Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where the hell am I? What do you mean South Korea!

Hi guys,

So this is my first attempt at a blog entry. I don’t really document my life in diary form, but having read Jen’s Rwanda blog religiously and seen the amount of people that read her well constructed and interesting description of African life, I figure I will try and contribute to our forthcoming journey diary that Jen is surely to build in elaborate form.
I think I will write this from humble beginnings. As I still don’t know how we got here.

I currently sit in Syracuse airport (9/92011 @ 9:38 am) with Jen being sleepy by my side, drifting in and out of consciousness, clutching TIME magazine hoping I wont notice her head nodding out of the corner of my eye. We are waiting for our flight/flights to begin. Syracuse- Detroit- Narita, Japan- Busan, South Korea with the journey spanning about 24 hours. After a long summer in the States (long but thoroughly enjoyable for the most part) I am well ready to get to Korea and begin climbing the terrifying proverbial mountain that is learning how to teach hyperactive 7 year old Korean’s who can’t converse with me in anymore than abrupt actions and grunts how to learn and use English.

The possibility of going to south east asia and embarking on a teaching career has always interested me. Since I was in University, and before I left to go to work at camp in 2008 it was a thought, but made nothing more than an intriguing pipe dream that I may one day take on. However, since going to the states for a couple of summers, living out of a backpack, making ends meet with my savings and most significantly waiting for Jen to return from the Peace Corps whilst working everyday in the stereotypical dead-end job the option of leaving for a career based foray became more of a desperation than a polite and exciting thought. My Dad has always said to me (in that voice that Dad’s do when they want to sound supportive yet relaxed and kool) I should always strive to work in a school setting, passing on any knowledge I have, being patient with those who need the attention and being happy that the stress you end up going through makes a difference somewhere along the line.

(Destination update. Detroit 9/9/2011 3.00pm. Waiting for our seat numbers to be called at our gate. Jen is at the book store as I changed the money over to Korean Won).

I have lost my train of thought inflight from Syracuse, so I think I may have to leave this entry until I get some coffee in me and I have exhausted all the credible in flight film options, if there is any at all) P.S there is a old japanese man wearing a tweed suit and croc’s sitting opposite me and he is really enjoying his public sing song. I love old people:) see you in Korea.

(Destination update. Yulha, Gimhae, South Korea. Our apartment 9:50 am local time)
Right then, back to the blog. Sorry it has been so disjointed. Writing it this way has it’s pro’s and con’s. On one hand I don’t miss any of my thoughts, and on the other, reading this back, it’s very disjointed. But you guys get the gist.

So with abundant happiness, teaching is where I am. When Jen suggested to me in February 2011 that she may call time on Peace Corp’s I didn’t believe her at first. I mean I heard what she said, but I personally didn’t have the mental capability to loosen my grasp of waiting 27 months for her to return from Rwanda at 15 months in. I didn’t want to run the risk of jumping at her offer and then her having a change of heart and me resenting her for it. Now I think back, what I should have done, is accepted her resignation from the PC immediately and thought “Shit! Now what do we do, I have no contingency plan for her leaving!” Luckily we had talked about teaching abroad before, and had both agreed we would love to give it a shot. So certain was I, it took me less than 4 weeks to get the relevant paper work in order to apply for positions in Korea.

With much elation on my part Jen returned home to the US May 28th from PC Rwanda with all her extremities in tow and it would soon be time for me to pack my bag once more and leave work. I got to the US on 16th June 2011 and after the most stressful flight possible (short of the oxygen mask’s dropping down from the ceiling whilst over the atlantic and having to use my seat cushion as a flotation device). I was made to buy a return ticket to the UK whilst on a lay over in Zurich. They said they wouldn’t let me on the flight to JFK without having a valid flight out of the US, which I was unaware of. So $1500 later, I had an unneeded flight to the UK and was light of 75% of my savings (I would eventually be able to get a refund). All these blemishes and cracks were spackled over for 9 weeks of my 12 week summer in the US. Being with Jen and her family is great. The kids, beating Joe up, the warrior dash were all ace. But somewhere in between, were 3 weeks of sleeplessness twixt, retina scorching emailing, undecipherable long distance phone-calling and sheer endlessness of the day and its stress’s. The shortened version of this story is as follows.

We had a job- we were set-we sent my documents- the job got given to someone already in Korea behind our backs- we wasted 10 days where we could be looking for new jobs- we sit in our pajama's all day emailing people 13 hours ahead of us- we wait, and wait and wait some more, continue waiting for a reply- they ask us the same questions we already told them the answers to- they ask us again- they ask if we are a couple- they ask us if we can start in December- they ask us to interview with them- we get a call from a Mrs Kim who is definitely a little old lady sitting in a room with a tea pot and a candle- we feel like we are being set up and could be on film as a joke- we learn nothing from our phone call other than that Mrs Kim is probably senile- we reply to the recruiter with our obvious concerns- they reply with nonsense- repeat cycle for 3 weeks.

3 weeks of this is on par with military-esque torture. Finally we get to a point where we have to set a deadline date. If we don’t get a job by this date then we have to seriously rethink our next step. As soon as we set this date whilst out walking the dogs and just falling apart mentally, BOOM! 3 job offers in a night. We chose the best one for us and here we are. As I sit here and read this back it makes me feel exhausted and my stomach churns like a cement mixer thinking about how we got here, and how regrettably, even the luckiest souls amongst us get marred by unfortunate nature.

Yesterday was our first full day in South Korea and unsurprisingly to me, we got a lot of things done to make us feel like we were living together at last. Any time Jen and I have lived together we have either been visiting each other for 2-3 weeks at a time. We have been in Jen’s Uni campus apartment, my two shared houses with my mates in the UK, camp, a mud hut in Rwanda, or taking over Jess and Joe’s houses in the US. Never have we had our own place, just me and her, our comforts, our own utensils, our cups, our own table and chairs, our own bathroom mirror that we can write on in crayons. I have to say I have never felt more at home. I look forward to this feeling manifesting itself with us for years to come.

So some stuff about Korea. Well we landed at a strange time. It’s Monday 12th September here, and instead of getting ready for our first day at school, we are just chilling. It’s the Korean Thanksgiving at the moment. It’s called Chuseok, a Korean national holiday where the people celebrate the prosperous autumn harvest and traditionally return to there home towns and cities to celebrate with there families. As Gimhae( where we are) and its neighboring towns and cities are pretty new settlements, its a bit of a ghost town here. Yesterday we ventured out around our respective town and although its full of sky-scraping apartment blocks sure to house tens of thousands of people I think we must have seen 50 of them all morning. After spotting a couple of 6-a-side football pitches and cringing with excitement at the prospect of actually getting to play football for the next year, we returned home with a few food stuffs in tow to make a plan for the afternoon. The plan was to try and lay our eyes on a supermarket where we could pick up a few home comforts (blanket for the bed, maybe a mattress as the thing we sleep on at the moment, although spacious and typically Korean, resembles a wooden deck in firmness and texture) maybe some food, some hooks for the bathroom for our towels etc. After sussing out where the taxi drivers hang out on our morning foray, we ventured back out after a bowl of noodles each (about 70 calories each by my estimations, mmm weight loss). We had a hard time explaining where we wanted to go, despite showing the driver the address on my phone. We eventually got to the equivalent of Walmart, and found ALL the people. I mean this place was heaving. We essentially went to the store on Christmas eve it was so busy. We went about our business with North Korwan precision, efficiency and effectiveness (as expected) scratching off our list as we went. Garbage bin- check, shower head- check, shower extender and wall hook-check. These last two items are essential if you are taller than 3 ft 5’ and cant fit into a standard bathroom sink because in Korea thats where your shower is situated. Like it or lump it. So we bought a suction pad wall mount for the shower head, a shower head that didn’t dribble on you, and a 3 meter cord. Let operation “giant caucasian shower assembly” commence. (The shower head was originally where Jen's hair brush now is. centre top, next to the mirror. Not conducive to washing in my opinion).

We had a game of charades with the 2 lovely ladies who attempted to help us find some bed covers. Bloody hell was that a challenge! After managing to settle on a comforter/duvet and pillow cases we set about looking for the egg crate style mattress additions that are ten a penny in the US and UK. And we failed epically. It seems that if you weigh more than 100lb./7 stone in Korea then you are destined for a rough nights sleep during your stay. None the less the hand gestures that occurred in describing the items sad absence were amusing. After this we ventured back down stairs (yep there is 3 floors to this monstrosity of a super market) where a lovely young Korean man clapped at me, shouted PORK!!!! in my face and ushered me to the pork deli counter as if a red carpet was beneath my feet. I didn’t buy any pork but YAY different cultures:). We made off quite well with our purchases, 250,000 KW (so about $250/£175) and then proceeded to cram into a taxi to home. After being told our apartment “doesn't exist” by the taxi drivers friend we made it back to our street and mumbled our way back to the apartment. Let “extreme makeover- Korea addition” begin. We have put some pictures up online of the finished article, but it was fun to make this place our own. Its really nice and we are both super happy with where we are.

Teaching is going to be a real test. At the moment we are both apprehensive of how much english the children actually know, and how advanced their curriculum is, what books they use, what they are used to doing with previous teachers and how will they react to us coming in in the middle of the year. I am sure we will be fine but the suspense is killing us. The only interaction we have had with kids so far was the little boy who pointed and shouted at us yesterday whilst walking. This made the child’s Father laugh kindly and me die a little inside. In addition to this, there was a play ground in “Korean Walmart” and christ was it a noisy habitat!!!

I don’ think I’v missed anything I wanted to get into this post and I’m sure you are all exhausted by now (if you even made it down here).

So keep checking back for more/all things alien and Korean.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Packing for South Korea

Well hello friends! This is our test post [Jen here at the moment] to see how the blog is looking! I've also attached some photos of us packing. If you're confused by Jay's photo, it's because he had thrown himself on top of the frame pack in order to accommodate an unnecessary amount of shoes.

Jay and I decided that after Rwanda/England, we should really live in the same country for a while, and since we both can't wait to explore Asia and learn another [or several] funny languages, we decided to teach abroad! After the 3 month process of collecting documents, excessive e-mailing, and a LOT of 11:00PM phone interviews, we have positions working together at a school in Gimhae, South Korea. On that note, if you ever need help with the process of getting started, please let us know! We're a lot wiser than when we started :)

Gimhae [look at your handy map to the left] is right outside Busan [formerly called Pusan], the second biggest city in the country, bordered by mountains on the West and ocean on the East. From what I hear they have some AMAZING markets; fish, fruit, and everything in between [anyone who followed my Peace Corps experience knows how much I love markets...]

Hopefully this year will be full of adventures that involve strange and exciting new people, foods, and travels.

We will be MIA for the first week, I think, while we struggle to find basic necessities, furniture, and internet AND learn how to teach english as a foreign language!! As soon as we can, we will upload a video and some photos of our new abode [no mud walls! yaaaaaay!] everyone cross your fingers for a real shower!

My skype is jen.olsen1 and Jay's is usajay2 [yep. USA jay]