Sunday, March 27, 2011

Finally, A Room With a View!

Unfortunately, though it is not an ocean-view room. We just moved our school location and today I had to go in and get my classroom set up for classes tomorrow. We have six rooms and six teachers. Three rooms are designated for Korean teachers and three rooms are designated for foreign teachers. Foreigners have to have certain equipment in their rooms and so that is why there is the designation. In two of the Korean teachers rooms, you can see the ocean. One of the foreign-teacher rooms has no windows. Luckily, I did not get that room. This is the third classroom that I have had and this is the first one that had a window. My first room was the room that had been in use for a month before I arrived and so I got that room. My second room was the leftover room. I could have changed rooms a few months ago when we downsized from eight teachers to six teachers; however, in my opinion, it was too much of a hassle and the other rooms were not as nice otherwise because they had seen more use and some of the previous teachers were a bit too permissive with the students. I'll have more on my new room in a day or so, after I've been in it for a couple of days and I finish up some things that I need to do.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Funny English that is Funny and Not Actually Fun

Every now and then, I see some English that is just not correct or is a bit strange. One night, I took several pictures inside E-Mart. Since those pictures were taken, they have changed the signs to better labels. In addition, they also added Japanese to them.

Kichen Electric was actually the the Kitchen Appliances section. Kitchen is a hard word for my students. More than once I've heard students say that somebody was in the chicken.

The spelling on this bad that you don't know what exactly they are selling from just this picture. This section included the drying racks for clothing.

This was the sign above the bathroom scales, heating pads, and humidifiers.

This was the sign above the organizers for closets. It is common for Koreans to use the wrong form of a word. The most common one, in my opinion, is funny. If you ask students why they like a particular activity, they will tell you that it is funny instead of fun.

I'm not sure if a kid or an adult decided what would go on this sign. There was certainly more than one book there.

I had never thought of this term for what they were selling. Normally we say TV dinners when we are talking about the dinners that are available in the frozen food section. This term also encompasses a package of food (think Hamburger Helper or Homestyle Bakes) that just needs to be mixed and warmed. The pizza boxes have this term on the baked ones that they sell at the store.

Even Costco is not free from errors. They are, however, the only store that has everything labeled in Korean and English.

No explanation is necessary for this mistake.

This was at the Home Plus in Centum City. Apparently disposable consumables is a very broad term that could mean pre-packaged food that can just be heated. . .

. . .or it could mean disposable diapers.

These are labelled as Classification Labers instead of Classification Labels. Koreans have difficulty with r and l. In Hangeul, they are represented by the same letter. It can cause a lot of confusion. One time, I had a student who said something about a lobot and I had no idea what he was talking about. I asked a few times what that was and he was annoyed with his idiot teacher who didn't know what a lobot was. Then, a few minutes later, the light bulb turned on and I realized he was talking about a robot.

Watermelon Art

I was at Shinsegae last night and saw some beautiful watermelons. I had never seen anything like them and so I just had to take some pictures.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Delicious! Delicious! Delicious!

In my classroom, there are various posters that have the names of themes and stories for each week. There is a trail that the stories go on. For one of the posters, the trail is along a dessert park. There is ice cream, cake, cookies, candy, pancakes, and other sweet foods. Today before class, there were three students in my lowest-level class--students who speak very little English. They were looking at the postera and saying 맛있겠다 (ma-shi-ge-tta). I told them to instead say "delicious." I then wrote on the board 디리샤으스 so that they could read how to say it. Then the three of them were dancing around and and singing "delicious, delicious, delicious." It was really cute to watch. They felt proud of themselves to learn a big new word like delicious. Their book teaches them words like pink, insect, nine, doll, ant, and dog--all words that are appropriate for a child who is not a native speaker of English and who has never studied the language before.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's My Name?

Every now and then, I get a new student who does not have an English name and so I have to give one to him or her. Many times I've given then names of family members. Usually when I give the students a family member's name, I pick one that is not common in Korea. Among the family members' names that I have given to students are Louis, Maggie, Dayna, Kit, Shiloh, Kelsey, and Mariah. I've given students other names as well. Recently I wrote a list of boy names on the board for a student and he picked Zach. In Korea, that is not a very common name. Often it is pronounced like Jack because Koreans have trouble with /z/. Within the past couple of weeks I named a student Aaron. I have never seen a Korean student with that name. I think that most Koreans are not familiar with that name and so when they give students an English name, that one is not picked.

Giving the students an English name is nothing new for me, but yesterday (3/14), I had the rare opportunity of giving an English name to a co-worker. The company just hired a part-time employee. I didn't know his name and so I asked; he didn't have an English name. So, another co-worker told me to pick a name for him. The first name that came to mind was Wayne. I was thinking of Kevin Arnold's older brother Wayne from The Wonder Years. The name Wayne was vetoed and so I had to think of another name. I was racking my brain trying to think of one and so I went to my computer and went to a list that I had typed, but never finished. Hank, Henry, Victor, and Todd were all vetoed. The name that was chosen, and was the first name written on a post-it note, was Eli.

Happy White Day (화이트 데이)!

Today is White Day in Korea. Here, Valentine's Day is a bit different from in Western society. In Korea, instead of men buying chocolate for women, it is the women who buy chocolate for the men. Women receive chocolate on White Day. At my school, the manager decided to give the students candy from Canada for Valentine's Day. I was talking to a Korean teacher about the parties at school when I was younger. I told her that we would give cards to other students and that although it was optional to give Valentine's cards, we had to give one to everybody in the class so that nobody's feelings were hurt over not getting any. She asked me if we even gave cards to the girls. Today, this same teacher asked me if we have White Day in America and I told her that we didn't because if we did then maybe some people would think that it is white-people day.

In Korea, there is another holiday that is for people who do not have a special man or woman in their lives. It is Black Day and it is on April 14. On that day, people eat 짜장면 (jja-jang-myeon). It is a Chinese noodle with a black bean sauce. In the image above the person is crying while eating the noodles. I had never eaten these noodles before I came to Korea, but they are not too bad. They are not spicy at all.

I think that to Koreans, the idea of wanting to stay single is a foreign concept. I know many people who are not married and very much want to be; however, I don't know anybody who is single and happy to be that way. I think that Korean parents put more pressure on their children to get married. I've heard from some friends that their parents really wanted them to get married and their mom and dad were worried that had not yet found somebody to marry. I've also heard from friends that they know people whose parents pressure them to get married.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Name That Tune

I teach younger students, so we do many songs with them. Our songs for our youngest students are only four lines but some of the other songs are two or three minutes long. The songs for the youngest students also have one or two target sounds such as /o/ or -ace. Some of our songs I've taught so many times that I have them memorized. One time, late at night I was walking outside and I was singing one of the songs. A middle-aged man was on a bicycle and heard me singing the song. He turned around a looked at me, probably because I was singing a ridiculous song. To most native speakers, the majority of the songs are quite stupid, but some of the students really like them. I had one group of students that always wanted to sing the Melinda song, which is about a model who is very beautiful on the outside but ugly on the inside. They even wanted to sing it after they were in a level that didn't do any singing. There was another song about a boy looking for his stolen cookies. I had a student named Andy who really liked the song. It had a banjo and a harmonica in it. When he heard the song, he called it a "cowboy song." He pretended to wave around a lasso. It was really quite cute. I think one day I'll be an old lady in a nursing home who just sits and sings these songs.

Renewing a Visa

There are four different kinds of visas that people have in order to teach English. They are the F-2 Visa, the F-4 visa, the E-1 visa, and E-2 visa. The F-2 visa is for people who are married to Korean citizens or people who qualify under a rigorous point system. The F-4 visa is for people who are Korean adoptees, former Korean citizens, or whose parents were Korean citizens and did not register their child's citizenship with the government. The E-1 visa is for people who work at a university. The E-2 visa is for people who work a a public school or who work at a hagwon, a private after-school academy.

The only visa that I am qualified for is the E-2 visa, like the average English teacher in Korea. When I first got the visa, they had just tightened the restrictions. Americans had to submit an original diploma with two sealed transcripts and a state-level criminal background check with an apostille. (A sample apostille is on the left. It is the certification of documents that will be used for foreign purposes. All countries that signed the Hague convention in 1961. For more information about apostilles, go to In addition, they had to undergo an interview at the Korean consulate. When I applied for the original visa, fulfilling the education verification was no problem; I just had to wait a bit because I was offered the job before I had actually graduated from college. I also did what was necessary for the criminal background check in Washington state. I received everything that I had needed the day after I got home from college and sent everything off. Then, I was informed that my criminal background check did not have a apostille but rather, a state-level notarization. Then, we had to travel to Olympia to the state police to get another notarization and an apostille. At the police office, we had to wait until the person notarizing it came back from lunch. At the Secretary of State's Office, we found out that a new employee had made a mistake, necessitating the whole trip. I did eventually get my visa, but it took a bit longer because of other people's mistakes.

I have been in Korea now for nearly three years and have been through a few renewals. The visa is good only for as long as one has a contract; therefore, the contract visa expiry date is the same as the contract end date. I've been working for the same school the whole time so I have not had to make any visa runs to Japan that other foreigners have had to make as the E-2 visa must be obtained from outside of Korea. However, anytime that a foreigner changes schools within the same company, the school location changes, or the school is purchased by another company, it must be reported to immigration. The first couple of times that I renewed by visa, it was pretty cut and dry. All I had to do was submit the new contract, my passport, my alien registration card, 30,000 won (around $30), and a couple of documents from the school that certified that they could legally hire foreigners as English teachers. After that, it became a bit more complicated.

I was up for a visa renewal at the end of October. However, the visa rules had changed since the last time that I had renewed my visa. As of September 1, 2010, the certification of education had changed and so instead of submitting an original diploma and two sealed transcripts, I had to submit a photocopy of my original diploma with an apostille. I found out about this only eight weeks before my visa was to expire and I needed to apply for the visa extension four weeks before it expired. For candidates who were already in Korea, it was possible to have the Korean Council for University Education verify it, but it would take 4-5 weeks. The school had dragged their feet on it and so they said that it would be quicker to have somebody in America get an apostille in person.

The school did not really know what needed to be done to get an apostille issued. I got an email from somebody in headquarters saying that I could have a friend or relative take it to the nearest local place that issues apostilles, as if they could just go down to the corner and get an apostille. In addition, they were telling me that I didn't need a notarization, but I had done the research into what needed to be done and a notarization was in fact necessary. In Washington, it is necessary to get only a notarization. However, in Ohio, one must get a notarization and the a certification from the clerk of courts fo the notary's home county before it can get an apostille. Since I graduated from college in Ohio, it was best to get everything done in Ohio to make sure that it would go through as documents needing an apostille needed to be notarized in the same state in which one requests the apostille. I cannot have a document notarized in Florida and then get an apostille in New York; I would have to get the apostille in Florida. I tried to explain to them that I am from Washington state and I graduated in Ohio and it was a long trip to do everything in person, but they wanted me to have a friend or relative do it all in person because it could be done immediately. (I don't know what they would tell somebody who had no friends and was a ward of the court until age 18.) I ended up sending the documents to Ohio and Hiram College took care of it for me thankfully. It was a frustrating experience for me because they were putting pressure on me to have somebody do it all in person but they didn't understand that doing it all in person was at least a three-day trip. After being on pins and needles for quite some time, I finally got everything and then went down to the immigration office. Within two weeks, everything had been processed and I had my visa.

Now that we changed companies from a franchise school to a corporate school, it is necessary to report it to immigration. In addition, my visa needs to be extended by four months. Therefore, I need to follow the rules that started on January 1, 2011. I need to get a national-level criminal background check; the state-level one isn't valid anymore. For Americans, that means getting a background check with the FBI. In addition, it needs an apostille from the United States Department of State. I was informed of this just this past week, but I told them that it would take about three months to get the necessary documents. The people in corporate headquarters know more about visa issuance than at the franchise school so it is less frustrating. Right now they aren't on my case so much about having somebody do it in person, which would have to be done in Washington, D.C. Also, somebody sent me an email with a paper I had to sign so that until I got the FBI check, maybe they could get a third-party check.

The day after I found out I'd need an FBI check now instead of later in the year, I went to the Haeundae Police Station. Throughout the district there are neighborhood police stations, but they don't do fingerprinting. So, I had to go to the main police station in the district, which is accessible only by bus since the nearest subway stop from it is at least a half-hour walk away. I went before work and I thought that it would be just one big building with signs directing people where to go. I went into one building and went up the stairs, but cleary I didn't know where I was going so I left that building. I started walking towards another building and then the police officer who was the sentry at the gate asked me where I needed to go. I told him I needed fingerprints and then he directed me up some other stairs outside. He told me that I had to go through a side door. I felt like I was sneaking into the place because there was no sign and it was not a main entrance into the building. One of the police officers fingerprinted me using the form that I printed from the FBI's website. Afterwards, he made a copy of the paper and of my alien registration card so I guess now my fingerprints are going to be in the Korean system. So, I had better keep my nose clean now. The next day, I sent the necessary documents through express mail to the FBI. I sent the documents necessary for the apostille to my dad since the FBI doesn't send the criminal background check to another government agency. Now I am waiting for all of that to get processed.

With all of the government red tape that one has to go through, it is no wonder that people immigrate illegally. The new regulations for the diploma, in my mind, is less secure than before. The notary is only verifying that it is a true copy. S/he is not verifying that I actually graduated from a real institution of higher learning. I can get an apostille on just about any document that has a notarization or other state certification. I've read on other people's blogs that the FBI background check isn't any better because typically crimes that are on a rap sheet are ones that are comitted over state lines or federal crimes. It does not have a record of every crime I've ever committed in every state.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Ownership

After I had been working at Haeundae Campus for a little over a year, the school was purchased by our corportate headquarters. Therefore, I am no longer a franchise employee as of March 1. Being a corporate employee has had some good points and some bad points, but overall, it is better than being a franchise employee. For example, I get my own company email now. I had to sign a new contract effective at the beginning of March, the start of our spring term. I had two choices: a contract for a year, or a contract that would end at the end of the fall term, a month after when my previous contract would have ended. (The company didn't want a new teacher coming in the middle of the term.) I chose to have the longer contract so that I wouldn't have to worry about signing another contract for a longer period of time. There are other reasons, but that is for another post some other time.

The manner in which I would be paid changed. When I was a franchise employee, I had a salary and benefits that included an apartment, health insurance, pension, 10 paid vacation days, and 1-month severance pay as required by law. Now, I am paid like a contracter. All corporate employees are paid on an hourly basis and are guaranteed 24 hours per week except during weeks that have holidays. In addition, there are no benefits. For the first time in the nearly three years, I will have to start paying rent. This new pay system though will give me better pay though. This pay system is available for teachers at regular program franchises and it is my understanding that it is the option that most teachers take because the pay is better. On salary, nobody gets anything extra unless they teach more than 120 hours. But, with the hourly pay, you get more pay than normal if you teach more than 96 hours. When they calculated the hourly pay, they added the value of all of the pay and benefits that we would get for a whole year. Then, they divided that by 12. That number was divided by 96, since that was how many hours we were guaranteed in a month. That gave the suggested hourly rate. In my case, they raised my hourly rate from what was suggested since I'd been with the program for so long. In my program, most foreigners stay for only a year; however, I have been with the company for almost three years. They also said that my pay was high for my program. I didn't have a problem with the amount that I was offered.

New School

Shortly after I quit writing, I changed school locations. I was working at a campus that was in the western end of the district, but it closed because our franchise headquarters decided that there weren't enough students for the amount of time that the school was open, so I was told. There was a big SNAFU about whether I would go to one location that was in another district, or go to one that was farther east in the same district. Eventually, I was about to continue working in the same district. That location was within walking district of my apartment but the other one was about a 20 minute subway ride. I felt uneasy for quite some time, but now I think I'm okay.

I'm Back At It!

Well, this is my first post in a year and a half. It has been full of emotions that have kept me from writing, but I've decided to start back up at it. There is a lot to talk about to get this blog up to speed. Bear with me as I give everybody an update of what has been going on for the past 18 months.