Surviving Korea (1): 5 things to know before arrival

(note: this blog post is directed at those applying for teaching positions through EPIK, but may prove helpful for others coming to Korea through different companies)

There are definitely some things I wish I would have known before arriving in Korea. My trials and tribulations are here to help you! Here are some things to be prepared for!

1) YouTube apartment tours
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Like many prospective teachers, when I made it through my EPIK application process, I instantly went to YouTube to learn about what my future life may look like.  Let me tell you…the chances of you getting that apartment with that small loft? Pretty remote. Most of my fellow teachers were welcomed into a one room studio that is about the size of a bedroom in the USA. Studios with a loft can actually be expensive to rent, therefore it is not common that your school would have one for you. Don’t be dismayed though! I actually quite enjoy my little space.  It has everything I need and although I don’t entertain guests very often (mine, although the newest, also is the smallest, about 1/3 to half the size of some of my friend’s studios) the space is 100% mine and you will find you really didn’t need that much space to begin with!

2. Hawaiian pizza and cookie dough

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My search for either of these (without making it myself) has so far proved fruitless….(get it? No pineapple 😉 ) If you want cookie dough, you will need to make it yourself…but you will have to go to Costco to get butter that isn’t sweet.

BUT…Korea has a great selection of different pizzas, from potato, to quesadilla pizzas, beef pizza, and more! As long as you don’t mind that it comes with corn! It can be very expensive. Dominos and pizza hut are definitely now out of my price range. That is where pizza school comes in. 6,000 won for a pepperoni pizza? Dream come true.

(killer cookie dough craving? Baskin robins is in Korea, and the brought along their cookie dough ice cream.)

3) Surrounded but lonely

One thing I highly recommend is to take Korean classes. Do you need to speak Korean to survive here? Not at all! But there will come a time where you are at lunch with your fellow teachers at your school and everyone is speaking Korean.  When you first arrive, that can be pretty isolating to say the least. So the more you learn before you arrive, the more you’ll understand their conversation and the less isolated you will feel. Plus, they love it when you try and speak Korean! Koreans are incredibly supportive and helpful when you express interest in learning Korean! (and many will also happily teach you about their culture as well!)

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4) Wait…where is my bed?

Be prepared for what one of my orientation teachers called “the Korean surprise!” Don’t take for granted that your apartment will be furnished. Don’t feel entitled that your school should have bought it for you…you school already  will cover your rent and put down the deposit on your apartment. EPIK set up the extra 300 in your first paycheck for a reason.  I know a few teachers who were exhausted and finally reached their apartment only to find that nothing was in it.  Be prepared that this might happen…ask your coteacher on your first day if there is anything you might need for your apartment. If you arrive, open the door, and your apartment is empty, turn and ask where the nearest Home plus or Emart is. You can buy floor sleeping pads and comforters and pillows there. Also, that 300 dollars won’t be there until the end of the month so bring enough money for the first month and some extra just in case. EPIK recommended 1000 dollars (keep an eye on the exchange rate). I would say you can easily live on that. Want to buy a bed frame and mattress for your empty apartment?  Just be patient and wait for your first  paycheck.  Being frugal at the start  is a good way to go!

5) Wait….is this a steamy shower or an icebox?

If you arrive in August, be prepared for muggy and sweaty for your first few months.

If you arrive in February…it will be cold, but spring starts in April and it will start to warm up. In the meantime, it is pretty cold…then again I hail from Oregon in the USA…it rarely goes below freezing there…

I hope those first 5 tips prove helpful! If you have any other questions, please post your questions in the comments below and I will try to answer them!