Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gimme them bright lights, long nights

It’s been a busy few days, sorry to go so long without an update!
Let’s start with Saturday. We had a busy day at orientation, with six lectures, each an hour long, on a variety of topics related to teaching in Korea. I was dreading it, thinking it would be a long and boring day, but the lecturers were suprisingly good. I learned some useful information about co-teaching, the curriculum, activity-based learning and classroom management. After hours upon hours of lectures we went out in Seoul and met up with a bunch of friends from Laurier at a foriegners bar called the Wolfhound. It was so strange to be surrounded by friends from WLU, and it was easy to forget that we were in the middle of Seoul!

Sunday was by far the best day I’ve had in Korea so far! The orientation leaders took us on a full day of tourist activities around Seoul. We started at the National Museum of Korea. I was exhausted from the previous day, all of the lecture time followed by drinking took it’s toll on me, so I didn’t enjoy the Museum as much as I should have. Maybe I’ll go back sometime soon.
The second stop of the day was at Gyeongbok Palace, built in 1935 as the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. It was a massive complex, with intricately carved wooden structures and bright colours, all framed by nearby hills and mountains. It was incredible, and the 2 hours we had there were not enough to explore the entire grounds. Looking back at my pictures now I cannot believe how incredible of a place it is. The fact that it exists in the middle of Seoul, a huge metropolis, is mind-blowing. A must-see site!
The third activity on our schedule was a NANTA performance. It’s hard to explain what it was, but I’ll try my best. First, think of Stomp, you know the group that makes music with garbage cans etc? NANTA is a similar concept, but the stage has been designed as a giant industrial kitchen, and the percussion is done with knives on cutting boards, with wooden spoons on pots and pans, and in a variety of other way, but all involving some kind of kitchen materials. There were 5 actors total, and their drumming ability was incredible. They had scenes where they actually prepared food, and the slicing of vegetables, the sounds of water being poured, and the sizzling of cooking oil were used to make music. This alone would have been amazing, but the show also included sections with singing, dancing, and juggling, AND the entire thing was a comedy. The actors were incredibly talented. I spent the entire show either laughing hysterically, or with my mouth wide open in shock at the seemingly impossible precision of drumming and tricks! I am not doing it justice, maybe trying googling NANTA and see if there are any videos! Another must-see.
Our day finished with a farewell dinner with our orientation group at a nearby seafood buffet .. mmmmmm. I’ve never seen so many types of sushi, there had to be at least 100 varieties, from tex -mex to dessert type ones, with sweet sauces on top. It was wild. Definitely the best meal I’d had in Korea up to that point. We stayed for a few hours, talking to some new friends we’d made – 2 of the orientation leaders who were especially nice.
Monday was the closing ceremonies of our orientation, there was a slideshows, a short lecture on travel opportunities within Korea and we recieved our certificates of completion. Then we said some quick good-byes and boarded the bus to Busan with 10 others from our group. The ride took just under 5 hours and we passed through some amazing countyside. A quick note on the buses here – they don’t have washrooms! However, they only have 3 seats in a row, instead of the 4 you’d expect on a greyhound, so they are alot more comfortable.
We arrived in Busan around 5:30 pm and 2 of George’s colleagues picked us up from the bus station and drove us to Haeundae to look at apartments. It was a great time to arrive, there was enough light to see the city, but it was dark enough that all of the bright lights were on. Wow, Busan is gorgeous! Ocean, mountains, and tons of neon, so pretty. We met one of my coteachers as well as the foreign teachers that are at both of our schools, and went out for a Korean style bbq dinner after seeing 2 apartments. Korean BBQ is delicious – there is a grill set into the middle of the table and you cook your own meat. There are a variety of side dishes served, and you place you cooked beef into a lettuce leaf, roll it up with sauces, side dishes, whatever you want really, then you chow down! It was the best meal of Korea so far.
Since there was not an apartment ready for us, we were put up in a hotel for the night. Both of our schools are in rural areas north of the Haeundae area of Busan. My school is called Jang-An Elementary and has a grand total of 59 students! George works less than 10 minutes away at Wollae Elementary, a school with 360 students. His school is involved in a program where they teach everything in English, so he has to teach 2 math classes! I’m lucky enough to be doing strictly English from kindergarten to grade 6. We are both lucky enough to have another English teacher at our schools. They came for dinner last night, and have been helping our coteachers look for apartments. I haven’t had any teaching yet today, so I’ve met staff members, sat in on 1 class, and spent alot of time online!
Top: My co-teacher Mr. Jeon and I on my first day. Bottom: My school!
It's official - we have an apartment! We just finished moving our stuff in, and have to buy some more major items tomorrow, including a bed and couch. Let me just say, I'm absolutely in love with our apartment. The building is only 3 years old so everything is nice and new and open. Our bedroom has floor to ceiling windows and an ocean view! Anyways, I have to be up early tomorrow for the bus ride to school. Should be an interesting sleep on the hardwood floor tonight - the traditional korean way! At least they're heated! Top: Right outside my front door, on the way to work (and Starbucks) in the morning. Bottom: My apartment building.
More pictures available on facebook, and an apartment video will be posted within 24 hours!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Now it's time to say good night, Good night, Sleep tight

Just finished day 1 of orientation, and it was long!
Our wake-up call came at 7:30am and was music with bird calls played out of a speaker in our room - it took us awhile to figure out what was going on.
Breakfast was interesting. All of our meals are provided here, buffet style within our residence. Choices for breakfast included eggs, fruit salad, potato salad sandwiches and caesar salad. Needless to say I only ate eggs and fruit salad.
A 2 hour break followed breakfast and I spent some time online and then made a quick visit to the gym located on campus. It was tiny, but it felt good to run! I'm not confident enough to run outside in Seoul, for fear of getting lost. Once I get to Busan I'll make an effort to learn the city, and some more Korean so that I will feel better about venturing out.
Our opening ceremonies included many guest speakers and a performance by traditional Korean instruments which was really neat. This lasted until lunch where I experienced my first real Korean meal. Everything was good, just really spicy. The choices were rice, kimchi, a bunch of vegetables in sauce and a curry type dish.
The afternoon consisted of classes on co-teaching and classroom management, followed by another buffet style dinner. Around mid-afternoon exhaustion hit and it was hard to make it through the lectures without falling asleep even though the lecturers were all very entertaining.
We had a Korean class after dinner that didn't go so well. The levels of students in the class ranged from native Korean speakers and university students studying Korean to people like us who can sound out basic words but have no real working knowledge of the language. After about half an hour of sitting there feeling completely lost someone spoke up, revealed that the majority of the class was confused and the instructor graciously went back to the basics. It was a good learning experience though - I'm sure it mimics how my students will feel when I start teaching - having no clue what I'm saying!
Two volunteers from EPIK (the government agency who we work for) pulled George and I out of the class and asked us to make a decision about our living situation immediately. The head of our board of education will be apartment hunting for us this weekend and needed us to make a choice. They revealed that our schools will be on the outskirts of Busan in a very rural area where there isn't even a convenience store. Each school will only have about 50 students total, and the volunteers told us that this is a real bonus - we'll have small class sizes, and the school will have a real community feel. We were given the choice of living in this tiny town with no access to any stores, restaurants or attractions that Busan has to offer, OR living in Haeundae, a newer area of Busan and commuting 1/2 an hour to work everyday. It was a clear choice to pick the commute. Haeundae is said to be one of the best places to live in Busan. We'll be near the beach, and will have access to everything we need to be comfortable in Korea. The commute will be frustrating at time I'm sure, but it's worth it! Do a google image search and I'm sure you'll agree ;)
Tomorrow is packed with lectures - from breakfast until dinner, and then we're going out with a group of Laurier friends who are all teachers here.
Sunday we're doing the tourist thing - a Buddhist temple, a theatre performance, and Seoul national museum. That's followed by a farewell dinner at a seafood buffet.
Monday we are travelling to our teaching positions in Busan, hopefully by the high speed train which only takes 2.5 hours.
I'm not sure how much time I'll have for blogging for the next few days but I'll try my best.
That's all for today, Madzy passout needs some sleep!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm having trouble trying to sleep, I'm counting sheep but running out

I'm here in Korea .... it's been the longest day of my life, but somehow I'm still awake so I thought I'd try to get in an update before I forget everything.
I've been awake for close to 36 hours now, so this will not be well written - bear with me!

We started out at the Toronto airport with some major luggage drama. George hadn't weighed either of his suitcase and they were both about 8 kgs over the limit, so we spent close to half an hour re-arranging stuff into my suitcases, carry on, and an additional bag he bought. Somehow it all worked out, not too sure how we pulled it off!
We flew to Vancouver and had a few hours to kill, so had a nice Canadian lunch of burgers and fries and just tried to relax before our Vancouver-Seoul flight. We also ran into our friend Wade's parents. He's teaching in Korea right now, and we knew his parents were leaving the same day as us, but had never met them and no idea what they looked like. We somehow managed to pick them out of the crowds on our flight - what a small world!
The 13 hour flight actaully wasn't that bad. I watched alot of movies: Body of Lies, Casablanca, An Officer and a Gentleman and Twilight, as well as read a great book (The Cellist of Sarejavo) and listened to the new Killers album. I tried to sleep throughout, but the noise coupled with my excitment about arriving in Korea made that virtually impossible - I think I had a few 20 minute shut-eyed periods, but nothing resembling real sleep! I think the fact that it was daylight for the entire 20 hours we were in transit also had something to do with it.
We arrived at the airport in Seoul around 5:30 pm and our recruiter Clara was there to pick us up. She was extremely nice, helping us to buy an international phone card to call home, and getting us on the bus to the orientation venue. The bus ride took about an hour and a half through the crazy Seoul traffic but we arrived in one piece.
As soon as arriving at the converted university campus thats used exclusively for international learning we got our room assignments, filled out paperwork to geta Korean bank account, and took a Korean proficiency test. The majority of people haven't learned anything, so George and I who can read the alphabet and sound out words were placed in the advanced section for tomorrow - ha ha ha!
I was so excited to shower and go to bed after over 24 hours awake, but that didn't happen. George's best friend Quan has been here since June or July and insisted on taking us out in Seoul for our first night. We set out from the orientation venue to meet him at a nearby subway station but ended up completely lost, so asked a Korean woman for help. She was so kind, and went in the oposite direction that she'd been heading in order to drop us off at the doors to the subway - so nice!
We went out with Quan and his Korean friend Aileen and had some delicious food - some kind of spicy shrimp with red and green peppers and the infamous soju - the Korean alcohol that I've heard horror stories about. I had a couple of shots, but was too tired to handle the taste - kind of like watered down vodka, but the cheapest stuff - eww! Aileen taught us about some of the drinking traditions in Korea. Age determines who pours the drinks as well as who starts and ends the drinking. She also showed us how to accept and pour alcohol properly. There is alot of custom and respect tied into drinking here and we have alot to learn! Seoul is crazy, so many people, such bright lights, food vendors everwhere, and so much public intoxication - I should have been more overwhelmed I think, but I was too exhausted.
We're up at 7:30 for breakfast then don't have anything until opening ceremonies at 11. I think Im going to try to head to the gym - I am so sore from the hours of sitting down today and really need to stretch my legs!
Goodnight :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane

It's finally that time - we're going to Korea!
In a few hours I'm heading to Mississauga for the night then flying out at 9am tomorrow. We'll be arriving in Seoul at 5:30pm Korean time on Thusday (4:30am here).

Packing has been a nightmare - I think only about 1/3 of the stuff I had planned to take actually fit into my suitcases, but they are ready to go after hours of re-arranging. Let's hope Korea has my size of clothing and footwear. I need to re-stock!

Thanks to everyone at home for all of the well-wishes. I'll really miss of of you :)

What I'm looking forward to:
  • missing an entire Canadian winter
  • experiencing a new culture... food, language, customs, EVERYTHING
  • traveling around southeast Asia
  • working with kids again after  long year away from coaching

What I'll miss the most:
  • my wonderful friends and family
  • Dexter, my puppy
  • living on the lake and all the fun that summer brings
  • slices from pizza villa
  • the amazing tri group at the Y
  • driving

My packed suitcases and one sad puppy

Well that's my last blog post from Canada ... I'll update from Korea (!!!!) as soon as I can. We're scheduled to attend an orientation in Seoul until the 30th, before moving into our apartment in Busan, so I'll let everyone know how things are going as soon as I have time and internet access.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Celebrate good times, come on!

Some great news on our journey, FINALLY!

We picked up our visas from the Korean consulate in Toronto today. This was the last document we needed to be allowed into Korea, and the process was long and stressful. Needless to say we were extremely excited!

That excitement carried us back to Peterborough and straight to the slot machines at Kawartha Downs, hoping to extend our luck. $20 each and 5 minutes later we admitted defeat and went home to book our flights.

Miraculously we decided to book tickets on a day when flights were significantly cheaper then any we'd seen. We were expecting to pay around $1000 each but managed to find flights for $716 which included ALL taxes. Thank you Air Canada!

So it's official:

Feels so good to finally have a departure date!