Orientation in Seongnam
Korea is dynamic. We’ve been hearing that phrase over and over again since we got here. We’ve come to understand that in Korea, nothing ever goes as planned, and that’s expected. Essentially, people are trying to tell us that the most important thing we can do to help our transition into this country is to be able to just go with the flow. Thankfully, the first unexpected experience we’ve had in our first few days here has been how well they treat us.
Read on for a rundown of everything so far.
First let me say I know a lot of you don’t exactly like “words” or “reading” so you can just go to the Flickr account and see the pictures. You should get the idea of everything that happened.
The organization we’re working with in Korea is called EPIK (English Program in Korea). EPIK is kind of a government contractor tasked with recruiting and training native English speakers for the public school system in Korea. In recent years, the Korean government has made a big push for English education to help its citizens be competitive in the global marketplace. Education is of the utmost importance here, and teachers are highly respected. We knew this coming in, but I think failed to grasp how highly valued ESL teachers are. One guest speaker who is a current teacher said that for a public elementary or middle school to have a native teacher is like a crown jewel or a bragging right.
The importance the government places on the whole EPIK program is obvious, because our orientation so far has been first class. They split the incoming class of about 700 teachers into two groups in separate cities. Our group is in Seongnam city, which is about 40 minutes southeast of Seoul. We’re living and studying in Eulji Universtiy, which I think is equivalent to something like FIU. Eulji’s campus is small and in the middle of the city, but very modern and looks brand new. In fact, I think we’re the first people to even stay in the new dormitories. The dorms pretty much look like hotel rooms, each one with a bathroom and even a balcony. We get three meals a day in the cafeteria, which is also brand new and very modern. Thankfully, and I think purposefully, the food has kind of been Korean food for beginners, so we’ve had plenty to eat.
On the first day they gave us a huge gift basket full of goodies, an EPIK sweatshirt and various textbooks for our upcoming week of class including a very detailed book with our daily schedule. We spent Saturday having a medical check-up that was pretty much everything except the ole ‘turn your head and cough.’ It was quite a spectacle to see 300 Americans, Canadians, Brits or Aussies running around in green sweatshirts with urine samples in their hands.That night we had a big welcome dinner in the school gym. They really spared no expense in bringing us the most exotic and authentic Korean cuisine, which meant we all ate a lot of plain white rice and fruit. Seriously, we were able to identify about 10% of the stuff on that buffet line. Inexplicably, Buju Banton was playing on the sound system the whole night.
On Sunday, they took us all on a fieldtrip to a Korean old-timey village in Icheon. It was pretty interesting and they gave us a great lunch. After the old timey village we went to a pottery making place where we painted our own mugs and plates that they’re going to put in the kiln and give us by the end of orientation. Icheon is world famous for its master ceramics and pottery. At first we thought “big whoop how great can it be?” But some of these things were truly masterful. We finished the night in a huge banquet hall in fancy restaurant for another exquisite Korean dinner. And by exquisite I mean we just drank a buttload of rice wine. We’ve realized the rule of thumb for us is cheap=delicious, expensive=gross.
At the end of dinner, they passed out paper cups with some strange pink liquid in them and told us to drink. At this point we thought, “that’s it, these people have been too nice. Now they literally want us to ‘drink the kool-aide.’ Alright, time to shave our heads and perform a mass suicide.” But it ended up just being an after-dinner drink called five-flavored tea.
So tomorrow, the party’s over and we get down to work. We’ve got class from 9-5 and Korean lessons from 7-8.