Monday was a looooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggg day. I officially said goodbye to the people of the past week and was shuffled onto a bus. Three hours and one rest stop later I finally arrived……To the half way point. The way we reached our final destination was everyone in the same province was loaded onto a bus and deposited at the office of education for that province. This is where we finally arrived. From here I was loaded into the car of my new co-teacher. All throughout orientation we had been told about these fabled co-teachers. How they’ll take care of us, take us shopping, make sure we’re registered aliens, help us set up our bank accounts, add us to phone plans, answer any and all questions……Completely free of charge. These individuals do not see a single extra penny for the amount of effort they put out for us. In my opinion they have achieved saint status. It takes a rare personality to be able to sit in a government office with a complete stranger and have to cycle through the ticket line twice because the first official wouldn’t take a piece of paper that hadn’t been signed in the right spot. (Jerk) and not lose their temper. Then proceed to follow a clueless American as she made five laps around the grocery store and bought a grand total of five items. (This was after hauling my luggage around without complaint.) Monday was long but it would have been much worse without my Co-teacher. So special thanks to Choi Min Jae. I finally made it to my apartment. All my errands for the day are finished. All that’s left is to unpack and anticipate the next day. Or so I thought. When we were children our parents taught us not to talk to strangers or climb into the vehicles of people offering candy or rides. Stranger danger and all that jazz. Those basic safety rules dove screaming out of the window. Not even twenty minutes after I arrived in my new home I get a knock at the door. One of the local teachers was inviting me to join a group of fellow foreign teachers out to dinner in an hour and a half. My first thought: Go away and leave me the flying French toast alone. Second thought: You should go, it’ll be a valuable opportunity to connect with others in your community. Sadly it was the third thought that decided me: If they invited me out that means someone else is buying. My Baptist upbringing has taught me to never turn down free food. So I unpacked and settled into my new home and braced myself for social impact. I was not disappointed. My first encounter with this dinner group is actually in the hallway of my building. Turns out there is a guy living directly across from me. Who knew? The rest of the crew meets us at the bottom and we walk to the restaurant. A group of six total. We arrive…………and find three more people waiting for us. Wow. Within five minutes of arriving it became glaringly apparent that I inadvertently became a part of an extremely tight knit community. Not only was dinner paid for (Yeeeeessssssssss) They also made it a point to physically show us the bus terminal, make sure that somebody was around to assist us on our first morning, exchange contact information, and barrage us newbies with a wealth of information. Apartments were visited, gifts were exchanged; we all went home and that was the end of it. Not. The next day as I stepped off the bus and bought myself a celebratory coke for surviving my first day… I hear my name. ARIELLE!!! Lord?!?!?! (it was not the physical manifestation of God) The person who bought my dinner the night before was outside of the terminal in his van. I still don’t know if it was coincidence or if he was watching for the newbies but long story short he took myself and another girl shopping around town for all the basics we didn’t realize we needed. Another touching display of camaraderie. (it wasn’t nearly as creepy as it sounds. This guy and wife has lived here for seven years ish and are expecting their first child any week now. A genuinely nice couple.) Just last night an impromptu cleaning party happened at the grottier apartment of one of my fellow newbies. BYOCS style. (bring your own cleaning supplies.) I didn’t realize how comforting it would be to have a community available like that. We are literally a group of strangers from across the group that have banded together for the sole purpose of not being alone. It’s kinda weird but we make it work.
I landed in South Korea last Sunday. I have now spent a full week in the country.... but not really because my fellow expats and I all had to attend a nine day orientation. This means that I have spent the last week surrounded by every conceivable flavor of English imaginable. I like to think of this as a precursor to the actual culture shock that is heading my way. Nothing is what is seems. A robot in South Africa is not R2D2 but is in fact, a traffic light. The Irish will fight you if you call a car park a parking lot. Tic tac toe is noughts and crosses and the rules of bingo are NOT standardized across the globe. A girl and I collided on the stair case because we were obeying the road laws of our own countries. A Canadian told me I was such a good sport because I handled some blatant American bashing with "class". Finally a British woman told me that a trump is a fart. (She snickered the entire time.) So many differences and cultures yet we were all drawn to Korea. 239 guest English teachers= 239 different reasons for being there. I wanted some independent lady time. I wanted to feel freedom. I want to explore more. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone. 239 personalities have as of today signed contracts (a grand total of six times) to become stewards of education for Korea's youth. For good or ill. During a conversation today I made the comment that I don't actually like people. Which immediately prompted the question "If you don't like people why did you become a teacher?" I have often asked God this question myself. Anyone who knows me is fully aware that my favorite place is anywhere the people aren't. Put plainly I teach because this is where God put me. I have an unusual presence. It's not out of the ordinary for strangers to stop me in the store just so they can confess their entire life. Students who never said three words the entire year will sit next to me and tell me about their dismal home lives. I've been held up for nearly an hour by an elderly lady I delivered flowers to simply because she was lonely and I was the first person she saw that day. (She goosed Ronald Reagan by the way) For one reason or another broken people are drawn to me. God's not stupid. He knows that I'm most effective ministering to these people so He simply throws me in a target rich environment and then gives me the tools I need most to succeed. The last sermon I heard in the states on the topic of gifts. Romans 12:1-8 speaks of how we followers of Christ; being one part of the Body have different gifts given to us. " Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness." I teach because this is the assignment given to me. I didn't come to Korea for freedom or independent lady time. I teach because this is my God given burden and I embrace every moment of it. 239 different reasons for teaching English in Korea and this is mine.
The moment I announced my intentions to move to South Korea I received several questions. Enough that I actually have a list of frequently asked questions. They are as follows WHY??? Or more specifically what made you decide to do that? While I was in the states I gave a fairly flippant answer because I knew that not many people would understand my main motivation. To answer this question honestly I have to go back in time a little bit to my final semester in college. Every college student faces this conundrum; what next? That was the question I was pondering. At the time I had a short term answer. My job was to go back home and rebuild the youth group of my home church. I already had plans for a summer camp in motion and I was ready and willing. However I also knew that this was not a permanent assignment. I vividly remember sitting in my shoe box of an apartment in Texas looking up at God and saying I'll do this for as long as humanly possible but when it's time for me to bow out you need to make it painfully obvious. I continued making the youth group my number one priority for nearly two years. I firmly believe that this particular ministry was blessed because it took off and prospered far beyond what my abilities alone could achieve. I loved each and every one of the students that came my way and my only regret is that I wish I could have done more. (isn't that always the case?) All good things come to an end though and soon enough it became apparent that I was supposed to be elsewhere. The question what next? plagued me for months. I knew that was supposed to be getting ready for something new but I also knew that God was telling me to be patient, everything in his time. I hate waiting. It's like a vague itch. I can feel it but I don't know where exactly to scratch. God finally handed me a back scratcher at the end of the year. At the rehearsal dinner for my best friend from college I met up with another friend who had been teaching in Seoul for three years. One conversation and a bath later (bath time is the best time to contemplate life choices, no one can deny this.) I had my answer. South Korea was my next destination. I can't adequately describe the peace that came from this conclusion. (it was a conclusion not a decision because I did not make the final call) which leads to my next FAQ Are you scared/nervous? No. Not even a little bit. I was ecstatic. After months of chomping at the bit I finally had a destination and it was an exciting one. Furthermore I was being sent on the highest calling which comes with premium insurance. How could I possibly be scared? If anything my confidence and determination grew with every application, interview and piece of paperwork. You know God is working with you when even the government is cooperating. From the moment I submitted my application to when I finally stepped off the plane in Busan God has been holding my hand every step of the way. So no. I'm not scared."Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." 14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings." Philippians 2:12-14.
This next question amused and exasperated me at the same time. What do your parents think? My honest answer is this: does it matter what they think? I love my parents and I have the utmost respect for them. This past year has been extremely difficult for my family for different reasons and if they had told me that they would rather I didn't go I wouldn't have blamed them. I also wouldn't have listened. " And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.21 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead." Matthew 8:20-22 Jesus called for his disciples to leave their families and follow him. Call it an occupational hazard. I knew where I was supposed to be and go. My parents knew this as well. They not only respected my call but they encouraged me every step of the way. They didn't show me the latest news clip from North Korea. When I found out my province they had google pulled up in seconds. I've spoken to other teachers in my orientation class who's family dogged them every step of the way. This wasn't the case for me and my gratitude knows no bounds. This last question always cracked me up because literally everyone asked this. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, my boss, coworkers, students, hair stylist, the lady at Walgreens, friends I haven't spoken to in years calling to ask..... Are you gonna get yourself a hot Korean man? Answer: How am I supposed to know?????? Relationships confuse me at the best of times when there is no language barrier. This is something that honestly bewilders me. I've been with my fellow expats for a week and already I see others hooking up with each other. How on earth do you decide in the span of a week that this person is worth dating? How did these people figure out that the other party was interested? (is there some secret code??) I think I accidentally sent mixed signals to one of the national students here at the college by smiling on the staircase. I literally smile at anyone walking past so I can avoid speaking without appearing to be rude. I'm not flirting, I'm avoiding social interaction. It's not an invitation to glance back and try to approach. Sorry buddy, I didn't mean it. I honestly think the only way I'll have a relationship is if someone somehow manages to be massively persistent without being irritating. I'll let you know if this miracle occurs.