The Secret Life of Jang-mi: First day Teaching in Korea or Returning to Toddlerhood

Welcome to the Secret life of Jang-mi 🙂 Jang-mi means “Rose” in Korean and since my middle name is Rose my co-teacher thought it would be a pretty name for me. I 100% agree 🙂 And I love it when Koreans call me Jang-mi^_^ its just so pretty!!

Anyways, this country is still pretty new to me but I just wanted to talk about my life here  to give all my friends and family a glimpse into what my life is like now.

Returning to toddlerhood… I have always had what you could call a childlike spirit but here I am truly beginning to feel like a child again. Those toddlers you roll your eyes at because they can’t eat right. That is me with the food here. First of all, while I may have mastered the square wooden chopsticks back home, the silver flat chopsticks here sometimes get me. Noodles and fruit especially love to slip around and often end up on my lap. Also, what do you eat with what? Unlike America which has forks, knives, and spoons galore, Korea only has chopsticks and spoons. Simple right? But what do you eat with what? Will I look like a petulant foreigner eating rice with my spoon? What about if it is so covered in sauce that it is no longer sticking together nicely for my chopsticks? Today I was eating one of the meat jelly things in the school lunch with chopsticks and really struggling so I just gave up for a couple minutes. A large eyed little girl shyly picked up my spoon and put it on my plate. Oh, spoon. Yeah, I know how to use one of those. I was dying inside from laughter.

Another food difficulty: I wasn’t sure if there was a specific time I was supposed to come eat lunch and leave. I finished my food and spooned all the uneaten items into my soup bowl. This is what Koreans do so that they can easily put all the food waste in one place. I learned this during orientation last week. This week and I’m a lot better with eating with flat metal chopsticks and eating food correctly but you can bet I’m still watching everyone around me like a hawk. That’s how she eats the pork? That’s how I’m doing it next time. You can mix those two foods? Wow, so that how it’s supposed to taste. So, anyways, I’m sitting there in the cafeteria with the food piled into my soup bowl and thinking through all the intricacies of Korean cuisine when a student notices my empty plate and rushes off. I don’t think about it much till my co-teacher rushes over and offers to help me take my plate. I felt a little guilty; I wasn’t waiting on her to serve me but I do appreciate her tutorial about where to put all the dishes. Korea is really particular about cleaning up after themselves and I love it. It’s just a little confusing at first. Anyways, I survived one meal, guys. I’m sure there will be more to come.

So the food situation here makes me feel young and ignorant but then there’s the whole conversation comprehension thing. They speak slowly and simply to me because I can’t understand if they don’t. Do your remember the brain exhaustion after your worst language class? That has now become my state of life. Do all the Koreans around me get annoyed with me because of this? Nope. Every time I say a word successfully they gasp and smile encouragingly, sometimes I even get applause. Which stuns me. I know less Korean than my 3rd graders know English. I want to be participating in the conversations my co-workers are having in 3 months. Is that realistic for me with three different schools to lesson plan for? I have no idea but its very isolating not knowing the language so I’m going to try. Plus, I love Korean. I don’t want to take a year to learn it and then leave as soon as I have can hold a conversation.

Meeting the Principal. I can’t really say this makes me feel like a toddler but it does feel like having a job interview with a three year old mind limitation which can be a bit stressful. Korea is super big on hierarchy and the Gyojangseongsengnim (Principal) is at the top of the food chain. All the Principals I have met so far are very gracious but I still need to be always thinking hard so as not to be rude. Arms folded? Means disapproval so I need to make sure that I don’t do that. Legs crossed? Shows you’re superior so I sit with my ankles together. Even the little noises we make can be taken differently. The Uh Huh noise I make to show I’m paying attention can actually be rude so I try to remember to just nod and smile. Shaking hands? You better be using both. So far, I think my teachers have been surprised that I am polite to them but if someone came to America to teach with me I would really appreciate any gesture they made to be polite to me. Since I couldn’t understand the flurry of Korean that inevitably came after my introductions I don’t know what they were saying about me but I could hear my name on repeat. Hopefully good things. Either way, they have been very kind and I hope I continue to do the right thing in the future.

So there you have it: I have become a child. Again. This learning to eat and talk is good for the soul. A nice dose of humiliation but also hilarity to keep me level 🙂

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An Unexpected Destination

“Under the sea,” he sang, “under the sea!” And I joined in. We hummed the “Little Mermaid” song as he drove down into the dark cement tunnel that ran from Busan to Geoje Island deep under the sea.

“When I was younger, I always thought that the tunnel under the sea would be glass. A child’s imagination….”  said the teacher who was driving me to my new home.

Well, I would love if it the tunnel was glass! This country is pretty magical, I wouldn’t be surprise if there was a glass tunnel cars could drive through. I was practically overwhelmed by excitement at this point as we drove under the ocean and I strove to read and get a translation for every road sign I could find.

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A teacher from my school was driving me from Busan to the island of Go-Jay which is going to be my new home for the year. I landed in Korea only a little over a week ago. It feels way longer than that. I’ve already been around Busan, have visited Spa Land with a great group of friends (Korean spas, I’ll have to talk more about those later…), attended the EPIK orientation which was filled with days of high quality lectures (like lectures from morning till night!) and hot Korean meals all at a a gorgeous mountainous campus (I’ve been told its definetely not the best Korean food… What? It was delicious! What’s the rest of the country like??). I’ve watched a stunning traditional Korean music and dance performance which left me speechless (there was break dancing like I have never seen and that is really saying something) and visited the UN Memorial Cemetery (which was powerful). I’ve added quite a bit to my severely limited Korean vocabulary . I’ve hiked to ornate temples in the sacred quiet of morning (and let’s not forget the first morning when I watched the sun rise all gold and pink above the gray green mountains that spread in every direction) and sang and danced my heart out at Norebang (Karaoke rooms). I’m not sure if there was every a week I’ve had with more emotions all at the same time.

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My view as I walked from classes to lunch.

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My food of choice while lesson planning!

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Where I go after classes for my fill of singing, dancing, and yogurt soju.

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The sun rising as we begin our morning hike…

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And about 20 minutes into that same hike we find this gem of temple as the sun strikes the wall behind it.

So much and I haven’t even been here two weeks! Whew!

So this is how it feels to leave everything you know. This is how it feels to make a bunch of instant amazing friends who are on the same crazy adventure and have that same excited energy. So this is how it feels to be utterly overwhelmed by how beautiful everything is around and how differently they do things. So this is what its like to be sandwiched between the mountains and the sea.

Seriously, is this real life? How is it so beautiful!

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Not saying it’s always easy.

But life isn’t supposed to be comfortable, right? Its supposed to be great!

So that’s how I ended up in the car with a fantastic Korean teacher who was giving me a Korean lesson and explaining the names of my future co-workers, speeding away into the gray stormy day. I haven’t felt this brain-sore since that time I entered the depths of collage.

And then there it was, my apartment! If you read blogs about it you will hear no end to the horror stories about what kind of apartment you might get through EPIK so I was waiting for the flickering lights in the hallway and the moldy bare room. Instead we stopped in the center of town in from of a row of stone buildings. The teacher with me insisted on helping me with my outrageously heavy and large bags (thank you!!!) and asked me if everything was satisfactory once I reached the room.

Satisfactory? The one room had a clean spacious wooden floor, an adorable little kitchen area, a bed with bedding and a massive desk with both a TV and a computer. Already much more than expected. The bathroom was clean and larger than I expected with nice shampoos and soaps provided by the last girl there, and also cleaning supplies! Its funny how excited that was! No shopping necessary for the next couple of days. It was a rushed look because I was off to see meet all the big shots at the school including the principle and my co-teacher. I was terrified that I would do something offensive or forget a word in Korean.

One word I walked away with after meeting all the people at my school: KIND. I walked in with a whole garden of butterflies in my stomach but Mr. Kim introduced my first to my wonderful co-teacher. And then to the principle and vice prinicple. They all made me feel very welcome with their large smiles and kind words. There was flurry of Korean as they sorted things out and then my co-teacher drove me back to my home to show me around the town.

Korea is awesome guys. Its so chaotic and squished in some ways, but gently beautiful and wild in other ways. Its so unexpected and new that I’m exhausted and overjoyed at the same time.

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It’s time for bed but I’ll be sure to let you in on the adventures of the future 🙂

Dreams Do Come True

For the last five months I’ve gazed longingly at all the planes I’ve  watched far above my head while I drove to and from work. I spent so long praying I could go to Korea. It looked like such a beautiful dream as I watched from where I sat. The dreamy, little planes, sparking off the sun’s light suspended in the hazy pink of the sunset. The idea looked so magical. It sounds so crazy and impossible.

Does a dream look that pretty when it comes true I wondered so many times. When it gets all gritty and harsh with reality. Do dreams stay magical? I was definitely ready to work as hard as it took to find out. And I am so very grateful it all fell into place.

I couldn’t help but tear up a little as we pulled into the airport. I’ve been here so many times to pick up others with an aching heart, longing for my adventure. Well, my lovely friends, this is my adventure. This is where I face my dragons, grow strong, and see the big wide beautiful world.

And the adventure begins

This is the picture I took from the plane as I began the flight to Korea^_^
And right now, right at this moment, it is every bit as dreamy as it looked from the ground, only better. I’m in the clouds in my own sort of magic carpet and ready to see a whole new world.