My sister is stealing my country and other random thoughts.

For four years, I’ve been the only Browne in Korea. It was a great novelty back home, “Shauna,  the one in Korea”. I had a monopoly on this country. It distinguished me from my older sister ( “the one in Spain”) and my younger sister ( “the one in college”). Such distinctions are extremely important.

Now, in exactly 2 weeks, my sister and her partner are moving here. She took my friend’s job and coincidentally her apartment will be literally a 30 second walk from my one. So many thoughts come to my mind, most of them purely selfish of course and I wonder if all expats feel like this when a family member comes to live in their country.

I literally spent all four years telling her that she should move here but it wasn’t until she finally came on a summer holiday that she saw that we were in no danger from the dreaded North, the food was edible and although the people don’t speak English and there are oh so many of them, we all still manage to hang out and have a great time. Also, on the plus side we have phones that she’s never even heard of, internet that’s so fast you wonder why someone would live anywhere else and a transport system that is extraordinarily efficient. So Korea is a natural choice.

But, one little part of me is thinking “really, you couldn’t just pick a different country?” It’s going to confuse everything. “Shauna, the one in Korea or is that Majella that’s in Korea. But aren’t they both in Korea now”? She’s already friended some of my friends on Facebook. I’m sure there’s some etiquette law against that sort of thing. Really? You stole my country, now you’re reigning in on my friends!? It’s almost like this is one of those ready made lives. A great job in a great school she knows she won’t have any problems with, a great apartment, a sister who already knows the area, already has the contacts and has already made friends that you can be introduced to. When I think back to my first time coming here, like all my friends, we did it on our own so in some ways, I find this to be the height of cheating although if I were her, I’d probably be moving to Korea now too. I know a few people with siblings here in Korea and I wonder if all of them think the same thing or is it just me.

Then there’s her partner. He’s Spanish and although they’ve been going out for years, I’ve only ever seen him about 3 times. The only Spanish I know is Hola and a few other random phrases I learned from Dora the explorer so Skyping is like speaking to the U.N. I say something. My sister translates it and then translates his response. Recently though, he’s learned English so this will be the chance to actually get to know him.

When people ask me if I’m excited for her to come, I’m fairly slow to respond. When we were young, fighting was something we were champions at.  Obviously we’ve grown up now but we still manage to have blazing rows over What’s App. Sending each other messages in CAPITAL LETTERS to make a point. And a few times, we’ve had to cut off Skype because we will have gotten into a fight and hanging up is the only option since we can’t just hit each other.

So, with her living next door, I wonder how our relationship will develop. Since I moved to Korea, we’ve stayed close enough but I wonder how it’s all going to go. Will she look to me for advice or will it be the other way around since I’ve been here longer. Will she be my left arm or will she branch out and do her own thing and get her own hobbies etc?  So many questions that only time will answer.

Of course, after it’s all said and done, I am delighted that she’s coming here. She is my sister after all. Stay tuned to this blog for more on what happened after she arrives.

 

Majella

1st birthday celebration in Korea- 돌잔치

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a first birthday party. In Korea, 100 days (백일) and the first birthday (돌잔치) are big events and this was the my first 돌잔치.  Many years ago, it was a big deal if a child survived the first year in Korea so they placed huge importance on a first birthday and continue to do so today.

The location for these parties are usually party rooms. On the way in were beautiful pictures of the child as a baby and with her parents as well as decorations and the like. After saying hello to my friends and their daughter I sat down to write my message to Claire (the baby). The tables were all set for food so we sipped on drinks after which we enjoyed a buffet style meal. The atmosphere was really easy going and relaxed.

entrance claire

After the meal we watched a great video of Claire’s first year after which was the uniquely Korean part called Doljabi or 돌잠이.  The following items were placed on a tray, a stethoscope (청진기), pencil(연필), money (돈), gavel (판사봉), a ball (공) and a some yarn (실).  Whichever item the child grabs is used to predict the child’s future and talents. In this case she chose the gavel which means that perhaps she’ll her future job will be in law.

Choosing the pencil means the child will be scholarly, the string means a long life, the money means that the child will never be poor, the ball means that the child will be good at sport and the stethoscope means that the child will become a doctor. It’s a unique Korean event at a first birthday. Claire also wore a traditional Korean dress.

On the way in, each guest makes a prediction as to which item the child will choose and a winner is given a token.

Doljabi

A traditional gift for a first birthday is a gold ring for their little fingers but these days gold anything works as does clothing, toys or cash.

1st bday

It was such a privilege to be able to join this special occasion and a first birthday here is definitely a lot different to the first birthday’s back home.

Coming to Korea- F.A.Q’s

Someone I know very well is getting ready to come to Korea for a year. This means that there are many questions so I thought I’d do a blog on the most useful.

DISCLAIMER; This information as to the best of my knowledge. Rules and regulations change all the time. Be sure to speak with your recruiter to confirm any queried you might have.

This blog is written with Irish people in mind.

Q1. What documents do I need?

The following are the required documents for an E2 visa application

  • Signed Contract
  • Original Degree (Apostilled)
  • Sealed  University Transcripts
  • Copy of the information page of your passport
  • 4 colour passport pictures*
  • Signed copy of your C.V.
  • Apostilled Criminal Check.
  • Personal Health Statement

Apostille – http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=268 I’ve just gotten my documents reapostilled in the run up to my renewal (long story about what happened the first time) and they came back within the week so it’s a pretty speedy process.

Q2. When should I start preparing my documents for Korea?

This depends on the country you’re coming from and every situation is different. For Irish people, I would say 4 to 5 months. The Garda check must be recent (within the last 6 months) so keep that in mind. After that the transcripts and apostille vary from university to university so getting them organised 5 months in advance is no harm. The last thing you want is to receive a job offer and not have your documents ready. Be prepared!

*The contract is the last document you need to collect and you will get it upon receiving a job offer.

Q3. How do I contact a recruiter?

So many choices here. If you know someone who’s already here, ask them. If they’ve had a good experience with their recruiter, chances are you’ll have a good experience also. If you don’t know anyone, then do some research. Read other blogs from expats teaching in Korea and see what they say.

It might be a good idea to know what you’re looking for in a job. Do you want to be in Seoul, a suburb, the south, the east, where? Do you want public school (EPIK, GEPIK, SMOE) or an academy? Do you want to work mornings or start in the afternoons and finish later? Think about what you really want so you can make it easier for the recruiter to find you a suitable position.

This is a list of recruiters from a popular expat website here, http://seoul.angloinfo.com/af/605/seoul-esl-teacher-recruitment.html

Q4. After I’m offered a job, how do I get a visa?

This is something your recruiter will take you through. When you have all your documents ready, DHL or FED EX them to your recruiter ( so you can track them). You recruiter checks them and sends them to your employer who brings them to immigration. Your employer will be given a visa issuance number and will send it to you via email.

You then make an appointment at your local Korean embassy. Bring your passport, do your interview and you will be given your visa in a number of days.

Then you’re good to go!

 Q5. Do I need to get vaccines to go to South Korea?

If you want to you can. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. It’s a completely personal choice.

Q6  What are the holidays like?

Again, it depends school to school. Public school and private schools have different vacation allowances. In my school, for example, I get approx 10 days in summer, 10 days in winter and 2 or 3 at the end of the term. That’s just my school though. You can read about vacation allowances in your contract or ask it when you do your interview. There are also public holidays….http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/AK/AK_EN_1_5_2.jsp

Q7. What is an alien registration card, when do I get it, how do I get it and why do I need it.

If you intend to stay in Korea for longer than 90 days you must apply for an ARC.  The card has a number on it that you need to open a bank account, get a phone in your name, get cable, visit the hospital or anything like that.

Once you arrive in Korea, you school will bring you for your health check and when they receive the results of that, they will apply for the ARC.

When you get it depends on the immigration office and how quick you can get the health check done. I waited just 2 weeks for mine but I heard my friend say that she waited 5 weeks for hers because of some backlog so just ask at immigration and they’ll know.

Q8. Is it difficult to get a phone and bank account?

Once you receive your alien registraion card, head over to your chosen bank and ask to open an account. Most banks have someone who speaks enough English to understand what you need.  If you want to save and send money home, I recommend KEB. Here is an article about banking in Korea, http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/GK/GK_EN_2_8_1_3.jsp

For a phone; Once you have a bank account and an ARC, head to a phone store, choose your plan and phone and they will set you up. It’s pretty easy and most of the time someone speaks enough English to get the message across or you bring someone Korean with you. It’s up to you but don’t be afraid to try it by yourself.

Q9. What should I bring?

Remember you are coming for a year and you only have about 23kgs to pack it in to. So pack wisely. Winter here is super cold and summer is hot.

  • Base layers,a down jacket and a pair of boots for winter
  • 1 or 2 towels to get you through until you can buy more.
  • A super big bath towel.
  • You’re favourite shampoo/hair dye/perfume/ makeup or whatever. At least enough to get you through until you figure out how to get more.
  • Pictures of your family and friends or some things that you can bring to remind you of home.
  • International Plug
  • Work clothes
  • A good attitude

Q10. How do I get involved in expat life?

The Irish have a strong community here.  The Irish Association encourages Irish culture in Korea. Their website is www.iak.co.kr . The Seoul Gaels are a sporting organisation http://seoulgaels.weebly.com/  There are also plenty of meetups happening for every interest. Check out meetup.com and search for your interest in Korea. Check out seoul.angloinfo.com for expat living in Korea.

My best piece of advice is “over prepare, then go with the flow”

Feel free to leave questions and comments!