This is gonna be a concise but long post. I started this post a few days ago but things have been so hectic I haven't finished in one sitting. So last weekend was Seoul weekend. The plan was to leave at 3:30am on Friday morning and got back Monday evening around 5pm. Seoul was overall a lot of fun and it was nice that it was all paid for by American and Korean taxpayers (according to our OCs). Friday was planned for us while Saturday and Sunday were our free days. Monday was reserved for our Korean Language Course graduation from Korea University.
I woke up and met with Payal, Hilary, Jet, Cameron, Taylor, and Thomas in the lobby of the hotel around 10am. We went to Idae because the guys wanted to get a haircut and Taylor and Payal wanted haircuts. All the boys ended up getting their hair cut but neither Payal nor Taylor got a haircut. The latter did get an eyebrow wax though. We had split away from the boys so they could get a haircut together. The four of us girls looked for a place to grab breakfast/lunch. We ended up at a coffee shop of sorts where I had the most sugar in a long time. I got honey bread (which is essentially just Texas toast bread with honey and whipped cream) and a frappuccino-like drink. I pretty much was on a sugar high for the rest of the day. It died after a few hours though and it didn't help that we didn't eat again until dinner at 7pm-ish.
The day was kind of a blur. Jet and Cameron left to meet up with Cameron's friends so there was only five of us (Payal, Hilary, Taylor, Thomas, and myself). We went to Deoksugung Palace, which is not the biggest or most famous but it was a nice, simple walk. Saturday was also overcast and we got caught in the rain a few times. We also walked to Gyeongbokgung Palace but by the time we got there (4:30pm or so), we realized it wasn't worth it since it was closing at 5pm. We stopped by Kyobo, a huge bookstore that sells English books. I purchased a GMAT book since I know that's in my future plans and I will have some time here so I might as well start studying when there's an hour or so here and there. Plus, with all the traveling I'll be doing, I know there will be long trip periods where I am just sitting on a bus; I might as well be doing something productive. Anyway, after a lot of walking around and bumping into a few other ETAs on the street (Tyler and Ryan), we ended up at Outback Steakhouse for dinner. It was super expensive, more so than in the States, but it was worth it. Then we headed over to North Seoul Tower to see the city all lit up. At Seoul Tower, we ran into Christina and Lauren. Seoul can be a small city where you will find people you know, I guess.
The view of Seoul reminds me a lot of Hong Kong except for the fact that the tower is placed pretty strategically closer to the center of Seoul. In the Observatory deck, I was able to walk 360 degrees around and see lights everywhere. In HK, it's one or two views, but breathtaking nonetheless.
With God's grace, I somehow managed to get up for church service at Jubilee (English service) around 8:45am. It was really encouraging to worship in English with other Christians. After the service, we split up and I left with Tracey, Hana, and Katelyn. We went to get brunch in Itaewon at Suchi's, an American diner of sorts. It was kinda expensive but worth it to get an omelette and french toast. Then we headed to Myeong-dong to go shopping. It's a huge outdoor and indoor shopping area with tons of international stores and local brands too. After a pretty long day there, we headed to Hongdae to go to Bau, a dog cafe. So there were about thirty dogs or so (no kidding) just running around all over the place. The minute they took a poop or peed, someone immediately wiped it up. It was actually pretty clean but did smell like dog, as expected. They were absolutely adorable.
We left around 8am to go to the Fulbright building to get a health/medical lecture by Dr. Linton, Director of Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital International Health Care Center. He was pretty impressive and gave us some really great information about what to ask for when going to a physician in Korea and where we could get vaccinations, etc. Afterwards, we left for Korea University for our graduation ceremony at 11:30am. First they presented us with our graduation certificates and then each group gave their presentation.
When we got there, we barely unpacked our stuff before our third roommate, Korena moved in. All the returning ETAs were arriving that late afternoon before our meeting at 7pm. There were about 40-something renewees and 80 of us new ETAs so it was a lot of ETAs in one room; interestingly enough, the number of renewing ETAs is the highest this year than it has ever been. The meeting was a lot of "getting to know you" but I thought it was necessary. It was odd because it felt like Graduation and Freshmen Orientation all at once; not only were we saying goodbye to people we've been living with and hanging out with for the past seven weeks, but also meeting new people for the first time. Honestly, I thought the renewees were really great. I didn't meet anyone who was super condescending about how much they've already experienced here, etc. We also got our homestay information at the meeting. I found out that my homestay dad was a travel agent, my mom was a housewife, and I had three siblings--two sisters in college, and a younger brother in 1st year Middle at my school. I was going to live in an apartment about 10 minutes walking distance from my school. I wanted to figure out how close I was to the Mokpo crew so a few of us gathered in someone's room to Naver map (Korean equivalent to Google) it.
After a short Bible Study (where I was late since I forgot we had it until someone mentioned it) where I got to meet some of the returning ETAs who are believers, I headed out to B&B for one last night celebration with everyone. Departure Day (D Day) wasn't until Wednesday but we had to give in our Master Keys on Tuesday so Monday night was our last night out. I had a good time at B&B, spending time with my ETAs and the returning ETAs. I got some ice cream with a few people before heading back to Jungwon. Since we left pretty early (around 2am), I wasn't tired yet so I walked around the track with Dan H for some time chatting about life and what-not. Although I haven't spent a lot of time with Dan before that other than a few conversations at Camp Fulbright, we had quite a few things to chat about. Around 5am, Jayeon appeared out of nowhere and asked if we could let her in; she left her keys in her room. She had fallen into the river while walking on the rocks so she was soaking well as well as a bit intoxicated; overall--it was quite funny. It got funnier when she laid down on the bleachers and said she was going to stay outside until sunrise (in two hours). Dan and I did persuade her to go inside though so the crisis was adverted.
Tuesday was our real last day in Goesan. I woke up really early, given the fact that I stayed up until 5:30am. I got up around 7:30am so I could throw in my laundry before everyone else did since it was a huge packing day for most people. Around 9:30am, Tracey and I walked into Goesan for the last time to go to the glasses store. I have 20/20 but I wanted some glasses with fake lenses to wear for a bunch of reasons: I wanna look smarter, I wanna intimidate my students when they first meet me (I think glasses help for some reason, don't ask me why), and I've always wanted to try it. I bought a pair of big lenses for 10,000won; Tracey says they look decent on me. I've worn them to every class so far since I wanna look a certain way on the first day of class for each of these students. After heading back, it was a day of packing and hanging out with people at the pool party. I think I mentioned the fact that Jungwon has a huge water park in the back at one time or another but we finally got a chance to play in it. I went into a hamster ball and it was pretty sweet. It rained a lot of the time but it didn't matter much as we were already in the pool. After the pool party, we had a "special" last night dinner of 삼겹살 which is grilled pork with other things you can wrap in lettuce. There's not much to note after that. It really was just a time to pack, hang out with ETAs before we all left for different places, reflect on Orientation, and prepare for the grant year ahead of us. I didn't spend a ton of time with the other ETAs because I was tired from packing and lack of sleep the previous night but I don't feel like I missed out. I will see the people I want to see so I didn't feel like I really had to say goodbye.
Wednesday, aka Departure Day aka D Day
Christina and I officially checked out of our room around 7:45am and moved our small luggage we were carrying with us to the TKD room on the 9th floor. Until 9am, the morning was ours to get breakfast and hang out with our friends. Mrs. Shim gave us a departing address in the TKD room and we had time to take pictures and spend time with our friends.
Around 10am-ish (I forgot), we got into our placement order and marched up towards the large auditorium on the 11th floor. I felt like we were sheep being herded. It's all kind of a blur now. I remember feeling really anxious. We were told to keep an eye out for our co-teachers/Principals/Vice-Principals/etc who would be there to take us to our homestays. The minute I walked into the auditorium, I could smell the flowers. I would say that 75% of the people brought flowers for their ETA. I was hoping I would get flowers just so I would see who my co-teacher was and didn't have to scan the entire crowd trying to figure out who was there for me. Luckily, Mr. Lee, my co-teacher, did bring me flowers. I remember watching each province getting called up, groups of people stepping forward, individuals stepping forward, Koreans running up to the front with flowers, etc. It was really weird watching my friends being called because our departure became all the more real. It was also weird to be called up because it means there is a person who is literally there just to pick me up to take me away from Goesan, Orientation, and my friends.
After lunch, my co-teacher had another meeting/lecture by Mrs. Shim so I went back to the TKD room and continued with the goodbyes. When we moved our stuff down to the first floor to wait for our real pick-up from the co-teachers, it really hit me that we were leaving. When I saw a few co-teachers coming out from the elevator, things sped up quickly. Within a span of 10 minutes, half of the ETAs were gone. My time came quickly; my co-teacher and Principal came down and we walked to their car with my luggage. We packed up and got into the car and then I saw Jungwon pass by through the window. I passed out in the car really quickly. I think it was food coma but I couldn't distinguish between that and just being tired. I woke up a few times but kept falling back asleep. There was a short period of time that I stayed awake and the Principal was asking questions about my family through my co-teacher. Other than that, it was a quiet car ride with music playing through the radio.
Mokpo was a lot larger than expected. I thought it'd be a small little one-street downtown, only slightly larger than Goesan. I was mistaken. It's not a huge city like Seoul but it's got a name for itself. We stopped by a restaurant and followed my Principal to a table with a woman and a man. I thought it was my host father and mother. I found out later that night that it was my host mom but the man was just another teacher at my school. My host father was away on a business trip in Seoul. Dinner was delicious. Any food after eating seven weeks of Jungwon food is delicious. I'm not a picky eater and I thought Jungwon was fine but everything does seriously taste better. After dinner, I got in the car with my hostmom and drove home. Her English is not the best; she doesn't understand everything I say nor can she express what she wants to say but she can understand a few words. If I speak slowly enough and use a lot of gestures, she can grasp what I'm trying to say, for the most part. I met my co-teacher in the parking lot of the apartment building I will be living in for this year and we took our luggage up to the apartment on the 15th floor (the top floor). Then he straight up left... I wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do but it felt weird that he just left. I was greeted at the door with two host sisters. As mentioned, they're college students so I didn't expect them to be at home, I expected them to be at college. To be quite frank, I wasn't sure how I felt about having college sisters. I was really looking forward to having a younger host brother, someone I could teach things to and play sports with, etc. I wasn't sure what to think about having sisters who were only a year or two younger than me. I think I assumed they would be boy crazy and super girly, which is not something I am. So I guess I was more scared about what they would be like than anything else. They were really nice when we met and I sat with them in the living room for a few hours chatting. The oldest daughter's English was the best out of the three of them. It was during this time that I found out my host dad was in Seoul for work since I was asking where he was. My host brother came home around 9:10pm. He attends a hagwon after school Monday-Friday until 9pm. They asked if I was tired around 10pm and let me go to my room to unpack and lesson plan since I was teaching on Thursday. I was up pretty late actually since I didn't make my powerpoint yet and I still needed to tweak my lesson plan. Around 3am, I passed out only to have to wake up a few hours later for school.
I woke up and got ready for breakfast by 7:10am. Even though my sisters are on break, they still woke up to eat breakfast with us. Usually, our breakfast consists of cereal with milk and bread with jam. There's fruit sometimes too. After breakfast, around 7:45am, my little brother, 동진, and I walked to school. His friend Shim usually walks with us too; he meets us at a corner. Since today was my first day at the school, I was trying to remember how to get there and back home. It's actually a REALLY short distance to the school. I'm pretty sure you can see the apartment buildings from the school. 동진 took me to one of the teachers' offices in the front of the school where Mr. Lee was. He then took me to my "temporary" desk in another office on the 4th floor. I was told that I would be changing offices soon but was sitting at Dan Lambert's (the ETA from last year) desk. He left me a letter and a mug as a gift. The letter was an introduction into the school and some other random information. It was pretty useful. Mr. Lee spent some time with me because I had a lot of questions and requests such as getting a student roster, teacher roster, schedule, etc. I felt kinda bad since I knew I was asking for a lot and he's probably really busy. After a while, he left me alone and I got time to sit at my desk, read over some of Daniel's stuff, do last minute tweaks on my lesson plan, etc. I was supposed to teach two classes on Thursday so I was a bit nervous about that. Also, Dan had a few students write me letters which he attached to his letter to me. Most of them were anonymous and not all of them were the nicest. There was a letter that ended with "Welcome to Hell <3." How does someone add a heart to the end of that sentence?! I was a bit nervous about teaching after reading that. But I knew what I was going to do for each of my first meetings with each class; I was going to wear my fake glasses that make me look more intense, not smile, have at least one sacrificial lamb, and be really strict. I was hoping to fear them into submission and respect on the first day so I wouldn't have any classroom management issues or attitude problems for the rest of the year.
My first class was all girls 2nd year Middle. They were super rowdy when I first walked in. Oh and interestingly enough, the person who wrote the letter ending with "Welcome to Hell <3" was from this class. They signed it with "person from 2-7" and my first class was 2-7. When I came in, they were sitting with their friends chatting. I told them to sit in number order. There was a lot of grunting and I even heard a girl say "Problem" when I asked if they had a problem with my command. I was super serious about it and they started to move. With my loud voice and lack of smile, I think they knew I was serious real fast. Daniel had told me he was really lax with his students so I think a lot of them assumed they would be able to walk over me. Hell no. I had one sacrificial lamb in that first class. I had the girl stand outside by the window. There was a co-teacher in the back of the room but he just sat there. He told me after class that he liked my teaching methods though. That encouraged me to keep being tough in class. My second class was a bit rougher than the first. It was all boys and I ended up having four sacrificial lambs in that class. Yeah I know it seems a bit much. The co-teacher was a bit more "involved" if I can even say that. I say involved because he did a lot of disciplinary work for me. When I sent the boys outside, he would have them get on their knees and put their hands on their necks for the remainder of class. That hurts after a while... capital punishment is still very much alive at my school. I've also seen teachers hit their students with sticks in their offices after class; I think the teachers tell the students to go after class to get punished for something in class. Overall though, it seemed like a decent day.
So I'm at the middle school on the right hand side and Tracey is at the high school on the front, and the cafeteria/gymnasium is on the left hand side. All three buildings face a large soccer field. I ate lunch with Mr. Lee and when I wasn't teaching class, I hung out at my desk. I also met some other English co-teachers. Mr. Cho is probably the best at speaking English and he told me he was going to move my desk to the new office while I was teaching class. My new office setup is a bit strange... I am in the very corner office (new wing, just constructed I believe) and it's just me and Mr. Cho in the office. It actually is connected to the classroom right next door and there aren't any panels on the top window so when someone is teaching in that classroom, I can hear everything. I feel really isolated from the school, students, and teachers. I only teach classes on the 4th floor, within three classrooms since the students all come to the 4th floor for their English class. I don't get to travel much within the school since there's not really a reason to go to the different floors other than to see Mr. Lee. I'm hoping that I'll start hanging out with my students in the gym once I get a bit more acquainted with the school and my classes.
I thought my day was going to end on a good note and Mr. Lee and I were even going to go open my bank account. Around 3:30pm, I headed to Mr. Lee's office to see if we could run and open my account (and maybe a cell phone account) and he mentioned that we needed to be back by 4:45pm to have a meeting with the other ETA and the Principal. I was really confused because I wasn't sure what it was going to be about. At the same time, Mr. Lee asked me if I wanted to talk to the other ETA (aka Tracey). I didn't even know our office phones had that capability! I called and she gave me a quick run down of the situation: the high school Principal wanted us to teach Sunday School on well, Sundays on a regular basis. She asked me what I thought about it to make sure we were on the same page--neither of us wants to do that. We don't mind teaching at a church but we don't want to teach on Sundays. I got off the phone and felt slightly more prepared for the meeting with the Principal. Mr. Lee and I went to SK bank where I opened a checking account and then we headed back to school. I thought the meeting with the Principal would be with my middle school Principal too but I was mistaken. I think the high school Principal is the head Principal and I ultimately answer to him since he's above the middle school Principal. Mr. Lee and I walked into the high school and into his office to find the high school Principal, Tracey, and a lady who I had not yet met. She turned out to be another teacher at the high school who is pretty much fluent in English; she might as well be American. Tracey prefers asking her questions since her English is so good and she's more available than her co-teacher. The lady actually was an ETA co-teacher three years ago but the school rotates co-teachers. As sweet as Mr. Lee is, I used the lady as the main translator. Long story short, the Principal kept pushing for Tracey and me to teach on either Saturday or Sunday morning/afternoon. I honestly thought we did a really good job dodging saying "no" directly and using "maybe" a lot. It was a long, very drawn out meeting that went in circles but we ended up coming to an agreement on Friday from 3-5pm...at least that's what I thought. I thought the conversation was over since he went onto small talk and sports and the song Gangnam Style. He even brought out his iPad and searched for it on YouTube and tried to watch it while we were there. It ended up being quite a long meeting and I didn't get back to my desk to pack up until around 6pm. Then I walked halfway home with Tracey; I live a lot closer to the school than she does but we're in the same direction. It was so great to see her. Even though it had only been a day since we last saw, it just felt good to see someone familiar and talk without worrying about being professional and having your face "on".
I headed home and ate dinner with my sister and then sat around and did some random work/lesson planning/etc for the rest of the night. I still think I need to get my bearings down.
When I was sitting at the dining room table, my host mom said that dad was back. He had gotten in really late Thursday night and was still asleep. I was going to teach four classes on Friday, double the number of classes I took on Thursday so I was a little intimidated but it wasn't too bad. The kids were a little more rowdier and I had a bunch of sacrificial lambs but overall, teaching was expected. After my class, I went to my desk and Mr. Cho, the English co-teacher who sits next to me, told me Mrs. Shim asked me to call her back at 11:30am. I was floored. Mrs. Shim has all the power in the world, at least in my current world, and then some. I knew it had to be about the Sunday School thing the Principal had talked to us about the previous day. Long story short, there's a misunderstanding of sorts and the high school Principal had called her that morning and said that Tracey and I said no to teaching Sunday School. I was told to work it out with my co-teacher and Principal again. I felt pretty drained after that conversation but had to continue on with my day. It's not everyday where you talk to your boss' boss' boss' boss on the phone.
I met again with the Principal and Tracey that afternoon. He still was pushing for us to teach on Saturday or Sunday but we we had already made up our minds and weren't willing to teach on the weekend. After that meeting, Mr. Lee took me to get a cell phone. I got a used Samsung Galaxy S and a plan for 5 hours of talk and unlimited data. It's an Android and I like it so far. The rest of the night was spent at home, hanging out with the sisters. We painted our nails and watched TV. I also got to meet my host dad, who's pretty boss. He's really tan and doesn't speak English but I can tell he's a nice man. I passed out really early; I think I'm getting old.
I woke up around 7am to go on a run since I haven't worked out much since arriving in Mokpo. I'm looking to join a gym soon (this week or next). It was also a good way to see a bit of Mokpo. I ran down a few roads and noticed that there is actually quite a good number of store around town. It wasn't even like I ran all the roads since there are many roads. Mokpo is not as small or rural-like as I assumed. It's actually a city, or it feels like it at least. It's comparable to Cheonnan or Cheongju, I would say. Everyone except for my host mom was still asleep when I got back home and showered. After breakfast, we got ready for the wedding. My host sisters curled the bottom part of my hair so it was a bonding moment.
So I really wanted to walk around Mokpo and get a better sense of the city. Even though I ran a few streets, I knew there was a lot more that I have not yet seen. I asked my siblings if they wanted to walk around since we got back from the wedding around 4pm and our parents were out on a date. My sisters said it was too sunny and hot and that we would go later or another day. Korean girls are OBSESSED with their pale complexion and are set on staying away and out of the sun as much as possible; it's a bit obsessive actually. So instead of exploring the city I'm living in, I watched "Street Dance 2" with my sisters in the living room. My day picked up later at night though. The home phone rang and it was my dad calling to say that he was coming home with uncle to drink. He had dropped off my host mom about an hour earlier and she had gone to bed because of a headache. My host dad and uncle (mom's brother) showed up not too long after with a bottle of scotch whiskey, ice, Pringles, and a package of sausages. It was pretty funny. My host sisters and I heated up the hot dog sausages and they sat down at the table in the living room. They asked me to join them and hey, I decided I might as well. They also ordered fried chicken and we made it a family event. We all sat around and ate fried chicken, Pringles, and sausages. Later that night, as my uncle got more drunk, he started telling me about how much he doesn't like Japanese people because of Dokdo Island. It's an island that Japan and Korea disputes over. My uncle is quite a character and his English is almost nonexistent but he sure is good at gesturing. My other uncle also showed up but I only talked to him for a little bit. The second uncle's English is really good. I think he's a BA since he had this huge tattoo on his arm. Overall, I build some 정 with my host dad and uncles.
One would think Sunday is the day for rest and church. Not so on this particular Sunday. I woke up at 6:45am so I could go play soccer with my host brother 동진, and his friends. We used a middle school field (not our schools) but got kicked off by an adult team and walked around looking for another field. We ended up at a tennis court where I was introduced to a soccer-volleyball mix game. It's soccer in that you can only use your head and feet to hit the ball but the goal is to hit the ball over the net. It's... interesting and I'm really bad at it. It got really outside very quickly and I feel like I got super tan from just being out in the sun. It was cool walking around my 동준 and his friends and it helped me get a better sense of what's nearby the apartment. I saw even more shopping streets (that cars don't drive through) which made me pretty stoked. It's good to know there are places to buy things.
So I'm thinking my family is a homebody family since they never seem to leave the house. After soccer, I lounged around the apartment with the family and Skyped with my real mom and some other friends. Around 1:45pm, I left my family to meet up with Tracey to go to an English service at a church. Her family had found one for her so we were going to go together. We took a really roundabout way to get there since we weren't exactly sure where we were going, to be frank. It was really good to see her and spend more time with her though. As much as I want to say the church service and fellowship were good, I can't really sad that. I'm not sure the speaker's message rang completely true and his English was also a bit harder to understand for my ears. So after the service, Tracey and I hung around in the back to get a drink and some people greeted us. There was some small talk that occurred but what really struck me was the fact that a girl we met wanted to give me her number to hang out. Another guy who's English is not that good, wanted us to play soccer for him on the all-girls' team he was putting together. To be polite, I took her number and her Kakao Talk ID was automatically added to my account. She contacted me later that night asking for my number. A few hours after that, the guy called me and wanted to talk to me about soccer practice. Talk about moving fast. I politely declined and then he tried to kakao talk with me... it was interesting.
I got home around 4:30pm and my host mom said that we would go grocery shopping in a few hours. My host brother was napping when I got back home. I only mention this because he didn't wake up until Monday morning... he pretty much hibernated for over 13 hours... To kill time, I watched "Lockout" with my sisters. Like I said, my family members are homebodies. We went to EMart around 7pm and picked up some groceries. I would say that EMart is the Walmart equivalent of Korea; there were a lot of families there doing their grocery shopping. Afterwards, we went out to a restaurant behind the apartment to eat samgyeopsal 삼겹살.
My first weekend in Mokpo has been really relaxing. I really like my host family but I'm just trying to get used to my school now.
There's not that much left to say except for the fact that a lot of students are always looking through the window at me. They have to tippy toe in order to see me though since there's a layer of fogged window so I always notice when they're trying to stare at me. I think there's less excitement since I'm Asian though.
Last, but DEFINITELY not least, I present my homestay family...