Arriving in Asia was an exciting experience. After the grueling 24hr flight From Columbia, SC to Chicago, to Tokyo and finally to Korea, I was glad to get off the plane. As fell in and out of sleep, I couldn’t help but wonder what new adventures awaited me in the orient and think about my friends in Africa I had left behind.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye when I left Ghana. I had returned to Ghana in the fall of 2015, having signed on to an additional two year commitment. As with life, things don’t always go as planned and I ended saying goodbye to Ghana before the two years were up. In December, it was good to spend time with my family, see church members, and visit old friends. But the yearning to travel again was as strong as ever and after three weeks of hanging out around my parents’ house, I knew I had to find a new adventure soon or run the risk of going crazy from boredom. With the advice of a few trusted sources, I set my eyes on Korea. Jobs were plentiful and opportunities abounded. And after careful prayer and consideration, I thought it the right choice.
Shortly after New Year’s I began doing my research, got with a recommended Korean recruitment company, and before February’s end, I was packing my three suitcases for Seoul, Korea. Although I had mixed feelings about teaching kids for a whole year, I figured it would be a good experience. And as least I was still teaching, which is what I wanted to continue doing anyway.
Saying goodbye to family and friends is always hard. This time was no easier. But after I got through security and onto the plane, I sat back, relaxed, remembered my old adventures, and got pumped for the new.
Once in Korea, I was happy, yet exhausted. I was ready to get through customs, grab my bags, find the business manager to pick me up, and head to bed. Finally, after meeting another new coworker who had come in on the same flight, getting through immigration, crossing the parking lot with suitcases in the snow, riding from Incheon airport to the hotel, and calling home to say I had safely arrived, I took a shower and headed to bed. I had made it, alright. But I didn’t know what the next day would hold.
On the way from the airport, my travel companion and I received a call from our new supervisor. She instructed us that the business manager would pick us up at 9:00am the next morning and that we should be waiting for him in the lobby. 9:00am, I thought. I’m not going to get in bed until about 1:00am and you want to see me at 9:00am? Sure enough, that’s what happened. The next morning at the hotel, I met up with my new coworker I had met the night before and another new coworker who had flown in earlier. The three of us made small talk as we waited in the lobby. For the entire first week we were in Korea—fighting through jet lague and all—we went through training from about 9:00am to about 6:30pm. Needless to say by Friday I wasn’t fit for anything but sleep. I had heard about the Asian work ethic, and I like to work hard as much as the next person, but this was a bit much. My coworkers agreed.
Thankfully, everyone at work was nice and on Friday night, we all went out together to celebrate the first finished week of the new school year. My first dinner out in Asia, I was pretty excited. It was a night of firsts: my first Friday completing a week of work in Asia, my first Friday with new coworkers, my first Friday working as a Kindergarten and Elementary school ESL teacher. I was glad to have made it through!
For dinner, we went to an amazing seafood joint. I had never seen anything like it: the cooking grills were inside of the tables. Each table seated about four people. It was one flat rate for unlimited seafood. Oysters, mussels, potato salad, and some shellfish with a hairy outside (sounds weird but was so delicious with cocktail sauce). The old folks also introduced the new folks to a traditional local drink called Soju. The drink didn’t have much taste to me, but it was nice to toast to a new and exciting school year with my new coworkers.
Self-cook seafood bar with new coworkers, February 26, 2016
After dinner most of us headed to a nearby Karaoke lounge. Karaoke is deeply embedded in Korean culture. Any side street on any given night of the week can have dozens of neon lights flashing Karaoke in the Korean language. Of course there’s Karaoke in the States, so I figured, why not check it out. To my surprise, it was nothing ordinary. A winding downstairs enclave gave way to a very modern, very plush, public Karaoke lounge. After paying for a couple hours, we took turns choosing songs from a thick, laminated Karaoke book that had many 90s and early 2000s favorites. I had a blast singing Coldplay songs and other 90s jams as well as watching others belt out great tunes.
Saturday morning was fine. I spent the better part of the day resting at the hotel, as I was too tired to go out and explore the city. By Sunday morning when I woke up, I checked the time and noticed it was 6:00am. I felt perfectly fine and decided to wake up in a few hours to wash my hair and get ready for the second week of work. By about 9:00am, I was as sick as a dog. It was a struggle to get from the bed to the bathroom. I wondered what in the world had happened. How could I have been feeling great the whole week and weekend (minus major fatigue) and a few hours later feel so crumby? By about 6:00pm I felt well enough to venture to the convenience store for some orange juice and much needed other fluids. Right as I was heading out my coworker a few doors down called and said he was heading to the store, too. In the icy sleet, we walked across the street for some nourishment. I was shocked to learn that he had been sick all weekend, too.
At work the next day, we learned that with the exception of one person, everyone who had gone out had gotten as sick. We chalked it up to not cooking our clams well enough! I was glad to have made it through my first week in Asia. Little did I know that things were going to get harder before they got easier.