Friday, October 1, 2010

Stig Goes To Korea

Well, since Flint started his reminisces about how he came to Korea, I've been brooding on my early years. Since I'm not there anymore, with no plans to return, maybe I'm in a position to go back and sort some things out. Maybe make some sense of it all.
Since I've been back home, I've been going through my papers and other assorted memorabilia I had stored at my folks' place. The process sure has brought back a lot of memories, not all of them bad.
My journey to Korea started back in the 90's.
After I graduated university (with a degree in History), I drifted for a long time. My plan had been to go on and get a Bachelor of Education degree, but my marks weren't quite good enough for the faculty to seriously consider accepting me as a student. There were other, more deserving applicants.
I made a half-hearted attempt to bring my marks up to snuff, but lost interest and didn't even finish out the semester. I had been working part-time as a security guard, and I drifted into a full-time position at a bank data centre.
I liked security work, especially the night shift, because it gave me plenty of time to read. Mostly it was quiet, and I didn't have to deal with too many people bothering me. It was a lazy decision, and appealed to the idle side of my nature.
My folks were pushing me to do something more with my life, but I had difficulty getting motivated. But I gradually became aware of overseas jobs, teaching English, that might provide something of a challenge.
I applied to teach with a U.S. Christian school in Hungary, and considered going to Africa, when I met another guard who told me about Korea. He explained to me the part about only needing a four-year degree, receiving training on the job, and especially teaching private lessons for some extra income.
He left me with a xeroxed brochure with some FAQs and a contact number for a recruiter who might find me a school. This was 10 years ago, and I was only just becoming computer literate, but I managed to correspond with this fellow, send in my resume, and start fielding offers.
Most of the schools needed someone RIGHT NOW, which I hadn't anticipated. I needed time to fold up my life here in Canada and put my things in storage. I calculated how long this would take and gave the recruiter a tentative start date for November of 2000.
He came back to me with a school in the Korean town of Uijongbu, which is siuated a little north of Seoul. Anyone who doesn't recognize the name might be interested to know that this town was the setting for the fictional characters in the book, movie, and TV series "M*A*S*H." I was excited to hear this, being a big fan. This was where almost all I knew about Korea had been learned.
I learned more courtesy of the Canadian government, which has an extensive article about teaching English in Korea on their website. When I received my passport, it was accompanied by a booklet entitled "Before You Go," which has a lot of useful information like that.
I read a generally positive view of going to Korea, with some warnings about things like the fact that Koreans view contracts as subject to negotiation, even after you have signed them. Anyone who has worked in Korea has no doubt become aware of an employer's... "freedom" with the terms of a contract.
There were a great many things I had to learn about Korea and working there that would come as rude shocks, starting with checking in at the airport.
My parents saw me off on my flight early one morning, and I'm not ashamed to say that I was nearly overcome with emotion on the short hop from Calgary to Vancouver. I was stepping off into a great unknown, leaving everything I had known and loved behind.
Transferring planes in Vancouver, I met up with my sister and niece, who came down to the airport to see me off. They accompanied me to the check-in, where the first bump in the road very nearly derailed everything.
The ticket agent asked me the purpose of my visit to Korea, and I forthrightly answered that I was going to teach English. She noted that I had not yet obtained a work visa ( for most foreigners an E-2), and that without one, I wasn't going any further.
My recruiter had told me that I would obtain my visa after I had arrived in Korea, but had neglected to tell me that not only was this technically illegal, but that I should keep quiet about it until I was actually in country, and even then not to go noising around about it.
Luckily, I could stay with my sister in Vancouver until things got sorted out, but it almost looked like my Korean adventure was over before it had even started.

1 comment:

  1. Good start to telling your tale. Not a good start to working in korea though.