A mere 72 hours after my arrival, I found myself barreling down a windy mountain path on the way back to the Daegu Gyengbuk English Village, clutching my armrest with the ferocity of a Vulcan death grip. Just having completed an emotionally exhausting trip to the medical facilities in Chilgok (the town closest to our campus), where the new arrivals (myself and five other fellow teachers) were poked and prodded as we were ushered through various stations to assess our health and vitality, I was oddly disconnected from my surroundings. All of us seemed to be in a state of delirious euphoria, certainly enhanced by jetlag and exhaustion, laughing madly as we jostled around inside the cramped van. It was surreal. Our guide for the day, a Korean college student who adopted the English name Messi (after soccer player Lionel Messi), looked back at us quizzically from his vantage point in the front seat. In response to our nervous laughing, Messi tried to reassure us that a fiery crash wasn’t looming in our future. “Trust, and enjoy!” As I sit here trying to process the past six days, that sounds like damn good advice.
My first, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” moment hit me when I boarded my flight from Chicago that would take us on a fourteen-hour odyssey to Seoul. Dragging my carry on behind me as I made my way to my seat, I stopped for a second to let an older man put his luggage away. During my momentary pause, I found myself pummeled by a barrage of tiny, yet furiously insistent, punches: a much older Korean woman was clearly not happy with my efforts at social delicacy. In Korea, respect comes with age, and in terms of status, both are the name of the game. Older woman are very high on the totem pole. Whether it’s the last seat on the subway or a fleeting, almost illusory gap in a supermarket line demanding to be filled, many older woman women will adopt selective tunnel vision and force their way through any unfortunate bystanders; either you get run over or you get the hell out of their way.
Okay, enough anecdotes. Let’s talk about where I’m living and working! I was hired at the Daegu Gyeongbuk English Village, right outside of Chilgok-goon and 30 minutes from Daegu, the third largest city in South Korea. If any of you lovely people feel like sending me something over the next year, you can mail me at:
744, Yeonhwa-ri, Jichun-meon, Chilgok-goon,
Gyeongbuk Province, 718-821, South Korea
So here’s how the village works: from Monday through Friday our campus is teeming with masses of kids, mostly 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who comprise what is known as our 5 day/4 night program. Completely separate from their normal private or public school education, these kids take a week off to immerse themselves in both academic courses and interactive situational classes. The atmosphere radiates “sleep-away camp” more than anything, and the kids treat it as an English language-themed vacation. Apart from being allowed to create and teach academic courses in anything from percussion to cooking (I’m considering an intro-to-film type course), the main focus is the situational classes, which include Restaurant, Post-Office, Police Station, and Video Store, along with a bunch of others.
The majority of the week consisted of staving off jet lag and yawning through new teacher orientation, where we got a tour of the campus, some quick-and-dirty teacher training, and the opportunity to observe different kinds of classes. There were a few bureaucratic hoops that we had to jump through, such as the previously mentioned medical examination at the hospital (being ordered around a hospital room in a foreign language is just as intimidating as it sounds) and a trip to the immigration office, which made for a very tiring week. Even with how awesome and exciting this whole experience has been so far (the campus tour, for instance, left me with a feeling of whimsy and utter contentedness at how gorgeous the village is), there’s definitely some uneasiness and anxiety that comes from culture shock hitting you in the face with the delicacy and grace of a cinder block.
That being said, this weekend was absolutely incredible and provided a taste of the kind of adventures that I can expect over the next twelve months. In the past 48 hours, I’ve:
-Eaten wings and beer with our Korean driver after his adorably persistent invitation (“Chicken? Beer? Possibly?” repeat five times in the course of an hour)
-Gotten to know a bunch of my fellow teachers over drinks and pool at an ex-pat bar in Daegu
-Had shabu shabu in downtown Daegu (a Japanese hot-pot where you cook meat and vegetables at your own table)
-Walked through the controlled chaos of downtown Daegu while reveling in the experience of sensory overload
-Had vegetable bibimbap (a signature Korean dish of rice, meat and assorted vegetables) at an authentic Korean restaurant, sitting cross legged on the floor
-Navigated the campus shuttle, subway system and ridden a train
Needless to say, I’m absolutely wiped but am so so stoked to be here. Tomorrow is my first day of teaching (in the Police Situational classroom), a challenge I’m meeting with a excitement and a dash of nervousness, but I can’t wait to get in the swing of things. More to come!