Connectedness

A few years ago, my ex asked me who I’m closest with: friends from home, friends from school, or friends from abroad.  I never answered him, but I’ve since thought of that question on occasion, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m not more or less close to each of the groups; the levels of friendship and connection are just so different.  These people are part of significant phases of my life, and perhaps each group knows me in a different way than the others.

My friends from home have known me since I was ten years old, and they have, no doubt, seen me grow the most.  These people have watched me change, and vice versa.  There’s something about growing up constantly surrounded by the same friends, seeing slow evolutions in each other, and sharing experiences that shape us both as individuals and as a system.  All of this transforming brought us to a level of friendship that can only be achieved with time.  And all of this time has brought us ups and downs that only continue to bring us closer.  They are my cornerstone, the building blocks of who I am, the very core of where my growth began, and one of the main ingredients to my happiness.  My friends from home are the ones I am glad to always have.  No matter how far down the road, I know I will have them to come home to.

It was hard to imagine who my college friends would be and what role they would play in my life until I found them.  Turns out, they’re some of the best friends to have around.  College friends get to know you in incredible ways–at house parties and bars, hungover in dorms, during all-nighters at the library, and every other second in between.  These are friends who live with you–sometimes literally–and get to see who you are while you’re in the process of finding yourself and potentially, who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.  They are there to watch you overcome the most difficult challenges you will ever face, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be right next to you every step of the way, making the same exact horrible decisions.  I have formed unbreakable bonds with my college friends, and with them I’ve learned how little time can affect friendship.  They are my support networks and secret-outlets, my squad, and the bottom line is that they get to know me better than most people ever do.

Sigh.  Sevilla friends.  These are people with whom I have created an entirely new bubble of friendship.  They are there, living in the stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life.  These friendships formed exceptionally fast, and I think that might be the reason for our extremely high comfort levels with each other.  Suddenly I found myself in a foreign country with just a suitcase and this group of people to hold on to.  And I did.  We all did.  Fortunately I don’t think we will ever let go.  What we’ve been through were some of the best moments of our lives, and that is not something to be taken lightly. We’ve seen the world, pushed through borders and boundaries, and fell in love with the same city together. Through all of this, and in less than half a year, what we did was more than travel. We left parts of ourselves with each other, in all corners of the world, and if that doesn’t bond you for life then I’m not sure what does.

Since this question was posed to me, I entered a new phase in my life which has brought yet another incredible group of people into my life: my Seoul friends. The last three years in South Korea have been life life life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all my experiences here. I’ve grown part of different communities–teachers, foreigners, local yogis and runners–who have welcomed me and helped me to see the life I’ve built in this country. I hold close the group of friends I made within the first few days of arriving, and I think that through meeting them I became solid in who I already was. We all got to know each other exactly as we were and as we still are, and I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that we loved each other through flaws and mistakes.

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the running and yoga families I’ve come to know and love here in Seoul the last two years. When I first walked into Zen Yoga studio, and first went to an open run for Crewghost, I never thought it would become a completely engrained and habitual attendance. Now I go to my yoga studio 5-8 times and to a crew run at least once or twice, both per week. Spending as much time sharing a mutual passion with a group of people for hours at a time brings you together without even trying–certainly regardless of language. These two communities have brought me joy and support, and a family to back me in the goals that no one else can understand.

As I come to realize that I have just five short months left before a new adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I’ve spent my years with. And as I get ready to leave this group of friends to visit the others, all I can feel is gratitude. To have so much love from around the world. To know that I can turn to so many to receive all kinds of needs. To understand that I can be a different version of myself and still be loved for it. To find that I am open and lucky enough to be able to connect with so many souls. And to recognize that with time, I am changing for the better. How do I know all this? Because each time I come back to all of the people I love, no matter how long it’s been or how far I’ve gone, I never doubt that the love and connection and friendship remain.

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Things That No One Told Me About Teaching English in South Korea

Learning a language is a matter of persistence and motivation.

English is an extremely difficult language to both teach and learn. By teaching it, I’ve learned just how many exceptions to rules, irregular verb changes, and difficult words to spell and pronounce there are. Korean students are required to learn this language, and not all of them want to. Unless a student has a reason or inspiration to learn English, my class is not much of a class for them at all.

Korean is also a difficult language to learn. I’ve never had serious difficulties with the language barrier here, but I have learned that when you take language away, you are forced to interact, form bonds, and learn through the most basic form of communication—body language. Once I could read, write, and use basic verbs in Korean, my study of the language was put on hold until I realized that I’d never reach my goal of fluency unless I persist in practice.

Making Korean friends is harder than you’d think. 

Most Koreans are shy in personality, and shy to speak English. If they’re not either of those things, then you got lucky and should keep this friend for life. I have very few Korean friends, and I value the insights to their culture I get from our friendship.

Koreans can be very judgmental.

Physical beauty standards in Korea are very high, and many won’t be afraid to call you names that would be considered offensive in the U.S. Although Koreans often tell me that my “face is beautiful,” they don’t leave out that my “arms have hair,” my “skin is too tan,” or that my “feet are big.” They also think that I “eat too much ice cream,” but…isn’t there no such thing as too much ice cream?

Your mindset will evolve.

This is one of the most beautiful lessons I have learned since moving to Korea. From little things like my sense of fashion and my perception of beauty, to more significant ones like my taste in music and beliefs about people and the world, I have changed notably within my first few weeks of living here. I don’t judge people based on looks or fashion in the way that I used to, and I can now understand how or why people act the way they do. I have come to understand the phrase “To each his own” in a new light. Living in a society that was so different from the one I grew up in gave me insights to people’s choices, personalities, lifestyles, and principles that I never had before. The longer I live here, the more I find that the farther away I get from what I know, the more beautiful the world becomes.

Every single day will keep you guessing.

There is a thing we foreigners here call the “Korean surprise.” This is where totally unexpected things happen, in and out of school. From cancelled classes and surprise classes, to being forced to sing karaoke songs for the principal and teachers at my school, to strangers stopping you on the streets to speak English, the “Korean surprise” is very real. Each new day in Korea has something in store with the element of surprise.

Laziness is a terrible trap.

It’s easy to set goals, make to-do lists, and plans to explore and discover Korea, but it’s also easy to fall into the weekday rhythm of going to work, coming home to nap, meeting friends for dinner and drinks, and going straight to bed. I had ambitious goals of learning Korean, teaching myself to code, reading books, running, practicing yoga, and writing blogs left and right with all of my free time here. Soon, there were days and weeks that were exhausting and it required real motivation and a conscious effort to reach these goals. With the right balance of work and play, I can proudly say that my to-do list is slowly getting done, but it took some time to get here.

These kids are crazy.

“Korean students are very respectful,” they said. “Korean students love learning,” they said. “Korean students are very quiet,” they said. Yeah, well, they lied.

You will own a selfie stick, and your selfie count will skyrocket.

On our first weekend trip after moving to Korea, my friends and I kept asking people to take pictures of us in front of the sights we were visiting. At first, this felt very natural. I mean, how else do people take group photos while traveling? Throughout the day, as we kept asking people, we felt weirder and weirder each time. No one else was doing that—they all had selfie sticks. Within a matter of days, we each purchased our own, and before we knew it, that “Selfies” folder on our iPhone albums had more pictures in it than we ever wanted.

The black hole of music also known as K-pop will suck you in.

I remember watching my very first K-pop video during orientation nine months ago. It was BigBang’s “Fantastic Baby.” I looked around the room and wondered why so many people loved this. My initial reaction was that I couldn’t listen to music sang in a language I couldn’t understand, and that it was strange that the guys wore makeup and outrageous outfits, and that they weren’t even attractive. A few weeks later, there I was, singing, dancing, and screaming my favorite member’s name in Seoul’s Olympic Arena, one in a sea of thousands of BigBang diehard fans. I have listened to only a handful of English songs ever since.

The Korean education system that is so highly praised outside of this country is, in reality, quite flawed.

It’s hard to keep this short and simple, because there are so many aspects to Korean education that would be difficult to understand unless you witnessed it yourself. Around the world, Korea is known for breeding the brightest students, but what’s often missing and ignored is that these students are put under extreme pressure to succeed in school. For people aged 15-24 in South Korea, suicide is the leading cause of death. This is not to say that school and education is to blame for this statistic, but I do believe in the correlation between them.

Korean students, beginning in middle school, go to school for the majority of their days, sometimes not going home until 8-9 p.m., and even later for high school students. In my classes, kids are sleeping with their heads on their desks left and right, and sometimes they tell me lunch is their only real meal of the day because of their hectic schedules.

I once did a two-week lesson about high school in America, and after my first class I regretted it immediately. Seeing the shock and longing in my students’ faces when I asked them for their opinions about the differences between our educations systems broke my heart. Korean kids grow up very fast. By high school, their maturity level is that of American upperclassmen. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s my opinion that they should have more opportunities to have more fun, more free time, and more chances to feel young. Instead, they spend 12+ hours in classrooms turning pages and not feeling good enough or smart enough to pass their next test, or get into the school they want. With these things in mind, I’ve made it a goal in my English classes to give them a unique way of study—a little less bookwork and a little more fun and human interaction when possible.

It is not easy.

Before coming to Korea, I read countless pieces of advice from current and former teachers here. Many times, they would talk about the motivation that Korean students have to learn English, and how this would naturally make teaching classes feel more like an easy and fun experience than an actual job. I was lucky enough to be placed in a great all-boys middle school where the teachers are extremely strict, resulting in the forming of very respectful young men. However, students are students, and they are the same around the world—some smart, some sleepy, and some disrespectful. Every class has its own set of geniuses, its own attitude, and ultimately, its own troublemaker. Some classes are quiet and nonresponsive, while others are madhouses. Picture kids standing on desks and water bottles flying across the room. That was once my reality.

The blogs and testimonials I read also talked about how much easier it would be thanks to the help of the Korean co-teacher. Surprise! I have 7 co teachers and none of them stand in front of the class with me to “co-teach” with me at all. Two of them sometimes step in to help, and the keyword there is sometimes. Imagine how difficult it is to teach English when your students don’t speak English and you don’t speak Korean, all while there is a Korean teacher in the room who absolutely can but just does not stand up to help at all. It is, as they say here in Korea, no jam (no fun).

The bright side of this is that, by the end of each class and each day, there will always be certain students that I reached, classes that were successful, and moments in which I looked around and smiled because I do love this job. Despite the challenges, I feel like I have a unique power to teach these kids about worlds they don’t know, and I have strong hopes that my lessons inspires them to explore those worlds.

Nicaragua & Costa Rica: Top 10 Most Ridiculous Things That Really Happened

We miss being abroad. We’d re-live all of these moments in a hot sec:

1. The bus driving away with our backpacks and passports on it. And us engaging in a bus chase with a taxi.

2. Leaving our passports in the first hostel we stayed in in Nicaragua.

3. Christine chased a Nicaraguan kid down the street in attempt to get her camera back. It didn’t work, but she tried.

4. Getting dropped off in a dust cloud in the middle of a highway in Liberia. Bienvenidos a Costa Rica, ladies.

5. A woman breastfeeding next to Kerianne on the bus.

6. Our entire border crossing day. We thought that salted peanuts might be our last meal on this earth.

7. Our rafting guide throwing Christine in the river Balsa and dragging her along using her paddle.

8. Peeling and eating hard boiled eggs on the bus to Manuel Antonio. And on the bus to Puerto Viejo.

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9. Being recognized at lunch by a bystander at the club the previous night. He told us things we didn’t know happened.

10. We ran into a couple from Washington, D.C. three times, in three different cities, in a span of five days.

Things that didn’t make the list, but are on the same level of ridiculous:

Christine packed two left flip flops for this trip.

We used bug spray as perfume.

When Kerianne wears 4 different neon colors of clothing at the same time.

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The time the iCloud burst and none of our alarms went off.

When Kerianne put an apple on Christine’s butt and said, “Apple bottom.”

Evey single time we washed our clothes and hung them up to dry…they never dried. Ever.

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Kerianne didn’t have a footstrap to do the superman zipline, and her legs had to be held in the air by one of the guides. All the way across the Cloud Forest.

Kerianne bought a water bottle at the airport right before boarding the plane, and then they asked her to throw it away before getting on the plane. She was not happy.

Our tent neighbor in Arenal asked us to “please stop laughing.” WHO SAYS THAT?

Lots of love and wonder,

KB & codea

Star Sisters

For me, the summer of 2013 marked the end of many things. My six-month long adventure in Europe that challenged me and in turn made me who I am. The easiest semester of my college career. A period of time where on some level, nothing mattered, but on another, everything did.

The summer of 2013 also marked the very beginning. Of a yearlong academic research journey that resulted in too many allnighters and a 200-page honors thesis. An extremely rewarding internship that I loved and felt so passionately about. And a friendship I cherish wholeheartedly. Suddenly I feel like I’m writing a love letter for Kerianne… Still gonna do it.

Kerianne and I met in Austin, Texas last summer and even though it was only for four days, the introduction sparked a friendship fueled by travel, thinking, inspiration, writing, and lots and lots of laughter, all of which has led to this very moment. I’m sitting on a plane about to take off for Nicaragua. Next to me is KB. We’re about to run through Central America. Stay tuned.

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PS: Kerianne is NOT the one in the middle.

Your life matters

“Being alive is kinda like hitting ‘reply-all’ to the Universe.”

The Buried Life tweeted this quote recently, and I think it is easily a new favorite quote of mine.  It makes all the sense in the world.  To me, it’s a reminder that we are all connected someway, somehow.  What we do as individuals will have an affect on the world and the people in it, whether or not we realize it, and whether or not we do it for that reason.

So remember friends, you matter, your life matters, and what you do matters.  Never think otherwise.

PLAYLIST — Rock’n’roll Corralones-style

This one is a tribute to one of THE coolest, hippiest, happiest places I have ever been in my life.  Rest In Peace, Corralones.

When I was in Spain last semester, we discovered this gem with the help of some local Spaniards.  It’s a long way from the barrio I lived in, but the long walks or bike rides were always worth it.  To get there, we would start from a big open square called Alameda.  From there, we had to ask directions from locals because the streets get small and the alcohol starts to kick in…

To get into Corralones is a little sketchy but that’s what made it so unique.  One second you’ll find yourself walking down small silent streets and the next you’re on an adventure with some happy new friends on an adventure to get to this hidden forbidden garden of chaos.

Walk through a dark tunnel where you can see the lights of Corralones at the end, and suddenly you’re on a level of hippy happy that you have never been before.  There are small garage-slash-shack separated areas, each with a different theme.  Live bands with naked lead singers playing the tambourine (yeah, I witnessed that one with my own eyes), bongo rooms, Nutella sandwich menus, African music and dance, euro beers, mojito stands, and orange burgers (don’t ask)–I’m telling you, you won’t find another place like this one.

If you’re not downstairs taking shots with strangers and dancing the night away, you could opt to go up some wide sketchy staircases to find the rooftop area where there are calmer bars, beach chairs, and guys who look like Bob Marley.

One of the best nights of my five months abroad was without a doubt my first night at Corralones.  Unbelievably and incredibly unforgettable.  One of Sevilla‘s best kept secrets for sure.

When I left to come back to the States, it was shut down and we Americanos were devastated.  But their Facebook page activity is still going strong so I’m hoping that Corralones still comes alive at night.  Or should I say early morning.

Click here to listen to my Corralones themed playlist and pretend you’re there.  Cause I do it a little too often.

Here’s me in a shopping cart.  Why?  Who knows?

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And for more info on Corralones:
Stripped Back Travel
Los Corralones Facebook Page
I Know A Little Place In Seville

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twenty13

This year I learned a lot about people and friendship, travel, time, and myself. The lessons I learned were simple, and it feels like we should just know them as a common sense but it seems like even when we think we know, we don’t.

The people in my life have always been at the center of my world, and for good reason; I’ve always considered myself the luckiest person for being extremely blessed to know so many amazing people. I value my relationships with people and I’ve always thought myself to be considerate and empathetic and reasonable. I like to think that the people I choose to associate with are the same way, but this year I’ve seen darker sides of friendship that I wish didn’t exist.

The lesson here is that people can be fake and pretentious. They can let you down, and they can ruin relationships. I watched friendships fall apart and people grow apart this year, and it just reminded me that as we grow older, we tend to be more selfish and less selfless. It’s a dog eat dog world, and it’s not until we make these mistakes for ourselves that we learn the lesson.

So one of my resolutions this year is to be a better friend. The world needs more of those.

With all the traveling I was lucky enough to do this year, I learned plenty about the hardship and reward that comes with it. The importance of experiencing travel, seeing the world, spending time away from home, and–as cheesy as it sounds–“finding oneself” will always be aspects of life that I want to acknowledge. For me, travel is the purest and hardest (but best) way to experience life. You learn to expect the unexpected, deal with problems and people, and see the real beauty in what you’re looking at.

My travel resolution of the year and for the rest of my life is to never stop.

2012 also helped me realize just how sneaky time is. It’s quiet, quick, and so extremely priceless. The other day someone asked me how old I was and it took me about six seconds to answer. It feels like the last two years have gone by so fast that I still feel like I’m 19. And I suppose that’s a good thing!

Lastly and most importantly, the last year has taught me plenty about myself. I hate comparing, but I guess it’s the best way to see ourselves as part of this world. So I like to compare myself in terms of what kind of person I am. And my resolution is just to be a better one.