Banghwa is Looking Up

Banghwa-dong, the street which has become my home away from home for the past year and a half, is located on the border of southwestern Seoul.  Most Seoulites would not find  Banghwa the ideal living location since it is located very far from the central hot spots, but even in the short time I’ve lived here, there have been many changes that are making Banghwa look better and better.  With express subway lines that can get me to places like Gangnam, Incheon airport, and Seoul station in about 30 minutes time, and scenic places like the Hangang river and Gaehwasan Mountain within walking distance, Banghwa has grown on me.

Most recently, last month, a new mall/supermarket/cinema/hotel opened up at Gimpo airport (2 subway stops from my house).  The Lotte Mall at Gimpo is home to many Western clothing stores including H&M, Zara, French Connection, and more, as well as a variety of restaurants serving international cuisine and a Western favorite ~ T.G.I. Fridays. Prior to the opening of this mall I would have to travel 30 minutes to an hour to get to shopping centers such as Myeong-dong or the closest department store, Hyundai Department Store in Mok-dong.  Now I simply hop on a subway for 5 minutes and after a 2 minute walk out of the subway gates I’m in the Lotte Mall.  The mall has 5 floors total (I’ve only been to two so far).  In Korea the price of the merchandise increases as you ascend to a different floor.  So there is really no need for me to go past the second floor, but sometimes it’s nice to do some window shopping.  The stores that I typically shop at like H&M and Uniqlo are conveniently located on the first floor.

H&M @ Gimpo Lotte Mall

This floor also contains a bookstore with a small foreign book section and many restaurants as well as a foreign food market with foreign spices, chocolates, and liquors.  I just picked up a box of yummy Swiss Miss hot chocolate to get me through the winter.

T.G.I. Fridays

 

Cute workers at T.G.I.F's

 

I’m thankful that I don’t need to make exhausting 2 hour round trip shopping excursions to Myeong-dong anymore (although I still will for the sake of Forever 21), but now it will be much easier to spend money on a regular basis 😦 (Must save money!) And it will be much easier to eat Western food like salty pretzels and hamburgers. (Must diet!). But with some self-control I think this mall is a great perk for people living in my area.  Stepping foot in the mall feels exactly like walking through a mall back home (except everyone is Asian).  Not to mention there is also a supermarket and cinema, which I have yet to try but I will update with more details and pictures later.  Here are some pictures of the mall.

 

 

Women's Secret? Sound familiar to anyone?

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A Self-Tour of Gangseo-gu

Today is my first official day in Seoul and I have the day off so I took a walk around to get a feel for my surroundings.  I walked straight down my street for a while and was pleasantly surprised to see that it led me to some surprising destinations.  I discovered an outdoor market that sells fresh produce, fish, meats, grains, clothes, and practically anything else you can think of.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

After I went through the market I saw signs that pointed to Gangseo park so I decided to follow them.  I ended up at a really cool park. In Korea, all of the parks have workout equipment.  This park had some really nice trails that went through a forest and it had trails along little ponds as well.  There were tennis courts, soccer courts, and tracks to run along.  There were also these houses similar to what I saw at the traditional Korean village where people can take a rest. I walked for about 2 hours and still have not seen a westerner.  I feel that in this part of Seoul there are not many English speakers.  While walking on the street and old lady came up to me and touched my shoulder and tried speaking with me.  She seemed very happy to see me but I have no idea what she was saying. I may be meeting up with some friends from orientation tonight and hopefully this weekend so I am looking forward to seeing the nightlife in Seoul.

My New Home

It’s hard to believe that I am here.  The stress of the application process, the packing, the long flight, and the fear of the unknown are now things of the past.  After a nice closing ceremony at Khung Hee University complete with a slideshow of pictures from the week and recognition certificates, I got on the bus to Gangseo-gu.  The morning was very stressful.  Imagine trying to load hundreds of adults with at least 3-4 suitcases each onto a limited amount of buses.  It was pure chaos.  But as with everything in Korea, it always works out and comes together at the last minute.  I’ve learned to have a lot of faith in the system over here.  When arriving in Gangseo-gu with the fellow teachers in my area, we all loaded off the bus and waited for our co-teachers.  I looked anxiously for my co-teacher as they started coming one by one with signs with our names on them.  Fortunately, I was able to spot her fairly quickly and I was one of the first to leave.  She was so happy to see me and extremely welcoming.  She majored in English, so she speaks English pretty well.  We loaded my heavy bags into her small hyundai and set off for my school-Konghang.

The school is absolutely adorable! I consider myself extremely lucky.  At orientation, we were told that we would have 6-7 co-teachers and over 800 students each week with 45 students in a class.  This is not the case for me. I am placed in a very small school where the class size is 20 and I have two co-teachers.  I will be teaching 3rd-6th graders and I will have morning classes and some afternoon classes.  The school spent almost a million dollars on the English classroom.  I get my own English room that is huge and comes with my own computer, a smart board, LCD projector, and so many more awesome materials! I can’t wait to start.  The focus on English is so great here that schools spend most of their money on the English program.  I will post pictures ASAP.

Once I toured the school, my co-teacher, Kim Jeongsin, led me to my apartment.  At this point I was beginning to get extremely nervous.  I was relieved to get out of the car and unload my luggage and bring it into my apartment! In parking garages here they do not have ramps but elevators for cars to go to each floor.  Crazy! So my apartment is nothing special.  It is extremely small, but extremely clean.  It is plenty of space for me.  It is one room with a bathroom.  It has a full bed with shelving and closets everywhere and a kitchen with a refrigerator, microwave, washer, TV, AC, and a stove.  There are two little chairs and a pull out table as well.  Its very cute.  When I arrived the cleaning people were finishing up and making my bed.  I am on the 9th floor so I have a view of the city and can see mountains in the background.

As Korean culture would have it, my co-teacher and two administrative assistants took me out to dinner and paid.  We ate some great dishes and shared all of our food with one another.  So far I am amazed at how excited and happy everyone is to meet me.  One lady at the school was so excited she couldnt stop bowing and smiling and talking to me, but I couldnt understand a word she said.  Apparently she wants to be my best friend. The appreciation that Koreans have for English speakers is so great.

Next on the agenda was a trip to the supermarket to get the essentials, which at the moment I am waiting for.  Because it’s a city and I needed to buy a lot on my first shopping trip, they are happy to deliver to me.

So now I am in my apartment for the first time.  I do not have to go to school until Friday to meet the teachers and I start teaching on Monday. I have tomorrow all to myself.  I think it will be hard to get around here at first but I would like to explore a little and get familiar with the area.  So far I have not seen any westerners in the area but I am hoping to meet up with the teachers that were on my bus ride here.  At the moment I am feeling a mix of emotions.  It is surreal that this is going to be my home for the next year.  I will upload pictures as soon as I can! I must unpack!