Just over 2 weeks since I’ve landed in the beautiful country of South Korea. Time has flown by, but the plane ride seems so far from here. Even though I’ve only been here for two weeks, so much has happened during this time, that I can’t help but be overly excited for what the rest of this year will bring. Let’s break down these past 2 weeks, shall we?
Feels like ages ago. After packing, unpacking, and repeating this process several times, me, my 70 pound and 50 pound suitcase were off to the airport. *Cue standard airport check in routine, with a nice little overweight baggage charge on top* (I deserved it). This was proceeded by one last Canadian “meal”: a bagel B.E.L.T from Timmies and an iced cap. Savouring every last bite and enjoying the rest of my time with my parents before I made the big flight. Big shout out to my parents for being so supportive and excited for me and my new adventure, and holding it together until after I left.
It definitely felt strange going through security and waiting at the gate by myself. I use the term strange loosely, as it was the best type of strange you could possibly feel. Independence. Freedom. Adventure. Once they called my row to board the plane, I had that oh my god I’m actually doing this moment.
The flight from Ottawa to Toronto was short and sweet, and I had a whole row to myself! (If only this was the 16 hour flight, and not the 45 minute one). Upon arriving at the Toronto airport, I made my way to Terminal 3 and passed TWO David’s Tea stores. It took every ounce of restraint I had not to go in, especially since I didn’t pack any David’s Tea with me, but I knew I should probably go catch my plane. Once I got to the gate, I managed to meet up with a fellow teacher also participating in the same orientation as me. As it was both of our first times teaching in Korea, this was very comforting.
Korean Air was very impressive! Each seat had a little care package waiting for us. Included was a blanket, pillow, slippers, mini toothbrush and toothpaste and headphones. (I later found out we weren’t allowed to take the big soft purple blanket off the plane. Disappointment.) I watched 22 Jump Street and The Fault in Our Stars on the plane. All I have to say is thank goodness I was watching The Fault In Our Stars when they had the lights dimmed on the plane. Talk about TEARS. Can’t say I’m surprised, since everyone warned me I would ball my eyes out. Whewwwww. Oh, and the meals were great!
Once we landed, we were greeted by a lovely representative from the agency that had been helping us through this whole process. She was able to tell us how to take the bus from the airport to the hotel, and answer any questions we had. Once another teacher’s flight got in, the three of us made our way to the bus and were en route to Gwangju. The 4 hour bus ride was probably the most tiresome part of the trip, as we were all pretty exhausted by this point. Once our bus got to the terminal, we took a cab to our hotel. I had the best shower, met my new (and awesome) roommate for the next 10 days, and was off for a deep slumber.
Orientation was an excellent way to start this adventure. It definitely helped ease the transition of entering a new country and culture, and was a great way to meet other people in the same boat. The 26 of us Native English Teachers were all from different parts of the world; The United States, England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and of course, Canada. It was so great meeting people from all over. Although we were all Native English Speakers, there were many differences (and similarities) between us (other than the accents). This made for interesting conversation, and I think by mid-week I had developed a combination accent (or using lingo) from all of our home countries. This was also confirmed and supported by others. Geez, I still sounds like a Psyc major.
For the 8 full days of orientation, the 26 of us were put up in a nice hotel, where we were fed 3 full meals a day (for free!). Talk about luxury. After our Western/Korean fusion breakfast, our “work” day officially commenced. From 9-5 we participated in different lectures and presentations, ranging from from teaching practices, games, and all aspects of Korean culture. Learning about the culture was by far my favourite part. We learned about social customs (bowing, pouring, etc.), Korea’s unique history, the written language, Korean traditional music and even K-Pop! We also participated in a traditional Korean wedding wearing Hanboks and had a cooking class, where we made dalk bokkeum tang, and the vegetarians made kimbap.
View from breakfast every morning (6th floor, Shin Yan Park Hotel)
Dalk Bokkeum Tang
Since our days technically ended at 5 o’clock, we were free to do as we pleased during the evening. Our first full day there, we went for a hike on Mudeungsan Mountain, which was right behind our hotel. It was absolutely gorgeous, and an excellent way to end our first day of training.
Another one of these nights consisted of purchasing Hite (a Korean beer) and Makkoli (Korean rice wine) from a Mini-Stop and drinking it on the steps of a street corner (such classy foreigners, I know). But hey, when in Korea…..drink in the streets cause they don’t legally enforce it. Just kidding. This is literally the opposite of what they told us to do in orientation, but ya know, life happens. This was proceeded by barhopping to approximately who knows how many bars (3 or 4 maybe?), with a stop at norebang for some good ol’ karaoke.
Although Halloween is still not as popular in South Korea as it is in other countries, us foreigners still managed to scrounge a costume together (and actually look quite decent). After a pre-drink involving large quantities of soju (Korean rice vodka- a bottle is cheaper than Coca-Cola) and Korean beer, we made our way to our first stop of the evening, the First Alleyway, where drinking games ensued. Shortly after, we made our way to German Bar- one of the more popular foreigner bars in town. The night ended with a treacherous hunt for pizza. Since all of the restaurants/street food had closed by then, we settled for a microwavable pizza for the 7-11. Gross? Absolutely. But this definitely payed off in the morning, where I was virtually hangover free. A great way to start our field trip the next day!
The morning of the field trip was spent at a traditional Korean music centre, where we learned Arirang, a Korean folk song on the traditional Korean drums. Just next door, was an intangible cultural heritage museum that we also visited. After a nice hearty Korean lunch in the middle of nowhere, we made our way to the Damyang Bamboo Forest. Wandering around the forest in the fresh air was quite refreshing. Or maybe that was the bamboo ice cream that was purchased……Well, either way it was very enjoyable!
Spotted: mass amounts of Korean hikers decked out in their extensive hiking gear wanting to get a picture with the foreigners and lots of stylish babies everywhere.
The last night of orientation came to a close with one final group trip to the norebang- always a good time. The next morning was the big day. The day that we make our way out of the foreigner bubble, and into the real world. We had a closing ceremony with all the co-teachers and supervisors. One by one, we had to get up and say our name, where we are from, what school we’re teaching at, and nice to meet you, all in Korean. It was a little nerve wracking beforehand, but I think it went well. After, I was greeted by my lovely co-teacher, who has been such a great help so far. I would definitely be a little lost without her guidance! And just like that, we were off to Mokpo, my home for the next year.