So You Wanna Live in Korea: Preparing for the Jump
By Sarah Stricker, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Participant in South Korea
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been considering plunging head first into an adventure abroad, living in South Korea and teaching English. That’s awesome! But before you let yourself get swept away in romantic visions of exploring the gorgeous countryside and becoming a jet setter, there are some hoops you have to jump through. Greenheart has some great documentation on a realistic timeline (hint: start early!) and what you need to do, so I want to share with you some of the things about the application and document gathering process that you might not find elsewhere.
Gathering Your Expensive Pieces of Paper (AKA Documents)
I am from Portland, Oregon, so my experiences might not be exactly the same as someone else’s, but it sure beats being in the dark about it, right? I’ve included some of the things I wish I had known when I was going through the process myself. Hopefully it will help you worry less or alleviate some confusion.
1. FBI Background Check (Apostilled)
Sounds simple, but it isn’t. First, I had to go to the police department to obtain a set of clear, defect-free fingerprints ($15) to include with my FBI Background Check request ($18 + shipping). Everything went fine and the FBI returned to me a document. A document that, truth be told, looked like I had found some slightly lavender paper and invented a FBI Criminal Record Check document in Photoshop before printing it out for myself. It’s real; don’t be alarmed. Also, ignore the stressful “If an authentication (apostille) is needed, please contact the Channeler to determine if this service is provided” on the FBI website. I called. They acted like I was asking an idiotic question before telling me, “It’ll be fine.” It was fine.
I turned around and sent me totally-legitimate-fake-looking CRC back across the country along with the application form, $8 fee, and return postage, to the US Department of State for an apostille to authenticate the document. It was quicker than I was told–5-6 weeks–but could definitely take longer if you made a mistake or had unlucky timing. Once it comes back, you can revel in the awesomeness of your card stock apostille attached to your lavender CRC with what looks like a grommet. Don’t damage it! Your apostille won’t count anymore and you’d have to start over. Have fun photocopying it.
2. Copy of Your Degree (Apostilled)
This is easier than the national level apostille in the US and, I would assume, a similar process elsewhere. For me, I had to get a notarized photocopy of my degree ($10) which came with a bonus of having to explain to the confused man at the UPS store that I was quite sure I wanted him to notarize my degree. Don’t let silly UPS store notaries make you feel ridiculous–you’ll have plenty of time for that when you’re in Korea!
I then shipped the notarized copy of my degree to the Oregon Secretary of State for a state level apostille on my degree ($10 + shipping). This came back promptly and was less impressive than the federal level apostille. But hey–if it works, it works! Overall, this was one of the easier documents to get.
3. Recommendation Letters
I originally intended to have a vice principle from my former workplace write me a letter. He committed to writing it in early February and by spring break (the last week in March) I had heard nothing and, I am not ashamed to tell you, I was kinda-sorta-totally freaking out. This put me in a panic mostly because applications were going to be accepted the following week. Luckily, I had another workplace superior who, sympathetic to my plight, whipped out a glowing letter for me just in the nick of time. Bottom line: request these well in advance. The more important the person, the more likely it is that he or she will have many, many requests on their time.
Application, Interview, and Lots of Waiting
If you make it through the first part of the task, you have begun your application and Greenheart now has you on their radar and you have (so far) managed to not catch your foot on any hurdles sending you onto the track on your face. Congratulations! You can do this, okay?
1. Pre-Interview with a Greenheart Representative
Think of this as the practice round. You only need to have your application, passport photos, and two letters of recommendation ready at this point. I had an interview with Sara Dorsey, the magician who was responsible for answering my half dozen questions super promptly via email and the awesome person who helped me through. I know my experience with her was not an isolated incident. You need to be prepared with SKYPE to have your interview, you need to know what you wrote on your documents/how to make a coherent sentence, and then you need to relax! It was pain-free and great to have a chance to talk with someone who knew all the ins and outs of EPIK as well as what it was like to be on my end of things. Take advantage of this time and if you have questions, be ready to ask them. But also, remember to represent yourself well because this still counts as an interview and Greenheart recommends candidates to EPIK based on the interview!
2. Interview with an EPIK Representative
This is the big one, folks. Dress like you know this is a job interview, not like you’re talking to your mom on Face Time. (Also, make sure the background of your Skype window is presentable, too.) Your 40-minute interview slot is precious time and you need to be prepared for it. READ about EPIK, know about Korea a little, be prepared to reference your application (so print it or have it open on your computer), and again… calm down. It is important to be professional, but you also need to appear relaxed and personable because you want to be a teacher!
For me, this process was kind of hilarious and terrifying. My interviewer had to shut off her video feed because the internet connection wasn’t reliable enough. So I could only hear her while she could hear and see me! As if talking to someone with controlled affect wasn’t hard enough, now I didn’t have facial expressions to help me out! I figured out it was going well when we continued talking past our 40-minute mark and her questions seemed just as much about the interview as they did about just having a genuine conversation with me.
Don’t expect any feedback on your interview. You may be (in fact, plan on it) asked to make some small or large changes to your application. They comb those things thoroughly–I had something abbreviated to save space and they didn’t want it that way, the version of Word that I had used changed some alignment that needed to be fixed, etc. Just do it. Take notes of what they want changed and make it happen. Except for an abysmal interview which you know you bombed, you should get all of your remaining documents ready to mail off as soon as you hear that you’ve been accepted!
3. Lots of Waiting Around (Nervously)
I would say this is one of the most stressful parts of the whole process. You wait for government agencies to send you your documents. You wait for documents to be apostilled. You wait for an interview. You wait for a second interview. And then, after the interview… you guessed it! You wait to hear whether or not you have been accepted. Depending on where you asked to be placed, when in the line-up you were interviewed, and what color shoes you wear on Tuesdays (okay, not the last one), you could wait for weeks before you get word. Don’t freak out.
Once that glorious email comes your way that you have been accepted based on your interview and initial application (hooray, you!) then you get to send off all your documents. If you’re with Greenheart, you’ll be told when they forward all of your paperwork to Korea and get the news that “EPIK will review your application documents and recommend you to a POE of MOE.” Yes, this means you will be waiting again to find out what’s coming next. But (barring something crazy) you’re going to Korea! Let that float you through the intervening time, and don’t be scared by the terrifying “a position is not 100% guaranteed until you have been successfully placed with a POE or MOE” message.
I was told my documents were sent on April 18. I did not find out my placement until June 21. Yeah, that’s 8 more weeks of waiting and fretting and convincing myself time and time again that I might NOT be placed, blahblah. You’ll be okay, I promise. Waiting and not knowing your status at any given point in this process is NORMAL and should be expected. If you go in aware of that, you’ll be better off. At this point, you need to tie off some loose ends before they will draft and send your contract and Notice of Appointment, the only things left to get before you can get your visa! Celebrate!
4. The Fancy, Expensive Sticker (AKA a Visa)
No one seems to know what to think when I say that I got an expensive, headache of a sticker, but all of that work I spent six months on led up to the E-2 visa sticker in my passport, so I feel the characterization is fair. At any rate, the visa is probably the last bit of business you have to take care of (besides actually going!) for your job with EPIK.
Depending on where you live, your situation may be different. I live about three hours’ drive from the nearest South Korean Consulate in Seattle, so I opted to make a two-day trip of it, starting with taking care of business at the consulate. Since you are a successful EPIK applicant, your life is easier than other people seeking visas for South Korea. Make sure you have the fee ($45), application form, NOA, contract, and passport photos ($5) with you and it should be a breeze. I also had to bring my own return postage with tracking ($11), since passports are important identity documents and all. Then you part with your passport (stressful, I know) and wait for them to return it to you. I went to Seattle on a Thursday and had it back by the following Tuesday. You could also mail in your application, but expect this process to take longer.
Hang in there! That’s the best advice I can think to give to anyone. I made a lot of phone calls to far too many government agencies because I was nervous to incorrectly take care of a document. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (AFTER you search for the answer yourself) and be prepared to be confused/waiting/perplexed through a good portion of the application process. I jokingly say that part of this document gathering phase is to weed out people who can’t follow complicated directions. But you can.
Be extraordinarily patient. Work on your ability to be flexible and without control over multiple important things at any one time (even while you’re trying to be religiously organized about it all). If you can let go, relax, and be patient, you’re not only going to have an easier time through this process, but you’re going to be ready to work for a foreign government in Korea. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Now go make it happen.