After a day of orientation filled with safety, medical, and language briefings, it was time to meet the host family. It was set up like a reality TV show. In groups of six, we left the room and went into the hallway where our host families were waiting. We were matched by the teacher (san-seng-neme) and awkwardly shook hands and said "annyong-ha-sayoh." Unfortunately, this was about the end of my Korean vocab except for ten phrases I had scrolled out on a few note cards I had written on the plane ride. So there I was on the side of the road with 90 pounds of luggage, 10 Korean phrases, and 0 idea what was happening.
My host parents, Jo Hyung Il and Kim Jung Ran, saw the flash cards and gave a laugh and sigh as we got into the van and drove off campus into the city. After a few minutes of awkward silence, I said, "Do you speak English?" to which Jo Hyung Il said, "little" in a strong Korean accent. I asked what their names were but could not repeat them (I'm a visual learner). Jo Hyung Il started writing their names down as well as the names of their three kids, a girl who is in middle school, a son in upper elementary, and a son in primary. Driving through a foreign city of 700,000, of which there were only maybe 50 Americans, I realized that this was going to be quite an interesting summer.
Jo Hyung Il told me to call him Sam-Jone (Korean for uncle), so I have begun calling him Uncle Jo in my head. He took the bus with me to school the next morning and walked me to my building to make sure I knew my way. School was from 8:30 AM - 5:30 PM that day - a full nine hours of intensive Korean language, grammar, vocab, etc. I was paired with five others from the group of 32. The six of us are a class for the rest of the summer, and we do everything together with Sanseng Neme - eat lunch, go to class, and have breaks. Fortunately, I have a great class, and we all get along really well. The first day was really rough, though. First off, we didn't see much of the group, many of whom we had become close to. Also, it was extremely disorienting being surrounded by so much Korean. Our teacher doesn't speak English, so everything we do must be in Korean. If we don't know a word, we look it up. If we don't understand, she acts it out. Grammar points are especially difficult to grasp, but we manage. Sanseng Neme is really nice, and we all love her despite her giving us 75 vocab terms to learn on day one and an additional 100 on day two. I hope this isn't an exponential growth...
Day two was much better after adapting to the environment and getting a few words and phrases to work with on a day-to-day basis. We had our first class of traditional music and dance which was a lot of fun. The teacher is hilarious and spent the first half of class doing introductions - a tricky thing to do with a group of beginners. It really surprised me, however, when I said, "Annyong hasayoh. Chow nun Jacob imnidah. Chow nun migug saram imnida. Chow nun Alabama eso wassayoh." I guess that's what happens when you're in full immersion - you're forced to learn the language very quickly. After classes ended at 3:30, half of the group of 32 ended up invading the coffee shop a block from campus where we did homework for a couple hours and chatted. Although it feels kind of like high school again, it is a really great group, and it was energizing to get to see them all and realize that there are more than five Americans in the whole town to talk to.
I took the bus back home around 5:30 to study more with the host family who are extremely helpful and nice. I got a bit stir crazy after a couple hours and went for a run around the city. I definitely got more than one stare as the only white person running frantically down the sidewalk at night. Ah well, I'm getting used to it by now. I was initially worried about the language pledge not to speak English after two weeks, but I know that it will be no problem. This program is seriously incredible.
Things that are strange in Korea:
1. You don't drink water with your meal. There are water stations by the door in cafeterias and restaurants where you shoot a glass of water on your way out.
2. I have seen more than one urinal filled with ice. I don't even have a guess on that one.
3. THE FAN DEATH! It is believed that if you have a fan on in the room while you sleep, you will die by asphyxiation. The idea is that the fan will create a vortex in the room and suck out all of the oxygen. It's not a passing superstition; people are totally serious about this one. My fan has a timer and won't stay on for more than 15 minutes at a time. So I go to sleep nice and cool but wake up sweaty.
4. There are no shower curtains, but there are showers. This causes the floor to be perpetually wet. To combat this, they have installed drains on the bathroom floors and have bathroom sandals at the door that are to be worn in the bathroom only. I feel like a shower curtain would be a cheaper and less difficult solution, but who am I to question?