Sunday, September 12, 2010

An intro to what awaits....

After arriving in Jeonju University where our training would take place, we were assigned rooms and given treats such as cake and apples as well as our very own EPIK hoody:

The EPIK hoody and a whole lotta reading material!

I had a humorous debate with the lady handing out the hoody as to whether I was in fact a medium or a large-I claimed medium she claimed large (just the start of such fitting troubles here in slimline Korea)-THIS is a medium, hmm.

So, we got our rooms which were great, we had expected much smaller dingy rooms but they seemed new and clean and very sizable. We awoke the next day to snow, alot of snow...Korea is so very cold in Spring:

View from our window.

Our schedule for training was hectic and we werent sure how we would cope studying from 9am to 8pm daily. Although Korean students are used to much longer hours (High school students begin school at 8am finishing at 10pm, sometimes followed by further study), we are accustomed to a maximum of 5 hours study a day and even that was some time ago. The studying was intense with our only breaks being for lunch and dinner. Although some of the lectures were very helpful, due to information overload I felt you were unable to absorb alot of the information.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served in the University canteen, buffet style, with a some times 'interesting' mix of Korean, English an dAmerican, slightly unusual combination- cornflakes in salad anyone?! The food weren't always so good, however it was free and plentiful so mustn't grumble too much.

The EPIK staff during orientation were amazing considering the risiculously long hours they had to work. Korean performance shows were arranged for us for an opening and closing ceremony followed by a huge Korean buffet and even wine for one such occasion.

EPIK staff closing ceremony performance.
Closing ceremony performances.

EPIK staff closing ceremony Kpop dance

Ancient Korean fan dance

Ancient Korean fan dance

Korean dance and drum performers.

We were also allowed a day off for a field trip to Jeonju cultural village. At the village we watched a Korean mask dance, ate delicious Bibimbap (Rice with seasonal vegeatbles, a sometimes fried sometimes raw egg and red pepper paste, served in either a clay pot-hot, hot, hot or steel bowl), made a keyring/phone charm lil man and played Korean drum:

Korean drum and singing performance
Making a knot man

Korean Mask Dance

Paul and I attempt the mask dance

Standing seasaw at the cultural village.
Lastly, EPIK require all teachers to complete a medical in Korea during orientation.

The medical-

Begins with no eating after dinner the previous day, so thats 6pm for us, until after your medical, aorund 1pm following day.... This was truely the longest period without food ever for me, I do so love breakfast. So, a shaking mess (from lack of food or fear, interperate it as you like) we turn up at the medical ready for our 1. height and weight (the rumour mill now tells us EPIK have god strict with BMI, if its too high you won't be accepted because 'overweight people have a hard time in Korea'), an eye test in which I think the lady thought I was joking when I read perfectly with one eye and yet only 2 lines down with the other, a colour blind test (for the boys), listening test, blood test (anyone HIV+ is not allowed in Korea), a urine sample and finally a chest Xray. As this is the most intense medical examination many of us have experienced, I was convinced something was going to go wrong and what a way to find out. All was well.

The results of your medical are handed over to your co-teacher at your school and as you are unable to read or understand korean they therefore know more about your physical state than you-all you know is you passed...unless of course they are kind and translate for you, knowing your urine PH is a golden nugget of information never to be forgotten.

The EPIK orientation is 10 days long and throughout the orientation you have no idea as to where you will be placed for teaching in Korea.  On your last day of orientation an Excel spreadsheet is placed on the wall colour coded by where you will be living. Everyone is so excited although in all honesty you are no more knowledgable about your situation. We found out we would both be placed in Pohang, we knew its on the East coast and has a beach and that was it. The next day we boarded our buses ready to meet our co-teachers/future life masters...

First impressions of South Korea

We landed in South Korea a good 25+ hours after leaving good ol' Liverpool city. Our flight here was awesome, I love long haul flights, movie madness and being fed every few hours, good times! On board our flight from Dubai to Seoul we realised all the Asian passengers were eating some red pastey type stuff with every meal. We were rather curious as to what it was but were not offered any so left well alone, wise old us.

Following arrival at Incheon airport, I realised I probably should have looked at the Korean language book in my hand luggage a little more- but it seemed so difficult. However, we made it to our hostel easily enough, a sweaty sleepy mess.

For the 7 days that followed we tried to travel about Seoul and become accustomed to the local culture and more importantly the etiquette of this Confucian country. I'm writing this 7 months on so I may be brief.

Our stay in Seoul was spent exploring the palaces:

Temple Guards- They do a show everyday, unless the weathers too cold.
Snowy palace in Seoul

Trying Korean foods that made us doubt our desires for such things, pork cutlet in what tasted like chocolate and strange fish water soup :S we then resorted to such things as a konglish breakfast and pizza from 'pizza school' not bad although the cheese was slightly debatable.

Whilst in Seoul we also visited 'Lotte World' an indoor and outdoor theme park, owned by Lotte. Lotte is huge in Korea and owns a variety of business from upmarket malls including supermarket, designer cosmetics and designer clothing ranges, as well as fast food joint Lotteria.

The theme park was great although it was baltic and got very busy later in the day as it was a national holiday. There was even shows from some of the characters famous in korea.

Lotte Theme Park
We also went on the highly advertised trip to the DMZ. The trip includes a bus ride to the border between North and South Korea, stop off at Korean war museum, some time at an observatory point of North Korea and a tour through the biggest tunnel built by North Korea to invade the South:

This is the wall that South Korean families post messages and letters for relatives missing in North Korea.

Two S.Korean soldiers at the train station built in hope that one day North and South will be one again.

Whilst in Seoul we also had our first experience of Hanbok -Korean traditional dress. This type of dress is no longer very common in Korea however traditional Koreans may still wear Hanbok for formal occasions or celebrations such as weddings:

Hanbok- Korean traditional dress.

We also encountered our first taste of Korean spirit 'Soju'.  Soju tastes like a very weak vodka, it is usually drank neat and results in the worst hangover imaginable the next day- think nail through the head pain. Soju also usually leads to Norebang- karaoke room. These are very popular in Korea following all nights out. However, they are much less embarrassing than actual karaoke, your in a room with only friends and rather drunk-its all for the giggles. 

Our first Norebang experience

Well our time in Seoul came to an end and we packed up nervous to begin our training with EPIK.

Friday, September 3, 2010

First time blogger


I'm starting this blog in a bid to keep people back home updated on my travels. I'm also hoping that people will share their own personal travel tips, especially on topics such as volunteering and global employment opportunities. However, such things are a lifetime away as this is my first step into the blogging world and I've much to learn.

Feel free to contribute in any way possible.

Until next time....