others and with ourselves.

I’ve been thinking specifically about vulnerability and performance, because I have plans to do A LOT of performing, both in very public, on-stage kind of ways, and in more private, among my friends sorts of ways. A while back, I saw a TED talk by Amanda Palmer (one of my pop culture heroes) called, “The Art of Asking.” This talk focused on developing close personal relationships with your fans and allowing those connections to fund your art as opposed to the more traditionally corporate way of making money via art by signing with a label and so on. The talk intrigued me in a number of ways. I was employed by a non-profit at the time and was very interested in how its themes crossed over with and might be applied to asking the community to support my organization. But perhaps what hit me the most, and the reason that it comes to mind for me many months later, was Palmer’s emphasis on vulnerability and connection.

“The perfect tools aren’t going to help us,” Palmer claims, “if we can’t face each other and give and receive fearlessly.” I love that language, and that idea–connection with other human beings is giving fearlessly, receiving fearlessly.

Maybe I like it because I spent many years doing everything I could to be invulnerable. Because I spent many years afraid. I was prone to trying to show just how unflappable I was even as a kid, and then I spent a good long time dating a man who controlled me, in part by invalidating the pieces of myself that I exposed to him, so I conditioned myself to keep–well, myself–pretty well under wraps. Around that same time, though, although it terrified me in some ways, I found that I actually really enjoyed being on stage. I gave a talk at my college’s undergraduate symposium/benefit concert (about connecting with people actually…it’s been a long running theme in my life), and I sort of loved it.

And here is a picture of the invulnerable ocean. (Mostly because I totally failed to post any pictures before like I said I would...)

And here is a picture of the invulnerable ocean. (Mostly because I failed to post any of the other pictures I said I would.)

As I gradually started to rejoin the world, I found myself more and more interested in developing the part of myself that got such a thrill from putting myself out there, eventually on stage. I began dancing in public, singing karaoke, and reading poetry at my favorite bar. (Shout out to Barley Rhymes and their excellent new film series!) I talked to one Barley Rhymes audience member once who told me that she couldn’t do what I had done; she couldn’t make herself so vulnerable on stage. I knew where she was coming from, because I was scared every time I did it. As Dr. Nerdlove puts it, “Vulnerability is about willingly, even deliberately, opening yourself up to rejection, to judgement and humiliation.” Those are pretty valid things to be afraid of.

At the same time though, when you get up on a stage (or step onto a dance floor, or speak up about in a crowd, or sing aloud), you are saying to the world, I’m here, and I’m not ashamed of it. Some of the people watching or listening will judge you; some will reject you. You might say or do something humiliating. You might fail. Then, when you do that thing anyway–when you willingly expose deeply personal parts of yourself, all that potential failure and judging and possible bad stuff just sort of falls away. Maybe you do fine. Maybe you make a huge mistake (hell–I’ve seen countless videos of Amanda Palmer, ROCK STAR, stopping mid-show because she screwed something up, but then she just laughs it off, picks back up and keeps going). Either way, you let yourself be yourself in the world–you let people see you.

Not everyone needs a stage to do this, of course. There are plenty of intimate conversations that have the same effect. Even the fiction I’m currently writing, even this blog post, expose me to your judgement. But, I’m getting to the point where I’m interested in sort of the next level of human connection. The one where I stand in front of a crowd people and become open to their judgement. Maybe it’s an over correction after doing my best for so long not to have a presence. I want them to see me. I want them to feel like, in a way, they know me. And I want to know them.

Here, in this new place, I’ve picked up some hobbies, that I am planning to use to further my education in being vulnerable…and reap the benefits of the confidence and sense of self it gives me. I am learning to play the guitar. And while I’m doing in because it is just a really good way for me to spend my time (I’ll likely post another time about that…), I am also doing it with an eye toward performance. My goal is to be good enough to perform at an open mic night by the time my birthday rolls around in February. I think I can get there–I won’t know many songs, but all I really need is one!

I’m also singing with a group, which will improve my open mic performance, but also gives me a broader range of musical skills, especially when it comes to harmonizing and connecting with other musicians. I’m still getting used to sharing my voice with others. I had a sort of confidence crushing moment years ago that I’m really working to overcome, so using my voice at all is a huge level of vulnerability for me. Singing with this group is a good conditioning for getting me ready to sing on stage.

Additionally, I’m joining a group of newbie burlesque dancers. I’m looking forward to the kind of control and command of my body that dance will give me. I’m also looking forward to participating in a performance that allows me to communicate that I not only to I have a presence, but also a body and a sexuality, and I’m not ashamed of any of them.

I hope that in communicating those elements of myself, I am able to leave things open for a reciprocal exchange–that by saying hello people, this is me, I will open the door for others to authentically share themselves with the world as well.

Korea for me is turning out to be a place where (at least in my off-time) I am much less prone to letting life happen to me, and much more ready and willing to take charge of it. I am becoming an agent in my own experiences. I am choosing to be vulnerable. And I feel stronger and more capable than I ever have.

Jessica lives her life that happens to be in Korea: A Blog Repurposed

Hi Everyone who’s keeping tabs on me. Long time, no post! I have a thought about how I might be more motivated to give you more, though…

Here is a picture of a bunch of flower pots in my neighborhood that just showed up one day. Unrelated to this post, but they are pretty.

Here is a picture of a bunch of flower pots in my neighborhood that just showed up one day. Unrelated to this post, but they are pretty.

When I started this blog, I had this idea in my head that it would be all about me experiencing KOREA! I would write about this cool thing that I did in KOREA, talk about how weird it is that people do whatever thing in KOREA, help my friends and family back home get insight into what my KOREAN life is like, and so on. This seemed obvious to me because I’M LIVING IN KOREA!

As it turn out, though, living in Korea is a lot like living anywhere else. The new things I’m doing now that I’m living away from my home are not KOREAN things, they’re just things that happen to be possible because I’m not at home. I think some of them are indirectly related to being abroad and spending my time with a lot of other people who are also living outside their home countries, but some of them are just because I like to do things and I have more opportunity here than I did back home.

Also, I’m having trouble writing recaps of my experiences. I find I don’t have a ton to say about most of them. I went hiking. It was great. The ocean is beautiful. Just doesn’t make the best blog post.


So, since this is my blog, I’m changing the rules. This will no longer be a blog about KOREA! It will be a blog about whatever happens to be on Jessica’s mind at the moment, much of which will be colored by the fact that she lives in Korea now. I think this change of scope will yield more posts because I’ll actually be writing about the things that are on my mind instead of trying to find something sufficiently drenched in foreignness to write about.

(I also will try to get on sometime this weekend and post some pictures for you guys, ’cause I have A LOT that just haven’t made it up yet.)


At present, I am participating in NaNoWriMo, and I don’t have a lot of writing time and energy left over after trying to write roughly 1500 words every… single… day, so it still may be a while before you see a post with some real content in it. But, I have a lot of thoughts, and I do want to get around to sharing them with you.

Be well, everyone!

Being a sand mermaid…

There are a lot of fantastic things about living in Korea. The beach being SOOO close to my house is one of them (and the temperature of the water here in October is another–still super fun to swim in!).

But even better than those superficially good things is this: I can do anything I want in Korea.

Okay… not anything exactly. I still can’t fly (unless I just happen to fall and miss the ground one day like Arthur Dent, but since I don’t have any missing luggage to be distracted by, I find that somewhat unlikely), I can’t eat fire, I can’t really do anything that would make my school look bad, causing me to lose my job and get kicked out of the county, but that’s not exactly what I mean. At home I was a certain person, people expected me to act a certain way, to do certain things, to be the person they knew me to be. I liked that person–or more accurately, by the time I left, I had learned to like that person and was working on making some minor adjustments to the parts I liked a little less.

But the rules for the person I’m supposed to be were left somewhere back in the states–probably at the airport in California. Now being different, pursuing different things, having different priorities is not only acceptable, but a really easy thing to do, because I don’t have everyone I’ve known my entire life here expecting things of me. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t necessarily think those expectations are always bad. Having people in your life who care about you and what you’re doing with yourself is a definitively positive thing. (And since my readers are mainly those people, let me just say–thank you all so much for the support and caring and expectations you’ve so far had for me.) But having a template version of yourself as defined by everyone around you can make it extra difficult to make a change even when that change is going to be good for you, even when it’s something you may really need.

Becoming mermaid

Becoming mermaid

Here I find myself just doing things–not harmful things, not dangerous things, just things that I otherwise probably would have hesitated over. So, yesterday I was a sand mermaid. I rode on the back of some Korean guy’s jet ski. I ate Indian food. A few weeks ago, I went to a club. A month ago, I bought and started learning to play guitar. Many of the spontaneous things I’ve been doing are not specific to Korea–I could buy and learn to play a guitar anywhere, eat Indian food anywhere, ride on a jet ski anywhere with a beach. But I’m here, and I’m alone, and I don’t feel like I’m being monitored in the same way I was in the small town I grew up in (although I am… Korea has cameras EVERYWHERE). This lack of watchful eyes gives me the chance to do things–things that I might not follow through with, things that I might screw up, things that I might turn out to hate–and to try them all without worrying what people will think of me for trying…or what they will think of me for failing.

My world opened up a lot when I started living it for myself and with my happiness as the priority. Here in a new place it has opened even further. I miss things about home–especially the people there, but I like the person I am able to be here–the person it is easy for me to be here. I hope to take some of her with me when I go back to my country.

Day One in Haeundae

I wrote this post at the beach, my first day in my new place. I had no internet then, and so I’m just now getting around to posting it. That day was fantastic. I was told by my co-teacher that the ocean was a 15 minute walk away and as soon as she left me on my own, that’s exactly where I went. I got close to the ocean and I just knew it was there, right on the other side of those buildings, if I could just get past them. And then, I turned the corner and there it was.

It was beautiful.

It was beautiful.

Anyway, here’s the original. There are some additional photos at the end, too!

I think this might be the best place in the whole world.

It's getting to be evening, and I hear guitar music and ocean waves.

It’s getting to be evening, and I hear guitar music and ocean waves.

My life was such shit in so many ways a year ago, and today, I stood on the beach on the verge of tears because I can’t believe how amazing this place is. I feel like I’m getting paid back for living in that hell for so long. I know that’s not really how the world works—people don’t always get what they deserve (good or bad), so I’m going to try to get everything I can out of this experience while it lasts.

I’m not religious, but I attended a church service with my mom just before I left. There was on prayer in particular that began a few simple words, words I never want to forget. Those words keep running through my head now, because at this moment they are perfect (please set them to a background of ocean waves, a man playing guitar and singing in Korean, and the distant voices of people talking and laughing for full effect):

Thank you for this day.

Thank you for this life.

More photos from day one:

Not the most flattering picture of me ever... I was very tired, but look--I'M ON THE BEACH!

Not the most flattering picture of me ever… I was very tired, but look–I’M ON THE BEACH!

I got there late enough that the sun was setting, so the beach looked like this. Perfect timing.

I got there late enough that the sun was setting, so the beach looked like this. Perfect timing.

Most of the beach is sandy, but the far end has all these moss covered rocks. I am a born rock hopper and had to get a piece of that action, the lady in the right side of this shot saw me fall on my ass on the slimy rocks and looked extremely worried about me--I tried to reassure her, not very successfully with the language barrier that I was okay before walking away. Embarrassment knows no language barriers!

Most of the beach is sandy, but the far end has all these moss covered rocks. I am a born rock hopper and had to get a piece of that action, the lady in the right side of this shot saw me fall on my ass on the slimy rocks and looked extremely worried about me–I tried to reassure her, not very successfully with the language barrier that I was okay before walking away. Embarrassment knows no language barriers!

Apparently there is a designated "zone" for foreigners. Wouldn't want them mixing with the general populace or anything--who knows where they've been!

Apparently there is a designated “zone” for foreigners. Wouldn’t want them mixing with the general populace or anything–who knows where they’ve been!

Update: One Month in Busan (or the first time I’ve manage to make time to work on this blog since living in Korea)

I’ve been at my school for one month now, and it’s time to do some blogging. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get this thing updated—I know a lot of you back home have been waiting to hear from me, but it’s taken quite a bit of adjustment to get to this point. In any case, I’m here now, and I’m going to try to post regularly from here on out. You can also expect to see some posts that fall out of chronological order, because while I wasn’t posting, I was actually writing, and I still want to get some of that stuff up, so you can get a sense of what it was like for me on—say—my first day in my neighborhood.

The view from my bus stop. My apartment building is just to the left of this picture.

The view from my bus stop. My apartment building is just to the left of this picture.

So, one month in, here’s where I stand:


  • Friends made: about 400,000
  • Friends who live within an hour of my place: 0
  • Times I’ve seen Ryan (my boyfriend, and the only person here who I knew before I left): 3
  • Hours of travel to see Ryan or vice versa: 5 and a half


Pretty waterfall in Ulsan near Gajisan--some advice: DO NOT walk up the road to get to it; take a cab.

Pretty waterfall in Ulsan near Gajisan–some advice: DO NOT walk up the road to get to it; take a cab.

  • New hobbies acquired: 1 (bought a guitar!)
  • Hours of guitar practice: 15-20 (songs learned: no complete ones; songs written: one mostly done—because I will not let lack of skill get in the way of creativity!)
  • Korean words/phrases learned: about 20 on a good day (language is a process!)
  • Korean words/phrases actually used in conversation with Koreans: maaaaybe 10
  • Good beers consumed: zero, but I read about some good bars that I’ll be trying soon!
  • Bad beers consumed: too many to count
  • Hangovers: really, only one…a bit surprising, actually
  • Hikes: one not too pleasant 3 hour walk down a road in direct sun; pretty waterfall at the end, though
  • Nights out in Busan: 1 bar/club hangout (see hangovers above)
  • Days at the beach: 3! I love the beach!


  • Co-teachers: 2
  • Teachers at my school who seem to like me and talking to me: most of them (there are 8 full-time, but I think a few more when you count after school)
  • Students: about 100
  • Students whose names I remember: 1 for sure—there are a handful of others who if the teachers are talking about them, I know to whom they are referring, but whom I can’t remember off the top of my head yet
  • Grades taught: 6 (Kindergarten, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th), plus one for the teachers
  • Classes per week: 22
  • Lesson plans per week: about 13-15 depending on the week

So, that’s the overview. How do I feel about it? Most days really good. It’s so great to be away from the trap of a predictable and unchanging life back home. So great to be experiencing bigger things than myself and the small little cavern of the world I had carved out for myself. So enlightening to see and hear how other people live and experience the world around them…

But, on tired days, like today, I miss the stable and predictable life I had back home. I miss my friends, my family. I miss the sense that I was building something or working toward something with my life. Things here are so transient for me and everyone around me (every foreigner anyway), that I can’t help but feel like I am passing through this year and this country like a ship through water or a plane through air. I can never stop; if I do I will drift, or worse, crash. When I’m gone, everything behind me will be EXACTLY as it was before—I am barely even making a ripple now.

It’s not so bad really, but the life I’m used to is one of scaffolding. Everything I did—every job I worked, every social interaction I had, every decision I made—all of it contributed not only to the life I was living, but to the life I would live, the life I could live. (I guess that’s what having small town roots and a small town life is.)

I left because I was tired of that sort of building. It was too much pressure. And when I realized that the thing I’d built and tried to call life, was broken, was something I barely fit into and didn’t want, I couldn’t stay. I needed to be somewhere and do something where nothing would stick for a while.

I got my wish, and I’m so happy that I’m here, that I’m doing what I always wanted to, that I am lucky enough and privileged enough and smart enough and driven enough to get this opportunity, to experience this part of life that I could never get any other way. Not from television, not from books, not from stories other people told, not from travelling as a tourist.

But today, I’m tired. Today, I really miss the easy, predictable, stable life where I could stop for a moment with both my feet on solid ground. Today, I don’t want to think about everything, I want to stop, to rest, to breathe.

More and cheerier posts to come soon, I promise!

Annyeonghi Gyeseyo (Goodbye) from a TLC Staff Member

My goodbye on Think Literacy–The Literacy Center’s blog.

think literacy

by: Jessica Clark

Hello everyone—Think Literacy is back after a bit of a break. Summer closure plus a mountain of work has kept me away, but we’re back! Before we get into the meat of this post, a little housekeeping:

As of August 9th, I will be done working for The Literacy Center and no longer in control of this blog. Jenelle Caines, our Program Manager, will be taking over as the manager of Think Literacy. More info on Jenelle, from Jenelle, a little later.

When I leave, The Literacy Center will be reducing its number of staff members to only two. This may mean changes in the frequency of posts that appear on this blog, so be ready for some possible changes.

Finally, we need contributors! If you are a Literacy Volunteer for TLC or elsewhere, if you are involved in adult literacy in the Flagstaff community…

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