For someone who has never been out of the United States before, the realization of being in another country begins to sink in once you get off the plane. At least that’s how it was for me.
I’ll try to be honest about my experience thus far in South Korea, but I’m still in the “honeymoon phase” of being a teacher over here.
The one question people asked me the months, weeks and even days, before my trip is, “Has it sunk in yet?”
The 13-hour flight was surprisingly bearable. If you’ve ever flown internationally, then you should know, and have experienced, the complimentary alcoholic drinks.
Needless to say, I took full advantage of the airplane services. I had two glasses of white wine, a Budweiser, two meals and too many pretzels. I watched movies, such as Captain Phillips, The Butler and Groundhog Day. I also took two or three naps and played Tetris for an hour or two.
After the plane landed, I found a woman holding up the “Mr. Julian Lopez” sign. It was Anna, my recruiter. She and I hopped on a bus to head to the hectic sector of the airport.
While on the bus, I got to see Seoul at night for the first time. The lights are spectacular and brilliantly strung along a beautiful metropolitan skyline.
After making the initial “nice to meet you” chitchat with Anna, we talked about life in Korea, and she enjoyed every aspect of it. That was the first of many reliefs for me.
The biggest relief came when I met my coworkers and boss the next day at work. I work with five Korean teachers, two American teachers and the principal. I work about 30 hours a week, which is split up between 10 hours of prep and 20 hours in the classroom.
I find that the biggest drawback of my job is communicating with the kids. Their English is a few tiers below basic, but that’s expected. As with any school, some show up to learn and some just show up because their parents want them to get a leg-up in the world.
South Korea is not that different from where I’m from in Orange County. In Jinjeop-eup, the small town about an hour south of Seoul where I found this teaching gig, there are a few remedies that one would find in or around Orange County. Jinjeop-eup has cafes, pharmacies, markets and a McDonald’s.
Some words of advice, if you plan on teaching here, or anywhere for that matter, start learning the language now. I’m getting by on the bowing, smiling and saying hello, goodbye and thank you, but I’d like to know more. I’m going to be here for the next 11 months.
What I’ve learned about Korea so far is that sometimes you need to put faith in the person you are communicating with. Nobody out here is trying to mess with foreigners, although I’m sure there are some people in Seoul, and a few in every small town, that might.
Keeping a sense of adventure and an open mind are truly essential tools for an expedition like this. I’ve been to Seoul three times in four weeks, I’ve tried food I thought never existed, I’ve met amazing people and the biggest lesson I’m in the process of learning at this moment is semi-self-reliance—what every post-grad needs.