Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

On Monday, I had two interviews at kindergartens, one near Mia in northern Seoul and a second just round the corner from where I live. This latter seemed like the perfect location, at least, and the kindergarten seems like a very nice place. By the end of the interview, it was clear that they were happy with me and wanted me to sign a contract right away (as did the other place). I got an e-mail address from one of the foreign teachers (or ‘native teachers’ as Koreans generally refer to us) and sent her a few questions, later on. Her answers weren’t as flattering to the hagwon as the message I got before starting my last job, but it didn’t seem at all terrible; she’s been there for going on for three years.

The biggest problem I’m likely to face is ‘psycho parents’, specifically mothers – those who complain about every little thing they possibly can. At least they’ll generally only interact with the Korean staff – which sucks for them, but provides a useful buffer for native teachers. Some unpaid Saturday work seems to be part of the job, too, but only two or three times a year … or so I’ve been assured.

At the moment there are three foreigners working there, but they’re all leaving in the near future and five more – including me – will be hired. Whatever the problems, the convenience of the location will make up for a lot of them.

So, I went back on Tuesday to sign a contract and the boss and head teacher and I spent about three hours going through the contract, printing off various versions and figuring out what I had to do to get my visa transferred to my new employer. As the job is starting on the 6th of January and my E-2 visa from my previous job was due to expire on the 19th of December I had thought that I would need to transfer to the job-seeking visa, the D-10 visa, and then transfer again to my new teaching visa.

However, after another call to Immigration, the head teacher told me I should transfer my visa to a new E-2 sponsored by my new job immediately. This involved printing out a new contract for Immigration purposes that stated that I started that day. They gave me some business registration documents and I promised to go to Immigration right then.

Which I duly did and, after waiting in line for a good while – long enough for me to fill in a couple of forms, contact my old boss for her business registration number, and my landlady to clarify our address, and still hang around for a good while – I was able to hand over the documents and my passport and my Alien Registration Card and they changed my visa and my address details within five minutes or so. Free of charge, too, which I wasn’t expecting.

Unfortunately, I forgot to pick up a copy of my police subject access letter, which my employer apparently needs in order to register me with the education board. So I took care of that today, by heading back to Omokgyo Station and thence to the Immigration building, waiting for a much shorter while in the same place as before – the room for visa extensions and stuff – but, when I got to the desk, I was told I needed to go up to the seventh floor.

So up the stairs I went, found a likely looking room and went in. A young woman working at a desk near the door seemed to know exactly what I wanted before I even said anything. Sure enough, at the desk where she told me to sit was an English translation of the form I needed to fill in, with the relevant boxes highlighted and containing example information. A few minutes later, I had a copy of the police letter and my degree certificate, too.

The other thing I needed to do – my new supervisor informed me – was get a new health check. I did a search for hospitals with English-language services and found that the closest to my home is St Mary’s Catholic Hospital, so I went there to try to get the health check done. I found the English-speaking clinic, but I was told to go to a different department and was led most of the way by an older man who complained about the smog that’s apparently blown over Korea from China.

In the other building, I found a place with ‘Visa Health Checks’ or something equally apposite over the door. The young male doctor and female office worker seemed very confused by what I was asking and wanted me to come back the following week when their office manager would return. After more inquiries, they got on the phone and then eventually told me to go to a different St Mary’s Hospital, this one at Yeouido – close to the Immigration building – in the morning.

After I later updated the head teacher on my progress, she gave me a further hospital to go to – Hanaro Medical Foundation, not too far away near Seolleung Station (I used to work near there in 2010). So I’ll go and do that, hopefully, tomorrow morning.

I may have to wait a couple of weeks for the health test results to come back – which could be a problem, as I won’t be in the country in a couple of weeks. Last night I booked tickets to fly back to the UK for a fortnight from the 16th of December. It was something I had been thinking of doing during the coming summer, but with some money in the bank and a month of free time, I might as well do it now. I imagine I can have the results posted to my new kindergarten.

When I go home, I plan to take back some of my read books along with various Korean foods and maybe drinks (soju?) as gifts. And I plan to bring back more books and board games. I generally say that there’s not much that I miss about England, but I’m actually looking forward to going home again. My sister had a fake, November Christmas for me last year; it’ll be nice to spend time with family for the real thing this year. I plan to introduce my neice and nephew to my board game, Islands of the Azure Sea.

I’m not so much looking forward to leaving my cat by herself for two weeks, though. My friends who live in the neighbouring flats would be happy to feed her, but I would to find someone to stay here so she doesn’t get too lonely. It’s a difficult thing to judge: would she be more stressed by being left alone or by having a stranger move in? Fortunately, I have some good, cat-loving friends who I think would be willing to help out.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The past month or so has been one of those transitional times – but it’s been good.

My job was always a pretty low-key affair. Many hagwons for elementary and middle school children put on events for Halloween and Christmas; apart from putting all of our kids into the one room to play games and have food, there was no great to-do this October. Nevertheless, I had most of my kids skip their studies for a class or two to make Halloween decorations – even the older kids who no longer have many opportunities for fun stuff in their schooling. I even played zombie (blindfold tick) in my classroom with my all-girl class (plus one boy, Brian, who always comes at the same time as the girls but usually studies separately – when he joins the female class, I call him Briana).

Some students produced some excellent artwork, too.

Emily's Witch

Seung-ho's Death

Tony's Vampire

And then my leaving date started to draw near. I was thrown three separate parties – one with my mixed elemetary school class plus the girls, one with my high-level middle school class and one with my younger middle school class. The middle one of these classes put up balloons and bought me a fancy quattro-style cake. In the other parties, we had fried chicken on Monday and pizza on Friday. It was probably the most fuss that’s ever been made over me for leaving a job. From what they tell me, Korean kids will spontaneously organise things like this with their own money; I don’t recall that ever happening when I was at school.

Leaving Party Balloons

In addition to leaving parties at work, I had a final coffee morning meeting and a meal and drinks (and games) with a bunch of friends from both inside and outside Cheonan. It wasn’t the mega-party of my birthday, but it was good fun and it was great to see people there.

It was my hope when I was looking for a job last year to find something in Seoul, but I had hardly any offers of interviews; one recruiter told me in an e-mail that he couldn’t really do anything for me as I didn’t live in Korea. The job that I eventually took in Cheonan was actually the first offer that I had, but it seemed like a very good place to work – and thus it proved. And it got me back into the country.

I am lucky enough to have really fallen on my feet when it comes to finding somewhere to live in Seoul. My two friends, Matthew and Zach live next door to each other and the flat next door to them has been empty for a long time. As the landlord kept the door unlocked, we were able to have a look around the place together a couple of times. It’s bigger than their places, although the bathroom is much smaller, so I was concerned that it would be too expensive. But they both disagreed and were enthusiastic about the prospect of me moving in there.

I asked them to ask the landlord what the rent would be and the answer was ₩650,000 (£375) a month with a key money deposit of ₩5,000,000 (£2,900) – the same as both of my friends’ places. And that pretty much settled it. I made arrangements to pay the landlord in a couple of phases, as I wouldn’t have all the money until I got my last month’s salary and bonus, and went and signed a contract.

I asked my friend Peter if he’d help me move if I paid his expenses, but his wife pointed out that it would be pretty expensive to drive from Daegu to Cheonan and on to Seoul and all the way back again. So she suggested that her father could do it for a reasonable fee (a third of the ₩300,000 my boss said it would cost to hire a small lorry). And he did. Shortly before I moved, I’d taken a few things up to leave at Zach’s place; if I’d been more assiduous I would have taken more on different occasions. It turned out to have been a good idea, as Peter’s father-in-law’s car got filled to the roof with all my stuff. My cat sat quietly in her case on my lap on the way up.

I’ve been there a while now and am very happy with the place. Having a bedroom in addition to the main area is quite a luxury. Even though the place is not massive, it’s still pretty big – so much so that it feels a little empty. Shortly after I moved in I invited a few people over for a flat-warming party; I made vegetable bolognese and we played games until two in the morning. My only real concern about the place was the mouldy smell – which is starting to fade, or at least be hidden, now that I’m cooking there. I’ll have to make sure the mould doesn’t get any worse.

The next step, of course, is to find a job. This has been going well. I had four interviews before I left my last job, travelling up to Seoul early in the morning on the subway and heading back to Cheonan by express bus at lunchtime, of which I was offered two positions. I turned them both down; in the case of the first, I didn’t like the boss, and the second was too far to commute every day.

After a slow start where I concentrated on cleaning and unpacking and buying a few extra things that I needed from the nearby Daiso (mmm, Daiso), I got my job search back on track again last week. By the end of the week, I was starting to get invitations to interviews – and I had two seemingly successful interviews on Monday, one of which was at a kindergarten very close to where I live. Even if nothing comes of these particular jobs, it leaves me feeling pretty confident about future prospects.

The only potential fly in the ointment now is getting a D-10 visa (my E-2 visa, sponsored by my last job, expires a month after I finished working, ie, mid- to late December). This is a ‘looking-for-work’ visa, and to qualify for it, I will probably need to prove that I can support myself in the country until I get a job. I can support myself – but my money is all in my British accounts and I don’t know if that will be a problem. It seems like getting the D-10 is usually not a big deal.

And that’s my life at the moment, work-wise. 2013 was a good year. I think expectations are the surest path to disappointment and frustration, but I have pretty high hopes for 2014.

Read Full Post »

The last couple of weekends have been pretty busy and fun.

The weekend before last, I came up to Seoul, my small backpack heavy with my box of Magic cards and a few bits of clothing and toiletries – and my computer, which I probably didn’t really need. I’ve recently joined a bunch of groups on Meetup and my first order of business was to attend my first event with one of them. It was a beginners’ life drawing class at a studio in Itaewon. The instructor had us practise a few different drawing techniques – initially with one of the attendees with whom he was evidently familiar because the model was late, and then with a model once she arrived.

Three Life-drawing Sketches

It was interesting work, quite challenging – especially having not had much practice at sketching for a long time, other than the occasional map for a game or story. I think I did reasonably well, though. The model was a white, North American woman – she resembled a blond Natalie Portman. Most of the attendees were women too; I chatted to a few on the way out and back to the subway station, but the atmosphere in the class was quiet so I felt pretty self-conscious about talking to anyone in there. The one woman I did talk to in the class seemed quite uncomfortable.

Afterwards, I met those sterling gentlemen, Matthew and Zach. We had dinner together and I dropped my things at Zach’s place (which is conveniently nextdoor to Matt’s place; I knocked on their doors simultaneously) where I stayed the night. Later in the evening, Zach and I went to Hongdae where he had a gig to play with Damnear David, a David Bowie cover singer. Also on the bill was a Queen cover band, Queen Machine – which I really quite enjoyed.

The following day, the three of us went to Wangsimni to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which we all agreed was very good, although it did have some silly bits like the hero not leaving home for the first hour of the film and Galadriel teleporting to avoid scuffing or tripping up over her long skirts.

We also played lots of Magic: The Gathering. Zach and I did, at any rate – Matthew had other duties that called him away.

During the week, I made a bunch of paper snowflakes with my students to decorate my class a little. There has been quite a bit of real snow of late and the weather has been very cold occasionally – making my classroom unpleasantly chilly; the single heater is not really up to the task of heating the whole room.

Paper Snowflakes

I also got my Alien Registration Card and set up a bank account with KEB – Korea Exchange Bank. Actually, I set up two accounts (no, I didn’t – the bank clerk did it for me); one is a regular current account, into which I’ll be paid, and the other automatically transfers any money put into it to my UK bank account. Once I got paid, I transferred some money into the second account; I’ve just checked and it has arrived in my British account. Now I can pay off the credit card debt I’ve built up in my first month back in Korea. Unfortunately, the advances on my salary that I’ve been given mean that I probably won’t have enough cash to see out this next month, so I’m going to have to withdraw more money on my credit card.

I had to go back to the hospital where I got my health check done. I went initially to an internal medicine clinic I’d noticed in order to get a week’s worth of my colitis medication. The doctor – a rather uninspiringly nervous and boyish middle-aged man – told me he couldn’t prescribe it but gave me a note to take to the hospital. Having seen one of the specialists at the hospital, I made my way down one of the staircases and passed this very pretty nurse who’d tested my sight and given me my sealed envelope with the results a couple of weeks afterwards. She had been very nice, trying to speak English and (kind of) remembering my name. She stopped to say hello and prove that she remembered my name again (with only a little prompting from me). I asked her hers.

I had to return once more to the hospital to get another copy of the health check statement – the last one had been for the Immigration Office; this one was for the police, with whom I was supposed to be registered. I was able to ask for Ji-yeong by name and she prepared another envelope for me.

There was a weird episode towards the end of the week when Julie, my boss, put it to me that she didn’t want to sign me up for the (legally required) national health insurance and pension schemes and instead wanted to get something private. Or maybe that wasn’t exactly what she was saying, but because of something the recruiter had told her she didn’t seem keen.

I’m very aware that Americans and Canadians can get the pension contributions back when they leave the country, but Britons can’t. This is because of differing reciprocal arrangements between governments; Koreans working in the UK also can’t get a refund of National Insurance contributions. Apparently, the recruiter had told her that she wouldn’t need to pay into the national system for a British employee and that had been a factor in her choosing me over someone else. After asking various people and reading about it, I told her I wanted to pay into the national systems – so that’s apparently what I’m now doing.

I say apparently because after getting confirmation that I was signed up from Julie, I went back to internal medicine clinic, the hospital and the pharmacy and got partial refunds on my payments because I was now retroactively covered. I’ve since been back to the hospital and pharmacy and my consultation and medication were a lot more expensive than I was expecting.

This past weekend was one of Magic and Burning Wheel gaming. Zach, Matthew and I played MTG on Saturday. That other sterling gentleman, Peter, met me on Sunday and we played more Magic, then Zach joined us and we got started on a roleplaying game run by Peter. I played a fisherman exiled from his village and Zach played a cleric with the character trait Overbearing Loony; we were united by a desire to stop colonists interfering with local culture – or at least with an old temple. It was a very promising game and seemed to go off on a tangent quite quickly – or maybe it was all planned. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue the story soon.

The first thing I did on Saturday was head up to Itaewon to see a man about a phone. I was expecting a North American, but it turned out to be an Indian or Pakistani guy. I started to feel a bit suspicious, but checked the instinct. The phone he offered me was white instead of the black one shown in the photo on Craigslist. I bought it anyway – I’m far too polite to have refused. I came to the conclusion later that the phone was almost certainly stolen. The man didn’t have any idea how to change a setting I e-mailed him about later; the phone is a little bit scuffed on the back, while this chap provided brand new recharging and data cables; he spoke near-perfect English, but he changed the phone from Korean to English right in front of me.

Anyway, it works and I’ve been to the SK Telecom centre to get a new USIM card for it – thus registering an account with SK as well as getting an actual phone number. The clerk opened it up and typed some numbers from inside the phone into her computer. I can only assume that if someone had reported it stolen, some alert would have come up at this point. Maybe it was second-hand after all.

The really disappointing thing about the phone was that it was white and not black. Nevertheless, I’ve got a pretty fancy 4G smart phone with a big screen and I’m starting to get used to how it works and alter things to my taste.

Monday was the last day of teaching for me this year. I had one class with a four-year-old boy, then the next class was an amalgam of many of the elementary school kids and we watched Brave on my laptop. A couple of hours later, the middle- and high- schoolers did the same, but I had to leave halfway through to take a class with one of the girls; then I had one more class with one of the older boys and I was done. The kids will be back on Wednesday, but I have my contractual five days of holiday.

Today, Tuesday, I spent doing not very much – washing clothes, walking around the city, blogging. I had pepperoni pizza for dinner with chocolates and beer and Misfits and the Simpsons.

Read Full Post »

On Thursday I went for a walk up to Cheonan Station and found a foreign foods shop that I’d read about on the internet. Not as big as the ones in Itaewon, but it had various Thai sauces, Indian curry powders and Western deodorants that I might take advantage of in the future. With not much money in my wallet, I didn’t buy anything. I headed over to the railway station and got a couple of maps from the little tourist information office. Then I walked towards home, found a Daiso shop and got myself a cheap set of kitchen knives.

A little later, I was picked up from my flat by one of the hagwon’s older students – a favourite of the director. He took me to a pretty big hospital, Cheonan Chungmu Hospital (in front of which stands a statue of Yu Gwan-sun, a protester against Japanese occupation in the early twentieth century), where I had my medical test. He took me around to the various departments and translated for me. I had a pretty bad headache, having gone to bed straight after work without drinking anything; I didn’t want to take any pills just in case it compromised my drugs test (despite the fact that my doctor had said it was impossible). I discovered that I had a couple of small cavities and that my vision was now 15/15. Presumably, these defects, in addition to my colour-blindness, won’t prevent me staying in my job.

The student paid for the test with the director’s credit card. It was ₩104,000, which is about ₩20,000 more expensive than the price for one of the previous tests I had. The director is going to deduct this from my pay, which I’m a bit disappointed about, but it’s not such a big deal that I’m going to be bothered about it. She said (I think – she put in a bit of strange way) that should would give me the money if I signed a second contract – although that’s a pretty long way down the line.

The result comes back next Thursday. The day after, we’ll go to Immigration to get me my Alien Registration Card.

I thought I might go to a café on Friday morning and do some writing, but I discovered I’d left my backpack at work overnight. With nothing practical to carry my computer in, I decided to go for a walk. I headed in the opposite direction from the city centre towards the nearby smaller city of Asan.

I passed over a distinctive circular bridge – there’s a ring-shaped walkway suspended over a big junction with ramps and lifts on each corner. I’ve seen similar footbridge in Japan, but never in Korea before. I had brought my camera with me this time, so I took a few photos.

A bit further on, I found a new department store, the Galleria – where the mother of the boy who took me to the hospital works; as he has no more school work to do, he helps her there. It was 9 – 9:30, so too early for the shops inside to be open – so I didn’t go in. Instead, I carried on a bit further and had a look inside the KTX (bullet train) station, Cheonan-Asan. The track is elevated for quite a long stretch, built on top of some monumental, multi-level arches. Inside, it’s full of huge, tubular metal supports. Impressive, if you like that kind of thing – and I rather do.

The area around the station and the Galleria is pretty dead. There’s a Lotte Mart nearby, with associated shops, something called E-Mart Traders, some big apartment buildings and an area of new, small buildings that’s very reminiscent of the ghost town-like new development close to where I worked in Bundang. The area seems very symptomatic of the Korean enthusiasm for development. They seem to believe strongly in the idea that, if you build it, they will come.

I had some kimbap at the station and headed back home. Then headed out again immediately for another walk – in the other direction, this time. My aim was to scout out more ways of walking into the centre and to locate the Korea Exchange Bank, at which I will open an account once I’m able (KEB apparently has good a good set-up for transfering money to foreign accounts). I found, along with a big market along a street characteristically covered with a big, arched roof. I kept walking, passed an Indian restaurant that I’ll have to eat at some time and found myself at Cheonan Station.

I went home, got some indifferent and over-priced pizza for lunch, went to work, finished said pizza for dinner, completed work and returned home again. The weekend followed.

Read Full Post »

I met the director again at 12 o’clock and she took me to a nearby restaurant for lunch – and when I say nearby, it was just a couple of building up the street from the hagwon. She was friends with the woman who worked there – the woman’s son being one of our star pupils, apparently. The food was decent – I went for bulgogi and mushroom stew, which actually isn’t one of my favourite; there was a good selection of side dishes on small, attractive plates.

I mentioned to Julie that I’d had to buy a load of stuff and she said she could give me some things. I also asked if I could have an advance on my salary – which isn’t going to be paid in full until I’ve actually worked a full month (being such a small school, there’s no official pay day). She said she’d think about it. Lunch turned out to be free – and not just for me.

We crossed the street back to the school and Julie opened up and talked me through the schedule, writing it all out for me. My hours are from 2 to 9:30 pm and my classes are pretty evenly split between classes of six to eight students and classes of only one student; essentially, I’ll be providing private lessons to several kids once or twice a week. I wasn’t told of any major preparations needed for classes, but a couple of my ‘privates’ don’t have books, so I’ll have to think of some way of passing an hour with them. The schedule includes an hour or an hour and half of preparation time at the start of each working day, however. I have a break of half an hour at around eight o’clock.

When I needed to use the bathroom, she recommended that I go back to my place as there is only one bathroom, which is shared by students and staff. The hagwon occupies the ground floor of the building and consists of five rooms and a single, L-shaped corridor. I, Julie and the part-timer, Nami each have our own class room; there’s an office and an extra room where the water cooler is. The decor isn’t great – the walls are slightly grubby white, the desks and chairs are not all the same, there’s no decoration, everything’s rather tired and lived in. It’s also pretty cold – although Julie told me I have the warmest room in winter and the coolest in summer.

Apparently, there are flats on the upper floors of the building and a number of foreign teachers live there; I didn’t see any yesterday. Julie also told me she could let me have a quarter of my pay in a fortnight. I’m probably not going to be able to eke what what money I have that long, but I suppose that’s why baby Jesus invented credit cards.

Julie had arranged for a 19-year-old boy to come and take me on a little tour of the area. She insisted he was very smart and a great talker, but he wasn’t excessively forthcoming with me. We chatted a little awkwardly as he showed me the sights – a branch of Kookmin Bank, an osteopathy hospital, a bus stop. Ooh.

I was pretty tired at this point, but I had to start earning my keep. First class was a four-year-old boy. When I heard about it, this was the class that I was most apprehensive about. However, the lad is very well behaved, and, while he can’t speak much, he understands reasonably well. I asked him simple questions like, ‘How old are you?’ (he held up four fingers), practised writing letters and worked with flash cards.

After that, the classes were a relative breeze. The children all seem friendly enough, respectful enough and willing enough to communicate. I was suffering from sleep and caffeine withdrawal and developed a bad headache throughout the afternoon – bad enough to make me feel nauseous. I explained this to my last student of the day and he suggested we play Scrabble; I didn’t object. I thrashed him 335 to 86 – which cheered me up a bit.

At one point in the afternoon, Julie introduced me to the other teacher, Nami, who’s a mere slip of a girl at 20 years old. Julie also gave me a few things for my flat – a couple of cups, bowls, forks and spoons and a saucepan – this latter being the most useful, as I can now make tea. I was due to go to a hospital today for my mandatory health check – but Julie suggested we leave it till Thursday if I wasn’t feeling well; I agreed.

I went home and collapsed into bed. I was up again in the early hours, had some cereal and chocolate digestives (I was rather surprised to see that the legendary Diget biscuits have not only changed their packaging, but grown in size), wrote my last blog post, listened to the radio. I got some more sleep around dawn (using the sleeping mask I’d kept from my flight over), but I was up again at eight, well before my alarm went off at nine.

After breakfasting and washing, I headed out and walked to the downtown area of the city – which took about an hour. I’m sitting writing this in the Starbucks I saw when I arrived. I’ve had a look around the Shinsegae department store; there are various clothes shops, of course, an E-Mart, a cinema (not one of the main chains), a Kyobo Mungo – the Koreas equivalent of Waterstones – with a small selection non-TEFL English language books. There’s a lot more to the bus station than I saw on Monday – a ticket to Seoul costs ₩5,500, give or take, depending on where exactly you get off. There are several large sculptures in front of the building, including one by Keith Haring (an exhibition of whose work I saw a couple of years ago in Seoul).

I should walk back home now – I can’t really afford to take a taxi and I’m not au fait enough with the buses to be confident using them. Thinking of kimbap for lunch.

Read Full Post »

Last week, after less than a week of waiting, I got my visa issuance number from my recruiter. The next step was to submit my application to the Korean embassy in London. I decided that I would go down to hand it in in person. This would allow the staff to see it first and let me know if there was any problem (for instance, I wasn’t sure whether I should also hand over my old passport with my previous visas in it) – and I would be able to see friends while I was there. I considered staying down in London so I could pick my passport up when it was ready, but it seemed likely that it would take the full five working days or longer to process (a British friend from Korea advised me that that was likely – he’d received his only shortly before he was due to leave the country) and London is expensive.

On Tuesday night, I stayed up to watch the BBC coverage of the US presidential election (elections to Congress weren’t covered in much detail). Americans got it right again – making up for electing George W Bush twice. Given that various Tea Party Republicans were voted out and liberal policies approved in referenda, I wonder whether Mitt Romney might have done a lot better if he’d been allowed to present himself as the moderate he supposedly really is. I eventually went to bed at 7am, meeting my sister and her kids on the way as they got up. I was able to rise again at the not unreasonable hour of midday.

The following night, I was in bed at about midnight and up again at five o’clock in order to get a 6:35 train to Manchester and an 8 o’clock coach to London (the outbound trip cost just £9 with National Express and the return £12.50 – which somehow managed to add up to £29.50 along with insurance, booking fee and so on).

The Korean embassy is on Buckingham Gate, just off Victoria and a short walk from Victoria Coach Station. The coach arrived at 13:20, so I got lunch from the Subway at the shopping mall adjacent to the railway station and arrived at the embassy just after 2pm, when they re-opened after lunch. The woman on duty at one of the windows inside told me assertively that the visa section was closed. I suggested to her that I could just hand my documents in, but that was unacceptable. As soon as I had this conversation, I realised that I’d been in exactly this situation some years ago, probably in 2008.

It wasn’t a problem though – except that my passport would be returned to me that little bit later and it would make planning my flight out that little bit trickier – I had time before my return coach in the morning to come back. I turned my thoughts to getting to my hostel down in the Isle of Dogs – the south-pointing peninsula bounded by a big loop of the Thames that is the location of Canary Wharf; it’s geographical feature that’s been familiar for many years because of the title sequence of EastEnders. I realised I’d forgotten to bring either of my Oyster cards with me, so, reasoning that I had plenty of time, I decided to walk.

I thought it might take a couple of hours – it took three. I got there a little after five o’clock, having walked along the north bank of the Thames for various parts of the way (and taken a few pictures of the attractively cloudy sky), and was starting to worry about meeting my friends on time (although we hadn’t actually set a time).

The Great Eastern Bestplace Inn turned out to be quite a pleasant place – very pubby downstairs, clean and whitewashed upstairs. Better still, my bed was £11.99 – half price. The shower, on the other hand was terrible: weak and uncertain in temperature.

I got the DLR and Tube back up to our rendezvous point in the general vicinity of Leicester Square. Drew met me as I was reading and drinking tea at McDonalds. We headed out shortly towards the big Odeon cinema, which has been our meeting place on more than one occasion – then headed back because Colin had gone to McDonalds looking for us.

Colin always has the information on where to eat, so we allowed him to guide us to an Indian restaurant. My Goa murg and mushroom rice was very tasty, but – shockingly – I couldn’t finish because I was getting a bit full. The meal came to around £55 for the three of us. Afterwards, we went to a Costa for coffee and more chit-chat. I introduced Drew and Colin to the pleasures of the Korean flower cards game, Go-Stop – or a simplified version thereof.

Then it was time to say goodbye for another lengthy period and we headed to our respective homes.

In the morning, I checked out of the hostel after a complementary breakfast of cornflakes, bread and jam and tea. Well – I left, anyway. There were no keys, only door codes, and I’d already paid, so there was no actual checking out to do. There was no one on the reception desk, so I couldn’t even tell them, ‘I’m checking out now.’

I returned to the embassy shortly before 10 o’clock. I went to the passport window, where there was a young woman on duty (not the same woman as the day before) and, before the word ‘Hello’ had barely passed my lips, she snapped, ‘Visa window open at ten o’clock. Take a ticket and wait over there.’

There was one other person ahead of me – a courier, judging by his high-visibility jacket. Once the visa window opened and this guy had finished he handed me the next number ticket (he must have taken two by mistake) and I handed my stuff over to the young Korean chap manning the counter. When I asked, he indicated I didn’t need to submit my old passport. There was a moment of humour when he passed me my yellow plectrum that had got stuck inside my passport when it had been in my pocket. He looked over my documents, I paid £80, got a receipt and that was that. I didn’t actually ask again (I’d already spoken to someone on the phone two or three days earlier) how long it would take, but a notice on the window made it clear I should expect it to be five working days (to which I added another day for it to be posted).

Afterwards, I made my way to a nearby Starbucks, got a coffee and on the internet, realised at nearly eleven that I had a coach to catch in half an hour, so off I went.

I outlined my progress to my recruiter in an e-mail, but as it was pretty much already the weekend, I didn’t hear anything back and haven’t so far. The worst thing that’ll happen is that they’ll book me a flight and I’ll be forced to miss it because I don’t have my passport, then I’ll arrive in Korea later and the school will have to get someone to cover any class time I miss.

We’ll see what happens next weekend.

Read Full Post »

I’ve had two job offers lately – a nice upturn in my jobhunting fortunes. One of them was for a place at a hagwon in Cheonan working 2:00 to 9:30 and teaching elementary and middle school students. The other was for my previous place in Bundang, 9:30 to 5:00, kindergarten.

Each had its pros and cons. Cheonan is quite a way outside Seoul; it’s not even in Gyeonggi-do, the province surrounding Seoul, but is just to the south of it in northern Chungcheongnam-do or South Chungcheong Province (confusingly, North and South Chungcheong lie east and west of each other, rather than north and south). The city (which has the same name as a South Korean ship that was sunk with the loss of all hands a year or two ago, apparently by a North Korean torpedo) is about half an hour from Seoul on the KTX bullet train, over an hour on a normal train or two hours on the subway.

The Bundang position, on the other hand, would not be a legal position – I would be working there on a tourist visa and have no health insurance and no free flight over there. But it would be closer to Seoul and could improve my chances of getting a job starting in February – by which time my police subject access letter would still (just) be valid for getting a visa.

I talked to a couple of my friends in Korea about this and they helped me to decide that the latter would be the better option – it fulfilled both of my priorities – it was close to Seoul and it was a kindergarten position.

I sent various messages to the same recruiter who got me the job in the first place, asking if the school would provide my airfare or part of it. At first it seemed they would, then they needed time to think about it, then no, but they might pay for a third of it, and then it turned out they’d hired (if that’s the right word) someone else.

So that left me with the Cheonan job – which I’ve accepted.

It wasn’t easy to accept it. I mean that quite literally. I didn’t hesitate in making the decision – I had a glowing report on the place from a previous teacher (although she was ambivalent about the accommodation) – and I think I’ve spent more than enough time out of work.

I’d always used DHL for sending my documents over to Korea in the past. When I tried it this time, the website didn’t accept the postcode I’d been given. I sent an e-mail to the recruiter, but didn’t hear anything back quickly. So I used Interparcel (who, in turn, used FedEx). The driver came while I was still printing out the four shipping and address labels (using slow colour printing because the black and white isn’t very good), but it turned out I only needed two shipping labels.

So that was that. The recruiter reckons it’ll take three weeks or so for my visa application to be processed, and I’ll be starting work in mid- to late November.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »