It has only been one week since my last blog post, but I feel overwhelmed in experiences and thoughts. This week has been the first time since being in Korea that I feel truly like I am living in Korea. For the last 6-weeks in Orientation I was lucky to learn about Korean culture, prepare to be a teacher, and meet amazing friends, but during that time I was in limbo. I was enclosed in an American bubble and I am can’t lie, I liked it. But I can confidently say the bubble has been popped and I am enjoying the challenges of exploring a new culture.
Last weekend my host family and I traveled to Jeonju. Before I knew my destination and our plans, I asked my family on Thursday if we had weekend plans. They mentioned we will be meeting some of my host-mom’s college friends and potentially go hiking. I asked where and what day just to get an idea. They said or what I heard them say was “We’d be heading to Gwangju on Sunday.” Gwangju is about 40 minutes away and is a major city. It sounded like a great first weekend together. And on the inside I was commencing my happy dance because that meant my Saturday was a do nothing, lazy day. Now as you can guess I misheard the city name, but what this weekend also turned out to be was more than just a day trip. It was Saturday afternoon and I was in full mathew lazy mood when we all came together for lunch. The lunch was delicious – all the food my host mom has made has been wonderful and thankfully not to spicy. By the end of the meal, my host-dad turns to me and says we are leaving in 20 minutes. I have a somewhat confused expression on my face, but I grin and say okay. I go to my room to change into everyday clothes and when I come out I notice a suitcase. I try and ask if there is anything specific I should bring, but I didn’t get a real answer. I decide to bring along my backpack and throw a change a clothes in, just in case. I am glad I did because it turned out we weren’t going to visit my host-mom’s friends Saturday and we were sleeping over at their apartment. Despite the miscommunication, it was a great weekend and I was able to roll with the changes. Jeonju is known for their Hanok Village, which is a traditional old-style Korean village and their Jeondong Catholic Church. During our time here we never entered the Hanok Village, but we walk along the crowded street and enjoyed the sweet smells stemming from the number of food vendors cooking fatty pork and selling fruits. While walking we ran into my host dad’s co-worker and his family. They greeted me with such welcome and excitement. I am continuously thankful for the love and friendliness of most Koreans. (I did run into some Koreans who don’t like the sound of English and hate being around foreigners … saying all this in Korean so I was completely unaware, but my friend could understand. Nonetheless, this reaction has been very rare so far.) Enjoying walking around, my host-dad and I grabbed a pre-dinner beer and built some Jeung (장), which in Korean is said to mean we coexist, but in an English translation it is best understood as a connection.
Now around dinner time, we met up with my host-mom’s friends at a restaurant. Our shoes removed, we all sat legs crossed on the floor surrounding a low surface table and within minutes food was being thrown towards us. The food was an array of kimchi, meats, and soup, and you can’t forget the Makkoli (막걸리). It was a delicious (맛있었어요 – my good too Korean word). Meals in Korea are unlike America and time is not a constraint. The meal lasted well over two hours, but was just enjoying eating, drinking, and talking. Also, thank god for translator apps, because they are amazing. My host-mom’s friends spoke very little English, but we were able to get to know one another and talk about Korean-American differences. In this conversation we discussed Korean military policies and how all men are required to serve for at least two years, how there is a major issue with underpayment during this time (soldiers only receiving 20 to 30 dollars a week), and harsh brutally among soldiers. We also talked about health care and the differences of our health systems. This is one of those moments when I wish I was better informed, but I walked away from the conversation learning that Korea has a really affordable health care. (If anyone is interested in learning more about the comparative health systems I was introduced to the book, The Healing of America by T.R. Reid in one of my classes at Elon. I have not finished it :() We finished dinner and spent the next hour just walking around the town. Finally, we headed back to my host-mom’s friends apartment where the drinking and talking continued (I only had one beer though I felt like I was drinking all day). During the conversation I asked how they all knew each other and learned that they all had been college friends. It was a nice to hear this after just finishing college this past May and being thousands of miles from friends and family. Now all exhausted we began heading to bed and readying ourselves for the next day.
On Sunday we had breakfast together and then headed to one of Korea’s many national parks where we leisurely walked along a path. The path passed a fish feeding and immediately my host sister was excited so we preceded to go on a small water-boat and feed the fish. It was a fun mini adventure and outing together.
After the detour we continued walking until we reached a flat surface surrounded by two sides of mountains. The land was cultivated years earlier by a Buddhist monk who dedicated to finding enlightenment built rock dozens of mounts that reminded me of the famous Seattle spin needle. It was a beautiful site. As we walked closer we each drank from the mountain’s water which is said to have healing properties. I kinda think it is a source for germs, but I participated anyway. We spent some time there just walking around until we headed back. After that we went for lunch at a local restaurant that use many local ingredients such as roots and herbs grown on the mountain. We ate Bibimbap and Korean BBQ. Bibimbap is a vegetarian dish that mixes egg yoke, rice, spicy sauce, and other veggies together. At the end of lunch it was well into the afternoon and we headed back to the apartment for us to begin heading back to Naju.
It was now Sunday night and we had a black noodle dish for dinner which was another tasty dish. The reality hit though that tomorrow would be my first day of teaching and I had no idea to what to expect from my students. It turns out that Mondays are rough. I teach 5 classes and a total of 18 classes a week. Throughout the week I had high moments and low moments. My students are awesome, but when in class they often like to be disruptive or sleep. Many students no very little English and have little motivation or confidence in learning/ Also, there is never a dual moment in teaching and I can never predict what is going to happen next in my classroom. Right now I am in the stage of readjusting my ideas of teaching and figuring out how to best serve my students needs while not having a good grip of Korean. There are many more challenges ahead of me, but I think as I get to know my students better things will come into place. On a positive side, every Monday, me and the 3 other ETAs placed in Naju get together over food and a time to decompress and each others company. Overall, I am excited for teaching and feel that this experience is continuing to help me grow.