So, this is my first update from Korea! I’m two weeks in and life is wonderful here and it looks like the wonderful will continue. There is so much good food here! Kimchi isn’t as bad as everyone said it was… but I’m still not a huge fan of it, so I eat it when I need to but otherwise I will leave it be. The barbeque is delicious and my favorite dish out of all of that is a marinated meat called bulgogi, which is this really sweat kind of marinated meat (usually beef).
I was amazed by all of the lights when I first arrived in Cheonan, the city where I’m teaching English. Apparently they like to stack all of their stores and other things on top of each other, so think of a strip mall gone vertical, and then engage in a practice where they compete with each other to see who can have the biggest and brightest sign and gain the most business. As it turns out, I live in an apartment building right on the main street of the downtown, so I get to see all of those lights whenever I look out my window. There is also a really nifty river walk that goes through town (right behind my apartment) that takes me out towards a lake in a different part of town. (Side note – the previous English teacher that occupied my apartment was the teacher I’m replacing at work and he left me his bike, so I HAVE A BIKE!)
As for work, I’m teaching at the Cheonan Foreign Language Education Center (CFLEC) and have already been able to spend a week teaching there. The age groups I’m teaching are elementary and middle schoolers, and I have them for one week English immersion classes before sending them back to their usual schools. I’m currently going through TESOL certification classes, which stands for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Apparently it looks pretty nifty on a resume and should help open the door to any further adventures I’m planning on having in various locations around the world. At the end of this next week I’ll be heading back to work at CFLEC and finishing the certification through night classes.
I’ve been making lots of new friends and doing lots of cool stuff (including finding lots of those nifty foods and food places I mentioned earlier). There are lots of hills/mountains in Korea and lots of hiking trails on those mountains and I’ve been able to take full advantage of the local hiking opportunities. There is a local mountain called Mt. Taejosan that has a really good hiking trail and has been very exciting to explore so far, though I’ve only made it about halfway up. There is a temple at the foot of the trail that has the largest statue of Buddha in Korea and it’s pretty nifty to look at.
The weather has been incredibly humid, and therefore very hot. It’s no wonder that many Koreans think that Americans are smelly because we sweat like crazy when we’re outside in that kind of heat. The taxi and bus drivers are the resident maniacs behind the wheel (they take red lights as more of a personal challenge than a reason to stop) and are required by union guidelines to drive like they will be set upon by rabid weasels if they stay in the same lane for longer than a minute. It makes travel very interesting, though the public transportation system is wonderful and makes getting various places very easy. In fact, their cities are so well connected by train that if you get a ticket and accidentally go to the wrong platform because you don’t understand the language, you’ll wind up in an entirely different city than the one you were intending to go to! (Yes, this has already happened to me) Life is full of adventure when living in Korea!
As far as difficulties and frustrations are concerned, living alone is the hardest. I’m not living in the same building as any of my fellow teachers and currently the hub of my social interaction is a 30 minute bus ride away from my flat at the campus of Korea Nazarene University (KNU). I’ve recently found out that I don’t have flexible vacation time, so it will instead be at set times during the year, which will make visiting family or even taking a few vacation days to extend a weekend and go visit places like Japan or Thailand over the weekend a little difficult. I’m still working on the language and the Korean alphabet isn’t as difficult to read as I thought it would be. I’m also working on deepening these new friendships and in still meeting new people. I’m coming into a situation where many of my fellow teachers already have lives and schedules and they have been amazing and friendly and extremely welcoming and helpful. However, it’s been very frustrating trying to develop deep relationships when you’re a few steps behind everyone else in terms of scheduling and keep dropping by or scheduling get togethers at inconvenient times. That will eventually iron itself out as I get more settled and acquire a cell phone. I’m also attempting to anticipate and prepare for the inevitable culture shock, though I’ve been encountering it some already as I comprehend just how physically and temporally far I am from my closest friends and family. I’m hoping it won’t be too bad, but physically living alone won’t help; I’m not well suited for the hermit life.
That being said, Korea is looking like it is going to be one of the best experiences of my life. There is so much potential, both for my personal situation and here in the country in general. I’m looking to stay here for several years as I pay for and take my master’s degree. Also, shortly before I came here I found that the university I’m working through (KNU) is pretty consistently looking for English speaking professors, and the minimum requirement is a master’s degree. This would allow me to get valuable job experience as a professor while then working on financing my doctorate which I’ll need if I’d ever like to become a professor full-time back in the U.S. or elsewhere. So thanks for keeping up with me and I’ll do my best to keep y’all up to date.