Here’s a big piece of advice for you if you’re an American guy preparing to live in Korea: Bring multiple pairs of shoes if you have big feet. Learn from my mistake, if you know what’s good for you, and bring many pairs of shoes with you. If you’re over size 10, you will regret the day you didn’t heed my warning. But before I tell you the story of my big feet, let me fill you in on the first three days living here in Korea.
The First Days of Orientation
First, it feels like so much longer. Orientation typically requires the entire day. During this time, we learn the language school’s (or hagwon‘s) teaching philosophy and program, which has included observing other teachers and mock teaching our peers. Then we have the night to do with as we please.
Coming from a teaching background, the school’s curriculum isn’t difficult. If I wasn’t here, I’d be feverishly preparing my own curriculum at home, so this cuts away that work and allows me to focus on just learning their expectations. So hey, not too bad right? Plus, they prepare most of our meals, and they gave us a small stipend to get the meals that aren’t. They only serve vegetarian food, so it has been interesting adjusting the diet, but I haven’t minded. We can always stop at a food stand in the evening and grab a bite here or there containing some seafood.
Learning a Little Korean
Danny and I have been lucky to have our roommate with us; he was born in Korea but has been an American citizen the last 10 years, meaning he’s fluent in both English and Korean. This has made ordering food and traveling so easy (I feel like we’re cheating). But he’s also taught us phrases or words to use in different situations. If you were to ease drop into some of our conversations, you’d think you’re listening to a guy explaining things to his kindergarten siblings. For instance, we’ll walk around the city and I’ll tug on his arm; after pronouncing a word, I’ll point to it (“Is that right?”). He’ll correct me if I need correcting and then he’ll tell me what it means.
One time this happened, I had pointed out the word that stood for Viagra. Too convenient, right? Other times, I’ll turn to him randomly and say, “Hana! Dul! Set!” while holding up one, two, then three fingers. “Very good,” he says, “you know 1, 2, 3!” I feel so bad for him.
The Problem of Having Big Feet
In our latest adventures, we’ve been looking for sandals for me and Danny for two reasons. First, everyone in Korea wears them and we stick out like sore thumbs. Second, it’s been so humid and hot (record heat wave!). Finally, in Korean culture, you take off your shoes upon entering a house and leave them at the threshold. The floor has a special lip or color deviation showing where you can’t walk past.
Thing is, each shopping district we’ve gone to, we’ve been out of luck. Wednesday, we went to Dongdaemun Market. While we got to sit and watch a fountain show at the Cheonggyecheon stream afterwards, which was nice, the market itself was surprisingly sparse of men’s sandals or shoes. Then yesterday, we went to Myeongdong and Sinsa, and that’s when the horrible realization set in: My big feet are too big for Korea. The highest size stores had was 280, roughly a size 9.5 in America. My unfortunate shoe size is a 12, a depressing 295/300. Though it’s a bit bigger than average in the West, you can still find these everywhere. Here? I can’t even find shoes on GMarket, the Amazon of Korea.
Oh Korea, why have you forsaken me?
What’s Ahead and a Few Pictures
This weekend, we get a bit more free time. The group is going to a singing room (noraebang) at some point, and we’re also going to see what a local bar is like. Below are a few photos I took of random things or highlights these past few days.
Next time, I’ll report on what we did during our time in orientation. Enjoy the pictures! Till next time, friends!