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Archive for May, 2007

Pre-Preperation: Things Happen

May 29, 2007 Leave a comment

Slowly.

I sent off my transcripts, my pictures and my letter. I’ve paid for my plane ticket. I feel pretty good. The money issue looms over me, but I feel like something will happen. Now I have to start worring about things like what I need over there, what I have to pay for now, and my visa. It should be a great experience for me, though. I’ll get a chance to learn Korean, teach English, meet some awesome people, get lost, spend half a year on the other side of the world, away from my family or anyone else I really know, in a place where they don’t speak the same language as me. I really am looking forward to it. To a certain extent, I look forward to the chaos.

I was surprised today. It was difficult to find the address for Sunlin College. At least, in English it was. This might point towards a general trend. I’ve heard mailing address systems in Korea are arcane and beyond comprehension.  Something to consider if you need to mail something but you don’t know where.

I’ve got a contact at Sunlin. He’s the one that got me interested in Sunlin specifically. He’s been so helpful. Quite a blessing. I’ve actually been blessed with great help at the college, from Koreans, friends who visited Korea, all sorts of people. Contacts quickly become the currency of getting things done and getting information. I suggest telling anyone who seems remotely interested in your trip about it. They might be able to help you, or find someone who can. Be likable and humble. Listen to advice, but don’t take it as law. Speaking of advice…

Advice:

For anyone considering a trip anywhere, I suggest getting your passport now. If you’re considering traveling abroad, you’ll need one, and they take (seemingly) forever to get. So you might as well get one before you have any plans, because most trips don’t seem to get planned far enough ahead of time to make getting a passport convenient.

Assume things will take more time than they should. If you have a set date something needs done by, do it several days before because there will be problems with everything, someone will need called that isn’t there, something will take a form you don’t have, a signature you can’t get, or an animal-themed key guarded by zombies.  Plan on it.

Assume everything will cost twice what you expect it to. Occasionally, things cost less, but for the most part finances are good to be pessimistic about.  At least, in the sense of planning for the worst. Don’t let costs paralyze you from actually don’t anything or going anywhere.

Always wear clean underwear.

Categories: Pre-Preperation

Pre-Preperation: Pictures and Basic Plans

May 22, 2007 Leave a comment

Get lots of passport pictures. I got 4 when I got my passport. 2 for the passport, 2 for the visa. Now I need 5 more for my college. Get LOTS of passport pictures.

In other news, things are coming along in bursts. It sounds as though I’ll be going to Korea some time in July to help with a pilot exchange program between Emporia State University (my current college) and Sunlin College in Pohang, South Korea. There I’ll be helping to teach English for a about a month. Then I’ll be a student there for a full semester (~Sept – Dec) where I’ll take Korean Language and Culture Classes. I’ll also be helping teach English classes while I’m a student. It should be quite busy.

On my list of things to get done:

* Enroll at Sunlin

* Get my visa

* Get my plane tickets

* Get a pocket translator

* Learn Korean

I’ll be happy if I can get 3 or 4 of those things done.

Categories: Pre-Preperation

Pre-Preperation: Getting Going

May 10, 2007 Leave a comment

For about four hours yesterday I worked to get paperwork going through my university. I don’t think I got anything accomplished. Processes and paperwork don’t line up between departments, and with the semester almost over, I feel like I’m running out of time. I have faith something will work out, but just what, I don’t know. I should find out on Friday. I’ll have to get a lot of paperwork done in a hurry, in order for it to work. Paperwork is not my strong suit. But if this is the worst stumbling block on the path to Korea, I’d be happy.

Another worry has presented itself: what is going to happen in the time between my July visit and the start of the semester (more on this when things become concrete)? Is my visa going to be a problem? Will I have a place to stay?

Like I said, I think it will work out in some fashion, but I’m trying to predict where the problems might show up. At least the predictable ones.

Categories: Pre-Preperation

Pre-Preperation: Introduction

I’ve never felt any need to have a diary before this. I despise the term Blog, but I’m sure I’ll start using it eventually. Anyway, the reason I’m making this now is because I finally have a reason to publicly detail a long, drawn out process in my life. I’m going to Korea.

When first researching going to Korea, some of my best information was from other people who had written blogs (sigh, using it already) about their trips to teach English in South Korea. I feel I should do my part and provide fuel for the next round of travelers.

Why Korea? Because I feel drawn there by God. I really didn’t know anything about Korea a year ago. But as I felt lead there, I did research, and I’ve come to love the country from afar. In some ways, it really seems like my kind of place. I guess I’ll see how true that really is. As I studied more, I got to meet many great Korean people. I hope I can meet others as friendly and outgoing when I’m actually in Korea.

On another level, the drive to go to Korea has become a mission. It has galvanized me into doing things. I started college again. I went to a church with services in a language I didn’t understand, where I didn’t know anyone, in a town I didn’t particularly like. I started studying another language, something I hadn’t done since High School. I got out and did things. In a lot of ways, just the act of preparing to go to Korea has changed me.

So what’s the plan? Right now, the hope is to go to Sunlin University in Pohang, South Korea. Maybe as early as July. Possibly until the end of the Fall Semester. We’ll see. I’ve already had one trip canceled and one I couldn’t go on because I didn’t get my passport soon enough. But it may have all been for the best. I’ll try to update things as they become more solid. But even if these trips don’t work out, I’m still going to push forward towards Korea.

So that’s my purpose. I’ll try to cover some of the planning stages, and I’ll do my best to cover my failures so that others can learn from them. I go to the health office tomorrow to find out if I really need any vaccinations. I’ll do without any I can get away with.

Here is my first piece of collected information: Bring lots of deodorant. It’s supposed to be hard to find, and expensive. I didn’t start using any until after high school, so maybe I’ll go back to that. Probably not.

Categories: Pre-Preperation

Etcetera: Why is Everyone So Obsessed with Japan?

May 3, 2007 1 comment

This is more about the general perception of Asians by my peers (other youngish people from Kansas and Missouri) than it is about Japan, or Korea.

Americans seem obsessed with Japan. Well, Internet Americans, mostly younger people. Hypothetically, 14-27 year olds. The obsession isn’t a real fascination; the kind where you research all you can about everything concerning the topic. It’s more of an infatuation based on the face presented to us. Japan exports their pop culture, we consume it. It goes both ways, for sure. Anime is usually the starting point for many people like me. It’s violent, has bright colors and women with big eyes. What more could you want? It seems to be the modern popular Icon on Japan’s culture. Never mind that a lot of the actual animating is done in Korea.

Music is another import. I’ve been guilty of this one myself. However, most Jpop is, well…pop. It seems to mostly be loose copies of American pop music. I don’t really listen to American Pop, so Japanese Pop isn’t any better. There is definitely some good Japanese music, but it isn’t really part of the pop culture presentation.

Food is one of the exceptions to the Japanese obsession. Aside from Ramen (sic), Chinese food is the designated Asian food. (As an aside, I find the term Asian food to be worthless. If you’re going to use the entire continent to describe something, then you have to include Russia, India, Pakistan and a whole host of other non-oriental countries.) Japanese food seems to occupy the upper level of the Oriental Food market, with its expensive steak houses, while Chinese is the lower end with big buffets and take out. Thai is some where in the middle, as far as price goes. Vietnamese and Korean get pushed out and end up scattered sparsely at the top and bottom of the spectrum, but are hardly as popular as the big three. And I don’t think I’ve seen a restaurant that serves Filipino, Indonesian or Malaysian specifically.

Japanese games are popular in America. Especially on consoles. Especially on Japanese consoles, which are mostly composed of parts made in South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Not that the parts matter. What does matter is the games. Many tend to be so cliche that big lists have been devoted to detailing over used premises in Japanese RPGs. A few of the imports tend to be truly unique, but for the most part, they are as much or more cookie cutter than Western games. And many of the games are dumbed down in content when they are brought to America, making the situation worse. To add to it, people don’t differentiate things “Oriental” and things “Japanese”. I play a Korean MMO (which can be just as guilty of cookie cutter design, don’t get me wrong). In it, the American community obsesses about Anime, Japan and things they think are Japanese. I don’t think I’ve heard more than a handful of comments concerning actual Korean Society.

Korean pop culture seems to have a harder time in America. Probably, this is due in part to lack of translations. Which is a catch 22 because people online do fan-subs based on popularity, and something can’t easily become popular without being translated. This is mostly true for China, too. Aside from Kung-fu movies.

Religion is another thing. People seem to know very little about Japanese Shinto, but they are quick to group it with Buddhism in ideological arguments. In fact, there is an unspecified “Eastern” Religion, which seems to encompass everything good and nothing bad, that can only be used to argue against “Western” Religion, which has everything bad. Religious debates aside, the Philippines are 85% Roman Catholic by some counts. South Korea has between 15 and 50% Christianity, depending on who is doing the counting. Islam is spreading rapidly through Asia. Never mind Russia or India. The idea that Asia has a unified religious outlook is simply bizarre. The only thing that could pass for a unified Eastern Religion would be Confucianism, which most don’t consider a religion. And the Caste system that comes with it is something that most Americans abhor. Yet many of the same people will stress the unquestioned superiority of Asia in all things spiritual.

And then there are ninjas and samurai. And Katanas. If anything defined certain parts of male centered online America, it would be these. Anime is probably to blame here, too. Things are thrown around about these groups with almost no context or background. Ninjas weren’t bad, Samurai were. The Katana is the best sword ever. Ninjitsu lets you do X. Y flashy martial arts style is the best. Entirely subjective or simply incorrect assertations of superiority are parroted by American fans with zeal.

And maybe the most annoying part is historical. The atomic bomb drops are a crime against humanity (see Grave of the Fireflies), but not Pearl Harbor. Or Manchuria, or the occupation of Korea, or Malaysia, or Indonesia, or Thailand. To be honest, most of the assorted Asians I know don’t think too highly of the Japanese. Not that their opinions should define ours. But Japan has been quite unjust and expansionist in history, just like the much maligned England and America.

The point may be that we aren’t really that much different from Japan, and that is why we love their culture, to a degree. They may be just similar enough to relate to, but still exotic. I can live with that. What I can’t live with is the blindness. American self hatred is in vogue right now on college campuses, but these people must realize that there is no golden culture. Buddhism can lead to a huge jump in prostitution. Caste systems mean that you’re stuck at the level you’re born at. Many cultures authorize and reinforce misogyny, force state service, decry interbreeding and declare themselves master races.

This post doesn’t mean I hate the Japanese. I don’t. I’d like to visit. I think it’s easier to pronounce Japanese words than Korean, which makes my Korean friends gaze at me like I’m stupid. I watched anime. I like Yuki Kajiura’s music. I have had Japanese friends. It isn’t about Japan as much as it is modern America’s blind adoration of the country, and the ignorance of so many other countries. I can be guilty of this, too. I don’t even know where Cambodia is, and right after my parents got a Foreign Exchange Student from Thailand, I made the mistake of saying I thought Thailand was near Siam.

I guess I was sort of right…in a way.

Categories: Etcetera