Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Starting off with a bang (aka Ulsan Arrival Part 3)

As the morning rolled around, the four of us talk people rolled out of bed and into the showers…where we discovered that the hot water had been turned off because of construction…okay, that sucks, but some of us managed. I decided that I would have breakfast instead, but when I found the cafeteria, I was a big sign that said it was closed due to the same construction that was keeping the hot water off. Thinking that there was no way that the school would leave us stranded without food, I went on a search and found a cafeteria open in my own building, but as I walked it, the lady who ran the place pulled me aside and in Korean asked me what I thought I was doing. Well, I thought I was eating, so I said, “breakfast” and she started asking me a series of questions. I understood enough to explain to her that I lived in the building and that I was a student, but she told me that the International Students were supposed to eat in the other building…which made her realize that it was closed. So, I thought that I would then be able to eat, but apparently living in the building doesn’t qualify you for food there, and so I got escorted out and told that I could find food at the restaurants off-campus.

The hell? All I knew was I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t shower, so I got dressed in my mostly empty room and went out with Thomas to the spot where we were told to meet the other international students. A bus rolled up before long and we ran Maria and Rochelle came walking up, so everyone got on and started our international adventure, which included a trip to the Hyundai Motors Factory, a hike near the Ulgi Lighthouse and the Daewan Rock Formation, lunch at an expensive restaurant downtown, and ended with a trip to the Munsu Sports Arena (the sight of a world cup tournament). It was all great, but I specifically liked the Daewan rock formation, because of the mythos and because of great view of the ocean. For those of you concerned, the myth goes that really formidable people don't die, but become Dragons who guard the Korean Nation with all their might, and this location is the burial tomb of Queen Munmu. They claim that when she was submerged under the sea, she became a dragon, and the rocks signify this. Despite Thomas getting separated from the group, it was a great time.

The Arena was pretty cool too. It was huge, seats about 45,000 people and has a museum to the 2001 World Cup Finals. The stadium is still used continuously for these kinds of events, so it was really kinda cool when they let us run onto the field and pretend to play soccer. We took some pictures, but because my camera died (such is the problem when you go a trip like this is a camera that uses AA batteries) I just kinda chilled with everyone on the grass. I wanted to go back out the Munsu stadium, which surrounds the building, because it has a lake and some paths, and all kinds of stuff, but I didn’t want to get left behind, so I stayed with the group. When I left, I noticed someone had tagged the garbage can with Kong-lish graffiti that said, “Merallica.” I’m betting it was supposed to say Metallica, but some unwitting person messed it up.

However, we did eventually come home and then had a weekend that for me was slow and boring. My roommate came in, but then left again because he had some experiments to get to. Turns out that his name is Rookie and he wants to learn English really well because he’s wants to work for the Hyundai Heavy Industries Corporation, which is one of the largest in Korea, designing ships, which is why he has experiments. However, in order to get a job at one of the top 10 companies in Korea (and Hyundai Heavy Industries falls into that category) you have to speak English well, and the higher the Toefl/Toeic score, the better off you are. It’s like a mandatory requirement, so at the University, almost everyone has to learn English: Political Science majors, history majors, Engineering majors…and even foreign language majors. Yes, even the people who are getting a degree in Chinese or any other non-English Language have to learn English in order to get a job in Korea after graduation. That pretty much blows, but that’s just the way things are around here.

Oh well. I just hope I can learn enough Korean by the time I leave here that I will be able to communicate with people. If this sitting in my room thing becomes a habit, I may never learn anything impressive…not nearly to the same degree that I can communicate in Japanese. I have to get out there and start talking to people once I get to that level of fluency that I can communicate with more than one or two sentences in a row. The problem is, it just seems like the whole system of language acquisition here in Korea is ass-backwards, and I don’t want to harp on anyone, but really. I mean, in truth, second language acquisition pretty much sucks in the US too…it’s like no one really knows what they are doing.

But anyway, to sorta speed through the next few weeks (because they really do go by that quickly) I started teaching at the Elementary school, and I love my kids. They seem to like me too…

Actually, I’ll start with that in the next post, I don’t want to blow through that so quickly.

Well, Happy Trails people.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ulsan Arrival (Part 2)

Okay, so time has passed since the last post and this one. But the reason for that is because there wasn't a strong Wi-Fi connection in the Taehwa hotel, and then once you haven't done something for a while, you just sort of forget about it, which I did, but I will make it to all of you readers in this special Wednesday biweekly edition. :P

Basically, the rest of the first week here in Ulsan was full of trainings and eating and more trainings and lots of killing time in the hotel rooms. It would have been nice to start lesson plans and coming up with an annual plan, but that never happened because none of us were given any materials to work with, so dispite the fact that we were supposed to give a copy of our annual lesson plans to the provincial office of education, none of us did. Oh well, I guess they'll have to deal with that one.

But I grew to be quite close to Geoffrey Kimball, who's a much better person than a lot of people give him credit for. To some people, he might have a rough exterior, maybe some polishing, but who amongst us doesn't have some failing that we could work on. Our problems may not be social, they may not be physical or mental, but they might be emotional, or economic, or who knows what else kinds of problems people can develop. All I know is that Geoff and I spent a lot of our free time in the hotel just hanging out and watching Movies or Tv or going on walks to check out Ulsan city. I wish I would have brought my camera on these outings and got some "Ulsan Street Level" shots, but I can do that anytime, so I'm not too upset about it.

For the most part, the week passed relatively uneventfully. The only couple of noteworthy points are that we spent 'nigh on a hour at the immigrations office turning our paperwork because they had never processed our kind of D-2/work visa things before, and so it was that most of yet another afternoon was lost again to the korean government.

The second thing was the Mr. Jung, the international coordinator (more specifically our international coordinator) came to the hotel to meet us and go over the potential schedules that we had before us. The program was changed from the paperwork that was originally sent to us Exchange students, so some of our desired classes no longer existed, which was some pretty sucky news to go on top of our really sucky news. I was supposed to be in Korean Conversation, Korean Economics, Issues in Contemporary International Relations and International Marketing, but one class got dropped, so I ended up in Korean Conversation, Korean Economics, Issues in Contemporary International Relations, Applied Linguistics and Judo.

Now, I can't complain about the Judo part, 'cause that's just awesome and a half, but I really wish the one wouldn't have been dropped because it would have helped me move toward graduation. But, the Applied Linguistics is part of the Graduate School, so we got a temporary bump in placing here at the University, which is kind of prestigious, but doesn't do much more than help my applied linguistics minor...a little...hopefully. It's really hard to explain to someone the course material because it seems like we are just taking a scientific approach to linguistics, which probably won't transfer very well...so yeah, here's to keeping my fingers crossed.

Anyway, the week ended and with tearful goodbyes, we all parted our ways, which actually turned out weird because we all got picked up by people from our school and brought to our new homes. But that meant that Marie, Thomas, Rochelle and I all ended up leaving with different people and arriving at the university at the same time.

But I had a slight problem when I arrived. I came into the room and found that there was another person living here. Now, I originally thought it was my roommate, which would have been a decent assessment, but the more I looked at the stuff, the more I realized that if it was my roommate, than my roommate was female. Dark eyeshadow and nail polish does not necessarily a female make, I mean, it could very easily be some emo/goth dude, but the Pink DS and the full body cuddly thing pillow were kinda making me lean to that persuasion. Finally, as my escort was calling people to find out what was going on, I took the plung and opened the closet...only to find dresses, blouses and other female clothes. Once again, my family is from the Bay Area, and now we live in Portland Oregon, so dresses and blouses does not necessarily a female make, but the combination of cuddly pillow thing, nail polish, eye shadow, pink DS, women's clothes, and the picture of some dude standing out in a field made me think this was a chick.

Now, had it just been the most flamingly homosexual guy in Korea, I would have been okay, but they thought of being roommates with a chick, one who apparently already had a boyfriend, stirred up some awkward feelings. I mean rooming with a chick can be awkward when you know her, but put together the fact that I wouldn't know here, nor would I be able to get to know her very quickly due to my inability to have meaningful conversations in Korean. So, I was not looking forward to that.

Well, I got the news that she was moving out and then Mr. Jung, along with Thomas, came to my room, which was a comforting sight and welcomed reassurence. We made our way outside where the girls were waiting and the four of us said goodbye to our escorts and went about getting ourselves situated in the University schedule, getting to know the campus map and generally doing what all new college students do on the first day of school.

But we had a dinner that night, which was interesting, because it was only the international students, and we discovered that we were the only native english speaking international students this semester (we have some who are graduate students that are also professors, and since they are married to Korean women, have half Korean kids, and live off campus, they don't count). Weird. It was awkward, and for a moment, it seemed like I was going to have to give a speech on behalf of the American student body. I don't know why I was chosen, but I think it's because I'm not afraid of crowds.

Anyway, afterwards (and here's the really cool part, so if you have read this far, you get to know something special) Mr. Jung gave us a ride back to the university, but he decided to give us a tour of the cool places around campus first. The whole time we rolled down the streets, cruisin' the main roads and checking out interesting spots, Mr. Jung had the car bumpin' to Eminem. It's true. I almost expected to Ghost Ride through a stop light. :P

So we made it back to the Dorms and for the most part had everything figured out...where the bank was, where the food was, where the classes were, and where our dorms were. There were some light issues ahead of us, like the lack of hot water in the showers and the cafeteria being closed for construction, but those things and more will be talked about next time. For now, let's just end in on the fact that we all came back to our places and for the first time in a month, finally felt like we were starting to live in Korea.

Happy Trails people. ULSAN TBC