Throwback Post – My First Few Weeks in Korea

Writing about my new job and moving to Busan had me reminiscing about when I first came to Korea a year ago. Back during the “Weebly“-blogging days of ramblings and tangents before getting a WordPress blog. I said I would eventually copy all of my Weebly posts over to this site (well, at least the somewhat interesting ones) and have since moved a total of THREE. But here’s another from when I first started teaching last year:

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Ulsan Korea

Whoever said that all Asian children are so well-behaved must have never taught middle school. Granted, they ARE currently sweeping the floor around me in the teacher’s office and cleaning all of the classrooms – but this is their mandatory cleaning period. Yes, they have a mandatory cleaning period for about half an hour DAILY.

I have legitimately been thrown into a new world where the students line up like Marines and bow to me everywhere I go, I am served Kimchi with every single meal, simple tasks like taking out the trash/recycling is now the most complicated process, and it’s so cold that the ink in my pens literally freeze and take a while to start working in the mornings.

My students are a little crazy but they’re super funny. They all ask me if I have a boyfriend and when I say I do, they ask a million questions about him – how tall is he, how old is he, is he “handsome”, how long have we been together, do I love him – anything. I would never even think about asking my teacher if he loves his girlfriend or that I thought he was cute, but these kids have absolutely no filter. In the hallways, my students take every opportunity to say “hello!” to me – or sometimes more like “HellohowareyouI’mfinethankyouIloveyougoodbye!!!” and then scurrying around the corner giggling. For the most part, they are just your typical middle school kids. Any and all kinds of intense Asian discipline-training that I’ve heard of is out the window at this point.

I’m still trying to figure out their timing at my school – I keep showing up to class way too early, as in 5 or 10 minutes before the bell rings and class starts. Which is “on time” in America, but awkwardly early in this country. Teachers hang out in the office until the bell rings and then they slowly make their way to class. This semi drives me nuts because it literally wastes almost 10 minutes of class time and the classes are only 45 minutes as is, but what can ya do.

Ulsan Buses
Okay, so maybe they DO give you some hints about where the busses go but I unfortunately can’t read these hieroglyphics.

Other than school, very little is the same as it is back home. I’m kicking myself for EVER bashing the Australian public transportation system because all I want is for any of these bus lines to make sense. Luckily, Koreans use the same numbers that we do – but that’s the extent of my luck. None of their stops have stop numbers or indicate where they’re going or have any kind of map ANYWHERE. So I’ve basically been blindly jumping on buses and getting lost multiple times in a day. Yesterday was the first time I have successfully made it to my destination on my own, so that’s been quite the milestone. However, I don’t expect the routes to ever be the same, since I swear they leave me deserted at a different location every time, but maybe after getting lost enough times, I’ll be able to figure out this whole bus system.

Nate and I have separate places (about 45 minutes apart on busses. BusSES because there’s not even one bus that takes us from my place to his so you have to transfer. Ugh). His place is ginormous – and when I say ginormous, it’s about the smallest one bedroom apartment you’d find in The States, but with a pretty big bedroom. Regardless, it’s probably bigger than most places in this country. My flat is tiny but I love it. Minus the finicky heater, old school internet (no wireless interent so I’m using an “ethernet cable” – when is the last time you’ve ever even said “ethernet cable”?) and questionable closet.

Have I mentioned that Korean heaters (“ondols”) are super duper genius inventions that the US needs to adopt immediately? They aren’t normal heaters that blow out warm air – they have water pipes that run underneath the floorboards (everyone has hard(wood?) floors) and when you turn your heater on, hot water goes through them so your floor heats up and keeps your toes super toasty. I’ve never loved sitting/laying on the floors so much. They’re super efficient though, and keep your place warm a long time (which can sometimes be bad when you forget to turn it off before school and come back home to a furnace that takes 2 hours to cool down after turning it off).

The food here is bomb but unfortunately not as cheap as I heard it would be. Although it is possible to get a delicious Korean meal for two for only 6,500 won – which is only about $6 (thank you Homeplus). The drivers are absolutely NUTS, and as much as I want to buy a scooter, I’m pretty sure it will literally be the death of me. There are Korean flags everywhere & people ACTUALLY wear those hospital masks on the reg – even little kids have them with fun little designs on them as if they’re stylish. The cities light up in every single color at night and SOJU is my new drink of choice – try and beat a liter of 20% alcohol for $3.50.

Korean BBQ
Real Korean BBQ for the first time!

Overall, I had a hard time adjusting at first but it’s getting easier day by day. OH & I’ve decided that my number one goal for this year is to appear in a K-pop video as a backup dancer so watch out! :)

THE ASIAN WAYS (THE STRANGE AND SOMETIMES BRILLIANT WAYS OF KOREANS. But mostly just strange.):

  • Kids here are obscenely busy. After 8 hours of normal school, they often go to another school (“hagwon” or academy). High school kids aren’t home until around 11pm. 
  • Everyone wears slippers to school – students AND teachers. (Everyone wears their normal shoes but then changes into slippers inside.) The principal and VP usually wear a suit to work and even wear slippers, which they pull of brilliantly. 
  • Needless to say, everyone also takes their shoes off inside homes. & even some restaurants as well
  • Everyone brushes their teeth at school after lunch – this may be in part to the mass amounts of kimchi consumed
  • It’s not uncommon to sit on the floor in a lot of Korean restaurants
  • Most apartments/flats here are key-less so everyone just has a code to unlock their door
  • Disposing of trash, recycling & “food waste” is absolutely ridiculous (yes, that means you have to separate your food waste from your garbage because sinks don’t have a garbage disposal)  You have to pay for special trash bags and then everyone just piles them up outside and somebody supposedly picks it up every day (I’m not convinced). You also have to purchase special “food waste” containers & then also buy special “chips” (& not like potato chips – like little SD-card-sized chips) at the market to be able to get your food waste picked up.
Korean slippers
My School Slippers :)

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  1. Ahhh reading this reminds me of my time in South Korea, and is making me nostalgic. It took awhile to get used to the garbage system there, they are so strict about it. One of my foreign neighbours got in trouble with our building’s security guard because she wasn’t doing it right!

  2. Ceri says: Reply

    I love this because it feels exactly like what I’m discovering in my first week. 😀

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