I Didn’t See This Coming

I probably shouldn’t be writing this post while I’m in school because I can already feel the emotions coming on. Let’s just see how far I can get and I’ll finish the rest when I get home.

Driving to Busan I was extremely excited. As we crossed a bridge into the city we had a beautiful view and I started tearing up. I was so excited that a dream I have had for eight years was finally coming true. I was full of only excitement and happiness.

It wasn’t until a few hours later when we got to my apartment that everything changed. When my co-teacher left I sat down and burst into tears. A mixture of so many things just hit me all at once and these terrible thoughts about wanting to go home came into my head. Me. Natasha. The girl that hasn’t stopped talking about moving to Korea for over 8 years. How could I be thinking these things? I didn’t see this coming at all.

My apartment is tiny and empty.

I knew that my apartment would be small, but this apartment is TINY. I have watched every single YouTube video of EPIK teacher apartment tours, and this one is of the smallest. I have one window, but I can’t see out of it because they installed something that looks like a fence so that people can’t see in. I get enough sunlight because it is open on all sides, but I feel sealed up in a little box. The apartment also smells like a litter box; apparently the previous teacher owned a cat and smoked. There is also mold on the wall around the heat controls and phone (I have been semi-successful in cleaning it off). Other teachers who came with me have been posting pictures of their amazing apartments with beautiful views and I am extremely jealous. You guys are sooo lucky!!  Once all my luggage is unpacked I will post photos of my apartment.

My bed had no sheets, blanket, or pillow. That didn’t bother me though. I knew it was easy to go buy some…eventually. My co-teacher asked me if I planned on sleeping in the apartment that night. I kind of laughed and said, “Well, I don’t have anywhere else to go.” So we went out and she helped me buy a bed cover, pillow, and blanket, and then carry it all back to my apartment.

Then there’s laundry. I’m almost out of clothes and I haven’t been able to do laundry because I have no drying rack or detergent.

Lonley

I lived away from home for practically 6 years while I was completing my Bachelors and Masters degrees. The difference was that I was living with other people. I had my own room, but I was able to step out of my room and interact with my roommates. Here, I am alone. In a tiny, partially enclosed, very quite apartment with nothing.

When I studied in Seoul I had many friends immediately when I arrived in Korea because I had made friends with many Korean exchange students at my university in New York.  I don’t know anyone in Busan except the other teachers I came here with.  We are all pretty spread out. There is one teacher that lives a few blocks away and we had dinner together last night and had fun getting lost while exploring. The night before another teacher friend traveled over 40 minutes to come have dinner with me since she wasn’t teaching this week. It was soooo sweet of her and I plan on returning the favor soon!

Besides my teacher friends, I’m not sure how I can meet and become friends with Koreans.  I am right near Busan National University, so I guess I will have to hang out at some cafes and hope that I make conversation with some Koreans and start relationships with them.  My coteacher wants to introduce her son to me who is only a couple years younger. He doesn’t speak a lot of English, so it will be a good opportunity for me to learn and practice my Korean.

My School isn’t what I expected

All throughout EPIK Orientation, and even prior to it, we were told that only a very slim percentage of people would be placed into middle schools. I had my heart set on elementary from the very beginning since I feel that I can relate closer to them with my childish interests (like Disney), and all throughout orientation I had it in my head that I was going to an elementary school.

Tuesday afternoon we had our meeting with the Busan Metropolitan City Office of Education where we were given our placement details. When I opened my package and saw “middle school” I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. I wasn’t the only one, at least one other person in my intake for Busan got middle school. I smiled my way though it saying “you’ll make it work, you can do this”.

My actual “managing co teacher” is in the hospital because she had some intense surgery, so another one of my coteachers picked me up and is taking care of me. She brought me straight to the school and introduced me to many of the staff. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming. The students were all really curious about me and excited to meet me.

Missing all things familiar

Korea does things very different than in America. It’s really stupid of me, but the garbage and recycling system really stresses me out. It’s silly that it does, but I don’t want to make a mistake and then be scolded by someone.

Recycling is very specific here: paper, glass bottles and cans, plastic bags, and plastic. Each has it’s own container in my building. That isn’t too hard to figure out because some of the words are English words written in Korean. The others I can just look at what is already in the container. Regular garbage goes in specific garbage bags that you buy at the store. I guess this makes it clear which bags outside of a building are garbage and which aren’t. (Speaking of: I don’t remember there being bags of garbage all over Seoul. Maybe there was but I was just too happy to notice something that’s negative? In Busan there are just piles of garbage bags on the side of the road/building. No garbage cans.) Can’t flush toilet paper. Must keep a garbage bin in my bathroom for that and then it goes in with my regular garbage when I take it out.

Food waste goes in these small red circle containers outside in the front of the building. Apparently, people put food waste in a bag and keep it in the freezer so that it doesn’t smell….but then what? I was told I don’t put the bag in the red container…so what do I do with the dirty bag? I just have no idea.

The other day in America was National Dog Day, my brother posted pictures of our dog. I saw them while I was in my classroom after my first class. I started getting really emotional. Then my mom was texting me. It wasn’t about anything in particular.  I just miss home a lot. I miss my room and having a place for everything (even though it was always messy). I miss cuddling on the couch with my dog. I miss my car. I miss just knowing how to do everything and being able to understand everything.

When I went back to the teacher office I kept thinking of my family and I was trying really hard to hold back tears. My coteacher startled me and sat next to me. She saw my watery eyes and asked if I was Okay. I just burst into tears again. She thought that I was unhappy with the students. I assured her I wasn’t, that I was just a little homesick. I assured her that I wasn’t leaving and that I would be fine after I’m completely settled in my apartment.

When I got home from dinner last night I Facetimed with one of my grandmas. We spoke for an hour and I cried pretty much the entire time. Grandma, I’m sorry if I worried you. It was really comforting to talk to you! I love both of my Grandmas soooo much!!! They have both been so supportive about me moving to Korea. It really means a lot!

Speaking of dinner, both nights during dinner I felt so nauseous and felt like I was going to throw up. I haven’t been able to finish a meal. I’m eating the school lunches, but I only take a little bit of food because I end up not feeling well.  I was fine during orientation. I think all this crazy emotion is affecting my stomach.

focusing on the positives

I was told that my apartment is a 50 minute ride on public transportation. That really worried me, especially because I am not a morning person. However, that has turned out to be untrue the past two days. It has taken me only 30 minutes to get from my apartment to the gate of the school. I haven’t had to travel home yet because I have been going out with my coteacher and she drives me home. I will go home on my own for the first time on Monday. I figure it will take a little longer because it will be right smack in the middle of rush hour. It doesn’t matter though. My bus takes me through the mountains so I get really beautiful views of the city.

My students’ English level and interest in English is really low. They all come from really poor backgrounds. I hope that I will be able to make a difference in these children’s lives. I hope that I can make them more interested in English by teaching them fun things. Most of them are interested in League of Legends, food, and travel English, and using those interests I hope to get them more inspired to learn English and speak to me more confidently. Starting next week I will hold “English Cafe” in my classroom during the students’ lunch period. Any student is allowed to come and eat lunch in my room with me and we will have casual conversation in English about anything they want. I plan to show them some short English videos or play English music. I’m really looking forward to bonding with them during this time!

Like I said before, my coteacher wants to introduce her son to me. I can’t thank her enough for all her help. She is making my transition to living in Korea and Busan soooo much easier. I really don’t know what I would do without her! Actually I do! I would starve to death! Haha!

My apartment is right near Busan National University. There are many university students everywhere, and because of that there are many delicious restaurants and all the amenities that I need. At night the entire area is very busy; even the side streets with no shops and just apartments. Last night I walked home at about 9:30pm using the side streets and there were many groups of friends and couples walking around.

My apartment is also very close to two subway stops (on the same line though) so getting around the city will be very easy. It’s actually really comforting hearing the subways driving past (it is above ground here), it reminds me of living in my dorm room and hearing the train to New York City go by every hour.

I can do this

Even though thoughts of going home are still in my head, I know that I won’t. I will not give up that easily. I think that once I am able to clean and stock up my apartment I will feel much better.

The thing that will help the most is friends. I hope that I will be able to hang out with some of the other EPIK teachers this weekend and explore some other areas of the city. And eventually I hope to make some good Korean friends here in Busan. I also plan to make trips to Seoul; maybe I’ll go 2 weekends from now for the first time.

It is later in the day now. I just came home from grocery shopping with my coteacher. She also explained in detail more about the garbage and recycling system. She didn’t realize that it is so different in America and that is why I worried so much. I already feel so much better now that I have some basic foods in my fridge (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are back in my life and I couldn’t be happier!).  I also just ordered a steamer and a clothes drying rack on GMarket (kind of like Amazon). Hopefully they get delivered to the correct address!

Please don’t worry about me! Everything will be 100% great in a week or two. I know it! I am really nervous about posting this. I just wanted to share this with you because it is my honest and true feelings right now. This blog is also a record of my life in Korean, so it’s almost like lying if I don’t post it. I hope that in a month when I read this blog post again I can laugh at how silly I am being. 🙂

A HUGEEEE thank you to my friends in Korea who have been texting me and calling me to give me support and encouragement. You guys are amazing and I can’t wait to see you. Hugs and love to you all!

As they say in Korean: “hwai-ting!” I can do this!

❤ Natasha

(Yet again, please excuse any spelling or grammar errors, of if this blog post is all crazy and in any randomly weird order. I’m so dang tired!)

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13 thoughts on “I Didn’t See This Coming

  1. Kate says:

    Hi from the States cuz! Keep your head up! You are such a strong person and are doing an amazing job so far Natasha! 🙂 I am enjoying reading the blog posts. Just know everything will be ok and with your personality you will meet new friends in NO time and make your place a home no matter what the circumstances. Also, because I work freaky deaky hours, you’re more than welcome to bug me online whenever you want to chat about anything! Use my email or let me know a different way to communicate that’s better for you 🙂 Love you lots! It will be ok! 🙂
    -Cousin Katie

  2. Kathe Garoffolo says:

    Hi Natasha! I am excited to read your blog posts. Thank you for being real here. I admire what you are doing so much, to pick up and leave your home to give of yourself to these students. God has given you gifts and talents and you are using them. He will help you get through this time. You are not alone! I love you and am amazed and proud of the young woman you are becoming.
    Love, Kathe xo

  3. smaugthedesolator (Chantal) says:

    I know I already sent you an ask on tumblr, but that was before I read your blog post. If you want to get together and talk, and explore… make it easier to get adjusted… just let me know. I have a few friends who’re in middle school as well.. and we’re all pretty pumped about the prospect of new friends from the new intake 🙂

    For meeting Koreans: There’s a thing at Seomyeon on Mondays (Language Exchange) and another in KSU area (kyungsungdae/pukyeongdae stop on the green line) on Thursdays called MokTalk. I find those are the best way to make Korean friends… it’s hard just to approach randoms in cafes.

  4. Dorrean says:

    I’m sorry some things didn’t turn out the way you imagined. I can’t say much for the apartment size issue except you won’t be doing much there except sleeping and eating dinner. Once you get a routine going you’ll probably find yourself more out and about. Majority of our week is spent at school anyway! lol. But if there is mold, definitely talk to your landlord or school about getting it fixed/cleaned/or even move apartments if necessary. From what you’ve said it doesn’t sound like it’s extremely bad. A girl in our intake had HORRIBLE mold in her apartment and the school would not move her as the contract with that landlord wasn’t finished. It started affecting her health, so she ended up going back home. So definitely make sure that gets taken care to prevent it from becoming worse.

    I was in the same boat as you on our contract signing day. I expected elementary school but I was placed in 2 all-boy middle schools. Maybe it was due to my only teaching experience being with adults. But it can be a blessing in disguise!! The range of topics and activities you’re able to to with middle schoolers vs. elementary schoolers is so much greater I feel. Some people say it can be more work because you can’t just throw together a simple, basic game (although I find middle school first years are still happy to play any game), but I don’t think so. I also think, once your students are more comfortable with you, you can connect with them way more than elementary kids. The questions they ask you and issues they talk to you about will just be different. I feel like there is more freedom in teaching middle school. But perhaps it is because I’m only between 7 to 9 years older than my students lol. I think you will like middle school! It might take time to get used to, but it’s really rewarding in the end.

    Garbage and recycling stressed me out for a good month before I knew how to do it!! At least your building has a designated space for them. Although other buildings here do, mine happens to be one that doesn’t. So my recycling goes on the side of the road after I sort it, along with my regular trash. But I didn’t know this when I first got here. Food waste gave me the biggest amount of stress and it was trial & error for nearly 2 months. In my building everyone has their own food waste bin (the small yellow ones), some other buildings around here have the red ones you have though. For the longest time I didn’t know how or where to get a food waste bin from but I found my dong office and got 2. I tried using an indoor food waste bin from gmarket to store my food before taking it out but omg when you finally opened it, the smell was just too much. So I’m back to doing the bag in freezer trick. I see other people here plop the bag of food in the bin and put the sticker on it, even though like you said, the bag shouldn’t be there. But I just bring my food waste bin in, empty my bag, put on my sticker, and then put it back outside to be collected. I throw the bag away after. I go to gs25 so much I have a collection of little black bags to use as my food waste freezer bags lol. Maybe you can do that as well~

    • SeoulGirl015 says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! I will definitely talk to my coteacher about the mold if I see that it comes back.
      I also believe that I will begin to like middle school soon. It will just take time for me to learn about this age group and what works with them and what doesn’t. Maybe I’ll end up preferring it over elementary!
      Can you tell me more about the sticker for food waste? I haven’t been told about that. Or is it only for your type of food waste system? I’m really glad to know that it’s not only me that gets overly stressed about garbage/recycling in Korea!
      Thank you again for your comment. Everyone has been so supporting and amazing. I’m glad that I did post this blog because it has helped me start to overcome a lot of my anxiety and stress so much!

      • Dorrean says:

        I’m not sure about other areas but for Daejeon i just typed into google “daejeon trash” lol because i was that lost and grasping for straws. the food waste stickers here you buy from the local gs25 or 7 eleven by asking for “음식 쓰레기 봉투” although i don’t even bother saying the 봉투 part. the lady who works at my gs25 knows what i will be asking for as soon as i say 음식 lol. for busan i found these links:

        http://www.bsmeditour.go.kr/eng/cms/155_251_252.jsp?mid=252

        http://www.bsmeditour.go.kr/eng/cms/155_251_253.jsp?mid=253

        so it seems you all do have food waste stickers as well. i would try asking whoever works at the convenience store or supermarket closest to your apartment.

        some times i see older people from nearby buildings just toss their food waste out in unlabeled black bags, but as a foreigner i’ve been too afraid to try this. especially since the landlord can be fined if his tenants aren’t disposing of trash properly. i already know the foreigner would be the first to get blamed lol.

      • smaugthedesolator says:

        For your food waste, you have to check with your apartment/area. Cause I know even my stuff is slightly different than my friend’s, and she only lives on the next block (but in a different -dong)
        I have an old protein powder container, and I freeze all my food waste in there, and then when it’s full I go to empty it into the food waste receptacle that my landlord has in the back with our garbage… maybe your apartment has something like that? (I know mine has one of the best garbage systems out of everyone, so I don’t want to assume)

  5. roamingdes says:

    Hey Natasha, I remember, all too well the first days and months of being in Korea. The waterworks didn’t start for me until I was alone in my apartment for the first time. It is quite a rush, but until orientation is over, you don’t feel like you’re in another country or by yourself at all. I won’t lie, I feel like I cried at least once or twice a week for like a month. I had the thoughts of going home as well, but I’m glad that I stuck it out. It takes time, but like the previous poster said, you soon develop a routine. Make sure you put up pictures on your wall because that makes a huge difference.

    Good luck with everything!

  6. Shanna says:

    Hey Natasha!

    Not sure if you remembered me but we met before! It’s amazing how you have come so far and you are now back in Korea! 😀 It was something I wanted to but sadly I don’t qualify for EPIK haha. The transition’s period is always tough and I really really understand how you feel! Hope things would get better for you soon after you have settled in!

    As for the garbage system, I TOTALLY KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN. haha it stressed me out like crazy when I lived in a goshiwon since there was a cctv right besides the area and I always feel paranoid that I’ll get scolded for doing it the wrong way. Actually the goshiwon caretaker corrected me a few times at first and once he actually offered to do it for me since I was like staring at all the containers and looking so lost lol.

    I’ll be reading your blog! 😀

    • SeoulGirl015 says:

      Hey Shanna!! Of course I remember you!! I still follow you on Twitter 😀 And thank you sooo much!! I think things will get better too 🙂 I just hung up a ton of photos of friends and family back home and some posters. I also bought a bunch of things like a bowl, plate,cup, etc., so my apartment is starting to feel like my place and not the previous owner’s.
      I haven’t met my landlord yet. I would really like to so he/she (I don’t even know!) can show me how to do the garbage stuff too.
      If you come back to Korea and venture down to Busan let me know! It would be really great to meet up again!

  7. Bill Boroskey says:

    Hi Natasha, I just got finished reading your entire blog. At first I became really worried about you but after reading on I felt much better. I’m happy that you have such a good support system and such great friends to advise you and support you. I’m certain that you will get used to your new environment and make some new friends. I’m sure your students are going to love you just as we do, How could they not.

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