Travelogue: South Korea part 1. Failing at Departure

Teacher training at Jeollanamdo International Football Center

I planned just about nothing before embarking on my one month trip to South Korea. I went through a PSU program worked me hard, fifteen hour days spent teaching children English, but it only cost me about a two hundred dollars to receive a trip to Korea, four credits and an amazing experience.

Though excited, I thought very little about the trip until just before leaving. This may seem strange to readers, but this is how I generally operate. I’m practically unable to travel, unless by the seat of my pants.

So, me, I’m Jon Raby. PSU English major and Vanguard writer. I have actually taught ESL before, I lived in Vietnam for a year and a half, and miss it every day. I have come to find that I have Asian blood in me, not literally, but in my heart, yes. Let’s just say I fucking love rice, I eat it daily, need I say more?

At this point I think I better confess. I have never had much of an interest in Korean culture, it has never called to me. But maybe during this trip I will find an appreciation…even a love.

So here is the program: One month teaching at two summer camps, one for middle school age kids, and one for elementary. I will be paired up with a Korean co-teacher who is a university student. I don’t know what subjects I will be teaching, but the days should be long, and the climate should be hot and humid. There are multiple programs like this at PSU, I suggest looking into them.

In the days before leaving the excitement started to hit me. The bittersweet goodbyes to my home and my loved ones, they were….bittersweet (really pulled the heart-stings).

Before leaving the US I actually decided to learn zero Korean. Not even Hi. I thought I’d rather learn what Korean I get, from Koreans. My first word: Excuse me, sillye-hab-nida. Taught to me by the airline stewardess. Thanks lady.

The travel was long, about 24 hours of sitting uncomfortably in airports, on planes, and in busses. We made it to Mokpo International Football Center at one in the morning. This was to be our training facility for the next few days. I was given a roommate, Justin, who seems pretty rad, not super loud, and outgoing and happy. Most everyone on the trip seemed pretty cool. I guess when only one third of the American population holds a passport, you end up with more likeminded traveling company.

Thus far, the little of Korea I have seen has been quiet and calm despite its reputation for being a “hurry hurry” culture—Pali-pali! People look safe in their relaxed moseys, and it has not been too crowded with bodies. I did see out the window of the bus, the densely packed skyscrapers of the city. Very uniform. Very grid like. In my tired and emotional traveling state, it brought me a kind of wonder and sadness at the same time; humanity thriving outside of nature.

The next morning I woke at 5:30, one of the benefits to jetlag. I went out strolling around the desolate facility. It was mostly empty football fields, and lots of birds and insects chatting away. On the outskirts there was mining and construction going on along the mountainsides. At this time in the morning it was 22 degrees Celsius and humid, really quite nice.

At the camp some of my coworkers have referred to me as oppa, or elder brother. This to me sounded like the German for grandpa—opa—Yup, that’s me. I like it though, the respect that comes from being older.

The training consisted of three days of demo classes, and seminars by other foreign and Korean teachers about the country and teaching there.

We were, and will be, in Jeollanam-do, the southwestern-most mainland province, which is rural and agricultural, and contains about 1,300 islands.

We learned about the extreme pressure put on Korean kids and adults in the education system. As a teacher here I will have a conflicting set of goals. At the end of the camp eight of our highest ranked students will receive trips to study in the US for a month, yet I will also be trying to make this summer camp fun for them, full of games and laughing. The true testaments of a teacher will be here: can I fully engage them while enriching their brains? Can I teach about my culture, while not dissuading the benefits of their own?

I also met my Korean co-teacher for the first camp. Aiden is the English name that I will use for now, or Yul which I will start using soon. But we can save that for next time, when we get to start meeting Koreans, and Korean Children.

Drinking Soju with two girls from University of Missouri and our two Korean babysitters