A Year in Seoul - video by Maddy

Friday, March 27, 2009

One Month Mark

Another week has gone by, which means I have now been in Seoul for one month. One month in! It can't be right. Last Friday there was a meeting for all the public school teachers in my city. I was able to meet the teachers who I haven't run into yet and we discussed this year's summer camp. I am desperately trying to organize my summer break at the end of august, and school gets out in mid July, so my camp schedule is of the utmost importance. In Gunpo, all the teachers participate in an overnight camp for one week from Monday to Friday. We drew our assigned weeks from a hat, and lucky me! I drew the first week! I also found out that I'll be teaching cooking, which is going to be a blast. The other teachers tell me that the camp is really fun, plus, we get paid extra for it. I also found out there is a large possibility that I will have more than two weeks off this summer, depending on the day camp schedule. Bali here I come!!!

I spent the weekend in Seoul as usual, only this time Maddy and I met up with a friend of hers who works at the U.S. Embassy. We got to see his house on the military base (the U.S. has a massive active base in the center of Seoul) and it was just like being back in the states. Maddy and I now refer to last weekend as "our weekend in America." We got to bake brownies in an actual oven, and hang out in an American style restaurant eating real chips and salsa and paying in dollars!! Even better, we got to drive in a car. It was definitely a trip, but it made me realize I'm just not homesick yet.

On Wednesday I only had to work a half day. Once a month we get to leave early on Wednesday to do an activity with the other teachers like hiking or watching a movie. Everyone was exhausted because its the first month of the school year, so we got to just go home this time. I spent the afternoon reading in bed with a cup of coffee. Heaven!!

Then yesterday we had a dinner for all the new teachers at my school. We went to a Korean restaurant after our classes and sat at two big long tables (Korean style, on the floor of course). They served us plates of kimchi, rice cakes, and cabbage salad and then set huge bowls of broth onto burners that were built into the tables. The bowls were filled with every kind of mushroom known to man, and they slowly cooked before us. After eating the mushrooms, they brought out beef (I obviously declined in favor of more mushrooms). Then, just when I thought we couldn't eat any more they brought out bowls of rice and vegetables, which they poured into the broth and we cooked until it formed a porridge. Think of it as Asian risotto. To finish we drank bowls of a cold sweet liquid that tasted very strongly of cinnamon.

It's always strange being the only foreigner among a huge group of Koreans, mostly because of the language barrier. Many of them tried to speak English to me, but still, I spent most of the time lost amidst a hum of sound I could not recognize. It didn't feel awkward at all this time, however. I felt like being the only non-Korean there made me privy to a secret world. I watched the way they ate their food and listened to the way they pronounced their words. It's amazing how much you can learn in this way.

There were definitely some memorable interactions, however. First, the school receptionist (the saucy secretary mentioned earlier) announced to everyone that she was afraid of me because she couldn't speak English. Later, when they handed out roses to the new teachers, she gave me mine, saying, "This is for you" in English. I was sure to respond "komapsumnida" (thank you). Later, the head teacher, one of two male teachers present, came over to me and said very loudly, "I want you." For several seconds I was mortified thinking that he had hit the soju too hard. It turned out he was trying to say "I want you to teach me English." and everyone had a good laugh because "I want you" has the same meaning in Korean as it does in English.

I also had the chance to speak with another teacher, who is young and is in the small group I have tea and lunch with once in a while at school. It turns out he took a course on teaching Korean to foreigners. He really wants help with his English, so maybe we can work out a language exchange. He is immediately on my good side because he said to me, "You are very skilled with chopsticks, did you learn when you were a baby?" That's really the key to my heart, my chopstick skills are a matter of personal pride.

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