Thursday, February 19, 2009

First Day in Korea

February 19, 2009; 8:30 am

I am in my first full day in Korea. I hadn't really slept at all the night before. My mind is still swirling with brain hyper-activity since my departure. I think I'll end up pulling the Guinness World Record for insomnia. I am quite excited about spending my first night in my new country. I enjoyed my hotel stay except the bizarre toilet experience. I took the shuttle van back to Incheon Airport. The weather this morning is rather dreary: cloudy and chilly. It's like I never left Chicago. I really enjoyed passing through the city of Incheon, and seeing the mini mountainous landscape. The streets are clean; however the pollution seems to be a problem considering that it's near a heavily-populated city such as Seoul, and by a busy airport. There were plenty of people walking around with their mask on. Plus, I happened to see a stray cat walking on the street. After arriving to the airport, I returned my rented phone, and headed over to the EPIK booth. They gave me a schedule of the orientation, and the exit gate for the bus departure. Right now, I'm waiting for the 10 am EPIK bus to arrive. I can only hope that there are no goofy surprises. It seems like I'll have a temporary roommate and orientation will seem quite intimidating, if not overwhelming, on top of the plethora of things going on.

February 20th, 2009; 3 pm

To continue where I left off, I started meeting up new colleagues when we were awaiting our bus. I met different folks from all over the English-speaking countries including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada just to name some predominant ones. I met a few Chicagoans with EPIk as well. My recruiter came out of nowhere to greet me while I was waiting for the bus. Our bus ride to Dankook University; Cheonan campus in the Chungnam province was about a 2 hour ride. Getting our luggage was a phenomenal pain in the rear end. There were hardly any room so we had to sit next to our baggage. Outbound traffic was running smoothly , and the roads are very similar to Chicago. You have your tollways, but without the IPass though I don't know if they do it electronically. The tunnels are similar to lower Wacker Drive. Despite some of the similarities that Seoul shares with Chicago, the people there are quite polite, low-key, and pleasant for the most part, not to mention, the abundance of beautiful Korean women that lurks around the area especially in this campus. :-).

Our coordinator gave us directions during the bus ride. Meanwhile, I was talking to my new friend Ife who lived in southern Illinois, and Melissa who came from Wyoming, and shared our experiences and ambitions with our teaching abroad goals. We stopped by the Social Science building to pick up our gift bag. In it, we received an EPIK hoodie, a croissant, a small orange, two towels (they reeked of gasoline smell), a converter plug, and our orientation books. I walked into my dorm room, and I must say it was quite pleasant. The bathroom is normal, and the toilet is not what I came across from the night before, except one small thing. The shower is on the same floor so the entire bathroom gets very wet when you're taking a shower. We had our lunch and dinner in the cafeteria. The food was fairly interesting though they take their kimchi very seriously. Heck, they even serve it for breakfast. Korea 101: Kimchi is spicy cabbage, and it's their popular specialty. I will hopefully post photos on here, as I've been posting them on my Facebook. I definitely enjoy having Logan as my roommate as we've shared our interest in hockey (he's a Canadian), and of course, shared our experiences and goals just like what we've been doing with other new colleagues.

I woke up this morning still having issues falling asleep. They were announcing the schedule reminders through the intercom this morning, although rather pleasantly unlike the military-like reminders that people associate with intercoms. So far, the orienation has been nothing but pleasant. The view around the campus is beautiful. Mountains, snow-covered hills, and statues dwarf your typical American campus. I attended our first orientation session in which they discussed opening up a new bank account, handling culture shock, Korean mannerisms, and a preview of what the next few days would be like. Tonight, I'll be attending the opening ceremony in the auditorium, and this weekend, we will head out to a Korean Folk Village. Tomorrow, I have to go through a medical physical exam. Until then, thank you for reading my recent adventures. I hope to make this an exciting read for all of you. On a special note, thank you to the newcomers for reading my blog. I appreciate your comments. I am looking forward to posting more entries, photos, and video clips.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Flight blog

Tuesday, 2/17/2009; 10:10 am

So it is finally happening. The arrival to the airport was nearly painless. After getting my bags checked in and saying goodbye to my parents, I went through security check with little fanfare other than the fact that my toothpaste was more than the required 3.4 oz. rule. It is rather surreal that I'm finally at O'Hare Airport within two hours of takeoff. I'll be going non-stop to Narita International Airport in Tokyo, Japan, and arrive there at 4:15 pm Korean Time. This is certainly a flight that I'm hardly ever used to. I am dreading the fact that I'll be on a plane for an entire day, but more the fact that I can never sleep on a plane and the goofy time zone that I must adjust to. I am eager to see the "culture shock" and see the gluttony of foreign signs,and cultural interaction between travellers. The minute that I land in Korea, I'll find myself scurring over through customs, claim my baggages, exchange my money, and head over to an Internet cafe. I am uneasy with the fact that I'm carrying more than I need, but it's a result of my size and the high cost of shipping.

Though I don't plan on reserving a hotel/hostel, I am fairly certain that I will not be able to sleep overnight due to jet lag and over-anxiousness. I am supposed to stop by at EPIK early in the morning, and take a shuttle bus to Dankook University in Chungnam. I am a little emotional in some ways. I never thought it would be difficult to say goodbye to my family, let alone my friends. I received an overwhelming number of support from people, even from those that I've lost contact with. I am incredibly grateful to have lived this kind of life, and be afforded the luxuries and blessings that I've been given. Though my parents may drive me crazy, I know deep down that they have continued to do their best to help me out, and support me despite my pig-headedness. Now, I am less than 20 minutes away from boarding. Before you know it, I'm leaving the home I love, if only just for a little bit.

2/17/2009 12:15 pm

Plane has just taken off. Tears are starting to burn my eyes a bit. Apparently, they mentioned the the flight may arrive early than expected. After all, anytime you can shorten a flight that's about 14 hours long is welcome by me in my book. Last night, as I was saying goodbye to my friends, I happened to hear from my old friend Dave Gavin whom I worked with years ago at the center. He informed that he was also headed to Korea that week. So, I am undeniably happy that I have the opportunity to re-establish our friendship, and have someone to hang out with over there. I can only hope that I will gain some new friends, build my network, earn the respect from my school, my students, and the EPIK program, and my personal independence from this experience. Chances are it's very likely it'll happen. I also hope I won't run into a myriad of problems that other teachers have faced. Other goals that stand out include learning how to cook, travel throughout Korea, and if possible, in parts of Asia, learn the language and culture, and be a good English teacher.

As I'm watching the Chicago skyline disappear from my view, I cannot help but think how long that process had been to teach overseas. I am glad that I have had the courage to pull this off, and hopefully have the opportunity to be a host to my loved ones, and perhaps resurrect my career goals and ambitions that have been, if lack for a better word, knocked into a vegetative state.

2/18/2009; 8:15 am
I've been on the plane for about 5 hours now, and the day has gone by fairly quickly, yet the plane ride is an eternity. Right now, my plane is crossing through Sarah Palin land, and I'm looking at the majestic snow-covered mountains that permeate most of Alaska, specifically in Juneau. I have several more hours till I reach Tokyo. I have yet to fall asleep on the plane, and sadly, I don't think I can make myself sleep if I wanted to. The food is well...your typical airline food. Microwaved chicken with artificial teriyaki sauce and egg noodles to go along with a small oatmeal cookie, bread and butter, and a small salad with sesame vinegar sauce. Right now, I'm hearing Madonna's "Holiday" through United Airlines' "XM radio" channel. Life is good.

2/18; 1pm.
About 10 hours into the flight, I seemingly feel that I just wasted a day, perhaps even two with the time zone change, that should be productive, I feel like I've already been away from Chicago for a year with this flight. However, this flight has been, for the most part, smooth and successful. However, I stopped listening to XM radio because they were playing their songs on repeat. The movies that they were showing, I could not find the channel it was on through my headphones. I am eager to see Narita, and have my true taste of stepping on foreign land (besides Canada). The sad part is, I have a short layover that I may not be able to get a stickin souvenir from there. Plus, I have to fly to Incheon from Tokyo for another 3 hours.

The rest of the day:
My plane finally reached Narita Airport after being delayed for several minutes, and everyone had to go through customs to reach their connecting flight. I must say Japan's airport is beautiful. I barely had any time; in fact, I only had an hour before the next boarding flight. So, I was off and taking rapid pictures. I can only wish I stayed there long enough to try the food, get a souvenir, and soak in the atmosphere for a little bit. Japan, I hardly knew ya, but I hold hopes of being able to make that trip during my stay in Korea.

When I was getting set for the next flight, I ran into a lady that will be teaching in a private language school in Incheon. Her name was Jacqueline, and she came from Gary, Indiana (close to Chicago) and had worked as a travel agent for years. We had talked throughout the entire plane ride about our goals, and hopefully be able to visit each other when time permits. It was 9:15 pm when my flight landed in Incheon. The airport is stunningly beautiful. There were English signs to go along with thei Korean language. I went with Jacqueline to get our luggages, and she had a bit of trouble going down the escalator with her carry-ons. At one point, her stuff dropped, and it caused everyone behind her to push into each other. A little comical to say the least. We took the subway to reach our baggage claim, and I'll tell you this much; their airport subway is amazingly clean and efficient, however, it was packed with so many people that it makes a Chicago CTA rush hour seem like a ghost town. We then parted ways, and we exchanged money at the currency. The Korean Won has recently been going down, so I was able to get a lot of money in return with my USD. However, this will make it tough for me to bring back more money when I come back home, so I'm keeping my fingers cross that the Korean won will not slide any further. I rented a cell phone, and even their cheapest rent-a-phones are actually still advanced than the standard phones in the US. I also came to the conclusion that staying overnight at an airport would be a ridiculous idea, especially when I realized that I started to reek, and that I cannot be in the same clothes that I've been wearing on my flight. I was lucky enough to find a hotel courtesty of the airport information desk. The hotel service picked me up within minutes for FREE, and took me to Incheon Airport Hotel which was about 15 minutes. During that ride, the highways are very similar to Chicago, and very westernized.

The ride was peaceful and surreal. I am actually going to be living in this country. The hotel that I'm staying in is terrific. Heated floors, huge shower room, TV, free coffee, water fountain, internet access, and a good bed to sleep in. However, the toilet is very goofy. I pressed the left button to "Start" after finishing what I needed to do. Next thing you know. The ceiling rained on me, and I was all wet from it. Well I'll leave you guys with a laugh on this one, but I have more to look forward to, and I couldn't be any more excited. Peace out!


Monday, February 16, 2009

Half A World Away

In a matter of less than 36 hours, I will soon be moving away from the comfort confines of my own home, friends, family, town, Chicago, my home-state, country, and of course, Western culture. It didn't seem so long ago when I got laid off back in the summer, and was contemplating my next move when I stayed over at my friend's place down in Andersonville. In a matter of months, I had gone through the process of taking my TEFL certification classes, hunting down jobs, talking to various recruiters, mulling through job offers, getting the proper paperwork for my work visa, finishing off my travel checklist (i.e. bank account, shopping, bill payments), and trying to remain patient through my parents' incessant nagging. Now I'm within said hours from my 14-hr flight.

The popular question that I've been getting from many of you is “Are you nervous?” Truthfully, I haven't been feeling nervous at all during this whole time. In fact, I've been, for the most part, fairly subdued. If I wasn't getting the daily reminders from my friends and family, I probably would have made myself believe I wasn't going anywhere. As deeply excited as I am about this extravaganza, I have learned to remain humble, but more importantly, be appreciative about this transition. I have had quite a few things on my mind: 1) I am traveling for the first time by myself overseas, not to mention, working over there for at least a year. 2) I will be working for the first time in months, and will be doing full-time teaching for the first time ever. 3) I am living in a land where everyone kind of, sort of look like me, yet I'll feel somewhat out of place. I have this strange feeling that I'll end up attracting unneeded attention from the Koreans because of my height. For the record, there are hardly any Asians who reach above 6 ft. I'm sure the minute I land at Incheon International Airport, people will probably confuse me for Godzilla. Another downside about my uncommon Asian size is the lack of clothing and shoe size that would fit my need, thus creating more hell and agony by having to add more clothing and extra shoes and socks into my luggage. 4) Everything I'll be experiencing everyday will be new, rewarding, and imperfect.

On arrival, I'll most likely stay overnight at the airport, and await for my shuttle bus to take me to my orientation site. There, I will be training at Dankook University—Cheonan Campus in Chungnam which is approximately an hour south of Seoul for two weeks. " Originally, the training site was to be held in Seoul, but I was placed in the first orientation group to be trained in Chungnam. Though I would have loved to experience Seoul first-hand, I am actually more excited about being in the Chungnam province since it was an area that I was looking at before I accepted the position in Busan. Also, I am looking at the possibility after my first year to teach in that province.

Note: I will be rather busy for the first few weeks so I may not be able to make phone calls, or respond to email, Facebook, MySpace messages in a timely manner. I recently set up my Skype account. For those who aren't aware of what Skype is. It's an Internet phone/AIM/text service provider. It's free to install. The benefits include free calls between Skype users, low rates when calling a mobile/house number, and even cheaper rates internationally. Check out for further info. I highly recommend using it as I believe this will give me better outlet to reach many of you. You just have to buy yourself a microphone or headset.

On a sad note, I will be disconnecting my phone since it will not work overseas, and even if it does, the rates would be a little costly. I'm full of chagrin over giving up a number I've had for 6 years, but it is what it is. R.I.P. 630-776-0529. I don't have a phone number set up at the moment, but once that happens, I will keep you informed.

Lastly, I am thankful to everyone for taking the time to either attend one of my parties, hang out with me, send me your best wishes through email, Facebook, MySpace, and hear from you over the phone or on IM. It means that much to me and then some. You have made the last month incredibly memorable, and I couldn't have asked for better people to celebrate my upcoming journey with. As I've overstated many a times in previous messages, I am appreciative for the advice, love, and support that you have given me. I hope that I have done what I can to show my appreciation right back to you. I look forward to staying in touch and having the opportunity to share my new journey with all of you.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Closer and Closer

As the days are starting to count down, I got most of the important paperwork out of the way despite having a nearly fatal mental lapse last week.

I received my visa approval and passport from the Korean Consulate last Monday in downtown Chicago. As I was heading back towards the Metra station, I stopped by at the FedEx/Kinkos on Wacker and Washington to make photo copies of each. As I gathered my important documents into my brown envelope, I made my way towards the train, and quietly assumed that everything had finally been taken care of.

Two days later, I was on the phone with ESL Job Network (the recruiting place that hired me) and asked that I double-checked my visa to see if it allowed me to make multiple entries to and from the country. As I was searching for my passport with my visa, I noticed that it was not in the brown envelope. I looked in my bag, no luck. I searched high and low in my room, and still no luck finding the darn thing. It was then that I came to the realization that I had actually left it in the city.

The next 5 minutes, I can feel the lava boiling through my head, but somehow gathered enough sense to think of where I last placed my passport. Two places: Kinkos or the Metra. I can assure you Metra was not the answer I was hoping for. I called up Kinkos, and to my great relief, they have it in their possession. So this ended my 5 minutes of horror and anguish.

I booked my flight to Incheon International Airport through STA Travel ( I found their rates to be reasonably fair, and their customer service excellent. Their website also provided discount rates on phone cards, international cell phones, and other travel equipment.

I recently threw a farewell party at North Beach in Downers Grove, IL. Thank you to those that took the time to visit and celebrate with me. It was a wonderful time, and I can assure you my debut live band karaoke performance was one for the ages. This Saturday, I will be throwing another farewell party in the city. Before you know it, I will have a little over a week before my final departure date.

Let the good times roll this week......