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!


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Things That Start to Happen During Your Second Year in Korea

1. It is very clear you are no longer "new"

Once new batches of teachers start to come in to town, in awe of everything around them, almost in a "Korea daze"; it is then you realize how far you've come. Sometimes you forget what made this place so magical in the first place. Newcomers are a friendly reminder of this, despite how annoying their newness may be at times.

2. All things get increasingly easier

Buying bus tickets on a Korean app, chatting with taxi drivers, ordering from a coffee shop, going to the doctor. They all get easier. And it starts to make Korea feel even more like home.

3. You say too many goodbyes

If you've stayed a second year in Korea, chances are you like it (somewhat, I would hope) and have made a decent amount of friends. Especially if you've stayed in the same city. However, many do decide to leave after their one year contract is over, and this usually calls for some goodbye celebration/mourning. Not only does the quantity of goodbyes increase dramatically, but the quality of the emotions attached to these people also increases, making goodbyes significantly more difficult.

4. The thought of a 3rd year sounds either really repelling.....

There are always going to be little struggles living in a different culture than your own. After living in a foreign country for almost two years, things that used to bug you a little bit are magnified. (Or in some cases, maybe you have completely adapted to them). There are just some days where the spitting, stares, and crazy driving get to you, and leaving seems like the clearest option for your sanity.

5. ........or really tempting 

After almost two years you also realize how much this country has to offer. On all fronts. Outdoor activities, festivals, food, people, learning, etc. You could go somewhere every weekend and still not run out of things to do, and it's not a big country! You also start to realize how lucky you are to be here. Relatively stress free, no rent, an apartment to myself, a great social life. When you start thinking about leaving and the realities that come with it (e.g., paying rent like a normal person), this makes you appreciate the present even more.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Japan vs. Korea: 6 Differences I Experienced

Way way back in February, I traveled to Japan! And I have yet to write about it....oops! Actually I haven't wrote about a lot of things. Mainly because I'm procrastinating trying to work on my new general travel blog, but I have yet to come up with a domain name that I am happy with!

Anyways, I figured I should continue my procrastination attempt to keep up with this current blog regardless! So, let's take a look at 6 differences I noticed between Korea and Japan, during my short one week visit.


"Somethings different about these men...." I thought to myself. A few moments later I finally figured it out. FACIAL HAIR! Having spent over a year in Korea, where men are generally clean shaven, this was quite a shock to the system (in the best way possible). People who know me know I am a big fan of facial hair, so it was nice to have a dose of bearded eye-candy back in my life. (And on a non-superficial basis I also find this difference between Korea and Japan super fascinating).

Hello, handsome.


Korea is filled with loads of colourful parks and playgrounds with an infinite amount of slides, swings, work out equipment, and other things to climb on. Even in my small city of Mokpo, whether it's a playground at a school, or simply a public park, they are usually well kept and filled with people. Heck, by my house there is even a park with a giant pirate ship! My first impression of Japanese playgrounds was: sad. They were usually in the shape of a perfect square, squeezed in between 2 buildings in the middle of the city, with no grass- simply dirt. Not even sand, just dirt. Most often accompanied by a sad looking swing set, and no one in the playground.

Does Japan's abundance of beautifully calm zen gardens make this point irrelevant? I digress.


Holy moly! When you get so accustomed to paying between $5-$12 for a meal in Korea, Japan is another shock to the system (a general theme for this trip....). My first night in Japan I was shocked to see the bill was over 300 Japanese yen ($~30) for 2 people. Oops! But that's pretty normal I guess. If you want to eat super cheap in Japan, you can try 7/11 and other convienience stores (surprisingly good), luxurious department store basement food "courts", and sushi-go-rounds (very reasonable). Regardless of the price, Japanese food is damn good!

Enjoying some $12 ramen- kinda cheap!

7/11 food heaven


Taxis in Korea are so cheap, you don't have to think twice about taking one. From one end of my city, to the literal opposite side, is about $9. Luckily I rarely have to make that route, because $9 is actually on the expensive end. I usually pay about $5-$7 for my average taxi ride. In Japan, people rarely take taxis. From the KIX airport to Osaka, Japan, is between $150-$200. (Almost) everybody takes public transit (or drives).

Japan loves their boxy cars!


Coffee in Korea is expensive. Cheaper in Japan. That is all.

Enjoying my much cheaper Americano with some lovely geishas


In Kyoto and Osaka I saw SO many locals on bikes! They even have an abundance parking lots just made for BIKES! I love this about a city and I'm so glad I got to experience life on a bike in Kyoto! I definitely felt a lot safer biking in Japan compared to Korea. *cue Korean drivers rant that I will save for another day*

It is hard to compare a place where I have lived for a year and a half, versus a place I only visited for a week. Therefore these differences should be taken at face value. These were simply my observations during my one week traveling through Kyoto, Nara and Osaka. Do I sound like a Psychology major? Oops.

I love both Korea and Japan and I am so fortunate to be able to have experienced them both!

Has anyone else traveled to both these countries? Do you agree or disagree with these differences? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear them!

Until next post.......!


Friday, 4 March 2016

How to Kill a Few Hours in Incheon City

If you find yourself in Incheon, South Korea with a few hours to kill, this is where you need to go. Hands down. Or heck, even go out of your way to get here! You could easily spend the whole day roaming around the park, admiring the complex combination of nature, architectural wonders, and historic buildings. Our English speaking barista at Starbucks suggested Central Park in Songdo, so a huge thank you to her!

Central Park is a very recent development of what they call a "smart city". A city built from scratch. It is really quite the marvel, and still gorgeous in the dead middle of winter. I can't even imagine what it would be like in the spring, summer, or fall! I'll definitely be back to check it out.

1. Rent almost any kind of transportation you can think of 

Bikes, boats, canoes, kayaks. The list is never-ending!

2. Enjoy "Rabbit Island"

We were on the other side of the water when I saw small creatures hopping around on a mound of land. Could that be....a rabbit island?! Indeed it was! Of course we had to cross the water and check it out for a closer look.  

3. Check out the deer petting zoo

Hey buddy! 

4. Admire the architecture!

They make it easy to do so. 

5. Get a work out in

Another thing I love about Korea. These exercise parks are EVERYWHERE! 

6. Tour a Hanok Village

Or admire it from afar as we did! 
You can also tour a miniature replica of the Smart City.

7. When in doubt, eat! 

Just outside the park grounds is a row of restaurants. In the actual park is a cafe and some street food as well. Lots of options! We opted for a Buddae Jiggae (army stew) restaurant. Mmm!

And there you have it! How to kill some time, or simply enjoy Songdo, Incheon. It's on my list of places to come back to!