I can’t believe I’m writing this. I have an apartment in South Korea.
Okay, I just needed to let that sink in for a hot second.
I AM LIVING IN KOREA. Even though it’s been true for the past week and a half, I still haven’t gotten used to the idea.
I arrived in Korea on Wednesday the 17th. After 28 hours of being awake and 23 hours of very stressful travel, I don’t really want to get into the details of my flights. It feels like months ago that I had that super ridiculously long flight. From Toronto to Incheon was a 12 and a half hour flight. So. Brutal. But I did make a friend whose flight was 15 hours, so I’m not complaining.
So without going into any details about the flight, I will say, they were uneventful and I landed in Busan unscathed, though the most exhausted I have ever felt. I got in the night before I was supposed to be at the airport for the bus to orientation, so I booked a hotel near the airport. There were other EPIK teachers at the hotel and I met a group of people immediately. We had breakfast together on Thursday morning then we gathered for the shuttle back to the airport. Back at the airport, there was a lot of waiting around for the next bus to orientation, which turned out to be awesome because I talked with so many people and actually made friends with about 7 or so of the people who I was really tight with at orientation. My advice, TALK TO ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE!!
From me, it’s Kevin, Michael, Naomi, and Diana. And then here’s me with Kim Soo Hyun!!
After all that waiting, we finally made our way to Busan University of Foreign Studies. The campus is gorgeous and we spent a lot of time that first day just walking around and then walked into Busan that afternoon. I also met my roommate named Veronica on Thursday. I just realized as I’m writing this, I don’t have a pic with her which is sad because she was awesome! She’s a book reviewer and loves reading, so we had a lot to talk about.
Friday, we got into our classes which were split up by location. I was in Class 6, or the Ulsan class and everyone had to wear name-tags, so it was really easy to just say, “Hi, I’m Emily, what’s your name?” I think I met something like 125 people during the whole of orientation. But seriously, MEET EVERYONE!!! And better yet, remember their names. It’s really impressive to remember anything about the people you meet for 5 minutes and don’t see again for 24 hours. I found it really difficult to remember people’s info and usually my memory is like a steel trap. Once we were split into our classes, we had a campus tour and our first class meeting where we met our lesson demo (I’ll talk more about that later) partners. My partner was Ben from London. We also took a Korean quiz to see how much Korean we know. After lunch, we had an opening ceremony where the Busan children’s chorus sang for us (SO CUTE), two lectures (one very good one about culture of Korea, the other very dry and hard to understand one about Korean history), then an opening dinner. After dinner, we played cards, which was super fun.
Saturday the 20th started with our medical check-up. I got really really nervous about it because I had taken ibuprophen on the plane for my back and they had mentioned not to do that 3 or 4 days before the check. . . I of course totally forgot and did it anyway. I spent a few very stressed out days being scared I’d be sent home for my pain meds. Turns out everyone passed their checks, so I had nothing to worry about in the end. But there were a few awkward situations, like walking to the bus outside only wearing a gown and nothing underneath up top and passing by two male EPIK staffers stationed outside. (Hey there, Stephanos and Dongbin! I’m not wearing a shirt or a bra!) After the check up was lunch, then our first afternoon of lectures. My class had EPIK Rules and Regulations with Albert first. Albert is basically the head of the EPIK staff and does the hiring for EPIK, so thank you Albert, for hiring me!! Then we had Co-teaching. After dinner, we had our first Korean Class. I got into class level 6 because I can read Hanguel (Korean script). That night, nearly everyone went out. My group walked around Busan and had no idea where to go. We finally decided on a restaurant that had soju and maekju (beer). It was expensive because we also had to buy a food item.
The next day was torturous. We were all so tired because of the late night before and the jet lag that I hadn’t experienced yet had finally caught up to me. We had lectures all day: Elementary English Curriculum, After School and Camps, English Comprehension, and Lesson Planning 1. All of these lectures were so interesting, but I struggled really hard with keeping my eyes open. That day, Ulsan saw the head of our Metropolitan Office of Education (MOE). Because there is such a huge influx of Ulsan teachers, the MOE had to come and help us get started on our Alien Registration Card application process. His name is Brian Lee and he was very serious and pretty intimidating. My application had the wrong birth month, so I didn’t have to sign anything that day since the document had to be edited. We had our second Korean class. I got Bingo at one point, but decided to not say it because I didn’t want to win too much. That night, a lot of people met with their lesson demo partners to discuss ideas. I tried to meet with Ben, but I was ready to pass out, so we quit after 5 minutes. That night, I was asleep by 9:30.
Monday was much better. We had our field trips! Our first field trip was to the UN Memorial Park in Busan. We learned about the Korean War and just how much Korea is thankful for the aid of the countries that assisted. It was maybe 90 degrees that day, so it was pretty miserable being outside, but it was nice to get off campus and see more of Busan. I’d say the tour itself was pretty standard. We went back to campus for lunch and then departed for the Busan National Gugak Center. The performance we saw was all sorts of Korean traditional music and it was spectacular and so entertaining. I love the Korean folk Arirang and we got to hear a few variations of it. After the performance, we went and had dinner. Not before watching TV and music videos on the bus, though! I gotta get into Unpretty Rapstar – the show we watched.Our class leader, Justin, translated for us.
Monday night, we had “networking” time which in EPIK orientation speak is EVERYONE IS GOING OUT TONIGHT, RIGHT?! Let me just say we went to Noraebang (“song room”) and I haven’t had so much fun in a really long time!
Tuesday was just like Sunday; SUPER rough. Lectures all day: Storytelling, Korean Language and Korean Today, Teaching Students with Special Needs, and Secondary English Curriculum. We also had Korean class. Ben and I got together that night to come up with ideas for the lesson. Our lesson was for high school students and the focus was learning how to make a complaint. Basically, complaining. So, what exactly is this lesson demo I keep talking about?? Well, everybody at orientation got paired with someone in their class and we were supposed to co-teach a lesson to the grade level in which we drew. I happened to draw the high school plan. So, with some basic info about our specific level and unit, we were tasked to create a 45 minute lesson and turn in the plan by 6pm on Wednesday. Ben and I worked about 45 minutes and then the computer lab closed. Trying to figure out a computer in Korean is tough, but we figured out all the important buttons.
Wednesday was the last day of lectures. My class had Cooperative Learning and Lesson Planning 2. Lesson Planning 2 was spent working on our lesson plans with the aid of the lecturer. My biggest worry at this point was if we were using difficult enough language for high schoolers. He assured me that we were and that was a big relief. After lunch, we had our classroom management lecture in the big auditorium with everyone. The lecturer was really funny and I learned a lot about getting those kids. The rest of the afternoon was spent working with our lesson demo partners on the lesson plan and Ben and I turned our plan in at 6. It was kind of a cluster having 135 pairs try to print their plans and materials. Only one computer lab and one head office printer for 135 pairs. Such a cluster. Ben and I decided to meet after dinner to practice our lesson and so we ran through it a few times and got the timing down. It’s hard planning a lesson for 45 minutes and trying to cram it into 15. After we finished, I ended up talking to our second class leader, MJ. We talked for about 20 minutes about where she’s from and she complimented my lesson. It was our first step in becoming best friends. (I’m kidding, but in reality, I wanted to be best friends with all the EPIK staffers. They are so cute!!!) At night, I sat outside with a few buds and just hung out. It was nice to not do anything, but be in each other’s company.
Thursday. The big day. Our lesson demo day. So much nerve-wracking stress. Ben and I had high school, so our lesson was slated for last of 11. EPIK hired lecturers to come and see our lessons and give us feedback, so after each lesson, the lecturer would tell people what they needed to improve and what they did well. All day, I kept hearing THIS IS FOR YOU, IT’S ONLY HELPFUL. Which turned out to be true. We had lunch, then presented last. I gotta say, Ben and I killed it. We only got one negative feedback and it was for using the word “dollars,” not “won,” and she loved the lesson! She said that it was appropriate for the age, it was great we used a sponge task – an activity the higher level students can do while waiting for the lower level students to finish the task, we spoke clearly and not patronizingly (is that a word?), and we worked really well together. I was so happy, I hugged Ben right there. No other groups hugged and I found out later that everyone was watching us and said, “awwwwww.” Who knew we’d have such good teaching chemistry? After our lesson plan demos, everyone met with their MOEs orPOEs. All us Ulsanites gathered in a class. We hadn’t all been together in one room yet and it was pretty overwhelming. Once we got our contracts and placements, everyone was talking to each other trying to figure out where they are living. I only know two other teachers in my neighborhood and they are still maybe about 3 miles away. They are in the same apt building and teach at the same school! Lucky. Everyone else is pretty spread out. My neighborhood is called Mugeo-dong and it’s in the Nam-gu district of Ulsan. I will go into more detail in a later blog post about my apt and neighborhood, don’t worry!! That night was our closing ceremony where the K-Pop class performed some dance moves for us.
After the closing ceremony, we had our last dinner which was just so sad. I wanted to post a video of the magic that was our last dinner, but unfortunately, I’m too cheap to buy the upgraded wordpress and therefore, you will forever wonder what it was like that last dinner.
Then came our last night together as friends in the same place before we were so cruelly ripped apart and shoved into our own little corners of this country. Over the week, people kept saying it time and time again, but EPIK orientation is a safe little bubble. You make these incredible friendships in a very short amount of time because these are the people who are going to be your friends for the next year and beyond in this new, foreign place. It was like college orientation all over again and I loved it. What did we do for our last night? Well, it was a late start to the night since Ulsanites and the people going to Chungbuk (3 people in the group) had to bring their luggage down early because there were so many of us. So at 9, we rolled out to a convenience store and bought some drinks, then we walked around with no discernible plan. After about 30 minutes of this, we decided NORAEBANG?! Per usual.
We got back about 10 minutes before curfew and it seemed like everyone from orientation was hanging out still. Including Justin and Dongbin!!
Friday was tough. I got up early to say good-bye to Matt and Sharon and Angela who were riding on the bus that left before the Ulsan bus. They all went to Chungbuk and Matt and Sharon were lucky enough to end up in the same apartment building in Chungju, Chungbuk! Ulsanites left at 9am, so I got all my things ready and loaded the bus with the rest of the Ulsanites. Justin, MJ, and Dongbin were adorable and said their goodbyes. It was really sad. We were Justin’s first EPIK class, so he had a lot of nice things to say to us.
Needless to say, I’m seriously bummed out that orientation is over. I made countless friendships and I am so excited to be in this country with these amazing people. For now, I’m just trying to remember how much orientation meant to me in fostering those friendships. Even though there were downsides (the food, the lack of internet in our rooms, the 12 hour days, and the sharing of bedrooms), this week was an important stepping stone of living in this new country. I would say that if you’re reading this getting ready for your own orientation, just seriously be open to being friends with everyone. It’s so important to get to know as many people as you can. My friends and I have a FB group and have been posting in it every hour just giving each other support and it’s so important for my time away from them. Say yes to everything people ask you to do! Also, don’t stress out too much about the lesson demo. It really is only for your benefit.
Wondering about what happened next? Truth is, this post took me, like, 4 hours to write over the past two days, so there’s no way I’m writing about my apartment and first day of school (even though it was today) tonight. I sincerely hope I will have enough energy to write about these in the next few days.