Goodbye Jungwon, hello Gimhae!
Today was yet another ceremony to serve as a farewell to the friends we made in Goesan and as an introduction to our co-teachers and schools. In the morning, the ETAs and OCs said tearful goodbyes and took pictures with each other. I never imagined that I would become so close to my fellow Fulbrighters in such a short amount of time. Luckily, we will all be together again for the fall conference in October!
After taking pictures, the ETAs, both new and renewee, entered the auditorium the same way as for the Placement Ceremony. We stood in a horseshoe around the audience, and we stood with the other ETAs in our provinces. This time, the audience was filled with co-teachers, vice principals and principals from our schools. The OCs called our names one by one so we could step forward and bow. Some co-teachers stood up or presented flowers to their new ETA, while others took note of what we looked like. Fulbright also gave us flowers as a goodbye gift, which was a pleasant surprise!
After we finished our bows, all 120+ ETAs rushed to find their co-teachers in the audience. My co-teacher did not stand when I bowed, so I hoped he would remember what I looked like (there was a reason for my bright red blazer!). After a few minutes, my co-teacher, Mr. Hong, introduced himself and we went to the goodbye luncheon in the cafeteria. After lunch, we started the long drive to Gimhae.
As we drove through Goesan, I saw a group of young soldiers walking alongside the street. Naturally, as soon I am about to start teaching, there’s a new threat from the North and the military presence has increased.
“They are so young,” said Mr. Hong, shaking his head and laughing. “In South Korea, young men are required to serve in the military for 2 years. Most are in their early 20s.”
Once we departed Goesan, the car ride took three hours – which was fast for traversing more than half of the country! During the drive, I shared what little Korean I knew, read the Hangul on the GPS, and talked about orientation. We also talked about my students, the school, and our lives in Korea and America. I learned that Mr. Hong had originally studied electrical engineering in college, but couldn’t find a job in the field after he graduated. He became an English teacher because he liked languages and jobs were plentiful. Well, I’m definitely not in America anymore!
When we weren’t talking, we listened to some music from Mr. Hong’s CD collection. I heard an eclectic mix of k-pop, Maroon 5, Con te Partiro, and Spanish music. I enjoyed hearing music from around the world – music is, after all, a universal language!
When we arrived in Gimhae, we went straight to my host family’s apartment. I gave insa to my host mom (90 degrees, annyeonghashimnikka) and met one of my host sisters, Ye Bin (예빈). I quickly realized that my host mom did not speak English and that I would have to learn Korean – fast!
After putting my suitcases in my new room, Mr. Hong, my host mom, and I met some of my host mom’s friends at a Korean barbecue restaurant. Mr. Hong was kind enough to be a translator for the evening because the only Korean words I managed to utter were masshissoyo (“it’s delicious”), annyeonghashimnikka (formal “hello”), and kamsahamnida (“Thank you”). I just smiled and laughed a lot, hoping they liked me.
A few minutes into the meal, one of my host mom’s friends ordered soju (Korean liquor) and handed me a full shot glass. She said something in Korean, tilted her head back, and gestured for me to drink it. I didn’t understand what she said, but from context it looked like, “Take the shot!”
I do not usually drink, but I wanted to be polite. So after clicking our shot glasses together, I tilted my head back and poured the soju into my mouth. The ladies and Mr. Hong started laughing at me.
“She said ‘a little’!” Mr. Hong said.
Oops. My first time taking a shot, and it was a faux pas.
After dinner, Mr. Hong left and I did not have someone to help me communicate. I had taken the Jungwon bubble for granted. I’m really in Korea now!
Before going back home, my host mom took me to the bakery and the store to buy bread, cereal, and milk for breakfast. Oh Frosted Flakes, how I missed thee!
I was so tired after the long day that I went to bed early. As I pulled the blanket over my head, I had a brief flashback to my first night at Villanova, when I settled into an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar dorm room and thought, “So this is my first night at college.” This time, my thought was, “So this is my first night in Gimhae.” Despite the language barrier, I am optimistic that I will be as happy here as I was at college.