새해 복 많이 받으세요 (Happy Korean Lunar New Year)!
It’s crazy to think it’s been nearly a year since I landed in Korea. Apart from my necessary belongings and what I thought I knew from watching an infinite amount of K-dramas, I didn’t really know what to expect from Seoul. My Korean skills were non-existent, I’d never been a teacher before and I’d never lived in a foreign country alone so I decided to wing it and see how things played out naturally.
If I’m being completely honest, I definitely lucked out on everything from my school to my colleagues and accommodation (#sorrynotsorry lol). I live near Yonsei University, so my neighbourhood is filled with a lot of people my age. My landlords are incredibly sweet and welcoming (I legit call them my Korean mum and dad) and are a great point of contact to ask about local hospitals, pharmacies, and nearby areas to explore so make sure you get on their good side early on! I also got mine a little thank you present after I received my first paycheck for helping me settle down and now they always surprise me with goodies here and there! I teach 5th & 6th grade at a local elementary school, which is about a 5-minute bus ride away. Yes, I know I could easily do the 25-minute walk in the morning but 1) It’s like 8 am. 2) Hello, daily lie-ins. 3) EW MORNING LIFE 😊
My colleagues have all been super welcoming and don’t worry if you think there’s going to be a language barrier… Papago will be your savior anytime you need it! A lot of my colleagues try to speak English to me either to practice or because they know my Korean skills are low (THEY HAVE IMPROVED OVER THE YEAR THOUGH) but bear in mind that some might apologise for not being able to speak English well. When this happens, I’m usually the one that apologises since I’m the one who entered their country and they’re the ones making more effort to communicate with me and make me feel included! This was a huge motivation for me to start learning Korean though – it’s such a nice feeling to be able to converse with your colleagues and no matter how poor your Korean skills are, they REALLY appreciate the effort you make!!!
Learning to read and write in Korean made a huge difference in helping me settle in. Even if you have 0 experience in the subject prior to your arrival, I really do recommend you at least try to learn the alphabet. You can feel really helpless and lost being illiterate in a foreign country so every little helps and honestly, makes everything easier (TOP TIP: Google Translate actually has a word lens translator on the app so you just hold your phone screen over the text and it translates it pretty well!). It also makes it more entertaining for the kids when you surprise them with a random Korean word here and there. They find it really funny when you make mistakes and it’s actually pretty entertaining to be called out by them.
Once, I learned how to say, “나는 멋있다” (I am cool) but when I was telling them what I learned, I ended up saying, “나는 맛있다” (I am delicious) lololol.
As you can probably tell, my kids and I get along really well and I always have a lot of fun teaching them! If you’ve never taught before, Korshare will be your best friend – it’s free and is a great source for lesson plans/inspiration. The games are ace too and the kids love them! It’s a really good way of seeing how other teachers interact with their classes and what works well/doesn’t.
I always knew that I wanted to renew my contract for the upcoming year and although my school was a huge part of my decision, my life outside of work also played a key role. The friends you make at orientation will be a big part of your time in Korea because you’ll all be on the same boat for a lot of things. Exploring your city with them is also really fun! Outside of orientation, a few colleagues are some of the best friends that I have here and joining a recreational activity nearby will also allow you to meet other people (e.g. my yoga classes have a lot of people my age and I even hang out with some of them in our neighbourhood!). There’s SO MUCH to do in Seoul (and Korea) so you’ll always find yourself something to do or eat.
FOOD. IS. AMAZING.
Even though I have to walk up a hill to my house every day, I have lost 0kg. You’ll find deliciousness everywhere – great portion sizes and great prices too. Korea is all about sharing food, so you’ll find yourself ordering a few different dishes and digging into them all rather than just having a meal to yourself a lot of the time. My favourite things to eat and drink in Korea are 파전 (pajeon/green onion Korean pancake), 막걸리 (makgeolli/Korean rice wine), grilled pig’s skin, ALL TYPES OF BBQ (OBV), 곱창 (gopchang/small intestines of cattle or pigs), 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae/kimchi stew) and of course 소맥 (somaek/soju+maekju (beer)) AKA the lethal combination for memory loss and the hangover from hell. You’ll be glad to know Korea does have hangover cures though, so make sure you stock up (I usually keep them in the fridge for that extra special hangover cooling effect).
I hope this gives you a bit more of an insight into some parts of life in Korea! You will find yourself overloaded with information at some points (especially at orientation) but don’t stress! Just take things one step at a time and use the information towards the end of your EPIK Orientation book to guide you to settle into life in Korea within the first few months (ARC, bank account, etc.). I would recommend just doing things at your own pace and make sure you enjoy yourself because you have an exciting year (or more) ahead!
Pritasha Kariappa is an EPIK teacher from United Kingdom who has been living and teaching in S. Korea since Feb. 2019. She graduated from the University of Glasgow with MA(Hons) Digital Media and Information Studies.