I’ve officially been living in Korea for just under a week now and thought I would take some time to debrief my experience here so far. I am currently living in Seoul where I will be teaching science at an international school for the next ten months.
So I might not look like a super model, but I am slowly beginning to understand why backpackers spend so much money on their gear. The act of travelling itself is not as glorious as it seems – just imagine being sticky with sweat, fully aware that the guy who was standing next to you a second ago has moved away because of that ungodly odor coming from your body, and then really wanting to quench your thirst on the plane but worried that you might get stuck going to the toilet after somebody’s just taken a big dump. When it comes down to it, making your travel experience as comfortable as possible is well worth the extra effort. When I traveled to Kazakhstan last year, I was too cheap to spend money on a good travel pillow and took the “memory foam” one we had lying around at home. You ask, how can you ever go wrong with memory foam? Let me tell you… not all memory foams are created equal! There is real memory foam, and then there are the posers. I ended up spending eighteen hours on the plane trying to sleep with a lump of coal on the back of my neck.
#1. A little preparation goes a long way. Last year, I picked up some survival Russian phrases (i.e. hello, nice to meet you, goodbye, and thank you) before heading out to KZ, but did not bother to learn Cyrillic until much later on. This year, I decided to learn Hangul (Korean alphabet) before my arrival in Korea, and BOY, WHAT A DIFFERENCE IT MADE! Rather than having to devote extra attention to learning the language in addition to getting settled, I’ve been able to do the latter in a relatively care-free way. It also helps that Korea is very English-friendly; street names and subway stops are translated into English, and I have ran into quite a few English speakers on occasion in shops and restaurants.
There are many other little things that I never thought twice about in Canada and had to re-learn while in Korea. Like, figuring how to get hot water for a shower, turning on the gas so I can use the stove, setting up password protected wi-fi on a Korean-only site, and learning how to properly sort my garbage (they take this very seriously in Korea) to name a few. I spent the first night showering in cold water because I didn’t know how to turn on the boiler. I spent the second night showering in cold water because I didn’t realize the hot and cold symbols were mixed up! Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending: I am now able to take hot showers. =D
#5. Watch your spending, because temptation is everywhere! 1000 won here, 2000 won there, and pretty soon you’d have spent a good chunk of your money on a) food, and b) things you never knew you needed, like that cool organizational storage unit designed specifically for your bras.