Saturday, April 30, 2011

Korea 2011 - I wish I knew how to read...

We all know about 'culture shock', and that initial period where everything is new and foreign and takes a while to get use to. There's different degrees as well...a kid from Arizona lost in the streets of San Francisco, or jumping into a country where you can't read or speak the language. I've done both, and I can say with some force that you have no idea what culture shock is until you've done the latter...

I don't know if it was me hyping everything up in my head on the 11 hour plane ride to Seoul, but from the moment I stepped off the plane I felt out of place. Japan was a bit different: although you were bombarded with the language, you could find your way around. Korea, on the other hand, tries to knock you out by forcing you to accept the fact that, in this land, you don't know a damn thing. The lone English voice I heard in the entire airport was the voice on the escalator telling me to stay to the right...which was the female voice from the Microsoft Voice program. Yeah, my first friend was a computer. Don't judge...

That was very short lived, as the minute I got out of customs I met Masao, one of the gentlemen from Hands Korea. He greeted me with a coffee and a smile, and helped me get to my apartment in Suwon.

My apartment is 72.6km from Incheon airport, and I know this because South Korea is an electronic juggernaut. Masao's Hyundai is equipped with a 'standard issue' super GPS capable of the following:

  • Getting you from Point A to Point B
  • Playing a selection of streaming music
  • Telling you the weather
  • Detecting toll roads and how much they are depending on the time that you are driving
  • A primitive form of police radar, detecting speed traps and telling you to slow down
  • Phone calls
  • DVD's
  • Surf the internet
  • Restaurant and their prices depending on the time of day
  • Up to the minute traffic details
I'm sure there's a ton of features I'm missing, but this thing was ridiculous. I didn't pay too much attention to it, as most of the hour and a half car ride was spent talking with Masao and trying to overcome the language barrier. He's the Japanese liaison for Hands Korea, so his English isn't the best. Regardless, it was very easy for us to talk about movies and life and whatever suited our fancy. He taught me some Korean as well, for when I meet my co-teacher and principal the following morning.

We pulled up to my apartment, which was nestled in a mess of other apartment and bright streets in a suburb of Suwon. Everything is cramped together, including my apartment. The place is the size of a master bedroom, with a small kitchen and a literal 'water closet' for a bathroom. I was able to make it feel like home. Pics to come later.

The next morning was a bit nerve-wracking. I was scheduled to meet my co-teacher and tour the school that morning, and so around 11am my co-teacher came to pick me up:
Her name is Juhee, and she awesome. I kinda got blessed with a really nice co-teacher, and the hospitality her and her family have shown me this weekend has been nothing short amazing. She has been critical in helping me settle in, and it didn't take me long to feel like I could call this place home.

The tour of the school was fast-paced, and I struggled to keep up through it all. We met a majority of the teachers I will be working with, as well as a handful of students that will be in my classes (to a flurry of girlish screams and boys running around). My classroom is equipped with everything I could possibly need, Juhee is going to help me so I don't suck completely as a teacher, and the school is very friendly and nice. Once again, I got blessed to be place into such a wonderful school. And, as scared as I am for Monday morning, I'm actually quite excited to teach. 

I got to spend the rest of the day with Juhee and her lovely family near their apartments (to spare me the embarrassment, I won't use official locations. I'm still figuring out how neighborhoods and everything work). We went into this crazy-huge mall nestled underneath 4 sixty-five story apartment complexes. I had to buy some shirts for school, so we picked up those as well. I also played hopscotch on the colored tiles with Juhee's daughter, who is the most rambunctious and silliest kid I've ever met (save for Hayden and Tatum). Her energy helped me kick the jet lag a bit.

We all sat down at a Korean restaurant, and it only took me 24 hours to have my first Korean meal. I was completely lost the entire time: between the flurry of 10 or so dishes, drinks I can't even recognize, and getting use to using chopsticks again, I was just focused on enjoying the meal. Juhee's husband would pass me something tasty, and once I finished that Juhee would give me something else. It was a bombardment on the taste buds, and I loved every minute of it. I will have to do a post on Korean food, as the way they prepare, serve, and eat food is nothing short of an art form.

The jet lag finally caught up with me, and they took me home sometime around 5pm. I took a quick shower and passed out for 12 hours, and now I'm here.

Things are going to be tough at first. I have to overcome the teaching challenges, and learning Korean will be interesting as well. I knew it wouldn't be easy. I didn't know that I would have a support system already placed when I got here. Everyone I've met so far have been such wonderful people, and my time here is shaping up to be an incredible experience. 

I keep telling people that I didn't come here for the money: I came here to meet people and learn about a new culture. I came here to be a good teacher, and to share my culture with others. That attitude is helping me out tremendously. People, in a way, are the same everywhere: we all want to, in some fundamental way, lift each other up and bring happiness to others. As I travel this world, I have yet to find anything that says otherwise. Our world is turbulent, violent, and has definitely seen better times. It's nice to know that I can still place my faith in humanity. 
Here's to another year of living. I know it's going to be a good one.

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