Sunday, 11 March 2012

Getting There

Welcome to our journal! It has been a hectic time but now, at the end of our first week teaching, things are starting to settle down.

Our trip over from New Zealand went very well. On the evening of Saturday February 25th we flew up to Auckland and met with another soon-to-be English teacher before boarding our Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore. Our seats were great and we were lucky to be able to sleep the whole way. We had an eight hour layover in the comfortable Changi Airport, during which we visited its warm but curious Butterfly House (warning to any mottephobic little sisters who may be reading!)

After another pleasant flight we reached Seoul Incheon International Airport at around 10pm on Sunday night. Immediately we were squeezed into a packed subway carriage that shot us down to customs where we handed over our fingerprints and a mugshot along with our passports. A shuttle van soon rescued us from the -2°C chill and dropped us at the Incheon Airport Guest House, where we were able to grab a few hours' sleep in a nicely heated room. Early the next morning we headed back to the airport and caught the intercity express bus to Jeonju, the capital city of the Jeollabuk-do province.

The bus ride took almost four hours and we had the pleasure of seeing the sun rise over Seoul as we crossed the bridge from the airport island and headed south. We spent much of this trip doing our best to read the signs written in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. At Jeonju we were met outside the Core Hotel by our co-teachers. First they took us to the Provincial Office of Education where we signed our official contracts and received a few important papers. Straight after we were driven to the education board in Gunsan, the smaller city about 20 minutes west of Jeonju where we are to be living and teaching for the next year, to discuss our accommodation options in a quaint and cosy office.

In the afternoon we were taken to a local hospital for the most challenging part of our trip so far, the health checks. It was 2pm by now and we were starving, as we had been instructed not to eat before the medical exam and our last meal had been the in-flight dinner from 8pm the previous evening. The exam consisted of a chest x-ray, getting some blood drawn, peeing into a cup, and basic eyesight and hearing tests. After all that was done we were finally able to eat, so our co-teachers took us to a Chinese restaurant (the nearest Korean restaurant was closed).

Bellies full we went to look at the only double accommodation available, which thankfully was perfect. Our apartment is on the second floor of a large complex in downtown Gunsan. It has a decent kitchen, two bedrooms, a western style bathroom, and is close to many shops. The landlord and his wife popped around on Monday evening to check on us and turn on the heating and gas. We found a local supermarket and managed to buy a snack and clean sheets before heading to bed for our first night in our new home in Korea.

All of Tuesday and Wednesday were spent cleaning. The apartment came with one twin bed, a gas cooker, a cage for a pet rabbit, and lots of grime. Stephen's co-teacher contacted the education board for us and we soon had brand new bedding and a second twin bed, which we are using as a couch. Our neighbourhood has a few electronics stores and we quickly made friends with an eager young man at the Samsung outlet who sold us a computer monitor at a great price. Stephen's Mac Mini survived the flight over in his hand luggage, and when everything was plugged in we were pleased to discover that the previous tenant had not cancelled the Internet connection. Having Internet access suddenly made everything seem a lot more manageable, as not only were we able to email and Skype our families, we could also browse maps and find other information easily. We hadn't been in the country long nor interacted with many people but already we were starting to feel somewhat isolated and lost in a vast sea of Hangul and unfamiliar etiquette.

Our first teaching experiences will be chronicled shortly. We apologise for the lack of photos, the camera still hasn't been unpacked. We promise the next entries will be more colourful!

Click here for more photos.

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