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Job 3: SMOE

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 8, 2015

September 2008 – August 2009

A dancing lesson given during the SMOE orientation

A Government Job

I really enjoyed living in Korea. I wanted to go back there, but I had to find a new company to work for. I did not trust English Channel anymore. I considered myself lucky for getting out when I did and with all the money owed to me.

My brother and me in Mongolia

Mongolia

I was on a long trip and did not have much time to job search until I got stuck in Mongolia. The day my brother, mother, and I were to fly out of Ulanbataar, there was a sand storm. Our flight kept getting delayed.

There was also a problem with my Russian visa. The expiration date for my visa to Russia was soon approaching, and I was still in Mongolia. I took to the internet at a cafe to see what I could do about it. There was nothing to be done.

The problem sorted itself out in the end. But, it gave me time on the internet to do some job hunting. I kept an e-version of all the documents I needed, so when I found a job ad for SMOE, I applied right away. I hoped that I would get the job, but at the time I had other things to worry about.

SMOE, or the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, puts native English speakers in English classes in the public schools in Seoul. SMOE is not a company, but an office in the Korean government.

I felt that working for the government would be better than working for a company. I would not have to worry about not being paid on time or the company going bankrupt. I could just concentrate on doing a good job.

Sight seeing in Finland

Finland

We spent a few days in Russia then moved on to Finland. When we were checking in to our hostel there my mom’s cell phone rang. Since she had an international sim card in her phone, I gave SMOE her phone number to contact me.

I was told that my resume sparked their interest. They asked me a few questions which I seemed to answer to their satisfaction. They said that someone would call me later for an interview. I was to stay near the phone until then.

Train stations: the next best things to airports

France

A few countries after that, we were at a train station in Paris waiting for the Euro-star to London. We had a 30-minute wait ahead of us when a lady from SMOE called. The timing could not have been more perfect.

I ran to a quiet area and the interview started. It felt like a very informal chat. I think the interviewer was just checking to make sure I was not a creep or crazy person. At the end of the phone called, the lady told me that, although she could not tell me officially yet, I pretty much had the job.

I think that getting a job with SMOE back then was easier than it is today. There were several people I met at SMOE that I was surprised could get any job, much less one working with children. One guy missed a whole morning of meetings at orientation because he drank too much the night before and was passed out in a stairwell. For the week of orientation everyone was supposed to abstain from alcohol.

a field trip during SMOE orientation

USA

It took several months for me to get back to Korea. In the United States, it took 2 months for me to get my paperwork done. The Korean government had just changed the laws concerned with foreign workers and even the people at the Korean embassy weren’t too sure what to do.

I had to get 2 types of background checks. I had to visit doctors to get x-rays and blood tests. After which, I had to get an apostille from the Korean consulate in Georgia. I had no idea what an apostille was, and I’m still not completely sure.

One of the many benefits of working for the government is that they paid to fly me to Korea. Both GEOS and English Channel made me pay for my flight then reimbursed the cost after I had worked for 6 months or so. SMOE, and later the JET Programme, paid for my ticket up front.

Of course both SMOE and the JET Programme waited until the day before I flew to email me the ticket. (I had the flight itinerary a few weeks in advance, just not an actual ticket.)

Orientation Lectures

Korea

When I got back to Seoul, I spent my first 3 weeks living with a co-worker. My apartment was not yet ready, so one of the English teachers volunteered to have me stay at her place. I hung out with her and her family. I felt completely welcomed and had a great time.

I taught classes my first week at work. The second week I had orientation. At first I was expecting it to be like the useless meetings GEOS made me go to, but it was much, much better than that.

Late night snacks

First, they sent us off to stay are the Hyundai Learning Center which is a really nice place. It looked pretty new when I was there; new dorm rooms, new gym, new laundromats. The center also had free wi-fi, a gym, and basketball and tennis courts outside, and plenty of congregating areas as well as a convenience store in the basement.

There were only a few rules: 1. Don’t leave the campus and 2. no alcohol. Many people had a problem with the rules. They felt as though they were being treated like babies. But for only one week, for your job? Come on!

Some of the presentations and lectures were boring. If you had ever taught English before there was very little new information here; a good refresher course though. But for me, the orientation was not really about learning a bunch of methods for teaching; I already knew that. It was about meeting new people who would help me survive the year in Korea.

I did take notes when I heard something interesting or new. But, mostly I collected friends. I Facebook friended people I liked, lived near me, or shared several interests with me. There were almost 200 new teachers at the orientation, so there were plenty of people to choose from.

(There were 200 people at my orientation, which was orientation B of the second hiring period of the year. SMOE hired a lot of native English speakers.)

Did I mention that SMOE orientation came with Korean food at every meal?

Many people did not like the food they served at orientation. They were new to the country and were not yet used to Korean food. I liked most of what was served to me about 80% of the time. Other than fish soup and spam, I’ll eat pretty much any type of Korean food.

No body wanted to eat Mr. Spamears.

The night they first served octopus was quite entertaining. Many westerners don’t eat octopus; squid sure, but not octopus. There is just something disturbing about purple meat. It took me a while before I could eat it without having to talk myself into it first.

Spam night was not a big hit either.

Doing my weekly radio show at my high school

I enjoyed working at a high school in Seoul. I felt more immersed in Korean culture since I had more Korean coworkers. I mostly taught kids, but I had 2 classes where I taught the English teachers and 2 were I taught the non-English teachers. I trusted many of my co-workers and went to them when I needed advice or help. And they did the same with me.

My students presenting their skit

I loved teaching these girls. (I taught at an all girl high school.) They were funny, witty, and creative. You know how most high school girls are. There were a couple of bad eggs, but most of them were mostly charming, most of the time.

Making new friends at SMOE Orientation

But I think the biggest difference with working with SMOE over a company, is that SMOE is a lot bigger than any of the companies in Seoul. They hired more foreign teachers than the hagwons. The many people I met at orientation, made a huge difference for me throughout the year.

I thought that I was okay with having just a few friends, namely my 6 or so co-workers and the 3 friends I made at the English Channel training. But I made more friends after one week at SMOE’s orientation then I did during the past year.

Not only that, but I made friends with their friends and their friends’ friends. With SMOE my social net kept getting broader and broader. I had my core close friends, but many other people I would meet up with once in a while.

I like to make my friends hike!

With a bigger net work of both foreign and Korean friends, I was a lot happier and more active than I was my first year in Korea.


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.

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Posted in Seoul, South Korea | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

So Why Do You Want to Join the JET Program?

Posted by Heliocentrism on February 28, 2010

February 24, 2010

All Pictures

Asakusa Temple in Tokyo, Japan

The Japanese Embassy, Guam

The picture above is of one of my students and me at the Asakusa Temple in Tokyo. At the time this picture was taken I was living in Japan and I was really skinny. I worked for a company called GEOS and I was having a good time; not a great time, but a good time.

I had friends, but most of them work for the JET Programme. I have to say that I was quite jealous of them. They had a huge social network. They knew people in other towns that they didn’t have to serendipitously meet on a subway or anything. They also had Japanese coworkers that they hung out with.

My own coworkers at GEOS seemed tired and over worked, but only because they were. They mostly lived far away. None of them lasted very long at GEOS. By my 4th month of working at GEOS, I was the most senior member at the eikaiwa. I had to rely on casually meeting people on trains or in grocery stores or making friends through my students. (Most of my students were around my age or older.)

Lucky for me, I had one really nice student and he had many foreign friends. He would invite me to go with him anytime these friends were having a party. Many of them were in the JET Programme. I am still friends with a few of them today.

One of my fellow English teachers in Seoul, South Korea

Stay Away from the Channel

Then I moved to South Korea and worked for English Channel. When I worked there the company was okay. They always paid me on time, though I did have to check all my pay stubs to make sure they gave me all my overtime. If I did get paid the wrong amount, it was easily and quickly fixed and I would get the rest of my money in the next pay check. I really had very few complaints.

However, as my contract was nearing to an end, things started to change. There was a new manager and new people in charge at the head office. The new people in charge gave me the impression that since I wasn’t resigning, it wasn’t worth the effort for them to be polite to me.

When I didn’t get the end-of-the-contract bonus that I was supposed to get one month after my last day, I e-mail Mike, the new guy in charge of Human Resources. His response was literally to only say, “That sucks,” and not offer to help me. I did get my money after e-mailing Bob, the guy that used to be in charge of HR.

So, when I decided to go back to South Korea, I didn’t trust English Channel enough to resign with them.  I started to look for a different company. It’s a good thing too. I heard from my old co-workers that English Channel stopped paying the pensions and health insurance for many of its employees; this is illegal. There were also been many times when teachers were not paid on time. Sometimes, the Korean employees did not get paid at all.

I just want to make a note that not all English Channels are the same. It’s like a chain company and they do not all have the same management. The one I worked for, was not a chain, though. It was run by, Kenny, the president of English channel. I’m sure it won’t be long before this company goes bankrupt.

Dea Gin Girls’ High School in Seoul, South Korea

SMOE!!

That’s when I found SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education). They place ESL teachers in public schools in Seoul and it is modeled after the JET Programme. I enjoyed my time teaching at Dae Jin Girls’ High School. I was finally able to just teach English without hearing about how the school was losing money.

One of my 2nd grade classes (That 2nd grade of High school = 11th grade in the US)

No one tried to pressure me into working on Saturdays, to sell books, or more classes. I just taught English lessons. And my co-teachers were great, Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Oh! I also enjoyed teaching the English teachers and other co-workers.

They taught me so much about Korea. Whenever they saw me planning a trip, they would give me advice on things to do there. Many times Mrs. Kim or Mrs. Oh made reservations for me since I do not speak Korean very well.

So now I would like to live in Japan one more time. This time I want to work in a public school like I did in Seoul, so I applied to the JET Programme. I was given an interview at the Japanese Embassy in Guam. I think the interview went well. Hopefully, I will hear back from them in April.

The interviews for the JET Program are notorious for being rough. There are blog entries out there from interviewers who say that their fellow interviewers delight in tormenting prospective teachers. I was expecting the worst, but my interviewers all were very nice.

I’ve noticed that Guam is filled with nice, friendly people who are quick to offer help with directions or to drive you around to take pictures of Point Udall.

If you do need to stay in Guam, especially if you have an interview for the JET Program, I recommend The Tamuning Plaza Hotel. It is not fancy, in fact it’s a bit old. But the rooms are huge and the staff is very helpful. It’s about 2 blocks away from the ITC building where the Japanese embassy is. The room rates are pretty good, and you can rent a car from them for about $50 a day. (The room rates are better when you book it through hostelworld.com.)  Since you rent the car from the hotel, you can rent it on days you need a car and just walk to the beach when you don’t need to drive.

The hotel is near Agana Beach. It’s a great beach for kids because the water is shallow even far out. But, it’s not that great for tall swimmers.

Because I’m in a bit of a nostalgic mood, here is a picture of the little Japanese town I used to live in. It’s called Tōgane (pronounced Toe-ga-nay) in Chiba Prefecture. There isn’t much going on there; just onion and rice fields. It was a great place to live.

The old neighborhood in Japan

All Pictures.


 

The United States of America

How to get there:

You can enter my country by land, air, or sea. But I think flight would be your transportation method of choice.

I have no clue how to get a visa to the US or who needs one. Just assume that you need one if you are not American or Canadian and check with your local US embassy.

Phone:

  • Use 911 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance
  • Use 411 for information (This might cost money.)

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • It’s a big country. You’re going to need a car.

Guam

How to Get There:

From Bangkok –

  • The best airline that I found to get to Guam from Bangkok was Philippines Airline.
  • There’s a long stop over in Manila’s airport. (I will blog about the Ninoy Aquino’s shenanigans later.)

Guam has one commercial airport, the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport. It’s near Hagatna.

You pretty much have to fly into Guam. There are not boats, and trains are just ridiculous.

Websites:

Notes:

  • Guam is a territory of the United States. This means that if you are American, you do not need a passport to travel to Guam.
  • If you are not an American, then you will need the same visa to enter Guam that you would need to get into the continental United States.
  • The people of Guam are United States citizens, just at a better climate.
  • You can only us US dollars here.
  • I recommend renting a car unless you are with a tour group.
  • Although Guam is a small island, it is not anywhere small enough to just walk around.
  • The beaches here are great.
    • When you go to any beach in Guam, DO NOT go out to the breakers. They look pretty, but do not leave the calm water. The current out there is very strong and many tourists have died. There are also many coral reefs. Corral can be very sharp and you don’t want to be pushed into corral by strong waves.
  • There are 2 military bases on the island.
  • Forget about seeing Point Udall. Just forget it!

Umatac Bay

How to get there:

  • 13°17’54.8″N 144°39’48.3″E
  • This is on Route 2 in Umatac.
  • It’s just about the only part of Route 2 in Umatac that’s near the ocean.

Address:

2, Umatac, Guam 96915, Mariana Islands

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • The monument is out in the open and can be accessed at any time.

Notes:

  • This is the spot where Magellan landed and started off the burning and pillaging of the Chamorro villages. Soon after the conquistadors would show up by way of Miguel López de Legazpi.
  • The land would be taken away and claimed in the name of Spain’s King and Queen no Chamorro had ever seen. Later the Guamese would be converted to Christianity, because they needed to learn how to be civilized.
  • Miguel López de Legazpi would then move onto The Philippines. Mark and I would run into him again in Manila.

Fort Soledad
(Fort Nuestra Señora de la Soledad)

How to get there:

  • 13°17’42.4″N 144°39’36.1″E
  • Once you’ve found the Umatac Bay, you can see the fort.
  • Just follow Route 2 past the Spanish Bridge if you’re heading south.
  • If you’re heading North, it’s before the Spanish bridge.

Cost:

  • Free

Notes


Two Lovers Point

How to get there:

  • 13°32’09.5″N 144°48’05.2″E
  • Take Route 1 in Tamuning to Route 34.

Address:

Two Lover’s Point, Tumon Bay, Guam, USA

Phone:

  • 671-647-4107

Website

Cost:

  • 3USD per person

Hours:

  • 8:00 – 20:00

Notes:

The Story of Two Lovers

There once was a Chamorro chief, who had a lovely, charming, and intelligent daughter. She was so lovely and charming that a Spanish captain fell in love with her and asked her father for her hand in marriage. The chief, seeing this as an opportunity to make peace between the two peoples thought it a great idea and said, “Sure. Why not?”

The daughter, being young and beautiful, wasn’t interested in the old crusty Spaniard. She preferred a hot, young Chamorro guy who liked to watch sunsets while saying profound things. Unfortunately, his family was not in the same tax bracket as the chief’s family.

The chief told his daughter to forget about the handsome guy who was actually the right age for her and to think about the positive aspects of marrying the old Spanish captain. The dad and the Spaniard went ahead with the wedding plans and they both got all excited when the big day came.

Right before the wedding the bride-to-be went for a walk. She walked all the way up to what is now known as Lovers Point to be with the guy her dad didn’t feel was good enough for her. Eventually, her father, the Spaniard, and many wedding guests found the lovers. Her father tried to order her to get back to the wedding, but she wasn’t listening.

The young lovers tied their long shiny hair together in a tight knot. They held each other and kissed one last time. Then they jumped.

It was a long way down. There’s a lot of pointy coral down there.

Map:

Posted in Chiba 県, Guam, Honshū, Japan, Tamuning, Tokyo 都, Tōgane 市, Umatac, United States, The | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Time to go Home: USA

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 26, 2009

June 28, 2008

Do I remember how to get home?

I Need to Travel Like People Need to Breathe

At the end of this trip it had been about a year since I was in the US. The plan, when I left Korea, was to start a new life in the US, the country to which I belong. I would get a real job, buy a car, get a mortgage, and get all the other trappings that come with being a rooted non-wanderer.  I even started applying for jobs before I left Korea. But somewhere in Vietnam I realized that I would not be happy here.

I love traveling and I cannot live anywhere for too long without feeling boxed in. I crave seeing new places, finding new ways to live, and getting immersed into new cultures. I must travel to live, like people need air to breathe.

SMOEs week-long orientation at the Hyundai Center in Seoul, South Korea

SMOE

While stuck in Mongolia during this trip and searching the internet for ways to leave Ulaanbaatar, I came across a job ad for S.M.O.E., the organization that places native English teachers in the Seoul public schools. I applied for the job and sent in my resume, covering letter, and references; all before entering Russia.

Shortly after that, while in Finland, I got a reply and set a date and time for a phone interview. Luckily for me my mom had an international cell phone on which they could call me, or else I would have had to call them from a payphone somewhere. An S.M.O.E. rep called me while I was waiting for the Eurostar back to London. By the time the call ended I knew I had the job. The next day I was e-mailed an official letter stating that they were offering me a job and a list of things to do to get a visa.

Within months I was packing my bags again to head back out into the world. She never said it, but I think my mom was hoping that I would live in some other country so she could come visit me. She’s already been to Korea. My mom is a traveler too.

Nomads

My family (years before I was born) moving from Panama to Grand Cayman. The little boy is Malcolm.

A Reading Rainbow Kid

I love to read. So let me recommend some books about traveling. These are books that I have read, loved, and enjoyed at various stages in my life.


The United States of America

How to get there:

You can enter my country by land, air, or sea. But I think flight would be your transportation method of choice.

I have no clue how to get a visa to the US or who needs one.

Phone:

  • Use 911 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance
  • Use 411 for information (This might cost money.)

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • It’s a big country. You’re going to need a car.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

Posted in Florida, Miami, United States, The | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

 
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