Living so far from home and with access to a minimum amount of holidays there is an abundance of things that you will miss out on. Unfortunately, it’s these special festive times where you will feel the cruel pangs of homesickness the most. However, you will find that the temporary family which you build up around you are all experiencing the same thing. Like a real family, there is an admirable act of uniting through these essential traditions.
Everyone wants to celebrate their own traditional holidays, unfortunately you will most probably have to work through the actual day, but many people chose to observe the date in their free time. The chances are that you will find yourself celebrating not only your own special occasions, but also the traditions of the friends that you make.
Even though the experience will be diluted by the fact that it is not being celebrated in the native country, perhaps the food is lacking a special ingredient that you can’t get. Also, there will be no drunken uncle sat in the corner, he will appear in an extended Skype later. These celebrations will become the most distinguished ones because they are so different from the norm.
I have been lucky enough to experience my first ever American Thanksgiving here in Korea. Seven of us crammed into a tiny living room space, most of us sat on the floor balancing plates overflowing with Turkey and stuffing on our laps. We drank wine and played card games.
For Christmas there is a secret Santa planned and also a pot luck meal. Whilst the build up to the 25th is very different to previous years, there is still a special anticipation as I await Christmas Day. Each day I open my advent calendar (shipped over from the UK), and I feel the excitement grow. I’ve realised that I can celebrate my own beliefs and festivities no matter where I am in the world. Albeit quite differently than when I am at home.
I’ve been teaching English in Korea for just over three months now, I realise that this is a relatively short amount of time and I am in no position to be distributing advice. However, I’m fresh enough to remember my own fears and concerns during my application process and before I landed here, to be able to sympathise with them.
Firstly, acquiring the documents to enter Korea can be excruciatingly slow. When you’ve finally got the job, waiting for the documents to go through immigration and the embassy can take a ridiculous amount of time. I had to rearrange a trip to Dublin because my passport was at the embassy and my partner had to reschedule his flight to Korea because of his. I have been told that waiting times vary dependant on what time of year you plan to start. I started at the end of August which is a busy time because this is also when the EPIK (English Program in Korea) teachers start. For me it took three weeks for my documents to go through my hagwon and immigration on the Korean side. Then it was a further week for it to be processed at the Korean embassy in London. I travelled down in person to hand in the documents in order to save some time. This waiting was literally the worst part, it will get sorted eventually, just try to leave sufficient time before your departure.
Also, I personally found the consulate in London unhelpful both in person and on the phone and their website can be a bit confusing to navigate. The visa section is only open from 10am until midday, so keep this in mind if you plan to make the trip down in person. Also, take into consideration that they will be closed on Korean holidays (or red days), which you can find here.
Something that I only heard about when it was too late for me was a visa run. This is a unique situation for when you have run out of time to get your documents together in your own country. You can’t get a Korean visa whilst in Korea, so some people chose to take the short trip over to Japan in order to obtain one. You must get a tourist visa to visit Korea initially and then make the trip over to get the working visa. It can sound quite appealing, taking a little trip to Japan, however I get the impression that it is literally a case of landing, visiting the consulate, waiting around, getting confused and leaving the country with a bitter resentment for Japanese and Korean bureaucracy.
This may not sound ethical, but I do know of people who plan to do the visa run, but when they arrive in Korea their school allows them to work for some time without taking the trip. It all depends on how lenient your school is and how much they need you there to teach, with or without the right documents. If you feel that you might run out of time before you plan to depart for Korea, talk to your school or your recruiting agency, the chances are that they will sort something out quickly that suits all parties. You’ve got to remember that you are vital to them and it would exhaust a lot of their money and time.