what to expect when you’re expecting… to move to Korea… Part 4

*This is the final installment, Part 4, of my series chronicling my journey to South Korea.

If’ you’re late to this party, you can catch up by reading Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 if you’re interested.

Two years ago today, Reader, I hopped on two separate planes to make my way to Korea. How appropriate, then, that we will finish chronicling my journey here today!

Last week, we left off with me hearing from the Korean consulate office in Chicago that they would be sending me back my passport. I emailed my recruiter to let her know about the new update in information.

My recruiter called me and said that she had received word from my school, and they wanted to know if I would be willing to drive myself to Chicago to pick up my completed passport – in person – in order to ensure I could leave for Korea on time. 

I said no way.

I didn’t have car insurance anymore; I had cancelled my policy two weeks before and hadn’t driven since. Chicago was a four-hour drive away, one way. It would have been eight hours of driving there and back. Not to mention, who was going to pay for the gas to complete this arduous mission?

So I said, I’m sorry, but no. I will not drive to Chicago. I did everything I was supposed to do in the time I was supposed to do it. This situation wasn’t my fault. If anything, it was their fault for not planning things sooner… (Remember, Koreans are, apparently, notorious for procrastinating to the nth degree.) The consulate had told me they were sending out my passport that day, which meant that I should receive it the following day, on Saturday, and that I would have it in time to leave on Sunday.

My recruiter said she would pass the information to my school and asked me to go ahead and purchase a ticket to Seoul even though I didn’t have my passport in hand yet. She told me that if there were any issues and if my passport didn’t make it back to me on time, the recruiting agency would cover any fees or costs needed to change it.

I did as I was told – I bought a ticket to leave two days later, on Sunday morning, which would technically put me into Seoul on time for the “real” training. I would miss the preliminary introduction day on Monday, but that didn’t matter much, apparently.

And then I waited.

Saturday morning came and went, the mail came, and there was no passport in the mail. I checked the tracking information again, and had the same experience as last time: my information hadn’t made it into the system yet. The Chicago consulate office was becoming my worst enemy.

I called and emailed my recruiter and told her that I was cancelling my plane ticket because I still didn’t have a passport. There was only a $10 fee for cancelling within 24 hours of purchasing, so I wasn’t worried about reimbursement. I would purchase a ticket for the following Friday as soon as I had my passport in-hand.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that this was a holiday weekend – President’s Day was on Monday, so I wasn’t going to see my passport before Wednesday that next week. (The beauty of working for a government office in a foreign country is that you get to observe both your own legal holidays, along with those of your host country. So of course, the consulate was closed on Monday.)

Eventually I just gave up on being stressed out. There was nothing I could do and it gave me more time to pack, unpack, and repack all my bags to optimal weight and catch up on all the episodes of Downton Abbey. I got more time with my family (more than I had bargained for and honestly, I was ready to bolt) and time to talk with my friends before I left the Americas.

The long weekend passed and on Tuesday, I called the consulate office one last time.

Me: Hello, I called several times last week and was promised that my passport was complete and would be sent out on Friday, but I haven’t received it and it’s not made it into the postal system yet. Someone told me it was being mailed out.

Korean Consulate Lady: Yes, Miss Driver, it was mailed out on Friday.

Me: That’s impossible. Are you telling me that it left the building on Friday or that it was put into your outgoing mailbox on Friday and wasn’t picked up?

KCL: It was put in our outgoing mail but it may not have made it in time for the daily mail pick up.

Me: Great. Thank you. If I don’t receive it tomorrow, I will be calling back. I have gotten different information every time I have called and it has been immensely stressful and frustrating.

KCL: I’m sorry, Miss Driver. It will go out today.

Me. Thank you.

And that was that. By 6:00 that night, I checked the USPS system and lo and behold, there was my tracking information. My passport was on it’s way! Late Wednesday afternoon, I had my passport in hand and bought my ticket to Seoul for two days later, Friday. I spent the last two days with my two little brothers and my parents.

I repacked my bags about seventy times (seriously) and the night before I was to leave, Indianapolis got hit with a horrible snow storm. I was worried my flight would be cancelled! My situation just kept getting better and better. If the flight was cancelled, it wouldn’t be the end of everything, but it would put me in a day later than I wanted and I would have less time to adjust to the fourteen-hour time difference.

I stayed up all night, finished Downton, double checked my bags, watched the heavy snow, and then finally went to bed just two hours before I needed to be up to get ready for the airport. My mom got up and helped me get my bags into the car and we started the slow-going to the airport. The flight was still on and with no delays, and I prayed we would make it to the airport in one piece.

When we got there, everything was on time. My bags weighed in at 49.5 and 50 pounds, respectively. (Personally, I felt I deserved a doctorate in packing.) I waited for a while with my mom until I needed to pass through security with a last cup of my favorite Starbucks drink. Then, it was finally time. I hugged my mom and walked through the gate to start the security screening process. I looked behind me one last time and gave a final goodbye wave to my mom and turned the corner.

I took a super-tiny plane to Chicago O’Hare and from there, boarded a 13-hour flight to Seoul.

I made it. I stepped off the plane at Incheon International Airport, all by myself, not knowing a lick of Korean, and realized what was happening:

My adventure was finally beginning.


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  4. Dan Antion says:

    I hope I still have the opportunity to read about your reflections on this journey, oh say in about 10 years. You have added something wonderful to your life’s experience. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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