And so it begins

Seoul Travel Blog

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The Hyundai Learning Center. Many things were learned here.

Hello dear friends! Hello!

 

I made it to South Korea!!!! Part of me can’t believe I'm here. I think I’m still in limbo or something, but on the other hand I have spent my first five days at a hotel hanging out with other English speakers from back home. I move into my new place and meet my co-teacher tomorrow, and then start teaching on Monday. Miss Magda will be teaching elementary school. I never pictured myself doing that growing up. But let me start from the beginning...

After the longest flight of my life, my first impression of Seoul was “wow, this place looks like Hawaii!”.

View from one of our 'classrooms' (if you will)
It was absolutely gorgeous. The city is one giant metropolis surrounded by mountains and lush, strange-looking shrubs that remind me of palm trees. It was very hot and humid when we arrived. Flight was OK, and I didn’t mind the food, or the fact that I was wedged between two Korean men in the middle row all the way in the back of the plane (that’s what I get for not checking in early), but anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I am not exactly the most patient person in the world. So a 14 hour flight was kind of rough. Korean Air is really really nice. The stewardesses were constantly serving us food and beverages in their cute little outfits and scarves, always smiling. And Korean women are so beautiful! I couldn’t stop staring at them. I sat next to a nice 21 year-old Korean guy who moved to Canada when he was 14, and we talked a bit about random stuff. Other than that it was pretty uneventful. Long and uneventful.

After arriving at Incheon airport I went through the usual customs and baggage claim spiel and was immediately bombarded with hundreds of signs from hundreds of companies picking up dazed and confused Westerners.

Seoul
Everything was so clean and modern, very Futurama. I met up with my friend Jason from Chicago, and we got hauled onto a bus with other equally tired English teachers and we made our way to our orientation training at the Hyundai Learning Center. It’s in Gyunggi-do province, some couple of hours from central Seoul. Its supposed to be a facility where special seminars are held, up in the more mountainous and less crowded region of Seoul. Its really pretty out here. And it was nice that they gave us a chance to meet other people and network before they threw us into a public school to teach for a year.

I’ve only experienced a little of Korea, but so far I’ve experienced enough to know that I will not be the standard Westerner who has the privledge of blending in and staying out of trouble.

My first view of the city. PS I made them stand like that.
Although Seoul is a very modern and 'Western' if you will, I stick out for the way I look and find myself constantly being stared at and talked about as the token-out-of place forienger. Seoul can be overwhelming: I went into the city (center) for the second time since I’ve been here and spend almost half an hour riding a fraction of the subway. In other words, the city is freaking huge. Its massive and sprawling, and it's intimidating to know that I will have to learn how to live in such a giant metropolis without speaking the language (yet). I went to this giant shopping mall called Techno Mart the other day to check out cell phones with some friends, and the entire shopping center was seven levels of cameras, TVs, cell phones, washers, vacuum cleaners, and other technology/gadgets. It was way too much over-stimulation, I needed to get the hell out of there.

 Everyone at the Orientation Center is pretty much American or Canadian, with a couple of Irish, Aussie and New Zealanders.

The blocks are huuuge!! And they are all over the place, like in Poland but larger, and there's more of them.
191 of us total. I am meeting very cool, easy-going and friendly people. The program (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) is accommodating and feeding us, and in turn we have to attend various seminars and lectures about Korean culture and the logistics of teaching English in a foriegn country. Well, technically. It’s been pretty hot or miss so far. We’ve had some really fun and interesting lecturers discuss what we should expect for the rest of the year, and then we’ve had some God-awful speakers that I could do without. I'm under the impression that SMOE isn’t really being helpful and communicative about what we should expect teaching in Korea. It sounds like everything will be relative to what school we teach at and what the individual teacher wants us to do. It also sounds like the staff is pretty new at this and doesn’t really know how to deal with the exodus of foreign English teachers arriving in their country. Here’s the story, or how I’ve come to understand it: recently the Korean government has decided to implement a nation-wide policy to have every school staffed with a foreign teacher from an English-speaking country as part of their goal for Koreans to 'complete in the global economy'.
This is where the smokers gather to socialize, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we spend the majority of our time during orientation here.
We are therefore 'invited’ by the government to help educate young Koreans in learning English, and in turn get some great benefits (i.e. a sweet salary) and incentives (free airfare and accomodations).

So instead of boring everyone with my stories about how I went to a store today and found an ATM machine that accepts American credit cards, here are a list of first impressions/observations I have about Korean culture:

 

  1. Korean-Japanese (historic) relations are very similar to Polish-Russian relations. Actually, Korean seems very similar to Poland in general. The culture is very conservative: gender roles give men power issues and women seem very concerned about looking attractive.
    View from the front of the orientation center
  2. Kimchi is everywhere! Kimchi is a fermented cabbage that is served at every meal in Korea. I can see myself getting sick of it very quickly. I can see myself getting sick of the food here in general, actually. I am told that we are being served Korean staples for our meals- this includes meat, vegetables and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mmmm, fermented cabbage and barbeque chicken for breakfast!
  3. There seems to be a Korean obsession with sweet potatoes. I went to Pizza Hut the other day and had sweet potato crust pizza. It was kind of gross.
  4. Fruit is astronomically expensive in Korea.
    Buddha
    It is not uncommon for people to charge around 3 dollars for a peach.
  5. Beer and cigarettes are ridiculously cheap in this country. A can of beer costs about $1.60. Cigarettes are about two dollars a pack.
  6. Smoking is not really socially acceptable for women. Most women hide it, and I have gotten a lot of dirty looks in the city, mostly from older men. I’m not sure if it's because of the way I look, the way I dress, or the fact that I smoke Probably all of those things. I have been told that there are a lot of Russian prostitutes who come to Korea to entertain Korean business men, and I may be harassed at night because I look Eastern European. Hmm. Not was I expected to hear.
  7. It is considered rude not to accept something with both hands.
    traditional Korean dancing!! it was part of the orientation training.
  8. I feel really rude and inappropriate here in general.
  9. The driving in this country is alarming.
  10. I have become acquainted Soju, a hard liquor that tastes somewhere between vodka and whisky. It was created during WWII to keep Korean soldiers happy. It’s apparently bust out on every occasion, especially between business men after hours. It’s super strong and super gross. But then again, so is vodka and that doesn't seem to stop me.

In other words, Dorothy’s not in Kansas anymore.

city part of Gyungii-do, but still not Seoul
But despite many of these things, people here have been extremely courteous, gracious and kind. People smile at you and show a great deal of respect, and they are willing to go out of their way for you expecting nothing in return. I am meeting amazing people who are teaching English. It's just...different here. I move into my new apartment tomorrow with great trepidation, since I will be officially on my own, but I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best!

 

Yours Truly,

Magdalena

travelman727 says:
Great blog, especially your ten observations! Thanks for letting me know Dorothy's not in Kansas anymore. I guess i can stop looking for her and Toto :-D
Posted on: Oct 11, 2007
brown27 says:
A very interesting read. Good luck with the teaching. I enjoy it in the uk but have never thought about teaching in another country.
Posted on: Sep 04, 2007
flammick says:
Kimchi is one thing I could happily live without. Great blog! Sounds like you're going to have a great time in South Korea.
Posted on: Aug 29, 2007
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The Hyundai Learning Center. Many …
The Hyundai Learning Center. Many…
View from one of our classrooms …
View from one of our 'classrooms'…
Seoul
Seoul
My first view of the city. PS I ma…
My first view of the city. PS I m…
The blocks are huuuge!! And they a…
The blocks are huuuge!! And they …
This is where the smokers gather t…
This is where the smokers gather …
View from the front of the orienta…
View from the front of the orient…
Buddha
Buddha
traditional Korean dancing!! it wa…
traditional Korean dancing!! it w…
city part of Gyungii-do, but still…
city part of Gyungii-do, but stil…
hanging out in the smokie garden
hanging out in the smokie garden
Left to right: Nicole, Marina, Kat…
Left to right: Nicole, Marina, Ka…
Pretending to buy over-priced frui…
Pretending to buy over-priced fru…
Buddhist shrine in graveyard.
Buddhist shrine in graveyard.
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Seoul
photo by: chiyeh