My return to snowboarding after a 6 year hiatus is one that I highly anticipated and was extremely excited to return to. I admit, I was extremely nervous not knowing if I would be able to get back on the board after such a long absence, but I am here to tell you snowboarding (and I assume skiing) is like riding a bike! Once you know, it’s hard to forget. By my third run I was the only girl with 4 boys hitting Korea’s take on a double black diamond. I say Korea’s take as it was more just a regular intermediate run in Colorado standards.
The snow was fair on the mountain, but there were large patches of solid ice- my enemy when it comes to me and snowboarding (I think it’s safe to say anyone’s enemy). Some runs were about 6-9 minutes and some were a song or two (music is my gauge as I have always enjoyed a sick playlist while shredding down the mountains). I must say my biggest complaint was that Korean skiers and snowboarders are stereotypically a lot like their walking selves- always in the way and always unpredictable about where they are moving next. I found myself frustrated numerous times as I’d be behind a Korean and they kept making large and SLOW S curves in the snow. Being my first time back it was harder for me to move quickly past them and I did have a crash or 5- one being with a skier and the others caused by my fear with ice and my board not being my own.
Now for those that want to know the price comparisons to Colorado mountains I must disclaimer with the fact that I paid a one time fee whereas in Colorado I paid for a whole season pass. To rent my board, boots, snowboarding clothes and get a lift ticket for the day it cost me 157,000Won (roughly $154). You had to have your own gloves and goggles and rent your own helmet if you saw it necessary. SInce I didn’t go looking for goggles prior to the resort I bought a 30,000Won pair and those I will keep for all eternity! The gloves I had bought from a friend months ago thankfully. Now, if you had a card from KB, Nonghyp or Shinhan banks you got a pretty sweet discount (I believe in February 40% off and in March 50%). I have KEB unfortunately so I paid full price- yay. We took a bus that took about 2 and a half hours to get up from Incheon. They picked us up right across the street from my apartment, which was awesome and a round trip ticket cost 28,000Won. Talking to my friend who has a season pass he said his pass for the season cost him 450,000Won and 90,000Won for the bus pass wherein you go to the website and type in your number and bam you’re on the bus free of charge. So in about 4 to 5 trips you are done and paid for! Now, don’t forget startup costs are expensive as well. It made me miss the Vail outlet store wherein I got my boots, board with binding and outfits for $250. All in all, I am considering a pass for next season as I was bored out of my mind this winter sitting indoors and I realized how much I missed boarding!
In terms of prices for food. I paid about 10,000Won for a burger, fries and a drink and there were more expensive and very cheap food items (like the hotdogs) to choose from. We rented a pension as well, which is totally not necessary as you can get to the mountain and back home in a full day. But if you wanted to bond the pension for a 3 bedroom with a living room pension set us back 250,000Won for one night.
If I do return to the mountain it will only be for a day trip and I will strongly consider looking for cheaper options for rental equipment.
As I lay here in bed trying to get some sleep I think about values that I hold that I feel are different from most Americans. As I’ve said before, being abroad does some amazing things. For one it teaches you about a new culture. One that you may not have known about in terms of food and traditions, but also culturally. Being is Asia, although at times made it difficult to understand why they think they way they think I am very lucky to have been able to experience their Buddhist cultures and Eastern traditions allowing me to hold it up in comparison to my Western upbringing. Being abroad has allowed me ample self-reflection on things I was brought up to believe be in in my familial upbringing as well as my upbringing in “American society.”
Talk to my best friend the other night I was talking about conformity and how a big part of my battle the past 10 months was letting go of the “American ideal” wherein I should be married, with 1 or 2 kids and in a job that maybe I liked, but more over paid the bills. I should have a flat screen TV or 5, 2 cars, a house and a white picket fence. Oh, and maybe I should be on my way to my first divorce! Taking my 17 days of no phone while on my adventure in Thailand and Cambodia really allowed me to know that the American ideal is not for me and may never be for me, and that is OKAY!
For me, what excites me isn’t thinking about wedding plans to a man that amazes me (partly because I haven’t met any man that amazes me enough to want to think about marriage), or thinking about how many kids I have, how I’m going to raise them and where we will live. I’m not excited by interior design or landscape features. Maybe one day I will be, but for now none of that is on my radar. What does excite me is looking at pictures of places in this giant world and thinking to myself “I’m going to make it there, I’m going to stand there and reflect on how wonderful this world is and how amazing it is that I get to be apart and witness it firsthand.” Travel, living abroad and deciding which destination I should move to next to experience and learn from that culture is what excites me. For many years this is something I struggled with. I have come to realize that this is a main reason why I have had identity issues for many years. I wasn’t living my truth but trying to fit the mold of the typical American life that I didn’t want to be apart of.
Everyone has their struggles in finding their identity, and for me my struggle came in understanding that I have wanted to be a nomad traveling the land that “God created” for us to roam freely. Since I lived in Australia, I have wanted to live a lifestyle that is so far beyond what many Americans ever fathom or think about that for me I felt very uncomfortable living in a society that expects all of us to conform- and most likely eventually join the Prozac train in the process.
I love that I live in a place where most of the time I go misunderstood and unable to communicate with people. It makes me a stronger person mentally to figure out ways to get this person who doesn’t speak my language to understand my needs. Most of these needs are basic of course, as the major needs I am pretty self-sufficient. I love that I can figure out transportation routes and read a language that I would have NEVER thought or imagined myself being able to read (comprehension is still in the works). I love that in 10 months I have traveled to 5 countries including the one I live in (6 if you count me standing on North Korean soil at the DMZ) and I have paid for every single part of it myself- no help from daddy anymore! I love how close I am to many countries that I would have only stared at in pictures and wondered what it’d be like to eat their food, experience their weather and visit their biggest sites. This life excites me and makes my “job” worth enduring. If this lifestyle is possible for as long as I can handle it then I want to live it. I have the rest of my life to sit in a cubicle, making phone calls, or plugging away at a computer being a trained monkey. My time to explore and change my world view is now and I will be the most non-conformist to American society as long as I see fit for myself!
As it’s been over 9 months and I think back to 1 year ago when I had done a little research from other’s blogs I realize none of them really gave me a list of things to expect for the culture shock component. So I will compile a list of things that I think are important for every soon-to-be English teacher to know before coming to this country *bias to be had*:
1. You will be the ONLY English teacher in the school. Sometimes you may get lucky and have another one, but you will be the only foreigner in your school, thus making you stick out like a sore thumb.
2. You will get no introductions to the staff of your school. Maybe this was just my school (seeing as they haven’t been the most accommodating) so you will walk into your classes and then be introduced to your co-teachers as they walk in. It’s pretty awkward.
3. If you work for a public school you get school lunch included, but it does come out of your paycheck. Mine are really good, I hear some people complain about theirs, but be warned- whole fish with bones, skin and face are common occurrence. One my first day of school lunch I had to deal with a big ugly whole fish- face and all staring at me. Mind you I was getting used to metal chopsticks too so that was interesting!
4. Your apartment can be a loft (2 levels) or a tiny shoe box with no view. Pretty much everyone else I know and have visited has a really nice apartment with space to entertain people. I, on the other hand, got the smallest apartment with the wonderful view of the cement building next to me. It’s pretty much like living in a prison cell (or what I’d liken to one).
5. Cell phone’s and contracts are really cheap compared to the US, but you do have to wait about 4-6 weeks to get your ARC (Alien Registration Card) in order to set it up. I brought my iPhone and had it unlocked, I got a bit ripped off for the SIM as I wasn’t lucky enough to have my co-teacher go with me to set it up. (2 year contract plans with the phone is about $90 a month at most for unlimited data).
6. Internet in your apartment may already be set up from the last person or you may have to wait until you get your ARC to set it up, but that too is really cheap (about $35 a month!). Also- Korea is the 1st or 2nd best country for internet speed so it will always be the other persons connection back home not yours!
7. WIFI is everywhere! I’m serious. Coffee shops are literally every other business and most every other place has WIFI as well. However, sometimes you do have to have the specific pre-registration to access the WIFI in these areas. Be prepared to be amazed.
8. Though you should learn Korean as you are living in another country for 1 or more years, as long as you have Google Translate and working internet Smartphones have made communication idiot proof. I am in no way conversational and can read Korean very slowly and I am proud to say that I have survived until now. Sure there are many times I wish I knew the language (I love eavesdropping), but I like that I can tune out most of the time.
9. Your co-teachers may know English, but probably not on a strong conversational level. It’s shocking how little English this country really knows when it comes to how much they’ve invested into their native English teachers. Out of the 6 teachers I have to share classes with (and translate me) only 3 were conversational to a point. Another teacher and I have exchanged about 1 whole paragraph of English between us and there was that conversation wherein I was asking her about the next class and she replied to me with shrugs and “speak more slowly”.
10. You will not know what’s going on with your class schedule or with your classes- like ever. I’ve gone to classes where the kids weren’t there or the teacher wasn’t one of the English teachers. We have instant messenger, but no messages were sent by the teacher…
11. The amount of time you spend at you desk (aka desk warming) can be a little or a lot depending on your school. I was one of the teachers that I feel like I’ve sat at my desk and online more than anyone else I know. The good news? I’ve sure learned a lot about the world and things I just didn’t have time to worry about at my last job where I was worked hard for 40 hours a week and just wanted to mellow out when I got home. The bad? I think I flattened my ass a bit from all the sitting.
12. You may live really close to your school (think walking distance) or like me get to take a bus for 25 minutes. I have a friend that transports for over 45 minutes. Expect the worst.
13. Middle school students in Korea have no respect for teachers. How does this differ than the US? I can’t really speak on this except for my own experience, but sleeping during class and a sheer lack of disregard for you are very common. Oh, and their English (at least at my school) is extremely low. I’m talking they cannot speak past “i’m fine thank you, and you?” That’s about 1st grade material right there.
14. They gives tests to students, however, students cannot fail and be held back in their current grade. You also don’t grade students so really they have no reason to care about your class.
15. Punishment of students- detention, suspension and sending kids to the principal is non-existent here. Especially teaching a class of 40 students it makes it even harder to control the classroom.
16. You may be lucky and have small classes of no more than 25 (sometimes less) and a total teaching body of 50 students or less or be like me and have classes of 40 students and a total student body of over 1,000 students. With EPIK you really get the luck of the draw.
17. If you live near Seoul, the subway system is AMAZING. Wifi in the subways (though rush hour it’s hard to get on it), the subways seats are heated in the winter and Air Con in the summer. I live about 20-75 minutes away from Seoul (the latter being near Gangnam), which makes your weekends very nice.
18. If you came here to save money, stick to your guns. Though Korea is cheap, the clothes are cute (I mean tops not bottoms for this pear-shaped lady) and cheap, the food is cheap (you must eat Korean for this to be true) but going out and drinking will suck away your money!! Also, if you do eat Western food cravings, it will be more expensive and Koreanized meaning they make it to the likes of their tastebuds. Don’t set your expectations high and be prepared to eat a lot of McDonald’s for comfort food. I refuse to eat McD’s at home, but here it is way better and has been my go-to comfort food here.
19. There are many brands you will not find in Korea, toothpaste, deodorant and hair care products that you are used to may be hard to find or expensive. Korean brands are not comparable.. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m high maintenance and I like to pamper in hygiene products. But there are websites like iherb.com that you can get organic products and things you are more familiar with sent straight to your home and not break your bank.
20. The smells on the streets of Korea are some of the most vile I have ever smelled. People said that they are worse in other countries in Southeast Asia, except now that I have been to Cambodia and Thailand I beg to differ! China smells about the same, Japan is SO clean, but the smells in winter, spring, summer (the WORST) and fall are rancid in Korea. There’s nothing worse than tossed out yellow radish or kimchi as it’s been basking in the summertime heat and you being the lucky one walking past it.
21. It took me 3 different Korean class teachers, but learning the Korean alphabet and some useful words for your classroom and getting by will be most helpful. I.e. Where is the bathroom? Quiet! Hello, goodbye, how much is this? listen, repeat after me… the basics to get yourself through Korea.
22. Korean food is actually quite delicious, however, you may witness some of your food dying in front of you (mostly seafood) and be expected to eat it. Like I said, bones and flesh in tacked this can be quite the change for you. It is very spicy too, but for the most part I enjoy most of it.
23. One bottle of Soju for the night will help save you money, 2 bottles of soju or more may make you black out… and then you won’t be able to stand up the next day because it will make you sick. Enjoy with caution.
If I think of anymore I will post them and edit as I go, but these are the most important I think.
It’s been over 9 months since I got to Korea, which means very very soon I will be getting asked if I want to renew my contract with Incheon at my middle school or switch to an elementary school. As much as I financially should say yes, there is a huge part of me that wants to take a break until September- maybe go to South America/Europe/Southeast Asia for 3 months, head to two of my close college friends nuptials and then come back for year 2 in Korea or move on to a new country like Taiwan or Saudi Arabia. If I stay in Korea straight through year 2, I won’t have to go crazy spending money and doing everything one would do year 1 because I have already gotten it out of my system.
My 17 day journey changed my perspective on life and what I want to do long term. When I was supposed to gain clarity on my next move it didn’t necessarily give me that, but rather threw more exciting ideas into the mix. So, will I do the sensible thing, stay on another year- switch to an elementary school and risk not being able to go to the wedding end of August, or should I take some time for myself say f**k conformity and live my life via a backpack or should I apply to grad school for international development and get the show on the road with my “adult life” that America has ingrained in my brain that I need and should do? Decisions, decisions.
Either way, I am not coming back to America for good just yet- sorry friends and family, if you want to see me you may have to wait a bit longer (time frame unknown) because in the words of Dierks Bentley “I got a whole lot of leaving left to do!”
I know this title is pretty harsh. But after traveling through Japan, China, Thailand and Cambodia and speaking to more people that self-taught themselves English in those cumulative 5 weeks of travel then I’ve met here in Korea it dawned on me that Koreans as a majority will probably never really learn English because of one main reason: tourism will never be their strong point.
All the countries I have visited thus far have been highly touristed areas. Everyone loves Thailand and Cambodia is becoming a newly sought after destination with Angkor Wat (by the way, all your money goes to Vietnam not Cambodia when you go there- so messed up). Most of those people do not have past a middle or maybe high school diploma and surprisingly I had more conversation with them than I have had with Koreans in my time here.
Now, if I lived in Busan or Seoul I would be singing a different tune as I do try to order my food in Korean in Seoul and they respond in English- but they are exceptions to this rule and more highly trafficked areas for tourism.
So when it comes down to it at the end of the day, hiring us native teachers for the schools here can be pretty pointless unless Korea somehow unearths the fountain of youth and then people want to visit here.
Lastly, I do have to end this post by saying I do have a bias as I was put into a really crappy placement in the public school system. Talking to friends some have as little as 45 students wherein I have 1050+/-. My classes are also co-ed, mixed level so I have the whole slew of fun in my close to 40 student classroom, yay me. Furthermore, if you are considering a public school job note that the reason for public school Native English Teachers is because the government recognized that the rich kids were getting private English education and they wanted to boost everyone’s English abilities (without a proper plan of course) so that brought in us (like superheros) to help those poorer kids. And as I’ve found out- poor kids in Korea, mixed with being a middle school student is one of the most lethal combinations out there!