Note: This survival guide is meant to be used as a brief preview of some of the things that you will encounter while teaching English in South Korea whether with a public school (i.e. EPIK) or a private school (hagwon). While we at I Love ESL Ltd. strive to be accurate with this guide, please understand that this information will apply to most English teachers in most situations. We freely acknowledge that what an individual teacher will encounter may be different than what is described here. Appropriately, we will use qualifiers such as “most, usually, majority of the time etc” to indicate that no situation will be same. That being said, we feel that this guide will be of use to the majority of teachers. Some information in this guide will only be relevant to teachers that are teaching in the public schools (EPIK, GEPIK etc). However, most prospective teachers will still find this information useful. Remember, the keys to enjoying your time in Korea are to 1) be flexible 2) hope for the best but be prepared for the worse.
Shopping in Korea
Korea can be a shopper’s paradise. After moving into your new apartment, you will find that there are typically no furnishings (aside from what your school may provide you with). This can be quickly remedied by going shopping. Which brings up the problem – where can one go to buy items for your home? The following is a quick guide to it:
HomePlus / Lotte Mart / E-Mart
This is where you can find the majority of the items you will need to furnish your apartment with. Similar to mid-range department stores (think Sears in the US), these department stores will carry most of what you require on a daily basis. Your first stop should definitely be to one of these places to pick up your daily necessities. Prices tend to be reasonable to good. At the bottom of these plazas you will tend to find a large section devoted to groceries.
Costco is a wholesaler that specializes in selling products in bulk. This is where you will find the widest assortment of western food and supplies. There are several Costcos scattered throughout South Korea (located in the large metropolitan cities like Seoul, Daejeon, Daegu, and Busan). You will need to sign up for a membership at the front desk (forms are available in English and Korean) and a card with your picture will be given to you on the spot. The cost is about 35,000 KRW and the membership is good for one year. Prices here tend to be very good (compared to other Korean stores) but keep in mind you are going to be buying in bulk. Bring a backpack or shopping bag to carry your supplies as you will probably be buying a lot.
You can purchase items on eBay and have these items shipped to your apartment in Korea or to your school. We strongly suggest you ship your packages to your school instead of your apartment as Korea Post tends to deliver during the day, which is of course when you are working. Keep in mind that there will be an approximately 20% import tax on items with a declared value over 150,000 KRW.
Seoul Craigslist (http://seoul.craigslist.co.kr)
For those that are in Seoul (or willing to meet up in Seoul), and don’t mind purchasing items directly from other people, you may consider combing the Craigslist postings for items. You will frequently find English teachers that are finishing up their contracts, moving home, and eager to sell their stuff. The will tend to post ads selling items at hugely discounted prices. By buying used, you will be doing him/her a favor, your wallet a favor, and the environment a favor. It’s a triple win! As always when dealing with anything in the classifieds section, please meet up directly for any transactions.
Train Travel (http://info.korail.com/2007/eng/eng_index.jsp)
Unless you have a vehicle of your own and an international driving permit, your best bet for travel within South Korea are the trains. Unlike trains in the US or Canada, train travel in Korea is cheap, abundant, on time, and convenient. These trains, owned and operated by the Korean government (Korail), serve almost all the major cities in South Korea, with numerous stops for smaller cities as well. There are three classes of trains, listed from cheapest to most expensive (and fastest). The first one, the mugunghwa is the train that serves the majority of destinations but is also the slowest. The next class of trains, the Saemaul trains are a bit faster, cost a bit more, but also has the most comfortable seating out of all three train classes. Saemaul trains operate only on selected lines. Finally, the pride of the Korail system, the KTX (Korea Train eXpress) trains are a class of high speed trains with regular service speeds of approximately 300 km/h. KTX trains cost the most but are of course, the fastest trains, able to travel from Seoul to Busan in about 2 hours and 45 minutes. A word of advice about booking online: you will need your passport to book a train, although you generally do not need to present your passport at the ticket office to pick up your tickets later on. Also, around the weekends and especially holidays (Chuseok etc) you will find that tickets will be very limited.