When I board the plane in Istanbul for leg two, to Seoul the realisation hits me! I begin to feel nervous anxiety and I start to consider – for the first time – that soon I will be teaching.
I really hadn’t thought this through!
My recruiter Soojung and I, walk the streets of Munsan, the town I will spend the next twelve months. The first thing to hit me, is the smell! Coming from every corner, fish tank stall and shop! The place seems dirty somehow, sort of incomplete, but that just makes it all the more quirky and interesting. I spot a Dunkin Donuts, 7Eleven and even a Tesco!
Standing across the road is my co-teacher to-be Mr.Huseong Kim, shaking a “Wellcome to Korea” banner above his head! We go for food, Budae-jjigae, “Army Compound stew” it’s hot and spicey and as I will come to find out with every meal, includes “kimchi” – chillied fermented cabbage! Luckily, I’m a lot less picky with food these days and I happily eat away, managing, just about to use chopsticks!
I have a week of quarantine to make sure I don’t have flu, so this time is spent walking the town’s streets, in the apartment, shopping for utensils and food, hiking the nearby mountain and having my medical check done! Huseong is never too far away, however, I feel very lonely again, trying hard to fill my big empty apartment with the little luggage I brought along.
Unpacking is another exercise in realisation; when I discover that one of my three small bags is full of only spare parts for my motorbike, half a camping stove and a water filter. Luckily I find I did remember to pack some clothes when I unpack my other small bags.
The hike in the nearby mountains, which begins from the memorial park where; statues, busts and sculptures join up in seamless harmony with the walking trail that weaves its way through the forest alongside trenches, dugouts and gun emplacements. Luckily these are devoid of troops- at least for the time being – but troops are never too far away, walking the streets, flying the skies or driving the streets in their tanks through town: an impressively deafening roar.
The medical is passed and I find myself lying awake in a big bed in a big apartment waiting to go to the big school wondering: how big will the children be?
I arrive at the school to the song “heads, shoulders, knees and toes” blaring through a PA system. I go and meet the principle, then proceed to my staff welcome, a quick hello with staff.
My first class, I am terrified, speak too fast and most of my sentances pass over the heads of most pupils. But the lesson itself involves mainly my introduction and a round of questions from the pupils; what’s your favourite colour, are your hands normal size in the UK, do you have a girlfriend and why is your chin hairy? The second class goes a little better, but still terrible!
That said the kids are fantastic, as is the school and my co-teacher and although I am nervous, I find myself in a very lucky position.
I begin my first lessons by myself, first up is kindergarten. A class of twelve little guys and gals that are four or five years old. I don a hat in the shape of a fluffy lions head, grab some pens and a colour by numbers sheet and head off to class. I tell them the colours of six pens – those needed in the colour by numbers – and take off the hat, I put the first one in the hat and say “BBBBLLLLLLUUUUUEEEEE”, then point to the smartest looking kid and say “PPPPIIIIINNNNNKKKKK” followed by pointing at the upturned lion-hat. To my complete surprise he gets up, throws in a pen and gets it right, as do all the other kids. One teeny little girl is reluctant to come and try, but after MUCH coaxing and encouraging tone of voice from me, with hand held she gets up and guesses right! I went completely mad with joy at her success! I could get to like this!
Next up, the staff have a BBQ and a game of footy. The footy is easy, but the BBQ is a confusing affair due to the language barrier. That said they are most pleased that I am there and eating their food and comment on my not-completely-atrocious chopstick usage. We drink something akin to petroleum called “soju” and I am then faced (literally in my face) with a ball of lettuce, meat and spicy sauce coming forth from crowd: a girl holding food, for me….I eat it to rapturous applause and wonder if I got saliva on the poor girls hand.
Orientation comes two weeks later, and two weeks too late in my eyes but a chance at least to find and talk to teachers from your area and gain some teaching resources. and chance at least to relax and have a full speed conversation!
Rudolf (the bike) finally lands on Korean soil on the 26th Septemeber and soon I will go and be reunited – at great expense – ready to explore Korea and fix him up a bit too!
I have a night out with the Korean staff, which involves lots of glass passing, soju, fatty meat and karaoke. It’s nice, but again the lack of any conversation makes me feel distant and seperated and I feel I want to leave :o(
Luckily, this week is Chuseok, the Korean harvest so I get an extra day off; time to meet friends in Seoul. I meet up with Katy, Rozanne and Bryan and head out to temples and 7Elevens (for beverages) and then a Noribang your very own private karaoke room where I can sing and feel a part of it unlike with the teaching staff. Excellent times turn a bit sour, when Bryan, in a complete state of drunkeness throws us out of his house in the wee hours leving Katy and I stranded in a place called Gimpo wondering what the heck just happened?!
Overall, it’s been a good start but not without a bit of graft…..and more Korean customs paperwork.
A special thank you to Mr. Kim for being so helful and making me feel so welcome!