First Two Days

Woah. What a whirlwind of events. After 15 minute, 2 hour and 12.5 hour flights, I’m in Korea. As I’m writing, we’ve just finished the second day of orientation. At the end of the first, it was hard to believe that I’d only been here a day. That’s not to say everything has gone perfectly or that I’ve already adjusted, but I feel like I’ve been very lucky and excited to be here.

This post will likely be kind of scattered and me just spitting things out without much reflection. So here goes.

At LAX Friday night I started meeting other ETAs. There were actually two people from Colorado who were on the same flight from Denver, but we weren’t aware of each other at the time. As I was waiting for the Asiana check-in counter to open and searching for a place to have dinner, I passed two young women who I thought could be ETAs. Turned out they were, and I gathered the courage to ask them when I saw them again among a sea of Koreans in line for Asiana. From then on it was pretty easy to pick out fellow Fulbrighters. A large group of us chatted and did introductions in the airport, but by then everyone was pretty exhausted – our flight left a little after midnight – so I didn’t retain much.

The flight was not something I want to repeat. That is all.

We had two meals on the flight – the first I skipped because I wanted to sleep, the second was fish and rice for breakfast…but a 12-hour flight was not the time to be adventurous with my food. A combination of tiredness, flying for so long, and nerves made me queasy, and I’m still feeling a little wary of Korean breakfasts. But yes, I know that was only airport food.

When we arrived at Incheon airport, it was about 5am – so the airport was almost empty! The orientation coordinators there had us do paperwork and whatnot, load up our luggage into a truck and then hop on a bus to Goesan (two trucks and two buses to carry all of us and our luggage). When we finally got to Jungwon University, there was a huge banner to greet us. There were a lot of “awws” and “how sweets” from the sleep-deprived, jetlagged Americans. But it seemed like a really touching gesture, probably heightened by the relief we felt at reaching our destination.

Welcome
We had until almost 1pm to move luggage, meet roommates and shower. Then came welcomes,
our first lunch at the cafeteria, and a campus tour. Thinking back on the schedule, I’m surprised at how little we actually did – as opposed to how long that day felt.

Moving in felt like freshman year of college all over again. We live in dorms at Jungwon University (actually pronounced Joong-won) in Goesan (actually pronounced Gwae-san), which is quite a small town. It’s a short 15 minute walk to get there from campus.

Our campus is absolutely stunning. The OCs (Orientation Coordinators) call it the marble palace. I think it’s a cross between a palace and a bomb shelter. Like a palace, but a thousand times more sturdy.

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There’s a museum, restaurants, saunas, and two swimming pools all on campus. This is one
swimming pool with what looks like elephant slides (except made of stone).

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Shortly afterward, a university employee told me I shouldn’t be there, so I turned around. But I
still had a good time exploring the campus on my own this morning.

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Today we had Korean language placement tests. As I attempted to review a bit on my own, I was
disappointed to find out how much I’d forgotten. Wifi (of course) wasn’t working for me then, I regretted not bringing my Korean textbook and workbook (but the program provides these). The placement test involved writing a self-introduction, and an oral interview with one of our future Korean language teachers (who are from Korea University, by the way – wow, we’re lucky!). While I could write a lot, my interview wasn’t so great. The teacher told me I was probably level 1, but a higher level 1. And when we got our placements in the evening, I was disappointed to see that I will be a in a beginner class. I was surprised by how upset this made me, but it was the end of the day, so I was also exhausted and easily irritated.

Fortunately, I decided to try out the gym for the first time and felt a lot better. I bought membership yesterday, which was only 20,000 won, or about $20. It’s a fairly small gym, and they don’t have many elliptical machines, but I did weights – and saw an awesome Korean woman there who seemed to have an intense workout routine, and didn’t fit the uber-thin beauty standard. I thought she was really cool. Maybe if I keep going regularly and improve my Korean, we’ll become friends. There are also a lot of treadmills labeled “For Walking.” Why can’t they be used for running?

For the next two days we’ll be visiting schools to observe current ETAs in the classroom – I choose a rural elementary school on Tuesday and a suburban middle school on Wednesday. Looking forward to it!

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