Same Same but Different

Same same but different. I heard this quote while we were in the Philippines this summer. A common phrase in Thai culture, it essentially means, “yeah, I mean, they are kind of the same, but also kind of different.” When comparing the U.S. and Korea, this quote could not be more perfect.

We have only been in Korea for three weeks, but already we are noticing how things are kind of like the U.S. And then the next moment, I find myself thinking, “Wow, I’m DEFINITELY not used to this.” Let me give you some “same same but different” examples.

Education: The first five minutes of the first day of school. Every teacher knows this can be a make or break moment. Well, my first five minutes were CHAOTIC. I’m talking kids running around the room and hitting each other. Immediately, I’m thinking, “What is going on? How am I supposed to survive this?” Okay, I admit, I can be a control freak, and this was a control freak’s worst nightmare. However, after the third week, I now have (almost) complete control. These kids aren’t very different from my students at home – they just need a little motivation to keep them engaged.

Korean students, however, have very high expectations placed on them. Most of them attend evening academies, or hagwans, until late at night. It’s not uncommon to see young students with their backpacks walking home at 10 pm! While my American students were expected to perform well, I have never before seen so many young students dedicate so many hours to their school work.

Driving: So, we caved and bought a car. My commute by bus would’ve taken nearly 2 hours, and it seemed like a sensible option. Admittedly, I was terrified to take the wheel here. As some of my friends here have said, stop lights, and lane dividers are more of a suggestion than a rule. Surprisingly though, driving hasn’t been THAT bad so far (knocking on wood…). Korea is a country that is always rapidly changing, and it’s been said that driving is much saner than ten years ago. And for now, it seems relatively smooth! Except for the occasional car parked perpendicular to a sidewalk or stopped in the middle of a lane with its emergency flashers on.

Food: I feel very grateful. I REALLY like Korean food. Not every expat here can say that. I love the spice and the flavors. I do, however, miss the variety that the U.S. has. I feel lucky to be from a place and also currently live in a place with excellent cuisine (in my opinion, at least!). But the most pleasant surprise so far? How delicious the school lunches are here! Back in the U.S., I would have to be pretty desperate to buy a school lunch. It actually saddens me to see what is served to our children in the USA! In Korea, the students get delicious, well-balanced, home-cooked meals, which is a delightful change.

Food and drink are an essential part of the culture here, just like it is in many countries. I have been very pleasantly caught off guard by the times and places meals are served. Today we had a teacher sports day. This basically means the teachers get to play a variety of games after school. I headed down to the gym to play a game of catch and watch some ping pong (P.S. the kids at my school are really, really, really good at ping pong). A feast in the gym’s lobby immediately followed sports day. Kimbap (Korean sushi), tempura, kimchi stews, fruit, dumpling soup, beer, and soju (a strong Korean liquor) were all being served. At 3 pm. In the school gym. With students wandering around us. Really emphasizing the latter part of “same same but different” here.

The People: Some of the best people I know are Americans. They are generous, kind, and selfless. I am beyond grateful for my family and friends back home. Korea is very similar. The people I have gotten to know here have gone above and beyond. But you want to know the big difference between Americans and Koreans? Korean new acquaintances/strangers will bend over backward to make sure you are taken care of.

A few anecdotal examples: A friend of mine was caught in a rainstorm and then ducked into the nearest Baskin and Robbins to dry off. A complete stranger handed her an umbrella. Her own umbrella. That she would need when she walked back out into the rain. Or how about when Kenny and I were in a cab, trying to unsuccessfully tell the driver how to get back to our orientation site. A lady walking by on the street popped her head into the cab and said, “Here, let me help him (the taxi driver) figure out how to get to where you need to go.” The people here are so generous and don’t even give it a second thought.

One thing remains consistently similar… no matter where I go. We all love to be in the company of natural beauty. In Yeosu, we are surrounded by stunning mountains. You can find multiple trails up each one of them. And on top, there is a guaranteed view of the sea. When it comes down to it, we’re really not all that different.

And We’re off!

Welcome to Teressa and John’s blog! The Laterrasse Palawan. As much as I like perusing blogs, I never thought I’d be one to write one. But hey, if no one reads it, at least we’ll have a place to review our memories!

As many of you know, John and I are headed to South Korea at the end of October. We will be living in a city called Yeosu, which is waaaay south.

After an initial Google search of the town, our excitement has grown by the day. We don’t know much about the position yet, except that we will both be teaching English at different elementary schools in Yeosu.

We have been asked a number of questions, so I thought I might address a few, just in case you were curious.

Q: Why did you leave your great jobs in Seattle to go abroad?
A: For those of you who know us well, we love to travel and teach. So why not combine the two?! South Korea has some great opportunities to continue our career abroad, so we jumped at the opportunity.

Q: How long will you be gone?
A: Our contract is for a year. After that, the world is our oyster!

Q: How will you afford to live over there?
A: Believe it or not, we aren’t taking a pay cut which is awesome

Q: Can we come to visit you?
A: YES, YES, YES! Seriously, Google Yeosu. It’s beautiful! There are islands, mountains and beaches. We can eat delicious foods (think spicy seafood!), go hiking/camping and go island hopping.

We hope to see you there.
We will do our best to keep this blog updated as much as possible. I am looking forward to staying in touch with all you beautiful people!

Bursting With Hometown Pride

We are back from vacation! What a fantastic trip, but it’s good to be back. We will give an update on Vietnam soon, but first, we have a more pressing issue to write about. Basically, we are bursting with hometown pride and want to shout it from the rooftops:

The Seattle Seahawks are the Super Bowl champions!!!

The Super Bowl aired on Monday morning for us, just as we were arriving to work. Luckily, we didn’t have any classes. So I logged on to my work computer, popped on my headphones and streamed the game online. Kenny was able to stream the game on the big screen in his classroom, accompanied by a loudspeaker system. If you know anything about Kenny, you know how enthusiastic he can be, mainly about sports. Upon our win, he was hooting and hollering so much that other teachers came by to see what the commotion was. He ended up running around the room, hugging them all. I can’t stop laughing when I think about this, and if you know him, I’m sure we are in similar company.

Since we weren’t able to fill up a plate of Super Bowl grub and pop open a cold beer, we were Facebooking and texting our family and friends back home, doing all that we could to connect with our hometown during this monumental moment. The game was incredible, but even more exciting was the Seattle energy. The pride. We really wish we could experience the magic that is happening there right now.

Kenny has lived away from this great city many times before and he has always said, “When you go away, you appreciate Seattle even more.” He was telling me this right before we moved and I didn’t quite get it yet. I have lived in the Seattle area for most of my life, and I was itching to leave and see the world. And here we are now. I love that we’re here. The experiences we are having, the people we’re meeting. It’s all making life more precious.

But the truth of the matter is, as much as I love it here in Korea, being away makes my love for Seattle grow stronger. The people, the funky restaurants/cafes/bars, access to the beautiful nature of the Pacific Northwest… it all contributes to that unwavering pride all of us Seattleites take with us, wherever we go in this world.

Seattle, you rock. It will be nice when we get to see your big, bad, beautiful self again!

For those of you who have been away from your hometown for some time, does your love for it grow stronger? Or do you have a different experience?