Orientation was a bit of a blur. The nine days felt like a month at the time, but in retrospect, it went by quickly. When we weren’t in one of our many 90-minute lectures or meal time in the cafeteria, we were in Korean class or preparing for our lesson presentation. They kept our schedules and tummies full. Along with gaining valuable information and skills, I met some wonderful people. Even with seven countries represented, we shared many similarities like the love for adventure and travel. A bit bored with the western life, we were seeking for change. Some of us may end up despising Korea, many of us will never want to leave.
My roommate, Sarah, and I
Everyone was highly anticipating the day we ship off to our respective cities and settle into our apartments. Finally, on Monday morning, after the other hundreds of teachers left, 26 of us Gwangju teachers loaded on a bus for the 1.5 hour drive. We stopped halfway along to a rest stop full of snack foods and a cafeteria. Randomly, we stumbled upon an igloo. We stuffed ourselves in to be surrounded by ice. I have been in an igloo at a Korean spa, but I certainly did not expect to find one plopped along the highway.
As we pulled into the place where we meet our co-teachers, my palms began to sweat. We hear time and time again that our experience is highly dependent on our relationship with our co-teacher(s); I wanted to make a good impression. It turns out that both of my main co-teachers (one at each assigned school) were present. Heeok’s English is very good, but Myeonghee’s is limited. They were surprised to see a Korean face to my American name, but that was expected. We had a delicious lunch over conversation. They said that they were relieved to know that I was perky and energetic and that the kids would like me. I’m crossing my fingers that that is the case!
After giving Myeonghee my gift, we departed ways. Heeok drove me to sign me up for a bank account, take me to my wonderful apartment, and visit my future workplace, Ildong Elementary School. Along the 10 minute walk, we ran into some of my future students. They were greeting Heeok Teacher with a respectful bow and then proceeded to being giggly and chatty. When she said “This is your new English teacher!”, their mouths shut and their eyes darted at the ground. I got one girl to say “My name is____” but the rest would not budge because they are embarrassed and shy to speak English. I hope I can change that! We finally got to my school where we changed from our shoes to slippers (no outside shoes allowed in school!). I met the vice principal, who was extremely friendly, and the principal, who was quiet and a bit intimidating at first, but he has a kind heart.
It feels great to have unpacked into my new place. The apartment is bigger than I had anticipated. The teacher apartments I have been in only have one room and a bathroom, but mine has a living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. I am on the second floor in a relatively quiet neighborhood, but steps away from the main bus stop and shopping area. Even though I am far away from downtown, I still have everything I need to survive right here. I should also mention that I live near a small mountain! Hello, weekend hiking trails.
Outdoor market in my neighborhood
There was a big typhoon in Korea yesterday, supposedly the biggest one in a decade. It was predicted to be so severe that most schools were closed. It must be a super rare occasion for schools to actually be closed. I awoke early in the morning to see the trees outside of my window fiercely blowing while the rain drenched the streets. I was a little scared, especially as it was my first time waking up in the apartment all alone, but the storm wasn’t that bad in Gwangju. I did see a few signs and even a building get busted up though.
My parents came down that day, even when advised to stay inside due to the storm. It was so nice to have them here. As soon as they arrived, they captured me and brought me to a store for a rice maker, green TV stand, and other little home furnishing goodies. They are so generous and spoil me too much! I also met my aunt and uncle for the first time. I feel assured that they live in the same city as me. After stuffing on some delicious Korean food, we hung out at my apartment and Skyped with Daryl briefly. My parents went on and on about how handsome and a gentleman Daryl is. My dad even said “I love you!” in Korean while doing the Asian hand gesture of a heart. It was the cutest thing I ever witnessed.