Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reaching Gangwon-do

I woke up at 5:30AM on Monday and prepared for the day, heading downstairs with my stuff to charge up my electronics one last time, respond to pending messages, and post about my possible/likely absence from the internet for a while.

Our bus loading time was supposed to be between 7:30-8AM, but in reality we didn’t head out until about 8:40AM.  Even so, the traffic on the expressway to Gangwon-do was light to non-existent so we actually made it there before 1PM including a 20-minute potty break at a rest stop and a 50-minute lunch break. 

At the first stop I ordered a single cup gelato since I hadn’t head breakfast.  The rest stop had the nicest bathroom I’ve ever seen: a skylight, flowers on top of the stalls, bright and airy, and no bad smell (even despite the fact that Koreans throw used toilet paper in bins rather than flushing it down the toilet).  At the second rest stop I got a “pizza hotdog” (Konglish of course) which was more like fried bread with some sweet maybe VAGUELY pizza-like sauce on the inside.  I also got a little container of cookies and ate them all.

The best part of the second rest stop is that there was a group of middle school boys and girls.  At one point when a few of us girls were chatting in a group, one of the boys leaned around, we made eye contact, and he said, “Hello.”  When I responded and the rest of us girls were looking, he zipped back into his group and there was nervous (?) laughter.  Later on, a girl obviously video-taped us on her phone and then their group somehow ended up near us (we think they may have been trying to listen to what we were talking about).  Definitely feel like a celebrity here.  Or a zoo exhibit.

It was raining when we got to Gangneung-si, but we still unloaded our stuff and tried to shove the bags of 22 people under a little bus stop.  It was… somewhat effective.  Our co-teachers were supposed to meet us at 1:30PM so they were definitely surprised when we got there early.  My co-teacher arrived in a whirlwind of niceness, worrying if we’d be able to fit all my stuff in her car.  We did… though the trunk couldn’t close, but oh well.  We were going to make a detour to her mom’s house to cover the peppers drying on the roof, but her mom said not to worry since it was only a little rain.

Basically, the co-teacher that came to pick me up (English name: Niko) is super nice and I really like her a lot.

So that this doesn’t become a TL;DR blog for everybody, I’ll give highlights in bullet point form in semi-chronological order:
  • We went to the apartment and dropped my bags off.  I was able to take a quick look around and almost cried at how big it was and all the things that the previous EPIK teachers had left, ranging from spices to stationary to tons of bathroom-, cleaning-, and kitchen-related things.
  • The air conditioner was fixed for me, the apartment cleaned, and new bedding bought.  The toilet is leaking underneath, but my co-teacher called in for me today (Tuesday) and people from the school should be coming to fix it tomorrow.
  • We went to the school where I met the principal, vice-principal, and all of the English teachers (including my three other co-teachers).
  • I have an English Activity room with nice tables, computers along the back, English games, lots of English books, a projector, a computer, a whiteboard, a stage… basically, it’s very nice.
  • I have my own desk in an office I’ll be sharing with three other English teachers (including Niko, a new teacher that was just hired and I met today (English name: John), and another English teacher who has been a great help (은진).  The office is connected to my English room.

Sports fields at my school outside my office window.
My office spot!

The English Activity classroom.
  • I was told I would start on Thursday, but now I’ll be starting on Wednesday which is no big deal.  Flexibility is key here!
  • The previous EPIK teacher left interest inventories from the first and second grade boys (7th and 8th graders in America), as well as all the lesson plans from the previous year, including summer and winter camps.  So thankful to you!
  • I have 18 different classes that I teach in a week.  School is from 8:30AM to 4:30PM. I will have English conversation classes with teachers at the school to round out the hours.  Niko gave me my schedule right off the bat, though apparently summer vacation was extended two days so there really isn’t a school calendar available to me right now.  I’m going to look into it some more…
  • After school, Niko and은진 took me out to eat at Hong’s Restaurant, which is a little family-owned Italian place in a nearby downtown area (a BEAUTIFUL area actually).  We drove by the sea and the beach was phenomenal.  Gangneung-si is also apparently known as “Pine City” because there are pine trees everywhere – beautiful.  We also drove down an expressway lined with cherry blossom trees.  There’s a blossom festival in the spring…
  • Then Niko took me to a One-Mart to get me some basic foods so I can eat breakfast and dinner.  Water, no-fat milk, a dozen eggs, chicken tenderloin (so expensive!), two onions (which you pick up and weigh in the vegetable section, not at the cash register), toilet paper (enough for a year), shampoo/conditioner/soap, cereal (almost 6,000₩ a box!), and some packaged lettuce leaves. Total: ~70,000₩
  • I came back and unpacked everything, but did not end up decorating aside from my Korea map, two pictures, and my Best Noises/Grumpy Cat award.  Cried for about 5 minutes (homesick and just emotional relief).  Wasn’t too scared to sleep alone, but an annoying mosquito did keep waking me up every few hours.
  • Also found out that my skirt was covered in something on the back… don’t know when it happened, but it looks like I was splashed somehow?  Or sat in something?  Kind of embarrassing, but oh well.
  • I had a cold shower… I think I took it too late in the evening.
  • Niko picked me up the next day and took me to school.  It’s about a 15-20 minute walk, but she and 은진 are making sure I know the route so I don’t get lost.  은진 will pick me up tomorrow as well (Niko does not work).
  • 은진 is taking me to Donghae to go to the Immigration Office to apply for my Alien Registration Card (ARC).  I need my passport, a passport-sized photo (bringing both American 2x2mm and Korean 35x45mm), medical report (which I have from the EPIK orientation), and 20,000₩.  I am also bringing my teaching certificates, contract, and diploma just in case.  은진 called the office in advance per my suggestion (which was per EPIK’s suggestion) to get the list of things.  They said it will take 2-3 weeks to come in.  ARCs are needed for phone/internet/bank account/etc. so the sooner the better.   Then I’ll be able to get Kakao talk which is a phone messaging application that is really big here.
  • Niko and은진 also asked me if I was on Facebook and then은진 was like, “Is your profile picture like this?” She did the same exact wink!  Hahaha!  Niko said, “Sorry!  We’re not crazy people like stalkers!  But we just wanted to know…”  I like these two a lot.
  • Several teachers have called me pretty in Korean (Haha! I know that word!) upon meeting me.   The women I’ll be doing English conversation classes seem very nice.
  • Small children in shopping marts, on the street, and the boys in school all peek into the office to stare at me.
  • Boys at the school like to say, “Hello!” to me.  One acted out what a chicken walks like within a minute of meeting me.  He’s one of Niko’s and she was so embarrassed… but we both agree is was cute.
  • A boy today said, “I’m fine, thank you.  And you?” when I asked him how he was.  BWAHAHA!  The dreaded phrase that they will ALWAYS respond with has already been said.  It’s probably going to make me giggle every single time.
  • Niko got a HUGE box of snacks, including Doritos, Milanos, Utz peanut-butter filled pretzels, Sweet Roll 16 bars (delicious!), Smucker’s jelly, Rice Krispie treats, some Japanese puff ball things, and potato fries delivered to the school today.  She order them online from a place in Busan… I need to find this place.  Niko, 은진, and I ate some of almost everything.
  • I planned a lesson on music genres all of today.  I need to be more efficient, but I think I also just need to get used to planning for the types of activities I must do.  I have to think so carefully about the level of language I will be using.  Even things like contractions I have to be careful about!  However, I can do lessons about whatever I want.  My goal is to maximize student talk time and somehow manage to make lessons that are interesting for all levels (in general, conversational English is ability is not fantastic, but there is a big gap between students who go to hagwon academies after and those that do not).  I’m planning the same lesson for both levels… probably will do that all year unless I do find a significant difference between the levels.
  • I ate lunch (so many spicy things, but I was able to eat a little bit of everything excluding the fish… which I’m going to work on because it is a coastal city after all) with a bunch of Niko’s friends and then had coffee brewed by another teacher.  She apparently hand-grinds it.  It had no sugar or anything, but it was pretty good!
  • My first lesson (just an introduction) is tomorrow.  Not sure if I’m nervous or not.  The co-teachers will be in the room which is probably actually more nerve-wrecking than trying to control 35+ apparently rowdy middle school boys.
If anyone wants to send me anything I’d love pancake mix, dried fruit, some salty and sweet snacks, ketchup, rosemary, hot chocolate, and the green mini-fan in my closet at home.  Anything vegetable and fruit-related would be great.  Those Yakisoba from MSU Combo Exchange are looking so good right now. So… send me things people.  I’ll send you my school address if I haven’t already.

Pictures of my apartment:

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