Getting to my dorm room on the currently evolving campus of Korea International School was quite the process. Leaving my house in Maine at 3:30 I went to the Portland Jetport. I then hopped onto a flight to Chicago where I met up with some fellow Maine boarding assistants who joined me for a fifteen hour flight to Seoul. From there we took a bus that transferred airports from Incheon to Gimpo and then it was a one hour flight to Jeju. We arrived at our hotel room in the new section of Jeju-si and wandered around the streets a little dazed from the jet lag finally settling on Korean barbecue for dinner where we ordered chicken gizzards, eel, and soju (a Korean rice alcohol that tastes a lot like vodka.) I spent two nights in the hotel (literally named T.H.E. Hotel) until they finally took us to the campus of the school where I’ll be working for the next 10 months.
At first look I was very surprised at how unfinished the school was. For the past five days or so I have lived on a construction sight. My time on campus is filled with the constant sound of cranes, bucket loaders, buzz saws, and power drills. Mixed in with the rubble, dust and construction equipment is a stunning scenery prominently displaying Halla-san (Korea’s tallest mountain) and Sanbang-san (a mountain that we have decided looks much like an ice cream scoop.) There are workers everywhere scurrying to get the school together for the arrival of the kids this Thursday. I was a little apprehensive to believe that the task could be finished. However, the changes that occur on a daily basis are astounding. Each morning it is like waking up to a new surrounding that is quickly beginning to resemble a finished school.
Since my arrival, I have been taking full advantage of all that the island has to offer. So far I’ve been to Chungmun Beach twice. The water is the clearest I’ve ever seen and as the winter comes the waves should get bigger. At Chungman I’ve seen the famous Jeju woman divers in their distinct black wetsuits with round goggle, snorkel and flippers. In Korea it is considered ugly to have tan skin because it is a sign of poverty. It is not uncommon, therefore, to see Koreans bathing in long sleeve shirts and pants and a sun hat. The distinct grandmothers can also be spotted all around the island with ridiculously large visors that encircle curly perms. After both trips to the beach we hiked to a vegan restaurant called Loving Hut where a very motherly woman served us multiple courses of delicious food.
Besides the beach, I have been running on the Olle Trail System almost every day. The trails were envisioned and created through the efforts of a woman named Suh, Myung Sook. She was inspired after hiking the Camino de Santiago to bring the concept back to her island of Jeju. The first Olle trail opened in 2007 and from there has grown to a network of trails that connect the whole island. On the trail I’ve seen families of horses, neon yellow spiders, bee houses, and uppity pheasants. The trail near my school picks up at the O’Sulloc Tea Museum, a famous producer of green tea that I have visited a few times with the other boarding assistants.