So, recently, very exciting life events happened and Michael (www.thenextindianajones.com) proposed to me, and I said yes, of course :) So now, since this is our 3rd year in South Korea, we have decided it's time to move on, and we will be leaving in August. We have absolutely loved our time here, and Korea will always hold a special place in our hearts. We've met so many incredible people, traveled to incredible places, and learned a ton. But, we don't want to be English teachers for forever. We both want to pursue careers that we are more passionate about, such as fitness, photography, and animal conservation work. So, after our contracts end in August, we decided we will travel for 2 months, and then go on to volunteer with the Wildlife ACT conservation organization in Zululand, South Africa. It has always been our dream to volunteer in Africa and help animals, so now we have the perfect time in our lives to actually do that. Check out the organization here: http://wildlifeact.com/our-fund/what-we-do/saving-endangered-species/
Volunteering with Wildlife ACT is expensive, but all of the money goes to funding the project and their equipment, so that they can set up anti-poaching technology, monitor the endangered species, and put tracking collars on animals. Every day we'll be waking up before dawn, going on out on 4 by 4 vehicles to monitor the animals in the wild (this isn't a sanctuary). We're hoping to raise some money to support our trip out to South Africa. If you have even $10 to give, please help out by clicking on my "fund my travel link below!! Thanks so much for your support and we'll be sure to get a ton of great photos! https://www.fundmytravel.com/campaign/l5FWN1QUcq
I wrote in my last post about getting ready to get LASEK in Seoul at the Dream Eye Centerwww.ashleyheil.com/life-in-korea/getting-lasek-in-korea-dream-eye-center-gangnam. So, it's now been exactly a week since my surgery, and I couldn't be happier. While my vision isn't completely perfect yet (my right eye is a bit blurrier still than my left eye), my vision on the whole seems similar to how it was when I was wearing contact lenses before. And, it'll keep getting better. I got through this recovery week of LASEK, and it wasn't that bad!
The surgery started with me doing one final eye exam, and then the nurse took my blood in order to prepare a special eye serum that uses your own blood mixed with artificial tears. Then, I put on a gown and had my face disinfected, and then it was time for the surgery! I felt nervous of course, and I accepted the offer to hold the nurse's hand, as well as hold a stuffed animal. The doctor was great the entire time and told me what was happening and asked me how I was doing. They put anesthetic eye drops in my eye, and told me to stare at the green light the entire time. It all happened so fast, I'm not sure the exact details of the entire process. I didn't feel anything, except for when they were putting cold water or different types of drops into my eyes. My eyes were also clamped open, one at a time, so that I couldn't blink even if I tried. For LASEK, they used a laser and some different methods in order to some how shape my eye back to how its supposed to be to have great vision. I tried to focus on the green light, but sometimes it seemed like it was moving. I also felt like I was moving my eye by mistake involuntarily, even though I was trying to stay perfectly still, but the surgeon announced it a success so I guess I did okay.
For recovering from the surgery, I got 4 different types of eye drops to help my eyes heal. One anti-biotic eye drops, one anti-inflammatory, one normal artificial tears eye drops, and the blood serum eye drops. That night after the surgery I went straight home, because I felt pretty tired. The next day (day 1 of recovery), I felt surprisingly well. And while I tried to stay home and rest, I got bored and was able to go out for dinner. However, the brightness of the artificial lights around started to annoy me, and I went home earlier then expected. The 2nd day, while I still managed to go out for an Easter brunch and to hang out with friends for a little bit, was the most uncomfortable for me. It was hard to look at lights and my eyes felt very tired all day. I never really experienced any pain though. Just tired eyes and a little sensitivity to lights. As the 3rd day went on, (a Monday for me, though I stayed home from work), I felt better and better. It was good that I had some audio books and podcasts downloaded so I wasn't too bored! I did okay going to school the next day, and just had to use my sunglasses some during class to prevent sensitivity to the lights. By Wednesday I felt great, and my discomfort was completely gone. Now, one week from the surgery, I feel fine, just waiting for my vision to get completely sharp over time (it could take a couple of months). Overall, I felt like the LASEK recovery process wasn't as bad as everyone says. I think its worth it to choose LASEK over LASIK, especially if you are an active person, because there is just a lot more risk of future complications with LASIK. I keep forgetting as I go to bed, or wake up in the morning, that I don't have to put my contacts on or take them off ever again. Or ever have to worry about buying contact solution. Getting LASEK eye surgery was one of the best things I've ever paid for and I'm so glad I got to get it for a cheaper price, with very qualified doctors here in South Korea! If you're interested in getting it done, please let me know if you have any questions!
A week and a half ago, I went for a consultation at Dream Eye Center in Gangnam. Before coming to Korea I had not considered getting LASEK/LASIK done because I knew how expensive it was, and hadn't heard of anyone else doing it. Since being in Korea though, the majority of my friends have had really good experiences getting either LASEK or LASIK. So, since it is probably my final 6 months here in Korea, I figured it is time to finally go get a consultation for it. The price in Korea is so much better than back in America, and because it is a more common procedure here, the doctors specialize in it and and have more experience because it is all they do. I've had contact lenses since high school, and while my vision isn't too bad, I definitely do need contacts to walk around comfortably outside and drive a car. I figured in the long-run I will save money after a few years of not buying contacts and contact lens solution, and it'll be so nice to wake up and have one less thing to do in the morning.
3 of my friends went to Dream Eye Center in Gangnam (http://www.hellolasik.com/ENG_SITE/)for LASEK or LASIK, and had good experiences, and after researching it more it seemed like the best place to go. While the prices may be a little higher than other places, I didn't want to take any chances with my eyes. After going for the consultation at Dream Eye, I knew I had made a good choice. It was one of the cleanest and nicest eye doctors I've ever been to. And the staff spoke good English and took a lot of time to answer all of our questions. I had to go through a series of tests for about 2 hours to see if I'd be eligible for laser eye surgery and figure out which type would be best for me. My boyfriend Michael, did the consultation with me too, and it turned out he was only eligible for LASEK because his cornea was too thin. I actually have a thick cornea, but I decided LASEK would be better with LASIK there is a possibility of having the flap that is created in the surgery knocked out if you get hit in the eye (yikes!) LASIK also has a greater chance of vision regression as well as other types of complications, like getting dry eyes, so I figured getting LASEK instead would be better for me. The recovery time with LASEK is a little longer and more difficult, but what's a few days compared to the rest of your life? I'm paying 1,500,000 (about $1325) for less-pain LASEK, which supposedly is supposed to be a slightly different and better version where your recovery is a little easier (and hopefully less painful).
My boyfriend Michael had the surgery done first, last Friday. He said he couldn't feel a thing and actually thought the surgery process was pretty cool. He mostly stayed home for three days to rest his eyes and let them heal. He was really sensitive to light but by the 4th and 5th day after the surgery the light sensitivity is getting way better. So now it's my turn next Friday! Tomorrow is my last day of wearing contact lenses ever. Wish me luck!
One of my favorite places to go outside of Seoul in Korea is Seoraksan National Park, near Sokcho city. If you're living in Korea, Seoraksan is a must-see for sure. We got there by taking a bus from Express Bus Terminal to Sokcho bus terminal (usually about 2.5-3 hours, but unfortunately for us since we traveled on a 3 day weekend, it took 5!), then taking a local bus or a taxi to the base of Seoraksan National Park. On a previous trip to Seoraksan, we hiked to the top of towering Daecheongbong peak, but this time, we opted for the shorter Ulsanbawi hike. It took us about 1 hour and 50 minutes to get to the top, and another 1.5 hours down. A normal time estimate is about 3.5-5 hours I believe, depending on how fast you hike. While there were certainly a lot of stairs and the hike did get challenging cardio wise at times, it wasn't that bad. There's so many hikes to do at Seoraksan and it's so nice to just get away from the city and out into nature. Even if you're not a big hiker I encourage you to come here to at least walk around. You can take a cable car up the mountain for 8,000 won also to get some beautiful views. Just be careful on going on 3 day weekends! I recommend going on just a regular weekend, maybe on a Friday night, hiking Saturday, and coming back on a Sunday. However, it is very possible to go to Seoraksan just for the day if you leave early enough and do a shorter hike. Either way, get out there and explore Korea! You won't regret it ;)
Check out my video below, and make sure to like and subscribe! Thanks a lot!
A couple of months ago, I discovered that Seoul has the biggest swing dance scene in the world. Crazy, right? Who knew! Around the same time my friend Jonathan also expressed interest in learning to dance, and Michael said he'd like to take real dancing lessons. So, since Swing dancing is so big here, and I previously did it some in college and loved it, we signed up for Swing dancing lessons at the Holic (a swing-dancing venue) near Sinnonhyeon station in Seoul. The beginner lessons (Jitterbug) are at a good price, only 30,000 for 6 weeks, plus the 8,000 won cover charge when you enter the venue. It's been a ton of fun so far and our swing dancing skills have greatly improved. The lessons last about 1.5 hours once a week, then after there is general time to practice. The Holic was the only place I could find for group lessons in English, but maybe there are more. Most of the information about swing dancing here seems to be scattered and unorganized across a few different websites, so when first searching it was hard for me to find somewhere to take lessons. It can be scary to just go to a swing dancing bar with little or no experience! So that's why I was really excited when my friend told me about the English lessons at the Holic. There are loads of swing dancing bars all over Seoul, but I haven't been to any of the other ones yet because we wanted to get a few lessons down first. On this page I found a great map with all of the other swing dance venues in Seoul https://sites.google.com/site/swingkoreacom/clubs-1
and this is the facebook page for Swingade, where I found out about the English swing dancing lessons at the Holic. https://www.facebook.com/swingade/
There's really just so much to do in Seoul. Get out there and learn something new!
Are you from either South Africa, the UK, America, Australia, or New Zealand? Then you are exempt from paying income taxes in Korea during your first 2 years. You can get this certificate from the Federal Revenue Service of your country of citizenship before you leave to teach in Korea. For Americans, you should apply 45 days before you leave for Korea. Then, when you first arrive in Korea, turn this form into your school's administration office within 30 days of arrival.
So, does this mean you don't have to pay any taxes at all for 2 years? Well, not technically, you still have to pay taxes in your home country. If you're from America though, EFL teachers don't make over the $92,900 USD (2011 figure) foreign income exclusion threshold. See this blog for more information http://www.waygook.org/index.php?topic=1237.0 . So, we basically end up not paying taxes in America or Korea for 2 years. Pretty great, huh?
If you are an American and you want to be tax exempt in Korea, you must fill out IRS form 8802 in order to get your US residency certificate (form 6166).
Although form 6166 is called a form, it's really just the paper you need to submit to your school in order to show your residency certificate and get tax exempt. While filling it out, there's a chance you might not get this form before you leave for Korea. In that case, on the form appoint your mom or dad or someone else you trust as an "appointee" and have them then send it to you to your Korean address before your first paycheck. You can find the form here http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/International-Taxpayers/Form-8802,-Application-for-United-States-Residency-Certification---Additional-Certification-Requests
One last note, yes this form does cost $85. But, I promise this amount will be less than the amount of Korean taxes you would have to pay over a year. So it is worth it :) You can find some instructions on how to fill out the form and another great blog with helpful information here http://shimmeringseoul.tumblr.com/post/51513138833/how-to-fill-out-irs-form-8802-us-residency .
Chuseok is great, we usually get at least a 5 day weekend off from work and school. But since most everyone leaves Seoul or travels to another part of Korea, it's a bad idea to travel around Korea at this time. Traffic is terrible and buses and trains book up months in advance. So what is there to do if you're stuck in Seoul?
1. Visit the local amusement parks! Everland and Lotte World always have discounts, especially for foreigners, during Chuseok vacation. This year, Everland, an amusement park with rollercoasters and a zoo, located a little ways outside the city, is offering a reduced admission of only 27,000 won http://www.everland.com/web/multi/english/everland/everland_guide/news/1215349_10988.html
2. Use this time to explore all of Seoul's great palaces! Most people go to Gyeongbokgung, but few ever visit Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung. Changdeokgung is probably my favorite of all the palaces, and Changgyeonggung has a "secret garden" that you can take a tour of. All of the palaces as well as Jongmyo shrine and the Namsangol hanok village have cultural performances and activities during Chuseok as well.
3. Go Hiking. Fall is upon us, and the temperatures are starting to drop. With Seoul being so much emptier now than it normally is, its a great time to take advantage of it and head to the mountains. There's mountains all around Seoul, but a few great places to go is Bukhansan national park in the north or Gwanaksan in the south.
4. Museums. Seoul has some great, free museums. Some will be closed, but the National Folk Museum, the National Museum of Korea, the Korean War Memorial in Yongsan, and the Seoul Museum of History remain open through the long weekend. If you haven't checked it out yet, the War Memorial (at Samgakji) is my personal favorite. It's huge and can easily take several hours to see it all.
5. The Han River: Now is the time to rent some bikes, rent some kayaks (at Ttukseom resort station), and enjoy the much quieter than normal Han river. The weather is looking to be great this weekend as well.
6. Take a day trip to Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon. This year there's free admission on the day of Chuseok. Hwaseong is a beautiful fortress and worth a day trip if you haven't been there yet. It takes about 1 hour by subway from the middle of Seoul. http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264204
If you move to a new country like Korea and to a big city like Seoul, one of the most important things I can stress to you is to find a community to be apart of. This could be church, a crossfit gym, language exchanges, dance club, or a multitude of many other ways to feel connected. Some people say "Seoul is too big, its impossible to make friends here". But I think that's just so untrue because there are so many things to do and so many different communities and groups to be a part of. One of my favorite communities here is the Be More Human Project. This is a free exercise meetup that happens usually on Saturday mornings at 9 or 10am, and sometimes on Friday nights. Smaller groups meet throughout the week as well. All of the coaches involved have extensive fitness backgrounds of different types; whether it's Crossfit, yoga, running, or Spartan Race training. Anyone is allowed to join, no matter what fitness level you are at, and you can come as often as you want. The Be More Human project not only stresses becoming in better shape physically, but also becoming stronger mentally, socially, and emotionally. The workouts I usually attend are held at either Banpo bridge or Namsan mountain, but there are also workouts held at Yeouido, Bundang, Busan, and Jamsil. The workouts are usually boot-camp style and involve mostly bodyweight movements, plyometrics and running, but it is different every week. Last week we had a fun workout learning how to do handstands with proper form, and then we did a team workout with cartwheels, running sprints, push-ups, and mountain climbers. Sometimes we even do fun events together, such as the Reebok Spartan Race. No matter what sort of shape you are in, I encourage you to check out the Be More Human Project and give it a try; it's so much fun and it has really helped me gain friends and feel more connected while living in Seoul. If you're not interested, join some other sort of community or do some volunteering. It'll make your time here in Korea that much better!
Here are some links to the Be More Human Project if you are interested! https://www.facebook.com/groups/BeMoreHumanProject/
The Garden of the Morning Calm, located in Gapyeong, South Korea, is maybe the prettiest place in Korea I have ever been to (falling closely behind Seoraksan national park and Hallasan mountain in the winter). While walking around there, I couldn't believe we had waited more than a year and a half to come. The Garden is huge, and you could spend at least half a day walking around the property. The Garden is surrounded by beautiful green mountains and forest that provide clean air and smells of pine while you breathe. I came in the spring time (April), when there were all sorts of different flowers and plants in bloom, but the garden looks beautiful in all seasons. The Garden is also located near Nami Island, so if you start early, you might be able to see both in the same day (and there is a specific tour bus that goes between both locations for this reason). It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes on the subway to come to Cheongpyeong station, and then about another 20 minutes on bus. Though this may seem long, believe me, it's worth it. Check out my video below to see the Garden in the spring!
Here is the website for more information and directions: http://www.morningcalm.co.kr/_ENG/html/main.php
Directions from Seoul by Subway (the cheapest way):
Travel by subway to Sangbong station. The way I did this is by taking the Gyeongui-Jungang line from Ichon station.
At Sangbong station, transfer to the Gyeongchun line.
Then, travel by train to Cheongpyeong station.
At Cheongypyeong station, walk about 10 minutes to Cheongpyeong bus terminal.
From there, take a bus (20 minutes)to the Garden of the Morning Calm (they don't have numbers, just look for the one for the Garden (아침고요수목원)
This weekend I had the pleasure of going to the Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae with some friends. I have previously been to the sex museum (owned by the Trick Eye company, also great for some adult laughs), but I had never been to the regular Trick Eye Museum. The main part of the Trick Eye Museum, where you can take funny pictures and pose with friends with various optical illusions, was a blast. I really ended up having a lot more fun then I expected to. My favorite illusion was the one that makes one person look a lot taller than the other person. All of the illusions actually worked a lot better than I expected them to. The whole museum was actually a lot bigger than I expected it to be as well, there kept on being room after room. After you go through the main part of the Trick Eye museum, you can go on to the Ice Museum. this part was a lot smaller, and consisted of various sculptures, chairs, and slides made completely out of ice. It was freezing inside so we didn't stay for long, but it was fun sliding down the ice slide. Honestly I think I would have liked it a bit more if they had provided coats. But, maybe going in the winter to the Ice Museum would be great because then you'd already have jackets. Finally, the last section you can go to with your free admission is Carnival Street. Here you can play various carnival games such as basketball, darts, and mini-golf. A few of them you have to pay for, but a few were free as well. I enjoyed watching my boyfriend get in almost every shot with the basketball game. All in all I really enjoyed the Trick Eye Museum. Here is the Trick Eye Museum's website for more information: http://www.trickeye.com/
There are also locations for the Trick Eye Museum in Jeju, Busan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Ticket prices at the Hongdae (Seoul) location are 15,000 won for adults and 12,000 for children. The love museum is 8,000 won. If you want to take some funny pictures and have a few laughs the Trick Eye Museum is a great place to come! I also recommend it as a great thing to do whenever the weather is bad, as it's inside. Furthermore, the Trick Eye Museum in Seoul is located in Hongdae, which is a very fun area to be in with lots of great restaurants, bars, live music, and street performances. Lastly, the Trick Eye Museum offers free admission on your birthday. So, you could come celebrate with friends at the museum, and then finish off your night with a delicious dinner and drinks in Hongdae. If you have any questions about the museum, always feel free to comment below!
Directions: Address: #B2 Seogyo Plaza 20 Hongikro 3gil, Mapogu, Seoul
By Subway: come out of Hongdae station (no.2 green line).
Come out of Exit 9 and walk straight about 150m.
Cross the first traffic light towards SPAO and walk towards Hongik University on the left. Make a right turn at Tonymoly corner and walk into the alley straight 105m until you reach the museum.