My Perfect Korean January

January flies past quickly and if you don’t have a plan you might miss the fun! It’s very easy to stay home all January because it feels great to cozy up with some video games and Netflix. However, January exists as the perfect month for adventure and building a rich life in Korea.

Making the Most of January

Every year I look forward to January in Korea. In fact, I love it so much I wish I could shout it from the rooftops. January when I get to go snowboarding, focus on my hobbies or studies, take a break from running around, and spend cozy time with friends. The month always flies past faster than I would like. Therefore, I make an effort to very intentionally plan my January time so that I can treasure it.

National Park Hiking with Family in January

In my first years in Korea, January became a key part of my yearly Adaptation Plan that I created each year to prioritize learning about Korea and building my community. Of course, this approach to winter was one I was raised with since I’m from the frozen north. A little cold and snow never bothered me anyway.

Funny enough, I spend a great deal of time at the beach in January. Something I hadn’t really thought about before I went searching for images for this post…. anyway, jumping back to what this January post is all about…. learning to love January.

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My View on Cultural Adaptation

I take adapting to a new culture seriously and I schedule it into my life throughout the year. When I moved to South Korea, I had to rely heavily on such adaptation processes in order to survive. Dealing with everything being different all at once felt like drowning.

You see, I become easily overwhelmed quickly. I can’t race to adapt, or my mental health will crumble like a stale cookie. Instead, I have to break life into scaffold-ed chunks and work through tasks over time. In order to scaffold my learning in healthy amounts, I trust in human science, like the fact it takes an average of 66 days for automatic habits and the importance of sleep for mental health. So instead of pushing myself to my limits, I methodically work toward my integration goals over time and work toward building new habits and caring for my mental health.

Bossam after a January Hike

As you can imagine, taking such a detailed approach to embrace my Korean life requires extensive research and planning. However, since I’ve already created my own assimilation plan (and I’ve been refining it for 12 years because I create a new plan each year), I decided to share it with my community to better help others who value the same approach.

My System for Adapting in Korea

Gamification works for me. I create missions for my year so that I know what I’m working toward and I can make choices around the tasks. My missions might be based on cultural skills I need to learn, family life, or hobbies. I don’t schedule things weekly, but I do have goals. When I achieve such goals, I make sure to celebrate them as well.

January 1st We Watch The Sun Come Up

Adventures keep me motivated. I grew up having a LOT of adventures, so I need to keep them scheduled in my life. Just staying home makes me feel restless. I want to climb a mountain, slide down a mountain, or swim in something. This means I carefully keep my weekends free for doing big activities.

A January Sunset On A Southern Beach

My choices may not be your choices. What I choose to do with my time in Korea will likely not match your values and choices. I am sharing my monthly ideal plan to help you conceptualize a framework for creating your customized Adaptation Plan.

Let’s jump into how I plan my first January in South Korea. You will quickly see that my January has so much to do I don’t have any time to feel sad about winter. In fact, I look forward to winter every single year! I absolutely LIVE for December, January, and February because life feels full and lovely.

January Integration Missions

The following integration missions will help you dig into January. Struggling through making your first Korean meals, falling in love with characters from dramas, and reading books that build cultural empathy sets the tone for a more integrated life. So let’s go!

What to Cook

January Recipe Recommendation: Kimchi Jjigae

The cold weather means spicy hot soups hit the spot! Thanks to KimchiRednecks our community has an easy online outline for slowly building Korean cooking skills throughout the year. In January the have us start with the Korean classic kimchijjigae because it’s likely to become your comfort food after a year in Korea.

Kimchijjigae is a spicy Korean stew made with fermented Napa cabbage, also known as kimchi. It is typically made with various other ingredients, such as pork or beef, onions, garlic, and tofu, and is often seasoned with gochujang, a red chili paste. The dish is traditionally served hot and can be enjoyed as a main course or as a side dish. It is popular for those looking for a flavorful and spicy meal and is often served at Korean BBQ restaurants. Kimchijjigae is believed to have originated in the 1950s and has since become a staple of Korean cuisine, enjoyed by people all over the world.

What to Watch

January Drama Recommendation:  “Crash Landing on You”

With the cold winter officially set it, it’s the perfect time to spend time watching Korean dramas. South of Seoul volunteers created an entire list of the most watched dramas, everyone, who lives in South Korea should consider watching to build cultural talking points.

Crash Landing on You is a popular South Korean television drama that premiered in 2019. The show tells the story of Yoon Se-ri, a wealthy South Korean heiress, and Ri Jeong-hyeok, a North Korean military officer. Se-ri accidentally paraglides into North Korea while on a trip to South Korea and is rescued by Jeong-hyeok. As they try to find a way for Se-ri to return home, they fall in love and must navigate the difficulties and dangers of their situation, including the tensions between North and South Korea. The drama is a romantic comedy-drama that combines elements of action, espionage, and political intrigue with the portrayal of the complex relationships and personal growth of the main characters.

Having opinions on popular Korean TV shows helps a great deal with making friends. Every culture loves to gossip about shared knowledge and you don’t want to be left out.

What to Read

January Book Club Recommendation: “I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki: A Memoir”

Starting the year with a memoir about mental health might seem like an odd choice. The cold days and dark nights coupled with feeling isolated in a new country can feel overwhelming for the best of us. It’s important to see the value of reaching out for therapy and support when you struggle. It’s also important to know that people in South Korea go to therapy. It may not be common to talk about but it has become much more common to do.

The South of Seoul book recommendation for January “I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki: A Memoir” shares one Korean woman’s mental health journey and documents her time in therapy, her personal struggles, and how therapy impacts her. If you find that you connect with the author and also need extra support in the winter months, you can find English-speaking therapists in Korea.

Weekend Activities

Of course, you don’t want to only stay home on the weekends. You want to explore Korea and build your portfolio of adventures! Here is how I would spend my first January if I could do it all over again.

Weekend 1: Home Life

We prefer to spend our first weekend of the year in our own city. We might hang out at home doing laundry and organizing the house, or we will prioritize meeting up with friends for coffee or having friends over for dinner. The first weekend of January is a time to feel connected to our life and community.

Grabbing January Coffee with My Partner at One of Our Favorite Cafes

If our community has other plans, we use this weekend to try a new cafe, eat at a new restaurant, or explore a new neighborhood. The point of the weekend is to find the small joys of mundane life that create the infrastructure for stability and a sense of belonging.

Weekend 2: Snowboarding and Ice Festival

When it’s winter I want on the slopes as much as possible. In Gangwondo, it’s also easy to plan a day of snowboarding/skiing and then the next day visit an Ice Festival such as the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival.

January Ice Festival With Visiting Friends

Weekend 3: Art & Theater in Busan or Seoul

For whatever reason, I enjoy attending musicals during the winter months. I’ve always pictured the theater as a cold-weather activity. Therefore, in January it’s nice to bundle up and head to a big city to enjoy the hustle and bustle.

Most musicals will be in Korean unless they included an international cast. Keep in mind, many operas and other theater pieces are often performed in languages other than English and they still move you at the core. We can hardly understand anything that’s being said but we never regret attending.

We will find a nice hotel and enjoy our time visiting museums and attending a show. You can book theater tickets in English on Interpark.

Weekend 4: Byeonsanband National Park

I love the outdoors so I’m going to fit in a lovely hike even in winter at Byeonsanband National Park. This will keep me on target for visiting all the National Parks in South Korea in one year.

Byeonsanband National Park is a protected area located in the southwest of South Korea, along the coast of the Yellow Sea. It is known for its beautiful beaches, cliffs, and forests, as well as its cultural and historical significance. The park is home to a variety of plant and animal species, including the endangered Korean red pine and the white-naped crane. Visitors to the park can enjoy activities such as hiking, swimming, and bird watching, as well as exploring the park’s many temples and cultural sites. The park is also a popular destination for photography and filming, due to its breathtaking natural beauty.

In addition, I’m going to use this weekend to make sure I have February outlined in advance. It feels good to plan the next month’s adventures while on an adventure.

Schedule Reflection Time

Don’t forget to make time to reflect back on how you felt at the end of the month. Consider asking yourself variations of the following questions:

  • Did I take responsibility for my knowledge and environment?
  • How did this month feel different than last month?
  • Do I need to schedule more downtime in my week?
  • What made me feel stressed or sad this month?
  • What brought me the most joy?
  • What do I need to research to make life easier next month?
  • Did I make enough time for building friendships?
  • Did I reach out to others in my community in healthy ways?
  • What value did I provide to the communities where I find support?
Visiting Quiet Mountain Towns in January

Actually, using Reflective Questioning such as the ones above might exist as the single most helpful thing I do for managing my mental health and fostering my own joy.

Tools for Building Your Own Adaptation Plan

As I mentioned, you may have different interests than I do. In order to help you create your own Adaptation Plan for the next year. Consider using these tools to get started.

You may quickly notice that seeing everything in Korea can quickly feel overwhelming. This is why creating Adaptation Plans can help you manage your anxiety over time. Breathe deep, set your intentions, and build your plans.

Good luck and I hope you have the best January ever that creates the perfect foundation for a great year.

Still Struggle with January?

When I’m having trouble seeing past my own emotions or anxiety about the past or the present. The following meditation can bring insight into how I can overcome the stories I tell my self. It’s a very simple 10 minute mediation that allows me to find a starting point for finding joy or movement in areas I feel trapped or stuck.