Roundup of Our Best Articles of 2019

It’s that time of year, where we post our winter round-up best articles of 2019. If you remember from our summer round-up series, you, our readers, decided our top five pieces.  Some of our writers have made it back for our final review, the best blog posts of 2019.

This year we have seen a variety of ideas from our writers. Some members from our Travel Abroad team wrote about places like Iceland, Mexico City, as well as Kuwait City, just to name a few. Our Teach Abroad members have provided resources on teaching in the USA, abroad, and online. In addition, they have given guidance on how to get abroad through pre-departure tips (do’s and don’ts). We are especially proud of our Study Abroad team’s inaugural year. We certainly have a great group who started this year and they shared guidance on many different ideas pertaining to studying abroad, the steps to take, tips on scholarships, and finding the best study program that fits your goals.

Finally, our community, you, have read a year’s worth of content. Based on what and how many times you read it, here is what you decided as Dreams Abroad’s Best Articles of 2019.

Teaching ESOL, Spanish, and Online Classes in the United States

spanish esl teacher teaching in the us

Leesa Truesdell’s interview with Caroline Hazelton made the “best of” list in June. It kept its spot as one of the top five articles of 2019. In this interview, Caroline spoke in detail about the differences in teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) online, teaching English as a Second Language (ESOL), and teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds in the USA. She gave an especially great piece of advice to all learners from different cultures: “Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!” 

This piece covers content ranging from cultural identity to Noam Chomsky’s theory of “universal grammar” that states humans have an innate ability to learn languages. Additionally, she talks about the struggles international students face while in the USA and touches on her own personal development as a teacher. She provides tips and guidance on what she has done differently over the years. This interview is a must read for teachers in any profession. Caroline has been teaching languages for many years and is a fourth-generation teacher. We can see why this interview is in our top five viewed.  

How Did I Get to Thailand to Teach?

Emma Higgins discusses the reasons she chose to move to Thailand after graduation with an English Literature degree from the University of South Carolina. She doesn’t recall what exactly made her think Thailand, but remembers seeing a friend who taught in Bangkok, Thailand and remembered thinking that she could do it. 

buddha statue

In this piece, Emma provides guidance on how she researched teaching in Thailand. She explains that the more she researched, the more it undeniably confirmed her desire to travel abroad and live a life in Thailand. Emma suggests doing the proper research before traveling abroad because of the different visa types offered in Thailand. 

In addition, this article provides guidance on how to book a ticket to get to Thailand and suggests how to prepare before you arrive. Emma explains that the most difficult part about the “how do I get to Thailand to teach” is deciding to come.  

Iceland Travels: A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

Iceland Travels A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

Amanda Whitten talks about her recent Iceland travels with her friend throughout the northwest part of Iceland. Amanda discusses the unquestionably impressive landscape and epic paths she travels with her friend in their rental jeep, providing pointers for your next trip to Iceland. During her Iceland travels, she takes you on a play-by-play of her trip through the fjords, past the volcanic lava fields and into the next leg of her six-day adventure. Amanda emphasizes things she would do again and things she would not do again. This is a very helpful piece for anyone looking to travel to Iceland and roadtrip in the summer by Jeep. 

Pre-Departure Teaching English in Seoul, South Korea

 

epik teach English Program in Korea

Zoe Ezechiels interviewed Paige Miller in a two-part interview. Paige graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology from Florida State University in August of 2018. While at the university, Paige was an active part of the Korean American Student Association. Her cultural interests both in Korean culture and teaching inspired her to apply to Epik, a Korean (TEFL) recruiter.  

Because of her interests in both Korean culture and teaching, Paige decided on teaching English in Korea after graduation. In February 2019, she began to teach in Seoul, South Korea at Seoul Dongho Elementary School. Zoe’s interview explains her pre-departure process of teaching English in South Korea. She provides insight and pointers from Paige, who is still living in South Korea. 

Top Kuwait Tourist Attractions

Dalal Boland is a Ph.D. student from Kuwait City, Kuwait. Dalal lives in Tampa, Florida. She will return to her home country to teach at a university once she completes her Ph.D. Dalal is extremely proud of her home country and birthplace. In this piece, she explains the top Kuwait tourist attractions. Dalal notes that Kuwait is a small country but lists some of its most dazzling tourist attractions. Check out her recommendations.

Kuwait Towers Best Blog Posts of 2019

Thank You for Reading Our Best Articles of 2019

We thank you for reading, commenting, and being part of our best articles of 2019! We have seen an influx of comments coming in on our content. It’s been particularly great to see the engagement — we enjoy collaborating with our community. Thank you for reading and influencing our best articles of 2019. Please continue to give us feedback throughout 2020 so that we can understand the content and ideas you enjoy reading most. Thanks again and may you continue to live your dreams abroad!

by Leesa Truesdell

Traveling to Paju-Si: Beyond Seoul

 

Traveling to Paju Si Beyond Seoul Zoe EzechielsWhen South Korea pops into your head, there are a few directions that your mind could wander in. In some cases, it goes to the popular phone brand Samsung (a tech giant based out of Seoul, South Korea). On the rise in younger generations is K-pop, Korean pop music, which is, again, based out of Seoul, South Korea. Maybe you think of the Korean staple food, kimchi. Or perhaps you think of the K-BBQ place that you and your friends went to recently.

Whatever you think about, you probably don’t consider the beautiful scenery, rich history, or the wide array of people who call South Korea their home. Though about 48.2% of the Korean population live in or around Seoul, more than half the population still inhabit other parts of the country. When I studied abroad from Fall 2017 to Summer 2018, my home-base was Seoul. Many different factors influenced my decision to study at Sookmyung Women’s University, but one of them was my desire to travel throughout the country of South Korea.

I’ll be honest, I was getting all of my info about Korea from K-dramas, reality TV shows, and programs about Korean idols. The only thing in my head was Seoul, Seoul, Seoul. But I knew there was so much more. That’s what sent me to Paju: my desire to learn more about the beautiful country I was calling home.

Traveling to Paju Near the Border

I got the opportunity of traveling to Paju through my roommate. She was a Korean language student from France. Both of us were on exchanges, but she focused solely on Korean, while I combined learning Korean with learning Korean copyright laws and mass media communication. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about those copyright laws. But the memory of traveling to Paju is burned into my mind.

One afternoon, while I was studying for my dreaded copyright class presentation and my roommate was going through her Korean flashcards for the thousandth time, she brought up Paju. It was a cultural field trip that her class was going on and she was able to bring a guest. I jumped at the opportunity right away (even though I had no idea what Paju even was). The field trip would be on Saturday, early in the morning. This conversation happened on Friday afternoon. There was no going back after that initial agreement since Saturday we would be traveling to Paju.

paju hill side

Finding Friends While Traveling to Paju

On the bus ride, I met two students from England (one born in England and one who had moved there from Lithuania). I sat next to the native English girl and we quickly bonded over our love of the famous Korean boy group SHINee, Taemin in particular. After conversations died down and we were well on our way to traveling to Paju, the tour guide began to give us facts about the city.

The one that stuck out to me the most was how close it was to North Korea. During the bus ride, we saw North Korea from our window. Paju is located mere miles away from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas. For a fee, you can even stay overnight in the soldiers’ barracks and get the “military” experience. Because of the proximity, I expected Paju to be a somber and serious city. Fortunately, as the bus pulled through the city, the impression was quite the opposite. Colorful neon signs, heavy traffic, and screaming children all meshed together to create a joyful and alive city. It was as if there wasn’t a war zone a couple of miles away.

Centuries of Tradition Stay Strong

We went deeper and deeper into the city until eventually we reached the outskirts. Thickly clustered apartments, businesses, and public spaces gave way to rolling hills and lush greenery. We weren’t headed into the city after all, but rather to the Jaun Seowon Confucian Academy. The academy was located far outside the main city in the suburbs, but the driver took the scenic route through the main part of Paju so that we could marvel at it.

Jaun Seowon having a parade and festival

When we finally pulled up, a beautiful mesh of traditional Korean architecture and nature met us. Plus, we were just in time for the parade. Jaun Seowon was having a parade and festival to celebrate the culture behind the academy and we were going to be part of it. The staff was friendly yet efficient as they led us to get changed into the traditional scholar gyobok. The gyobok was what the scholars wore during the Joseon period. While in the academy, they learned about Confucian teachings, how to run the government, and other skills fit for wealthy adolescent men to learn.

Parade, Traditional Art of Tea, and Cookie Making

The parade involved all the students walking after the musicians. The locals snapped a lot of photos and laughed as we waved at them and stumbled over the long uniform pants. Unfortunately, at that time, my Korean wasn’t good enough to ask them to send me some of the photos they took.

Koran Cookie Making

After the parade, it was time to learn the traditional art of tea and cookie making. We all sat in the building that used to be the primary classroom. First, the staff demonstrated tea and cookie making to us. Then, we got to try it ourselves. Needless to say, my cookies turned out pretty amazing. The tea was delicious too.

Finally, we got to write our wishes for the New Year using special Korean rice paper and ink. I was one of the only students that didn’t get any ink on their sleeves. Although, that might have been because I took Chinese in highschool and we practiced calligraphy (shh don’t tell anyone). Even though I had previously practiced, I still ended up smudging ink all over my parchment and my characters looked like they were written by a child. But, I was proud of my New Years wish, which was to continue to live happily and healthily for as long as I could.

From the Classroom to the Field

Our time at Jaun Seowon Confucian Academy ended with lunch (I had a delicious veggie kimbap roll procured by the staff after they realized that they didn’t have anything vegan for me) and then free time. My friends and I played traditional Korean games, failed miserably, and took plenty of photos.

Traveling to a Farm Near the DMZ

soybean field traveling to paju-si

It was now early afternoon and our trip wasn’t over yet. We were going to see how they made tofu. Yeah, you heard me, we were going to a tofu-ery (if that’s what it’s called). The bus driver pulled away from the academy and took us deeper into the rural suburbs of Paju, except we were driving close to the Paju DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone) again.

I couldn’t help being a little nervous as we pulled into a small village less than a mile away from the border. Sprawling land surrounded a few homes. We were in farmer county. Specifically, soybean farmers, our tour guide informed us. The families that farmed here had been at it for generations.

We made our way down a dirt road, passing rows and rows of beans. A stray cat flitted through the crops, hunting a bug. When I tried to call out to it, the cat stared at me. I tried again and the cat blinked slowly before continuing its chase. It didn’t occur to me until later that the cat had probably never heard English before. But that’s a thought for another day.

Making Tofu

Eventually, we made it down to a shed. It was big enough to house a tractor but the only equipment there was for tofu. The two women running the tofu house were extremely polite but spoke no English. Thus, our tour guide translated for us whenever they explained things.

handmade tofu making

First, the soybeans go through a special wash. This cleans them of all the toxins they could have picked up from being transported on the farmers truck. It also softens them to allow them to be ground into a paste. The women showed us how the soybeans sit in the wash for days before they are ready. Turns out, they had a batch that was just finished soaking in the water. Hauling a big bucket between them and with wide grins on their faces, the ladies invited us to grind soybeans with them.

Try Everything

A traditional Korean grinder is made from two huge stone blocks with a small pathway for the beans to go through. They end up between the two stones and are smashed into a paste that pours out the sides into a bowl. You spin the stone on top with a huge wooden handle in order to create that paste.

My friends and I only tried it for a couple of minutes, but those women did it day in and day out. That was their livelihood. To this day, I consider them extremely powerful and badass. After everyone had tried their hand at making the paste, we were given samples of their soondubu (soft tofu). This is tofu that hasn’t hardened and is still in a soybean broth. They had us add soy sauce and green peppers. It was delicious (honestly the best tofu I’ve had). Before we left, we also got to take home chunks of their handmade tofu, directly from the source. My vegan heart was soaring.

What I Learned from Traveling to Paju

I never would have had the chance of traveling to Paju if my roommate was a different person. I never would have heard of the place unless I was open to the opportunity. Because I trusted my gut and said yes, I made lifelong friends, learned a lot more about the place I hope to call my future home, and got to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences. So, in short, I learned that Korea is a lot more than Seoul and it’s worth it to explore every single inch.

traveling to paju si kakao talk

Arrival to Seoul: English Program in Korea

paige miller stranger things English Program in KoreaWith a passion for teaching and no definite plans after graduation, Paige Miller embarked on a journey to become an English teacher in South Korea. She began her application on August 2018 through the EPIK (English Program in Korea) program. She was accepted in December and flew to Seoul in February.

Paige has been teaching in Seoul, South Korea for about six months now. She has been instructing students in the English language at Seoul Dongho Elementary school. If you missed her last article, check it out about her pre-departure to teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Keep reading to figure out how she’s been adjusting and what her first couple of months have been like.

Why did you choose to teach in South Korea with EPIK compared to other countries that offer similar programs?

“One of the reasons I chose Korea was that, for the longest time, I’d been dying to travel to Korea. During undergrad, there was no room for me to study abroad. Going to Korea did not fit into my major. The idea of going to a country I’d been interested in forever as well as working in a field I enjoyed was a win-win.”

Why did you choose to work with EPIK specifically?

“I chose EPIK specifically because they gave me a sense of security. This was my first time going out of the country by myself. I was extra cautious about applying through any random job listing. English Program in Korea made me feel at ease. They are super involved in the process of matching teachers with schools and giving them apartments to live in during their contract. Also, the accommodations and training they provide were definitely a huge plus.”

What kinds of services does EPIK provide? (What is the company mission, etc.)

“First, EPIK provides you with a one-time settlement allowance. This is money to help adjust to moving to a foreign country. Next, the MOE/POE (district office) you are signed under provides a leased apartment. The rent is provided, however, the utilities and maintenance fees are the responsibility of the teachers. They also provide severance pay for when you complete your contract. Entrance Allowance and an Exit Allowance are for when you are coming into the country and for when you officially leave.

Depending on what region you’re in, you can receive a contract completion bonus. You can accept a renewal bonus (unless you’re in Seoul) at the completion of each contract. As far as medical insurance goes, your MOE/POE covers 50% of your premiums. Lastly, they host an orientation with resources and tips to adjust to teaching and life in Korea.”

Did you have to pay for EPIK services or are they paying you?

“For the most part, EPIK pays for most services for you. Teachers have to pay utilities and maintenance fees for apartments. They also have to pay for transportation to and from school. Furthermore, they have to pay for any extra travel they wish to partake in.”

How involved is EPIK in helping you prepare for teaching abroad? Did they help you land an interview or get placed in a school; was housing and assistance acclimating to Korea provided; will you be staying in accommodations provided by EPIK when you first arrive?

teaching english abroad

“EPIK was the program that I initially interviewed with, instead of the school. They were the ones to send out my application and paperwork to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. From there, the SMOE looked over my information and had the option to either pick me to be under them directly or, to send my information back to EPIK. If the SMOE had rejected my paperwork, EPIK would send it to a different Office of Education.

As far as housing goes, EPIK only provides a settlement allowance to help get settled into the new space. The SMOE chose my living space and they pay for the rent. The only living accommodations EPIK actually provides is during New Teacher Orientation.”

South Korea classroom English Program in KoreaWhat are your immediate accommodations upon arrival?

“I arrived a few days before orientation, so as a result, I was responsible for my own accommodations. During orientation, EPIK provides dorm rooms for teachers.”

Is your orientation directly through EPIK or do they leave orientation up to the school you are placed in?

“Orientation is directly through EPIK.”

How long will you be teaching abroad?

“Each contract through the English Program in Korea is minimum one year abroad. After that, you can choose to renew towards the end of your contract term. Right now, I intend to stay for two years and have already re-signed.”

walking dwontown in korea

Teaching English Program in Korea

walk around korea

Zoe Ezechiels Talks Studying in Seoul

Zoe Ezechiels’ hometown is Sarasota, Florida. She is a senior at Florida State University where she majors in both Media and Communication Studies and B.A Theatre. Zoe just got back from Seoul, South Korea. There, she studied abroad at Sookmyung Women’s University. Zoe signed up for Global Exchange, Florida State University (FSU), a program that offers “a unique opportunity for cultural immersion” to degree-seeking students enrolled at FSU. She has a passion for veganism, Korean YouTubers, and studying abroad.

With a positive, open-minded attitude that every traveler needs to truly embrace new cultures and experiences, Zoe embraced the challenge of being a vegan abroad. However, this predicament is made all the more difficult in a country whose culture is built around the communion of barbecues. She often cooked for herself and still managed to cultivate a community with those around her. Read more to learn how Zoe’s travel roots led her to other unexpected surprises in South Korea.

What sparked your dream to travel abroad and study in Seoul, South Korea?

“I have wanted to go abroad since I was young. Born in Norway, I moved to the U.S. when I was about four years old. Travel wasn’t something new for me. I grew up listening to stories of my parents’ explorations. My dad explored Trinidad and Tobago, San Francisco, and Europe. My mom explored Europe and the United States. Their chance love happened because they both loved traveling.”

“Even though I knew I always wanted to travel abroad, I didn’t know specifically where I wanted to go.  It wasn’t until I started watching a bunch of Korean YouTubers and getting interested in Korean culture that I knew I had to go study in Korea.”

What were your expectations before you left? How have they changed?

“I didn’t go into the experience with many expectations, but I had a few big ones. They completely changed when I first arrived in Seoul. First, I thought picking up the language would be way easier than it turned out to be. It was extremely rewarding once I did begin to pick it up, however. Secondly, I thought it would be harder to adjust to living in a completely new country all by myself. Fortunately, with the help of lovely friends and mentors, I quickly thrived. I was like a fish in water.”

What did you not expect?

“I didn’t expect the air pollution to be so bad during the spring months in Korea. I had to wear face masks March until June and was severely disappointed by this. The winter was also extremely brutal. My hands and elbows dried up painfully during December, but the snow was beautiful.”

What’s your next step?

“I plan to return to South Korea in the future. This is because I’d like to continue my education in graduate school, through a scholarship program for foreign students. If not this, I’d like to find the opportunity to work in the country, preferably doing something that involves TV broadcasting.”

What advice would you give to a student with the dream to study abroad?

“Keep all your ducks in a row when preparing. Make sure that you are on top of everything, from paperwork to finances. At the end of the day, you’re the one making the trip, so it’s your responsibility to get everything completed on time. That being said, there are resources for you to utilize at your university. Please take advantage of them. Asking for help can be so relieving, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Also, look in every nook and cranny for scholarships. They can be in the most unexpected places. Try your foreign university and your domestic one, as well as some foreign and domestic companies. Studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea was a trip well worth it.”

by Dreams Abroad