Your first few days in South Korea will likely be some of the most difficult. The combination of jet-leg, a new environment and a world of unknowns can be extremely overwhelming and confusing. Anxiety, fatigue and disorientation are all typical feelings that come with such a life-changing transition.
Adjusting to new and unfamiliar circumstances takes time and for some, this can come as a big surprise. Teachers often don’t know what to expect in their first interactions with their school and employer. Some employers do a great job at welcoming their teachers by making sure their apartment is ready, giving them an orientation and even taking them out shopping or for a meal. Other employers are known to give only a minor introduction and leave it to their teachers to get settled and oriented on their own.
There is no telling what your first few days will be like or how helpful your employer will be, but there are a few things that we can help you prepare for to ease this time of transition. This page will help you get a better picture of what to expect upon arrival and provide you with some important information to help you adjust.
It’s not unusual for new teachers to spend a few days or even their first week in a hotel, AirBnb or another vacant apartment while the previous tenants move out or while the apartment is cleaned. There is often an overlap between the new teacher’s arrival and the current teacher’s departure which can make it hard to get settled within the first few days of arriving. This is only temporary, and as soon as the current teacher is moved out or when the apartment is ready, the new teacher is able to put their bags down and start unpacking.
In Korean culture, it is acceptable to move out of an apartment without cleaning it. Unlike in Western culture, the new tenant’s responsible for cleaning their new apartment. Most schools realize that it’s very difficult for teachers to move into an unclean apartment, considering the circumstances, and will make preparations to have the apartment cleaned before you arrive. Despite such efforts, it’s not uncommon that the apartment still needs a thorough scrub after you move in.
Cell phones are a necessity for life in Korea. It’s hard to believe that you would need a cell phone to communicate in a country where you know no one, but trust us – it will save and help you more than you’d expect. Without one, making plans, arranging events or meeting up with friends, and even keeping in touch with loved ones at home becomes challenging and sometimes impossible. Most teachers purchase a temporary SIM at the airport upon arrival. You can purchase a 30, 60, or 90-day SIM to use initially until you decide what you want to do.
Skype or Zoom or Google Meets or FaceTime, etc.
In the post-Covid era, everyone is familiar with at least one of these platforms. Prior to leaving, it’s a good idea to figure out how you and your friends and family will connect while you are away. Even though you are so excited to be leaving soon, almost all of our teachers experience some kind of homesickness within the first few months.
For quick snacks or must haves, convenience stores (Buy The Way, 7-Eleven, Family Mart, Gs-25 etc) are located on almost every corner or in the bottom of almost every large building. These stores are a great place to find snacks, water, beer and other household items quickly. The prices are slightly higher than in the mega grocery stores, but they carry a number of much needed supplies without the hassle of crowded aisles and long line ups. If all else fails and you need a quick meal, they sell a large assortment of Ramen Noodles and all the necessities to make and eat it right in the store, which is completely acceptable etiquette!
There are many Western fast food and sit-down restaurants in Korea. Though they are more common in larger cities, they can be found in smaller towns as well. Some common restaurants are:
Note: There are many Korean Pizza places that offer pizzas for 5,000 won. This is substantially cheaper than what you will find at the Western pizza places. The most popular and widespread pizza place is called PizzaSchool. The pizza is made fast, tastes great and is significantly cheaper than other pizza places.
It is common practice for foreign teachers to be paid once a month for their previous month of employment. The average individual will need access to about $500 – $1500 USD to support them in Korea until they get their first pay check (roughly one month after starting a contract). It is important to carry some cash with you at all times to make purchasing necessities, eating out and getting around more convenient and reliable. You can exchange currency at the airport when you arrive or find a local bank nearby your school or apartment to convert currency from your home country.
There might be utility bills left over in your mailbox from the previous occupant. Be sure to check your mailbox as soon as you get moved into your apartment and give all the leftover bills and mail from the last tenant to your school representative to avoid any unnecessary confusion.