There is one good thing about the handful of convenient stores in Korea. Located in all areas which include popular tourist areas and hidden alleys, these convenient stores can be the biggest life saviors. Not only are they opened late hours, heck 24 hours, it is the one spot to go to for cheap goodies (including amusement parks and other family places Americans would raise the price at). They offer all kinds of daily necessities, making traveling and everyday life as an English teacher in Korea that much easier. A few of the more popular convenient stores in Korea are Family Mart, Buy the Way, GS 25, CVS, and 7-11 (but its nothing like the ones back at home).
Although the name varies, they generally all have the same goodies inside. Depending on the size and location of the store, you may be able to find more goodies than in other locations. Basic toiletries like any corner store can be found: tissues, pens, toothbrushes, cups, utensils, and a handful of packaged foods that can be cooked in the comfort of your own home (spam, rice, cereal, sauces and such). Moving on to the more important goodies in these convenient stores is the food of course!
For starters, Koreans love breads and baked goods so you can always find some sort of pastry for those who are in a rush. You can find the weirdest kinds sometimes which makes me wonder if there is anything that Koreans can NOT come up with? Although most packaged pastries we at room temperature, some stores offer warm breads fill with red bean jams and such.
One of the more popular goodies to have is the ramen of course. There is hot water available to cook up a bowl of ramen. The best part is being able to upgrade your ramen with sausages, eggs, fish cakes, and the many other microwaveables that are available. Each convenient store has their own microwave that is ready to be used so you can be as creative as possible. You'll be amazed at what you can find!
For those English teachers who aren't looking for a full on meal with their ramen can pick up a kimbap. There are cheap triangle kimbaps that are less than a dollar or even a two dollar roll! In addition to kimbaps there are cold cut sandwiches with all kinds of flavors and even half half selections. Yeap, half ham and cheese sandwich, half spicy chicken, my all time favorite to get the best of both worlds.
Looking for warm goodies? There are microwaveable burgers that are in the bag. Simply microwave and grub. Talk about fast food! They also offer hot dogs, pizzas, and a whole bunch of random microwaveables that you can consume within minutes. If you're looking for a healthy option, many stores offer fruits and such. It is definitely the place to go for a quick, cheap meal.
The one thing that the States should adapt from the Korean convenient stores is the warm fridge. Yes! The warm fridge. Ever go to the store and just want a hot drink that is not powdered or is not as fancy as a Starbucks cup of coffee or tea? There's an invention here in Korea that keeps drinks warm. This is not limited to coffees, teas, vitamin drinks and juices. You name it, they have it. It's a high controlled temperature box that keeps bottle and canned drinks warm. Usually this fridge is by the microwaves, but it differs from store to store. There is even some open fridges that are fancy and have different temperature rows. One row of coffees may be cold whereas the other is warm. This is probably my one obsession with Korean convenient stores other than a low priced lunch. There's nothing better than being able to pick up a can of hot tea to soothe a sore throat as easy as 1-2-3.
Moral of the story is do not underestimate what you can find in a convenient store. You'll be surprised how you can live off of your corner store for a week of travel. Be sure to be health conscious of what you are consuming though while teaching in Korea. After all, these packaged goods have been sitting around for a while and they must be packaged in a certain way so there is a high concentration of sodium. Of course a meal a week wouldn't hurt, unless you're dieting!
Graduating with a double major in Communications and Chinese from Rutgers University, it wasn’t long after working in the Big Apple that Cindy Ung decided to take a break from the cliché 9-5 lifestyle and move to Korea to teach English for CDI. Making the bold step to leave her comfortable, mapped out life in the States, she has fallen more in love with the Korean culture as each day passes. With weekly mountain hikes, weekend road trips, discovering great foods and beauty products, constantly meeting new people, her life in Korea has been everything but mapped out.
Check out Cindy’s blog to get a glimpse of what Korea has to offer!