Tomorrow marks the one month anniversary that I left for Korea. I have been away from home for one month and I feel like my life has already changed so much. I walk down the streets of Korea much more confident than I did weeks ago. With all the traveling I have done in my life I didn’t think I would feel much culture shock but that was far from the truth. After leaving orientation (which was a safe haven for all of us new teachers from across the world) we were thrown into the real Korea. The first few days I was terrified to leave my apartment. To this day…3 weeks into living in Gwangju I have not seen one foreigner in my neighborhood. Not one. Although I thought maybe I saw a foreigner from a far a few blocks from where I live but to this day I am not sure and I think I was just hoping that the lighter brown hair meant foreigner. Everywhere I go I stand out. Every single thing is new in my life – new friends, new home, new job, new profession, new city, new language – everything in my life flipped upside down within days. It was pretty terrifying but I am proud to say that today I feel a million times better than I did three weeks ago. One of the most amazing parts of traveling and living abroad or in a new city is when you realize “hey I recognize this place…I know where I am…I know how to ride the bus now…I am not afraid to leave my apartment anymore…” It’s the little things everyday that add up and make it feel more like home.
My hardest day had to have been the day my niece was born 3 days into living in Gwangju. My heart was broken and I missed home and the comfort of family and friends. Being an aunt is one of the most important things in my life and to have a new niece made my heart ache. Thankfully there is skype and I was able to be in the hospital room with my entire family while meeting my niece for the first time and she was beautiful. A moment I won’t forget. I know that as long as I am gone it won’t change my relationship with my family back home and I am thankful for that. I will just have some good stories for my nephew and niece in a few years time.
Enough about the sappy changes of my life…the important thing is I am loving everyday here and doing my best to appreciate every difference and change I have come across. Now onto my actual career here! Teaching English!!! I am loving it – it is hard…lesson planning is tough! But I absolutely love the children and I love getting in front of the class and teaching. It is so rewarding and I love seeing those kids everyday. I teach at 2 schools – one school Monday and Tuesday and another Wed-Fri. I teach 4th, 5th and 6th grade. I teach 22 different classes each week. For my first ever class I did an introduction to myself and had the strudents introduce themselves as well. I also allowed them to ask questions at the end of the class – Here are some of the great things I heard from them:
“Do you have boyfriend?” – this was asked in EVERY single class and I loved it…I would always act really dramatic and say Noooo! I don’t! and make a frown face…my class loved it…and they would respond with a huge gasp! And say “Why teacher!!! You so pretty!!!” and one of my co teachers said “Do you have uncle for Caroline teacher?” and one boy answered “Yes but he is ugly and doesn’t know English” hahah I love the bluntness of kids
“Are you married?”
“You look like Barbie” – I suppose any blonde hair blued eye looked like Barbie to them…but hey I’ll take it!
“Is your hair color real?”
“How old are you”
“Can you speak Korean?” I loved this question because I would respond in Korean and say a few sentences and they would all get soooo excited. Even though I was saying the most basic Korean sentences. In class when i teach I always ask them the Korean version of words and I tell them they can teach me too – it makes them feel good knowing they can help Caroline Teacher with her Korean 🙂
“How tall are you?” – Whenever I walked into a class on the first day i would always hear a student say “you are tall!” and I’d say Yes I am tall!!! and then question time came around…I would write my height on the board…5’7 is 170 cm – they would all gasp! and then I would talk about how in Minnesota there are lots of tall people and I’d say my brothers are tall and I am the shortest in my family…then I would write how tall my brother is who is 6’5 – 198 cm and they would gasp so loud with their hands over their mouths and start shouting things out loud while basically pushing their little bodies out of their chairs and desks hahah it happened in every class and I loved it.
“What is your eye sight?” (and that doesn’t mean eye color…they want to know my actual eye sight from my eye doctor)
“What is your blood type?” (Koreans believe that blood type tells a lot about a person…for example I told them I am O+ and they said oooo you are optimistic)
“What is your favorite food? Favorite Korean food?”
After telling them I played soccer for 14 years they would get so excited and ask if I will play with them outside during lunch one day – of course I said yes!
I also added the photos of some of the questions I received…they were too cute not to share. You’ll see one boy wrote “Will you angry to we?” I felt so bad because I didn’t see this question clearly while I was answering so I never responded…so hopefully I can prove to this student that I won’t ever be “angry to we.”
I don’t exaggerate when I say how excited they got at every little thing. I will never ever forget those first few classes and the students reactions. I absolutely loved it and it still warms my heart. I would tell them about Minnesota and how much snow we got and how we ice skate on lakes…the kids were in absolute shock and were so excited and saying “O0oo0ooooO Teacher Teacher how do you skate on ice…don’t you (and then the kid pretends to fall to the ground to show ice breaking)….!!!!!!!” – aw how I love all my students.
I also have 6 co-teachers I teach with – they have all been amazing. I cannot believe how kind hearted Koreans are and how welcoming they have been to me. They have given me rides to places, brought me grocery shopping, gone hiking with me and even surprised me with coffee and other small gifts. I am forever grateful and I hope I can show that even with the lack of English between us all. I have learned to be very comfortable with being quiet here. There are times during the day where us teachers sit in chairs and enjoy drinking tea or coffee while eating fruit or rice cakes (not the rice cakes we have at home…see below) – at this time my two main co teachers do their best to inform me on their conversations in Korean while I sit there very quietly and nod and laugh when they laugh. I have sat there for a full 25 minutes before without a single English word spoken. Yet I laugh when they do and basically pretend in my head what they are talking about. There are so many stories during the day I want to share with them or laugh about a certain student or a funny story I heard but I honestly can’t. It’s really hard but I am learning to enjoy being quiet and take in the Korean language. I am taking Korean classes too so hopefully one day I can join in on the conversation a tiny bit. For now I am so thankful for the teachers who randomly tell me what they are talking about so I can pretend I am in the conversation with them. The one nice thing is they always ask me to sit with them and join. And their actions show so much. Also I received flowers from one of my schools!
Every elementary school also has a volleyball team. They take volleyball very seriously here! I joined the volleyball team at both schools. One of my teams is all men except for three women and they are amazing! I actually went to a huge tournament this past Saturday morning. I didn’t have an official uniform so they stuck tape on my back and made me #3 for the day. I could only play one set because of the rules but it was a blast still. My arms are very bruised but it’s worth it. There are only three people that speak a tiny bit of English so communicating is tough but everyone is so kind and actions show so much more than words at times. They have given me tips on how to serve better and we practice together. Some of my teammates have also given me rides to Korean lessons which took up over a half hour of their time! We went out to Korean barbecue after the game. I was with 6 other male teachers who all speak veryyyy broken English – a few don’t speak English at all and I still had a blast with them. One teacher showed me how to eat Korean correctly and poured me drinks while we cheered. I’ve heard him say only a couple words of English but I felt like we bonded that day!
I have two more quick stories that will warm your heart as it did mine…a student waited for me outside my office to hand me a box that had lotion inside as a gift. She handed it to me and said for you Teacher. I was in absolute shock and had no idea what to do. I didn’t know if I should hug her because I still don’t know the hugging culture so I put my hand on her shoulder and kneeled down and told her how happy I was and that I loved it. I then used it infront of her to show her how excited I was. She had the biggest smile on her face then ran back to her friend. I could just imagine her working with her mom to put together a box with a brand new lotion inside. Also the lotion was baby lotion and smells like baby powder haha
and one last story….a student wrote me a note and handed it to me after class and quickly ran away. There are pictures of the note below if you want to read it…These kids make my day.
That was quite long winded but hopefully it was enjoyable to read. I will continue to give updates.. I think of things all the time to write about – just finding the time to sit and write 🙂
I am excited to share my most recent hiking pictures soon – my huge hike to the second highest peak! and share more pictures soon of the city.
Miss you all back home but know I am doing well here in Korea!
Love form Korea,