Thursday, October 06, 2011

One month in Korea!

(A.K.A. the post where I will make heavy use of the past perfect tense)

It's been a month already! Sadly, we still don't have internet at home, so this has limited my online posting, but soon (hopefully this week) that will be set up. Here are some of the things that have happened in our first month in Korea:

We think we found a church. It was recommended by multiple friends. Not too far from home, but still takes about an hour to get there via subway. Hoping that we'll settle in and get connected there. By the way, churches are truly everywhere here. They almost all have a lit neon cross on top, so at night, when we look out our back window, we see lots of these dotting the streets between our apartment and the main boulevard.

flickr photo courtesy of taylorsloan
Carlos found a soccer team. He looked online, found a great team, and has been playing with them for a few weeks. It's an expat league, so most of the players are from the US, the UK, Spain, and Latin America, with a few Latin Americans of Korean descent. The guys communicate through a wild mix of English, Spanish, and Korean. The wives/girlfriends are really interesting people, and it's nice to get a chance to just hang out and freely speak English and Spanish.
Attempted action shot at Carlos' game in Incheon


As a result of said soccer team's matches, we have visited far-flung places from Incheon (which is actually a whole neighboring city of Seoul) and the far north-east corner of Seoul. We've also been to the western end of Seoul to visit the Seoul immigration office (twice). I've been to Suwon, another large neighbor city, for a professional development/training. We've explored Bundang, the more ritzy end of our city. We've been to Yongin, which is a smaller city outside Seongnam. However, we have yet to set foot in Itaewon or Hongdae, which are the major hubs for foreigners here, and which are situated right in the center of Seoul. It will inevitably happen soon, though, as homesickness starts to get the best of us.

We found a Mexican restaurant and it is really good (honest!). It's called Taco Rico and it's in Gangnam, another busy and foreigner-ized part of Seoul. The chef is from Tijuana and the food is for real. We've stopped there twice now, and would gladly do it more often if it were easier to get to. Although Korean food is great, we definitely miss the variety found in American and Mexican diets. Imported food products are expensive here, and a bit hard to find, so we're learning to Korean-ize a lot of our favorite dishes, but it's nice to get a taste of the outside world every now and then!
photo of awesome Taco Rico food from http://valerieandgriffin.com
We've visited Caribbean Bay (at Everland), which is the largest water park in South Korea. The recruiter who connected me to this job, and who I worked with extensively over the past year, was really eager to get our families together because her son is the same age as Lucas. So we met up at Caribbean Bay during a major holiday weekday . The boys were mostly unimpressed that we were inside this massive feat of human engineering. Then we found a little patch of sand, and the boys played intensely for over an hour with just the sand, their hands, and their small tubes of sunscreen while the adults took turns going into the fake tidal wave and getting pummeled by 8-ft walls of water. It was a great day.
Our first photo together in Korea
Seconds later, when Lucas was awake

We potty trained Lucas. No joke. Most people try to avoid having these things coincide with major life events (such as an international move). But one trip to the superstore for diapers and I could not deal with the price, nearly double what I'm used to paying in the US. So that was the last straw and long story short, Lucas doesn't use diapers anymore. I'm pretty amazed because I expected a much bigger battle. I'll admit that we went straight for candy bribery the first few days (we were that desperate, folks), and then eased that into a sticker chart which he exchanged for a new toy when filled. Now he's weaned from any external incentives and I'm rejoicing that we're free of diapers. I consider this a major accomplishment.

We've seen Avatar on TV. At least 4 times. One fortunate difference between network TV in Korea vs. Mexico is that here in Korea, they don't dub the movies they put on TV, they just subtitle them. Which means we've enjoyed the chance to catch up on a selection of the US movies we missed seeing in the 3+ years we lived apart/had a baby. However, when they debut a new movie on the TV networks, they play it constantly for at least a week. Also, they really seem to love Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, and Mark Wahlberg here. Not that I complain, but I think I'm starting to overdose on action thrillers.

I have become a middle school teacher. Also, all my experience and training with teaching ESL is being challenged. In the US, my students' English knowledge was much more likely to be influenced by friends, TV, and the everyday world, so my job was to help them acquire the academic language they needed for school. But here in Korea, virtually all of the English the kids know comes from school, so it's much more contrived, much more mechanical, and it's a whole new ballgame. They're already getting phonics, grammar, and reading instruction in English from their Korean teachers, so my job is basically to get them talking in English and make it fun. This is way harder than it initially sounds, especially when class sizes are in the low 40s and levels sometimes span all across the board. I have 23 classes, which translates to over 900 students, plus 3 hours of after-school English Conversation class every week. But the job itself is so much less stressful than any teaching job I had in the US, and I suspect my job is way less stressful than that of my Korean co-workers. I work with great people, by the way, who go out of their way to help, translate, explain, update, and most of all, communicate with me. Here are some photos from school, courtesy of the English teacher who preceded me because I've been terrible at taking photos thus far...


The classroom - that is a giant interactive TV screen in the front of the classroom.
For someone who never even worked with a SmartBoard in the US, this is a huge adjustment!


More of the classroom.
These pictures don't really convey the hugeness of the room, and there's a whole different side that isn't pictured.

The soccer field/track.
Carlos comes here after I get back from work so he can run and kick the ball around. Also, you can get a glimpse of the mountainous landscape up here.

So that's about it for now. Next time, hopefully we'll have some photos of our apartment.