Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Change in the Air

Korea is changing.

This is one of those things you expect to happen eventually but Korea is changing rather faster than usual and it is leaving a lot of us with our pants down trying to get it all figured out in time to prevent a major catastrophe. Catastrophe seems eminent here.

This may only happen to me but I find when I log into a number of websites to check messages, read posts, enjoy killing my free time and sense of vision, I see lots of advertisements to teach English in Korea. This used to give me a lot more of a chuckle since I actually am teaching English in Korea. I'm living the dream. I am the target audience of all those advertisement. I'm teaching English in South Korea.

When I came over here six years ago (I still can't get over that) it was and was not a big deal. The big deal part was the fact that I'd just packed all my bags and gotten on a plane to fly half way around the world to meet people I had only ever met through the internet. Talk about blind dates. Perhaps I'm trusting. I like the internet. I like meeting people through the internet. And for some readily unapparent reason when I meet people on the internet who offer my jobs half way round the world for ten times the amount of money I am making in the US I put my shoes in a box and send my ass half way round the globe.

The problem then was just a matter of getting my passport and taking it up to the consulate in Chicago, getting a stamp and walking to the airport. The consulate in Chicago is a bit of a trick to find but in the end after some walking in downtown Chi-town I had it figured out, jumped on the nearest sky rocket, and blasted off.

Not anymore.

A few months ago there was an extremely unfortunate event in Korea. I knew, having been here for so long, having heard the stories, having seen what I have seen in Korea, that it was in the end a matter of time. And I still hated it. The problem was created by INTERPOL when it went about looking for a pedophile suspected of hiding in Asia. He was in fact hiding in Asia. They found him, they caught him, and from what I'm given to understand he is currently in jail in Thailand undergoing the various process of the legal justice systems between differing countries on different continents. This is good news. The bad news was that before he was busted in Thailand he was out-ed as a middle school teacher in South Korea.

I know why he was here. It's easy to get a job, the money is good, the life is livable, and you can have varying degrees of anonymity if you want them. I know why he was here. And I'm not the only person among the groups of foreigners who live here who believe that while he was in Korea this guy was pretty straight laced. He kept his nose very clean in South Korea. He was also teaching at an international school where it actually a bit more difficult to land a teaching position unless you have good school experience and submit various papers. Among those papers are a criminal background check from your home country. This guy had jumped through all the hoops and was hired because he was squeaky clean when it mattered.

He got busted and more power to the justice system for that.

But in getting ousted from Korea he managed to leave a hell of a fiasco in his wake. The foreign teaching community here has been under scrutiny for a while, and none of this is good. There was the English Spectrum fiasco, there are several news stations that delight in airing inflammatory stories about foreigners in Korea, there are the fake degree scandals that seem to happen on an almost daily basis. It's been building up and we all knew it was building up and just waiting for the final straw. A pedophile wanted by INTERPOL was definitely the final straw.

So the Korean government has gotten around at long last to changing the process of Visa acquisition for those of us working here. Long gone are the days of handing over a few documents and coming to work in Korea. Now if you want to work here you will need to submit to the following:

An Apostilled Criminal Background Check
A Drug Test
An HIV Test
A Consular Interview
A Diploma Verification Process

The process for an Apostille, by the way, is really something.

It's unfortunate. It's unfortunate for the kids straight out of college who come to Korea to get some money to get their lives started. It's unfortunate for the backpackers who just want to travel. It's unfortunate for those others around the country like me; the teachers who came over to do what we do best, to teach without the varying restrictions of the current school systems. It's unfortunate for the students who may miss out on learning how to communicate with others and appreciate the randomness of foreign culture.

And it is the way it is. In the last two weeks I've explained to a half dozen different people the process of getting a new visa. There are a great deal of people willing to jump through the hoops. It's a bright spot in the bleak horizon, that even with all the new hurdles there are still some who are willing to come over and give Korea a try.

It's crazy.
It's insane.
It's backwards.
It's xenophobic.
It's homogenous.
It's spicy red pepper.
It's the stranger in my strange land.

Forget it Jake. It's Korea.


Jill said...

It's that one bad apple again. Such a shame how one person or a few people can make things so difficult for the ones who were trying so hard to do right in the first place. :-(

Saradevil said...

Yeah, bad apples in Korea seem to be unfortunately abundant sometimes.