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.

 

I’m About To Drive To The Ocean…

So, I made it. I’m back on the East Coast. My place of origin. It was strange to just drive for so many miles and to come to the places where you began a long time ago. The unfamiliar starts to become familiar. For a second it’s new, then it you realize afterwards that it’s all the same, in some way. It isn’t the world and our surroundings that change so much, it’s us that change constantly.

I just drove until I couldn’t drive East anymore. I can still go up or down the coast, but it’s a good boundary to hit the ocean and know that’s it… it’s time to stop for a little while.

 

Capture

Update from the Road – What Up Brooklyn?!?!

Look at that! Over 3,000 miles. Had to make a pit-stop in Brooklyn a couple days longer than expected because of this nasty snow storm in the North East, however, there are worse places to stay than with your best friends from Colorado who relocated to NYC for a job. Our dogs are so psyched to see each other again.

Next stop, Worcester/Boston!

Capture

 

IMAG0490 IMG_20140204_220057

News From The Road

Firstly, I was given my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu before I moved out of Boulder last week… January 18th to be exact. Words can’t describe what BJJ has done for me over the years. Below is a picture of me getting handled by a badass dude at my gym who’s just short of having a black belt… so I don’t feel terrible for getting my ass whooped. And then my new belt… ain’t it pretty.

1025586_10152144085386907_2102390555_o 1509067_10100181076642930_593560806_n

Right now I’m back in Madison, WI right now staying with a friend from when I lived here last. It’s surreal to be back here. I haven’t visited since I moved to Boulder in 2010. The circumstances that brought me out to Madison were, to say the least, significant in my overall development as a man, person, partner, professional, etc. It was the space I needed from my life as I left it back in Massachusetts. I’m starting only now to truly  realize some of the lessons I was taught by life and some people in my life back then. I am so grateful for those lessons and those people, past and present.

Here’s a map of my stops so far. 2,100 miles and counting!

Capture

 

Up next: Chicago, Brooklyn New York, then my final destination (for now), Boston, Massachusetts

Happy Holidays From Worcester

Nothing like getting in touch with your hometown, your family and childhood friends. Despite catching a nasty cold that kept me at home for a few days, it’s been really great to be home.

The lady and I have decided to take a last-minute trip to Maine to stay with my grandparents. She’s never been to Maine and I need to re-connect with my heart-force, which is strongly linked to the ocean.

We’ll be back in MA for New Years Eve, just before we head back to Colorado.

A whirlwind trip, but all worth it.

Hope everyone is having a good holiday season.

Further From Home

16 hours of traveling, starting at 2:30 AM GMT and ending at 6:30 PM EST, I still managed to get out, see my mom, sis, her boyfriend and my good friend. Thursday I drive 12 hours North to see an old friend get married to his long time partner. Then I drive back to MA and head back to Colorado sometime in the middle of next week. Whirlwind baby!

Walking about an old, beat-down part of Worcester, I felt like Roy Munson returning to his home-town in Iowa in the movie Kingpin. Except it felt cool.

I haven’t been home since April. Not that long of a time, all things considered, but it’s felt like an eternity with everything that’s happened since the last time I came home. Amazing, life-changing things that I never saw coming and couldn’t be more grateful for.

But I’m also grateful to have gotten a pizza with my buddy at favorite pizza spot, go downtown for a few drinks and wake up and run about 5 miles in the pouring rain (something I never would have seen myself doing a year ag0).

Some people never leave home. Some people leave and never go back. I’m glad I defy both of those categories.

Hope you’re having a great week.

Where’s JRaldo?

Few places have exhibited a more powerful hold over me than Colorado. Boulder and Denver are places that feel absolutely magical and natural to be in every time I’m lucky enough to be here. This time, I’m here, play for keeps, looking to network and find a job or gig that’ll allow me to move out asap.

That’s all the details I’ll divulge for now. Wish me luck and I hope to be updating with good news in the near future 🙂

For now, enjoy the view:

Where The **** Have I Been?

Some random pictures of my last few weeks traveling:

So it was just another quiet Friday in good ol’ ‘Scnonsin. I was enjoying the local fare…

2010-03-19 16.29.13 by you.

I figured, nothing all that exciting happening this weekend. What’s going on on the East Coast? Some type of pagan holiday they call “Easter” was coming up, so I figured I’d head East to see family. But before I did, I stopped in NYC to see friends and this handsome fellow:

2010-03-31 20.34.54 by you.

After a few days bed hopping in New York hostel’s and strange couches (thx Dana), I took a train back to the good ol’ Worcester. My grandfather needed to get dropped off at the DMV to get his Harley registered (scary thought that this man still drives a Harley). So, I stopped for my favorite hot dogs from Coney Island… chilli, mustard and EXTRA onions!

2010-04-02 15.58.43 by you.

They were muy deliciouso… but then I got a strange feeling in my stomach… it was the fact that I was back in Worcester… but no matter, my friends all made great effort to meet up with me and catch up on the old times.

2010-04-04 15.09.02 by you.

Per usual, once home in Worcester, my focus was sleeping, eating and staying out of trouble, so I’ll share that part. First up, my favorite dish my family makes… baked asparagus!

2010-04-04 15.16.05 by you.

Then I stopped by the Armsby Abbey for some amazing craft beers, delicious wine and their weekly special, braised RABBIT pizza!

2010-04-08 17.49.00 by you.

And then I met up with another flat faced pal named Ninja Vo. He farted a lot.

2010-04-04 20.47.49 by you.

Today, I am in Maine. My grandparents are letting me stay with them for the week as I unwind and think hard on the coming months and what my best options might be. I wanted to get some pictures off my phone and bang out a blog post before I hit the hot tub and hit start-mode.

It’s been a damn good time traveling with nothing to do and no plans needing to be made. I suggest you try it next time you’re out on your ass.

(some more pics…)

The first place we stopped in Portland for fish

2010-04-11 13.52.59 by you.

The “green” room

2010-04-11 15.37.52 by you.

The “green” room view (yes, that’s the ocean)

2010-04-11 15.37.59 by you.

One Way Ticket

Next week, I’m continuing to take advantage of my current situation of being (f)unemployed by planning a trip up the Northeast starting in New York City. Originally I wanted to get home to see my family at some point, but I thought about how there’s no more reason for me to be in Madison than there is anywhere else, that I should just plan a low-budget path up the northern East Coast until I make it through to see family in both Massachusetts and Maine.

And yeah… I only purchased a one way ticket because I wasn’t sure when I’d be back from my visits and I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself to leave.

Open ended… that’s when I’m at my best.

Think we might cross paths? Let me know. I’m happy to stay an extra day or two here or there. Leave a comment or shoot me an email james.r.moreau [at] gmail

I land in NYC next Tuesday, March 30th.

My Ongoing Story With The Peace Corps

Two years ago I decided to sign up for the Peace Corps. I had studied abroad, learned Czech, found the job market blew when I graduated and was looking for a general “out” that would expand my horizons. I happened to be in a relationship at the time, but throughout that period, I had acted upon my desires to improve my life rather than prolong the relationship. I had my priorities, albeit slightly contradictory, that I started to follow through on. At the time I was working for an elderly human services agency just outside of Boston and was getting restless in the job I held. So, I told my friends, family, girlfriend (at the time) and employer that I was going to the Peace Corps.

The process to sign up and interview all took around 3 months. I searched for placements and graduate programs around the program for about 6 months, so the process was really long. I got a tentative assignment in Moldova, a former Soviet occupied state and I was super pumped. I had wanted to go to a Russian or Slavic based language assignment because of my background with Czech, I felt I’d adapt more quickly that to Spanish, Chinese or some other foreign tongue.

As the process moved along, I was in disbelief that it was actually happening so smoothly. I met a woman at a New Years party who is now in South America doing Peace Corps work and hers went smoothly too. Too good to be true? Well, I did get the call I wasn’t wanting to hear; the background check came in and they saw an incident from when I was 17. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong people to be around. Dumb teenager stuff really, but I did get in trouble with some townie police outside of Worcester and was later acquitted completely. But, this dumb incident was still on my record and they needed all sorts of paperwork and legal stuff to make a decision to whether I’d be accepted or not. I was really crushed because I felt my past had come back to haunt me in the way I knew it would some day.

So, I “gave up.” Not in the positive way that Seth Godin talks about in “The Dip,” but rather I shirked away from taking a couple days off from work and driving back to the hillbilly town that arrested me and getting all my paperwork and legal documents in order. I told myself that all the effort to do that wouldn’t be rewarded, so why bother?

Well, two years later and here I am, losing sleep over it. My friend in the military is thinking about doing a Peace Corps stint after his next tour of duty and he’s really adamant I at least try to follow through once more on getting an assignment abroad with PC. With this economy the way it is, why not? I’m 25, I’ve got no unbreakable commitments outside of the ones to myself at the moment and this is something I’ve always wanted to do.

So, I’m re-applying to join the Peace Corps. I’m doing what needs to be done and leaving no stones unturned in the fulfillment of my life. Wish me luck!