Thursday, July 16, 2009 is real now, huh?

Well, yesterday was a big day for me! As soon as I got out of summer school I headed over to Passport Health to get my final Japanese Encephalitis shot (woo!) and then sped down to Bowie to meet my dad who had offered to take me downtown for the second time in as many weeks. We zipped down to the embassy and I waited in line for just a few minutes before I got my passport, complete with a shiny new E-2 Visa! No really, it has a shiny seal. My name is spelled correctly, my birthday is accurate, and it is the right kind of visa, so I figure I am ALL SET.

While I was standing in line waiting to pick it up, I was listening to a large (and very loud) group of Americans sitting on the couches in the embassy discussing the process of getting things notarized and apostilled in order to meet the requirements for teaching abroad. I could certainly identify with everything that they said! It is a crazy process.

Last night my parents and I went out to a great Korean Restaurant (Goong Jeon)in Glen Burnie where we had a huge and filling meal. It was a good celebration to tie up the exciting day. Last night after coming home from dinner I took the last huge step as part of preparation: I booked my flight. EEE! Non-refundable, one-way tickets make everything a lot more real.

I fly out of BWI on Saturday, August 23 around 9:00am and head over to Chicago (about 2 hours on the plane). After a couple hour layover, I board a Korean Air flight into Seoul. I should arrive in Seoul at 4:00pm (their time, so 3:00am EST) on Sunday, August 23. In case you were wondering, that is just about a 14 hour flight. Which will be longer than my current longest flight, which was San Francisco to Shanghai in 13 hours. Should be fun...psych.

In other news, getting everything squared away with respect to bills, etc is a headache and a half! Here is what I learned about various businesses that I have accounts with:
  1. USAA is, not surprisingly, wonderful. They are dropping my car insurance down to almost nothing while it is in storage and they have kick ass traveler's insurance for relatively cheap. I say it is not surprising that they were wonderful because I have never once had a bad experience with them, or found out that someone was getting a better rate from someone else. Since they primarily serve military families, they are used to people going abroad and are super supportive. Love them.

  2. T-Mobile is awesome. They have a program where if you are being deployed by the military they will put your phone plan on hold for 18 months. If you are 6 months into your 2-year contract when you leave, you come back up to 18 months later and you are 6 months into your 2-year contract. The woman in the customer service department talked to her boss, and he approved it so I get the same deal as people abroad in the service! Sweet! You just play a $10/mo fee to keep your account active...which is no where near as steep as the $97/mo I thought I was going to have to pay!

  3. Wachovia kind of sucks. Figuring out how to transfer money from my Korean bank account into my stateside accounts has been...nervous making, hahah. No, seriously, it is obnoxious. After lots of Internet research (for I am a master Googler) I have found that there are basically two ways to get money from there to here. You can take the sketcher option and buy American traveler's checks from your Korean bank and then send them home (which you are not allowed to do, technically), where someone has to forge your signature at your bank and then deposit them. This is basically free, but, clearly, a little sketch, and by sketch I mean borderline illegal. The second option is to wire money from Korea to your American bank account. This is the more popular, but more costly option. Western Union charges you up to TWENTY PERCENT of whatever you are wiring, which seems absurd. The Korean banks generally charge between 10,000 and 20,000 Won (around $7-14) to send whatever sum you need wired. That is totally doable. But, of course, then you get charged on the American end, also. So I called Wachovia, where I currently have an account to inquire about how much it costs to receive an international wire transfer. The answer: TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS EACH TIME. Whaaaaat? That is craaaaazy. That would run me around $300 for the year, just to get my money to the States.

    So I formulated a new plan. I found a bank that has branches both in South Korea and the United States (HSBC) and called them to see if I could open an account with them. I could just withdrawal the money from my Korean account and deposit into my international HSBC account. Perfect plan, right? Wrong. After speaking to the representatives at the HSBC in DC, I learned that the accounts in the US and abroad are unrelated and don't communicate. You would have to wire the money just like with any other unrelated accounts, and the American branch of HSBC charges THIRTY DOLLARS each time you send an international wire transfer. My hopes of an easy solution were dashed.

    Since I wasn't ready to fork over $300 over the course of a year, I started calling all the banks in my area. PNC and SunTrust charge $15 per international wire transfer, which sounded pretty good. Only $180 over the course of a year. Then I found a winner! Bank of America and Chevy Chase both only charge $10 per international wire transfer. Since Bank of America has national coverage in the US, I have decided to open an account with them. While switching banks is kind of a hassle, it is sooooo worth it since it will save me around $180 over the course of the next year.

Anyway, as you can see I have been uber busy. This week was the first time in the entire history of owning my phone that the battery got super low because I was talking on it so much!

It seems impossible that I leave for England/Ireland/Scotland/Wales two weeks from tomorrow and that I leave for Korea in just over a month. I have SO much to do. I am going to devote a lot of this weekend to packing so that I have some free time to hang out with people before I leave.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Visa on the way!

Yesterday I finally received my Notice of Appointment and final contracts, so today I schlepped my "Korea Binder" down to the consulate in DC to get my visa application processed. The Korean embassy has three buildings downtown, spread out over about a half mile of Massachusetts Ave. I first ended up at the KORUS House, which is an information center, but then I figured out how to get to the consulate.

After about a 10 minute wait I got up to the window and the man informed me that the visa application I had filled out was old and I needed to fill out a new one. Mind you, the second form looked EXACTLY LIKE THE ONE I BROUGHT IN, with some minor formatting changes. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that the Korean fine print said something that I couldn't read that explained the need for the new form.

After transferring the information from my nicely typed visa form to the one provided at the embassy, I went back up to the window where they took my application, checklist, contract and $45 and I was on my way. I can pick up my passport, complete with Korean E-2 visa, next Tuesday afternoon.

I guess that makes it kind of real now...right? Eesh.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I have THE most amazing friends.

(L to R) Renee, Carl, Lyndsay, Jo Anna, Monica, Liz, Debbie, Greg, Amanda, Me
(Not Pictured: Gabe)

No, seriously. THE most amazing.

Every year since 2003 (except, apparently, 2005) we have gone on an annual camping trip. We've camped in mountains and beaches in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and we planned this camping trip to take place in New Jersey. We found a sweet campsite (Surf & Stream Campground) and planned to drive up on Friday and spend some time at the beach before setting up our tents and getting down to business.

Monica and Renee flew in from New Orleans and Dallas (respectively) earlier in the week, so the three of us and Debbie loaded up the van with all our crazy amounts of stuff and headed up to New Jersey. We spent about an hour and a half at the beach before I started to get antsy and decided we should head back to our site to get everything set up for dinner. I wasn't expecting Carl and Liz to arrive until about an hour later, so I wanted to get the fire all started and our tent all set up before they got there. Monica took her sweet ass time and made us drive out of our way to (attempt) to find a Chase ATM at a Walgreen's and almost earned herself an ass kicking. We finally arrived at the site, settled up with the management, and headed down to the island where we had two tent sites reserved. I grabbed some stuff and headed over the bridge and MUCH to my surprise, was greeted with a "SURPRISE!" from Liz, Carl, Lyndsay and a campsite decorated with streamers and signs.

For those of you who are not Arrested Development fans, I feel sorry for you. The sign is a fantastic reference to a party Lucille throws for Buster when he is headed to the Army.

Anyway, I was met with a fantastic surprise party complete with decorations, basically a full bar in a cooler, and the MOST AMAZING PINATAS EVER. One was a rocket ship that Carl added North Korean flags and text to, making it a North Korean missile, and the other was a giant cupcake. Pinatas are inherently awesome, but these blew my mind. Each one was filled with candy, tiny bottles of liquor, and an assortment of random items (Advil, loofah, etc) and toys (baseball set, recorder, etc) from the dollar store. It was absolutely fantastic.

We had great drinks: And delicious food:
The whole weekend was superb. Even though it rained. All weekend. Like Noah's Ark rained.
Moral of the story, my friends are fantastic. They coordinated this wonderful, and completely unexpected surprise that totally made my day. Basically all the most important friends in my life were there (except Bruno!) which just made it even more special.