Visas and IDPs

Last Tuesday, I picked up fellow EPIKers one at the Train Station in CT and the rest in MA on the way to the Korean Consulate in Newton, MA.  The ride up was a lot of fun and it was interesting meeting new people for the first time face to face. Nothing like getting to know each other than saying, “Hey….I know you on facebook, you wanna go to the consulate together?” *Gasps of horror* Strangers entered my car and they were all fabulous ladies!

We made our way to the consulate on a mission as one of us had a problem applying elsewhere with paperwork and the like. We circled the street the building was on three times before we settled on just parking in the dunkin donuts parking lot across the street. We swiftly made our way across the street and up to the second floor. I organized all of my documents quickly, thinking I have everything here and presented my documents first. The clerk said , “I don’t need this, I don’t need this, I don’t need this. $45.”

My response was, “Isn’t the multiple entry $80?”

“No, all visas are multiple entry. $45.” She said without looking up at me. So I paid quickly and was super excited that it was less than I was expecting. The three of us moved through the line quickly, we had to make a side trip to the post office and walgreen’s for new passport photos for one of the girls but all in all it was super quick. Luckily, our visas would start to be processed and out for delivery by Thursday morning.

…Wednesday afternoon I get a phone call. “You have no postage for your envelope.” Slight panic set in for a moment as I distinctly remember buying stamps and watching them be posted on the envelope and if they weren’t they were inside waiting to be put on.

So I replied, “They should be inside the envelope if they aren’t on the outside.”

“No, they are not. ”

“Can you hold my visa for me? How long can you hold it?” I ask.

“We can hold it okay.”

…I realize I am strapped for time, I don’t have a vehicle to return to Boston, and I cannot get a second day off to retrieve it. Would they take a money order? A credit card over the phone? Nope. and Nope. An additional call would verify this for me.  So without further ado I jetted across the parking lot to the small post office in the grocery store and bough two priority envelopes with delivery confirmation and postage on both. I even inserted a little note explaining what to do and saying thank you for your help in Korean.

After watching the passport sit in Nashua, NH for 3 1/2 days at a sorting facility it finally arrived to me today.  I am not ready to leave!

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IDP (International Driver’s Permit)

The USA calls it an IDP…it should be an IDL (International Driver’s License). But that is just my opinion. So I went to the local AAA office today to renew my driver’s license since it will expire while I am abroad and to obtain the IDP.  Unfortunately, as I am standing at the counter the lady tells me, “You can’t renew your driver’s license. You can only renew it 4 months before.”

” I won’t be in the country and I am not going to let it expire. ”

“Well, you can mail it in to renew but you will have non-photo ID which you MUST keep with your current driver’s license that will expire.”

Well, so now I know I can’t get that done until later which kind of sucks but whatever. However, I brought the two passport photos for my IDP and it was obtained within 5-10 minutes. I was super impressed I could walk out the same day with it. I was glancing through the book and realized there is no Korean, so I hope if I get pulled over in Korea the officer knows how to read the English.

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As I sit here writing, I have 13 days and counting…still so much to do.

Learning Korean

I was reflecting on my progress with learning Korean and if I think of how long I have self-studied the language it seems like a disappointment. I learned how to read Korean back in 2006 with the help of a Saturday Korean class run by Korean students at Amherst college. This helped me a lot when I went to study abroad that summer and placed in level 4 of level 6 for the beginner Korean classes.  And so years went by, I have watched numerous Korean dramas and listened to Korean music over the years. I dated and was married to a Korean man for a total of 6 years. I was able to converse in basic sentences over the phone and in person with his friends and family. At one point I even held a 1 hour conversation mostly in Korean with my sister-in-law.

Reflecting on this I feel I should be further along. I should have more confidence in speaking the language, reading and writing, listening and participating in conversations. When I was with my ex we used to try to have days we would just speak in Korean, however, it never worked. He or I would get frustrated by being unable to communicate with the other we resorted to English.  I was always frustrated that I could not express myself in Korean. My feelings, my thoughts, what I wanted to do. I would just shut down and speak English. Every time I would tell myself I am going to say it in Korean this time, English would come out of my mouth. I felt embarrased by the fact that I could not speak and that I made pronunciation errors.  I have corrected my ex on his errors and he always thanked me, and though I am thankful when someone corrects me, it makes me feel incompetent at the same time. This probably stems from me having low self-confidence. I don’t believe in my abilities nor do I push through walls to grow. I just get comfortable and stay where I am, even at my own dismay.

When I hear about others learning languages or reading language learning blogs I feel in awe of the people who acquire languages so quickly. Granted there is a lot of dedication behind that. Yet, it makes me wonder what have I done for 6 years that I’m not even semi-fluent?  It is  a question I ask myself. I look at all the books I have to learn the language and the resources available to me online and I pause. Why do I not make the time to learn? Just even setting 30 minutes aside? The question really bothers me.  Self-studying has always been hard for me, as much as I strive to be good at it.  I feel I am much more of an immersion person. I feel if I am under the pressure of learning to get by in life, to communicate to others around me, to be able to order food and take directions, I need to have that pressure.

With that being said, I am looking forward to my time in Korea.  I am looking forward to the fact that I am in Gangwon province and that speakers of English may be minimal. I welcome the opportunity to challenge myself in Korean. To rattle my brain and see what has been collecting dust in all the crevices. How much vocabulary is floating around unused? How many grammar structures do I actually know and understand? How much can I function by myself in another language? I look forward to that challenge to actually test my knowledge. I might surprise myself with what I do know. With that being said I have decided that at some point in the next year abroad I will sit for the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) and I am not sure what level I will pick to test for but I think I will shoot for Level 2 (High Beginner) or Level 3(Low Intermediate) as much as I would love to take Level 4 ( High Intermediate) I think it is currently out of my league so for now I will concentrate on one of the lower levels.

Goal: To sit for the TOPIK exam before the end of 2013 and either achieve Level 2/3

Now to start studying Korean diligently again.

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Taking a piece of home with me

One thing that has bothered me most about leaving is packing. I have no idea what to pack. Not only do I not know what I truly need to pack, but rather what am I required to bring. So I decided to make two packing lists. After talking to many people and reading various blogs about living abroad; most suggest to bring a piece from home or something to make your new place homey. With that in mind I have come up with 5 items that no matter what are coming with me.

1. My Rilakkuma teddy bear:

When I was visiting my friend in Japan in 2005 her boyfriend at the time won me the bear from the machine. He has been a constant companion ever since. Always around when I sleep and always there if I need someone to hug. That might seem childish but when you are miles away a companion that always accompanies you is nice to have.

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2. Blanket made by mom

My mother makes blankets by hand and most of the time they are gifts for other people, especially those close to us who are pregnant and expecting. She has churned out quite a few baby blankets this year. Originally I was going to take a small throw blanket that she had made recently but then she started a new design of a bigger blanket. So I asked if I could have it since I liked the colors. She has since finished this blanket and it is perfect to take with me since it is light and made of cotton.

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3. Rangzen mug

So anyone who knows me knows I am an avid  supporter of SFT (Students for  a Free Tibet) and I try to buy their merchandise which is either made in the U.S.A., Nepal or India.  Having been abroad I know that a standard size American coffee mug is hard to find. So here it is a nice big mug for coffee or tea emblazoned with the Tibetan word rangzen (independence) on the front. It’s a nice piece of home and my favorite mug.

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4.  My earring tree

Yes, an earring tree. I’m sure most people are not bringing earring trees with them. Mine is an actual tree made of recycled metal. I begged for two years to receive it as a christmas gift and finally did. It holds a great deal of earrings and can hold bracelets and watches at the bottom. I love its design and the fact it can organize my jewelry so nicely. I wish I had an organizer for necklaces but I don’t have one yet. I have a lot of big, fun jewelry that may or may not be appropriate for teaching we shall see.

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5.  Condiment Set

This is a piece I saw at a fair trade store and I thought was really pretty. I have always wanted to use it in my first place and I think bringing it to Korea will be a start. I’m thinking it will be used for tea so most likely cardamom and sugar will be on one side or the other.

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There is one last item I am bringing, however, it needs to be cleaned. I am planning to bring my wax warmer along with some wax  so that I don’t need to spend a fortune on getting it done over there and the service might be hard to find anyways. So what are you bringing with you? Is there anything from home that you must have with you?

When you are sick have 미역국 (Seaweed Soup)

One item I have been requested to do before I leave is to eat all of the food that is mine. There are odds and ends in all of the cupboards for various types of cooking, but my mom wants her space back after I leave. So my job has been to create meals with the remaining ingredients. At times I am lazy that I do not want to cook anything or look for the missing ingredients I need. I used to cook a lot of Korean food, however, as it is just me I am cooking for with maybe the exception of my mom, I do not cook much. I like leftovers occasionally, however, I dislike eating the same thing for five days.  With that being said one of the items sitting in my cabinet for a while has been 미역( Miyeok / Seaweed). The only thing I know how to make is 미역국 (Miyeok gook/seaweed soup). But I have been  unenthusiastic about going out to buy a missing ingredient.   So tonight as I was feeling rather sick and did not feel satisfied after eating a can of nasty Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, I ventured out to the store to buy the remaining ingredients.

I finished the soup in about 45 mins and luckily I was able to use up some of the dry shiitake mushrooms I have though I don’t think they are normally put in the soup. I bought some beef and sliced it up though next time I think I will spend the money and get a nicer cut of beef, so it isn’t as tough.  All in all the soup came out well this time and I can feel it clearing out my sinuses. Lucky for me, I will be enjoying this soup for the next 3 or 4 days.  I feel I have prepped myself a little more and it is just a little reminder that hey I can cook with Korean groceries so  I do not need to spend a fortune when I am in Korea.

Without further ado here is my soup:

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My NOA has arrived

On Tuesday,  my NOA (Notice of Appointment) and contract arrived in the mail. I was excited to finally have my paperwork. I
felt like for the first time through this whole process with EPIK, I could say it is official… I am hired. I knew I passed my interview in November and on Christmas Day I found out that I was placed in Gangwon Province (강원도). But the reality is until the contract and NOA were in my hands it meant nothing. So even though I knew that I was going to teach English in Korea, it had not hit me that I was leaving.

Looking around my room at the things that need to be packed, organized, donated, and sorted, I have a lot to do. And unfortunately time is ticking away.  The realization that I am leaving in 4 weeks has not set in. Receiving the NOA and contract has definitely made leaving seem more real.   So the next step in this whole process is to go to the Korean Consulate in Boston to get my visa. I hope that I can obtain a multi-entry visa so that I can travel easy while I am living in South Korea.  I will be going to the consulate on Tuesday with a few other ladies who are also in the EPIK program. So it will be nice to do lunch after getting the visa. I shall let everyone know how it goes~

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A bouquet for mom

Over the course of the last few months and the few weeks to come I have been thinking of the people to say good-bye to. My mom supports me 100% in this process and knows this is something I have always wanted to do and have put on hold for many years. She has become a bit of a ‘sap’ as I jokingly say. In reality, she is just going to miss her baby, the oldest, me. So, for Christmas I made her a present made of wire and buttons and made it into a tiny bouquet. A bouquet that will not die when I am away. She was a bit touched and it made her happy. Nothing professional but it seems to have come out rather cute. Sometimes a little gift of saying “Thank you for believing in me,” helps say I will miss you while I am away.
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Reflection before a new journey

I will be on a plane in 5 weeks to South Korea. I was thinking back to every time I have gone back and visited. Of all the times I have been, I grew the most during my study abroad summer program with Yonsei University in 2006. It was my second time to Seoul and I was ready to learn and travel. The feeling of being able to walk around in a different country, order myself a meal and take public transportation without help was amazing. I learned that I am a very independent person and opportunities like this truly open doors and the mind. Sitting here reflecting back on that time I realize the person who I was then was more confident, happier, and willing to take what the world had to give. I was even willing to make an ass out of myself by running down the street from 번대기 (fried silkworm pupae) on a toothpick. I didn’t want to eat it so I ran yelling, “I’m not eating that!” down a street in Seoul. Oh, the things we do when we are young. Trying 생낙지 (live octopus) was daunting the first time. I cried watching it move on the plate in front of me. Eventually my ex put it in my mouth to eat and I realized it wasn’t so bad.  So from here on out I’m looking to find that old inner confidence of mine on this new journey and try new food, visit new places, make mistakes while learning Korean, and slowly working my way through each day teaching.

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