Arrival in Imgye
As the entered Gangwon province, we looked outside the bus at the scenery that greeted us. What we saw was a stunning visual landscape of mountains and trees as far as the eye could see. There had been a typhoon warning, so it was raining moderately, and the landscape was caked in fog and clouds that dipped into the valleys and back out again. As we rose into the mountains we could see the fog below us, and when we descended, we couldn’t see past the closest tree line. I realized then how remote this really was going to be.
The bus arrived in Gangneung, a city of about 220,000. Each of the people on my bus got called to leave one by one. We hugged, said our goodbyes, and they were gone. I was one of the last to be called. I walked off the bus and met SuJin and SeongHee. Sujin was middle aged and SeongHee looked to be in her mid-20’s. Both were smiling and very friendly. Because it was pouring rain, we quickly got into Sujin’s car and we were off to Imgye.
I was told the drive would take about 45 minutes, so I talked with my coteachers and we got to know each other for a bit. Once we got out of Gangneung, I was once again blown away by the environment around us. As the rain subsided, I could see more clearly the jutting mountains, the endless forests, the seas of farmland where I could see rice, cabbage, ginseng, apples, and other vegetables that I could not identify. I was enamored by the beauty of our surroundings, but I was also reminded of the remoteness of where we were going.
We finally arrived in Imgye around 3:30. The town was very small, maybe 6 blocks by 8 blocks, surrounded by mountains on all sides. I was wearing shorts and a tshirt as we were informed that schools were closed because of the typhoon warning, but my coteachers told me that the teachers were still in school and that they wanted to meet me and that it didn’t matter what I wore, so we drove over to the school, which surprisingly, was beautiful and pristine. It was a long brick and glass structure, with a lovely green (fake) grass soccer field as its front yard. As we walked in, we left our shoes in cubbies and I was given my school slippers. We then walked into the teachers room and I met my coworkers. We were all smiles and they were all quite friendly. I also met my principle as he was on the way out. He wore an open suite with no tie, was very cordial and had an official air about him. He smiled and introduced me to his grandson, who I learned later was in the school’s kindergarten.
After we had our initial introductions, we got back into Sujin’s car and drove over to the apartment that I’d be living in, which was about 3 blocks away. I was greeted to a long 2 bedroom apartment, the 2 rooms separated by the kitchen. I dropped off my luggage, and the 3 of us went next door and they helped me pick up some things from the supermarket. From there, we went back to the apartment, and Sujin gave me a small packet, made by the previous teacher, Lindsey.
At that point I sat down with my coteachers for a short while and we discussed my responsibilities. Essentially, I’d be teaching 22 hours a week, from kindergarten through 6th grade, which included after school classes. From Tuesday through Thursday during traditional school hours (before 2pm) , I would be teaching 3rd-6th grades with my coteacher, Sujin. She would take the first 20 minutes and introduce the key words and sentences and then I’d take the last 20 minutes to do an activity or game. I would be the only teacher for after school classes. Mondays and Fridays I’d also be on my own, but I would have Kindergarten-2nd grade, and finally, I would be teaching a parent class on Fridays on my own as well. Yikes!!
We then talked about the next couple of days. That evening I’d make an introductory powerpoint. Then tomorrow, I’d be introduced to the school at morning assembly. At that point, we’d have classes as usual. Since it was the first day, Sujin would use her 20 minutes to introduce the upcoming chapters for the term and then I would present my powerpoint, introduce myself to the students, and take questions.
With a plan formed, Sujin and SeongHee left me the key, I gave my deepest thanks and bow I could give, and they were on their way.
I sat down with the packet that Lindsey, the previous teacher, had left me and gave it a good read through. Essentially She explained what to expect from my coteachers, and what my responsibilities were. She also gave me some sample lesson plans to use if I needed ideas. Finally, she said that it was in my best interest to recommend a new apartment as soon as possible. I looked around and didn’t understand, the apartment seemed fine, so I read on. “The apartment is not fine, though it may look so,” she wrote. Because the aparment was in the center of town, and Imgye was a town that big trucks drove through in the middle of the night, bringing all sorts of goods across Gangwan-do, she would get constantly woken up by the din of these massive vehicles. In addition, the insulation was very poor, and she reported paying over 300,000 won to heat just one of her rooms. Finally, she said that the sewage system was very poor, and the bathroom would sometimes emit a terrible odor.
I made a mental note to recommend a new apartment as soon as I could. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to live out of my bags until then, so I did a little unpacking, and was surprised to find that the internet still worked in the apartment, a blessing which I expected to last for the final days of Lindsey’s last payment to the internet company. I took stock of the furniture and the items in the apartment. The cabinets were stocked with dishes, there was a great desk and shelves, a large dresser with cubby hoels for clothes, and a queen sized bed. I did notice how loud it got when trucks passed and I tried to tune it out as I completed my powerpoint and went to sleep.