The last few days have been hectic to say the least. Orientation seemed to finish in a strange blur. The penultimate day a friend of mine got sent home for failing the drugs test even though she swore it was from passive smoking in her home town where weed is legal. Then a group of people were told there was no space for them in Seoul and got sent out to education centres somewhere in the suburbs. Everyone was massively on edge and we still hadn’t gotten our complete medical tests back, or finished our presentations (a 15 minute lesson plan to be done in front of our fellow EPIK teachers and the lecturers that had taught us throughout the week.)
On Tuesday I got up early to practice my presentation with my partner Thi. We were super nervous, and it was even worse when we got
into class to find out that we would be the last group, and so had to sit through everyone else’s worrying about ours.
Everyone’s lessons were excellent. We had all been set a subject and given a grade level and told to go away and come up with something. Considering it was most people’s first ever lesson they did pretty well. Mine and Thi’s subject was ‘directions to the subway’ for middle school children. We had prepared a powerpoint presentation with photos of us in it rushing around with large posters as directions. The photos went down pretty well, but we totally messed up the time limit and finished four minutes before the end and had to do an impromptu game of hangman!
Once the presentations were over things calmed down a little. We got our medical test results back (all clear, thank god) and were given certificates and told which schools we were going to. I was given an all girl’s vocational high school in a place called Songpa which is in the South East of Seoul. A lot of the friends I had made at orientation got placed pretty near by so I was really happy about that. Everyone was in a fantastic mood after we were given the placements and we went to pack our stuff and then a huge group of us went out to Flair Bar again for some celebratory cocktails.
In the morning we got up early and dressed up smart to have our final goodbye ceremony in which they played a video that they had sneakily been recording
during the week. It felt a bit like when I graduated from my college (high school for the Americans reading this) and everyone was taking thousands of photos of each other and hugging and celebrating and worrying and it was just such a crazy build up. We’d all been cooped up in orientation working our asses off and living right on top of each other for what felt like forever, it felt strange to be ending so suddenly. And then suddenly that huge (or ‘epik’ Haha) safety net was grabbed out from underneath of us and the real world came crashing in. All the people teaching in high schools were called to the auditorium to wait for their co-teachers to pick them up and everyone else went off to their individual districts by bus. In the auditorium you could literally feel the fear as we were slowly picked off one by one by co-teachers. Mine was one of the last ones to come and he introduced himself as ‘Mr Ye, but you can call me Simon’.
I chatted to Mr Ye the whole drive to my new flat, asking hundreds of questions about the school, most of which he answered with ‘oh don’t worry about that.’ When we arrived at the flat there was a ‘handyman’ in there who was confusedly looking at the stove. He tried poking it a bit and then announced ‘it doesn’t work’ and left. I took a video of the flat but I stupidly dropped my camera whilst taking it and now it is broken so I can’t actually show it to you, but it is basically a tiny little studio flat with an attic space for my bedroom. It is quite cute and modern and has a nice view over Seoul and a coffee shop downstairs so I am fairly happy with it. The only downside really is that my area – Munjong Dong – kind of sucks. There’s nothing really here except a huge road, so I guess my friends won’t be jumping at the opportunity to come visit me.
After dumping my stuff in the flat I was taken to look around the new school. The first thing that struck me was how big it was and when we walked inside and I saw that all the room numbers were in Korean I panicked a bit. Apparently my lessons are spread out around the school and I have to go and find them. I guess I am probably going to have to brush up on my Korean numbers ASAP. Mr Ye took me to meet the principal, whose name was Mr Shin. Mr Shin didn’t speak much English but when I came in he said to Mr Ye ‘ah you have brought us beautiful girl!’ and then the man beside him who I took to be the vice principal asked ‘are you married?’ Good grief! Anyway, after that Mr Ye showed me my new office, which is joint with a few other teachers.
After the school Mr Ye took me to the shops to grab some food. He seemed to be in a bit of a hurry by that point though, so I was a little rushed and only managed to buy bananas, coffee, milk, and bread, which was my dinner last night and my breakfast this morning. When Mr Ye brought me back to my flat he told me there was another native English speaker, Mary, working at my school who lives in the same apartment block as me. He took me to her flat to meet her and she said that after I had settled I should head down to her flat to hang out. Mr Ye left me and I organized my stuff a bit and then headed up to Mary’s flat. She had a friend round – another English teacher from Birmingham. Mary told me that she is from Chicago and she has been working here for a year and a half. She gave me lots of helpful advice and said she would be happy to help me out any time I needed it and that we can catch the subway to school together if I want. I was really glad to have Mary in my block or I think I would have been really lonely that first night.
Today I got up early and Mr Ye picked me up at 7.30 to go to school. He took me to the office and gave me some text books and told me to write up a lesson plan and that I would start teaching on Monday. I got working on that, and then at lunch time I went to eat in the teachers canteen. The food there was about a million times better than the orientation so I was pretty happy about that. Also lots of teachers came to talk to me and commented on how nicely I was using my chopsticks and how quickly I had picked up Korean etiquette and tastes. Apparently my predecessor was vegetarian and used to bring her own lunches. Korean eating culture seems to be quite an important thing to Korean people and they were clearly happy that I was eating with them. Half way through my dinner two of the other English teachers came in and spoke to me. They were both quite young (mid twenties at a guess) and spoke excellent English. They said they were excited to teach with me and that I should come hang out with them and have lunch with them, etc. It is certainly a strange feeling to not be able to talk to 90% of the staff at my workplace, but everyone who can speak a little English has made such an effort to make me feel comfortable so I don’t think it will be a problem. Mr Ye also asked me if I could teach some extra English classes for the school teachers in the morning for extra cash, so that should help me make friends.
After school Mr Ye took me to some shops to get cleaning products for my flat, get a mobile phone contract and set up the internet for my apartment. He had to get the contract under his name because I don’t have my alien registration card yet, which is a bit of a pain, but apparently we can move it over to my name once I register. I have no idea how to get my ‘alien’ card as I was told it was up to the school to sort out, but Mr Ye said he will try and help me get it if he can. After that we bumped into some other teachers who
invited us for dinner. We went to a little café with sit-on-the-floor style seating. We had this great fish egg soup with a whole bunch of side dishes and it tasted great. All the teachers kept asking ‘is this too spicy/salty for you’ and Mr Ye proudly told them ‘no no, she’s been living in Sri Lanka, she can handle Asian food!’ Mr Ye also likes to travel and he has recommended a few places to me in Japan and China which I will be sure to check out. We also had a long talk about books and Mr Ye leant me his two favourite books. One of them I haven’t heard of before, but the other one I know only too well. Mum, you’ll laugh at this – it was A Thousand Splendid Sons! So I guess I’ll be reading that book sooner than I thought!