Traveling to a new country can be challenging and hard. Now imagine navigating with language barriers and a culture different from your own. Living and teaching in Korea is a unique experience that requires the right mindset and an understanding that things can go often not the way you expected.
From experience, any person living in Korea will tell you to prepare yourself mentally and do research. Reading blogs and tourism sites about what are must-have apps and must-see things to do will help prepare you for life in the Korea. However, having lived in Korea for a few years now, I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog about five essential tools, that you may not find during your research, that will make your life a lot easier during your time abroad.
1. Naver Maps
Naver Maps is the Google Maps of Korea and is the best tool for navigating your area. The App is in Korean, so being able to write basic Korean is essential, however you're in luck because reading and typing Korean is really easy to learn.
Google Maps does not work too well in Korea, so finding your way around might be a bit difficult. But Naver Maps is precise and will show anything nearby you need. For example, if you're looking for a specific place like a printing store or a gym, you can search the word in Google translate, and copy paste it into Naver Maps, and it will search all options nearby.
This tool is fantastic because often the searches or blogs online will recommend a handful of popular places that might be far to travel to, from your area. Often there are plenty of options nearby your home that you are just unaware of.
2. Basic Korean
Recently, Duolingo added Korean to one of their languages to study! So the possibility for ESL teachers to study basic Korean, is more accessible than ever before. The Korean alphabet is one of the most phonetically sound alphabets in the world and it literally can take you a day to learn all the Hanja (Korean symbols). Korean is easy to read, as it sounds as it is pronounced. If you study the phonetics properly and engage with the listening sections of the language, you might be surprised how much you could learn in a short amount of time.
Once you can read, then you should learn how to type. This will be useful when you are trying to navigate Naver Maps or Gmarket. Download a Korean keyboard or add it to your keyboard options, and play around with forming words by typing them.
Finally when you can read and type, start researching basic words that you would need to know. For example, shopping center or police station. Also, you could simply utilize Google Translate or an online Korean dictionary to allocate words. Once you can read and type, the process will be simple to find you way around Korea, or try to communicate with others. You could type in words into Naver Maps or even try and ask for something or where a place of interest is.
3. T-money Card
A T-Money card is the main transportation card that is used in Seoul and/or other cities, for buses, subway and taxis. Once you arrive in Korea it would be wise to go to the nearest convenience store and buy a card. You can upload money directly onto the card which will save you stress and a lot of time when you are trying to find your way around Korea. The stress being - not knowing the bus or subway fees and standing somewhere sorting through coins, while an angry bus driver is about to pull-off without you.
Once you have a bank card, it is advisable to ask your bank to set up your card with a direct link to your T-money account. Then all you need to do is swipe your bank card when getting on transport. The card is automatically linked to T-money and will deduct the amount you spent at the end of the each month.
You can also download the T-money app onto your phone and link it to your credit card. You could swipe the app on any of the above mentioned transportation options and it will also be deducted monthly from you billing. A lot of Koreans utilize this app as to minimize the amount of things they have to carry.
4. Travel Hotline and an unlocked Smart Phone
If you have an unlocked smart phone lying around at home, you should bring it with you. Make sure it is unlocked so that it can be used in Korea. The first reason for this is an unlocked phone will save you a lot in monthly phone bills since you can apply for a regular monthly payment without a new phone contract. For example, your phone bill could be $30 per month with an unlocked phone as opposed to $75 per month when buying a new phone in Korea.
Korea now has monthly data packs for tourists, so you could go directly to SK or KT and buy data for an unlocked phone.
One of the most utilized numbers used by most foreigners and tourists in Korea is the Tourism Hotline, 1330. It is in English and the customer service is expectional. You can call anytime from anywhere and someone will try their best to assist you. This could be anything from finding a location to looking for something specific in your area. Also, if you run into any problems with Koreans, you could call the hotline to try and communicate with the parties to see what the issue is.
Do yourself a favor and download Kakaotalk onto any smart device you are bringing with you. Korea has wifi everywhere and Kakaotalk is how Koreans communicate. Set up a user ID and learn how to use it. Your branch will more than likely ask you for your ID number so that they can communicate with you in a real-time, since emailing may not be quick enough if an emergency situation may arise.
You will utilize Kakaotalk in the first 3 weeks more than any other application. It could be to speak to your Housing Realtor, receive a package or even attend a last minute meeting. Also, any new friends you make in training week, you can keep in contact with them via Kakaotalk while they set their lives. Finally, you can have your close friends and family back home download Kakaotalk on their phones, as it is a great way to instant message and text each other.
At our branch, Kakaotalk is utilized for emergencies that happen during class time or sudden changes that need to be announced immediately. Even though we always back up communication via email, as an instructor you will find out about the new information via Kakaotalk first, and then in a follow-up email.
It is no surprise that Tijana Huysamen, a South African born Capetownian, avid traveler and travel journalist, fell in love with South Korea and its people. After Tijana arrived in South Korea in 2010, she had the opportunity to live in the heart of the Korean countryside. During her time spent in Chungnam province she learned to speak Korean, prepare Korean food and experience the humble nature of the countryside people. After a year break in New York, Tijana jumped at the opportunity to return to Korea again, and is currently working at the CDI Jamsil Branch, in Jamsil, Seoul. Read Tijana’s Aclipse blog to gain a unique perspective on Korea and her shared experiences and adventures both in a major city and in the countryside. Follow Tijana on Twitter @TeeAnni or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request more information on teaching in Korea!