Following the lead of some of my friends who have written posts about why they are leaving I will try to sum up why chose to renew my contract with EPIK and Stay in Korea.
365 days of Korea
1. I Enjoy a Challenge.
Nearly everyday poses a challenge of some sorts. some days it is simply waking up and or dragging my self out of bed. Other days it is asking the 35mm equivalent of a 90mm lens mounted on a medium format camera in a language in which your proficiency is akin to that of a 2 year old. You get good at gestures, sounds, drawing quick sketches and embracing the awkward moment when you have no other way to convey your meaning and the other person still cant understand; you shrug your shoulders and give the old “gamsahamnida” and walk out. This could be simple things from what bus to take to finding a certain cut of meat for a special dish (I make an annual ropa vieja dinner.)
2. The Kids
All Kids are monsters though some fall on the G rating and others around the R rating. When I taught in the USA my kids weren’t extremely bad. I did have one kid throw wadded up paper at me and another kid salute, “Hail Hitler”. Apart from a few deviants it wasn’t too bad.
Then I went to Spain. Those kids made me want to invest in rope, chains, glue, gags, a taser, a flight home. If it weren’t for the amazing life style outside of school (and a few students who were great) I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did.
And now here I am in Korea. There is one kid who constantly chews up paper and then spits it all over his desk, when he is actually at his desk. Most of the time he just roams around the room. The strange thing is he actually did better than the majority of his peers on his last test despite hardly ever doing any work. When I first met him I thought there may have been something cognitively wrong…
What I am saying is that as a teacher the kids in Korea have similar problems as anywhere however it is amazing to have kids yell, “Hi, teacher Kenny” from 100 yards across the playground, even if it is at 8am and the last thing you are ready for is a heard of children. They are each unique, funny and interesting, even if I still can’t remember all the Su-Min’s, Min-su’s, Su-Bin’s, Dae-Bin’s, and Ye-rin’s. I love the chance I have to be the first foreign contact they may have ever had.
3. The Food.
I actually feel Just so-so about the food in general. There are too many cheap ingredients, the meats are fatty and the flavors rely too much on Korean pepper paste. There are a few dishes I really enjoy when eating out of the house.
The top of the list is the Chinese lamb skewer place that Ji and I go to once every month to celebrate our first date; it has meaning and is delicious. It is so good I don’t know what I would do without it. I like it so much I have considered opening a restaurant/food cart/food truck to introduce this to the masses back home when the day comes.
My very first meal in Seoul was bulgogi pokum udon, or beef fried udon noodles. I went down stairs from my apartment. I couldn’t read Korean so I just picked the 7th item on the menu and I was served this plate of deliciousness. The owner was really nice and tried his hardest to speak to me in Enlish which helped ease the sudden loneliness that had been hanging around all that afternoon. I have never tried anything like this back home and I would miss it for sure.
Grocery shopping in Korea could cause me to lose my hair. There are people shouting over a loud speaker offering the daily sales and people like ants disregarding buggies and other bodies. But the one great thing is the secret that I have discovered; late night shopping around closing time. Not only are the crowds reduced but there are crazy sales sometimes. I have been eating meat and seafood for half price, some things that I could never afford to eat back home if I were making this same salary.
Health insurance. I had a conversation a while back with a good friend who moved home shortly after I left Spain. if you are from the USA I don’t think this needs further explanation. If you are from somewhere that offers national healthcare, Screw off, I don’t wanna talk to you.
Here in Korea I contribute half of my medical insurance, roughly 50 bucks a month. My employer pays the rest. When I worked in the USA, my school district offered an even better deal, 100 percent covered but that was to cover up the low salary. In Spain I just walked into the hospital like it was a bar I was the bar tender. I practically went to the doctor just because I could, it was free. I didn’t sign not even one document; this type of service is under attack and the Spanish medical care system will soon fall to the predatory style medical treatment we see in the USA.
If I go home and don’t wanna teach, looks like I am going to be paying out of pocket unless I can find another generous employer, so…
5. Public Transit
Even before leaving the USA I knew that the majority of the country had a serious problem with transportation. I was always anxious, checking mirrors for police ( I drive well and cautiously but they gotta write tickets, that’s their job). It took forever to cross town and limited my freedom to go out and have a few beers with friends (at least responsibly).
Seoul is huge and can take equally as long to cross but on public transit I can sit, read something, take a nap all while enjoying dirt cheap transportation. I pay 50 bucks a month. for bus and metro combined. I have no auto insurance, no gas bill, no oil changes to buy, no tires to replace. I get on and I go.
Additionally, there are some bike trails and lanes, though I wouldn’t say they are excellent but they are far better than what is available in my neighborhood back home. And between my house and metro stops and final destinations I walk. feet to the ground I use my own strength to move about and it feels great, most days.
6. Someone Special
The USA has over one hundred classes of visa; after careful review not one applies to our current situation and don’t nobody got money to hire a lawyer. So the next best thing is? You guessed it; staying here until one of those visa holes opens up.
I anticipate being here for at least a little longer. In the mean time I will fight the monotony, the normalcy that the culture tried to push on me, the daily frustrations. I will hone my photography and spread the word about letterboxing.