11 Things to Know Your First Week in South Korea
Welcome to South Korea!
If you've just arrived to be an EFL teacher, you are probably feeling a brutal concoction of emotions, from nervous and excited to homesick and overwhelmed. But never fear! I am here to get you through your first week as smoothly as possible! So let's dive in with a quick look at 11 things you need to know your first week in South Korea.
Don't arrive and expect to be taken directly to a fully-furnished apartment. The truth of the matter is that simply doesn't happen, or at least not commonly. When we first arrived, all we wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed. However, we had nothing for the bathroom and our beds did not come with any linen. We made a pitstop our first night at Lotte Mart to pick up bedding, basic cleaning supplies, and shower necessities. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are doing your day-one shopping.
In South Korea, it is most common to simply have a fitted sheet over your mattress. I have rarely seen full sets of sheets that are common in the States. You quickly get used to sleeping directly under your comforter but don't go shopping a wonder why you can't find anything but fitted sheets.
Another huge difference between the United States and South Korea when it comes to bedding is the mattress. I am used to a comfortable mattress with support and padding and general fluffiness. However, the mattresses common in South Korea are basically box springs...not exactly the most comfortable. I highly recommend buying a mattress pad right from the bat so you can get a good nights sleep.
I was so excited to take a shower, only to find that the bathrooms are very different than I had anticipated. Most bathrooms here are simply a fully-tiled room with a toilet, sink, and showerhead. This means that when you shower your entire bathroom gets wet. This also means that your bathroom floor can sometimes be a disaster of hair and grim. So my first night I bought some cleaning supplies and set out to clean my bathroom/shower. Trust me, your first shower will feel a lot better if you clean the bathroom first.
As mentioned above, your whole bathroom will likely be a shower. So, invest in shower shoes. These will help you navigate your slippery bathroom without falling and are super cheap to buy at most stores.
This sounds a bit silly, but your first week is hectic and there will be some times you just want a quick snack. You can either bring a few of your favorites from home, or you can check on snack options at corner convenience stores and grocery markets.
Slippers are no joke here. I have a set in my apartment and a set at school, and I wear them all the time. You can find cute and cheap slippers in many places, but I have had the best luck at Daiso, a store similar to a dollar store. Find a few cute pairs and embrace the culture!
Adapter, Converter, and Transformer
Alright, this is just a good travel tip, but when you are visiting a foreign country it is super important to bring a transformer AND a converter. A travel adaptor does not transform the electrical voltage but does change the wall plug so you can use your devices. Converters transform the voltage for electric products and are designed for limited time usage (1-2 hours). Converters are important for items such as toothbrushes, hairdryers, small fans, etc. Transformers, on the other hand, also transform the voltage but for electronic products that do not have dual or universal voltage. Most computers, phones, tablets, etc. now have dual voltage, which means you will only need the adapter, but you should carefully examine all your electronics before you travel so you aren't stuck without a transformer if you need one.
Air quality is a big deal in South Korea. You will find that the air quality varies depending on location, but as a general rule, you should be prepared to protect your lungs. Air masks can be found at any corner convenience store, pharmacy, or market. Look for masks with a filter of at least 94 (it will say on the mask packaging) and check the air quality daily to protect yourself from the toxins in the air.
In South Korea, there are strict guidelines for garbage. There are specific bags that must be used for all garbage and you can buy them at grocery stores and convenience stores. South Koreans also recycle, and you are required to sort your recycling. Check in with a colleague to learn how to navigate this process. It is also common to compost, and your food waste can never go in the garbage. When you compost, make sure you keep your waste in the freezer and take it out regularly. Fruit flies are very pervasive in South Korea and you will want to avoid having to deal with them!
Many expats get sick their first few weeks in South Korea. Locate a pharmacy and ask for a box of Vitamin C powder packets. We often get a box of 120 packets for only 15000 Won! This is a great supplement to take once a day to help you fight off any sickness.
Things to Expect
Here are a few other miscellaneous things you should expect your first week in South Korea.
No matter how you make it through the flight, your first week in South Korea you will undoubtedly feel the effects of jet lag. This is a normal part of moving to the opposite side of the world and you are not alone in the sleep-deprivation. Before you leave home, pack some Melatonin so that you can help your body learn to fall asleep and wake up at appropriate times. If you are like me, Melatonin can cause some pretty graphic dreams. I use Magnesium instead to help me regulate sleep without the nasty side-effects.
You may have an orientation at your school during your first week. This can be stressful, vague, and feel overwhelming. Take a breath. This is normal. Keep in mind that any orientation to a new job can feel overwhelming, but that your school is super excited to have you and help you! You got this!
Here's the deal: your first week is going to cost you. You will spend money getting your apartment set up, your classroom set up, exploring your neighborhood. That's great! Just plan ahead! I brought 1.2 million Won with me because my first paycheck was not scheduled for almost a full month after I arrived. This was a really good idea! I ended up spending most of it on supplies, groceries, and activities with my coworkers. I did also have a medical exam that cost about $80 and a security deposit for my apartment worth about $300 due my first week. This was good to have on hand in Won so I didn't have to stress about finding a global ATM. However, IBK, a common global ATM, is very easy to find and you can always ask your coworkers where you can find the nearest global ATM.