It’s now been exactly a month since I left Minnesota to fly back to Korea for the second time. What an incredible trip home. I was only home for just over 2 weeks but I couldn’t have asked for a better time home except that I didn’t want it to end. I spent the first couple of days fighting serious jet lag but just relaxing at my house with all my siblings, niece and nephew and parents. Jet lag is actually worse when you fly east and let me tell you it’s true…it was so rough. My jet lag on the way back was a piece of cake. But honestly it forced me to just relax at home and it was really nice to just spend time with my family. I was then able to visit lots of friends the first week and then the second week I spent at my cabin, which couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather was sunny with big fluffy clouds and a nice breeze EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I went swimming every day and spent the days soaking in that vitamin D. It was hard to leave home again but knowing that my time here in Korea is limited makes it easier because I know I will be back in the states again and it was a reminder that no matter how much time goes past, it’s like not much time has changed when you’re with good friends and family. I’m thankful for that.
Coming back to Korea the second time around definitely had a different feel than the first time. There was no honeymoon period and we just jumped right back into our normal schedule. It made it a hard first couple of weeks back but thankfully I have such a busy September and October that it was a good reminder why I wanted to stay again. And once school started I was SO happy to see my kids again. They are the main reason I stayed another year and I adore them.
It was recently Korean Thanksgiving – Chuseok so we had a 5 day weekend. Three friends and I decided to go to Jeju Island, which is a South Korean Island in the very south of the country. It’s often used as a vacation spot since it’s more tropical with beaches and many things to do. The island surrounds a big mountain called Hallasan. (“san” in Korean means Mountain so technically it’s Halla Mountain). Normally the plane tickets are so cheap and only 45 minutes from Gwangju but they were sold out for months since it was Chuseok. Last minute we booked a bus ticket to Yeosu (a southern city along the coast) and a ferry to Jeju. In Korean it’s called Jejudo (“do” (like the pronunciation dough) means Island…look I taught you two new Korean words. San and do. J )
Yeosu is also a great vacation spot. It was on my list of places to see as many of my students go there for vacation. There are cable cars that go out to an island and go over the water. It was beautiful. There are also lots of seafood restaurants so we ate at a yummy restaurant with a crab soup and lots of side dishes. We also met this little boy who came up to talk to us named Justin. He was Korean 8 years old and actually lives in Gwangju but was on vacation with his family! His English was amazing and he was so excited to have made 4 new friends J We met his whole family including extended since it was Thanksgiving and now we plan to get dinner with him and his family in Gwangju! He was SO cute. I will post a video of him running to us afterwards to ask us for our number and that his mom said it was okay for him to ask us to get Korean BBQ sometime since that is his favorite meal. It may have been one of my favorite moments on the whole trip. We loved him.
We took a ferry to Jeju Island and the only tickets left were a private room wth bunk beds. Honestly we felt like luxury. It was 5 hours long and we all fell asleep for around 4 hours and woke up feeling great. The ferry on the way back was pretty much the opposite…we were joking that we were back to the “peasant” life. We took the ferry from Jeju to Mokpo this time instead of Yeosu since those were the only tickets available. There was a typhoon hitting near Japan so Jeju Island felt the after effects of the storm and the sea was really bumpy and so many people were sick and it took 7 hours and we did NOT have a private room. Everyone crams into these “rooms” with big curtains. You take your shoes off outside the room and then sit on the floor. No chairs or anything. And everyone just crams in and then lays down or sits up. Koreans are used to this so they can sit on the floor for hours. For us foreigner’s it can be uncomfortable. And I’m not complaining. I don’t mind at all and it was a good experience but it’s funny because in America it would have broken SO many codes and never have been allowed haha culture differences!
Jeju Island was AMAZING! I now know why everyone loves Jeju. We rented a car since two of our friends got their international license and it was so worth it. Easy to get around. The island takes about 1 hour drive to get across it so really easy to navigate. It’s the only place in Korea that felt almost like home. The sea surrounded it with beautiful rocks and woods and mountain views. It almost felt like I was on the Northern Shore in Duluth or Grand Marais but maybe a bit more glam than that since it was the actual ocean. I will keep my stories from Jeju short with some photos and short stories. Here are some exciting things I did at Jeju:
Hiked to the top of Hallasan Mountain with Claire. Our two other friends had no interest in hiking to the top which I appreciate they were honest so they did their own thing for the day! This was a bucket list item of mine and I am so proud to say I did it. Hallasan is the tallest mountain in South Korea and the second tallest in all of Korea. You start from the very base and hike up to the top and it’s 9 hours round trip. The hike was long and steep and tiring. It was rainy that day and windy from the typhoon. There was also every age of people hiking, 60s, 70s, 80 year olds. It was amazing. The hiking culture is so incredible here. It felt pretty empowering when we made it to the top. It was so windy and foggy must near the peak and there were huge ravens everywhere which made it feel eerie but almost calming when we sat down to rest before going back down. It was a day I’ll never forget.
Visited Oedolgae Rock, waterfalls and swam in natural pools. We searched for the hidden natural pools that not many foreigners know about! We finally found them, ran down and 3 of us unlayered some clothes and jumped right in. The waves were huge from the typhoon and there was a light rain but it was SO much fun. We spent around an hour and a half just swimming and enjoying it. Many Koreans don’t know how to swim and use floaties or just don’t go. They also all wear “rash guards” and cover pretty much their whole bodies which is very different from western culture. We definitely drew a crowd around us to watch. Families took out their cameras and took pictures and we just floated in the water enjoying swimming. It was the first time I had swam in Korea. Growing up in Minnesota, I was in water from the time I was a baby. I am a very confident swimmer and I’m thankful to my parents who put me in swimming lessons and brought me swimming at such a young age. I think it’s so important for kids and I’ll do the same for mine. It’s not only fun but also a life skill to have! This was also a highlight of my trip!
We ate black pig. The literal translation from Korean to English is black pig. Black pig is famous on the island and it was delicious. You eat it Korean BBQ style with beer (in Korean Meakju) and soju and you mix the beer and soju to make (so-maek) haha so we had a nice meal of black pig and somaek after a busy day of water falls and swimming. It was perfect.
I highly recommend Jeju Island to any foreigners visiting Korea. It’s refreshing seeing an island that doesn’t have huge tall buildings everywhere and you can really feel nature there. I saw horse farms all over the place and flat, green landscape. It was so beautiful and a vacation I will never forget.
Love from Korea,