Greetings from South Korea! Here’s a re-cap of my first 11 days here:
Tuesday, July 13: Arrived in Seoul and settled into my dorm room at the Yonsei University International Campus, about 1 hour outside of Seoul.
Wednesday, July 14: Went into Seoul to meet my coworkers and had orientation for the summer program we’ll all be teaching in. It’s a college prep/leadership program for gifted international high school students (mainly Koreans). I then went with a couple other newcomer teachers to visit one of the Joseon Dynasty palaces: Gyeongbokgung. Its name means The Palace of Shining Happiness – isn’t that great?
Thursday, July 15: More orientation, this time on the remote International Campus, my home for the next month.
Friday, July 16: Took the subway for about 2 hours into Seoul with my colleague Carolle, a Korean-American. While she knows Seoul as much as I do (which is to say, not at all), she DOES know Korean and is therefore a huge help in communicating with locals, ordering food, reading signs, and asking directions. Since it was raining all day, we went to the Seoul Museum of Art, which happened to be having a Rodin (my fave!) exhibit. We then wandered Seoul’s many underground shopping arcades until dinner time, and finally rode the subway back 90 minutes to our dorm.
Saturday, July 17: Carolle and I took the subway into Seoul again, biding our time at a coffee shop until lunch. We then met my friend Heather, who lives and teachers in Seoul, for lunch and a visit to the War Memorial and Museum. I didn’t know much about the Korean War, so this museum was really interesting. Especially when I could get Heather’s (and her Korean friend Judy’s) perspectives on the current relationship South Korea has with North Korea. Fascinating. Carolle and I then wandered around the sprawling outdoor Namdaemun market, taking in the sights and sounds and tastes. I particularly enjoyed the pork-filled steamed buns. Delectable!
Sunday, July 18: Carolle and I rode the subway in to Insadong, a pedestrian mall in northern Seoul known for its many arts and crafts shops. While heavily touristed, I really enjoyed this area. We had a massive lunch spread that allowed us to sample many typical Korean dishes including various stews, a savory scallion pancake, baked egg, pork-filled lettuce wraps, and several kimchi (fermented vegetable) dishes. Later we walked to Jogyesa, a nearby Buddhist temple. We spent the evening wandering through two parks in the neighborhood, one of which was full of elderly men playing Korean chess and some other tiled board game. I love stumbling into slice-of-life moments like that.
Monday, July 19 – Friday, July 23: I was busy, busy, busy teaching in the leadership program. My main teaching responsibility is Advanced Writing, where I work with high school juniors to help them write college admission essays. I also lead some seminars where the kiddos work through problem-solving global issues. And my group of kids for the first week was impressively smart. They were discussing things like desertification and economically viable alternatives to child labor. I know, right?! I had been a little nervous about working with high schoolers since I’ve always taught adults, but these kids have been great. When one of the groups started getting off-track in their discussion, I overheard a student say “Come on guys, let’s not disappoint Stephanie.” With students like that, I don’t really mind being “on the clock” from 8am to 8pm during the week. I’ll get a new group of students each of the next 3 weeks, and I hope they are all as bright, motivated, and fun as this first group was.