Orientation: Skipping Dinner and Yellow Dust

We had a very full day of lectures with breaks only for meals. The lectures were great but we wrapped up another (pointless) Korean class at 8ish. I say pointless because we just talked about what kinds of drinks you can make with Korean alcohol. And slang – which would be good but is pointless. You have a crowd that can introduce themselves and use slang words? Seems inappropriate. I would’ve used the precious 3 days to learn how to 1) count, introduce, etc 2) order in a restaurant – critical skill here, and 3) buy things.

After almost 12 hours of lessons, we had to meet with our groups. Our lesson plans are due at 5 pm tomorrow and some people, it seems, only just learned about this. There are frantic groups sitting in the lounge outside of our door – should be a loud night. Our lesson plan is good but it’s based on a really shitty chapter. So we’re doing the best we can with a very horrible lesson. Not sure how to make any of it better – we’re anticipating a little bit of negative feedback on us when we’re just doing what we have to from the book.

The cool thing that happened today was we skipped dinner. Eating at the cafeteria isn’t amazing – it isn’t bad, but it’s not fantastic. But it’s free. But you have to deal with yelling, childlike behavior, and, since we’re so far into the orientation, cliques. There are some pretty severe cliques here – just like high school but with the rowdy behavior of a spring break. Yuck. Chris and I stockpiled orange juice, crackers and coffees so we wouldn’t have to deal with it so early in the morning. We ran out so we had to eat at breakfast this morning. Needless to say, by the time dinner rolled around, we wanted nothing to do with it and needed some alone time (8:30-5:30 completely surrounded by the craziness). So we decided to go get ramyun (ramen but the Korean word is more fun) from GS25 – our favorite convenience store. Since we know how to do it from last time, we got more complicated ramyuns that involve cooking the noodles, dumping all the water out, then mixing a packet of some kind of sauce  in. So it’s not a soup but a noodle dish. Much tastier. Chris got spicy noodles, and I decided to try spaghetti. Ah yeah, spaghetti! Both were actually really good.

There was the nice lady manning the cash register and a younger guy (her son?) in the back doing administrative work on a laptop. When we just started biting into our noodles the two began having a conversation about us. Across the entire store they’re just yelling “alkja;lhb;alhega;el WAYGOOK aldkjfalehlahe” Waygook means foreigner so we knew. This happens a lot, enough so that we’re used to it. But then a man in a suit showed up. He was buddies with them – he may have been the dad and this was a whole family that owned this particular GS25. Anyway, he showed up and started chatting to “Waygook this and Waygook that. Blah blah blah MIGUK [American] blah blah” The three of them were just surrounding us a little talking about us while we tried to eat noodles. They kept talking and said “Canada” which is Korean for, well, Canada. It’s like they were guessing where we were from? Chris and I are laughing a little because we definitely don’t understand them but we do know what their conversation is about. It kept going, so, finally, for fun, I turned around and said “Chonun Miguk Saram Imnida” aka “I am from the United States” They got quiet. No one expected any Korean out of us. “Miguk saram” the wife repeated. “America!” the man in the suit shouted.

But, critical error, now they think we speak Korean. It was worth the temporary shocker 🙂 They start chatting with us in Korean and we just nod and smile. I’m pretty sure he starts making fun of us for a bit because the wife covers her mouth and actually begins jumping up in down  – something was really funny. Well, they kept asking so many things in Korea that I offered the only other thing I could to the conversation. “Songsaenim” (teacher). “Ohhhhh you teachuhs!?” the man said.

The wife “Englusha Teacha?”

“Yes, nay, nay”

The guy actually knew some English and asked if we would be in Daejeon for a year, we said yes. He mercifully waved us away to enjoy the rest of our dinner.

When it was time to throw all the trash away, we asked for help. Like Germany, Korea sorts waste very specifically. So we just asked by pointing and shrugging. The guy actually took all our containers away and did it for us.

This is an incredibly significant encounter. Everyone was smily and happy. It wasn’t frustrating. Also the initiative to interrupt their conversation about us was something that we NEVER would’ve done in Germany. Korea is liberating. We felt the pressure to fit in in Germany. And even if we didn’t want to fit in there, we did. People would ask us for directions or shop keepers would get frustrated when we didn’t respond (how could they know we didn’t speak German?). So we adopted a German way, we dressed more German and acted more German. And it was fun. But it was a strict lifestyle. There was no room for mistakes or else our mask would be ripped off. In Korea, we’re white. We don’t have an automatic strike against us, but we’re never going to be accepted. Even if we were fluent in Korean and knew every little mannerism, we would not be invited into the inner circle. So Korea is liberating. We can try more and do more because we’re already wrong. What are you going to do? You can’t get any more wrong, you’re white, you’re waygook.


The only other news we have today is that today was severely Yellow Dusty.

DSC01543This picture is the sun about 5 days ago- before we knew this was yellow dust. We just thought the sun looked so cool. (how naive haha).

We didn’t take a picture today but trust us when we say we could look at the sun. Think about how bright the sun is. Okay, you’re thinking about blinding, hot light, and how you aren’t supposed to look at it? Okay, now put all the yellow dust in front of that sun – to the point that you could look at it without going blind, hurting your eyes, anything. Yellowish, reddish, orangish sun.

For some reason we can’t get alerts via our computer. They send alerts to phones, though. And, of course we don’t have those. But we could tell it was muggy, foggy looking. I pointed it out on the way to breakfast this morning, but the optimist in me said, oh thats just mist. It’s morning.

Then in our last class, the Koreans demanded to keep the window open. Many of us were sniffling and I could feel it in my chest. It didn’t take any brains to look out and see the haze. I tried to google what the levels were but couldn’t find anything. I finally asked a Korean who said “oh yes, that’s from China. It’s very very bad here in Daejeon because it’s more western. Closer to China. I had two alerts on my phone about it this morning”

Two alerts? No wonder. The damage is already done from the window being open but when we went to dinner, both of us wore our masks (I’ve had my mask since Seoul, since we walk so much I was wearing it when we were walking around so much during rush hour traffic – Chris bought his mask yesterday). Now I’m happy to have it for the impending yellow dust season.

Tomorrow is our last day of lectures then we have our presentation on Thursday – Thursday is an insanely important day because that’s the day we find out our placement within Daejeon!


It’s also worth noting to all our readers at home who probably don’t follow Korean news: an update on things that are happening or are interesting in our neck of the woods.

1) Yuna Kim was cheated out of a gold. Look it up, people are calling it the “Skategate”

2) The North-South family reunions went very well and were incredibly emotional to watch on the news. Google these, they’re amazing.

3) The Olympic flag is now in South Korea (or is about to be) and will wait until the Pyongchang olympics in 2018.

4) The yearly joint Korean-US military drills have started. We actually saw the Korean military drilling when we took our field trip yesterday. So, if, at any time, North Korea starts threatening us: this is normal. It happens every March/April when the drills happen.


5) The movie “Frozen” is topping South Korean charts. Which no one expected. It’s almost passing Avatar in terms of popularity and box office charts. Still haven’t seen it.


4 thoughts on “Orientation: Skipping Dinner and Yellow Dust”

  1. Felt the same about orientation, the noise, the rudeness and cliques. We also had people practicing outside our room at midnight and I politely told them we were trying to sleep and they ignored usㅋㅋ. People in groups Ewww. I was glad to leave and get into ‘the real world’ 😉

    1. Good to know someone else felt the same way about orientation. Everyone is so surprised when we say we don’t like it. A lecturer today even said “you aren’t here for lectures, you’re here for email addresses and facebook contacts.” Yuck. People are getting really on edge now too with the stress of the lesson plans. If this was too much longer I think there might be a fistfight or something. There was a shouting match in the halls last night well after midnight *rolls eyes*

  2. I’ll be in Korea next spring through the EPIK program and am of course nervous and excited. Your posts are providing so much awesome insight about the Orientation experience.

    “Even if we were fluent in Korean and knew every little mannerism, we would not be invited into the inner circle. So Korea is liberating. We can try more and do more because we’re already wrong. What are you going to do? You can’t get any more wrong, you’re white, you’re waygook.”

    This is so true and it actually really spoke to me…it’s also encouraging me to be brave in practicing my Korean when I arrive!

    1. Thanks so much for reading and for the nice comment!

      We spent a year in Germany and the whole time we were way too focused on fitting in, not making any mistakes and not being embarrassed. It was not fun and it was a terrible way to live.

      We’ve tried to be more open here. It’s not *always* the case, there are times, 9 months in where we wish we could fit in a little more. But for the most part it is easy to let it go and be open to more things.

      Best of luck to you in Korea, do you know where you’re going yet?

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