Phew! What a hectic three weeks it has been! I had a few get-togethers to say good-bye in South Africa and from there everything went crazy! I arrived at Incheon International Airport in South Korea on the 16th of February 2012; a day I thought will never arrive. Another EPIK (English Program in Korea) teacher was on the same flight as me and both of us booked at hostels in Seoul, the country’s capital city, to spend a few days there before heading down to Daejeon for our 9-day orientation.
From the airport, we took the Airport Railway Express to Hongdae area in Seoul. It was amazing to experience such efficient service in public transport. No confusion, we just followed the sign, bought a ticket at the ticket machine and jumped on the train. What a pleasure, and even the seats were heated – on a minus 8 degree Celsius evening, this was so welcome!
We got off at the Hongik University stop and this was where we got confused. We couldn’t find the exit! After taking the elevator down and up again we finally saw the exit number 2 sign that we were searching for. We walked to the exit to find that there is no elevator at exit 2. Only stairs. About 100 stairs. With 40 kilograms of luggage each, this was a nightmare coming true. Luckily, we were in Korea and very soon after starting the journey up the stairs, a Korean offered to help.
We finally got out of the subway station and into the freezing streets of Seoul. Now where? We had directions but still found it difficult to find the place. Again I say, luckily this is Korea – a very friendly woman offered to help us get to our hostels. Lauren went her way and the woman helped me to my hostel… after a few phone calls from her phone, we finally got there, what a relief!
After arriving at Big Tree House, the owner’s sister invited me to dinner with the owner and some of the guests at a Korean restaurant. It was quite festive in there by the time we arrived – lots of people singing and cheering their friends on to take the shots of soju and just having a good time. I had my first Korean barbeque and soju experience. Soju is the local fire water, almost like vodka and the mere mention of the name tends to elicit looks of dismay from foreigners. With anything from 20 to 50% alcohol it’s no wonder, and according to some of the EPIK teachers who went to the same orientation, it leaves a killer hangover.
By this time, I was awake for about 35 hours. I went straight to bed after getting home and only woke up at about 1pm the next day. This was my first opportunity to really explore the big Korean world city. It was amazing. I got to downtown Seoul just in time to see the changing of guards at the Deoksugung Palace, what an awesome sight! After exploring the palace, I went to the Cheonggye Stream – I think the most photographed place in Seoul. It was great seeing the things I only previously saw on pictures. By this time it was getting dark – time for taking the most amazing pictures! I just love Seoul at night!
Then I got lost in Seoul. I was trying to find my way back to the hostel in a city with only a few English speaking people. After about two hours I finally took a taxi and was dropped off in the wrong street after being yelled at by the angry Taxi driver I couldn’t understand. Someone directed me to the hostel and I finally got some sleep.
The next day I went to Myeong-dong shopping district in Seoul, a shopper’s paradise. I strolled around ‘til late and was bombarded by neon lights around every corner – this was what I wanted to see. It was still crowded with people doing shopping and partying when I left at about12:30am. Truly a city that never sleeps. On my way to the City Hall subway, drunk people were seen everywhere. No more Soju for them!
After my 4 days in Seoul, I went back to Incheon Airport to get the shuttle bus to EPIK orientation in Daejeon. At the airport I met the guy from TeachKorea, the agency that helped me get here – I would highly recommend them if you want to come to South Korea (www.teachkorea.co.za). I’ve also met a few other South Africans there and mostly sticked with them at orientation.
Our orientation was held at the Korea Tourism Human Resource Centre, a nice place. We had to share a dorm room with another person and I shared with another South African also in Gangwon province now.
Information overload. That’s actually what happened at orientation but we learned a lot and got to do a lot of networking before leaving for our new homes – we all met at least 40 new friends to cheer us up when culture shock and home sickness set in.
On the last day we had to do a mock lesson plan. Ours went well. The highlight of the day though, was finding out where we’re placed! Our whole class was placed in Gangwon province but we did not know the position or grades we’re going to teach and with Gangwon being quite rural, we were a bit more stressed about location than the teachers going to a metro city.
I am placed in Samcheok – population of almost 80 000. It is a small coastal city on the east sea on the more southern part of Gangwon. According to Lonely Planet, there are some pretty beaches tucked away in quiet coves close by but I have only been to Samcheok Main beach. It IS beautiful and the way there (about a 30min walk) is amazing with two or three random restaurants scattered in the forest.
After my first walk around town, I realised how small this city really is. I have to say that I felt a bit isolated at first as no trains run from here to the major cities but now, after my first walk to the beach and after I saw the breath-taking views of the city on my way back from the beach, all fears are gone! I love this city. The city’s slogan is “Wonderfull Samcheok” (note the spelling of Wonderful – it really is spelled wrong on their logo! I guess that’s why they need so many English teachers).
I haven’t really travelled outside of Samcheok in Gangwon yet and I hope to be surprised. I think this area will be amazing in summer. I will have to find out about hiking trails around Samcheok as well which will be fantastic, I’m sure, as there are some beautiful mountains and breath-taking ocean views around.
While we are still in spring, I’m hoping for some last minute snow. Coming from South Africa, snow is something major and we received an awesome welcome into Samcheok, snow everywhere! They had 1-2 meter of snow in March last year and I’m hoping for the same this year!
As for my apartment, it’s small but big enough to live in and it’s only about one year old and very modern – that makes up for the size. Oh and I just love the Korean Ondol under-floor heating system. It heats up water with oil and pumps water through pipes underneath the floor. My apartment is about 24’C right through the day.
My school is also nice. It is the biggest elementary school in Samcheok and a friend (who is also my neighbour) works there as well. We have 22 40-minute classes every week and stay at the school from 9 to 5. The school is a 5 minute walk from our apartment building. Great! We have a really nice, big and new English Zone that we share, I will post pics soon.
So ja! Fluit-fluit my storie is uit, for now! I will post more about my adventures in Samcheok soon.
Video of my apartment: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150655249205839