Perseverance: Getting a Korean Bank Account


On Monday I cried harder than I have in a really long time. I cried so hard my head hurt. And then I cried some more.

Basically, I went to the bank thinking I was finally going to open an account with the alien registration number I had been waiting so long for. With this account I would finally be able to get my monthly Fulbright stipend, buy a phone, get in touch with people like a normal person––in short, get my real life here started. Instead, I wasted about 40 minutes taking numbers and then being told I was in the wrong line or that I needed to fill out some other form and wait again.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and left (in tears).

I felt defeated. This was the first thing I had attempted to do on my own here, and I had failed miserably. I had no one to turn to for support, because everyone in the US was asleep, and I didn’t have a phone with which to call anyone in Korea (because I didn’t have bank account . . . ). For the first time, I just wanted to go back to the US.

So I took the day off.

Instead of making the trek to school to prepare for my upcoming lesson with my new piano professor (which went great, by the way, I love my teacher!), I went to the 시장 (market), had nice interactions with vendors, got told by a sweet 할머니 (grandmother) that I was pretty, watched the new Korean drama I’ve gotten into (Scent of Woman), and basically remembered all the things I love about being here.


I went back to the bank the next day. First thing in the morning. Determined that I would not leave without an account.

This time, the teller tried to tell me that I needed an alien registration card (as opposed to the document pasted neatly in my passport), but I persisted, and she grudgingly gave in. (When she saw my Fulbright ID, her attitude shifted. Thank you, Fulbright name.) Man, did it feel good to walk out of there with my new bank book and debit card!

THEN today, I went with my neighbor Ruth to get a phone at the Seoul Global Center, where we had heard foreigners could get phones for free. The woman said that the free phones were only for foreigners with student visas (she had never heard of the Fulbright Program) and we would have to pay 30,000 Won for ours (about $30). That was a reasonable price for the new phone she was offering, but emboldened by my recent experiences, I said, “Well I’m studying at Seoul National University, so could I qualify as a student?”

In short, yes. Without asking to see any proof of enrollment (which I would not have been able to provide), she gave us the phones for free! (Hopefully they will come in the mail by Friday!!)

I feel so empowered! All those tears on Monday were worth it.

I don’t think of myself as a very independent person (although I’m growing up slowly but surely), but this week I had to be. I failed, fell down, and gave up. But then I got back up. There’s nothing more empowering than hitting the lowest point possible and then coming back from that. It makes you feel kind of invincible.



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Elizabeth is a teacher, preacher, musician, and writer. She has a Master's of Divinity and a Master's of Music, which represent her two great loves: Jesus and the arts. A half-Korean, half-white American, she spent seven years in South Korea teaching English. Elizabeth is a perpetual learner, a deep feeler, and a pursuer of beauty and truth.

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