Touchdown in Korea

As of yesterday, our entire team has landed safely in Seoul and moved into our Airbnb apartment! For our first team dinner, we had garlic fried chicken—more flavor than generic fried chicken but not too spicy either—and complimentary corn pops (unofficial name).

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Day 0 Dinner: Garlic fried chicken and corn pops

Today was our first full day together in Korea, and I’m super proud of how productive we were. We left the apartment around 9 AM and grabbed breakfast on the way to the train station.

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Day 1 Breakfast: Paris Baguette

Up until today, our biggest concern was purchasing 9 sets of computer monitors, keyboards, and mice for under $900. A significant portion of our curriculum involves working with Raspberry Pis, which meant that finding or not finding these monitors would make or break our workshop. After browsing online, we quickly realized that computer monitors under $100 are pretty difficult to come by, so we weren’t sure how successful we would be. In hindsight, we could have done a better job with risk assessment…

Fortunately, we learned about the Yongsan Electronics Market and took the subway there first thing after breakfast. This place is like paradise for any computer geek. There are thousands of shops that sell various electronics, including computer hard drives, GPUs, and gaming keyboards, all at wholesale prices.

Not only did we find great deals for wireless keyboards and mice, but we also found some ridiculously cheap used monitors, which were perfect for our use case.

We managed to purchase all 9 monitors for 250,000 won total. If that’s not a great deal, then I don’t know what is. Rest assured, every one of the monitors works perfectly (we checked).

The best part of the trip to the electronics store besides getting awesome deals on everything was probably seeing the confused looks on the shopkeepers’ faces. We were the only females shopping at the electronics market, so I guess people took notice. I must say we did look pretty badass lugging around boxes and a suitcase full of electronics, though.

We didn’t have much time for lunch before our meeting with the science teacher, so we enjoyed some Korean pizza while lounging on the bedroom floor.

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Day 1 Lunch: Korean pizza

Shine was our main channel of communication with the science teacher during the semester, and both Emily and Emu taught at the school in previous years, which meant that I was the only person who had never spoken to the science teacher. Although I don’t speak a word of Korean, and the science teacher has limited English ability, I could tell by the way he talked about his students—thanks to Shine’s amazing translations—that he knows a lot about and cares a lot about his students.

I got to see the inside of the classroom and the computer lab for the first time, and it was all very exciting. This was the first school I’ve been to that requires people to take off their shoes and wear indoor slippers. We learned that our students are a bit older than we expected (between the ages of 17 and 30) and that their English ability is limited to the alphabet and basic words. I have a decent amount of experience teaching different audiences, but I’ve never had to teach a group of students who didn’t speak English, so that’s probably going to be my biggest challenge. Let’s hope that my carefully crafted slides with lots of animated pictures will help me get the main ideas across. In the worst case scenario, we have Naver translations.

Quick side story: I learned yesterday that even Google Translate can be a bit rough. Shine was looking through my slides and laughing at some of the improperly translated Korean, which I copied from Google Translate. She was kind enough to help me fix everything, though 🙂

My team and I have put a lot of time and effort into prepping all our activities for our STEM workshop. After talking with the science teacher, I’m even more excited to meet our students on Monday. We’re going to have a blast during these next few weeks!

Shopping for supplies resumed immediately after our meeting. Our next stop was the eight-story Daiso in Myungdong. Yes, that’s right. I said eight stories.

We spent a few hours at Daiso and bought more than 150,000 won worth of stuff. The lady at the cashier definitely gave us some weird looks, but according to Emu, they spent even more money at Daiso last year.

After bringing all the supplies back to the apartment, I decided to do a test run of the Expeditions virtual reality app for Google Cardboard with Emu and Shine. They seemed to get a real kick out of it, so I think the students will enjoy it, too. The nice thing is that you don’t have to know English in order to enjoy VR.

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Testing out Expeditions using Google Cardboard

Emu and Emily were craving chicken and cheese, so we ended up going to 내가찜한닭 동국대점 for jjimdak.

The food was delicious (probably my favorite meal in Korea so far) but also spicier than anticipated. We went through at least 4 jugs of water, which got us some confused looks from the waitress. Perhaps it was because we had ordered one spicy jjimdak (for Shine and me) and one non-spicy jjimdak (for Emily and Emu), yet we were all low key dying from the hotness level. The waitresses’ facial expression was priceless when she told Shine that the non-spicy jjimdak had nothing but soy sauce and thus should not be spicy at all. My favorite quote from the night was from Emu: “We’re all eating food that we think is spicy.” Indeed, there has never been a truer statement. I cannot imagine how spicy the extra hot jjimdak would have been…

I’m super happy with how much we accomplished today. I think we’re definitely coming together as a team, and sharing personal stories about each other while chugging water has definitely added to our growing collection of shared team memories.

Tidbits

Conflict of interest in levels of formality. During our meeting with the science teacher, we learned that a decent number of our students are older than we are. In many cultures, this wouldn’t be a huge issue, but when speaking a language like Korean, which has different politeness levels, sometimes there are conflicts of interest in determining which level of formality to use. In general, the older person is higher in the hierarchy, which means the younger person should speak to the older person with greater formality. However, students must also speak to their teachers with greater formality, which makes this situation more complicated. Here the student is older than the teacher. Shine mentioned that a similar conflict of interest occurs with army rank versus age, which is why men are encouraged to join the army at the same age as everyone else to avoid frustrations of reporting to a higher official who is also younger.

Recycling. My family dropped me off at the apartment yesterday, and Shine picked us up from outside the building. As we were walking in, however, the security guard stopped us and lectured Shine for a solid 3 minutes or so. I thought it was an issue of bringing in outside people into the apartment, but apparently, the security guard was just concerned about making sure that all the guests recycled properly. Foreigners don’t have a great track record of recycling, and as an American, I can see why. Korea, unlike America, is big on recycling, and people can actually get in trouble for doing a poor job of recycling. Apparently, our apartment building has been called out for it in the past, so we’re all trying our best to recycle properly.

Black dogs. Our apartment is located near a street full of pet stores selling puppies. We saw two adorable black dogs (sorry, I’m bad with dog breeds) from outside the window, but Shine explained that they would probably never get adopted by Koreans because there is a stigma against black dogs in Korea. She mentioned, however, that South Korea’s new president actually adopted a black rescue dog, which was a departure from the tradition of adopting a pure-bred white Jindo dog to be the “First Pet.” Times are a-changin’.

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