A year ago last spring I was browsing the MU International Center website and stumbled upon the MU Asian Affairs Center. I was looking for ways to get more involved with the international community on campus and ended up finding information about teaching English at a summer camp in South Korea. The timing wasn’t right last summer but I decided to apply for it this year. I went through the application process, did a skype interview from Spain, and a week later was accepted into the program. So here I am for 4 weeks with 30 people from Mizzou and about 40 people from Portland State University.

I’ll be the first to admit South Korea was not high on my priority list for travel destinations. I’ve met a lot of South Koreans through the Language Partners program on campus but I never thought South Korea would be a place I would find myself. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of basically a free trip though. I’m trying to keep myself totally open to the culture and experience and use what I’ve learned in other cross cultural situations to help me out.

Of course the journey here has been half the fun…37 hours in total. I left Columbia at 2am, arrived in St Louis, our flight to Denver left at 6:15 am, short layover before the flight to LA, and then the 12 hours to Seoul. Arriving in Seoul felt so weird. We were all dazed and tired and out of it. The minute we walked outside, we could feel the humidity and thickness in the air. Our flight from LA landed about 6pm and we left for Mokpo about 8. I barely got to see the city lights of Seoul before I fell asleep. The charter bus was so weird, there were weird rainbow lights along the top and all the seats were like recliners with a little pillow and blanket. We drove about an hour before they woke everyone up from a travel-induced sleep. We were at this little truck stop type restaurant in god-knows-where Korea for dinner. I definitely did not feel like eating, especially trying to manage chopsticks with unrecognizable food. We were all at crowded tables trying to figure out what we were eating. It was probably 80 degrees inside. I felt very Anthony Bourdain although I’m sure he’s handier with chopsticks considering I flicked a piece of fish trying to get it to my mouth. Thank god we weren’t expected to use proper Korean table manners, I felt like a bit of a disaster.

We arrived at Mokpo International Football Center about 1am. Mokpo is about 3 or 4 hours south of Seoul on the western coast. Our accommodations are very nice, internet, a/c, nice bathrooms…I’m trying not to get used to it. We’re here this week for orientation before we split up into the 5 different camps.

View from the Balcony, Mokpo International Football Center

My Room

Yesterday we did a tour of Mokpo. It was cool to get out, it felt like I was finally in South Korea. I noticed very quickly how much writing there is in a city and the fact that I couldn’t decipher any of it. I really want to learn the Korean alphabet, I just need to put in a bit of effort. I would only be able to read it though, I would have no idea how to translate it. In Mokpo we toured a few museums and walked up to a temple. The view was great. Our guide led us in a little dance that, if I understood right, used to be done by the Korean army in the same area during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The communication is definitely hard at times, even with a translator.


The Largest Bell in S Korea…I think

Today was the first day of orientation, we were assigned camps and the lessons we’ll be teaching for each one. I was assigned Wando and met the other Americans who I’ll be teaching with. Last year, the Americans were quarantined with swine flu for the first 2 of the 4 weeks at Wando so I’ve heard lots of horror stories. I’m pretty open-minded about it though and everyone in my group seems nice. For the elementary camp, I was assigned to teach the clothing unit and for middle school, I was assigned directions. I haven’t looked at the lesson plan yet but hopefully I can make it fun for the kids.

We also had a little introduction to Korean folk music today. We learned a song called Arirang, one of the most popular songs of South Korea. The lady teaching us was very cute in her hanbok. She had a man with her playing the flute and drum. We tried to learn this song and the dance that goes with it for probably 2 hours. I really liked it by the end. She said arirang doesn’t have a direct translation into modern Korean but it represents hope and beauty. She talked about the divide between North and South Korea but noted that every Korean knows arirang and it is a way to bring Koreans together. She gave us a sheet with the words and music and encouraged us to sing it with our kids. She said they will be so impressed that we know it.

Learning Arirang

My Korean-American roommate is helping me learn the food I’m eating so I’m going to start documenting. Maybe that’ll be my next post.