Popgirl — #18

As we’re already well into March, it’s no surprise that I had a hard time with this Popgirl issue. Even with Leap Day, the month felt incredibly short, so I didn’t think I had a lot to say about February. To trick myself into writing, I forwent the format and ended up saying a bit more than expected. Enjoy:

In February, South Korea reported over 200 cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours Watching coronavirus spread in South Korea: the good news is that there is no panic. In response, my school shut down for a week. Many teachers I know are still not working, and case numbers continue to rise as daily testing is conducted. Racist, xenophobic responses are also on the rise, particularly in my home country. Negative news stories about China and deflated business as a result are cyclical occurrences for Harry Chan, owner of an 85-year-old restaurant in Seattle’s Chinatown; Oneika Raymond asks us to consider whether there would be as much concern or hoopla if the origin of the virus were North American or European.

Having extra time off in February allowed me to watch a lot of movies. Women love women-led content: here’s looking at you, Birds of Prey (2020), Hustlers (2019), and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). I even saw Little Women (2019) in theaters and loved it so much I wrote a blog about it. I also experienced the Taylor Swift: Miss Americana (2020) and Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (2019) documentaries. Each film is worth watching in my opinion, but Birds of Prey stands out as a joyful proposition for why more female-driven superhero movies should exist.

My thoughts exactly. Also, please stream ‘Garden Song’.

As for other entertainment, I fell back into the K-drama world with Crash Landing on You (2019). The show depicts North Koreans as complex people who are ultimately relatable and even lovable, even if they are culturally different. I cried my way through the final episodes of The Good Place (S4) and felt my adrenaline spike with every cliffhanger on The Stranger (S1). February kicked off with a binge of Netflix’s Next in Fashion (S1). While I was delighted to have a Project Runway-esque show to consume, I felt some important industry conversations were brushed aside in favor of goofy bits. That said, the fourth episode provided some opportunity to examine what streetwear really means beyond looking ‘cool’.

Speaking of fashUN, here’s one of my favorite looks I put together in February:

Also on IG, Michael Buckley linked me to Rhett & Link’s episode of A Conversation With. Listening to the discussion on ‘coming out’ as agnostic was unexpectedly great. Link Neal talked about his first time hugging an openly gay man as a Southern Baptist Christian: “What I wanted to do was hug him back and actually mean it, but the belief that I was ingrained with didn’t allow me to sincerely hug the guy.” I’m grateful to this duo for sharing the stories of their spiritual deconstruction in such a responsible, measured way.

2020 Reading Challenge update: I read two books in February. Not quite as impressive as the 14 I managed the month before, and even worse, I wouldn’t recommend either book. If you have any “must-read” suggestions to help end this reading drought, drop them in the comments!


Little Women

I’ll never forget an English professor quoting Ecclesiastes regarding the subject of unoriginal ideas in content: “there is nothing new under the sun.” Now and then, I think of this biblical quote taken out of context, especially when considering my own writing. Humans might have the gift of being uniquely ourselves, but we’re hard-pressed to make unprecedented art.

Whenever classic stories are rebooted for a modern audience, this news often generates a few eye rolls from the jaded, overindulged consumers of entertainment. After all, is a Friends reunion really necessary? How many Spider-Man movies do we really need?

Which is to say, I recently watched Little Women (2019), Greta Gerwig’s 21st-century answer to the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott. So presents the age-old question, did we as a collective society, need a new Little Women? Perhaps not, but we got one anyway.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Eccl 1:9, NIV

I, for one, am grateful. The film has some misses, but all around I believe it’s an exceptional take on this story. Aside from the obvious – a jumbled timeline – the modern twists in Little Women (2019) are nuanced. Despite subtlety, the movie’s changes are unmistakably influenced by the era we live in today.

Jessica Bennett writes ‘these characters are ambitious, angry, and they have agency‘ in a (spoiler-heavy) review for The New York Times. Though the March sisters are not new figures, we’re afforded the chance to see them in a different light this time around.

It’s a treat to see this story told from a fresh perspective. We get all the heart of Louisa May Alcott’s original work updated with a respectful nod to the author herself. So what if there isn’t anything “new” under the sun of the tale that is Little Women? What’s been done will be done again. And I can’t wait to see how the next recycled version ends up.


On the sidewalk

My parents still live in the house I grew up in. I’ve found this is not the norm. Most people grieve the loss of their childhood homes in early adulthood (if they’re sentimental like me).

Even in my teen years, I never thought of living in my childhood home as a rarity. It was just life. Another fact of life: My paternal grandparents lived three houses down. In the same house my dad grew up in.

I’ve got nostalgic pavements
I’ve got familiar faces
I’ve got a mixed-up memory
And I’ve got favorite places

Kate Nash, ‘Mouthwash’

In many ways, it was a charmed existence. I could lazily stroll down the street to visit with my grandparents and maybe even sneak in an episode of Lizzie McGuire if I timed it right. My world stretched from the cherry laurel tree in our front yard all the way to the old motorboat in my grandparents’ backyard. We rode circles in the driveway and back to our house on bikes that were too big. We built forts out of twigs and scoured photo albums, making up stories about all the black and white photos.

And every time I got ready to leave, my grandpa would say the same refrain. “Stay on the sidewalk,” he’d call from his chair, a throne that doubled as a recliner. It was a sweet reminder to be safe despite the short distance between our homes. When I think about my Papa, that memory sticks the most and has stayed with me well into adulthood.

One lesson I learned from my grandpa is to stay on the sidewalk.

It’s a lesson worth remembering. Not just to be careful and stay safe, but also to stick to the path that’s in front of you. Perseverance is a useful quality to have in your tool belt, especially when life gets tough. As an adult, I see “stay on the sidewalk” as an encouragement to be steady and true. To not just give up when it gets hard, but push forward despite the difficult things.

I’m not denying that some situations require a change in direction. It’s okay to take a u-turn or even forge an entirely new path for yourself. I think that with endurance and resolve at your disposal, you can make the decision to turn left or keep going with much more confidence.


Popgirl — #17

Gotta admit, I’m dragging myself across the January finish line.

This month the days seemed to creep on and at times the world felt more chaotic than usual.

Even so, I found moments of enjoyment, from discovering a newfound appreciation for iced cafe lattes to experiencing a Broadway show (The Phantom of the Opera) in Korea. Two things: The Phantom is a total creep despite his tenor, and yes, ‘Down Once More / Track Down This Murderer’ is a top-tier musical fight (read: counterpoint duet).


Refreshing and sweet, like a Shirley Temple.

Started strong for my 2020 Reading Challenge: I wrapped up the Shades of Magic trilogy and was completely enthralled with the storytelling. No idea why I waited years after reading the first book to dive into the others, Victoria Schwab is so good! Revisited To Kill a Mockingbird and still proudly claim it as my all-time favorite book. Checked out some Mainer historical fiction – A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline – and was very pleased with the novel. Another trilogy I picked back up and enjoyed, Chaos Walking. If you’re into sci-fi dystopia, this one’s for you. The tangled and heartening sophomore novel from Mary H.K. Choi, Permanent Record, followed up with her delightfully candid Elle Canada interview. Insights from Jenna Wortham about how social media has irrevocably changed the way we live over the last ten years and getting a handle on that change. A dense yet fascinating read on how sustainable fashion is based around bad facts.

The Good Place final season, which is weird and fun as always. I haven’t watched the series finale yet because I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared for it to be over. I did finish Atypical (S3), which was surprisingly delightful. Three seasons in, it’s more clear than ever that Brigette Lundy-Paine and Keir Gilchrist are the shining stars of this production, portraying siblings Casey and Sam with depth and heart. I also fell into The Circle (S1) on Netflix, which I found as addictive, yet not as frustrating, as Big Brother.

Old favorites like radio playlists inspired by ‘Life is Rosy’ by Jess Penner and ‘Portions for Foxes’ by Rilo Kiley, plus a collection of all the Fun. albums were on repeat. As far as new earworms, a heartbreaking yet beautiful Kina Grannis cover of ‘Somebody Loved’ by The Weepies, and two very different jams: ‘EARLY TO THE PARTY’ from ASL and ‘Adeline’ by Fever Dolls. Listen here. Also gave the Grammy-winning ‘Saint Honesty’ a few listens because Sara Bareilles is my queen, and fully cried watching this performance.

Lobbying for hobbies, in which I wax poetic about a generation that allegedly “lost hobbies”. Time capsule, a self-indulgent snapshot of where I was ten years ago.


Please, close my hat fringe window so I don’t have to acknowledge this anymore.

The Royals series from Rachel Hawkins – it’s just fine? I wanted it to live up to Red, White & Royal Blue standards but I’m sad to say both Prince Charming and Her Royal Highness fell short for me. Open to suggestions for other modern royalty books to fit my particular brand of royal obsession.

You know when everyone says something isn’t good but you want it to be, so you try to limit your expectations and have an open mind? Yeah, that’s what I attempted to do walking into Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. Unfortunately, even with low expectations, I was still disappointed. I love Star Wars, I really do – and I even have been known to enjoy JJ Abrams’ contribution to the world of sci-fi entertainment. But this movie gets a big ol’ eye roll from me. It was a production of nothing, and such a dissatisfying conclusion. You (S1-2*) on Netflix. In truth, I did enjoy the WTF-ery of each episode at first, but it starts to wear thin. I don’t get the appeal of static characters and storylines that don’t evolve. *Full disclosure: I haven’t completed the second season, but with two episodes left, I doubt my opinions will be swayed.

Pop of the Month

Because life’s a happy song when there’s someone by your side to sing along.

Musical Theater

Like I said at the opening, I got to see the world tour production of The Phantom of the Opera this month. It was a magical event.

When I watch Broadway shows, or any stage show for that matter, it always makes me so proud. I can’t help but feel joy for the people on and off stage, who are living out their dreams by making art that people like me can enjoy. I always feel better after listening to or seeing a musical. So this one goes to the grand old institution of campy acting, catchy showtunes, and all that jazz.


Time capsule

Ten years ago, I was just starting as a full-time college freshman at my local community college. The college was three minutes from my house and its campus consisted of one building*.

Though it was comically small, I was thrilled to be in attendance. It was my first time consistently going to classes, as desks and droning lectures aren’t a typical mainstay of homeschooling.

Attending a community college that only offered two-year programs might have been the dipping-your-toes-in-the-shallow-end equivalent of experiencing college, but it was right for me. I saved a significant amount of money while earning an Associates degree and knocking out my core classes. But, that’s how I ended my time at GMC.

At the start of 2010, I was delighted by almost everything my tiny alma mater had to offer: The English professor with the deep voice of a long-term smoker, assigning me to write about which The Breakfast Club character I most identified with, and why – I chose Brian, because of course I did. The computer lab where I earned extra credit just by speaking with a tutor. The seemingly endless list of elective courses I could take, like Art History, Bowling, or Criminology.

I took all of those electives and a handful of others, too. I was still figuring out what I wanted to do and figured a few random classes couldn’t hurt in that journey. Spoiler alert: I now have my degree, and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.

Still, in January 2010, with a world of possibility at my fingertips, I chose to start college eight months earlier than most of my peers. As I began my college experience and wondered at what I should do, I doubt I considered a future where I was teaching, much less living in another country. Plenty of things happened between then and now to lead me here, of course, but it’s nice to look back. Maybe the optimism and curiosity that motivated me to take unnecessary electives is the very same force motivating me today.

*Please note a second building as was also built during my brief tenure there. It made a big difference.


Lobbying for hobbies

Not long ago, a now-private Kashia Dunner tweeted a rallying cry to fellow Millennials. The tweet argues that “my generation lost hobbies,” and judging by the retweets and screenshots uploaded to Instagram, it seems many agree.

The last five words are a simple yet effective call to action, especially considering this tweet was published on New Year’s Eve.

i feel like my generation lost hobbies.

everything doesn’t have to be a hustle, side hustle, or money making enterprise. sometimes it’s just fun to do something because it brings you joy, peace, relaxation, or allows you to be creative.

let’s rediscover hobbies in 2020.

Kashia (@kashia) December 31, 2019

I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that everything doesn’t have to be a hustle. In fact, I think the emphasis on Millennial hustle in a ‘gig economy’ is a sign of just how broken the corporate workplace is.

Even so, did our generation truly lose hobbies? I’m not sure. So many of my peers have little projects that are just for them. Like those coloring books for adults or making miniature houses (as a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation fan, I find these creepy). I know people who bake to relieve stress, who sketch with Procreate® to pass the time, and people who DIY home decor – not because they need it necessarily, but because they enjoy it.

Personally, I consider reading my top hobby, but I have dozens of others. I embroider, I write self-indulgent pop culture reviews, I attempt to craft, I sing (often in the shower), I sew, I dabble with fashion, I play the same three video games, I design interiors for a home I don’t have. And there’s the graveyard of hobbies that didn’t stick, like playing the Ukulele or using a bullet journal.

In reality, it’s not that I’ve lost hobbies. It’s that my attention is focused elsewhere, interest lost and distracted by what’s directly in front of me. Instead of taking time for myself, I spend hours consuming content on my phone. I wonder which Succession character I am and BuzzFeed happily answers. I binge-watch Netflix. I Google to find out if I’m dying because my eye’s been twitching for two days. I deny myself the joy and personal reward of hobbies for a quick fix like the instant dopamine rush of Likes and comments. And on and on.

In the end, whether hobbies are forgotten or merely ignored, I suppose the final thoughts are still the same. Let 2020 be the year we pivot from solely consuming to creating, too. Start indulging the weird creative side of yourself, just for you. Whether you’re making a loaf of banana bread, working up a sweat from dancing, or typing out a grand manifesto, I hope you make it yours.


Popgirl — #16

A Decade in Review, Popgirl Style

Well, here we are! The end of an era. I love how fresh a new year feels even if it’s all in my head, and closing out a decade feels even more significant. That said, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to share some of the most flavorful, buttery pop goodness I enjoyed over these past 10 years.



Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world.

top tv movies 2010s flyingdesksets

Top TV

5. Nostalgia trip: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-)
In this decade, Amy Sherman-Palladino returned with A Year in the Life of the Gilmore girls, but also: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, featuring the ASP signatures I’ve come to know and love set against the sights and sounds of the late 50s/early 60s. For more tv that kicks nostalgia into high gear, watch Stranger Things.

4. Under the wire: Succession (2018-)
In 2019, I found a new drama fix with Succession, a delightfully messy family dramedy. The writing on this show is so superb that pretty much every episode is better than the last. It’s a disaster and I love it! A less dramedy featuring a not-quite-as-horrible-yet-still-wealthy(ish) white family that I loved this decade is Schitt’s Creek. Watch them back to back for a truly fun time.

3. Purely addictive: RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-)
I discovered RPDR well after it began airing and it was a definite entertainment highlight for me this decade. It’s camp, high-stakes reality TV where talented, beautiful and hilarious queens battle for a chance at $100,000. Honorable mention goes to Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City, a Japanese reality show with all the charm and drama you can ask for.

2. Try not to laugh challenge: New Girl (2011-2018)
Who’s that girl? It’s just a great sitcom. For a long time, I felt like New Girl was this generation’s Friends until I realized that Friends still holds that title for many people. Still, even with ups and downs in the writer’s room, this show was always warm and happy, like a comfort food I kept returning to. I quote the cookie scene and many of Max Greenfield’s one-liners to this day. Note: If you’re looking for more lighthearted viewing, I also found a happy haven in the likes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Bob’s Burgers, Speechless, and The Good Place.

1. Best of the best: The West Wing (1999-2006)
In my final years of college, I invested almost as much time studying the plots of The West Wing as I did for my degree. Though the political drama ended well before the 2010s began, it has drive and heart that spans decades.

Note: My top title that aired this decade is Gravity Falls. It’s a wonderfully weird animated series.

Top Movies

5. In the nick of time: Knives Out (2019)
Gosh, I loved this movie. We all need a little more whodunit in our lives. Especially with Rian Johnson at the helm. The dialogue, twisty plot, and star-studded cast crackle on screen. It’s a must-watch! PS: Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart earns a very close second in this category.

4. Simply magical. Tangled (2010)
It’s hard to believe that Tangled is only ten years old. The re-imagining of the classic tale of Rapunzel is littered with delightful characters and musical numbers. Plus, it has the most romantic scene in any movie ever (secret cupcakes!) and the damsel gets to be the hero in this one. For more magic, watch About Time, Cinderella (2015), and in my personal opinion, Star Wars: The Last Jedi – a very magical movie indeed.

3. A Good™ time: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
There is so much to love about this Edgar Wright film. It pays beautiful homage to the comic of the same name and has dozens of quotable moments that stick with me even today. Plus, Anna Kendrick. Honorable mentions in this category include Thor: Ragnarok, Pacific Rim, Solo: A Star Wars Story and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.

2. So powerful you could kill a man: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
I will never forget how I felt when I watched Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time. The cinematography and soundtrack alone were enough for me to ascend, and the cast brought everything to an entirely different level. For other films that entertain in this very specific way, see also: Gone Girl and A Simple Favor.

1. Cream of the crop: Pitch Perfect (2012)
Did Kay Cannon bring modern movie musicals back to the silver screen? Maybe not, but this Anna Kendrick stan sure did love the effort. While the other PP movies released in this decade aren’t worth discussing, I feel like all the joy, music, and rom-com goodness of Pitch Perfect blend together to create my very top movie of the 2010s. Another musical masterpiece from this decade is, of course, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.


Don’t you want to be alive before you die?

top books 2010s flyingdesksets

Books Everyone Should Read

10. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
For a Good™ time… call the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. Scott is a complete mess that you learn to love over the six volumes in his story. And even if you don’t love Scott, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the journey he takes and characters he encounters along the way.

9. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
A book for those who revel in the essential mess that is life. Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun is another affecting page-turner, too!

8. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
Sometimes you just gotta read purple prose about magical realism! You can clutch Blue Sargent and her raven boys from my cold, dead hands.

7. The Hawkeye comics by Matt Fraction and David Aja
Okay, this looks… GOOD. If you’re wanting an entry-point to get into comics, I can’t recommend Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye enough. Let’s all rejoice for idiot superhero, Clint Barton!

6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
For a novel, this book sure does read like poetry. Benjamin Alire Sáenz is the undisputed king of coming-of-age stories.

5. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan
This is a very quick yet energizing read. Laugh and cry at the beautiful words written by the late Marina Keegan. Another posthumous read of a different sort: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.

4. The Crazy Rich Asians trilogy by Kevin Kwan
Each book in this series is more over-the-top than the last and full of outrageous drama that you’ll have to read to believe. I adore China Rich Girlfriend (book two) the best of all, but found each one engaging in its own way. Kwan describes food so well in these pages that I often wished I could be in Singapore to have a taste-test while I was reading.

3. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
With lines like “there was never an apple, in Adam’s opinion, that wasn’t worth the trouble you got into for eating it,” this book is an instant classic. Plus, now you can follow up your reading by enjoying the Amazon series of the same title. A win-win.

2. The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, PhD
If you’re in your twenties or at a crossroads in your life, you should read this book. I read it not long after finishing college and found it insightful and empowering in a time where I was very much not sure what was coming next. Check out You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb for more thoughtful reading.

1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A World War II novel that draws you in and captivates you until the very last page. I cannot recommend it enough. I used to describe it as The Book Thief for adults, even though I think adults can (and should) read TBT too. All The Light We Cannot See is the most beautiful, stirring book I read in this decade.


Remember that life is not meant to be wasted, we can always be chasing the sun.

Sara Bareilles artist of the decade flyingdesksets

Top Albums

10. Bad Blood by Bastille

9. Some Feelings by Julia Nunes

8. Native by OneRepublic

7. Golden Hour by Kavey Musgraves

6. Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen

5. Some Nights by Fun.

4. 1989 by Taylor Swift

3. Midnight Memories by One Direction

2. Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande

1. The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles (or, this playlist)

And there you have it. My decade in entertainment all wrapped up. A few other odds and ends worth mentioning are as follows:

Austin Rogers’ 12-day run on Jeopardy! in 2017. You guys can keep Jeopardy James, in this house we only recognize King Austin. Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, a musical tour de force that I was lucky enough to witness with my own eyeballs at the FOX. The Enneagram, a personality typing system that grows your awareness of how others operate and not just your own. I always tell people to take the longer test. FWIW, I’m a type six. Kelly Mindell of StudioDIY (+ Jeff and Arlo, too!) The Mindells really do make life a party, and I love following along. The ever-nerdy yet incredibly fun New York Times Crossword App that lets you play a mini-crossword for free every day. The UNHhhh webseries because Trixie and Katya are some of my favorite queens around. Dragon*Con, Georgia’s answer to Comic-Con and a genuinely fun experience. I only attended a handful of times, but I always loved the gathering of fellow weirdos to confuse other ATLiens. The Daily Skimm, a useful newsletter from TheSkimm that shares info-bites on what’s happening in the world every weekday. My Favorite Murder, the true crime podcast that we deserve. And the only good thing about Apple products: kids using Animojis.

If brevity is the soul of wit, writing a lengthy pop culture decade recap is the soul of egoism. Thanks for reading, and see you next year! 🙂


What I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Korea

I’ve been in Korea for almost six months now, and reflecting on these past few months, there are a handful of things I wish I knew before my big move.

I’m sharing them here to help make the process smoother for anyone moving to Korea for a year (or more).

7 Things to Know Before Moving to South Korea

Optional: Read with 7 Things by Miley Cyrus playing as background music.

1. You don’t need to pack multiple jackets.

While Korea may have four distinct seasons, if you live further south, chances are the “fall” weather won’t feel very crisp. Where I come from, fall isn’t really a thing. Sure, the leaves change and pumpkin-flavored everything is for sale, but the weather is still pretty hot. So, admittedly I don’t have much to compare it to, but the idea of wearing a coat when its 70 degrees outside is a bit much. That is to say, hold off on bringing a bunch of lightweight jackets. Unless you’re planning to layer them in the winter, one should be plenty. I opted not to pack a winter coat because a) it would have taken up valuable luggage space and b) I didn’t have one in the first place. If you’re coming over in the warmer months like I did, I recommend this. I honestly wish I’d saved myself more space by not packing any winter accessories at all – there are tons of affordable options for heat tech, hats, gloves and such.

2. You can’t learn Hangul in a day.

You’re probably thinking “…duh,” but I heard this secondhand through an acquaintance who also taught in Korea and foolishly took it as fact. Just like it’s tough for my students to learn English without practice, learning Korean – even just the alphabet – takes time. I recommend learning what you can before you arrive. Knowing Hangul helps a ton with reading signs and menus! LingoDeer is a great app to practice Korean, but I’ve heard Drops is an excellent app for learning Hangul in particular.

3. You can still use Spotify in Korea.

Unless you’re planning to set your phone’s details from your home country to Korea*, there is no reason why Spotify won’t work. I came over using Spotify Free (I’d downgraded because I thought it wouldn’t work internationally) but the free subscription only works for 14 days overseas. Note: Even if you buy a new phone here, you should still be able to set the country of the phone to the US, UK, etc. instead of the default Korea setting. *Note: One benefit to changing your phone’s country to Korea is access to certain apps like the Korea Starbucks app (rip my US rewards account), but I’d rather keep my Spotify over earning stars.

4. If you are allergy-sensitive at all, the fine dust will likely affect you.

I noticed it more when I was closer to Seoul, but when the air quality is bad, it can give you a persistent dry cough. AirVisual is a useful app to track the air quality and see if you need to wear a mask that day. A humidifier and/or air purifier is also a good investment if you’re located near Seoul.

5. Google Maps will not help you when you’re lost.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. However, in my experience, default apps aren’t necessarily the best option in Korea. Here are a few everyday transportation apps I wish I’d had on my phone when I first arrived:

  • KakaoMetro – If you’re lucky enough to be in a city with a metro system, KakaoMetro is extremely intuitive and great for when you’re still getting used to the train routes.
  • KakaoT – Instead of Lyft or Uber, there’s KakaoT. As long as you have the right address, it’s great. I like it best because you can opt to pay the driver in person vs. through the app, so you can pay by cash or card.
  • KakaoMap – The maps app isn’t perfect, but I’ve never encountered a GPS app without quirks. KakaoMap does the job and the “favorites” option is very helpful for navigating unfamiliar areas. One of the first things I did when I moved was set my home address in the app, so I can always get back to it without much trouble. Speaking of which, there is a bus app, but if you pull up the address in Maps, you can navigate using the bus without much trouble.

6. Snacks err on the sweet side.

There’s a reason honey butter chips sold out when they first released. Spicy and sweet flavors reign in Korea, so salty and savory snacks aren’t very popular here, unless you count seaweed. If you have friends or family sending care packages, make sure they throw in your favorite savory treats. I’d love to be proven wrong about this, so if you know if any salty Korean snacks I should check out, let me know!

7. Visa Runs are not “mini-vacations”.

Anyone who tells you this is either supremely optimistic or maybe just delusional. I recommend talking to any contacts you have in Korea (be it a friend or recruiter) to learn more about what a Visa run involves and if you will need one. When I was going through this process, I threw dozens of questions at my TravelBud contact and they always responded promptly. And Reddit is always a great resource for any questions you have about moving to Korea – this thread was my go-to for questions. Ultimately, I’d suggest doing everything you can to secure your Visa before you leave your home country, if only to avoid the headache and extra cost when you first arrive. Then you can save for a real vacation.

There you have it! Aside from the above little tidbits, I did manage to gather some useful information before arriving here, thanks to many other amazing blogs. To close this out, I’m linking my favorite resources for those gearing up to move to South Korea:

  • Moving to Korea: The Ultimate Packing List – This is a good starting point for anyone overwhelmed by narrowing down what to pack. However, I would ignore the advice to bring a power strip unless you’re not moving into your accommodation right away.
  • How to Pack for a Year in Korea – Informative and honest, with great advice not to “bring your whole life with you” when you move to Korea.
  • 43 Tips for Preparing to Move to Korea – A start-to-finish guide that covers everything from vaccinations to finance. The sections on visa documents, packing, and departure are particularly helpful.

As always, thanks for reading! If you have any unanswered questions about moving and/or teaching abroad, throw them my way. I’m happy to help!


Popgirl — #15

Against all odds, we’ve made it to December!

In the coming months, I expect to make some changes to this blog, which means Popgirl might undergo yet another transformation. In the meantime, let us all bask in the glow that is the 15th issue of this evolving collection of ramblings that I (and possibly you) enjoy so much.


So good you’ll want more.

Surprisingly, I didn’t watch too much in November. I saw Frozen II in theaters and I agree with Elliott Morgan, Olaf is my new favorite comedian. Speaking of Elliott, I also watched For the old Folks, a heartfelt swan song to the Valleyfolk as we knew it, from editor Kevin Plachy. And this delightfully dumb sketch by Brian Jordan Alvarez.

I’ve been going in on the radio playlist pulled from Maggie Rogers’ latest single ‘Love You For a Long Time,’ which I predict I will love for… a long time. Also ‘Motion Sickness’ by Phoebe Bridgers. And of course, my lowkey holiday mix got a lot of play.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara, an excellent read for any true crime aficionado. That said, it took me the better part of the year to read this book. I found McNamara’s writing at once beautiful and engrossing, but considering the subject matter, I could only enjoy it in small doses. Still, I recommend any fellow murderinos give it a read. Lauren Robel On the First Amendment and the Times’ followup. Although I *technically* didn’t finish this until early December: Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. To say this is a book about therapy would seriously undersell it, but that is the simplest way to describe it. At times Gottlieb made me feel like a fly on the wall in her sessions as both therapist and patient, and as a naturally nosy person, I LOVED it. A fun look into why we’re obsessed with the Bon Apetit Cinematic Universe.

I shared an overdue update on my life in Korea, complete with pictures and purple prose: Rose-colored glasses.


I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Conversations With Friends
I finished my Goodreads reading challenge when reading Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. As much of a triumph that was, I didn’t get this book at all. I’ve seen Rooney called “the first great millennial author” but, this work was not for me. The writing style drones on and in my opinion, none of the characters were redeemable in any way. It was a joyless read. My favorite part was also a great example of how irredeemable these characters were: At one point, the protagonist sends a two-sentence response to a pages-long email.

Private Practice
Early on in November, I dipped my toes into Private Practice (S1-4) because I was seeking more Amelia Shepherd content in my life. But, unlike its Seattle counterpart, there wasn’t much draw to the show for me despite Kate Walsh and the Broadway alums (Audra McDonald and Taye Diggs) keeping her company. Even once Amelia appeared, I didn’t see a reason to keep watching. Learn from my mistakes and just read the series’ Wiki synopsis instead!

Pop of the Month

Colleen Ballinger’s Childhood Cancer Fundraiser

For about three years now, YouTuber Colleen Ballinger has used her birthday and platform as a chance to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer. It’s one of the many reasons I admire her. This was the biggest year yet, with donations currently at $144,225, and this amount doesn’t include the $20,000 Colleen herself has pledged to add. The fundraiser will be open for another month if you’re feeling extra charitable this season!

All proceeds are split between the LA Children’s Hospital and Family Reach, the same amazing company I donated to when I participated in Frocktober for childhood cancer last year.


Rose-colored glasses

It’s been a minute* since I delivered a proper South Korea update. *Almost three months, according to this.

I originally planned to write monthly updates in a newsletter-y type format. In all honesty, I didn’t feel prepared to write until probably October. Learning how to live alone, on top of living in a foreign country, is taking time. I think that’s okay. I’m slowly but surely finding the rhythm that works for me. It’s a huge change, and at first, I felt disappointed in myself for not adapting more quickly. I had on some “unrealistic expectations”-colored glasses and eventually realized that was just making everything harder.

That said, I’ve traded in my glasses for the more customary rose-tinted ones and am feeling very optimistic about what’s to come. Knowing that this update includes the highlight reel of the past few months, I can only imagine what amazing things are on the horizon.

This recap is a tale of two cities: Jinju and Busan.


Jinju Fortress fireworks Namgang Yudeung Festival South Korea

Namgang Yudeung Festival

Like any good millennial, when I first found out I was moving to Jinju, I immediately Googled the city to discover that it hosts a lantern festival annually. In my head, this was Tangled in real life and I felt pretty lucky that I’d be able to see it in person. That said, I never could have imagined the scale of the event. Yudeung is Korean for floating lanterns, and Namgang (남강) translates to Nam River, which is where massive lit displays float. The festival had everything from a knockoff Beauty and the Beast lantern to dinosaurs. The setup for the 10-day festival took weeks. And though it’s been well over a month since the festival ended, when you walk along the river, you can catch some glimpses of lanterns still being taken down.

For a relatively small city, it’s impressive how much work goes into making the festival happen each year. If you’re visiting Korea next October, I definitely recommend a visit to Jinju! Some of the highlights for me were: Making my own “wishing” lantern to float along the river, trying various festival foods, watching live musical performances inside the Jinju Fortress, going through the lantern walkway, and even though I’m afraid of them, seeing the huge fireworks show at the end of the festival.

Autumn Views at Gyeongsangnam-do Arboretum Jinju, South Korea

Gyeongsangnam-do Arboretum

As my new ex-pat friend Christine would say, trees do so much for us. The Gyeongsangnam-do Arboretum (경상남도수목원) is a pure celebration of nature, and it’s right in my backyard. Even though it’s a 40-minute bus ride away from the center of the city and represents an entire province, the arboretum is housed in Jinju. Visiting during fall was a complete delight. Christine, Katie and I spent a good chunk of a Saturday morning there. I can’t wait to see what it looks like in other seasons!


Adjusting to life in Jinju has been an adventure all on its own. Still, a nice perk to living in the south of South Korea is my proximity to Busan, the second-largest city in the country. I’ve only made two day trips there so far, but if I want to see all Busan has to offer, I anticipate more visits in my future.

View from Busan Tower, Busan South Korea

In October, Katie and I ventured into Busan for a short day trip. We made it into the city just before lunch but still managed to pack in a handful of stops before catching the 7:30 bus to Jinju. Notably, the Busan Tower inside Yongdusan Park has breathtaking views of the city. Access to the observatory is only 8,000 KRW – less than 7 USD, for those at home. Plus, the ticket also includes several fun photo zones as you’re leaving the tower. We also tried ssiat hotteok (a seed-stuffed pancake that originated in Busan) at BIFF Square, traipsed down Book Street, and got in some shopping before calling it a day.

For my second journey to Busan, I teamed up with my friend Josh to participate in a special Pokémon GO event. I’m a newcomer to the game, but I figured it would be a fun way to spend a Saturday.

We ended up in Busan Citizens Park, a former US Army camp and Imperial Japanese Army base that’s been modified into a massive park, for a good three hours playing Pokémon GO. The park is gorgeous, with various green spaces to explore. I think you could easily spend a whole day there, with or without the siren song of wild Pokémon to tempt you.

We initially planned to grab some gimbap at Bujeon Market (per this recommendation) for lunch, but ended up confusing it for Seomyeon Food Alley in our post-Pokémon haze. We might have made our way there eventually, if we didn’t happen upon the only Shake Shack in Busan. It’s easy for me to feel guilty about not sampling more authentic or local food, but I haven’t eaten a true ‘American’ burger in months. A taste of home was exactly what I needed. All in all, it was a great day and I feel really lucky that I only have to spend a few bucks on a bus ticket to enjoy these experiences.

Traveling to Busan for these short visits has also made me eager to explore more of Korea. If you have any suggestions for where I should go next, drop them in the comments!