Gyeongbokgung Palace

625575_3921788214794_1436911079_nAside from being the economic heart of Korea, Seoul boasts many of the nation’s greatest historic sites. History buffs and aficionados will definitely want to visit Gyeongju city in the northern part of Gyeongsang Province for a greater in-depth look at Korea’s history, however Seoul should not be overlooked for its own historical exploits.

Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of Korea’s must see historic sites, and it is easily accessible via subway, bus, or taxi. Gyeongbokgung Palace is just a short walk from the Gyeongbokgung Subway Station or even Gwangwhamun Station. Tickets are a modest 3000 KRW (about 3 USD) and the palace is closed every Tuesday so plan accordingly. I recommend going earlier in the day to make sure you can see everything before closing time which varies between 5:00pm and 6:30pm depending on the season. Near Gyeongbokgung Palace you can also visit the statue of King Sejong, the creator of Hangul (the Korean written language) or just take a stroll around Gwanghwamun Square and its gardens and fountains.

45101_1474847042794_7504989_nGyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 under the Joseon Dynasty. It is the largest of the “Five Grand palaces” built during the Joseon Dynasty and is widely considered to be the most beautiful. It was rebuilt in 1867 after being burned to the ground during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592. Within the palace walls and behind Gwanghwamun gate you’ll be able to see the grand courtroom, the royal living quarters, as well as multiple reflecting pools and gardens. Be sure to see as much of the palace as possible as there are many wonderful photo opportunities to be had inside the palace. Guided tours are also available in English, Chinese, and Japanese but you’ll have to check the official website for more information

( http://www.royalpalace.go.kr/html/eng/main/main.jsp ).41098_1474851922916_980980_n

Whether you are coming to Korea for a short trip or will be staying for much longer, don’t miss out on one of Korea’s most important and historical landmarks. Its location is convenient for an afternoon trip and there are few other places that allow you to experience Korea’s rich history from one of its most prominent and influential dynastic periods on such a grand scale.

Seoul N Tower – Romance in Seoul

While Seoul might not be the first city in the world one thinks of when making a list of romantic capitals around the globe, romance is definitely alive here in Seoul. Seoul N Tower – formerly known as Namsan Tower—is the face of romance here in Seoul. No matter what time of day and no matter what time of year, Seoul N Tower is always full of couples of all ages.

261292_2003416456699_6796970_nUpon arriving at the top of Namsan Mountain and the base of Seoul N Tower,  it is easy to see why this place has become a popular date place for Korean couples and foreign couples alike. Seoul N tower offers one of the best views of Seoul—a 360 degree view of the entire city. It is especially beautiful at night. Just be sure to go when the weather is good and the sky is clear.

Seoul N Tower can be reached via bus or cable car near Myeongdong Station. If the weather is nice enough, you can also walk to the top of Namsan Mountain on a surprisingly quiet path considering that Namsan Mountain lies in the heart of one of Seoul’s busiest and most popular districts. Personally I prefer to take the cable car up and then walk down so that I can appreciate the view and the trees without losing my breath climbing up.

270253_2018077423214_6588962_nLike nearly all major landmarks in cities around the world, Seoul has capitalized on Seoul N Tower’s location and atmosphere, so there is no shortage of things to do while at the top of Namsan Mountain. Here you’ll find multiple coffee shops, gift shops, and even a small but welcoming wine bar. If you take the elevator up to the top you can view Seoul from the observation deck which provides the best view from the tower while grabbing a coffee or writing a post card. There are also multiple restaurants at the top of the tower, Hancook offers Korean food with a very worth-worthwhile buffet, n. GRILL offers a fine French dining experience, and THE PLACE offers a more casual Italian dining experience. Prices are not cheap but then again you are paying for the view and the experience. My personal recommendation is to go to Hancook. The Korean food might not be as delicious as some other restaurants in Seoul but the view can’t be beat and it is more affordable at about 40,000 KRW per person. When considering that this also includes the ticket up to the observation deck it is not a bad deal at all.

268503_2018076703196_7801646_nAt the base of the tower you will also have the opportunity to participate in the “locks of love” tradition. This practice has been popular throughout history and in all different countries. The act requires that a couple, or in some cases friends, purchase two locks and write messages to each other or promises to each other, after which the couple locks the padlocks together and onto a fence or in the case of Seoul N Tower, onto one of the many love lock trees. Although some may deem this kind of gesture to be childish, when standing in a forest of love lock trees one cannot help but be compelled to do the same, especially if you visit the tower with that special someone.

In short, Seoul N Tower is a great place for couples but also a great place to visit for anyone who wants to see Seoul from one of its greatest vantage points. Do not miss out on one of Seoul’s most famous and most beautiful locations. 264025_2003417656729_525333_n

The Visa

When getting ready to come to Korea, applying for a visa isn’t always necessary. Most citizens of countries from around the world are able to stay in Korea for up to 90 days without applying for a formal visa. For trips longer than that you’ll need to plan ahead and prepare a few documents in order to get a long term visa. There are many different kinds of visas available to foreigners in Korea and each has their own qualifications and stipulations prior to being issued. This article focuses on the F4 Visa.

The F4 Visa is limited to people of Korean decent. Adoptees are eligible for this visa because we were all at one point Korean citizens. Foreign born Koreans are also eligible for this visa type as long as at least one parent or one grandparent was or is currently a Korean citizen. Here is a link to the Korean Consulate’s page on the F4 visa for a list of all requirements and exceptions (http://www.koreanconsulate.on.ca/en/?b_id=77&c_id=340&mnu=a02b03).

The F4 Visa is one of the best visas a foreigner living in Korea can receive. Unlike other visas such as student visas (D2) or employment visas (Any of the E-type visas), the F4 visa, provided that you reach all of the initial requirements – namely that you are of Korean ancestry; there are no other stipulations to the visa. An F4 visa holder is free to enter and leave Korea as many times as they want, they can go to school here, or they can seek employment as they see fit. I have known many F4 visa holders who go to school to learn Korean and work part-time to make money on the side for travel in and around Korea. The visa does have to be renewed every two years but doing so does not require the holder to leave Korea during the application period. The F4 visa is noncompetitive in that there are not a limited number issued. If you qualify for the F4 visa you can receive one.

Essentially an F4 visa holder can stay in Korea for the rest of their life if they choose to without ever needing to apply for a permanent resident visa (F2). With an F4 visa you are eligible for Korean insurance and pension plans as well provided your employer here provides these benefits. In short, the F4 Visa basically grants you most of the rights of a Korean citizen without ever becoming a Korean citizen.

The Rundown:

In order to apply for and receive your F4 visa you will need to have the following documents and requirements fulfilled:

  • Complete the Visa Application Form
    • This can be found at the Korean consulate or immigration office in many of the major cities in Korea.
  • A valid passport from the country in which you are currently a citizen
    • The passport must have at least 6 months of validity
  • A recent copy of your family registry
    • This is important in that it establishes your ancestral ties to Korea and can show that you are not currently a Korean citizen. Be sure to check that your Korean citizenship was renounced prior to applying for the F4 visa. It seems like common sense to assume that your citizenship was renounced following your adoption to your home country, however there have been cases in which the citizenship was, unbeknownst to the applicant, still active. Your adoption agency should be able to help you with this.
  • Roughly 80 USD for the application and processing fee (Cash or Money order are acceptable)
  • One recent passport-type color photo

For non-adoptee foreigners with Korean ancestry, other documents are required.

  • The original birth certificate issued by the foreign country in which the birth took place.
  • A recent copy of the family registry proving that the parent or grandparent was a Korean citizen at one point and has since then renounced their Korean citizenship.
  • Any official documents showing the reason and date at which the parent or grandparent gained foreign citizenship (i.e. naturalization papers, citizenship card).

F4 Visa Vs. Dual Citizenship (Or in Some cases, regaining your Korean Citizenship)

Many Koreans may be asked during their time in Korea if they would ever consider dual citizenship or try regaining their Korean Citizenship. Of course the choice is completely up to the individual but I do have a few things that might be useful to consider when contemplating this important decision.

First, the F4 visa grants the individual almost all of the benefits of being a Korean citizen without any strings attached or any of its disadvantages. In saying this I do not mean to imply that there is anything inherently wrong with being a Korean citizen. As a country Korea has come a long way in maintaining and protecting its citizen’s rights and freedoms. However, as a foreigner the system itself can be confusing and once you regain your Korean citizenship you will no longer be considered a foreigner in the eyes of the Korean government.

Why is this important?  It is important in that being a dual citizen or in regaining your Korean citizenship you are no longer protected by the embassy or government of the country in which you grew up in. While this might not seem like a big deal, consider how complex the law can be and how quickly one can become a second class citizen when they are not a native Korean speaker. Another thing to consider is that you lose out on all of your benefits as an adoptee. For example you are for the most part, no longer eligible for educational grants or scholarships as a foreigner or an adoptee because you are no longer a foreign citizen. In many cases this also includes wide access to translation services offered to adoptees.

Before becoming a citizen of Korean, ask yourself why you are considering doing so in the first place? For many the reasons are symbolic and for others the reasons are much deeper than that. I myself very much identify with the Korean culture; I have Korean friends, I have Korean family, and in many ways I feel Korean. However at this time I do not speak enough Korean and have not spent enough time in Korea for me to say “yes, I am ready to be a Korean citizen with all of its responsibilities.” This is not to say that I do not love this country because I very much do. However, I believe that I can show my love for Korea on an F4 visa just as well as I can while being a dual citizen. There may come a time when I am ready to become a dual citizen, but I contend that being patient about this rather precarious situation is a better decision than acting rashly or too quickly.

Finally, in becoming a Korean citizen you should check to see if you are even eligible for dual citizenship. Some countries do not allow dual citizenship, Denmark being one of them. Becoming a dual citizenship is a large decision, but renouncing the citizenship of the country in which you are a native speaker and where you grew up is an even larger decision.

No matter what your decision is now, or in the future, know that for adoptees and for foreign born Koreans there are many options to look at and consider when trying to stay in Korea. Do your research, prepare the proper documents, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time, a lot of energy, and sometimes even some money as well. Best of luck and safe travels.

Pre-Trip Tips for a Headache Free Arrival

Seoul is a big city. Wait, no let me revise that statement; Seoul is a huge city. At over 12 million people just in the city proper, Seoul is one of the world’s most populous cities, and when it comes time to travel from one side of Seoul to the other the city’s immense size shows.

You’ll want to master Seoul’s many different modes of transportation as soon as possible. For the people who are coming here on a short trip, becoming familiar with the transportation options here will give you more time to do the things you want to do. That is unless you really came to Seoul in order to stand close to some ahjummas on a subway while viewing Seoul’s sights from a subway window. For the people who are here for an extended period of time, mastering the transportation systems here will save you a lot of time in your everyday life, and believe me this adds up fast.

First, before you arrive in Korea I recommend downloading an app called ‘Jihachul’ to your smartphone or tablet if you have one. It is free but I would easily recommend it even if the cost of admissions was a few dollars. It is an absolute life saver for locals and tourists alike. Familiarize yourself with the subway map and the places you will be going — Seoul has over 120 subway stations and so it can be a little overwhelming at first.

Second, upon arrive in Korea buy a T-Money Card as soon as possible. A T-Money Card (T-Card) is an electronically chargeable transportation card. It can be purchased at most subway stations and convenient stores around Seoul for 3000 won (3 USD) and can be used when taking the subway, the bus, and even in taxis. Recharge stations are found at every subway station as well. I recommend keeping about 10,000 won on your card at all times just in case. The subway opens at about 5:00am and runs until 1:00am on weekdays and 12:00am on weekends. However don’t cut coming back too close to the closing time if you want to make it to your station.

The third tip of the day is one that my friends and I have learned the hard way. If you see a black taxi DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT TAKE IT! This tip is mostly relevant for the Seoul area as other cities have black taxis that are okay to take. In Seoul black taxis are more expensive than other taxis (acceptable colors being white, and silver taxis). The starting rate for a normal taxi is 2400 won however black taxis starting rate is about double that and the rates increase about twice as fast. Although you might hear people call them deluxe taxis, I have yet to see any difference in their quality during my few trips in them, other than the fact that one of the black taxis I took had curtains on the rear windows. So unless you are looking to throw away perfectly good cash or you want to pay homage to the old throwback of curtains in cars from way back when (See the VW Bus), then stay away from these tricky little cars. Be super wary of them at the airport. The drivers of these taxis will often take your backs – sometimes without even offering – speak a little English, and tell you they can take you anywhere. If you do decide one from Incheon International Airport, expect to pay about 100,000 won (about 100 USD) or more depending on your destination.

That being said I would say that all other taxis are an acceptable and reasonably priced mode of transportation. I would not take them everywhere or all of the time, but compared to the United States, taxis are relatively affordable here even on a student’s budget. The starting cost is about 2,400 won and unless you are going across Seoul fares are usually under 10,000 won even for taxis rides of decent lengths. Rates do go up a little after the subway closes, so keep that in mind for those late nights out in Gangnma or Hongdae.

Tip number four: Buses are also a great mode of transportation but can be a little more complicated to get used to. Bus schedules use less English and of course you have to be sure you are on the right bus. There are local buses, district buses, and intercity buses for the Seoul area, all of which can be identified by different colors and sizes. I myself usually use the subway because it is on tracks and I appreciate the peace of mind that comes in knowing it will always go where it is supposed to go. Admittedly I have found myself a little lost from time to time while taking the bus. If you are interested in busing it around Seoul from time to time I recommend that you download the “Seoul Bus” app. It has various bus routes in English and as long as you have internet on your phone it will tell you how long you have to wait until the next bus will arrive at each stop – so long as you know which stop you are waiting at or looking for.

My final tip for the day is to get a rental phone or a SIM card rental for your own phone if it is unlocked. This is true for short trips, but especially for extended trips. Whether or not you get a smartphone is up to you. Regardless, not being able to communicate with people you meet either from school or at work is an absolute pain. Banks and other institutions almost always require you to write down your phone number in conjunction with your e-mail address and place of residence and many of them know that a foreign phone number is likely to be inactive or useless. Rental phones can be had for about 1500 to 3000 won per day. This is usually sufficient for a decent amount of calls and texts. However if you are texting like it is the week before prom and you still don’t have a date then expect to pay more. There is also a deposit and you’ll need a valid credit card in order to rent a phone but for most this should not be a problem. I recommend going with a rental company here in Korea for better phones and services  although it is possible to rent a phone prior to your trip.  SK Telecom and KT Telecom are phone companies that I have used and have been happy with. They have kiosks and rental facilities at Incheon Airport conveniently located near the main exits. You can rent a smartphone from them as well (usually an iPhone) but this is quite a bit more expensive. I can say that having a smartphone in Korea is useful but it is up to you if it justifies the roughly 10,000 won cost per day and the roughly 700,000 won (about 700 USD) deposit.

I hope that these tips help you in your travels and can save you some time, some money and some headaches. I will upload more tips as soon as possible. Good luck and safe travels.

Pre-Trip Thoughts and Considerations

First things first: For whatever reasons you are coming to Korea, make sure that the reasons are your own. In my experience travelling to Korea your first trip here, or really even your first few trips here will be nothing like any other vacation that you have taken in the past. Whether you come here with a group of adoptees on a trip facilitated by one of the Post Adoption Service Organizations (PASO) here in Korea, your family, you closest friends and confidants, or alone is obviously up to you, but make sure that your heart and your head are ready for WHATEVER might come your way. I want to emphasize this point before proceeding onto the finer details of what you can expect because in all honesty no matter how much you plan for, and how many thousands upon thousands mental situations you put yourself though prior to your trip there is no guarantee that you will come back home the same person that you were. That being said there is also no guarantee that you will change either. None of this is said to deter anyone from taking their first steps back in the country of their birth; if anything I would only want to whole heartedly encourage each adoptee I meet to at least take one trip back to Korea. However, I also think that too often adoptees and adoptee organizations overlook the important details and emotional repercussions that could very well change the way one thinks, feels, and acts. The best advice that I can offer anyone who finds themselves walking out of Incheon International Airport and headed towards Seoul for the first time is this: Remember who you are, remember where you came from and be open to whatever will come your way during your trip and everyday after.

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Night view of Seoul. Taken at Seoul N Tower

Coming back to Korea is a big deal. Even if we don’t admit it to anyone but ourselves. For some the decision to come back is an easy one. For other people it can take years to finally decide to come back. Although I have my own opinions on which I think is easier to handle (although not necessarily better) I would suggest that the decision to come back is one that is made while keeping the thoughts and feelings of our loved ones in mind. I realize that some people are more private than others, I myself being a very private person with the exception of a few people, but life was not made to go through alone. Without trying to preach for the sake of preaching I truly believe that the best moments in our lives will be the moments we share with the people we love, and I think that Korea and the memories that have been made and will be made here are no different. I was lucky to take my first trip to Korea with a group of my friends whom I had met in high school and through Taekwondo. If anything the trip only brought us closer and to me, that group of people will always hold a special place in my heart because together we broke and ate hodduk, we drank glass after class of cold soju, and we travelled to places together that I have not even walked with the people whom I share the same blood with. Even without them knowing each one of those people whom I had the privilage of travelling with touched my life and made an impression on my memory in a way that few people have. I am fortunate enough to say that every trip I have taken to Korean since then has only added to the wealth of memories and friendships that have been cemented into my memory and helped shape who I am.

Long story short is this: much like a trip to Las Vegas, anything can happen when you come to Korea. However, unlike Las Vegas your trip to Korea is much more likely to be journey that has been a longtime in the making as a defining part of who you who you are, who you could have been, and who you will be. Be open, be optimistic, and be sure to include the people you love and care about. Safe travels.

Note: Like Vegas it is also very well possible that your trip to Korea could be filled with alcohol and subsequently short term memory loss. For anyone who is unsure of what I mean by this, be sure to check out my post about “soju,” or at least take the time to Google it.