Today marks my 15th day here in the Eastern Hemisphere and life has been…….WOW. Sometimes I think, Oh it’s just like home, except for the language and then other times I am floored by cultural differences and when I first arrived, jetlag made me feel so disoriented I could’ve been on the moon.
Jetlag was a crazy thing–exhausted from not much sleep on the plane ride here, my first night in a shitty motel was nearly sleepless too. I kept waking up and checking my clock, scared I had slept through an alarm and was missing my orientation, nervous about my subway ride the next day to Songpa two hours away on the other side of Seoul for orientation, and my mind wondering wondering wondering what to expect from my school, from ECC training, from the other teachers, from Korea itself. Training turned out to be boring as all hell, but riding the subway was really fun for me since we don’t have much public transit to speak of in Richmond and I got to see some smoggy, rainy glimpses of Seoul when we weren’t underground. I was also able to meet other teachers that had just moved to the Seoul National Area and having people to eat a meal with and speak to about our impressions of Korea and what we had left back home and why was really helpful to combat loneliness of homesickness.
Now my sleep schedule is fairly normal, though I am still more tired than usual, and so far I’ve done well with the dietary change. However, I joke with everyone that I’m allergic to Korea because my arms and legs often break out in patchy, bumpy rashes, I have an infection in my right eye, and my complexion has gone to shit. I’ve never had many problems with my skin but the other teachers all said they had issues with it and still do sometimes and I’ve got 3 students in my kindergarten class that have ointment I have to put on their faces every afternoon for red rashes and sores. I blame the pollution which is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Today it’s clear but when I first arrived at Incheon, I could barely see the terminal from the runway the smog was so thick. Ilsan is a bit fresher with the enormous Lake Park area and only 20 years of city grime but it’s still an urban area nonetheless.
Despite the pollution, I’ve found myself really impressed by the lack of the waste here. My students bring their own mug, chopsticks, and soup spoon to school each day and all of our lunch and snack dishes are reusable. The garbage system is also very efficient–food waste goes into one color of bag (they are small and I keep mine in the freezer until it’s full), general waste into another, and recycling is mandatory. There are huge bins for sorting different recyclables and beside them, areas for unwanted household items, linens, clothes, shoes, and anything else you want to start a pile of. I’ve gotten a literally brand new pillow in a decorative case and 2 lovely bedspreads since I moved in 2 weekends ago and will keep my eyes open for anything else I could use, like pots, pans, and dishes. That and the exchanges between coming and going teachers has meant I’ve not spent much money at all in making my apartment feel like my home.
Being told to make Korea seem like my home was one of the most important parts of training. People come here thinking they’ll make some money and travel then just go back to life as usual in a year but if you allow yourself to see living abroad as more than just a temporary situation, it can become a real and permanent part of yourself. I haven’t had to experience personally because I haven’t been here long, but I’ve met more people that are staying for that extra year or two or have found the love of their life than people who hate it or are just taking their year and running. Not that there is anything wrong with fulfilling one contract at all, but it’s very comforting in the beginning to meet people who are making Korea and teaching their lives.
So far I love it–even the overwhelming moments, even the frustrating ones, not knowing what I’m eating or what people are saying around me. I’ve got pictures of temples, mountains, students and stories like Alexa and the Squirting Seafood. I wouldn’t have had any of that had I been too scared to be scared. I’m keeping with own advice and trying to laugh at every chance I get and every time I reflect on my time here, I feel more settled and don’t regret my decision to come to Korea one bit.