Thursday, February 7, 2013

February in Seoul

I'm spending my February in Seoul, and it's been a blast so far!

The first order of business is to take Korean classes, which I am doing at a well-known hagwon, or academic institute, called Ganada. (The name comes from the first three letters of the Korean alphabet: ㄱ, ㄴ, and ㄷ, which, when reciting the alphabet, are read as ga na da.)

It's interesting to be back in the classroom setting as a student (instead of as a teacher). After my 분반시험 (placement test), I was put into an intermediate class. So far, I've been able to keep up with the class; it's not too difficult, but it's not below my level, either. I think this is pretty fair; I studied at an intermediate level during Orientation, and it's not like I've been improving much in the months since due to limited practice. My Ganada class is small and the pace is quick and intense, just like at Orientation -- we speed through one chapter a day, three hours a day, four mornings a week. Re-experiencing the confusion that comes with total immersion in a language class is good for me, and it will help me better understand what my own students feel in my English class.

Another interesting thing about Ganada, specifically for this month, is that there are a lot of other Fulbrighters taking classes there. There are five in my class alone! Instead of choosing from dozens of other hagwons or university programs (like at Yonsei or Korea University), about thirty Fulbrighters have settled for Ganada, presumably on account of its cheap price (a little over 400 bucks for each month-long program, including the textbook and workbook) and the freedom it allows us. Less class time means more time spent exploring this awesome city!

What I know I'll especially love exploring is the neighborhood where I'm living. It's called Hongdae, which is an abbreviation for the local university (학교 becomes 홍대). I wouldn't call this place a "college town" so much as a hub of all the young people in Seoul. At night the streets are filled with people shopping, going to bars and clubs, and watching street performances. The narrow alleys are practically lined with cute cafes and specialty boutiques. And the people who live and work here are described as "ultra-hip". It's exciting to be in such a vibrant atmosphere.

My friends and I got an apartment through Airbnb. It's a tiny, cute, and cozy place on a quieter street. The location is perfect: out of the way, but a quick walk from the subway station, a local grocery store, and all of the fun parts of Hongdae. My apartment mates and I, all Fulbright teachers, have had a great time already, cooking on our own (American food! Pasta!) and looking for good cafes to hang out at. I love this arrangement, and I'm really looking forward to the coming weeks.

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