I want to be beautiful just like Hillary!
On Saturday I got on a bus with the other people who will be teaching in my district to meet my co-teacher and move into my new place. I have to admit, I was a bit anxious. All the usual things were running through my head, like what if I have no friends and my apartment turns out to be an island of loneliness? What if my apartment is a dump and I hate it? And what if I don't get along with my teacher and it makes my job this year awful?
I was thinking about all of these things when I was dropped us off on a dirt road where all of the teachers were to arrive for us. My co-teacher arrived with the school accountant holding a sign saying "Welcome Miss Kupczyk!" They were both very nice and friendly, and drove me to my new apartment.
Seoul from the highway
My place is nice, and when I mean nice, I mean really nice- I actually look forward to coming home at night...I have a beautiful modern studio apartment in a highrise overlooking the Seoul
Skyline. I have a laundary unit, A/C, a great kitchen area and get this, heated floors. It's pretty spacious too. Wow, I got lucky. The only drawback is that it's about half an hour from school. I have to take a train and then a bus every morning, but considering everything I really don't mind. My teacher told me that they could have housed me in a closer location but there weren't any nice buildings around, so they deide to get me a nicer place a little farther away.
National Musuem of Korea- Central Asian Art
They could of placed me in a shit-hole in a more convienent and cheaper location, but they wanted me to feel comfortable. I got really, really lucky.
The next morning my teacher (whose name is Miss Doh) picked me up and showed me how to get to school via public transportation. Every first Saturday of the month Korean students have school. So I went and was introduced to the principal and vice-principal of the school, who were both very friendly. In fact, the principal was nowhere near the scary-looking old man I saw on the school's website. After I was shown around the school several of the teachers invited me out to lunch with them. They took me to the Outback Steakhouse. Hahaha, it was fantastic! The teachers told me they really liked the baby back ribs.
Central Asian Art
We had the Korean-style Outback expierence: Koreans eat a lot of side dishes and share their food with everyone on the table, so I ordered a chicken tender salad and we chopped it into small pieces and mixed it with dressing for everyone to try. All the teachers were genuinely nice and interested in this strange American girl with a strange not-so-American name. After lunch one of the incredibly nice teachers Myeoung-Jin took me shopping for my apartment at a huge Walmart-style store called Home Plus. This girl was amazing, and I would never have done my shopping without her: she helped me pick out everything I needed for my apartment, which was great because I have no idea how to read Hangul. Then she had her mother pick us up and they took me to my apartment and helped me carry all my shit up to the 24th floor.
Central Asian Art
Wow, I can't get over how kind everyone is. It really made settling in so much easier. Everyone is so nice nice nice.
On my first day of school I showed up early because I was told that there would be a special ceremony for me and another new teacher (not an English teacher) in the morning. I was introduced to the other teachers I didn't meet on Saturday, and they gave me roses. Then I had to make a little speech for the school TV in the media room along with the other new teacher and Jean, a teacher who I guess is supposed to help us along or something. Didn't really do anything the first day, I sat around on the internet and observed a few classes my co-teacher was teaching. The kids are adorable and hilarious. I walk into the classroom and everyone's eyes get wide, and they start shouting and waving at me.
Central Asian Art
I am taken back and flattered by all of this attention- everyone wants to say hi to me. I keep hearing "she's so pretty!" and "beautiful girl!" from students. Today I even got an "I love you!" Awww. They treat me like a celebrity around here I tell you...
I teach 22 different classes a week: and since I teach 3rd thru 6th graders I have to come up with five lesson plans for the week. I teach the a teacher's conversation class twice a week, and I also agreed to teach after school for a higher salary. Not counting my co-teacher, I teach for nine other teachers. But I'm pretty much on my own because most of them barely speak English. There was much confusion and misunderstanding during my first day- some of the teachers expected me to just walk in and start teaching their kids, without any prior knowledge about what they were learning or what level the students were at.
Buddhist monument at the museum
I was very irritated. Don't throw me in here without any preparation, I am not a monkey... Actually, who am I kidding? All I really do is run around and entertain the kids. I am a monkey. Dance monkey, dance!
I ended up inviting Meoung-Jin out to a bar in Itaewon with my other friends from orientation. It was the least I could do, I thought, for helping me out. Luckily she didn't stick around for too long to see me throwing up in the toilet... Itaewon is like the Vegas of Seoul, complete with loud overweight Americans and hookers. Its where all the foriengers go when they want a little taste of back home. It's where everybody know your name. It's... kind of a trashy place actually, with lots of seedy people and drunk American soldiers.
view from my apartment window
Westerners in large crowds can be so obnoxious abroad, I'm ashamed of my people sometimes. I felt more comfortable on Homo Hill (the Gay district of Itaewon) than some of the trashy clubs full of sleazy guys and Russian prostitues (yep, they are here). I did have a good time with my friends though- we went to a Canadian bar, ate some nachos and even winded up at a karoake bar. Karoake is very serious in this country, and it is not to be taken lightly. You pay for a room equipped with sofas, pillows, and tamborines, and the karoake machine has three screens. It even rates your performance.
Did I mention how huge this city is? I took a taxi home that night and the driver was going super-fast on the freeway, and it still took me half an hour to get home.
Itaewon with Catie
Yet my apartment is still considered part of the greater city of Seoul. This place is SPRAWLING, it just keep going and going...Sunday met up with Nicole and Katie in Sinchon, a really hip area with lots of clothing and coffee shops. I saw a Starbucks there. Good Lord. Tuesday I met up with a bunch of friends who live in a Co-op off of Dongdaemun Stadium and we had wine and then went out for Italian food. Walked down the street and suddenly the entire place turned into a circus...flourescent lights were everywhere and the streets were lined with tables full of people selling anything and everything: sunglasses, wallets, clothing, shoes...Vietnenese ladies selling Adidas sweatsuits for practically nothing, Chinese people yelling to advertise their fake designer products, everyone shouting and bargaining.
Itaewon with Katie
I went to a ridiculously large open-market-style shopping center that had an entire floor dedicated to shoes. Really nice shoes for less than 30 dollars. There was another three floors of just women's clothing, and the whole place doesn't close till 5 am. This place sounds dangerous.
My teaching job is going well- I'm starting to get into the swing of things. I get along with my co-teacher very well, and if I continue to love my job...who knows? Kids are so fun to be around- they are so optimistic, and they keep things real. I'm never bored at work- and everyday I walk home just a little less cynical.