Saturday, August 31, 2013

The End of Orientation and the Beginning of Jeomchon

Originally written Tuesday, 8/27

I’m pretty sure this past week has been the longest of my life.  A little over a week ago, I left behind a perfectly good life to move to the other side of the world.  I got a plane not even knowing where I would be living or what I would be teaching.  This whole experience has been an extreme rollercoaster of emotions.  I have been more nervous than I EVER have been in my life (the uncertainty in this whole process really tests your faith), but I also have seen completely new things, had crazy fun with a group of people from around the world,  and learned A LOT about culture, history, teaching, learning, and language. 

On our last day of EPIK orientation, we had to present our lessons to our classes.  Everyone was pretty stressed out about presenting their lessons, despite the fact that the lessons are done solely for the purpose of getting feedback—therefore, you can do terribly and it really doesn't change anything. 

My nerves that day weren't just because of our lesson (which went fine, by the way), but also because in the afternoon we finally found out where we would be placed.  The majority of people at orientation were heading to the larger cities such as Deagu, Busan, Ulsan, or Daejeon.  These people already knew WHERE they were going, but were just waiting to find out which grade they would be teaching. 

However, for all of us in Gyeongbuk, we had no idea where we were going.  Gyeongbuk is the largest province in Korea, and you can really end up anywhere—right outside of a big city like Daegu, in a medium sized city like Pohang or Andong, or in a super small rural town.  You really just don’t know what you’re going to get.

When we finally went to our rooms with our POE, there were lists with our names, the town we would be teaching in, and the name of the school we’d be teaching at.  The only problem?  It was all written in Korean.  So of course everyone was congregating around the few kids who are good enough at reading Korean to figure out where we’re going.  I finally got someone to tell me I was going to a place called Mungyeong.  It meant absolutely nothing me, so I pretty much assumed it was in the middle of nowhere.

As we went into the room with the rest of people in our Province, there were a ton of people in Pohang or other larger areas.  Although I went into this experience telling myself that I was going to be ok with anything, I was a little jealous when a lot of people were heading to the same place.  Going to a new place with people from orientation would have been really comforting, but no one even knew where the heck my place was located. 

In our meeting with out POE supervisors, we had to sign our contracts and they went over a few instructions for the next day.  Of course, I sat through the entire meeting wanting nothing more than to google my town.  I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO DESPERATE FOR INTERNET.  Iphone, I miss you. When I turned in my contract, one of the POE supervisors told me that my placement was a small city, near the north of province. 

As soon as we got out of the meeting I rushed back to my room and googled Mungyeong.   There wasn't too much information about the area, but it appears to be a cultural destination. 

I am a big proponent of the “you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be” belief, but I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to find out my placement.  Our orientation class was comprised of probably about 2/3 people heading to Ulsan and 1/3 of people going to Gyeongbuk.  We had a theory that we might be heading to an area around Ulsan since we were in a class with them.  Of course, that theory was completely wrong because many of us all ended up in the northern part of Gyeongbuk.  We obviously shouldn’t have been trying to find logic in this crazy process. 

Mungyeong isn’t particularly far from anything, but it isn’t really close to anything either, so my emotions are still pretty mixed (but also probably really affected by the fact that I am upset about the fact that I just spent a week making friends with people in Ulsan and now I’m going to be really far away from them).

But regardless, I know that this could be a huge blessing in disguise, and only time will tell why I was placed here.

EPIK orientation ended with a pretty sweet closing ceremony in which we were provided with a TON of food.  Afterwards, we ran back to bring our luggage back to the lobby, and then we went out to noraebang.  Noraebang (literally meaning song room) is probably my favorite part of Korea thus far.  You basically get a private karaoke room for you and your friends.  Inside the room, there is a huge projector for the lyrics, disco-type lights, and a personal bathroom.  You basically spend the night singing, dancing, and drinking, and I really think it’s just the greatest invention ever.  Our night ended successfully as we ended it by meeting one of our class’s teachers outside of 7/11.  Mission accomplished.

The next morning, we left Jeonju around 9 AM.  We stopped for one snack break, and then we had a longer lunch break, which was almost painfully long because right after that we were meeting up with our co-teachers.  We were all really nervous because we've basically been told all week that your co-teacher basically makes or breaks your experience in Korea….but no pressure.  The entire week of orientation builds anticipation, nerves, and excitement about meeting your co-teacher.  When the time finally comes, you really just want to get it over with. 
Beautiful view at one of our rest stops

After we got to our meeting location, we had to gather all of our luggage and wait for our co-teacher to find us.  So much nervousness.  I saw a woman holding a sign with my name on it, so I went over and introduced myself.  We loaded my stuff into her car, and then had an hour and a half car ride to our town.  I mean, it’s not like there’s nothing awkward about an hour and a half car ride with a person you just met…when there’s a language barrier.

But really, it was a little awkward, but my co-teacher is incredibly nice.  During the car ride, she told me that she was worried about me during my first night by myself and she was worried I would be homesick.  She said anytime I am homesick I can come stay at her house.  She also told me she would teach me how to cook Korean food (Nate will be happy to hear this!)

Once we got to our town, we went to the school, where I met the Principal and Assistant Principal.  It was kind of awkward because we went into a room with them and they gave me some tea, but then they mostly just talked to my co-teacher in Korean, and I had basically no idea what anyone was saying the entire time.  I guess I should get used to that!

After we left the school we went to my apartment.  My apartment is on the 3rd floor, but what we consider the first floor in America is the ground floor in Korea.  So by American terms, my apartment is on the 4th floor.  Now, this building doesn’t have an elevator, so I had to carry both of my 50 +lb bags up four flights of stairs.  So that was fun.  As my co-teacher said “we need man”

My apartment is pretty nice, and actually nicer than I was expecting.  I have a living room (with a huge tv!), bedroom, and bathroom all—all of which are in pretty good condition. 

After we put my stuff down, my co-teacher brought me to Home Plus, which is basically like an “everything in one” store.  On one floor there are home goods, on another floor there are clothes, and on another floor there is a grocery store.  I bought a few groceries, and then we came back to my apartment. 

So far, I have a very good impression of my co-teacher.  She seems genuinely concerned about my well-being, and I am thankful for that.  I am hoping that I am making an ok impression as well.  It’s weird, they bombard you with so many things about etiquette during orientation, but as soon as I got nervous I think I forgot just about everything.  It’s going to take a lot of practice and conscious effort to remember to do certain things such as using two hands when giving/receiving something from someone else, shaking hands, etc.   Hopefully I haven’t been to inadvertently rude yet.  

And now, I am very ready for bed.  Goodnight!

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