I’d been in Korea for exactly 15 hours when I got on the bus with about 20 other people going to Gangwon-do Province. Everyone was in that weird, confused, hyper friendly state, bonded through shared anticipation and terror. Like we were all plane crash survivors, trying to make it on this strange island. Except without any polar bears or smoke monsters… that I know of.
Since we’re late intakers and only going to orientation at the end of October, we were given a speed session on the bus, which basically covered everything from lesson planning to getting a cell phone. To be honest, I was half listening, half trying to see the names on the clipboard the EPIK guide held close to his chest. You see, that clipboard held our placements, which determined who’d get the city and who’d get the sticks.
Gangwon’do is a huge province, 80 percent of it is covered in uninhabitable mountainous area. And oh those mountains. Second to New Zealand, this is the most epic landscape I’ve ever encountered. Actually, it does look a bit like the LOST Island. Gigantic mountains, covered in thick, dark green pine forests envelope the province. And in between the mountains, there is the East Sea. It’s breath-taking. Since I’m half-kelpie, I was hoping for something coastal but not too rural (or far north). So basically, not Goseong.
(spoiler alert: if you’ve read the title, you know how this ends).
About two hours from Seoul, we stopped for a lunch break and I got my first taste of kimchi and bipimbap – which is a mixture of rice, meat, sprouts and other veggies, served on a hot skillet thing (I burned myself twice). You’re also given a side of kimchi (cold, fermented cabbage covered in red pepper paste and served with just about everything) and a little tub of hot sauce which you’re supposed to spoon into your dish. It was… interesting. Completely different to anything I’d ever tasted but mostly enjoyable. I say mostly because I’m not a fan of the sesame seed sauce over the veg, which I foresee to be my downfall.
So we drove, we ate and we were getting antsy. Then our EPIK guy handed out the placement sheets. Not only was I placed in the northest point of Korea, but I’m in Hicksville (Google maps calls it Geojin), teaching at four different schools and have to commute daily among them. Honestly, at this point, I was like, “Fuck it. I’m here. It’s pretty. I’m here. Let’s do this.”
So when I met my main co-teacher at the drop-off point, I had zero expectations. As if sensing my apathy, fate got bored of torturing me and gave me a break. My co-teacher, along with the teacher I’ve replaced are currently among my two favourite people in the known universe. Maya, the pretty curly-haired Californian I’m replacing basically left me a fully stocked apartment with everything from make-up remover and towels to stationary and books (including the Neil Gaiman novel I’ve been wanting to read since forever) to 6 different kinds of teas, spices and a partially full fridge (with alcohol in it!). I half expected a butler to emerge from the closet and offer to shine my shoes or like, walk me to the bat-cave or something (clearly I have no idea what butlers actually do).
JinHee, my main co-teacher, whose job it is to see me acclimatised and get all my documents sorted, is amazing. Not only is she young and easy to talk to, but on my first day at the school (which I got lost walking to and found myself overlooking the beach instead) played Florence and the Machine in class. If you know me at all, you’ll understand why I now worship her. I also have two neighbours, both teachers like me, one a South African, the other an American, so I get to hear English when I step into my hallway, which is nice after a day of being lost in translation.
So I’ve been in my place for three days now and I feel at home, which is really the best thing I could ask for at this point. I’ve been to Sokcho, the closest city, I’ve made the internet connections with people I’ll still meet, I’ve visited my schools and found the bus station.
I guess this is where it really begins.