I came to Korea for a number of reasons.
A little to travel, slightly more to teach, a small amount to recruit more Goseruds, but mostly to meet my friend to the left. I am a fan of her music.
The transition here has been relatively smooth. The trek here was not.
About forty-five hours elapsed between sleeping in Korea and sleeping behind the bathroom lockers at Four Seasons golf course. In a tired-daze, I tried to board a train at O'Hare International Airport while the doors were closing. My leg became stuck. Some people helped. One person screamed. Others laughed. I tried to act like nothing happened.
After mentally recovering, I spent the next few hours navigating my way through international security and between terminals to finally arrive at my Korean Air gate. I then discovered Korean Air had no numerical record of my luggage. They said they would "make a note for someone to find it" so it would get to Seoul. For some reason this statement seemed reasonable to me, so I cooperatively boarded the largest plane I've ever seen in my life.
On the plane I was sandwiched between my sister Kelly's biological father and another person from the same program. I couldn't move, and my entertainment system stopped working mid-Braveheart, two hours into the fourteen hour flight. I stared at Mel Gibson for the next twelve hours. He has nice eyes.
For those of you who may have the opportunity to fly Korean Air someday, I would highly recommend it. Even if you don't want to come to Korea, at least fly there just to experience the service. There are scores of uniformed flight attendants catering to each and every passenger's needs. Two to four snacks were served to compliment the full meals, bar service, warm rags, etc. They give you a blanket and a pair of slippers to roam the plane with, and if you want anything else you can press a "call" button on your remote. A properly functioning entertainment system gives you thirty-plus movies to choose from, radio, games, everything you could ask for. All announcements are made in English and Korean to help direct westerners. It really puts every other airline I've flown to shame.
Shortly after landing in Incheon, I continued on to customs, where another TaLK scholar approached me and asked if I was in the program. When I told her I was, she screamed "Thank God, I was just running around looking for any non-Asians!" This did not please the many non-non-Asians around us, and I was off to an awkward start.
Korea is about the size of Indiana, the population of California and Texas combined, and 70% covered with mountains too steep to build on. This is a formula for population density, and while Jochiwon is a "village" by Korean standards, it would be more of a large town or small city to the American.
Most people in the program hail from the States, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada. Scholars come in all shapes and sizes, ranging in age from nineteen to mid-thirties. Some are graduates with careers or extensive travel experience, others are halfway through their collegiate studies. Many scholars are Korean-American or speak the language, others are complete novices.
This creates an interesting dynamic on campus, with every person having different goals and expectations in mind.
My roommate, Brian, is a Berkeley student of Korean descent, originally from Los Angeles. Although diverse, the general vibe among those involved with the program has been positive.
Orientation is somewhat of a college throw-back. The days are filled with classes and field trips, geared to simultaneously improve teaching skills and expose scholars to Korean culture. Some information is useful, some not so much, but it's all entertaining enough to help pass the nine hour days. Evenings are filled with optional language and cooking classes, or free time to explore Jochiwon. The facilities here are nice, with heated floors in the dorms and Korean meals provided three times daily.
Korean food is great, although the dorm food is comparable to dorm food anywhere in the world. We have rice with every meal, and an assortment of carrots and cucumbers. Other than those staples, you can only really count on some sort of soup, kimchi, a meat dish, and very small cups.
For those of you not familiar with kimchi, its a national treasure here. People go crazy over the fermented cabbage concoction eaten with virtually every meal. I haven't completely warmed up to it yet, but I'm happy with the other foods Korea has to offer.
My favorites so far include bibimbap and "Sam-Gyup-Sal." There is also an abundance of delicious street food and some of the best fried chicken I've ever had. The next thing my Dad will adopt from South Korea is fried chicken.
Korean culture is interesting to say the least, and their economic progress in the past few decades is remarkable. Some things the westerner may find peculiar include k-pop and fan death.
K-pop is the biggest music genre over here, consisting of large boy or girl bands. This will explain it better than I can. Actually, nothing can explain it.
Blood types in Korea are analogous to the way people view astrology in the states. Someone might ask you, "What is your name? Where are you from? What is your blood type?" You have to make something up,
because no one knows their blood type.
Apparently Evanescence is big here too.
Koreans are absolutely obsessed with Education and the English language. Most will go to ridiculous lengths to learn.
Others, will even turn to Zuiikin, a daily English lesson broadcast played on public television around Asia. Honestly not a terrible workout.
After a short 5-day provincial orientation East of Jochiwon, I'll be in the classroom. Teaching will certainly be more challenging than hiding behind the comfortable facade of orientation, but I'm looking forward to independent life in Korea.
Annyeonghi gaseyo ----> This means goodbye, well, only if you are leaving and the other person is staying in the room. I think. Otherwise it is different.
Or in Hangul, 안녕히 계세요. Yeah.
No word here is easy.