Things You Never Think Will Happen to You in Korea…That Happen Everyday
Before coming to Korea I really had no idea what I was in for. I thought my life would consist of kimchi, rice, food and hanging out in my apartment alone. Boyyyyyy was I wrong! Before I tell you why I was wrong I will enlighten you with somethings I never expected to be part of EVERYDAY life. Anyway every one of these things keeps me laughing on a daily basis, well actually one of them is the reason I want to cry sometimes, but it’s all part of the journey J
1) English Names
In my classroom I don’t require the students to make English names because quite honestly they will not respond to these names. However some students have English names from afterschool programs or hagwons they have been attending for years. Some are your average celebrity names like Liam or Jessica Alba, and then there is a whole new breed of names that I swear are meant to keep my day awesome. I probably pick these kids way to much during class because I just want to say their name. Here are some of my favorites:
Iron Gorilla, Maplestory, Jack Sparrow (this kid is my fav…he thinks he was a pirate in another life I’m convinced), Aura Moon, Kimchi, Banana
And then there is my one super proficient English speaking student that changes his name every week to keep me on my toes. I usually have his new name memorized right when I walk into class, but to keep me on my toes he recently have himself 3 names.
2) Obsession with Beauty and Looks
On so many levels! The first time a girl pulled out a brush in class I was like “okay girls got some snarls, that’s cool”, then she proceeded to pull out a mirror (NOT a pocket sized one) and a gigantic bottle of some sort of spray. She sprayed her hair for what had to have been 5 minutes. All the while I am literally staring at her while trying to teach with a straight face…like WHAT?! She was looking at me with this serious look on her face the whole time. It was so perfectly ridiculous I laughed for a good 10 minutes after class. Anyway, this has become normal to me by now. It didn’t take long to realize how important looks are here, every class has a gigantic mirror in it and you will never see a Korean just throw on clothes to run to the store. You better believe that store is a cat-walk and they are the next top model. Of course what adult’s value as important children will quickly lean as well. My students notice looks and like to point them out to the whole world. Some days my kids are like “Jessica teacher you are a model” or they call me beautiful teacher then the next they are like “Jessica Teacher you should sleep you look ugly” OHkay maybe I could sleep if you weren’t haunting my dreams with this ugly talk!
3) Old Ladies
There are two veryyyyy different kinds of old women here in Korea. Some are the sweetest on the planet…others will literally shove you to the ground. I will save the grannys that run over people for later. Some older ladies seem to be fascinated with English, or maybe just Western looking people, I can’t decide. The first week David and I arrived in Korea we were standing on a subway talking and laughing about something, I then realized this older woman was staring at us in amazement, and all of a sudden she grabbed me, with a huge smile on her face, and yanked me down to sit next to her (this was in an area of the train only people over 75 are allowed to sit, so I was a little nervous because I didn't want to get hit by another older person trying to sit down (ask David about getting hit by old people…he made the mistake once of sitting in this area!)) Anyway she starts speaking full blown Korean to me, and touching me and just beaming at me. All I knew how to say was Hello so I just smiled and kept saying hello. I thought this was an isolated incidence but old ladies grabbing me and forcing me to sit next to them, all the while speaking in full Korean happens way to often in my life.
4) People telling you your house shoes are cute…no they are not cute they’re 3 sizes too small because big feet aren't a thing here and they have a fake channel brand on them…
In Korea you cannot wear shoes inside. This applies to houses, schools, and even some restaurants and shops. Because of this, you are required to have a few pairs of “house shoes” for school and such. I did not know this before arriving so after my embarrassing first day of school I ran to the nearest store to buy some. Of course they did not have my size so I picked out these horrendous looking things with a gigantic flower on them and a gold Chanel emblem. They are so embarrassing to wear…..but I really do hate wearing normal shoes so I am all about that house shoe wearing life.
5) Chop Stick Blisters
Korean chopsticks are a whole new level of chopsticks. I was excited to have my chopstick game down after practicing with wooden chopsticks from a young age. I remember sitting at the dinner table when I was younger, watching my mom use them and knowing this was a skill I was going to learn! So learn I did! I was excited to know how to do at least one thing when I came to Korea, and then I sat down for my first meal. Boy was I disappointed! They use metal chopsticks here…trying to eat noodles with metal chopsticks is about the most challenging thing I could imagine doing. I definitely lost a few pounds the first week because blisters were a real thing in my life. I still have yet to understand how chicken wings can be eaten with chopsticks but my A-game is on with the noodles!
6) Getting pushed, shoved and probably trampled by old people
Korea is a tiny country with millions of people. It is smaller than the state of Indiana, with the combined populations of California and New York, and then is covered with mountains no one can live in. So personal space is not a thing here. If someone bumps into you or touches you apologizing will never occur. This is one of the hardest things for me to get used to here. There are people who accidentally push you, which is fine. But then there is a whole new level of this. The older people in Korea are given their own seats on subways, and even given free tickets to ride the subway. These are extra benefits outside living in a hierarchical society that gives great respect to older people. So basically they are respected in all ways. I would have thought this would lead to some happy older people. BUT HOLY MAN WAS I WRONG. Older people (men and women alike) will literally shove you, push you, budge you, shoulder-check you and trample you. They have this way of shoving you from behind right in the kidney to move you so they can get through. IT IS LITERALLY MY NIGHTMARE. Outside of it being painful it is so upsetting to me! Honestly there is nothing that lights a fire of rage inside me quite like being punched in the kidney. If they literally just touched me I would gladly move, but no no no that would simply be too polite.
7) Karaoke Rooms
Whether you’re going out with co-workers and your principle or a group of friends, you better have a song you know how to sing well. They are called Norabongs here, and you better believe if you are socializing, you will end up at one at some point in the night!
8) Matching Couple outfits
Couples will match each other from head to toe….not even just couple; whole families will do this too. Anyway I really want to know how long couples wait before they dive into matching outfits. Because how horrible would it be to have to throw away half your wardrobe because it reminds you of your ex man?!
9) Everyone will know your name before you even arrive
Within the first 3 minutes of my arrival at this gigantic school I heard my name being whispered everywhere. All the teachers and all the students knew my name right away. This is especially horrible when you literally have to write down people’s names to remember them, or you have to ask them 5 times in a row juuuust how to pronounce their name.
10) Students will see you everywhere. Along with their families, friends and relatives of all sorts
In a city of 3.5 million people I really did not think I would see my students outside of school. But weekday or weekend I will hear someone yelling Jessica Teacher no matter where I am. Sometimes I will be walking and people will just stare at me smiling and nodding. In a city this big, this is definitely not common practice the way it might be in small towns. Then the next day my students will tell me some sort of relative saw me walking though such and such area. One day David and I were walking…nowhere near my school I might add, and the next day my students were giddy with excitement because they discovered I might have a boyfriend.