Adjusting to the countryside in Korea was a process that took me many months to make work for me. When I was placed in Angye-myeong in Uiseong country in the province of Gyeongbuk in October of 2010 I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. When I applied to EPIK through Reach to Teach recruiting I didn’t specifically state whereexactly I wanted to lived. I thought I would be happy living anywhere in Korea.
Upon getting placed and settling into my new apartment my friends in bigger cities were enjoying meals together after work at Mr. Pizza, going to the movies together on Friday nights, and coffee meet ups at Sleepless in Seattle on Tuesdays while I felt stuck in rice paddie land searching for the reason why I was placed in my tiny town in the first place.
One of my first weekends after I had settled in I took the bus up to Seoul to drown myself in all things foreign and wonderful; coffee shops galore, kebabs and Indian curries in Itaewon, endless shopping in Myeongdong with bright lights and music pumping, and enjoying the subway rides around the city. I loved Seoul but the idea of taking the bus back to Anyge (three and a half hours southeast) sounded unbearable.I was drowning myself in all the wonderful things that Korea afforded me and returning to the quiet town of Angye made me feel resentful.
A really nice girl who I know through a friend invited me out with her friends for Thanksgiving celebration in Seoul. Most of the teachers were teaching at hagwons around the city and were super cool. I couldn’t help but feel completely sorry for myself and feeling quite miserable for the place I had to return to on Sunday night as they all talked about the cool places they were discovering around Seoul and how they spent their free time after work. What was there for me back in Angye? What on earth was the point of a year in the land of makkoli, rice, and a whole lot of nothing? Tami became my sounding board and gave me some advice that stuck with me.As I look back six years later this was exactly what I needed to hear. “Focus on your goals for the next year of your life. You are going to save so much money by living there. Learn more about Korean culture and immerse yourself. You can always come to Seoul on the weekends.”
The next morning on my walk to school those words stuck with me over and over again in the back of my mind as I walked past the locals who were practically now my neighbors.
With a new goal in mind that I had to set for myself I had to learn how to adjust and try to enjoy my placement. I had to learn how to get comfortable spending a lot of time on my own during the week. I had to immerse myself in what I did have in my town; places to go for quiet walks to reflect, trying and discovering local restaurants, and making friends with those who lived around me.
First thing I began doing was getting to know my local community. I started learning names of the bank tellers, pharmacists in our only pharmacy in town, and exploring the restaurant scene that offered only Korean fare.During the cold winter months in my first contract I became friendly with one of the restaurant owners who offered me a free Korean dinner if I tutored his daughter for an hour in English. She was very shy but her parents really wanted her to learn English from a foreigner. For about a month plenty of side dishes and bibimbap was waiting for me on the table and I couldn’t believe that all of that food for for me. I started to realize that as humble an offer as this was it wasn’t worth my time to sit for an hour with the owners daughter who wasn’t interested in learning in the first place and me talking to her. Nevertheless, that was worth the experience though.
Passing by a large chicken coup one day I spotted a beautiful dog who started following me to school one day and back to my apartment after passing by the shop. I soon fell in love with this beautiful creature. The obstacle of not being able to converse with the owner all seemed to fade away because she accepted me and seemed to enjoy my company. She was a widow and always invited me in especially during the cold winter months. Soon to follow however was to find out after being home on vacation in the USA for a month was that this animal friend of mine was run over by a car. I will always remember the kindness and commitment to sticking by me that this creature showed me.
Being immersed in my local community familiarized me with all I had to be thankful for. As small as Angye was I held deep gratitude for a safe community where locals recognized me and invited me often to share a snack. One afternoon walking through the local market after work I heard my name being called through the crowd. I turned around and one of my students had a big box of strawberries for me. “This is for you, teacher.” I will never forget how that moment made me feel and I will carry it with me forever. Sometimes in our lives we are called to do something we aren’t ready for and unwilling to accept. Find the quiet time when you are called and accept it graciously.