A Tale of Two Foreigners – Getting Married In South Korea When Neither Of Us Were Korean

Note: This is a collaborative piece between my wife and I. So, we switch off in our telling of the story, in the use of pronouns and such. So, if you have any questions or confusion about this process, email me directly. james.r.moreau [at] gmail [dot] com

In the summer of 2015 I went on a date with a nerdy Master’s student from Vietnam, who like me, lived in Korea. She showed up an hour and a half late and demanded we eat something as fast as possible after I watcher her goofily saunter up the stairs from the subway. One year later, in August of 2016, I married her. I knew in my heart that this was my partner in life and the entire world and future looked wide and full of possibilities. This was both empowering and at times scary. But we figured out how to navigate the foreign bureaucracy for both of us to get officially and legally married while in Korea and then figure out where we’d go next and how we’d get there. We both knew that getting the paperwork together from our respective countries to get married would be just the beginning of a long, tiresome and stressful journey which would re-shape both of our perspectives on what it means to be “American” and yet something else.

Even with Donald Trump being elected president in the United States recently, I’ve still spoken with people from all over the world who have told me they would trade citizenships with me in a second of given the chance. They see with so much negative news about how emboldened racists harassing minorities still a country which offers the most opportunity to “make it” out of anywhere else on the planet. This is easy to take for granted. Even as someone who was born into a lower-middle class socio-economic setting within the United States, I sort of always felt that there was a certain level of upward mobility that I was entitled to in the U.S. Of course, as I grew up and lived in other places throughout the world, I’d realize that this was incredibly fortunate for me to even consider this, but that it is also something that I should analyze more carefully when I consider if and why I want to make a long term home for my wife and I in the U.S.

My wife has already been approved a green card to become a U.S. permanent resident, which is more or less a path to U.S. citizenship. We went through a rather expensive, drawn out, stressful and totally opaque process which, up until the moment we went in for her final interview, we weren’t sure if my wife would get approved or not. We had no reason to believe there was anything barring her from getting a green card, but we also got no real official or verifiable guidance along the way to make sure we were doing things right. We actually had to go back and forth to the embassy in Seoul several times because we were given conflicting information about what we needed to bring and when. Funny enough, our city-hall style wedding day was logistically the easiest step in the entire process, yet we were the most stressed out for that. I think we actually learned a lot about how we respond to stress based on the latter half of 2016 as we went through this process and we strengthened our relationship for the better because of it.

What’s more – we had each other throughout the entire ordeal, which made it much better and easier to deal with.

In a recent This American Life podcast titled “Abdi and the Golden Ticket,” they followed a Somali refugee living in Kenya who won a path to U.S. citizenship lottery. As they described his life as a refugee and how he almost wasn’t able to even get to the final stages of his visa interview because of how badly the Kenyans had been treating Somali refugees because of Al-Shabad associated terrorism. I got so choked up in the part of the story when Abdi finally got his last piece of paperwork together and was able to apply for the final interview. I think before I went through this process myself, I would have had a certain level of empathy for him, but now, as the husband of a U.S. immigrant, the concept of having so many people outside of the U.S. which value the opportunity that being a U.S. citizen offers is an incredible honor, yet a burden of conscience.

My wife and I have considered living elsewhere than the U.S. Canada has always been high on the list as has her motherland of Vietnam. Obviously no country is perfect and both of those places have their flaws, however, surprisingly we both had great luck finding jobs in the U.S. months in advance of even moving there. We will move to New York City in the Spring and I will continue to work for the company I’ve been working remotely for and she will begin work for a pharmaceutical company which has already hired her months in advance of her graduation date.

We sort of have the American Dream and we’re both full of excitement and some anxiety around it.

  • We’re afraid of the rat race destroying us. My wife and I have both been seriously affected by overworking ourselves in the past. We’re setting ourselves up in similar types of jobs as before, however, we’re both better equipped to deal with stress now. We’ve both prioritized our health in a physical and emotional sense through working out and meditation and active work towards bettering ourselves. We didn’t have that before when we got overwhelmed and we didn’t have support from others either – so this time may be different.
  • We’re afraid of being a bi-racial couple in the U.S. She’s afraid of being harassed for being a foreign looking person, even as a permanent resident. I’m afraid of what I might physically do to someone if I ever saw them disrespect my wife on the grounds of racist ideals.
  • We’re afraid of putting off a slower lifestyle indefinitely because of the allure of the great money we’re now making and probably will continue to make. So many times we’ve honestly looked at the option of going elsewhere in the world where our money would go much further and we could do more with less. Then again, what’s more colonial and privileged? Coasting on inflated currency or working within the economy which supports the success of that currency?

  • We’re afraid of getting priced out. New York is very expensive. We hope to not get locked into that geographic area, paying so much of our money every month just for the privilege of having our careers based out of there. We don’t want to pay all our money on health insurance, etc. We’d like our money to go further.

What we’ve realized and accepted collectively is that we’re both growing in some way in a positive direction by taking this next step towards living in the U.S. Whether we stay long enough for my wife to get her citizenship or if we wind up going elsewhere in the world to forge another path together, the fact remains that I am working on something I am passionate about right now and still have the bandwidth and desire to expand myself creatively along the way. My wife is still figuring out how she wants to express herself, but I know it’s a good form of growth for her to come back to her career in a sense of power, rather than desperation like she was in before. We’re both in a powerful spot that we don’t take for granted.

So how do we make good on this opportunity and enable ourselves to live the best and most positive lives possible? How can we affect the lives of others. I feel a debt of gratitude for making it through the process as we did, but I feel we must give back in some way to people who need it in the U.S. who are not as fortunate as we are who are also just looking to make positive strides in their own lives.

These are the questions we will continue to ponder moving forward as we stumble forward toward hope of a better life for everyone.  

For couples having the same situation like us, I also note here our paperwork procedures in Korea. Hope it will help and relieve some of your stress during the process.

  • During the dating time, remember to capture all your dating pictures and announce publicly  your special events like engagement, family visit…(this is not required in Korea and I did not use at all but to be extra prepared).
  • Schedule an appointment at the U.S embassy to consult how and what to do to get married ( I found it super helpful as I explained the consultant when my wife and I are expected to leave Korea. They will tell you exactly what to do and what should be expected). And here I also get my single certificate.
  • First step is getting married: I am a US citizen so I need to bring my passport, my single certificate and my ARC. My wife needs to bring her passport, her birth certificate (the copy and notarized English translation), her single certificate (the original and notarized English translation), her ARC. We came to City Hall (address…) to register. Oh and do not forget to bring 1000 KRW in cash. If you forget then there is a NH bank in the building also. They will bring you a form then have you signed, check your documents then issue a marriage certificate in 10 mins. After that you can go to take wedding picture in Hanbok (no fee).
  • After having the marriage certificate, go to translate it in English and notarize  (the certificate is in Korean, the fee is 50.000 KRW) then apostille. I sent our marriage certificate (the original one and the notarized English translation) and her supporting documents (house contract, student ID, ARC, score report at her graduate school here) to the U.S. embassy?
  • Within 3 weeks, she got an email from the U.S. embassy to prepare for visa interview. In this email, they will instruct you from step to step: go to have health check at one of five designate hospital in Korea (the fee is ~300.000 KRW), go to have criminal records (both in Korea and in Vietnam. As we planned to get married for awhile so when I came to visit her family, she applied for criminal records in Vietnam – remember to apply for form 1). Those are two major steps, and for me, I need to prepare financial affidavit for my wife. The affidavit needs to be wet ink signed. When you prepare all the documents, schedule the interview with the U.S. embassy. Prepare 325$ in cash to submit on the interview day. Prepare some documents related to financial sponsors in affidavit if you have (As my mom is joint financial sponsor for my wife, it required  my mom’s income tax in most recent years. Even it is not required, but you should also prepare your mom’s passport page copy, her birth certificate. I did not prepare these two documents so they required us to supplement later)
  • By the way the agency that the U.S.embassy uses in Korea sucks. Here is why: I called the agency to ask what should we do in the interview and should I come to the embassy with her. They said “No, she should go in herself”. However, when she came in the woman in the U.S embassy asked “where is your husband, he is supposed to be here with you”. Remember that we cannot bring any phone or any electronical devices into the U.S. embassy so she gave me all the devices and told me to go to cafe and wait. Luckily, when she ran out to find me, I standed right at the embassy’s gate and waited for her (The procedure can be longer than you expected, after 2 hour waiting, I felt worried that my wife could get lost (based on the fact that she did get lost several times since we dated :D). So remember that day bring your phone, your wife’s phone and the necessary documents (another story: as I thought I could not go in with her. I bought my laptop, everything I can so I can work while waiting for her at cafe. When it turned out that I need to come in with her, I need to find a locker room in subway station to keep my luggage. As we hurry to find a place, my wife realized she put all her things on the table in the U.S. embassy – money and documents. OMG T.T. Fortunately, all her belongings were safely returned to the security desk). Remember you and your wife need to be present on the interview day.
  • During the interview, they will ask you simple questions, just to check if your relationship is real. Then if your documents are all good, your wife’s visa will be sent back by courier within 5 days. If you miss any, they will list out and you will submit later. My wife got her visa back within 2 weeks I submitted the lacking document.
  • In total, we began the process from marriage in August to getting her visa in November without lawyer’s fee or consultant. The U.S. embassy’s instruction is pretty straightforward so we do not have really big difficulty during the process.


Witnessing and Admirable Obsession

I have a good friend who as of the past few years has more or less inherited an opportunity to farm land that his family owns. I’ve seen him dive headlong into this farm of his with passion and conviction that is rare. He had the support he needed  and all the things lined up that made his ability to focus on one thing he loved absolutely paramount.

It’s inspirational. Sometimes I’ll leave work in the middle of the day (his farm happens to be a mile from my office) and go help him pick produce or move heavy stuff. I feel a basic satisfaction tasting the hard work he does on a daily basis. I want to be involved. I call him and ask him how I can help more. Can I pay into a CSA? Can I help him build a website to promote his farm dinner projects? What can I do?

I was honored to know this friend before he came into this farm. I am even more inspired by him now.

I hope I can be that for someone someday.

Kudos To Facebook For Being The Ultimate Expression

Facebook has so genuinely and clearly pulled ahead in the popularity contest that is the marketing industry. It has truly diversified its platform and functionality to be the perfect ecosystem for both consumer and business to meet at the table and exchange ideas, data and in all likelihood down the road… money.

I always held a strong candle for Twitter. It has served me well over the years as a communication, discovery and relationship building tool. I’ve made countless friendships, both meaningful and superficial on Twitter. But I’m a bit of an outlier and big, profitable internet businesses are not cultivated on the long term by servicing my kind.

I loved how Google+ gave it a go. I still love how foursquare is going strong and servicing my needs. But it’s just so clear that Facebook has become the actual reality of how relationships are articulated online for a majority of the world.

I never saw this coming 8 years ago. Makes sense, because if I had that kind of insight, I’d be a very rich man. However, I do believe the rate at which the world is changing how it communicates digitally is going to just speed up and potentially get more interesting and weird. So, I don’t see Facebook standing atop the anthill forever. I am so excited to see where this leads.

Born Rich – A Review

My friend Chris tweeted a link to a documentary called “Born Rich” to watch on Hulu.

Chris is a smart dude, so I figured I’d check this free documentary out because I had a couple hours to blow. Check out this Youtube segment of the documentary.

I haven’t seen much in the way of real wealth in my lifetime. Maybe a story here or there or someone who knows someone who was born into a super rich family. However, this documentary was directed by someone of massive inherited wealth, actually a descendant of the Johnson & Johnson company founders.

He managed to turn his curiosity and resentment towards his wealth, which seemed to be a result of confusion based around inherited wealth meaning inherited identity and got to interview some other wealthy young people, whom he probably had access to via channels that a great majority of the world would never be able to access.

The documentary was mostly sad. I’ve always been confused by many people’s inane interests in the lives of celebrities and the super rich. I never cared about Prince William and Harry and who they’d marry or what they’d buy. To me they seemed as accessible and “real” as the idea of Jesus Christ from 2000 years ago. Just a celebrity. Just an idea. Except, these kids are living representations of what has culminated in the world of capitalism and imperialism. The good and the bad. From what this documentary highlights, mostly the bad.

This documentary shows how youth can bring about a transcendent curiosity and innocence regardless of economic or social backgrounds, but these kids and young adults in this documentary are bordering on their adulthood. They’re being penetrated with the old-as-time ideologies of how and why the very tip top percentage of human beings hold a majority of the wealth and to some of these interviewees, it is clear why it should stay that way.

I have to say, my sympathies do lie with a majority of the people interviewed, including the person conducting the interviews and directing this film. The two foreign men, the Italian and the German, clearly have an old world and old world view of their position in society and I really can’t identify with them at all. Even the oldest American families with huge wealth are very young compared to old royalty and wealth from Europe’s imperial days.

It seems like almost every last one of the young people being interviewed is on something… whether hard drugs, alcohol, anti-psychotics, anti-depressants or a mix of all of the above. It’s like there’s no real touch point for them to what is reality for the rest of humanity. Whether that makes them better than the rest of us or simply not really part of our society, who knows?

I think this documentary is worth the time it takes to watch it. You won’t get the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” style of glamorizing everything that these types of people own. You’ll get a young adult about to inherit the world asking what exactly comes along with that inheretence. I think that’s probably the most endearing part.

You can watch the entire documentary on Hulu here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/174635/born-rich

Why I Avoid Cafes Lately

When I moved to Boulder, I had some pretty serious freelance gigs starting which lead to piles and piles of work to be done every day. I went ahead and found some comfortable cafes that I could either be completely alone in or ones where I knew I’d run into familiar faces. I’d go there, usually put my headphones on and zone out to music and get shit done.

Cafes are good for getting work done. When I stay at home, I can work too, but I tend to get up and make a sandwich, more coffee, do laundry, check the mail, dance in my living room with the stereo blaring… you know, that kind of stuff.

I haven’t been going to cafes lately because the majority of my freelance work, as I knew it at the beginning of the summer, is gone. So is the magic. I feel like the tables are switched now.

Now that I don’t have tons of deliverable and deadlines every single day (trust me, I’d prefer it the other way around), I’m able to get my actual life a little bit more in order. If I go to a cafe in the morning, I’ll stay busy and diligent about making myself distracted. Instead of doing cold calls and email outreach, setting up meetings and chasing down late payments, I’ll be distracting myself with the wonderful world of cafe people watching or neighbor chatting.

I’m still technically working remotely. I just have a triple threat going. I rock conference calls with potential clients, while I fill up my French Press with coffee grinds, all while sporting Boston Red Sox pajama bottoms.

For me, the point of going to a cafe and pretending to work when there was really a lot of stuff that needed tending to at home that couldn’t be done while meandering about, whether it’s domestic or actual business, has faded. Now I’m more focused and getting more meetings and landed a few consultation contracts.

I hope I can learn to enjoy cafes again for the reasons I fell in love with them in the first place. Hopefully home doesn’t grow old either.

What are your motivations for where you work, when and under what circumstances?

Making It To The Front Of The Line and Stepping Out

I came by this blog post last week and I am absolutely astounded by this young student’s ability to so eloquently speak out against the educational system of which she was emerging from as a valedictorian of her graduating high school class. There are lots of comments to read through at the bottom of this post and a lot of them are hostile towards the valedictorian, accusing her of biting the hand that feeds her.

I don’t know about you, but I appreciate people who question authority and have enough courage to think and act outside the majority. This young woman clearly excelled beyond all of her classmates and still felt like she was gypped out of whatever the prospect of traditional schooling ultimately promised her.

Why should or shouldn’t we question a convention such as traditional schooling? Some people defend it viciously and honestly believe there’s just no way to adequately (or excellently) education our youth en masse by non-traditional means. Also, with the world’s economy taking shape as-is, where is the incentive of paying tens of thousands of dollars to institutions that don’t prepare you for or guarantee a good job?

Who’s failing here? Who’s accountable? Parents? Teachers? Schools? Our government? Or, are the kids to blame? I personally don’t care about blame, I’m just getting impatient for a smart, competent and completely irreverent Edupunk of some sort to take a sledgehammer to the suffocating walls of academia as we know it and give future generations a new way to stretch their legs and their minds whether inside or outside the classroom.

Open Doors And A Sunday Potluck

Fighting off the drowsiness associated with good food and beer on a hot summer Sunday afternoon, I wanted to write a quick post about how awesome the concept of a Sunday Potluck is. I am offering a lion’s share of the credit to my girlfriend and her roommate for inspiring and pushing along the idea of getting our friends together for a Sunday Potluck.

I’ve written a good amount, on various occasions about the sense of place that I’ve been craving since I lived in Boston in certain apartments where friends would come by, casually and just sit down and eat, talk, drink and yak it up for a bit on any given night of the week. It’s something I feel like I took for granted while I had it and there were entire years when I didn’t have people who’d come by to visit or socialize.

I moved to Boulder a little over a month and a half ago and have been doing lots of different things to get settled in an feel in place in this new city. My girlfriend has been incredibly generous with her time and friends in introducing me to scored of new people almost every week and allowing me to grow my own social structure here. But even having people who I can call at the drop of a hat to get a beer or a bite to eat doesn’t quite equal “home.”

My new house mate, who’s a really cool dude and laid back, was totally fine with me having some folks over for a get together. So, I got up earlier than usual today, went and got ingredients for my idea of what Sangria should taste like, some chicken for grilling and the fixins to mash up some homemade hummus (my first time, used canned beans, don’t judge!). I prepared the Sangria and put it in the fridge to chill, mixed up the ingredients for hummus and slowly people started to show up with plates of uncooked food, ready to start putting heat to raw goodies.

Here was tonight’s menu: Caprese salad, my homemade hummus, these avocado fries, buffalo mozzarella and summer vegetable wraps, chicken and vegetable kebabs, grilled wild turkey chicken and pasta salad. For dessert we had this summer fruit tart and key lime bars.

This is what a “sense of place” is really all about. It can be elusive, it doesn’t just happen and it requires the right people, but when you feel it and recognize it for what it is, it’s easy to be grateful and appreciative for how special it really is.

Here’s to many more potlucks and spontaneous get togethers.

The Things You Do and Don’t Think About When Shopping (And Why Athenos Hummus Is Doing It Right)

A couple weeks ago I took an impromptu flight to Denver, Colorado to see family and friends as I re-strategized my personal and professional trajectory over the coming weeks and months. After being there a couple days, I got invited to a branding party hosted by Athenos Hummus for their new product line (oh yes, there were samples. Did you think for a second I’d miss this?)

I wasn’t sure what to expect except that there was going to be a two truths and one lie game show that people at the party would be competing in. The game show was really fun and the brand representatives were doing a great job in keeping everyone engaged and informed about the party. I was shocked at how much intricate detail was put into even the depth of the packaging so that you didn’t get hummus all over your fingers while dipping a carrot!

You can get a list of factoids out to journalists and bloggers with minimal effort, that’s not hard. However, these brand strategists actually thew a party that doubled as a branding event. I like this idea that brands are taking more efforts to connect with consumers on a personal level. Granted, you can’t throw a hummus party for an entire state or city, but figuring out who your key community is and reaching out to influencers (such as bloggers) is really smart.

Besides bloggers, who else do you see as key influencers of public opinion on brands and products? Is there another community out there than can be reached in a scalable and cost effective fashion?

I send kudos out to Athenos for getting it right. Plus their sample plates, appetizers and wine samples were amazing. I’ll be looking for more of their product next time I run out of hummus!

As for my two truths and one lie, take your picks:

a) I’ll always buy generic if the price is right. Brand loyalty isn’t something I really stick to

b) I’m a label reader and analyze the packaging and ingredients of all products

c) Corporate social responsibility is a major differentiator for me in my choice to support certain brands

[In the spirit of truths and lies, here’s some full disclosure for you: This post is connected to the Athenos Two Truths and a Lie Party in Denver, where they’re giving away lots of cool stuff, including a free trip to South Beach. I went and you can learn more about the party here.]

My Family Is Insane, Which Explains Why I Am Insane Too

I’m home in Massachusetts now staying at my mom’s apartment in Worcester. The flights home were pretty horrible, but I’m glad I didn’t have to spend the night in the airport or spend dough on a hotel.

I got home at 2AM and was greeted by my grandmother who recently had a heart attack. She lives downstairs from my mother. Her and my grandfather own the building and it’s where I grew up. Some pretty unsavory people have come into and out of my life with this apartment building being the backdrop for most of my pre-adult and some of my adult memories.

I guess I sort of left this place in a hurry when I went to college, then got a job in Boston and then eventually got hired at Brazen Careerist. I never meant to be an escapist, but my desires and aspirations seem to lead me away from here, so I don’t try to fight it too much.

What I do try to fight is the tendency to distance myself from family and friends. When I get wrapped up in my busy work life, I forget to call, I don’t come home much and I can be generally neglectful to everyone including myself. It’s funny, I start working out again and suddenly the other things that I should be doing start happening again. The law of attraction is pretty useful at times.

So when I saw my grandmother, I was really happy. I got a little choked up but didn’t want to cry my first time seeing her in 3 months. I told my sister on the ride home from the airport that when my mom called me the morning my grandmother had her heart attack, my entire life flashed before my eyes. I was convinced she was going to die. I was absolutely certain she wasn’t going to make it through surgery. I actually went into work and tried to stay busy until I got an update from my mother or sister saying what the results of her stint procedure were.

She made it out of surgery and I was relieved. I was also cursing myself for becoming distant and resentful of my familial craziness put any distance between my beloved grandparents and myself. Right before her surgery, I got my gramma on the phone because my mom told me to. She sounded bad and weak and I just wanted to tell her I loved her no matter what while I still had the chance. She said she loved me too and that she was going to be fine because she always survives these kinds of things. Then said she was going to let me go because the doctors were coming in. As she hung up the phone I was in the middle of saying I love you one more time and I crumbled into heavy sobs alone in my apartment. I was convinced that would be the last time I ever talked to my grandmother again.

I got a text from my sister later that afternoon saying my grandmother did well in surgery and that she was probably going to be okay. I took a deep breath and sent a ‘thank you’ above to whomever or whatever was listening.

Later that day when I got out of some meetings I talked to my mom and was asking lots of questions about what happened and what was going to happen moving forward. I was anxious and my mom was being vague. I started to get upset because I wanted to be mentally prepared (as much as I could be) for what was next. She just kept telling me “I know you feel bad for not being here. I know you feel bad for leaving home. Don’t. Just, don’t”

She was right. I’ve never totally coped with my own desires to move on and do big things wherever I please and the ever-present feeling that I’m abandoning the people who raised me, my mom and grandparents.

I’m home for two weeks in the belly of the beast where all the madness and incredible loved I’ve shared with my family has transpired over a really interesting 25 years. I got to sit up with my grandmother who’s doing SO much better now healthwise, I got to go out food shopping with my grandfather (who’s one of the smartest and funniest people who never graduated high school that I ever met) all morning  I am so grateful for that. My family is vast, rough around the edges, unrefined and bat shit crazy, which explains why I am too… and I love it.

I hope you are all enjoying your family and friends this holiday. We all have reasons to be grateful whether it’s from big gains or big losses. Don’t let the imperfections of the diamonds in your life take away from the fact that they are indeed diamonds and are some of the greatest gifts we could ever ask for.

Thank you all for reading and I wish everyone nothing but the best!