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Archive for August, 2012

Arrival

August 25, 2012 2 comments

The plane landed at around 4:30pm Korea time and a video from UNISEF came on requesting donations to feed the hungry in Africa. From then, the plane made a very easy landing, and I stepped off the plane and into Incheon International airport. The airport is immaculate and upon reaching the baggage carousel, my bags arrived within 5 minutes. At that point, I was faced with a “now what” feeling.

The first thing I did was stop off at the money exchange and switch up my money. The conversion rate is approximately 1,100 won to the dollar. Paper money comes in 1k, 10k and 50k increments. Coins come in 5, 10. 100 and 500 won. I then made my way to the Epik Counter at the far end of the airport. On the way, I passed a 7-Eleven and Dunkin Donuts. The Dunkin Donuts looked surprisingly familiar inside, but most of the products that the 7-Eleven sold were foreign, save the starbucks coffee drinks. At the Epik counter, they provided us with a piece of paper with a number on it, corresponding to a bus # which would arrive in 20 minutes to take us the 3 hour trip to Daejon. While I waited, I was able to stop by an internet kiosk and fire off a quick email to my family saying I had made it safely.

When they called my number, I got on the bus and had my first meeting with other Americans that I’d be spending the next week with at orientation. I sat with Maggie from Wisconsin and Andy from NYC, who would be teaching in Daejon. We talked about our homes, shared our excitement for what awaited us both in the coming week and the coming year. As we entered Daejon, we remarked at all the stores we recognized (pizza hut, starbucks, 7-11) and many we didn’t (Café Bene, Paris Baguette). We finally arrived at the KT Human Resource Center in Daejon at around 8:30, got off the bus and lined up in the main lobby. From there, a nurse walked the line and took each of our temperature with an electric thermometer and we were instructed to tell her if any of us felt sick. From there, we were given our room keys and a nametag on a necklace which we were to wear at all times on campus. We were also given a goody bag containing two hand towels, one shower sized towel with the Epik logo on it, an Epik T-shirt, a plug converter, a network cable for internet in the rooms, and our Epik workbooks, wheh we’d be using throughout the orientation. This was a very professional shiny spiral workbook with about 240 pages. From there, we went off to our rooms.

I got to my room and the first thing that occurred to me was that I had no idea how to turn on the lights. I consulted my neighbor (all the guys were on my floor. Girls on the 2 floors below us), and learned that the keychain fits into a slot on the wall by the door, which activates the power for the lights. So when you leave with the key, all the lights turn off automatically. This helps save on power, which Korea seems to have a big initiative on saving. With the power of light, I took stock of my surroundings; The room had 2 beds, 2 closets, 2 desk with lamps with 2 tubes of toothepaste and a bar of soap on each desk, a network port, a sink with mirror, a bathroom with a toilet and a shower (no bathtub; just a showerhead to the floor with a drain in the corner), a pair of plastic slippers in the bathroom and a pair of floor slippers next to each bed, and finally, a rack for drying wet clothes.

After about 15 minutes, my roommate arrived. Tim is from Philadelphia and is in his mid 20’s. this is his 2nd year teaching in Korea and will be teaching in Busan this year. He was a huge help on giving me tips and pointers on living in Korea. We talked for a bit but it was clear we were both pretty exhausted and we both went to sleep fairly quickly.

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Departure

August 20, 2012 2 comments

I met my family at check-in at JFK. My father, step-mom, mom, step-dad, grandmother, Aunt, and cousins were there; a big Jewish family, converging to see one of their own off on an adventure. The last time this happened to me, I had finished my senior year in high school and was leaving to spend a year studying at a seminary in Israel. This departure felt different. Israel was something familiar. I knew Hebrew, and being raised Jewish, it was a land full of my people. It was the Jewish homeland. I knew the language, and could easily get around the entire country. It was also the only place my family ever traveled to anymore because my sister, brother-in-law, and their two kids lived there. Israel was the fated homeland, the place where all the Jewish people would someday converge on when the Messiah arrived, and here I was, off to a foreign land where they spoke the language that I did not know. Where I would be the foreigner in a land that I had no idea how to navigate. To me it was exhilarating, to my family, it was terrifying.

            While waiting at the gate, saying our goodbyes, a large group of green suited, pretty flight attendants passed by us. They were Korean, very pretty, all smiling and chatting. As they passed, my mom instinctively said, “We’re no
t in Kansas anymore.” They were used to American or Israeli flight attendants and this was something completely new to them. We said our final goodbyes, hugged, and I went through the security check-in, looking back often to wave as I waited to go through.

When I got to the gate, almost everyone was Korean and it finally hit me that I was becoming the foreigner. The announcements at the gate were first in
Korean, then in English, and this protocol continued on the plane as well. I boarded and sat. The young girl next to me was watching a movie on a device I’d never seen before, a Sky Vega, which I’d never heard of and guessed was a Korean electronics manufacturer. To my left, a friendly Korean man who let me
borrow his pen when I needed it for my customs form.

Once we were airborne and at a safe altitude, the flight attendants brought us our first meal, which was bebimbap. Rice and Korean vegetables and a spicy chile paste, along with a fishy soup and fruit. I remarked on the meal, so different from the airline meals I regularly ate. The flight path we took surprised me, as I looked up at the map on the front screen, I noticed that instead of going straight west, we went north up through Canada to the top of the globe, then west, then down though Russia, China, along the West coast of Korea, and then entered from the West into Incheon. It’s my guess that this course was taking so as to follow the tradewinds, but since I don’t have internet on the flight, I can’t be certain. ( I can get access to email, but it’s expensive).

While over China, I looked down on the landscape below us at an unfamiliar land, The hills and valleys unfamiliar, I looked around me on the plane at a people around me that are unfamiliar. Upon our descent, they played a Unisef video encouraging travelers to donate their money to help child poverty in Africa. We touched down easily and then I was in Korea!!

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Goodbyes

It was 4:30 and time to go. I had already created the email I would send to my coworkers, expressing my appreciation for the time we shared together. “If you are receiving this email then you had a positive and personal impact on my life,” I wrote. Ron, Vannal, Kay, Ted, Joey, Nev, Ellen. These were all good people, people who I shared an office with 8 hours a day. I can confidently say all of us are under-appreciated at that office, but I doubt that is a unique situation. Under-appreciated and underpaid. Hi ho.

I sat looking at that email, knowing that once I sent it, I’d leave my keycard at my desk and never see my cubicle again, possibly never see these people again, and while I didn’t love my job, I felt tender feelings for my coworkers. Kay was my dictionary, the quiet genius. Ted was the teacher, clear and instructive. Ron, the sage, knowledgeable  and always willing to help. Vannal was the trickster, sporting his Cheshire cat-like smile. Nev, the Russian, though I don’t even think he was actually Russian. I’d spend almost a year and a half with these guys and now I was going away. It was Wednesday and I was leaving for Korea in 4 days. I sighed, looked around me one last time, sent the email and left.

I should have said more goodbyes, but I was leaving with no notice. A dick move, I know. Most of my coworkers knew I was leaving. Management didn’t. I only found out I was going to Korea on Monday. I needed to take Tuesday off, and now it was Wednesday. I didn’t mind not telling management. I mean, I would have preferred giving them two weeks notice, but I harbored no love for my managers. My immediate manager, G wanted nothing to do me. I only saw him if I took too long in the bathroom and there was a high call queue or if I came in late and he wanted an explanation. Whenever I passed him in the halls, I would look at him and nod and say hey and he would look at me as if someone just farted. I preferred not seeing him when I said goodbye.

The director of the department, J once took me into a meeting because I had gotten really sick and missed a couple of days. He said “we need warm bodies in those seats,” he said. I’m pretty sure that’s how he regarded us; attending to call volumes, making sure the numbers stayed up. If you got sick or you were going through a divorce or your mom died, I don’t think either of my managers cared. What mattered most was when are you coming back so that seat didn’t stay empty.

It wasn’t a bad job, I got to wear whatever I wanted. Jeans and tee shirts every day. They were also pretty flexible on what 8 hours you worked as long as you got them approved and were consistent. For vacations, they’d alternate Memorial Day and presidents weekend, and thanksgiving and New Years Day. So if you got off on Thanksgiving, you were coming in New Years. It sucked, and it didn’t make much sense when we had an outsourced company in India who could have handled the meager holiday call volumes. The pay was bittersweet. 30k was the lowest tech support salary I’d seen in the entire region, according to salary.com, especially for a NY based software company, but It was still better than not having a job. Most of the people I know who left, did so because they found higher-paying jobs. I was leaving for a different reason; tech support was never a career choice. It was a job that I could rely on while I finished my degree, and now I was finished. Fast forward to my getting this teaching job in Korea, and there really wasn’t a reason to stay anymore.

I looked at the screen, at the office around me, I sent my email and walked out. I met Kay in the lobby and we walked to our cars together. She had recently gotten a significant raise and I knew she deserved it, in fact she deserved a lot more. The company’s raise put her at most starting salaries in our position. We both knew it, but it was still a big raise and I was glad that she got it. We talked about the future, about staying in touch, we hugged and I left. While exiting the parking lot, I took one last long glance at the huge 20 floor structure, that building on the hill, that I had knew, or at least hoped, that I wouldn’t work at again.

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Korean Consulate, B&H Photo, and Flight Information

August 15, 2012 2 comments

Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in NYC

My contract and Notice of appointment arrived  yesterday at 10:30. Finally! I really can’t believe it. All the documentation I’ve had to get the interviews, the hurrying up and then the waiting. All of it is over. I got the contract and felt a brief sense of relief. I’m starting. This is getting real fast.

I quickly made copies of everything, got all the materials i’d need for my visa application, and hightailed it to NYC. When I got there, on the elevator up the 6th floor, everyone’s talking Korean. When I walk through the door of the consulate (See the pic to the left), it hits me. Everyone in the room is Korean. most of the posters on the wall are in Korean, some of them have English below them. There is a guy with a white sash in Korean who appears to be an information rep. He spots me and asks if I need any help. I explain why I’m here and show him my docs. He acknowledges that they’re all in order and refers me to one of the lines.

The place basically looks like a Korean DMV.

B&H Photo – Where Hasidim go to sell you cameras

There were 2 people in front of me and I waited about 20 minutes until it was my turn. I presented my docs, paid the $45 application fee, handed over my passport and was given a small voucher indicating my pickup time will be Thursday 8/16/2012 at 3:00 pm. The whole process took about 10 minutes.

From the embassy, I went to B&H photo to get a camera. The B&H experience is a weird one, that is unless you’re used to Hasidim everywhere. B&H photo is the largest non-chain photo and video equipment store in the United States. When you first walk in, you are hit with the impact of how large this place is. It’s basically the size of a department store, but this department store is run mostly by men with in big beards, long sideburns and big velvet beanies on their heads.

I already had a camera in mind, so I went directly to the digital camera department and met the woman at the kiosk and received a slip for the camera I wanted, the Nikon SE9300, which cost $260, $40 bucks cheaper than Microcenter. From the kiosk, I was advised to go to the side desk where a man in a beard and a velvet yarmulka reviewed my purchase and asked me if I wanted to buy a kit including an sd card, case, and a protection plan, which I declined. From there I was pointed to a cashier downstairs where I paid for my purchase and then finally, I was pointed to the merchandise desk, where I picked up my camera. Though it sounds tedious, the entire process probably took 15 minutes,  not bad for the price I was paying.

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EPIK contract arrived, Departing for Korean embassy

My contract and notice of appointed arrived this morning from EPIK!!! I’m about to depart for the Korean embassy to submit my visa application (processing time: 2 days)

Here is what I have to bring:

1. Visa application
2. Original signed employment contract (does not need to be signed by the employer)
3. Notice of Appointment + 1 copy
4. One Passport-size photo
5. Valid Passport + 1 copy of personal information page
6. Visa Fee ($45) – Money order only: made out to Korean Consulate General *cash accepted in person

Normally, the embassy would ship my visa when it’s ready, but since time is of the essence, I’ll need to go pick it up in person. I’m also going to be mailing my tax exemption application so that my salary this year will be tax-free.From the embassy, I’ll be stopping by B&H to look at cameras, then it’s on to Burlington Coat Factory to search for a warm coat. Since Gangwan is designated for the 2018 Winter Olympics, I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s going to get a bit nippy in the wintertime.

Either meeting Dad for coffee or doing an early dinner.

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T-Minus: 6 days

Last night I got the call.

“you’ll be flying out on Sunday”

The original plan was for me to start teaching in Korea in October. I had completed the application process too late. September positions were already full. Then my recruiter calls me Thursday night at 9:30;

“you remember how I said how we won’t have any positions until October?”
“Sure.”
“How do you feel about leaving in 10 days?”
“Ummm”

And then I said yes. Yes to rushing my contract to me and applying for my visa at the Korean Embassy. Yes to shopping for the clothes and gear I’ll need. Yes to cramming as much Korean language as possible, and yes to saying goodbye to friends and family. So my recruiter said they’d push me through and notify me when a contract from EPIK, the South Korean public school system, was on it’s way.

Last night I got the call. The contract will arrive on Tuesday morning. I fly out in 6 days.

6. Days. Oh man.

I’m still a little in shock. I was planning on starting this adventure at the end of October. This would have given me more time to let Korea sink in to my friends and family and it would have given me more time to prepare mentally and physically. With all this in mind, I still want to start now. I don’t want to put off this dream. I want to start now. The job I have now, I am wasting my time. Going to South Korea will not just be an adventure in another country, It will also provide me with valuable classroom experience that will aid me in my efforts to go to grad school and ultimately, to become a teacher in America. The sooner I can leave and depart, the better.

Now I have a lot to do. This is the calm before the storm

Here is my current itinerary for this week:

Monday:
Work
Dinner with N.
Take stock of clothes and items,  confirm luggage pieces, start to organize what I have

Tuesday
Contract arrives 10:30 AM
Go to NYC and apply for E-2 Visa @ Korean Embassy, confirm when the visa will be ready for pickup
Notify recruiter of expected Visa pickup date, confirm flight schedule
Shop for clothes (polos, khakis, long sleeve shirts)
Buy Adapters/converters, electronics gear
Buy a camera
Buy a Winter Coat
Meet Dad at 9pm for Coffee

Wednesday
Last day of work
Call bank and inform them I’ll be going to korea
Cancel car insurance
cancel cell phone service

Thursday
Renew Drivers License (it expires in 2 months)
Get oil change/Car wash
Get gift for coworkers (Vitamins? – I’ll explain later)
Dinner with Mom and Sister

Friday
Pick up E-2 Visa from Korean Embassy
Confirm Itinerary with recruiter for when I land
Sabbath dinner at Mom’s

Saturday
Sabbath
Going-Away party with friends

Sunday
Depart

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