I’m Freeee

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I waiting for 12pm since I got here. It’s weird that I can close out all of my apps now because I no longer have to have my quarantine app open at all times.

It feels wrong that I was able to walk outside. I felt like I was breaking the law. Is that what two weeks in solitary confinement does to you?? (kidding)

I just went for a little stroll around my neighborhood and was able to see (up close) the progress that the construction workers had made on the building that is very close to mine. They’ve made quite some progress within the past two weeks. That has been some of my entertainment these past two weeks.

My neighborhood looked a bit deserted from my window.

Turns out it wasn’t THAT much of a desert as I thought it was going to be. There were stores and several apartment buildings and restaurants once I left my street. Everything was about a 5-10 minute walk from my place which is super convenient.

There was a lot to see in my little town; It was riveting. I only walked a total of two miles aimlessly because it started getting dark and I was hungry so I started to walk the wrong way home. Fun. I’m glad that KakaoMap works without cellular data because I would’ve definitely been lost if not. I saw the Dominos that I order from twice throughout my quarantine period. I saw a few hair and nail salons. I also saw a bunch of parks and people walking around. And this box with pet food and water inside that was on one of the walking paths which made me smile and warm inside. HOW CUTE.

7/11. Yay!

I also went to a 7/11 which brought me back to Thailand because 7’s in Thailand were literally every other building. When I went to grab some Soju, they had Singha!!!! My day was instantly made. Quarantine guys, quarantine, it is worth it. The lady inside 7/11 thought that I was younger than 20, which is the legal drinking age in Korea. Good thing is that I downloaded English and Korean on Google Translate since I don’t have a phone plan yet this came in very handy. Of course it made me laugh because that happens to me everywhere even though I’m well over 20. Everyone always thinks I’m younger than 20. Not mad about it but I didn’t have my passport soooo that could’ve been a problem.

I got 2 Singhas πŸ˜†

I got a few snacks at 7 to try because why not. I have no idea what they say on the packaging but I got Cheetos and a candy bar. I thought that the Cheetos were spicy but Google told me otherwise. I guess they’re sweet and spicy. They are sweet. Back home, the spicy Cheetos are wicked spicy. I tried.

I’ve been eyeing this place since I got here because I thought it said “Paris Bagels.” Anyone who knows me knows I am have a sick obsession with bagels. After a quick KakaoMap search, I learned that it is called “Paris Baguette.” Still, it’s bread so I thought I’d give it a try on my walk back home. They had quite the selection. I got some egg salad and potato salad to try and this watermelon bar which was palatable because I also love watermelon πŸ‰ I also got a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, imitation crab, and some spicy sauce.

Today was an interesting day and I am a bit relieved that my city has more to offer than I thought; I feel giddy. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds! Tomorrow starts a new day AND my first school day. I am excited to do some more exploring before school. More pictures to come!

Two Weeks in Korea and then I’m Free-a

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Honestly, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it was going to be. But ask my friends and family how I’ve been and they may say the opposite.

Picture of my cutie dog because I miss his face

I got a box from the government within the first few days of being here. It was filled with tasty food. How sweet of them?! I also received a thermometer and a white bucket with an orange biohazard bag to throw my trash in (Don’t worry, I am allowed to set my recyclables aside). Yay. My TikTok has videos of the goodies that were in the box that I received. I’ve eaten about 80% of what they sent (some of it is meat). Even before I got the box, the head teacher at my school went food shopping and had my fridge stocked before I arrived. She let me borrow some of her cookware for the two weeks. I felt at home right when I walked through the door.

South Korea is really on top of it when it comes to Covid. Four days after I got to my apartment, I was taken to get another Covid test. I was picked up and dropped off. It was exhilarating to see the outdoors. The quarantine app is pretty cool, when it works. My health officer has called and texted me when she couldn’t see my location. If you have an iPhone, I recommend leaving the app open at all times and having the Background App Refresh on. Expect a phone call or Kakao message if your location isn’t visible. I have to log in at 9am and 3pm every day. A few times my health officer has messaged me asking what my temperature was, even after I had logged my info in. I had some complications with the app at first because I was trying to write my address in Korean. It took a whole 12 hours to fix it so that was my thrilling activity for the day.

Here are some of the other activities that have been keeping me busy:

“Write Korean” App
  • Netflix & other apps (I’ve probably mentioned it 10x recently)
  • Reading
  • Meditating (I listen to a few different podcasts, but LOVE Chel Hamilton). Podcasts in general are pretty awesome.
  • Taking courses on Coursera. edX is great too.
  • Practicing Korean (I listen to YouTube videos by Korean Unnie, Mina Oh, & Korean Class101). I also downloaded this cool app called “Write Korean.” It’s my favorite so far because it doesn’t throw the whole alphabet at you all at once. I’ve also used other apps such as Duolingo and Memrise but I found that they had different pronunciation for each of the vowels which was super confusing. I do love Memrise for other languages though.
  • FaceTime and WhatsApp. Zoom and Skype. You know, those apps. It’s hard with the time difference but I’ve made it work so far!
  • Cooking has also been a huge part of my day. I LOVE to cook. Having a stove top in my apartment really makes my life easier and more enjoyable.
  • Organizing my apartment was also on the list but I am not in my official apartment yet. Living out of a suitcase was easier said than done.
  • Self care is always important! My favorite part is putting on a face mask and watching TV. I really needed a face mask after wearing my mask for 20+ hours.
  • Exercising is a great way to pass time. I have been slacking during quarantine but now I’m back at it with my little weights and resistance bands.
  • TikTok has been entertaining (when my internet works). I started making them the day I got here and I can’t stop.

I cut my hair because my friend told me about the #BradMandoChallenge πŸ˜‚ It looks nice and healthy now.

A great idea I had when I was back home was to buy a projector in case I didn’t have a TV, like in Thailand. I bought an HDMI cord and a Lightning to Digital AV Adapter off of eBay because they were cheap. BUT, make sure the AV Adapter is the Apple brand because it might not work if it’s not. Another amazing idea of mine was to read some posts on Facebook to see which VPN would work best. I decided to buy Nord VPN for a month so I could have different options aside from Netflix. I’ve been able to used Hulu, HBO Max and Disney Plus. Love that for me.

As time goes by, I regret unpacking my suitcases. I haven’t unpacked fully but let’s just say it’s going to take a few trips to get all of my belongings to my new apartment. It’s only a floor upstairs so it’s not a huge deal.

I cannot wait until I move into my apartment and unpack! I’m prettttty sure I brought more than enough of my belongings with me considering my two ginormous suitcases and also breaking one at home and another one other here. Guess we’ll find out.

The Flight & Beyond

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Before I left for Korea, I went on a few Facebook groups and asked a bunch of questions. I was able to download apps before I left and I created a folder, just in case I didn’t have secure WiFi when I arrived. I recommend doing that, just to be prepared. However, the WiFi at Incheon airport was fantastic so I could’ve waited too. The apps that were suggested by the Facebook groups were: KakaoTalk, KakaoMap, KakaoMetro, KakaoBus, Gmarket Global, Subway (μ§€ν•˜μ² ), Lotte Cinema (the app has easier steps to change the language to English), Korail (μ½”λ ˆμΌν†‘) and Naver Maps. The desktop website for Naver Maps is in Korean but the app has the option for English. You also have to download the quarantine app at the airport. They have a banner with the QR code. If you have to delete the app and start over, like I did, this is the link where you can download it or you can simply type it into the App Store: μžκ°€κ²©λ¦¬ μ•ˆμ „λ³΄ν˜Έ.

Since I am still in quarantine, I have only used the quarantine app. Once I use the others, I will post an update on how they work and my opinions on each.

I laugh about it now but when I was leaving BOS, I paid $500 for my two suitcases through United Airlines. I did not think it would be THAT much. But then again, I packed up my whole room and also broke a suitcase while my dad was trying to bring it upstairs so I guess I should’ve known. One suitcase was 80+ pounds (36kg+) and the other was over 60 (27kg+). My brother had to come to the airport and help me bring them inside because little old me overstuffed them. Along with my 100 and 30 some odd bags, I had a backpack and a duffle bag which were also stuffed. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with the suitcases for a long time because the airport was not busy. I was also surprised with how packed the flight was from BOS to LAX. I thought it wasn’t allowed to be fully booked, but guess I was wrong. There was not an empty seat in sight.

Imagine walking around the LAX airport with both carry-ons, while dripping sweat wearing a jacket and sweatshirt? That was me. Not to mention when I landed in LA, I had no idea what terminal I was going to. I ended up calling one of my friends (thanks Christina) and she looked up the terminal which was TBIT and I was on my way. About 20-30 minutes later, right as I was about to walk into the gate, my name was called over the loudspeaker. What a memorable day that was. To be fair, it wasn’t my fault because the flight to LAX from BOS was delayed by 20 minutes.

Asiana Airlines vegetarian meal

But at last, I was off to ICN. Before entering the airplane, they took temperatures. I was scared that they were going to deny me because I was hot from sweating and nervous because I was hot from sweating πŸ˜… I had never heard of Asiana Airlines before but in my opinion, they were up there with Qatar. The movie/TV show selection wasn’t that great but the food was delicious. I only had one meal because I passed out right when I got onto the plane. I had the whole row to myself which was awesome for a 14 hour flight. AND for the first time ever, I actually remembered to change my meal plan when I booked the flight to vegetarian. Yay.

During the flight, I filled out 4 forms: arrival card, travel record declaration, health declaration, and traveler declaration form. Make sure you have a Korean phone number and address to use. I only had my address in Korean at the time, so that took about 10 minutes to fill out per page. The flight attendant complimented me on my Korean writing which I am very proud of πŸ₯³ I also downloaded a bunch of Netflix shows/movies, brought a book and downloaded games that didn’t require internet so I could keep myself entertained. Don’t be like me and pack your charger where you can’t find it. I went more than half the flight with thinking that I didn’t bring a charger with me when all along it was in my duffle bag. Will I ever learn to be organized? Probably not.

Since I had symptoms of Covid within the past 21 days (along with coughing on the flight) I got pulled aside once I went through customs. I got handed a lanyard with a note that said “Incheon.” I then sat down and waited to be called. The lady asked me what symptoms I had and I explained that I have allergies and also got a Covid test two days before my flight. Then, I followed these two guys and they gave me a KF94 mask and asked if I had any meal requests (how sweet). The staff asked me what my suitcases looked like so they could set them aside (if you don’t keep the sticker they give you from your suitcase, that’s okay. I only had one and they were still able to pull both of mine off the belt). Then, I was taken to a little cubicle-like area and I had to fill out even more forms. I had to write my Korean address down 3 or 4 more times. After that was done, one by one he sat us down. I gave him my visa and he called my school director and then showed me how to use the app and what information to put in.

The airport staff were super friendly and although we couldn’t really communicate, it was simple and straightforward. The three of us then went through immigration and our suitcases were there waiting for us. One of the girls that I was grouped with came from Virginia but was from Korea so she spoke English fluently and explained to me what was going on. She was so kind!

We then went onto a bus, drove for about 10 minutes and we all got tested. We were put into cubicle-like spaces again, along with our belongings and good WiFi. The room also had outlets and various chargers.

OJ, water, & (I think) milk
First Meal: lettuce, tomato, cheese, mustard & mayo

Eight hours, two meals, and four water bottles later we received our results. We were taken back to the airport and went our separate ways. My new friend helped me find a taxi. I gave the guy the sheet with my address in Korean we were on our way!

Second Meal: rice with seaweed, carrots, cabbage, spinach & some other ingredient that I’ve never seen before. So flavorful.

One hour and some change later, I was outside of my apartment building handing the taxi driver β‚©190,000 (β‚©20,000 for the tip). That’s about $172. Just to be clear, I’m not sure if that’s a reasonable price for the distance or if I was scammed. But either way, don’t make the same mistake that I did. I should’ve known to have the taxi driver use the meter because of my experiences in Thailand. However, I was tired and not all there so I hadn’t thought twice about it. So, make sure you have them run the meter before you leave the airport. Or if you have a working phone, use that to find out how much the fare.

At least we made it to Korea before breaking!

Before I left the airport, I went on Google and saw that there drivers expect a tip of 10-20%. That was a swift Google search so don’t quote me. From the airport to my apartment I didn’t have any phone service because I canceled my plan before leaving so I had no way of asking anyone how much the ride should be. If I did get scammed, oh well. I mean he did carry my two humungous suitcases in and out of the vehicle.

I typed in the code to my building, broke my second suitcase, and entered my apartment. What a relief.

The Whooooole Process

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Although the process was long, it was 100% worth it.

Fortunately, I live about 15 minutes from downtown Boston, so these steps were pretty simple for me.

Boston, MA

To get the FBI background check, you need your fingerprints scanned. Now, I knew that I could go to my local police station to get them before I went to Identogo, but Identogo had faster results. For those who have never heard of Identogo, like me, it is a place where you can go to get identity checks. You can get a TSA Precheck, FBI background check, and so on. The first time I went to Identogo, I got the results the same day. Then, I sent it as a PDF to Monument Visa along with my degree and received both by mail within a week. Monument Visa is another cool website. You can get your documents authenticated or get an apostille.

Fun Fact: An Apostille is a type of authentication that is recognized by foreign countries that are members of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty. To get a document authenticated, you need to go through a few steps that are different than the Apostille process. You have to get documents authenticated when they are not part of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty.

I got both of my documents by late July and I was ready…. Or, so I thought. It wasn’t until I was told by a different agency that I needed my full middle name on my FBI background check. Your name HAS to match your passport. I went back to Identogo and asked them to put my full middle name. They said yes. A few hours later, I open the email and it was just the initial again. So, if you want to save some money, just go to your local police station (make sure you call first), fill out the forms online from the FBI website, and send it out to the FBI. I think that’s option 2 on the FBI website. The policeman that scanned my fingerprints was so very genial and did not charge me the $25 that was mentioned. It only cost $4.20 to send my fingerprints and the forms to the FBI from the post office. I then got an email from the FBI within a week and I also got a hard copy sent to me that FINALLY had my full name. It was a relief.

Then, I sent my degree that already had an apostille and the FBI PDF to the recruiting agency based in California. I also had to get my degree verified through National Student Clearinghouse for $15. I’m not sure if that is a Korea requirement or just the agency’s. That was a PDF though so I didn’t have to send the physical copy to CA. The agency in CA were amiable and were able to get my FBI check apostilled much faster than I would’ve been able to on my own. To send all of my documents to CA, it was around $5. I obviously had to pay another $55 to get the FBI apostilled. **sigh.

During this time, around mid-September, it was taking people 10-11 weeks to get their background checks. It took mine about a week thanks to the agency. Once I decided to go with the original recruiter, the agency was able to send my documents to their office in Korea and then from their office in Korea, they sent it to the recruiter’s office that I was going to sign with.

In order to get your visa, you have to send a bunch of documents to South Korea first (you will be told what they are) and then the recruiter or whoever you are working with will give you a visa number. You will also need a bunch of passport photos for the whole process.

My recruiter was super disorganized with everything so they wanted me to send my physical documents to Korea. My friend’s recruiter had her send the documents as PDFs to speed up the process.**Be careful and do research if you decide to go through a recruiter. Some don’t care about you and just want the money, which confuses me cause if you don’t get to Korea then they don’t get paid so I’m not sure how it works in their favor. My recruiter always tried to rush things which made me anxious. I didn’t want to move slowly but I also wanted to make sure everything was done correctly. Thankfully, I was in contact with my head teacher as well so they were the ones that actually helped me more throughout the process. And also be cautious with the recruiters that you give your resume to. My resume ended up at a school twice which is a bad look so the school didn’t want me. I was talking to multiple recruiters so that’s what caused the whole resume problem. The recruiters hand out your resume like it’s their job. Because it is, haha. So they will send it to anyone and anywhere they can.

If you want a specific location and have all of the time in the world, don’t settle for the first job that you are offered. I got such a great feeling when I interviewed with my school, I knew it was the one, even though the location was not my first pick.

I also had to get a Covid test by an MD. Make sure you check you consulate’s website to see what their requirements are. My town does Covid tests daily because the numbers are so high and it was free, so it was trouble-free getting a negative Covid test.

USA Passport

I drove to the Boston consulate (it was actually in Newton, MA) that’s about twenty minutes from my house, handed them my papers, my passport and $45 and was told I could print out my visa 15 days from then. 14 days later I got a phone call saying that I was missing a form. The “Agreement to Facility Quarantine” form was needed. When I called before driving there, I was told that since it says “short-term visa holders” that I did not need it. Luckily, it was an easy fix. I printed it out, signed it, and then emailed it to them as a PDF. PDFs are a life saver. My visa was ready the day after. Finally, I printed it out (which is still weird to me. But hey, it worked) and it was official! ****Make sure to type your name exactly how it is on your passport: last name, first name, middle name.

Check the requirements for YOUR consulate. My friends went through the New York consulate and we had different forms.

If you’re from the US or Canada, AAA comes in handy at time like this. I was able to get 8 passport photos for $25, whereas at CVS I’ve paid $12 for 2 before. At AAA it’s $10 for the first set and then $5 per set after that. Pretty good deal if you ask me. AAA also offers an IDP (International Drivers Permit) for the low price of $20 (Obviously you need a valid drivers license in order to get your IDP. I got my IDP before canceling my AAA membership and I’m hoping I get to use it. It expires one year after the date that’s printed (you can postdate it up to 3 months, if I remember correctly).

Here’s the price breakdown:

  • $100 ($50 each) for fingerprints- Identogo (locations in the US)
  • $165 ($55 each) for apostille degree & FBI
  • $14.95 for degree verification- National Student Clearinghouse
  • $25 for 8 passport photos from AAA
  • $4.75 to send documents from MA to CA
  • $4.20 to send fingerprints to the FBI
  • $20 for IDP at AAA
  • $45 for visa fee

I haven’t added it all up yet because I really don’t want to know how much I spent LOL. I am just fortunate enough and ecstatic to be here! So everything took about 3 months total but it would’ve taken probably 1-1.5 months in total if I had gone to the police station from the start.

This all happened during Covid too so I am sure once Covid slows down, it will be an easier process??? Not sure though. I do feel like even for getting all of this done during Covid, it was pretty fast. Buttttt, that’s also because I went with an agency at first and I am assuming they pay to have priority over people that just send their documents into Monument Visa.

A Fresh Beginning

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Khao Yai National Park, Central Thailand

Who would’ve thought that I’d be going to another country during a pandemic?

I did.

After spending ten months in Thailand, I knew that living in America just wasn’t for me anymore. I didn’t even want to leave Thailand in the first place, but I had to. When I returned home, everything was different; I was different. I felt trapped- physically, mentally, and emotionally. I realized that there was nothing there for me anymore. There was no adventure, no challenge. The pandemic changed my plans, as it did with many others.

I came home from Thailand in the beginning of March. Eight months later and here I am in quarantine waiting for the day (December 8) when I can be freeee.

The hardest part about coming home from Thailand was that I wanted to leave right away. Buttttt, the pandemic. I went from having the time of my life to being locked inside my house indefinitely, just like the rest of the world.

In June was when I had enough. I started looking into countries that would take me as an ESL teacher in the middle of coronavirus. While researching, I would talk to my friends that I met abroad and they had plans to go to South Korea.

Teaching in South Korea had crossed my mind once or twice before but I initially had plans to go to Ireland when I got back from Thailand.

The two countries that were accepting teachers in early July were South Korea and Thailand.

Pha Trom Jai Cliff
Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

I applied for numerous positions in both countries, awaiting anxiously. I can’t even remember how many recruiters I talked to. My friend found a great recruiter (orrrrr, so we thought) that helped us start the initial process.

Little did we know it would take much more time, stress, and back pain.

I would wake up early in the morning and post my resume on sites such as Dave’s ESL cafe, Gone 2 Korea, Go Overseas, ESL Rok, and several others. I joined a bunch of Facebook groups and would scroll on Google for hours.

I heard back from a good amount, but the process was difficult because I was out of the country. It ended up taking a lot of time and effort to even get schools and recruiters to answer me. My friend and I joked that searching for jobs WAS a full time job.

After months of staring at my computer, I received a job… from the recruiter who I first talked to back in July.

At first, I wanted to be placed near Seoul, just like 85% of others looking to teach in South Korea. Busan and Seoul are the top locations that everyone wants. I’m only about an hour-ish away so I settled. But, if you want a specific location then you will eventually find a job, it just may take some more time, especially during a pandemic.

For me personally, I thought it would be a good idea to be placed in an area that I was unfamiliar with. I wanted to challenge myself. And so far I haven’t regretted it.