Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The First Month Zooms By: Originally published Nov 11/08

The First Month Zooms By!

Well you know, when I was thinking about how things would be in Korea I really thought I would have lots of time to write letters and especially keep a really up to date blog about all that I see and do, but time has just been flying. Sunday, November 2nd was my 1 month aniversary in Korea! I will try my best to get you caught up without boring you with too many details. Here are some highlights:


At the end of my first week of work (but no actual classes) there was a National Holiday, I believe it was called Foundation Day or something to that effect and so our school took its staff and students to Kyangcheon Sa (temple). It was an hour and a half long bus ride (most of which I spent talking to my mom on my nifty new cell phone!) to the mountain. At the base of the mountain was alittle business street with restaurants, a hotel and the ever-present street vendors selling fruits, vegetables and chestnuts in enormous quantities. It took us about an hour to reach the temple site which was really beautiful to see. The monks were friendly about all the visitors and you could hear the prayer bells tolling throughout the rest of the hike. It was a nice hike (and I have learned a very easy hike comparatively!), we hiked up the mountain for approximately 3 hours before we were called down to meet the teachers for lunch at a lower spot on the mountain, which was frustrating for me because we had just crossed the "spine chilling suspension bridge" (I wish I'd taken a picture of that sign!) and I had a feeling a few more minutes of climbing would've have given us some really great views. But mealtime gets priority around here so we met the other teachers for a picnic lunch of Kimbap (think California rolls but with spam and cooked egg in it instead of crabmeat), fruit, kimchi, and dried squid. .Friday night I went out with a group of Foreigners for bowling and Noribong. Bowling apparently is the same everywhere but Noribong, the Korean version of Kareoke, is something you've gotta try! Instead of going to a large bar and having to wait 2 hours to sing 1 one song in front of a bunch of strangers, Noribongs are Kareoke clubs where you get a room just for your group of friends. There are usually comfortable couches, disco lights, a good sound system and plenty of famous english songs to choose from. And after your song, the computer gives you a score out of 100. You can imagine this was pretty much right up my alley! We sang and danced the night away! ('Hangin Tough' by NKOTB was the surprise smash hit of the night, hahaha) The next day (Saturday) I travelled by train with some foreigners I had met here to the city of Jinju for their annual Lantern Festival. Thle Festival commemorates a special battle where an outnumbered group of Korean Soldiers held their ground against the Japanese. The isolated troops were able to send important messages to others by floating lanterns on the river. So now every year hundreds of lanterns are lit up on and along the river, and for a couple of bucks you can float your own wish lantern down the river, carrying your hopes on to their destination whatever it may be. My favourite lantern was an animatronic Dragon that moved and breathed fire! It was a really great day. The market there was fantastic and there was a spectacular fireworks show at the end. If I can figure out how I will upload the video I took of it to the google group page. And like so many things in Korea, the day trip was incredibly cheap. The return ticket for the train cost about $10 and it was 1.5 hours each way! The next few days were huge for me to get through because they were my first days actually teaching at the High School and I was very nervous. Korea is a very homogeneous country so foreigners, like myself get alot of notoriety here. It's not uncommon to walk down the street and have someone yell "Hello!" from a passing car. I had been prepared for this my first week in the school, when during class breaks I would find my desk surrounded by 10-15 students all saying hello and asking me how I like Korea. I had my lesson planned, I had my materials. I took a deep breath and walked into my first class. My students acted like a rock star had entered the room! Reasons: 1. They had been waiting almost a month for a new native speaking english teacher. 2. I'm a white girl with long hair (the last teacher was Korean-Canadian, and they have to keep their hair short while in the public school system) 3. Koreans are happy people who don't hesitate to clap/sing/skip down the street, so outbursts are not outside of social norms. I was amazed at how that energy from my students gave me confidence. And I'm thankful to my high school drama club for making me feel comfortable in front of 40 students. Talk about a sink or swim situation! Thankfully, I'm swimming, or at least treading water. I'm entering the school half way through the second semester of the school year, so there isn't any structure to my curriculum. I'm simply trying out different lesson techniques and filling the weeks until winter vacation (the new school year will start in March 2009). I have an amazing opportunity here in Korea, both for cultural experience but also my job is excellent. I work 9-5 monday to friday. I work at an all girls high school, which means: a) I don't have any boys to deal with (so no disciplinary worries so far), b) all the students have a basic understanding of English, even if they don't speak it well, and c) there are lots of exams so classes get cancelled on a regular basis. As of writing this note (my fourth week of Teaching) I have only had 1 full week of teaching without any classes being cancelled. This week is the Korean SAT exams so I have only one class on Wednesday and no classes on Thursday! On top of that we get all government holidays (there are 14 in the year I believe) and I have 5 weeks of holidays officially in my contract, but according to my teacher I get at least 3 more weeks of holiday in the winter break because my school won't be open. And it's especially sweet compared to what most other foreigners get teaching at Hogwans (private english schools) who often work six days a week, from 12-8 PM, and get one week of paid holiday in the year. Their income is higher, but I wouldn't trade this position for a few hundred thousand won. Plus (honestly, THIS is my favourite part...) my school has a teachers nap room! You sleep on the floor Korean-style, but the floor is heated so you sleep like a baby! (Anyone who has every worked with me has heard me say: "You know what this place needs? A nap room.")After school one day, my co-teachers took me to Suncheon Bay. Located south of the city, its an ecological reserve, protecting the reeds, muddy banks, birds and millions of crabs that live there. The city has constructed a remarkable raised walkway through the bay so that you can walk through the reeds a couple of feet above the muddy world of th crabs. The bay is surrounded by mountain peaks, and we were treated to a beautiful sunset of every colour in the spectrum in the west, and the full moon rising in the east. I will post pictures when I figure out how to get them off of my cell phone! Afterwards, my co-teachers took me to the Pizza Hut in Suncheon which was really considerate of them since western food is expensive and not too tasty to the Korean palate. Our pizza had sweet potato on it, hmmm tasty!

Week #3
After my first week of teaching, our school had a 'mini-holiday' (Oct 21-20) where we didn't have classes on Monday and Tuesday, so my co-teachers invited me to hiking with them on the Monday. We drove to the port city of Yeosu where a boat took us to the island of Gamodo (sp?). The view on the boat ride was fantastic. Now "hiking" in Korea is really mountain climbind without needing ropes and pick axes because of the terrain. It is hard work and there is an entire industry here that sells "hiking" gear - special pants, shoes, jackets, sun visors, hiking sticks and gloves. Most of my co-teachers were fully decked out. We hiked up the first mountain in about 3 hours and then spent the rest of the day hiking along the peaks on the island. It was hard work, and on a bad ankle not always enjoyable, but definitely worth the view. Korea is stunningly beautiful. The next day, Jodie took me to see a local doctor for acupuncture to help with tension in my shoulders. It was definitely an interesting experience! First the put this strange suction cup things up my spine (which left big hickeys, I looked like I'd been attached by an octopus afterwards) and a little blood letting, then the acupunture itself. And it was like they say it is, painless. The most shocking part came after. One hour of Acupuncture treatment cost me 6000W ($6)!

Week #4

At the end of the month I went to two Halloween parties, both of which were alot of fun. The first was in Yeosu. Myself and four other Canadian gals did the Alice in Wonderland theme; I went as the Mad Hatter, and litterally cut and pasted my hat together. I still can't believe that it held together for both parties, the second of which was held by Dean and Mandy just two floors above me in Shidae apartments. I had alot of fun at this party and even dunked my entire head bobbing for apples (I was not coming up without that apple in my mouth darn it!). On November 2nd, I took a train to the Daejeon to pick up Mokah, my new kitty! I have wanted to adopt an animal for sometime but the transitory life of a University student isn't to a pet so I've waited. There are alot of foreigners here with pets because animals are not treated very humanely in Korea; they are seen as food or pests but rarely as companions. Once I realized that I could get food and veterinary care for an animal here, I knew I wanted to get my first cat in Korea, to help me with homesickness and rescue an animal that really needs a home. I contacted several rescuers and let them know I was looking to adopt a cat, especially one that needed alittle extra care getting used to humans as I know how to work with them thanks to my Mom. Mokah had been rescued off the street as a kitten and had been kept in a cage at vet's for four months as she was scared of humans and would sometimes hiss at people that got too close. She didn't warm up to me right away, she was very frightened. But once I picked her up and talked to her for a few minutes, she started purring and I felt my heart melt. In one short week she has gone from being a frightened kitty who hid under the bed and behind the fridge, to the biggest suck you've ever met. We are getting along great and its so wonderful to see her adjust so quickly to life outside of a cage!

The month has been filled with lots of new experiences. I've got my apartment decorated, I've eaten alot of new things, I've hiked the mountain beside my apartment complex and I've learned enough basic Korean to get around the city just fine by taxi. There is so much to see, do and experience. I've been warned that I'm still in the 'honeymoon phase', but I am loving my time in Korea so far. I love you all very much. Thanks for your support. Miss you!

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