I arrived in Korea exactly 2 weeks ago, and I have nothing but wonderful things to say so far. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting here, but for some reason I had kind of braced myself for coming here. Maybe it's because I've met some people who had taught in Korea, and didn't have a very positive experience because they worked for a terrible private company, or maybe it's because I've never really had a life-long burning desire to travel to Korea, like I have with some of the other places I've been in the last little while. In any case, I really love Korea so far!
I am living in Daejeon, which is a city about the size of Vancouver. It's perfect for me because there is a fairly large ex-pat community here (about 1,000 people) which means that there are things like peanut butter and cheese at the grocery store... (there's even a COSTCO). There is also a neighborhood in "new downtown," where all the foreigners hang out, so if you are in the mood to socialize in English, there are places you can go. It was kind of bizarre the first time my friend brought me into this pub and it was 90% foreigners!!! I hadn't seen any for a week and then you step into this completely forgettable place and find the secret society of foreign English teachers! It was fun though, and everyone is super friendly even though you are a complete stranger b/c you have some kind of shared experience/situation. Also, I work with 15 other foreign teachers, who are all SUPER nice and fun. 8 of us live in the same apartment building together (actually we fill the whole apartment building) and the other 7 live in various other buildings 1-2 blocks away. It's really, really nice to have a group of friends right off the bat.
I'm teaching grade 6 at an English immersion elementary school. It's a private elementary school, and it's (aparently) quite prestigious, so the children who are at my school are all sons and daughters of doctors, scientists, pilots, newcasters etc... and in my grade 6 class they are basically fluent in Engilsh. It is completely different from teaching ESL, I am really enjoying my students too! They are adorable, and a little naughty, but very respectful. I have been told repeatedly by my Korean co-teacher that I have to be very strict with my students at first (to scare them), and then I can slowly ease up. So I am trying to be strict, but they are just so damn cute! And sooooo smart! uh-oh! My other co-teachers have warned me that although I am teaching grade 6 math in English, the students are already learning university level math from their Korean teacher...so basically.... Nooooooo!!!!!!!!! It's okay, at least they will already know the material I am supposed to be teaching them for math and I can focus on doing interesting things for social studies and science...
The school I am teaching at is a Christian school, so the dress code is quite conservative, but on "casual friday" one of the office administrators (who doesn't speak English) was wearing a shirt that had "ALCOHOL FUELLED" emblazoned accross the front of it! He walked into the foreign teacher office and all of us had to try not to burst out laughing! Classic.
The other day I went with 2 other girls who I teach with to a Korean bath "jimjilbang." It was a big room with a huge hot bath, cold bath, a suana,etc. It reminded me very much of a hamam, although it was way more utilitarian and way less beautiful marble floors, ceilings and walls.... I think we went to a very local one, and there are probably some very beautiful ones too. Although I did get an excellent scrub down from the lady who works there, and while I was laying nude on a table having the skin scraped from my back, some little Korean grandmother bent down to look at my face at exclaimed, "OH! beautiful!" So I said, thank you, but remember I was laying face down on a table, having another woman exfoliate me... so then as she turns to walk away I feel her reach out and touch my back and butt!!! As if I was a sample foreigner out on display for people to have a look and a feel! It was hilarious, not creepy, just funny becuase she just helped herself!
So I thought it was a funny anecdote, but then a couple days later our school had it's official opening ceremony/assembely and all the parents of the grade 1 students come to welcome them to their first year of school (these kids are so cute), and as I am walking into the auditorium-at work- someone's grandmother grabs my arm and, smiling, says something to me in Korean, so I smile back and then turn to walk to my seat and I feel a hand on my butt!! AGAIN!! ha ha ha!!! I don't know what to say, but I guess little old Korean ladies think I am quite interesting. Hilarious.
In any case, I am doing well and having fun exploring Daejeon!
All my love!