Monthly Archives: August 2009

News Update From Seoul: Day Three (South Korea)

I’m reporting live from the 7th floor of CasaVille in the Samsung District of Seoul, South Korea. The current temperature is 85 degrees F. and the skies are partly cloudy. The humidity is somewhere around 200%, which begs for comparison with Florida rather than Kansas weather.

This is the beginning of our third day in Seoul and we are slowly but surely working things out. In just a few minutes, we will be shuttled to our Training Center Location in the  Kwangjung Bldg 4th floor, 18-9 Hwayang-dong, Kwangjin-gu, Seoul where we will begin orientation. The process today will only take a couple of hours and involves a test over Chung-Dahm policies, codes of conduct and, yes, grammar; the last subject of which caused me to wake up a 4:40 am this morning to brush up on my skills (remind me, what the f*** is a predicate nominative clause again?). Other items on the agenda for today include obtaining cell phones and bank accounts and finding out which Chung-Dahm branch in Seoul we will be teaching.  I think we will also secure an apartment or loft today (yay, finally a REAL address after two weeks of being essentially homeless!).

We’ve met three other Chang Dahm instructors here at CasaVille and have struck up a friendship. They will be at the orientation as well today and perhaps this afternoon the five of us will do something together.

Until then…

Annyong-hi ga-shipshiyo.

VISA Debacle III: Passports

The Friday after we sent our pertinent documentation to the Korean Consulate in Los Angeles, our friend Christina called to say that she had received an express mail envelope from the Korean Consulate (we had used her address for the return express envelope because we were unsure where we would be living by the time the envelope was returned).

We made arrangements to meet up with Christina and Eric for dinner and to also get our express envelope from them. We knew, of course,  that the express envelope contained our passports; we were excited and relieved to have received them back in such short time, considering we had just spoken with the Korean Consulate on Wednesday. Finally, we thought, we will be able to move forward with our travel arrangments and vacate our house at last (we had made arrangements with the landlord and the utility companies to stay in our house a week longer).

At around 7:00 PM we arrived at Christina and Eric’s place, visited with the dogs (Akira is living with Christina and Eric and their dog Frannie) and finally got around to opening the express envelope. Our passports were there, safe and sound and in one piece. Whew.

But wait.

Gary looked at the E2 VISA in his passport and found that it had my name on it. I checked my passport and, sure enough, Gary’s VISA was attached inside. We couldn’t believe the mix-up. Humorous, yes, but frustrating too as it also meant we would have to postpone our travel arrangements yet again.

Since it was after 5:00 PM on a Friday, we knew would have to wait all weekend before calling the Korean Consulate to find out how to remedy the error. Might as well have a nice dinner, we reasoned. So, we called in an order to the Taj Mahal, Gary and Eric picked up for us. It was delicious, of course, though I couldn’t name all the things we ate, other than the Garlic Nahn. We took-leftovers home and I swear they were even more delicious the second day.

Saturday, Gary shot an email off to our contacts at Chung Dahm Learning and Aclipse recruiting agency, but of course, it was the weekend, and we would not hear back from them until Monday either.

When Monday morning finally arrived, Gary called the Korean Consulate to explain what had happened. The woman he spoke with made it a point to mention that she had been on vacation the previous week, otherwise such an error would have never occurred. Nonetheless, it did.

Gary was instructed to express mail the passports back to the Consulate would correct the error and return our passports to us in a return postage-paid express envelope. Off to the Post Office we went, exactly one week after sending our passports the first time.

The clerk at the Post Office remembered us from the week before and so we described what had happened. The cost for the express mail envelopes and postage this time was $17.50 – a cost we all agreed should be reimbursed by the Korean Consulate , but we really had no time to argue the matter.

Our contacts at Chung Dahm Learning and Aclipse responded to Gary’s email and recommended we secure travel reservations, and we have (though the first itinerary the travel agency emailed Gary was for someone named Steven Tyler – whether it was THE Steven Tyler remains a mystery), and though the reservations are made, Gary’s credit card has not been charged. He reasoned that is would be better to pay a little extra now should the rates go up than to purchase airline tickets that may be canceled and nonrefundable or which would cost an arm and a leg to alter.

It’s Thursday now, and Christina has called to say that her postal carrier left a note regarding a package which needs to be signed for. It’s pretty likely that the package the note refers to contains our passports; the postal carrier is to bring the package again tomorrow, according to the note.

The person we have hired to clean our house will be here at 8:30 tomorrow (Friday) morning, so we are getting the last of our belongings out of the house tonight. From now until the day we leave (Tuesday, August 25th), we will be living with Christina and Eric (and Frannie and Akira).

Let’s hope all goes well from here.

Advice and Anecdotes: What I Was Told to Expect in South Korea

Below is a list of the kinds of advice people often offer when they hear you are going to South Korea:

  1. Pack a year’s worth of deodorant; you won’t be able to easily find deodorant in South Korea, and if you do find any, it won’t be your brand and it will be expensive. (People in south Korea don’t wear deodorant/the deodorant you buy won’t work.)
  2. Take lots of day trips; the country-side is beautiful and easy to get to.
  3. All of Seoul smells of garlic and kimchi.
  4. Seoul is a great place to be; full of activity, culture, shopping…a city that never sleeps.
  5. Seoul has excellent public transportation.
  6. If you have blue eyes, strangers may try to touch your eyeballs because they don’t believe they are real.
  7. If you have hair on your arms, strangers may try and touch your arms.
  8. Old Korean women will pinch/grab your ass, especially if you are dressed “provocatively.” Old Korean women feel entitled to do such things to young women.
  9. The Korean language is easy to pick up.
  10. The Korean language is difficult.
  11. Don’t plan on buying clothes in Korea; you won’t find anything that fits (Korean people are much more petite than are Americans).
  12. Korean students are well disciplined and very polite.
  13. Everyone in Korea has a servant.
  14. Korean women coddle their men/husbands; if you do not coddle your man/husband, Korean women will harass you for it.
  15. “Dog” is a viable meat dish in Korea.
  16. Korean food is spicy.
  17. For many Koreans, the Korean war is not over.
  18. Koreans embrace westerners and their customs.
  19. Koreans hate westerners and their customs.
  20. Many South Koreans still feel “they” should have gone with the North.
  21. Most Asian people are xenophobic.
  22. Korean people discriminate against homosexual persons.

Check back for updates as I discover whether or not any of these statements prove true.

VISA Debacle II: VISA Codes

On Monday, August 10th, Gary and I received two emails from our contact at Chung-Dahm Learning in Seoul. The first contained our VISA codes and these instructions:

“Please take this code to the Korean Consulate with your passport and a set of sealed transcripts to complete your visa and conduct the interview.  You need to call them beforehand to arrange an interview.

“We would like for you to enter our August 21st training session.  Therefore, you need to arrive in Korea on August 19th.  You will have orientation on Friday and begin training the following Monday. Please speak to your Aclipse recruiter who can assist in arranging a flight.

Please update me as soon as you get the visa.  Thank you, and  I look forward to meeting you.

It is important to mention here that the Korean Consulate is in LA, necessitating our communicating with the consulate by mail.

The second email instructed us to ignore the VISA codes in the first email because they were incorrect. I’m glad we received both emails at about the same time, otherwise this would have been the 2nd installment of four rather than three VISA debacles blog postings.

As you might expect, these emails sent Gary and I into a whirlwind of activity. First, we logged onto the Korean Consulate’s website, downloaded and printed the E-2 VISA Health forms. Then we purchased our money orders from our neighborhood grocery store. Lastly (at least we thought lastly) we headed to the post-office to express mail the forms along with our original passports to the Korean Consulate (I was relieved to find that, despite instructions otherwise, the consulate did not in fact need our sealed, official transcripts, as that would have taken another week to acquire).

It was while assembling our documents at the post office counter that we realized that we had forgotten to bring the address for the Korean Consulate with us – so back home we went to get the address.

We made it back to the post office just moments before closing time, assembled our packet of information and paid our $34 in express mailing fees. The clerk explained that, because it was after 3:00 pm, our express envelope wouldn’t be delivered to the consulate  “next-day,” but would certainly be delivered by Wednesday.

He was right, because Wednesday morning around 10:00 AM we received a phone call from the Korean Consulate – my first experience talking with someone possessing and very strong Korean accent. The man on the phone asked just a few questions, really just verifying the information I had written on my form, then asked to speak with Gary. Gary answered more or less the same questions I did and the interview was over.  Receiving this phone call gave us confidence that our VISAs were well on their way to being processed.

We had not yet begun to make our travel arrangements because we wanted to be absolutely certain we had our passports and VISAs in hand before committing to a travel date. As the Korean Consulate indicated it would take a week to process our VISAs, and we had only received our VISA codes on the 10th, and wouldn’t likely see them again until the 17th (at the earliest and if all went smoothly), and were instructed to arrive in Seoul on the 19th, and would likely have to leave on the 18th (at the latest) we decided to negotiate a later travel date with our recruiter and our contact at Chung-Dahm.

And it was a good thing we did, as you will learn from my next blog.

Things People Ask About Our S. Korean Adventure

1. Why South Korea?

The recruiting agency we applied with (Aclipse)  places teachers all over Asia; schools in Japan and China were full. We have the option to relocate after our initial contractual obligations are met. Thankfully, North Korea was not an option.

2.  Where in South Korea are you going?

Chung-Dahm Learning Center has ten branches in the Seoul area, and though we know we will be in Seoul, we do not know which branch we will be teaching at or in which district we will be living. These details will be determined during orientation.

3. Do you speak Korean?

– Not at all. In the classroom, we will not be required to speak Korean. The students are to speak exclusively in English. If they speak to us in Korean we are to tell them we do not speak Korean and to please address us in English. On the other hand, I plan to learn as much Korean as I can, starting with basics, like “hello,” “my name is ___,” “I’m sorry,” “How much…” and “where’s the bathroom,” as those seem like crucial things to be able to say. Further, I don’t wish to be an arrogant American who expects everyone around them to accommodate them.

4. How long will you be there?

– We have a twelve-month contract that automatically renews unless we give 45-day notice.

5. Do you have a place to live?

-Not yet. During orientation we will be assigned a branch to teach at, a place to live within 10 minutes travel time of that branch, and cell phones. We will also have the opportunity  sign up for such benefits as health insurance.

6. How much will you be paid?

As hourly employees we stand to make more money than salaried employees, though we will be responsible for our housing costs.

7. What’s the weather/climate like?

-Very similar to the mid-west; hot and humid in the summer, wet and cold in the winter (lots of snow). When people learn that we are from Kansas they generally tell us that S. Korean weather won’t throw anything our way that we haven’t already experienced. Obviously, the further north one goes, the colder the winters.  Remember, Korea is a peninsula.

8. When are you leaving?

-Hopefully around the 24th of August (our departure date has been set back a couple of times due to VISA issues – see my blogs on VISA debacles)

9. What can you take with you?

-Two fifty-pound bags (check in), one twenty-five pound carry-on and one personal item.

10. What are you doing with all your stuff?

-We have sold nearly everything we own through a series of yard sales and numerous listings on craigslist. What we have left, which consists primarily of personal items that have sentimental value, is being stored in a 4X6 storage unit.

11. What are you going to do about your pets?

-Akira, our dog,  is living as a “foster” dog in a very loving environment and has a foster sister, Frannie (pictures to follow). We will continue to keep in touch with Akira and pay for his vet bills as needed. He will live with us again some day.

-Baby Girl, our cat, has found permanent residence in a home with other cats. I have no doubt she will be thoroughly spoiled (and I’d have it not other way). Her new name is Princess Anabelle.

12. What do your families think of you moving out of the country?

-As might be expected, our families feel a little conflicted. They are happy for us and excited that we are  answering this call for adventure. I think it’s also safe to say that they are very proud of us and rather relieved that we will have each other to rely on while taking on this challenge. In tandem with these positive feelings though, are feelings of sadness that we will be so far away, sadness that they won’t be able to talk to us anytime they want or see us several times a year as they can now (we plan to get a skype account). Above all, they love Gary and me dearly and support our decisions.

13. Are you worried about war?

-Of course. Everyone is worried about war. That our proximity to North Korea will be greatly reduced is obviously a point of concern; no one wants to live in a war zone. But living in fear that some un-name-able tragedy might occur has never been my style and I’m not about to begin now. I live my life regardless of world politics and threats of nuclear testing or war. Besides, those North Korean missils are aimed at American soil. (As reassurance to my readers, we will be registered with the American embassy in Seoul in case evacuation of expatriates is required. I have also subscribed to the US State Departments e-newsletter alerts. Finally, I have no intention of wandering into North Korean territory in a journalistic endeavor to cover some sensitive political issue.)

I will post more FAQs and their answers as I collect them.

VISA Debacle I: The Apostille

The first step for acquiring  S. Korean work VISAs was to gather and mail a number documents to Aclipse recruiting agency in Boston, who in turn forwarded them to Chung-Dahm Learning Center, the school in Seoul where we will be teaching. The list of necessary documents included such items as sealed transcripts from the schools we attended, our original diplomas (which they promise they will return at orientation), copies of our passports, passport photos, signed contracts and consent forms, and background checks with Apostilles attached.

We pretty much had most everything on hand except the background checks. So, one day during my lunch hour (before I had announced I would be leaving my job), Gary and I went to a local fingerprinting establishment, filled out some paperwork, paid our $25.62 processing fee, waited in a small, stuffy waiting room with a few others for over an hour, had our fingerprints taken by a crass woman with a smoker’s voice and finally left with our fingerprint cards and instructions on where to send them in hand.  This took much longer than my hour lunch break, but luckily no one at the office seemed to notice how long I’d been gone, or maybe they just weren’t worried about it, so I never offered an explanation.

Within a week or ten days, we received our Federal Background Checks back in the mail, each  with a “No Arrest Record” stamp on them.

With background checks in hand, we set out to discover how to get “Apostilles” attached to them. Now, neither one of us had ever heard of an Apostille, but according to the checklist the recruiting agency sent us, it has something to do with the Secretary of State’s Office. (The dictionary definition of apostille is “a marginal annotation or note” – not a terribly helpful piece of information.)

I called the Secretary of State in Santa Fe to find out how to attain an Apostille and learned that all we needed to do was to send our notarized background check to the Secretary of State’s Office along with a check for the $10.00 processing fee and a self addressed stamped envelopes. Once they received our request and checks, they would attach the Apostilles to our background checks  and send them back to us within ten days.

Sounds easy enough, I thought. There is a notary on the third floor of the building I work in and Gary could easily get a notary at his bank to sign off on his background check. Only, when Gary (who was first to get around to it) went to the bank to get his background check notarized, the notary told him she could not notarize it. Why? She sited a couple of reasons; 1) There was no appropriate location to place the notarization and, 2) the FBI form clearly states that notarization is not required.

After a little further investigation and one or two somewhat frantic emails to and from our recruiter, I learned that what the recruiting agency and school really needed from us were state background checks. And here I thought Federal background checks complete with fingerprint cards would trump any silly state background check; simply not true.

Turns out the state background check is very easy to acquire. All one has to do is print off a form from the state’s website, fill it out completely, send it with a $10 processing fee and a self-addressed-stamped-envelope, then wait ten to fourteen days for a response. We quickly got the forms filled out and mailed them the day before Gary was to leave town for Paolo Alto (where he spent three weeks teaching eleven-year-old talented youth for Johns Hopkins’ CTY summer program). This was early June, well ahead of the June 24th deadline.

Gary’s background check came back in the mail within two days, a quicker than expected turn around, which seemed auspicious and promising.

After ten days had lapsed and I still had not received my state background check (and had endured comments about my integrity from Gary), I decided to call the appropriate office to inquire after it. This was on a Friday, and, in quintessentially New Mexican fashion, (NM is the land of manana), the woman suggested I wait until Monday, and if it still hadn’t arrived by mail to give them another call.

Monday came and went and still no state background check. I called the state again Tuesday morning and told the same woman that the background check had not yet arrived by mail. She placed me on hold, returned to the line and said that it would have been sent with Gary’s, since they were coming to the same address. I assured her that my background check was not in the envelope with Gary’s background check. At this point my phone call was transferred to another woman who defensively insisted that once something leaves their office they are not responsible for it’s delivery. I assured her I really didn’t care about all of that, that I just wanted to find out how to get my background check – that I had to have it for my job. After a heated back and forth she finally understood what I wanted and told me to fill out another request along with proof of payment and another SASE and they would get another one to me.

And they did.

The following Tuesday I took the morning off from work and Gary and I drove to the Secretary of State’s office in Santa Fe to get Apostilles attached to our notarized state background checks (turns out an Apostille is a letter written on very nice bond paper which bears the Secretary of States seal and is attached to the background check with a fancy brass grommet).

While we could have sent our background checks and request for Apostilles by mail, I wanted to hand deliver everything and be available to address concerns or problems in person. Also, we were past the deadline at this point. And, as it turned out, going in person was a wise choice because the woman who helped us questioned the background checks we had; she thought they typically had two pages instead of one. I assured her all we received was one page. She seemed to accept my explanation and disappeared down the hallway to do whatever it was she needed to do. I stood in the waiting area with Gary imagining the nightmare that I may have avoided by being present to address this seemingly minor question;  the woman’s concern over the correct number of pages that a background check should have might very well have been enough for them to return our background checks back to us without  Apostilles attached, thus delaying our VISA process even further.

Upon our return to Albuquerque that afternoon, we “over-nighted” our background checks and Apostilles to our recruiter in Boston to add to the packet of information we had sent ahead, thus beginning our tense wait for VISA codes…

which will be the topic of a future blog.

Why “Zingara Poet?”

While considering a representative name for my new blog, I researched synonyms for “traveler” and found “zingara.”  Great word! I thought, and submitted it as my blog name. Unfortunately,  “zingara” was already taken.  I was pretty attached to the word by that point and wanted to utilize it somehow. Adding a number would have been easy, but I don’t really like user-names that include numbers and generally think they are tragically un-creative. So, I tacked “poet” onto the end, and while tacking on the word “poet” isn’t  terribly more creative than just adding a number, it’s still NOT a number. Plus, I like to think of myself as a “female traveling poet.” It suits my romantic personality and sort of reflects my tendency to take myself too seriously, despite criticism from folks who are less romantic and self-serious.  I’d like to add here that while these characteristics sometimes create obstacles to my writing success, I’m pretty much over tying to change my romantic, self-serious characteristics and am resigned to living in harmony with them.

Hope you enjoy my meandering musings in the years to come.