My flight from the U.S. arrived in Seoul, South Korea, on May 27th, 2010. My Mom decided to send me a follow-up package of things I could use and may not find in Korea right away. The main purpose for the package was for a small bottle of prescription that held a 3 month supply. I have to watch my high cholesterol and triglycerides. Not a big deal…unless you’re sending it to Korea.
My insurance company allows a 3 month tourist supply, but I had to acquire permission from my doctor. Three months doesn’t cover a year supply, but at least I would have it a while longer. I could possibly spread out the days I take it.
Other items in the package;
- some shirts
- plastic cups
- plastic silverware and plates
My Mom was concerned that I may not find some items easily. Mom was just being, well, Mom. It’s not like I was going away for camp.
Anyway, so Mom mailed this package on June 3, 2010. The package weighed 6 pounds. If all was fine I would have seen the package in about ten days at the most. The package was mailed through Federal Express and was being mailed directly to the school.
So, the package arrived…at FedEx about ten days later which is expected. I spoke to my parents and they said that the package arrived, but had to go through customs. They also told me that someone would be contacting me through email or my cell phone.
A few days later I received an email from a FedEx representative. I emailed back with the tracking # and where the package is to be dropped off. I wanted the package to be dropped off at the address written on the package, my school. The mailboxes at our apartment building are not trustworthy as Moniqa, one of the teachers, stopped receiving mail there. The mail simply ceased to arrive without any warnings or notices. After living there for a while I’d believe that. After all, our landlord is believed to be dead.
Anyway, back to our story. A few more days passed and I decided to call the FedEx office from school. I spoke to someone and left a message for them. Jake, the Korean American teacher, became a mediary. Jake told me that I needed to have my information handy regarding the prescription. They wanted to know my doctor’s name and phone number. Federal Express also wanted to know the pharmacy’s phone number as well. I emailed that information to the contact I had.
A few days later, Jake informed me that I needed to bring in the prescription bottle so one of the Korean teacher’s could verify and give that information to FedEx. Done.
No, we’re not done. Days later Jake told me that customs may run some tests that could take another ten days. What? What tests? They’ve made those phone calls to my pharmacy and doctor’s office and still don’t trust that it’s prescription.
FedEx then asked me who the people were that sent me the package. Well, let’s see, they raised me, sent me to college and watched me play ice hockey. Oh, yes, they have the same last name. Maybe they’re oh, I don’t know, MY PARENTS! Do they think my parents are in on the drug deal too? What a great cover!
So, a few more days pass. Jake gets a call from FedEx. The prescription is fine. Now they want to know the cost of the few plastic silverware items. What? Are you serious? Really? Really?
At this point my concern was that the package would arrive after I have left South Korea and headed back to the U.S. because the few leads I had were not panning out.
I got on the phone with the FedEx guy and told him:
“Send it back! Send the package back to the United States. Send it back!”
The guy on the phone pleaded with me that it was very easy at this point. All I had to do was pay the shipping or customs or international tax, something. I finally caved in and said ‘Fine. I’ll pay the tax.” That’s all FedEx really wanted.
I think I told him $4 for the plastic silverware. They probably cost less then that.
Jake found out how much the taxes were. I paid him in won because I didn’t have a bank account yet. (I would have a had a lot of things like a foreign registration card, health insurance and a South Korean cell phone if I knew I was staying in SK.)
Jake took care of paying FedEx.So, for the next many days, possibly a week went by, I’d ask the Korean teacher if my package arrived. No package.
The package was sent on June 3, 2010. It didn’t arrive at the school and in my care until July 11th.
So, that was a lesson to me and let it be a lesson to you. If you can get your 3 month supply ahead of time before leaving pack it into your suitcase or do without it.
I decided a few days later to use the same package to send back a bunch of resource books on ESL and screenwriting. I had an overweight fee on my luggage when I left the Las Vegas airport to fly to Seoul. I thought I would lighten my load on the way back. The package will take a long time to go back to Vegas as I paid for the cheapest way…by boat which could take from 2 weeks to 2 or 3 months. I’ve been in Vegas for one week as of today, Monday, July 19th. Stay tuned to find out when the package will finally come home.
A Million in Won
When I was contemplating a new job and career teaching English for one year in South Korea people told me that one-year went by very quickly. Well, it definitely felt like a blur; going from one thing to the next, one class to the next, one day to the next, one train to the next.
Things did not work out in this position at this school. I’m not going to get in to what happened or why things happened that way. Things just happen in this life. You take the best out of your experience and be a better person. That’s what she said. If anyone wants to know, we can discuss it in person or through separate email.
The Kids Are Alright
I enjoyed the teaching experience. I feel like I did a great job, not knowing and still not knowing what type of teacher I am.
Teaching kindergarteners is something I never thought I would do. It was okay. I am open to that experience again. They were a very unruly bunch at our school.
Every time your back was turned gave them all sorts of ideas.
But I liked seeing the older kids’ eyes light up when they learned something interesting. There were students that were very enthusiastic in learning about the world. Those students were the most fun to teach.
- I decided to try to find another job while already there in South Korea. Schools wouldn’t have to pay for my flight there. I gave myself a few weeks to find a job and then I would have to plan on going home. When my time working at the school would end mid-July, my Visa sponsorship would be over and my apartment would be mine no longer.
So, I asked around the few people in South Korea I knew about leads. I asked my family since my sister had taught here a decade ago. I was working with a few new recruiters as almost all of the schools today use recruiting firms to acquire teachers.
So Many Places, So Little Time
I may not have met a lot of people, but I sure went to a lot of places.
Knowing early on that I would not be enjoying a year long adventure, I decided to fit a year’s worth of touring into one month. I observed and immersed myself into Seoul’s trendy areas; Itaewon, Insadong, Hongdae and Gangnam. I visited many great museums and some beautiful palaces, temples and fortresses. The Seoul Tower was very cool. One day I traveled with a tour group to the DMZ and stepped over the line into North Korea. That was amazing!
I had a ‘million and won’ chance of a lifetime to live and work in South Korea. I loved almost every minute of it. Well, I guess I even loved the time I had with the kindergarteners. “Paul, sit in your chair!”
My flight home was actually kind of nice as I was bumped up to Business Class for free. I probably would have enjoyed it more if this was one year later. It felt sad leaving the school and then leaving the country. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back.
Oh, home for now is in Las Vegas, Nevada…with Mom & Dad.
This is definitely not the end of this blog. There are more stories coming. Look out for a blog about “The Package.”
Orientation Week / Living in South Korea
If you watched the video of me first arriving in South Korea, it doesn’t look so good. My apt. is not as bad as it seems except for the mold. Moniqa, one of the other teachers, had moved out for various reasons; 1) the mold and 2) smokers were smoking up the place. She moved into an ex-teacher’s apt. (the one I replaced). I haven’t had any problems with smokers. Regarding the toilet, it turns out that Moniqa turns off the toilet so it doesn’t overflow. So, every time I need the toilet now I have to turn the knob to let water in and turn it off when it reaches near the top. As for the mold, I apply bleach when I have time, usually on weekends before I head out somewhere.
During my first weekend, Jon, another teacher, showed me where Home Plus grocery store was where I could get more extensive groceries, etc. I bought myself a coffee machine there. To walk to Home Plus you pass our local train station, Line 4.
Kim Chi? I wouldn’t know what to eat if it weren’t for Jon. During my first week and much of my second week, Jon showed me many Korean places and how to order and what to eat. I have to be very careful as I’m allergic to shellfish. The thing about where I work and live in Ansan is that there’s not much of a variety of food. There’s a variety of Korean food, but there’s not much else. There are a couple of Italian places and a place that makes really good pizza. In fact, I’d say it’s better than most pizza places in Los Angeles…which isn’t saying much for Los Angeles. Is it the water? Who knows?
Jon and I ate at a Korean restaurant where we had to remove our shoes and sit on the floor. I had to stretch my legs every now and then, but the food was worth it.
On Thursday, June 3, I was at school like the days before, but a somewhat funny phenomenon took place. The chairs we sit on in the teacher’s area are the same as the chairs for most of the classes, very narrow. On two separate occasions on the same day, I sat in my seat and my pants pocket got stuck on the arm portion of the chair. My pocket ripped open about an inch. It wasn’t bad or too noticeable, but it happened again a few hours later to the other pocket. At least the pockets look even now. Two pockets ripped in one day. Needless to say, I’m more careful now when I sit my ass down.
For the first week I had been using the spoon from a set of chopsticks and spoons a friend gave me. I used it for not only my cereal, but for spreading peanut butter and jelly. Finally, in my second week I went to Home Plus and bought a full set including a knife, spoon and fork. I had bought bread and then thought, ‘How do I spread the PB & J?’ Here’s a look into my enormous refrigerator. Not!
On Friday, June 4, I did my first wash in the washing machine. It holds more than I thought. The wash takes about an hour. No drying. Everything is hang-dried here. I had brought with me a hair dryer thinking I would use it for blow-drying my hair mainly during the winter and also for drying my clothes. I plugged my hair dryer in and after a minute of it working it suddenly fizzled out as in died.
For the first few days at school you observe other teachers and how they work with the students. Here’s an eye opener. Teachers find themselves teaching subjects they don’t know first hand. I don’t know about other hagwons, but the school I’m teaching at has teachers teaching science, debate, art. Yes, I am teaching all three of those subjects. I’m also teaching phonics, grammar, vocabulary, nursery rhymes, writing and mostly reading. The first few days of observing were tiring just by watching the other teachers. The days are incredibly long. Not to mention it’s humid and hot as hell. Oh, yeah. The school only puts the central air conditioner on a few times a day. So, kindergarteners are nearly passing out. One girl, in my first week teaching, puked in the garbage.
The mornings are a time the teachers mostly dread as we have to teach the pre-school, pre-kindergarteners and kindergarteners who are a very unruly bunch. The curriculum is not easily understood. There are many classes each day. I’ve been lucky to get a little help from the other native speaking teachers. I almost died after walking into the men’s bathroom on our floor. The smell of smoke is unbelievable! The bathroom is not smoky. The air is so full of smoke you can’t breathe. If you want to use toilet paper it’s kept next to the water cooler in the school lobby area. There are no toilet paper or paper towels to be found in the bathroom. I often go to the next floor’s bathroom below.
One strange thing I noticed during my first few days at school was that in many of the classrooms there are smoke detectors going off. Every minute or so there’s that familiar beep I know to be from a smoke detector. The funny thing is none of the teachers notice it. They’ve been there too long. They’re brainwashed to not recognize it. Weird.
I made it though Orientation Week somehow. Moniqa, one of the other teachers, helped me get some understanding of how the curriculum works. No one hands you a list of everything you need such as what textbooks or practice books are for what class. There are so many classes and it’s very tough to know everything for every class. The teachers have problems printing materials for their classes because the computers are very slow and ancient. Resources are not always available for the classes using the computer program that the school uses. I tried making a Mad Libs exercise on my home computer and made a PDF, but when I downloaded it at school the printer wouldn’t recognize it. UGH!