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.

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