Exploring is everything. And while Chicago might be a destination on many of your lists, The Deep Dish would like to help plan more of your travels. We’ll be getting the scoop on spots throughout the world and sharing some insider tips! Kicking off this series is Gina P, who discusses her life in South Korea.
Having lived abroad for almost 4 years, Chicago native Gina has a passion for experiencing all the world has to offer. Currently, she resides in South Korea teaching English, after previously spending 3 years in Okinawa, a small island 300 miles south of mainland Japan.
“I had a wonderful staycation on Okinawa, the Hawaii of Japan,” Gina says, “where you’ll be subjected to quite a terrible life of soft ocean breezes, a culture very different from mainland Japan and a fascinating world unlike any other. I lived the country girl life on the Yomitan cape facing the East Sea and I can never quite forget those glittering waters. That ocean also resonates with the difficulty to omit my memories of the banging taiko drums and the strum of the sanshin during Obon.”
Before Gina began her travels, she sat behind me passing notes in physics and we played badminton after school. On bus rides back and forth from games, we’d either be talking about a) our latest celebrity crushes, or b) our plans for the future. Gina dreams big — and follows through. She’s already traveled all over Japan and to 10 different countries, hoping to make it 20 by the time she’s done living and teaching in Asia..
Naturally, Gina’s travels have taught and shaped her. We’re lucky to have her sharing a little bit about her experiences and what it’s like living in South Korea.
The Deep Dish: What’s one thing you love about where you live?
GP: I absolutely love living in South Korea, and my favorite part is the four seasons. Although spring and autumn are shrinking — thanks to climate change! — I always have something to look forward to with the changing of the seasons. Every shift brings seasonal fruit like persimmons, strawberries and watermelon. Once you encounter seasonal fresh and sweet fruit, you’ll never want to buy from your local American grocery store ever again. In addition, most seasons bring festivals and great excuses to indulge in culture, food and libations with your friends. I love meeting new people and my Korean friends have taught me so much about their country.
The Deep Dish: What’s one thing people should experience in their lifetime?
GP: Traveling and/or living abroad, because you start to learn how big and interesting the world is. You see different cultures and try different foods you would never eat in a million years. The world is so awesome and you shouldn’t succumb to the day-in, day-out mundanity of the white picket fence. If that’s your thing, go for it, but I prefer the thrill of uncomfortable situations and adrenaline rushes.
The Deep Dish: What is one thing you learned recently?
GP: Recently, I learned I’m actually kind of good at languages, but let me explain. I don’t actively study and I’m an excellent copycat, so to fit in with my host country’s culture, I typically copy gestures, facial expressions and tones of voice. It’s helped me fit in and the people I meet love to see me appreciating their culture.
Don’t get me wrong, languages are super hard — especially Asian ones. I had a hell of a time learning Japanese, but having done so, Korean has been much easier. Their grammatical structures are very similar and in some cases, their words are almost identical. I learned if I can make connections between them, I won’t forget my Japanese and I can learn Korean faster.
The Deep Dish: What’s one thing everyone should read, listen to or watch?
GP: Well, I may be a bit biased because I’m an English major, but I’d recommend any of Jane Austen’s works or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to anybody. I’m a sucker for Victorian literature and anything from that time period is golden. As for listening and watching, why are you all not on the Kpop and Kdrama wave? I recommend starting with Big Bang and Secret Garden. (I promise I won’t lead you down the road to the Korean wave addiction.)
The Deep Dish: What is one thing you’re excited about now?
GP: Actually this is going to sound super cheesy, but I’m really excited about teaching my students cursive! I teach at a very high level middle school, so my kids have freakishly good English. But unfortunately, in Korea, they are not allowed to write the alphabet until third grade, so many of them have not come into contact with a skill like cursive. They love Western pop culture like movies, dramas and songs, so cursive is one thing they’ve definitely come across.
I’ve been pairing it with music as a reward for their hard work and English class routinely turns into a “Sugar” by Maroon 5 dance party by the end. It’s great! I’m super excited for this semester, because the English department has been replaced and my new coworkers are great! I also look forward to teaching them something they can take with them when I go. My city has lost funding, so I can’t sign for another year even if I want to.
Do you want to share about what life is like where you live or offer some local tips? Contact us with your idea!