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Gradually Getting into Grad School: A Tribute to Oprah

Gradually Getting into Grad School: A Tribute to Oprah

“Just go right away and get it over with.” My university was trying out a new mentor system and this was the advice about grad school that I got from the alum I had been paired with. Thanks for the advice, “mentor” but I took a hard pass on grad school immediately after undergrad.

I just wanted to work. But, my two jobs in DC weren’t right for me because I didn’t major in spreadsheets and I actually wanted to apply the knowledge and experiences I had taken away from school.

I realized at my first job and through “The Newsroom” that I really wanted to work in communications, the media, something along those lines. Basically, all I wanted to do for work was get paid to write on my blog, sit on my butt, and watch TV. But, seeing as how that wasn’t happening, I figured the media would be more exciting than international development and would put me on the right track to reaching my career goal of being Oprah.

I guess we can’t be friends

A few jobs I had applied to in the past were media-related, but most of them didn’t get back to me. All of them seemed to require a degree in English, journalism, or communications or actual experience doing something relevant. And I had none of that unless you consider writing about boys and HIV scares on my blog relevant.

So, because no one seemed to want to give me the initial experience to get experience, I started looking at grad school programs for journalism. Why? Many people don’t think studying journalism is a wise decision right now with newspapers and magazines disappearing. But, I know someone wrote all those articles posted on Facebook, so I don’t think good journalism is completely dead.

Round One

I began my grad school application process in the fall of 2014. I chose to only apply to UC-Berkeley and Columbia because they didn’t require the GRE (which I hadn’t taken) for their journalism programs. But, they are also arguably two of the best and most selective grad school journalism programs in the country. On top of my limited writing experience, TWO of the three people I had planned to be my grad school references said no. What the fuck?

Me either

Despite this setback, I found new references and applied.

Here are my two application essays to Columbia:

Columbia Application: Essay A

Columbia Application: Essay B

For Columbia, I also had to complete a prompt about a news story that had happened in the past year and discuss the angle I would take in approaching the subject. Honey Boo Boo’s mom, June “Mama June” Shannon, had just gotten into deep trouble because she was allegedly hanging out with her oldest daughter’s molester after he got out of jail. Since I felt that my chances of getting accepted were so minuscule, I wrote about that as a kind of Hail Mary attempt to stand out. And sadly, I knew more about HBB than topics you would think a journalist should write about in early 2015, like the crisis in Ukraine or the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. I thought I approached the topic from a very original angle though. So I stood behind it.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get into Berkeley. When I got my decision email from Columbia, I expected a similar verdict. But, I got waitlisted – at Columbia, an Ivy League school, for a journalism program writing about Honey Boo Boo’s mom? The universe could be really twisted sometimes. My English teachers in high school weren’t a fan of my stuff (see Essay A), but Columbia thought there was a glimmer of journalism potential in me.

Round Two

Columbia eventually rejected me.

Despite half-convincing myself it was a one-off accident, I decided to apply to journalism school again. This time, however, I wanted to do things right and make no excuses about not having enough time, etc. I took the GRE and did decently for not paying hundreds of dollars for a prep course or even buying a book.

And then I whittled down my list of schools to apply to. I ended up choosing six based on their reputations, the specializations they offer, location, and where their graduates have found jobs. From the end of November until February, I spent many hours preparing my application essays and other required materials. I spent even more time stressing about how much I had to do and putting it off.

After wrangling my recommenders, waking up early to finish my essays in coffee shops here in Seoul (because I didn’t have internet in my apartment), and paying all of the outrageous application and transcript fees, I could finally relax and let the chips fall where they may.

I was pretty sure that if I had gotten waitlisted at Columbia the previous year, I could get at least get into one of these schools. And I had moved to Seoul with the intention of only staying until the fall. But, then I got in my head and started thinking I could get rejected everywhere. That would suck because I’d have wasted a ton of time, money, and energy not to mention that I would have no exit strategy from Korea and no plan for what to do with my life next.

The responses started to come in, and I did get accepted places. Here’s the final tally:

  • Stanford: rejected
  • Columbia: waitlisted (again)
  • Northwestern: accepted
  • NYU: accepted
  • Syracuse: accepted
  • Arizona State: accepted

Not too bad to get accepted to four (and a half) of the six schools I applied to. That was fantastic. All of the schools had their selling points, and I had trouble deciding. The ones that accepted me all offered me scholarship money or interviewed me for specialization programs that come with financial assistance. A couple professors even reached out to me. The head of NYU’s magazine program told me she forwarded one of my essays to her daughter because it might be useful to her. What? That’s bananas.

I ended up choosing Northwestern mostly because you don’t have to specialize right away. My experience so far has been in writing, but what if I want to do something with broadcast or documentary? I know so little about the media field that I think I should wait until I have a firmer understanding before choosing my niche. Chicago will also be a cool new city to explore. It was my dream to move there for undergrad, so now it feels like everything’s come full circle for me.

Guess who else got big in Chicago

Northwestern Personal Statement

I’m nervous for a lot of reasons to start grad school. I have no debt from undergrad thanks to scholarships, cheap Oklahoma living, and a little bit to my parents. So, this will be the first time I’m racking up student loans and journalism’s not known for being the most lucrative career. However, my program’s only a year. And whenever I think about how much I owe and whether this experience is a waste of money, I can think back to sitting at my boring ass jobs in DC. I’ll be happy that I took a risk and did something that will give me real skills and some useful connections. Maybe it’ll give me purpose too.

Out and Proud in Korea

Out and Proud in Korea

Growing up in a very conservative Christian, very controlling home meant often hearing how revolting my parents (my mother specifically) found homosexuality. Any signs of homosexuality—whether it was from people or bumper stickers—always brought a disgusted sound and remark from my mom. I went to a small, private Christian university and didn’t realize I was gay until age 22. Because of this, I planned on being celibate for the rest of my life. I came out to my mom, my siblings, and a few close friends soon after, but kept it to a few, unless it came up in conversation with people I trusted.

It wasn’t until I came to Korea, ironically enough, that I really started living out. After a few years here, I left Christianity and started dating. I hadn’t dated anyone before, I hadn’t been kissed before, and I most certainly had never had sex before. For the first few months, I felt out of place. I can’t tell you how many guys saw me as a freak for being 25 and a virgin. It was maddening because I just wanted to find someone and no one was giving me a chance. Not to mention that I live in a country that is obsessed with image and a long-haired, hairy, fat guy was just not what anyone in or around my city was looking for (plus the whole virginity thing). I have received messages during my time here asking me to shave my body hair for a hook-up (That’s way too much work!) or telling me that I would look better without a beard and with short hair (gurl, bye).

No

It wasn’t until I went to Singapore for a short vacation that I met this amazing guy who was not only super fine but also didn’t look at me like I was a freak for never having been kissed before. We spent every day of my vacation together. The third day I was there, he took me to my first gay bar. It was amazing being there and being able to kiss and talk in a safe place. I remember a lot of things about that night and of being with him for that week. He was my first—in every sense of the word. We were sort of together for a year and he even came to visit me in Korea. Those two weeks that I spent with him were two of the best weeks I have ever had. He had his flaws and our whatever-it-was had its flaws, but he taught me that I am someone who others can be attracted to.

It was another year before I got into the gay scene in Seoul. I went to a few events where I met some amazing people and started hanging out more often in the city than I ever had before. Every queer event that I attended brought me new friends. I had only spent a little time up there because I live an hour south in Cheonan, which is close enough to visit, but far enough away that it can be annoying.

A photo posted by Nick Holmes (@nickthehottie) on

Arriving at my first Korean pride festival in 2015 was pretty intense. When we (some friends and I up from Cheonan) got to the event, the borders were surrounded by anti-LGBT “Christian” groups protesting. They were dancing, singing, shouting condemnation, crying, praying, and holding numerous signs telling us how wrong homosexuality is. Once I entered the area, though, it all melted away. There was so much love. My favorite part of the whole day was marching in the parade. It was one of the most empowering and inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of. Just days before pride, SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage was legal all across the US. It was so great to see how far sexual minorities have come in both Korea and the United States.

This year’s pride event was also amazing. The protesters seemed to be less in number and volume. There were still a few points around the outside where they were holding signs of hatred in Korean while spewing words of “love” in English. I spent the day with some friends drinking, walking around to some of the booths, getting free stuff, dancing, and getting rained on. I thought the rain would deter people from coming, but the square in front of city hall was packed by the time they started directing people out onto the streets for the parade. We marched around downtown Seoul (same as last year). People were holding signs, dancing, drinking, and being merry. The crowds watching the procession had varying responses. Many were joining in the celebration, some were crying/wailing/praying, others were calling down damnation, and the rest just watched in confusion.

Pride 2016

It wasn’t until last year that I realized how important pride events are. Queer rights in Korea are basically non-existent. This country has such a long way to go to get where they need to be when it comes to human rights—but I have seen some changes. It’s been wonderful watching those of the younger generations embrace their queer friends. A really good friend of mine, who is getting married to another dear friend and moving to the US, came out to all of his friends and they were all accepting of who he is and who he loves. Another friend and I just threw him a bachelor party with all of his best friends and we all had a blast together.

As a gay foreigner in this country, I have it so much easier than my gay Korean friends. I’m out to everyone I spend my time around here—Korean or foreign. I have a great support system among the friends I’ve made here and have even been able to come out to a few coworkers over the years.

In order for Korea to move forward, more Koreans need to lead that charge. I understand the hesitation to come out, though. Queer Koreans with enough courage and strength to come out to their friends and family face ridicule, exclusion, and being forced out of their homes. I feel like this is a Catch 22 (is that the right phrase?) because things won’t start changing until there are more visible queer people here, but, for Koreans, coming out can have such dire consequences.

Flag of South Korean LGBT (source: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure where I see the queer community in Korea in the future. You know that feeling when you’ve been complacent and unsure for a long time, but you just know that something is going to happen soon—for better or worse? That’s where I feel like Korea is right now in regards to queer rights. I am hoping that something wonderful will happen, but that is up to those within the community itself: those who are out of the closet and those who have yet to leave it. Both this year’s pride festival and last year’s had the highest numbers of attendees than in years past. But, there has also been a lot of pushback. May those who are fighting continue to do so, regardless of how people respond.

Thanks Nick for sharing your story. I am super honored to have you be the first person ever to guest post on my blog and so grateful to have you as a friend.

Hugs and hugs,

Peter

Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
The B in Apartment 403

The B in Apartment 403

I loved my last apartment in DC. There were some drawbacks, like my neighbors. They either talked too loud or paced back and forth nonstop or liked jumping up and down on their mattress (a.k.a. having sex). I also didn’t like being on the first floor because people walking by could see into my apartment, but it was a huge one-bedroom in a great location.

I knew to expect that the size of accommodations would most likely be much quainter in Seoul. Most schools include housing in their contracts for foreign teachers, so that means they have the power to decide where you get to stay. And, most likely, they’re going to find the cheapest possible place. When I showed up at my school one December evening after flying halfway around the world with basically no sleep, the principal took me to my apartment, which is one building away from the actual school. After taking the elevator to the fourth floor, he punched in the door code (no keys here) while I mentally repeated “Please be big. Please be big.” I can get by in a lot of living situations, but I need to have space to move around. At my DC apartment, I could alternate laying in my bed, lounging on the couch, or sitting at my dining room table. I appreciate being able to feel like I’m different places without leaving my home or having to put on pants.

from Etsy

But, when the door swung open and I stepped into my apartment for the first time, I had to quickly face the fact that this place was tiny and I would just have to suck it up while I’m here. No one explained how the heat or hot water worked, and the apartment was as barebones as possible. No plates, no utensils, not even a pair of wooden chopsticks. So my first few days in Seoul were spent trying to figure out where to buy things for my apartment with no understanding of the Korean language. I survived on plastic plates and forks for a decent amount of time until Big Sis Melanie could hook me up with some metal utensils.

In the six months I’ve lived in this building, I still do not know a lot of things. I’ve never met my neighbors and I just learned that I have a gas bill and that I’m supposed to pay it every month. However, I do know that I live in apartment 403. Four is an unlucky number in Korea (and other East Asian countries) because the same character for “four” in Chinese is very similar to the character for “death”. A lot of places don’t even have fourth floors or they put “F” instead of “4” on elevator buttons.

from “25 Ways to be Lucky and Unlucky the Korea Way”

And I live on the fourth floor. So, I was cursed from the start.

Let’s start with the bed. Korean beds don’t typically come with sheets; they just use multiple quilts. But, I wanted sheets because they are easier to clean regularly. No sheets fit this bed though! I think it must be a twin XL or something. I had my mom bring some old twin sheets when she visited. They too small! And I can feel every crease in that mattress. No thank you. Miss you, queen size pillowtop.

The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.
The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.

My contract says that my apartment will be furnished with a “table and chairs”. This is what I got. A TV tray table. It also came with a shitty office chair that I hated, so I replaced it with this dining room chair that I found on the street. Major improvement.

The bed and this chair are the only places to sit in this apartment. No couch. 🙁 That also means anyone who spends the night has to sleep on the floor. So far, that’s been Nick and me when my sister spent the night.

My desk/dining room table/couch
My desk/dining room table/couch. Cute wall though.

If you turn around, you’re in my kitchen/laundry room. It comes complete with a “stove” on top of the washing machine and a fridge that can’t figure out whether it’s a minifridge or a regular-sized fridge.

My kitchen/laundry room complete with baby fridge

There was a TV in my apartment, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and I watch TV on my computer anyway, so I put it in “storage”.

Such a great use of space
Such a great use of space

My bathroom’s decently sized, but the downfall of that is that I don’t have a closed-off shower area. I just have a showerhead on the wall. I’m fine with that. I’ve used them before, especially when I lived in Turkey. But, it just sucks having one with a big bathroom because everything gets wet when I shower.

Where isn't the shower?
Where isn’t the shower?

So, my apartment’s pretty small. I can’t do yoga on the floor space without bumping into some piece of furniture. But, it’s been home enough and it’s free. I’ve further supplemented my meager furnishings with a cow print table, a nightstand, and some artwork, all of which I found on the street.

How much do you think this would get at Sotheby's?
How much do you think this would get at Sotheby’s?

So me disliking my apartment makes it extra fun to visit my sister’s apartment. The U.S. military apparently values its employees more than my private English academy does. Melanie has three bedrooms. My apartment IS the bedroom…and the kitchen and living room, etc. You can actually walk around the place and there is fast internet. Much better than my ethernet connection.

I can’t believe it’s already been six months since I moved into my place. But, not for much longer. Next month, I will no longer be the B—- in Apartment 403.

via GIPHY

Hating Gay Dating: Korea Edition

Hating Gay Dating: Korea Edition

Dating sucks. It sucks everywhere. Having a more active love life is something that I see as a to-do item that I just keep putting aside. Many moons have passed and I still haven’t gotten around to making any progress in the dating department. I’m pretty independent at this point, so it’s cool for now. But, I constantly romanticize that I’ll eventually find the right person and everything will just fall into place with my love life.

I’ve used dating websites and apps for a while now. I much prefer meeting people organically in real life situations like parties or through mutual friends. But, when I came to Korea, I didn’t have any friends. So, I decided to try online dating once again. My sister had recommended Tinder as a way to meet friends and that’s what I did at first. My first Tinder meeting turned out to be one of the best things I could have done. I met my great friend Nick through it. On top of Tinder, I downloaded Jack’d (pronounced “Jack Dee” here) because I heard it’s the most popular gay app in Korea. It’s basically Grindr. I’ve also kept my OKCupid profile current even though not many people use it here.

I was pretty insistent on my profiles that I only was looking for friends and dates, not hookups. I thought I could meet other expats living in Korea or even Koreans who could help show me around and teach me about life in Korea. After many hours of meticulous research, I would like to share with you the things I have learned about gay dating in Korea so far. (Please cite me in all academic papers.)

1. Profile pics can be…unusual.

He allegedly has a “little big dick”. Is it little or is it big? I’ll never know.

2. Some guys are very secretive.

Being openly gay is not accepted here pretty much at all. There’s no anti-discrimination laws preventing you from being fired if you’re gay (is this the United States?), which forces many guys to avoid showing their faces on apps.

So you see a lot of profile pictures like this:

#blairwitchproject

Some guys get more creative:

This guy seems looks like the perfect match for me. And he’s only looking for friends just like me!

3. Like anywhere, chatting can be difficult.

And the language barrier adds more to that. This guy starting a conversation with me just by unlocking pictures of his dick.

4. Guys can be super impatient.

I couldn’t forget the first time I got called an asshole here. Because I didn’t respond to this guy in seven minutes, he sent me (in my opinion) a very passive aggressive message, which I was not in the mood for. And of course, like Azaelia Banks, I’m never going to shy away from calling a bitch out on social media.

5. Guys can be super intense.

I replied “What the fuck?” to this guy and then he blocked me.

And here’s one of the scariest guys I’ve met through dating apps here in Korea. “Patrick” and I first matched on Tinder. Our conversation was pretty tame to start off. Things seemed promising.

 

One Tuesday or Wednesday, he asked me if I wanted to go ice skating that weekend. I had tentative plans with my sister and he lives pretty far away, so I didn’t respond immediately. I also didn’t want to explain why I couldn’t commit to his plan because I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to go all the way across the city to meet this guy. I didn’t really know much about him. Then I started getting passive aggressive messages (this seems to be a theme here) like “I guess we won’t hang out this weekend.” “I guess we won’t ever meet…” Stuff like that. I told him he was acting very dramatic. He sent a series of utterly crazy messages that I wish I could have screenshot before he unmatched with me. He did however find me on OKCupid and wrote this rant about some (maybe imaginary) Americans who told him that I wouldn’t be a good friend blablabla.

Please notice what tabs I had open.

So, bye Patrick. I will not be your Spongebob.

I met someone a few weeks ago who showed me Patrick’s picture on his phone and warned me about him, which confirmed my suspicions. Apparently, Patrick was making fake profiles using this guy’s pictures. That’s some Catfish shit and I’m not into it.

So, no love life to speak of here in Korea. Carry on posting your couples pics on Facebook and sending me  your wedding invitations.

Hong Kong Horror Story

Hong Kong Horror Story

I bought a ticket to Hong Kong to visit my friend from DC. She sent me the dates when she would be back home visiting her family. Because Korea works its employees like dogs, my vacation is predetermined and limited, meaning that I had to fit my trip into one weekend. Factoring in the the three-hour flight each way and the time it takes to get to the airport, I would be in Hong Kong for only about a day and a half. But now that my trip is done, I would love to forget a good portion of the short but messy time I spent there.

When I first arrived on Saturday morning, I headed straight to cable car station to go to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. There, I met up with Jamie (a new friend) who runs the blog Teaching Travel. You might have seen my post there.

It was nice to meet him in person after corresponding online for weeks. The weather that day was a bit cloudy but good. The Buddha and monastery were cool. Here are some pics:

Beautiful
Cute
Guy cheesing in the background of my pic

 

After that, I went to my Airbnb, which I found out was in the middle-aged prostitute neighborhood. Super! I dropped my stuff off and headed to Victoria Peak to see HK’s skyline at night. It was foggy but whatever.


Although my DC friend had originally told me that she would arrive on Saturday like me, she then told me she would actually get in Sunday morning but we could hang out that day. So, I was expecting to spend most of my second day with her. Instead, on the way back to my Airbnb, I found out that my friend had given me the wrong dates completely, hadn’t realized it until I was already in Hong Kong and she wasn’t, and that we wouldn’t see each other at all. Why does shit like this always happen to me? Like, who buys a ticket to fly to another country to see their friend and their friend isn’t even there? How messed up is that?

That night, I ate shitty Chinese food and drank a big bottle of beer by myself and accepted the fact that this trip was a dud.

The next morning, I decided to make the most of things and hit up some markets and parks before my flight that night. I didn’t want to lug my bag around all day so I left it in a locker at a subway station.

I wasn’t feeling great on the subway. I’d had a sore throat (probably something I’d picked up from the gross kids I teach) and would have loved to sit down but all the seats were taken. I was seconds away from the station where I needed to change lines. I was planning to just take a seat at the station and see if I felt better. But, I didn’t make it that far.

All of a sudden, I woke up on the subway floor. I had apparently passed out and a couple of people were helping me off. This American lady was super nice. She went out of the station to get me something to drink and some hard candies for my throat. She told me she was on the way to church, so props to her for being a good Christian. A Filipina lady also gave me some crackers from her bag. Hallelujah even though I did not feel like eating them at all.

I must have sat there for at least 45 minutes before I worked up the energy and courage to try to stand up. I wandered out of the station, took a taxi to get my bag from the locker, and then took a taxi to the hospital because this didn’t feel like something I could just walk off.

There, I only had to pay 990 Hong Kong dollars (about $130) to be seen, much cheaper than it would have cost in the U.S. with no insurance. I was immediately given a surgical mask (a staple of Asian culture) because I had a fever. The doctor ordered a chest x-ray and blood tests for me, which came back normal. So, I was ultimately diagnosed with pharyngitis (yum) and given antibiotics as well as a few other OTC medicines.

I waited at the hospital pharmacy for maybe half an hour to see if I felt any better. I didn’t, but I finally made it to another taxi, which I took to the airport. My flight wasn’t until 1 a.m., and I got to airport around 5 p.m. All I wanted to do was lay down immediately and get home as fast as possible. I was so weak I couldn’t even stand in the check-in line. I had to sit down for more than hour before I finally asked for a wheelchair to the gate. First, the airline let me sit behind the counter with all the old people waiting for their wheelchairs. And then I was finally taken to the gate where I sprawled out over three seats until we boarded.

Not cute

On the plane, I had a whole row to myself because the ladies checking me in felt sorry or were grossed out by me. So, I laid across the row and alternated between freezing and burning up. Towards the end of the flight, I had to pee really bad and I was actually worried about wetting my pants if I didn’t go before we landed. I felt so weak, but I forced myself up and stumbled to the bathroom. Once inside, I pretty much passed out while I sat on the toilet. I had to rush to get back to my seat though because we were basically landing. I woozily used the seat backs to guide myself back to my seat and embarrassingly ran my fingers through several people’s hair.

I was snatching everybody.

Once we landed, I was again wheeled through the terminal and then immediately got in a taxi home. I didn’t go into work that day even though sick leave does not exist in my contract.

So, a lot of my trip to Hong Kong sucked really hard. My friend who I went to visit gave me the wrong dates and wasn’t there AND I passed out on the subway and spent the rest of the day continuing to make a fool of myself around the city, airport, and on the flight home because I felt horribly ill.

But, because I’m an optimist (LOL), I know this situation could have turned out much worse. Here’s how:

  • I could have had something more serious than a bacterial infection and had to stay in the hospital longer.
  • I could have missed my flight.
  • I could have had to pay a lot more money at the hospital.
  • I could have shit/peed my pants or thrown up on someone on accident.

But in the end, I was alone and sick in a foreign country. It sucked and I’m mad at the world, but what’s new.

Not Quite

Not Quite

I kind of expected Engrish to be widespread before I came to Korea. I understand that English is not everyone’s first language, and I don’t expect everyone to speak it perfectly. But, I do think that the internet has helped the world become more connected, so you can find practically any service online. A translator, a proofreader, someone? Nope, despite having tens of thousands of native English speaking teachers (like me) and U.S. military personnel (like my sister) living in the country, there are still plenty of professionally printed and circulated signs, websites, and products that have bad English on them. (Could you ask one of us for help?) But, even more often than that, I find things that are either funny when translated into English, funny to me for other reasons, or just inappropriate for their target audience.

Here’s a list of things that I’ve seen firsthand:

Yum, I’m on the cheese sand diet.

 

Someone had to say this is a bad name for a store.

 

This is such a little mistake, but it drives me nuts.

 

We won’t reach it, but we’ll rich it.

 

This is a pack of wet wipes. Like, what?
This is a pack of wet wipes. Like, what?

 

Not grammatically incorrect, just non-sensical
Not grammatically incorrect, just non-sensical. Why is this a store name?

 

Again not wrong, but I just don't understand. I'm sure my mom would want to take me here.
Again not wrong, but I don’t understand. I’m sure my mom would want to take me here.

 

This was given to me as my lesson plan. So glad my job is helping me shape young minds.
This was given to me as my lesson plan. So glad my job is helping me shape young minds.

 

I thought of a different kind of O-Ring first.

 

This is just a funny(?) piece of art that I saw.

 

Rehoboth's the beach all the DC gays go to. Can't escape their influence.
Rehoboth’s the beach all the DC gays go to. But, there’s no beach in Seoul and gays are definitely not as welcome here as in DC.

 

Bonus:

I went to get my hair cut for the first time since I moved here. I scoured forums for the places foreigners have had the most luck. I didn’t think my hair was that different from Korean hair but apparently I was wrong. I could have gone to a local barber, but I figured that was too risky. Also, places with two barber poles signify brothels, and I really didn’t want any “extra services”. So, I found a chain of salons that some foreigners recommended. I even brought pictures of the style I wanted so that English wasn’t a requirement.

Nothing dramatic, but less ghetto
Nothing dramatic, but less ghetto

 

Here’s what I got:

Girl, no.
Girl, no.

The higher the hair, the closer to God I guess. It wasn’t the best cut of my life, but I got an awesome shampoo and head massage, so it was worth it.

The Exercist

The Exercist

Of all the things that I anticipated missing from America, I didn’t think that being fit would be one of them. Since I was plopped in my apartment in Seoul two months ago with no help from my school on adjusting to basic life (like advice on where to go to the grocery store, what’s the closest subway station, how I can make my bathroom stop smelling like cigarette smoke and vienna sausages), I had gotten super out of shape. And I felt bloated and constipated all the time. Looking back now, it was silly of me to think that my work would help me find a gym. Nope. Despite putting out lots of feelers and asking questions, I got nothing. It was super cold outside though, and I figured that I could get by doing the 7 Minute Workout app and some yoga videos in my apartment every once in a while.

I eventually realized that this wasn’t going to cut it. I noticed a significant change in my body composition and I didn’t like it. So, a gym membership was a must if I was going to avoid gaining a Buddha belly. There are forums for expats that I scoured looking for some foreigner-friendly gym that would hopefully be nearby. I found multiple Crossfit gyms that were only a short bus or subway ride away. But, I was shocked by the cost of a monthly membership at these places. The prices were comparable to those of “boxes” in DC, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. The class times didn’t really line up with my schedule either. I know in theory I could wake up early and go to Crossfit before I go to work at 1 p.m., but I know this is unlikely to happen in reality.

Two months worth of walking the streets of my neighborhood helped me realize that there were two second floor gyms super close to both my apartment and my work. One morning, I finally decided to scope these places out by myself. I was nervous because I expected no one at either place to speak English and I know nothing about discussing gym memberships in Korean. The first gym was closed, I think permanently. The second place was cheap (about $20 a month with a four-month membership) but it was really cramped and dusty. And it looked like they didn’t even have one complete weight set.

I walked out of the second gym feeling super defeated and sad (I was missing those exercise endorphins). I just wanted to work out. Was this my only option? I vowed to wander the streets everyday until I found a promising gym. A few minutes into my walk of self pity, I saw a sign that looked promising right next to an Outback Steakhouse. I followed it into the building basement where a very nice Korean guy helped me. He didn’t speak much English, but he grabbed two random people from the gym to explain the membership process to me. I came back the next day and bought a four-month membership for about $40 a month.

As part of my membership, I apparently got two free personal training sessions. I was told it was just an orientation, so I was confused when I showed up after work and got a full body composition scan complete with a polite lecture about how I should gain more muscle. “Nick”, my personal trainer according to his name tag, was super cute and did speak great English. However, I think I would have preferred an ugly person telling me to work out more.

Nick was really nice about helping me my first few times at the gym. Although I had done weight training in high school (believe it or not), he walked me through the free weight exercises and gave me pointers on how to improve. He knew a lot of body terminology although he did say “niffle” (for nipple) and “scaffula” (for scapula). Typical Korean-English mistakes, but that made him that much more endearing. He even helped me bench press one time after I had used up my two PT sessions, but I think that was more embarrassing than anything.

It’s now been about a week and a half since I’ve joined the gym. I’ve been a handful of times and things are going really well so far. Here are some things that I learned about Korean gym etiquette, which is different than my experience in the American fitness world:

  1. Koreans lack the same personal bubble that I am used to back home, and the gym is just one example of this. Nick was very up in my business while helping me. When I was bench pressing and he was spotting me, his thighs were basically squeezing my temples. And I’m 1000% ok with that. You know, cultural immersion and all. 
  2. A lot of gyms in Korea provide clothes for you wear when you work out. It might be gross to some people to wear public property clothing, but it saves me from having to do more laundry or bring more stuff to the gym. They do smell really strongly of bleach though.

    Here's what the clothes at my gym look like.
    Here’s what the clothes at my gym look like.
  3. ^^Do you see that guy walking behind me?^^ Do you see what’s on his feet? Ok, that brings me to my third point: Korean people sometimes work out in flip flops. Around those heavy weights? No thank you.

    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
  4. Everyone gets 100% nake nake in the locker rooms. And they don’t just get undressed and hide behind a towel right away. Their towels are the size of washcloths, so that’s not really an option. But, Koreans overall just seem to be way more comfortable being naked. They stand in front of the mirror and blow dry their hair for like 10 minutes naked, and no one cares. I love that. (I also love the way their blowdryers make my hair look). Sure, I’ve learned a lot about Korean anatomy (which I will cover in a later post about my first experience at a Korean bathhouse), but I also just feel confident that no one is looking at my body. And if they are, it’s because they’ve never seen a dick as pink as mine. 

So, I love how my quest to find a gym finally worked out. I love the body confidence of Korean guys. It doesn’t hurt that my gym’s close to a university so a lot of the guys are young and attractive. Many of them are also in good shape too. Thanks mandatory Korean military service!

Here are some more pics of JFIT Korea:

It’s no VIDA, but I think that’s probably a blessing.

Tinderella

Tinderella

My sister (see last post) has been a huge help to me since I arrived in Seoul. On top of providing me with basic provisions (like peanut butter) that are either too expensive or non-existent in the Korean market, she has also given me a ton of advice on day-to-day life here. One idea that she suggested was for me to use Tinder to look for friends.

I had been on and off Tinder while I was living in the U.S. Despite having matched with hundreds of people, I had had zero success in meeting up with anyone IRL. I only really used the app when I was on the toilet and had run out of Candy Crush lives. So I did use it quite often. But, like my love-hate experience with Grindr, I would usually download it while drunk and thirsty and then delete it a few days later after having no luck.

But, a new city and country could prove to be more fruitful. And my #1 priority was friends. A boo would be nice, but I’m very aware that I’m not the luckiest when it comes to relationships. So, I downloaded Tinder once again.

I tried to make it pretty clear that all I wanted was friends.

pretty clear right?

 

But there were still some people who could not understand friendship.

Joseph’s first questions are: 1. where are you from? 2. top or bottom?

 

So, I wasn’t having tons of luck at first. I was matching with lots of guys, both Koreans and other foreigners, which was a huge confidence boost. It led to a few conversations with people promising to show me around Seoul sometime. But, there still seemed to be a sexual undertone that our meetup was ultimately going to end with me putting out.

One Saturday I was on my way to work and running through the next batch of potential matches to see if there were any possible friends. And then I came across Nick.

Are you fucking kidding me? How could I not want to be friends with this guy? If your profile makes me laugh and not because it’s so sad, I’m a fan.

After we starting chatting, I found out that Nick lives in Cheonan, a city about 30 minutes past my sister on the subway line. He was in Seoul for the weekend visiting friends and invited me to hang out that night so that I could avoid my sad weekend past time of sitting alone at coffee shops in my neighborhood.

IMG_0127

It felt great to be invited out by a potential new friend, but it was also scary because I had never met up with anyone from Tinder! What if we couldn’t find anything to talk about? I was nervous and very non-committal in my messages leading up to the burlesque show we were going to so that if I chickened out last minute, I could always block him on Tinder and never have to think about it again.

I finally decided to bite the bullet and give it a try even though the temperature was well below freezing that night. The subway ride there took longer than expected and I kept thinking how I would be 100% okay with him not waiting for me because I was late. I would just do an about face and head back home where I would watch Netflix over some camomile tea like the 45-year-old woman that I am.

Despite arriving about 15 minutes late, Nick did wait for me. He was easily recognizable with his long hair, backpack, and cell phone plugged into the wall. To my relief, we got along really well from the beginning. Nick’s a very social person and I feel like he could make conversation with pretty much any human or animal. On our walk to the bar, we found out that we both went to college in Oklahoma. What a coincidence! At the bar, I met some of his friends as we waited for the burlesque show to start. It was my first time out in Seoul (sadly), so I decided not to hold back when it came to drinking.

The burlesque show was a cool new experience for me. Nothing enticed me obviously, but I appreciated it. After that, we went to Homo Hill, Seoul’s aptly named gay-borhood. It sounds like a bunch of bigoted frat guys came up with that name but whatever. I’ll just call it The Hill. We first went to a party at a “gay-friendly” bar where there were a lot of welcoming lesbians but not many gay boys. I don’t remember much of it because I was holding that cup like alcohol all night.

courtesy of www.heezyyang.com
courtesy of www.heezyyang.com

I don’t know who three of those girls are.

We danced and whipped our hair for a while before Nick took me to my first full-on gay bar in Seoul. It was obviously also on The Hill. Only a few seconds after walking in, a Korean guy stopped me and showed me that we had matched (no joke) on Tinder. He then introduced me to his very drunk Irish friend who was apparently nervous as this was his first time at a gay bar. Because I was liquored up, I ever so benevolently tried to help him overcome his fears and dance with some Korean guys he was interested in. Of course, this being the gay world, some signals got mixed and I ended up spending the night with the Irish guy in a hotel room that he paid for (#sugardaddy). It turns out that this might have been his first time at a gay bar but he was no stranger to the world of gay hookups.

But back to Nick!

Nick has been an ideal Tinder friend match. On top of taking me out in Seoul for my first time and introducing me to new people, he laughs at my jokes, which is the most important quality I look for in friends. He’s stayed with me for a couple nights while visiting Seoul and I even went down to Cheonan for a visit. Thanks for everything, Pussy Monster. Looking forward to many more fun times together.

<3 Chodie

yaaaaaaassssssss kween
yaaaaaaassssssss kween

tl;dr: gay shit

Hagwon School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Hagwon School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

The first weeks at my job were pretty demanding. My school’s a private language academy (also called a hagwon) so kids come to class at our school outside of their regular school time. It was winter break for the kids in January, so there were winter camp classes during the daytime in addition to the evening classes that we usually have. That meant that I was at work from 12:30-10 p.m. everyday and I even had to work a couple hours on Saturdays. Gross. My Korean coworkers had it even worse. They had to work 9 a.m.-10 p.m. during the week and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays. They were so exhausted, they often took naps in the teachers’ office during their breaks from class.

And these poor kids. I feel bad for them because they come after their normal school hours. I thought that they would come for one hour a couple times a week. But most of them are bused here from their schools by 5 and then they study here until 10 five days a week. 10 P.M.!!! These kids are elementary and middle schoolers. They have to eat dinner here. They fall asleep in class sometimes and I let them. I also try not to always push them that hard because I don’t agree with their parents sending them to classes for so long. I think they should just be kids.

They are also supposed to only speak English with each other while they’re here. If they speak Korean, they get their name on the Korean Loser List.

A photo posted by @pitajones on


I don’t approve of the list’s name. One of the Korean teachers is so insistent on them speaking only English that he sounds exactly like this:

Apologies for the R word. Thank you if you know what movie this is from.

It’s kind of awkward though because the Korean teachers don’t speak great English. So forcing the kids to speak English all the time makes them speak crappy Korean “English”. But, some of them really try and some of them are really cool kids. Others suck.

Here are some things that the kids at my school do/have done so far:

  • They call each other “idions” instead of “idiots” and tell each other to “shut down” instead of “shut up”. I don’t know if it’s better to correct them or not.
  • They say “I’m finish” instead of “I’m finished” which drives me fucking insane. And where do they get that? The teachers! “You finish?”
  • The kids are very honest and they (mostly boys) have no problem calling me handsome. I have no problem with that either. One kid told me I looked like Adam Levine. Yeah…no. I think he just really wanted me to give him a piece of candy.
  • The kids watch a lot of movies here to practice speaking and listening. I love that because I don’t have to talk all the time or make that many lesson plans. One time they reenacted a scene from Elf and one of the kids was the manager. The manager’s black. So, of course this kid painted his face black. Whoops.

    Excuse me?
  • I gave the kids lifesavers and they think the mint flavor is so strong it hurts. Some of them spit them out. Fucking wasted my good candy.

But, I’m finally free from winter camp and ever so slowly settling into my shoebox apartment and life in Seoul. Another foreign teacher explained to me how to turn on the heat and hot water in my apartment so I’m set there. There are actually pipes that run hot water under the floors, so I never have to wear slippers.

Finally, here are a few of my observations about Korea and Koreans that I’ve learned so far:

  • It has the second highest suicide rate in the world and the highest suicide rate among OECD countries. Probably because their parents make them go to school for 13 hours a day.
  • They really hate Japan because they haven’t forgiven them yet for what they did in the past. One kid said in class that he’d rather commit suicide than move to Japan. I don’t think that’s very healthy.
  • When I started talking about gay marriage and marijuana in DC to another American teacher, he instantly told me to stop talking. I wasn’t trying to spread my agenda, but apparently both of those things are hella taboo around here.
  • Some websites are randomly blocked. I can’t logon to OKCupid at my school and I couldn’t watch a video called “Lesbians Touch Penis for the First Time” at a coffee shop. Call me a radical, but I think it’s my god given right to be able to watch lesbians touch penises for the first time.
  • Koreans brush their teeth all the time, even while sitting at their desks.
  • They also eat pizza wearing one single plastic glove. It look like this: IMG_2769
  • Plastic surgery’s a huge deal. Maybe I’ll get something nip/tucked while I’m here.

Can you believe I posted twice in one week? Man, all this free time and lack of a social life has its perks for now.

Seoul-ja Boy

Seoul-ja Boy

Once I booked my flight to Korea, I had a ton of things to do before leaving. I had to drop my visa application off at the embassy, move out of my apartment, and pack for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s really hard to pack for a place you’ve never been. There are plenty of blogs and vlogs that past English teachers in Korea have kept that did help me a lot. I learned to pack things like deodorant because it’s expensive here since Korean people don’t really smell bad.

I picked up my visa on a Monday and left for Korea the following morning. I also bought a new phone that I planned to use once I got to Seoul. But, this was poor preparation on my part because I miscalculated the cost of an international phone plan and I didn’t back my phone up. So, I got to keep all of my contacts but lost several years’ worth of work in Candy Crush. That fucking sucked.

RIP Level 400

I would like to give a big shoutout to my mom though. She helped me a ton while getting ready to head out. I think she was really excited for my sister and me to be in the same place at the same time. She claims she’s going to come visit, but I don’t know how she’s going to handle dat kimchi.

Y’all just jealous that you didn’t get a custom nameplate for your mom’s bday

A photo posted by @pitajones on

 

I flew from Washington to San Francisco to Seoul. I was surprised that the flight to Seoul was under 12 hours. But I still hate flying and have trouble sleeping in anything that’s not a bed, so I arrived in South Korea after having been awake for around 24 hours.

Once I made it through customs, I found the taxi driver who was waiting for me outside the airport. No one had ever held a sign for me at an airport.

This is what the sign said. Of course, I said, “No, I’m fucking tired.”

He drove me the two hours through rush hour traffic to the school I would be working at. I nodded off several times and really just wanted to get to my new apartment and sleep. Most schools here provide foreign teachers with an apartment, so it was nice not to have to look for one on my own. When the taxi dropped me off, someone from the school met me and took me to my new home. I knew to expect a small apartment because this is a very populous city so space is expensive. I’m sure the school was looking to save a buck too. I held my breath as the door opened hoping that it would be a decent size. It’s not. It’s a fucking tiny ass studio. There’s barely enough room for me to practice doing the splits.

I dropped my bags off and followed this man (who never introduced himself to me) back to the school. There I was passed around to several employees, and no one seemed to know what to do with me. Eventually, I was told to go to sleep and come back the following day at 4 p.m. So, I went to my tiny apartment, which I realized had no heat on, and slept for about 12 hours.

The next morning, I tried fiddling with all kinds of buttons and breakers to figure out how to turn the heat or hot water on. No luck.

What do dat say?
What do dat say?

So, I welcomed myself to Seoul with a cold shower and blew myself dry with the random hairdryer left in my apartment. I expected there to be some furnishings like cups and plates. Nope, just a bed, a microwave on the floor, and a TV. What more do you need?

I walked around my new neighborhood for a few hours and quickly realized that almost nothing has English translations. Living in Korea with no Korean skills might be harder than I thought.

I knew that my teaching hours were supposed to be from 1-10 p.m., so coming in at 4 p.m. was really like a half day. But still, having to work less than a day after flying halfway around the world made me nervous. What if I couldn’t stay awake in classes? All I had to do was shadow teachers, but I didn’t want to leave a bad first impression.

After one night of shadowing two teachers and the world’s most boring New Year’s celebration alone in my apartment, I showed up to work the following Monday with no idea what to expect. To my surprise, I was given my own teaching schedule and thrown into things. I was already expected to teach my classes all by myself. Wait, what?