Thursday, December 6, 2012


*Note: I started writing this a week ago but only finished today :P *

I'm sure I'm not the only one currently suffering from year end blues. I've seen some posts on Facebook and it sounds as though there are a few of us who are over work and just want some time to put our feet up. It hit me the other day that this is the first time in my life that I have not had a December/Summer holiday to look forward to. And it's the first time in 4 years that I've worked so late into the year (tough life I led I tell you). So maybe it's my body telling me that it should be time to shut down, but I'm finding myself exhausted and demotivated a lot these days. As they say here though, FIGHTING! We can do it teachers, the end is in sight :)

I started this blog with the idea that it might be helpful to others, but those who know me know I'm a thinker and so the blog has taken a more 'diary' type style, consisting of me voicing my opinions and frustrations more than practical information. I like this though, and am happy to see many of you taking this journey with me. But I've been stuck for ideas lately and got some inspiration from a close friend back home who is in the process of applying to teach here next year. Bianca had a few questions for me which I thought I would try to answer as best I could :) If anyone else reading has any questions for me I would love to answer them in the comments section!

Concerns about coming over, where you will be placed and who you will meet

B expressed concerns about moving here alone, and I can completely understand. The new EPIK application requirements do not let you apply with a friend or significant other, unless you are married, like they did before. I applied with 2 friends from home and if I'm completely honest, this was the main reason why I considered coming in the first place. It was my security blanket, and I felt safe under the assurances by my recruiter that I would be so close to Jodie I could see her weekly. What I got though, was left alone in a foreign country, something I had not prepared for. I freaked out, I was resentful...I was supposed to have my friend with me, why did it work out like this? But really, it's all been part of the adventure.

You are lucky that you get an orientation, where you will be grouped with people in the same area as you and although you may not be in the exact same city, it means that from the minute you land, you are surrounded by people just like you...anxious, excited and eager to make friends. It's like Uni, day 1, all over again. Take advantage of that time - get to know the people around you, try avoid connecting with one person and ignoring the rest. And don't be afraid that you wont like people, or make friends. Everyone is in the same boat here; it will be no time before you've made friends. Once you arrive in your city, try making connections, joining Facebook groups and get involved - that's how I did it. Sure there will be people you don't like, that's normal. But you will find yourself making connections with the most unlikely people because that's how it is here. Really, making friends will not be a problem.

With regards to where you are placed: that's the big question isn't it? It's all we worry about until we find out. The best piece of advice I can give you is be prepared for the unexpected. Remember that no matter where you are, travel is cheap, reliable and easy here. If you are put in a little town in the middle of nowhere, don't panic. You can travel out on the weekends. Chances are the foreigner population will be smaller but that's not always a bad thing. There are pros and cons to everything and you really just need to make your situation work. I've heard good and bad things about small and big cities alike and I'm a firm believer in making the most of what you are given. Do I miss the big city? Sometimes, yes. But I've grown to love and appreciate my little town of Jecheon. Unfortunately, with an adventure like this, you need to be prepared to make anything work. Accept now that you cannot prepare for everything, there will be curve-balls thrown at you but you will make it work.

What is the food like?

This is a tough one to try and answer but will try my best. It's spicy...if you don't like spice, chances are you're not going to enjoy the food much. There is kimchi with everything. You will eat a lot of rice, and a lot of vegetables you've never heard of. There are a lot of soups with interesting smells and flavours and plenty of leaves floating around in them. When they do salty it tends to be over-salted. Eating out consists of a lot of sharing...usually you order a dish or 2, and that will come with a variety of side dishes (kimchi, veggies, sometimes pajeon or salads) and everyone shares. Depending on where you are placed, you might find you have access to Western-type restaurants - great, but remember you are here to try out this new culture and that includes its food. I stay away from seafood as a choice but you can get great seafood dishes here. We eat a lot of chicken, often fried but its good. I love Korean barbecue, which can be pork or beef and you cook it over coals in the middle of the table. I don't know what to tell you other than try, try, try. It might look weird or end up tasting disgusting, but I have eaten some things here that have really surprised me, in a good way. It's a bit of an adjustment in the beginning, and ordering out can be overwhelming but you will come to know very quickly what you like and don't like and how to order it.

Let me show you my top 3 meals here:

Dak galbi
Dak-galbi: this is a chicken stir-fry type dish and is one of the meals I crave here. It's spicy, can be served with rice or sometimes noodles and has a mixture of cabbage,  onions, peppers, sweet potato and tteok (Korean rice cake) all mixed in a chili pepper sauce. It is amazing on cold nights and if I could box it up and take it home with me, I would.

Jjimdak from our favourite place in Jecheon 

Jjimdak: another favourite. Damn but this dish is T.A.S.T.E.Y. It's another chicken dish, served with noodles, carrots, onions etc along with a variety of add ins like cheesy tteok (these are my favourite things ever), tteok, mandu, potato and cheese and marinated in a Korean soy sauce. This dish is the business, that's all there is to it.

Typical galbi meal
Galbi: aka Korean barbecue, this is a really popular way to eat out here. You order some meat, pork or beef in different cuts/sauces and grill it yourself at your table. As you can see, it's served with a number of side dishes and is a simple, easy way to eat that also works out super cheap. For me, the sides are what make me keep going back to a restaurant (like Sweetcorn in Jecheon, nicknamed that because they serve you sweetcorn along with everything else!).

So yeah...some people love it, some people hate it but I think you need to keep trying until you find the things you like. Unfortunately you don't really have much of a choice at school, you eat what you're given but give it time!

What would make me stay?

This is also a tough question. I made my mind up pretty early on that this was a 1 year stint for me. A lot of it has to do with the language barrier. I know it's obvious but I was completely unprepared for how difficult it would be to live in a place where you don't speak the language. However I really grew attached to my schools, students, friends and city while I was here and so in the end, it's very bittersweet to be leaving. Other than the money though, what would make me stay?

Maybe if I had a proper coteacher, who supported me and communicated with me and I didn't feel so completely alone at school. If I could speak Korean. I think a lot would need to change at school, from a teaching point of view. I want more control of my classes, I want to be spoken to about things, to be informed and treated like a teacher and not a babysitter.  I have quite a few issues with my school situation and I think that's what convinced me I need to go. I don't feel like I have any support here, at my school and from my coteacher and that makes things a lot harder. I don't feel like I'm being used in the best way to really help these kids and it's really frustrating. There are also many cultural things here I struggle with, and things like the spitting and lack of personal space etc, but I think I really just felt that I got the most out of this experience that I could and that it's time to move on. No hard feelings, I'm just ready.

Money money money

When you first get here, you feel odd paying in thousands. And when the first paycheck comes and you feel like a millionaire, it's awesome. But you really do get the hang of spending really quickly. For the Rand, I usually knock off 2 zeros and that's my estimated price, minus a bit more. You eventually stop converting every little thing though, as soon as you figure out how far the money goes. You begin to recognise that \2000 is cheap and maybe \7000 isn't so bad for meat. It's really no time before you're navigating yourself around the currency like a pro. I still convert big items though, and things like trips etc just for interests sake and to keep me in check, as sometimes it's easy to blow money on unnecessary things.

For me, fruit here is much more expensive than back home. Like R150 for a watermelon expensive. I could be a real cheapskate when it came to buying groceries as I just saw everything as expensive but that's changed now and I cook a lot more at home. Eating out can be cheap, if you consider all you're getting. Clothes vary, just like at home, but in general they are slightly more expensive (because there isn't always the Mr Price option haha). Travel and accommodation is really cheap. You learn what you're willing to spend on certain things. I think in general, things aren't as cheap as I was expecting; eve the technology isn't all that much cheaper. Don't worry. Your paycheck goes REALLY far, and even after all my deductions I am able to live comfortably through the month. I love the not looking forward to going back to my Rands (although that's probably more because my income will come to a halt for a while when I come home haha).

I don't know if this has helped at all. It's so hard to tell people how things are because these are just my experiences, opinions, likes and dislikes. It changes for every person, depending on context and preferences. My biggest piece of advice and the biggest lesson I've learned from being here is just come prepared to make the most of it. Try limit your expectations (although I know this is hard). Know that what you are walking into is the adventure of a life time, but that it wont always be smooth sailing. Expect the unexpected, be willing to adapt and you will be okay.

Korea has so much to offer you, you just have to be willing to embrace it...quirks and all.

No comments:

Post a Comment