After 6 weeks of orientation I said goodbye to my new Fulbright family. I didn’t expect to feel much emotion as we each dispersed and began the heart of our adventure, but unexpectedly I had become close to these once called strangers, appreciating each persons’ unique talents and quirks. Thankfully, this goodbye was not finite and I was sure to see everyone at our fall conference and I have already committed to see friends close by. Nevertheless, in the midst’s of the sad departure I was welcomed by new friends who have offered to guide and support me in my transition.
All of the ETAs were once again lined in the auditorium awaiting the formal introduction of our co-teachers. My region and name was called close to last and I had a moment to bow in respect to my co-teacher as he presented me flowers as a warm gesture. We then departed to lunch where I tried to navigate the language barrier and get to know him. His name is Shunsoo Han and immediately I could sense his kindness and care. He was an English teacher at my school and he would help me transition and support me throughout the process. As we began talking I learned he had a unique interest in Judaism and has a dream to attend Synagogue. He already knew I was Jewish because of some of the information I submitted. Later in the day he showed me to our bus where we would head to Naju. Unlike many of the cities that all bring cars Naju coordinates between all the schools in the area and rents what the ETAs call a party bus. It was great instead of an awkward car ride I was traveling together with three other ETAs and all the teachers and fully stocked with beer, snacks, and a TV. I was excited to get to know the three other ETAs better because we would be each others source to vent and bounce ideas off each other. Two of the ETAs in the area are renewees so I told them to expect a stream of questions and so far they have been nothing, but helpful and reassuring. After meeting shortly it was already decided to continue last year’s tradition of Honey Bread Monday. It was that moment when I knew this would be a good group.
After 3 hours and some good conversation we arrived in Naju where I met my Host mom and sister for the first time. It was nice to see they were as nervous as I was. Well I was probably more nervous, but there was mutual nervousness at least. We met all together at a restaurant that was known for the city’s traditional dish, gomtang (곰탕) a beefy soup. It was really tasty. After dinner they drove me back to their house, where I began to unpack and try to just hang around to get to know them better. Around 7is my host dad came home and I got to know him a little. They all were really friendly and I was excited to get to know them more deeply for the next year. They all speak some English and with some hand gesturing and phone apps, communication hasn’t been too bad. The house is located in a quiet part of town, we live surrounded by several other houses and some farmland and are across from the city park where we can see mountains in the distance and the Yeongsan River. It was a good place to call home.
The next day my host dad drove me to school. I was very thankful to not have to use the bus my first morning. I walked up uncertainly not entirely sure where to go, but I followed the flow of students and eventually found the teacher workroom. I met my co-teacher and greeted him with a bow and said 안녕하세요(hello). I have become a pro at the 45 degree and 90 degree bow and sometimes I even throw a head bow in (aka like an American head nod). I bow every time I see an elder or someone of authority … so basically all the time. My co-teacher then toured me around the school and introduced me to everyone. There are three English teachers at the school including my co-teacher so it was nice to see I would have some resources despite my language abilities. There were also a few younger teachers who spoke also some English but many of them were nervous and didn’t want to speak. After the tour I just spent the rest of the day accustoming myself to my desk and prepping for the start of teaching on Monday. After lunch my co-teacher surprised me and said “let’s go get your bank account and cell phone set up.” I jumped up and said “okay.” So now I am all hooked up with my Korean accessories. Around 5pm I left the school and caught the 160 bus. It was an epic fail and I am sure I gained a bad reputation already. Let’s just say simply I missed my stop and added a half-an-hour to my walk home and got caught in the rain a little all while wearing my suit and carrying a bunch of bags. That night my “mathewisms” (I think that’s the only word I can use to describe them) continued when I clogged the toilet. I quickly learned that the family didn’t own a plunger and the dad wasn’t home. I sat in the living room for awhile kinda just trying to figure out what to do until I decided to pretend to go to sleep. Eventually, I heard the dad come home and walked outside to see him. I did a lot of apologizing, but he was really understanding and explained that you can’t put toilet paper in the toilet. It was a rookie mistake. Anyway, it has been a good first few days filled with awkward moments and fulfilling laughs and I am sure there are more to come of both. Wish me luck on teaching!