Archives for the month of: April, 2014

What do you do when your fermented cabbage becomes a little too fermented?  Make a soup!  At least that’s what Koreans do and it’s delicious.  Kimchi jjigae is one of my favorite Korean dishes so far.  Right now I’d say I could eat it everyday and not get tired of it (ask me again when summer comes).

Kimchi jjigae, accompanied by more kimchi, pickled radish, and white rice.

Kimchi jjigae, accompanied by more kimchi, pickled radish, and white rice.

Jjigae, meaning soup or stew, is a regularly consumed dish in Korea and there are many different varieties, although kimchi jjigae is the only type I’ve tried so far.  The more fermented the kimchi the better, as it creates a fuller flavor.  Tofu, green onions, and pork are often included and it’s seasoned with garlic and dongjang (bean paste) or gochujang (red pepper paste).  As you can imagine, it’s quite spicy.  You also might think it would taste quite sour (you are eating aged kimchi), however I don’t find it to be at all.  In fact, I forget that I’m even eating kimchi by the spoonful.  The combination of the pork, veggies, gochujang and kimchi boiling in one pot creates an awesome flavor.

Kimchi jjigae is served bubbling hot in a stone dish and usually comes with rice (helps with the heat).

Kimchi jjigae is served bubbling hot in a stone dish and usually comes with rice (helps with the heat).

Sometimes I eat more than a pocketful of kimchi in one day.

Sometimes I eat more than a pocketful of kimchi in one day.

Aside from my experience during a four week TEFL course in Thailand–Samui TEFL, a program I highly recommend–I had never taught before coming to Korea.  Surprisingly, teaching experience is not a requirement to teach for the English Program in Korea, you just have to hold a four year degree in, well, anything.  I was a bit nervous during the first week or two of teaching here, however I’ve settled into the daily routine and am finally getting the hang of it…I think.  Midterms are next week, we’ll see how their English scores are (yes, elementary students in Korea take midterms).

I teach at two different schools which first sounded quite overwhelming to me, but it actually adds some variety to my week and let’s me experience both a small school and a really small school.  I have one co-teacher at each school that aids in teaching and interpreting.  My main school, Namshin Elementary, is just a five minute walk from my apartment making my commute a breeze.  I teach there on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  My day starts at 8:30 am and wraps up at 4:30, however my hours spent teaching in the classroom vary each day.  This semester at Namshin I’m teaching grades 4 – 6 and have about 24 – 29 students per class.  On my busiest day I teach 6 classes, on my quietest day I teach just 3.

My second school is Daejang Elementary which is about a fifteen minute car ride north of Eumgseong.  The 6th grade homeroom teacher lives in my apartment complex so she kindly gives me a ride when I teach there on Wednesdays and Fridays.  Daejang only has 43 students in the entire school, so my class sizes for grades 3 – 6 range from 5-8 students which I really enjoy.  I’ve actually been able to learn all their Korean names.

When I’m not teaching my day is spent lesson planning, desk warming (code for look busy when you don’t have anything to do) and playing volleyball with the other teachers and principal.  And by volleyball I mean the kind where it’s totally cool to kick the ball over the net and score a point.  Lunchtime, which I thoroughly look forward to everyday and do in fact miss on the weekends, starts promptly at 12:10 each day.  Even though I don’t know what I’m eating sometimes, I will say the meals are delicious and healthy (more on that later).  Just the other day I was told by my vice principal that I have excellent chopstick skills.  Now I just need to work on my Korean language skills, as I never would’ve understood the compliment had it not been translated by my co-teacher.

One of two English classrooms at Namshin.

school yard

View of the schoolyard with my apartment building in the background.


Namshin Elementary School


“Emily Teacher” by my artistic students at Daejang.


My afternoon “cup” of coffee…instant coffee, a Korean favorite. Mmmmm.


Grade 5 at Namshin, watching an informative video.


Grade 4 girls, working on their English name tags.


Grade 4, working on their English name tags.


Grade 5, busy with an activity.


The stairs leading to the English Center at Namshin, complete with English idioms.


The “Book Cafe” in the English room at Daejang.


The office I share with my co-teacher at Namshin. It has windows!

Gamjatang, a traditional Korean comfort food, is a spicy pork bone soup usually made with mushrooms, cabbage, potatoes, onions and perilla leaves.  It gets it’s hearty flavor by boiling pork spine and seasoning it with plenty of chili paste and garlic.  Gamja means potato and tang is a type of soup, so the name is a bit misleading as potatoes are not the main ingredient and sometimes nonexistent in the dish all together.  I prefer gamjatang with potatoes but it’s delicious either way.  So far this has been one of my favorite dishes.

While it’s commonly referred to as hangover soup, gamjatang is also believed to prevent snoring.  I don’t snore–I don’t think–so I can not vouch for it’s ability to cure snoring but I can say it is indeed even tastier after an evening of consuming a few too many beers and sips of soju (don’t worry, Mom, that only happens occasionally).


Gamjatang accompanied by traditional sides: kimchi, pickled radish, peppers and onions.

Korea's hangover soup.

Korea’s hangover soup.

Gamjatang sometimes contains tteok (rice cake) and is usually served with a bowl of rice.

Gamjatang sometimes contains tteok (rice cake) and is usually served with a bowl of rice.


Eumseong-eup, Korea

I was placed in Eumseong, a small town located in Eumseong County in Chungbuk Province.  Chungbuk (also known as Chungcheongbuk-do) is in the middle of Korea and is the only landlocked province.  There are about 19,000 residents in my town and approximately 96,000 within the entire county (for some perspective, South Korea has 50 million people living in roughly 38,000 square miles–that’s close to the size of Indiana).  Eumseong county, along with most of Chungbuk Province, attracts very few tourists and does not see many foreigners.  As a result I get stared at, a lot.  Not in a critical way, just a very curious way.  Koreans tend to be very friendly and I find it helps to just smile a lot.


Early morning in Eumseong’s main park near the river.

I’ll admit I was a little disappointed when I found out I was placed in a rural area, but there are actually quite a few positive aspects to living in Eumseong.  Firstly, I never have to worry about getting lost as I can walk anywhere I need to go.  Secondly, it’s easy to find cheap, authentic food (I just have to play a guessing game when ordering).  Thirdly, a small town means small schools which also means my class sizes are small.  Anytime I feel the need to seek out city life (night life in particular) or want to explore another part of the country, I can easily hop on a bus or a train.  Plus I get to experience living like a local Korean, or at least more so than in a big city.


The small river and jogging path that run through the middle of town.


Spring has finally arrived in Eumseong!


The best fried chicken at the local street market. And that hair! It matches his purple shirt!


The local street market.


View from my apartment building in Eumseong.


My main school, Namshin Elementary.