Part Two: And finally on Jeju Island
There were 19 of us from Canada, the United States, England, and Ireland. We were met in Seongnam by three representatives from the Jeju Ministry of Education, who brought us to the airport where we got aboard a domestic flight bound for Jeju Island. The tickets were 93,000 Korean Won (about 90 dollars Canadian) and all of us were relieved to find out that Korean Air was overlooking all of our luggage weight and dismissing any extra charges, which was so great since as all of us had brought everything we thought we needed. From the time we entered the airport to the time we were waiting on the tarmac for lift off was less than an hour.
Sadly, Jeju was overcast and rainy as we came in, and it’s been like that since we’ve been here. But it’s February, and I’ve heard all about this province’s early springs, incredible summers and late falls. Last weekend there was a gigantic annual fire festival, where they set an entire hill on fire and the Koreans roast the Japanese like marshmallows (just kidding. Sorry, Japanese friends.) Everything was waterlogged from the rain but the fireworks were said to be amazing. I hope we’ll get to see it next year.
We spent our first real day here trying to take care of getting settled in. We visited E-Mart, which turned out to be the Korean version of Wal-Mart meets The Bay meets Loblaws. There’s three levels and the top two are everything from shoes to electronics, and in the basement there’s a massive supermarket that has everything. Everything. Live king crab tanks to stocked liquor and a bakery. A pack of twenty live clams for about $1.50. Jeju’s local fare consists of seafood and tangerines.
I’ve never seen so many employees in one store before. There was literally two employees for every aisle, and about 2 dozen sample stations set up in the grocery store. But despite all the obvious differences in foods and language, the entire structure of it felt completely familiar. The whole store followed a very Westernized structure and feel, right down to many of the products. Nescafe, Sun Chips, Jack Daniels. Things were a bit overpriced by Korean standards, and often par or slightly cheaper than by Western standards. Notably cheaper were alcoholic items. A 26er of gin for $7? Uh oh. $1 for a bottle of soju? Weeee!
I haven’t experienced much of the culture shock everyone at the training sessions had warned me of, but we’ve only been out of their care for a few days. Well, I’m not sure it counts as culture shock but Maria didn’t take too well to her apartment. It’s small, but slightly larger than a dorm room. We’ve both been given a computer, a monitor, washing machine, and otherwise furnished apartment (even bed sheets though Maria’s are a poisonous shade of pink. Korean colours schemes are… different). Her apartment is also lacking the desired closet space, so we found her a portable clothes rack. Her shower is a also a showerhead over her bathroom sink. The showers here just spray out; there’s no set shower space. Your whole bathroom is your shower. In the case of my apartment, my washing machine is pretty much right in my shower. My apartment is bigger than Maria’s, but my TV is old and my computer monitor is about half the size of Maria’s LARGE HD TV, and mine doesn’t seem to work. I do have about three wardrobes and lots of space for clothes and storage, but only have a single stove burner and no oven. Maria is living large with two gas stove elements. Also, my fridge is slightly larger than a beer fridge, and hers is full sized and new, with the freezer on the bottom. And my bed is twice as big. So, I can kind of understand where she’s coming from, but we don’t even pay for the accommodation so hey! I just got lucky. I left poor Sophie behind because I anticipated my place would be even smaller than hers. (Will post pictures of the apartments soon.)
I’m not sure why it turned out this way, but there was only one vacancy in my building so I likely just got lucky. Apparently my new boss is one of the women who came to Seongnam to meet us, and I will be working for the Korean Foreign Language Centre, which is different than the public schools. I have no co-teacher, it’s just me and several classes of about 16 students. I was told my job will be “somewhat difficult” since I will teach grades 1-3, 7-8, and advanced adults. Greeeat, give the guy with no experience the hard job. There are four Language Centres on the island – One in Jeju-Si where we live (the main city), one on the east side of the island, the west side, and the south side. Maria will be teaching elementary, grades 5 and 6. She didn’t like that idea two weeks ago, but after our training period and finding out what that entails I think she’s looking forward to it. It involved less preparation time since it follows a curriculum straight out of the text book. And Korean kids are so adoring, and so much fun, so she sounds pretty excited about it now. She will also be doing all of her work at one school, with two co-teachers, which makes things a little easier than having to travel to different schools. I will also be at one school, but my hours will be 9-6 on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, then 1pm to 10pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m being optimistic about it though, since I will have direct contact with high level administration and the possibilities could be good if I do well. Maria has also been offered an opportunity for extra hours on Saturday mornings, which she may take if transportation is provided (it’s a little bit outside of the city).
It’s hard to believe it’s been two weeks since I left BC, and a month ago that I was preparing to say farewell to my friends in Toronto. Because we had so much time to psychologically prepare ourselves for this experience it’s been going well so far, and I’m hoping it continues on this path. Right now I’m just waiting to settle in to my new apartment and get everything I need, then settle into the new job. It will take time to adapt to the new Korean lifestyle (which I love so far), and wait for the weather to get better.
More on Korean culture soon.