Lesson number one about Korea seems to be “be pushy”.
I am unspeakably grateful for the other foreign teachers at my school, who double up as my neighbours. They’ve been there and done it all before, and so they’re able to provide a sort of cultural buffer zone – without which I would no doubt be feeling utterly lost.
My boss – the director of the school, a lady called Jennifer – is really nice. She took me for a wander around the area today before bringing me to the school to introduce me to everyone. But my anxious attempts to get information about my schedule, the school syllabus, the typical school day, and all the other stuff I really would like to be aware of, were invariably met with polite (and possibly unintentional) dismissal. There was an implied “you’ll figure it out as you go along”, which doesn’t really sit well with me, as I like to have new things explained to me so that I can be confident that I’m doing everything right.
Fortunately, one of my aforementioned cultural buffers, Clare, wandered into the office and read the frustrated expression on my face. She whisked me off for a proper tour, classes being over for the day, and gave me the direct answers to questions that I was already craving by this point. It’s a Korean thing, agreed Steve, the teacher I’m replacing, when we stopped by his (my!) classroom. You need to be firm, be assertive, make demands, and keep insisting on getting what you want. Clare nodded. Yeah… or you won’t, basically! she added.
Oh dear. I am not that sort of person at all, and I suspect that I’m going to have to adapt quite considerably to get along here. According to Clare, she was just as reserved and naïve as me when she arrived. After a few months, you learn to become much more outspoken, she assured me. This can only be a good thing.
Anyway, it was a whirlwind of an introductory day, and I have taken in vast volumes of information about school, the city, the culture, the area, the apartments. I will be surprised if I’ve absorbed more than 10% of it. Alex, a downstairs neighbour, took me downtown on the subway, and from my brief tour Daejeon certainly seems like a fun-filled city. The neon-lit, brightly coloured signs mean nothing to me, the words I hear spoken around me are incomprehensible, and everything is completely, utterly, vastly different from what I’m used to. I love it. The feeling of being a stranger in a new city was always one of my favourite aspects of travelling around Europe, but I always blended in to some extent. Standing on the rush hour tube tonight, I whispered to Alex, I feel really foreign! As he has darker skin than me, I was the only person out of hundreds who really stood out as a foreigner. I never realised how pale I was until today! What was normal at home is conspicuous here. I was conscious of people looking at me with great interest, wondering what this milky-pale creature was doing in their midst.
I am Teacha! I wanted to exclaim proudly in reply to their glances. Because, from Monday, that shall be my name.