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.