Thursday, December 4, 2014

Feeling foreign

At this point in my Korean adventure, my life here is pretty routine.  I know how to get around, I know where to buy the things I need, and I know where to find all of the important places in town.  However, every now and then I still have days when simple tasks seem way too complicated.

Today, for example, I had to go to the bank.  Online banking in Korea is ridiculously cumbersome due to all of the security attacks from the North.  One of the things you need to do online banking is a certificate that is put onto your computer at the bank.  This certificate expires once a year, which means that you need to go back to the main branch to get it renewed.  Since my certificate recently expired about a month ago, I've been wanting to get this taken care of so I can send money home to pay my seemingly never ending student loan payments.  However, I didn't have my ARC (alien registration card) or my passport because they were both sent away to the Chinese embassy to get my visa for China.  Therefore, I had essentially no identification for a while, which makes taking care of bank-related pretty impossible.

Well, this week I finally got my ARC and passport back (complete with a Chinese visa, I should add!) Since I get out of school early on Thursdays, I knew today I HAD to go to the bank because any other day I will get home too late to make the banking hours.

After gathering my things, I walked across town to the bank's main branch.  There is a banker here who speaks English and therefore becomes the default banker for every foreigner in town.

I hardly ever go to the bank, but just about every time I do it's a strange experience.  Korean banks remind me of delis in American supermarkets.  You have to take a number when you come in and wait for your number to appear before you are helped.  However, typically when I enter the bank they see the confused look on my face (where do I get the number form? Which area of the bank am I supposed to go to? Do I need a form?) and direct me in the right direction.

Today I walked into the bank and the information desk was empty.  Huh.  This left me to awkwardly stand in the bank as everyone in the entire branch stared at me.  And yes, everyone really does stare just because I'm a foreigner.

After waiting helplessly for a few minutes someone came over to see where I needed to go.  I said that I needed help with my internet banking.  I tried in my best broken Korean to explain that I had internet banking, but I needed a new certificate.  I don't think that came across because the woman then brought me over to a desk and gave me a form....that was entirely in Korean.  She then walked away and left me to fill it out on my own. I could figure out what about half of the things on the form meant, then I started to get frustrated as no one came back to help, I waited.  And waited.  And waited more.  I thought surely eventually that lady would come back, but nope.  She did not. And I felt entirely like every person who worked there was doing their best to avoid me like the plague.

Finally, after feeling awkwardly ignored I took the paper and left the bank.

Here were my main thoughts as I left the bank:
--UGH! I really need to get this fixed or I won't be able to send money home and I have lots of bills that are automatically going to come out of my checking account very soon.
--Where was the guy who speaks English?
--Why didn't they tell me when he would be there?
--Why did they just walk away from me?  I can't speak the greatest Korean, but I can meet broken English halfway with broken Korean.
--I know Koreans are shy to speak for foreigners, but come on....I'm not a scary person.
--Now I have to wait until next Thursday to go back.  And then I can only hope the situation is different somehow.
--Well, that was sufficiently awkward for today.  Enough Korea for one day.

Times like these, I really miss how independent I can be at home.  I like being able to take care of my own problems without feeling like I have a room full of people staring at me.

Also, I miss having a co-teacher who helped me with these things...but that's a different rant and I don't want to get to negative about that issue.

On the bright side, I did manage to successfully mail things at the post office two days in a row. So, I'm not a complete failure at taking care of things in Korea.

Experiences like these give me a new level of empathy for people who live their whole lives as foreigners.  I chose to move to Korea, but I know some people are forced to leave their home countries out of fear for their safety or for lack of adequate opportunities.  I left my home country out of choice, and I know I can go back at any time.  I can't imagine what it's like to live your whole life as a foreigner--where things are more difficult and where people avoid talking to you.  Additionally, I am thankful that as many times as being a foreigner in Korea is frustrating, there are also many times we get treated exceptionally well, with free gifts or unique experiences.  I have a whole new sympathy for people who live their whole lives as foreigners, and I am thankful that when the time comes I will be able to go back to my home country, where I can freely advocate with myself.  

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