Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mokpo Mafia and Seoul Creepers

I tried to wait a few days after Placement Ceremony so it could settle and I could clearly think about what I wanted to say.

So for the rest of this year after Orientation, I will be living and teaching in Mokpo. It is a city (more suburban) in South Jeolla Province, on the southwestern tip. I'm pretty much as far south and west as you can go. After doing some research and reading up on it, there were a few notable points: it is known as "Gangsta's Paradise" of Korea...I'm not lying--it's where the mafia live; it is known for having great seafood; it's a four hour ferry to Jeju Island; and Mokpo is where you go to eat live octopus while the tentacles squirm around in your mouth.

So Friday was kind of a blur because I was just anticipating the Placement Ceremony. It's an awkward set-up too; we had two lines split halfway at our numbers and we came through the doors on both sides of the auditorium. We stood in a horseshoe set-up for the entire hour until our names were called. When our name were called, we took a step forward, bowed, and then proceeded to walk toward these random urns. An OC at the urns then handed us a slip of paper with the name of our school and some random details and our name on a sticker. We put the sticker on a map of Korea to see where we will be placed in relation to the rest of the ETA class.
We were called up according to Province and the Provinces were announced in random order. When we walked across the stage and put our stickers on the map, we waited for the rest of the ETAs in our province to get called up. At that point we took a province picture and then proceeded to sit in the auditorium seats while the rest of the ETAs were called up one by one. This is all done in silence. It was a bit awkward, not going to lie.

So I was extremely anxious waiting for my name and it was even more heart-wrenching because there's Amy Liang, Amy Tseng, and me who all share the same name. Whenever I heard the name "Amy", I couldn't breathe for a second. When my name was called, I didn't even hear anything about my placement because I was just listening for my name. So I got placed in Mokpo teaching a co-ed Middle school. It's actually a Christian school and that will become more relevant later in my story. To be honest, I wasn't necessarily happy at first because it just wasn't what I was really expecting. When I had filled in my placement form, I had three requests: 1. To be close to a Hana Wellness center so I can work with NK Defectors (there are 8 of them, all in cities around SK); 2. To be in an urban city; 3. To be inland. Mokpo is 50 minutes from the closest Hana Wellness center, a suburban area (a small one too), and literally on the coast. I think I could have understood that not everyone can get everything they want but one of the OCs had said earlier during the rehearsal that the OCT felt confident everyone got at least one thing they had asked for and would be satisfied with their placement. I felt like that was completely inaccurate because I didn't get anything I asked for. So I tried to think positively about it and it helped that there are tons of other ETAs who are nearby. There are seven ETAs within Mokpo and many ETAs around us; a few in Nanju (about 20 minutes away) and a few in Gwangju (about 50 minutes away). Mrs. Shim gave a short speech after we had all sat down but I honestly can't remember much of what she said since I was in my own world. I do remember her asking if we were all happy though. She also told us to tell her if we were unhappy with our placements. It was a bit awkward because honestly, no one would do that even if they were unhappy.

I was trying to stay positive and didn't want to be that ETA who threw a tantrum but I was honestly a bit confused about my placement and not necessarily thrilled. I KNOW that in a few months I'll probably be extremely happy with how everything turned out. I do believe that God has placed me there for a reason but at the time of, at that very moment, I wasn't necessarily happy. As Placement Ceremony calls for a celebration, most, if not all, of the ETAs and the OCs went out that night. Even the Korean language teachers joined us! That was fun.

There is a side note though. Some of the ETAs went to Lotteria to get ice cream before going to B&B. I was talking to Courtney who was also confused about her placement. She mentioned she had talked to one of the OCs and had asked about why she was placed there. Courtney felt pretty satisfied with the answer she got and encouraged me to ask the OCs about my placement. So I did. At B&B, I saw the OCs and asked one of them about my placement. This OC told me to talk to the head OC. That's when I knew something was up.

So to make a long story short and to keep everything positive in this blog, the school I will be teaching at requested an Asian female Christian. Apparently I will be teaching about 12 hours at my school and a few supplementary hours at a church. I didn't get any of my preferences because I fit that criteria. While there were many other ETAs who also fit that criteria, I was chosen for it.

I'm not going to lie--I did feel like crap on Friday night after hearing that. I was more upset about the reason behind the placement than the placement itself. If I'm honest, I felt (and still feel) that I'm being biased against because of the fact that I'm Asian, a female, and a Christian. I hate to use this phrasing but it almost feels like I'm being punished for going to Bible Study. I can't hide the fact that I'm an Asian female but the reason the OCs know I'm a Christian is because I go to Bible Study. I don't think it was fair of them to use that. Plus, how is it fair that they overlook my preferences while granting others (who are Asian female Christians) their preferences.

While that part sucked, I did have a good time at B&B with the ETAs and the teachers. I made myself. I did want to walk back to Jungwon by myself though. I needed the time to clear my head and talk to God. It was a long walk. It involved a lot of yelling, explanation, and well... crying. Yeah, I cried. I blame the alcohol. By the end of the night though, I made myself promise that I would be positive about Mokpo and the overall situation starting Saturday morning. So here I am, trying to be positive.

I do want to make it very clearly known that I am WELL aware of the fact that I will end up loving Mokpo (at least that's what I'm assuming will happen with a 99% likelihood). Given some time there, I will learn to love what it has to offer and everything about it. But on Friday, I was not happy and I wasn't going to pretend I was, especially after hearing about the reasoning behind my placement.

Saturday Staying out late on Friday was a bad idea, even if it was necessary. It was Camp Fulbright closing ceremony and I signed up to work the 8:30-9:30am shift. I literally woke up at 8:20am and scrambled out of my door to make it on time. There actually wasn't too much for us to do other than fold programs and hand them out. There weren't that many parents that even showed up... on time at least. It was supposed to start at 9am but it didn't get underway until 9:20am since there was only about 10 parents MAXIMUM in the auditorium. There were about 100 students at Camp Fulbright and assuming that each student brings at least one parent.... well you can do the math.

Apparently it's pretty common for Koreans to show up late to stuff and I've heard that even at weddings, they talk on the phone during the ceremony. It's interesting to say the least. So after my shift ended, I packed for Seoul and Cheonan and we left Jungwon around 10:40am to catch the 10:55am bus to Seoul. We were going in different groups at different times. We were the first group and it was Jet, Cameron, Stephanie, Payal, Hilary, and me.

We got into Seoul around 1pm and it was... busy. I can definitely see how Seoul is the biggest city and how it's like New York. No one in our group is a fluent Korean speaker so we had a bit of trouble at first. And then randomly, out of NOWHERE, we found Ming Yun (Erica) on the street. She's a Jungwon University student who's in GLEE. From there, things got easy. We got onto the subway and headed to Hongdae. That's apparently where the nightlife is and where our hostel was (Pencil Hostel, which actually was pretty nice). We ate lunch in Hongdae at The Joe, a burger place. It was super expensive but so worth it. I haven't had a burger and fries in such a long time, it was needed. We walked around and shopped a bit after until the second group arrived. Then we headed to the hostel, which was only a 15 minute walk from the main area we were hanging out in.

We hung out for a bit in our room at the Pencil Hostel (we rented the entire second floor room since there was 17 of us) and then broke into different groups. The boys wanted to get haircuts; I wanted to go shopping with a few of the girls; some wanted to just chill in the Hostel. Erica, Payal, Hilary, Stephanie, and I went to Idae to buy some stuff. Hae Jun actually came to meet us at 7pm which was awesome because I haven't seen that girl since graduation. We met up with the boys randomly on the street when we went back to Hongdae and all went to dinner together. After that, the girls went to get papingsu and canmore. It was so delicious.

We were the second group to get back to the hostel but our group started to trickle in. People spent time getting ready and we didn't actually go out until midnight. We walked back into the main nightlife area of Hongdae only to realize that some people forgot their IDs. They went back while we waited and hung out and waited at one bar/club for them. The nightlife in Seoul is so alive and there are so many foreigners EVERYWHERE. We tried to go as a group of 17 of us but so many people is hard to manage. We ended up breaking up into two groups since Drake (one of the Jungwon University students) wasn't able to get into one of the clubs. I was a part of the group that stayed with Drake. After we hung out for a bit, we then split into two groups. The four of us (Stephanie, Payal, Hilary, and I) walked back toward our hostel. When we were fairly close to Pencil Hostel, Payal and I noticed there were two guys following us. We decided to turn into GS25, a convenience store instead of heading back. They were pacing outside waiting for us. We then made a game plan to go back toward downtown and find Cameron and Drake to walk back with us. While I honestly don't think I'm a "weak girl", it is true that being in a presence of a man automatically makes it safer in the sense that you're less likely to be followed home. The two followers followed us halfway back into town and then we didn't see them anymore. It was for sure that they were following us. Oh I definitely had a great first impression of Seoul. We did find Cameron and Drake and we collectively walked back. It was about 4:20am when we ended up sleeping. And funny enough, it was still alive in the city without us.

I think Seoul is cool enough but I still don't get the whole obsession with it. I have never heard anyone say they don't like Seoul; I only hear raving reviews about how much there is to do and how great it is. After being there, and seeing the daylife and nightlife, I can agree that it's nice and it's a city but I'm lost on the greatness of it. It's definitely hipster and trendy though. I saw so many fashionable people and lots of foreigners. I guess there is a "Seoul-feeling" about the city. I'll give it that much.

Seven of us signed up for an excursion to Cheonan with two of the OCs to learn a K-pop dance choreography by a pretty famous/popular choreographer. We were going to learn the beginning of "Only One" by Boa. We had to leave the Hostel for Seoul station around 11am to make it to Cheonan by 1pm-ish. The Korean Train Express (KTX) is a pretty cool concept and I can see why after taking it. It's pretty fast and direct.

We were split into two groups for the choreography and the studio is only a few blocks from a mall so we spent some time shopping before our choreography lesson. The K-pop lesson went extremely fast. The instructor was trying to teach us a lot of choreography in one hour so it moved at lightning speed. He lost me towards the end but it was overall pretty good. I'll just need to practice it. The plan was to leave at 6pm but groups of us left earlier since we wanted to head back to Jungwon.

Overall, it was a good weekend. I'm finding myself more content and okay with being in Mokpo. I know it'll be a good experience and God put me there for a reason. I have been blessed and it is an amazing opportunity. When I think about it, I know I'm spoiled. I'm on a Fulbright scholarship and I'm complaining about my placement? It will be fine. And if I keep telling myself that, I know it will.

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