Yes! I’m here!
Huge thanks to all my friends who have kept in touch since my departure. I’d love to type out an extensive, personalised reply to each one of you, but I’m unashamedly dedicating pretty much every free moment to keeping in touch with my mom and The Boy.
My mom and I, we’ve done this. It’s not our first rodeo, and thankfully she has waited patiently for email and voice note updates. The time difference makes weekday Skypes a bit impossible, but that’s what weekends are for!
The Boy and I talk every day. He’s a night-owl, thankfully, so he waits up a little later and I get up a little earlier than we usually would to have a chat while I get ready for work. I like that it gets my day going on a positive, homely note. It takes the pressure off weekend chats as we’ve already covered the regular daily things by then.
Instead of getting myself into a dead panic over the unanswered messages and emails I’ve received over the last week, I’ve combined all the questions you’ve asked and I’ll try and answer them all here. Things won’t always be this crazy. For now it’s just difficult as I don’t have a local SIM card/data on my phone yet, and I’m either without internet or busy doing lesson planning at work, and unpacking/faffing/shopping/settling in in the evenings. Soon everything will start feeling like it’s supposed to and then I’ll be a good friend again.
Here we go, in no particular order:
Did you eat?
Ja, Ma! 🙂 It’s impossible to go hungry in Korea. With restaurants staying open until midnight/2am/all night, convenience stores that never close… It’s all good. I’ve actually eaten more Korean food than Western, which I never would have seen coming.
Did you find your way to school? How far is it from your apartment?
After a bit of a panic over finding my school again, it all turned out okay. My co-teacher took me along a winding back road at 11pm and after spending more than 24 hours travelling, my brain was not in a position to retain information. Thankfully the next day was a public holiday and the foreigner I met showed me an easier way. It’s a ten minute walk between my apartment and the school, a nice flat walk. It’s going to suck in the rainy season though, as there aren’t any buses between the two. I got so lazy in Munsan, where it was sometimes easier to take two connecting buses than to climb the hill to my school.
How is your new apartment? Was it clean? Do you have adequate bedding?
I have a nice apartment, no complaints. It has a nice layout and I actually have a separate bedroom with a door! Not much of a view though so I think cabin fever could become a problem. The previous teacher left it clean, but she also left it completely empty. She moved to Seoul and obviously took everything with her, which meant I had to go out on the first day to buy cutlery, crockery, etc. There was only a fitted sheet and pillowcase, no blanket! My co-teacher told me to bring one with me and I told him I wouldn’t be able to. Who moves to a new country and dedicates several kilograms of their baggage allowance, not to mention space, to a blanket?! I found a cheap comforter at the supermarket, so that’ll have to do for now. Proper bedding will have to wait until after my first paycheck, which is mid April only.
On the upside, the previous teacher managed to get the school to buy her an oven. I became quite masterful at using my oven in Munsan and was planning to buy one here, so this is definitely a win.
As far as cooking is concerned, I’ve been quite lucky in Korea first time around as well as Malaysia, and somehow ended up in places with electric stovetops. My luck has run out though. Despite my initial panic about not being able to get the gas stove to turn on and burning all my food, I’ve become quite good at boiling water without incident. I’m slowly starting to experiment with actual cooking as well, and I’m sure I’ll be a master in no time.
Are you sleeping?
Haha, yes. Jetlag was rough the first few days. I got maybe two hours sleep the first three nights and I was in full zombie mode. Lucky for me, the school hadn’t organised my laptop yet so I had an empty desk and no planning to do, which meant I could nap a bit during work hours. I’m gradually falling asleep earlier so hopefully my body is good to go in no time.
Have you found bedding?
For now, yes. It’s so terribly mismatched, but it keeps me warm and that’s enough for now. After payday I’ll spoil myself with some nice things I don’t mind looking at every day.
Priorities, though. Paul Frank’s Julius already has a prime spot on my bed!
Did you eat?
What does your building look like? Where is it located?
View of my building. Accidentally selected this filter but decided it beats the natural grey of Korean winter. My entrance is down the alley to the left.
It’s a small, newish building similar to the ones most of us lived in in Paju. There’s a beauty salon out front (maybe my nails will finally grow). I’m one floor up from the ground floor (1st floor if you’re from the real world, 2nd floor if you deny that the ground floor exists). I’ve joined the keyless ranks and now gain entry through typing a secret code into a very fancy keypad. In a bizarre twist, I actually have to walk past a supermarket to get to the nearest convenience store. But we’re still talking about only three or four minutes, so it’s hardly a complaint.
I’m a stiff walk from the train station, but the buses and taxis are much closer. There’s a Tom n Toms coffee shop just across the road, and I suspect that avoiding it will be an ongoing challenge.
There’s a lot more shops compared to Munsan. There’s a variety of restaurants just around me, including the usuals like Pizza School, Mr Pizza, Lotteria… And Paris Baguette, Dunkin Donuts and Ediya are all close enough to make me fat.
And then, there’s the worst temptation of all temptation. McDonalds. Five minutes away.
I don’t even like McDonald’s. I just want it.
Have you met your neighbours?
No, but I’ve heard them. When my bathroom door is open, I can hear my upstairs neighbour do his thing. This usually happens around 11pm so at least he’s predictable. Not living next to my best friend (and not having any other foreigners in the building at all) is going to be an adjustment.
Are you ready for this thing?
Sure, why not.
Did you eat?
What’s the school like? What’s your co-teacher like?
I’m at a public middle school teaching grades 7, 8 and 9. It’s your average school building, though a little older and more worn than the shiny new Jayu Elementary School I taught at in Munsan. The teachers here have been very friendly and welcoming, and they’re a lot more willing to speak English than my previous lot of colleagues. There are a few English teachers and some teachers who have taught English before. The biggest surprise was the Vice-Principal, who is a kind and approachable man with great English. He’s made a point to chat to me every time we’ve been in the same room.
My co-teacher has a sharp and interesting sense of humour. He speaks English confidently and that makes communication less stressful. He seems constantly overwhelmed by the volume of his work – he’s a homeroom teacher as well. We have a good working relationship and that’s all that matters. I haven’t actually got a schedule yet and I don’t know whether I’ll be co-teaching all my classes with him or alone or what. There are other English teachers as well and they are all really nice, so I guess we’ll wait and see what the deal is.
How close is the nearest Daiso and other fun shopping?
Daiso! Oh, how much I love that place! It was, in fact, one of the first questions I asked my co-teacher on the night I arrived: where is the nearest Daiso. He wasn’t sure as he doesn’t live in town, but I was lucky to come across a medium-sized store on my own and another foreigner pointed out a bigger one on the bus route. There’s also Daiso sections inside Lotte Mart. It’s already becoming very difficult not to buy ALL THE THINGS. I haven’t done a whole lot of other shopping and exploring – mostly waiting for that first paycheck. As soon as the weather’s better I’ll be out and about more. This town is so much bigger than Munsan and I’m sure there are little shopping gems to be discovered.
Have you met any expats yet? How is your new social community looking?
One. I’ve met one other person in my town. I found a Facebook group for the area and posted on there that I needed to kit out my apartment. A girl who lives in the same town said I was welcome to join her when she went to the big E-mart in the next town over. She has been exceptionally helpful and generous. Another foreigner who has finished up gave the entire contents of their kitchen to her, which she basically passed right on to me. I now have the world’s most extensive collection of baking tins (no muffin pan though, WTF?!) and glass dishes. But there was some very useful stuff in there and it definitely helped get me started.
There aren’t a lot of foreigners around I’m told. It doesn’t sound like there are a lot of schools, and so many schools have lost their funding so teachers are finishing off but not being replaced. It’s only been a week though and I’m tired and broke so it hasn’t been top of my list to go out and find people. All in good time.
Arriving here has definitely once again reminded how extremely lucky we were in Munsan/Paju to have had the community that we did. I don’t think any experience will ever quite match up.
How are you feeling?
Tired, mostly. Even though I’m a stranger in this town, I’m no stranger to Korea which means at least that I’m not completely overwhelmed by my environment. I also know to just wait it out and see what happens in my job. No use getting worked up. The culture is different and thankfully I know that by now. I’m also still just avoiding really sinking in emotionally, if that makes sense. I’m dwelling on the surface a bit as I fear that there might be a massive implosion if I really dig in deep. All in good time.
And dry. Travelling, stressing and all the internal heating have really done a number on my skin. I’m trying to up my water intake, but that never goes as well as planned.
Did you get pizza yet? Is it still as good?
I have not! There are a few of the old dependable pizza places around me, but I’ve resisted the temptation (and the price – the conversion to Rand is just awful!). I’m sure it’s still as corn-y and potato-y amazing. I’ll spoil myself soon enough.
Did you make the right decision?
I didn’t make the wrong decision.