The Best (Almost Free) Thing I Brought to Korea

It’s fair to say I grossly over-packed for Korea.  I can hardly blame myself.  With little idea of where I would live, where I would work, and what resources I could easily access, I felt compelled to pack for life a big city, a remote island village, and every place in between.  Moreover, my height makes clothes shopping difficult in my oversized homeland.  I couldn’t imagine how I’d find new clothes in Korea.

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Korean clothes fit me as well as this diminutive diving tank.

However, of all the things I packed, one stands above all else due to its regular use.  My Korean dictionary grows dusty. Some of my toiletries still wait to grace my skin.

But I use my library card on a weekly basis.

Before leaving for Korea, I learned how to use the Sacramento Public Library’s online system – Overdrive.  On this site, one can choose between thousands of ebooks and audiobooks, check them out, and enjoy them for up to three weeks.

I love to read, and one of my occupying concern before departure was how I would satisfy my voracious informational appetite.  While English books are far from inaccessible in Korea, they are significantly more expensive than the $4 I’m accustomed to paying on Amazon.

The dirt-cheap prices of used books permitted ravenous reading while I studied in Kentucky.  A new book would arrive on a near-weekly basis as completed books piled up on my floor.

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I would much prefer butterflies to pile up in the air.

As a self-help junkie, most of my books revolve around habits, well-being, and positive psychology.  Some novels (such as the criminally enjoyable Drugstore Cowboy and the intensely nihilistic City of God) also made their way into my hands.

I knew I couldn’t pack too many books with me to Korea.  I needed my suitcase space for more essential items like clothes, deodorant, and California almonds.  However, I did have plenty of space for a library card.

Thanks to my Kindle, my headphones, and my insanely cheap Overdrive account (a library card costs $2 (if that)), I have consumed well over 100 books since arriving in Korea.  

The system is so easy.  Circulation functions nearly identically to physical library books.  I can check out books for up to 21 days. If a book I want is currently checked out, I can place a hold.  If my holds present a potential overwhelm of reading material, I can suspend those holds. The website and accompanying phone app make this incredibly easy.  The best part is that the library does not care where I am in the world. As a result, the library is now a massive bookstore in my pocket.

I read on buses, in cafés, at school, in bed, and anywhere else that requires sitting and idle time.  Audiobooks have become an intellectual bonanza. As I walk anywhere, do mindless chores, prepare dinner, consume a meal alone, or even work out, a choir of authors shares their hard-earned knowledge and wisdom.  As I settled into my Korean life, I managed to consume nearly two books per week.

One technique that improves my retention is doubling the speed of audiobooks and listening to them twice.  As I complete tasks like eating, cleaning, or traveling, I am bound to tune out some material. A second listening often fills in gaps, reinforces previous learning, and enriches my intellectual frameworks.

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I don’t learn exclusively from books.  I learned that if you tell Korean women they are beautiful, then they will pose for a picture.

I followed the life story of a strung-out fashion editor.  Another author diligently detailed the rise of West Coast Hip-Hop.  Countless psychology professors have shared their life-enhancing research and provided invaluable advice for living a more fulfilling life.  Western Buddhist spiritual leaders have warmly beckoned me into their soothing beliefs and practices.

While much of my personal growth this past year maps to the humbling experience of stepping into a new culture as a novice teacher, a large part of my intellectual and spiritual development stems from my voracious reading habits.

I could give plenty of advice to prospective English teachers considering living in Korea.  However, one year of experience is still relatively short. Much of what I have to say is bound to change as my experience grows, my understanding of others’ experiences deepens, and my own cultural understanding refines.

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My understanding of this second-grade class is that they love a K-pop group called TWICE.  I can’t knock them, though.  Two of those posters were a gift from me.

However, one piece of advice I doubt will change is thus:

“Bring your library card.  If you don’t have a library card, get one.  Make sure they have Overdrive or some other online database of electronic resources.  Then get a Kindle.”

This cost-effective way of enjoying reading will likely serve me well for years to come.  I can scarcely fathom the lessons I have yet to learn in the vast infosphere of the Sacramento Public Library.  All I do know is I cannot wait to find out.

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