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Jack Brown: Blog

Week 1 in Korea: done!

Posted on August 4, 2012 with 9 comments

Dear friends and family,

Most of you know I am NOT the blogging type.  I've even written a song poking fun at bloggers (called "Blog", available on iTunes for a low price!) and regularly express astonishment that people care about the mundane, everyday stuff that most bloggers write about.  As I've said before: I totally dig the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and loads of others.  But I don't give a flying rip at a rolling doughnut what any of them are doing when they're not on stage.  I am, however, definitely interested in hearing how life is going among my friends.  So I hope you'll all see this not as some ridiculous PR tool for my music (that really was a joke about downloading my "Blog" song), but rather as a convenient way for me to answer the hundreds of questions from hundreds of people about my new life in Korea.

First -- well, the 11-hour flight from Seattle was uneventful, except that they fed us three times (that's a shock for a Southwest frequent flyer!), and the sun never went down.  It was cool flying over Alaska, Russia, and China.  The Korea International School (KIS) support staff met us (me and three other new teachers who'd all arrived at the same time) at the airport and drove us in a KIS shuttle bus to our apartments.  They helped us move our stuff in -- all this at 10:30 at night.  I had a bed and sheets waiting for me in my 2 bedroom 12th-floor apartment, as well as two wardrobes, a chest of drawers, basic bathroom and kitchen supplies (two sets of dishes and silver), some food to tide me over, a couch, a coffee table, a TV and small entertainment center, a small dining table with chairs, and a fan.  That was last Sunday July 29 if you're counting Seattle time -- but it was Monday night when I arrived in Seoul (crossed the date line and lost a day, but I'll get it back when I return to the US in the spring).  I had slept only two hours on the plane, so I fell asleep around 11:30 p.m. Seoul time and slept 7 hours or so, then woke up and went to school for a voluntary orientation day.  Yeah, no jet lag!  I remember my mom telling me once I didn't have much trouble with jet lag to/from Japan when I was little, so maybe that's still going.  But I also know jet lag is a lot harder when you're flying the opposite direction the sun is traveling -- which is what will happen in June 2013.  So ask me again then.

This first week has been fun -- KIS is pretty amazing, as you can see at the link at the bottom of this note.  As is typical in Korea, they build up, not out; there are four main buildings, one for elementary, one middle, one high school, one multi-purpose, and all are six stories high with basement levels too.  I teach at the Pangyo campus, by far the largest of the three campuses.  It's a private school, and most of the kids who go here come from fairly wealthy families.  All education is in English, which is what these families want -- they want their kids to go to American or European universities.  The teachers I've met are from all over the English-speaking world, but most are from the US, including quite a few from Washington and Oregon, all leaving the US for many reasons but with the education funding crisis being among them.  There are also lots of teachers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and a few from other, non-English speaking countries but with excellent English (mostly foreign language teachers -- Spanish teacher is from Spain, Chinese teacher is from China, etc.)  I'll be teaching middle and high school choir, five classes.  The orientation has been amazing -- they feed us an excellent breakfast and lunch, unlike in the US, where any orientation breakfast is minimal and lunch is on your own.  They've taken us shopping twice with a generous move-in allowance to buy groceries and basic small appliances (it makes no sense to bring your own coffee maker when the plugs and voltage are different).  Nearly everything on every package is in Korean, so they send us with Korean staff to help with translation.  The world's largest CostCo is 15 minutes from where I live, and I've survived my first experience there.  We've also had numerous meetings to acquaint us with the students, the curriculum, basics of life in Korea, Korean culture and history, etc.  We got a free seven-volume series on Korean history and culture, each volume being fairly thin and just an overview but more than enough to whet my appetite to find out more.  I'm halfway through volume 3 already; more about the first two volumes below.  The school facility is outstanding -- my choir room and the auditorium are wonderful, the science labs and equipment are up-to-date, the athletic facilities are in excellent shape, the staff lounges are spacious and comfy, and the staff all get along incredibly well.  Here's an amazing one, for you American teachers.  Wanna know how you get supplies?  You walk into the lounge and the supplies are arranged in excellent and informative detail on shelves against a long wall.  You walk up, grab what you want, list and sign for what you took, and you're done.  Isn't that amazingly professional?  No requisition forms and waiting -- you're just trusted to get what you need without help.  I think I'm gonna like this place.

As for non-school stuff: Well, I'm finding that I'm one of the more adventurous among the newbies!  I've already taken a bus ride to a random city park and back; I've walked miles around my neighborhood, finding everything; and Saturday August 4 I took the bus into Seoul and the subway back, just to see sights, see a friend, and make sure I could do it!  The bus system is wonderful and easy to figure out, even if you don't read a bit of Korean.  Green buses stay close and take you to/from their hubs at local subway stations; blue and yellow buses do the same, but venture farther out and stop less; and red buses are express into Seoul, with very few stops and reserved lanes on the freeways.  The subway system is extensive and it dwarfs all the American ones except perhaps the New York system.  And at nearly any convenience store you can get a T-card (transit card, looks like a credit card) and load it with as much as 90,000 won (about $90 US).  When you board or depart any transit, you don't even have to take the card out of your wallet.  If the card is reasonably close to the edge of your wallet or purse, you hold your wallet/purse up to the reader; it beeps, telling you how much it cost (usually 80-90 won, or less than a dollar) and how much is left on your card; and you go on your merry way.  We were given a T-card on arrival, with about $10 equivalent on it.  I've charged mine with an extra $20.  Yesterday's trip to Seoul and back cost me less than $10 US equivalent; the same trip in a car would've cost me far more than that in gas and parking, and the traffic into town was horrendous so it probably would've taken longer too.

And my trip into town!  I met former Idaho/Emmett band director Melissa Lyons in Itaewon, a very cosmopolitan an international area of Seoul that's adjacent to an American military base.  Missy's the one who talked me into applying for international jobs -- she's been here a year.  And by whatever miracle there is, I applied all over the planet, had interviews (or scheduled interviews) with five schools on three continents, and got a job at a school 30 minutes from where Missy teaches!  Our apartments are even closer together than that.  Incredible.  Missy took me sightseeing in Itaewon, and we ate at a Bulgarian restaurant.  (Yes, Bulgarian food in Korea.  Tasty.)  On my way there I stopped briefly at the museums honoring Admiral Yi and King Sejong, arguably Korea's two greatest cultural icons and the subjects of volumes one and two of the books referenced above.  I didn't have time to go in, but I bookmarked the place on my iPhone and plan to go next week.  And these museums are free!  The stories of both of these men are fascinating -- google them and you'll agree.

Speaking of iPhone -- wow, is this country wired and wireless!  Slow internet here is 50 mps; our school is 100.  My house in Idaho, in a neighborhood pre-wired for fast internet, was 20.  Wireless is literally everywhere -- there is nowhere in Seoul you can go, including underground on the subway, without having 3 or 4 free wireless choices, nearly all fast.  It's pretty cool.

Now for the adjustments: I have an air conditioner, but it's far too small for this apartment (and so are all AC's here).  AC is not a priority here -- reducing the carbon footprint is, and the government is even enforcing that with laws.  At our school, only classrooms and facilities being actively used are air conditioned or heated.  Hallways and unused rooms are not.  We're in monsoon season, and although Korea is relatively far north of most monsoon areas, we still feel it.  It's been in the 90's F every single day since my arrival, with humidity over 50% even in midday.  So it's a lot like Gulfport, where I grew up -- except a bit less rain.  I've adjusted fairly quickly, thanks to having grown up with this.  But others from the Pacific Northwest are having trouble.  Supposedly we're cooling off a bit next week, with highs in the 80's.  This weather pattern is supposed to continue until mid- to late September, at which point it cools off to a more temperate, less humid feel.  I like that -- my bike should arrive about then, and there are literally hundreds of miles of developed and paved road bike trails (no cars) that take you everywhere you want to go.  Other adjustments include learning how to speak in pantomime and sign language (I bought a used toilet flapper the other day and we had a great time communicating!); dealing with the notion that coffee shops don't open until 9:00 a.m. at the earliest (bought my own coffee and maker, thanks); no tipping at restaurants; fish at the grocery store that hasn't been finned, skinned/scaled, gutted, etc. (I don't mind doing that, but I don't have the equipment with me -- it's in storage in Idaho); drivers ALWAYS assuming they have the right-of-way, even if turning right on red into a crosswalk with people walking (remember that if you come visit, because they DO in fact have the right-of-way here); less-than-tasty orange juice (I'm eating oranges instead, which is probably better for me anyway); and no clothes dryers (lots of drying racks -- the school gave us one, my apartment has a built-in one).  I'm sure I'm leaving out a few things, but this first entry is already overlong, so I'll save some for later.

Thanks for your understanding of why I can't e-mail this to every single person!  Please feel free to e-mail or facebook me with questions.  It's jackbrown@jackbrownmusic.com; or on facebook I'm Jack Sidney Brown.  I'd love to correspond personally with as many of you as possible.  And remember -- I have a spare bedroom here!  I paid for that myself -- the rest of the apartment comes as part of the contract.  So come use this bedroom I've paid for!  That's why I wanted it.  Just let me know in advance -- I haven't bought an extra bed yet. :-)

Till next entry,

Jack

Link to Korea International School:

http://www.kis.or.kr/index.asp

Raymond

August 13, 2012

Holy Cheeseballs, son! I'm gonna have to print that out and take it to the bathrooom!

Robin Weaver

August 10, 2012

For a guy who doesnt blog you sure do it well! I loved reading about the beginning of your adventure. Keep us posted.
I just got back from DC trip with Jacob. It was stellar. We saw SO much but didnt make a dent. Must go back! You'll appreciate this: one of my fave things we did was run from Lincoln Memorial to Vietnam Memorial to WW2 Memorial to Washington Monument to White House after dark when all lit up.
Awesome!
Talk later gator!

Robin

Judy Ownbey

August 7, 2012

Thanks for writing in such detail about your experiences and view point on Korea. I knew you would embrace this experience and am glad you are doing so.

Michele Jones-Hileman

August 6, 2012

awesome.. thank you for the news of you and your adventures..sounds wonderful.. looking forward to more:) great job !!

Marta Bidondo

August 4, 2012

I know the Blog song well and I do know how you feel about blogs but I also really liked hearing about your experiences. Keep it up and have a great time. We will miss hearing you play live. I'm glad I have your CD's.

Barb O

August 4, 2012

I'm so glad that you're blogging! I can travel vicariously!

Carolyn Gilbert

August 4, 2012

Loved every single word of your blog, Jack. FIRST blog I have EVER read!!! Thanks so much. My best.

Jay Toups

August 4, 2012

Ah the joys of foreign culture. Enjoyed your recap of week one in SK and hope the joy of discovery stays with you as you settle in to a routine that will prolly be anything but for quite a while.

Good thing you're a former Gulfportian who knows how to sweat in style... :-)

Walter

August 4, 2012

Im reading !!!