First impressions

It’s Saturday night, which means I have now been living in Korea a week.

I’m alive, I’m fed, I’m wearing clean clothes, I haven’t got lost, I haven’t (to my knowledge) committed any serious cultural faux pas, and I haven’t ended up in a sobbing heap begging to go home.

Based on this information, I consider this to have been a rather successful first week.

I was on the ground in Korea for a while before I really felt like I was here. Airports and subways are so homogenous the world over that one would have to try really hard to have a sense of place. The first things to hit me when I walked out the subway exit were the smell, the cold, and a dustiness. I’m never good at describing foods or tastes, but I imagine this one to be linked to some kind of food waste, mixed in with the smell of exhaust fumes. The cold was probably the most extreme I’ve been in but if I piled on enough clothes I was comfortable enough, even if my mobility was slightly impaired. The dustiness seems to be everywhere due to having very little rain this time of year. The roads looked wet this morning indicating there had been some precipitation, but the brown coating on the parked cars suggested it had not amounted to much. The smells, cold and dustiness have meant that my nostrils seem to have borne the brunt of my move. Added to this of course is the prevalence of spicy foods which tend to clear the sinuses.

Having lived in Auckland for some time I feel quite accustomed to being surrounded by people who look very different from myself and speak in languages I don’t understand. It is, however, quite another experience being so clearly the minority on someone else’s home turf. Foreigners are clearly a rarity in my neighbourhood, but I feel that I’m generally regarded as I pass people in the street with the same disinterest as any other stranger. When I interact with people in a shop they are always gracious, both parties just relieved to successfully complete the transaction successfully using whatever communication methods we can. Any use of Hangul on my part seems to bring a smile of amusement to those who hear it. I’m quite aware that whilst I may experience some prejudice due to being different (I have yet to notice any, and don’t expect it to be common) I’m probably going to be my own biggest threat if I choose to dwell on these and let them isolate myself.

As I haven’t been working this week I’ve used my free time to try and forge a liveable base for myself. I’ve made numerous trips to the supermarket to pick up groceries and bits and pieces for my house. I now have a pretty good idea of what I can find there, and where to find it. The meat section remains a little intimidating, and so may become the subject of a future blog. I’ve explored some of the streets in my neighbourhood and have found two really nice parks which I look forward to enjoying through the seasonal changes. It will be good to have these spots to go to if I need a bit of space and nature. Whilst I am determined to experience Korean things whilst I am here I think it’s wise to mix these in with a good base of the familiar. I’m going to enjoy my time here a lot better if I’m having cereal for breakfast than if I force down a bowl of kimchi every morning for the sake of a real Korean experience. Clearly the range of cereals available in the supermarket suggests that cereal is quite a legitimate breakfast here in Seoul. I’ve been out dancing two nights, which is about how many I would dance in a normal week back home. I’d like to get a TV at home in the hope that I’ll have a cable channel with some English shows so I can veg in the evenings, or find some way of obtaining these online. I went to the cinema tonight, choosing the only Hollywood blockbuster on show because I really wanted some sort of passive entertainment. Getting to the cinema proved quite a mission as I had to navigate a seemingly never-ending sequence of escalators and travelators at Gimpo Airport, but now I’ve found it return trips should be a lot easier.

I start work proper on Monday with three classes scheduled for the afternoon. I’ve done all the prep I could this week, with a bit left to be done Monday. This won’t be enough for me to feel ready when I walk into that first class, but as I’ve done all I can I’m not going to stress about it. Learning to negotiate life in a foreign country is one challenge; learning how to be a great English teacher will be another altogether.


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