Back when I had just finished uni, I was seriously thinking about coming over here. I had already talked to a recruiter, gotten reference letters from my lecturers at uni, and prepared my big move. Then I was offered a great position with the WA government working as a Natural Resource Management Officer, looking after the Kimberley’s water supplies. It was a really great job, and I loved it, and loved my co-workers even more. But, after a year, I got itchy feet and decided I wanted to travel. This was in Nov 2012. Fast forward 1.5 years and I am currently doing a 1.5 year post-graduate in Teaching (secondary science). I still have itchy feet, so I decided to kill three birds with one stone. 1. Travel 2. Work Experience 3. Money. So far, Korea has been great. I’m hoping to send quite a few of these emails, so that I will have these memories forever!
The trip over was fine. I got a stop-over in Bali, got a few massages in, which probably really helped me with the trip. Also, (apparently) Garuda Airlines has the best economy class in the world. There was definitely loads of leg-room and the seats went back quite far, so that I actually managed to sleep for a few hours!
I am living in Seoul, or more specifically, a satellite city of Seoul called Anyang. This means that we are connected to Seoul by the metro (subway), which is a convenient way to get around the city. I am teaching in an English hagwon (private school). There are thousands of hagwons all over Korea, teaching specialised subjects. You have Maths hagwons, Chinese hagwons, Taekwondo hagwons…
The routine here is really easy. Basically we get to work at 12:30pm, work for half an hour, such as marking homework, lesson planning or attending meetings. At 1pm we have lunch for an hour. Classes start at about 2:30pm and can run till about 8:00pm. We usually finish at 8:30pm, but on Tuesday and Thursday I get out at around 6:30pm! When you aren’t teaching, you are marking or lesson planning or writing reports. So far it looks pretty easy, but I haven’t started teaching yet. I’ll probably have a problem with discipline because I let cute little kids walk all over me! Also, I have much less of an issue with the time-zones than the other teachers (who are from the US and South Africa) since Korea and QLD are only one hour apart! We are one hour behind QLD and one hour in front of WA.
I’m nervous as anything about actually starting to teach. It is such a different culture, and it is difficult to explain things when you don’t speak the language! I co-teach with two Korean teachers though (I teach for 40 mins, then they teach the same class for 40 mins), so I guess the students can clarify any issues then. Apparently the kids are also very, um, outspoken. They won’t hesitate to say that you are fat, or that you look tired today. Apparently it is because they are concerned about your well-being? One of the teacher who is leaving is Bri, an African-American from Louisiana, and the first question they asked her is ‘Bri Teacher, why are you so black?’. OK then! She ended up being one of their favourite teachers!
For lunch and dinner my co-workers and I usually head out to a nearby restaurant, usually Korean because it is delicious and the cheapest (about $5-6 per person, depending on what you order). At the moment I am living in a hotel room, but on Thursday I move into an apartment. Once I move, I will have a proper fridge, a stove and (fingers crossed) an oven, which means I can start cooking some of my own food. But I don’t think I will be able to buy ingredients for less than $5, so probably won’t be doing too much cooking. I’m living in the hotel because the teacher I’m replacing is still here to train me, and when they leave, I’ll be taking over their apartment.
On Saturday, the other new teacher at my school (Pam) and I went exploring in the area. There is a Krispy Kreme a few subway stops away from us and we went there for coffee and a doughnut. I know, how Korean of us! Pam was happy because apparently they have ‘authentic’ US bagels there (guess where she’s from). For lunch we had a very Korean lunch of Sam-gup-sal, which is basically pork belly fried on a table grill, which is then wrapped (along with other things like pickled onion and chilli sauce) in a sesame leaf. It is really delicious!! Pam and I shared a Fanta between us (and all Korean restaurants provide free water), but the table next to us had three Koreans who were hitting the beer hard! I guess it was Saturday… 😀 It was fun to see the Korean drinking traditions. You can’t pour your own drink, and you can’t start drinking until the oldest person starts, and you shouldn’t let the older person see you drink – you kind of have to turn away from them while drinking.
It’s been hard to remember all the things you need to do, like bow instead of shaking hands, passing money with two hands (or putting your free hand on the arm that is offering the money). But I think most Koreans are pretty tolerant of foreigners. Or maybe it’s because I’m twice their size… Well, not all of them are small. I was actually surprised to meet quite a fewKorean (guys) who are a lot taller than me! A cute Korean guy even gave me his business card after Pam and I visited a bar on Saturday night!
The bar is actually owned by one of my co-teachers, an Irish guy called David. He is leaving (my school) on Thursday (I am replacing him), and the bar (The Dugout) is what they call a ‘foreigner bar’, basically it’s a mix of people from all the English speaking countries in the world. English teachers from the area (and other areas that don’t have such bars) come here to meet new people and speak English with each other. The level of spoken English is quite low here in Korea, but that just means that it will make learning Korean much easier 🙂
I am booked in for a Korean class on Saturday, but I’m not sure how I feel about having my weekends booked like that, as I imagine it would be fun to head to other places in Korea over the weekend. There are quite a few free English classes here, but most of them are sponsored by religious groups (the are a lot of Evangelical Christians here), so I doubt I would feel comfortable there. I also have the option of paying to go to a Korean hagwon.
I’ve been getting into K-POP, which stands for Korean Pop (music). Apparently the kids are all into it, so it will be good to have something to talk to them about. K-POP is… interesting. Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ is K-POP, so you likely have heard of it!! I’ve also been trying to find some green concealer (make-up) here, but everything here is mixed with sunscreen (like the stuff we used to have in Aus that feels like zinc), which makes it really thick. It feels like you have a mask on your face. And it stops you from sweating… which is probably not a good sign. Speaking of sweating, it is summer here in Korea (in the entire Northern Hemisphere actually, surprise surprise), and everyone is going on about how hot it is.
People. It is not hot. It is warm. Warm and humid, but it is not hot. Sincerely, the people from Australia.
That being said, I enjoy having the aircon available 😀
From August 1st our school gets a week of holidays, which is exciting as I will be able to travel around Korea! I’ve already organised to meet up with a new friend in Daegu (thanks Moni for the introduction!), and I’ll also likely head to Busan and Jeju Island. Maybe I can also get some SCUBA diving in!! I’ll need to see if I can convince Pam to join, but unfortunately you only get paid every month here in Korea, so we don’t get paid until the 15th of August… Oops!
Miss you guys and I hope some of you will have the chance to come visit me over here 😀
Wish me luck for tomorrow! I’m first heading to immigration to get my ARC (alien residency card), then I teach a whole day, then I need to move into my new apartment!! It’s going to be a LONG day!