Back to the Basics in South Korea

16 Dec

I am writing from the teacher’s work area of my new “home” in South Korea.  If you’ve been following my journey you know that I have now landed at an “English Village” created by the Korean government as a place for Korean children, adults and families to visit and have a hands on learning experience in speaking English.  I have been here since Thursday evening.  So far, so good.

After some delay en route to Korea, my twelve-hour sojourn over the Pacific Ocean went fairly smoothly.  I received a seat upgrade as compensation for my delayed flight and enjoyed some extra leg room and a non-packed flight as I made my way to South Korea.  Me (and my luggage!) happily landed around 5pm South Korea time.  After going through immigration and baggage claim, I was grateful to see my name written on a sign in the hands of a Korean taxi driver.

Admittedly a little nervous at arriving in a new country, I appreciated the gentle but firm squeeze the Taxi driver gave my hand as a silent welcome to Korea.  He loaded me up in his taxi and we were speedily on our way.  After driving about an hour away from Seoul, I arrived at the Gyeonggi English Village (GEV) in Paju City, South Korea.

I was quickly greeted by a staff member and led to my new room.  After a few delays (the heater wasn’t working in my assigned room and I had to relocate down the hall) I began to settle into my new “home”. One of the “perks” of my new job is that all staff are provided with their own apartment.  Granted for entry-level teachers like me, it is quite a small apartment, lovingly referred to as “the matchbox” and less loving names, but after a year and a half of traveling and communal living it is nice for me to have a bit of my own space.

The biggest adjustment so far, which is not so much cultural as geographical, is the cold weather.  Brrrr!  I am grateful for my long down coat to help keep me warm.  After my first day of freezing weather, rain, and ice-lined streets it was a relief to travel to the local store to purchase an electric heater and a pair of boots.  Both wise investments.

I have found the people and the staff at GEV to be kind and welcoming.  With a culture where most teachers are here for a one year contract it seems that hardly anyone has forgotten what it was like to be a newcomer here.  While I have met teachers who have been here for four or five years, many of the teachers are here for a one year contract and after 6 months seem like a seasoned teacher here.

Many of the administrative staff are Korean and of course the general student population is Korean as well.  The GEV is created as a place where 7th and 8th grade students come and live for a week of intensive and fun experiences in the English language.  There are other programs as well that I am slowly coming to know including weekend workshops, one day workshops as well as a month-long stay and other special programs.

Tomorrow will begin my first full week of work.  I will be working Monday through Friday from 9am – 6pm.  My first week I shadow other teachers and just watch, listen and learn.  The second week I am a co-teacher but still in learning mode.  And after that I believe I am still a co-teacher for a few more weeks before I am let loose to teach on my own.  I am glad for the adjustment phase easing into the experience of being a teacher here.  Generally I find folks are pretty pleased with working here and while they note frustrations or shortcomings, it seems generally staff think this is a good place to be.

And so it is 6:00 pm my time and I am finding that sleep is already wanting to pull me under.  My body clock has not yet adjusted to being on Seoul and my sleep is not yet on a regular pattern.  I have spent most of my time so far tending to the basics… learning where to buy food and beginning to stock my kitchen and talking to other teachers and learning the road and the ways of how to take care of my basic needs while I am here.

When shopping I have found that many of the fruits, meats and vegetables are not recognizable to me.  And nearly everything is written in Korean.  I have found a few Korean people who speak English when out shopping, but I am told that many Koreans are shy about speaking English.

But all in all, the learning curve is going well.  I feel generally good and at ease here and am allowing myself to get my feet wet one step at a time, one day at a time.

My Indiegogo campaign “Gypsy Woman goes to South Korea” continues through December 24, 2012.  Funds raised will help support me during this time of transition – the gap between now and when I receive my first paycheck at the GEV.  Any contribution is greatly appreciated!  You can view my campaign at www.indiegogo.com/southkorea.

Thanks to everyone for their support so far!  I would love to hear from you!  Feel free to write and say hello!

Photo above is a quick snapshot of  the “City Hall” building in my new home, a mock English Village nestled in the lands of South Korea about an hour outside of Seoul.

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