Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Decorations at Incheon Airport, our first photo in Korea.

What a week it’s been.  We left my parents’ house in Cleveland at 5:15 a.m. Monday morning, spent time with our families at the airport, and said our tearful good-byes.  That was the hardest part.  We flew to Chicago but, due to those lovely Chicago winters, could not see our skyline one last time.  We flew uneventfully to Incheon, then rode a bus for 4 hours south to Gwangju.  Our manager picked us up at the bus station for the last leg of the trip, a one-hour car ride to Mokpo.  I discovered over the course of our 28-hour journey just how many times a person can nod off.  You think you’re wide awake, that you managed to get some decent sleep while sitting upright, and the next thing you know your heading is hitting the shoulder of the person next to you.  Hard.  Luckily that person was Steve.  Only once did I actually wake him out of his sleep with the thud of my big dumb head.

While in our zombie-like states of existence, we tried to grab as many mental pictures of our first steps in Korea as we could.  Bright lights, a language we barely knew written and spoken all around us, new smells, new faces.  I wondered if I’d ever experience a feeling like it again.  Though exhausted, I didn’t want to let it go.

It was late when we arrived in Mokpo, but I tried to get my bearings on the city as best I could.  It was a blur of neon lights.  We drove directly to our school, met our director and a few Chinese coworkers, and got the first peek at the building that would end our streak of unemployment.  Subtle differences in culture jumped out to me right away.  The building was cold.  No heat in the hallways and lobbies. Too expensive.  We were offered water – I said yes, thank you, nodded gratefully since my few words of Korean were escaping me.  I was just parched and ready to glug a big ice water.  But we were handed dixie cups of hot tea water.  Note to self – you’re not in America anymore, don’t assume anything.

A few people then helped us to our apartment, only 3 blocks from school.  It’s a basic one-bedroom, not a lot of frills but clean.  They purchased a few items at the convenience store for us – bottles of water and juice and a mishmash of foods they thoughts Americans would eat.  Microwaveable spaghetti meals, cookies, hotdogs on sticks.  It was funny and sweet.  We ate it all.  Sometime after 11 p.m. our journey came to an end, and we crashed until the next morning.

Our first full day in Mokpo could not have been any better or more jam-packed.  We toured our school, which is a beautiful facility that just opened in September as part of Daebul University.  We are starting the English program on the third floor, while a Chinese program is already underway on the second.  The Chinese floor is just gorgeous.  They have classes in music, etiquette, language, and a full museum takes up most of the floor.  I knew immediately when we arrived that we were in for something special.  It’s not a typical hagwon or public school.  It’s a pretty sweet deal, and I’m already thankful for it.

Our school treated us to traditional lunch and dinner in local restaurants.  Our first official meal in Korea was to debone whole fish with chopsticks.  I loved it.  At dinner, the second time we dined at a restaurant while sitting on the floor, I noticed a pattern that I know I will thoroughly enjoy.  Anything low and close to the ground is ideal for me, but it will take some getting used to for Steve and his 6’2” frame.  We drank our first soju (and second and third and fourth…) well into the night until we thoroughly exhausted ourselves all over again.

The rest of our week was similar.  Everyday is something new.  We spend the mornings getting acquainted with our new city by walking in different directions each time, and then we head to work for the afternoon.  With a first week this good, I’m excited to see what the next year will bring.