Traveling story/Quarantine story:
Finally, I have made it to South Korea! It has been quite the adventure the past couple of months getting here. Here goes nothing: I decided that I wanted to teach here in South Korea around the Fall of 2019. Originally, I was going through an International Teaching Program that places people in teaching positions all over the world. When it came time for me to be placed, I felt an extreme disconnect from my recruiter through this program. After careful consideration, I started to explore other options, and boy am I happy I did. This was when I found Sammie at SeoulESL. At this point, it was June 2020—COVID was in full force, businesses and schools were shut down all over the world, visa documentation was delayed substantially, and well you get, you’re living through it too. To be honest with you, I thought this was a long shot and that there was no way that I was going to find anything. I emailed Sammie a list of things that I was looking for: city, age group, hours, as well as what documentation I already had. Within, 5 days I had interviewed with Sammie, explored some options and was interviewing with a school in Busan. Busan was the city I had always wanted but was told by my other program I had no chance of getting.
I cannot explain the gratitude I have towards Sammie and the rest of the SeoulESL team. When I say that she was with me every step of the way, there is absolutely no exaggeration. I felt so safe and prepared to speak with her, she always kept me in the loop and updated with what needed to happen because of COVID and was always immensely patient during some of my more ignorant times. I never went longer than 24 hours without receiving an email from Sammie and usually, it was even just within a couple of hours, even with the time difference. I was never hesitant to ask questions or ask for help from Sammie because of how understanding and welcoming she was towards me. Sammie, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU!
Now, a couple of things you need to know that a lot of people have said already, plus a couple more things that I think are important. As I mentioned early, as well as many others, documents are taking way longer than usual to be processed due to the circumstances. I was doing everything express and paying every fee imaginable to get expedited processing, but still, it was taking a long time (I’m talking 6 weeks+). No need to stress about it, just keep it in mind and plan accordingly.
Out of the U.S. even for your domestic flight, if you don’t have a direct flight to Korea, make sure you have a valid negative COVID test from within 48 hours and all other documentation you will need: visa, passport and accommodation information. Some flights aren’t “requiring” it, but have it, it’ll save you in the end. You also want to get to the airport two hours+ early in case there are any issues. You must be there at least 90 minutes early in order to check bags for international flights. Once you arrive, the airport process, Customs and all that good stuff is taking a lot longer than usual as well. Be patient and ask questions. Everyone at the airport is extremely nice and the majority of them speak English. You will quickly learn that people are willingly trying to help you and the staff is really on top of everything. If you’re based in Seoul, you won’t have as long of a journey, but for me going to a very southern part of Busan, my plane landed around 3:15 give-or-take and I didn’t arrive at my accommodation until around 9-9:30. You will take buses to trains to taxis, again, with someone guiding you along the way. Because of all this, make sure you pack accordingly! Try not to bring more than two suitcases that require to be rolled. You will be carrying your luggage A LOT and it will not get easier as you get more tired and weak. You will be going up and down a lot of escalators with your luggage, so just be mindful of yourself and others. (You don’t want to be the person that hold up the whole crowd) As an over-packer myself, I brought four bags: a large rolling suitcase, a small carry-on rolling suitcase, a duffle bag that slides onto the handle of my carry-on and a large travelers backpack. Though it was double my weight and I did have the most intense arm workout of my life, I could manage everything by myself.
A good tip that Sammie also mentioned to me was to have everything down on a piece of paper: your director’s phone #, your recruiter’s phone #, and the address of your accommodation in English AND Korean. This was so helpful, I can’t even explain. Most of the time I just handed the paper to someone and they wrote everything for me, as my Hangul writing skills are mediocre at best. I just printed it out and had a couple of copies in different places that were easily accessible. I would also make sure you to have a credit card or debit card that can be used overseas. I also got a couple of hundred Korean won sent to my bank in the States so that I had cash as well. You will be paying for trains and taxis. Some simple helpful apps to have are KakaoTalk (duh), KakaoMap and/or NaverMap/Dictionary. Naver is like their Google, so though Google Maps does work, if you want to see more in depth where you are and what is around you, KakaoMap and NaverMap will give you a way better understanding. It is also helpful to see what subway and bus routes are around you for when you’re out.
As for quarantine—it’s not fun, obviously. No one wants to be by themselves for 2 weeks in a country they haven’t yet discovered, but you’re not alone. Make sure you have internet prior to coming, not just for Netflix and YouTube, but also if you don’t get an international plan for your phone and you are depending on Wi-Fi to contact family, friends or loved ones, you won’t be able to. You will not be stopping anywhere in between landing and getting to your accommodation to pick up anything. Make sure you ask about that and any other concerns you may have PRIOR to coming. Also, have a converter/adapter or two. There are plenty of places that deliver here whether it’s take-out, groceries, or really anything: Yogiyo (in Korean), Uber Eats, Gmarker, iHerb, Coupang and more. It’s actually kinda what Korea is known for—their crazy fast delivery and convenience. If you have any dietary restrictions/preferences, makes sure your recruiter/director know. However, you are in Korea and they are foodies, so be mindful of their culture. A simple Google/Naver search will help you figure out what is around you and people have written plenty of articles about it as well as how to navigate apps in Korean. You can always ask your recruiter or director, as well. I know this is not the case for everyone, but I have also been extremely fortunate with my director. She checks on me every day, brings me snacks and coffee and has been very attentive and diligent towards me and my concerns. Thank you, Ms. Moon! Time will pass by and before you know it you will able to explore and start your journey as an English teacher!
Good luck! 화이팅!