One week down!

As we stepped out of the airport we were greeted with signs “Welcome to Korea Samantha an Peter!”. Yay we made it!!  Our recruiter who was waiting for us was this tiny little 5 foot nothing Korean lady, sporting the most amazing 3 inch leopard heels. I was in love with Korea already! Pete and I towered over her, and almost everyone else in our passing. People were not joking when they told us to bring a lot of our own clothes because Canadians are on average a “bit“ bigger then Koreans. I only hoped they had those shoes in my size!! We were quickly whisked off to the train station to embark on the final leg of our journey, a simple 2 hour train ride to Ulsan.  We were handed the train ticket and seeing it entirely in Korean i started to panic a little, not having much energy the only word that crossed my mind was “ummmmm“. Luckily the train had english announcements so getting off at the right stop wasn’t as terrifying as we thought it would be.

So after about 30 hours in transit with zero sleep, laying down and closing our eyes was the only thing on our mind. But sleep we did not. We woke up at about 4 am, very disoriented and confused. Was it 4 pm or 4am? Why was it so dark? What day is it even!?   I tossed back and forth for awhile hopping that I would fall back asleep, but alas I was defeated by the 13 hour time difference and my body insisting that is was 3 pm and that I had drastically over slept. So began our first day in South Korea.

That night we went out to dinner with our directors, David and Antonio, David’s family, and the current western teacher, Alex. Being our first official Korean meal i was very excited to see what there was in terms of vegetarian options (soon you will realize the meaning behind the name of my blog). We went to a traditional Korean noodle house where you take your shoes off at the door and sit on little mats.  Everyone had a good laugh at Pete. Easily the biggest guy in all of Ulsan, trying to sit comfortable at these little tables was near impossible for him.  We were fed kimchi (for those of you who do not know what kimchi is, it is the most widely eaten Korean side dish.  It is spicy pickled cabbage that is left to ferment for days to even years!… it can get pretty smelly), kal-gook-soo (probably not spelled right but that is how you pronounce it) which is thick noodles in a hot milky sauce with dried seaweed on top, and kimchi dumplings (pretty self explanatory; dumplings filled with kimchi, veggies and some other grains). We ate and drank bowls of Makgeolli (a sweet Korean alcohol that is made from rice) until we could not possibly fit another grain of rice in our bellies. Everything was very delicious and I was very grateful to have had such an amazing first day in Korea!

On Monday, day two of Korea, we met our directors for lunch at this one restaurant right next to the school i was to teach at.  The shop owner spoke perfect English and was overjoyed when we told him we were from the Toronto area. He knew a lot about Toronto and Canada in general, seeing as though his daughter is currently studying nursing in Toronto.  He was very friendly and no problem making me a vegetarian version of Gimbap (literal translation is seaweed rice, but it is more like a Korean version of sushi filled with pickeled radishes, long mushrooms, tofu, and egg). Little did i know at the time,  this item soon became one of the only non-noodle dishes i regularly ate. Our directors went over our itinerary for the week, Tuesday pictures for our alien cards, Wednesday we had to go in for a examination to make sure we were healthy,  and every day class at 1:30. Sounds easy enough! Except by “everyday “class at 1:30, they meant today too….

So at 1:30 precisely my new name became `Samantha teacher` and my English vocabulary from grade 2 began to resurface.  For most of my day i work one-on-one with the director`s son, MuBon and then teach 4 or 5 classes on top of that.  The classes ranged from 7 to 14 year old, with varying degrees of English skill. I found my brain instinctively wanting to switch to French because whenever i had to speak in basic foreign language  before it was always french. But seeing as though they barley spoke English, French was not going to help me in this situation.  The beginner classes sat there extremely quiet and listened to me talk.  “Wow! what good behaved kids“ i thought… it soon dawned on me they had absolutely no clue what i was saying. For the rest of the day i racked my brain trying to find the most simple English words to use, and even then they sometimes didn`t quite understand. Thank goodness for Google, my artistic ability, and electronic pocket dictionaries every Korean kid seems to have.   MuBon on the other hand is exceptionally good at English, having had a Western teacher work closely with him from a very young age. He is 5 in Canadian years and 6 in Korean but his English vocabulary, reading skills and knowledge far passes any 5 year old i have ever met.  He spent most of the first day showing me all the books he has made and all his art projects and he talked about everything with such enthusiasm it inspired me to teach him more. Why can`t all the kids be like this! The day quickly ended and the rest of the week went similarly with Wednesday only being the change in routine.

We were picked up bright and early on Wednesday to go to the hospital and have our healthy check done.  I hadn`t really thought too much about it, how much could they really check? I would soon regret asking that question. After they took our height and weight, did an eye test, took 2 vials of blood, 4 tubed of pee, a chest x-ray, a hearing test (where apon i acted out ear surgery to explain my hearing problem to the non-English audiologist), a dental check up, an EKG test, and a final screening with a doctor…. they were satisfied, and i was terrified.  How could you do all those tests and not find something wrong!? On top of all this, the cost of doing these tests was not covered in our contract so we had to shell out 100 000 won each (about 100 Canadian)  of our already very small budget to pay for everything.  Although, to think about it, paying $100 isn`t a lot of money for all those tests, I feel like if you were in the US with no coverage you would pay close to 10x that price just for a urine test.  But i feel as though they were 20 000 won away from putting us under anesthetic and doing exploratory surgery.

Overall our first full week in Korea was rather busy.  But there is no better way to adapt then to be thrown knee deep into the culture and all it has to offer! Over the week we began to pick up many Korean customs which i will gladly share with you (who knows maybe you`ll find your way to Korea one of these days)!

1. You always take your shoes off before entering a Korean house.  Our apartment actually has a shoe room that you first enter as you step into the door. Easily the worst smelling room, but having a ceiling high closet with endless shelves to put my shoes has easily made me the happiest girl in the world! My only regret is not bringing more shoes….

2. You never pour your own drink. There is a Korean saying that if you pour your own drink you will not get married for 5 years. Even if you are already married, it is still customary for someone else to pour your drink.  This is a blessing and a curse all at the same time, because if your drink is empty it will ALWAYS be filled up, regardless if you want it to be.  I find you drink a lot more when you cup is constantly full, and especially when makgeolli is so sweet and delicious!

3. You always do things with two hands.  You pour a drink with two hands, you receive a drink with two hands, you give out paper with two hands, you get change from the grocery store with two hands, you receive and give almost everything with two hands. Even if you are reaching and can only reach with one hand, you place your other hand on your elbow or your shoulder. My left hand has never worked so hard in its life!

4. Bowing is a huge part of the Korean (and i think Asian) culture.  I first read that is was rude for western people to bow to Korean people but soon realized that this wasn`t exactly the case.  When someone wants to say hello, or goodbye or even thank you with respect there is always a bow.  It can be a full bend at the hips bow, or an informal bow of the head.  I find myself bowing many times a day when parents walk in and out of the school.

5.  Drinking! My favorite Korean custom! Drinking is a huge part of the culture.  To share a drink with your boss (and by “a drink“ i really mean 4 or 5) is a sign of a happy work relationship.  We learnt this on the first day of being in Ulsan, at first i was very abrehensive about drinking makgeolli in-front of David, but watching Alex (the other western teacher) and him fully enjoy many bowls i caught on quickly.  Pete now even has a open invitation to do out drinking beer with David after school.

That pretty much sums up my adventures and experiences of my first week living and working in South Korea.  As the weeks go on I feel more and more at home in Ulsan, and i cannot wait to see what else this country has to offer! One week down sooo many more to go!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cort
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 06:11:20

    i love your blog sammie… xo

    Reply

  2. Mom
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 14:47:50

    Luv your blog…the food sounds great…and the makgeolli too…wow the health exam was thorough ..and 100.00 can’t beat that ..but the Leopard shoes..good luck finding them..do they have size 8 or 81/2 lol…With all the Korean language ..I’m sure you have picked up alot ot the langauge by now..hope its not too hard…Keep it coming luv to read your daily adventures…luv mom xo

    Reply

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