The four magic words.

Everyday, I force upon my students, the importance of the four magic words, please, thank you, excuse me and sorry. Therefore, it’s a continuous stream of please Shauna teacher, thank you Shauna teacher, excuse me Shauna teacher and I’m sorry Shauna teacher.  Nothing happens in school unless the students say it.  My parents raised my sisters and I to realise the power that these words carry and now that I’m a teacher, I feel it an important part of education to pass it on. 

Using the magic words builds good relationships with the people in your life. It shows your respect for the other party and “I’m sorry” are two words that can rebuild bridges.   But as we grow older do we lose sight of the importance of the magic words and do we just use them through sheer habit?

How many of us rush around our daily lives and forget to say thanks? Or get bumped into on the street and instead of quietly saying “excuse me” or “sorry”, we give people a look that could kill? I’ll be the first person to put my hand up and say that sometimes that’s me. We don’t realise it when we’re dishing out the ignorance but when something happens that deserves a magic word and it doesn’t come, the result is like a stab to the heart.  The effect is extraordinary.  You feel let down and slightly disappointed that the other person didn’t think enough of the situation to apply a magic word.  And what’s worse is that we’ve all been there, in that exact situation. 

The other side is that when we do remember to use our magic words, do we really mean it? How many times a day do we buy something, or receive something or do something wrong and we just say thanks or sorry without meaning it? People say sorry all the time and if you asked them why they said it, they probably couldn’t tell you exactly what you did wrong.  There’s really no point in using the magic words if you’re not going to mean them.  It’s just makes it another empty word. 

So maybe it’s time we all started taking lessons from ourselves by using the magic words more. I’m pretty sure no one is going to complain about you being over polite and you’ll know that even one of those magic words had the right effect on the right person.

The importance of travelling.

There have been a lot of new arrivals,recently, in to our little group in Paju.  Some of these new arrivals, take the adjustment to Korean life really well.  Others,  not so well.  As I get to know them, a common link appears.  Those who do really well here and settle in well have travelled before. Those who require the hand holding and the guiding have never travelled outside of their home countries. 

To hang out with these people makes for a very entertaining night.  At a social gathering, the ones who have travelled will show up and despite not knowing anyone, will mingle and introduce themselves and talk about everything. Those who have never travelled, tend to wait on the sidelines and expect people to come over and talk to them.   And when they do, the conversation tends to be limited.  The Paddy no travellers tend to find it harder to trust and form friendships.  If you tell them something, they’ll ask 5 other people the same question just to make sure that what you told them is true. 

They also tend to spend their time continuing to live their lives as if at home.  They consistently skype, moan about how much they miss their home comforts and see returning home for vacation as a good idea. 

Paddy I’ve travelled are much more adventurous people.  While they maintain a relationship with those at home, they always tend to travel Asia for vacation time and are more “go with the flow” people, their easier to hang out with and will laugh at their mistakes rather than panicking about them. 

I once went on a vacation with a person who hadn’t travelled and a person who had.  It was a 4 day vacation.  I can say that we spent a great deal of the time on that vacation looking out for the person who hadn’t travelled.  They just weren’t able to handle themselves.  Constantly leaving their things unattended, wandering off without a word, depending on us for every little thing, not thinking for themselves.   It was a complete nightmare. 

All these things, for me, go back to travelling.  When you travel, you instinctively learn how to do things.  If you get lost, you get yourself unlost.  You know how to take care of yourself in a foreign situation, how to take care of your stuff and it gives you a certain independence and confidence.  Travelling and experiencing something different also makes you think differently.  I can’t really explain this, I just know that it’s there.  When you see other cultures and experience completely alternative ways of life, then that experience makes you change your thinking in a certain way.  Travelling makes you open yourself up to new ideas and gives you the opportunity to learn.

Of course, I’m not saying this as a criticism, merely an observation. I realise that some people simply don’t get the opportunity to travel.   Paddy no traveller, deserves a lot of credit for getting outside of their comfort zone and coming to Asia.  And I’m also not saying that every Paddy no traveller is the same.  Everyone is different, every situation is different but in general, the above observation tends to be true.

Why I’m glad I grew up in Ireland.

Many things have happened and many conversations have taken place recently that have made me reflect on how lucky I am to have had the childhood I had in Ireland. I’ve always known that I had the ideal childhood but coming to live in Korea and seeing children here makes me all the more grateful for mine. 

I come from a family of three girls.  Growing up on a farm, my parents expected the same from us as they would three boys and there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do.  From early on we spent plenty of time outside, and were taught the importance of hard work and perseverance.  It wasn’t as if it wasn’t fun.  It was great craic, standing in gaps but letting the cattle pass and spending the rest of the day trying to get them back!  Needing a toilet break miles from any house and having to find a nice ditch.  Being told not to play on the silage pit but doing it anyway and wondering how Mum knew we were there.  My favourite memory was spending time with Dad milking the cows in the evening.  This kind of childhood taught us a lot that we brought with us as we grew older. 

But it’s not just the farming childhood that I’m grateful for.  The fact that we, and others our age, spent our time hurling, dancing, playing music and generally playing outside gave us the more practical skills in life. Growing up, education was still important, we almost never missed a day of school and when we sat down to do our homework, it was done right. Mum would sit with us for however long it took to get everything done. After homework was done and the music was practised, we spent the rest of the day outside.    The focus of our childhood wasn’t 100% education, it was fun and inclusive and what childhoods are supposed to be. 

Everyday, I see children in Korea who really lack any of the skills that we would have had from that age. The fact that parenting methods and attitudes are different here is a factor but so too is the fact that most children here grow up living in huge apartment buildings and don’t spend enough time in the real outdoors.  The only places they have to play are the playgrounds in the housing estates.  And that’s even if they have time to play.  I teach 6 year olds, who, after our school, go to another private English or math or taekwondo academy.  It only gets worse as a child gets older.  Education is the number one priority here and parents fill their childs day with education centred activities. Children here don’t get the opportunity to spend time away from books.  Even children who play the piano (which is every child I’ve ever spoken to) are driven to be the best players and play at recitals and concerts and this only happens with hours of practice, in an apartment.

As smart as Korean children can be, they lack all practical skills in life.    At school, I watch children, every day have to be taught, by teachers, how to fill a jug with water, or get toothpaste out of the container or how to eat by themselves.  I look at them, and perhaps they’re 7 years old and I think “If Kay Browne was here, this would not fly”.  

I’ve come to the conclusion that if I was ever to have a child in Korea, I would move back to Ireland, just to make sure that the child had a childhood similar to my own and wasn’t sentenced to a life of competition.  For all the negative things that are said about Ireland, at least we produce rounded individuals.  So, we may not have the smartest people and we may not have the best economy but our children spend time out in the fresh air, they know what cows look like.  They play team sports other than soccer. They know the touch of real grass under their feet.  Most of them are made do household chores and small jobs for pocket-money.  But more than this, they know a life outside school.

Myths about Korea- Busted!

So after my post about getting a job in Korea, it has come to my attention that some people don’t want to come here because they “heard” things about Korea. Also, the newbies in my area come to me and ask the most ridiculous things and while I answer patiently, I always wonder where they actually heard these things and why nobody ever set things straight for people.

So with the help of the Geumchon Crew, we put together the top myths that you here before you come and then get here to discover differently.  As a disclaimer here, I should mention that I am not claiming to be some random Korea expert but I’m simply telling things as I’ve experienced in the last 3 years. 

Ok here we go…….

1. Korea is a 3rd world country where the water is undrinkable; False.  Korea is a first world country.  It is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.  It is home to Samsung, LG, Kia, Hyundai and Lotte.  All international companies.  In 2011, the GDP was an estimated 3.6%  The unemployment rate as of June 2012 was 3.2%.

As for the water.  You can drink the water in the tap, although a lot of people don’t recommend it.Why? I don’t know, could be a Korea thing.  However,  I know plenty of people here who drink the tap water everyday and they’ve never had a problem. 

2. There’s no internet in Korea; False.  In fact the complete opposite is true.  Korea has the fastest internet in the whole world.  I don’t know one person living here that doesn’t have wireless internet in their apartment. BUSTED! 

3. You can’t get any foreign foods in Korea; False.  Depending on the food, you can find lots of foreign food in Home Plus or Emart, the two supermarkets found everywhere in Korea.  Of course, if it’s something like oh say….Barry’s Tea or something that foreign then fear not.  Seoul has many foreign supermarkets where you can buy such items.  The best as far as I’m concerned is Haddon Supermarket in Hanam Heitz, a short taxi ride from Itaewon, in Seoul. 

4. You can’t buy fluoride toothpaste or feminine hygiene products in Korea; False.  Home Plus and emart stock some foreign fluoride toothpaste.  Also the foreign supermarkets have Colgate.  As for the girls, you can buy the usual hygiene products in the supermarkets here, again stick to the big ones like good old Home Plus if you want the same brand as home. 

5. Electronics and cameras are super cheap in Korea; This one is country dependant.  Take the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Without a contract here it’s priced at 671,000won for 16GB That’s 593$ and 480 Euro.  The same item is 429Euro from Carphone Warehouse ( Wifi only).  These prices of course could have changed but it gives you the idea that although we make the electronics here, they are not always super cheap.  Also , I know that South Africa think that electronics are slightly cheaper than at home and as an Irish person, I also feel that most electronics can be bought here much cheaper than at home, if you buy it in the right place. 

6. Korean teachers resent Native English teachers because of the perks we get; Hit and miss, although mostly false.  It is true that Native English teacher get a lot of perks compared to the regular Korean teachers but I have yet to meet someone who was treated badly at school because they were the Native teacher.  That’s not to say that it hasn’t happened.  I can only say that I’ve never been treated like anything other than royalty at my schools and the girl who gave me this myth is also being treated like royalty in her school so overall this one is false. Usually, Koreans are aware of what you gave up to come live here and as long as your attitude is good and you look to do everything you can and put in a genuine effort no one will ever resent you for the perks you get.

7. Native English teachers wear jeans and casual clothes to school; True and False. If I were to turn up to school in a pair of jeans, my school would send me home to change.  Remember that you’re a teacher, therefore you should look like a teacher especially if you work in a public school.  Saying that, if you work in a hagwon (private school) then it depends on the individual school.  Some let you wear anything, others have a dress code.  If you’re interested in getting a job here, make sure to ask this question before you start packing to avoid any disasters and bad impressions.

8. Koreans don’t eat garlic. Kimchi tastes the same, “horrible” False and False. This is one of the stranger ones.  First, WHAT????? Who told you that? Of course Koreans eat garlic.  How can you enjoy Galbi without garlic??????? As for the kimchi, well there are endless types of Kimchi, depending on the part of Korea you come from.  The taste is unusual at first, but it is an acquired taste and many foreigners here love it.  Of course many foreigners don’t love it quite as much but everyone is different.  So both false. 

9. Schools only want American teachers and if there are no Americans available for employment and you happen to get hired, you’ll have to speak in a fake American accent. False.  The very fact that I’m Irish should be proof enough that this is a load of rubbish.  School want a native English teacher.  End of story.  Every school has its own preferences, some like the Americas and others like the Europeans and others like South Africans and others like the Aussies and others like the Kiwis and it goes on and on.  It’s equal opportunities here. On this note though, I used to do the interviews with the new teachers at my old school and it didn’t matter where they were from it was 70% attitude to the interview and 25% how they looked and 5% whether it seemed like they would adjust well to the new life in Korea. 

10.. You shouldn’t go to Korea because North Korea is very dangerous; FALSE! People who say this make me want to vomit.  Korea is an amazing country with amazing opportunities for foreigners.  I live in Geumchon, 2 towns from North Korea.  My friends live in Munsan, the town next to North Korea.  In my 3 years here, we have never once had any trouble or been in any danger because we live close to North Korea.  In fact Korea is probably the safest country I’ve ever been in.  The worst thing that has happened to me here was that my bike got stolen once when I was at work.  Terrible, shocking, surely reason to go home…….NOT!

If anymore come to your mind, please feel free to comment and I’ll add it.  Again thanks to the Geumchon Crew.  What legendary people……..

My trip to Mongolia

When I announced that I was going solo to Mongolia for my summer vacation, the words of doubt started creeping into the conversations with my friends.  The idea that I would have to “rough it” seemed incredulous to them.  Secretly, there was one part of me that was terrified of going there, for no other reason but the lack of first hand knowledge.  Only one person I knew had been there before and she just told to go.  So off I went.

I’d love nothing more that to post all 181 pictures of this trip here and give you a detailed analysis of each picture but I’ll spare you this one time.  Instead, I’m going to tell you what I learned from this journey to this relatively untouched country.

Upon arriving in Ulaanbatar, I spent a day exploring the city before my trip to the country.  Instantly, I felt as if I had walked back in time.  The buildings are rickety looking, the roads have holes the size of craters and the people dress like the 90’s.  Yet, the city itself had this most wonderful charm.  It was like a laid back, comfortable with itself kind of charm and so I spent the day wandering from place to place and generally taking in the atmosphere.

It was the next day that the journey really began.  I joined a group leaving from my hostel and we set off to Terejl National Park about 2 hours from UB.  The next 3 days were utterly incredible.  An Indian, 2 Austrians and I lived together in a Ger next to a Mongolian family.  We hiked the mountains, rode horses and survived without electricity, running water or toilets.  I can honestly say that it kinda reminded and brought me back to the days when I was a young wan in Ireland.  Growing up on a farm meant plenty of visits to the ditch if you were too far from the house! So in this respect, the freedom of having nothing meant we free to be the simplest version of ourselves.  Gone was the Shauna who dressed up for school and wore makeup.  Mongolia brought out the Shauna who wore the same clothes for 2 days, never brushed her hair and only ever put sunscreen on her face.

On the 2nd day a terrible storm came and we were forced to retreat to our Ger snuggled up in all our clothes and our sleeping bags.  What did we do? We laughed.  It came so easy.  We laughed at everything, the whole idea that 4 grown ups were afraid to go out and get wet, the fact that we went out when it dried off only to be caught in another storm and soaked, the fact that the horses we rode were possessed and thankfully we wouldn’t have to ride them again and anything else that came to mind.

Of course, we eventually headed back to the city with our driver called “Enda” and booked ourselves on a trip to the Gobi the day after.  Just enough time to take a shower and sleep in a proper bed and eat chocolate.

The Gobi trip involved 14 of us.  2 Austrians, 3 Germans, 3 Danes, 3 Swiss, 2 South Afrians and myself.  We bundled into 2 mini buses and a 4×4 and off we went.  Every hour of so we would stop at the side of the road to enable the drivers to rest.  Included in this was some horse milk tasting which actually wasnt as bad as it looked and lunch ( although I use that in the broadest sense of the word).  Each time we stopped we would jump out, have a little chat and then continue in our vehicles. Before the trip we didn’t know each other but the country and the circumstances helped us build trust, not only amongst ourselves but with the drivers.

After 8 hours of this, we end up in a place miles and miles from anywhere.  As we approached our “tourist camp”, the children of the area waved and greeted us.  Really they had nothing here but to see them run for their basketball when they saw us was touching.  We spent the last hours of sunlight playing basketball and volleyball with them before settling in for the night in our Gers with some beer and a few tunes from my good self.

The following days we spent in the Orkon Valley, exploring Kharakurin and eventually making it to the Gobi.  Again, we stayed with a family who had nothing but they made us feel so at home and even went to find a translator among their neighbours to make sure everything was sufficient.  Camel riding and hiking followed and watching thunder storms in the distance thanks to the light of the full moon.  The whole thing was extraordinarily simple but so perfect and so peaceful.  No communication no amenities, just us and the desert.

Mongolia, while the fastest growing economy in the world, has a long way to come.  Some people here are clearly struggling but what struck me most is their attitude.  When you travel in Asia, you get used to beggars and I thought it would be the same here.  I was mistaken.  While the Mongolian nomads we stayed with had nothing, the were happy with what they did have and made the most of it.  The were enterprising enough to ensure a constant flow of visitors so as to make sure of that essential money.  They made their own little souvenirs to sell and sold the horse milk and horse yogurt to the drivers who would bring it back to the city.

On my way to the airport I realized how sad I actually was to be returning to Korea. I met so many wonderful people both Mongolian and foreign and experienced things that few get to experience.   This trip is definitely up there with the top 3 trip I’ve take to date.

I’m going to upload a video I made in the tourist camp in the Orkon Valley My time in Mongolia. I had some technical difficulties so it’s a link to my facebook page.  I’ll see if I can change the settings so everyone can see.  If anyone is interested in getting more info about Mongolia and where to stay etc just drop me a line  Check out my facebook page for the pictures.