After a long weekend in Seoul I only missed two buses before I finally caught one back to my small town, only to have lost my key; I had to mime my desperation to my non-English speaking landlady. I learned the art of the Korean surprise, ate some eyeballs, froze old women with just a look, and transformed into a witch. Of those, which do you think was for Halloween?
Days Danced: 6
Days Sick: ~8
Adjusting to Life in Korea
We had a long weekend at the end of my first week teaching in Korea. So I obviously spent it in Seoul, finally salsa dancing in Gangnam and figuring out where all the Latinos go after Club Somos closes (the answer is Mike’s Cabin). I only missed two buses before I finally caught one back to Yeongwol, only to have lost my key; I had to mime my desperation to my non-English speaking landlady.
That second week, I visited my second of three schools for the first time; there is a total of four students in the entire school. I technically only teach the one fourth grader and one third grader, but I was such a distracting presence that we all ended up playing games together that whole afternoon. I’ll be teaching them next year, after all! They attend what is called a branch school, and in this one the staff outnumber the students. They have a huge garden and a pleasantly small building for all of their classes. Every Tuesday I eat the Korean lunch they prepare for us with everyone else, and then I catch the bus back into Yeongwol, and then desk warm or lesson plan at Bongrae in the afternoon.
The Korean Surprise: Good, Bad, and Downright Funny
By the second week of school lunches I had given up at picking at my food or guessing what it would be. The only rule I had for not eating anything was if it explicitly had eyes or tentacles, and even then they were just avoided. But about halfway through the month even that rule was broken. The weird flavors are hard to adjust to, but if you’re hungry enough, you start to look forward to the surprise. Speaking of surprises, I had Korean surprise after Korean surprise regarding classes this month, mostly due to preparation for the school festival on November 3rd.
I collapsed into sickness for a few days two weekends in a row, but my coworkers kept plying me with tea and took pity on my sniffling, coughing state, so I eventually got over it. I mean, I’m not dead now. Then I cut 5 inches off my hair. Right afterwards I emerged from my apartment on a Sunday night to go buy a gift for the staff at the third and final school I teach at, only to forget that I was in Korea, for just a moment.
Emerging from my apartment, I was looking down my phone and not paying attention to the road onto which I was emerging. But upon looking up from the map open on my phone, I saw an older Korean man staring at me with a completely blank face right before confusion emerged. We stared at each other for about three seconds before I remembered to say hello and bow. He waited another second before responding with some muttered words in Korean, and an about face. I belly-laughed for at least one solid minute before I called my friend to tell him what had just happened. He snickered politely.
Falling into a Brisk Autumn
Walking to school got slowly both hotter and colder; by the end of my walk I’m generally wearing just enough clothes to be culturally appropriate. The other day, I think an ajumma shivered just because she glanced at me as she walked past. Students at one of my rural schools greeted me with strange cat. I was surprised by tiny salty fish, and at least two other secret seafoods snuck into my food (as is the Korean way). I even got up to get kimchi when I realized I had forgotten it.
After classes one Thursday, some of my kids came into my office with giant tongs because one of their shoes had somehow ended up in the toilet, and even though they yelled it at me in Korean, I knew exactly what they wanted me to do. They led me to the bathroom and screeched as I lifted the floating rubber slipper from the clean toilet, yelling “so brave” at me, and that is my life now. Yeah, that’s right. I have an office!
Every day I feel a bit more like Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, that 60’s TV show that I was obsessed with in middle school. I’m always giving a short, curt nod to other teachers to say thank you, you’re welcome, hello, goodbye, or to simply acknowledge their presence. In fact, I’m probably bowing right now.
The week before Halloween, a month after arriving, I went to the EPIK Orientation, in copliance with my contarct. At the end of the month, I basically had four days of Halloween lessons starting on Friday, playing matching games and making pumpkin masks, as well as trick or treating in class! Now they know that when you say trick or treat on Halloween in the US people are socio-culturally obligated to give you candy. So that’s useful knowledge for them.