Back to School time

first day of school

 

Today is the first day of the second semester of school here in Korea, which actually doesn’t mean anything much for us subject teachers (English, Art, Music, etc.).  The first day of a semester here is usually taken up with the opening ceremonial stuff and the kids are quarantined in their homerooms for the organizational chaos that is involved with trying to get them back on a school schedule.

Meanwhile, I’ve got all the windows in my classroom open so I can enjoy the absolutely gorgeous weather that has magically descended on Busan this week. For the moment, at least, it’s clear and just slightly cool, without a hint of the oppressive humidity that has been slowly killing my soul all summer. I have no doubt that there will be one last heat wave somewhere between now and October – but I can sense the coming of fall, and it gives me hope that I can last ’til the cold weather arrives for real.

 

winter is coming        …and it’s going to be awesome.  

 

 

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Packing for Korea

There are about a million how-to-pack-for-Korea posts out there, so I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel. This is mostly for my own amusement when I look back at it in six months and think “Why on earth did I think I needed to bring that?!”.

So, my quest to fit almost everything I could need for a year in South Korea into one large 50 lb suitcase failed – but I did manage to fit in almost everything I think I need:

Clothing

  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 3 pairs corduroys
  • 2 pairs dress pants (I brought far too many pants)
  • 3 short-sleeve tops
  • 4 long-sleeve tops
  • 2 work-appropriate dresses
  • 2 blazers
  • 3 casual t-shirts
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 cardigans
  • Enough underwear and socks for 2 weeks
  • 4 bras
  • 3 pairs of tights
  • 3 pairs of Uniqlo Heattech leggings (school hallways aren’t necessarily heated)
  • 3 Uniqlo long underwear tops
  • 2 pairs pajama pants
  • Black boots
  • Flats
  • Heels
  • Sandals/flip-flops
  • Raincoat
  • Winter coat
  • Gloves/scarves

 

Other Items

  • Misc office supplies (post-its, paper clips, scissors)
  • Gifts for my co-teachers (I’m bringing maple sugar candies)
  • Extra toothpaste with fluoride (not sure how available that is in Korea)
  • A few DVDs (in case I can’t get Netflix to work)
  • 4 sticks of deodorant
  • Umbrella
  • Korean plug adapters 
  • Extra contact lenses
  • And probably a few other things I’m forgetting…

 

The real challenge for me was having to revamp most of my wardrobe around Korean dress codes. Most of my professional wear conformed to American standards of decency, meaning no cleavage but a modest v-neck or scoop neck. Apparently Korean standards around the neck/chest area are much more modest, and I heard stories of teachers being reprimanded for wearing a shirt that even showed too much collarbone. So I had to hunt (and I mean hunt) through American stores to find work-appropriate shirts/dresses that wouldn’t make me look unprofessional in the eyes of my coworkers. And since I won’t be able to fit into any of the clothing in shops over there (other than, perhaps, a few stores in the foreigner district in Seoul), I have to just guess and hope for the best!

Because I’m taking a somewhat circuitous route to Seoul (by way of visiting my cousin in France) I decided to ship my luggage rather than drag it through seven different airports. I priced out several options and read so many reviews that my eyes started to glaze over, but I finally settled on Luggage Forward. It’s a bit more expensive than I’d like, but they were wonderful at answering my thousand and one questions. Plus, they track my luggage and take care of any hangups that happen with customs, etc. so the convenience factor makes it absolutely worth it to me for this trip. I’m just crossing my fingers it gets there in one piece!

 

suitcase

My not-so-little suitcase, just before I handed it off to be shipped

 

 

 

Dynamic Busan, City of Tomorrow

After sleeping in this morning and lazily getting around to checking my email, I almost fell over when I saw a message from EPIK with the subject line “Final Approval Received”! In it, my coordinator informed me that I had been accepted by the Busan Metropolitan Office of Education and they would be sending me my contract in the next few weeks. I am so excited/relieved to finally have confirmation that this whole crazy thing is actually happening…

The email also informed me that they would be confirming the orientation dates soon, and warned against purchasing my plane ticket before receiving my visa. I don’t really understand how they expect us to wait until mid-January to purchase a ticket to fly mid-February, but I suppose they don’t want anyone complaining that they bought a ticket that conflicted with the orientation start date. I’m going back and forth on when I’m going to buy my ticket…it’s just such a tough decision! The only thing to do, if you’re me, is mounds of research and spreadsheets. 😉

 

But back to our topic – Busan! Also known, in the charming way that most Korean metropolitan areas have of giving themselves slogans and nicknames by seemingly appending random English words to the city name, as “Dynamic Busan”. (My favorite slogan so far of any city is “It’s Daejeon”, a rather uninspiring welcome to the city of Daejeon, if you ask me.)

But Busan, known as Korea’s “City of Tomorrow”, also apparently has some fantastic pieces of its past to recommend it. This little seaside metropolis is one of the few pieces of territory never captured by the Northern Army during the Korean War, and thus it served as the capitol of the wartime Republic of Korea. That unique history also means that it contains neighborhoods and areas that were untouched by much of the destruction of the 1950s.

The city of Busan has a population of approximately 3.6 million people and is the regional center of the southeast portion of Korea. It is the largest port city in Korea and its port is actually the fifth largest in the world! In other fun trivia, Busan is also home to the world’s largest department store – Shinsegae Centum City is over 5 million square feet of shopping and is part of an even larger 12 million sq-ft complex. I will be avoiding that place like the plague, I think.

Much more inviting is the idea of the plentiful hiking opportunities in the nearby mountains, temples dating back to the 7th Century, and the apparently gorgeous Busan Aquarium. Busan is also home to varied and delightful festivals, such as bonfire festivals, flower festivals, lantern festivals, sand castle festivals, international film festivals, and – to make my mother incredibly jealous – a hydrangea festival in July.

I’m still researching this incredible city that will be my home for the next year, but I can’t wait to share it with all of you!

 

 

gwangan_bridge_busan_south_korea-wallpaper-800x480

Busan’s Gwangandaegyo, or Diamond Bridge

 

 

 

 

The Big Wait

Every blog I’ve read about the EPIK process invariably has a post about the dreaded Wait – that period of time between your paperwork getting accepted by the main EPIK office in Seoul and the day you actually get confirmation that you have a school placement in a province. That wait can stretch to a couple of months or more, especially if you get all of your paperwork done and submitted on the early side. Submitting your paperwork as early as possible theoretically ups your chances of actually getting a placement, but gosh does it make the wait seem interminable…

In the meantime, I’m trying to distract myself with prepping for my big move as much as possible. I’m slimming down my closet, getting rid of old knick-knacks with no nostalgic value, and reducing my collection of books to a quarter of its previous size (anyone who knows me will know that this was the most painful process). I’m also attempting to prep for the experience of actually living in Korea, and thought I’d share a list of things I’d found useful in case anyone else is looking to do the same:

  • Coursera is currently offering a “First Step Korean” class taught by a professor from Yonsei University in Seoul. I’m going to have to do a lot of reviewing as it’s pretty fast-paced, but the teacher does a great job of explaining the pieces that are most likely to trip you up, and I’m printing out the worksheets so I can study on my own.
  • Talk To Me In Korean (that podcast that you’ve probably already heard of) is a fantastic site with a free app as well as books and audio lessons you can buy. I haven’t invested in any of their paid materials yet, but I love the podcast and I’m probably going to be asking for one of their textbooks for Christmas.
  • Trying to come up with some very basic lesson ideas while I’m still here in the States. It’s true that in Korea I’ll be expected to work out of a textbook, but I figure it never hurts to have some ideas for the first day, or for camps that I’ll be expected to teach during school breaks.  Sites like Waygook, ESLPrintables, Dave’s ESL Cafe, and Googling/stalking current EPIK teachers blogs can be great starting points. 😉
  • Reading up on Korean news. I’ve got several English-language Korean news sites like Korea Times, Chosun Ilbo, and Busan Haps bookmarked and I try to at least read the headlines every few days. It’s helped me to move past the international headlines (hello, President Park’s current drama) and get a sense of what else everyday Koreans are paying attention to.

 

Other random things I’m trying to make sure I get done before I leave:

  • Finishing up any necessary vaccinations (some of these are multi-shot series that need months between them, so sooner rather than later)
  • Getting all of those pesky annual check-ups (GP, optician, dentist, etc.) done while you’re still Stateside. Also important – ordering any meds/contacts/glasses you may need (remember to check if you can find it in Korea, otherwise order a year’s supply).
  • Letting banks, credit card companies, student loan providers, etc. know that you’re going to be traveling (so you don’t suddenly have your bank account frozen while trying to buy a coffee in Incheon Airport after stumbling off your 16-hour flight).
    • Somewhat along these lines – switch every account that will let you over to electronic statements only (you should already be doing this for the environment, but it will also prevent your poor parents/whoever lives at your permanent U.S. address from being overwhelmed with mail).
  • Making sure you’ve got a relative in the U.S. with a power of attorney, just in case there are financial issues that need to be dealt with in person back home while you’re gone.
  • Cancelling any subscription services you have (I’ve still got my hopes up for managing to make Netflix work in Korea, but I’m canceling a bunch of other services).

 

I’m just hoping if I concentrate on these things enough, my placement will be here before I know it…

 

 

Vaccinations

I can’t believe that it’s only just over 6 months until I ship out from DC! This milestone brings about one of the least fun bits of preparation – making sure I have all my jabs in order to not come down with the Black Plague (or worse, typhoid) while traveling.

The CDC recommends a number of immunizations for U.S. citizens traveling to South Korea long term, but the total for getting all of them would add up to over $2,000! So I’m choosing instead to be judicious about which ones I get here in the States – I figure if I decide to take a trip to somewhere more tropical, I can get shots for Japanese Encephalitis or anti-malarial drugs at my local Korean hospital (right?). I’m sticking to getting the Hepatitis A/B combo series and the Typhoid single jab (I’m going with the injection (protection for 2 years) rather than pills – even though the pills are good for 5 years – because I’ve read that the pills can cause nausea and I’m already dealing with some annoying digestive issues (yay job stress)).

If you’re looking for travel immunizations in the Washington, DC area, I’d definitely recommend the Washington Travel Clinic (really the practice of a single doctor – Dr. Akl). First of all, they have their price list prominently displayed on their website (these shots were definitely something I needed to save up for, so that was very helpful) and they are quite upfront about the fact that none of these shots are covered by insurance. Secondly, when I went in for my appointment, Dr. Akl listened carefully to where I was going and which shots I wanted to get – never tried to upsell me on any additional vaccines – and actually suggested that I get a blood test to see if I already have antibodies for Hep A&B. Based on my age, I should have gotten the Hep A/B vaccines when I went to college – but for the life of us, neither I nor my parents can remember for certain! On top of that, the medical practice I went to as a teen closed up years back and no one can locate my medical records from that time. It’s times like this that I wished I lived somewhere like the UK, where apparently they put all of your immunization records in a little red booklet (like a vaccine passport) that your parents keep and give to you when you’re an adult. Something like that would be SO useful right about now.

Thankfully, Dr. Akl told me that a $30 blood test is all I need to find out whether I’ve actually got the antibodies for the Hepatitides already floating around in my bloodstream. If so, I’ll be able to save almost $400! So I’m hopefully awaiting the results of that test – if it comes back positive for the antibodies, I’ll just have to schedule my typhoid jab for December (just before I move out of DC).

Fingers crossed!

 

 

UPDATE:  The test came back that I’m immune to Hep B but not Hep A (lord only knows how that happened). So I set up a second appointment at the Clinic and was in and out in 10 minutes with the first in the Hep A series of shots. I’ll just have to go back in 6 months (December) for the second Hep A shot and the Typhoid. Done and dusted – and still saving about $200!

 

 

Travel Blog Rec

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I’m planning a trip I spend a good deal of my free time cruising travel blogs and daydreaming/making spreadsheets. It gives me a chance to test-drive different places, side trips, and so forth in my brain and let them percolate a bit before I’m rushed to make any sorts of ticket-buying decisions.

One of my favorite blogs to dip into is The Nerdventurists, a blog run by two awesomely nerdy people – Kristina and Sora. Kristina I actually know through various nerdy groups (most notably the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and I can say she has a great grasp on both the sublime and the ridiculous when it comes to travel. She and Sora do a fantastic job of both dropping practical tips and painting a picture of what it’s actually like to travel to a place. I can’t wait to try out some of their recommendations when I’m over in Asia!

I also can’t help but think a few of you would also enjoy reading about their adventures – for a taste, check out their latest post on 24 Hours in Hiroshima (& Miyajima!)

It’s Going to be EPIK

I’ve recently decided to leave my stable, mid-level, (boring) government job and head off to teach English in Korea for a year.

Because I’m an obsessive over-planner, I’m starting to lay out the logistics and such a good year before I’ll actually be applying to anything. I think I’ve settled on the EPIK (English Program in Korea) program, which is run through the Korean Ministry of Education. EPIK places English-speaking teachers in Korean public schools around the country, where they act either as co-teachers (teaching alongside a Korean teacher) or teach their own classroom.

There’s still a lot to decide (and fret about) in this process – do I want to teach in a city or a more rural province? Will I be able to make it back to the States for Christmas with my family? Will I manage to pick up even a few Korean phrases before I move there?

But overall is a huge sense of excitement. I haven’t had a true life-changing adventure in a long time and I think, now that I’m in my 30s, that I’m about due for one.

Allons-y!