Since I came to Korea as a native speaking English teacher, my first 9 days in the country were spent at orientation alongside hundreds of other teachers coming from various English-speaking countries. This was a part of the journey that I really didn’t think about very much prior to coming here so my experiences there were not anything I really expected. We stayed at a beautiful university in the mountains of Busan. This was where I got my first real glimpse of just how beautiful Korea is. Even being in a big city like Busan, I was surrounded by beautiful landscapes. I saw birds I had never seen before and plants that were unfamiliar to me. I got to go on a few outings and experience walking around town and experiencing the feeling of being here (something I can’t quite find the words for, so I’ll leave it at that). We also had sort of a field trip day, but I’ll come back to that later.
Being at orientation was such an interesting experience. I met so many people from around the world who had made the same crazy decision that I had and were far from home just like me. I met people from South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and of course some fellow Americans from various states (and a few from California, my home). It was such a cool experience to meet and befriend so many people from different places and different backgrounds and who had different reasons for making the same decision. It was fascinating to me to be surrounded by different accents and dialects of my mother tongue and to even at times feel like my accent and diction were changing all on their own. I had an awesome roommate while I was there who I am so glad to have met and am so pleased to have as a friend. Though orientation did feel a bit like a bubble – a comfort zone of English-speakers – I think it was a nice way to ease into living in a different country. It’s nice to have that companionship and to have a network of people to give support and to relate in a way that nobody else can.
Orientation served many purposes – giving us many connections with others, allowing us the opportunity to learn from more experienced educators, and giving us an introduction to this lovely country. As mentioned earlier (I told you I’d come back to it), one day of orientation was spent on a field trip. We were taken to a restaurant first where we had bibimbap and then we were taken to the UN Memorial Cemetery where we were shown a documentary film about the Korean War and the memorial before walking out to see the actual cemetery. I didn’t expect to have such an emotional reaction to it, but toward the end of the documentary, I started to feel a lump form in my throat and tears well up in my eyes. When we walked out and saw the graves, I completely lost it. I think it was a combination of being very familiar with grief myself and having known and taken care of war veterans as a caregiver and hearing their stories that really made this place hit me with a flood of emotions. I felt a little embarrassed crying in front of everyone, but thankfully most people either seemed (perhaps pretended) not to notice or they tried to comfort me. I felt that I shouldn’t be crying as I did not lose anyone to this war, but I felt the weight of loss as I walked past the grave markers.
After this, we went to Nurimaru APEC House (google it) and to Haeundae beach. It was so beautiful there, I couldn’t believe it. It was such a relaxing way to spend the day and I am looking forward to going back there someday, hopefully in the near future. This is best described through pictures rather than words, so have a look:
Since things moved so fast and I was so busy right away, it was hard to really process and take it all in. It was strange though, I did not feel like I was so far from home. I felt comfortable here right away and it didn’t feel like a strange place at all. Perhaps this is because I am already used to my life changing over and over and having to adjust to new homes and new normals frequently. Maybe the fact that I had already studied and knew a lot about Korea from the start has also aided me to that end. Really the only reason I get really homesick while I’m here is that I miss my friends and family and I miss being able to talk to pretty much anyone I wanted without dealing with many language barriers.
On the last full day of orientation, it was finally time to find out which city I would be in, how many schools I’d be teaching at and which grade level I’d be teaching. I was so excited to finally find out where my new home would be. I finally met my employer and was told that I would be living in Gumi (구미) and would be teaching at two elementary schools and one middle school. I was pleased to be placed in Gumi because I knew someone who was from there and I already knew about the place. It’s also nice because it is situated toward in the middle of South Korea, so places like Seoul and Busan are only 2 or 3 hours away by train. I was also happy to be placed at multiple schools and to be teaching more than just one level because I wanted to gain as much teaching experience as possible in my first year teaching and I also enjoy a life that is in constant change. Once I knew my placement city and the names of my schools, I looked up where they were on the map and started looking at pictures of where my new home would be. I couldn’t wait to be shown to my apartment and introduced to my co-teachers the next day~
To be continued soon… ^_^