August 8, 2008

Getting to South Korea

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 4:08 am by stephshimkooo

I was contacted by a recruiter named “Tino” from South Korea, and we began the process of finding me a job and brining me to Korea. The process started in May 2005, and I was supposed to start at a school in July. In early June he called me and asked me if I could leave “tomorrow.” I said no I could not have all of my affairs in order by then, but I agreed to go within two weeks.

Things didn’t start very rosy, to say the least. My mother drove me to the airport at 5a.m. for my flight. Upon my arrival at the flight desk, the woman told me that she could not issue me a boarding pass because “I didn’t have a ticket.” I asked her how this could be, and she said that my name was in the system and that a seat had been reserved for me, but no booking had been made. After arguing for a while without getting any concrete answers, we went home at 8a.m., baffled as to what had happened.

I spent the next 8 hours trying to figure out what happened and how to fix it. I talked to the recruiter, who said he would call me back but didn’t, I talked to the travel agent once it opened on the west coast, I talked to two different airlines, and finally, I figured out the problem: the recruiter had made a reservation for me with a Los Angeles based travel agent, but the school hadn’t paid the airfare. The recruiter hadn’t figured out the problem, and apparently hadn’t even tried. When I called and told him what had happened regarding payment, he contacted the school telling them to pay for the reservation made for the next morning, and assured me that everything was now going to happen the way it should.

Indeed I was issued a boarding pass the following morning at the airport, but was called over the loudspeaker shortly before my flight by the airline asking me why I had no return ticket. I explained that my employer was paying for it, and after making a brief phone call, told me that I should be able to leave the country, but that I might not be able to go because I had a one-way ticket. I was unsure why that would matter, but was unnerved for the second time in two days. Luckily, that was the last trouble I had getting to the nation of South Korea. It was hardly the last problem I had, though.

I arrived at Incheon airport so excited that I could feel my heart banging against my rib cage. It was late afternoon, not yet dark.  When I got my luggage and made my way to the greeting area of the airport, I looked around until I saw a man in his mid-twenties who I assumed was Tino (since he said he would meet me at the airport) holding my name on a sign. I waved and started to walk over to him. As I approached, I saw a dry, wrinkled hand reach from behind the young man and lift the sign over his head. I walked over to him, said hello, and my heart sank when I realized that he spoke no English.

He took my luggage and led me to a bus booth, where he ordered me a ticket and led me to a bus. He put a post-it with a phone number on the back of the ticket, loaded my luggage, and put me on the bus. I tried to ask him questions or somehow ask him what was going on.  I didn’t recognized “Daejeon” but thought that maybe it was the name of a district in Seoul.  The old man waved and scuttled away.

A young Korean man sat in the seat next to me as the sun began to go down.  The bus pulled away and headed out into open road.  I hadn’t slept much on the plane because I was so excited, but things seemed much less rosy on this bus to a place called “Daejeon” that I’d never heard of. I opened my Lonely Planet Korea guide and looked up the entry for Daejeon.  As I watched the landscape through the window, I could feel my chest getting tight.  Daejeon wasn’t a part of Seoul – it was an entirely different city.  Worst of all, it said there were three different bus station in Daejeon, and I had no idea which one I was supposed to use.  I had a phone number on a post-it, but I had no phone and no idea who would answer if I called.

I began to feel more and more anxious as the bus drove on into the night.  I felt alone and afraid, and I felt angry with Tino for lying to me.  I felt the tears welling up behind my eyes and forced them back.  Exhaustion and stress overtook me and I fell asleep.

I woke up as we approached Daejeon.  I was more and more afraid of getting off at the wrong stop.  I had no idea what to do.  I looked around the bus and noticed the young man beside me writing a text message.  It was in English.  I sheepishly asked him if he spoke English, and he did.  He was a student at UCLA returning home for the summer.  I blurted out my story, and he used his phone to call the number on the post-it.  He told me that I should get off at the third stop, and that he was sorry he couldn’t go with me the whole way because he was getting off at the first stop.

I thanked him profusely and felt better until he got off the bus.  My anxiety returned full force at that point, especially since I had no idea if the people I’d be working for would be as untrustworthy as Tino appeared to be.  I was the last person off of the bus at the bus station, and I was greeted by two Korean women who were to be my boss and then my boss’s boss, the owner of the school.  They took me to get some food, and then to my apartment, which was the best part of my job.  They then apologized, saying that I had to start teaching the next morning.  I said “I didn’t have any other plans anyway.”

I slept deeply that night, waiting for the next phase of my life to start the next morning.


August 7, 2008

Bush Delights in Return to “The Land of Properly English”

Posted in Fake Korean News tagged , , , , at 10:01 pm by stephshimkooo

As President Bush concluded his visit to South Korea, he took a moment to reflect on his landmark 100th

President Lee demonstrates his new spelling system

Presidential journey abroad. “I was very happy to see our friend and ally, Lee Myun-Back, Myoung-Bark, uh, President Lee being so ambitious about the future of his country. And I am also a great supporter of his ‘make English spelling more easier’ campaign.”

“You see, I’ve always thought that English spelling was, awfully tough, for our, for our young people. It’s hard for the young Korean people too, and I’m glad to see some action being taken on that front.”

Korean Support for Israel

President Bush continued with his speech by emphasizing the similarities between the two countries, “I am especially happy to see their support for Israel, which is evidenced on the street and even on store signs.”

Bush followed by expressing his affinity for Korean food, “with a few exceptions that I just can’t seem to get

my head around. I like black beans, and I like foods with beans, like chili. I like chili. But I just don’t know how people can eat doo-doo.”

Bush later lamented that despite all the warm fuzzies he felt on the peninsula, he wasn’t happy with the way all those positive feelings came about. “However, I am disappointed to see that drugs are becoming more and more prevalent in the Korean cultural.” he said. “They even have things on the restaurant menus. I just, well, I don’t agree with that. It’s not something that I, that I can agree with.

Bush worries about drug proliferation

When asked about anti-American sentiment, Bush responded positively, saying “Just when I came in here, my guide pointed out a sign that said ‘No, Americans allowed!’ I mean, they even point out how welcome we are in their homes and businesses, in case people were thinking they might not be welcome around here. This is truly a great country of freedom and democracy.” He concluded, “Sometimes I find the Korean people more understandabler than people in America sometimes,”

July 19, 2008

Local Vacationer Chronicles Foreigner Migratory Patterns

Posted in Fake Korean News tagged , , , at 2:46 pm by stephshimkooo

Goodbye friends, until we meet in the next!

Goodbye friends, until we meet in the next!

Park Dong-han had never been so astounded in all his life. Everywhere he looked, there were foreigners. Mud-covered foreigners. Park knew that he was going to see some at the Boryeong Mud Festival, but the sheer numbers of these wide bottomed, red skinned people was just overwhelming. Being an assertive second-year sociology student at a local university, Park decided to make contact with these English-speaking people to learn more about their culture.

He then realized that he had just been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about the rituals and customs of foreigners in Korea. “I’d read about this kind of things in books when I was in school,” he said,I had no idea all this has been happening right under our noses!” Park then describes their routine in detail, “First, they consume as much alcohol as they can without losing consciousness, starting as soon as they wake up. After that, they go and cover themselves with the mud, play in the ocean, and cover themselves in mud again. Then they eat pizza and choco-pies until dark. Then, after the sun has set and when the alcohol level is correct, they mate and fall asleep. Oh, and sometimes throw up.”

“They said that they would call me to be friends the next morning, but there were no messages at my hotel room. I went to their hotel to offer them some well-being vitamin drinks, but the man at the desk said that they were already gone. I can only assume that they’ve gone off into the ocean to die. I’ll have to remind everyone to make sure to cut the straps on those six-pack containers.”

July 7, 2008

Why Work Abroad? Why Korea?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:49 pm by stephshimkooo

When I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in August 2004, I had a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology, (notice it’s SCIENCE, not ARTS, which makes a big difference) a minor in International Relations, and a Certificate in Russian and East European Studies.

Needless to say, my job prospects were not rosy. I worked for a while at different jobs. I started out with an insurance company, getting hired on my 22nd birthday, while I waited to see if a job I’d applied for with the government worked out. I studied and passed my license test to sell and advise life, accident, and health insurance for the state of Pennsylvania. I passed on the first try, and was the only one in my class to do so. I was very eager to know as much about these things, as “know they enemy” is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was four years old. While day to day life is normal for me, there have been instances of circumstances resulting in hospitalization, and there is more or less a guarantee of dying a slow painful death later down the line, unless I get hit by a bus. It is not an option for me to be without health insurance. I was under my father’s policy during college, and after graduation, thanks to COBRA(thank you, Bill Clinton), I could continue to be covered for up to 18 months after graduating. I considered going to graduate school, but my health insurance would run out before then, leaving me vulnerable should something happen. I couldn’t take that chance, especially since I wasn’t very focused in what I wanted to study.

Knowing that my COBRA coverage was going to run out in the next year made me terrified of employment without benefits. I had always had at least one (sometimes two or even three) job since I was 15. I was not afraid of work, but I knew that I, unlike other people, couldn’t sit around waiting for a job with benefits. Unfortunately, the job with the insurance company did not work out, and I ended up temping in an office job while waiting to hear from my prospect in DC.

Unfortunately again, in 2005, I was hit head on by a drunk driver who driving on the wrong side of the road in order to flee the scene of their first accident. They’d rear-ended a GARBAGE TRUCK. Those things aren’t exactly easy to miss. My car was totaled, I had bruising on my chest and knees, a broken elbow and and the second joint in my ring finger was shattered, requiring surgery to repair. Fortunately, I was smart and made sure that I paid all the premiums on my health insurance (a murderous $414.01 a month) so I was covered, as the person who hit me did not have any insurance. She also walked away from the accident unscathed.

Rest In Peace, Blue Streak.  I miss you

Rest In Peace, Blue Streak. I miss you

After spending the night in the emergency room, I came home and passed out, exhausted. I left a message for the office I was working in, saying that I wouldn’t be in that day and that I would keep them updated. Later that day, the temp agency called and gave me an earbeating in a surprisingly perky tone for “not following protocol” by calling them first. I had no idea what the protocol was, since I hadn’t plan on being in a car accident the evening before. I was also tired, and a little loopy from the painkillers.

That morning, of all mornings, I got the letter from the job I so wanted, thanking me for my application, but that I had been passed over for the job, after 6 months of interviewing and tests. I knew it was a rejection letter when I saw how thin the envelope was. I opened it, read the first few lines, and cried. I cried and cried. I’d lost my job, my income, my health, and now my future.

Half an hour later, I stopped. I knew it wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and it wasn’t like I lost something. It was something that hadn’t even been yet. My path lay elsewhere.

After the accident, I couldn’t work. With my elbow and hand the way it was, I couldn’t drive to get to work. I couldn’t type except pecking with my right hand. I couldn’t even hold a pencil because I’m left-handed. I took a job working not as a telemarketer but as a “telefundraiser” for a company that worked exclusively for charities and non-profits. Although the nature of the job is terrible, as it involves rejection or at the least, being the cause of annoyance for the entire day, the company I worked for was really nice, and they had quite a supportive environment. They really took care to try to help you do your job better because let’s face it, without funds, places like the Humane Society, the Sierra Club, NPR, and the DNC can’t do much. It was in their own interest, but the company put you on several accounts and left you for the longest time on whichever one you performed the best on. This will not surprise anyone who’s familiar with my interests and leisure reading, but I was left on the DNC’s campaign most of the time. I raised tens of thousands of dollars for the 2006 campaigns. I hate saying that way though because it implies that I actually did or made something instead of just convincing people to part with their money, not matter how worthy the cause.

During this time I was obviously looking for something better. While not physically demanding, it was hard mentally. I trolled, mostly in Pittsburgh but also in Philadelphia looking for jobs. One day there was a post for an English teacher in South Korea that offered what seemed like a good salary, airfare, and, lo and behold, health insurance. The next step of my journey began.

July 3, 2008

Studying/Working Abroad

Posted in personal life tagged , , , , , at 4:21 pm by stephshimkooo

I more or less fell into working abroad. It started out as studying abroad. The first stamp on my passport came in July 2002 in Moscow, Russian Federation. I applied for and was accepted to the Moscow 4 + 5 program at the University of Pittsburgh. A professor came up to me and showed me the program, saying that she thought I would be a good candidate. It was an intensive language program designed to teach an entire year’s worth of college level Russian in 9 weeks, four spent at the University of Pittsburgh campus, and five spent at the Moscow Language Institute in Moscow, Russia. It was a price I could afford, and it meant I wouldn’t have to be gone too long if it turned out I didn’t like it. “I can do all this,” I said, “and all I have to do is learn Russian? I can do that.”

I knew there was something more out there. I knew there was more to life than the suburbs, part-time work, and dreams of “something different” that is largely pacified by Hollywood movies simply because they’re the most economical mode of escapism. I, like many people of my time, felt largely misunderstood by my parents, peers, and society at large, and I was especially mistrustful of the media. In a world of six billion people, why were the only ones I heard about the 300 million within the US? I decided that the best way to go about that was to go and see how other people lived.

I came back from Russia with the travel bug. I had to go abroad again. I was still in university at the time, so I arranged a study abroad semester for spring 2003 in London at the University of Westminster. I had an amazing time, but I also experienced my first and worst taste of anti-Americanism. This should hardly be surprising when I was living in London for the first half of 2003, when troops first entered Iraq (I will post more on this separately).

During my time in London, I took advantage of the spring break and long weekends to visit Europe, and one of my friends was gracious enough to invite me to her home in Germany for part of the summer. During my 6 months in the UK, I managed to visit Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, and the Spanish Island of Mallorca. As a testament to how much I liked the summer program at Pitt, I enrolled and went to Russia again with the same program in summer of 2004, and graduated college in August of that year. I would not travel abroad again until June 2005, but the circumstances requiring me to travel were much different.

July 2, 2008

American Consulate Offers South Korean Protestors “Some Cheese to go with their Whine”

Posted in Fake Korean News tagged , , , , at 2:36 am by stephshimkooo

Showing Support for US Dairy Products

As Beef Protests in South Korea simmer down, officers from the American Consulate in Seoul are trying to bury the hatchet by offering American dairy products to South Korean protesters.

“Sharing food is an important part of Korean culture,” says Kim Su-jin, “Protesting is hard work, so we were sure they would be hungry. Since we’ve seen protesters in close contact with other dairy products, we thought it would be nice to offer them a little cheese, especially since they need some to counter their disproportionate amount of whining. It’s important to maintain good nutrition.”

No word yet on what kind of cheese would be distributed, but rumor is that much of it would be melted onto bread and tomato sauce in a traditional Korean dish called “Pi-cha.” Officials plan to partake in the meal with protest leaders. They hope that this gesture of goodwill results in further calming of tempers, as well as an increase in trust regarding US agriculture. “It is from cows, but it’s not beef, showing once again that American cows are diverse and have much to offer.”

SABIS, the Beginning

Posted in SABIS/Choueifat tagged , , , , , , at 2:05 am by stephshimkooo

When reading the literature sent to me by SABIS, I noticed that it said that deaths in the family were not a reason to miss work or take a leave of absence unless it was an immediate family member. I read this and respected it. Besides, death cannot be planned for, so it’s not even as if there are ways to work around this.

I was at home for about a month after I came home from Korea and before I left for Emirates to teach with SABIS. Six days after I got home, my grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 22 days later, he died. Since I am an adult with a good grasp of basic health needs, and since I had my summer off without children or work obligations, I spent almost every day and a lot of nights with him at the hospital, doing my best to make him as comfortable as possible.

During this time, the SABIS HR staff and the people from the travel agency that they use would call me at all hours of the night and day asking me for information about what airport I wanted to leave from and if I had all of my paperwork in order (they had given me incomplete directions regarding what I needed to do, but that’s a different story). The most frustrating part about it was that I had sent them and/or told them this information over the phone or via email, without exaggeration, at least four times. During all of this trouble, I asked them for details regarding my flight so I could prepare, and I was never given any such information.

Eventually, on the morning of August 11th, I received a phone call before dawn from the travel agent, who first of all apologized for calling me at 5a.m. She followed this up by saying she was issuing me a ticket for “later today” meaning the 11th. “No you’re not,” I said. She then told me that I had to go, otherwise I might miss some training. I told them that they hired me over two months before, so there was no reason they should be issuing a me a ticket the day before they wanted me there. I agreed to leave the following day, August 12th, equaling less than 36 hours notice. Despite my grandfather’s condition, I did not ask for more than a day’s delay, and the delay that I requested was more to get myself ready than about my grandfather. I did not ask for a temporary leave of absence. His condition was precarious but nobody knew when his suffering would end, so I didn’t think it wise to lose my job over something that over which I had no control

He died at 10:30p.m. on August 11, 2007 on Saturday. I was at the airport, ready to leave at 3p.m. on Sunday. I did not ask for a delay. I did not ask for a grieving period. I got on the airplane to start my new life all over again.

June 21, 2008

Review of “Spamalot”

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:41 pm by stephshimkooo

I was pretty eager to see “Spamalot,” the lovingly-ripped-off stage production of Monty Python’s “Quest for the Holy Grail.” I went to one of those half-price booths and got myself the best ticket in the place, half off. When patronizing one of these establishments, it is important to remember that the position of the best available seat the day of the show often reveals how popular it is. Six hours before the show, 10th row center was their best seat. It was too good a position for the show to be good.

It started out alright. I was expecting to mostly see gags from the film and a little new stuff, and that’s exactly what I got. I would have enjoyed it much more if it had either been written better, or delivered better, which I guess means it was bad overall. The jokes were very dated, like the knights going to Spamalot, where “What happens in Spamalot, stays in Spamalot” referring to the popular Las Vegas slogan. King Arthur was particularly stiff, and walked around most of the time with little or no reaction to the silliness around him, when the whole point of his character is that he is supposed to be the one with some sense.

The other half of the new humor was trying desperately to poke fun at the musical genre, but I ended up being more annoyed than anything. Singing “This is the song that goes like this” and “Whatever happened to my part” felt more like time-killers than anything that was supposed to result in laughter.

As a fan of the movie and of live theater, I was let down. It was a pleasant enough way to spend an evening, but I regretted paying as much as I had to see it.

June 13, 2008

Reflections on a year with SABIS

Posted in SABIS/Choueifat tagged , , , , , , , at 11:12 pm by stephshimkooo

My New Passport Picture

So it’s over. It’s finally over. This past year with SABIS has been one of the most horrible personal and professional experiences of my life. What this company has done to myself and others is completely, in the politest possible terms, unacceptable.

I don’t know how to describe it without seeming overly dramatic, but unfortunately, emotion generally is not accurately portrayed in text. I can’t believe how… damaged… I am by the experience. I am a healthy, professional, hard-working individual, and I care so much about the job that I do. There have been times in the past where I felt unappreciated at work, but I’ve never really felt threatened by an employer before, and before this past year, I never would have fathomed working for an employer that was at least, negligent, and at worst, deliberately intending to do me harm.

Who I really feel sorry for are the people who don’t have any choice about staying with SABIS PPP or not. Most of these people can be classified as economic refugees because they did not necessarily want to leave their country, but the job markets at home were too abysmal to allow them to make a living. Most of these people are from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, as well as other places in Asia. They don’t have a choice. There are no jobs at home for them to take, despite their considerable skills, and they are tied to SABIS because of Emirati Labor law. If someone breaks with an employer, no matter how amicably, there is a 6 month work ban placed on them. They can stay with SABIS PPP (or any company they would work for, really), or they can take at least 6 months without any job or income. It’s a terrible situation.

On top of the occasional shaking and crying, I have found myself unable to write or to use my brain properly. Back in Korea, I churned out about a column a week for Socius, and I can’t even find the words to keep a personal blog going. Like I said, damaged.

So here I am in London trying to make it all fade away before I head back to the states this summer. I wish Ziad was here with me, but that’s a story for another time. I’ll get to see Johnathon and Pete this weekend, and hopefully Cat will get back to me soon. I’ve only been here a day, and already the creative juices are starting to flow, despite my excessive drowsiness from the flight.

I will document my experiences here under the tag “SABIS” for anyone reading this blog with research in mind. Apparently, some other people have been busy writing, too. Happy reading, and if you have a job offer with SABIS, Intered, or the International School of Choueifat, DON’T TAKE IT.

May 26, 2008

Reflections on Changes Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:25 pm by stephshimkooo

Although it’s been almost a year since I left Korea, I still find myself reading Korean blogs, following the Korean news, and speaking in Konglish to people who don’t seem to get the joke. I started blogging again, but I find that I am blogging about Korea, not America, Russia, or the Emirates, where I now live.

Although my general quality of life here is much better, what I really miss about Korea was being part of a community. Because any non-Korean is not welcome into the fabric of society, any foreigner, especially westerners, tend to stick together to form some kind of place or situation where we can feel comfortable and at home. The really nice thing about it is, unless you completely lack social skills (and sometimes even if you do), you’re going to be accepted into the community. You will be served a beer in our bars and someone will ask how your day was or how long you’ve been here in English. There are minor jokes, but it doesn’t matter which country you came from or if you’re a democrat or a republican, you’ll find someone to talk to and while away the time with. When you leave, people will use it as their excuse to drink and buy you a drink that weekend, and when you come back, the same will happen all over again.

Depending on where you get your statistics from, only 10-15% of the population of Emirates is local, which means 85-90% of the people here are from somewhere else. UAE, like America, is more or less an immigrant society, although it’s important to note that the vast majority of the people who come to Emirates plan to leave. They plan on making some money and going back home, whereas in the states a larger portion try or would like to stay permanently. In this way, the foreign communities in Korea and Emirates are similar.

The Emirates, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have places (again, bars) where we can meet other foreigners and share our lives and experiences as well as a drink. However, I don’t find myself connecting with these people the way I did in Korea. My thoughts as to why this is vary, but I’m pretty sure it’s mostly because we’re not looked upon as invaders, and are “normal” people in this society.

I’ll continue this train of thought later.

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