South Korea: Checking in!

I’m finally here! Seoul, South Korea has been my  home for the past two months, yet it feels like I’ve been here for half a year! I’ve already had several “what did I get myself into moments” along with a few emotional breakdowns, but overall I’ve been enjoying the ride. I have brief moments of productivity during my short amounts of free time, so I figured I should update my neglected blog. I’m keeping this post pretty simple, so let me break it down.

The job: I work an average of 50 hours per week at a hagwon where I teach English to Pre-K and elementary-school-aged children. I’d say 11 of those hours are prep periods, and the rest are blocks of 40-minute classes. I’m constantly preparing for lessons, grading and entering scores, writing reports and busy with all other work related concerns. I’m a person who rarely drinks coffee and I find myself having a cup everyday! Even then, I still feel like I could easily take a nap on my desk. Once the weekend arrives, I feel the exhaustion hit me like a brick wall.

I had read all about demanding workloads and high standards in Korea, so I wasn’t surprised when I started to feel the pressure. The month of October was especially brutal because of several events that happened around the same time. I had monthly grades due into the online system, some of which I hadn’t been keeping track of at all. I had to write report card comments on the students’ performance so far (after only meeting some of them maybe twice). I had to prepare for an “open class” where the mothers of the children in my advanced pre-kindergarden class would sit in the classroom to observe and critique my teaching. I ended up getting sick in the middle of this hectic month and nearly lost my voice. Thankfully, I was still able to talk during my open-class. I just sounded like a hardcore 83 year-old smoker. Now that October has passed, things have gotten easier. I’m not as overworked as I was then, but this series of events will happen again in December, so I’m mentally preparing myself now.

I’ve heard terrible stories about shady hagwons and I was a bit apprehensive to work for one, but I’m very happy with where I am. Stress aside, I do enjoy the perks; I’m paid well (~$2,100 USD/month). I get free housing in a cozy apartment that’s 10 minutes away from the school. My flight to Korea was paid for in advance by my school. I get free lunch and dinner at the school, and most days it’s pretty decent. I have small class sizes; my lowest being 4 students and largest being 12. My co-workers are fun people. There’s a solid curriculum in place and most lessons are pre-planned. We have several resources and materials to use for teaching. I get to live right next to Olympic Park, which serves as a beautiful retreat from the concrete jungle.

My free time: I’m lucky to be working at a hagwon with a large foreign staff (compared to other schools) and a super supportive Korean staff. I can choose to socialize and take part of the different plans that people create throughout the office, or I can choose to do my own thing. I like an equally divided amount of solo time, one-on-one time, and group time. My co-workers are generally fun and open-minded people, all looking to enjoy their time in Korea. They’ve done an excellent job of showing me where the best Korean BBQ spots are in our neighborhood as well as introducing me to the noraebong (karaoke) spots!

I’ve also been able to explore some cool areas as well, mostly with “Seoul Hiking Group.” I went on an intense 125-mile biking trip around Jeju Island over the Chesouk holiday, hiked Namhansanseong fortress, and explored Yongmunsan mountain and temple.

The Jeju trip was by far the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life. I hadn’t realized that I signed up for such a grueling bike ride. I thought it would be a sight-seeing tour around the island via bicycle. Instead, it was hours on hours of pure hell. I was exhausted after just a few hours, yet I had to continue 2 more days. That alone was annoying enough, but there was little time to stop and eat. When we did, it was at a CU or some convenience store where I couldn’t even get anything nutritious or filling. We were also spending the nights out camping by the beach, which sounded cool at first but when I realized that there weren’t enough sleeping bags or tents, I was beyond furious. I just became calm. Like, “Oh, no tents or sleeping bags? And the blanket that I brought is damp from the ocean breeze? And there’s no food? Hmm.. lovely. So, lovely. This is exactly how I wanted to unwind during my only 3 day weekend in the coming months.”

Literally, I spent more time riding the horrid bike than I did relaxing on the beach. I was extremely irritated and felt like the biggest idiot on the planet for signing up for something I wasn’t capable of completing. I ended up getting lost the first night since I fell so far behind, but luckily I had some company from a co-worker who was also on the trip. He took pity on me and really stuck by my side throughout the weekend. If it wasn’t for him I would have quit the trip, burned the bike, and checked into the nearest hotel to start my weekend of relaxation. Instead, with his help, I was able to push through the pain and I angrily completed the journey. I kept trying to justify the struggle, saying that it would make me a stronger person, that I’d be proud of myself after pushing past the immediate pain and the seemingly impossible obstacles in front of me, but I was so over the whole trip and the life lessons and what not. I went to Jeju with intention of relaxing. I just wanted to f*cking relax! Since that wasn’t happening, I just reminded myself that at least it would make a funny story. And oddly enough, I started dating the guy who was helping me stay sane and safe throughout the bike trip, so the trip wasn’t all that bad in the end.

In brief, that’s been my life. Tomorrow I start another long work week. I’ve got Korean BBQ to look forward to after work and hopefully some noreabong sometime this week. We’ll see how the days progress!

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