Thursday, June 21, 2012

Minute 1 in Korea: Stop Calling Maybe

You're probably scratching your head over this post title, so I'll explain. First, I thought it was more attention grabbing than "South Korea Day 1" and two, after flying over 6000 miles and stumbling my way through a few basic Korean phrases, I got into the cab to go to my school and the first song that came on the radio was "Call Me Maybe." Not that I wanted to escape that song (yes, I love it)...but I didn't think that I would have no choice in the matter. Carly Rae, you have clearly outdone yourself.

People here keep asking for my first impressions but it's kind of hard to say since while they certainly have western conveniences, in a lot of ways things are very different and it seems to be coming at me all at once. For example, I keep forgetting to take my shoes off before entering buildings, including my classroom and restaurants. However, being someone who is generally adverse to footwear and likes to wear flip flops until it snows, I think I will get to used to this tradition very quickly.

The thing that struck me most while driving to Yeoju is the sheer amount of HUGE housing developments that can be seen cropping up literally every mile. I don't mean a couple of houses, I mean like 6 to 8 massive apartment complexes clustered together in a sea of identical towers. It's very surreal looking. It's made even more surreal by the semi-perpetual haze, which hails from China, hanging over the buildings...maybe it's time to start looking into renewable resources? Right now I am on the school computer, but I will try to upload pictures next week when I get my Wi-Fi set up in my apartment. Here's a picture of the buildings I took from my phone while in the cab to Yeoju...not the best picture but you get the idea.

New high rises being built. And that's not Seoul!
Yeoju is about an hour from Seoul and is a little more rural than I imagined but it does have a sizable downtown area with anything you would ever need, including a Dunkin' Donuts! Apparently Koreans really like sweet coffee drinks (vanilla lattes, macchiatos, etc). There is also a nice river flowing through the town. My apartment is absolutely, almost unnecessarily, huge. It has three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a living room, full kitchen, and two balcony areas. I do not mean to complain! My situation is extremely unusual and most foreign teachers have very small apartments. However, it is a bit overwhelming considering I've never lived totally by myself before, and it feels a tiny bit creepy with all of those empty rooms.

On the upside, I have lots of room for those who want to come visit! And lots of room for entertaining so I don't have to hang out by myself. A word of advice for anyone thinking about moving to Korea to teach: use the Arrival Store! It's a service that delivers basic apartment necessities, like bath towels, bed stuff, converters, etc. The can deliver to your apartment or school, which is seriously convenient when you arrive at 4pm, immediately get taken out to dinner, and have no real time to unpack (that's pretty standard).  They also got me a cell phone with a contract even though I think I technically need my alien card first, which I probably won't have for another month. My co-teacher likes to joke about how I am alien, like ET.

So far I love my school. My co-teacher is super friendly and very helpful! The language barrier hasn't been too much of a problem since he helps translate for me. I am trying to pick up Korean phrases here and there, but I think because I am the token "foreign English teacher" I am just supposed to speak English anyway. Right now I am actually at school, but I have time to write this since it is the school's anniversary and there is no class. Just a ceremony in the afternoon, which I am really excited for because all of the kids dance to K-pop and do other performances (K-pop is Korean pop for those who don't know. I'm sure I'll do a post on it eventually but you should definitely Google some K-Pop music videos). Though it may go without saying, school is a very big deal here, so school celebrations are very common.

Now I'm sure once I have to start teaching classes the humor of it will wear off, but right now I'm pretty much at celebrity status. No joke, the kids cheer, clap, and giggle when I talk. Even when I just say "Hello." In the hour I've been here many have come to the office to ask me questions. Two boys just came in asking if I had a boyfriend and which one of them I thought was more handsome. I told them I would choose after class; whoever was better behaved I would consider more handsome.

I'm not sure if the students totally understand me but it's nice that they all smile anyway. They are all super shy! It's kind of cute (then again, it might be less cute when I'm actually trying to teach them and get them to speak in English). When I answer their questions they all giggle. Though their questions might seem forward, I've been told that in Korea it's common to ask personal questions when you first meet people. I'm trying to devise clever answers for awkward questions students might ask.

I also met with the principle this morning who was very nice. My co-teacher had to translate and he asked me if I could play an instrument or sing. I told them I can sing, but hopefully that doesn't mean I'll have to do it in front of an audience. Worse comes to worst, I'll bust out my shower edition of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." Anyway, I was also informed that I am the first female foreign teacher they've ever hired, they have always preferred males in the past. I definitely got the impression that my performance will determine if they hire another female foreign teacher...well, challenge accepted!

It's weird to be giving up-to-the-minute blog updates but I think I'm stuck at my desk until noon. It's the same feeling that even though I said goodbye to lots of people when I left, 14 hours later I turned on my phone, went on Facebook, and pretty much resumed the same interactions I was having before I left the States. Even though I'm certainly facing some culture shock right now, after hearing "Call Me Maybe" on the radio, it still feels like the world is pretty small! I had another more sappy-sentimental post for my first day that I wrote before arriving but it's currently stuck on my laptop, so you'll have another "Day 1" post to look forward too.

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