It’s October, and this is the first post I am making while in Korea. /facepalm/
I am so sorry it has taken so long.
I wish I could give you a better excuse other than I have been really busy, but that’s the honest truth. I don’t know if I can properly explain how chaotic life has been since moving across the globe, but I’ll try my best.
Imagine moving to a new city by yourself. Normally, you would know a little bit about the area, right? You’d have checked out your new apartment, known the layout of your neighborhood, maybe even sent some of your personal items ahead so you wouldn’t have to move it all in one trip.
Yeah, not me. On top of settling into my new home, discovering my new neighborhood, learning the transportation and layout of the city, buying everything I could possibly need for life in Korea, and finding time to spend with the new friends I had made only a week or two before, I also had to immediately settle in to teaching about 400 students as well as begin to build relationships with my new co-workers.
Oh yeah, did I mention it’s all in Korean?
The good news is, I am loving my life here. Moving to Korea to teach English was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’m really disappointed in myself that it has taken so long for me to write a blog post because there have been so many wonderful things that have happened to me in this past month that I have not written down. It’s a shame because years from now I will not recall those simple fleeting moments that made me smile. However, I’m going to try to do my best to keep a better record like I did in Russia.
So let’s get started!
My flight to Korea was long – a grand total of 14 hours – but I found it rather enjoyable. Much more so than my flight to St. Petersburg last year. I flew out of Chicago at noon, a very reasonable time, and was pleasantly surprised to find about 30 other Americans who were flying out on the same flight for the EPIK program. I actually was fortunate enough to meet my closest friend in Korea there. (Shout out to Shelby!) I also ended up getting a window seat next to a really nice girl on the program who would also be living in Seoul. She and I chatted a lot of the flight, watched Korean dramas and the movie Tangled, studied a little bit of Korean, and slept about 2 hours before arriving at Incheon airport. Asiana Airlines served some delicious food – bibimbap for dinner and some some spicy squid for breakfast – so I was quite satisfied by the time I touched down in Korea.
The airport transition also went surprisingly smoothly. Jess and I stuck together like glue, and we managed to maneuver our way through customs and baggage claim in record time. I picked up my 30-day SIM card from EG SIM for my iPhone at this tiny little bookstore and was able to immediately text my parents that I had arrived safely. I highly recommend this option for anyone traveling to Korea for a short period of time. It cost about $25 for 1 GB of data, some minutes, and texting. Bonus? You automatically connect to the private KT Olleh wifi, which was accessible pretty much everywhere in Daejeon. You will not regret it.
Anyway, we made our way to the EPIK desk located near the exit of the airport and waited about a half hour until we could load our items onto the bus. Buses left every half hour or so, and had been since about 11 am that morning, meaning that many of the 600 EPIKers attending the August orientation either in Daejeon or Jeonju had already arrived and were on their way to the site. I wasn’t loaded onto the bus until about 7pm and didn’t arrive in Daejeon until about 10pm. (Our bus driver had gotten lost.) As I hadn’t slept too much on the plane, I pretty much crashed immediately on the bus. I curled up against the window and saw about 10 minutes of Incheon before I was asleep.
So from August 18th-25th I was temporarily living in Daejeon, a smaller city (of about 1.5 million people) about two hours south of Seoul. It was blisteringly hot and the 98% humidity did nothing for my hair… I wish I could give you a more complete review of Daejeon, but since our program had a curfew I didn’t want to risk traveling too far from our orientation site at the KT Human Resource and Development Center. However, my curiosity couldn’t be completely contained, and after I day or two I started wandering off farther and farther into the city. I even attempted taking one of the city buses, a slightly nerve-wracking experience since my Korean language ability was still pretty minimal, but incredibly rewarding. What I can say is that Daejeon is a really lovely city. Sadly, I did not take too many photos while I was there! It had been too much of hassle to haul my camera around everywhere I went, so here are some of the few I have from my time there!
Actually, all of South Korea that I have seen – which is not much by a long shot – is very lovely. What many here consider to be “lower income” areas still put many cities in Wisconsin and Minnesota to shame in cleanliness and safety, and the more affluent areas blew me away. I’ll get more into this in a later blog post, but for right now I’m just going to stick to the general overview. I have far too much I need to cover.
I was very lucky to have been placed with a totally awesome roommate.
Fiona and I were both so laid back and similar that, within a few hours, we were already comfortable enough with each other to lounge around in our sports bras listening to Taeyang (a Korean pop star) and share stories about our lives. Seriously, I could not have asked for a better roommate.
I wish I could take the time to completely describe each and every day at orientation, but those were only 7 days of my time in Korea and I have 30 to cover, so I’m going to quickly sum them all up as best as I can. If I have time later in the year when I’m desk warming, I’ll come back and cover them more in depth.
Our orientation staff were great, and I’m not just saying this in case they read my blog. Seriously, they worked so hard and had clearly prepped for so long that everything ran smoothly the entire time we were there. I had read many blog posts about boring lectures, crappy food, having no fun, and wanting to get the eff out of there, but I can say that my experience was polar opposite. Out of the many lectures we attended, I think only one or two I found to be slightly repetitive of boring. As a recent college grad with minimal experience in teaching, I found the lectures to be informative and interesting. A couple of them I even found to be funny and wished that they had gone longer. For future EPIKers, I hope you get to listen to Walter Foreman’s introductory speech on Korean History & Cultures and Bridget Maret’s “How to Keep From Losing Your Mind” lecture. Easily my favorites. I was placed into Group 1A with two coordinators, Suzie and Jun, who I just absolutely adored.
I met a really great group of friends there who really made the transition into Korea even smoother than I thought. We explored Daejeon together, went out to bars, tried delicious restaurants, rented a room at a noraebang (karaoke), and even somehow found ourselves singing in the basement with a couple of Korean ahjusshis (older men) just for fun! I was so busy either studying, meeting people, or experiencing the city that I barely had time to Skype my parents once in a while, much less sit down and write a blog.
Think of my silence as a good thing.
Anyway, the EPIK program also broke up the schedule of constant lectures and studying by giving us a day to travel an hour by bus to the other orientation city of Jeonju. It had been raining on and off the past couple of days, so we were really fortunate to have a day of complete sunshine to walk around the traditional hanok village, learn about Korean traditional drums, make traditional Korean paper fans, and eat Jeonju’s famous bibimbap. For those of you who do not know, Bibimbap is a bowl of warm white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables and chilli pepper paste (called gochujang). Usually a raw or fried egg and some sliced meat are added. My favorite is when it is served in a hot stone bowl, called dolsot bibimbap.
EPIK also introduced us all to taekwondo, not only with a spectacular performance but by having us attend our own taekwondo class! We even wrote our goals or hopes for the year on a wooden board and then had the opportunity to break it with our fists. Guess who broke it on her first try? 🙂
The medical testing went smoothly. It was the usual weight, height, urine, sight and hearing tests. The blood test was the only hiccup since all three of the ladies drawing blood struggled to find an exposed vein in my arms. I was poked a grand total of 5 times before we managed to find a usable spot on the back of my hand.
At the end of orientation we had to put together a lesson plan with two other people in our class and present it to be critiqued not only by other EPIK teachers but by some of the coordinators. Truthfully, I wasn’t too nervous about it. I was paired up with a friend of mine and another girl who was very experienced in teaching and really fun. We drew the “lucky straw” and had to present our topic “What is this?” first. For any future EPIKers, I just have to say don’t worry. It sounds a lot scarier than it was. The presentations took all day, and by the time we were done we were all antsy to find out which schools we were going to be working at. Keep in mind, we had known nothing before this. Nothing about our co-teachers, our schools, what grades we would be teaching, where we would be living…NOTHING.
I found out that I would be teaching at YeonngJung Elementary School, located in the Yeongdeungpo district of Seoul. I’m pretty far from my friends (about an hour), but I am so lucky. I absolutely love my school, my kids, my co-workers, and my neighborhood that I live in. After a closing ceremony and delicious dinner, Fiona and I packed up our things to load onto the bus and fell asleep pretty early that evening. The next morning we scrounged up a quick breakfast and then had to say goodbye to many friends and coordinators.
It was whirlwind, but two hours later I suddenly found myself standing on the curb in Seoul with my luggage looking like a lost little puppy. A line of women, co-teachers coming to pick up the new native teachers, were waiting a few feet away. One of them, about my age, came forward with a smile. Her name was HiGyeong and, turns out, she wasn’t even my co-teacher. She was a homeroom teacher at my school, but since one of my co-teachers was pregnant and the other one was in America (!!!) she had been designated the task of moving the new teacher in. She was great and spoke really good English. Another teacher (science) drove up to the curb with her car to load my luggage, and the three of us were off! We drove about twenty minutes away to my neighborhood of Sinjeong and began the process of lugging my suitcases and duffel bag up to the 6th floor of my apartment building. Thankfully, there was an elevator.
My apartment building is rather new and my land lady is incredibly kind. She not only brought me some of her personal laundry detergent and softener so I could get started on my ever-growing pile of dirty clothing, but she also brought me down to the cafe in the basement of our building for some tea and cookies. Both HiGyeong and YoonJu (the science teacher) helped to explain how all my appliances work, my billing, and how to use the metro that was conveniently located 10 seconds from my apartment. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciated that since it was all in Korean. After that, YoonJu had to leave to get back to work, but I asked HiGyeong if I could treat her to some coffee as a thank you at another cafe near my apartment. She smiled and said we could go grab coffee together (tea for me), but since she was older than I was it was her treat. (If there is one thing you should know about Korea, it’s that the hierarchy is of the utmost importance.) Her and I had a great time talking and getting to know each other for about two hours before we left so I could unpack. I appreciated the time alone since, as you can tell, the whole process had been rather busy and I hadn’t had much time to just think to myself.
Looking back on it now, it reminded me of how my first week in Russia went. That feeling where you are so busy and there is so much going on around you that you don’t even know where to look first or where to begin. To some people, that might not be a good thing, but I couldn’t have asked for a better transition into life in Korea.
Gosh, I had wanted to write so much more. With at least 30 more days to cover, I haven’t even scratched the surface of what has been going on with my life here. I have so many thoughts to share about cultural differences, Korean surprises, my past experiences, the friends I’ve made, the places I’ve traveled, the food I’ve eaten, and my progress with learning Korean. Sadly, I’m going to have to end this post here. My goal is to cover some of this with a Vlog I will be posting soon. I plan on giving a tour of my apartment as well as a video of a typical day in my life, so please look forward to that!
Once again, I apologize for the delay. Most of you know that this is not type of quality post I would normally like to put out. It feels very rushed, and I’m sorry for that. I will work hard to update more frequently.
Sending lots of love to you all. (Especially to my little brother. Jack, I miss you.) But don’t you worry about me! I’m healthy and incredibly happy with my life here. Talk to you all soon!