First Impressions of Seoul

Annyeong-haseyo!! I am back in the blogosphere, after a 4ish month break. For those that don’t know, I finished my contract in Turkey, then visited friends and family in Alaska, Virginia, Iowa, Indiana, Florida, and Georgia (last two were quick trips). Alex received his orders to South Korea, so we knew we would be arriving here at some point, but he first had to go to a 2-month long class at Ft. A.P. Hill. Conveniently, it’s like 30 minutes from my parent’s house. So I got to overstay an overdue visit with my parents, brother, sister, and Cocoa.

Fast-forward a bit: After about 100 job applications, and 10 Skype interviews, I finally received a job offer that sounded pretty decent. Seoul is ginormous, so the main selling point for me was location, location, location. Alex is at Yongsan, so I needed to find a school pretty close, to avoid the commute times I had in Turkey. This was actually pretty difficult though, as most hagwons (private language academies) are NOT located in the middle of Seoul (Yongsan).

You might be wondering why I’m teaching at a private language academy. Well, despite three years of teaching experience at the high school and university level, and a master’s in education, nearly all public and private schools (not language academies) in Seoul want teachers to have KOREAN experience and already be in the country at the time of hiring. So, after months of job searching and research, and debating and pros-and-cons lists, I decided to bite the bullet and work my way into the system the old fashioned way… from the ground up. So here I am. Although, I’m trying to look at this as just another adventure and learning experience. After all, once I make it through this year, I’ll be pretty well rounded on the teaching front.

So back to the first week of being here (Feb. 8-15): My flight from Dulles to Tokyo was pretty uneventful, except that I didn’t get charged any baggage fees (idk) and I DIDN’T SLEEP. My plan was to hop on, get settled, and sleep by 2pm (flight left at like 1230), to get my body adjusted. WELL. I started watching the TV show, How to Get Away with Murder. And then before I knew it, we were seven hours into the flight—half way—so I knew I couldn’t sleep at that point. So I continued with Juno (duh), This is Where I Leave You (not bad), Guardians of the Galaxy (meh, but probably because I never read the comic so I was a lot confused), and finally Zodiac (omg that movie needed to end thirty minutes in). Then I had an hour to transfer in Tokyo for my 2.5 hour flight to Seoul. By the time I found Alex (YAY!) and we got to the base (we are living off, but he was in temporary quarters), it was past midnight. I’m not sure the exact numbers, but I’m estimating I was awake for about 312 hours.

AND THEN, I woke up around 8:00 am like no big deal. So maybe it was a good idea to starve my body of sleep. First thing we did was get me registered so the ID scanner doesn’t scream at me when I try to get on the base. Next, we visited the housing office so Alex could prove that I did exist and really was in Korea, so he could get approval to live off-base. Then we got me a Korean sim-card. Apparently this is normally a difficult process, but since I’ve got Alex/Uncle Sam, it only took about an hour of our time and a savvy Korean woman. So far (again mostly because of Alex), living in Seoul has been a BREEZE compared to Ankara. More on that later.

The next day, Wednesday, I visited my school to meet the principal, get a tour, and meet some of the other teachers. It was a pretty quick intro, but everyone is super nice and the school is really close to the metro stop.

Thursday, we met with a realtor Alex had been in contact with and she showed us about five apartments. We narrowed it down to two (antique couch and churro. The second was located above a churro stand/café thing and a bar). We originally chose the churro one, not because of the churros (okay maybe just a little), but because it was super close to the base for Alex, and not too far from a metro stop for me. But, the landowner didn’t want to give us an answer until the next week, which meant we would have to wait until the end of Feb. to move in because of the Lunar New Year (5 day holiday). Too long, yo. So we went back to the antique couch (my number 1 choice). It is also close to the base and a metro stop (20 and 5 min. walking), but it’s not above a noisy churro place and bar. It’s located in Itaewon, which is like the foreigner district and is super busy with all kinds of shops and restaurants, BUT we are off the main road and on a dead-end street. So it’s super quiet, minus the cats or babies at night.

Once that was all settled and papers signed, we moved in and spent the weekend cleaning and shopping for necessities like sheets and a shower curtain. The apartment came with basic furnishings, but no dishes or living items. We also explored a bit, checking out Costco, HomePlus, and E-Mart at a giant mall. Basically, three of the largest shopping centers I’ve ever been to. The I-Park mall, where I wanted to go to get a new cell phone charger, has entire floors divided based on the TYPE of electronic device. So, a floor for cameras. And a floor just for computers. And a floor just for TVs. And these are huge floors. THAT was my first experience of being overwhelmed in this country. I wrote about my experience of reverse culture shock when going back to the U.S. from Turkey in my old blog, and the culture of materialism, but America looks pretty chill compared to Seoul. There were thousands of cameras, TVs, and whatever else you could imagine…and that was just ONE section of the mall (and yes, I sometimes exaggerate numbers, but Scout’s Honor, this time it’s real). When I go back home to visit, I’ll probably be like, “WHERE ARE ALL THE THINGS?!” lol jk. Maybe.

Speaking of lots of things, Korea has a thing for trends. This year, it’s churros and coffee. Which is fine for me, because there are coffee shops (and it’s good coffee) every 20 meters (sidenote: most don’t open until 10:00. WTF. Big help to those of use who will have to be at work at 9:00).

On Monday (Feb. 16th, George Washington’s Birthday!), I had my first day of training. Well, it was only about five hours. The morning was spent at the hospital, doing my medical check-up. It was still odd, just like Turkey, but unlike Turkey it was so, so, so, so easy. I still needed a translator, but now I could probably go back if I ever needed to and figure it out solo. There were eight stations and I just went to each one, got something tested or scanned or excreted out of me (blood and urine tests), and then a nurse signed my form. At the end, I met with a doctor who looked like he was 20, but was probably 40. No one told him he was about to meet with a foreigner though, because he saw me, turned beet red, and starting going off in Hangul at everyone. He asked me how I was, said my forms look great, I need to exercise more (excuse me, I have a large brain, and probably 20 lbs are located in the two feet of extra height I have compared to everyone else in this country), and that he needs to practice his English. Poor thing was terrified of me.

That was it! In Turkey, it took all day and we had to cut people in line that actually needed to see the doctors (we just needed a signature). So, so far, Seoul is easier. I’m not meaning anything negative about Turkey, I loved it there, but it took about six months for things in Turkey to get easy.

I went back to the school after the “exam,” and observed/helped the other teachers. The next day, I did the same thing but from 10am-7pm. I’ll have long days, I’ll just leave it at that. But the kids are really cute, pick up English crazy fast, and are relatively well-behaved. We’ll see how they are once they get comfortable… I told a student “uh-uh” (not sure how to spell it, but the “I don’t think so noise”) because he started to climb on his chair, and the rest of the class started giggling and started repeating me. I tried not to laugh.

First impressions of the school: teachers are really nice, students seem good, hours are long so I may die.

First impressions of Seoul: Easy. There are about 10 Turkish restaurants/bakeries/kebab stands in my neighborhood, as well as pretty much any other kind of food. I won’t get food-homesick. Actually, there’s pretty much everything in our neighborhood that we would need. Except almond butter; we can NOT find it here. Boo hiss.

I will try to update as often as I can. I’ve switched to a new blog platform, and I even have a new phone (Galaxy, duh, I’m in Samsung-Land), so I’m still working out kinks and experimenting with different options and uploading-picture-strategies.

That’s also a bit of bullshit… I’m educating Alex on Orange is the New Black as well. Husband Alex.

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