I believe I am now in my fourth day in Korea and my third day in orientation, although I have to admit with the change from Eastern time to Far Eastern time the exact flow of the days has gotten a little mushy. I think the first shock I experienced in my first time in a foreign country (excluding trips to Toronto or Tijuana, neither of which I think really counts) was that it wasn't very shocking at all. Yes, I couldn't get the payphones to work at the airport because I couldn't figure out how to buy a calling card or how to ask for 100 won coins in change for a 1,000 won bill. (A word of advice to travelers to Korea: when shopping for a prepaid calling card, either buy one with a magnetic stripe, if you can find such a thing, or bring at least one 100 won coin and make sure your calling card has a toll-free number starting with 080. Most pay phones either take only mag stripe cards or require a coin deposit to get a dial tone.) But all along I had half-expected to land in Korea and suddenly be overwhelmed by the insanity of moving to a country where I don't speak the language to perform a job I've never done. What actually ended up happening, as I was waiting in line to board the EPIK bus to orientation in Jeonju, was that I realized the following two things:
1) If the job sucks, I can quit and come home. (I'm not actually going to do that because I would be out a lot of money, unemployed and possibly barred from re-entering Korea if I didn't quit following the terms of my contract, but it's not impossible.)
2) This is basically just another temp job, like all the millions I've done before, except this time I'm actually getting some training.
We were spirited away by bus from Incheon to Jeonju almost immediately after landing, so all I've really seen of Korea so far is the area surrounding the Jeonju University campus and what I could see out of the steamed windows of the bus on the way here. I have, however, observed a few extremely awesome things:
- Somewhere not too far from Incheon there's a Niagara Hotel. I believe it was a Best Western. This makes me laugh because I'm from Niagara Falls and therefore Niagara Falls is no longer a romantic notion to me in any way. I actually went to Niagara Falls before I left to look for souvenirs to bring as gifts, and the American side was literally a ghost town, other than the Seneca casino. When I told my Mom I would be driving to the Falls past 5PM she acted like I would be driving through Johannesburg or Port Au Prince . The whole thing was just kind of sad.
- They have 7-Eleven here. It was the first place I managed to get a working phone card and film. God Bless 7-Eleven.
- They must have pizza here because we passed a Domino's truck on the way to Jeonju and the pizza that was pictured on the side was just INSANE.
- We also passed a pink Mary Kay Hyundai Sonata. God Bless America.
- Today on the way back from Lotte Mart (which is kind of like Korean Super Wal-Mart) I was passed by a blond Korean gentleman taking a sharp corner on a motorbike. He had no helmet, was smoking and was steering with one hand while talking on a cell phone with the other. God Bless Anime.
Currently in Jeonju we're going through orientation, which consists of speeches, events, lectures, "Survival Korean" classes and Korean Movie Night every night at 8:20. (Last night's selection, "Le Grand Chef," was not really on par with great Korean films such as "Dragon Wars" and "Attack The Gas Station!") It's also apparently consisted of a lot of beer and soju consumption, although so far I've managed to sleep (or watch a lackluster movie) through every night's madness. Socially, certain aspects of orientation have been a little awkward for me. For example, every meal has been like lunch on the first day of high school. The only difference is that there's at least 500 people here (which is a lot more than we ever had in the cafeteria at the same time in my high school) and since I know I'm probably never going to see most of them ever again (unless they end up in Gyeongsangbuk-do) I don't feel especially motivated to get to know all of them. Meh, it'll pass. Plus, it's nothing that a little beer and soju won't solve. Gotta run, the pack of rowdy Westerners is on its way out for the night...