Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Dirty Foreigner Test

Something massive that has changed since the last time I was in Korea (2005 – 2007) is that you have to get a “medical certificate” in order to get your Alien Registration Card (ARC). Also new is that you need your ARC in order to get a bank account. They’ve really got foreign teachers by the balls on this one, especially since some schools won’t pay you until you get a bank account. Yikes.

The “medical certificate” is just a form that the hospital gives you saying you are a-okay to be in the country. I suppose that they are checking for a few things, but the key things they look for is drugs (which are bad, mmmmkay?) and disease (also not cool) – especially sexually transmitted diseases (more not-coolness).

The amount of information I received from the school on how to get this done was hilariously weak. I was given a piece of paper that said this:

Where – Gang Nam Hospital in Young in
(Ask Lauren, Song TR. They know how to go there…)

Ready – 1. You must fast for 8hours
2. Photo (3.5* 4.0 size) 4
3. health diagnosis fee 61,000 Won

How – 1. When you arrive hospital, go to the hospital administration
Tell them “I want to issue medical certificate in English…”
They will help you.

You have to get 2sets.

::SIDE NOTE::

I’m hoping that these stories will a) amuse people who know me – my pain and suffering seems to bring my friends and family joy (haha) and b) really help out people who are thinking about teaching in Korea. Nothing like reading about someone else’s pain and suffering to realise it’s not nearly as scary as you would think.

::END SIDE NOTE::

“Where – Gang Nam Hospital in Young in”

The “Lauren, Song Tr.” part of this sentence means that I should have spoken with fellow foreign teachers (Lauren and Song) to get more details on how to get to the hospital. Lauren isn’t even there anymore. Song Teacher was really helpful though, I definitely wouldn’t have made it there without her. It would have been so much easier if they had just included some instructions of how to get there.

Getting there wasn’t bad. I had to get up early on a Saturday (sob) to get there relatively early. It was one weird little bus for about 15 minutes and then a two minute walk. I still managed to get myself slightly turned around, but still made it there early. I was really happy I had looked up the name of Gangnam Hospital in Korean (강남병원, if you are interested) so I could show a Korean where I was trying to go. She was good enough to point me in the right direction.

“How – 1. When you arrive hospital”

Once I was going the right way, the hospital was dead easy to find. And as promised to me by Song Teacher, I just had to go in through the sliding glass doors, where there was a long information desk to my left. All I had to do next was “take a number” and wait. Unfortunately, this is what the number machine looked like:

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Sorry it looks like I took the picture with a potato, but I was trying to take a sneaky picture in the hospital. That machine has three buttons, all in Korean. I HAD NO CLUE. Then this nice Korean lady (who basically spoke no English except one word – “long”) helped me. She pointed at buttons and spoke to me slowly in Korean. Poor lady. Speak as slowly as you want, I won’t get it. When she pointed at the third button though she said “long”, and I figured that was going to be for people who were going to be in the hospital a long time (although it seems REALLY weird to me that you would have to take a freaking number if you were so ill that you’d be in the hospital forever). In the end, she gave me a ticket produced from the same button she had pushed, the first one. Then that cute motherly Korean lady sat down and saved the seat beside her for me. What a star.

When it was my turn – and the wait was very short – I went up to a Korean girl who looked like I was going to ruin her morning by making her speak English and handed her my number. I then said the only thing I knew to say: “medical certificate”. Yah, she didn’t know what that was. I had to type it into the dictionary on her phone. I still don’t think she got it. But she called for someone else and they knew exactly what I was after as they spoke English. Sadly, she didn’t stick around.

I had to pay 80,000won (not 61,000) but fortunately they took debit card. Once I paid, she gave me a piece of paper with further instructions. Awesome. Except the instructions looked like this:

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I understood that I needed to go to the second floor, but that was about it. Happily a woman on the lift spoke flawless English and once the doors opened on the correct floor, she helped me find the way to my next step – the x-ray room.

::SIDE NOTE::

She also asked if I did private lessons. Worth knowing if you are teaching in Korea that it’s not really legal here. I’m not exactly sure what the rules are, but I don’t think you are supposed to give private lessons. What I told her is that I had only been in Korea one week, and I wasn’t looking to take on extra work. Which is also true.

::END SIDE NOTE::

I walked to the x-ray/MRI counter and they seemed to know what to do (thankfully!) and even spoke a little English (thankfully!) They ushered me behind a curtain and instructed me to take off everything I was wearing on my upper body and then put on a gown. I put on the gown North America style, open to the back, and they thought that was HILARIOUS. Like I was too retarded to dress myself. Which, at that point, I suppose I was. Then it was over to “hug” the x-ray machine, and they took a chest x-ray.

::SIDE NOTE::

No one, not in the instructions nor when I asked the other foreign staff, told me what to expect in the way of “tests” for this medical certificate. I knew that they would be testing for drugs thanks to the forums, but the rest was a complete surprise. Like the chest x-ray. Like the freaking blood test (and I hate needles) coming up. Just thought y’all would like to know. And, of course, no one at the hospital could explain much to me about what was happening.

::END SIDE NOTE::

The x-ray people were able to tell me to move along further down the hall. I believe their exact words were “You go there. Wait.” Okey-dokey-smokey. So I head down the hall and there is another waiting room with another information desk. Happily, this time there was a sign that said “foreign patients” in front of one of the workers. So, being the only white person in there, I went straight up to her without a number. She took my receipt and some other information, then asked me to sit. Not even two minutes later, I was off to do the next test.

The nurse had me take off my coat and shoes to be weighed and have my height measured. Weighed slightly less than I thought (whoo-hoo) but strangely I’m also shorter than I thought. I always thought I was 171cm, turns out I’m 169.3cm. Whatevs. But then came one of those situations where not speaking the language can make the simplest tasks both harder and more hilarious.

I step off the scale. Nurse points at my shoes. I pick them up to take them back to the chairs to put them on. Nurse says “anniyo” (Korean for “no”) and takes my shoes and puts them on the floor again. I look at her quizzically. She points at my shoes and says something in Korean. I go to pick them up. “Anniyo, anniyo!” and she makes me leave them. Says something else in Korean. I tell her (in Korean) that I don’t understand Korean (clever that). She picks up my foot and puts it on my shoe. At this point an elderly woman patient is laughing at me. At this point I wish I could say “I’m not a retard. I know what you want me to do, but I want to sit down to put on my shoes.” At this point I give up and just put on my shoes standing there. Which is all that poor Korean nurse ever wanted. She was worried I’d put them on 5 feet away and walk off without finishing my tests, I guess.

After the Great Shoe Debacle of 2014, I had to have my blood pressure tested. Then my hearing. And then I was tested for colour blindness. And then they checked my eyesight. After that I got to wee in a cup and another nurse took some blood. She was incredibly gentle – I didn’t even feel the needle. Serious business. I want any future necessary needle action done by that chick. She was the nursebomb.

And that was that, I was all finished. Or at least, I should have been. On Monday there was a call to the school because there was “something wrong” with the urine tests. You know what you don’t want to hear when they are testing for drugs and sexually transmitted diseases? “There is something wrong with your urine test”. That. You don’t want to hear that. But fortunately for me, it was just that they (for some reason) didn’t get a clear reading because of protein something something and blood sugar something. I went back this morning bright and early to re-do the test and they came back normal. Whew!

My next adventure (which I should be undertaking tomorrow) will be to take my passport and medical certificate and apply in Suwon at the Immigration Centre for my Alien Registration Card. I’ve already been given bad instructions on how to get there and I think I may be missing a piece of information here – I may be going Friday after all. Ah, teaching in Korea. Where everything is made much harder than it needs to be.

The good news though is that I’m officially drug and disease free. And that’s a good thing.

Happy Friday from Korea!

There are some things I loved and have found I still love about Korea. As my first week draws to a close, I’d like to share a couple of those things.

Say Cheese!: Part One

Tomorrow I’ll be going to have some medical tests done (more on that later) in order to get my alien registration card (which I need in order to get a Korean bank account). I had to get four passport sized photos taken tonight so I could bring them with me to the hospital.

There is a place that does this on the basement floor of the Emart across the street from my house. I just had to go there, point at the size of photo that I needed, and we were good to go.

Before picking up the camera, the girl taking the photo tucked my hair behind my ears for me and then brought my hair back forward. She straightened any strays, got my face in the right position, and said “okay” before she took the pictures. It was so sweet I think it may have given me diabetes. That sort of care and attention to how you look for a “passport photo” definitely wouldn’t have happened back home!

Say Cheese!: Part Two

I decided to pick up some pizza while I was waiting for my photos as a “Hooray I Survived My First Week” treat. There is a Papa Johns right near the Emart and, as I was looking for the familiar, that’s what I opted for. I was hoping they would have pizzas like “home” (either London or Canada) and their menu was looking promising.

There was a pizza called something like “Potato Pizza for the Irish” (it definitely had both “potato” and “Irish” in the name) and, happily, they had a page with a description of the toppings in English. I love me a pizza with potato… but this one also had sweetcorn. I’m not a fan. Thankfully last time I was here I learned how to say “don’t give me any corn” in Korean (I learn all the important stuff). So I pointed at the picture of the pizza I wanted, the size, and then said “don’t give me any corn” in Korean. She responded in Korean, I said (in Korean – like I said, I know the important stuff) that I don’t understand Korean. She said something else in Korean, smiling the entire time.

She then turned to the cook and said something to him. He responded and she went over to him saying (I’m guessing at the translation here), “No, no. The Irish. Regular. Sheesh” in Korean. Then she looks at me, rolls her eyes gesturing at him and says, “My husband”. IN ENGLISH.

In English! After she let me stumble around for ages trying to order in Korean. So I said, “You speak English!” And, of course, her response was “No, no. A little. No.”

She was adorable. Huge smiles and we laughed together. I missed that too… how they’d let you try and get on in Korean and then just respond in English. And then tell you that they don’t know how to speak English.

Also, pizza comes all dolled up wrapped in a ribbon with sweet pickles and dipping sauce. Pretty awesome. It’s a Good Friday.

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First Day of School

First, a disclaimer or two

a. I am using the WordPress app to write this and it might be crapola.
b. I have skipped a post chronologically (about my first impressions of my new flat and getting it sorted) because I haven’t written it yet and until I put my laundry away I’m not taking any “after” pictures.

Disclaimers all done. Let’s crack on, shall we?

Get up, Get up, Get Moving

My first class is at 10:30 but I’m expected to be there between 9:30 and 9:45. First week, so I’m super-keener and defo getting there for 9:30. It’s taking me a good 20 minutes to walk at the moment (I think once I stop gawking at signs, I’ll be faster) so I’m trying to leave the house around 9:00.

Which means getting up at 7:30 so I can do healthy-good-habit-things like eat breakfast. It was pretty rough this morning, my sleep is still buggered all to Hades and back. I was also not happy with the fact that the voltage step-changer thing in my flat was obvs not working and my hair straightener got fried. Jodi Teacher was not having good hair today. And unless I can source a straightener, I’m going to be Hair-in-a-pony-tail Teacher for the next couple months until I can get my stuff from London shipped.

Once out the door, it was a chilly twenty minute walk to the school. It’s an easy walk though and there is loads to look at. One (warmer) morning I’ll take pictures along the way and share with y’all. Once to the correct building, it’s up to the 8th floor to get to ILS (International Language School) Dongbaek.

Before We Put the Spaghetti In The Machine

So. The teacher I replaced left in December. It was apparently kind of sudden, but I’m not sure the entire story. Whatever. But what that means is that there was no one to shadow on my first day. Which is an entire boatload of bad news bears.

I was handed the Teacher’s Handbook (which is one of those handbooks that doesn’t make any sense until you’ve started actually working), a class schedule (which doesn’t make any sense until you’ve started actually working), a syllabus (which doesn’t… aw, you see where I’m going with this). I was pretty confused. One of the “foreign staff” (read: white teachers) was as helpful as she could be while getting herself ready, and the Korean staff did their best but were also teaching all day.

Not a great start to the day, but you just got to get in there and muck in. My target for today was zero children deaths and zero Jodi Teacher break-downs. As long as we all survived, even if no one learned anything, I figured we were winning.

::SIDE NOTE::

I would have said “zero children maimed”, but in my first week teaching ever (back in 2005, the first time I had a go at this) Ryan and Julia smashed heads in the “play gym”. Ryan’s teeth went through his lip. Blood everywhere. I’ve since adjusted my targets appropriately.

::END SIDE NOTE::

Class Acts

From 10:30 (apparently sometimes from 09:50, if I have to do “Circle Time”) until 2:30 I teach two different kindergarten classes. It’s hard to explain. I teach “Snoopy” class (they are all named like that) for 35 minutes, then I teach “Tigger” class for 35 minutes. While I’m teaching Snoopy, either another foreign teacher or a Korean teacher teaches Tigger. And then we switch classes and classrooms. This is very different than what I did before, so it’ll take some getting used to. The good thing is that the day goes pretty quick when you work in 35 minute blocks.

The kids in Snoopy Class are 7 years old and pretty much fluent. It’s not a very large class, and they seem lovely. Smart as whips and really eager.

The kids in Tigger Class are either 4 or 5 years old and I’m not sure why anyone thought it was a good idea for me to teach them. They aren’t fluent, they can’t really write, they can’t read and they are off the fucking walls half the time. But cute? You’ve never seen cute like this. One of the little buggers told me he loved me already at the end of the day and gave me a hug. Almost made having to tell him to sit down roughly 8,000,000 times worth it.

The Snoopy kids are totes my style. The Tigger kids are going to be a real challenge, but I’m sure it’ll be alright.

In the afternoons I teach a variety of elementary aged kids in 45 minute blocks. Not much to say about them yet, they are all bright and I don’t think any will be a problem. I have one super high energy class and one quiet class, both are challenging in their own ways but I think will balance each other nicely.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I teach until 7:10, but I have two hour-long “breaks” (should be lesson planning, but that’s easy compared to teaching!) during those times. On Tuesday and Thursday I’m done by 5:30, so it is all good.

Home Again, Home Again

Happily my last class didn’t have any kids show (it is the first day after hols, after all) so I was able to leave early. I walked home with the other foreign teacher, then tucked into a lovely ramen and beer dinner. To say that I’m completely shattered at this point would be an understatement. I’m so sleepy and it is only 9:30pm. I really wanted to get this written before I crashed though, and I have brought home all the papers that were on my desk to try and organise myself a little. I don’t know if the teacher before me was good or not, but the way she had herself “organised” does my head in. I think this will be a lot easier once I get myself sorted. Once I get that done, it’ll be early to bed for me.

My first day back teaching. It was exhausting and chaotic, but I’m also happy to be doing it. Which is a good thing.

Just as a last note, as I emptied my pockets and changed into my jammies, I found the following stuff in my pocket.

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The two green… things… were confiscated. The piece of eraser was a present. Oh yah.

Getting to Korea

I started blogging in the summer of 2005, the first time I was heading to Korea. Around then, blogging seemed like a relatively new concept (as in, I didn’t know anyone else doing it) that would be better for sharing my experiences of teaching in Korea than sending bulk emails every once in awhile. And  even though we now have a billion more ways to share things than we did in 2005 (before smart phones!), I’m thinking the odd blog post will still be a great way of sharing some of my experiences in Korea.

As a first post written in Korea, I thought I would go into a bit of detail of what getting here was like. Not loads, because for most people it isn’t very interesting, but for anyone thinking about coming to the ROK to teach, they might find it fascinating.

Step One: Find a Recruiter that Doesn’t Suck

I sort of failed on this one. I found my recruiter through the forums on Dave’s ESL Cafe (and if you ARE thinking about going to Korea to teach, you should check out that site). The recruitment company came recommended, and maybe some of them are good. Unfortunately, the guy that I worked with was, at best, meh. It felt like he did the absolute minimum he could and getting information out of him was like pulling teeth. He would send me copypasta emails with erroneous and, at times, incorrect information. Scares me that if this had been my first time to Korea, I wouldn’t have been able to call him out on it. He basically went incommunicado the minute my visa was obtained and the flights were booked. I think my chances of having his support if something goes wrong here are slim to none (and slim just went home). But c’est la vie. I’m here now so it worked out despite his weinerness.

Step Two: Rock a Skype Interview

The interview process for Korea is very simple. Speak clearly and try to not look like you hurt small children.  Add a winning smile and enthusiasm for teaching (even if you’re faking it) and your job offer is 98% in the bag.

Step Three: Obtain your E2 Visa

This isn’t hard, but it does take some time. Not as much time as it takes to NOT GET YOUR BRITISH VISA (haha) but still count on it taking about a month. It works like this:

a. Get a job
b. Send all your paperwork to Korea
c. Get a “visa reference number”
d. Put the aforementioned number on another application and send it to your local consulate
e. Win.

It’s a bit more complicated that than (if you want details, let me know in comments and I’ll help out if I can), but that’s the essence of it. Part C and D take at least 10 days a piece, which is where the delays come in.

::SIDE NOTE::

I ended up with further delays because by the time my visa came back, it was pretty close to the Christmas vacation. The school asked me to delay coming until January, and although it wasn’t ideal for me, I agreed.

What y’all should know about this is that it meant I was home for nearly three months. THREE MONTHS. And you know who put up with me hermiting in her house,  whinging about governmental paperwork and eating all her food? My blessed saint of a mother, that’s who. I’m still trying to figure out just how many flipping Anytime candies from Korea I’m going to have to send her to thank her fully.

::END SIDE NOTE::

Step Four: Get Your Booty on a Plane

My flights weren’t too bad this time around. They flew me (the school pays for the flights) the same as they did last time – Vancouver to Seattle, Seattle to Seoul. Which basically sucks balls because it is an extra 6 hours of travelling than a direct flight is. But whatevs. Free flight, amirite?

Last time I took this trip I ended up with a delayed Van > Seattle flight which meant SPRINTING across Seatac to catch the next flight. And then I had the centre seat in the centre set of five seats in a packed flight. I got up twice the entire flight and didn’t sleep a wink. It probably didn’t help that my back was a mess of agony (it turned out that I had herniated all the discs in my lower back, something I wouldn’t learn until I saw a doctor in Korea).

This time around I had a pleasurable stroll through Seatac and then an aisle seat with no one beside me for the long (12 hours!) portion of the flight. Heck. I even slept.

Once in country, a dude with a sign put me on a bus. This is pretty fucked up. I’m still not happy that I had to take a BUS after 20+ hours of travelling, but hey ho! I survived. The school director met me at the bus stop and took me to my flat. Which then lead to us going to the shop to buy cleaning supplies.

Which is a post for another day. I’m going to leave this here and start catching up with myself over the course of this week. I’ll post about the state of the flat I was given (here’s a spoiler: It was freaking filthy) and my first night in Korea. And tomorrow is the first day teaching, so I’ll have a thing or two to say about that.

That is, if I survive the first day. Cross your fingers for me. It’s been a while since I’ve done this.