by Erica Swenson, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Participant in Kangwon-Do, South Korea
With my first two weeks of moving to Korea behind me, I’ve taken a moment to reflect on how much has happened in such a short amount of time. This fast pace life is the quintessence of Korean culture. Only a few traits are essential in living a happy and successful life here: adaptation, assimilation, patience, and a “go with the flow” kind of attitude.
I’ve heard many stories from friends of mine here in the Republic of Korea, who are having a difficult time adjusting to their new lives and new culture. I feel optimistic that things will turn around later this year when it’s not so “new.” Essentially, we are all kids again who need an adult, or in our case a co-teacher, to help us with regular day-to-day activities. My new co-teachers have even non-verbally explained how to shut the computer down properly, where to throw garbage, when to eat lunch, and even how to hold metal chopsticks the proper way. I still have not mastered the proper way, but everyone here seems to be amused by this particular shortcoming of mine.
Since arriving at Incheon-International Airport, it’s been “go, go, go” with EPIK orientation. The day we all moved to our placements the pace changed, but didn’t slow. Only now do I have time to sit and write about what’s been happening. EPIK really did an amazing job taking care of 600 GETs from all over the world and the amount of organization and money put into getting foreign teachers to this country is insane. I really had a fantastic time with them and I think all us GETs found comfort in that little English bubble.
I don’t want to say moving away from the comfort of that English bubble was difficult, but perhaps it was more bittersweet? Perhaps a little more…lonely? Many friends were lucky to be placed in a metropolitan city close to other foreigners. Others, like me, were placed in a rural town in the mountains of Kangwon-Do. The first night I arrived, all the teachers explained that the previous foreign teachers would either go to Seoul or another city on the weekends. They also informed me that I would be the only teacher living in town. My apartment is quite nice; the bottom half of a traditional Korean-style house. I never considered I’d be living in that kind of housing here, but I actually find that I’m assimilating into the culture faster than ever.
The first night in my town happened to be the first day the Typhoon hit the peninsula. Needless to say, my first night was spent wide awake listening to the new sounds of the house with the windows and glass doors rattling. That was the first moment I felt truly alone, but as always, the storm passed and the next day was filled with sunshine, shopping, and applying for an Alien Registration Card. I’d like to share that during that first night I paced my apartment quite a few times. Everyone here was asleep and everyone back home in the States was also asleep. This loneliness and fear were starting to make me rethink my whole attitude about living here for a year. And it was the first night in my town!
But the most random thing was able to comfort me that night. The front yard of my apartment/house is a river. Directly across the river are mountains. (Well actually, this town is surrounded by so many mountains one could start to feel claustrophobic!) Atop the mountain across my river is a little Korean style pavilion. Throughout the whole night there was a light shining down from the top of that mountain, keeping the pavilion illuminated for me to see. It felt odd to think that Korean building was what comforted me the most in Korea thus far.
At the main school I work at, if I look out the windows of any room, I can still see the pavilion. If I ever decide to get lost, the pavilion can act as my north star and guide me home. Sunflowers, surprisingly to me, grow abundantly here and I catch myself thinking of the Midwest when I see them. Luckily, my driveway has two sunflower bushes on either side making my Korean home feel a lot more like, well, home.