Arriving in a new country can be really overwhelming. There are many things that need to be done quickly upon your arrival! Your head will soon be spinning, without knowing what to expect and how to go about it. Everyone coming to teach in Korea can better prepare for the time ahead by doing a little bit of research, and having a few conversations with foreigners. By doing this you can feel relaxed and be assured that your transition to life in Korea, will run smoothly.
After arriving in Korea, a few years back, I was lucky enough to have a good friend here. It was helpful to ask someone basic questions about bus routes, cab rides and how to find a supermarket. Even more so, it was great to know someone who had experience with Korean culture and way of life. Over the years, I have learned from my own experiences and in return have helped other English teachers settle into living and teaching in Korea. For each teacher, my suggestions were always similar, so here are my suggestions of the top 5 things you must do after you arrive in Korea.
1. Learn to Read Hangul
Learning the Korean alphabet is probably one of the easiest and most useful things you can do once you have arrived in Korea. It literally takes two days to learn the Hangul alphabet , as the letters are easy to read and pronounce. Also, the alphabet is phonetically sound, so if you read it exactly as it sounds you will realize that most Korean signs are romanized in English. Reading Korean is useful, as once you can read signage, it will be easier to find your way around Korea and locate stores and cafes that you are trying to find!
Also, being able to read Korean helps with using bus-route apps, Naver maps and technology in Korea. For example, when I started my first day at school, I had to catch a bus from my apartment to the next town. I wasn't sure of the bus number, so I read the Hangul on the front of the bus. It said from where-to-where the bus was traveling, and from this I knew which bus to get on. Even in a city as westernized as Seoul, the bus routes at the bus stop are written in Korean, but the sounds are romanized so if you can read Korean, you can easily see if the bus stops at the destination you are trying to get to.
2. Download Useful Apps
Google maps does not always work in Korea. People who rely on this App will get lost and feel super frustrated. This is because a lot of the addresses have been directly translated into English and are unsearchable. This is why you have to download Naver Maps! If you have been studying the Korean alphabet, you will easily be able to navigate your way around Korea and even locate places such as police stations, post offices and furniture stores! Naver Maps is a very useful App that all foreigners should have!
Kakao Talk is probably the most useful App in Korea. You will be asked for your ID within a few moments of being in Korea, and it is the best way to communicate without a phone for the first month. Korea is full of free wifi spots, so if you have a smart device, this App will save your life! You can message, call and follow map routes on Kakao Talk. It is also a way to social network and get you making friends in no time!
If you live in a big city like Seoul, Busan or Daegu then you should download Jihachul. It is a nationwide subway indicator, that has subway maps for every major city. It is a wonderful App to get around with as it gives train times by the minute. This App is so precise that you will be surprised how accurate the trains arrival is!
Visit Korea is another fantastic App that is a must for all foreigners. There is detailed information for places of interest, such as transportation, entrance fees and background history. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to do touristy things. The transportation routes are very accurate and you can follow directions clearly.
3. Punch Tourist Information into your Phone
One of the most useful numbers to have after arriving in Korea is the Tourist Information Hotline number. The number is 021-330 or 1330 and the people on the other end can literally answer any question. They can help with movie times, bus and train schedules, embassy information, advice on what to do, and even emergency calls. If you are lost, they will try help direct you or give you information on what to do. This number is vitally important and something you must and should make use of, while you are living and teaching in Korea!
4. Join Social Meet Up Groups
Korea is buzzing with foreigners and what better way to connect with people from all over the world than through social networks. Every city or town will have a community of foreigners. This is usually on Facebook or via Kakao Talk. In Seoul there are various communities, such as Seoul English Teachers Network, Seoul Hiking Group or Humans of Seoul. In other cities there are communities such as The Daegu Compass, Busan Teachers Toastmasters, and Daejeon Peeps.
Another great App or Internet site to make use of is Meet Up. This has become one of the most popular ways to meet other foreigners and Koreans in your city. Famous groups to explore are Runsploring Seoul, Seoul Hiking Group, Beer and Cheer, and Wild Breakfasters.
Also if you would like to experience nationwide travel with other foreigners or interest yourself into an interesting trip itinerary, then you should follow Adventure KoreaandGoh Travel Korea on Facebook.
5. Learn Basic Korean Phrases
While reading Hangul is important, being able to speak a few basic Korean phrases will change your entire experience of Korea! The most useful phrases to learn are usually needed in places like a cab, a restaurant, at school, and directions around your city. Also, learning how to count Korean money and asking how much things cost is super helpful and something you need to ask often!
If you live in a city, then it might be easy to get around without learning any Korean. But then this leaves foreigners with a loss of satisfaction and appreciation for their time spent in Korea.. Koreans and Korea are all about communication - they are big on their culture. Anyone who tries to speak Korean with Koreans experience a whole new world and the people open-up in ways that will change your entire experience of the country.
Even though at your school it’s against policy to speak Korean to your students, it helps knowing basic Korean to understand your students pronunciation issues with English. Students will have more respect for a teacher who is aware of their culture and language. Also, being able to converse in basic Korean with the Korean staff, will make you more likable and favored over foreign teachers who do not express an interest at all.
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!