Throw it away. Forget yesterday. We’ll make the great escape... -Boys Like Girls, “The Great Escape”
I officially made it to South Korea! I’ve been here for just over three weeks. It’s hard to believe it’s only been that long. It feels like so much longer. It’s truly amazing how fast your whole life can change. In three weeks, I feel like I’ve already become a new person. I’ve learned more about not only Korea but also the world and myself. Let’s start with orientation…
I was super nervous before I got to orientation because I didn’t know what to expect. In the past year, this was the second time I was leaving a comfortable life and people behind. This time was riskier because I was doing it on my own, across the world from everything I ever knew, and anything could happen. That’s the beautiful part about this whole thing: anything can happen. Despite all of this, I never felt so sure of anything in my life. After months of preparation, the time had come for my great escape, and I was determined to give it my all.
It turned out that orientation was a lot of fun. I learned a lot, as I continue to do every day I’m here. Probably the most important thing I learned at orientation was what waygooks like to call “Korean surprise.” I had always heard about this before, and after only three weeks, I can say that it is 100% true. It has already happened to me several times. Korean surprise is basically when something unexpected happens, often at the last minute. We heard many times at orientation that 95% of us would be teaching elementary school. Surprise! I’m teaching middle school, and so are a lot of my friends. My first week, I found out as my students were coming in my classroom that I had already taught them the day before. Surprise! Impromptu lesson plan! (They loved it!) As a social worker, I often had to think quickly – sometimes in what were literally life or death situations – but there’s nothing like a Korean surprise to really test you. The great thing is that I’ve learned to go with the flow and laugh about it. I feel like I can handle almost anything. (That’s not a challenge, Universe!)
Another amazing thing about orientation was the people. I never lived in a dorm when I was in college and never had a roommate. There’s a tiny part of me that felt like I missed out on the real college experience. Being an extreme introvert who can only tolerate people for 3 days max, I was nervous about sharing a room with a total stranger. Thankfully, my roommate was awesome, and we had no issues. I was worried I’d get someone who partied all the time, but I ended up being the one who tried to get out as much as possible. I knew I’d be placed in a smaller town, so I wanted to see as many people as I could while I had the chance. I forced myself to go out and do things I wouldn’t normally do and hang out with people I didn’t know well. I tried to eat with someone different at nearly every meal, which I highly recommend, even if you are as shy as I am. As a result, I made friends from all over the US, Canada, South Africa (My Korean sucks, but my Afrikaans is coming along!), and even a few from Australia and the UK.
After orientation, my lovely co-teacher picked me up right at the orientation site because it wasn’t far from my town. I actually was placed in a tiny town of about 40,000. There’s not a whole lot to do here, but it seems to have good transportation. (Much more reliable than the CTA!) I can take the bus straight to Daejeon or the KTX to Seoul, I think. People also seem pretty nice. Those things you hear about Koreans seem to be true – they really do go out of their way to help you. I’ve been given food, rides home, beautiful pictures (from the art teacher at my school) from people who barely even speak English. I don’t have a lot of friends here yet, but that’s fine because I love the moments of just walking around town and listening to music on my own.
Overall, I would say my experience has been pretty positive so far. I’m planning to try to travel more soon and already have my first trip to Busan planned for next weekend. I’m going to the Holi Hai festival, and I’m sure I will post another blog after it. For now, I’ll continue to take everything as it comes!