Tips for surviving your first year in Korea

Two of my friends are getting ready to come to Korea. They asked me to write a blog on how to survive your first year here. It’s been a while since it was my first year so I took to Facebook to ask my friends. I was astonished at the replies I got back. There are so many things that nobody tells you before you come here. Hopefully we can sort some of that in this blog.

1. Language: Although English is widely taught and spoken by some people here, you should learn Hangeul. You simply won’t survive without it. And the best thing is that so many words are the same in English and Korean, you just need to be able to read out the Korean to understand.  You can learn your letters and a few basic words before you arrive. Although it looks super complicated, you can learn your letters in a number of hours. Here are some useful websites;

http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/

http://rki.kbs.co.kr/learn_korean/lessons/e_index.htm 

2. Culture: Know what’s expected of you in the workplace, when you visit someone, greeting people etc. A simple Google search will provide plenty of articles to read on this issue.

3. Supermarkets: The good news is that there are small supermarkets everywhere but for the bigger things there are two big supermarkets Emart and Homeplus (in Korean). You can buy everything from clothes to household items in these two places.

A tip is to buy with your card. I don’t know the ins and outs with this but it’s preferred to avoid the taxman.

Other tips from my friends include;

“You need to get stickers on your fruit on veg bag before you go to the register” (talking about loose items)

“Know the seasonal fruit and vegtables”

3. Transport: The bus, subway and train system here are excellent.

Subway;To make it easier for you, it’s a good idea to download the jihachul app so you can navigate the subway. system. You can figure out running time and waiting times for subways on this app. And yes, it’s in English.

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For those not living in Seoul, remember that the subway finishes well before midnight so if you live outside the city and you stay out, you should consider alternative transport home.

There is a jingle at transfer stations and end of line stations.

A Tmoney card is the name of the transport card in the Seoul and surrounding area. You can buy them for a few thousand won in most 7-11 and convenience stores. Then use the machines at the subway systems to load them with money or at a convenience store. The average cost of a journey can be calculated approximately using the jihachul app.

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Buses: There are different colour buses depending on where their destination is. Here is a site that explains just about everything transport related, http://www.kias.re.kr/sub06/sub06_06.jsp

You can also download the Seoul Bus app. Unfortunately, it’s in Korean but if you know the bus number you can check where on the route the bus actually is.

You can use your T Money card on the buses also or pay in small cash or coins.

Taxis; Taxis are EVERYWHERE. The regular ones are silver or orange. The should have a meter and the drivers information visible.

The black ones are more expensive. Supposedly they are more luxurious.

In Seoul, you can use your T Money card or a bank card to pay for the fare. You can also get a receipt. Outside of Seoul depending on the place, you can’t use a T Money card. You should have some cash to pay for the journey.

Here’s a nice little article on the whole thing, http://www.visitseoul.net/en/article/article.do?_method=view&m=0004007002011&p=07&art_id=39543&lang=en

4. Banks 

Everyone wants a bank account straight away because they come loaded with money. It’s always preferable to wait until you get an Alien Registration Card to do this. The main banks in Korea are;

Nong Hyup

Shinan

KB*B

KEB

Woori Bank

Some schools make you open an account in a particular banl to avoid transfer fees etc.

Banks are opened from 9-4 Monday to Friday. The exception are the expat banks like KEB who have branches open on Sundays for certain hours.  You should consider this if you have a 9-5 job.

At least 2 of these banks have excellent expat services (KEB and Shinan). You can set up internet banking and download an app on your phone to check your balance etc.

Most banks have someone that speaks English especially the ones with expat services so don’t fear going in alone to set it up.

KEB also have an account called an Easy One that will lodge money straight to your overseas account.

* I should note that other banks potentially offer the same service but I have my account with KEB. You should bring all the details of your home account for registration.

Bank Transfers; You can transfer money from your account to another Korean account  by using either online banking or going to a bank machine. It’s very easy and the machine has English language so you can’t go wrong.

Paying your billshttps://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/pay-your-bills-at-the-bank-machine-in-korea/

Insurance: Should you need car insurance, travel insurance, health insurance etc, you can contact the Samsung Insurance rep who can speak with you in English. You can reach him at byung625@gmail.com and his name is Byung. I have my car insurance with him and travel insurance and it’s always great value and he speaks perfect English.

5. Apartments; Apartments here are generally a one room or two room for single people. Unless you really luck out in which case you’ll have a few rooms.

You will have a washing machine and  heating to navigate in Korean but fear not, I already have blogs done on how to use them.

https://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/use-a-korean-washing-machine/

https://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/use-the-heating-in-a-korean-apartment/

6.Rubbish disposal; This is a tricky one. Every place and every housing complex has a different system. If you live in a huge housing complex, they have one day a week where everyone leaves out their rubbish. This rubbish is separated by recycling, food and other.

If you live in a random apartment this is how it usually works;

1. Go to the supermarket or local shop and buy the rubbish bags. The yellow ones are for food rubbish. The bigger ones (blue in my area) are for general waste. Then I also have recycling. I leave recycling out in a box or a paper bag.

2. Look on the street for other rubbish that is waiting to be picked up. Leave your rubbish here and it’ll get collected.

If you have a bigger item like a chair that you want to get rid of you can either 1) Leave it out and let someone else take it and use it or 2) Go to the supermarket and get a sticker for it. Put the sticker on it and leave it outside with your rubbish.

7. Post Office: The postal system here is extremely efficient and safe. If you wish to send something in country then just put the senders details on the top left corner and the receivers details in the middle. Then send it either the quick way or the regular way. It’s pretty cheap.

If you want to send something home, there are two options 1. Land 2. Air.

Land will take between 3-6 months to reach it’s destination. It’s cheaper than sending it by air and it’s good to send home clothes and other items that you don’t want but are in no great rush for.

Air takes only 7 or so days to get to the destination. It’s the fastest way to send things home.

The Korea Post website is in English so you can go ahead and check the rates and fees etc…..http://www.koreapost.go.kr/eng/sub/subpage.jsp?contId=e1010601

The post office is open from 9am-6pm .

8. Alien Registration Card

Your alien registration card is the card you get when you become officially registered with immigration. You will need this card for the following;

  1. Visit to the hospital
  2. Visit to the dentist
  3. If you’re stopped by the police
  4. Entering and leaving the country
  5. Opening a bank account
  6. Making a loyalty card
  7. Getting a phone contract

It’s so important. If you lose your ARC you must immediately report it missing with the police and then go to immigration and apply for another.

9. Expat websites and finding groups

There are some seriously useful websites out there for expats. I’ll list a few here;

http://seoul.angloinfo.com/

http://www.korea4expats.com/

http://www.iherb.com/

http://global.gmarket.co.kr/Home/Main

http://english.11st.co.kr/html/en/main.html

http://www.thearrivalstore.com/

For the teachers among us……

http://www.waygook.org/index.php?wwwRedirect

For the Irish;

http://iak.co.kr/

http://seoulgaels.weebly.com/

https://sites.google.com/site/busangaa/home

https://www.facebook.com/daegu.fianna.3

Also USE FACEBOOK! So many areas have their own Facebook pages. In my area we have Geumchon Crew, Ilsan have their own page and so on. You get the drift. Google it or Facebook it and you’re bound to find some groups.

10. Random tips;

You have the option on taking over a phone contract from someone who is already here. Keep that in mind before going off and starting one of your own.

Olive Young sells lots of foreign brand cosmetics.

Don’t open your gas valve all the way. Open it just enough so the meter turns otherwise you’ll have a big bill.

Bring a huge towel with you.

Go to cineinkorea to find out what movies are showing in a theatre near you.

Just go with the flow if you have no idea what’s happening.

You can call the tourist information people on 021330 if you need some help.

In the deep winter, don’t leave your heating completely off if you leave for over a week. If your pipes freeze and burst, your entire floor will have to be taken up and replaced. No one wants that………..

Never trust the green light when crossing the street. Pedestrian crossings are out in the stupidest of places so always look left when crossing and don’t take the chance if it’s a bus approaching.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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*If you want to add something to this list, leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stories from inside the classroom.

There are days at school when the students annoy me so much that I want to walk out the window and take my chances. But other days, they are so funny, I almost can’t remember the bad days.

I’ve learned so much from the students and whether they learn anything is beyond me. When first I started at this Kindergarten, I didn’t speak much Korean. Since it’s a Korean kindergarten and I’m the only foreigner, I wasn’t too long learning!

One day at the start, I had a five year old class and no assistant. Everything was going really well until this boy kept repeating something to me in Korean. I had no clue what he was saying so I just ignored him, hoping he’d stop. But he didn’t, he got out of his chair and made a gesture which made it quite clear that he needed the bathroom. I let him out and three minutes later, he’s standing at the door, butt naked holding a piece of tissue! Of all the days not to have the assistant!

 

I’ve learned that no matter how close to five the four year olds are, you probably shouldn’t give them scissors. I learned this the hard way. To be fair, they get scissors in art and other classes so I thought it was a fairly ok idea. I just let them off to cut the paper and when I turn back around one child is holding a clump of his hair. My only thought was ” I am such a failure”.

That’s a thought I have every day though. When one child is spread eagled on the table and another looks like he’s going to use his pencil as a weapon, I feel like a failure.

Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder what the children are thinking about when I give them a task. Today, their task was to draw their family. Ryan called me over and said; “Teacher, this is what people look like on the inside”

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He went into some serious detail about how the blood works with the veins and arteries so I looked at him and said “What does this have to do with your family? It’s my father”, he replied. Insert a shocked silence here.

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Just when I think I’m getting through, I realise I’m totally not. The above is supposed to say “This is my father” etc. But the student just did it phonetically, as in Korean so it ended up as “deesmebab” Quite clever if you turn the B’s around. At least he’s making an effort.

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This picture is the “family” of another student. I think that’s him in the middle, the dominant male. I have no idea who the other people are although the person on the right yielding what looks to be an axe looks a little malicious.

The most enjoyable time of day is just after lunch.  The children line up, class by class and brush their teeth. Since the staff room is on the 3rd floor where the four year old’s hang out, they are who I see most of. It is the funniest thing you’ll ever see. They get toothpaste on their faces, in their hair, on their clothes, they let it fall on the floor and then pick it up and brush their teeth, everything. If they eventually manage to brush their teeth, they “rinse” their mouths with water. This means the water ends up on the mirrors, on the floor, they just drink it, they spit it at each other, they try to talk with the water in their mouths, everything. At the end of it all, most of them have soaked themselves and their clothes have to be changed. Funny times.

You should see what happens when they get to play soccer in gym class. The gym teacher throws the ball to them and they try to kick it. What actually happens is that they just miss the ball and then they can’t figure out where it is so they run in circles looking for it. It cracks me up!

I know I’ve made it out that I work in a jungle or somewhere but we have a lot of fun and despite what I actually think, they do learn English!

 

 

Shauna & Janet on the “Most useful phrases in Korean”- Part 1

It’s always useful to have a few phrases in Korean before you come to Korea. Right? That’s what we thought anyway. And by “we”, I mean Janet and I. Janet is the person behind the janetnewenham.wordpress.com blog.She’s also Irish and living in Paju so we thought we’d try a vlog over some Barry’s Tea. Since we want people to be involved, we let our Facebook followers choose the phrases we put up. Here’s what they came up with;

1. Hello– 안녕하세요. Anyeong ha sayo.

2. Thank You– 감사합니다 Gamsa ham ni da

3. Yes– 네 ney

4. No– 아니요 ah ni o

5. Where is the ___________? ________ 이 어디에 있어요? ___ o d eh is oh yo?  For example, “Where is the bathroom?’ The word for bathroom is 화장실( hwa jang shil) so the sentence becomes 화장실이 어디에 있어요?

6. How to I get to _______? _________ 어땋게 가요? o ddeok kay gay yo? For example, How do I get to Seoul is 서울 어떻게 가요?

7. I’m sorry– 미안해요. me ann ham ni da. There are a few ways to say I’m sorry. You can use this for any situation where you should apologize for something.

8.Discount Please, 갂아 주세요. Gakk ah chew say yo. This can only be used when the price isn’t set. For example at a market or somewhere.

9. Simmer down/calm down; 침착해요. Chim chak hay yo. A great one if you’re out and about and someone is bothering you or something like that.

10. How much is this? 이거 얼마예요? e go ul mah eh yo? (이거 being “this”).

11. Directions; 직진- jik jin,  Straight

오른쪽 oh ruhn chuk, Right

윈쪽 wen chuk, Left

여기 세워 주세요. yoh gi say woh Chew say yo, Stop here please

12. Really? 진짜? jiin ja? I love this word! Even these days when I can’t follow my student or whatever I just reply “진짜”?

13. One moment please, 잠깐만요. Jam can man yo, . You can use this when getting off the subway, bus or just to say “wait a minute”

It’s not very much fun just reading it here is it? No. That’s why Janet and I put together a little video of how to pronounce it and we loved it so much the memory card ran out of space. So this video is part one and we’ll post part 2 next week!

Since we’re not Korean we probably made mistakes in spellings so apologies. If you want to see us do any more videos on Korean or life in general in Korea or whatever, leave us a comment or tweet us, @iamshaunabrowne or @janetnewenham.

Sitting TOPIK and asking myself why…..

As I sat there, the red-headed beacon in the sea of monochrome hair that was the TOPIK ( Test of proficiency in Korean)exam hall, I asked myself if it was all really worth it.  The weeks of stress, the nights of Korean vocabulary filled dreams, the nightmares of not having filled the self-imposed daily study quota, was I sure I wanted to be part of this?

In my four years living here, nobody has ever stopped me up on the street and asked me what my TOPIK level is. In fact, most people I know don’t even know what TOPIK is. If I burst out a simple Korean phrase in my everyday life, sometimes as simple as hello, Koreans fall over themselves telling me how amazing I am. Great. Fantastic,so smart!  What was that grammar point for disputing a statement? Oh ya,(ㄹ)…하기는요. I remember because it’s the only one I get to use on a regular basis. So why do it? Work,study at work, home, dinner, study, bed as a routine for months and months makes me question myself. During those months, I wake up in the middle of the night to check a certain word, is it 행동하다 or 동행하다  and if the one I didn’t need is actually a real word what does it mean? This is how it goes for months.I revise and practice previous questions with my teacher where I learn the most useless vocabulary. Why does anyone need to know the Korean word for the soon to be married couple?Why? Why I ask you? Can I slip this into everyday conversation? I think not.

As I look around, I’m desperate to see someone who looks like they might be in the same boat as me. But in that room of 40 hopefuls, there are no other native English speakers. In fact, every other person in the room is from Asia, the realisation of which causes an appearance of the awkward turtle.Sitting away in the corner, Paddy Irishman.  As soon as I arrived at the centre, the whole thing took a turn for the worst. I sat alone in my car doing some last-minute revision when a coach load of candidates pulls up and they all enter, not a book or notebook in sight, looking as if they were doing the test for the good of their health. Maybe they were. Maybe that’s why some people do the TOPIK.  My friends, who are Ph.d students in a university in Seoul, do the exams because they have to. They must pass a certain level in order to receive their degrees.  They take classes in Korean and receive very generous scholarships so that’s a pretty great motivation to get their TOPIK. For me though, honestly, it’s so I have something to aim for. I won’t study properly if I’m not working my way toward a goal. For all the stress and randomness, TOPIK is that goal so that’s ultimately why I sit the test. Well, that and the whole thing will give me something to talk about with my friends.

Sitting there wondering if I look Korean enough to blend in, I can’t help but laugh as my thoughts roam to the person who’s going to be unfortunate enough to be correcting my test. I can read Korean as fast as a 4-year-old can so by the time I’ve read and answered questions 31-45, I have about 20 minutes to questions 45-60. So it’s a case of looking for some words whose meaning I don’t know, looking at the answer, finding a few of the same words and guessing the answer.  When did I think it was a good idea to sit this level and is there a limit on the amount of times you can sit this test? This is pretty much how I look during the exam…….

Crazy

On the bright side, there are some super interesting characters in this room. The people who don’t understand what “don’t open the test paper yet” means, the yawners, the gum chewers, the clickers and the guy behind you who keeps passing gas, it all adds up to the silver lining.

So that’s me and my TOPIK thoughts for now. Ironically, my next blog is going to be the 10 most useful Korean phrases! As ever, leave your comments below ( preferably in Korean, we all know I could do with the practice!)