We had a 10am appointment at the Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC).
ECLC is a pre-school and kindergarten-only school. Based on the Montessori system, but slowly adding regular academics to its system. We actually liked it a lot and were ready to sign Maya up. The cost was lower than Seoul Academy. ECLC was approximately $13,000, compared to Seoul Academy's $17,000. Mind you, these prices do not include such fees as registration fees (non-refundable and due at time of application, regardless of whether they accept you or not!), bus fees, activity fees and lunch fees. And again, those numbers are NOT typos!
Anyway, ECLC was great, we were ready to sign Maya up, but were told that there was a waiting list. What the heck? We had asked if there was space available and were told yes. But apparently now there are two other children on the waiting list. Plus, we were told that we could fill out the paperwork and pay the non-refundable $300 registration fee to get her on the waiting list, which will hopefully allow us to get in by October! Uh, thanks, but we'll wait on that. Besides, we had one more school to visit that afternoon. We took the paperwork, said, "we'll call you" and were on our way.
If it weren't for the non-refundable $300 fee, we would have gotten on that waiting list. That sort of left me in a bit of a funk, starting to worry about where we'd send Maya this fall. Worse-case scenario, we'll borrow money from my parents to pay the Seoul Academy fee up front and do monthly payments to my parents (if the schools would do monthly payments, we could afford the tuition without having to borrow money, but they require the whole year up front!). Seoul Academy has room available, and we really did like that school. But $17,000+ for kindergarten??
Anyway, we headed to the Grand Hyatt to peek in there. They weren't kidding when they said "Grand"! The place is huge, I can only imagine what it costs to stay there. Mostly very, very well dressed business men and women were in the lobby restaurant. Maya said, "Hey! This isn't McDonalds!" Uh, no dear, this is definitely NOT McDonalds. Walked out about 5 minutes after walking in. Pretended to be guests and got the valet guy to call us a taxi and tell him to drop us off at Itaewon Station. We then walked around the main street of Itaewon. This sort of reminded us of Hollywood. Huge tourist trap. Checked out a few shops, almost bought Maya a pair of sneakers at $18 a pair. Not bad for Seoul, I thought. Compared to the $35 a pair of sneakers for Nadia would cost me at the E-Mart department store, $18 was a steal. But Maya wasn't in the mood for trying them on (she did try them on, but said she didn't like them), so we moved on. I made a mental note though - go to Itaewon for shoes for us!
Got to McDonalds around 11:30am. Early for lunch, but the girls hadn't had much of a breakfast that morning. For some reason, they weren't that hungry that morning. Glass of chocolate milk and some bread, but nothing else. Usually they eat more than that. Anyway, so the early lunch worked for us that day. Spent some time there, ate, played with the toys that came in the Happy Meals. It was amazing to me how many "foreigners" ate there. Seemed to me that maybe there was a contingent of Seattle/Washington state military stationed there because I saw more than one American wearing Mariners gear.
So, it was 12:30pm by the time we left. Had two hours to go before our next school appointment. So, we walked back up the main street, went into a few more stores and then headed into a HUGE Starbucks to sit for a while. This Starbucks was 3 floors of a building! Chris and I got some coffee, sat down with the girls in some comfy chairs and blew off another hour there. We left Starbucks to walk more. Chris called the next school to see if we could come early, but no one answered the phone. They had told Chris earlier that they did have another appointment at 2pm, so we weren't surprised. Anyway, we continued walking and walked by some antique shops. My eye caught a few of those old Oriental medicine chests. Ok, another mental note: must pick up one of those before leaving Seoul. I love those!!
What a perfect way to store all my little scrapbooking embellishments. *sigh* I miss scrapbooking...
Sorry for the tangent. Anyway, Chris finally got a hold of someone at the school and we caught a taxi. Chris handed over the phone so that the person at the school could give the driver directions. This is a very common way to get around in Seoul. Well, at least we do it a lot and the taxi drivers we've had aren't phased by it at all.
Our next appointment was at 2:30pm at the Franciscan School
So we get there and walk into the church that is at the front of the compound. I think that weirded Chris out a little bit that the school is in the church. (Note: he says it didn't because he expected it, but the look on his face as we walked in said otherwise.) The entrance was in the back of the building. So, it is separate though in the same building. Anyway, we had the tour. It is not as nice as Seoul Academy or ECLC, but I liked it. At one point during the tour (which we had with some other people as well), a question about religion was asked. What is taught during the "religion" class? The administrator said that it is like a storytime from the New Testament. Oh boy. I could see Chris immediately mark the school off our list. But, in defense of the administrator, she didn't quite understand the question. The other parent was asking if it was a general religion lesson, or was it like Church for the students and they have to believe it? He rephrased the question and the administrator laughed, "Oh no, we don't force you to believe in anything. It is just a storytime and we say a prayer before eating, that is all." Hmmmm.....the brochure says that religious class is optional.
Ok, all that aside, I still liked the school. The website really made me anxious to see it, especially the pictures of different events there. The kids seem to really have fun (from what I could tell from the few pictures on the website) and it really did seem more ethnicly diverse (in comparison to the 70% Koreans at Seoul Academy). But the biggie was the price: about $8,000 a year. Ok, now we're getting to a point where we can fathom paying that ourselves! On top of which, they will let us do it half now and half at the beginning of the second semester (actually the other schools will do that too, but at their prices, it hardly makes a difference for us). AND, we are practically accepted already. The administrator had talked to Chris on the phone last week and said that while there aren't any spaces technically, between then and our appointment, she had talked to the director and he said he would accept us because we balanced out the nationalities already there. Wow, that was accommodating! She said that they really strive to balance their student body and right now they have a waiting list of Korean families, but wanted more international students. So, she asked if we could let her know soon because of that waiting list. We said we'd let her know by Monday. That would give us the weekend to think about it. She said that was fine but asked us to go ahead and fill out the application, and we wouldn't have to pay the non-refundable registration fee of $200 (again, very nice considering the other schools) until we got the official word that we were in from the director who was on vacation at the moment. And the tuition isn't due until mid-August anyway (unlike the other schools that made you pay as soon as you were accepted). Oh, and we can put Nadia on the waiting list for preschool (which starts at 30 months) without having to pay the non-refundable registration fee until she was accepted.
After talking to Chris about it, who still isn't that excited by the Franciscan School because of the religious aspect and, as he said, "it didn't look as nice as the others", we think we will be sending Maya to Franciscan School for kindergarten (oh, it is a preschool and kg-only school as well) and get Maya on the waiting list for 1st grade at Seoul Academy (hopefully by next year, tuition won't be an issue as Chris will have hit the jackpot at GoPets).
Now, to find a place to live...