Ok, so I landed in Korea and went MIA for 3+ weeks. I spent the first two weeks here doing very little, but that doesn’t mean it was uneventful. I arrived one week before my orientation for the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education was supposed to start to get adjusted physically, financially and mentally. The first few jet-lagged nights weren’t as bad as they could’ve been thanks to my prolific sleeping abilities.
As the girlfriend worked during the day, I was left to my own machinations. My days usually consisted of taking the subway to various parts of Seoul and simply walking around the neighborhoods and/or watching “Scrubs.”
Walking around town alone soon became monotonous and turned into more hours of “Scrubs.” I watched four and a half seasons in less than two weeks — alone in a studio apartment with a dog. It was pretty gross. The second week of visual gluttony resulted from fabulous Korean foresight and efficiency: I received an e-mail the Sunday before my orienation that said I had been moved into the second orientation one week later.
At least that meant I could get settled into my apartment sooner instead of staying crammed into a studio with two people and a dog. I drag one of my 50-pound bags across town to the meeting point only to have this conversation after the obligatory greetings:
Korean co-teacher: That’s a really big bag.
Me: Yeah, I know. We can just drop it off at my apartment.
Korean co-teacher: Where’s your apartment?
It’s rather disconcerting to find out the person who is supposed to take me to my apartment doesn’t know where it is. Apparently they confused “I’m already in Seoul but staying with my girlfriend for the time being, but I still need an apartment” with “I’ve found myself a place to live, so don’t find me an apartment.” Luckily, though, another native-speaking English teacher (henceforth known as an NSET) at the girlfriend’s school is leaving her two-bedroom apartment in Itaewon, which is more or less the shady expat neighborhood. The area isn’t ideal, but it’s hard to turn down a two-bedroom apartment compared to a cramped studio.
Orientation, though, couldn’t arrive soon enough — and it was (for the most part) fantastic when it finally did. That was when the reality of traveling finally set in. The orientation, set about 1.5 hours outside Seoul, comprised about 200 NSETs from all over the world, including the U.S., Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Teacher camp, as the girlfriend called it, meant being confined with these people for six days with no escape. As a result, the best thing we had — as cheesy as it sounds — was each other. As important as the workshops were, the most significant result of the orientation was that all the NSETs, most of whom came alone to this unfamiliar country, could build a network.
The moment I realized we were all in this together occurred (rather appropriately?) while I was illicitly drinking off-campus (shhh!) with a handful of Irish and English NSETs. Despite the various accents, we all spoke, literally and figuratively, the same language. We had all traveled halfway around the world to be most likely the only fluent English speaker in our school, but now we were no longer alone. Nobody was “the Canadian” or “the Irish guy” here; we were all English teachers.
Now the fun really begins, and I promise to tell you about it more often. I’m finally here. Let’s go.