Since orientation ended the night before, the only thing left to do was leave. Countless busses lined up and would leave based on who had the longest travel times – so the poor Jeju bastards left pretty early. Since we are already in Daejeon, we didn’t have to do anything until 8:50.
The night before we were required to leave our bags in a communal room – just a huge building full of 300 peoples’ 2-4 bags.
Yeah, that’s a lot of bags.
We left them overnight and just hoped no one would steal anything. Korea is awfully safe but Westerners are notorious asses so we zip-tied ours shut. At 8:50 we pulled all 5 bags across the parking lot. Incredibly enthusiastic bus drivers ran up to us, took our bags and then ran-walk them to a large truck. Leaving nothing for us to do but shout “Kamsahapnida!” after them.
We had to do the typical Korean picture taking 8 or 9 times in front of the bus, next to the bus, etc. Then we finally got on the bus and were on our way to the Daejeon Metropolitan Office of Education (DMOE) Offices. We arrived within 25 minutes and had to move all of our luggage into a science convention room and/or hallway.
Finally we all walked up a dark stair well, “here we go” someone said. We had expected to just find coteachers up there, ready to snatch us up. People stood up a little straighter, ties and blouses were straightened. But no, we had to do a rehearsal.
A rehearsal? – No one knew what that meant. What are we rehearsing?
I had read in many blogs that the co-teacher meet up can often be just a giant name calling, you pull all your bags over to your coteacher’s car and then you’re off. The DMOE does things differently. When they handed out placements they gave us a booklet, and a map of schools. They actually really have their you-know-what-together.
For the co-teacher meeting, they didn’t want it to be in a parking lot, so we were in an auditorium with a nice banner printed out that was welcoming us. We walked in two lines into the auditorium, the elementary school teachers (23 people) lined up first. When your name was called, you stepped forward and bowed. Then when the co-teachers were here, one would stand up and come take you back to their seat.
We had to rehearse this twice (without co-teachers). We were released and the DMOE had a few beverages laid out for us. We stood on a balcony looking over the front doors. This was a huge mistake to put us here, because every Korean that walked through the doors was faced with 40+ waegooken just staring down at them, sizing them up. A few women actually shrieked when they saw us and then covered their faces until they were out of our lines of sight.
We sized every person up – that security guard? Could he be my co-teacher? How about that administrative woman? My co-teacher? She doesn’t look very friendly.
The co-teachers filed in and finally. FINALLY. FINALLY. It was our time.
The contracts were signed, we had the job. But the co-teacher meeting, that was huge. This person could change your life more than your placement. A good co-teacher can make or break someones year. It has sent people home in the past.
We all filed into the auditorium. The 23 elementary teachers did their thing – the schools’ name was called. Nervous co-teachers jumped up to go grab their waegooks. The waegook would nervously bow – some people are really bad at bowing (they tried to look up the whole time, trying to see their co teacher) but the co-teachers seemed pleased by it. We all watched as each co-teacher came up, all shook hands. EPIK had tried to condition us out of hand-shaking a little but the co-teachers have worked with, or are familiar with Western culture. Everyone shook hands then went back to their seats next to the co-teacher. Some were whispering in each other’s ears, introducing themselves. Everyone looked excited.
The secondary teachers finally got to line up in front of the auditorium. The secondary school side of co-teachers stared back and it didn’t look so good. They were nervous but they looked upset almost. The first person bowed and was taken back. Then the next, and the next. Chris was ahead of me, and suddenly it was his turn. He bowed but I stared at his co-teacher, she looked nice enough. Then it was my turn. And, suddenly. A man. I think one of the only male teachers in the room. We briefly shook hands and he lead me to my seat next to him.
In front of me, I could see Chris and his co-teacher whispering to each other while we were being lectured. My coteacher politely listened. Hmmm. Finally we were released. Our coteachers met with each other and decided who would get what role – we would each go to our respective schools and then meet up at the apartment. My coteacher, Andrew, would take Chris and I both out to apply for our ARC cards (we’ve told many of you about these cards, Alien Registration Cards for ID, internet, phones, bank accounts, etc).
We get all our many many bags loaded up into the two tiny Asian cars and we’re off. We head to school for the big principal meeting. Andrew leads me into the school into multiple rooms to get paperwork and to meet with another new teacher (an English teacher). We meet the principal, I don’t shake his hand or bow because I’m too busy getting ushered into the door and into a seat. I don’t think this is good. But he’s really excited about chatting with the new English teacher in Korean. He finally asks Andrew about me: “miguk” he says – “she’s from America” is what he’s answering.
Then they all start trying to sound out my name. My name is almost impossible to pronounce anywhere in the world, in America because the spelling is different. In Germany – which is really strange because the name is relatively Germanic. And of course, Korea. Which, when people look at it, they see nothing but unpronounceable vowels so they panic. I’ve taken to try to just say K-T. Like the letters. KT is a big university in the Daejeon area so this works pretty well.
The vice principal wasn’t there that day so we skipped her. Andrew then lead me upstairs to see the English classroom and the English offices (it’s one room of desks but it’s also the teacher’s lounge area for the teachers on this floor – that’s at least what I gather). He tells me to meet in the office at 8:25 on Monday.
We then drive to the apartments. Another big moment of truth. Some EPIKers in the past have actually gone home because of crappy apartments. They associate the crap apartment with the school not valuing them. And if this a true correlation, our schools must love us.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We find a parking lot and try to get into the doors with a pass code. Nothing happens. We have to go meet a realtor and make final signatures and such. I get to write my name in Korean – everyone is impressed. It’s 캐이티 if anyone was wondering. So I kindergarten-print my name in hangul on my lease. Or something. I didn’t actually know what I was signing. We get keys and the landlord leads us up. She opens the door and – surprise, Chris and his coteacher are already standing in there. Andrew and the realtor are just standing in the door and I’m frantically trying to look around them. I just want to see the apartment. Finally we go in. It’s amazing, two bedrooms, a nice kitchen and the bathroom isn’t one big wet-room; the shower is partially cordoned off. Yay!!!
Wait a minute. There is no bed? The more I look around I finally realize, there is almost nothing in the apartment. This is actually good, we didn’t really want to inherit a bunch of dirty or old stuff from the last teacher. And speaking of dirty, the apartment was filthy. This is Korean tradition to not clean before you leave. Why bother
a) the next person always cleans anyway. Even if the apartment is spotless, the next guy is going to clean it so they can be sure.
b) it is supposed to leave all the bad spirits in that room. They won’t follow you to the next apartment.
At least, this is what I’m told. But filthy filthy. Hair in the drain, mildew, mold, finger nail clippings, the trap in the sink hadssome food in it. The fridge has a wonky smell. There’s dirt and sand on the floor. Worse of all – Korean’s don’t cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze (their prerogative), so there are some splash marks on many walls that you know, you just know are boogers, spit, and phlegm.
Chris’s co-teacher has kids and they were home alone. We convinced her we didn’t need her for anything so she left. Andrew took us out for lunch, but he had food poisoning from earlier so he just hung out and talked with us while we ate lunch. If anything, it’s a good excuse to have lunch/dinner with him at a later date.
We’ve heard horror stories of people’s co-teachers (something else that makes or breaks the EPIK experience). Already, we both lucked out with nice co-teachers. What was even better was how on top of things they were. As we left the apartment, the bed was being delivered. When I signed the lease, Andrew asked about internet. Bam, done. We had to be at home at 6:30 to get internet. They asked if we wanted cable installed – no, we don’t have a TV. Bam, you’ll get a TV (part of our contract but we didn’t have to nag anyone to do it). Sometimes co-teachers wait for a while to take the NET (native English teacher) out to get their ARC. Not our co-teachers.We were going to apply for them that same day.
Andrew drove us to the immigration office to register for our ARC cards. We had a 2+ hour wait and we kept offering to figure it out later. He got clever and grouped us in with other EPIKers and we all applied together. We didn’t wait longer than 20 minutes. Boom, done. The only other things left to do was get a cell phone and a bank account – something they had already brought up. They are on top of things.
I think we hit the EPIK jackpot. Great co-teachers, amazing apartment, great location, schools right next to each other. Schools that take care of us – take care of our things. We kept thinking – oh no, when we go to school it’s going to be a nightmare. Well, as I write this, we have both successfully completed our first day of school and I can still say: EPIK jackpot. Getting so insanely screwed last August was surely building up to this.
The only thing that was even remotely wrong with this day was that I was sick the whole day. Snotty runny nose and a really sore throat (not strep, my whole throat was sore- someone said possibly a result of the yellow dust a few days ago). Andrew was amazing and took me to a pharmacy – he told them my symptoms and for 5 bucks I got two different medicines. A final “bam!” problem solved.