Saturday, August 27, 2011

All Settled In...

So it has been a while since my last post, with good reason...
Things have been insanely busy lately and I am going to do my best to recap it all...
This will be a lengthy post...

Thursday morning was the final day at Hyung Yee University. Everyone loaded up their suitcases and other luggage onto their respective bus. We all said our final goodbyes and made plans to see each other soon, then boarded our buses. My bus was headed to the Kang Nam district, which is one of the richer districts in all of Seoul. After getting lost a few times and having to ask directions about 5 times (by stopping our charter bus in the middle of the busy street and then backing up into multiple intersections), we made it to the district office.

I was met by my lead teacher, Mrs. Kim. We gathered my luggage and headed over to the school. Mrs. Kim is so nice and really sweet and we had a great conversation on the way to the school. I found out that the high school is an all boys school and, as she put it, "the number 1 high school in all of Seoul." There are about 2,000 students, grades 10-12. Now here in Korea, they do their grade systems a bit differently. They have three levels of schooling - primary (grades K-6), middle (grades 7-9), and secondary (grades 10-12). Within each level, there are various grades. So, for example, an 8th grader is a Middle 2nd Grader here in Korea. Sophomores are Secondary 1st Graders. So when Mrs. Kim told me that I would be mainly working with the 1st graders, I was very confused at first until she explained the system to me. Culture shock #1.

We arrived at the school (which is huge by the way - pictures coming soon) and I was immediately taken to meet the principal. I ended up having iced tea with both him and one of the vice-principals for about 20 minutes. The principal was super concerned that I was not going to like Korean food and kept telling my lead teacher to let me know that if I wanted more food to just ask one of the teachers to get me a sandwich and they would. I don't think he realized that I had been in Korea for a week and really enjoy Korean food, but his sentiment was well received.

Following meeting the principal, Mrs. Kim took me to the teacher's office and showed me my desk that I will be using for the year. There are about 25 other teachers that share this room, including the other 8 teachers in the English department. Also in this office is the other vice-principal, who is very nice but speaks little English. The other teachers in the office are really sweet and so far I get along with all of them.

The next stop was lunch in the school cafeteria. One of the nice things about working in a public school is that lunch is provided everyday for the teachers for free! I enjoy this aspect of the job very much. The teachers have their own cafeteria and when I walked in, all of the teachers that were already eating bowed. It was interesting walking into a room and seeing 18 adults bowing their heads as a sign of greeting and respect. I'm finding it hard to not wave at people, but I'm sure that within a few weeks, bowing will just become second nature. Culture shock #2.

After lunch, Mrs. Kim and another English teacher, Miss Choo, took me around the campus. The school complex is huge! There are six different buildings that make up the school. There are two main buildings that house all of the classrooms, each four stories tall. The gym, auditorium, library, and cafeteria are also their own seperate buildings. Surrounding the school are 5 tennis courts, 4 baseball fields, 6 soccer fields, and 3 basketball courts. Inside the gym is a driving range and a room filled with ping-pong tables. One of the gym teachers is one of the best amateur tennis players in the entire country and he offered to give me tennis lessons if I wanted them. I'm thinking about taking him up on his offer.

Mrs. Kim had to teach two classes in the afternoon, so I was relegated to what is commonly known around here as "desk warming." I pretty much just sat at my desk in the teacher's lounge and surfed the Internet for about 3 hours. We had to wait that long while my apartment was being cleaned. Once Mrs. Kim finished with her classes around 4:30, we left school and headed out to my apartment. My apartment is about the size of a college dorm room. It has a small kitchen, washing machine, bed, television, closet, desk, and a small bathroom. I like it and don't really plan on spending copious amounts of time here. I almost gave my land lady a heart attack because I walked into the main area with my shoes on, which is a definite No-No! I just wanted to drop my bags off! Culture shock #3.

The next activity on the schedule was to go and find the nearest supermarket, buy some bedding for my bed, grab some food, and figure out how to get to school. The supermarket turns out to be about 3 blocks away from my aparment, which is fantastic! I bought myself some basic food items and then headed to a bedding store. Mrs. Kim and the accountant from the school haggled with the store owner and eventually ended up purchasing myself a pillow, two pillow cases and a really nice blanket. Come winter time I will be also getting a conforter. Love this school!

With food and bedding in hand, we headed back to my apartment and dropped everything off. After storing everything, Mrs. Kim treated me out to eat. I live right behind a 15 story shopping mall, so we headed over there and ate at a really nice buffet place called Ashley's. It was delicious and had a nice mix of Korean and American food. Little taste of home, while continuing to try new Korean cuisines. Mrs. Kim and I had a great conversation and continued to get to know each other. She's super easy to talk to and I can joke around with her, which is a huge plus!

Last activity of the evening was to figure out how I will be getting to school every day. I can either take the subway or bus, so we decided to try out both. There is a subway stop about 1 block from my apartment. I ride the subway for 4 stops, get off and then walk about 10 minutes to school. Not too bad of a deal. The bus takes a little bit longer just because of traffic, so as long as the weather is nice, I'll be taking the subway. Mrs. Kim also bought me a T-Money card, which is used for the subway fare. It's super cheap to ride the subway (about $1.00 per ride), so I'm really excited to get to know this system better and become a expert subway rider!

Upon returning back to my apartment, I finally had a chance to relax and start to unpack. Or so I thought...

I went to go and plug in power strip and blew fuse. All of my lights went out and I was left in the complete dark. Great. Now what? In the basement of my building, my landlady and her son run a billiards hall. She told me that if I ever needed anything, I could just go down there and find her. Her son speaks a little bit of English, so I would have to communicate with him. Only problem is that when I went down there, they were no where to be found. I luckily found someone who spoke a bit of English and did my best to explain to him through large gestures and simple phrases what happened. He informed me that the landlady would not be back for about 2 more hours! Perfect.

I remembered that when I moved in the landlady told me that there was another native English speaker on my floor, so I decided to go and introduce myself and try to figure out where my fuse box was. Luckily he was home and showed me where the box was in the apartment. I went back to my apartment and switched my power back on. Thank goodness! I got all unpacked and hit the sack, exhausted from my full and eventful day.

I know this has been an extremely long post, so I'm going to wrap this one up. But I will write another one detailing my first full day at the school and first weekend in Seoul. Below are some pictures of my apartment! Enjoy!

View from the front door (off to the right is my kitchen and washing machine)

My bed and desk and closet

The bathroom (notice the showerhead in between the sink and toilet - feels like I'm showering in an alleyway!)