I’m lying on my floor as I write this, because it’s heated and feels good. In Korea, it’s called an ondol. Pipes boil with hot water beneath the floor and heat it. It’s why Koreans often sit on the floor for meals and whatnot. It makes sense. I’m a fan, anyway.
So I live in a small studio in Yecheon now. It’s in the northern part of the Gyeongbuk province and is surrounded by hills and mountains. I kept hearing and reading that Yecheon is so small, but honestly, it’s the perfect size to me. Well I guess maybe I just had really low expectations to begin with (which is always a good thing), because there’s a lot more here than I anticipated, city-wise. But then there’s a bunch of hiking trails and temples to visit and nature-stuff, too. So I’m a happy camper.
But I’m not gonna lie. When I first arrived, I was not feeling optimistic at all. My mentor teacher (who I didn’t even realize was my mentor teacher until later) took me to lunch and showed me the school, but there was just a lot of confusion. I still hadn’t met my co-teacher, and my mentor teacher had no idea who or where she was. We couldn’t find the TaLK textbooks (these elusive textbooks we kept hearing about all through orientation that we could use to lesson-plan). We were told they’d be at our schools, but my teacher had no idea where they were. She was so sweet, but I was still a nervous wreck. I could hardly eat my lunch, because my stomach felt so queasy. I guess it just hit me that I was alone here in this small Korean town. No Alex. No friends to lean on…no one at all really. And I knew it wouldn’t be like that for long. But still… my nerves just got the best of me. And despite the weeks of orientation, I just didn’t feel like I was prepared to start teaching in two days. I went back to my apartment with a pit in my stomach and my body felt shaky, tense and anxious. My teacher told me she’d come pick me up at 6 for dinner with her and my neighbor Thwani, who is also an English teacher. The introvert in me just wanted to stay in for the night and get settled in to my new surroundings. But I obliged.
At 6, there was a knock on my door, but it wasn’t her. It was Dave, a South African guy who also lives downstairs. He invited me down to meet the “foreigners.” They were all full-time teachers; one from Canada, one from America; and then Thwani and Dave, from South Africa. They were so welcoming, and almost instantly put me at ease. I am so incredibly thankful to have them all here. They’ve quickly become good friends, and through them I’ve met other equally-awesome people in the area.
Anyway, after my dinner date, the foreigners (“waygook,” in Korean) and I went out. We filled ourselves with Hite and soju shots until we were all best friends, then headed over to norebang (karaoke). I admit I tried to get out of the norebanging. My sore throat was worsening, and if I norebanged, I knew it’d only go downhill from there. But, eh, what the heck—it was my first night in Yecheon!
So we sang Rihanna and Spice Girls. The boys performed their norebang staple, “Gay Bar.” We sang and sang until we finally called It a night. My voice was gone the next day... just in time to start teaching. But hey, I didn't feel so alone in Yecheon anymore :)