Sunday, September 2, 2012

First Weeks in South Korea

안녕하세요 from Busan, South Korea! We are immersed in an entirely new culture and way of life. We arrived at the Seoul/Incheon Airport on August 20, but it feels like we've been here for months! I'll provide you with a drastically condensed version of the first couple of weeks in our new home. 

First, we boarded the EPIK bus with other EPIK (English Program in Korea) teachers. EPIK is an education program run by the Korean government that hires native English speaking teachers into public school positions all over South Korea. After a 3 hour bus ride, we arrived in Daejeon, the fifth largest city in South Korea. This is where our 10-day orientation would be held. 

Overall, the EPIK orientation was long, but extremely worthwhile and rewarding. We couldn't believe how well-organized everything was! This is just another example of South Korean efficiency. Below is a photo of our opening ceremony on the first day of orientation. The South Korean Aura Chamber Orchestra performed several beautiful pieces for us. An incredible traditional singer and a tap dancer made the performance exceptionally memorable! 

The orientation was mainly composed of different lectures and classes. The topics of these classes ranged from teaching strategies to life in Korea. Below, we are in a class discussing how to successfully engage English language learners in the classroom. We learned lots of different strategies about how to approach ELL teaching. Since neither of us have ever taught ELL students before, we got a lot of useful ideas. 

One of our favorite days of orientation was the field trip day. The theme of the field trip was Baekje history. Baekje was one of three Korean kingdoms that existed between 18 BC and 660 CE. We traveled to Gongju in busses and visited a national museum where we saw the exterior of the tomb of King Muryeong (462-523). Even though the rain plagued our day, we still had fun and learned a lot about Korean history. Don't we look so awake in the picture below? 

Also during the field trip, we got to see another Korean music performance and eat bibimbap at a traditional Korean restaurant. My favorite part of the day was when we got to paint pottery at a pottery studio. Tyler and I also got the opportunity to try shaping clay on a pottery wheel! Trying pottery again is definitely on my to-do list. 

One of Tyler's favorite orientation experiences was learning introductory Taekwondo. A well-known Korean Taekwondo instructor taught us basic Taekwondo moves on one of the last days of orientation. Tyler, of course, took to it right away and is interested in looking into taking more classes in the future. The Taekwondo masters were so talented and amazing to watch! 

Despite the 10:00 PM curfew and the rule to stay on campus, we ventured off of orientation grounds to explore the surrounding areas of Daejeon. On the last night, we celebrated the end of orientation with friends at a local bar with several bottles of Soju (the most popular alcoholic drink in Korea closely resembling watered down vodka). 

On the last day of orientation, we all loaded busses according to what city or province we were headed to. Luckily, our journey from Daejeon to Busan went smoothly despite the worried warnings of an approaching typhoon from our director. We arrived in Busan in the afternoon, said goodbye to the friends we'd made at orientation, at met with our co-teachers from our schools. Tyler and I were taken to our new place, located in the Danggam Jugong apartments in the Busanjin district. The picture below is the first image I saw approaching our new home. The staff member from my school who let us into our apartment asked me, "This your name?" 

Our apartment is quite dirty and not in the condition we'd hoped it would be in. On the bright side, it's very spacious with two small bedrooms and a nice kitchen area. FYI to friends and family, this means that we have free boarding for you when you want to come and visit us! Our goal is to have the place cleaned up and decorated shortly after we receive our first paycheck at the end of the month. Once we refurbish our apartment, we'll post a video tour and more photos for your viewing pleasure. 

Although our apartment is poor condition and the first few days of teaching have been overwhelming, we've had amazing times with our wonderful friends here in Busan. Lucky for us, our friends from Kirkland, Bobby and Jestine, came to Busan two months ago. They are being extremely helpful showing us around and offering their assistance! Last night, they took us to a local beach where we had more Soju and played games and sang songs. 

We are missing home already, but looking forward to a couple of years of new opportunities. Our experience in South Korea will be life-changing, most definitely, and full of crazy adventures. 

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