Friday, June 26, 2009

8 months down the line

This post is a copy of a story I wrote for our local newspaper at home 'The Greytown Gazette':

17June 2009

My boyfriend, Julian Barker, and I (Jessica Cockburn) have been teaching English in South Korea for just over 8 months. There have been many fun times, so I could say ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, but saying this may imply that the experience has only been fun or at least mostly fun, which is not an entirely true reflection of our experience here.

We had a tough start: culture shock hit us much harder than we had expected. The language barrier seemed impenetrable – nothing vaguely resembled our alphabet and the strange sounds we heard held no meaning! We were surrounded by people who not only looked different, but who openly stared at us because we looked different! They seemed inaccessible to us: mostly because we speak different languages, but also because we have different cultures, different approaches to life, different histories.

When we first arrived, our only links to ‘the rest of Korea’ were our co-teachers: they were our assigned ‘chaperones’ and did everything for us: from buying us furniture, to taking us to the doctor. We, who had set off on our Asian adventure as intrepid, independent travellers found ourselves totally dependent on strangers. The most frustrating part to this was that our co-teachers themselves spoke only broken English, and battled to understand our South African accents.
8 months down the line I can almost look back at those early weeks with a smile on my face. I say almost because it was a very difficult period, and as much as I’d like to, I’m not quite ready to smile about it!

But we have come so far. We have done an amazing amount of travelling and exploring -. we spent 10 wonderful days in the Philippines during our winter vacation, we have seen many of the famous Buddhist temples in Korea, have visited Goeje island: a lovely holiday destination off the south coast of Korea, spent several days skiing and seen many famous historical sights in Korea. We have walked in the lovely forests around our town Sangju, and scootered through the recently planted rice fields.

We have also explored and absorbed Korean culture: Julian has, uncomfortably, swayed arm-in-arm with my male colleagues singing love songs in a ‘Noraebang’ (i.e. karaoke room), we’ve eaten very fresh or even live! seafood taken straight out of a tank outside the restaurant, seen dogs in cages off to be slaughtered for dinner, been invited into an old Korean woman’s house and given kimchi (the national dish of fermented cabbage), been to public bath houses where everyone wanders around starkers without a care in the world, been semi-harassed on the street by Koreans trying to practice English, had our arm-hairs and eyebrows touched and pulled at because they’re white or yellow (not blonde), …the list goes on.
It has been an amazing 8 months. The teaching has itself been an adventure: we teach at government middle schools which has not been without difficulties. We have been left to our own devices with little in the way of guidelines, which in the beginning was frightening but which we now use to our advantage: we can run our classes as we like and do anything we fancy to help the students practice the little English that they know.

We really do miss home and our families very much: one of the most important things that being in Korea has made us realise is how much we love and miss South Africa despite all its faults and problems. We will certainly be back: armed with a multitude of travel stories and a better understanding of the world.


EEbEE said...

well done for making it 8 months Jess!

That was well written. Shot for publishing before me :)

Unknown said...

Hey Jess,
Havent kept up-to-date with your blog for a while now, but this was agreat piece to welcome me back!
Cant wait to seeing you in August!!