Finally starting my blog! My first month here went so fast so forgive me for not having the time to update everyone. But now that I’m getting it started, I should be on a roll!
My first week was a little lame–We were at my orientation at Daejin University in Pucheon, South Korea. I was basically in orientation classes from 8:30 AM to 8:30 PM most days. The up side to these classes was that we were put into classes according to the province we were placed in, so I had a lot of time to get to know the other people who would be living in Gangwon-do. One of the days, we went on a field trip to Seoul.
First, we saw traditional Korean dancers and musicians. Next, we went to Hanok Village which was (if I understood correctly?) some type of recreation of a Korean village. Then we went back to the building where the music and dancing was for lunch. Our lunch was a big bowl of bibimbap (this is a bowl of vegetables, sometimes with a fried egg on top, served with rice that you mix together with a type of chili paste). It is one of the most famous and popular Korean dishes. Of course, we also had PLENTY of sides, or banchan, to go with it. Kimchi, some kind of soup, and other random things that at the time (and still, maybe?) I couldn’t tell you what they were. Dessert was delicious: fresh watermelon and grapes with small rice cakes.
After lunch, we headed to Gyeongbuk Palace. Gyeongbuk Palace was first constructed in 1394 and served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty. The palace was burned and destroyed in 1592 during the Japanese invasion but was rebuilt in 1868, only to be dismantled during the Japanese colonial period leaving only a few of the structures standing. However, since the end of that colonial period and lately with a better economy in Korea a lot of work has been done to preserve the important historical site. It’s not the most serene site to see when there are so many other tourists but I love the contrast of this palace in the middle of the modern, bustling downtown of Seoul. Many beautiful buildings, pagodas, and small ponds to see. Apparently, we (aka big group of foreigners) were also a site to see. We had Asian people taking pictures of us, especially when my class got together for a group picture. Hilarious! The longer I live here the more I feel like someone’s pet. Lastly, we went to a Korean history museum and perused some historical information until our bus was ready to head back.
The rest of orientation was pretty uneventful! We stayed in dorms, which were super nice and had a convenience store, called the CU Mart, below to hang around at. The university itself didn’t have any bars or anything like that very near. The university is up on a montain, with a road about a mile or two long that leads down to town. Included on campus is a temple that we got some lovely pictures of! The philosophy is that having the university up on this hill takes away any distractions for the super-studious Korean students.
Josh kept himself busy by taking some online Korean lessons and hiking the trails off of campus. The first day he went hiking he met the convenience store worker/owner?, Im (pronounced eem) on his way down and they quickly became friends. They went hiking a few more times and even went on a trip to Seoul while I was in class during which Josh had the opportunity to bike around the city and the Han River and even go “fishing”, or mostly just hang out at a fishing lounge. When men want to go out fishing, leisurely at least, they to to these bodies of water with seating and little tents and relax in reclining chairs with some soju (Korean rice liquor. More on this later!) while they “fish”.
So eventually the last day of orientation was upon us. Oh yea, and I still hadn’t found out which city I’d be in! On the last day, an official from the Gangwon Provincial Office of Education came to speak to our class and hand out our contracts for us to sign. He told us about the province, how to handle any problems, and a bunch of other what I perceived to be pointless information while we all squirmed in our seats with anxiety, wonder and excitement over finally finding out where we would be living and working for the next year. One thing he mentioned caught my mind. He was speaking about schools and mentioned an all-girls school that another current teacher worked with. I thought to myself, you know, it would be kind of fun to teach at an all-girls school. I like the idea of girl power! And teaching with girls seemed a lot less daunting class management-wise as compared to an all-boys school.At the conclusion of the meeting, we received a sheet listing everyone’s placements. To my surprise, I was placed at an all-girls high school! I was also excited to see a few other teachers listed in my town so I knew I wouldn’t be the only foreigner (as some of my friends are in their towns!). But of course I’d never be alone or be the only one because I have Josh!
So anyway, of course I went back to the dorm room as soon as I could and Googled the crap out of my town, Yeongwol. I found out it is surrounded by little mountains and has a river running through it. Sounds nice!
The next morning we piled onto a bus with about a third of our class heading in the same direction as we drove for a few hours and every once in awhile dropped off a few teachers at their locations to meet their co-teachers and watched in wonder at the first of us to go. It seriously felt like watching Real World from the bus–Our friends from the last week standing outside next to suitcases waiting in suspense to meet their co-teacher and connection to Korean living for the next year. We all squealed with excitement and took pictures when their teachers came.
Eventually we were getting to my town, Yeongwol, which was the last stop and location for teachers from other cities to be picked up by their co-teachers. About ten of us were left and we got off the bus with our suitcases awaiting our fate. Josh and I were super nervous because we had SO much stuff! There were two of us, so we had double the luggage of everyone else, plus one extra with outdoor gear. We also weren’t sure about my co-teachers even knowing I had brought someone with me. As more and more of my friends got picked up by their co-teachers I stood nervously and watched the littlest little car pull into the parking lot. Yup. As fate would have it, there’s my co-teacher! With the smallest car of everyone! It was such a hoot. She came and gave me a hug then told me that another teacher was on their way to help with the bags. Thank God!!! I had gotten in touch with the English teacher at the middle school to my high school, who is also my nextdoor neighbor and the sweetest girl, and she let them know about our bag sitaution. However, as we were shown to our apartment it became evident that they hadn’t been told I was bringing my husband as they continually apologized for the size of the apartment, said it would be too small, that they’d try to find me another one (which, they never did, and probably won’t so I give up). So we have a cozy studio but it’s not bad! We’ve made it our home the last few weeks and don’t mind it so much.
So, we got there and right away I was taken to the school to meet the vice principal and principal, who are VERY important in the Korean school hierarchy. You could say that the principal is like a king of his own little fiefdom. So I had to look sharp and be super polite. In Korean, being polite means bowing and holding your right arm with your left arm while you shake hands. Holding your right arm also goes for taking things from people or handing things to people and while serving others drink or food. If you can, you use both hands to accept or give things. The principals were nice, said I was pretty, and had me go on a microphone to the whole teacher’s office and introduce myself. All translated by my co-teacher of course because none of the other teachers or VP or principal speak English. Let’s just say it’s been an adventure communicating with them.
Thankfully, my co-teacher took me home after this to settle in and un-pack. Our neighbor, Dannie, took us out for what is now one of our favorite meals, mapo. Basically you cook some meat yourself and get lots of little side dishes and Josh and I have become regulars of this restaurant. We joke that the workers probably observe that every time we come there, we speak more Korean to order haha. We’re picking some up! Will definitely take pictures at our next meal there to show you!
So then I went home and got to bed, preparing myself for my first day the next day!
This entry got long enough between writing and pictures, so for the next week or so I’ll write more entries to document my first week at school, my students, a camping/music festival trip we went on, and our Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving-ish holiday) vacation to Seoraksan Mountain…Camping, climbing, hiking and hanging with friends…Even got a short beach trip too. More to come!