Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I Wore a Shower Cap to School

Don't be fooled, there is a shower cap under there!
It’s been quite an eventful first week back in Korea, so here is a quick recap:

August 23rd:
We left Kansas City with two one-way tickets in hand. The first left MCI at 6:10am in route to Salt Lake City before reaching our destination in San Francisco. The other departed at 2:10pm from San Fran with non-stop service to South Korea! Buying these one way tickets was cheaper than buying a ticket all the way through. When we told people this, they all asked the same thing, “what if the first plane is delayed and you miss your international connection? They have no obligation to re-book you.” We let the comments sort of roll off our backs as we knew with a 4.5 hour padded layover time, this would not be an issue.

We left KC on time and landed in Salt Lake City without a hitch. We noticed that our flight to San Fran had been delayed 20 min. “Great,” we thought, we had time to get something to eat. Well, that 20 min delay turned into an hour, which turned into an hour and 30 minutes which then turned into a three hour delay. The panic began to set in and we were scrambling to find the number of Singapore Airlines to figure out what to do if we were to miss the flight! Luckily we made it San Fran with about 45 minutes to spare and we were ready to return back to South Korea!

August 25th-26th
We made it to orientation which was held the same place as our previous one, Jeonju University, “The Place for Superstars.” We found out our school and living location, attended the farewell dinner filled with memories the other teachers made (we did not have to attend the full orientation), and enjoyed a delicious meal.

August 27th
Because Andrew and I did not have to attend orientation since we had been through it before, we missed the mandatory medical testing. So at 7am on Monday morning, we took a bus with a few other teachers to “Medi-Check” where we answered questions behind closed doors, had our blood taken (sans gloves), peed in a cup, tested our eyes and hearing, got weighed and had our chest x-rayed. Super fun experience as you can imagine.

We then boarded a bus at 9am with the rest of the Gyeongbuk teachers and began our three hour journey southeast. We made a stop for lunch before driving 10 more minutes to an empty parking lot where we would meet our co-teachers who would drive us the rest of the way to our new homes.

Our lovely bathroom.
The scene was much more organized than last time. And by organized, I mean the Korean co-teachers held up big signs with our names on it. I was hoping for a young female teacher this time since my last one was an older male. Alas my wish was granted! Two women came over to Andrew and I holding up big pink signs with our names on them. Both spoke English well, we loaded our bags into the trunk and rode with them for about an hour and a half to Pohang, our new home. We were thrilled to learn that our schools were right next to each other, so we can commute together. Andrew is teaching middle school (he’s less than thrilled) and I got elementary school again! Before arriving at our apartment, Alice (my co-teacher) said that if it’s too small, they will try to find something else because it’s only single housing. Andrew and I weren’t too worried because we lived in single housing in Ulsan that was small, but we survived just fine.

The main room. Our twin bed.

HA! We should have been worried with a preface like that. Our Ulsan apartment seems like a mansion now! Let me set the scene. Most Korean apartments are high rises with hundreds of apartments in each unit. We pulled down a sketchy ally way to a tiny building with maybe 10 units. We hauled our stuff up the three flights of stairs to our new apartment. We walk in, take our shoes off and immediately to our left is a room that is 5x5 of wasted space, my co-teacher did not know what it was for. The bathroom would hardly be called a half bath in the states. There was a sink and a toilet with the shower head on the wall between the two. The main room is about 9x9. It has a table with two chairs, a desk with a TV on it and a TWIN bed for Andrew and I to share with no blankets, sheets or pillows (luckily we brought sheets, and are using sweatshirts as pillows!) The “kitchen” has a sink and a burner, no counter. A side table with a microwave on it, next to the fridge, which is next to the washing machine. Because of the sliding door, and the bed, the fridge door doesn’t open all the way, and you have to do the laundry sideways to fit. NOT LIVEABLE!

Andrew in the "kitchen."
She tells us to drop our stuff off then shows us the way to the grocery store. While on our quick 5 min walk over a bridge, we pass the railroad tracks, she tells us this is not a good part of town. “Ok great,” I think, “We live in a bad part of town!” She leaves us and Andrew and I are left to explore. We are actually right next to downtown which has a lot of great shopping and restaurants, so that’s good, but this apartment situation, is a problem. So we do the American thing, eat at Pizza Hut and scheme about how to get a new apartment…

August 28th
Andrew and I woke up at 4:30am… we are far too big to sleep in a twin bed. We ate cereal out of coffee cups using chopsticks because we have no bowls or spoons. It’s pouring outside and windy as heck, but yea…it’s our first day of school! Andrew has no umbrella, so I make a marital sacrifice and wear a raincoat and a shower cap…yes, a shower cap to school on the first day. We go outside, braving this insane weather to try to hail a cab. This takes about 10 minutes as we live on a side road, so we are both super wet at this point (except for my hair…I’m a genius) and take the quick 5 min ride completely uphill to our schools. We see middle school kids everywhere but there is not a soul to be seen outside my school.
Surprisingly easier than it looks.

I go in and there are no students. In broken English, a sweet women comes up to me, “Did you hear announcement?” … "umm…no," it was in Korean I think to myself. “No students today because of typhoon.” Ok, I think, soooooo what about the teachers? Are we supposed to be here? I have no cell phone to call Andrew or my co-teacher. I’m the only one in the teachers’ room listening to wind and rain and sweating to death because of course there is no air conditioning. After a few minutes the teachers begin to arrive, thank goodness, and again I’m told there are no classes.

I make my introductions and sit at my desk. I then sort through some administration items with a few of the English teachers. The rest of the morning was spent bowing, and dancing, you know, usual first day stuff.

Since there were no students today, there was no lunch, so we all went out to a delicious restaurant that I’m going to have to take Andrew to. When 2:30pm comes around, Andrew comes over to my school so my co-teacher can take us to get our bank accounts set up. He’s a little rattled a lot sweaty. He informed me that he was thrown to the wolves and had to teach five classes…which he was not prepared for, and they went less than desirable. Poor guy, I had a great day!

Alice and another co-teacher of mine, Belle, took Andrew and I to set up bank accounts. By 4pm we were done and we were told we were going to look at a few apartment options! We were so excited we could not stop smiling! NO MORE TWIN BED! House Hunter’s International here we come! The first two options were brand new and so much bigger than our current residence, the third one was in a super sketchy part of town, and the fourth one was older, but near downtown and closest to our schools.

We should find out later this week which one the school approves. We better hear something quick, as our current apartment lease is up Aug 31st!'s good to be back in a land where we are the VERY last to know anything...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Conventional Wisdom

We are now four days from departure. Our heads are spinning with “to do” lists and my stress level is at an all time high. Our biggest worry was not getting our visa’s back in time, but thankfully those arrived on Thursday, so that saved me from a complete nervous breakdown. Slowly but surly we are crossing things off our list while continuing to add a few oversights to the bottom…but we are getting there.

Today we promised Andrew’s parents that we would go to 8:30am church with them. I usually go to my church at the 5pm service purely based on the fact that I am not a morning person. But after listening to Pastor Brown’s sermon, I knew there was a reason we were called to be there this morning. I felt like God was speaking directly to us through the scripture and stories that were preached. Thus the inspiration for this blog post.

His sermon was on the idea of conventional wisdom. This is something that I touched on briefly in my last post but from my own perspective. Mine and Andrew's decision to return to Korea to teach English after a two year hiatus is definitely not conventional wisdom by American standards. We are choosing a path that most people our age view as risky. We gave up jobs at great companies, we’re getting out of the ‘rat race’ at a crucial time, we aren’t using our college degrees etc. By society’s standards we are taking the unconventional path.

Pastor Brown read from Ephesians 5:15-17: Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

The timing of these verses in my life could have only been the mastermind of God. I needed to hear those words in order to put some of my doubts to rest. By Andrew and I courageously putting our lives on hold and moving away from our families to teach English abroad, we are truly making the most of a given opportunity. 

Whew...I feel better about this whole decision!

So before we leave the US, and embark on our second adventure in Korea, I want to leave you with this final verse of encouragement from Pastor Brown. Think about your life and your passions; are they right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? If not, make some changes, follow your heart, make the most of every opportunity and live to be the person God is calling you to be J

Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.