Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Where are we now and what are we doing?

Once again it has been a long, long time since I posted on this blog.  The last post outlined that we would finally be leaving Korea and heading westward - and so we did.
We left Korea at the end of February, a move that was both heart breaking and exciting... there were lots of friends and aquaintances that we might not see again, hobbies that would be difficult (or near impossible) to continue with, and places in Asia that we had still hoped to visit that would, for now, have to take a back seat.
Personally, I am already looking into a return trip... mainly for some archery practice. The bruising on my thumb has disappeared which is a definite sign that I am not doing even the basic practice of drawing the bow.

So, the story goes that during our search for jobs we toyed with both Italy and Spain as countries which we would want to continue teaching ESL.  Spain was always the clear favourite and was the main focus of our search.  We would check out numerous websites on a daily basis, emailing cover letters and CVs, scan our email and junk mailboxes for responses and possible interviews. 

At some point Danielle came across a job post that was advertising for two ESL teachers in Spain and she sent me an email asking me to send our details through. 
I replied to her to ask where the job was, what sort of work they do - was it adults or children or both? She had no idea as she could not find the information again so I resorted to a Google search and found out what I needed.  The language academy had a focus on younger learners which we both liked.  I emailed them, got a positive response and at the end of March we were packed and off to the south of Spain.

Easter Sunday saw us flying from Belfast at a very early hour out to Malaga where we then drove the couple of hours up the coast to Almería - right on the corner of Spain.  It is a quiet coastal city that hasn't embraced the tourist money that is benefiting the the rest of Andalusia.  The main industry all around this area seems to be agriculture - hence a massive sea of white/gray plastic when viewed from above.  The city itself sweeps down from the surrounding hills and focuses at the port.  The hills mean that half the city is nicely protected from the wind from the Atlantic that whips in during the cooler days... when it comes from the west we have a warm wind (not a breeze... WIND!).

It took us about 5 days to find somewhere to live - which was made harder by the fact that we were also having to work... well, to be fair it was more to do with the Spanish way of life which means that by 1pm people are taking their siesta time and things just stop.  Yes, we were working each evening from 4 until 8.30pm but the Letting Agents, like most of the shops here, don't reopen until 5pm... and close at 8.30! Doh!

The apartment we went for is in the east of the city, it is an area that is still undergoing development but it is close enough to Danielle's work and is a 20 minute cycle to the school I work at.  The view from our balcony makes it worth it... especially the year round sunsets!

There is also another girl from Belfast who works for the same language school as us.  Funnily enough, she actually lived around the corner from Danielle for about 5 years - though they didn't know each other.
We've been out with her and her boyfriend, met up with them at night to wander into the city and even gone for a bit of a drive down towards Malaga and over to Granada.  We now can't wait to get a car so that we can get out to see more of the area.  It has a lot to offer tourists who can travel by car... and we want to see more so the saving has started so we can get something sorted out sooner rather than later!

Well, what about the job? What are we doing?

Danielle works with kids from 3 to 9 years old, mainly the focus is learning English through play with a little bit of textbook work to guide their learning.  She has been working full-time since we arrived here which initially left me with the housework as I was told that I'd not start work until the end of June (Summer Camp) but as the months have passed I have taken on extra work and ended up working more hours than Danielle.
I have been teaching a range of levels, KET, PET, FCE, Business English and Advanced Certificate with students ranging from  10 year olds to adults.  The 10 year old girls are my favourite class - their English is really good for their age, they are bubbly, loud and happy and a joy to teach!

We both also work one Saturday morning a month at a Cultural Saturday which entails lots of different activities all presented in English for the kids to enjoy and use English outside the normal classroom setting.  During summer we both have English Camp - so Danielle will concentrate on Dance and I will use whatever music skills I have (hopefully).

We have also noted that Spain, although not as Christian as people really believe it to be, still takes great pleasure when celebrating religious holidays.  Granted it isn't the religious element that is most visual - rather the way everyone else piggy backs it by partying and enjoying the late nights!
The most recent was San Juan, a fire based celebration of Saint John or possibly Saint James who has more importance in Spain, especially in the north of the country.  We duly attended our local celebration which sees bonfires being lit all along the beaches on the coast here.  This is then backed up with a BBQ, alcohol and allnight party!

We were good... and back home by 2am and in bed by 3am! Hey... it was a holiday the next day - why not!

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Preparing for the big move!

To be honest, the idea of moving to Korea seemed a massive leap of faith back in February 2011.

We would be trusting our lives to a nation of people we did not know, trusting a culture with traditions that were more than a little alien to us.  A place where those with more senior age were deemed all knowing and infallible. A country where technology would one day soon be replacing human teachers.

Were our fears/hesitations justified... well, in some ways yes but in others no.

I know that when I think back on Korea it will be the lovely people here that will come to mind. Those that I will consider friends, even if we do not speak again, those that have helped us, those that seen as being some of the nicest people I have met without expecting anything in return.  Their smiles, quirks, silly mistakes and simplistic answers, their beauty, their paternal/maternal care, their enthusiasm for Korean heritage and history, their acceptance that Danielle and I don't like fish/shellfish/sea/river/lake procured foods.

So, there are 27 days until we head to Seoul for our flight home... and we are almost ready to move our lives into suitcases.

We have spent the last 2 months boxing up our belongings that we need to keep (mainly Danielle's clothes collection) and sending them on the slow journey home.  It is estimated that it will take roughly 2-3 months for the boxes and boxes of seemingly essentials to make their way back to N. Ireland and land on my parents' doorstep - which neither they nor we are looking forward to!

Packing up is so hard to do... Do we need it? Can we sell it?  Is it worth keeping? Why bring it home?

What seems like 20 boxes later, we still have lots of things in the apartment which we made our home.

We are currently trying to sell off some of those bits and pieces that we know we cannot bring home - ovens, blenders, scooter, car, ironing board, etc. etc. etc.

Even deciding what to sell and what to keep was a problem... I've decided to bring my Korean X-Box home even though I'm not sure whether or not games at home will even play in it.  I could eternally be buying future games from Asia in order to enjoy it! lol!

The last two weeks have been a bit of respite from the whole stress of leaving... well, almost.
We have spent a lot of time checking what jobs are available, trying to find something that doesn't want us until later in March rather than getting home for one week and leaving again... and our options have extended beyond our current fields of work.  Really we want something closer to home and that we can grow with - develop our skills in education, develop our language skills, maybe even develop a family.
Spain is still the country of choice for us... though I am still keeping in the back of my mind the undergrowth of what seems to be the return of Franco there - that could make for a volatile future but then again we're from N.I. so how bad can it be? (laughing inwardly!)

This week we also took the opportunity to get in some skiing/boarding before we had to get back to school.
We headed to a ski resort called High 1 which is generally considered the best in the country - and it was definitely the best we have ever been to (in our long history of skiing/snowboarding and of all the numerous countries we have indulged this winter sport in - which is very very little!).
We chose it because of reputation and that it has a nice 4.1 kilometre beginners' slope - which would mean we could get lots of practice in!  IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT!


Danielle (who has all her own gear!) wanted to use this as an opportunity to practice and develop her toeing but it didn't quite work out that way... I just wanted to grow some balls! (? What Colm?) Well, I have this niggling fear that if I have a nasty fall that: a) the bones won't heal correctly or will leave permanent damage due to my age, and b) that if I did have a nasty accident then Danielle is stranded without someone to support her/calm her down or any transport home (since I'm the only one who drives here).

But... those fears were set aside somewhat and I was able to nicely build up more speed and slalom more; rather than doing pizza the whole way down and stressing myself out when I couldn't slow down! haha!

I quite fancy doing more skiing back in Europe - though I really need to get much better before I try an intermediate run.  We'll go again in a couple of weeks and I'll try and push myself a bit more... might have to actually get a lesson at some stage too rather than depending on Ski Assistant's Youtube lessons (which so far have really helped and I've even passed them on to others too!!!).  Ski Assistant (no idea what his real name is) also has a website which includes places in Scotland for skiing - something we may well be trying out next winter as an alternative to going to France, Italy etc.
A few resort regulars kitted out in Onesies!
View from our hotel room at High 1 Hotel & Country Club

Korea is great for skiing during the winter - there are resorts all over the country and for the most part the snowfall is good to great.  There are a few places where it can be very icey - here in Chungju it has not snowed for almost 4 weeks yet there is still 'snow' on the ground but is just dangerous.

After our next, and final, ski trip we will box up our gear and ship it home... all except Danielle's snowboard which we will be trying to sell as she wants to get a smaller one back home.

I'll be trying to get one last post on here before we leave Korea... but leaving here is not the end of our journey!

Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year = new paths...

The news that we are officially leaving Korea at the end of February seems to be still reverberating around our colleagues here with the vast majority expressing more sadness than we'd honestly expected.
It seems that many of them got a notion into their heads that we would live here for the foreseeable future but then again they might have reacted to this news in the same way no matter when it came (now or 2 years down the line).

There has been a massive outpouring of concern that it the events that led us to leaving will forever shadow our view of Korea; that we will profess our hate of the country, its people, its culture.  For me, that won't be the case - I have enjoyed being here, the life that we have is great, the work isn't the most demanding I've ever had, the people I work with are extremely nice and my extra-curricular activities keep me occupied.  I can't complain really!

Korea has some very lovely people, technologically advanced services at affordable prices, good infrastructure and activities throughout the year to keep everyone active.... but it does have those who feel the compulsion to try and assert their authority without provocation, those who are so worldly-narrow minded, chauvinistic, illogical and socially inept that it makes me question what good can actually be accomplished.  Korea is still a Man's country - even with a newly elected female President - where laws favour them, as do the cultural aspects of life.  Women still have a long way to go here in the equality stakes and there is a need to change things little by little here to move the 'culture' of Korea in the same direction as technology and infrastructure has gone = FORWARD!

This takes me to looking at home...Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Over the past two decades there has been a conscious effort to move forward, move towards peace, an equality of life in a small country.  The events of the last month haven't helped us think of moving home to Northern Ireland for good.  'Equal' doesn't mean almost the same, nor does it mean 'more than', but it does appear that some of the residents in the province do feel that they are being asked to give up more than others... then again, if you have the majority and your opposition has much less then you will have to give up more to meet that 'equality' level.  Flags seem to be the current drive. Recently the dominance of Unionism in Belfast faced a shift and the city council voted by a majority to only fly the (predominantly Unionist symbol) Union Jack on designated days each year rather than year-round - something that had already been passed in other councils without riots or mass demonstrations.  In Belfast it triggered weeks of disruption and tarnished the shopping and working lives of many during this Christmas season.  Death threats were issued to some political representatives and the lives of police officers were also put in danger through violence and attempted murder.  Where some of those argued through speech that it was a violation of their rights others sought to fight with their fists and brutish immaturity.  I thought (or hoped) that we had moved on from that method of politics.

Maybe out of fear of falling off the radar (or possibly from the notion that any Press is good Press!), members from the dissident Republican community jumped back on the bandwagon and tried to murder a family man right before the end of 2012.  His job? A police officer.

Before Christmas, as a way of trying to reclaim Belfast from the rioting and demonstrations against the flag decision, a massive crowd assembled in Belfast to make as much noise as possible for 5 minutes as a shout out to those who wished to drag the city and the people back into the past.... that demonstration wasn't merely at the Loyalists who were crying foul about the flag but to ALL who think that Belfast wants them causing unrest, disrupting daily life, causing civil disturbances or attempting murder.  It was a shout from those in Belfast that have been able to mentally develop past the colours they were born under, the labels they were given growing up, the divisions that were put in place by segregation and religion in the past.  It was a shout out to say that this was OUR city too, with OUR elected representatives that WE want to help us move the city out of the dark ages and towards a future that is accepting and considerate of all its people.

My parents wanted more for their family than the world in which they grew up.  They taught us to accept others, to consider others, to have some empathy with their points of view.  They brought us up to be equipped with the basic skills needed to show that neither religion, colour of skin nor political view means that someone does not deserve to be loved or shown compassion.  We were brought up in a way that allowed us, through self-realisation,  to see that although a Unified Ireland was a dream in the past it may not be where we want to be in the future (and this was well before the Celtic Tiger drowned itself).
Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, has it's pros too but there are historical differences that need to be worked out so that it is a country in which religion or affiliation to a particular flag is not what defines us.

I want to be able to return home and to raise our child/children in a country that I can be proud of.  In a country that has been able to rise above its past and move forward.  This is closer than ever before and could mean that we are moving in the right direction.

For now, I think we'll be looking outside of the best little country in the world for work and life... and I am sure that no matter where that will be, we will see that everywhere has its problems/issues/cultural deficiencies just like home.

God bless Northern Ireland and all who live there - I think we all know you need it.

Goodbye 2012... Hello 2013!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas is coming... and we will be heading home in the New Year!

I did try to pass this blog off to Danielle... but she wasn't really up for it... darn it! lol!

Well, it is 5 days until Christmas - and it will be our last Christmas here in Korea! (That should be read with a mix of joyous outburst and a tinge of sadness ~ if that is possible.)

Why?  Let's just say that office politics here in Korea for women don't work out well most of the time.  If a man tells you to do something then as a woman you do it with a smile on your face or suffer the consequences! And we weren't prepared to accept this for another academic year.  It wasn't what we'd planned but it gave us the shove that we may have needed to cut the cord and go.

We've had a brilliant time here in Korea - we've set up home here... have all our comforts and I am sure there are lots of things we still want to do here but they'll have to wait for another time... if there is one.

As it stands, we will return to Belfast at the end of February 2013 and aim to be at home for about 1 month before moving onto another ESL Teaching position somewhere in Europe; though we are being tempted to try something completely different and work as Domestic staff instead which would provide it's own challenges.

So, why not just move elsewhere in Korea? No... to be honest we would like to be closer to home (or at least that is what I am sticking to).  Living half a world away makes it difficult to see family and friends as they grow, get married and have new children.  There are new additions to our wider family that we haven't even met, new nephews and unborns that we'd otherwise not get to see or play with other than via skype, weddings that we will miss... being out here means we are not part of their lives and we don't want them to be deprived of us! lol!

We had thought about merely moving elsewhere in Asia (Taiwan or Bangkok) but it wouldn't resolve the distance issue - at least if we are in Europe then getting home is only a matter of small hours away rather than travelling for DAY/DAYS.  You can't just book a short flight home from here.

Spain would be our country of choice and we had an interview for a job in Melilla (Spanish enclave on the North African coast) at the beginning of December which seemed to go well.  If we are accepted for that position then we'd travel there at the end of March for an April start.  It is a quiet place so it might suit us for a while though I don't revel in the notion of losing my wedding ring again in the Med Sea! Sun, sea, siestas... could be a lot worse.

Since I don't trust myself to guarantee posting here before we leave Korea, I will bid SK farewell.  We have 2 months left in this lovely country (which is currently freezing cold with negative Celsius the norm for the next few months) and we hope to enjoy what is left.  Packing has already started and some boxes have been posted home... by the time we get back we may not physically be able to get into my old bedroom at my parents' house (where were hope to stay for a couple of weeks before leaving again).

Tally ho'! Catch ya in the next country!


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

I know... I'm not a good blogger... sorry!

Well, I had hoped to have been able to post at least once a fortnight on here but it just hasn't be possible...

My workload in school went from 'slightly easier than last year' to 'what they give with one hand, they take away with the other' and my microly reduced timetable of classes jumped to include 7 extra classes - 4 before school (starting at 7.50am) and 3 after school classes. In total it equated to 100 hours extra work that I was having to plan for on top of my regular classes so I wasn't really amused.

Now, with summer coming up, many students for these extra classes are starting to fade off... which is bad in  that I am still having to be in school at 7.45am but then most of them don't even turn up until 8am or later - which also means we don't get the work done in class and they have homework to do (which quite a few don't do with any conviction at all).
While trying to plan for the summer, and what camps I was having, I was told that I'd be taking 2 hours each day (for 2 weeks) of students for a competition, 2 hours of guitar class, and then 4 hours each day of English Camp (1 week for Grade 1s and 1 week for Grade 2s).  After sleeping on it I decided that I wasn't convinced of the benefits of teaching the guitar class everyday for 2 hours - if they don't practice at home (which most don't) then they are only coming me for me to practice it with them... which means they are wasting my time and theirs.  I need them to listen, understand and copy what I play and then to practice playing it themselves so we can move on... but it seems that only 2 guys in the class actually adhere to this notion where the others just think it will come naturally! Yeah... right!

My teaching should be finished on the 3rd of August... so I have literally 12 days away from school before the new term starts (4 of those days are weekends and 1 day is a National Holiday - so I only get 7 days holidays).


So anyway, less of my complaining... what's been happening...

Let's see... my last post was in April and I promised a load of photos from our Winter Vacation (how American!) so the if you haven't visited our Flickr page to view the photos then you can have a looksy below at the slideshow!  Our holiday was to Kuala Lumpar in Malaysia, then up to Bangkok in Thailand, back to Northern Malaysia, Penang, a couple of days on an Island off the coast before taking an over night train back down to Kuala Lumpar and then flying home to Korea!
[If it looks like we did a lot of eating... then yes, we did!]

We also got to pop home for a quick visit in February which was much needed.  I think my Mum always thought I'd be the one out of the two of us that would get homesick - but I don't really.  I enjoy doing something different having a little distance from the scandals and stories back home for a while, ever safe in knowing that I plan on returning home to live at some point closed to family.  Danielle on the other hand does miss home a lot... well, not so much home but family and she sometimes finds it difficult - though making money, having job security and ultimately being on a road to being debt free is a strong remedy - so getting home, or seeing people from home is always lovely.

The trip home allowed us to have family gatherings, days out for birthdays, meet up with some other friends and restock on toothpaste, deodorant and pain killers.  We also filled up with chocolate, Easter Eggs and other sweetie essentials that we figured we would not see for possibly the next 18 months at the least. 

There are hundreds more photos to include on here... so I'll cheat and do them all separately!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

There is more coming!

I know we haven't posted anything on here in ages - but there is more coming! I promise!

2 months of travelling and working, followed by getting back to work, has been taking it's toll - but there will be  photos and details on here by the end of this week! PROMISE!!!


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

October, Movember and now!

Ok, ok... I fully admit that I am pretty bad at keeping up with this blog... yes - I should take more time and actually dedicate myself in even a small way to keeping up with it but sometimes I just can't squeeze in a bathroom visit never mind attempting to create something of interest on here... but I will endeavor to try and make more of an effort!

So - what has been happening? Well... I'll start back in October then and work up to now...

October was a relatively quiet month - sort of...

First off - Danielle and I had the absolute pleasure of a visit from my Mum, Dad and brother Tomás! It is surprisingly difficult to encourage family and friends to come visit - we figure that it is almost like going on holiday to Australia, as in the distance travelled and the jetlag with it needs to be justified by the time spent away - so unless people can get away for 2 weeks or more then it is not fair to expect them to pop out to the other side of the world!  It is different for us popping home... I have this silly self-belief that I won't suffer from jetlag - or at least I can put it off for a few days before it kicks me to the ground.

The only drawback to the visit was that Danielle and I had to work during the week - which meant that they had to entertain themselves Monday to Friday until 5pm - though admittedly they had disappeared off out each day for a walk/adventure around our little city - which is another nice thing about where we live... it isn't that big that you can get really lost and it is simple to wander off and visit random new places too.

It did give Danielle and I the chance to revisit some interesting places that we thought might entertain them for a while - Independence Hall in Cheonan, the giant gold Buddha 15mins from Chungju, Daejeon (admittedly only for the night), even visiting Gangnam again to go to the giant caves there... a bit of an adventure in itself! lol!

We also got to finally go to the DMZ - a trip on their final weekend to round off their visit to the lovely South Korea... which was made all the better by having a few friends there too (Hannah, Elysia and Jordan).

Unfortunately the family had to leave us just before Danielle's birthday - though we did get to celebrate it a little early with them.  On the day itself we went out for a quiet dinner (as is the done thing at our age) and then the real celebration was the following weekend with a trip down to Daejeon to meet up with friends and  to let everyone go as mad as they wished!
October also gave us a chance to reclaim a Gaelic traditional event that many Koreans just assume is from America... a little re-education was called for in relation to Hallow'een!
Although we had looked online for costumes, early in the month, we didn't order anything or plan anything really - one of the other EPIK teachers (Aiden 'Party Boy' McVey) had suggested having a shindig on the Saturday before with a visit to an abandoned office building near his apartment.... so despite plans to go on boat cruises in Seoul, partying in Daejeon or hiding at home and watching scary movies - we attacked the whole dressing-up thing early on the Saturday evening by getting a few little cheap bits down town (including face paints) and then threw some costumes together.

Danielle went for the 'Elphaba' in tribute to her cousin who plays the role on London's Westend show 'Wicked' - and I went for a Zombie style thing... Nadia (who was having her first Hallow'een experience) went for a vampire look - complete with self-made teeth! Good job!

November seen charity and education on Men's Health come to the fore - with surprising results!

In an effort to raise some funds for research into Prostate and Testicular Cancers - I signed up for Movember and began the growing of a mustache much to the dismay of Danielle... though she fully supported the reasoning behind it.  I also taught my Grade 3 students about Movember, prostate cancer and even went so far as to teach them how to check their testicles for cancers too... which despite the giggles and embarrassment (from the female teachers) it all went rather well - though my official staff photo did see me taking the piss a bit with mo and glasses giving me a 1980s professor look!

All was going great until I developed a cough while trying to get a bit fitter.  I'd taken to running up from the ground floor of our apartment block all the way up to the very top (17 floors in total - the top two are only for maintenance) - pretty knackering in itself!  But when the cough didn't go away - and ultimately led to me spending a weekend in bed sick - I agreed that maybe it was a little more than just a cough, and a bit of a cold, and went to see a doctor.  Turned out (five x-rays and a lot of coughing later) that I had a sinus infection and quite severe bronchitis and was given a concoction of drugs. I ended up laid up in bed for 3 days before being forcibly returned to school to sit there instead of wrapped up in bed... (yeah... I know!)

So Movember ended with this....

but with also a very nice total of £374 donated by friends and family which I can only thank them for with all my heart! THANK YOU ALL!!!  This total also made me the second highest Movember fundraiser in Korea! Go me!!! lol!

So... now we are into December - I've turned another year over, we've got a Christmas tree up ready for Santa to visit, school is drawing to an end - we've a nice holiday planned to Malaysia and Thailand for January as well as 10 days home in Belfast in February before the whole year starts again... though this coming year we plan to spend significantly less, be consciously on the lookout for potential jobs back home (hope Skype interviews are becoming more common), also think about where we want to live when we get home (job dependent of course too)... and if we are blessed we will possibly have a bundle of joy to bring home too.  Though with all that being said, if the jobs are not there and costs are too high then we may consider staying here longer than just 2 years... hmmmm... no final decision on that until we are there!

Ok folks - that's all I have for now... possibly be back here at Christmas though I have set myself a target of recording 12 songs by the end of February (that was planned before the holidays were booked so I might fail!!!) so that may take up most of my free time unfortunately... BE GOOD - BE GRATEFUL - KEEP SMILING - and in case I don't make it back on here:

Happy Christmas to you all!