Aug 31, 2012

Questionable English Photo of the Day

The Whirlwind: Part 2

Wednesday. What to say about Wednesday. Well, Wednesday was my first day of school. I totally looked the part. Grey dress, black sweater, black flats, black tights. I get to school and Coteacher is wearing designer jeans and a t shirt. I'm still trying to work out the dress code.

Welcome to English Zone! I have a classroom all to myself (well, Coteacher and I share, but her desk is in another room.) As you can see form the number of desks, my classes aren't very big. Wednesday I taught the advanced classes of 3rd, 5th, and 4th graders. Each class started the same, with me giving a quick introduction of myself and the students looking at me with wide, uncomprehending eyes. Then, Coteacher would open the textbook and launch into the lesson. I would stand at the front looking helpful, and Coteacher would occasionally push the book into my hands and say "read this." I did go over irregular verbs with the 5th graders, though. I start lesson planning for realsies next week.

My school is right next to (ok, fine, in the middle of) a giant flea market. I get to walk through it every day on my way home.

After school, Coteacher and I headed over to immigration. It's like the DMV (RMV, for Bostonians), but more crowded, not air-conditioned, and in Korean. Coteacher made sure I had all my documents with me and then left me alone. I told her she could go. She has a baby in daycare. 2 hours of sitting in the waiting area later, they finally called my number.  I can pick up my Alien Registration Card (ARC) in 2 weeks.

After that, I tried to go get a phone plan, but then decided to wait until I got my ARC so I can get a real plan, instead of a crappy pre-paid one. I'm getting internet in my apartment tomorrow, so that should compensate for a lack of phone for a while.

I got out my subway card to go home, and realized my passport wasn't in my wallet. Time ground to a halt. If you've ever traveled/lived abroad, you know that you become obsessively attached to and concerned about your passport. I have to wait 2 weeks until I get my ARC, and until then, my passport is my life. I don't exist in Korea without it.

So, you can imagine my panic when I realized I'd left it at the phone store 4 blocks away. I'm sure Seoulites got a chuckle out of the random white girl running down the street looking like her life was on the line. Luckily, the girl who had been helping me at the phone store was waiting with it, and she was just as relieved to give it back to me as I was to get it. Crisis averted.

I FINALLY got home around 6 (10 hours after I'd left), showered, and headed over to the coffee shop down the road to prey on their free wifi (and delicious cheese buns). I know this probably means I'm too dependent on technology, but the lack of internet and a phone is slowly killing me. The internet people are coming to my apartment tonight to set it up, so with any luck, I'll be posting this on my brand new, high-speed Korean wifi(!!!) And when they say "high speed" in Korea, you know they ain't messin around. Go Google the average internet speed in Korea compared to the rest of the world. Go ahead. I'll wait.

So yeah. The whirlwind of moving to Korea is slowly settling down. Real life will start kicking in when I start having to plan 5 lessons, 4 after-school classes and English club every week. Until then, I'm just floating along.

UPDATE: I'm a day late in posting this. Internet in apartment = functional.

I had English club tonight (Friday). They're absolute heathens. They wouldn't stop smacking each other.  Getting this picture was like herding cats. I think I'm in love.

Aug 29, 2012

K-Fail of the Day: The Soapdish

Introducing a new series called "K-Fails", in which Meg does something dumb because she can't speak Korean.

Today's K-fail of the Day: The Soap Dish.

I bough a soap dish for my bathroom last night. Took it out of the packaging, removed the little plastic cover on the sticky bit, and stuck it to my bathroom wall. I proceeded to take a shower, during which the new soap dish promptly fell to the floor. It then occurred to me that the instructions probably say something along the lines of "Attach to clean, dry surface. Allow to set for 30 minutes before showering."

Now I need a new soap dish.


The Whirlwind: Part 1

So. Moving in a typhoon is super fun. Yesterday I loaded my 100+ lbs of luggage onto the bus, bright and early. We hit the road for Seoul just before 9am. Stopped at a rest stop, where I got a little slice of home.

When I got to the district office, I was met by a rail-thin young woman sporting glittery eyeliner, fabulous heels and a designer purse. She introduced herself as my new coteacher, henceforth known as Coteacher. Coteacher's English isn't awesome, but we do just fine. She was accompanied  the school guidance counselor, who is very sweet, but speaks about as much English as I speak Korean (also known as practically none.) I have half a mind to see if she wants to do a language exchange with me.

Here is home, sweet home. If you zoom into street view, I live on the 7th floor of the building with the "Billiards" sign.

View Home Sweet Home in a larger map

As you may have been aware, there was a typhoon happening throughout all of this. Coteacher took me to my apartment, ran down the street with me to buy toilet paper and milk, and then was like "I gotta get home before the storm. The school is two subway stops away. You can get there tomorrow, right? K bye."

Then, I was left alone to unpack. 

I rearranged it a bit after I took these, but I don’t want to take pictures at the moment because A: it’s dark and will just look gloomy and B: I just did a load of laundry (IN MY APARTMENT. FOR FREE.) and don’t have a drying rack, so all my clothes are laid out flat on the floor. Korean floors are just as clean as anything else in the apartment because you don’t wear shoes inside. There’s a little sunken tile area right inside the door where you take your shoes off.

Great news—I have a neighbor!! Another girl from my orientation group is living two floors below me. When Coteacher dropped me off, she told me that she was pretty sure another teacher was moving into apt 505 today. It took me three tries before I stopped chickening out, but eventually I went and knocked on the door. It’s a girl who I'll call Neighbor. I never really talked to her in orientation (in fact, we barely recognized each other), but we’re so relieved to have a neighbor. It’s already working out well for me because she has a microwave (which I do not), AND her apartment came with a coffee maker that she didn’t want. So she…wait for it… gave it to me. For free. The coffee gods have smiled upon me.

Anyway, Neighbor and I ventured out into the storm, which was really just like an exceptionally blustery day (click the link for a perfect example of my impression). We got ramen from a convenience store down the street, and enjoyed our very first Korean meal in our new apartments. We even ate it on the floor of her apartment, Korean-style.

Stay tuned for "The Whirlwind: Part 2" in which I describe my first few days as an elementary school English teacher.

Aug 27, 2012

My New School!

Drumroll, please....

You are reading the blog of the newest teacher at  숭신초(Soongshin Elementary)! It's located in Jongno-gu, or Jongno district.

I will be moving there tomorrow, into an apartment located somewhere nearby. I don't know where yet, but my coteacher(s) will be meet me at the district office in Seoul tomorrow to whisk me away to my new life.

Oh, and this will all happen at the height of the typhoon. Yay.

View Larger Map

Aug 24, 2012

Field Trip!!!

Oh look, I'm in Korea!

Yesterday was so much fun!! We finally left what we've dubbed as "The Compound." I finally feel like I'm in Korea.

First  we had a pottery demonstration, followed by pottery painting. It was a very quick and efficient way for us to  discern who the closeted artists were.  I think we're all starting to take to heart our new jobs as elementary school teachers... because we all completely lost our sh*t over pottery. ARTS AND CRAFTS!!!! We each got to paint a pre-made pot and attempt to build a pot out of a block of clay. The painting came out slightly better than the pot-making. I went with the abstract design on my pot. Yay for swoops and dots.

Inline image 1

Then we had lunch, which was our first authentic Korean food since we've been here. MMMM bibimbap!

Inline image 2

After that, we visited a Buddhist temple. It was gorgeous, even though it was pouring rain. Arguably, it was more beautiful because it was pouring rain.

From there, we were whisked to a museum designed like a traditional Korean village. We saw a traditional musical performance, and got to try on traditional Korean clothes!! Naturally, all the girls freaked out. DRESS UP!! I WANT TO BE A PRINCESS!  By some stroke of luck, I got to try on the traditional queen's robes. Queen Meg. Bow to me.

Inline image 3

That was followed by a quick museum tour before we headed home. But the day wasn't quite over yet....

It's not quite a day in Korea unless it ends with a couple of cold Casses, a bottle of Soju (not pictured) and new friends.

Aug 22, 2012

Orientation: Day 3

Yesterday was uneventful. I had a medical checkup in the morning and promptly went back to my room and immediately flooded my body with lots of lovely drugs. I'd been abstaining from my allergy and asthma medication for about a week because we were told just about anything can trigger a false positive on the pee test. So, I was a sneezy, wheezy mess for about a week, and now feel like a rock star. Thank God for modern medicine.

On to today. This morning we had a lecture about storytelling in the classroom. Our amazing lecturer was this woman who is essentially a professional storyteller. She's an expert in children's literature and travels all over the world telling Korean folk stories and reading books to children. She read several classic children's books to us out loud, to teach things like expression, pace, and volume control. At the very end, she read us Love You Forever, which is a book my mom read to me all the time as a little girl.

Boy, that was brutal. Definitely not a good choice to read to a bunch of 20somethings who just moved across the planet from their family. There was hardly a dry eye in the room.

Then we had a much less emotionally charged lecture about teaching after school classes and how to get your vacation time.

Two more lectures this afternoon, followed by Korean class after dinner.  On the bright side, last night was the first time I've slept through the night since I've been here. Progress.

Aug 21, 2012


I just ordered a latte... in Korean! This is huge. Recognize.

Orientation: Day 1

Day 1 of Orientation started with a tour of campus. I was reminded of the scene in Arrested Development where the Bluth Company employees blindly follow someone around until they end up on Catalina Island. It was kind of like that. We blindly followed other people in our uniform navy blue EPIK shirts, who were presumably following our Korean orientation staff. Nobody paid attention to where we were walking or what was being said.

After that, it was a lot of sitting in big lecture halls. We were treated to a traditional Korean music concert... and a giant screen projection of Gangnam Style.

 I did, however, learn the proper way to perform a Korean handshake (minimal eye contact, left hand supporting right wrist), and that Koreans are very open about pooping. We had about a 15 minute portion of one of the lectures today that discussed how Koreans will be late for things because they're pooping, and if you ask why they're late, that's what they'll tell you. We were shown this video clip.. projected on a giant lecture hall screen. Hilarity ensued.

One thing that's proving to be challenging is the food. Having had genuine Korean food, I know it is delicious. But the stuff we're being serve here.... not so much. It's all some weird version of what Koreans think Americans eat, plus rice and kimchi. For dinner, I forced down part of a cold drumstick, some carrots, rice, a bit of pork curry soup, and, of course, kimchi. Koreans eat kimchi with every meal. Luckily, I know I'm not the only one who is struggling with the food here. It seems to be a pretty common problem.

This was lunch, which wasn't so bad.

"Spaghetti" with asparagus soup, rice, and of course, kimchi. We've decided that they're trying to feed us some weird hybrid of Korean food and what Koreans think American food is like, all mass produced for 400ish brand new English teachers. The result is a lot of room-temperature meat and rubbery vegetables.

More lectures after lunch. We get an early bedtime tonight, so I plan to take full advantage of it. Snoozefest in 3...2...1....

Aug 20, 2012

Singapore Air: You're doing it right.

Please excuse the weird formatting. I don't know what's going on and am too tired to fix it.

Greetings from the future. It's Tuesday morning where I am right now.  I got into Daejeon last night, following a 24-hour trip from Boston and a 3 hour bus ride from Seoul. I've met some great people so far, and last night was the first time I'd slept (soberly) for more than 2 hours in a row since Wednesday.

I start orientation today, so more on that later. Now, I'd like to tell you a little about the best airline ever. The following is what I wrote while on the plane, but was unable to upload it until now:

Let me tell you, Singapore air is doing it right.

Marathon of How I Met Your Mother? Don't mind if I do. That was followed by a marathon of Downton Abbey. The thing was like Netflix, you could just browse all the options and watch what you wanted when you wanted. And yes, that is a free cup of wine it its own little cup holder.
They thought of everything! They even handed out little packets containing socks and toothbrushes with the tiniest tube of toothpaste I've ever seen. The socks are way softer than the ones I brought, so I'm wearing them now :) they match my seat. The only disappointment so far has been that they were out of what I wanted for lunch. We had a choice between Korean fried rice with beef, fish filet with pasta and seafood noodles. I wanted the Korean rice, partly for obvious reasons and partly because the smell of fish on a plane is possibly the worst thing ever. Alas, they were out :( I went with the seafood noodles, which were still pretty good. I just ate around the shrimp. I know I need to be braver about food, but an 11 hour flight is neither the time nor the place, in my humble opinion. 

The only other small annoyance is that I wasn't able to sleep more than a few hours without a flight attendant coming around waking me up to offer food. I had to resist from getting snippy. Its not their fault. They're only doing their job, plus they're super friendly and have the coolest uniforms.

Ok, back to present time. I was so happy when my luggage was all together, I took a picture of it!

Also, here's what my room looks like right now:

And the view from my window:

Oh hi, Korea!

Aug 19, 2012

An American Hero

Sitting at the gate in Boston.  Just got through the anticipated nightmare of checking my bags. Here's how it went down:

Bag man: "Final destination is Seoul, South Korea, correct?"

Me: "absofruitly"

(heaves bag #1 onto the scale: 45.5)

Me: "YES!! BOOM!!  NAILED IT!"  (turns around to face crowd and perform the Olympic gymnastics arms-in-the-air thing) 

(heaves bag #2 onto the scale: 54)

Me: "oh... fuuu"

Bag Man: "ehh,  close enough."

Me: (sheds silent tears of gratitude)

The moral of the story is this: Anyone can be an American Hero.

Aug 18, 2012

Here Goes Nothing

It's 1:30 in the morning. I'm sitting in my empty apartment. Against all possible odds, my suitcases all closed.  One of my dear friends will be here in 2 hours to take me to the airport. I know. She's definitely MVP material.
It's been an emotional few days. Saying goodbye to people is exhausting! Also, these days, no one really says goodbye. Thanks to the miracles of modern stalking techniques (ahem...I mean...Facebook), no one is ever really out of touch. Even more, there are apps now that let you basically override any previous limitations on international texting, which means even though I'll be on the other side of the world, I can still be in near-constant contact with the people I care about.
Ok, time to anxiously pace my apartment some more. By the time most of you read this, I'll be in transit. Catch you on the flip side.

Aug 15, 2012

Spot The Essentials

You may be wondering what exactly one might pack to spend a year in another country. Here's a peek at my suitcase full of crap (I have another filled purely with clothes). Let's play a game called "Spot The Essentials."

Aug 6, 2012

Takeoff Playlist

(Note: if you're reading this in an RSS reader, you may have to click through to see the embedded playlist)

I've started a playlist to get me through the very first moments of the Big Adventure. I've  published it on Spotify and embedded it  below, so everyone can see and make suggestions. They're all along the theme of being brave and grabbing life by the horns. Yes, some of them are super cheesy, but just bear with me.

I'll listen to it as I'm... wait for it... taking off.  I know it's going to be quite a roller coaster of emotions, and there's nothing like a good playlist to get you through.

So, if you're reading this before August 19th, 2012 (henceforth dubbed "Wheels Up Day"), please leave a comment with a song suggestion!
(if it only looks like this is 8 songs long, there's a secret scroll button on the side. check it out.)

Aug 5, 2012

T-Minus 2 Weeks

Packing is really stressful. It doesn't help that in the next week I'm taking a trip within a trip right before The Big Trip. It's like Inception.