Saturday, July 6th, 2013, Caffe Bene, Gyeongju, South Korea, 11:25 AM

I had an unexpected adventure yesterday. To explain exactly what happened, I have to go back to a week ago, to last Saturday night. I was in Seoul with all the other ETA’s at the Final Dinner. After the final dinner, I went to a club with my friend Megan and her Korean friend Teagum. We went dancing and had a lot of fun. 

Note about Korean night clubs. You have to show them ID to get in. Unlike American clubs, this is not really to show them your age, but to confirm you are not in the military. In Korea, every male has to serve I think at least two years in the Korean military, and night clubs don’t like having soldiers in their establishments. 

Fulbright ETA’s and other foreigners have ID’s called ARC or Alien Registration Cards. I showed it to a bouncer as I went into the club. And around 3:00 AM, when I made it back to my hostel, realized I no longer had it.

I was not extremely concerned, because honestly, I rarely have to show my ARC card, and I am leaving Korea very soon. But, to be a good ETA, I called Anthony Cho, a former ETA who is now Mrs. Shim’s assistant. His job is basically to take care of all the ETA’s and help them with stuff like this. I told him what had happened, and he informed me that when foreigners leave Korea, if they cannot return their ARC card, they are fined 100,000 won, or over $100. Meaning I either had to pay that fine or go to an immigration office to apply for a new card. 

I had to wait for Anthony to email me with pertinent info, which he did on last Thursday, the day my principal, vice-prinicpal, and co-teachers threw me a special hoishik in honor of my departure. 

Before we left Seondeok to go to the restaurant, I told Mrs. Go what was going on, asking for her help. She told me not to worry about it. We would work it out after the hoishik. 

I have gotten very use to hoishiks. Even though many of those present are English teachers, for the most part, they speak Korean. I have gotten very adept at sitting there with a smile on my face as I space out. 

We did talk a little bit. This was July 4th, so I was wearing a small American flag pin on my dress, and I explained just why I was wearing it. July 4th somehow becomes much more important when you are actually not in America. 

Anyway, they were speaking Korean, and eventually, I heard my name get thrown around, and the term “ARC card.” The discussion became very serious it seemed, and I waited patiently for someone to translate to tell me just what was going on, but they didn’t. Then something quite awesome happened. The Seondeok Chairman (Seondeok is made up of a middle school and a high school, each with their own principals. The chairman is above both the principals) and two of my co-teachers pulled out their cell phones and were speaking in rapid Korean. 30 minutes later, Mrs. Go gave me a lot of detailed information of exactly what I needed to do. Where to go, who to see, what I needed to take. It was a nice late reminder of just how much my co-teachers are willing to help me. 

So yesterday I took a quick trip to Ulsan to go to their immigration office and apply for a new ARC card. It takes around three weeks for a new ARC card to be made. Obviously, I will be in America by then, but, the immigration office can give me a certificate stating that I applied for one. I can show that to the immigration officers at the airport so I don’t have to pay the fine. 

So the actual trip was not a big deal. It was basically an hour long bus ride broken up by a bureaucracy, which is just as much fun as it is in America. However, on my way back to Gyeongju, I realized something. One year before, I was just starting orientation. I was new in Korea, didn’t know anyone, and terrified out of my wits. At that time, I would not have been able to get on a bus by myself to a Korean city I had never been to, take a taxi to a building I didn’t know to get what I needed. It doesn’t sound like much, but throw in a language barrier, and it becomes much more difficult. I have come very far. Not only did I see a scared girl at the beginning of orientation, I can remember a terrified new teacher who had the urge to hide under her desk. Yes, my students can get difficult, but I haven’t had those urges in a while. I really have learned so much, and changed. Queue Caterpillar to butterfly metaphor. 

Something else happened. It is monsoon season right now in Korea, meaning rain is likely every day. If you are wise, you will carry an umbrella with you everywhere you go. So I took an umbrella with me to Ulsan, but by the time I got back to the bus station, I no longer had it. At the time, it was not a big deal. It was barely sprinkling outside. Even when I was back in Gyeongju, rain was just trickling down. I got on a bus to my homestay. Ten minutes later, when I stepped off the bus, it was pouring. I was soaked in just a few seconds. I was drenched and cold. And smiling from ear to ear. It felt great. Kind of like Korea was saying goodbye to me in its own way. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it is how I felt at the time. 

Today, I have learned that the new ETA’s, ETA’s for the 2013-2014 grant year have just arrived in Korea, and are already in Goesan starting their orientation. It feels so strange knowing that the teacher who will take my place at Seondeok middle school is already here. 

As things end, others begin. The circle of life. And now I have a sudden urge to watch the Lion King. 

I start my last week of school on Monday. I have planned a game for my students, a jeopardy style game with the premise of “How Well Did you Get to Know Allison Teacher?” The categories are my family, my likes and dislikes, my hobbies, Me in Korea, and Misc. 

I honestly don’t know which goodbye will be harder, with my homestay, or with my students. Either way, I am trying not to think about it. Ten days. Ten days. Here we go. 

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