Monday, August 31, 2009

Settling in Seoul

You think that during my first day of class I would not have time to sit down and write this letter, but fortunately, I do. I am in the middle of a second round of quarantine. Although my contract has started and I do have to go to school, I am not allowed to teach any lessons until next week. This is to ensure that I do not infect my 700 students. That’s right, I have to teach 700 students! This is the first and second grade at my middle school, which is in the nice neighborhood of Seochu-gu. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Orientation was a mixture of fun and boredom. Since we were in quarantine, we were not allowed to leave campus. Of course, this also meant that we were forced to network, and before I knew it I had a solid group of both people from Thailand as well as new students. The rooms were nice, and the beds were comfortable. The classes were very useful at times and gave us resources toward becoming better teachers. We enjoyed watching some amazing tae-kwon-do fighters, drinking coffee every morning as an escape from the dorm, watching The Hangover in a lecture room, and looking out over the city we could not enter from the roof of our building. My favorite part was after the tae-kwon-do, when a group of us went to see the school’s production of The Sound of Music. It was put on by the English society, so we expected it to be just a showing of the musical. Instead we were treated to a live performance of the play in English, with the Korean actors laughing at themselves throughout. We only made it to the last ten minutes, but it was still a great experience. Afterward, they asked if there were any native speakers and when we responded in the positive they apologized profusely for their ‘poor’ English, even though they did a great job. They ended up giving us towels for coming… really random, but really awesome. I also enjoyed the one Korean lesson I went to. I really need to start working on this language. :-D
Of course, there were various negatives of the orientation as well. Some of the lectures were entirely dull, people asked some of the worst questions I’ve ever heard in my life (such as should I go to the doctor if I’m really sick, or still go to school), the food got a little boring after a while, and the organization was a little off. Nonetheless, in its entirety I would have to say that I learned valuable things and am excited to start teaching next week.
On Saturday morning, we packed up our bags, had a wonderfully catered farewell meal (with raw mussels, great seafood, wonderful Korean food… why couldn’t all of the meals been like this?), said our goodbyes, and headed to our respective districts. I somehow got the luck of the draw. When they announced I was in Seochu-gu Friday evening, I was a little awestruck. It was right near one of the major downtown areas and would be a wonderful place to live. Some of my friends were quite a distance, but with the metro, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. When my co-teacher picked me up on Saturday and brought me to my apartment, however, I was ecstatic. Somehow I landed in Gangnam-gu, on the south side of the river Han right in the most bustling younger crowd area. I would say it is comparable to having an apartment in Time Square. Sure, it isn’t too big, but who cares? I have the world right at my feet. Of course, this is a little dangerous in terms of economizing, but I think I’ll be able to figure it out. I was worried about coffee when I first arrived in Asia, but now I have 15 coffee places in a five minute radius. Yum.
My co-teacher brought me to the school Saturday afternoon and I was pleasantly surprised. I have my own desk, and get to use the English room for all my classes. This must be the nicest room in the school, with computers, a good sound system, English books everywhere, and a newly renovated interior. The only problem is I can’t teach a lesson until Monday the 7th. Until then, I am stuck at my desk writing lesson plans and surfing the internet. I get paid though, so I can’t really complain. Saturday night all the kids of SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) met in Itaewon, which is the foreigner district of Seoul. It was a fun way to celebrate getting out of quarantine and seeing more of the city.
I spent Sunday getting settled in my apartment and buying things for my room. There is a very peculiar trash system here, which makes a lot of sense but will take some time getting used to. I was able to buy food and cook dinner for the first time in a month, which was fantastic. Even though my spaghetti Bolognese tasted REALLY Korean. I think I will have to get used to that.

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