Wednesday, 25 January 2017

What Living Abroad For 2 Years Taught Me About Minimalism

Some may have said I overpacked for my year in Korea. Heck, I even said it myself. Two overweight/oversized suitcases, one carry-on backpack, (and one steamer later....) I was ready for my year abroad.

You would think after that much luggage in size and weight, (I'm surprised the zippers didn't break) that my room back home in Canada would be looking pretty bare. But, no. It was disturbing how much stuff was still there. Someone could have easily still lived in there.

I did overpack, but in comparison to everything I left in my room, I was only taking a fraction of my belongings with me.

And guess what? I survived!

In fact, I thrived. It's only through looking back now that I can identify the feeling. I didn't know it at the time, but upon arriving in Korea and moving into my new apartment, I felt different. Not because I was in a foreign country, or out of my parents house... But I felt different in relation to my belongings. Lighter. Which I can only attribute to the fact that I was living with less.

Living with less, but each item having MORE meaning, more intent, more purpose (ok except for my portable steamer...). I actually WORE all my clothes. Why is that so amazing?! That should be a normal thing to do! And not only did I WEAR all of my clothes, but I liked them all too! Trying to find an outfit in the morning was never a problem, and I could actually start to SEE the back of my closet when laundry time was near. I used all my clothes, I liked all my clothes, and they served their purpose.

Fast forward two years.

Upon returning home after my time in Korea, I was flabbergasted by the amount of STUFF still in my room. And I don't use the word flabbergasted lightly (in fact I don't think I have ever used that word). The magnitude of things I owned made me feel sick to my stomach. I hadn't used any of this stuff in two years. I had forgotten about most of it, and been just fine without it. Happier, without it. Heavier, with it.

The very next day after my 26 hour flight itinerary from Sydney to Ottawa,  all I did was discard (aka donate, recycle, etc). A word I am now very familiar with after reading Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up". I could have chosen to do a great deal of other things on my first day back on Canadian soil, but alas. I discarded. It brought me joy and relief to get rid of these things I hadn't used or thought about in two years. They are just things.

One month and approximately 6+ garbage bags worth of items later (if anything that is an underestimation), and I am still discarding. I am trying to develop and maintain a lifestyle where I live a simpler life with less, and find more intentional uses in my belongings. I can't give Korea all the credit to opening me up to this lifestyle. Perhaps some people may be familiar with the term "minimalism", which has kind of blown up the internet (and real life) recently, with tons of books, YouTube channels, and podcasts devoted to this concept. "The Minimalists" website defines minimalism as, " a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfilment and freedom." Although the concept has probably been around for ages without a name, discovering the concept of minimalism and learning about this lifestyle has been inspirational and instrumental. It gave a name to the feeling I had, when I felt lighter with less.

Some of my favourite resources for minimalism so far include:
I have a long way to go in the decluttering department but I am looking forward to this life long minimalism journey. Thank you Korea, and the sources above to opening me up to this concept. It has changed me so far, and this is only the beginning. 

If anyone has any other minimalist resources they love and would like to share, I would love to hear them!

Until next time,


(Laura Back From Korea)

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

2016 Recap: Highlights

In a vague attempt to maintain some sort of consistency with this blog, I have decided to make a 2016 recap post, just like I did last year for 2015. However I recently came to the sad realization that I posted significantly less this year; 11 posts compared to 17 in 2015. My goal of writing more consistent blog posts was definitely a minor flop! With that said, most of my highlights from 2016 may be things I have never posted before on this blog, but perhaps will inspire an in depth blog post down the road.

2016 may not have ended how I expected and it was not without it's challenges, but it was a darn good year. Time to reflect on the moments that made 2016 the year it was. In chronological order, let's go.

1. Spending 3 weeks at home after 14 months abroad, January 17th 

Reconnecting and spending time with family and friends who I love and missed very much. From Ottawa, Toronto, to my old university stomping grounds in Peterborough.

2. My Dad visiting Korea, February 8th

Showing the life I created for myself and the quirks of the country I fell in love with was incredibly special. The food, my neighbourhood, favourite coffee shops, my friends. I know he fell in love with it all, too.

3. Visiting Japan and Falling in Love with Kyoto, February 22nd

I had been told that I was going to love Osaka from my friends who had visited Japan. But it was Kyoto that stole my heart. Biking along it's canals and old streets covered in willow trees, vising it's ancient shrines, feasting on sushi and ramen, singing kareoke until the AM, geisha sightings, shisha bars galore. 

4. Jindo Sea Parting Festival, April 9th

Great friends, the magical/mysterious/hilarious legend of the sea parting, delicious international food fair (shawarma, hello), thigh-high rubber boots, watching Korean's dig in the middle of the sea parting searching for sea creatures to take home and eat.

5. Yeongam Cherry Blossom Festival, April 10th

An unexpected adventure, finding our own private creek away from the actual festival, having a silly photoshoot, watching "Dudung Sound"- a music group of 5 middle school aged boys perform live.

6. Seoul Pride, June 12th 

An inspiring and emotional day filled with love despite the many protests and police surrounding the event. Participating in the actual parade and witnessing all the support from the outside: the people in the 2nd floor cafe above street level holding signs of love and peace in the window, the girls on the sidelines making heart shapes with their hands. Witnessing how still very taboo and sensitive this topic is in Korea.

7. Boryeong Mud Festival, July 23

A long bus ride with great company from Gwangju to Boryeong. Lathering up in the mud, having mud baths, wading in mud pools, watching mud wrestling, swimming in the ocean in an attempt to remove all the mud. Music, concert, good vibes (and soju).

8. Participating in the Jeollanamdo Provincial English Camp, August 4th

6 days 5 nights of living in university dorms, eating cafeteria food, and teaching 8 classes a day. Creating new friendships and deepening existing ones, my amazing class of 10 students for the week (The Crazy Watermelons, they so named themselves), the end of the week Talent Show- performing Happy by Pharrell. 

9. Finally visiting Jeju Island, September 12th

Biking around U-do, climbing Sanbang mountain, carefully trekking along the wet rocks on Yongmeori coast, getting lost on the Olle trails, feasting on Black Pork BBQ (a Jeju specialty), watching the mermaids of Jeju dive for food, swimming in Donnaeko watering hole, making new friends. 

8. The streets and food of Hanoi, Vietnam, November 2nd

The lively energy of the streets, delicious street food and the questionable alleyways leading to them. The hole in the wall restaurants, egg coffee, bun cha, and the quaint restaurant where we spent two nights in a row on the patio; overlooking the big rustic church in the Old Quarter square. The insane amount of motorbikes which required us to play real life Frogger while crossing the street, a skill mastered by the end of our time in Hanoi. 

9. Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam, November 5th 

2 days, 13 kilometres, 12 initial strangers that left as friends: 5 Dutch, 4 Canadian, 2 French, 1 Brazilian. Staying with a Vietnamese family in their home at the base of the mountains, eating a home cooked dinner which included buffalo stomach, taking shots of homemade alcohol that was served to us from a plastic Nestle water bottle, learning Vietnamese cheers, homemade pancakes and instant coffee for breakfast. 

10. 18 Hours in Kuala Lumpur, November 12th

Taking public transit from the airport into the city, treating myself to the swanky Aloft Hotel which included a rooftop bar and infinity pool, eating Nasi Lamak (a traditional Malaysian dish) twice in 6 hours, taking the LightRail to the Petronas Towers, and of course a selfie with those bold twin beauties.

11. Hanging out in Manly, Australia, November 13th 

Tearing up at the sight of the Opera House and Syndey Harbour Bridge from the plane in the night sky, embracing the local vibe of foodie and health culture, green juices and smoothies on every corner, acai bowls galore, reconnecting with a friend I haven't seen in over two years, trivia night at the New Brighton Hotel, $3 tacos, Manly to Spit walk, renting bikes to North Head.

12. Spending Christmas and the Holiday Season at Home, December 13th

And just like that, we've come full circle. Happy to be spending the holiday season with family and friends for the first time in two years. 

2016 was quite the year, and as I continue to reflect upon it, I realize that there is still so much more I want to write about. Some of the funniest moments, most embarrassing moments, worst travel moments (aka losing my wallet in Japan), and personal highlights. 

What 2017 will bring is still a mystery, but maybe as I reflect on 2016 it will bring me closer to what I want to achieve in 2017.

Until next time,


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Letting Go Of Your First Love Abroad

November was the month that marked the end of my two year relationship with South Korea. A loving, caring, supportive and secure relationship. Yes, a real relationship. Oh, if you were expecting this to be about a person, I am sorry to disappoint but I will not be divulging the details of my love life at this time (or probably at any future time). However, I am here to tell you that you can easily be as heartbroken over a place as a person; and that the two really don't feel that much different.  

The weeks prior to leaving you were probably the hardest. The anticipation of it all was enough to stir up feelings I didn't know were possible when it came to a place. How could I feel so deeply for somewhere that was so foreign to me two years ago? How could one place generate so much emotion? When I should have been tirelessly packing, all I could muster was simply laying in bed, paralyzed in my own sadness. It was my own decision to leave you. But from the wise words of a friend, "that doesn’t make it any easier".  Every day was a challenge. Waking up with puffy eyes, wondering what the trigger would be that day to leave me in tears. I always knew it would be hard to leave you, but I never imagined something like this. The days eventually passed, much too quickly, but probably for the best. We said our farewells: goodbye dinners, goodbye coffees, goodbye parties. November 2nd, we said our real and final farewell at the airport. I spent the next 10 days after that in Vietnam- a hectic and exhilarating ten days. My mind was occupied, I was surrounded by two close friends. I was happy. "Maybe I'll be fine after all". It wasn't until I arrived in Australia November 13th, when I started to feel the sadness creep back. I was out of Asia. I left you. This is real. (And reverse culture shock; also real). I was travelling in Vietnam. On "holiday". But Australia was different. I had no set end date and was planning on working there or New Zealand. I was adjusting back to Western life, my life outside of you. There I was in Australia, surrounded by the most gorgeous beaches and beautiful scenery, yet I felt numb; unable to appreciate the present moment or any of my surroundings. Things that would normally make me feel alive and energized lost their effect. The people around me seemed so fulfilled and content, why couldn't I feel what they were feeling? You were always in the back of my mind; you still are. I compare everything to you, for better or worse. Your flaws, your quirks, your antics. I feel like I know you like the back of my hand, yet that there is still so much to learn and uncover.

Here I am now, back in Canada, exactly a month and a half after I left you. I decided to come home for Christmas this year. Something you and I know a thing or two about; celebrating Christmas. I needed you those two Christmases, and you were there. Your support, festive decorations, the friends-turned-family you gave me, and your semi-understanding of how special this time of year is. I'm not there this year, I'm in my other home. My first home. Life without you is still strange, but I know I'll be ok. I'm learning to thank you for all that you gave me; the opportunities, friends, independence, culture, and understanding. I'm learning to grow from you, to take what you gave me and turn it into something bigger. It was love, it will still always be love, but it wasn't forever. You were a key chapter in this book we call life, and I can never repay you for the joy and knowledge you imprinted into my pages. I'll look back on our time together with such fondness, and relive our memories through the pictures and journal entries you inspired into me; simply because. It may hurt sometimes, but doesn't the deepest and greatest kind of love hurt the most?

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard" - Winnie the Pooh


*Must think of new name

Sunday, 2 October 2016

One Month- What's Next?

Officially one month, until I depart Korea and set off for my next adventure. Feels absolutely surreal to say it. I will be heartbroken to leave this place I've called home for the past two years, but I feel the timing is right to move on to what's next.

So, what is what's next you ask?!

November 2

November 2nd, I will fly out to Hanoi, Vietnam. I will spend 10 days exploring northern Vietnam and all it's beauty, with one of my closest friends here in Korea!

What I'm looking forward to most: trekking in Sapa, Halong Bay, and Vietnamese cuisine (egg coffee, Vietnamese iced coffee, Banh mi, all of the Pho). The rest is up in the air! Any suggestions are welcome :)

Rice terraces of Sapa

Egg coffee (think: meringue)

November 13

November 13th I will fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as part of a layover on my way to Australia. I purposefully chose an extra long layover so I could have enough time to make it worth it to leave the airport and check out KL! 

What I'm looking forward to most: treating myself to a fancyshmancy hotel with a rooftop infinity pool, the Petronus Towers at night, and of course, food. 

November 14

18 hours later, I will head back to the airport and start my flight to Australia! I'll be flying into Sydney, and spending a few days there. Then, I will head to MELBOURNE, where one of my closest friend's is currently living. 

What I'm looking forward to most: being in an English speaking/Westernized country again, coastal walks, spontaneity, and being fully immersed in what is apparently the coolest city on the planet- Melbourne. 

My plans for Australia and how long I'll be there are pretty up in the air, and depend on certain factors. While I'm there, I will be applying for my working holiday visa for NEW ZEALAND, and getting my medical check/chest x-ray completed for that. 


As I mentioned above, if all goes as planned, I'll be heading to New Zealand on a working holiday visa around December. I am SO excited for this.

What I'm most excited for, and potential plans: participating in HelpX, gorgeous scenery that reminds me of west coast Canada, Kiwi Kindness, Wellington, ski towns, hiking, renting a campervan. 

I have so many ideas of what I want to do running through my head, but we shall see what happens! 

Future of Laura2Korea

Short answer- yet to be determined? I have been wracking my brain for months deciding on a general travel blog name, a place where I can continue to share my travels. Until I decide on one, I'll keep updating through this blog. 

I hope everyone back home is doing well. I think about you all the time and miss you all! Sending hugs.

Lots of love, and stay tuned for what's next.


Saturday, 17 September 2016

Jeju: Photo Highlights of 5 Days in Paradise

Jeju-do: the "Hawaii of Korea". A temperate climate with countless cliffs, coasts, and beaches; vastly different than the rest of the country. It had been high on my list of places to see since before I even arrived to Korea. And I finally made it happen! Lucky for me, in my southern coastal town of Mokpo, there's a ferry that departs right from here. Last Saturday September 10th, backpack full, hopes and expectations high, I set out for my solo adventure.

As soon as got off the bus near my hostel in Seogwipo, these expectations were far from exceeded. A gorgeous park atop a mountain overlooking the harbour, and a what appeared to be a never ending trail hit me right in the face. I made a mental note of where it was, and immediately went right back after dropping off my bags at the hostel. It turns out the trail I spotted was one of Jeju's famous "Olle trails" (#6 to be exact) that cover the island. Waterfalls, croquet courses, palm trees. I hadn't even been there an hour and I was already in love! Spontaneous, unplanned finds like this, are my favourite moments of travel. And lucky for me it was the first of many during this trip. Here are the rest of those moments, and some of my highlights of this trip.

Day 1: Late Afternoon Arrival, Olle Trail #6, Black Pork BBQ 

Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, Olle Trail #6

Croquet course in the back, Olle Course #6

Olle Course #6 (not the blue/red ribbon- means you are ON the trail!)

Black Pork BBQ (Jeju specialty) at my hostel- "Backpacker's Home"
They had a BBQ Party every night!

Day 2- Jeongbang Waterfall, Oedolgae, Olle Trail #7 (Oedolage to Sokgol), Donnaeko 

Jeongbang Waterfall

Oedolgae- "the lonely rock", starting point of Olle Trail #7

Olle Trail #7

Donnaeko swimming hole- beautifully breathtaking!! (literally, it was so cold I couldn't breathe)

Day 3: Sanbang Mountain, Yolmeori Cliffs, Black Pork Round #2 

This day is the perfect example why you should ask wherever you are staying for suggestions. I had no idea this place existed, and I'm so glad it was suggested to me! Mountains, temples, horses, wacky food, and seaside cliffs all in one spot? Yes, please. 

Black Pork and Jeju Orange Makkeoli! (Rice wine)

Day 4- Udo Island: Bikes, Burgers, Beaches, and Haenyo Women

A well worth trek from my home base in Seogwipo! Udo is an island off of Jeju island, less than 20 minutes away by ferry. Why go to another island once you're already on one??!! Cause it's freaking gorgeous and you can cycle around the whole thing in a day!

Tip: If I were to go back, I would stay here 1 night. It's a small island, but so much to see and take in. I felt rushed. There are plenty of adorable guesthouses and condos, too. 

Bike and bag. Can you tell what my favourite colour is?

Best burger ever. 

Do you see those heads in the water? Those are "Haenyeo Women" aka Mermaids of Jeju. Fierce, strong, hardworking mermaids, that is. They spend their days diving for food, can hold their breath up to 3 minutes, and the majority of them over 80 years old, as it is a dying profession. I wish I had gotten a closer look at them!

Countless sculptures/statues of the Haenyo women all over the island.

Day 5- Hamdeok Beach, Departure Day

My ferry didn't leave until 5 so I still had quite a bit of time for some more activities! Decided to make my way back up to Jeju City and spend some time at a beach nearby. Did some exploring, swimming, and eating, of course. 

A pretty epic sunset on the ferry ride back home.

Goodbye Jeju! You were everything I imagined and more. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

What You DON'T Need to Pack For a Year in Korea

Cue almost two years ago, Laura at the Ottawa airport with an exploding 40L carry-on backpack and TWO massive overweight suitcases, ready for a year abroad (or what looked like a lifetime abroad, given the amount of stuff).

Thankfully, the kind Air Canada staff member only made me pay one overweight baggage fee ($100 dollars later....). Looking back, I probably didn't need a QUARTER of what was in those suitcases. And a lot of is was stuff I bought purposefully for moving to Korea. I realize now, that my defense mechanism when I'm anxious is buying things. When I buy things, I feel more prepared, therefore more ready, therefore reducing my anxiety. But then the cycle just repeats. Maybe you're like this, maybe you're not. Regardless, we can all afford to save some room in our suitcases. So, time to learn from my mistakes, here are some things you definitely DO NOT need, while making your packing list for teaching in South Korea.

1. A steamer

Why did I even think this was a good idea? Seriously? I bought this purposefully for Korea. Never in my life have I owned a steamer until this point, and I had been just fine without it. Why on earth did I think I needed one now?

Upon arrival I realized, orientation had an iron, my apartment had an iron. And Korea SELLS irons and steamers, if I really wanted to buy one while there. I did not need to buy and pack steamer.

2. Your TESOL course book

This thing is freaking massive. I had even been warned not to take it, since there are so many online teaching resources. "What if my apartment doesn't have wi-fi for a while and I need to plan lessons??!" Anxious Laura would think. 1- Korea is the Queen of wi-fi. Go to a coffee shop, or literally walk outside and you are bound to find a hotspot eventually. 2- Why don't you just lesson plan at school, where you are supposed to work?

You also get a ton of great resources during orientation.

3. Slippers

I was so stressed about slippers. I had read that teachers and students wore them in school, and I was set on getting slippers before leaving for Korea. "But what are their slippers like in Korea?" "Are they different than our slippers?" "Should they still semi look like real shoes?"

This is a prime of example of why doing too much research can sometimes be a bad thing. I would have been totally fine showing up not even knowing that this was a thing. Schools have guest slippers, and you can also buy slippers anywhere. Daiso (our dollar store), grocery stores, on the street. Everywhere. You're fine. Put those slippers down. (Unless you have special feet and want to bring a super comfy pair from home, I get that).

4. Your University degree

Yes, I packed my REAL University degree with me. Rolled and sealed in a long cylinder mailing container. It had been recommended to me just in case there were any problems with immigration. I have not had any issues, and had photocopies of the notarized version with me as well. If at some point you need it, get someone from home to mail it. In the meantime, leave that framed degree hanging nicely on the wall.

5. Sheets

Many Koreans use floor bedding, but Western style bedding is getting more and more popular. Years ago, when the first English teachers were coming over, I heard this was a huge problem, which caused the internet to blow up with warnings to new English teachers to pack sheets. Rest assured, you can find sheets here. And chances are the apartment you are taking over already has some.

6. Towels

Same as above. The internet still hasn't moved on from the fact that yes Korea does have towels bigger than your head. Although I will admit, it was nice having big towels right off the bat (and, like the sheets, there was one already in my apartment).

7. Rain Boots

Seriously, these took up so much room, why did I think this was a good idea? I've worn these probably......three times. They were nice on those three occasions, I guess. Reality is, is that rainy season in Korea is in the dead heat of summer. Not exactly when you will be wanting to wear knee high rain boots. Now, I gave up on my rain boots and wear plastic flip flops instead. The most natural "waterproof" shoe, am I right??!! (Again, reoccurring trend: Korea also has rain boots. Although they aren't too popular among Koreans. If you worry about your big feet, just order them online).

I brought a lot of questionable stuff with me, but these are definitely at the top. Hopefully this can be useful to some people, but if not, I hope my mistakes can at least provide you some entertainment. (*cough* steamer *cough*)

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Best Things About Korea in the Summer

A whole new season is upon us, and despite the sometimes unbearable heat and humidity, there are some great things about Korea that you can only experience in the summer time. My favourite things, in no particular order:

1. Picnics

Koreans do many things well, but this has to be near the top. Koreans use their public outdoor spaces so efficiently. During the warm seasons you'll always find people in pagodas or simply in parks sitting on mats, portable grill fired up and ready to go. Backyard barbecues are not a thing here, maybe since most people live in apartments. So perhaps this is why it is so popular! Whatever the reason, it's so nice to see people taking advantage of public spaces, spending time outdoors with the people they love. Or maybe because they often will invite us to join them or give us food....Korean hospitality is like no other!

Pro-tip: kimbap is the easiest option (if you don't feel like cooking) and you'll blend right in along with the Koreans.

2. Camping

Despite being still very confused about Korea's camping rules (sometimes allowed to camp on the beach, sometimes getting kicked off), it is still one of my favourite past times during the summer. Nothing like getting away from the city for the weekend and enjoying nature with great friends! Some of my favorites so far include Bijindo and Piagol, in Jirisan.

Pro-tip: The more isolated and less public the beach, the better your chances. Or be a normal human and opt for an actual campsite.

3. Hammocking

This has only recently become a past time of mine, with many friends and I all acquiring hammocks. Simply hang it up wherever you can, sit back and enjoy!

Pro-tip: Add in number 1 and 2 on this list and make it even better.

4. Bingsu

Ok, this one takes the cake (...or should I say ice cream?), because you can literally only buy this during summer time. Bingsu is a super popular summer dessert mainly consisting of shaved ice or shaved milk (better than it sounds I promise) topped with ice cream and various toppings. Bingsu season is never long enough, and the cravings come all winter long. Definitely taking advantage of it as long as I possibly can!

Pro-tip: Shaved milk > shaved ice.

5. Cafe Patios

The only thing better than bingsu is enjoying it on an outdoor patio. Thank you summer time!

Not bingsu, but an equally delicious smoothie on a cute backyard cafe patio.

Pro-tip: Look up. Most cafe patios will be on the second floor of buildings.

5. Baseball games

Korea also does baseball very well. Best part? They don't mark up the price of food or drinks! You can still go to any convenience store in the stadium and buy some beer and fried chicken for a couple bucks. The atmosphere alone is enough reason to check it out, if not also for the chicken and beer.

Pro-tip: Climb to the top of the stadium for a sweet sunset view and private seating (if you're like me and don't actually care that much about baseball).

6. Drinking in public

Ok, I don't mean to sound like I have a drinking problem (cause I don't), but it is seriously so awesome. First- the fact that this is legal. Meaning if you're having a picnic and feel like a beer it's totally OK and encouraged. You will never see a Korean picnic in the absence of a few soju bottles. Second- since you buy alcohol at corner stores here, and they all usually have some plastic patio furniture outside of them, you can literally sit outside of them and just drink. Talk about money saving and just an all around good time!

Pro-tip: keep your eye out for outdoor cocktail bars, served right out of a car and cocktails in bags!

And there you have it. My favourite things about Korea in the summertime! Going to enjoy these to the fullest while my last few months in Korea come to a close.

Yes, the worst decision maker ever has finally made a decision. Stay tuned for what's next!