Whew! It's been a busy week. Welcome to our new home, a snug little two-bedroom apartment on the 6th floor of HGU's IFH-1 building, on the campus of Handong Global University, Pohang, South Korea. This place sure does love its acronyms! We now live in International Faculty House 1, and the number is important because there are, as far as I know, 9 of 'em...that's a lot of international faculty here.
So let me catch you up on our first full week back in South Korea. We arrived in Incheon Airport on Thursday afternoon and were met by my friend Chris. His wife, Haerun, works for a major airline, and they live about 10 minutes away from the airport. We kept him waiting in the car with Kath while Judy and I dragged two overflowing luggage carts halfway across the terminal to their temporary storage facility and paid the local equivalent of ten dollars a bag (ouch, ouch, but still better than trying to transport them to and from the airport for a single night). Our immediate needs for water and a decent-sized bathroom satisfied, they took us out for a very nice dinner (Korean tweji-kalbi for J&K, kimchi chigae for me!) and lots of conversation before we crashed in their guest room. Early Friday morning Chris dropped us off at the airport again so we could catch the 8:40am direct bus to Pohang.
The bus ride was really nice – more leg room than on the flight, for one thing, and no security check for another – but it took about 5 ½ hours. So we read and chatted and enjoyed the scenery...and waited...and napped...and read...and finally arrived in Pohang at about 3pm.
We'd been here for at least an hour when there was a knock on our door. A giggling gaggle of slim lasses in an assortment of heights and ethnicities – well, six girls, all of them close to Katherine's age, all of whom live on campus and were eager to meet the new girl. The Posse, we call them, and Katherine's already starting to bond with them. We're pretty happy about that, let me tell you.
There were also some people who stopped by to meet Judy and myself, offering food (home-baked sour-dough bread, for example) or other necessities (clean towels, clean cups, a bag of flour, some cans of plum juice). We are among people who travel, pilgrims who know what it is to enter a new place with very little. Other colleagues had left gifts just outside our door. Toilet paper, basic dishes, coffee sticks, pillows. Notes, welcome posters, the oft-repeated phrase 'if you need anything, just knock!' So we did some unpacking and then, wonder of wonders, another family, living just down the hall from us, invited us for dinner. And such a dinner! Fresh salad, bruschetta, carbonara with generous hunks of bacon, garlic bread, lots of water....and a very sleepy daughter who started snoring into her dinner plate. We excused ourselves and settled in for the night.
Did I tell you about our bed? The apartment is semi-furnished, we were told, and that's true. What does that mean? We have a table and four diningroom chairs, but no sofa or other seating in the living room. One desk, attached awkwardly to a bookcase. A brand-new washing machine but no dryer. No garbage pails or curtains. In our bedroom, it means we have a mattress but no bed-frame to put it on. We've been here a week and our mattress is still on the floor; on the other hand, better a mattress and no frame than a frame and no mattress!
Saturday was more of the same – meeting people, unpacking, trying to get settled – and then Fred and Renee, the ones who fed us dinner last night – took us shopping. It's possible to get into town on the university shuttle bus (Judy and Kath have done so repeatedly this past week) but it certainly is more convenient with a car! More Korean food (bibimbap, omoktang and yukgaejang, for those in the know) and a nice coffee made for a pleasant afternoon before we returned. Jetlag made for an early night, and that brings us to Sunday.
There's a church on campus called HIC (Handong International Church) where a number of my co-workers attend. Service, music, sermon, in English. Katherine met up with a few of the Posse, Judy was able to sneak away from the coffee kletsching and play the grand piano after the service; it seems like a comfortable place, certainly to get started. And we were invited to lunch! These people know how to make others feel welcome.
The new semester starts on Monday and so this past week has been in high gear, filled with meetings – the ERD team, the EF team, the full DLE meeting. I did warn you about those acronyms! I've also met with my team leaders as I grapple to set up syllabi, class schedules and teaching plans and resources. Tuesday and Wednesday were occupied with a faculty retreat featuring two presidential addresses summarizing upcoming challenges and opportunities, several sermons, a guest speaker inviting us to use flipped learning as a teaching paradigm...and some very nice buffets! HGU is different from other universities I've been at; here the language department is considered an integral part of the school, not always the case in other universities where English classes tend to be mandatory and small-stakes.
And through this whole week has loomed the specter of my visa. I need a working visa, an E-1 specifically, and while I was hoping to get the visa paperwork before I left Canada, well, that didn't happen. It actually came through sometime while I was soaring over the Pacific, somewhat ironic. See, the thing is that the visa is prepared by the Immigration Office in Korea but needs to be processed by a Korean consulate. And as there is no Korean consulate inside Korea, this has proved to be awkward. There were some indications that I might be able to get the matter resolved in-country by the Immigration Office, so on Monday it looked like a trip to Japan, Tuesday, no, it can be done here, Wednesday was the 'we're not sure' day, Thursday it was firming up to be done here....and Friday, final answer, nope, you need to go to Japan. (Remember that line of mine, last blog post, about feeling like a pingpong ball?)
The problem is that classes, as I mentioned above, start on Monday. But the visa process is no longer an overnight affair, as it used to be. In fact, it's a three-day process, and that doesn't include travel time getting to and from Fukuoka, where the closest Korean embassy is located. In effect, we'll be gone all week, leaving late Monday and coming back early Friday. So I've been working, yesterday and today, to get materials ready for those teachers who will cover my classes while I'm in Japan. This has been made a little more difficult – well, more than a little, actually – because I can't access the university's on-line site, including student lists and other resources, until I get my alien residency number, which is directly dependent on the visa. I also can't get my university email address, which doesn't seem so bad except that it means that I can't set up Google Classroom, a teacher-student interface that I've used before. I totally realize that teachers were running things long before Google and online tools and computerized class lists...but these days everything is geared for those tools and systems. One of my classes, for example, uses a digital textbook. With digital homework. Which I can't use because...well, you get the idea.
So, that's where things are at the moment. With any luck, the next blog post will be 'postmarked' from a beach in Fukuoka!
Text by Bryan and Judy Alkema, C 2017. All photos and images unless otherwise indicated by Judy Alkema, C 2017, all rights reserved. Please feel free to share or quote directly from this site.
Bryan & Judy Alkema are educators, travellers, pilgrims, wordsmiths, and global learners. They are returning to Asia for the third time in their 25-year marriage and look forward to sharing their travel writing, cross-cultural experiences, wisdom perspectives, and beautiful images with you.