Finding Comfort in Korea

Finding Comfort in Korea

by Erica Swenson, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Participant in Kangwon-Do, South Korea

With my first two weeks of moving to Korea behind me, I’ve taken a moment to reflect on how much has happened in such a short amount of time. This fast pace life is the quintessence of Korean culture. Only a few traits are essential in living a happy and successful life here: adaptation, assimilation, patience, and a “go with the flow” kind of attitude.

I’ve heard many stories from friends of mine here in the Republic of Korea, who are having a difficult time adjusting to their new lives and new culture.  I feel optimistic that things will turn around later this year when it’s not so “new.” Essentially, we are all kids again who need an adult, or in our case a co-teacher, to help us with regular day-to-day activities. My new co-teachers have even non-verbally explained how to shut the computer down properly, where to throw garbage, when to eat lunch, and even how to hold metal chopsticks the proper way. I still have not mastered the proper way, but everyone here seems to be amused by this particular shortcoming of mine.

Since arriving at Incheon-International Airport, it’s been “go, go, go” with EPIK orientation. The day we all moved to our placements the pace changed, but didn’t slow. Only now do I have time to sit and write about what’s been happening. EPIK really did an amazing job taking care of 600 GETs from all over the world and the amount of organization and money put into getting foreign teachers to this country is insane. I really had a fantastic time with them and I think all us GETs found comfort in that little English bubble.

I don’t want to say moving away from the comfort of that English bubble was difficult, but perhaps it was more bittersweet?  Perhaps a little more…lonely?  Many friends were lucky to be placed in a metropolitan city close to other foreigners.  Others, like me, were placed in a rural town in the mountains of Kangwon-Do.  The first night I arrived, all the teachers explained that the previous foreign teachers would either go to Seoul or another city on the weekends. They also informed me that I would be the only teacher living in town. My apartment is quite nice; the bottom half of a traditional Korean-style house.  I never considered I’d be living in that kind of housing here, but I actually find that I’m assimilating into the culture faster than ever.

The first night in my town happened to be the first day the Typhoon hit the peninsula. Needless to say, my first night was spent wide awake listening to the new sounds of the house with the windows and glass doors rattling. That was the first moment I felt truly alone, but as always, the storm passed and the next day was filled with sunshine, shopping, and applying for an Alien Registration Card. I’d like to share that during that first night I paced my apartment quite a few times. Everyone here was asleep and everyone back home in the States was also asleep. This loneliness and fear were starting to make me rethink my whole attitude about living here for a year. And it was the first night in my town!

But the most random thing was able to comfort me that night. The front yard of my apartment/house is a river.  Directly across the river are mountains. (Well actually, this town is surrounded by so many mountains one could start to feel claustrophobic!) Atop the mountain across my river is a little Korean style pavilion. Throughout the whole night there was a light shining down from the top of that mountain, keeping the pavilion illuminated for me to see. It felt odd to think that Korean building was what comforted me the most in Korea thus far.

At the main school I work at, if I look out the windows of any room, I can still see the pavilion. If I ever decide to get lost, the pavilion can act as my north star and guide me home. Sunflowers, surprisingly to me, grow abundantly here and I catch myself thinking of the Midwest when I see them.  Luckily, my driveway has two sunflower bushes on either side making my Korean home feel a lot more like, well, home.


8 thoughts on "Finding Comfort in Korea"

  1. kim fawkes says:

    Hi I enjoy reading about your exploits in Korea and how you’re adapting. Can you tell me if I need a degree to teach in Korea? I live in Australia an dont have a degree, just diplomas and associate diplomas plus certificates in various subjects, all of which enable me to work here but not in a professional teaching role as such. Thanks, cheers Kim

    1. Hi Kim! Thanks for reading the blog! I wasn’t sure if Erica would be able to respond, and I wanted to send you the link to our Teach in Korea web page with requirements to apply.

      1. kim fawkes says:

        Hi Thanks for returning my message. I was looking at your Teach in Georgia program. It is my undertstanding from what I read that volunteer teachers are paid 500 Lari per month from which one-fifth is paid to the host family.What is the going rate per month for foreign teachers who arent volunteers or do you only accept volunteer teachers? My problem is that I couldnt work for a long length of time and only be paid 500 Lari per month as that wouldnt even cover my expenses. Your comments are appreciated, cheers Kim

      2. Hi Kim, the teachers in Georgia receive a monthly stipend that is comparable to what the local teachers are paid. The contracts for Georgia are for a year, but we do have opportunities for shorter lengths of time depending on the start dates. Here is the link to the teacher terms to give you an idea.

        1. kim fawkes says:

          Hi Erica I have not seen anything mentioned on your information page but is there an age limit for working as an English teacher overseas? Im 56 and have been told by other recruiters that while they can accept people up to 60 that doesnt always apply, cheers Kim

          On Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 10:50 AM, wrote:

          > ** > Greenheart Travel commented: “Hi Kim, the teachers in Georgia receive a > monthly stipend that is comparable to what the local teachers are paid. The > contracts for Georgia are for a year, but we do have opportunities for > shorter lengths of time depending on the start dates. Here is the ” >

    2. Erica Swenson says:

      Hey there! My apologies for such a late response. Everyone here that I know has either a degree in English, Education, or has a TEFL certificate. I’ve never taught before this, but it’s not bad at all. People are amazing here. Also, some pretty nice Australians here that would welcome your arrival!


  2. Abby says:

    I live in a small town in Korea as well and can totally sympathize with the feeling of isolation. The foreign teachers before me explained they rarely stayed in town on the weekend, but sometimes I like to. It’s a comfortable pace once you get used to it, and find the local supermarket and Paris Baguette.

    1. Erica Swenson says:

      Hello Abby,

      It’s comforting to hear you’re in a similar position and have come to enjoy your town. Unfortunately, the nearest baguette is an hour away!

      So far I’ve traveled every weekend, but I’m looking forward to climbing some mountains around town soon.

      Take care!

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