I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this post for a few days now. It’s just that so friggin’ much has happened in the last week, that I just don’t even know where to start.
The only way to do this is to break it up into parts (but also be sure to stop by my new Oddities page, with random little tidbits that just don’t fit into a regular post!). Anyway, here’s what I’ll be covering in today’s post:
- 1. How I eventually made it to Seoul and then my luggage even more eventually made it to Seoul.
- I met a whole load of lovely new people.
- My apartment was disgusting, but is currently less disgusting.
- I totally think I’m going to be OK at teaching.
Part 1—How I Eventually Made it to Seoul and my Luggage Even More Eventually Made it to Seoul
I left my house in Wisconsin around 3am on April 2nd. My flight wasn’t until 7am, but my recruiter has instructed me to be 3-hours early, so 3-hours early I was. It was a bit pointless and I was the only person at the gate for about an hour and a half, but I sat quietly and ate my yogurt and watched the sun rise on my last Wisconsin morning. It was lovely, and really gave me a nice sense of calm which I feel is really important when you’re on the cusp of a long period of travel.
Four hours later our plane landed in Phoenix and we were stuck on board for a while because another plane was still at our gate. I was pretty worried because my layover was only an hour (hah!) and I was starting to wonder if my baggage would make it onto my next flight (little did I know what I was coming…). When we finally got off the plane I scurried over to my next gate just in time for them to announce there was probably going to be a 2-hour delay on our departure—apparently there was “too much air traffic” at San Francisco airport, so all the flights heading there were delayed.
I hurried over to the customer service desk before the queue could form (oh boy, did it!) and told the girl behind the counter that if the flight was delayed 2-hours, I would miss my connection for Seoul. She booked me another flight to Seoul for the exact same time the next day, and told me when I got to San Francisco to make sure I checked in with Singapore Airlines to confirm my ticket and find out where my baggage was. Super.
I went back over to the gate and called my parents to fill them in on the situation. As soon as I got off the phone, a girl a couple of seats down from me leaned over and asked if I was going to Seoul. It turns out she was on her way to Seoul as well (visiting a friend), so we decided to team up when we got to San Francisco to find out what the hell was going on.
We landed in San Francisco less than 20-minutes after our flight to Seoul left. Sad faces. Anyway, I met up with my new pal Toni when we got off the plane, and we hurried from the domestic terminal to the international terminal to check in with Singapore Airlines…
They were closed.
Apparently they only have two flights a day out of SFO, so after the flight we were supposed to be on left, they were done for the day. Go figure. So we went back to the domestic terminal and found US Airways and told them our situation and asked if they could tell us where our luggage was. They pretty much said there was nothing they could do. “Well it’s supposed to get sent right over to the next airline, you’ll have to ask them.” We explained they were already closed, and they basically shrugged and said there was nothing they could do except offer us a coupon for a discounted hotel room since we qualified as “distressed passengers.”
For the record, Toni and I somehow found the entire situation absolutely hilarious and were literally giggling for 24-straight hours over it. We may have been borderline crazy by this point, but whatever.
We found someone in the international terminal who told us to use the white courtesy phone to get a hold of Singapore Airlines. All we could get was the message saying they were currently closed. Super helpful. We found another person who was at least able to tell us when their counter would reopen (about 9:45pm that night), so we could find someone to talk to at that time.
Toni and I decided to go split-skies on a hotel room with our discount coupon. After huddling under the edge of a crowded bus stop for a while (it was pouring, of course) we finally took the airport shuttle to the hotel and checked in. We both made a few phone calls. I could barely contain my giggles when I called my parents and said, “Hi! I’m damp, no one knows were my luggage is, and I’m sharing a hotel with a total stranger. How are you?” The place was conveniently attached to a Chinese buffet, and we were both starving (damn domestic flights and their lack of complementary snacks!), so we grabbed dinner and a drink, and just killed time until we could go back to the airport to talk to Singapore Airlines.
We were both extremely exhausted by the time we got back on the airport shuttle, but made friends with the driver who was pretty entertaining. He dropped us off and we skipped the line (for the 1am flight to Singapore) and ran up to the first class counter to try and get some answers. We told the guy working our (by this point rather lengthy) story, and he took our baggage numbers and called his contact in the baggage department. He told us he wouldn’t be able to look into it until after 11pm, so he offered to call us. We took him up on that, left him a phone number, and went back to the hotel where we promptly popped in Spice World (because we just needed to know there was something out there more ridiculous than our day, and plus that movie is awesome) and passed out.
We got a call around 1am about our baggage—they still hadn’t found it, but were working on it, and they told us to just ask about it when we checked in for a flight in the morning.
The next morning Toni and I hit up the free continental breakfast where we ran into another passenger, Nancy, who had also been stranded in Phoenix and was also on her way to Seoul to see her son who lives on the US Army base. We all headed to the airport, and at the check-in counter they told us they still didn’t know where our baggage was, but to check at the gate when we got there. Ok. Sure. Whatever.
So we go through security and find our gate and check with the Singapore Airlines staff there. They didn’t have our baggage yet, but they still had about 70-bags left to load, so they told us to check back in a half-hour. A half-hour later, there’s still no sign of our bags. They call US Airways who says they’ll look into it and call back. Our flight to Seoul is supposed to board in 10-minutes. All three of us are on the phone trying to get a hold of someone—anyone—at US Airways who can tell us what the hell is going on.
Finally Nancy gets through to someone who checks her (Nancy’s) baggage number and—yep, US Airways still has it. They never sent it over to Singapore Airlines. She passes the phone over to me so I can give my baggage numbers—same thing for Toni and myself. We tell her our flight is boarding, she says she’ll do what she can, and then it was time to get on the plane.
The flight to Seoul was very smooth. Singapore Airlines was super nice, very clean, had a lot of really great entertainment options, and the food was absolutely wonderful. I watched season 5 of Friends which was a delightful find on my seat-back council—sometimes you just have to re-visit the classics, you know?—and slept for maybe four of the 12-hours.
We landed in Seoul and as soon as I got off the plane—literally, immediately off the gangway—there was a sign with my name, Toni’s name, and Nancy’s names. We got the details. Our luggage did not come on the flight, but would arrive on the exact same flight the next day. They told us to leave an address with baggage claim and they would get it to us right way.
We went through immigration, baggage claim (I left the address for my school because it was the only address I had), and customs, and then all parted ways in the arrival halls. I’m very glad I had company on that ridiculous adventure. Toni was pretty cool, and we might even meet up again while she’s still in Seoul, which would be a lot of fun.
In the arrival hall, I finally got to meet my recruiter Anna (very briefly, and she took my baggage claim info and said she would call them and give my actual apartment address). She directed me to the van driver who would take me directly to my new place of employment.
And thus, I had arrived in Seoul.
To make what’s still an obnoxiously long story much shorter, my luggage did in fact arrive the next day, Friday. However, they tried to deliver it while I was at work, and since I wasn’t there they left it with… someone. Nobody knew who. After attempting to talk to several Koreans (literally pointing at the word luggage in my phrase book) who had no idea what I was talking about, I ended up having to call my recruiter Anna on Saturday morning. I gave the phone to the ancient Korean man who works at the front desk (when he’s not wandering around outside smoking), and lo-and-behold, he had my luggage in a storage room on the third floor. Thank the freaking lord.
Part 2—I Met a Whole Load of Lovely New People
The van driver didn’t speak any English, so it was a quiet half-hour(ish) ride from the airport to my hagwon (private school) in Seoul. I learned that turn signals are almost entirely decorative here. Super.
Anyway, we parked and he took me up to the 7th floor. It was about 8pm at this point (the work hours for our school are 2pm-10pm), so classes were in full swing when I arrived. One of the reception girls took me to the teachers office where I sat in a chair while people ran all over the place between classes, and bunch of people came in to meet me before running off again, and small Korean children stared at me like I was the most fascinating thing they’d ever seen.
Eventually I met Max, the teacher I would be replacing, and went with her to her next two classes to observe. She showed me a few things in the office between classes, but I was basically in zombie-mode at that point and honestly retained very little. The schedule is entirely in Korean and is the scariest looking Excel screen I have ever seen in my life, so there’s no way I was going to make sense of it at that point.
Anyway, after work my new boss (who I’m going to call Mr. VH on account of his exceptionally voluminous hair) drove Max and I back to the apartment (normally new teachers have quite a bit of luggage, it was a bit pointless for me) and she took me up to her old/my new apartment (which we shared for her last two days here).
I dropped off my stuff and we went down to a small pub called Dakgage in the building next door where as soon as we walked in I was greeted by a large group of people who all somehow seemed to be expecting me. “You’re the new teacher!” Honestly, they were so delighted and so full of questions, it was over-whelming. It was like tripping and face-planting into a huge new group of slightly insane friends.
We were at the pub for a couple hours. I sampled Soju—oh god—and I made plans to meet up with a couple of people for a little exploring on Saturday. The group is widely varied (I still haven’t met everyone), but there’s a handful each of Americans, Canadians, and Brits, and a few Irish, Australians, and Koreans as well. The range of time people have been here is really wide as well—from 10+ years, to as little as one month.
The next morning (Friday, April 5th) I slept in a little bit while Max ran out to take care of some errands (she was leaving Korea the next morning), and then we she got back we left right away to go to work. The metro stop is less than 100-yards from our building, and it’s about 10-minutes on the metro and then a 10-minute walk to get to work.
I shadowed Max all day Friday, and she left a little early since it was her last day, so I shadowed another one of my fellow foreign teachers, Nathan (who is also from Wisconsin!), after that. After work the Albert (the third foreign teacher) and I went to meet Max and some people at another bar to celebrate her last night in Seoul.
It was a short night—Max had an early flight, and I was absolutely exhausted. The next morning Max left really early (around 5am), and then I slept for a few more hours. Then I got up to meet two of my new friends, Zoe and Steph (who are both English and hilarious), and we went and did a little bit of sight-seeing.
I’d love to tell you where we went, but I honestly have no idea what it was called. It took us almost an hour and multiple subway line changes to get there. It was quite a touristy area, and after we saw the… temple? Maybe. Anyway, after we saw what we saw, we had some Indian food, and then it started to rain so we headed back home to Banghwa (our neighborhood).
Part 3—My Apartment was Pretty Gross, But is Currently Less Gross
Sunday I literally spent the entire day cleaning. I made a trip to the super-market on the corner (it’s massive—three levels, all underground) to get some cleaning supplies and some basic groceries, and spent the whole day working. I rearranged the apartment, cleaned all the things and got unpacked. I watched Harry Potter while I worked. It was weirdly pleasant. It’s given me some small sense of control in this strange new world. Like no matter how bizarre and foreign this place seems to be me sometimes, it doesn’t really matter because I have this safe little nest here. It’s perfect. It’s mine.
Anyway, the place was in pretty rough shape when I got here. I know everyone’s not as fussy about it as I am, but I definitely got the sense that it was several people’s worth of dirty. Plus there’s a ton of stuff in here that’s been left behind by several people (men’s clothes and shoes, and old mattress, a gas mask, and 3D art print of a tiger—which I’ve since named Ferdinand and decided to keep) which really takes up a lot of room. I’m slowly migrating it all out.
I’m about 2/3 done getting the place cleaned and organized to my comfort, but will definitely post some pictures once I do.
Part 4—I Totally Think I’m Going to be OK at Teaching
Yesterday (Monday) I officially became a real teacher. Nathan, Albert and I got to work at 2pm, and then we have about an 90-minutes to prepare before the first class comes in. We don’t really have to do any lesson planning, we basically just pick up in the book where we left off the week before. It’s nice because it takes the pressure off as a new teacher, and we never have to take work home with us. The downside is I won’t get any practice lesson-planning, which will likely come up if/when I eventually want to go teach at a different school or in a different country. Oh well, I’ll worry about that later.
I taught four classes on Monday. They went pretty well. The students were nice (if a little high strung), but they burned through the material we had to cover very quickly. They’re obsessed with getting free time at the end of the lesson, so I need to have an arsenal of back-up activities in the future.
I started at kind of a weird time—for the next three weeks, I’ll teach the elementary students classes as usual, but the middle school students are in a study period. So during the time I would normally be teaching the middle school classes, I have to sit at my desk in the teachers office and Korean child after Korean child comes in, hands me a book, and then proceeds to recite bits of it to me and I tell them if it’s right or not. I have no idea what it’s for (we’re all so busy I haven’t had time to ask one of the Korean teachers), but the kids take it very seriously. Like pulling their hair out seriously. It’s the weirdest thing.
Today (Tuesday) was a little lighter, I only had two lessons—normally I’ll have five on Tuesdays—and they both went really well. We went through the material, and this time I had a game up my sleeve to play when we were done, and both classes got really into it. I forget what it’s called, but I just wrote words on the board and they had to get their classmate to say it. Kind of like Catchphrase. Anyway, I wrote “Pokemon” on the board, because kids here are still obsessed with it, and one little girl screamed, “The guy! He has balls!” and it took me like 5 whole minutes to get myself and then the rest of the class to pull ourselves together. So funny.
The kids really do seem lovely. They have a lot of energy which is new for me to deal with, but I honestly think I’m going to enjoy it. I am so far. I really like that the class sizes are small. The largest class I’ll have is 11 students (if they all show up, which is apparently not often). Most classes are around 4-6 students. Totally manageable.
In a normal week, I’ll teach 29 regular lessons and then I have one extra lesson scheduled on Fridays in case anyone needs a make up lesson, which will happen maybe a couple times a month. Not too bad.
I know, I know. Longest. Post. Ever.
Wow. I write my posts out in Microsoft Word before I post them (I’m a dork and I like it better than the WordPress text box), and I just want you to know that this post has just rolled over to page 7. This is far too long. If you made it this far, you deserve an award. Or perhaps a festive hat. You know, whatever.
That’s all for now. If you really need more, stop over at my new Oddities page to read about my random sightings so far, which include: Bunnies 4 Sale, Captain Sneezy-Pants, and Feline Guardians at the 7-11.
To my friends and family, I just want you to know that I’m good. Things are going well. Even when things were going wrong with my flight and my luggage, I was still weirdly cheerful and excited to just dive into this crazy adventure. I’m good, and it’s because I know I have you all back home cheering me on.
Love from Seoul.
P.S. Sorry for the lack of exciting pictures—I’m working on it!