If those of you who don’t know me personally have wondered about the lack of posts recently, here’s the explanation –
Today is the ninth anniversary of my first arrival in South Korea. This is not entirely coincidental; most English teachers in Korea (very much so at universities and less so at language colleges (hagwons)) start in September or March, being the start of the two academic semesters. I lived and taught English in Korea from September 2006 to February 2009 — one and a half years at a hagwon in a regional city (in order to be semi-vague in order to remain semi-anonymous, either Daegu or Daejeon) and one year at a government high school in a satellite city of Seoul, where my girlfriend>fiancée>wife lived. During this time I looked for future job opportunities, and noticed a number of advertisements for teaching staff at Korean universities. The standard requirement was a masters degree and two/three/five years teaching experience.
We returned to Australia in 2009, and I set about gaining a masters and five years teaching experience. After I completed my masters in 2012, I began applying for jobs here (and a few corporations, institute chains and recruiters), with very little success. Then in April this year I saw an advertisement from a university (which I won’t be directly naming) in the city I lived in from 2006 to 2008. I’d applied four or five times before with no reply from them, so I hesitated to apply again, but as I had a letter on file, I thought I may as well update and send it.
To my surprise and relief I was selected for an interview. The first round was by Skype with the Canadian Human Resources Coordinator, and the second was either a Skype interview with a Korean senior manager of some kind or video-recording answers to a given set of interview questions (which I did). There was an agonising wait for a final answer. I’d sent the videos on a Wednesday and the coordinator said that decisions were usually made and communicated in one or two days. Coincidentally,* those were the last few days of my CELTA course, and I was hoping to hear on the Friday so that I could tell people on the Saturday, the last day of the course. (*Or maybe not coincidentally — maybe that extra line on my résumé was what tipped them from not selecting me the previous times to selecting me this time.)
As it turned out, they contacted me (successfully, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing all this) on the Monday evening. Then there followed a series of contracts and other formal documents, electronically or by mail, and a long, long wait for the Visa Issuance Number. This eventually arrived four days before we were due to travel from Australia to South Korea, too late to apply for the actual visa. The university says not to book your travel until you have obtained your actual visa, but we had originally planned a holiday in Korea in June, and had changed our travel dates when I was offered the job, choosing a pretty much arbitrary date in the middle of August and expecting the visa process to be completed by then.
We could have changed our dates again, but it was marginally easier for me to enter Korea (on Sunday, 16 August) as a tourist on a 90-day visa-free basis, then to do the ‘visa run’ to Fukuoka, Japan. This happens so often that the university has a complete document explaining how to do this. One of the problems is that July and August is the peak time for visa applications and also for employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to go on holiday. Two of my colleagues between 2006 and 2008 did the visa run at some point.
My wife had booked my flights from Korea to Japan and return, and I had booked hotel accommodation there, so the immigration officer at Incheon Airport was quickly convinced of my genuineness. Then, less than 24 hours later (on Monday, 17 August), I was back again, flying out (after watching a martial arts/acrobatics/traditional dance performance and being volunteered as a participant).
I could also enter Japan as a tourist on a 90-day visa-free basis, but I had a return ticket as evidence that I wasn’t going to over-stay (or, indeed, stay more than a few days).
The next morning (Tuesday, 18 August) I was at the Korean consulate before the gate opened. Indeed, I waited longer outside than the visa application process actually took. I was the first and only applicant inside. The clerical assistant told me to come back two days later (this was the expected amount of time to wait), so I spent four days (Tues–Fri) as a tourist. We’d had to book the return flight on the Friday as nothing was available on the Thursday, plus we’d had to make allowance for a possible delay in the visa being available.
I visited a small Shinto shrine,
Ohori Park (a lake park),
the ruins of Fukuoka Castle,
the ACROS Building (“a center of international, cultural and information exchange” – more immediately notable for being covered by trees),
Nishi Park (a hill shrine and park — in increasing rain),
the Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome (also called the Fukuoka Yahoo Dome) and Hilton Hotel,
and Canal City Hakata,
among many others.
I’d had a vague plan to visit Japan at some stage, but the time and effort were/are a barrier. As interesting as a side trip to Japan was, all in all, I’d rather that my visa number had been issued earlier, and that I hadn’t had to make it. The language point arising from this is that I’d painstakingly written out and memorised the Japanese words or phrases for yes, no, please and thank you, to add to hello and goodbye that I already knew. The first person I asked to take a photo, saying the phrase for please, seemed genuinely surprised to hear me say it. As I checked out of the hotel, I also used the Japanese word for telephone (denwa), which I happen to know because the Korean word for telephone (jeonhwa) is equivalent.
I’ve now more-or-less settled into my new apartment close to the university. There was an orientation session for new teachers yesterday and a general meeting for all teachers today, then on Monday I’m into it. Will the reality of teaching at a Korean university match all the ideas I’ve had since I first spotted ads for university teaching positions? Other bloggers’ experiences are a mixed bag. What will my experience be?