tut tut, it looks like….radioactive rain

This morning I heard about a radioactive rain warning. I looked into it a bit more.  Some were reasonable (don’t drink the rain, bring and umbrella).  Others less so, calls to close schools and put your life on hold.  By the way these reports put it, some might be lead to believe that the ROK is the most dangerous place to be living.  A number of schools in Seoul have shut down today.  The schools that didn’t shut down have been subject of protest from parents(AFP).

Will this radiation be harmful?  Is the exposure significantly above our normal levels?  Does 700 miles make a difference? Radiation is all around us, all of the time (see: the sun).  How much of it can actually harm us?

I doubt it is worth worrying about.  The US department of state is recommending a 50 mile evacuation zone and traces of increased radiation can be found within 150 miles of Fukushima (Christian Science Monitor).   That is not to say that it isn’t something that the people in Japan should worry about.  The effects of significant exposure can be pretty terrible.

I understand that the people in Korea really care about the safety of their children but (like a lot of people on the west coast of the U.S.) they need to take a deep breath and calm down.  Here is a link to a chart pretty clearly describing the effects of varying amounts of radiation exposure.  Experts concur that based on the amount of radiation being released in Japan and considering the dispersion over the distance it takes to get here, there is no significant threat to the health of people in Korea.

I have concern for the people in Japan, and the huge amounts of radiation leaking into the ocean, and potential food contamination and so on and so on but today’s showers are nothing to lose sleep over.


The Personal Dimension of the Conflict

Two things have been on my mind today regarding yesterday’s events (Brinkmanship in my backyard):

The first is the fact that there are pundits on television back home calling for some kind of “I say nuke ’em” policy.  The person my link is quoting has absolutely zero credibility in my eyes, but I’m concerned that there are people who either think that he is credible or that the words coming out of his mouth are going to make them rich.  Both reasons for giving that man a soap box to shout from are disgraceful.  Aside from Michael Scheuer’s inclinations toward bombing anywhere that doesn’t fit into his conception of a global order where every country must be dominated either by U.S. personnel or the jurisdiction of the WTO, there are others self-righteously calling for the U.S. to strike first.

This is simply abhorrent.  Forcing escalation will only, obviously, cause escalation.  In order to justify forcing escalation you have to have made the decision that the North will invade regardless.  There’s nothing like preempting those you perceive to be irrational actors by acting irrationally yourself!

These people speak as though there are not people involved.  They act as though the North and the South are merely shapes on a map where a few leaders are involved in a high-stakes game.  They forget that on this peninsula, there are people on the North and the South.  Only this forgetting can allow you to make such absurd calls to arms.

The second thing on my mind has been what one of my students told me this afternoon.  For a few classes a week I get to do one-on-one tutoring with the smartest kid in our school.  I asked him, before we started the lesson, what he thought of the artillery strikes.  His response blew me away.  He said that he was not worried.  He had two very impressive reasons (especially for a 13 year old).

The first reason he gave me: that he knows that most of the people on both sides do not want anybody to die, and that there are just a few people here and there who either forget or don’t understand that.

The second reason: that if the situation comes to him dying, he is alright with it, because he has so far lived his life the best he could.  To this, my jaw dropped.  Not out of awe or confusion at his calculation but because I, too, make the same judgement about death.  I fished for where he may have been influenced to say such a profound thing about life, and he insisted that it was his own idea.  Not only did I find a profound connection to his view on life and death and my own, but I also gained an insight into the way that life continues despite the heightened risks to that very way of life.

Today’s duet of insights provide a valuable lesson: that beneath all of this international posturing, artillery fire, punditry and fear there are people.  There are people going to school, waking up the kids, working at markets, drinking soju, writing blogs; there are people living.

The best thing to do in this situation (on top of pointing out publicly the ridiculousness of placing all of our lives at risk) is to keep on living.  I know this is obvious and perhaps cliche.  We heard all of this when 9/11 happened.  We will always hear the call to just keep on in the light of the most existential of threats.  Cliche or not, I think it’s a good thing to repeat.

Here are two good blog posts on the subject:

Korea: Border Incident from Byron and his backpacks  http://byronjdkerr.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/korea-border-incident/

and Thank you K-pop for the prayers  http://readytodream.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/thank-you-k-pop-for-the-prayers/


Brinkmanship in my back yard

Brinkmanship (forgive me for using wikipedia): “the practice of pushing dangerous events to the verge of disaster in order to achieve the most advantageous outcome.”

Also: what is happening right now, only 50 miles away from me.  Sure, it has been happening for years on this peninsula.  Sure, there hasn’t been an escalation since the end of the original conflict in 1950.  However, there hasn’t been any resolution to the conflict.

The desired outcome? I’m not exactly sure.  From some of what I’ve read, the North’s primary goal is to eliminate the government in the South and be declared the only governing force in Korea.  From other things I’ve read, they are actually interested in diplomatic compromise: something along the lines of (1) recognition as a legitimate nuclear state, (2) guarantees of “election-proof” consistency from the U.S., (3)some kind of compromise between the need to open their borders and trade to provide life-sustaining opportunities for growth and the real possibility that such an opening will cause the demise of the regime.  I think, of the 3 options, only the first is something the United States and South Korea would even consider.  Even this is a stretch, as I don’t think anybody but China or maybe Venezuela is in favor of calling a nuclearized North Korea “legitimate.”

Today’s clash involved the North delivering roughly 200 rounds for about an hour followed by a response of 80 shells from the South.  Two South Korean soldiers have been killed and several others have been wounded.  This comes at a time when tensions are already high: North Korea is asserting itself as a young nuclear state while it is preparing for new leadership.  The North is even claiming that the South fired first, citing the military exercises that began today.  They claim that any violation of their territory deserves a swift and powerful response.  This means that if there is territory under dispute, activity that the South presumes to be neutral could indeed provoke the North to lash out in unpredictable and destructive ways.

There are domestic reasons for their actions as well.  The North is preparing for a new leader, Kim Jung-Il’s youngest son.  It is possible that this is some kind of exercise done with the intention of proving his power and perhaps of solidifying the need for continuing their strong emphasis on the military.  These domestic variables may overcome any of the international variables that I posited before, but this is all just ungrounded theorizing.  If it is the case that the bombardment of the island is a result of the internal needs of the north, the brinksmanship theory is out of the question because that assumes rational actors.

For now, we are stuck in this chess game of munitions where we (those of us on the south side) cannot really be sure about the mindset, the intentions or the capabilities of the other side.

The people at my work say that this “happens all the time.”  I was aware before I moved here that there were tensions.  I knew that the North had sunk a ship in March.  Within weeks of arriving here, they had already fired shots across the DMZ, and today they started what I consider a very serious artillery campaign against an island only 50 miles from me.  Maybe I am paranoid, but I think I can hear airplanes from my building.  The government in the South is presently holding a special meeting and fighter jets have already been deployed to the Island.  The South Korean President is promising a “firm” response.  Some people in my city are warning that foreigners should get ready to leave, others are assuming it is just another blemish in the decades long conflict.

At school, the students seemed to go about their business just fine.  In the teacher’s office, everybody was reassuring us that things would be just fine at the same time as everybody’s attention was focused on the situation.  Walking home, I noticed that the TV’s in the markets and restaurants were all focused on the incident- as they should be.  Tomorrow will be another day, and I can only hope that I don’t have to leave my new home because of an unnecessary and unprovoked aggression.

The embassy has not issued any instructions, only a notice to stand by for further information.  I’ll leave you with the same: if you are at home or here in Korea, stand by for more information.

I understand that the chance of escalation is quite low, but playing this game is still disgustingly annoying.

now it’s a travel blog

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ok, sorry for not posting for so long.  I have been very busy with moving in and starting my new life in Incheon.  The work days are long, I stay pretty busy over the weekends and I’m starting marathon training.  I have had time to write, but it always gets filled in by other things.

So here it is, some more writing.  I guess it’s a travel blog now.  That might not be right though, I don’t think I consider it traveling.  It’s probably better to classify it as some sort of partial immigration.  “Immigrant” implies permanency which is something I am considering more seriously every day, but I’ll stick to “partial” because there really isn’t any way to predict what will happen.  So, expat-travel-immigration blog, commence:

My life is pretty awesome.  I arrived about a month ago and the first week was a bit rough.  Not because of homesickness or some huge blunder or anything, mostly because the jet lag was bad for about a week and I was very busy that week.  I spent my first 4 nights in a ‘love motel’ which are pretty popular in this country for various reasons.  Anyway, it was a really nice place with a lot of space and comfortable accommodations.  I got to move into my apartment the friday of that week.  I moved everything in, got things settled a bit, and then broke my key in the door.  I was locked out of my apartment and away from all of my stuff for all of Halloween weekend.  That bummed me out, but my co-workers let me wear their clothes an use their apartments, Halloween weekend was saved.

My apartment is pretty nice.  It took me a while to get used to the size, it’s cramped but its still larger than a dorm room and it’s all mine.  Here’s a picture of it from the upstairs bedroom:

My landlord fixed the lock situation pretty quickly, in time for me to get settled in before my first full week of teaching.  At first, I was a bit apprehensive about the age groups that I would work with.  From 10 to 2:30 I teach Moon Class, a small class of 7 year olds.  They love me (no joke, they give me cards saying that all the time).  By the end of the first week, I was convinced that it was convinced that it was the best possible age group to teach.  They are enthusiastic and smart beyond what I expected.   After 2:30 I have 3 classes.  The first two are small groups of 9 year olds at a beginners level.  I alternate a divided block with a Korean teacher so some days of the week I have a class then two breaks then a class.  After those two, I have a group of 12 year olds in my advanced class (reading/writing/grammar).  This is a great class.  We work through the lesson plan pretty well then we just practice conversation for the last 5 minutes of class.  They get to practice talking in english, and I get to listen to their funny stories and tell them mine.  It doesn’t feel like work at all.

I have a lot going on.  I am learning Korean, playing the guitar, training for a marathon, I inherited a bunny (tokki), I’m reading all the time, teaching, exploring etc.  It’s all pretty sweet.

I came to Korea at the perfect time.  The weather is great (most of the other teachers complain of the cold but I am fine in a long sleeve shirt just about every day).  I came during the lantern festival, in time for Halloween, and just before pepero day (their valentines day).  I was invited to a Korean wedding.  I spent a lot of my first two weekends in Seoul with my co-teachers.  We explored the shops, bars, and a buddhist temple.  There are a lot of expats from all over the world, and very interesting korean people.  I’ve been here for about a month, and it feels like it went by in the blink of an eye.

I’ll write more, I promise.  For now, enjoy the pictures


9 steps to getting a job teaching english in South Korea

The flag of South Korea

Image via Wikipedia

Whether you are bored, unemployed, hating your desk job, or just in need of a something new; you are no more than a few months away from arriving in Korea to work as an english teacher.    You only need to meet a few basic requirements:

  1. You have a four-year degree (or are expecting one soon)
  2. You have a clear criminal background check.  For contracts starting January 2011, this needs to be done with the FBI (I’m not going to write about what you need to do if you are a native english speaker from somewhere other than the U.S.)
  3. You are a native english speaker

If you meet all of these requirements and are in possession of a passport, you aren’t far from arriving in Korea.  I’ll reiterate the steps that I took and attempt to lay out the mistakes that I made along the way, in hopes of helping guide you as you proceed.

Step the first:

Post your résumé on a job board.  I started with http://www.daveseslcafe.com, per my friends recommendation.  When he first told me about it, he warned that the response would be overwhelming.  I doubted that, or just figured that his résumé was impressive or something.  So, some time in early august I posted my résumé with the subject line indicating that I was interested in a job in China, Japan, Korea or Vietnam (for various reasons).  I posted it at around 8:00 that evening.  The following morning, my inbox was full of messages.  This was just the first wave, they kept on trickling for weeks after.

Step the second:

So, here you are, with a ton of emails from Korea and China, and, depending on your experience, maybe Japan.  Oh, and let’s not forget the Vietnamese business man who wants you to come live in his basement and teach him and his wife english for a year.  What do you do with all of this?  The most important rule to follow (and this rule will remain important up until you sign an contract): do not let your excitement about living and working abroad cloud your judgment.  You can begin to narrow the pile down.  First: throw out the emails with crappy formatting, and from individuals (like the Vietnamese guy).  Remember, though, there is almost always a language barrier here, so even some legitimate recruiters will come off as being a bit less than professional.  If it is hard to tell, but maybe they are offering something valuable, just make note of your initial apprehension and see what plays out.  Just remember the rule, don’t commit to anything out of excitement.  Once you have narrowed it down, start replying.  Write professional, brief responses.  They will usually ask for basic information.  Come up with a stock explanation about why you want to get a job teaching english in X country.  Tell them briefly about your academic or professional experience.  Attach a résumé that is crafted to make you look appealing as a teacher.

Step the third:

This will happen right along side the progression of step the second.  This is the document preparation step.  You will need several documents:

  1. An apostilled and notarized copy of your degree.  Notarize it with an attorney or notary then bring it to your state’s office of the secretary of state to be apostilled.
  2. Order a few sealed copies of your college transcript.  At the least, order three.  You will need at least 2 for one job, but if you want to keep your options open or have backup plans in case a job doesn’t work out, order more.
  3. An apostilled and notarized copy of your Criminal Background Check (CBC).  This needs to be done through the FBI, as I mentioned before.  In order to do so, you need to go to here.  It will take a few weeks.  If you already have your passport, this will be the document that takes the longest to get.  Again, in order to apostille the document, you need to take it to your state’s office of the Secretary of State.
  4. Passport

Once you have all of these documents, you are set for the next step.

Step the fourth:

Start having some interviews.  Hopefully, by now, you will have had a few correspondences with some recruiters, or in some cases directly with schools.  This is a good start.  Hopefully, this will give you an idea of who you are dealing with.  When I did it, I narrowed my original 40-something emails down to 5.  Narrow these down based on whatever criteria fit you: location, working hours, pay, your experience with the recruiter or anything else.  I started narrowing by location; removing my China recruiters from the list, leaving me with just 3.  After the interviews, each of these recruiters provided me with excellent opportunities.  Each offered me a contract.  If you are remotely qualified, you should expect the same.  To recap the #1 rule, do not make a decision in haste, especially at this point.  By the time I had narrowed my contract offers down to one, I was relieved that I didn’t just jump in on the one that came in second place.  The one that I passed up was a wordy contract that included way too many provisions for the reasons that they can fire me and much too strict of a dress code.  Which is where the next step comes in.

Note: from here on, all of my advice is specific to Korea.  If you narrow your options down to China, start reading something else.

Step the fifth:

Sign a contract and send it to them.  The school I picked had an excellent interviewer.  I spoke with a British guy named Adam (soon to be my co-worker).  It had a lax dress code, good working hours and generous compensation.  The job I turned down was exactly the opposite.  The deal breakers for that job were; the working hours, the dress code and the fact that they wanted to take 800,000 Won from my first paycheck for a housing deposit.  So, I narrowed it to the one school and the one recruiter.  All in all, by the time I am about to depart, I have had about 50 emails exchanged between myself and the recruiter.  It is quite the process.  They will ask you to mail all of your documents as well as a signed copy of the contract.

Step the sixth:

Wait.  Once you have sent your documents, you will need to wait for them to give you a visa issuance number.  They told me that this would take 10 days.  It actually took 20 days.  This was the reason that my interview at the consulate ended up being so close to my departure date.  Once you get your visa issuance number, you have the next step.

Step the seventh:

Send more documents!  This time you are sending them to your local Korean Consulate, do a little research to find out which one is closest (mine was Chicago, chances are that there is nothing ‘local’ about your local consulate).  Go online, get the Visa Application form.  Fill it out.  Mail your passport, the visa application, and a cover letter detailing your departure date and visa issuance number.  If you aren’t going to be able to go directly to the consulate 3 days after the interview (step the eighth) you will include a prepaid return envelope that they will return your visa’d passport in.  Mail that shit, then wait.

Step the eighth:

The consulate will call you and schedule an appointment for an interview.  Do not be afraid or nervous about this interview at all.  It is less of a job interview and more of a way for them to ensure that you are a legitimate human being.  My ‘interview’ turned into a discussion about how fascinating American Military Generals are (McArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, specifically).  If you come off as a relatively smart human being capable of communicating cross-culturally, you will be fine.  What to wear: I over did it.  I sported the full suit.  Go business casual, they care more about your presence than your appearance.

Step the ninth:

Go to Korea.  If you chose the correct contract (oh, shit, I forgot to write about what to expect in a contract – post pending), the school should purchase your flight to Korea for you.  They buy this for you when step 8 is done.  From here, just pack what you need and prepare for a big change.