There's a "stats" tool that blogger uses to let you see how people access your blog. One of the neat things that I've noticed is that it tells you what people type into a search engine that leads them to your blog. For example, because of my care package post, I get hits from "best way to mail care packages to south korea." My favorite search query was "toronto born in canada made in america this shirt" cause that was a Random English Monday post a while back, and who on earth would google that unless they'd seen or heard about it? Amazing :)
Anyway, I know that some smart people google their city and/or school when they're thinking about moving over here. They read up on teacher blogs to get mentally prepared. I never did that, but it's genius! Why didn't I think of doing that? I geeked-out the old fashioned way: buying tons of books and obsessively researching my new country. I've been getting stats results from searches for kindergartens in South Korea, so I thought I'd start a periodic series to pass on some tips that I've learned in my first few months in the country. If you're thinking about teaching in South Korea, this post's for you. I figure this may help people getting ready to move know a little more about what to expect, what to pack, what to buy when they get here.
I knew about some things, I was told to bring a full-sized towel, for example. Korean bath towels are about the size of hand towels at home, so you can't wrap up all snuggly in them when you're stepping out of the shower. If you're into that sort of thing, make sure you bring a big towel from home! I brought a light beach towel and I'm so glad I did! Now I wish I brought two, for when I actually want to use it as a beach towel outside, laying on the roof. I could probably buy one at Lotte, I haven't looked, but I'm trying to be frugal and use what I have instead of buying tons of new stuff. If I get desperate later I'll go looking, I suppose...all in good time.
I also brought an over-the-door shoe holder, the kind with pockets to slip shoes in. It's super handy in my bathroom to hold shampoo and conditioner and hairspray and lotion and whatever else you'd normally store in the bathroom. There isn't always a ton of storage in apartments, especially one as small as mine, so that's been a handy storage option for a small space! I'm glad I brought a plastic one, cause it gets soaked every time I turn on the shower head, cause my bathroom IS my shower, the shower's not a designated smaller space within the bathroom. I cut little slits in the bottom of all the pockets to let them drain out.
I brought spices and food from home, which was a great idea. That first week, I was incredibly homesick, and eating Lucky Charms while I skyped with Mom and Dad helped a lot. I love having jalapeno ranch seasoning and Tony Chachere's cajun seasoning to throw on anything (popcorn, dumplings, hard boiled eggs, chicken), too. Korea's gotten a lot more western stuff in their grocery stores over the past few years, and there are even specialty western grocers, but western food is much more expensive. A regular jar of peanut butter costs around 6,500 won, for example, aka over $6. It's smart to bring stuff that you will really really want with you! One of my friends brought over a bunch of packets of Hidden Valley Ranch mix. A Canadian friend brought maple syrup.
Be prepared to be BROKE for at least two months while you settle in. You don't get your first paycheck for over a month; I was here for 7 weeks before I got my first paycheck and when I got it, it was gone in a flash! The school you work for also might take out deposit money for your apartment that you'll get back later. I'll get mine back in November or so, but the first two paychecks were smaller than I expected cause of stuff like that. I'm not good at managing money at all, so Dave Ramsey's envelope system helps a TON when you're on a tight budget. It's saved my hide more than once! That way you can outfit your new diggs, pay bills, and even allow yourself to go to coffee with friends, out to eat, to the movies, and on weekend trips while you adjust to your new life here.
It's easy to find clothes here if you're small, but if you're around a US size 8 to 10 (or higher), be prepared to be judged by skinny Korean shop keepers. The other day I picked up a cute skirt that looked stretchy and was promptly told it was too small for me. It was true, but the clerks here are BLUNT about it. Korean women (and men for that matter) are obsessed with their weight, with being skinny. Americans are weight conscious, sure, but Koreans are TINY and like to stay that way. One of my Korean friends at school told me she was going on a diet. She's like a size 2. Kill me. That is really normal here, and eating disorders are really common.
One thing that I didn't expect was that mattresses here are ROCK HARD. My back hurt SO bad for the first month! Then someone told me that I should get a mattress pad from the Arrival Store, an online shop for new expats in the country. They sell sheets, duvet covers, mattress pads, cell phones with good plans, etc. My school set me up with bedding, but some schools don't. The Arrival Store can also have your stuff waiting for you on your first night in the country, so if you don't have a furnished apartment the way I did, that'd be very very convenient! Here's the link: http://www.thearrivalstore.com/
The mattress pad was the best thing I bought in my first month! The first night *after* buying it, I was SOOOO well rested and comfortable! My bed's still really firm, but it's not like sleeping on concrete anymore.
I also bought a Brita pitcher from the Arrival Store. Water in SK is ok for brushing teeth and cooking, but it tastes horrible. I don't even like to make coffee or tea with unfiltered water. Tap water also might still have some pollution in it, though that's gotten much better in the past few years too. Still, you see water filters in restaurants and malls, and my school's got one. I love having the pitcher in my fridge all the time cause I love drinking cold water that tastes good! The filter replacements are sold at Home Plus and I could probably find them at Lotte Mart and E-Mart.
Well, that's probably a good first post for this series. I'll post another one when I think of more things that I'm glad I packed, wish I'd packed, or was surprised to find so easily here, along with tips and tricks along the way. If you *are* getting ready to move here and you're reading this cause you searched for something along these lines, good luck! I'm so glad I made this decision! I'd be you will be too. :)