Fear not, from airport to the final covid test, writer Ilse is here to tell you what to expect.
This is an intensely linear guide from day one to FREEDOM Day.
Here are a few tips for all the readers who have been kindly invited to quarantine in South Korea. Even when the time for quarantining has passed, I hope that this can serve as an introductory guide to the first weeks in Seoul, South Korea.
For whatever reason, when planning to come to Korea, I was intensely worried about what my experience at the airport would be like. I researched things like, “will I be stopped in the airport if I do not have a typhoid vaccine,” and “are tasers illegal in South Korea?” The answer is no, no one checks if you have a typhoid vaccine and yes, tasers are illegal in Korea, so please whatever you do, leave your taser at home. (Google also says you can’t have a crossbow in case you were wondering.)
The overall experience in the airport was far more painless in terms of being stopped than I expected (although the wait was grueling with a heavy backpack). The only recommendation I would offer is to make sure you have multiple copies of things like your covid test results as I heard one unlucky, would-be Korea entrant explaining that someone had taken and not returned her result, to which the hassled customs officer responded that she would need to return to the USA if she could not provide a test result. Don’t let that be you! The rest of the time in the airport should be clear as people in HASMAT suits will direct you from line to line until you are finally free to find your baggage.
Make sure to get a trolley for your bags if you have a large suitcase and follow the other people until you find the college student help desk (or general taxi desks). My taxi driver asked me if I spoke Korean and when I said 조금요 (a little) he only spoke to me in English and I gave up on the venture as neither of us seemed to be getting far in our respective second languages on that day.
As someone whose mother once (and for all apparently) nicknamed them mom-I’m-hungry, you could say I appreciate food. The system for quarantine meals might just have made me appreciate it even more. It’s … confusing at first, so I’ll save you the trouble I went through and provide you with some of the options that you will have. For the most part, we had 3 food options.
- The SK global lobby level restaurants
- A grocery list system
- Shuttle (an expensive delivery app)
The SK global restaurants are Angel Dio, I’m Katsu, (these two are my personal favorites), Obong Dosirak, Burger & shake, and Hollywood (which shouldn’t count because it’s down the street, but I guess they say it does, so it does). My recommendations from these restaurants would be the curry or plain pork tonkatsu from I’m Katsu, a cream bread and blueberry coconut aid from Angel Dio (if you like sweet), and the burger set from Burger and Shake, which comes with the burger, fries, and a drink.
As for the grocery list option, it’s a little tricky and sometimes everything may be sold out and then you don’t get those items. The peanut butter cream sandwich and 돼지바 were worth the wait though. Here is a list of the likely items and prices that you can expect from your groceries.
Now to shuttle. Shuttle provides an overwhelming plethora of options. It’s an easy app to get, just look up shuttle in the app store and find the icon that has Korean. This app is perfect for quarantine time because it doesn’t require annoying things like your alien registration number (ARC) or a Korean phone number. It can also be put in English which will save you many Papago image translations. My recommendations from shuttle would be the lemon madeleine and egg tarts from Moonbear and the fried dumplings and dumpling yuk kae jang from Bukchon handmade dumplings. These things are just a few of my top picks but look out in group chats for what other people are getting that sounds appealing and give it a try. You might find your next favorite food that way.
Now that I’ve made myself hungry, let’s talk about the covid tests. An exciting thing about going to the covid testing centers (with the SK Global groups) is that you can make some friends while you’re there. They might not be your best friends or your forever friends (or they might be, who am I to say), but they will help you to break the “what is socialization” ice. There are two of these trips, one the day after arriving and the other two days before exiting quarantine, so they are also a good reason to stretch your legs and see the scenery for an hour or so as you wait for the covid tests to be administered. If you’re not too shy, talk to some of the other people who are going along with you and enjoy the breeze.
The first days of freedom can be scary and intimidating but give yourself time and look through these activities that can get you out of your quarantine/arrival bubble. The first thing I had to do after leaving quarantine was pay my bill with the dorm restaurants (a real bummer of a walk for people who ordered from Hollywood), so I found a few girls who were headed that way and asked them if I could join their excursion. I had lunch at 딸기 right down the street near ministop and a CIEE campus tour and café sit down shortly after. Here are some things that you can do depending on your mood.
- Head to Daiso in Sinchon and stock up on household necessities.
- Buy some skincare from Olive Young, Nature Republic, or Tonymoly (make sure you hold out for sales for most things as they go on sale often and up to 70% off some items)!
- Head to some Sinchon photo spots and cafés (I’ll be talking more about photo spots in another article once I have collected the motherload for you all).
- Take a walk up to the Yongamsa Temple (20 mins) from Yonsei’s campus.
- Head to one of the convenience stores in the area for your new snack stash (Ministop, emart, gs25 [in the dorm], or Lotte mart)
- Explore the dorm. You can find the kitchen and facilities on the B3 level and the laundry and trash on the B2 level.
Some helpful apps to have when you’re embarking upon freedom are the kakao maps app, Naver maps, Kakao taxi, SafeEntry (the on campus contact tracing app), and the Papago translator. With these apps and suggestions, I wish you luck on your embarkment into life in South Korea!