Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ernest Goes to Immigration

And going to Immigration is only a couple steps above going to Prison, but definitely not as fun as going to Camp.  (Confession: I haven't seen a single  Ernest movie.)

Anyway, I have successfully done whatever it is I had to do to change my visa and not be a questionably-legal worker in Korea.  It took the better part of my morning and I did it all without crying!  ("Cry until something works" was actually my plan B, in case the plan A of "Hope that someone will speak English and babysit you" didn't work out.)

A word, then about the Immigration Office in Yangju.

First of all, Yangju is a speedbump on the way to the DMZ.  My good friend Maddie has a grandfather whose quote often got tossed around between all of us (back when we worked together): "Uijeongbu?!  That shithole's a speedbump on the way to the DMZ!"  Not so anymore.

So I don't understand the decision to move the immigration office to Yangju, which by all means seems much smaller, poorer, and more difficult to get to for most of the people concerned.  Nonetheless the building is nice, and new, and probably the nicest and newest thing in the entire dong, if not the surrounding ones as well.

Second of all, despite it being, y'know, Immigration and dealing with, y'know, people who are not Korean, there is a dearth of helpful interpreters or signage in any language but Korean.  I'm not trying to play the "I'm an English teacher and my life in Korea is SO HARD" card: I mean to say, a government office providing extremely necessary services to a group of people who might not speak Korean, or might not speak it well, should probably take that into consideration when setting up its office.  I mean, even subway announcements are in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese.  Would it be too much to ask the same of Korean Immigration as well?  (Honestly, they probably only really need  English, Chinese, and Russian.)

They did, helpfully, check off all the boxes in the forms you needed to fill out beforehand (literally every copy of every form had checkmarks, grandfathered in from whatever master copy years and years ago) as well as provide a sample guide so you could see exactly what to put where  (though only in English).  Unhelpfully, the forms were in no way labeled and there were quite a few there to pick through.  What US military needs is (presumably) different from what I need is different from what a student or gyoppo needs.  Seoul immigration does have the helpful "1345" foreign language hotline, which I suppose you could call in a pinch, 

Other blog accounts of this office spoke of understaffed desks and long wait periods, but while I was there every station was manned and I only waited a couple minutes to speak with a clerk.  The first one I talked to was a fellow whose English seemed limited, and after looking at my papers provided me with the correct forms to fill out to transfer and extend my visa.   I finished those, took another number, and talked with a younger and more fluent girl (fluent enough that she commented to her coworker, in Korean, on the "Konglish" in the Korean forms).  She got me squared away and was probably more patient with me than I can imagine, as fatigue, vague illness, and stress were doing their best to make me an impossible human being to deal with.  

 It would have been easier with a native Korean with me, but everyone at the new school is too busy working so the unspoken assumption was that I'd take care of it myself. My mom commented on my self-sufficiency back when I was considering leaving my job in Bundang, but really I'm not.  If I had not had the sheer dumb luck to have a clerk with a relatively high level of English fluency, I probably would have cried, at which point things would either sort themselves out (to get the fat blubbering foreign girl to stop being an awkward production as soon as possible) or I would have gone home in defeat.  Neither way is a very graceful way to handle failure.

Beyond the stress of foreign paperwork, it was a beautiful day to be out and about for four hours.  All of the cabbies in Yangju drove with the window down to take advantage of the mild weather and the sunshine.  The leaves are just beginning to change in places, and while it's getting chillier (down to single digit Celsius temperatures in the night), the humid summer air has evaporated away into the refreshing clarity of autumn.

I have to go back and finalize everything in a few weeks (things get outsourced to the big office in Seoul instead of being taken care of in the assorted provincial offices) but 95% of the remaining bugbear hounding at me since I changed jobs has been taken care of.  

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