“I’m An Alien, I’m No Longer An Illegal Alien, I’m A British Woman In Busan…”

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Or: How to finish work early and get home late. 

Before you make the move to teach ESL in Korea, one of the things you are constantly warned of is the lack of information that you will be supplied with. Not constrained to matters of your school life (how many classes you will teach to what grade at what time, what level these students are at, whether you have summer camps or after-school classes, etc.) this often frustrating phenomenon is also prone to splaying haphazardly in to your private life, which is far more irritating and has a much larger impact. An oft-cited example of this is that of the Alien Registration Card (or ‘ARC’, as it will be referred to from now on), which a foreigner in Korea is required to hold if planning to stay for over 90 days. The ARC, in addition to being required by law, is also necessary before said foreigner can set up any ‘lifeline’ amenities (most commonly internet and mobile/cell phone) and therefore is of the utmost importance to the majority of our alien kind.

As an example, at the moment I have the most basic of stolen internet in my apartment.  A wireless connection most likely borrowed from the coffee shop down the road, it is quick enough to load an episode of something (if I am willing to give it an hour to buffer), but completely unable to cope with FaceTime, Skype or video-calling in general. You might not think that this is much of a big deal and usually I would agree, but trust me on this one. When you are living on the far side of the world from your loved ones, you need to see their faces when you talk to them every now and again. It’s science.

As such, proper internet is required ASAP. I made the importance of the ARC application clear on my first day of school and was told that the school was waiting on a document being printed and that I would need to wait until next week. I saw out the weekend, audio-calling like a chump and planning hours ahead to get through Game of Thrones**.

On Monday morning I entered the English office with a plan in mind: Today I would be getting my ARC whether my school liked it or not. The first thing I was asked as I walked in: “Did you get your ARC card over the weekend?”. I stared, blankly, then replied as brightly as I could, “Erm, I didn’t actually. I need a document from school, I don’t know where the Immigration Office is and I think they might be closed on Saturdays and Sundays”. It was decided that I could finish work early and go later that day when my classes were finished, which is what I did. Unfortunately nobody was available/willing to accompany me (actually, the concept of someone coming with me to translate was never mentioned) so I set off in the rain at 2.30pm to find the office I had only rudimentary directions to, two subway lines away at the opposite end of the city, having just taught 6 classes the same lesson back to back. Did I mention it was raining?

The immigration office (as you might imagine) is opposite Busan’s primary port, and therefore is on the waterfront. My umbrella had been buffeted so relentlessly by the sea winds that by the time I reached the doors from the subway station (approximately 200m away) it had been turned inside out 5 times. I entered, and quickly realised that this would not be an ‘in-and-out job’, as I had hoped.

The Immigration office is split between a number of floors for applications/offenses of various severity. As far as I know I haven’t violated any customs laws, so I made my way to the second floor (the wonderfully District 9-esque ‘Alien Registration’) and attempted to navigate the system. I found an application form, filled it to the best of my ability then sat down in a room full of patiently waiting Chinese folks. There didn’t seem to be much of a queue system, so when I spied a fellow Western girl from the corner of my eye, I pounced. I was doing it right, she confirmed. Move forward through the rows of seats as people are called and you will eventually be at the front. I waited there for an hour, steadily moving forward through the ranks until I was seated on one of the elusive front row seats. It was at this point that I realised this was the room for University student ARC applications, not those for employment. I stood up, feeling sick and not wanting to believe what a moron I had been to not realise sooner. I went back into the corridor at the top of the stairs and turned right instead of left, only to notice another (much larger) waiting room full to busting with foreigners of every kind. I took a ticket (with the help of a kindly Korean co-teacher…not mine of course) and settled down to wait my turn.

To cut a long story short, I was ticket 404. When I entered the room they were serving ticket 311. 93 application checks, fingerprints, addresses and mini interviews later, it was my time to shine. Happily I had filled the form out like a pro and all that was left to do was to write down the school address (in Korean) on the postage form. This could have been a potentially embarrassing, awkward nightmare (I write Korean like a child) had the woman serving me not been so unbelievably lovely about it all. “You’re very good!” she soothed through the plexiglass, “Very good! You are a genius!”. I would usually have thought her patronising, but after the day I’d had I was beyond happy to take her on face value. I thanked her for being amazing then finally, gleefully, exhaustedly made my way out, and home.

I got home at 6.55pm. Today I am finishing at 3pm to open a bank account. I think it’s going to be another long day.

And I was told the Koreans don't get sarcasm.


**Yes, I am aware that these are first-world problems. No, it doesn’t bother me that I’m ranting about them. If it bothers you, you are a better person than me and this blog is probably far beneath you.



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