Countdown to Departure Day

The ETAs in Chungbuk

The ETAs in Chungbuk

Orientation is over?

That’s the overwhelming question that I’m repeating in my head right now. Just a few weeks ago, I arrived in Korea to have this new experience, unsure of what to expect and how I would react. 5 weeks later, I have come through a few personal milestones:

– I passed my Korean Language class. Learning Korean (and doing so in the Korean-style) has been one of the more difficult academic endeavors I have encountered. After around 100 hour of class and many more spent writing out vocabulary in Hangul, it was a tremendous feeling to gain my language certificate from the Korean Language and Culture Center at Korea University this past weekend in Seoul. Even through the day-to-day struggles and frustrations, my main language teachers offered a lot of support (and even took us out in Seoul for drinks and bubble tea) that kept me pushing through.

– I’ve developed and taught three lessons. I first started teaching when I worked at Mystery Academy, an amazing performance art camp focused on teaching magic performance and variety arts to children. It was there that I gained a basic “teaching persona,” and it was definitely one of the best jobs that I’ve ever had in both a personal and professional sense. Thanks to Orientation, I was able to apply that experience to teaching English to Korean students at Camp Fulbright. While I had my ups and downs, it gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to manage the 20+ hours of teaching each week that my placement will require. I taught about different tones of voice through examples of acting, how different approaches to problem solving can find the best solutions, and how our memories are what provide context for our lives. Being able to wrap up these lessons within the English language is rewarding–and seeing a student breakthrough and say something profound never ceases to amaze me.

– I’ve met and connected with an incredible peer group. The ETA program in Korea pulls from a wide variety of perspectives and hometowns. Together, we pulled through a rigorous schedule. While the Fulbright grant is obviously a personal and individual experience, I feel sad that our group is dividing across the country. During a recent workshop, we stood in a circle and shared our hopes and fears for the grant year–among the many things that were said, I added my fear of losing touch with everyone. While we aren’t perfect, the perspectives, talent, and support that I’ve seen my fellow ETAs bring daily is going to be hard to lose. I also feel that it’s important to recognize our OCT, or Orientation Coordinator Team, which is staffed only by former and current ETAs. They’ve worked tirelessly to plan the program, and I have to give them tons of credit for pulling it off so successfully. Thank you, Elaine, Anthony, Hemma, Tracey, Ashlee, Andrew, and Leslie, for everything!

– I found honeybread. Seriously, it’s this delicious combination of bread, honey, cinnamon, and more that is a mix between a cinnamon bun and french toad. It’s up there as being one of the best things ever.

Now that Orientation is over, I head to my placement in the morning. A few weeks ago, we experienced our placement ceremony, where each ETA was told both where in Korea they would be and what kind of school they’d be at.

I will be spending my grant in Ochang, Korea, a small suburb just outside of Cheongju, South Korea. Cheongju is home to Korea’s second largest airport. While Lonely Planet doesn’t think much of it, Cheongju is smack dab in the center of Korea, making many areas of the country accessible. I will be teaching at Gakri Middle School, a co-ed middle school in Ochang. Today, I also found out the basic information about my homestay. My host father is an office worker (no elaboration on that yet…), my host mother is a stay-at-home mom, and I will have two siblings, a girl in high school and a boy in middle school. Luckily, they also informed me that I will be just a short 5 minute walk from my school.

While I was in Seoul this past weekend, I was able to meet the ETA that was previously at my school. As someone who spent three years teaching there, he offered me a lot of information about what to expect. Tomorrow, I will meet my Fulbright Co-Teacher (who acts as the liaison between me and the Fulbright office) and my school’s Vice Principal. The range of emotions is hard to convey effectively. Even after spending 5 weeks in Korea, I know that the Orientation “bubble” is about to break, and that this is all going to get very real, very quickly.

My bags are packed, the dorm room is clean, and my suit is ready to go. Now, my year in Korea begins.

NOTE: I tried to add some pictures here to illustrate things further, but WordPress’ Image Uploader isn’t being so cooperative at the moment.


About Jonathan Rice

Fulbright Fellow, Pitzer College alum, and communicator passionate about telling stories that make an impact.

Posted on 08/15/2013, in Fulbright South Korea 2013-14 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Which high school does your sister attend?
    One of my home-stay sisters (the one I haven’t met yet because she’s attending a camp run by Korea University) will be one of your students. ^^
    I hope your first 24 hours in Ochang have gone alright.

    Let’s go Fulbright Team Ochang! 🙂

    PS. If you want a map of our area, just search “충청북도 청원군 오창읍” here: – I haven’t had a chance to explore on my own at all yet, but let’s trade notes on good local spots when next we meet. Best wishes~

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