Greetings from Korea! I can't believe how fast time flies here.
I moved my life overseas to work as an English teacher at a private academy or hagwon. The first few days were definitely rough. Looking back, I think those first few days seem just as strange now as they did then. It was kindergarten graduation time when I arrived. The grad ceremony was out of this world. The kids wore gold sequined outfits and did sexy little song & dance numbers that would seem inappropriate for 16-year-olds, let alone 6-year-olds! The children wore grad robes, gave speeches and their parents had professional photographs done. Every teacher and every student received at least 5 or 6 bouquets and a handful of presents. Everything was over the top! Of course, the foreign teachers were the only ones who thought the whole thing was bizarre :) I still can't believe that was only my second day here.
I've learned since that "over the top" is probably the best way to describe everything in Korea. If you're gonna do something here, you do it to the extreme. Need a toothbrush? Sorry, you can only buy them in packs of ten. Wanna go out and grab a beer? Sorry, there's no such thing as one beer here - only 10 or 20. Wanna go hiking? Then you better buy special boots, gloves, socks, pants, hats, hiking poles, face masks, sunglasses... What's that? The hike is only an hour long? No, that doesn't matter - because hiking is extreme! And so is Korea.
Aside from over the top everything - studying, drinking, eating - I've found Korean attitude to be rather trying at times. Koreans push their way everywhere. They butt in line, talk loudly, stare, grope and ask rude questions. Delightful. I've definitely become more assertive here ("Move it, Grandma! I was here first!") and faster at doing just about everything solely to survive.
In many ways, Korea is very homogeneous. The dialect and cultural customs are fairly consistent throughout the peninsula and non-Korean nationals make up only 3% of the total population. So I stand out, even in a huge city like Seoul. I only mind when people are rude, but usually people are very excited to see me. People actually stop me on the street and ask to take their picture with me. Children talk to me. Old men and women will run across the street just to say good evening. Once, a kid even gave me two hard-boiled eggs on the street before running away with his mom. I have to admit, it's pretty cool, even if it's a little weird.
And Korea is definitely weird. I've eaten more strange things here than I can count, including squid, octopus, caterpillar, pig fat, dried fish snacks and quail eggs. I actually caught a live eel with my hands at a festival and got to BBQ and eat it. It was delicious, if you're wondering.
I've done lots of traveling, too. I got tipsy on black raspberry wine at a berry festival. I got painted green at a mud festival. I went to a famous park known for its hundreds of penis sculptures. I've hiked beautiful mountains and some not-so-beautiful ones. I've swam at some of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. I took pictures in an abandoned carnival and walked around in a phenomenal cave. I visited Korea's largest fish market and had nightmares about the creepy things that I now know are living in the ocean (before they're caught for dinner, that is!). I've ridden a scooter through rice fields. I've bungee jumped! I even went to Thailand on vacation, and it was so phenomenal, it merits another email.
I've seen so many things. Elections. Holidays. Parades. World Cup came and went. I'm having the time of my life here. I'm a totally different person than I was just 6 months ago. I do things I would never have done in Canada. I hike, for goodness' sake! I miss Canada, and I miss my family and friends. I miss understanding what's going on around me and I miss doing simple tasks like buying a coffee with ease (Oh, what I'd give for some Timmie's!), but I can't imagine trading all that in right now. It feels like I've only been here a short time, but in reality, my time is winding down. It's insane. I am really happy here. I've met some of the best friends I've ever had. And I've formed tighter bonds with people I'd already known. Every weekend here is better than the last. Well, except for that one where I was really hungover ;)
I hope all is well for my friends back home. If I had another year, I still couldn't tell you all I've seen.
|With some of my academy students, September 2010.|