Saturday, August 4, 2012

Placement Day

Yesterday was a big day for all of our Fulbrighters. Aside from being the last day of practice teaching for Camp Fulbright, August 3rd was also our Placement Day.

Placement Day involved a very important ceremony during which the eighty ETAs were informed where in South Korea they would be teaching for the school year. Less than a week ago, I wrote a post about the placement preference forms we all filled out and what kind of school I was looking for. Last Tuesday, we were shocked to learn that our preference forms had all been processed and our placements would be determined by the end of the week. That's some speedy turnaround time! I expected the placements to take several weeks. Instead, we were getting an early surprise.

So, on Friday afternoon we went through a rehearsal for the Placement Day ceremony. All eighty ETAs would stand in a huge semi-circle around the large marble auditorium on the top floor of Jungwon University, and one by one, we would each be called forward to receive our placement. All ETAs who would be in the same province for the year were called together, but otherwise, we had no idea when we would be called and had no clues as to our placement until it was announced as we walked up onto the stage.

After rehearsal, I got dressed -- Placement Day meant formal attire -- and all throughout dinner, I couldn't think about anything but placement. In fact, nobody had been talking about anything else for the past few days. "What did you put on your preference form?" "Advanced or Intermediate-level?" "Did you want a city?" I kept telling people that I would prefer Busan or another coastal city, but I also insisted that I would be okay with any geographical location. What I listed as most important on my placement form was that I get a high school with more advanced students. And then, of course, there was that short essay I wrote on the form explaining why I'd like a science high school specifically. But I'd been hearing that placements at science high schools were extremely rare for first-year ETAs. There were probably no more than two available this year, and I wasn't the only person who requested one...

My friend Katelyn and me, dressed up for Placement Day.
+1 for the bow tie! (photo courtesy Katelyn)

At 6:45pm, we lined up -- everyone was dressed to kill! I love it when people dress up -- and entered the auditorium. My heart started to beat really quickly at this point. I'm sure that everyone was really nervous. And this wasn't the kind of nerves that comes from having to perform or be watched at all... it was just finally starting to hit me that in less than an hour I'd find out a supremely crucial aspect of my future in Korea. Would I get to be in Busan? Did I get an advanced high school? Would I be close to any of my friends?

Once in the auditorium, Ms. Shim, the Executive Director of Korean-American Educational Commission, gave a short speech, and then the roll call began. It felt a bit like reading off names for execution. Almost everyone looked really grim at the moment their name was called, although we'd been told to smile like fools no matter what happened.

I might make a note here that there are two Andrews in Fulbright Orientation with me. His name was called before mine, and when it was, I realized just how tense I was, because I nearly jumped! But there were many names called between his and mine. Also, as time went on and the number of ETAs still standing and waiting to be called up grew smaller, I began to notice that whoever did the placements did a fair job of clumping close groups of friends in the same region. My roommate Jet was placed in Daegu, Korea's 3rd-largest city, along with some of the folks he's hung out with most in the past month. It made me happy to see the groups of ETAs placed in Daegu, Gwangju, Naju, and Mokpo already celebrating how much fun they'd have together. Alas, I wasn't placed in any of those cities.

After about roughly half of the placements had been announced, the ETAs for Gyeongsangnam-do (경상남도), one of the southernmost provinces, were called up. Two ETAs were called before me, Ryan and Rachel. And then... "Andrew Cheng..."

I stepped forward and did my best 인사 (insa, a customary bow).


Walking forward, I tried not to clench my jaw...

"... an advanced science high school in Changwon."

And when I heard the last sentence, I felt my whole face tighten as I tried to suppress a huge, stupid grin. I got the science high school! The rest I hardly remember. I didn't even see where on the map my school was, only vaguely hearing Jim tell me that I was very close to Busan as I put my sticker on. And surprisingly, I was the last one to be called, making a small total of three ETAs placed in this province. Most of the other provinces, and the cities, of course, had at least five or six.

Gyeongsangnam-do's new ETA trio took a photo, and then I finally got to sit down and watch as the last half of the ETAs were given their placements.

And when that was all over, and Ms. Shim gave some concluding remarks that I hardly remember because I was in a totally different place... it was all chaos! Everyone got up and congratulated each other on the placement; we mobbed the OCs for any more information about our schools and regions that they could give, we took photos with friends as well as our Korean language teachers, who were invited to come watch. It was almost like a party, and everyone was breathing huge, collective sighs of relief.

That evening, I went out with friends for drinks, ice cream, and karaoke (노래방)! But stories and photos of that will have to wait for later.
I'm pointing to my little blue sticker on the giant map of Korea. Changwon is close to Busan, the second-largest city in Korea. Busan is indicated by all those yellow stickers, and Daegu is north, covered in orange. (photo taken by Katelyn)
I'll be spending the next few weeks finding out as much as I can about my city and school, and as I get updates, I'll be writing more! But for now, I'm happy to have been placed in Changwon Science High School, and I'm really looking forward to the real start of my grant year!