Life in a throwaway country: sustainability in Korea

After a hiatus of almost 2 years, I’m back! I’m not saying I’m back for good, but for now, I’m back. I left wonderful Italy, graduated from University, and now here I am livin’ the life in Seoul, South Korea as an English teacher… How things change!

This time, I want to talk about sustainability. There are so many Korea- related things I could talk about, but the desire to write about sustainability was the reason I reached for my laptop tonight.

I’ve been in Korea for 6 months now, but as soon as I arrived I realised that life here is very logical and convenient. Due to the fact that so much of the country was demolished during the Korean War, everything is new. That means that they built the stuff they needed, where they needed it, whilst using a system that works. This means that the subway system is efficient and the wide, straight roads are basically perfectly planned, with a timed traffic light on almost every crossing. However annoying this is for pedestrians (its not uncommon to see a pedestrian legging it from a distance to catch the lights) it keeps the traffic and pedestrians mostly happy, without favouring either one. Logical. Korea’s logic is good and it helps people’s busy day-to-day lives.

Whilst there’s convenience and logic that are good, the convenience of some things just isn’t necessary. That goes for the sheer amount of convenience stores (ironic, I know) on every block, to the 24-hour food delivery services, and everything in between. Now, I can agree that it’s handy when you fancy a kimchi stew at 4am and all you need to do is text someone to get one, however, there should also be a time where these people just sit down and chill for a second. Furthermore, taxis are so cheap and readily available because so many people rely on them, so people don’t feel the pressure to rely on public transport. Food delivery is well priced, quick and easy so who cares about the fuel emissions of thousands of delivery motorbikes? You could walk the two minutes to McDonald’s but naaah, lets get it delivered. Want to go to a club or restaurant? They won’t give you a flyer out on the street but instead they’ll just throw whole stacks of them around on the floor in an attempt to catch your attention. Well, they caught mine, for the wrong reasons.

What comes out of this culture of convenience is a knock-on effect of a throwaway culture. This is clearly shown by the people who throw leaflets around but also less explicitly. Due to the fact you can buy whatever you want, whenever you want it, people don’t cling on to things that they perhaps would if it wasn’t so easy to get it again. Simple examples of this are plastic bags and chopsticks.

In Korea when you buy something in a shop, no matter how big or small, the cashier will try to give you a plastic bag. I often carry my own bags- a habit I picked up from living in England where they charge 5p per bag- so I refuse their bag and I’m often met with a puzzled look. I have even had to physically take things out of a bag myself because they couldn’t fathom the idea that I wouldn’t want a convenient plastic bag from them. The same goes for chopsticks, which by the way, Korea, you can use more than once!

The ‘throwaway’ item that really gets to me the most is plastic coffee cups and straws. Korean people work hard. In fact, they work themselves to death, with some of the highest suicide and alcoholism rates in the world. Meanwhile, they drink coffee. The amount of coffee shops on every street in Korea still astounds me. There are the usual big name coffee shops as well as smaller chain and independent shops, but they are everywhere. And they are everywhere for a reason. I sat in a tiny independent coffee shop for 30 minutes and watched about 25 business people come in and out during that time- all taking a plastic cup and straw with them. Lets bare in mind, there are about 5 other coffee shops within a 20-metre radius of that shop- so try to imagine the footfall in all the other cafes, too. I don’t think it crosses many people’s minds here to take their own reusable cup for their coffee.

It’s such an unusual thing to take your own cup or straw to a coffee shop, that when my friend took the plastic cup and straw from the previous day back to the same shop to buy another drink, they instinctively put a new plastic straw into his freshly made coffee. It may not seem a big deal, but when you make that decision to stop your consumption of plastic straws and someone puts one in your coffee (meaning that the only place for that straw is now the trash, then landfill/the ocean), its flipping annoying. The thing is, all over the world plastic is seen as a throwaway item, when actually it lasts a lifetime. 

Long story short: I’m saddened by the way that daily life in Korea doesn’t really support a sustainable lifestyle. Koreans consume so much, creating unbelievable amounts of waste every day from coffee cups, plastic bags, food packaging (especially plastic fruit and veg boxes in supermarkets) and just generally not caring about their footprint on the earth. Thankfully, there are some good news stories emerging about the UK Government proposing to ban plastic straws and cotton buds, McDonalds ditching plastic straws for paper ones, and coffee chain Boston Tea Party are going to ban disposable cups. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, so lets get through it before we drown, choking on plastic.

Teaching English in Italy: Sanremo & Genova

Ciao a tutti!

This year I decided to fill a few empty weeks of my summer doing something that I love, and that I have actually spoken about on here before. After thinking that I probably wouldn’t return to working with LSF in Italy again, somehow I wound back up on the beautiful Ligurian coast for a couple of weeks ready to teach a whole new bunch of Italian kiddies! Two years ago I did the same thing- read about that here and had such a great time so I took the plunge and put myself up for it again- this time for two weeks. In my last post about working with LSF I explained everything, but the bare essentials of the job are:

-       Turn up at a beachside resort in Sanremo
-       Stay there for a week learning songs and games that you will use on camp to teach English
-       Have lots of fun during free time in the sea, at local bars and playing beach volleyball with glistening Italian men
-       Go to your camp, wherever that may be (you are allocated the day before you go!)
-       Stay with a host family during your stay, who will feed you and love you like their own child
-       Go to camp every day and sweat your tits off
-       Finish the two weeks of camp with a show that your darling, sweet Italian bambini will perform in perfect English to their weeping parents
-       Get drunk to celebrate that its over and you can stop sweating now
Working with a view!
I was placed in the lovely seaside city of Genova, with a sweet guy called Steffen. We got on very well and didn’t mind taking it in turns to nap during break time... He made camp a lot more enjoyable for me, because we actually only had 11 kids in the entire camp; 5 of which were in my class, making it a very quiet and more of a job for us to entertain them. Stef was constantly cracking jokes and making me smile, and I even arrived one morning at 8am to him meditating in the morning light of his classroom.. it was magical.

Host Family
My host family were by far the best part of the experience this time around for me. Part of the reason I wanted to work with LSF again is because I am now in my final year of an Italian degree, so living and breathing an Italian lifestyle would always be beneficial! My host family couldn’t really speak any English, thank god! So I was ‘lucky enough’ to speak only in Italian for two weeks solid. It did mean that I started to sleep walk and talk in Italian, which was a hilarious first for me.

My host family consisted of Mama Daniela, Papà Angelo, and 8-year-old twins Jenny and Gabriel (the cutest, most well- tempered children!) oh, and two little bunnies. I really struck it lucky with my family and felt so at home. Daniela treated me like her daughter and best friend- and she sends me a weekly photo of a gnocco’, or a very sexy man, and Angelo calls me “MY DARLING!” (always shouted) and tells me I will “never walk alone”. He is also a salsa instructor, and one day during dinner he pulled me away from my pasta/the table and just started dancing with me- with only the Italian news in the background keeping the beat. It was really funny and made me feel really at home.

Angelo’s simple yet tasty cooking blows the socks off any normal Italian restaurant in the UK. Every day he would prepare a ‘primo’ first plate of pasta followed by a ‘secondo’ main dish of meat, usually accompanied by salad or cooked vegetables in true Italian fashion. Breakfast isn’t really a thing in Italy, so when I made them all a classic English breakfast on my final Sunday before leaving, it really threw a spanner in the works when it came to lunch time and nobody was hungry! Ooooops.

I was a little disappointed when I was allocated to such a small camp, after experiencing a camp of almost 60 kids two years ago. However, it ended up simply being a totally different experience! Stef and I had to work together and work harder to entertain such a small amount of kids, especially in the first few days when everyone was finding their feet. I bonded with my class (the younger kids, aged 8-12) nicely, working my way into their hearts by letting them listen to their favourite songs, (which were secretly my favourite songs too), and also because I can speak Italian I was able to help the younger ones when they really couldn't communicate in English in some situations. We spent the day singing songs and playing games which aided their language learning, as well as doing classroom activities which focussed on teaching the language.

I said it before and I will say it again: I would recommend working with LSF or a similar organisation to anyone interested in: getting out of their comfort zone; travelling; teaching; meeting new people; enjoying incredible food every day; living with a host family, and getting paid to sing songs and drink wine on the beach for a week. I write about my teaching experiences in the hope to inform and inspire anyone else thinking of doing it, so if that’s you, stop thinking and just do it!
Lunch date....HOW CUTE!? 

Do you think you'd be interested in teaching at camp?

A presto!

Olivia x

Coffee Politics

Coffee. The dark nectar. The reason you make it to work with your eyes open. The glue that repairs broken friendships. An excuse to waste hours of the day chatting with a cute guy over a cappuccino slowly going cold… More than just a strong caffeine hit. And let’s not forget, it is the famous best friend of students worldwide. Coffee is way more than just a beverage. It’s one of the drugs least frowned-upon all over the world- and the dealers who know exactly how to perfect their product are the famously thirsty Italians.

Italian simplicity

Drinking coffee is a natural movement in an Italian’s day. It is so ingrained in their routine that they don’t even realise they’re doing it. “Prendiamo un caffè?” is not so much a question in Italy, it is a declaration that’s rarely resisted by the addressee.

To explain how habitual it is to drink a quick caffè (a single espresso) whilst out on the go, bars often have two prices for the same drink. Your bill depends on if you drink al banco or al tavolo (at the bar/at a table); obviously costing almost double for those cappuccino-drinking tourists who almost definitely need the table to support their DSLR camera-weakened arms as they slowly sip away.

On that note, let me tell you rule numero uno about drinking cappuccino in Italy: it is a breakfast drink and you are likely to incur an eye-roll (or two) when ordering after midday.

Coffee done wrong?

Outside of Italy, however, for example in the UK, we have a different attitude towards coffee. Obviously there are the usual grab-and-go to the office types, but from my experience as a twenty-something-year old student, going for a coffee in the UK is often a much more leisurely affair. Coffee dates can last between 30 minutes to an hour or more! We English don’t simply order a coffee and drink it without a chair beneath us- are you crazy? We utilise the time to catch up with friends and treat ourselves to a nice piece of pie while we’re at it!

The best cappuccino I have ever tasted in Rome!
Furthermore, unlike the simple flavours of classic Italian coffee, popular places such as Starbucks and Costa in the UK give the opportunity for the double-shot-skinny-vanilla-latte-with-a-dash-of-cinnamon-or-cocoa-when-feeling-frisky drinkers to also join the party, often following fashions and celebrity trends.

So, what is the correct way to drink coffee? After living in Italy for the past 6 months, I have experienced both the quick caffè and the hours sat with numerous cappuccini being delivered to my table in my favourite cosy coffee shop. I have come to the conclusion that there really is no right way of drinking coffee. To avoid looking like a tourist in Italy it is important to obey the ‘midday rule,’ but apart from this, I would say that anything goes.

P.s, here’s a recent article declaring fashionable Starbucks’ entry into the Italian coffee market! How do we all think that’ll go? 

Erasmus Year Abroad: Being Assaulted and Halloween Happiness

Last Saturday was Halloween, which meant that there were of course some funky shenanigans on the cards - but still our usual Thursday night party ensued. Therefore, we battled through the weekend, drink after drink. Thursday's plan was to have a fairly chilled night in our local bar/club ‘Bella Vista’ so we were alive and kicking for our friend Toby’s party on Friday and then Halloween celebrations on Saturday. Of course, the chilled Thursday night wasn’t as chilled as we planned, so Friday was a bit of a struggle! (But not a struggle that free sangria couldn’t fix!)

So, here's a little tale about the events of Friday. There we were at Toby’s party, where free sangria flowing like a river, when I suddenly felt somebody softly touch my bum. I jumped round to find a man, about mid 50s standing there without a care in the world. His grey hair matched his equally grey tracksuit, which struggled to fit around his disgusting soul. I didn’t think too much about it and carried on having a good time, but then my friend told me he had also just touched her. I began to get annoyed with this man who was clearly there just to molest the young women at the party. Later, I happened to witness his creepy sausage fingers grope three more girls’ backsides. This just didn’t sit well with me - I’d had enough. I grabbed his hand off the third Italian girl, who thanked me gratefully and then with a blank expression, the man held his hands up to say “Whoops”. I told him pretty much to stop effing touching everyone up, as it’s not OK, and I turned back around to my friends.

A minute later, my brain told me that there was a nice cold beer being poured over my head running through my carefully straightened locks. As I tried to come to terms with what was happening, the grey man finished by throwing the now empty glass bottle at me, still, expressionless. Rather than instantly flipping out, I was in shock about what he had just done, and also disturbed by the look on his face as he threw the bottle at me. He was taken out of the club, still holding his hands up as though he was innocent.

I went to the ladies to have a second to think about what to do: go home and be really angry that this man had pissed me off and ruined my freshly washed, blow-dried and straightened hair; or to stay out a say YOLO. I decided the latter would be the better option, and I was bought sambucca shots to cheer me up. Incredibly, as the beer in my hair started to dry, it created some wonderful volume and I quite enjoyed the look. Every cloud, hey?

But seriously, it’s not right that this kind of thing happens. In my opinion, this guy should be locked away before someone else tells him to stop harassing them, and he punches them in the face or something. But as my friends and I have discussed, we would probably be laughed at or certainly not taken seriously if we reported him. And this provokes the thought in me about how many other young women, and anyone else in fact, don’t report this kind of thing.


When Saturday came we were pretty exhausted, but the party was still on! After some hilarious pre-dinks in my flat with a fair few of us in my living room, we headed out to the Piazza Del Campo for a huge silent disco party. Hardly anybody was dressed up (as expected) because Halloween isn’t really a thing in Italy, but we did the usual “minimum effort facepaint” and got away with not being spoilsports.

Unfortunately, not all of us were able to get the headphones from the company, because there were so many people that wanted them. Thankfully, my aforementioned pal Toby gave me his own headphones that I was able to plug into my phone. The rest of my friends had the proper headphones and I was unlucky not to get them, but it really made no difference that I was listening to my own music rather than their shared playlist. At least I was in control of the tunes and could secretly listen to Shaggy- Boombastic as many times as I liked, heheh. We all agree that we felt like 13 year olds at a school disco, starting conga lines and not having a care in the world! It was so great to look all around and see so many smiles - the biggest of which was coming from Toby who was having the best time out of everyone. I even felt the need to take an extremely blurry selfie of Toby and I to capture his happiness mid conga, of course - here it is!

Again, this post has completely ignored anything about studying or the actual purpose of me being in Siena. However, at least you’re getting a real insight into an Erasmus student’s life, right?!

A presto!