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I’m sure by now everyone has heard about the earthquake–tsunami–nuclear reactor disaster in Japan. Some of you may have even heard about the volcanoes that have been erupting there too. My friend who teaches English in Iwaki ended up going home last week, understandably so.
Korea hasn’t been effected by any of these, at least not yet (we’ll see what happens with the radiation). But it’s good to be prepared in case something does happen. I’ve heard foreigners here say they’re not registered with their embassy because they don’t know how to do it. But, aside from the newsletters they’ll send you, the embassies can also make sure you’re evacuated promptly if there is a problem (like nuclear fallout or fighting with North Korea). So I’ve posted the links to various embassy websites for registering purposes:
Americans (you’ll need your Passport number and address in Korea)
Canadians (you’ll need your passport number and address in Korea)
Tomorrow’s the big day everyone’s been waiting for: our final exam day! We have to do a written test to show we understand the class structures and then we will have to mock teach one of the parts of each class (listening and reading). We were not told which part we’d be doing so it’ll be a wonderful surprise… For the most part, I can teach any part of the lesson well since we’ve been preparing them all week. I just have to brush up on a couple things and rearrange some notes. And get a good nights sleep. We’ve basically been working out butts off the last two days so I’m a little bit worn out. Not as much as I might have been some nights while in college, but I’m out of practice from staying up and studying for hours. In fact, even when I was a college student I don’t think I studied for as many hours straight as I have to prepare for teaching.
In other news, my location has been changed. I just got an email saying that the school wants me to teach at Suwon Yeongtong instead of Hwaseong Dongtan. They’re run by the same people so it shouldn’t cause a problem for my Visa and it’s not like I’ve moved into Hwaseong yet, so I’m fine with the move. I looked up Suwon’s official website just to get an idea of what to expect, because other than the Hwaseong Fortress I don’t know of anything else there. Apparently, Suwon is very proud of their clean municipal toilets. They even have a bus tour that takes you to them, and their toilette culture is mentioned twice on the official website… Obviously, there’s a lot more to Suwon than just that but that’s the quirky factoid I’ve found so far.
There’s actually another guy training here to work in Suwon (for April English – a different program than what I’m doing) so tomorrow after we pass the tests (and we will pass!), we’ll be bused out to our campus and be introduced to it. And hopefully we’ll get to start looking for housing immediately. Everyone’s still nervous about that. Other than the people staying in Seoul, we have no idea how housing is going to work out.
You’ll never guess what happened to me on the subway this morning. This guy was smiling at me and he took my class binder from me and he was being reeeeal friendly. And I think he might have thought that I was – But wait! I’ll get to that later!
So today was our first day of real, nitty-gritty training. We were bused to the training center again and broken up into groups according to what levels we’ll be teaching. I’m teaching Eagle level, which is the 3rd highest. There are 2 other people in my reading class and 1 more in the listening class. The other groups seem to have more people, except for the group that’s learning to teach the lowest level (E-Chip), which only has two people. There are a ton of people for April English, which is the school for the very beginning students, but they’re on a completely different track than us and have their own leveling system. There are a lot of levels in Chung Dahm.
Classes were pretty straight forward. In the reading class, we were introduced to the reading class curriculum and shown how to teach the first hour of it. In the listening class, we were introduced to the listening class curriculum and shown how to teach the first hour. They went over a lot of information and honestly I should probably be preparing for tomorrow instead of writing this blog, but I wanted to have some fun time before I got back to serious work. Tomorrow we have to present mock teaching sessions based on the chapters they provided us in our training manuals and we need to prepare for the mock teaching tonight. One of our teachers said we should expect to prepare for at least 7 hours… Which is crazy because if we started now, we’d basically be up passed midnight. Crazy.
But now for the fun part of the day.
We had directions on how to take the Seoul subway back to the hotel but unfortunately the group of us that was going back together got on the train going the wrong direction (a rookie mistake!). So we got all kinds of confused and turned around for a few minutes, but it ended up being fine. We just got off a couple stops later and got back on.
About one stop from our station, this elderly couple got on the train and the man sits in the empty seat beside me. I had been sitting down, so I gave my seat to the woman. And as I’m standing there in front of them, the man reaches out and takes my binder, with all my class material in it, and my subway map. He was kind of smiling about it so I thought maybe it was some kind of joke. By this time, everyone else is watching because not only does he not give it back but he places it very carefully under the shopping bag he was carrying and he half-bows to me. Which was very confusing. I started looking around at the others on what to do but everyone was just kind of like ‘Whaaaa?’ Luckily, one person knew what was up. She said that it’s polite to hold the things of people who are standing if you’re sitting. Which was just so very nice of the elderly man. And we all very enthusiastically chorused him with 감 사 합 니 다 (gamsahamnida -thank you) when we got off.
Today a bus came to pick us up from the Coatel Hotel at 10:15 and take us to Chung Dahm’s training center. There seemed to be two things on people’s minds: our upcoming tests and how we would get to training every other day. As it turns out, at training orientation Chung Dahm provided us with T-money cards (which you can use to pay for subway fare, taxi fare and even use at some grocery stores) so yay! Our transportation is completely provided for!
As for the tests – I passed all of mine! Yay again! A lot of us passed, which was a little surprising because I kept hearing that “everyone” fails at least one test. Apparently not. I think the key is to hunker down and actually seriously drill the information for an hour or two – and see if you can find someone who knows grammar very well to help you study that because the way they explain the reading and writing grammar isn’t going to make sense to everyone. And study in groups. At times we did get unfocused, but it definitely helped to talk about the grammatical information so we could really see if we understood it or not. People are going to retake the tests they didn’t pass tomorrow after class, so good luck to them!
After we went through a brief orientation and did the tests, we were bused over to a hospital where they did a basic medical exam: eye sight, hearing, height, blood pressure. And, oh yeah, they took X-rays of our lungs, three vials of blood and a urine sample. We all knew about the urine sample beforehand, but the other two tests were new. The X-rays were for tuberculosis and I had heard about other countries doing that too so it didn’t really surprise me. But the blood was to check for HIV and AIDS… How much would it suck if through those tests you found out you were HIV positive?
From there, we were all bused back to the hotel and a group of us went out for a very late lunch/ early dinner. It was the first time we had eaten since our (complementary, western-style) breakfast, so we were all really hungry. We ended up getting dinner at a hot pot restaurant, with the ladies getting hot pot and the guys splitting a grill beef dish. The grilled beef was really cool. They put the grill in front of them and slapped on these giant, bacon-like pieces of beef and after the guys fumbled around with what to do for a little while, the waiter came back and showed them (unfortunately I wasn’t really paying attention so I can’t really say what you’re suppose to do with it). The US really needs to have more interactive eateries but as one of us pointed out at dinner, someone would probably burn themselves and the restaurant would end up getting sued…
We’ve all pretty much decided that Koreans love to eat. Which is fine by me because it means I won’t easily go hungry.
Well I made it safely to South Korea with only a few minor hiccups. It’s 10:30 here and I’m really tired but I want to try and stay up as long as I can to try and adjust. I figure writing a nice, detailed account of my flight experiences will keep me awake.
I went with my parents to pick up my Visa in DC on Thursday. They insisted I get there early just in case the Visa wasn’t ready or something went wrong, so we showed up at 2pm with my scheduled time to pick it up being 4pm. And it was ready at 2pm. So we had about 4 hours to kill before I had to be at Washington National Airport to get my flight. We had a nice lunch at this little cafe called Firehook in Du Pont circle, which took care of most of the extra time. When we got to the airport there was a little confusion on how many bags I could carry and where I was supposed to check in for my flight, so it was probably a good thing I got there two hours early for the flight. But everything worked out. My parents waited with me for for another hour or so and then there were dramatic good-byes as I went through security and got on the plane.
And then waited for an hour. There were heavy winds at JFK and planes weren’t being allowed to land there. Which meant that my plane was taxied over to a waiting zone and we had to wait for permission to take off. I was a little freaked out about this because it could have meant that I would miss my flight to Seoul. Luckily after an hour of waiting, we took off and before I had even finished half of my coke can, we were landing. I had about two hours to catch my other flight but I really didn’t want to risk missing it so I pretty much ran with my 15lbs laptop backpack and my carry-on suitcase from Terminal 8 to Terminal 1 (with a brief break in between to sit on the train between the two) and obviously I made the flight. And let me just say, JFK has a lot of escalators. It might not have been so draining to do all that ordinarily, but it was 10 o’clock and I was getting really tired.
I really didn’t expect to sleep on my Korean Air flight, especially because they had a whole bunch of movies I wanted to watch but about three hours into the flight I blinked and when my eyes opened again, it was five hours later and they were serving breakfast. Now I know a lot of people don’t care for airplane food but I actually like it. For dinner they had this really delicious tomato and mozzarella salad and for breakfast they had tatertots (among other things). How can you go wrong with tatertots? You cannot.
Chung Dahm had sent a list of instructions on what to do after we got off the flight and through customs. From Incheon airport, we had to take a bus to the City Air Terminal, which was about an hour away. Then we had to find a cab from a very specific company to take us to our hotel. Getting through customs was a breeze (although I did get stopped by this quarantine barrier so they could check if I had Swine Flu). Getting the bus to CAT was a little tricker because there were a whole bunch of bus stops outside of the airport (well over 40) and the CAT bus was said to stop at two, except the one that I found the easiest doesn’t function as its stop anymore. But there was a CAT bus two stops down from it and I couldn’t figure out if that was the one I wanted. And no one spoke English. So after some confused wondering, I went to the other stop it was at and got on just as it was leaving. Once I was at the CAT, there was a cab specifically waiting for me, so he threw my bag into the cab (which had no seatbelts) and drove me to the hotel.
When I went to check it at the hotel, I was told I had already checked in. Which was very strange, since how could I have checked in when I only just landed 3 hrs earlier? He gave me the key to the room I was supposed to have been checked into and I went to get it, fully aware it was 7 am and I was probably waking up my roommate. Except I was really waking up two roommates, in a two bed room. It turns out there was another girl with a similar name to me, and she was accidentally checked in as me and got the spot that was supposed to me mine. So the hotel put me in her room instead, which I’m glad about because this one is a NICE room. The other one was basically a hotel room with a kitchen but this one has a living room, two separate bedrooms and each with their own bathroom. Plus it has a much nicer view.
Around 8 o’clock, other people started waking up and a bunch of us went to breakfast together. Which is when my first day in Seoul began.
I don’t want to breath a sigh of relief, at least not until I’m standing on Korean soil, but the work part of my journey to Korea is just about over. Today I went with my dad to DC to apply for my E-2 Visa and take care of a few other things. The day started off a little rocky, but luckily it ended very smoothly… so I should be hopeful for the flight, right?
The metro stop closest to my house is Branch Avenue on the end of the green line. Unfortunately, Branch Avenue’s parking is… limited… When we got there all the parking lots were full except for the meter spots and the (many) spaces that were reserved before 10am. We got there at 9am and drove around looking for a parking space for 30 minutes, so I don’t know why we didn’t just wait until 10 to park because those spaces were set at $4.25. Instead, my dad decided to park at a meter spot and we ended up with a meter that ate a bunch of our quarters. Also, after putting all the quarters in, we saw that sign that said you can only park there until 3:30pm. Yeah… my Visa interview was at 2:30. There would be no way get back in time. It ended up being fine, we didn’t get a ticket or anything and a bunch of other people were still parked there, but still – why wouldn’t they let us park there after 3:30?
Also, a mini-rant about metro – What is up with the ticket prices? Seriously. When I was in Berlin I got a day pass for the U-Bahn for around 2 Euro. Between me, my dad and our parking spot, it would have been cheaper to just park in DC and we could have walked to all our destinations from a parking garage. So Metro: Shape up. You are not worth $15.
There was a major delay on the red line, but we were there so early to do other things it didn’t matter. We went to a company called Travelex to exchange my money for Korean won. Before I left the house, I thought about bringing my debit card but decided not to. A bit of a mistake. I haven’t personally exchanged money before, so I didn’t realize that if you use a credit card to get the money, there’s a chance they’ll charge you fees BUT if you use a debit card, they don’t charge you any additional fees (other than the ones you’d get anyway – which I bypassed because of the amount I was exchanging). Oops… I hope I fall under the case of ‘no fees’.
Another mini-rant about money exchanges. I do not like them or their fees. I can maybe understand a fee for using a credit card, because they have to forward you the money, I guess. But when my dad asked if there would be extra fees if I just waited to get the money at the airport the employee said there would be… which is just silly… I don’t know. I just don’t think you should charge people to switch to another currency but then I guess it is a service and they have expenses and stuff. Plus, everything at the airport’s more expensive anyway. On an amusing note, my dad walked around for the rest of the day joking about being a millionaire because he had a million or so won in his pocket. I think his souvenir that I’m going to bring back for him will be a T-shirt that says “In Korea, I’m a millionaire”. I hope they exist.
We stopped at Borders to warm up (because it was freezing for a lot of the morning) and I tried looking for a good Korean dictionary or phrase book. They did not have one. I probably should have gotten those before now but I haven’t been able to find one I think is good. And since the Borders in Washington DC, the capital with diplomats galore, didn’t have a good selection, I don’t know that many other bookstores would. Also, I was disappointed to find that the 1,000 Place to Go Before You Die book did not have any sites from South Korea (or North Korea for that matter). Yet I saw pages for China, Japan, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Vietnam, Cambodia… Azerbijan… How does South Korea not have ONE place you should go see before you die? Seriously, they had 1,000 spaces. There should be at least one from every country in there… There were at least FIVE German castle in there. I think one of those castles could give up its space. Neuschwanstein can pretty much represent them all.
At the Korean Consulate, things finally started going very smoothly. I had to fill out a bunch of forms that were pretty much exactly what I had already filled out on other forms but whatever. At least I knew what to put. But then I spoke to the guy at the check-in window about getting my Visa early. I had talked to him when I called to set up the interview, and he said that the earliest I could get the Visa would be Thursday at 4pm. (Normally you pick it up on Friday) HE said that. When I asked him about that again today, he just kind of nodded and then wrote down on my receit that I could pick it up on Friday… So I asked him again, if I could get it on Thursday because Friday is too late. I would miss my ONLY flight that can get me there on time and I would miss the LAST TRAINING DATE OF THE YEAR for Chung Dahm and that would really suck. And he said Thursday would be fine and didn’t change the date on the ticket… I don’t know if he didn’t understand that I was worried about the date he was putting down or he just wanted to get me out of there or what but… I was pretty worried.
I had to wait about 45 mins for the interview, which wasn’t that bad since they did let me start filling out the forms at 2pm. There were actually a bunch of other people there interviewing for an E-2 Visa. I should have asked them where they were teaching (I knew they had to be going to be English teachers because the E-2 Visa, for teaching, is the only Visa that requires an interview for Korea – lucky us). The interview went really smoothly. She asked me pretty basic questions: why do I want to go to Korea (because experiencing news cultures is AWESOME), what experience do I have as a teacher (BOAT LOADS… but seriously, I’ve worked with kids A LOT and taught A BUNCH – not as a formal teacher though), do I have a place to stay (NO! Okay, I didn’t shout that, but I explained Chung Dahm would help me with it).
Then she asked me when I would be leaving. So I brought up the conflict with getting my Visa and my flight time. She seemed very surprised and was not at all expecting me to need it by 4pm on Thursday. Needless to say, I am glad brought that up. She wrote down on my receipt and her receipt that I need with the passport with a Visa sticker (Oh yeah, if you don’t know, you need to turn in your passport to get a Visa, or at least the E-2) on Thursday at 4pm. Actually, it said AFTER 4pm… surely it means the same thing… right? I’m still a little nervous it won’t be ready on time, but I’m planning on getting there early on Thursday to remind them in case they’re taking their time or something. Ah, bureacracy…
After that, I called up the travel agent that was holding my flight and I officially booked it. I’m leaving for Korea on Thursday at 8:25pm (Yay!). Provided there is no bad weather. That’s the one problem with my flight. It and the connection at JFK in New York are the last ones of the night to Seoul so if I miss them… I’m stuck here ’til January. FINGERS CROSSED! If all goes well, I will be arriving in Seoul on Saturday at the horrible hour of 5:20am. It won’t really be horrible for me, but I have to call a representative from Chung Dahm as soon as I land and I feel a little bad about that… If I were him, I’d be sleeping.
Tomorrow will be my last post from America!
Well, I FINALLY got my Visa code today. Yesterday I was told the Korean Immigration Office had received my documents two weeks ago… I don’t know if it normally takes that long to issue a Visa code (from my experiences with bureaucracy, I’d say it probably does), but their timing couldn’t be worse. If I had gotten the code on Monday, there would be no problem – but then I have to encounter a problem at this stage because I have at every other point in this process!
So here’s the deal. After checking my email and seeing my code today – completely (and naively) overjoyed because now I’m in the last stage of my journey to Korea – I called up the Korean Embassy in DC. And I received horrible news. The school had pushed back my arrival date to next Friday (12/11) because it was taking so long to get my Visa code (but luckily they didn’t need to send me a new contract). As it turns out, the Korean Embassy in DC only has Visa interviews on Tuesdays at 2:30 and if I go next week, the earliest I could get my Visa would be Thursday after 4pm. Which is too late for me to get on a plane in time to be in Korea on the 11th… *sigh*
Basically right now I’m waiting to hear back from Chung Dahm to see if I can arrive on Saturday instead of Friday. I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to, since training doesn’t start until Monday anyway and I’m sure they’d rather have me getting there as soon as possible, but maybe they do stuff with us over the week and a Saturday arrival on my part would throw that off.
But if they let me arrive on Saturday, I’m supposed to be training with 6 other people that following Monday. I doubt that any of them will be going Hwaseong like me. I can’t say I’m nervous about the training, but I am very aware it’s going to be a tough week. I was reading about what’s expected of us and we start off with a test, and have homework everyday, and people are like ‘Don’t go out during training! Stay in and study!’ But I would expect nothing less if they want us to actually be well-trained and able to teach.
Oookay, so now I’ve officially signed the contract and am in the final stage of the Visa process that will get started with teaching English in Korea. Even though I wasn’t happy with having an hourly contract, I decided to settle with it because if I pass on this one it could be another several weeks before another position opens for me. And frankly, I’m tired of this song-and-dance routine! That sounds awfully jaded – like I said before, this process probably goes smoother for other people, but I pretty much had problems every step along the way (and that’s seriously not an exaggeration…). So now I just need to sit back and wait to get my Visa code from the Korean immigration office. Then I can go to the Korean Embassy in DC (It pays to live near the capital!) and apply for my Visa.
This time around, I’m working in Hwaseong City(화성시), in Gyeonggi Province which is just south of Seoul. Hwaseong’s name is a little confusing because the city is outside Suwon (수원시), the capital of the province. Suwon is Korea’s last walled city and is the location of the Hwaseong Fortress… That is, the Hwaseong Fortress is not in Hwaseong… But apparently the two cities were once together referred to as Maehol-gun (매홀군). On a side note, I learned today that the ending -gun means it’s a county while -si (시) is a city.
I couldn’t find a lot of information about Hwaseong, at least not as much as I wanted, mostly because all the searches are coming up with the fortress and not the city. But I did stumble on the city’s official website. The places listed on the Culture and Tourism page look pretty interesting. I’m actually really looking forward to visiting the hot springs they talk about. I do love hot springs.
On thing about Hwaseong, its geography is eerily similar to my hometown. It’s a just off of a bay, surrounded by farm land, a stone’s throw from the capital. Hopefully this will make dealing with culture shock easier.
Okay, so here’s the deal. Yesterday I received the new contract which has me working in Hwaseong starting December 4th. Although the date is better and leaves me more time to get ready (oh by the way, my old contract had me going over to Korea before my Visa was ready – that’s why it was cancelled), there are two things “wrong” with it.
- I’m no longer working in Gumi. This isn’t really something wrong, but it does make me a little sad. I only knew I was going to Gumi for a couple of days, but I actually got kind of attached to the city. It was described as an “industrial, mid-sized city” and the word “industrial” really turned me off, but I liked the idea of being in the land that used to be the Silla kingdom. And I was looking forward to visiting all the temples and historic sites in the area.
- My old contract paid me using a monthly rate salary. This new contract (although for more money, woot!) pays me with an hourly rate salary. I won’t bore you with the details about the difference between these (unless you want me to) but basically, I would MUCH rather have a monthly rate salary. Hopefully I’ll be able to negotiate for a monthly salary. I don’t know how flexible Chung Dahm is with this sort of thing.
I probably won’t be able to talk to the Chung Dahm representative until next Monday or Tuesday, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
So last night I did three things: I signed, scanned and emailed in my official contract; I gave my ten day notice for quiting my job and I put in the application with my recruiter’s travel agent to get me on a flight to Seoul on the 19th. And then this morning I got a call from my recruiter saying the November 20th arrival date is too early and they won’t have my Visa information ready in time. Which sucks because now I have to try and figure out what to do about my flight (and I am really glad I did go through their travel agent now instead of buying a ticket on my own). And I also have to go back to work today and tell them that I will *in fact* be able to work through the Thanksgiving holiday.
Now I know that this processes has been really smooth for some people and not-quite-as-smooth for others, but this is just getting a little silly in my case. I was originally scheduled to leave in July and I had to call them up and tell them that was way too early. So they pushed me back to August, which I thought was still too early, but whatever, I could deal. Then, like a lot of people scheduled to leave in August, there was a mini-crisis on their end that pushed us back ’til later in the year. And now that I’m all set to drop everything and leave in November, what do you know, I’m really leaving in December. Hopefully they won’t push me back any further because 1. I don’t want to be working in retail during the Christmas season (because the shoppers are already getting crazy) and 2. If I start in January or later that will really screw up my plans for when I get back from Korea (aka grad school).
The school is supposed to email me today with my new contract and I’m also suppose to get a call from a representative to iron out the details (of course, it’s suppose to be the details of the old contract). Hopefully from here on out things will go smoothly…
On a random and slightly less important note, now I shouldn’t have a problem with NaNoWriMo, because I realized that I’ll be over in Seoul, possibly without internet during the last week of November. Not anymore!