Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Checklist before moving to Korea (or any other country)

Recently, I found my “To Do” list from July listing everything I wanted to accomplish before moving to South Korea. I typed it out here for aspiring ESL teachers headed to South Korea (or, really anyone going to another country for an extended length of time) who have that feeling that you’re forgetting something.

I’ve included some links to help you navigate some of the more difficult tasks.

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea: Life at EPIK’s Jeonju University orientation

Anyeong haseo!

It’s 10 p.m. Tuesday night in Jeonju, South Korea, so my peeps in Florida probably just started Tuesday morning (I think it is 9 a.m. Florida time, but honestly I’m still a little foggy on the time change thing. Am I living in the future?!).

I just finished meeting with my group — tomorrow we have to present/demonstrate a lesson plan in front of a few staffers and our entire class (about 60 people). I hate presentations so I’m nervous, but I think our lesson plan is pretty good. It’s on “ordering in a fast food restaurant,” which I think will go over well in a room full of expats who have been eating rice and kimchi for a week.

This week has been really crazy. Every day we have six full hours of lectures, followed by an hour of Korean Language class. Sunday we went on a field trip, so even though our brain got a break we were totally exhausted. We skipped dinner and Alex fell asleep at 6 p.m. and slept for nearly 13 hours!

It was an amazing trip though. We went to a Jeonju Hanok Village, where there are Korean traditional houses, a rice wine museum, an Eastern medicine museum, a Hanji center where they make traditional Korean paper, and a fan-making shop. We got to decorate our own fans!

Then we had the meal that JeonJu is famous for : bibimbap. It’s rice with all sort of veggies and spices mixed in, and a fried egg on top. You mix it all together, and it is delicious! Koreans eat family style. I have never seen anything like it: all the food is in the middle of the table and everyone just digs right in. It’s a little weird for us, but very fun, too.

I’ve been trying all sorts of new food and I like almost all of it so far. Maybe the most odd was strips of dried fish dipped in a sweet, sticky brown sauce. It really didn’t taste like fish until you chew it for a while, but it was good.

After our lunch we saw Samul Nori (Four Drum) dance, which is pretty neat — and at the end of it, they invite everyone in the crowd to dance with them, so all the teachers joined them in the middle of the town square. This little old lady (they’re called “ajummas”) was trying to teach me how to dance; it was really cute.

Afterward, we went to Keumsan Buddhist temple, which was a sight to behold. The walk up is through a mountain, complete with a peaceful and very cold) stream. There were families camping all around and even in the stream at the shallow parts, and everyone is cooking barbecue on tiny grills and playing card games. It was a happy moment. Lots of people approached us to practice their English, and some people in our group were even invited for drinks and barbecue! The temple itself was beautiful and peaceful, set back in the middle of the mountains.

Since then it’s been anything but peaceful: nothing but lessons and prepping for our presentations tomorrow. After that, we’re meeting our Metropolitan Office of Education supervisors (I guess the equivalent of a superintendent) to sign our contracts. And then we find out what grade we’re teaching and what school we’re in! I can’t wait. After that, it’s the farewell dinner and the next morning, off to Daegu.

We don’t really know how things go from there — or even when our first day of school is — but we’ll be meeting our co-teachers. They’re basically our lifeline in Korea. They help us get our Alien Registration Cards, get cell phones, set up Internet and show us around the city. Then, we see our apartments, so it’ll be a big day. I am really hoping we have the weekend off before we have to start teaching, but we may have to go in on Friday. I’m getting nervous! You can’t cram an Education degree into 10 days, but our lectures have been really useful and I feel a lot better prepared for teaching.

Still not so prepared for speaking Korean, though. I only know four phrases: “Hello, my name is Franki. Nice to meet you. I’m from the United States.”

Ha!

 

Pack dozens of teachers into dorms, lecture at them for 10 days straight while feeding them quasi-Korean food and then smoosh them against a wall and some desks and tell them to pose while saying "Kimchi!" and this is the photo that you'll get.

 

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea, Day 3: It’s official, I like kimchi

Tons has been happening here, and you know how bad I am at keeping things brief, but I’ll try.

The flights went about as smoothly as they could’ve. When we checked our luggage, both Alex and I were each 12 pounds over the weight limit (that translates to $164 EACH extra luggage charge on Singapore Airlines). Fortunately for us, our check-in lady must be related to Mother Theresa because she helped us rearrange our stuff into our other suitcases, allowed each bag to be about six pounds over the weight limit so we wouldn’t be charged, and even came around from the counter and helped us zip up the last bag (after Alex and I had been making a scene for about 10 minutes in the middle of the airport while he tried to zip it while I was sitting on it.)

The flights weren’t too bad, even the loooong one from San Francisco to Seoul. We got all kinds of cool free stuff (socks! toothbrushes and toothpaste! a Givenchy travel bag!); each seat had personal TVs with about a zillion movies and TV shows to choose from (along with a Learning Korean game that I didn’t learn much from); and even the food was good. (Seriously, they came around about once an hour with snacks and drinks — free beer! — in addition to a few full-sized meals.)

After we landed in Korea, it took three freaking hours for our shuttle to arrive to take us to our orientation site, which was a three-hour drive away. We didn’t get into Jeonju University until about midnight, Korea time, so we had been traveling for a solid day and a half, working on about six hours sleep in the past 48 hours. (We spent the final hours before we left trying to cram in as much crap as possible into our luggage, which explains the weight overage. We added it up and it turns out that, between the two of us, Alex and I brought a little over 300 pounds of luggage. Blergh.)

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Arriving in Incheon Airport

AUGUST 18 — Weary from a 16-hour plane ride — mind fried, legs cramped, butterflies setting up permanent camp in my stomach — we arrived in Incheon Airport. I followed the crowds blindly, first to immigration and then to baggage claim. We wheeled our 200-pounds of luggage to an area on the other side of the airport, roped off just for those of us headed to teach in Korean public schools.

I had just enough time to meet a few people, brush my teeth, wash my face and wait two more hours for a bus to pick us up and make the three-hour journey to Jeonju University.

Once on the bus, my eyes struggled to remain open, not wanting to glance away from the onslaught of neon lights and shadowy mountains. The guy next to me is drinking soju. The couple a few seats back talk about Jesus. The bus bounces along.

I’m out cold.

I awoke at 1 a.m. to the sound of a bus microphone. Thirty confused, crusty-eyed expats shuffle out of the bus and under it, grabbing luggage. I’m stumbling and barely miss the largest praying mantis I’ve ever seen. We’re herded into a lobby, names checked, roommates chosen, shirts presented and soon I’m in a hard bed barely bigger than me with a window nearby overlooking my¬† new country, my new home.