Well, it’s official. My passport is fresh back from the Korean consulate in Houston with a bright, shiny new visa on Page 8. This means that the only thing standing between me and teaching Korea’s bright young minds is an ocean. And, believe you me, if you can survive ten months in rural exile and then navigate the complexities involved in acquiring an E-2 work visa from the Republic of Korea, the Pacific is a pushover. So, allow me to recount the tale for those of you who have not been so blessed as to personally experience it in this the first installment of “The Korea Kronicles.” (I’ll try to go easy on the k’s, Tim.)
Although I wasn’t hired to a full-time teaching position at the English camp until November 15 of last year, I started getting ready to go long before. That’s an important thing to remember: once you’ve decided you want to teach abroad, regardless of where you want to go, start getting all the paperwork in order from the moment you decide you want to go. Many of the steps don’t require you to have already signed a contract and by the time I was hired, I’d already gotten the ball rolling on the most time consuming aspects of getting a visa. And, even though I overshot my original planned departure date by a week, I probably wound up saving a substantial amount of time.
At any rate, along with the predictable forms one must fill out and sign (there’s a visa application and a health statement), there’s a lot of big, hairy, time-consuming things to acquire as well. The biggest thing anyone needs is a criminal background check from the FBI accompanied by an Apostille from the U.S. Department of State. Whoa, okay, so let’s unpack that. A criminal background check (or CBC) is basically your rap sheet, or, if you haven’t been convicted of any federal crimes or been arrested, it’s just a purple sheet of paper stating that you don’t have any criminal convictions or arrests. I’m not a criminal as it turns out–huge sigh of relief.
The CBC is what normally holds people up. You have to print a paper application, fill it out, and snail mail it along with a credit card payment form to an FBI office in Clarksburg, West Virginia. What is this, the 1950s? Oh, and I also had to get a copy of my fingerprints which involved me going to the Atoka County Jail and being led inside the cell block to have my prints taken using the scanner. So yeah, that was interesting (don’t go to jail, kids). The other kicker is that once I got the CBC back in the mail–which takes, conservatively, five to six weeks–I had to turn around and snail mail that document to a third party agency in Washington, D.C., to have them physically walk it to the State Department and have the Apostille affixed. Why not mail it directly to the department? Well, because State has apparently been known to lose important documents from time to time and, as Sweet Brown would say, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Now, what’s an Apostille?, you ask. It’s a document that exists as a result of the 1961 Apostille convention, which establishes the procedure for a document issued in one country to be legally certified in all other countries signatory to the treaty. Otherwise, the United States Congress would have to pass resolutions certifying documents. Yikes! I’d never make it to Korea if that were the case.
Anyway, I had to do much the same thing with my college diploma. After taking it back to ORU and having the Registrar run it through the Xerox machine, they placed their own seal on the copy and notarized it. That copy was then mailed to the Oklahoma Secretary of State to have a state-level Apostille affixed. Basically, the Apostille on the diploma helps immigration authorities in foreign countries be confident the diploma is legit and not from a “diploma mill.” It also removes the possibility of someone just making one up and printing it out from a Microsoft Word template. Bear in mind, universities work differently from country to country and cultural differences can sometimes make it hard for foreign officials to tell whether or not a diploma comes from a real school.
Once all of those documents made it back, everything was stuffed into a FedEx envelope and sent to the Office of International Affairs at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (which collaborates on the English camp with Yeungjin College in Daegu). Those documents were then FedEx-ed to the English camp in Korea and taken to a local Immigration office.
And then, a snag. They always happen, it seems. Since I use a different version of my name for professional purposes (don’t ask; it’s a long, convoluted, and ultimately confusing story), I requested that version be printed on my diploma when it was issued by ORU last summer. Honestly, I’d planned to just have it legally changed by now but, you know, shit happens. Anyway, there was concern that Korean Immigration might think we were trying to pull a fast one on them by stealing the diploma of someone with a name that looks similar to my legal name. So, I had to request letters from officials at the university stating, in essence, that both my legal and professional names apply to me. It wasn’t a big deal in the end, it was just an odd problem that I’d created for myself.
I did get my visa number soon after that, however, and I was finally able to send my passport to Houston to have it stamped. My departure date has been all but finalized and, barring anything completely unexpected, I will board a plane in Dallas on Sunday, February 24. Almost ten months after finishing school, I am finally exiting the purgatory of being stuck at home. When will I next grace the shores of these United States? God only knows. For now though, it appears that the dog days are, indeed, over. Now, without further ado, Florence is going to tell us about it…