This afternoon I went to renew my E2 Visa for a fifth year in Korea . . . wow, to put that in a few words belies the enormity in my mind of beginning a FIFTH YEAR here . . .
I met the Education Department secretary at her office at 3pm. I would advise every foreign instructor to always go with a Korean to the immigration office. You never know when you're going to need someone who speaks fluent Korean, and understands the culture in ways that we can never begin to comprehend.
Anyways, I walk into the office and the secretary is saying, "Otike, otike . . ." ('Oh my god') over and over, lol. The phone is ringing, she's on the computer working, and it seems like a thousand things are all going on at the same time--I felt sorry for her.
She asked me to sit down and "Wait a moment." A moment turned into about 20 minutes, but after living in Korea for as long as I have I've learned that set times for doing things almost never actually happen. I teased her as she worked saying that with the upcoming semester and the BIG NEW THING (more on that later) that she was going to be doing the work of ten secretaries--which got more "Otike!" out of her while we both laughed.
After she finished up her tasks, we walked off campus and jumped into a taxi to go to the immigration office.
Arriving at the office the secretary went to FOUR different ticket dispensers, taking a ticket from each before realizing it wasn't the correct dispenser unit for the right desk that we had to go to--I think she was a little more overworked and overwhelmed than I realized, lol.
We waited for about 10 minutes. I chatted her up about her mother who is going into the hospital for surgery. She told me she will stay with her during the next five days to take care of her. This is a major cultural difference from how things work back in Canada. In Korea, a family member is pretty much at your side 24/7 when you're in the hospital. They help you with anything and everything . . . when Julianne had to go to the hospital in Seoul I had to sign some kind of form stating that I was responsible for her while she was in the hospital--wow.
Finally, the time came to go up to the desk and begin the process of renewing my E2 Visa and getting a multiple re-entry stamp put into my passport so that when I leave the country on vacation I can come and go as many times as I want to.
The immigration officer was very very good. She was friendly, polite, and spoke fluent English--wow!!!
After handing back 2 forms (not sure what they were) to the secretary that apparently we didn't need to submit, and giving me back the originals of my contract with the university and its translation, she began processing the stuff in the computer.
At this point, she paused, printed something out, and then looked at it in concern--I think that's when my pulse began to race a little . . .
While the officer was doing her thing, the secretary put on leather gloves, and I jokingly told her, "You look like a criminal getting ready to do something."
She laughed, and told me she "had a plan ready." I laughed too.
The immigration officer then asked me if I had another copy of my criminal background check from last year--I said no, I had submitted the original last year, and didn't know if I had a copy in my files back at the university. I usually bring anything and everything related to immigration that I have in my possession for the 'just in case scenario'--and I hadn't this time because I was trying to believe that everything was going to go smoothly, and that what the immigration officer had told me to bring when I called at the beginning of January was all that I needed--I guess this proves my rule: bring EVERYTHING, every time.
She also looked confused at the fact that on her computer screen the digitally scanned copy (I didn't know they do that) said, London Police. So I explained that in Canada there is a London, Ontario (where I'm from). After I said that she showed me a printed out copy of my criminal background check--the bottom half of the paper was blank. I think that this is where the embossed seal stamp usually is . . .
My blood pressure began to rise . . . I was just waiting for her to begin to say, "You need to get a new crimin---" and I would scream, "Nooooooo!"
The immigration officer stood up with the printed copy of my criminal background check from last year and walked away for a minute. When she came back she asked me to see if I have a copy in my files when I'm back in my office . . . but never asked me to bring a copy of it to her . . . not sure what that was about, so I just let it go.
She explained to me (which surprised me, usually immigration officers don't volunteer information in a helpful way in my experience) that whoever had scanned my criminal background check last year didn't do it correctly and that she was unable to print off a copy for this year's E2 renewal process because of their error.
I nearly fell over dead from the shock of a Korean immigration officer admitting that another Korean immigration officer or clerk had made an error, and that she also wasn't expecting me to have to do anything to fix it--usually it doesn't matter if it's someone else's fault, I almost always end up having to be the one that does whatever it is that needs to be done to fix the problem someone else caused . . . . I still can't believe how amazing her professionalism was.
She typed a few more things into the computer, and then wrote the new expiration date on the back of my alien registration card. I then handed her the 50,000won renewal fee, and 30,000won more for a multiple re-entry stamp in my passport for the coming year.
The multiple re-entry used to be an ink stamp but apparently now it's a sticker that kind of looks like a train ticket. The visa renewal was also a sticker. Both of them fit onto one page of my passport--cool.
And that was it. No new criminal background check for 2009. No new medical health check with blood testing for HIV, and drugs. Wow . . . I guess all of the problems that the new immigration policy created have forced immigration to alter the manner in which they process foreign teachers who have already jumped through all of the hoops once. I guess that as long as I remain at the same university I won't have to jump through the hoops--if I change employer, however, I'll have to do everything that a first time in Korea foreign instructor has to do . . .
I'm still in shock that everything went smoothly. I bowed fairly deeply to the immigration officer when I stood up to leave. A small look of surprise flashed across her face. I think she thought that because I'm foreign, male, possibly a little older than her, and teach at a national university of education that I'd somehow think of myself as a 'higher rank' than her that shouldn't bow--but screw that, IF that was the case, because she was extremely helpful, professional, and spoke excellent English. The VALUE of those things to me, and the fact that everything went smoothly-- in large part due to her--you're damn right I was going to give her a bow of respect and thanks!
And that's my story . . .
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