Although I have only been here since Aug. 24, it feels like I have been here far longer. I am starting to become familiar with the new environment, and I am surprised by how many similarities there are between here and the United States. It still hasn't really hit me that I am so far away. Instead it feels as if I am very nearby, just in an area that I haven't seen before.
The day after my arrival here, I began school at Donggang Junior High School. I was very happy to start classes, because it allowed me to meet the other students right away.
The school I attend is very active in the Rotary Youth Exchange program, even though it is very small (it only has about 50 students spread out among the three classrooms for the three grades). In my class, there are four students who have returned from exchange; two of these students spent their year in Mexico, one spent her year in Germany and one (my host brother) spent his year in Muskegon, Mich.
There are also four other inbound students at my school; two are from Mexico, one is from Taiwan and one is from Germany. One of the interesting things about our group of inbounds is that there is no common language. The two Mexican students don't speak English, while the Taiwanese student speaks limited English, the German student is nearly fluent in English and only knows a little Spanish, and I know some German but no Spanish. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will all be able to converse together in Korean.
My host family has been very welcoming and helpful with my arrival in Korea. At the end of November, I will be switching host families to the family that I will be with for the rest of my time. Currently, I am living on a chicken farm that is within walking distance of my school. In my host family, I have a host sister and two host brothers, but one of them is off at college. They have all been very welcoming to me, even though it has been a little difficult for my host parents to communicate with me, because they speak very little English and I am not able to speak Korean yet.
It is very different here because I am sleeping on the floor. My room is also the library, so there are a lot of books in it along with a desk and a piano.
I haven't been able to see much of Korea yet, but I have been around to see a bit of my area. I think that this is nice, because it has allowed me to feel more at home here. I am able to take the bus to get to Seocheon, which is a very urban area (in Korea, people either live in apartments or on farms, so the city areas have very defined borders). In Seocheon, I am able to get a lot of the things I need, such as school supplies and electronics (I was able to get a very good adapter for my laptop there and a really neat alarm clock).
Recently, I went with my host brother, one of his friends and two English teachers to see the movie "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" in the other nearby town of Gunsan. In Korea, they show English films with Korean subtitles, so understanding it wasn't too much of a problem, and I was also able to understand a lot of the subtitles that came up. I also got to have my first Korean restaurant experience, which was very different. One of the dishes we had was called "Innocent Chicken," which we chose because of the funny name (it was actually my favorite dish). While in Gunsan, I also went to Eunpa park, which is a beautiful park that is very close to where my second host family's house is.
I have really enjoyed these first few weeks, and I am looking forward to the many adventures yet to come during my year here. This coming week, I will be starting Korean lessons at my school, so my language will hopefully be improving quickly, so that I can take full advantage of what I have ahead of me.
Editor's note: P.J.?Sproule is a Rotary Youth Exchange student from the Houghton Rotary Club living near Seocheon, South Korea, for a year.