Understanding what the Joomeen Center (주민 센터) is in S. Korea will help you understand Korean addresses and help all the people who want to come here to teach English keep themselves out of problems. Every neighborhood in Korea has a Joomeen Center. They are used for many things. Every neighborhood in Korea is called a “dong” (동). That is the smallest unit in the addresses in Korea, the neighborhood. After that, there is a “gu” (구). The “goo” is the unit just larger than the dong. Every dong has a Joomeen Center.
Our “goo” is Gangseo-gu. There is a big office that takes care of everything for Gangseo-gu, and there are many dongs in Gangseo-gu. We lived in Hwagok 6 dong for a while. There is a Balsan Station, so there is probably a Balsan dong in Gangseo-gu too. There is a Gayang Station, so there is probably a Gayang gu, and therefore a Joomeen Center for Ganyang. Now, we live in Bangwha-dong. I am not sure how many dongs are in Gangseo-gu, but it is our area of Seoul. There are “dongs” and “gus” all over Korea, not just in Seoul. If you want to put an address in the GPS, you can’t do it if you don’t have the “dong” or the “gu.” Yes, they have provinces, but they are bigger than the “gus,” and unless you are in the part of Seoul that is in Gyeonggi Province, if you live in Seoul, there is no province, only “dongs” and “gus.”
We had to go to the Joomeen Center today in our area because we needed a government form proving that my son and law and I are family. The Joomeen Center has every family in the dong listed as well as all the records of where each family lives. They also have a record of all the people in the dong who have cars. When you move into a new apartment or house in Korea, you must from the very beginning, go and register at the Joomeen Center. If you want any kind of credit, you must go to the Joomeen Center and prove how long you have been living in a place. My son in law wants to prove that I am his mother in law because at work he is trying to put me on his government insurance.
When my daughter decided to begin teaching English in Korea, she went to the Gangseo-gu Office to get her teaching certificate. When I pay taxes on my car, the bill comes from either the Office at Gangseo-gu or the Bangwha dong Joomeen Center. Everyone doesn’t need a teaching certificate to teach English in Korea, but my daughter was a special case. Since I have two degrees in English, I automatically have a teaching certificate in Korea. When my daughter was getting her certificate to teach English, she met a Chinese man who was applying for a certificate to teach Chinese. They are native speakers of the language, and so whether or not they have degrees in the area, they are allowed to teach the language if they have these certificates. My daughter had not finished her B. A. degree, but wanted to teach, so she applied for one and got one. Usually, a native speaker of English who has finished a B. A. degree in any area can teach without a teaching certificate.
The Joomeen Center is also in charge of the recycling. They send a truck to pick up all the recycling once a week. If you have a piece of furniture or something else big like a fridge or something, you have to go to the Joomeen Center and get a sticker to put on the item so the people who pick up the recycling will know to pick it up.
The social workers in the area stay at the Joomeen Center or the big “gu” office. I have a friend who is a social worker, and she stays at the “gu” office. The social programs are different here than in America. There are no welfare checks. The social workers help people who are in need. They know who all the poor people are in a certain neighborhood. My friend does things like she went to an old woman’s house that was downright nasty because she couldn’t take care of herself, and she and the other social workers cleaned it up for her. At Christmas, the church wanted to give gifts and food to needy families, so my friend who is a social worker in the Gangseo-gu Office got a list of people who needed help so we could help them. Usually, these offices just keep records. It is where people go for information.
I saw another nice sign today when I was at the Joomeen Center. There is a place in the office that people who don’t have air conditioning can go and stay in the summer if they get so hot they can’t take it. It made me remember of times I heard about old people in the States who didn’t have air conditioning during a heat wave, and ended up dying because of the heat wave. If it is that bad here, there is a cool place here for those people to go.
Once, I was charged for a bill I didn’t make. It was in an apartment I used to live in, but no longer lived in. The bill was high. It was for cable TV, but it wasn’t my bill. It belonged to whoever lived in the apartment after me, and they had been watching for a couple of years without paying. If I didn’t pay the bill, I couldn’t have any more cable. I went to the local Joomeen office and got forms from them proving where I lived and when I lived there, and the company who tried to charge me the big bill had to drop it and go ahead and give me cable. It is useful for them to have a record of everyone and where they live.
If you want to know how to use a new washing machine, you can go to the Joomeen Center, and they will tell you. If you want to know where you can buy a washing machine, a fridge, or something else like that in your area, you can go to the Joomeen Center, and they will know all the stores where those things are sold. They know everything in the neighborhood and give out lots of information.
When I lived in Romania, I felt strange when I learned that if a foreigner moved into a Romanian’s neighborhood, they had a certain amount of time to report to the government that the foreigners were there or the Romanians got in trouble. I felt the Romanian government was having the neighbors spy on me. This system in Korea could bother people because when anybody, Korean or foreigner, moves, they are expected to go to the Joomeen Center and report that they are there. There are a lot of privileges that are withheld if you don’t do it. For example, they wouldn’t give me a parking sticker on my car so I could use the parking lot in front of my apartment building until I did it. Some people may not like them keeping track of people so strictly, but they do, and it can be helpful.