Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"I wished for a yellow-haired teacher!"

Needless to say, I kind of stick out here. From the bit of exploring I've done in Daegu, I've yet to run into another foreigner. Seriously. There is apparently a large foreign/expat population in Daegu but where they are hiding is beyond me. Hopefully I will successfully meet some fellow EPIK English teachers this evening (read: if I can find my way to the meeting place). I received my contract and placement a bit later than many EPIK teachers, which means I missed the big 10-day she-bang orientation in Seoul where friendships were made, hearts broken, enemies forged, etc. I did not enjoy this luxury and instead (per my previous post) headed straight from Seoul to Daegu. My co-teacher, Jin, said yesterday in the car, "I am worried you are lonely," (because I know no one here). Though this would probably hold true in a week or so, I am so consumed with applying for my alien registration card (I AM AN ALIEN, What a win!), medical exams, opening bank accounts, buying furniture, and taking care of all the little things, that I don't have time for social interaction. Yeah, I know, I said that. Who knew?

My first day at school (Monday), I walked onto the DaeSung Elementary School campus and was met with gaping stares. Little girls and boys ran up to me eagerly "hello"-ing and "teacha"-ing me. As I was introduced to each new class of the day, I received the expected questions, "You have boyfriend?" "How old are you?" (which when I said 22 caused quited a stir, I still don't know why), and then the stranger questions like, "How tall are you?" and "You like kimchi?" During the lessons, I would consistently catch a child or two looking back at me, wondering what I was doing. I was probably writing in my journal/on facebook. We have these small whiteboard paddle boards for answering questions in class. One girl drew a smiley face on it and flashed it back to me. These kids are great, I think I am really going to enjoy it here.

However, the crowning achievement of my objectification occurred while waiting outside the DaeSung English Village (yeah, I teach in an English Village, more on that later) for my co-teacher to unlock the classroom. I was standing under a ceiling fan trying earnestly to cool down from 90-degree heat and horrible humidity (my hair is just never going to dry, I've come to terms with this) and was approached by a gaggle of 5th grade girls. "I wished for a yellow-haired teacher!" I smiled and said, "Well, now you've got one!" They all giggled and tried to ask me questions I couldn't understand, oggled at my yellow-hair, and one girl even commented on the unusual size of my chest. Shameless? I say honest.

Well, this yellow-haired teacher must return to reviewing the English textbooks for next week's lessons. It's quite a throw-back to my 7th grade Spanish class with the funky photos, outdated hairstyles, and really awkward songs. Up next: Lesson 10, I'm Stronger than You!

It's Hite Time!

Well it is Hite time for me right now (Hite is one of the very common Korean beers, enjoying a few before to bed in an attempt to regulate my jet lag, but I am certain it will do nothing for my dehydration). So I made it to Daegu to begin my year-long venture of teaching Korean children English. Hopping across the Pacific with EPIK (English Program in Korea), I found myself really not having a clue what I was getting myself into (yes, mom, you were right).

The paperwork to apply for the E-2 visa was nothing short of a Sisyphean hell: diploma certified but not notarized by the right person, not enough shiny Hague convention stamps plastered across this background check, and so on and so on into what seemed an eternity. With that load finally sent off, I eagerly awaited my placement, which came back with an, "oh! you missed the deadline for final placement by ONE day, you'll have to be wait-listed." Oh frak. All for nought. Time rolled on, I hung out in Kentucky, and one day in mid-August I got the call: Erin! I have great news for you! You have been placed in Daegu and your contract is coming tomorrow! Hot damn, I'm going to Korea! As the reality sank in a bit further, I decided packing would nudge that reality a bit too much in the present. So of course, I procrastinated.

My contract came and the next day I sent off to have my actual visa placed in my passport. After a fiasco many of you have reluctantly listened to roughly 40 times (including the postal workers in Fort Dearborn Chicago, Bluegrass Station Branch Lexington, 1-800-ASK-USPS, and the highly irritated lady at the Chicago consulate), I got my visa. The elation I felt as I grasped that tiny brown "We missed you!" slip from the Express Mail carrier is comparable only to my college acceptance letters: this is real, I am going, this will change my life. With my passport handy, 150 lbs of luggage in tow (yeah I know, I overpacked, but it's for a year and size 10 shoes aren't readily available), I said farewell to Mom and Brie and headed into the Bluegrass Airport at 5:15am Saturday morning to begin my journey across the world.

Upon arrival in Seoul, I hopped a bus to the KTX (Korean bullet train) stop at Seoul station. 1 hour down. Then another 2.5 hours on the KTX til Daegu. Lugging all 150 lbs of luggage out of the Daegu station, I must have been the worst part of this unfortunate cabbie's day - he stared at my luggage and just looked up in dismay. Whatever, he charged me extra. It is so not 5000 won from Daegu station to the Grand Hotel. It just can't be. I was elated to finally have the opportunity to shower and sleep. After enjoying the air conditioning, shower you don't have to hold to use, and free bathrobes, I headed to the Ministry of Education, which apparently was the wrong place, so the head of the EPIK program in Daegu, Mr. Lee, drove me to the EPIK center where I met my co-teacher. Or so I thought. She looks at me and says, "I thought she was British." Well, that made me feel great but my real co-teacher finally showed and she is just brilliant. Her name is Jin and she has been my entire support system these few days, showing me a great amount of patience for my foreign ignorance. I love my school so far, I am teaching 5th and 6th grade. More on school, life, and my apartment later but felt like this blog needed a bit of a kick-off. Until next time!