Sunday, August 31, 2008

Departing on September 4

I got my plane ticket a couple days ago and confirmed my departure date.

I'll be flying out of Pittsburgh at 9:20 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 4, and heading to San Francisco. The flight will take about five-and-a-half hours, getting me there by 11:44 a.m. Pacific Time.

Once there, I'll have about an hour-and-a-half-layover to stretch my legs, get some lunch and hopefully get a beer. I get back on a big Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 at 1:15 p.m. and take off for the long leg of the journey. For that, I'll be in the air for a little more than 12 hours.

Total trip time, including my layover, is estimated at 19 hours 5 minutes. I figured I could study my Korean language books on the trip over and be fluent by the time I get there.

If all goes well, I should land at Incheon International Airport at 5:25 p.m. Korean Time on Friday in Incheon.

It'll be really nice to get there on a Friday evening. That will give me the chance to check out my apartments and get any essentials I might need. I'll also be able to get a little rest before I start work on Monday.

The best part is having my buddy Dan out there. He thinks he'll be finishing work by the time I'm in my apartment that evening. We already have plans for him to show me around the city a little bit.

I'm sure I'll get a little bit of culture shock while I'm there. No matter how prepared I am going into this, it certainly will be overwhelming to see and hear everything in Korean. If I'm desperate for English, I guess I can just find a McDonalds or Coca-Cola. Good old westernization, making me feel at home. Ha.

There may only be a couple more posts before I leave. If anyone can think of any good travel tips for long flights or spending time in a foreign country, feel free to post them. I'm certainly open to suggestions.

Until then, I'll be eating as much beef and macaroni and cheese as possible. From what Dan says, that'll be hard to come by one I get there. Looks like Kraft and steak for dinner until I go!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Visa Approved!!!

The interview yesterday went very well and I was approved as a "very qualified candidate," according to Jong Heon Lee at the Korean Consulate.

I sat with Lee for about 20 minutes in which he asked me about why I wanted to go and why I felt qualified. He also told me some of the differences between Korean and American styles of teaching.

Apparently, in Korea, the teach or professor traditionally is there to simply lecture. But Lee wants the American style of discussion and dialogue to be applied. He said the times are changing slowly, and he hopes I use the American way to teach.

That certainly makes sense to me, considering they are English classes. I think conversation and dialogue are keys to learning the language.

One interesting thing Lee said is that he interviews a lot of people, but not all are as qualified as he would want. But because people pay money for the background check, Visa application and others things, he feels an obligation to approve them regardless. He said he has to make a note that those people would need a little more training when they get over there to make sure they're suitable teachers.

Fortunately for me, through my English writing degree and conversation with Lee, I was called "very qualified." Hopefully that means I'll be in the classroom right away, ready to teach the kids.

I pick up my passport with my Visa stamp today after 3 p.m. That's the last of my obstacles. Next up is a few days to tie up any loose ends here, and then I hop on a plane on Sept. 4.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Heading to the Big Stinky Apple

It's been awhile since I've posted, and with good reason: Nothing has been happening.

As I said before, I was simply waiting for things to move through the process. Well, they did, and I am on my way to the Korean Consulate in New York City tomorrow to take part in a Visa interview.

From what I've heard, it's roughly 15 minutes long and they just want to make sure I'm not insane or have some bad intentions for my time there. Fortunately for them and me, I pass both of those tests.

So I'm jumping on a plane in the morning, getting interviewed in the early afternoon, then picking up my passport on Wednesday with my E2 Visa stamp in it.

I also found out that I'll be getting on a plane for Incheon, South Korea on Thursday, Sept. 4. I asked for a few more days in town since I knew I had to make this NYC trip. It gives me the chance to tie up the last couple of stories for the newspaper and see family and friends one last time before I take the big plunge.

I have been studying my Korean phrase books and work books for the last two weeks now and am very happy about my progress. I can already recognize their alphabet and the sounds the letters make, as well as word construction. So I'll be able to read all the signs and whatnot, even though I won't know what it means yet. I think it's a good start anyway.

I'll update this after the interview and let everyone know what that's like.

So it goes ...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Playing the waiting game

The one thing I've learned throughout the process so far is that, while things happen fairly quickly, much of it ends up as waiting.

It took me only one day to put together all my necessary paperwork, except to get my criminal check authenticated by the state Apostille. Thanks to a mistake by the notary, I got that back and found out it needed notarized in a certain way.

My notary didn't know that and, I think, was still uncomfortable when I took it to her a second time. I lost about five days in the process sending the criminal check out once and getting it back with a note telling me about the mistake.

I can take some solace knowing that most notaries would have made the same mistake. I met someone else who will be in Seoul starting in November. She told me that her notary said the same thing. Fortunately, I went through it already, so she didn't have to lose any time like I did.

Here is the address of my school. Obviously this won't be my apartment's address as well. But I will be in this general location if you're trying to find it on a map.
Okryun-dong 194-42, Yeonsu-gu
Incheon, Korea
Jungchul School
zip code: 406-050

Of course, that is a different story altogether. No online maps are detailed enough for South Korea to show all the neighborhoods and wards. You will find Incheon on there, and that's my city.

My parents and I spent a whirlwind weekend dropping Melissa off at seminary in Virginia, then swinging up to New York to see Jeremy. The trip paid off for me because I got to see Jeremy and Melissa before I disappear for a year, and I also finally found a book store with Korean materials.

I got a beginner's workbook with cd, a phrase and culture book, a pocket dictionary and a book called "Making Out In Korean." There's no doubt I'll be doing the last one the most. Realistically, there is a lot of stuff in the last book that will be useful when I'm out. It has less formal phrases and more that are meant for getting to know people when you're out.

The good news is that my school got my paperwork over the weekend. That means they're reviewing it right now to make sure I'm a suitable candidate. They'll then send me a visa insurance number.

From they're I might have a couple of options. I'll either have to go to New York again to the Korean consulate to get interviewed for my visa, or I'll go on a visitor's visa to South Korea. From there, they'll send me up to Japan to get my visa paperwork completed.

Obviously I'm hoping for the second. If that happens, I'll get to check out Japan and NOT have to pay for it. The New York trip would come out of my own pocket.

That's it for now. Na-jung-e. (That's how it sounds to say "later." I don't have the capabilities yet to type in the Korean characters.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

United States and South Korea in the news

There is a story in today's USA Today about relations between South Korea and the United States.

Check it out here.

It seems that the current South Korean president is so pro-American that South Koreans hate him more than they dislike American citizens.

Either way, I wouldn't worry. I like to think of myself as a people person.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jungchul English School

Here is a little bit of extra info about where I'll be teaching.

As I already said, the city is Incheon, South Korea, which is about 60 miles southwest of Seoul. In Incheon, I'll be in the ward of Yeonsu-gu and the neighborhood of Ongyeon-dong. The school I'll be teaching at is the Jungchul English School.

Here is a video of the school taken by one of the teachers: This is a chain of schools in the country, but I am almost 100 percent sure this is the one where I'll be. Either way, it's an interesting tour. (Ed. Note - Not the same school.)

My plan is to get on a plane on Friday, Aug.29. That will give me a day or so to adjust before starting work on the following Monday.

I will be making 2,100,000 won per month over there, which equals $2,100. Not only is that more than I'll make here, but I will be living in a single apartment rent-free, which will stretch my money even further.

There are three other foreign teachers at this school giving English lessons. We work anywhere from 2 to 9 p.m. between 27 and 29 hours each week. So the hours aren't that long or demanding. I will be required to do some student-related activities outside of school hours, but I'm not sure what or how many yet.

We get two one-week vacations. One is in the summer and one is in the winter. Other than that, it's just a year of teaching. At the end, we get a one month's pay bonus and the ability to take a month break if I decide to sign up again.

My friend, Dan, has been giving me a lot of advice, and has absolutely no regrets except that he recently bought a car before making up his mind to head overseas. Fortunately for me, I will be able to pay off the CR-V before heading over. That will help me with paying off my student loans, my only debt left.

I'll be about a 10-minute bus ride from Dan, but he thinks it's about four or five miles. That means I'll be well within walking distance. They also have a great subway system over there, which Dan said they use to go into Seoul on the weekends to party.

I'll be speaking with one of the recruiters tomorrow morning at about 8 a.m., which is 9 p.m. his time. He'll be getting off work and I'll be waking up. Go figure. During that time, I'll find out where I need to send my packet of information in order to get my visa number.

Once I have that, I'll be able to get my visa through an interview at the Korean Consulate in New York City. Fortunately, we're making that trip this weekend after Mom and Dad drop Melissa off at school in Virginia. If timing works right, I'll be able to get that done up there, and be on my way home in the middle of next week with my work visa. All that remains after that is saying goodbye.

If anyone has any questions for me, feel free to let me know. If it's okay, I'll answer them on here just in case anyone else is wondering the same things.

Thank you so much everyone for your kind words and encouragement so far. It's certainly fueling my excitement. Twenty-seven days and counting!