Sunday, July 20, 2008

Travel and First Impressions

Our life -line
Ashley loving some water
Korean Traditional Market
$10 to anyone who can tell us what this shirt means!
view of the school, bet Kristin's feeling jealous

(Sorry about the crappily posted pictures. We're still trying to figure out how this new-fangled blogspot works. :) )

Hello, Everyone!

I know Caleen said we were going to talk about our school this time around, but I’ve decided to derail things for a bit. Instead, I feel compelled to let you all in on my traveling experience and first impressions of life in Korea. Perhaps if I have time, I'll talk more about our school. For now, just hang tight! I've written a lot! Enjoy!

Sitting at Gate C 103 in the efficiently organized and comfortable surroundings of LAX last Friday, it all started to come together for me. I had been a busier version of myself on steroids for the last week or so, and the adrenaline rush that comes with the mass amounts of preparation for international travel was finally starting to taper off. It was clear that I would have nothing to do for the next five hours.

Looking around the nearly empty terminal at 7:30 that morning, I didn’t know what to think. I had just seen my friends and family for the last time for a year, and I was presently puzzled and somewhat ashamed that I hadn’t cried yet. I have a knack for crying at inappropriate times, so I feared I was postponing my emotional devastation for the middle of a Korean grocery store or some other public place. It turns out I was saving it for my first day of work, but I’ll talk about that later.

Anyway, I was thinking about all this when I saw the man I had seen at the Korean Air ticket counter. I remember him because he was the only other American in line, and he had slung his backpack around his chest instead of his back, making him look like an extremely pregnant man. He was rocking back and forth as he stood in a line of stoic Korean faces, and I remember thinking to myself that I’d somehow be stuck next to him that day. Turns out, I was right. Having recognized me from the Korean Air ticket counter, he sat down 2 seats from me and struck up a conversation.

After discerning that this man wasn’t a psycho or trying to hit on me I found, to my relief, that he was a pretty normal guy. He had been home for the last few weeks after being stationed in Korea, and he was headed back to finish the last three months of his assignment, leaving a wife and three small children behind. I asked him if it was very difficult to leave them, to which he replied that it certainly was. He said it’s especially hard to see how badly his children take his coming and going, explaining that his sons don’t always recognize him when he comes home. As the daughter of a military man, I could definitely relate to that. I don’t think I had a problem recognizing my dad when he came home, but I do remember how hard it was to see him go. I feel the same way now when friends move away or do something silly like get married :). Even if the absence is only temporary, it’s still a loss, and it still manages to affect all persons involved. This man was wearing that same loss on his face that day, which helped me wrap my mind around what I had just left behind.

After our discussion, my new friend was off making small talk with a military comrade, so I took it as an opportunity to find something to eat other than spicy peanuts. Unlike the other airport I’ve been to, however, there wasn’t much to choose from. So after settling for an $8 below-par, bun-less hot dog and a small drink, I made my way back to the gate, where I stood stunned by the sea of Koreans that had filled up nearly every seat.

Now, having worked at a place like World Relief, where I had grown more or less accustomed to being around people from all over the world, I expected to take on my new life in Korea with a little more adaptability. However, I hadn’t expected this. I had gone from feeling quietly confident to completely unnerved while making my way across the room to find a seat. Koreans were everywhere! More than half of them were on their chic laptops or cell phones, and nearly all of them were slender and dressed like successful business executives. In a moment the tables had turned. I was the foreigner among these well-dressed, tech-savvy people, and I didn’t like it. I was used to being surrounded by people who had nothing and needed my help to survive, not well-adjusted people who probably lived better than I did. Suddenly all of the cutesy jokes I told about living like a refugee in Korea stung with eerie irony. I wouldn’t know the language; I would be entirely dependent on the help of others; and I would be the foreigner in a strange land. Though they were a little less amusing this time around.

It also occurred to me that I didn’t know who these people were at all. Even though I’d read a bit about Korean culture and society, the Korean people were still a complete mystery to me. I kept asking myself: Who are these people? What do they value? And more important to me at the time: What do they think about me? With so few answers, it scared me to think that in that moment I would have felt more comfortable moving to Iraq, Somalia, or Burundi.

Now to move on to the more recent information that you have waited so patiently for…

As some of you may have heard, our time here in Korea hasn’t exactly started out in the best way. We’ve been trying to stay optimistic and maintain some perspective about our situation, but some days have left us downright discouraged. Let me explain. The school, though nice, is operated in the most erratic, disorganized fashion possible, and the general pace of work feels overwhelming. For example, for the last week Caleen and I have been getting to work at 1:00 PM to prepare for at least 7 of our 10 classes for two hours before school starts at 3:00 (we’re only paid for one hour of preparation), and then we’re teaching from 3:00 until 9:00 or 10:00 (Caleen) with only 10 minute breaks between classes. These 10 minute breaks are usually spent preparing materials for the next class and maybe going to the bathroom, but one of them is spent eating a catered dinner that the school provides. Needless to say, our workday is a dizzying blitz of activity at this point, but we’re hoping to cut down on our prep time once we get a better hang of things.

I think Caleen would agree that the first few days have been the hardest. In those few days you’re so busy trying to figure out what’s expected of you and how their crazy system works that it’s hard to get everything done. Fortunately for us, however, we’ve both adapted pretty well. I almost don’t resent how much extra time and effort it all takes anymore. The kids are also great. With the exception of a few less-than-well-behaved children, they all seem to really like Caleen and me, which makes our jobs a little easier. Although, I think the only reason they like Caleen so much is because she bribes them with prizes and games. :)

Outside of work, the most interesting aspects of our lives are probably exploring Chung-Ju without getting hopelessly lost and figuring out what to eat. I swear; I’ve never had such a hard time eating in my life. The food we’ve had so far isn’t our favorite and all the labels in the stores are in Korean, so we probably spend more time trying to figure out labels than we do actually shopping. It’s tiring. We seriously spent at least 15 minutes in front of a display of fabric softeners, trying to figure out if they were all indeed fabric softeners. I must say, however, I probably like shopping here more than just about anything else. The husband of one of our co-workers, Matt, is from the States, so he has kind of taken us under his wing in helping us get adjusted. He took us around town yesterday to give us a better idea of what the city is like and gave us a tour of the downtown area. It was pretty fun. We mostly just went into clothing shops and through the traditional market place, but it brought us an excitement about living here that was refreshing.

Well, that’s about all I can muster at this point. We will try to post a new blog every Sunday. Feel free to ask any questions in the meantime. Again, we love you, miss you, and are so thankful for your prayers and encouragement! Thanks for stopping by!


Jessica said...

Hang in there with the school stuff. It does get easier, not necessarily because the school becomes more organized, but more because with more time you get used to it. Duh. Anyway, Koreans are workaholics, worse than Americans I think, and since you guys have such a good work ethic, make sure you aren't putting in too much overtime. They definitely won't tell you to slow down. (Just what happened with us at our school anyway.) Have you gotten used to the sewer smell yet?

KristinDewey said...

hey girls!!! Shopping at the grocery store sounds like an adventure! That picture of all the fish almost just made me lose my lunch! J/K...I can't even imagine the smell though! Ewwwww...

I love you both!!! I rest because I know God is with you and is holding each of you in the palm of His hand. This adventure will be used to stretch you, mold you, grow you, and prepare you for something greater. Hang in will definitely get easier.

And I love it that I feel so connected with you through this blog, the phone calls via skype, IMing in you don't feel so far away from me! : (

I miss you both a lot and pray for you often! Love you!!!!!!!!!!!

Melos said...

It is really neat to get to read about your adventures. I've been praying for you girls to find some Christians there for fellowship and encouragement. I hope that the school situation starts to improve. I'll be praying for God to give you strength!
Love, Melos

Gordon Girls said...

Jessica- thanks for the tips! That certainly does help. Haha- well we get a whiff of the sewer in certain areas. I don't think we could ever get used to it though!

Love, Caleen

mrasmuss said...

Hey girls, I am so glad you updated the blog- I like seeing a small bite of what you are experiencing! Love the "do" Ash- is that just the new look, or is the Korean influence? I think it looks good on you- I need more pictures of the two of you! Caleen- is that you secret wepon? the korean dictonary? love you both- Mom

Gordon Girls said...

Yeah. Caleen is the keeper of dictionary. I know very pathetic amounts of Korean right now. She's putting me to shame. I'm hoping to get one in Seoul when we go though.