Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Breaking of the Fellowship.

Today the whittling down of our group and the isolation of its members began in earnest. There were ~340 hires at the orientation, all occupying two dorms at the university. We were divided into cliques but we still ate together, mingled in hallways and on streets and steps, and slept in dorm rooms with roommates.

After today’s lunch we all boarded buses bound for our respective education districts. There were 14 buses total, carrying around 20 people on average; the group got a whole lot smaller in an instant. Most people were sharing buses with strangers as well… but at least these were English-speaking strangers sharing a common experience.

At the district office we were met by our head co-teachers, who had come to transport us to our schools. The group of 20 friendly faces we spent 1-2 hours on a bus with all disappeared in a few minutes.  At the end of the day each of us would sleep alone in a strange place.

So how was my personal experience? I had no friends on the bus, only acquaintances. I spent the last bit of the ride wondering what sort of person my new boss would be. Probably a woman, but how old? What level of English ability would she have? Would she be friendly, indifferent, hostile? There was no way to know.

When we arrived at the education office I spent a solid 10 minutes assisting in the unloading of luggage as the rest of the passengers disembarked into the waiting crowd of Korean teachers. Our escort, a Korean EPIK employee, had requested the assistance of the bus’s “wonderful males” in this task. She may as well have called my name!

The bus emptied of material wealth, I stepped off with my own luggage and was quickly singled out by a middle-aged woman. She said “[My name]. I’m [indecipherable] from [my school]. Let’s go.” And with that she turned around and we went. I seemed to be saddled with an unfriendly head co-teacher with basic English fluency.

We went to my new workplace, where we spent about an hour and a half. I was assigned a desk in one of the teachers’ rooms and shown my classroom. One of the orientation lecturers advised us all to pick our battles with the school administration carefully, but to be sure to fight to secure a classroom. I'm glad I got one for free.

I was introduced to teachers, administration personnel, and a vice principal, none of whose names I can remember and few of whom spoke a word of English. I smiled and bowed. I met a second co-teacher whose English was fluent (gods be praised) and was told there are something like 5 more I will meet at an indefinite point in the near future.

I was next taken to my apartment, an officetel with loft. This is actually the sort of thing I was hoping for. Sadly, the previous teacher is evidently not a clean man. I was told that staff from the school had spent a lot of time cleaning the place, and it’s sort of vaguely cleanish now but I would hate to see what it was like before they went over it. He also had a pet dog, the stench of which was so strong the cleaning crew left all the windows open.

My head co-teacher explained my subway commute and some other things to me, then finally remarked that she should “return to [her] boys.” At last I understood why she was so curt: all the time she was spending with me was her personal time. I had not thought of this. I quickly facilitated her polite departure.

Then I rode the subway. I wanted a dry run of the morning commute because I’d never before ridden a subway. It went well. I purchased a subway card, topped it up at a machine, rode to the station nearest my school and back again, and bought bananas from a fruit store in my home station (yes, they sell fruit underground here). Good for me. My preparation complete, I went across the street from my building and ate dolsot bibimbap at a restaurant where no one speaks English.

And then I slept alone in a strange place.

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