A Seoulful Experience

“Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” Chris Tucker, Rush Hour.
I was only back in the states for two months, when I received a phone call one day requesting my assistance. I had placed my resume online seeking a teaching position, in the Philadelphia or New York City. I had been interviewing with several institutions but nothing compared with the offer I received on the phone. They offered free housing, relocation compensations, healthcare, a 4% taxed salary, and a round-trip airfare ticket. I thought this was a great opportunity. The only thing, I had to travel over 6,000 miles form my place of origin. I had to relocate to a new country, South Korea. I slept on the idea and the next week I agreed to take the job.

“A whole new world, a dazzling place I never knew…….”Aladdin, Walt Disney.
I had three weeks, from the date I accepted the offer, to prepare for my departure to South Korea. I told my family who were very supportive and not that surprised. I had just returned from a three-month trip to Ghana. I had sent all my important documents for proper entry into the country. I was slapped with a $67.00 FedEx bill, this trip better be worth it I thought. I knew then, where I was going will be a long way from home. I did some research on Korea prior to my departure to familiarize myself with the culture. I was content with my decision and had an open-mind. My family and I had a Karaoke (Nore Bong) Party the day before I left. I wanted to have a Korean experience with them before I left. I was not going to be alone because Justin, my best friend/boyfriend, was accompanying me on this journey. We were going to embark on a new adventure. Who would have thought that two young adults from North Philadelphia inner city, would make Korea their home for a year?

I stepped off the plane and it was like technology heaven. Everything was super modern. My new boss picked me up from the airport and drove me to my new place. He is a short Korean man that's a fast talker. Justin was coming over the following week. My boss and I arrived at my new place, and I was amazed how modern Korea was compared to some of the pictures I'd seen. Uh-oh, a single bed, but I requested a queen and I was promised it. I knew then it was the beginning of a rocky road. Justin accompanied me the next week and he too was just as amazed aboutKorea looks. Neon lights, skyscrapers, everyone looking like they are modeling for Dolce Gabana and Prada. It was as if I was in downtown Manhattan all the time.

“America, America. God shed his grace….” America the Beautiful.
I had committed myself to a year of teaching American English (yes there are many dialects of English.) I never knew how much our language affected the world, until I was offered a position in Korea. There are so many countries requesting Native English speakers, to commit at least a year, and teach their children English. Globalization at its best people. Anyway, so I decided to offer some expertise as a natural speaker of English. It is funny I received a degree in Physics, worked as a high school math/cultural studies teacher in Philadelphia, PA, and now I teach English. I was in store for a rude awakening.

The children I teach are well behaved, much like most students in Korea. They value education and are forced to attend school all day, literally. I work at a Hagwon (private language institute). Students go to regular school from 8:00am-2:00pm and then they are required to attend various private academies after school between 3:00pm-10:00pm. Then they are expected to do homework when they get home. I know most eleven-year-old students who are doing homework until 11:300pm. Korean students usually have excellent work ethics and mannerism to adults; however, they lack social skills. Most ESL teachers like myself responsibilities consist of teaching proper pronunciation of words and fluency. We mostly conduct speaking emphasis lessons with reinforcement in grammar. It is a call and response method of teaching and very effective. This job teaches the students, in addition improving your English skills. The only thingI have a problem with is that my vocabulary has diminished slightly. I am forced to speak elementary English the majority of the time. Language barrier is really an issue for me.

I mentioned earlier about my single bed versus a queen bed. Well, that was an administration call at my job. I found out by the end of my first week that this institution had no policies and that they changed face without warning. They talk behind your back and smile in your face. They were very inconsistent with rules and regulations. It was a nightmare. We needed some order and we fought for it. It is still rather tense, but it is also functional. I am grateful to have a few co-workers who also share the same concerns.

“Hey sister. Seoul sister. Gotta let you…..”Lady Marmalade, LaBelle
Yeah! That is right. I am a Seoul Sista, and I had to start Seoul searching quickly. I asked the Creator every night,”Why am I here?” My boss lied to me, the administration is dysfunctional, and on top of that, there is underlying prejudice. Koreans perception of Dark tone people are not good. They look at East Indian people as servant level or just migrant worker level. They do not have a high regard for African Americans especially males. They think that we are not intelligent and the men are gangsters. Now, even though my job hired me, some tried to talk to me as if I was incapable of comprehending anything. The images of people of African or East Indian descent are mostly poverty, illiteracy, or violence. I always look forward to the weekend when Justin, Kay (African American sister), and Amirtha (Sri Lankan sister) visit Sontan or Seoul. There we can escape the ignorant Korean society, and submerge into a blissful day of colorful people. Sontan is a famous town in South Korea that is next to the largest American Air Force Base. There are many people of color from America, Africa, and Asia. The nightclubs are good, but they close early because of the Army’s curfew. The music is Hip-Hop and reggae mostly. In Itaewon (a neighborhood in Seoul) has an array of cultures. We frequent Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian food a lot. There is also a West African restaurant located there. It is like walking in Harlem around 116th St or West Philadelphia in the University City area. There is so much to do in Seoul and the Koreans there are a little more receptive to foreigners because there are a lot of us there.

All I do now is reflect on my divers memories and prepare for my next journey. I don't know where my next experience will be located, but I will definitely remember this "Seouljourn" to Asia.

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