Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The E-7 Visas Story

This is a long story.  I'm warning you right now.  You may not want to proceed.  It should be a short story.  I wish I could say it were a short story.  But, alas, it is a long one.  If it were a short story, it would go something like this:

We applied for our E-7 Work Visas.  We had some paperwork to do, needed to mail it off to KIS who took it to the Consulate in Korea who issued us each an issuance number.  Once we had the number we mailed it off to the Korean Consulate in Chicago with our passports and waited for them to arrive in the mail.  They came about a week later.  All is well!

That is how the story SHOULD go.  In this case, the story doesn't quite go the same way, although the ending is the same.  So, if you wanted to know if we got our Visas yet, we did.  No need to read on.  But if you want to know the LONG story.  Here goes. . .

We needed to apply for E-7 work Visas to work at KIS for 2 years.  I knew it would be a bit complicated as anytime you deal with another country, things are complicated.  The initial paperwork reminded me of adopting from Russia - lots of official sorts of documents that needed to be gathered and signed.  We gave ourselved plenty of time to meet KIS's deadline of May 1 to have all of it ready.  We were done and paperwork was FedExed by mid-April.  Documents needed included a signed work contract, an information form, copy of teaching licences, copy of passport photo page (which requires up-to-date passports, which of course I needed to apply for - first step), ORIGINAL diploma of our highest degree (thank GOD that wasn't packed away in a pod already and that I found it!),  passport photos, resume showing current employment (meant tweaking my resume), copies of recommendation letters (had those), authenticated Criminal Record History. 

And this is where it begins to get interesting.

As you can probably tell from the list, these documents take a bit of time to gather.  No big deal.  But that darn Criminal Record History.

Initially we were told to get that from our local police, which we did.  But long about May 5th we were notified that the rules had suddenly changed on their end and that now we needed an authenticated Criminal Record History from the state level, including an apostille (for those of you who don't know, it's a sort of notarization from the State level that the notarization is legit - at it costs about $10).  So we made our phone calls to learn what to do, paid our additional fees to have matters "expedited" and soon enough we were re-mailing our new-and-improved Crimnal Record History to Korea.

Wait for word. . . .   Yes!  It arrived safely.  Now we wait for the Issuance Number from Korea.  We need these for the final steps in the process to the Visas.  Still on schedule, we get the numbers via email.  A few phone calls later, and we are delighted to learn that we won't have to drive down to Korean Consulate in Chicago after all.  We have just enough time to mail our passports and other accompanying paperwork (including the issuance number) to them.  If we Overnight it (I like to use USPS Express as it costs about 15 bucks versus the 50 bucks FedEx will charge you), all should be well as they have about a 3-day turn around.  Put the return envelope in there as another Overnight (USPS Express) and we should be good to go.   If all goes well, should be about a week - 10 day turnaround time; unheard of, right?  I kiss the envelope for good luck and tell it good-bye - our passports are in there, after all, and we are due to fly out in 5 weeks!

In the meantime, we had an eight day trip planned to Minnesota.  So we asked our neighbor to get our mail and keep a close watch out for this very important document that might be coming.  She agreed.

A few days later, while admiring the gorilla at Como Zoo with my family, my cellphone rings - on Roam.  It's the Korean Consulate in Chicago.  She's noticed an error in the paperwork from Korea.  They are under the impression I am a male and must be notified I'm female.  She'll change things on this end, but won't I get word to them right away that I'm a girl?  Sure, no problem.

First thing back at my sister's home, I email KIS with the request.  An hour later, I get another call - on Roam.  It the Korean Consulate in Chicago again.  She noticed that they are under the impression that my husband is a female.  Would we let them know he's a male?  Sure, no problem.  Brent emails KIS telling them to tell the Consulate he's a guy.  (Hey, don't laugh, would you know if a KOREAN name were male or female?)

The good news?  We know they are processing our Visas.

A day later, while we are at my brother-in-law's house in Minnesota, I get another call - on Roam.  It's my neighbor.  She missed the mailman.  There's a note on our door that there was a package that needed to be signed for.  Now it needs to be picked up.  We have 5 business days to pick it up or it gets sent back to sender. (Oh, oh!)  Thank you, neighbor, for the update!  Hmm. . . .5 business days would put us on Monday, I think.  Does the USPS count Saturday as a business day?  I don't know.  I make some calls (800 numbers, not on Roam).  I THINK I'm safe, but I still don't want to chance it.  My first chance at getting to the post office will be Monday morning.  What if they mail it back Monday morning (day 5) before I can get there to pick it up?  I'd better call our OWN branch and have them hold it for me.  More phone calls - on ROAM. 

Lucky me, I get the most inept postal worker at the branch on the phone.  I know this because of my frequent-flyer miles at the USPS with my IB job.  Let's just call her Bonnie.  It takes Bonnie awhile to understand what I'm asking.  I have a package there Express Mail.  I need you to hold it for me and NOT send it back to sender.  Once she "gets it", she's happy to oblige.  "Sure.  I'll just put a note on it for you," she says with finality.  I interject, "Wonderful.  Be sure to put Brenda B----- on it for me."  "Oh, yeah!  I guess I'd better get your name and address."  Yeah, that would be a good idea.  "My name is. . .  We live at. . . ," I say, "and Bonnie, what time do you guys open?  8 or 8:30?  I want to be there right away Monday morning to pick it up."  "Oh. . .8, I think.  No. . .8:30. . . .   Hold on, let me go check."  (No problem, it's not like I'm on ROAM or anything.  Is this gal for real?)  Back on the line now, "8:30."  "Great.  Thank you, Bonnie, for all your help!"

It's Monday morning.  I arrive at the post office at 8:40.  I go to the teller with my little retrieval slip and my ID ready.  He's happy to help.  He goes to the back room.  He returns with an envelope with a note attached (good girl, Bonnie!).  He smiles and says,  "I see you requested to have this held.  Good thing, too, or we would have been sending it back."  "So I did the right thing?"  "Sure did."  He hands me the envelope.  I tear it open just to make sure all is well.  Two passports?  Check.  Brenda is female?  Check.  Brent is male?  Check.  Visa for Brenda?  Check.  Visa for Brent?  Check.

All is well!

And that is the E-7 Visas story.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dad

A Tribute to Dad

"It's only when you grow up and step back from him, or leave him for your own career and your own home-it's only then that you can measure his greatness and fully appreciate it. Pride reinforces love." Margaret Truman


Father's day is upon us. What better time to reflect on my dad. Dad is still going strong, although currently recovering from sinus infection and a surgery to clear it up. My dad is a retired Lutheran pastor, Men's Chorus director and singer, builder, husband, father, and grandfather. He is a good man who has worked hard at all he does. For a man whose career saw him doing a lot of reading and writing, his sanity has come in the hard labor of building and maintaining cabins and a large acreage as well as gardening. Few days pass that my father doesn't sweat. I wish I could say the same.

"Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad. - Anne Geddes
True enough. So let's talk about Dad. When my sister and I were young, dad's role was pretty typical. He worked long hours, so when we saw him it was at supper time. Usually we'd talk about our day and he and mom would talk about things that were above our heads. If either of us had worn out our mom, she'd use the classic, "Wait til your father gets home!" It worked. If it was payday, he'd do something wonderful like say, "Let's go get A&W." He taught us cards and pingpong (never letting us win; we had to earn it). He taught us how to sing and love singing. Dad saved all his change for our vacation each year. He managed to get us to fun places on change. My sister and I used to get to count up the change by spreading it out on the livingroom floor and making little piles of money. Dad provided and provides the foundation for our family.

Dad's love of nature and the outdoors has been a constant for as long as I've been alive. In that time he's built with his own hands three cabins (one of them two stories). He's cleared more brush than he cares to think about, moved hundreds of rock and stones and reseeded property after flooding, and rigged up ways for us to bathe and shower off of spring water. He's felled trees (quite recently, actually). Anything having to do with trees, he's done - planted, watered, replanted, trimmed (both clipping and decorating), sawed down, chopped up, dragged and burned. He's made bridges, walking paths, and roads. He's designed ponds, dug out and shaped and landscaped. For awhile he ran a lawncare business on the side. What have I taken away from all of this? I, too, have a love of nature, the woods, trees. God is in there, you know.

I hadn't thought about my dad with this label before, but he has always been an ATHLETE. Odd that it took 40+ years to figure that out. When I was little, dad would regale tales of the glory days in college when he was on the gymnastics team and could do the CROSS on the rings (a feat requiring great strength). He'd also done some boxing; his father had been a boxer at one point. (And I like to kickbox, hmmm.) When I was about 10, we got up some mornings one summer at 5:30 AM so he could teach me tennis. I'd never gotten up that early in my life! I hadn't known how loud birdsong was at that time of day or what sunrises looked like. When my sister was in high school, dad challenged one of her boyfriends to a wrestling match in the front yard - and WON! (Needless to say, that guy never came back!) Dad used to be a jogger (today we use the term runner). He jogged 5 miles a day with our dog, sometimes at 4:30 in the morning! I seem to remember he ran a 1/2 marathon once. Even now, when running isn't a physical possibility, he still walks up to 4 miles a day. Walking and maintaining his latest building project (a cabin he had built by the Amish in their area) keeps him quite fit.

"A father is a banker. . . provided by nature." French proverb
This proverb rings true to me. And how apropos that it is a French proverb, seeing as one of the major ways dad - and mom - acted as bankers was for my summer in Paris! That summer in Paris in '89 led to a love of international travel including France, Germany, Italy and Mexico. It played a part in our daughter's adoption from Russia, and a part in my decision to move to Korea. Dad has helped fund my first apartment down payment, various car purchases, and countless can-I-get-that-Dad items when I was young. But dad hasn't just been a banker, he and mom have taught me a lot about the value of money and how to use it responsibly. Thank goodness, because in these economic times we haven't found ourselves in over our heads.

"The most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother." - anonymous
I know this quote is important to my father because he used this quote on my wedding day. To my recollection, it was the last thing he said to my husband before the ceremony began. Of course we didn't have any children for a decade, but his words of wisdom stuck with me. I know that he has lived his life by this quote, and in so doing has provided a stable, loving home for his two girls. Wise words from a wise man.

I'd like to end my tribute to dad by saying a word about the intangibles. Dad has simply been a man who has done his best to provide spiritual and moral guidance for his family. He's done this mostly by example. He's led a Godly life, loved his wife and kids and grandkids. He's taught my sister and me (and many others whose lives he has touched over the years) honesty, integrity, an appreciation for nature, activity, writing, speaking, diplomacy, problem-solving, fun and hard-work. He's hugged and kissed and said 'I love you.' He's laughed and cried. He's been angry at injustice and wrong-doing. He's taught forgiveness and mercy. He's shown strength and vulnerability.

What more could a daughter ask for?

Thank you, Dad!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Shedding Stuff

We sure do have a lot of stuff. And by we, I mean most of you reading this and me. And by stuff I mean everything from clothes to plasticware to games to electronics to CDs and DVDs to junk to googahs. Stuff. Stuff. Stuff!

We've been sorting through our stuff YET AGAIN. This makes the fourth time in two years. I'm amazed at the stuff we still have. We have approximately 200 CDs that we rarely listen to. We have at least 200 children's books. Today I found Roscoe's old chain and ID; he died four years ago. We have broken toys, marbles galore, rain gear that's never been used (all bright orange, of course.) Collections. I have coins and trinkets from all over the world - Rome, Germany, France, Russia. . . My son has a rock collection and stuffed animals. My daughter has marbles and shells. My husband collects clothes. Well, not officially, but it sure seems like it.

We used to have more stuff. We used to have 4 televisions. Now we're down to two. Soon we'll be at zero. Cars? Currently two. Next week - one. In a month - zero. Book shelves filled with books? We went from three to two to one. In the past year we've gone from about 20 plants to 10. Soon that will be zero, as well.

I must say it is very liberating to purge the STUFF. It's very interesting to reflect on all we have and all we think we need. Neither are necessary. What do you really need after all?

My husband and I realized that with our impending move we haven't frequented Kohls or Target or Walmart or Shopko more than 3 or 4 times in the last 5 months. We simply don't need the stuff.

I've had several conversations with friends and colleagues in the past year where we discussed STUFF. To my recollection every person agreed they had too much stuff. Not one wished they had more stuff. There's something to chew on, eh?

Let me encourage you to do a little purging of your own stuff. You know you want to! If you aren't using it, sell it. Or better yet, donate it. It feels good. Your junk may be someone else's treasure. So what is that old lamp still doing in your basement, anyway?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

New Friends

For those of you reading this blog wondering how our plans for a move to Korea are going, here is an update.

We still don't have plane tickets in hand; we're still waiting to finalize our Visas. But the packing and sorting have begun. And the thing that excites me most is that we have begun making new friends with future colleagues. Email is a wonderful thing!

We'll be working with people from all over the world - US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, and more. They're single, married, married with children, newer teachers to veteran teachers. . .

Here are a few samples. . .

"I have four married daughters, several grandchildren, and a son who will be coming with us."

"I have been living back and forth between Toronto and Seoul and it is becoming more unclear where my hometown is anymore. . . "

"Last year I took a year off and sailed singlehanded from Sidney, Nova Scotia to Colon, Panama."

"I've been teaching third grade in Virginia and will be teaching second grade at KIS."

"Warm, tropical greetings from Malaysia! . . . [Teachers working abroad] work hard and play hard. Families find a great balance and therefore are happy and content. The absolute best part is the atmosphere created when working with people from diverse backgrounds, but yet all living and experiencing the same things. Your colleagues soon become your best of friends and your overseas family."

"I'm from New Zealand and will be teaching HS English."

"By the way, I love to host dinner parties."

"I have heard wonderful things about Korean people, travels and food."

"I am ---- (Ningbo, China). I will be teaching MS Mandarin."

"Currently we are wrapping things up at an American school in Warsaw, Poland."

"Prior to teaching at the school we are currently at, we taught for a few years in an outback community with six hours of straight road and a lot of kangaroos between us and civilisation."

"I've traveled a bit, but nothing like a two-year gig."

"Living in the Middle East has been great (Oman) but we are looking forward to our new adventure in Korea. . . I hear many good things about the friendliness of the staff and the many all-staff activities at KIS so it sounds like it is going to be terrific."

"Currently I teach k-12 art at HIS in Sapporo, Japan. . . . In my previous life I was IB Coordinator and IB Visual Arts teacher at the first IB school in Alaska."

"We have been shiftless and drifters. Guam, Egypt, Colombia, Australia and the currently embarrassing state of Arizona have all been addresses for us. . . . My father taught Physics at the U in Whitewater."

If you want to hear more, let me know!
And if you need any junk, stop by our garage sale in July!