Thursday, July 21, 2011

(More) A day in the life

I can't believe how fast this year has gone; I'm only a few days away from my 11-month anniversary in Korea. The last month will be full of errands, tearful goodbyes and preparations to travel. But for now, things are still calm and I've had time to reflect.

Here are a few of those reflections, continued from the previous two lists of everyday observations I've made here in the ROK.

-The kids we teach will often time have English names. Of course, this isn't the name they were born with, but sometimes it's hard for us foreigners to pronounce (and remember) every student's Korean name. Perhaps to make it easier on everyone (and for the sake of being at an English academy), we give them Western names. Sally, John, Amy and Steve are popular selections. Though I've had my fair share of odd names, having taught a Label, North and Sponge. I've even had the honor of "naming" a few of my students. The class works together to come up with a list of names and then the new student can pick the one they like best. I'll admit, I lack creativity when it comes to giving names and the list usually consists of the same ones (mostly names of friends or family from home).

-Fan death. I made a small reference to fan death when I first arrived, but it's crept up on me a few times since then. As I understand the urban legend, many people believe that it's possible to die if you sleep in a room with no ventilation (i.e. windows closed) and a fan circulating. I've heard different theories about why this happens, each more bizarre than the last.

-Sharing things is quite common here. I don't mean sharing pencils or erasers (because students are actually quite serious about their school supplies. Never mess with a child's pencil case). I mean sharing things that foreigners would usually like to have only to themselves. My best examples come from school. We have a water cooler that anyone can use to fill their cups or waterbottles, but it also has two community cups that students will fill up, use, then put back for the next student. No washing or cleaning in between uses. There's also community soap in the bathroom. No, not a soap dispenser, an actual bar of soap. This is the norm throughout all of Korea, including a communal towel. Hand sanitizer has been my friend.

-Eating out was a little hard to adjust to at first. At home, you're accostumed to being waited on. After all, these people are working for tips and they usually do a great job earning it. There is no tipping system in Korea (something I admit, I will miss). Therefore in restaurants, waiters aren't coming over to your table every once and a while to make sure your meal is okay or you need anything in the mean time. Instead, they only come over when you call them. How do you get their attention? Press a button! At most restaurants, there's a button you can press to get your waiter's attention and they will come over swiftly to get you whatever you need. If there's no button (or you're feeling brave) just say "yeogi-yo" which basically means "here!" It seemed rude to me at first to yell come here to the person working, but this is quite common in Korea, and may actually be rude if you do it any different.

-"Bongs" A bong is a room in Korean. There are several different specialized rooms here, the most popular (I think) being a "noraebong," or a singing room. Go and sing karaoke and drink beer with your friends for a few hours (a craze that certainly needs to be brought to America). There are also DVD-bongs, which you might think would be a good way to relax after a hard day at work. It's cheap, easy and you don't have to wait for the movie to download. But beware! Many young couples will sneak off to DVD-bongs and do certain things they wouldn't be allowed to do at home. You'll be used to the idea of sharing by this point, so a community couch should be no problem.

-All men are required to do military service. I believe it's a minimum of two years. Therefore, a lot of men will start their higher education after their time in the military is done. While visiting the DMZ, I was a little shocked by how young some of the soldiers appeared to be. It breaks my heart to imagine my students in those uniforms...

-Smoking. I'm not a smoker and I've been pretty grateful for that while living here. Unfortunately, it seems that Korea is still archaic in many ways and for some reason, it's frowned upon when women smoke openly. I can't say why this is, but I've witnessed friends being stared and even yelled at because they chose to smoke a cigarette in public. Because of this, there are often ashtrays in the women's bathroom. I suppose if a lady is feeling to urge to light up, it's better if she sneaks off to the bathroom instead of doing it for all to see.

-Korea has been incredibly accommodating over the last year. Besides food and people, I can't say I've really missed anything; most everything that you need can be found somewhere in this country. Language hasn't been much of a problem. Many, many people speak English, even if it's simple phrases. I've learned a little Korean, enough to order in restaurants or get home in a cab. Other than that, most communication has been done in English. But besides that, the people have been overwhelmingly accepting. There have been rare occasions when I've been scolded on the subway or people have said inappropriate things. Yes, it made me feel stupid, unwanted and foolish for being an intruder. But then I realize that out of the last 300+ days I've lived here, this has only happened twice. Those few incidents aren't going to ruin my perception of this country and to be quite honest, it could have happened at home, too. Instead, I'm going to always be grateful for Korea, the people, and the opportunities it has given me to learn about their amazing culture and myself.

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