Thoughts From Korea

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+ Food here isn’t *that* spicy.

A lot of the food I’ve tried has a lovely red pepper paste added to it which everyone tries to warn me off. “It’s very hot! Most foreigners don’t like it!” Well, I like it. :) It’s delicious and – I don’t know whether a year and a half in Mexico altered my palate but – it’s really not that spicy. There is a certain hotness but I’ve not been fanning my tongue and gagging for water … yet.

+It’s also freakin’ delicious!

Granted, I’ve had rice everyday which has made me wonder what it’s doing to my insides but for those of you who warned me that it would be hard to eat in Korea due to their love of meat, wrong! Well, I’m actually lucky that my schools serve a lot of vegetarian-friendly foods that makes me feel like I’m not missing out on much at all. Loads of fresh vegetables, and soup made with soybean paste are served everyday so I’m in actual heaven. The little Korean restaurant in Cardiff I went to earlier this month has nothing on the real deal.

+ It’s freezing here.

To all those people who thought Eastern Asia was one big heat bubble: I’m here to tell you, it ain’t. It’s rained half the time I’ve been here, I’ve woken up to some crazy misty mornings, and most of my co-teachers never take their coats off during the day. Freezing, peeps!

Waking up in Silent Hill ...

Waking up in Silent Hill …

+ I love teenagers.

There was talk among the Korean ESL peeps that middle schoolers were the hardest kids to teach because they’re at that age where they just don’t give a shit. Believe me, high school students are just the same. My 2nd and 3rd graders (17-18-year olds) have been pretty magic. But my 1st graders (16-year olds) are still in that ‘I’m too cool for school’ phase.

It takes a lot of hard work to distract them enough to listen. I’m also planning on introducing Sheryll’s method of combating sleeping students next week. Saying that, I love them already. Most of them are sweethearts – Sneaking into my office when they should be in class to have a little talk with me, greeting me in the hallways and outside of school, and one of them even left this little heart on my desk the other day.

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Okay, fine, I’ll give you all an A.

+ Direct translation never works.

I taught Beginners – Advanced levels of English in Mexico and never once used a translator. My students were immersed into English from the get-go and they slowly but surely improved.

Here, the kids have been learning English since kindergarten. You’d think that 10+ years later, their levels would be okay.

Nup.

It’s pretty low. I’d put the majority of my 1st and 2nd graders at an Elementary level, and my 3rd graders at an Intermediate. Most of them can hardly string a sentence together. It’s just maybe three key words.

I was pretty shocked until I realised it’s probably due to the co-teachers. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love my co-teachers but the students really rely heavily on a lot of direct translation. In doing so, there’s no real need to listen to what I say.

I mean, it makes sense. In Wales, every student has to learn Welsh all the way through their school years. That means that – with nursery included – they get 13 years of Welsh lessons. So why is Welsh a dying language? Because the majority of us leave school with just a few short phrases memorised and nothing more. It’s all to do with direct translation.

My work is cut out for me here. Thank god I’m given a lot of flexibility to teach in whatever way works for me.

+ People really don’t stare that much.

Granted, I’ve only wandered around Naju, Gwangju, and Incheon Airport but, so far, there really isn’t a lot of staring. I don’t know whether it’s because people are used to seeing foreigners in these cities or what but the staring is nothing. I don’t want to be the douche who keeps bringing the other country up but I got a lot more stares in Mexico – I mean, I never left the house without getting gawked at. But here? Barely anything.

+ The air smells like fish.

I live right by the river in an area called Yeongsanpo which is famous for its skate fish. All along the river are fish markets that sell their daily catch and, as a result, the air is quite … pungent.

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+ My schools are amazing.

I split my week between two high schools: One is a beauty school where the kids study hair, nails, skin, everything to do with beauty that I’m pretty crap at; And the other is a school with a focus on agriculture. A lot of the students stay onsite, in dormitories, during the week so they’re already pretty free-spirited and independent. The staff at the schools are unbelievably generous, kind, and patient with me, and are the first to help me with my Korean studies, as well as offering to show me all the sights in the cities and province.

I’ve heard some nightmare stories about teachers landing in horrific schools but I think I’ve really lucked out.

These little treats were left on my desk when I arrived Wednesday morning. Five minutes later, a handful of strawberries were added.

These little treats were left on my desk when I arrived Wednesday morning. Five minutes later, a handful of strawberries were added.

+ This is what happens when teenagers make their own team names.

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My other class named themselves ‘iPod’, ‘Hamburger’, and ‘Killer.’

+ I know five Korean words & can recognise the Hangul characters.

This sounds pathetic but considering I only arrived here 9 days ago with quite literally zero phrases memorised and no knowledge of the Korean language, I’d say it’s a good start.

I can say 안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo – “Hello“), 안녕히계세요 (Annyeonghikyeseyo - “Goodbye” (when you’re leaving)), 안녕히가세요 (Annyeonghikaseyo - “Goodbye” (when you’re staying)), 고맙습니다 (Komapseumnida - “Thank you”) and 하나 (Hana - “One”).

I recognise all of the Hangul characters now but am still trying to remember the sounds off by heart. Not only that but there’re so many rules when it comes to pronunciation that all come down to where a certain character or vowel or consonant is placed that it really isn’t the easiest thing to remember straight away. Nonetheless, I’m determined to have the whole alphabet down by the end of my first month and, as I’m lucky enough to have a lot of down time between my classes, have the perfect excuse to get my books out and study.

Update on the Hospital Situation

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My city can be so beautiful.

For those who don’t have me on Facebook, everything’s getting better following the absolute mind-fuckery of earlier this week.

After the amazing comments, emails, and messages from the lovely friends online and back home, as well as a few Skype calls with friends and family, I started to feel better.

I’ve been getting on with teaching (and falling in love with how sweet my students can be (when they’re not being absolute terrors)), have made the effort to meet some more people in my little city, and things are starting to feel a lot more positive.

I’m so incredibly relieved to have been given a clean bill of health and just glad that I’m surrounded by amazing people in my place of work and in my life.

This morning I was told that the hospital wants to offer me an apology in person and triple the amount of won I paid for the health check as compensation.

My co-teacher says the money’s not enough but I’m happy to have back what I paid for that crappy service and then some.

I’m really not looking forward to facing them though. I just hope they’re prepared for my Ultimate Bitch Face.

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How a Korean Hospital Told Me I Had AIDS … And Then Admitted They Made a Mistake

In the last 24 hours, I’ve gone through my own personal hell. I can honestly say that this has been one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve ever had and, even now, I’m still unsure what to feel and how to react.

For those of you not in the know, when you apply for an E2 Visa (that entitles you to live and work in Korea as a teacher), one of the first things you have to do when you get here is go for a medical test at the local hospital. You give them some of your blood and some of your urine, and then go for a chest x-ray, visual test and hearing test.

The only thing I was worried about were the results of my hearing test – My hearing isn’t as sharp as it should be and has been getting worse in the last few years.

Yesterday, though, just after finishing my last class, my co-teacher got off the phone and pulled me aside.

“Ceri,” she whispered, “that was the hospital with the results of your blood test in the medical check. They said you tested positive for AIDS.”

“What?” I asked, thinking I’d misheard her.

“AIDS. A-I-D-S. Do you understand?”

I can’t begin to describe what I felt at that moment. It was a bit surreal, kind of like having an out-of-body experience.

I remember my body shaking all over and feeling completely numb.

All I could think was: This couldn’t happen to me. There must be some mistake. Where would I have got it from? Have I been that risky?

Although my rational mind knows that victims of HIV/AIDS are now able to live long, happy lives, at that time all I could think was I’m going to die.

My co-teacher told me that my blood was being taken to the bigger hospital in the city to be looked at and examined again in more detail and that those results would be ready in the morning.

She drove me home in silence and, all night, I sat alone in my apartment, in a strange new country, with the knowledge that I had just been told I had an incurable, life-ending disease.

I spent the night googling everything you can imagine about HIV and AIDS, attempting to come to terms with what would be my new life. The fear inside me was so big that I felt physically sick.

I racked my brain with how I might have caught this and narrowed it down to two ex-partners.

There was the American I fooled around with but never slept with. He never wanted to have sex with me and gave strange reasons that always confused me. But then I read that HIV and AIDS was unlikely to be contracted from just fooling around.

And then there was the most recent lover. He’d told me he’d been tested right after we started hooking up, and was healthy. But we were both ridiculously stupid and never used protection (Something I’m usually so careful about).

I can’t begin to describe how it feels when someone tells you you have AIDS. We all think that it would be a truly awful thing but the actual feeling of having to come to terms with it is something else entirely.

I didn’t sleep well all night, and when I did, all my dreams were revolved around the disease.

This morning I continued my google research until the phone rang.

It was my co-teacher again.

“Ceri, the hospital made a mistake. Your test results have come back negative.”

It was only then that the tears began to flow.

“You mean, I’m okay?” I asked.

“You’re okay.”

So how the hell could a mistake like this possibly occur?

Apparently there was a mix-up with the data, a nurse read my results wrong, and then contacted us before consulting anyone else.

Needless to say, you should have heard my co-teacher this morning. She is fucking livid with the hospital. All morning she’s been shouting down the phone to them that they owe me compensation for the emotional turmoil I was put through.

“This is her first time in Asia. She’s away from everything, she’s a guest in this country, and this is how she’s been treated?”

She even filed an official complaint with the directors at the hospital and is apparently waiting to see what compensation they’re going to offer. All I have to do is say “Yes” or “No” to whatever they offer.

At the end of all this, I’m so happy to hear this news but, to be honest, am still a little shaken. This whole thing has affected me more than it should have – Probably because I haven’t even been here a week yet and am still trying to adjust to it.

If it wasn’t for how amazing my three co-teachers are (especially the one who’s been through this with me), I’d be seriously considering getting the hell out of here.

I know I shouldn’t judge a whole country but this hasn’t been the best welcome and, now, I’m kind of homesick.

Here’s hoping a trip to Seoul to see one of my best friends over the weekend will put things into a more positive light. Right now, things are still a bit shaky.

Jet Lag is a Bitch

I started to write a post about my first few days in the Land of the Morning Calm but I’m actually having some serious trouble concentrating.

Silly little me thought she’d managed to beat jet lag yesterday.

Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! What a moron I am.

Yesterday evening at about 6:30pm, I couldn’t stop yawning and by 8:30pm, I was out. Then I woke up at midnight, thinking it was the morning. And then I woke up again at 1:25am in a blind panic, thinking I’d slept through my alarm.

This afternoon I came home at 4pm and felt an amazing wave of exhaustion. Like, seriously, I’ve never experienced this kind of tiredness where you’re physically incapable of doing anything. I woke up about an hour ago (9.30pm) and am still feeling rough as hell.

It isn’t just being tired and feeling like crap: It’s not being able to concentrate and having a few headaches a day that’re the worst.

But it’s okay though. According to Medicinenet:

Recovering from jet lag depends on the number of time zones crossed while traveling. In general, the body will adjust to the new time zone at the rate of one or two time zones per day.

Great. So, as I crossed 9 time zones, it should only take me 5-8 days.

wiig-ayfkm-bridesmaidsIn all seriousness though, with the exception of jet lag, I really am enjoying my first few days in Korea. (Honestly.) Here’s the view outside my window. (My apartment’s 15 floors up.)

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I’ll try and write a more elaborate Korea-themed post tomorrow but, for now, I’m going back to sleep so 안녕히계세요!

Six Days to Go

itineraryThis morning my passport finally arrived back from the Korean embassy with a nice big E2 Visa stuck to one of the pages. This means that Yay!! It’s official. My ticket’s been bought, my visa’s come through, and I am all good to go. Insanity!

Yesterday was a day of near meltdown as I ran around the county attempting to get legal documents fixed and sorted, pick up everything I need for a year overseas, and say goodbye to one of my best friends. By the time I got home I was like this:

cryingAs I’ve mentioned before, as much as I love travelling, the build-up to it just freaks me out. I get way too worried about the tiniest things and end up with a huge mountain of anxiety.

I’m lucky that my family have already gone through this ridiculousness with me before and know how to deal with my moods.

Though, these days if I’m not over-worried and fighting back tears from stress, there are just two other things that can send me into a spiral.

One is when someone asks if I’m going to North Korea, in which case my reaction is something like:

ignorantThe other is when someone says something along the lines of “Ooooh, don’t disappear/get kidnapped by terrorists/die on the way there” in reference to the fact that I’m flying with Malaysian Airlines out of Kuala Lumpur during my journey. In which case my response is more like:

shutupIt’s okay. Most of the time I’m in a pretty good mood actually. I’m really excited to be heading off to somewhere new and I seriously can’t wait to get back into a classroom and start teaching again.

As sad as it is to say another round of goodbyes, it’s getting better. I know it won’t be forever and, luckily, most of them are always on the other end of Skype/email/Twitter/Facebook.

And, as always, when I’m not surrounding myself with the wonderful friends and family I have here in Wales, what’s keeping me sane and providing the soundtrack to my pre-travel organising is music.

Today it’s Pete’s birthday:

I was lucky enough to see him twice last summer – once solo and once with his band – and today’s playlist is full to the brim with every bit of prose and poetry he’s let us listen to.

His music always reminds me to live like a libertine – doing, taking and having exactly what I want, and living to chase my own dreams rather than anyone else’s.

During times of doubt or panic, it’s good to have a reminder that we all have our own journeys to take and that nothing should get in the way.

So, Happy 35th Birthday, Pete. Thanks for the words and inspiration.

Pieces of Korea in Wales

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Fasey Girl?

(Apologies for the scattered, nonsensical way this post is written. Not my best piece of writing as I’m finding it hard to concentrate these days.)

In less than two weeks, I’ll be on my way to a new home and new job in South Korea.

Last Thursday I officially finished my job as a travel agent and, while I’m happy to say goodbye to sales and package holidays, the rush to pack my whole life into 30kg of luggage starts now. How do you pack a year’s worth of clothes into one large suitcase? How do you know which treasures to bring with you and which to leave behind? I have apparently forgotten how to do this whole moving thing.

But it’s okay. I’m super excited to be starting something new and, in the meantime, some pretty amazing people have already taken some steps in helping to indoctrinate me into Korean culture.

First, my amazing friend, Sally, sent me these beautiful little notecards:

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Apologies, Sally. This picture doesn’t do your photography justice at all.

The photographs are all taken by Sally and feature a different place in Korea that she’d either lived in or travelled to. A part of me wants to keep them and pin them on my wall but they’ll also serve as the perfect stationery when it comes to writing letters back home so thank you, Sally. :D Love them!

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