This Monday marked three weeks for Brianna and I in Korea. It feels a little surreal to type that, seeing as it simultaneously feels like it’s only been a week, and like we’ve been here for months. For those of you who follow my personal Facebook, you’ve seen a steady stream of food pics and adventures, but I thought it was high time I update the blog.
We flew from Halifax to New York, to Atlanta, to Seoul, which was a 15-hour flight. Upon landing in Seoul, we still had a three-hour bus ride ahead of us. All said and done, we were in transit for close to 26 hours. PHEW.
I spent much of the first week shaking off jet lag. A 12-hour time difference meant my body would be crashing in the middle of the afternoon, thinking it was the early hours of the morning. Navigating grocery stores, figuring out how to get rid of garbage (special, neighbourhood-specific bags!) and becoming acclimatized to the new sights and smells also kept me sleeping plenty.
That Friday, we started work – a light introduction day made up of games and shaking dozens of kids hands. I would be teaching a mix of kids from 5 year olds in kindergarten to grade 5’s. One thing to note is that Korean ages are actually a year older than global ages – everyone is 1 immediately at birth. This means those 5 year olds are actually 4, and the 4 year olds Brianna would be teaching are 3.
The first full week of work felt like a whirlwind: learning (and being confused by) different schedules, what class is using which book, where they are in that book and getting used to using my 'teacher's voice.' We spent that Saturday exploring Gwangju, mainly the restaurant-packed area near Chonnam University.
We grabbed some Japanese food, then checked out the dozens of little clothing shops scattered through the district. We wrapped up the night with a bubble tea and some people watching before hopping on the bus home. The bus probably the most convinient way to get around. Most trips are 1,250 won with a pass card (about $1.35) and every bus we've taken runs every 10-20 minutes. Taxis are more expensive, costing about 8,000-15,000 to get from our neighborhood to downtown, but still quite reasonable for a 20-30 minute ride.
The second week was our first full week of classes. We would be adding 2-3 kindergarten classes per day to our schedule, which meant learning another curriculum and finding some new classrooms. It can be difficult to go from singing to kids who only have a word or two in their vocabulary to teaching grammar and sentence structure, but it keeps the day varied and interesting. We also started a 6-week Korean class at the local international centre to get us beyond 'annyeonghaseyo' and 'kamsahamnida.'
We also spent time organizing a trip next month. Between Chuseok (Korea's harvest holiday), Hangeul Proclamation and Armed Forces Day, we have the first week of October off. To make the most of it, we're heading south to Yeosu and Suncheon. Yeosu is known for its seafood and beautiful views, while Suncheon has a sprawling nature park and man-made garden. Booking busses required the help of our coworkers, but despite a little confusion, we're excited to see more of the country.
Last weekend, we ventured up to 5.18 Memorial Park, just 20 minutes by bus from our apartment. The park commemorates the hundreds of lives lost during the May 18th, 1980 protest against the authoritarian government. Though the demonstration was violently put down, South Korea's appetite for democracy remained, and in 1988, the country saw a new constitution and free elections.
The park is serene. At its highest point is a colourful temple, as well as an observation tower with 360 degree views of the nearby business district and Mudeungsan mountain further off in the distance. There's also winding walking trails, outdoor gyms, ample green grass for picnics and statues commemorating the sacrifices made by the protestors.
There's still so much to do (and so many foods to eat) here. But we've settled into a nice daily routine, are getting our Alien Registration Cards soon (meaning we can finally get bank accounts and phone plans!) and have some awesome adventures planned.
Next week, I'll be showing off some more of my favourite shots from the walk to work, and all around the streets of Gwangju.