Friday, August 29, 2014

Life update!

What a week! We have successfully made it through 5 days of school life in Korea…well mostly. Tyler has taught classes every day this week and has done a great job! I’ve been at school everyday…just without kids. I’ll explain later. Here are some things we haven’t hit on too much that we wanted to update about!

Our City:

We really love our city Hwasun in the county of Hwasun! In the short amount of time we’ve been here we’ve really enjoyed having access to “city” life while also having immediate access to “rural” life. It’s the best of both worlds! As we’ve mentioned before, we’re surrounded by giant green mountains, a beautiful view from almost wherever you walk here! The “downtown” area has many tall apartment buildings that are all over. Each complex looks almost exactly the same, but thankfully they each have their name and building number on it.

Here are a few stats (found from Wikipedia because we can’t seem to find any other information anywhere else.)

The county of Hwasun is about 304 square miles.
There is a population of about 79,000.
The county bird is a dove and the county flower is the Wild Chrysanthemum .

In Hwasun City there are multiple grocery stores near us as well as both Korean and American restaurant choices. We are really excited to start exploring more, but in the past few days we’ve been very busy setting up and organizing our apartment and going to school. We realized though that the faster we make it feel like home, the faster we can settle in. So far it’s worked! J This weekend we are ready to travel around the area and learn more about Hwasun!

Our apartment: We are so thankful for the size of our apartment! It really fits everything nicely! We have bought some photo frames (of course!) and love the few that are hanging up right now. Unfortunately we didn’t bring photos that fit that size of frames we have so now the hunt is on to find a place to print photos. We found one place in our city, but for 1 8X10 photo it cost $6!!! We need at least 5 more of that size…so we’re not doing that here. We’ve transitioned pretty well with cooking in a tiny kitchen (that doesn’t have a oven), showering in a bathroom without a bathtub, and drying cloths with out a dryer. We try to have an open mind and positive attitude on our new ways of life, because, well, why not? This is an adventure for us and we knew going into this that things would be different! It’s a great lesson in flexibility! We will be making a apartment tour video soon! :)

The view from our apartment during the sunset. We propped our front door open so we could see it!

The bus system:
  Public Transportation was the one thing that really made us nervous coming to Korea. We didn’t even understand how to take public transportation in downtown Portland, so we had no idea how we were going to figure it out in another country that doesn’t even speak our language.  To our relief, things have gone pretty smoothly. The NET that I have taken over for left me a detailed “Survival guide” telling me where to get on and off the bus to my schools. Even with being shown my schools/ bus stops and given this wonderful guide, I still had to actually get on and off that bus! So far so good though! Tyler had it much worse as he was only left with some written Korean words to show the bus driver.  Yet somehow in the midst of all the nervousness about transportation we have successfully gotten to our schools and home with little trouble! The bus ride to school is very interesting! The first 10ish minutes we are completely squished between mobs of middle school students on their way to school. It’s very uncomfortable as it’s hard to balance while your super squished and the bus is making many sharp turns and stops. Thankfully that’s just a short part of the ride! We also are still trying to figure out exactly how much it costs to ride to different places. So far the prices have been pretty reasonable. We are thankful for such a great transportation system here that allows us to get to where we need to go!

Neungju Elementary School: Even though I do not have students this week, I still have to go to my school each day. It goes with the term “Desk warming” and though I don’t understand it, I’m going with it! While I’m here, for 8 hours a day, I have been looking through the textbooks, looking around my classroom, and creating my introduction powerpoint. Clearly this does not take up my full 8 hours each day, so I spend my time in less productive ways. Needless to say I can’t WAIT until next week when I finally get to teach again! J While I’ve been here I took a few photos of my classroom!  It’s a great classroom with lots of resources and great technology. I’m very excited to actually work in this classroom rather than just sit in 
A turf soccer field! Most schools only have dirt fields. 

The view from my "office" on a rainy day.

My "office" and desk. 

The extra space with extra small private learning rooms. 

Supply closet!

One of the extra learning rooms! 

This stage not only has great lighting, but also a tv mounted on the ceiling with a video camera! 

The front of the classroom! 

The entryway. 

Cute desks! 

(Tyler will post photos and write about his school next time!) 

Teacher Dinner: This week Tyler and I were invited to his school’s “welcome” dinner in Gwangju. One of his co-teachers was so kind and came to Hwasun to pick me up at the apartment. We drove to Gwangju to a restaurant that is famous for its mushrooms! This was great for me, but Tyler usually isn’t a fan of mushrooms. We were hungry though, so anything was good at that point! The restaurant was really cool! It was a traditional “sit on the floor” place and there was a gas grill built into each table. On the grill was a large pot that boiled water. They brought out large trays of lettuce, beef, and of course LOTS of different kinds of mushrooms. One of the teachers at our table was in charge of putting the various foods into the boiling water to cook it. After it was cooked she then served everyone at the table. The food was really good! It really wasn’t even that flavored (which is good, because we’re always a little worried everything is going to be so flavored or too spicy to eat) but this was great! They kept refilling our bowls until one of the staff members came and emptied out the boiling pot of the leftover meat and veggies.  They then proceeded to fill the pot with rice, onions, spinach, and a raw egg. We had no idea why another course was being prepared because we had already been at the restaurant for an hour. We found out that this was called “porridge” and it was actually really delicious! Throughout the dinner many toasts were made. We weren’t exactly sure what they were for, but we have a feeling it was to welcome everyone back and to have a good school year. At the beginning of dinner Tyler and I were welcomed and were given a beautiful chocolate heart shaped cake from his principal. Apparently, since that day was our 1 month anniversary (and Tyler had mentioned that during one of his introduction classes) the principal found out and gave us that as a gift. It was so sweet! We were shocked and felt very honored as we know that was a very special moment. We then introduced our selves and thanked everyone for welcoming us. After dinner we got in a car with the principal and another teacher. Thankfully, the other teacher was driving as the principal had been poured many drinks (a tradition to show respect) and we were a little worried that he would be the one driving. In the car he asked us a few questions in English and we got to know him better.  As we got closer to Hwasun he asked us if we liked “shave ice.” Of course both of us love shave ice so we told him yes. About 2 minutes later we pulled up and parked in front of a cafĂ©. We got out, assuming we were stopping for shaved ice and got excited because we were happy to find a shave ice place in Korea! We all sat down at a table and the teacher went and ordered for us. When she came back we were slightly disappointed as “shave ice” here is completely different than in the US. This shave ice included a milky ice cream on the bottom, some white ice shavings on top of that, and red beans poured over the top of it all with some dried dates. Completely different than what we thought it was going to be! However, it was such a kind gesture of this principal to take us out for dessert after he just paid for our dinner and we were happy to try something new, so we happily ate it! The taste wasn’t too bad, however it was a strange combo that I never thought I’d be eating! After we were finished they drove us back to our apartment, we thanked them for everything. It’s times like those where we wish we knew more of the language and could express our gratitude in a deeper way, but for now “kamsahamnida” is as good as it gets.

All the mushrooms! 

Tyler and his co-teacher Mrs.Kim. 

Rice porridge.

Extra side dishes. 

"Shave Ice"

Our adorable cake! 

1 month anniversary 

Well we are very excited for the weekend as it will be a nice break from the long week! More adventures to be had! :) Also, we finally have a video on our youtube channel! We promise our future videos will not be this long! But we had to get that project finished so we could always remember those moments! :) 

~Ty and Val 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tyler's Experience

Ceremony Day

Ceremony day was crazy! As Val already mentioned, the co-teachers were waiting in the ballroom while we filed in and said hello and what school we would be teaching at in Korean. Some of us were better than others, but the co-teachers got a real kick out of watching us struggle, it was pretty funny though! After I went up, I was told that my co-teacher was running late, so I had a seat in the back with another native English speaking teacher. After the ceremony I was told there was a mix-up at my school and that my teacher was on the way. I sat with Val and her teacher (Jin) at lunch. Jin is very nice and I think she will be a perfect co-teacher for Val! We ate quickly so we could get our luggage before the storm of people would flood the elevators. Right after we got all of our luggage downstairs, I was told that my co-teacher had arrived. I said a quick goodbye to Val and hoped we would find each other later.

I followed our orientation leader to meet my co-teacher. My co-teacher and I said a quick hello and got going as the chaos had begun. My co-teacher’s name is Mrs. Kim. I grabbed all my bags and rolled my huge suitcases and Mrs. Kim lead me to a car with another teacher. I just barley loaded all my bags into the small car with the three of us and we drove off! The other teacher drove us to a parking lot somewhere else in Guwanju where we transferred my stuff into Mrs. Kim’s car. Mrs. Kim tried to look up the immigration building on her GPS, but the touch screen was not cooperating, so we just started driving. After driving for a while and asking for directions a couple of times, we arrived at a building. Mrs. Kim hopped out and told me to wait in the car. When she came back, she told me that the immigration building moved to a new location. So again we set off!

By the time we arrived to immigration a lot of the other English teachers were there and the immigration office was crowed. As soon as we entered I hoped to find Val, but she was nowhere in sight. Then as I went to take a seat, I saw here in one of the cubicles with Jin! After Val finished up, my co-teacher and I still had a long wait in front of us. To give some visual clarity to this situation, it was a lot like going to the DMV back home.

After we finished with immigration we headed to a Bank in Gwangju to set up an account. The lady at the bank was very nice and knew a little bit of English, which was helpful. Most of the time Mrs. Kim and the lady at the bank talked in Korean and then Mrs. Kim would help me fill out all sorts of forms. To set up online banking, the lady at the bank called a number that would translate Korean to English in order to explain that I needed to create a username and password to access my online account.  This process took at least 30 minutes, but it was nice to have it done. Next we were one our way to my assigned apartment in our new home city of Hwasun!

The drive from the bank in Gwangju to Hwasun was about 40 minutes. As we entered a tunnel, Mrs. Kim told me that on the other side was Hwasun. We exited the tunnel and what I saw was beautiful! All around you can see GIANT lush green hills (or small mountains) surrounding the city. We drove into the city and pulled up to the apartment. Unsure of when Val and I would be reunited, I decided to take all my bags to my room. The apartment building is very new and modern, but does not have an elevator since it only stands 4 stories high. You should probably know that at this point, it is very hot outside, very humid, and I am still wearing my dress clothes from the ceremony! I stand at the bottom of the stairs with all my bags as I begin the journey of carrying them up one-by-one because they were too heavy for my co-teacher to lift. By the end of getting all of my bags to the 3rd floor, I was covered in sweat! Thankfully, before we left, Mrs. Kim suggested I change into casual clothes because it is too hot. I gladly agreed!

Next we took a walk from the apartment to the bus stop where I would catch the bus to school tomorrow. After exploring the bus stop, I used Mrs. Kim’s phone to call Valerie’s co-teacher. They were on their way to Val’s assigned apartment, so I wrote down the address and we drove over there to meet them!

The other apartment is only a few minutes walk away, so we were arrived pretty quickly. As you know from Val’s last post, when I arrived I saw Val’s giant bags sitting outside the apartment building. I decided to be nice and surprise Val by carrying her bags up to the apartment. Mrs. Kim lead the way as we headed into the elevator. I was thinking how nice it was that this apartment complex has an elevator…but wait, it does not go to the second floor!? I guess if you live on the second floor you are just suppose to take the stairs. So instead we went to the third floor and I muscled the bags down the stairs to the second floor. Finally, we turned the corner and found the room with the door propped open and we were together again!...I just made myself tired again from writing this, but you know the rest of the story from Val’s post.

First Day of School

We got up early the day after the ceremony to get ready for school. Val didn’t have school, but decided to come along on the bus ride to see where she needs to get off and help make sure I get off in the right place. When we got on the bus, I had a note on my phone in Korean that Mrs. Kim had told me to show the bus driver. He read it and nodded. We had no idea what the note said, but hopefully he knew what we needed to do. The bus was pretty crowed and there is a lot more floor space on these buses than the city buses back home in Oregon. (That way your can fit more people.) Val and I were sandwiched between bunches of Middle School students and then we pulled up to the next stop. To our bewilderment, there were about 15 people waiting at the next stop! They came on one-by-one and after each person entered we continued to compress. Eventually, all but one person made it one the bus. One girl was asked to get off because the door would not close. As we took corners, everyone swayed together from one side to the other. After about 10 minutes of this we arrived to a stop where all the Middle School students poured out of the bus. The rest of the ride took about another 30 minutes, but we had a lot more space and Val was even able to sit down. The bus ride was very beautiful driving past farming fields stretching out to the green rolling mountains.

This is the front of my middle school classroom.

Walking down the driveway to my school down to the Gym.

Looking at Iyang school from down by the Gym.

The Iyang school Gym.

At the bottom of the stairs in front of the school.

We kept standing up, wondering if it was time to get off, but each time, the bus driver shook his head and we sat back down. At last we could see it. The school was up a hill and tucked into one of the little mountains. We exited the bus and Mrs. Kim was standing outside waiting for me. I said goodbye to Val as she was going to catch the bus back to Hwasun. Another teacher picked us up in their car and drove us up the hill to the school. The school building looks a little worn in certain aspects, but is kept very clean! During a certain part of the day all the students clean the school, so it is in their best interest not to mess it up. Also, they have all the modern technology inside. I have my own cubical desk in the teacher’s room, with my very own desktop computer all in Korean…very helpful I know, but we are working on switching it to English if possible.

Iyang school tucked into the hillside.

The students are very nice and like saying hello in English. My first middle school class only has 6 students! It was nice having such a small group and to be able to talk to each of them. My second class had only 9 students. I can tell that I am really going to enjoy working with the middle school students. After I finished my classes, I was told that the vice principal said that I could leave 2 hours early! So I gathered my briefcase and headed back down the hill. When I got to the bus stop, it was hot and the middle of the day, so there was little shade to hide from the sun. Not knowing when the next bus would come, I stood out in the sun in my dress clothes for about a half hour before I finally saw the bus approaching from the distance.

After getting home, Val was waiting for me and we did some shopping in town before dinner. Then for dinner we went to a burger place and each had a burger. We don’t know for sure, but we think the meat in the burgers may actually be pork because it tasted a little different and there aren’t many cows in Korea.

Our burgers!

So good!
After dinner Val and I had some more shopping to do for our apartment. We thought, “what better place to shop than the giant Emart in Gwangju?” So we caught a bus to Emart, which took about 40 minutes. We shopped around the mega store for a couple hours looking at all the different things we could find. Finally, we found the perfect shelves to go by our bed, but the packaging was really long and rectangular. We wanted to take a taxi home, but had no idea whether someone would be willing to drive two foreigners that do not speak Korean with two big shopping bags and two giant rectangular boxes. I made Val go talk to the cab driver because I figured the driver would have a harder time saying no to her. He agreed to take us back home to Hwasun. We put the shopping bags in the trunk and just barley fit the selves diagonally in the back seat across Val’s lap. We did it! The best thing about taxis in Korea is that they are very affordable. For the 35-minute drive home, we only paid 20,000 KWN or $20 USD. He was such a nice guy!

On the bus to Gwangju!


Beautiful view from the overpass.

We found our shelves!

Putting the awesome shelves together!

All in all, it has been quite the adventure so far going from a nice hotel filled with other English-speaking foreigners into the thick of all things Korean. It has been lots of fun, but needless to say, we value our sleep!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Moving Day!

 As we write this blog post we are so happy to say that we are finally in our new home, our very first new home as newlyweds!  Here’s how we got there….

 Our last day of orientation came quickly! The night before we had a LOT to pack up, like way too much.  I think we win for the teachers who have the most stuff.  It  took a long time, but we treated ourselves after by walking down the hill to get a fresh churro, so it was good. J

Last night in the hotel! Such a pretty view of Gwangju! 

The next morning we had breakfast and dressed in our nice cloths again, as we had been warned we might be meeting our principals that day. When we went down stairs to the “closing ceremony,” where we would be meeting our co-teachers, and they lined us up by the region in which we were teaching. We are the only two new teachers living in the county of Hwasun, so we were next to each other. Once we all were lined up we walked into the large ballroom and waited while each person went up on the stage, said their introduction in Korean (Hello my name is __________. I’m going to ______________ school.) Once each person would say that, the Korean co-teacher would raise their hand and the NET (Native English Teacher) would go sit with their new friend.  This was a long process as there are 80 some NET’s!
Ready to meet our co-teachers! 

Lined up in the Lobby. 

I (Val) found my new co-teacher Jin and sat with her. She is very nice, young (Maybe 26? 27?), and I am her 2nd co-teacher she has ever had. I had heard great things about her before from the previous NET so I was excited. Unfortunately, Tyler went on stage and after found out that his co-teacher was not there yet. So he waited.

After the ceremony, a slide show, and some speeches we all made our way into another ballroom to eat lunch together. Tyler joined us at the table and was told that his school messed up and that someone was on their way for him! After lunch we went up to our hotel room and dragged all our stuff (4 giant/heavy suitcases, our backpacking backpacks, our briefcases and 2 big reusable grocery bags filled with home goods) down to the lobby. Tyler’s co-teacher finally arrived so I went with Jin and he went with his co-teacher. This was a little stressful as we do not have working cell phones yet and rely on wifi to communicate. We knew wifi would be hard to come by where we were going so we prepared by having Tyler write down Jin’s cell phone number just in case! Off we went in a mad rush to get out of the hotel as everyone else was trying to leave to go to the same place as well. We had quite a fun time getting all my stuff into her car, but somehow it worked!

Our first stop was the Immigration Office to apply for the Ailen Registration Card (ARC)! This card is very important as we cannot set up our cell phone plan, internet plan, or get a bank account without it.  We drove about 25 minutes through Gwangju to get there, trying to go fast to beat everyone else! Jin obviously knew how long the wait would be, so she was on a mission! When we got there (we were about the 4th people there!) we took a number, filled out a form and sat down to wait another 30 minutes because it was “Lunch time.” Haha! So we waited and talked as the office got more and more crowded. Finally our number was called and we got some the paperwork processing. Tyler and his co-teacher showed up and I was able to meet her! I’ll let Tyler tell you about his experience with his own post! J

Waiting in the Immigration office! 

Once we left immigration we drove out of Gwangju to Hwasun, our new hometown! This area is BEAUTIFUL! Lush green hills are all over, it’s very nice! As we were driving to Hwasun there was a pretty good sized city with lots of tall aparment buildings and things, my teacher pointed and said, “that is where your apartment is”. I was shocked because I did not know Hwasun was that big of a city, I thought we were going somewhere rural. So to me, it’s big! Lol! We passed Hwasun though as she wanted to take me to Neungju, where my “home school” is and set up a bank account. When we arrived in Neungju I realized what the difference between a city and a town is. J We went into the bank to set up my new account. Remember when I said you have to have your ARC card to do that? Well, sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Apparently it depends! They let me set one up because I had the receipt with my ARC # on it, so I was happy for that! The process was very long (about 1 hour) and I signed my name a million times. But in the end I have an account and a check card, yay!

After the bank we drove just 2 more minutes down the road to my home school Neungju Elementary! It is a decent sized school with a giant soccer field in the front. This school is called a “Soccer school” because there is a boys team here that competes. Most of these boys apparently live in dormitories near the school (I haven’t seen them yet) and only see their families on the weekend. I’ll have to learn more about that later.

When we walked in there was construction everywhere. They are apparently re-doing all the floors or something, but it was a mess! I’m excited to see what it will look like! Jin showed me where to take my shoes off and store them, where to get the room key, and where the English classroom is! I cannot wait to post about my classroom, because it is so cool, but I’ll wait until I have more photos first! J

After all of that, we went to meet the vice principal. She was very nice and welcoming! She and Jin talked and she asked a few questions. I so wish I spoke Korean because I would love to talk to her more! After some smiling and nodding we began walking out the door when Jin told me that the VP said I do not have to come to work tomorrow so I can prepare things at my new home. I was so surprised! I quickly turned around and said thank you, probably out of context, but I was so grateful! I found out that I do not have students until September 1st, so all next week I will be preparing/leanring the curriculum. It’s nice not to have to just jump in…however Jin, my co-teacher, will not be there at all…so I will be alone…and that will definitely be an adventure! ;)

Our next stop was one of my travel schools. It’s another rural school and takes about 15-20 extra minutes to get there. When we arrived, I noticed it was definitely a smaller school, but still bigger than I expected for a total of 40 students who attend there! It was very colorful on the outside and had a nice garden in the front. It too was surrounded by giant green hills, so pretty! I met the Principal there and he was SO kind! He liked to laugh and joke and he spoke a small amount of English. Instead of a quick greeting like we did at my other school, he invited us to sit down around the table in his office and his secretary brought us each a plate of small grapes! The grapes here are SO delicious, they literally smell and taste like the concord grape juice at home, the only problem is they have seeds inside. We sat, ate, and talked (I mostly listened, smiled, and nodded) and sometimes I would answer some questions like what my favorite Korean food is or where did I go on my honeymoon. I really liked that principal and am excited to work in that school with such few students.

After we left that school we traveled to my 3rd school. Instead of getting out and meeting the principal, Jin just pointed to the school and we drove away. I don’t think she was ready for another sit down conversation and it was getting late (about 4:30) so we headed back to Hwasun. Tyler called Jin’s phone from his co-teachers phone so we were able to tell him the address of where we were going (thank gosh!). When we arrived, Jin explained how I can tell my apartment from all the other apartments, which is really good because they all literally look the same. Then we pulled up the comeplex. As I said earlier, I have a lot of stuff, heavy stuff! Our apartment is on the 2nd floor and unfortunately the elevators do not go to the 2nd floor. So we decided to take the small stuff up first and leave the big luggage by the car.

We opened up the door to the apartment and I was pleasantly surprised with how big it is (Korea big). We have a small entry way, small closet, an office, kitchen, laundry porch, bathroom and living/bedroom area. It was clean and it was ours!
Jin started trying to show me how to work everything, like turning on the electricity, turning on the hot water, and using the washer and gas stove. As she was doing that, Tyler and his co-teacher came in with my 2 giant luggage bags (hallelujah!). Then we all went on a little adventure to find the bus terminal where we both will take buses on certain days. After that, they dropped us off, we said our goodbyes, and we were finally on our own!

These are pictures from the first day....we are working on decorating/organizing our apartment! After that, we will make a video of everything! :) 
Our building!

Those are our sheets...not comforter. We did just buy a new comforter though!

Representing the Beavers with our OSU orange leather couch! haha! 

Kitchen/Dining room! 

The office/closet room. 

Our entryway...being very American with our US flags...haha those are just gifts that we are displaying for now. 

Exhausted and starving we decided we needed to go to Tyler’s assigned apartment to get all of his stuff back to our apartment. Thankfully, it’s only a few blocks away! Tyler’s assigned apartment is much more new and modern than mine. It’s really nice! But it’s TINY! It’s probably only half the size of our apartment. It will be a great guest apartment for visitors though!
Tyler's assigned apartment! 

Almost everything is in one room, but it's all really nice stuff! 

Tiny Kitchen! Can you imagine cooking in there?

You would have to use the little refrigerator as counter space! 

We can't wait to have our guests stay here though! It's a great little place! Perfect for 1 person! 

After we tackled dragging our stuff down the streets of Hwasun, we left our apartment to find food! We found a great little pizza place (yep, American food) and had a nice dinner there! It might just become one of our favorite places…$6 pepperoni pizza for 2 people! Haha!

Tyler spent the rest of the night working on his introduction power point for his first day of class and I started unpacking. It was a long day and we were so excited to sleep…but we didn’t even get to bed till midnight...oops!

Stay tuned for Tyler’s post about his experiences! But for now, we have a full Saturday of fixing up our apartment, learning to cook in our apartment, and exploring the city! Hope everyone is doing well!

~Ty and Val