Moving to a completely new country that I had never been to came with lots of unknown variables and inevitably some fears. Here were my 5 biggest fears before coming to Korea:
- The cold. Everyone goes on and on about how frigidly cold Korea can get in the winter which scared me because I don’t do well with cold. At this point people usually stop me and point out that I am from Minnesota so I should be used to the cold. But I’m not… and I was still nervous about coming. So, how cold does it get here? It does get pretty cold (depending on where you are), however, there are lots of ways to get around this. The Korean’s undol heating system, their constant use of hot packs, heat tech gear and obsessive hot tea drinking all help a soul brave the winter.
- General safety concerns as a girl. I was going to the other side of the world by myself I wanted to know whether Korea was a good place to embark on solo adventures. It doesn’t take much research to realize that Korea is probably one of the safest places that you can go as a solo traveler. The crime rate is low and the people respectful. I am, however, living by the shipbuilding docks and there are all kinds of characters there (Korean and foreigner) and my Korean friends have reminded me multiple times to just stay alert, especially when it’s dark out. Staying alert, avoiding areas you know aren’t as nice (or don’t know as well), and being careful about where you go after dark is just good common sense no matter how safe the general country is.
- Natural disasters. Earthquakes and typhoons are completely new things to me. The first time I felt an earthquake here I was really confused… I thought a big bus was driving by but then it just kept going. Same with a typhoon. I remember walking to school in the rain soaked because my umbrella had snapped in the wind only to realize that we were in the middle of a typhoon. My co-teachers were shocked I had still come to school. Thankfully, neither the typhoons nor the earthquakes were dangerous where I was and I don’t think Korean natural disasters are any worse than they are in other places.
- The bugs. I’m just keeping it real here. You can ask any of my friends. When they asked me what I was most afraid of before coming to Korea, I would respond the insect life. What kind of insects does Korea have? Will I be able to cope? The bugs are bigger than the ones I am used to but there is nothing any more bizarre then what I have seen back home. (spider picture) I have not seen anything which gave me nightmares yet.
- This is not something that scared me but something that scared a lot of people I talked to: North Korea. Actually whenever I would tell anyone I was going to Korea the first or second question they would ask was North or South? And then they would talk about the fact that the Koreas are still technically at war. Which they are but they’ve been at this cease fire for a while and are ready for anything else.
So there you have it: Korea is incredibly safe and I’m glad I came. The general concerns are nothing to stress over and certainly nothing to keep anyone from coming.
What does my day look like?
I was always really curious before I came to Korea what my day would look like. Of course, everyone has really different lifestyles but here is one EPIK teacher’s typical day:
7am: When I am supposed to get up but usually I sleep in and then make a mad rush for the door and barely catch the bus. It works and I still have then next 20 minutes-30 minutes to fully wake up before I get to school and start teaching. Many people walk to school which sounds nice to me (public transportation used to really scare/overwhelm me), but I have to catch a bus since all of my schools (I teach at three) are pretty far away. Living on island though definitely has its perks—the ride is absolutely gorgeous and has become something I really look forward to.
8am: I usually get to school around this time and wish all my co-workers a good morning, collect my materials for the day, drink tea, and check emails. My schedules are different at each school so class start time is different each day. I teach Elementary level and absolutely love all my adorable students.
12pm: Around this time I get to stop teaching and eat lunch which is always incredible. The schools provide large healthy meals which is another one of my favorite parts of the day. Lunch is a time to connect with the students or other teachers, practice Korean, try new foods, and learn what they are all called.
1:30: After break it’s back to teaching. I usually only have one afternoon class and many of the teachers I have spoken to don’t have any so after lunch it is just time to lesson plan. I peruse Waygook.com and the rest of the interwebs for game ideas and type up my schedule for the next day and usually try to get ahead or the next week as well to keep it less stressful for myself.
3pm: At this point I usually am done with lesson planning and start blogging or check emails or study Korean or talk with my co-teachers which is a nice relaxing way to end the afternoon.
4pm: I leave different schools at different times but around 4 is when it’s time to start packing up. Time to trek to the bus stop… which is always lovely! I still have not gotten over how beautiful Korea is. Somedays I go with my co-teacher to play a game of volley ball or go out to dinner which is always a great way to mix up the daily routine and get to know my fellow teacher better.
5pm: After school it’s time for Korean class, coffee with one of my Korean friends while we practice each other’s language, volley ball club, a work out at the gym by my house, an adventurous dinner with another expat teacher, a movie night, or a mini hike before the sun goes down. There is never a dull moment! The city I live in is pretty small compared to a lot of places my friends ended up at so there isn’t as much to do really (no big official language exchanges or events) but I still feel like I have an overwhelming amount of options and try to do just enjoy every moment. I’m always trying new foods and really trying to learn the language.
??Pm: I get back home and pack my bags for the next day (which helps me when I make the mad dash the door the next morning. If I don’t pack the night before I will probably forget something). Due to the time difference my friends at home are usually just getting up at this point so sometimes I end up skyping them till late hours of the night. Then it’s time for a quick shower and bed to rest up for the next busy day.
So there you have it: a day in the life of an EPIK Teacher. I am so grateful for where I ended up at. It’s the perfect blend of city and natural beauty but, then again, much of Korea is like that. I am so grateful for all the new experiences I get on a daily basis. It really is incredible!
Ok, for those seven days I’m counting the days I have lived on Geoje Island. I was staying in Busan for about a week before that but a week ago today I moved in and really made Korea my home.
- I’ve learned just how beautiful Korea can be. Of course, a girl can dream of being a mermaid and living next to the sea but how often is it real life? How often to you lesson plan in your office with the wind rolling off the ocean and through your windows? How often do you eat lunch break looking at the glitter of the sea? How often do you get to ride the bus through sleepy towns half buried in the deep green of the mountains? Every day, is the answer. Every day when you live in Geoje.
- On a totally different note, I learned that I like squatter toilets as much as I thought I would which is not very much at all. I was told that they would be here but I was hoping I would be able to avoid them somehow. No such luck.
- I learned it’s ok not to use chopsticks sometimes. I’ve used chopsticks in America due to a partly Asian background, but I still was a little worried coming here and trying to eat with people who have used chopsticks daily their whole lives. My co-workers kindly put my worries by constantly being surprised at how I am “able to eat well” and “use chopsticks like a Korean.” Yay, I can eat food here!!! But watching everyone around me… I think I over compensate sometime and use chopsticks for things that don’t have to be. Next week, I will be that much better at really eating like a Korean.
- While we are on the topic of food, I have learned that Korean food is every bit as delicious as I hoped it would be. School lunches are like going out to eat every day. I think I’ve been very spoiled with my schools because the food is always delicious. I was a little sad that I didn’t take a picture of today’s meal which was Octopus-Tofu soup, Bibimbop (which is a massive pile of veggies, meat, and rice), kimchi, a kiwi, and caramelized-honey-drizzled sweet potatoes with walnuts. It was ridiculously delicious and I was stuffed afterwards. Should have taken a picture but when you’re starving and they give you a meal like that? It’s just time to dive right in.
- I’ve learned that Koreans actually do have amazing skin and hair. Seriously, you know how in movies even the random people walking down the street look great and it’s kind of hilarious because it’s not realistic? Korea is that type of hilarious. I love it!
- I learned that Koreans are very eco-friendly and it’s been a hard lesson. The first couple of days, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the hot water or the stove because they like to use as little energy as possible and you have to turn those things on just before you are about to use them. I thought my apartment was broken but it took too much emotional energy to ask my co-workers about it when there so many other things that I didn’t understand and had to ask them about. But then some of my fellow teacher friends began venting about the struggle to figure it out and I began to wonder if I tried hard enough, if I could get it to work. Google to the rescue! And some Korean friends from my HelloTalk app. (A super handy app where you can talk with people from all over the world to practice languages! I’ve found a lot of Koreans in Geoje who want to practice English and have kindly helped me practice Korean!) They talked me through Korean ways which was super helpful! Koreans don’t just leave stuff like that on, the way we do in America. There are buttons to press and levers to turn so that you can shut it off afterwards and conserve energy.
- And, finally, I’ve learned a lesson that I think is learned whenever you travel, especially alone. You learn the goodness of mankind. I know that there are terrible people in the world but I feel that, judging from the stories that I’ve heard and the stories I’ve experienced, travel also shows us the kindness humanity still has around us. The kind ladies at the bus stop that point the direction to go. The amazing welcoming spirit of all my co-workers who know I can’t understand their language but still will reach out to include me. Sometimes the struggle and the hard moments are what it takes to find those good people and remember the kindness of strangers.
There you have it, seven of the things I’ve learned living here on the island. Can you believe that ten days ago, I had no idea that Geoje even existed? How does a place go from non-existent to deep-in-your-heart in the span of seven days? And its only been seven days, what adventures lie ahead?
Ok, and if you want to read more about Geoje Island, here is another blog post (with pictures!) which talked beautifully about it and gave me lots of great ideas of future things to see!
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 🙂