Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Preparing for Korea

It's official.  I am going to South Korea, and I am stoked.  I received my visa at the Korean Consulate in Houston last Friday.  Although I was worried going into the interview, people told me it would be a painless process, and it was.  I walked in, and it sort of had the feel of a doctor's office.  I had to check in with the hot receptionist, and sit in a waiting area for an amount of time, where there was a large selection of K-Mags (korean magazines).  Every time the door opened, and the lady stuck out her head, everybody looked up in anticipation hoping their name would be called.  Well my name was eventually called, and I was led to a dark conference room where the consulate was sitting.  He was younger than I expected, probably in his early forties, with above average height for a Korean, and slim.  He was very polite and well spoken, as he apologized for having us drive so far for the interview.  He asked in a Korean accent, "I noticed you have visited Korea before, where did you visit?"

"We spent most of our time in Hongdae, and spent 3 days in Jeju Island."  He smiled as I mentioned Jeju, and I knew I was in.

"Your middle name is Choi.  Are you aware that it is a Korean name?"

"Yes.  My mother is Korean."

"Do you speak Korean?"  

"No sir," I answered.

"So you haven't been around many Koreans growing up."

"The Koreans that I have been around growing up were my Aunt, my Uncle, and friends of my Mother.  And they were fluent in english."

He then told me what he knew about Koreans in metro New Orleans, asked me if I had any serious contagious diseases, and also if I had ever been addicted to alcohol, or any narcotics.  He continued, "I am going to let you in, and you will probably find that you like it, so it should be easy to obtain subsequent visas if you decide to stay.  I want you to learn all you can about Korea.  You are half Korean after all, and I want you to visit as many places in Korea as you can.  You will find that Koreans love Americans, but there are some that don't, so don't let that determine your opinion."

He wished me well, and led me back to the waiting area where I received my visa in the form of a sticker on my passport.

I am leaving for Gwangju, South Korea on Thursday, March 31 at 7:30pm.  Tomorrow will be my last full day in Louisiana for at least a year.  Tomorrow night will be the last time I sleep in my comfortable queen sized bed.  Obviously I am going to miss my family and friends.  That goes without saying.  But I am also going to miss fried seafood, steaks, poboys, boiled crawfish, bbq shrimp, and Zapp's potato chips. I am going to miss jambalaya and gumbo with a random obscurely brand named sausage made in Louisiana as one of the key ingredients.  I am going to miss Jazz Fest, especially now that Wilco is playing.  I am going to miss watching the Saints and LSU football live, and experiencing the passion of the Who Dat Nation and tiger fans in Louisiana first hand.  I am going to miss First United Methodist Church in Slidell, and being a part of Refiner's fire.  There will be a lot that I will miss.

My Mom, her friends, my aunt, and my uncle all know very little about Gwangju.  Most of their time living in Korea was spent in Daegu and Seoul, and all they were able to say about Gwangju was that they passed through it.  What will my place look like?  What kind of students will I teach?  How will my coworkers and superiors act towards me? How will I make friends?  What kind of food will be available?  Where will I attend church?  How difficult will the language barrier be?  Each of these mentioned uncertainties, among others, are enough to invoke fear in those who are afraid of the unknown, but I seem to always embrace it with excitement.  What if I taste the best thing that I have ever eaten?  What if I make several life long friends?  What if I fall in love?  What if I come to a greater understanding of who I am as an American of Korean Descent?

I am excited about living in Korea.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Possibility of Living in Korea

The possibility of me living and working in Korea is still uncertain.  What is certain is that, upon reception of the visa, I have a job waiting for me in Gwangju, a city comparable in population to Philadelphia/San Antonio/Pheonix.  I now have a visa number, which is a miracle.  In order to obtain an E2 visa to teach english in Korea, a clean FBI background check is required.  An arrest on my record would definitely be a hinderance.  It is common knowledge to those who are applying for jobs in Korea that such an infraction would eliminate any possibility of obtaining a visa.

I was referred to Dan Henrickson by a friend who has recently taught in Korea, Brenna.  Dan runs a recruiting service, www.teacheslkorea.com.  I informed him of the arrest from the beginning, and he replied with, "normally you wouldn't have a chance, but I think we can get you in."  Why would I be an exception?  Is it because I am half Korean?  Does Dan have that much pull?  Is the demand for english speaking teachers that high?  

Lately in my readings, I have been studying the miracles of Jesus in the book of Matthew.  He healed the little girl who was thought to be dead, calmed the storm while in a boat with the disciples, healed the blind, made the lame man walk, and drove out numerous demons.  With that in mind, I prayed that the same Jesus would perform a miracle in me, and heal me of my past, so that it would not be a hinderance to completing the will that he has for my life.  If living and working in Korea is in that will, than so be it.  I really hope that I am able to obtain that E2 visa to teach in Korea.

Upon acceptance of the Job in Gwangju, I was required to send numerous documents to my possible boss, Mr. Ryu, among those required documents being the FBI background check with the arrest on record.  I was apprehensive of the uncertainty.  I knew that getting the approval from the folks at immigration in Korea would be the biggest hurdle of the process.  On a random morning, I received an email from Mr. Ryu, explaining that immigration wanted an official document detailing the arrest, and all fulfilled obligations.  As soon as I was able, I drove to New Orleans Traffic Court on Broad St., and was pleasantly surprised at how painless the process of obtaining an official notarized copy of the records was.  It took less than ten minutes.  And anybody who knows anything about New Orleans knows that such efficiency is not the norm.  I then scanned and emailed the documents to Dan and Mr. Ryu, and proceeded to wait an indefinite amount of time for an answer.  Those who know me know that I am a relatively laid back person.  So imagine my inner elation when I received the email from Mr. Ryu stating that he was able to obtain my visa number.

At the moment, I have sent all of the required documents, including the recently obtained visa number to the Korean Consulate in Houston.  Once those documents process, an interview will be scheduled.  Upon completion of that interview, I will have a definite answer on whether or not I will go.  The one thing I am worried about is on the interview form, I had to check "yes" to the question, "Have you ever been arrested...?"  Once again, I am apprehensive about the the uncertainty.

My friends growing up have mostly been white.  I was popular in high school because I played football.  In college, I did what a lot of people at that age do, and spent a lot of my time at LSU trashed, and contemplating solutions to all the problems concerning LSU football.  Growing up, I have been around Koreans, but they were not my peers.  They were aunts, uncles, and friends of my mom.  But the older I get, the more proud and curious I have become of my Korean heritage.  I enjoy korean movies.  I am attracted to Korean women.  (Kim Tae Hee is hands down the most beautiful woman in the world.)  I have become more adventurous in my sampling of Korean cuisine, and find that I really enjoy it.  However, I am not crazy about K-pop, and probably never will be, but that is an exception.  With that being said, I really hope the people at the Korean Consulate show me favor, and let me in.  It's in God's hands, not mine.