Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The South Korea Survival Guide

"Sara, do you have indoor plumbing in South Korea?” “Isn’t it really hot out there all the time?” It’s amazing what some people still don’t seem to understand about South Korea. After reminding my friends back home that Korea is not in Southeast Asia, they have Samsung phones and their parents drive KIAs, I started to wonder more about what people think. A great many of them pictured me as a kind of survivor in a mysterious land, where I have always felt that South Korea has been very welcoming and comfortable. However, it is still a different culture, and I do feel that I’ve had to adjust. While there are no wild animals to fend off, dangerous treks across minefields or a need to survive alone in the wilderness for weeks with limited supplies, there are still a number of strategies to employ in “surviving” South Korean culture today as a foreigner.

Essential Skills

The first key to successfully making it through your sojourn in South Korea is by obtaining and mastering a specific set of daily life skills. Some of these may come to you naturally, but some take practice.

1. Body language

This is the true language of the world. In my first month in Korea, it took me a few weeks to work up the courage to eat out or go shopping alone because I didn’t know how to speak the language. The day I successfully pointed out side dishes to be bagged and weighed from the grocery store counter instead of just opening another can of spicy tuna for breakfast was a milestone event; one that required no talking. Now, in my second year, with a moderate grasp of the language, I have still found that gestures often trump spoken language. The value of body language is also what will keep us from being replaced by English-speaking robots, so use it wisely.

2. Balance

Not all of us are men, and not all the toilets are meant to be sat upon. The rest I leave up to you.

2. Patience

There will be moments when you are asked to attend a meeting or a lunch, and it may seem as though you are forgotten. Chances are you haven’t been forgotten, it’s just that your co-workers feel more comfortable speaking Korean and are happy to see you actively there among them. Take this time to practice meditation.

4. Willpower

Maybe you like very fresh seafood, or perhaps you want a little less intimacy with your food. Whether it be chewing a still-wriggling squid, roasting pig intestines, or pulling tender meat off a hunk of spine, a lot of the food encounters require a little acclimation. I once was asked to point to the fish I wanted, then watch it be scooped from the tank and butchered up for me to eat raw. Two years ago I may have turned up my nose at a fish with bones still left in it.

5. Chopsticks

They’re flat and heavy, but you don’t want to be the only one at the table using a spoon. Embrace the chopsticks. The goal is to be among children and their parents, and seeing the parent point at you, the foreigner with the cutlery skills of a yangban aristocrat, and scold their child. Chopsticks are not without advantages. They are very useful for twirling noodles, picking apart fish or slicing through that extra large leaf of kimchi (using two hands), or skewering fruit. They are also perfect for stirring coffee.

6. Singing

It’s better to sing into a microphone with increased reverberation effect in a small room than into an empty soju bottle a cappella in front of fifty teachers. I’ve done both, and I strongly recommend you consent to the former before being hauled up without time to protest to the later. Maybe you can’t sing. As long as it’s in English, you can sing fine. I’m not sure if you’ve heard Korean “trot” pop music, but there should be nothing frightening you away from singing here. Also, it’s worth noting that you should always pick your own song. If you don’t be prepared to sing the most obscure song you’ve never heard of. I keep an emergency “noraebang song list” saved on my cell phone.

7. Sharing

Some of the best foods in Korea are large dishes meant for sharing. And, unless you plan to eat pork cutlet and fusion spaghetti whenever you eat out, you may need to grab some friends if you plan to eat Korean food. Make your mother proud; she’s been training you to share since you were an infant. I’m not ashamed to admit this, but I have relied on sharing in the past to avoid the things I’d rather not eat mixed in with the rest of the dish; to help adjust to the food. It’s natural, healthy, and recommended that you share your meals so you can continue to build your relationships with others.

Blending in

It’s hard not to stand out in Korea as a foreigner. This does come with a bit of excitement; sometimes feeling like a celebrity, with parents dragging their kids up to say “hello” to you. While living here though, you will most likely want to convince people that you’re not actually a tourist. For most of us it’s impossible to fully blend in without cosmetic surgery, but there are a few ways to clue others in that we live here.

1. Two hands

It’s polite to offer and accept things with two hands, from drinks to money. Although most Koreans will forgive a foreigner for forgetting this, you’ll notice that they almost always appropriate this respectful custom to you. It’s courteous to remember to do the same, both with those familiar to you and strangers. The same goes for bowing; hand-over-hand locked at the thumbs for a highly respectable bow, or even just a brief nod of the head.

2. Order food at hofs

It’s a foreign concept for most westerners to order food at a bar. Whereas in Korea, you sit down at a table and are handed a list of anju, a kind of appetizer list, along with the drink list. When I was new in town, my friends and I thought the whole food thing was mostly optional. This was until I realized it had some adverse effects on our reputation. Even drinking moderately, the people around you may start to worry you are an alcoholic.

3. Bring a toothbrush to work

I once told my students that it was funny for me, when I first came, to see a line of teachers waiting at the sink after lunch. My students replied, “Are Americans dirty?” It’s a good idea to be seen in the toothbrush line.

4. Hiking apparel

For those who really want to look the part. As soon as you start hiking up a mountain in your T-shirt and jeans, you’ll start to feel a little unprepared. Not that I’m ready to trade in my jeans for colorful spandex just yet, but I do confess to buying a name-brand hiking backpack.


Everyone embarking on survival in a foreign land needs to draw upon their resources. Outside of your EPIK coordinators, tourism offices and embassies, there are many more local options.

1. Co teacher

This is your first local friend; the first person who will help you familiarize yourself with your town and your students. Also, they are probably the only person who will see you properly to the hospital when you fear a miscommunication with your doctors. Your co teacher is also a potential source of homemade kimchi, or sweet potatoes in the morning when they predict, usually correctly, that you have again neglected to eat breakfast.

2. That old woman on your street

She might be collecting your packages for you. She might usher you into her home to eat fresh peaches and shikhye on a hot summer day. Don’t shy away from the opportunity to greet your neighbors.

3. Students

If you ever find yourself in doubt about what to teach, ask your students. My students are my endless source of information about pop culture, fashion, and how to connect to their age group.

4. Face masks and kimchi

You may never need to go to the hospital again.

5. Friends

There is a need to talk once in awhile, when we train ourselves to talk slowly and maintain a long vigil of silence in formal business settings. It’s imperative to make some friends you can talk to rapidly and relax with- especially at your experience level. It’s fun to explore with friends without being led around. Also, don’t forget to make Korean friends. As much as I love my friends from America, many of them probably think the best chicken place is the first one they walked into. Korean friends have a broader range of insight, and also are the best way to fully get in touch with the culture.

6. Saunas and jjimjilbangs

Our bathrooms are small and space-efficient, but sometimes it’s nice to relax in a big bathtub. Plus, there's no better way to start feeling comfortable around a bunch of strangers than finding yourself disrobed among them; it’s perfectly natural and they don’t judge you. The jjimjilbang also offers a locker and a cheap place to sleep when you don’t want to put up money for a hotel or motel.

Status Boosts

Not all aspects of survival are hinged on basic necessity. If you really want to be an active, thriving member of Korean culture, there are certain ways to gain an immediate boost in renown and acceptance.

1. Cell phone

Your cell phone is a big deal. My first year, I opted for the plain free phone because it was still far cooler than the one I had in America. But fate dealt me a new hand when my phone fell out of my pocket into the toilet of a public restroom. True story- that happened. My second choice was heavily influenced by the phone’s theme song I heard on TV every day, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I now possessed the same phone as a good number of my students (much to their delight). Every time my phone was sighted, it provided the perfect motivation for English conversation, and gave me an edge in popularity.

2. KPOP knowledge

I was reluctant at first, but once I finally committed some band names and song catch phrases to memory, it did wonders for my rapport with students. Mostly, they don’t expect you to know KPOP. This is an advantage. The shocked gasps when you can sing a few words or say definitively that “yeah, he’s so handsome!” then you cease to be such a stranger among your students. And any time you can refer to a popular song or singer in your lessons, it grabs their attention.

3. Cyworld

South Korea’s primary online social network. It’s so exclusive, that even the members have trouble trying to figure out how to make you an account. But once you’re in, you have achieved a very respectable status among young Koreans.

4. Immersion into a cultural tradition

You don’t need to dedicate yourself to the studies of Confucius, but it always earns a little bit of extra respect to actively engage in something cultural. I chose to start learning Hapkido, and some of my friends have taken Taekwondo, traditional painting classes, and learned to play the ajaeng, a traditional wooden string instrument. Maybe could just be really good at Yootnori, but it’s definitely worth your while to take up a Korean hobby.

5. Basic language

A lot of people are afraid to talk to you. Although basic English and body language can get you through most encounters, even a small knowledge of the language will help people warm to you. Especially reading Korea’s alphabet, Hangul. Once my fellow teachers learned I could read Korean, it was a kind of entertainment for awhile to point to things and have me read them. It also goes a long way in motivating Koreans to speak your language if you show them you are trying to learn some of theirs.

6. A plant

You may not want to be the only teacher in the school without a plant on their desk. It’s aesthetically pleasing and will draw out some approving nods from the other faculty.

7. Billiards

Four balls and no pockets. If you can learn and show off your prowess with four ball billiards, you may quickly gain a few new friends. The same goes for bowling, tennis, and volleyball. Any interest or ability in sports gives you a connection and something to do with other members of your school faculty; especially drawing out the ones who have limited English ability.

8. Foot volleyball

I used to think the tennis courts near my house were just marked incorrectly, until I finally watched people using them. It’s played in teams, kicking the ball or hitting it with your head. Like other more common sports, this is a great way to spend time with other people and pick up a new curious skill. I’ve been in a few of the smallest farm towns in South Korea that still had a foot volleyball court. To be sure, I’ve never met another foreigner to know about this game, so you can imagine how exciting it would be if you were to participate.

I no longer view South Korea as such a foreign place, and I’m not just here to pass through. I have not only survived, but I have adapted. While you may not be intending to spend a lifetime here, it still is important to accustom yourself during your stay; show the people here that you can learn from them as much as they can from you. You don’t want to be holed up in your apartment clinging to your computer and counting your days to return home. Surviving South Korea quite simply comes down to figuring out what you can do to enjoy yourself the most during your time here.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


Right before I left for America, I cleaned out my office, organized the English classroom, said goodbye to my classes, and made a farewell speech to the entire faculty. When I returned I was to make the switch from Gilju Elementary to Sung Hee Girl's High School, and was under the instruction from Taebun to head over there as soon as I returned. I shouldn't have been surprised then, when at noon the day before I was to go to my new school, I got a call from the Education Center supervisor and was told to return to Gilju for one month.

It made sense with my contract, which went from March 25-March 25, but we were all told months ago that because of the influx of people applying for EPIK, the late March orientation would be removed and all new teachers would come in February. Thus, Gilju was supposed to have a new teacher when I returned, and I could start at the beginning of the school year at my new school instead of a month into it. The supervisor explained that the move was probably now impossible because Gilju didn't get a teacher and they would expect me to return. She then called both of my schools to reverse all of the transition arrangements.

Thus, I returned to Gilju for the duration of this month, and everyone including the principal was confused as to why I was back. At first, between the jet lag and the confusion, I was really frustrated by this. Because teachers in Korean schools must change positions or schools every couple of years, I would have to adjust to an entire new staff of teachers (excepting Mrs. Shim who stayed on with 5th grade English) and confuse the students when I suddenly return for the new school year and am replaced by a new teacher in a month.


Korea is Dynamic, and these inconveniences are both minor and irreversible anyway. After I let it soak in for a day, I found it relieving to come back. Gilju is comfortable for me, rather than jumping into an entirely new environment as soon as I returned. I know the classes, and I get to share my knowledge with the new Korean English teachers and help them adjust to co-teaching with someone who knows the ropes. I now also have more opportunities for advance communication with Sung Hee, which was difficult before because of their own faculty changing and my being in America. I'm also their first foreign teacher, so I think they aren't quite sure what to do with me yet. I've met some of the faculty twice so far, and I'm really excited because it seems like everyone is such a perfect fit to my personality.

There's also Yena. This year, Elementary English education added 2 hours a week for 3rd and 4th grade, which originally had been just 1 hour. Therefore, there are two new teachers for 3rd and 4th grade English, where last year Mrs. Im had done both. I've had a stroke of amazing good fortune as a result of my return and the reworking of the system, because the new 3rd grade English teacher is a kindred spirit. I'd not gotten close to many Koreans in the last year, because most of those that I knew were married with children. Yena, however, is exactly my age with the same college degree (English Literature) and has a passion for world travel, having done both mission trips and internships abroad. She also now lives only a few blocks away. When we first met and she asked me if she could find mozzarella cheese anywhere in Andong (not a chance), I knew we were destined to be friends forever.

What I had originally thought to be so inconvenient has turned out to be a complete blessing for my entire new year here.

Andong also recently has acquired a new set of Native Teachers, bringing our EPIK number up to 24. We can also now claim to be a multicultural set of EPIK foreigners, as we have added a pair of Canadians and a South African to our American mix. We are so progressive.

Because of our bigger number, we have formed groups for Elementary, Middle School, and High school teachers so we can keep ourselves organized and supported. Bonnie and I have taken up the chairwomen roles for the High School group, with Scott and Katie on Elementary, and Helen and Erin on Middle School. Andrew was appointed supreme leader by the supervisor because he still has seniority as being the first in Andong. My how our numbers have jumped in under 2 years.

Now that I'm aware of my ever-changing current schedule, I will return to my blog posts about the Southeast Asia trip. We did, in fact, make it past Ho Chi Minh.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Off to America

This is my season of travel, as it seems quite never ending (though I say so happily). My last day at Gilju was yesterday, and I packed up my office before coming home to pack my next set of bags for home. For the next two weeks I'll be back in America between Illinois and Michigan, then back to Andong where I'll start my new job at Sung Hee Girl's High School.

This morning we woke up to our third snowfall in Andong at 4:30am, and this time the most accumulation so far with about 3 inches. Luckily, although the streets were nearly empty, a free taxi came rolling past our apartment to scoop up Scott and I. We met Katie at the bus station with about 10 minutes to spare, and after a 5 hour ride, we are now sitting at our terminal at the Incheon airport quite tired and early. Because the Lunar new year is tomorrow, we wanted to give ourselves a lot of time because of the traffic, which did add an extra hour to our commute. However, we are very excited to go home.

Excited too that we are on the same flight as Katie, which happened coincidentally. When we met up with her, we noticed also by coincidence, that we were all wearing our Converse shoes shirts with horizontal strips, and that Katie and I had on our matching blue penguin hats. We've maybe been spending a lot of time together lately.

Now we have the long flight ahead of us, which will land us in Chicago at 4pm on Saturday (and we're leaving Korea at 3pm on Saturday). The jet lag will be serious.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Vietnam- Ho Chi Minh

Along with Scott, Andrew, and Katie, we started out our 2 week vacation in Vietnam from Saturday, 1/16, to Tuesday, 1/19.

We took a 5 hour flight from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh, and were relieved to finally get out of the freezing cold of Korea. Mostly because we were seriously under dressed in our T-shirts and light zip up hoodies heading up to Seoul the night before our flight. That didn't, of course, stop us from venturing an hour away from our guest house to find an On the Border for some Mexican food. Even though we flew Vietnam Airlines, I was still surprised that the two primary languages used were Vietnamese and English, with very little in Korean. English truly is the language of travel.

Ho Chi Minh will always remain in my mind with two dominant images: motor bikes and power lines.

The power lines were so packed together- I can't imagine how the power can all be sustained. What would happen if one of these was hit by lightening?

Riding away from the airport, these were the two things that struck me immediately. There are remarkably few cars, and I felt like we were adrift in a sea of motorbikes until we washed up on the curb of our hotel.

Every bike comes with its own unique personality. It is not simply a road packed with motorbikes, it is a high-fashion woman sitting side saddle on the back of a dirty white bike, a wicker bar stool set up between the legs of a father with his infant propped in between him and the front of the bike, a man weaving through the streets with has balance alone while his hands grip his spaniel, whose paws are planted firmly between the handlebars.

Or a yellow scooter covered in cardboard panels.

Or uncomfortable children.

And several with large unsecured items rushing to their next destination.

Crosswalks were an adventure in themselves. Unless at a major intersection, although they are printed in their familiar block white lines, none of them have lights or walk timers. None of the drivers stop, but are very good at maneuvering. Crossing comes down to guts and confidence in a real game of Frogger.

Katie and I were insistent on getting in plenty of cheap shopping, which we did a lot of in and around the Ben Than indoor market and, our favorite, the nearby night market. Out of one of our shopping excursions came a phrase we continued to quote for the whole trip: "Only for ladies" in a kind of brisk robotic tone. It came from a very joyless vendor when Andrew tried on a pair of pink sunglasses.

Outside of shopping, we spent our time in Ho Chi Minh sightseeing. Our first big stop was to the War Remnants Museum. I'm not sure what I expected being in Vietnam, because in America the primary thing we are taught to associate with it is the war, but it was easy to forget about the war outside of this museum. For that, I'm glad we went. The other name it's known as is the Museum of American War Crimes, so we really had to go in there with the expectation of some bias. Not, of course, that inside or out the Vietnamese treated us with anything other than respect now.

Before entering the museum, a variety of tanks and planes were on display. Inside were guns and shells, grenades and mines, and the most disturbing, pictures of war victims. The most disturbing being the victims of Agent Orange, and I'm not sure how I managed to go my whole life ignorant of it. It was used as a herbicide to spray and reduce the density of jungles, but it has continued to effect the children born to those exposed to it. After leaving, it was much more apparent too. With millions exposed, it would be hard to miss. Everywhere are people with physical deformities on their faces, or with missing or abnormal limbs. Some of them even seem as young as me.

Ho Chi Minh has such a beautiful and unlikely collection of architecture. As it has been heavily influenced by France, there are several building that seemed to transport me right back into Europe. Cafes with tables spilling into the sidewalks, Romanesque arches, and stone carvings made it seem odd to glance away from a building and suddenly see a woman wearing a traditional hat and selling coconuts on the side of the road. It's a very charming mixture.

The most obvious was probably the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral.

A lot of the buildings in Ho Chi Minh are also very tall and thin when you look at them from the front, stretching far back. Sometimes they weren't even wedged between other buildings so the choice seemed odd to me. I imagine them as buildings full of hallways.

We spent most of our time walking around the city, but one time we took a pair of Cyclos out to China town.

We didn't really care where we went because we were just along for the ride, but the China town market at the center of the district was actually fascinating. It was like an old mall converted to act as a street market, with everything so packed together that it seemed like one endless array. We arrived near the end of the day, so from a second floor landing we watched as vendors packed their wares into giant green bags. I can't imagine what it feels like to organize that every day.

Perhaps the strangest thing we did was get blind massages at the Vietnamese Center for the Blind. It sounded like a good idea at first, until Katie and I were ushered down a creepy chipping hallway to the girl's section. I'm glad nobody could read the anxiety on our faces as we entered a dim, isolated, room and were greeted by a woman with one bulging white eye and one closed eye. Not that I want to sound insensitive, of course, but the general ambiance of the surroundings made me feel like we were just sent into a dirty hospital where our organs might be harvested for the black market.

Katie and I were put into separate curtained sections, and I was told "off" as the woman felt me and tugged at my clothes. I laid down on my bed and gripped the stained bear pillow reading "happy time," listening to an aged woman in the room next door repeating "are you OK?" to herself in a deep raspy voice that made her sound like a dying witch of old. After awhile I calmed myself and closed my eyes, and realized the whole place smelled like fresh wintergreen and everyone was very kind.

One of the biggest surprises of Vietnam was the coffee. It was by far better cold, but it tasted like dark chocolate, and never needed creamer. While most people our age might come to the city for cheep beer, we probably spent most of our time downing coffee.

Not that we didn't also sample the local beer. With our options of cheap beer being limited to three light varieties in Korea, it was nice to expand our palate. With countless options, we finally found a wonderful bar called GO2 with a section on the top floor overlooking the city. It was the most relaxed we were since we left Andong, chilling out in the company of each other without any itinerary.

The best meal of our trip was also in Ho Chi Minh, and I believe I can safely speak for all of us here. Down by the night market we stopped by an outdoor restaurant, lured over by the delicious smell of fish on the grill. Because the whole place was set up with cheap tarps and plastic tables, we knew that the place had to be all about the food. Correct. I have never devoured such a giant fish before. It was so soft, and each bit of it was dipped in a dish (right) with fresh squeezed lime and a kind of special pepper combo.

All of the food in Vietnam was incredible, especially the large pho noodles in a kind of soup. Most meals came with a plate of bean sprouts, fresh hot pepper and mint leaves to add. My only difficulty might have been my unnatural aversion to cilantro, which was quite plentiful.

I might still have dreams about dodging motor bikes, but Ho Chi Minh was a memorable city.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Not Quite Vietnam

Although I promised the post on Vietnam today, I found myself quite ill after a lunch of giant pork-spine soup . I could do little but lay in bed when I came home and try to keep other foods down periodically. That said, I will use this post instead as a kind of preface to tomorrow's real post on Vietnam.

The week before we left Korea, it finally snowed in Andong (the first real accumulation of the season). Two main things can be said for how the city handled snow: the public buses shut down, and the snowmen sprang up. As for the first, it didn't much affect me because I live close enough to school to walk, but I felt bad for the clusters of people huddling around bus stops, when I didn't see a single bus run for 2 days after the snow hit. Luckily, there are cheap taxis all over the place and I imagine it was a good few days for them.

The snowmen were much more fun. The only people I saw making them were middle aged men, which made me smile. With snow being so infrequent, it isn't a season of play only for the young. Actually, the children were probably all in school for the day, as they continue to take classes through their winter breaks.

I took these on my phone walking home from school:

(This one is modeled after a Korean "yangban," a traditional aristocrat (you can tell by the black hat style. It's hard to tell in this picture with the truck, but the hat also includes the wide brim sticking out on either side).

Although it was sad to leave behind the snow of Andong (and I dearly missed the epic Michigan snow this winter), I definitely looked forward to the warmth of two weeks in Southeast Asia.

The only problem was figuring out how to make the 3+ hour journey to Seoul (with the Han river being frozen up there) from Andong without excessive bulky winter clothing, since each of us only packed a single backpack for the trip. Socks with sandals? Oh yes.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Back in Korea

I'm back from Southeast Asia! With all my pictures now sorted through (over 10 took a bit of time) I'll be posting on Vietnam tomorrow, followed by Cambodia and then Thailand.

As for this week (yes, guilty, I've been back since Monday), I made it through my last English camp in Elementary school. I'd say it was bittersweet, but I'm also glad it's over. Unlike the others, where the gender spread was equal and the student count was about 8-10, this week I was gifted with 11 extremely energetic boys and 2 shy girls from the 4th grade.

Like the other two English camps I had at my school this winter, I was alone without a co-teacher. Usually I find the freedom kind of liberating from the routine of the school year, so I don't mind being completely in charge. In this case, teaching was near impossible when the boys refused to go near the girls for circle or team work, and wanted to spend most of the time swiping mop handles from the supply closet and having sword fights.

Even though it was tempting to play movies all week, I resisted (limiting it to one- Home Alone, a popular choice for little boys) and added more race and guessing games to tire them out. Using newly taught vocabulary and words they already knew, a popular game was one where two students faced off with a bell between them. With hands on their heads and backs to the TV screen, I showed the other students pictures to act out, and the opposing students had to hit the bell and say the correct vocab word. I put the girls on separate teams so they could pair up in the face of time-consuming opposition from the boys. Another variation was to use the same team and bell format, but show them scrambled vocabulary words (after, as a warm up for the day, giving them a word worksheet so they were familiar with scrambled words). In this case their teammates weren't acting, they could look at the TV screen this time, it was just a race between the two students to figure out the answer first.

Another invaluable activity I found was Highlights (the magazine for kids) hidden pictures. The kind where a bunch of little pictures are hidden in a big one, with a picture and word key at the bottom. After a search online I found plenty of places to print them out. A great way to get them to speak in English without noticing (because in looking for the pictures they would say the English words when talking to their friends). Very fun and surprisingly challenging. Meanwhile, I could covertly hide the mops.

Now I can rest. I really will miss all those kids, no matter how difficult they are.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

On Vacation

I'll be on vacation until Jan 31 in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, so it's likely I won't be updating my blog until I get back. I planned on a post before leaving, but time absolutely flew in the busy days leading up to the trip.^^;

Scott and I just arrived in Ho Chi Minh with our friends Andrew and Katie after a 5 hour flight from Seoul, and we're about to head out and explore. I'll let you know a lot more later, but right now the 4 of us are looking forward to taking a mental break from work for 2 weeks.