Hitchhiking and Ceramics: BCJ Botanical Gardens

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Apparently I’ve been starved for beautiful natural scenery within the last few months; hence my sudden obsession with visiting beaches, gardens, and parks! I’m not wasting a moment of my summer free time, so when my co-teacher Jiny wanted to sightsee last weekend I was quick to say yes, please! We ended up choosing a place she’d wanted to go for a while: the BCJ Botanical Garden in Paju, a town up north of Seoul.

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The Garden

The garden itself is pretty nice. Although not as large as the massive Garden of Morning Calm, it makes up for its size with incredibly scenic views and a variety of things to enjoy. It’s famous because several Korean TV dramas have been filmed there (which is why Jiny wanted to go in the first place).

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In addition to a bunch of smaller gardens, BCJ includes a European Garden complete with manicured hedges and tons of statues, a large lily pond, and many scenic paths and walkways. The European Garden was incredibly fun to walk around in and of course we couldn’t resist taking funny pictures with the statues! We also enjoyed the tunnel of trees that goes along the lily pond.

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I loved the ceramics area, housed in two large greenhouse structures next to the European Garden. On some days you can actually use the wheel and make your own ceramics, but sadly not on the day we were there. You can also paint on mugs/plates, etc. that have already been made.

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There are tables and tables of gorgeous ceramic dishes and décor that were actually all made at BCJ (I asked, just to be sure). I couldn’t resist buying two little pots to bring home with me and I might just go back before we ship our stuff back to the US and get actual dishes.

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Between walking around and taking pictures, shopping for gorgeous ceramics, and eating lunch at the Italian restaurant in the European Garden, we were able to while away four hours there. I’d recommend going close to when it opens; as soon as it starts to get hot in the early afternoon the surprising lack of shade as well as the crowds of people make it pretty miserable. There were large groups of Cub Scouts there as well as many other tourists, so don’t expect peace and quiet when you go!

Getting There: Train, Buses, and… Hitchhiking?

Although it looks close to Dongducheon on the map, there aren’t any subway routes directly there (we’d have to go all the way down to Seoul and then all the way back up toward where we started, only on the other side of the mountains) so getting there was quite the adventure. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to figure it out without my Korean co-teacher with me to ask for directions. We knew we’d have to start from the Yangju train station (line 1) and then take a bus from there.

After getting off the train at Yangju and fruitlessly examining the bus stop signs, we were told that the bus that goes directly to the garden was discontinued. Instead we’d have to transfer to a different regional bus at a stop way out in the country. Undaunted we boarded the correct bus and took it to the last stop that certainly was way out in the country. There was literally one building with a tiny store, which conveniently had a bus time schedule and ice cream to eat while we waited for 45 minutes. Finally the bus came around and we got on, only to find that the garden is five minutes away but the bus driver needed to stop and eat lunch. I wish I were joking. A half an hour later, the bus dropped us in front of the garden.

After enjoying the garden, we walked out to the bus stop at 5:15 to catch the 5:30 bus back to our transfer stop. We waited, and waited, and waited… no bus (this seems to be a trend whenever I take buses anywhere!). A half an hour later one passed us and the driver actually waved at us before continuing on his merry way! Frustrated, we started walking back along the road, cars whizzing by as we clung to the edge.

Two miles later we came to the place where the driver had eaten lunch. By this time Jiny, who was wearing high-heeled wedges, was fed up with walking and to my shock suggested hitchhiking! I don’t know about you, but I was raised hearing horror stories of what happened to girls who did such things. Despite my reservations, Jiny stuck her thumb out for 20 minutes before a super nice couple stopped and ended up driving us not only back to our next stop, but all the way to the train station! Faith in humanity restored, I guess.

Overall

A decent day trip from Seoul or anywhere north of that, BCJ is a fun escape with plenty to do for the whole family. Although most easily accessible by car, you can get there by public transportation. From Dongducheon/Uijeongbu area: take line 1 to Yangju. Go to the bus stop outside the station (on the opposite side of the street) and wait for bus 51. Get off the bus at the last stop where the bus turns around. You’ll be in the middle of the countryside with one small building by the side of the road that says “Farm Stay.” Wait there and transfer to bus 067 or 15. They both go the five minutes to the garden. Warning: be flexible, because you might end up waiting at the stop for a while. We waited for 45 minutes. Retrace your steps on the way back. Or, if you’re feeling risky, hitchhike!

Namsan Park: A H[e]aven in the City  

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After my long, adventurous day at the Garden of Morning Calm I decided to relax in Itaewon the next day. My wonderful friend is letting me use her empty apartment there for the summer and I’m taking full advantage. After relaxing at Starbucks for a while with my Kindle I took a meandering walk toward a huge green area that I saw on Google maps. From Itaewon Station it took me about 20 minutes to reach the park, which I later figured out (in a “doh” moment) was Namsan Park. Although the walk is all uphill and a tiring climb, it’s pretty neat to take the twisty roads behind Itaewon Station and gawk at the huge houses, some of which are actually embassies. The Kenyan Embassy even has a Kenyan Coffee shop below it that probably has amazing brews.

Anyways, I finally reached the park via a bridge next to a huge Hyatt Hotel overlooking Itaewon. It’s an enormous park with plenty of twisting paths and quiet corners to read and relax in. There’s even an awesome children’s forest with one of the coolest playgrounds I’ve ever seen. With plenty of restrooms, benches, and rest pagodas, it’s a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon.

As I walked around, the peace and quiet enveloped me and I realized that I was experiencing now what I wanted to experience yesterday at the Garden of Morning Calm… except for free and without the 2+ hours of travel. Plus, there were way less people. At one point I reached the end of a path and couldn’t see anyone, which is a rarity in this city! It was so nice to spend some time alone in nature. Despite still being able to hear cars (it is in the middle of Seoul, after all), I enjoyed the peaceful park so much. I have a feeling I’ll be making it up there every weekend!

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The Garden of Morning Calm

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A few weeks ago we had Memorial Day weekend, which of course means an extra day off! As you know, weekends are really precious to me so I’m always trying to make the most of them. After having CNN’s 50 Most Beautiful Places in Korea article in the back of my mind for a few months, I decided to try #48 on the list: The Garden of Morning Calm. From what I’d read about it, it seemed like a beautiful natural escape from city that would be possible to do in a day trip.

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The Garden

After paying the entrance fee of W9000, you get a map (ask for the English one) along with your ticket. There are lockers outside the entrance to store heavy backpacks or other burdensome items.

The garden website will tell you the more technical details, but I really enjoyed wandering the massive grounds and taking tons of pictures. I spent two hours there, but if you brought a picnic or ate lunch at one of the restaurants you could easily relax for 3-4 hours. It’s a great place to bring kids- they are welcome to run all over and can even climb on rocks and play in the several rivers that meander through the garden. There are rest pagodas all over that invite you to take off your shoes and take a nap, and many people were doing so.

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It reminded me somewhat of a theme park. The place was packed with people, which dimmed some of the enjoyment for me. When I think of going to a garden I think of quiet and peaceful, not kids running around screaming and huge crowds of people. After I got used to that I really enjoyed myself. There are some truly spectacular views and of course the flowers are amazing. My favorites places included the Wildflower House, the Nymph Lagoon, and the Lotus Pond.

The best part of the garden for me was getting to wander without hearing the sound of vehicles and being able to see wonderfully blue sky. It can be soul sucking to live in the city and not get a complete break from it every once in a while. I didn’t realize how much I needed it until I was in the park and realized that I couldn’t hear any cars. The feeling was so peaceful and restorative, I almost cried. And the sky! Pollution here is terrible, especially up north where I live. This means that the sky is white most of the time, even when it’s really sunny and there’s not a cloud in sight. Blue sky is a rarity so it was so lovely to see a perfect blue sky for the first time in ages.

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Eating and Drinking

I recommend buying a few of the frozen water bottles that are sold outside of the entrance, especially if you go during the summer. Although there is lots of shade, there aren’t many water fountains. There is a coffee shop inside with enormous windows that overlook one of the gardens if you’re in need of some caffeine. There’s also a traditional teahouse and a Korean restaurant as well, both of which are fairly pricey.

Getting There:

I left Jihaeng Station on the 10:44 train and after three transfers I arrived at Cheongpyeong Station around 1pm. A word of caution: the Gyeongchun itx line that goes out there was CRAZY crowded both ways, which meant standing on the subway for over an hour. This was fine on the way up, but after walking around the garden for two hours and hiking back and forth from the bus stop to the subway station, let’s just say my feet were not thanking me on the way down. On the way back the crowds were so bad that people were literally shoving each other forward to make it on to the already overcrowded subway car. Other than the crowds, the subway line easy enough to take up to Cheongpyeong Station and the views are really nice as you get further away from the city. Note: I went on a holiday weekend, so presumably the crowds aren’t this bad on weekdays.

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One of my favorite parts of the day came after the long train ride and had nothing to do with the garden itself. After coming out of exit 1, you can either follow the road to get to the bus terminal, or you can take a short cut across a rice paddy. Naturally I took the second option and it was one of those moments where I was just pinching myself and I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. It’s literally a mud ridge that goes through the field, so only go if you’re wearing sturdy shoes (or, like me, risk getting your sandals muddy!).

After a quick stop at a decent burger place with amazing views I tried to follow the directions from the Morning Calm website to the bus station, but I got lost. A kind elderly man took pity on my confused wanderings and directed me to the bus terminal. When I finally got there, no one spoke English (which, I should know by now not to count on) and I barely got onto the right bus in time. If you go inside the waiting area, grab a flyer that lists the bus route and you’ll see the Garden of Morning Calm listed as an attraction- but in Korean. The only way I figured it out was through the website, which is of course listed in English. If you say “Garden of Morning Calm” no one will know what you’re talking about. Then just point to the words on the flyer and ask around to find the bus. The buses that go to the Garden leave on the hour and half hour and I took bus 31-7.

It’s nerve-wracking for me to travel on a new bus route because I’m not sure what the place looks like where I need to stop so I’m always afraid that I’ll pass it and end up in some bus depot in the middle of nowhere. Luckily that didn’t happen and there were even lovely English signs pointing the way to the garden, so I was sure we were on the right track the whole time. The bus ride takes about 30 or 40 minutes and it’s really pretty. It was also very cheap (W1000 or W2000 maybe) and as on most of the buses here, I was able to use my preloaded T-money card so that made it even easier. The Garden is on the very last stop of this bus route and drops you off in the parking lot of the Garden of Morning Calm.

Overall

The Garden of Morning Calm is a great place to go for people who will be in Seoul or the vicinity for more than a two-week vacation. If you’re willing to travel a good bit and you’re truly interested in the horticultural side of things, it is totally worth it. However, if you’re looking for peace and quiet along with the picturesque views, there are closer and cheaper (or free) places to go, such as Namsan Park or the islands around Incheon.

Condensed Directions

Take the Gyeongchun itx line to Chyeongpyeong Station and go out exit 1. Cross the rice paddy or follow the road up toward the town. Ask for directions to the bus terminal. Take bus 31-7 up to the Garden of Morning Calm (buses leave every ½ hour and it’s the last stop).

255 Mountain Haenghyeon-ri, Sang-myeon, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 가평군 상면 행현리산 255번지)

Island Hopping: Yeongjongdo and Incheon

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IMG_0617It’s beginning to get pretty hot here in South Korea and consequently I’ve spent a lot of time Googling “Best beaches in South Korea” during my breaks at work! Although it looks like there are some amazing ones on the East coast, I had to settle for something a little closer to home so I turned to my trusty Lonely Planet: Seoul book to check out some options. I was excited to find an “Island Hopping” trip that has a route from Incheon to Yeongjongdo and the small islands surrounding it. After going over it with my friend JL, another English teacher, we agreed the directions seemed a little vague but that would be all the better for exploring!

We set out to Seoul Station, thinking we’d be able to take the airport line out to Incheon Station. Turns out, it goes to Incheon Airport but not the separate and further away Icheon Station. We turned around and got onto the correct line and settled in for a long ride, knowing Icheon is the last station on this line. Maybe 10 stations and 30 min into the trip, JL looks up and goes “I don’t recognize any of these station names.” Uh oh! We hadn’t noticed there was a split in the line and we’d stayed on the train and gone the wrong direction instead of transferring to go in the right direction. After getting off and grabbing some delicious Hibiscus Lemon Tea to console ourselves, we turned around and headed back to Guro Station to get going in the right direction. Finally, 20 stations and an hour later, we arrived at Incheon Station around lunchtime.

The LP itinerary recommended a tour bus that leaves from the bus stop right outside the station, so we headed into a tourist information center to ask when it would be there. Turns out, the bus goes four times a day instead of the six times listed in LP, and it has four different routes instead of one. Well the route that we wanted had left an hour earlier, so we decided to take the local bus instead. If we had known this, we would have just gone from Seoul Station to Incheon Airport and shaved off over two hours from our journey! Hindsight and all that, right?

The upside to our long detour was being able to explore Incheon’s Chinatown! As you exit Incheon station the huge, ornate stone entrance arch is right across the street. Entering through the arch, we were faced with a quaint uphill street lined with Chinese food and trinket shops, along with decorative red lampposts with banners and tassels. The hordes of Korean tourists walking around with umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun made it even more picturesque.

IMG_0542We came to a “T” at the top of the hill and saw a huge Chinese restaurant that consisted of three or four levels of porches to eat on overlooking the rest of Chinatown. We waited downstairs while the guy at the door got us a table via walkie-talkie and were then sent to the third floor. Luckily we were seated on the porch outside (why would you want to sit anywhere else???) and the view was fantastic. The prices are mid-range and the food was decent, but the atmosphere alone made the place worth it. We spent W20,000 for enough sweet and sour pork to feed three people, and W10,000 for rice with seafood.

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After stuffing ourselves full of Chinese food, we continued along the street and came upon decorative steps leading up several levels to another beautiful arch. Murals decorate the walls alongside the stairs with pandas, palaces, and other Chinese themes. Beyond the arch there is a forest with what might be hiking trails or a park. There are so many beautiful photo-ops here, including one painted on the front of the steps so that you can only see the complete picture if you’re looking at the steps straight on from below. If you sit at just the right place, it looks like you’re sitting on a royal throne! The photo-ops continued with a giant mondu that you can sit inside of as, as well as a weird 50’s Vegas-themed Chinatown area and a crazy cutesy-themed colorful, whimsical street as well.

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Although there is more to see in Chinatown, we decided to head out to our final destination: Yeongjondo Island. We caught the local bus that goes out there at the bus stop right in front of the station (after waiting fruitlessly for 20 minutes at a different bus stop…). Bus 306 takes a somewhat roundabout route, but we finally got to the island around 4pm. We knew that it takes a circular route around the island, but we didn’t know exactly where to get off so we guessed and hopped off when we saw the first sign for the beach we wanted to get to. Turns out we stopped a bit early and the bus let us off on a narrow road with marshland on one side and a few depressing empty seafood and “live music!” bars lining the shore on the other side. We walk and walk and walk… no bus stops. We keep walking, climb a hill and infuriatingly see the 306 bus pass us!

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At least our long walk was pretty!

Finally we see a sign for Eunwamni Beach and cross the street to begin our descent down the hill. The twisty ally that we took down there had a Victorian-style cottage covered in ivy that I loved as well as a beautiful garden that reminded us of a mini-golf course. As we walked we were passed by jovial groups of Korean vacationers soaking wet and fresh from the beach.

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As we headed down to the water we were met with a gorgeous, rocky shoreline and shell-filled sand. Tents haphazardly lined the beach (it’s free to camp on public beaches here) and hordes of children played in the gentle surf. We walked toward some giant rocks, and as we passed through a narrow opening we found an almost deserted beach area. As we climbed the rocks around this beach we quickly found out why the area was deserted; huge bugs scuttled disgustingly all over the rocks! Immediately donning our tennis shoes, we continued around the small peninsula and came upon another tent-covered beach area and them climbed a hill to what looks like an old army lookout and a grassy burial site. The other side of the peninsula had old fishing boats tied up side by side.

So many tents!

So many tents!

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Looking toward the opening to the empty beach (through the rocks at the end).

Looking toward the opening to the empty beach (through the rocks at the end).

The empty beach! Great if you don't mind a few (hundred) creepy crawlies...

The empty beach! Great if you don’t mind a few (hundred) creepy crawlies…

Loved all the beautiful shells!

Loved all the beautiful shells!

Looking down on the beach from the hill.

Looking down on the beach from the hill.

By this time it was nearing 6pm so JL suggested one of the seafood places by the beach. Our dinner included fried fish/shrimp/tentacles/sweet potato, as well as grilled fish and shellfish soup. The sides consisted of melon, fish eggs, and potato salad. Incredibly, the whole dinner cost W25000 for the both of us! It was the perfect evening to eat outside, listen to the waves, and enjoy seafood that might have been caught near that very beach. I’m not sure what the restaurant was called, but it has two floors and is across the road from a “beware of octopus” sign. It was a little difficult to order, but thanks to JL’s Korean skills we managed to get our food. Apparently foreigners are a rarity there because they panicked when we came in and the waiter literally ran to find someone who could speak English.

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Grilled fish. I'm not normally a fish-eater, but it was pretty good!

Grilled fish. I’m not normally a fish-eater, but it was pretty good!

The best warning sign ever.

The best warning sign ever.

In fact, we were the only foreigners we saw during our whole trip that day. I don’t think we spotted any in Chinatown and there definitely weren’t any at the beach with us. We got lots of surprised smiles, giggles and “hellos!” Maybe that’s why it was so hilarious to hear “Call Me Maybe” at the tiny café by the beach!

We had seen the 306 bus several times on our walk around the peninsula, so we found the bus stop (sadly making our long walk to get there totally useless) and rode to Incheon Airport to transfer to the airport railroad that goes into Seoul Station. The train is really nice, takes 45 minutes, and costs W8000.

Getting There: The Condensed Version

Next time I would go to Seoul Station, take the airport railroad to Incheon Airport, and catch bus 306 from there. Then I’d get off at the actual beach– not a few stops beforehand! The stop will be easy to recognize because you can see the tent-covered shoreline, water, and seafood restaurants right away.

Bring a towel, snacks, and a book for delicious day in the sun!

 

Teaching Abroad #4: Paperwork

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Note: This post is part of a series about the logistics of getting a job teaching abroad in South Korea. If you just want to hear about our fun adventures (not paperwork and visas) stop reading. When I did my research I never found a site that talked about the job process from beginning to end, so that is what I’m doing with this series. Enjoy and I hope it helps!

Now that you’re neck deep in emails with recruiters and schools, juggling all the interviews and getting excited that this might really be happening, it’s time to start the paperwork process. Once you have a job offer, your employer/recruiter is going to want your paperwork pretty quickly so it’s good to have it in hand or at least be in the process of getting it. By paperwork I mean five things: a passport, an FBI background check, an apostilled copy of that background check, an apostilled diploma, plus some miscellaneous documents. I’ll talk about visa information in a future post. The timing and the cost vary so much because you can pay more to have the process take less time. If you start early, it’s pretty cheap. If not, it can cost quite a bit.

One disclaimer: this information was correct as of October 2013. Laws and visa requirements can change, so please verify the information with your employer and/or recruiter as well as the various government websites included in the links!

A note about timing: Give yourself one to three months for the paperwork process. It took me exactly one month (excluding getting the actual visa in my passport), starting with applying for my passport and ending with mailing off my documents to South Korea. It can take less time, but more often it will take more time so just know that sometimes all you can do is wait [im]patiently. Best-case scenario, you have already started the paperwork process when your employer says, “you’re hired!” Of course this is a risk (what if you don’t get hired?) so to each his/her own.

Passport

Timing: anywhere from 8 days to 6 weeks

Cost: $140 for passport fee, $0-$20 for passport pictures

The first paperwork step is to apply for a passport. It can take a few weeks and obviously you can’t leave the country without it 🙂 The application process is easy, just fill out the form on the website, print it, and take into your local post office. Make sure you bring all of the required documents, including your social security card, a picture ID, and your birth certificate. Check the website for exactly what you’ll need. They will mail your birth certificate off with the passport application and send it back to you separately from your passport.

If you live in a big city, I’d suggest making copies of everything that you will give them (except the birth certificate because they need the original). The post office I went to is in a small town and they copied everything themselves but it would suck to get to the front of a long line only to find out that you should have made copies. You can also get passport photos at most large post offices, however I ran to Walgreens and got them on my way to the post office. Two for $12 seems outrageous for two tiny squares of paper, but the convenience was worth it. PS: Look nice for your passport photos! I’ll always regret that I didn’t take more time to get ready that morning…

Once I actually got to the post office, it took literally ten minutes to hand everything in and to pay the $140 fee. The Department of State website says that the average processing time for a passport is about 4-6 weeks, however you can pay (handsomely) for an expedited process of only eight days.

I mailed my application on Oct. 12th, got confirmation that my application had been received on the 19th, and had my passport in hand on the 25th. That was definitely faster than 4-6 weeks, but obviously the timing will be different for everyone. The day I got my passport in the mail was so exciting! I didn’t even have a job for sure yet, but it made the whole process more real and tangible. Little did I know that the very next day I would have an actual job offer!

FBI Background Check

Timing: 4 days to 8 weeks

Cost: $10 to upwards of $120

Note: you do not need a state background check. I made the mistake of getting that first and wasted $30 getting the wrong thing!

This is South Korea’s way of making sure that no criminals come into their country and it can take even longer than getting a passport. There are a few ways to go about this. First of all you can go directly through the FBI, which takes the longest (I’ve heard of it taking up to two months) but is definitely the cheapest.

Alternatively you can go the route that I did and go through an FBI approved channeler, which costs more but takes much less time. I went through Accurate Biometrics and had no problems with their service, although it was $50. If you live in certain states (sadly Indiana is not included) you can actually get live finger scans instead of ink fingerprints that you have to mail in. Then the process could take as little as a few days! I had to make an appointment at the Sheriff’s Office to get official fingerprints. You can print out a form from the Accurate Biometrics website for them to take the prints on. The fingerprints were free (which is obvious now that I think about it, but after all of the mailing and mistakes adding up, I was happy that something was finally not costing me anything). On the 21st I mailed the fingerprints and the application form with my credit card information to Accurate Biometrics in Chicago. It was $70 for two-day delivery through UPS. I really didn’t need it that fast, but I was eager to get it finished. Three days later I received my newly minted FBI background check in the mail!

Apostilled FBI Background Check

Timing: Varies (average 2 weeks)

Cost: $8.00

Since the FBI background check is just a piece of paper with FBI letterhead, the South Korean government wants to make sure that it is officially official and not a fake. To do this, you need to get the document verified, or apostilled. This is similar to getting it notarized, except that you can’t have it done by any old notary. Because it is a Federal Document, you need to send it off to the Department of State (NOT YOUR STATE DEPARTMENT, i.e. not the Indiana State Department) to get it apostilled.

Fill out the application form on their website and then print it out to mail in along with your original FBI background check, an $8.00 check, and a self-addressed and stamped enveloped. Once I had all of the documents together, the process took about a week and a half. Of course, this time may vary.

You can call to check on the status of your documents, and I did this literally everyday after I sent it off. Their phone system is incredibly annoying- they make you wait through a super long message before letting you get to the menu options, probably to scare people off so they stop trying to get through.

I mailed my documents in on the 28th and made sure to get a tracking number. It was delivered to the State Department on the 30th, however when I called to check on the status they said that it takes a few days for it to be processed before they will see it. On November 5th I got confirmation that it had started processing that day. On Nov. 6th they told me they mailed it to me. I finally had it in hand on the 9th!

Apostilled Diploma

Timing: one or two days, longer if documents need to be mailed

Cost: depends on your university

I made this more complicated than it needed to be, but this step is pretty quick and easy. You don’t need to mail anything unless you don’t live within driving distance of your state capital and/or university. First get another copy of your diploma from your university. By copy I mean an official one, with a seal and everything. It was $10 at my alma mater. Make sure your registrar has signed your diploma. Then, get your diploma notarized. Do not let your registrar notarize your diploma. You need a different notary to notarize your registrar’s signature. So when you leave your registrar’s office (or get the documents in the mail), there should be a diploma with a registrar’s signature and an attached second paper with a notary’s seal and signature on it.

[While you’re at it, you might as well get three copies of your transcripts as well. Make sure the registrar signs the envelope or puts a seal on it.]

You need to get your diploma apostilled in the state that it was issued in. This wasn’t a problem for me, since I still lived in Indiana at the time. I just took my notarized diploma down to the Indiana State Department and found the apostille department. They will put another kind of official seal thing on it and BAM! You now have an apostilled diploma.

Other Miscellaneous Documents

Make sure to have three copies of your transcripts made with your registrar’s signature/seal over the sealed envelope flap. One is to mail off to your employer and two are to have with you overseas just in case you need to look for a new job. You’ll also need four passport-sized photos (I suggest buying multiple copies when you get them taken for your passport), your resume, and copies of the information page of your passport.

Mailing the Documents to your Employer

This might be different with hagwons versus public schools and even hagwon to hagwon, but here is what my employer required me to mail to them so that they could start my visa process on their end:

  • Apostilled FBI background check
  • Two passport-sized photos
  • Notarized and apostilled diploma
  • Resume
  • Sealed transcripts
  • Copy of information page of passport
  • Signed copy of contract

I sent everything through FedEx and chose the express option for $43. If you use UPS, they stop tracking it as soon as it leaves the country so use FedEx or another mailing service. The envelope was sent from Kokomo, IN on Nov. 11th and arrived in Dongducheon, South Korea on the 14th.

The paperwork is the most time consuming and tedious part of the job process, however also one of the most essential. A mistake here will cost you time, money, and maybe even your future job. Take the time to double check everything over and over again. Verify what you need with your employer and the various government websites and don’t be afraid to send a billion emails asking questions! There is a reason for every piece of paper that you are spending so much time, effort, and money on. It all pays off in the end 🙂

Movies and Mismatched Shoes

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It’s funny how a simple outing can become a stressful ordeal when you wake up late from a nap in a foreign country. Wait, maybe that’s true in any country… Hmm.

Anyways, on Sunday morning Uriah and I decided to see the movie Pompeii. In the States this would have involved checking the movie times on our phones, getting in our car, and going to the movie theater maybe a half an hour ahead of time (if that). Here, it’s a little more complicated.

First we have to check the movie times. Easy, right? Except that the CGI theater website is entirely in Korean. Luckily there’s a website for expats, cineinkorea.com, that has movie listings in English. Movie time: 4:50. Check.

Then we buy the tickets through cineinkorea.com because if we wait until we get there, they’ll be sold out. Not that Pompeii is a particularly popular movie, it’s just that almost every showtime sells out hours ahead of time here. We tried to see the Hobbit weeks after it came out on a Sunday afternoon in January and after getting there three hours early, there were no seats left. Apparently many Koreans are not casual movie-goers!

We then check the train schedule to see when we need to leave the house. The movie theater is a few stops down the subway (a 20 minute ride) and it takes about 10 minutes to walk to the station. Estimated latest time to leave: 4:00pm to make the 4:15 train. We have a few hours, so we decide to relax for a while.

Fast forward to 4pm and Uriah and I are just waking up from a nap. We look at the clock and jump up in a panic, throwing coats and shoes on and running out the door. We sprint to the station and are halfway there before I realize that… my shoes are mismatched!!! I have on one sparkly Converse and one tan slip-on. It’s either matching shoes or making the train so we have no choice but to press on despite my dismay.

Well hallelujah, we made the train and got to the movie in time. The movie turned out to be pretty good, definitely worth all of the weird looks I received from strangers after they caught sight of my shoes! I also used the opportunity to grab Starbucks (sadly our town is without one), so overall it was a good trip… despite my mismatched shoes!

This situation is a great example of how much I’ve changed since moving here. First of all, 2 months ago I couldn’t have sprinted the .70 miles to the train station. I would have definitely turned around when I realized my shoes were mismatched. And I certainly wouldn’t have been caught dead in a fairly nice mall (think a massive version of Bloomingdales) with mismatched shoes and barely any make-up!

Living here has made me care less about what people think of me. Was I excited to get into the dark theater where no one could see my shoes? Definitely. But as I watched more than one amused stranger snicker toward my feet, I felt proud of myself. Not for putting on the wrong shoes (!), but for having the nerve to go out in public and stay out in public with them. I’m a foreigner, they’re going to stare anyways right? At least this time I gave them something to stare about!

Officially Official

Standard
Subway

Waiting for the train and trying not to think about how cold it was in Uijeongbu, a city about 20 minutes south of Dongducheon.

This week Uriah and I officially became alien residents of South Korea (cue celebratory music here)! Before we received our ARC’s (alien registration cards) we were basically tourists and unable to do things like sign up for bank accounts or get cell phones. Needless to say, we were very eager to have them in hand!

The ARC process begins with a medical exam that includes having blood drawn, a general check-up, peeing in a cup, and a chest x-ray. I was taken to a doctor’s office across the street from my school the day after we flew into the country. It was bewildering to say the least; I had never seen such a small doctor’s office and they took my blood and everything right in front of all the other patients! I also had a short but hilariously awkward hand signal conversation with my Korean coworker about how to pee in a cup. The exam cost 60 or 70,000 won and took about an hour and a half including waiting time.

The doctor sent the results back to my school after a week and a half. I think they were delayed because of the holidays, so this process might be shorter normally. Uriah and I then met one of my bosses at the train station in Yangju, a city south of us, to go to the immigration office there. We had to fill out forms, get our fingerprints taken, and generally wait around a lot before being told that they would be ready in two weeks. Although the school paid my fee, we had to pay 30,000 won for Uriah’s card. Two (long) weeks later we entered the immigration office as tourists and exited as official alien residents!

It’s so good to know that no weird bureaucratic decision can send us home (at least, it’s extremely unlikely) and that we are legally documented for our time here. I’m beginning to see this as regular life instead of an extended vacation, which is good and bad. I still can’t believe that less than four months ago I was sitting at my computer in Kokomo, IN reading blogs about teaching in South Korea and now here we are, officially residents! Sometimes I just have to pinch myself; are we really doing this? Are we really living halfway across the world? Yes and yes, and so far it’s been amazing. Here’s to two years of living this dream!