Written on March 5, 2010
Well my first day in Korea is over and I feel completely overloaded. I just want to crash on my bed and just do nothing but I know I should write what I am feeling now.
After 24 or 25 hours of travel yesterday I was brought to my new apartment and within moments I had fears. When I came into the apartment the size was nice but as we turned on the lights I saw many things that I was told were not going to be there. There were pots and silverware in the kitchen and sheets on the bed along with pillows. At first this seemed great but the more I looked around the more things I saw that I didn’t feel any person moving out would leave behind. There was leftover food in plastic containers and a Brita water filter in the fridge; there were sandals by the door; there were books and picture frames on the shelves; there was a space heater by the bed; there was a vacuum in the closet; there was a toaster and blinder under the sink; there was soap and shampoo in the shower; there were pens, pencils, post-it notes, paper and other office supplies in the desk drawers; there was a painting on the wall; there were CDs on the shelf; and there was even a cell phone on the desk. The cell phone was the last straw. Right when I saw it all I could think was that someone already lived here. The person dropping me off, Ray, told me this was my apartment and not to worry but he could not explain why there were so many things in the apartment. Ray didn’t work for the school so I was struggling to believe he knew for sure what he was talking about but he kept reassuring me that this was my place and he was pretty sure no one else lived there. Now Ray and I were waiting for my co-teacher to come and meet us at the apartment. As we were waiting Ray told me that my co-teacher was also brand new to the school and this was his first semester too. My co-teacher finally showed up and introduced himself as George. While he and I chatted Ray talked with someone over the phone and told me that the previous English teacher who had lived there had moved back home to South Africa and she must have simply left all this stuff behind. Hearing that was very calming but I still couldn’t believe that a person had left so much behind.
Once I was finally sure that this was my place I felt I could start unpacking. The first thing I did was of course to go to the computer and try and plug it in and discover if I had any internet access. Well before I had even turned on the computer I found that the adapter I had purchased before I left, which was supposed to enable my American plugs to plug into the Korean outlets, didn’t quite work. By that I mean when I plugged in the adapter it seemed fine but then whenever I plugged my computer into it the adapter the plug would fall out of the socket, adapter and all. It was as if the prongs were just not long enough to stay in the wall and they would fall away any time something heavy (a plug) was placed in it. This did not bring me much joy. Besides the fact that I had spent almost thirty dollars on the adapter I just couldn’t imagine not having the ability to use my computer at all. I was still trying to make peace with the idea that I may not have internet for a while and now I was facing the possibility of no computer at all. I finally saw there was simply nothing I could do to change the adapter problem so I just turned on the computer to see about the internet. The battery life is only about four hours but I thought I could at least send out a few e-mails. I quickly found that there was no internet which I could steal from my neighbors. The few wireless signals I could pick up were all locked. Oh well, it was a long shot. In an effort to be more positive I tried unpacking my other things but I found it harder and harder to stay awake. It was almost 11 pm on Thursday night and I had traveled over 24 hours' worth or real time that day and was only able to get about an hour and a half of sleep on the plane. So after I hung up my shirts and pants I just ignored the rest and went to sleep.
I set an alarm for 7:30 am. George said he would pick me up at 8:30 am. I would have probably set the alarm for later but I did not have a hair dryer that would work so I knew after I showered I would need some time for my hair to dry. I admit I can see the practical advantage of having short hair but come on is it worth it? Not for me, my beauty is in my hair. I did get to sleep pretty fast but I woke up multiple times having all sorts of scary dreams about my first day in Korea. I eventually got up at 6:45am knowing I wasn’t going to fall asleep again. Part of my fear came from the fact that the only alarm I had was my I-Pod. I had never used it before and I had used the I-Pod so much during the trip in order to listen to music that its battery was fairly drained. Each time I woke up I would check to make sure I hadn’t over slept until finally I just got up. After I got up I went to the bathroom to get ready. Now there was no separate shower in the bathroom instead there was a detachable shower head that was attached to the sink and on the floor was a drain. Basically your bathroom is one big shower and everything you put in there can and likely will get wet. The water was warm enough but it was still a bit odd showering in front of a mirror. I mean I never realized how good I look in the shower but still it isn’t really something I wanted to see. I had been forewarned about how the bathrooms were set up but it was still odd for me. It has also made it difficult to unpack all my bathroom stuff since a lot of it is stuff I do not want to get wet.
George picked me up right at 8:30 and after about an hour of waiting my hair was just about dry. We drove to the school, which seemed relatively close to my apartment. Based on how long we were in the car it would probably be a 25 or 30 minute walk from my place. So that is certainly doable. As we walked into the school George stopped me and had me take off my shoes. There were shoe lockers for all the teachers and in them the teachers kept their slippers or sandals which they wore inside and then placed their outside shoes in the lockers during the day. Of course I did not have any sandals so George got me a pair for visitors. Unfortunately the largest pair of sandals they had was about half a shoe length to small for me. What that meant was that my heels where hanging of the back of them for the entire day, which did lead to some discomfort. Besides the minor pain I never realized how much colder the world is when you are walking around without shoes.
George and I went to our classroom. As I looked around the room everything I saw was labeled in English (door, window, desk, chair, etc) and I realized what our language classrooms look like to those who already know the language. But I enjoyed it in fact it was the only place I was the entire day where I could read the majority of the words around me. George and I were still talking when the bell rang and the kids started pouring into the classroom. Most of them entered talking, laughing and just being loud like all kids. But as each kid saw me they grew quiet and before you knew it every kid was at their desk staring at me and whispering to one another. Now whispering can be hard enough to understand when it is in English but once it was in Korean I had no chance. In fact I thought if the kids actually realized that I had no clue what they were saying they could just talk as loud as they wanted and I wouldn’t know what they were saying. Before I knew it I was in front of the class and trying to introduce myself. I told them my name and got them to repeat it a few times but as I was talking I knew that they didn’t understand most of what I was saying. So I asked them if they had any questions for me. In all the classes I was in that day the first question I was asked was whether I was a boy or a girl. Besides the humor of the question itself you could tell that it was a question every kid wanted to ask but only one or two of them were brave enough to raise their hand and ask it. I laughed out loud and even had them vote on who thought I was a girl versus a boy. More kids thought I was a girl, not a lot more but still more. I asked them why they thought I was a girl and it really was all about the hair. They said my hair was really long for a boy. As I said earlier my beauty is my hair. They were even more surprised when I told them that it used to be a lot longer and I had cut it before I came here so I would look more like a boy. After some more basic questions (how old am I; where am I from; what sports do I like, etc) we began the class. As we took roll each child came forward and introduced themselves to the class in English and told the class something they like to do, or their favorite subject in school, or their favorite food/color and then sat down. Many of the kids spoke so softly that I couldn’t hear anything they were saying. George explained to me that many of them were very shy especially now that I was there. With 35 kids in the class this exercise took quite a while. After that we began on various exercises. The classroom is very technologically advanced. Most of the lesson was done through multimedia exercises with pictures, songs and practice. I spent most of the class time just listening. Even though it was English class there was not a lot of English being spoken. As the kids did the exercise I was often used by George to read out loud so the kids could hear how I pronounced words. I would have them repeat a lot of what I was saying but that is really the closest I got to teaching. After about four hours of teaching we got to have lunch. I couldn’t tell you what the dish we had was called but it was good. Besides trying to use chopsticks the hardest thing for me about the meal was the fact that they did not have drinks with their food. They have small cups for tea or water after you eat. But the food was good so that made me happy. I was one for one with Korean food.
That afternoon George and I did not have any classes, it was a half day for the students but we still had to remain at the school until 4:30pm. But that was just fine with me because they gave me a desk with a computer and the computer was connected to the internet. It was a slow connection but it was still a connection. I think I hadn’t been online for around a day and a half but it felt like forever. My mailbox was stuffed with worthless junk mail and numerous notes from people wishing me well or wondering if I had arrived safely. First and foremost I sent an e-mail to my parents to let them know I was okay then I spent some time looking around at other stuff including my facebook page.
At 4:30 George and I left. He offered to take me to the store because I had told him about all the things I needed. He took me to a store called E-Mart and yes it was kind of like Wal-Mart. Basically it was like a super Wal-Mart except bigger. First I got a hair dryer which caused George to laugh and tell me my hair really was long. I also got some sandals that fit, an alarm clock and food. Grocery shopping was probably the worst part of the day. As George and I went through aisle after aisle I couldn’t find anything that looked familiar. There was almost nothing I was buying which I knew for sure what I was getting. Some things looked familiar based on their packaging but almost everything was in Korean and a majority of the food items are just things we don’t have in American grocery stores. I found myself hungry and surrounded by food products yet having no idea where the food I wanted was or if it was even there (most of it wasn’t). George was very helpful and while I was grateful that he was there I was embarrassed by my complete lack of knowledge and basic helplessness trying to buy groceries.
So George dropped me off I came into my new apartment and just sat down and stared at the wall for a while. I kept looking at the computer knowing I had to write about my day but having no desire to do it. I just felt drained. There is just so much information that I take for granted back home like being able to read the street signs or pull down menus on the computer or directions on the back of a pill box or just knowing how to throw away my garbage. In Korea you can only throw away your trash in government approved bags which are only sold at certain places and in certain sizes. You must separate all of your garbage. So food cannot be with paper, paper cannot be with plastic, plastic cannot be with glass and you end up with 4 or 5 different kinds of trash which you are only supposed to take outside on trash day. It is weird when you realize you don’t even know how to throw away garbage at the place your in. I’m just sitting here shaking. There are a lot of things I would love to have right now such as a diet coke or burrito or things I would like to do right now such as watch a hockey game or basketball game but those are things I can and will get used to not having. But I just don’t know if I will ever get used to my ignorance. The ignorance of having no idea what street you are on or what store you are looking at or even what someone looking right at you is saying. I know this is going to be some sort of life bettering experience but man I hate feeling this...well, this dumb.