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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Girl in a Korean supermarket- Part 2

What’s worse than one Irish girl in a Korean supermarket? TWO Irish girls in a Korean supermarket.  Since most foods are pretty familiar to me now, I thought I’d walk around with Clare, who arrived a few months ago.  I tried to focus on the normal foods so people would be reassured that they weren’t going to starve if they came here.  So here’s what we came up with;

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Yellow Melons; Although they’re called Yellow Melons in English, I had never seen them a day in my life before coming to Korea.  They’re super popular in summer and surprisingly enough, they are also quite delicious. 

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Boiled Lotus Root Slices; Here’s one I just learned last night.  Honestly, I’ve been eating these things at school for ages and never knew what they were.  Until last night of course.  Thankfully, my English is pretty good so I simply read the name.  What do they taste like? I wouldn’t know.  Although I eat them, they look kind of dangerous so I mix them in with rice and other food stuffs.  Are they healthy? Well they haven’t made me a Ninja yet so they can’t be that great. 

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Ho duk; I really don’t know what to call these in English.  I think it’s sweet pancakes (although a Korean can correct me if that’s not accurate). They are super delicious. Pancake mix with cinnamon in the middle. Great in the cold weather and if you buy them from a stand they are only 1,000won or less.  They also come with Green Tea mix as well as the regular mix.  And you don’t need an oven to make them, only a frying pan.  Win win. This packet was on sale also so for less than 2,000won I’m going to have some delicious Ho Duk.

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Kimbap component; This is the radish that goes into Kimbap.  If you’re making a million kimbap, buy a packet of these and your sorted.  Some people are actually brave enough to eat this by itself but personally I prefer mine mixed with all the other stuff in Kimbap. 

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Another Kimbap component; I could have called it Seasoned Burdock but chose not to because I didn’t know what it was called until I took the picture.  Again, it goes in Kimbap. I’ve never seen it eaten on its own (or maybe I have but didn’t connect the dots).

 

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Dairy Items; Just to prove that things here are super normal, I took a picture of the dairy section.  You can find yoghurt and all kinds of drinks and the like.

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Snack Foods; The first one is like a Honey Pancake.  Unlike the one before, you buy these ones already made and it’s not cinnamon on the inside.  The picture on the right are sugary balls of flour mix.  It’s really hard to describe. 

 

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Tea; The top one is Honey Citron Tea which is like Marmalade but you add water and drink it.  The bottom one is Honey Chinese Quince Tea.  Quince is a type of pear, same deal here, add water and drink it.  I’m sure its good for Vitamin C and all but there’s a lot of sugar in it so don’t go mad drinking it. 

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The fish; This was definitely the highlight of the trip.  We were walking around the frozen foods and stumbled across these fish tied together.  Many questions came to mind, 1. Why? 2. How would you get this home if you didn’t have a car? 3. How would you go about cooking this? 4. Who buys this? 5. Why? 6. Where would you keep this when you get home? We must have looked like we were in distress because  the very friendly lady came over and we asked how you would cook/eat this.  She gave us this look, as if we were stupid and said “oh you just cook it”. Excellent, thanks, that really clears it up for us.  Any Korean reading this might be able to answer the question. 

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Octopus and Squid; This is exactly what it says on the tin.  Octopus and squid, in a regular packet and in a form where you don’t need directions on how to cook it. 

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Mandu; Mandu are dumplings in English.  Possibly one of my favourite foods in Korea.  And you can cook and eat them in loads of different ways.  You can boil them, fry them or eat them in a soup.  They come in pork flavour and Kimchi flavour.  Super handy and super easy to cook. 

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If you’re looking for toothpaste, look no further.  You can find Bamboo Salt, Tiger Herb, Forest fresh and all kinds of other equally attractive toothpaste flavours. 

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We finally made it to the sweet aisle.  As Clare pointed out, they really love My Chews in Korea (picture on the left).  But they also have loads of other random sweets  and crisps.  No Taytos and no salt and vinegar flavour but shrimp, pizza, original and all other kinds of random flavours. 

Our best find on the sweet aisle was………

 

I can’t find the words……..

 

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Having a supermarket adventure is hungry work so we took a well deserved rest and had some food with the other cool kids who were also hanging out in Home Plus,

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Huge thanks to Clare Gaffney for coming along on the supermarket adventure.  As ever, leave your comments below.

An Irish girl in a Korean supermarket- Part 1

I will never forget the  first time I went to the supermarket in Korea. I  walked around aimlessly because I didn’t recognise half the foods. There I was, all the way from Tipperary standing in a supermarket in Paju looking like I walked in from another dimension! I think I came back out after an hour with a bunch of bananas, some apples and a carton of milk.  In 3 years, things have changed so I decided to write a blog on the things I didn’t recognise when I first arrived in Korea. 

For anyone who reads this from outside Korea and actually knows what they all are, well done. Remember I came from Ireland where these types of food don’t exist (or do but not in my part of Tipperary).

The reason this is part 1 is because I looked like a seriously random individual walking around the supermarket taking pictures of items and not actually buying them!  When I feel it safe to return, I’ll take more pictures. 

Lets start with 유부. You can read the English on the packet, Fried Soybean Curd. Its delicious with thick noodles, 우동, and you find it a lot on soups and the like. At the time I didn’t know that so I spent quite a while standing there thinking of creative ways to eat such a random food.  Thank goodness these packets have pictures otherwise I might still be there!

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Moving swiftly forward to my favourite aisle;

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About 80% of this aisle is dedicated to tuna or 참치 in Korean.  I love this aisle because how many different variations of tuna can there be? Quite a lot is the answer. In fairness there are other things on the shelf, but still a lot of tuna.  The rest is Spam, and other tinned fish and meat. Here’s a picture of Spam which is so great, it deserves a picture of its ownimage

Hhhhmmmmm…….disgusting. Or delicious depending on you. But what is Spam?? Lots of Americans are already familiar with Spam but until September 2009 I had never heard of it. For those who are currently sailing the same boat I was, Spam  is “chopped pork shoulder meat with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder and sodium nitrite as a preservative”  For Lunar New Year, Spam came in amazing beautifully decorated boxes.  Nothing says “I love you” like a great big box of Spam. In case you still don’t understand how brilliant Spam is, watch this youtube video;  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE

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These white things are 떡 and you can tell my reading skills are amazingly brilliant. They come in different shapes but they’re the same thing.  These are actually deceiving delicious and can be eaten lots of different ways.  They are usually used to make 떡볶이 which looks like;

                                                       

Ddeokbokki comes in a variety of spiciness and of course if we get it at school it’s the “not at all spicy” version.  Ddeokbokki is great street food and nothing warms you up on a night out in winter like Ddeokboki!

 The only milk I drank in Ireland came from a cow and with a complete stretch of the imagination, a goat.  So imagine my surprise when I walk in to the supermarket and find an entire shelf dedicated to Soybean milk!   It’s super popular here and I constantly have people offering me cartons of it. It’s got a “special” taste and after a while it’s not that bad.  And probably really healthy. 

Milk

Whenever I go back to Ireland, I like to eat food prepared by Mammy Browne.  When I saw these dressings, I  heard my mother’s voice going; “You’d want to be an awful eejit to put Kiwi dressing on your lettuce”  So imagine the  astonishment as I stood looking at the Kiwi, strawberry, peach and other randomly flavoured dressings.  I’ve actually tasted them since and they’re not so bad( a little delicious if I’m being honest) if you don’t think  about how weird it is.  For 2,380won you can’t go too far wrong……..

 

Sauces

 

Quail Eggs

No school lunch is complete without a few Quail eggs.  Quail eggs are three or four times more nutritious that regular chicken eggs.  We eat them all the time here.  Personally, I don’t see much of a difference in taste but that’s just me. 

At this stage you’re probably asking yourself why I didn’t recognise the foods when the labels are in English.  I took these at a large supermarket which I didn’t know existed until about 6 months into my contract.  The one I usually go to is a totally Korean supermarket with none of these fancy English labels. 

Red Pepper Paste

Red Pepper Paste, a staple in the Korean diet.  This is used as a base in a lot of foods here.  The most common uses are in Ddeokbokki and bibimbap.  I know that now but at the time I was thinking why anyone would need such a disgusting looking food in such a large quantity. 

One last item, Mangosteens.  If it wasn’t apples or oranges, I hadn’t heard of them before I came to Korea.  And I still hadn’t heard of mangosteens until I went to Thailand in  December 2011 (Don’t judge me!).  These are the most delicious fruit I’ve ever discovered.  They taste better bought from a street vendor in Thailand but when all goes to all the ones in the supermarket here will do. 

Mangosteens

That’s about it for part 1. Tune in soon for an Irish girl in a Korean supermarket, part 2!