What I knew of the world changed during my first few days, weeks, and months in Korea. I did my research, but there were a few things that I missed. This is what I wish I knew before arriving in Korea:
Saying that Korea “gets hot” in the summer is like saying that Antarctica can be chilly sometimes. The humidity can be so strong sometimes that it feels like you’re swimming through the air. It’s thick, muggy, still air, and it is VERY hot.
And then, there’s the winter. Korea has 4 seasons, people. Spring and Autumn are AMAZING… but they are short lived. The summer is muggy and humid, and the winter is nail-biting cold. Make sure you bring enough clothing to last throughout the year!
This list should help with what to pack and what to leave behind before your move to South Korea.
2. The “tidiness” of your apartment
Have you heard about this yet? If not, then read carefully: tenants are not required to clean the apartment before they move out.
Even if you’re replacing another foreign teacher, it’s likely that they won’t clean up much for you. Hard to believe? Just wait – you’ll probably leave without cleaning it either! We’ve heard stories about kimchi mold growing in refrigerators, spiderwebs in the window sills, and almost everyone has a horror story about bathrooms. Suffice it to say: mentally prepare yourself. You will likely spend your first 48 hours cleaning. DEEP cleaning. Get ready to go shopping for cleaning supplies when you first arrive.
3. Your boss
Checking out the curriculum ahead of time? Meeting your coworkers? Shadowing some classes before you start teaching? Yeah… probably not going to happen… teaching in Korea can best be summed up in the phrase “rolling with the punches”…
To start off with a good teaching relationship with your boss, we would advise you to bring a little something for them. It can be something from your home country or even a snack with a cup of coffee. This will mean more than you can imagine.
4. Your class schedule
You might receive that the day before you start teaching, if you’re lucky. Most of us receive it THE DAY we start teaching. Make peace with the fact that Korea is a place where people do things differently, and you are the one who need to fit in with their culture. Be flexible, be adaptable. Roll with the punches.
5. Cell phone
If you have a cell phone that you want to bring along, you need to make sure that it is compatible (2100mHz WCDMIA) and unlocked (check with your service provider). To get a contract in Korea directly through their service providers (Olleh / SK Telecom), you’ll need to have your ARC (Alien Residence Card). This will take 3 – 6 weeks to get from immigration.
6. Restaurant Etiquette
You will probably sit on the floor. When you arrive, wait to be told where to sit. Don’t start eating until your boss has taken their first bite. Don’t tip in a Korean restaurant. The waiter might just run after you with the change. Don’t pour your own drink in the company of an older Korean. It is the responsibility of the senior person at the table. Hold out your cup with both hands as they pour for you. And dear god, don’t blow your nose at the table.
7. Public Transportation
Seoul has one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world. The subway is clean, it will take you almost anywhere, and every subway station is right underneath a city bus station. There are also taxi’s available, and they are not nearly as expensive as they are at home.
When you arrive at the airport, you can connect to WiFi while you wait for your next move (someone picking you up, or a bus). If you’re lucky, internet in your apartment will still be running from the teacher before you. Most will have to wait to get internet set up at home.
Don’t worry though, most coffee shops (they are everywhere) will have WiFi available. This is usually the easiest way to Skype with family/friends, check your email, etc until you can get internet set up at home.
9. Alcohol consumption
Drinking in public is legal. Weird, right? And AWESOME.
10. Learning Korean
Being able to speak Korean might take you a while. There are a variety of Korean courses available, as well as language exchange programs where you teach someone English and they teach you Korean in return. Learning to read Korean is a lot easier than learning to speak it. You can do it in less than an hour! Seriously!
It’s unavoidable. Moving to Korea and adjusting to the life here is adventurous and exciting, but you’ll have your fair share of shocking experiences. Homesickness comes and goes. Make sure you establish effective communication with those at home, whether through Skype, or a cell phone. Be sure to plan an adventure (in Korea) quickly – within your first 8 weeks if you can! Korea is filled with quick weekend getaways, and the extensive bus/train system makes it easy to leave on a Saturday morning and come home on a Sunday night. Hikes, 4D movie theaters, festivals, beaches, temple stays… the list goes on. You can meet people on Facebook groups in your area, or you go to Meetup.com to find people with similar interests as you.
12. Showers… and your bathroom in general
It’s most probably not going to be the way you expect it to be. Your shower is basically your whole bathroom. Traditionally, the shower head is right over your toilet. It takes some time getting used to, but hey, it’s an adventure!
13. Your age
Koreans are 1 when they are born, so when you arrive in Korea, you are instantly 1 year older in age. Yay!
For everything else, here’s Adventure Teaching’s Comprehensive guide on South Korea!
Let us know what we’ve missed!