In less than 24 hours I’ll be moving to Gimhae, South Korea. For the past six weeks, I’ve gone through workshops, an intensive Korean language course, taught at an English summer camp, spent weekends in Donghae and Seoul, and established relationships that are a lot deeper than I thought they could be in only a few short weeks.
It’s strange that so much is coming to an end, but really, my grant year is only beginning.
I’ll be placed in 김해(Gimhae), 경상남도 (South Gyeongsang Province). It’s considered a suburban placement, with a population of roughly 500,000 people. Gimhae International Airport is there, so come visit me!
Although I really wanted to be in Busan, I’m excited to learn about my new city. That, and I’m super close to Busan anyway! It’s a 30 minute walk to a subway line at the outskirts of Busan. From my school, my grandparents’ house is a little less than two hours away. I’m pretty excited that the day I meet them is getting closer.
I’ll teach in a co-ed high school called 김해제일 고등학교 (Gimhae Jeil High School). The school is fairly new, founded in 2011, and this year was the first time they had a class of graduating seniors. Although it’s co-ed, classes are separated by gender. Overall there are just under 1,000 students, but I’ll only be teaching the first and second graders (10 and 11th), since the seniors are too busy studying for the 수능 (Su-Neung). The romanization feels awkward, so I’ll just use 수능.
The수능is a big college entrance exam taken by all college-bound high school seniors. At orientation we’ve heard tales of students being at school until 10pm, studying at an extra academy, or hagwon, for a couple more hours, and then going home to continue studying until 2am. Then waking up for school at 6am the next day. I expected our orientation leaders to dispel common myths about Korean education, but instead, they confirmed most of them. There’s a Korean saying that goes something like this: Sleep for four hours a night and you’ll do okay (on the수능); sleep for five hours, and you’ll fail.
I’ll teach around 400-600 students in classes that meet once a week. Additionally, based on the previous ETA at my school, it looks like I’ll also teach a club (extracurricular) class on Wednesdays, evening classes, Saturday classes (though not every week), and possibly a class for teachers. For now I’m trying not to get bogged down in the details, as I prepare myself mentally (deep breaths) and physically (all the packing) for the big move.
Although I don’t think I mentioned it, the Fulbright Korea program had a lot of trouble getting homestays for us this year. There were a lot of technical things involved, like changes in the contract and compromises made in order to get more schools on board (who are the ones that find homestays for us). In the end, fourteen ETAs ended up without homestays, which means they’ll be living in single apartments.
But I got a homestay!
Although there are pros and cons to both homestays and apartments, I’m really, really excited. It’s been fun having broken Korean conversations with people in Goesan and I’m looking forward to having those awkward interactions with my host family. I’m sure there’ll be days when I’m frustrated, but right now I’m feeling ready. For that part anyway. In general, I’m hoping that my homestay family will be around to help me adjust to living in Korea, be a support system, and allow me to improve my Korean. (And home-cooked food. I also hate cooking.)
Here’s what I know about my host family so far:
There are four people in the family: the dad, mom, and two kids in middle school. They’re 14 and 16 years old, in the first and third grades of middle school (roughly 7th and 9th grades). Although I have their names, I don’t know their genders. For the parents, the dad is a business man (회사원), while the mom stays at home (주부). Although the prevalence and severity of “traditional” gender roles in Korea has been frustrating to me, I appreciate that someone will be around more often to speak with me.