I really started to feel the weight and magnitude of leaving for Korea after Kelly started her journey. Check out Kelly’s entry on her first half of the frouple deployment to Korea. No for real, go read it now, I’ll wait………
Wow! I mean, WOW! Wasn’t Kelly’s initiation into this new life and new expedition brutal? I was only there for the first sliver of it, and then my poor froup had to go through the rest of all that alone. Compared to Kelly’s ordeal, my trip to Korea was quite painless and uneventful. I am so proud of Kelly for surviving her trip and sticking with it, and I have to say that after seeing what she went through, it inspired me. I was inspired to be as prepared for this trip as possible. I made an outline of everything I needed, packed a bit day by day, and tried to stay on top of everything. Still, moving my whole life to another country was probably the most daunting task of my life yet.
When the day finally came to get going, it mostly went off without a hitch. I was sad to say goodbye to home, but also excited and anxious about my new life to come. What would it be like? What would happen when I got there? How would I figure out anything? You see, I didn’t come to Korea through the EPIK program, so there was no orientation for me. All that I knew was that a van service would pick me up from the airport and take me to my apartment. Then what? I’d have to wait and see.
My journey consisted of two connected flights. The first was from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to the JFK airport in New York. Nothing special there, just your typical domestic flight. Things got really interesting when I was supposed to head to my second flight, from New York to the Incheon Airport in South Korea. First of all, I was suddenly surrounded by more Korean people than I had ever seen in person. Anyone who knows me moderately well can imagine how happy and in awe I was by this. I wasn’t even thinking of all the majesty yet to come! When I got on the plane and sat down, I got a bit of Korea culture sock for the first time because I could not speak to the girl sitting next to me. Besides this, my flight was quiet and very long. The most exciting part of the flight was the food. There was a “western” option and a Korean option! I got the magical bibimbap, and otherwise waited with anticipation through my long flight.
Hours later, I arrived in Korea! The van service picked me up and brought me to my apartment as promised. As could be expected, I was a total wreck. A sleep-deprived, jetlagged wreck. And it was at this point that I first met my boss and the other foreign teacher at my school, a Canadian English teacher named Lothian.
I had a pack filled with all my money, and of course it opened and everything spilled onto the street when I got out of the van. Pretty great that my first impression to my new boss and coworker was that of a total klutz. They graciously dove with me to pick up all of my Korean and American cash off the street. Welcome to Korea, Rachel!
Thankfully Lothian was very nice, and had ordered a pizza for us. It was a yummy cheddar bacon pizza. The only weird thing was that the crust was made from rice, but otherwise it mostly tasted like home. Lothian showed me my apartment after my boss said good luck and left. She mercifully told me to sleep as much as I could before my first day of work the next morning. I could hardly wait, but mostly I was just exhausted, and so went my very first night in the town of Bongdam, South Korea.
My first week of work in Korea was a portion trial by fire, and a portion preparation for more learning experiences to come. I shadowed the teacher there that I was replacing, Natalie, and let me tell you that I greatly appreciated this training period. I didn’t know how to do anything at first, but I started to put the pieces together and figure out what this job entailed. My experience working at a hagwon (Korean private academy) is a story for another blog entry though (wink wink).
One rather interesting night of this first week was when Natalie, her boyfriend, Lothian and I went out for BBQ. Again, the food should be saved for another blog entry, but needless to say, it was incredible. Actual real authentic Korean BBQ! Absolutely amazing. What made it even more magical was the table of drunk ajusshis (middle-aged Korean men) sitting at a table across from us. When Natalie’s boyfriend left for a bit, they started sending beer to our table. Then, one of the bolder men of the group got up and came over to our table, saying “Welcome to Korea! Welcome to Korea!” in English. I thought that this was hilariously cool, and I was impressed by how friendly locals around here could be. This was also the first time I had to put my Korean drinking etiquette to use, as the man poured me some beer and I needed to return the favor. It all went pretty well, and then he returned to his table. “That has never happened before,” Lothian said, “and I’ve been here for nine months!” I was quite surprised by this. It just so happens that I was welcomed to the country on one of my first nights here, and it was apparently a rare occurence! It was a great start to my life in this strange new world called Bongdam, South Korea.
Of course, throughout all of this, my mind was set on meeting up with Kelly my first weekend in Korea. I didn’t know how the buses worked or how to travel at all really, but I sure as hell was going to figure it out. I asked Lothian and the Korean teachers at work for help, and I got a plan going. I would take the bus to Suwon, which is the closest city to Bongdam. From there, I’d take an express bus to Daejeon to meet up with Kelly. It was all going pretty well too, until I got to the Suwon Bus Terminal five minutes too late. You see, at my hagwon, long and late hours are the norm. I got off after 7pm that Friday, and try as I may, I got there too late for the last bus leaving at 9pm. I was crestfallen, and unsure of what to do. But honestly, I was going to see Kelly no matter what it took, and so I went outside the bus station to hail a taxi. It wasn’t hard to find one, but when I showed the driver my destination, his eyes got wide. He knew hardly any English, but he did know just enough to get his message across. “Big money…” he said, to make sure that I understood that a two hour taxi ride might cost a pretty penny. I assured him that it was fine, and off I went. The taxi driver was actually very kind, and tried to talk to me as much as he could. He even gave me a free can of Starbucks coffee! It was service (a Konglish term meaning something for free). What a dear.
I made it to the Daejeon Express Bus Terminal, and Kelly and I were finally reunited! I was so happy and relieved to see her that I will admit I got a bit misty eyed. Reunited and it felt so good! We proceeded to go get some soup at a restaurant and enjoy some of the Daejeon night life. We even sampled some flavored soju (Korean spirits)! I was very impressed that they had flavors like pomegranate, citron (lemonish), and blueberry. Needless to say, it was so great to have the frouple back together, and we partied and had a great time as we always do! 😀 Also, we stayed at a love motel! Again, I feel that love motels and other accommodations in Korea should be explored more in another post, but this is a nice cheap alternative to a hotel room. It’s a great way to spend a night in another place for the weekend!
The next day, we were appropriately exhausted, and we could only muster up the strength to venture out to a McDonald’s for some fries and chicken sandwiches. This was also my first time at a Korean McDonald’s by the way! Some day I will get up the courage to try their shrimp patty sandwich. Anyway, I had a very interesting first week in Korea, and I can’t imagine it ending any better, by reuniting with my wonderful frouple. Of course, this was the first of many adventures to be had in this amazing country known as South Korea. Stay tuned for more crazy, magical Korea adventures. There are many more to talk about, and many many more yet to come! Bring it on Korea, I’m ready to immerse myself in all that you have to offer! LET’S DO THIS!