I was quite disoriented when I first moved to South Korea — a little depressed, a little homesick. I felt like I was on a different planet altogether.
For the first time, I was hit by culture shock.
Korea can be a hard place to move if you don’t know what to expect. Getting settle is confusing and the process is very laborious. Many times I found myself thinking “Man, I wish I knew that before I came …” — and I would like to share with you some of those things.
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01. Pack well. Finding larger clothes (or shoes) to buy in Korea is not easy.
This is especially useful if you’re on the larger side. In big cities, sure, you can go to Western-owned stores; but I am not quite sure if it’s the same case at the underground malls. Personally, I haven’t done any shopping there (except for cosmetics) but I did go to one of the malls we have in Daejeon — not much different than other malls elsewhere, only slightly pricier than back home.
02. Koreans will not smile at you as you pass them by.
I did it many times the first month I moved to SoKo. And gave up shortly after. Well, the culture here is different. Don’t take it personally. After a while, I resorted to just a nod or a bow to show respect / say hello. And, Koreans tend to stare at foreigners – especially the ajumma (아줌마) and ajosshi (아저씨). Don’t take that personally either — that’s just how they are.
03. The level of English is appalling.
Google Translate will be your new bestfriend. You will also have to make do with pictures and gestures. Korean alphabet, hangeul (한글), is very easy to learn. It’ll be good if you know some basic phrases — it’ll make life so, so much easier 🙂
04. Korean’s transportation system is fantastic.
I love the transportation system here. Makes it super easy to travel. Buses, trains, subways, taxis — they’re all equally great. And, super punctual, of course. There are transportation apps you could download: my favourites are Seoul Subway (you need, need, need this if you live/visit Seoul) and Daejeon Bus (well, self-explanatory because I live in Daejeon).
05. Koreans don’t wear swimming costume.
… but they will swim in their normal day clothes. They don’t appreciate women showing their shoulders, or wearing clothes with low-cut neckline in public. But, guess what? Super short shorts or miniskirts are appropriate.
06. Internet speed is amazing.
You can pick up wifi signal everywhere. Yes, everywhere. And, it’s free too 🙂
07. There are convenience store everywhere.
Literally, every 50m from each other. And they all accept payment by credit/debit card for any amount of purchase (I like this, because I don’t like carrying cash) unlike back home where you have to spend a floor amount.
08. Also, millions of cafe.
Really. I’m not even kidding. There are tons of cafes around — Cats Cafe, Dogs Cafe, Hello Kitty Cafe, etc. — you name it, Korea has it.
09. It is very safe.
You can leave your door unlocked. You can also leave your cellphone on the table while you get up to order food. Nobody’s going to steal it. CCTVs are everywhere. So, you can walk around alone without worrying someone will come and harass you.
10. Your apartment will be small.
The apartment that will be given to you (if you take up a job as an English teacher — your apartment is paid for) will most likely be quite tiny and there will be no separate shower, but instead, a shower head in the middle of the bathroom under which you shower.
11. Foreigners are friendly.
There are a lot of Facebook groups for different cities. It is pretty easy to make friends with other foreigners. In fact, the friends I made so far, are all from various FB groups I became member of.
12. Private karaoke and DVD rooms are very popular.
Known as noraebang (노래방) in Korean — just in case you need to find one. This can be found everywhere. So, get a group of friends together and go sing your hearts out!
13. It is not rude to use your cellphone.
Using your cellphone is not impolite. You can use it during social events, at dinner, etc. — in fact, you can use it anywhere.
14. You can’t do anything without your ARC (foreigners’ resident card).
Without ARC, you will not be able to apply for a phone contract/get a prepaid sim, get a bank account or any other services where government ID is required.
15. You do not wear shoes inside the house.
You will take them off at the entrance (well, there’s a specific area for shoes) and walk in with your socks/barefoot. Or, in some places there will be “inside shoes” provided.
So yeah. There you go. There might be quite a bit of downsides living in SoKo but as a whole, Korea is a lovely place to be. And there are so many things to explore. Take the risk, it will all be just fine 🙂