24Jun

Guide to Apartment Hunting in South Korea

So, you’ve landed a gig teaching English in South Korea—congrats! Now, onto the next big hurdle: finding a place to call home. Trust me, I’ve been there. Navigating the housing market in a foreign country can feel like solving a puzzle, but fear not! With a bit of know-how and the right apps in your arsenal, you’ll be kicking back in your own Korean flat in no time.

Let me level with you—I’ve been through the ups and downs of the apartment hunt myself. It took me quite some time of searching and living in less-than-ideal accommodations before I stumbled upon a building that felt like home. After exploring numerous options and enduring a few less-than-pleasant living situations, I finally found a building that caught my eye.
Determined to make it mine, I visited their real estate office and had a chat with the agent. Despite no available flats at the time, I left my number, hoping for a stroke of luck. And guess what? A couple of months later, I received the call I’d been waiting for—a perfect flat was opening up, and to top it off, it was on the side of the building I preferred. You can actually find it on KOLARIS’s social media channels–check it out when you get a chance!

My Apartment, check out my apartment tour on Instagram here

Alright, first things first, let’s talk about what you’re up against. Before diving into the apartment hunt, it’s essential to understand the housing market in South Korea. In major cities like Seoul, Busan, and Daegu, you’ll find a variety of housing options ranging from studio apartments to larger flats. Prices can vary significantly depending on factors such as location, size, and amenities.

Now, let’s get down to business. Here are a few apps that’ll be your trusty sidekicks on this apartment hunting adventure:

  • Zigbang: Think of Zigbang as your personal real estate guru. It’s one of the most popular real estate apps in South Korea and it’s got everything you need to scout out the perfect apartment—location, price range, housing type, you name it. Plus, it provides detailed listings with photos, descriptions, and contact information for landlords or real estate agents.

Zigbang App

  • Dabang: Similar to Zigbang, Dabang is another useful app for finding apartments in South Korea. It’s got a slick interface, tons of listings, and handy filters to help you narrow down your search. Bonus points for providing info on nearby hotspots like supermarkets and eateries.

Dabang App

  • Airbnb: Yep, you read that right. While Airbnb might be known for short-term stays, it’s also a goldmine for ESL teachers on the hunt for a more permanent spot. Many hosts offer sweet deals for long-term stays, so don’t overlook it as a potential option. Trust me, I speak from experience. When I found myself in between apartments, Airbnb came to the rescue, offering a range of short-term rental options at affordable prices.

Airbnb App

Now that you’ve got your apps locked and loaded, here are a few insider tips to help you snag that dream apartment:

  • Crunch Those Numbers: Before you dive headfirst into the apartment hunt, figure out your budget. Factor in things like utilities and transportation costs so you don’t end up in over your head.
  • Location, Location, Location: You know what they say—location is key. I had my heart set on being close to the beach, as well as near a metro station for easy commuting. Thankfully, my apartment checked both boxes. When choosing your neighborhood, prioritize what matters most to you—whether it’s proximity to work, amenities, or favorite spots. The right location can make all the difference in making your new place feel like home.
  • Get Up Close and Personal: Once you’ve found a few contenders, don’t be shy about scheduling viewings. If you’re dealing with agents who don’t speak English, no worries! Just fire off a message using apps like “Papago” for smooth communication. During the viewings, keep an eye out for cleanliness, maintenance, and the neighborhood vibe. These little details will help you decide if it’s the right fit for you.
  • Work Your Charm: Last but not least, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Landlords are often open to haggling over rent, deposit, and lease terms, especially if you’re willing to commit to a long-term stay.

So there you have it, folks. Apartment hunting in South Korea might seem like a daunting task, but armed with the right tools and a can-do attitude, you’ll be living your best life abroad in no time. Whether you’re dreaming of a cozy studio or a spacious flat with a killer view, there’s something out there with your name on it. Happy hunting!

02Apr

Coming Full Circle: My Journey Back to Teaching English in Korea

This article is part of a series. To see the other articles in this series, click the links below:

Facing the Decision: Saying Goodbye to Korea

When the end of my second year was approaching and the hagwon I was working at asked me if I would be staying for a third year, I had to take some time to think about it. I loved Daegu, I loved my coworkers, and I had had a couple of years with great students. However, I hadn’t seen my family in three years (we lived in different provinces and couldn’t visit each other during the Covid-19 pandemic), and most of the close friends I’d made were leaving Korea that same year, too. Going home just seemed to make sense as the next step for me, so I booked my plane ticket and left at the end of my second year.

friends wearing facemasks at some korean festival

(Leaving my friends was one of the hardest parts…)

Navigating Reverse Culture Shock

I find that no one really discusses the intense reverse culture shock that can come with moving home after living abroad. I’ve lived in multiple places in Europe before, but never felt as out of place when coming home as I did when I returned from Korea. Though I had missed Canadian comfort food, the snow and the ease of my native language while I was away, I felt strangely out of place. I missed the friends that I had met (who became some of my closest friends for life), I missed my students, I missed my apartment. I missed the food, the Dancheong-colored traditional buildings, the hustle and bustle. I missed Korea.

two friends looking over cherry blossom trees

(Cherry Blossom Season – aka the best season)

Missing Korea: The Place That Had Started to Feel Like Home

While living in Korea, I progressed quite well in learning the language. I began by self-teaching, but in my second year, I started to take one-on-one lessons. By the end of my second year, I was able to hold longer conversations, read signs and know where to go without asking, and even joke around with the ajummas at the grocery store. When I returned back to Canada, I continued my lessons, and found that I really missed hearing the beautiful Korean language around me all the time. I missed the traditional Korean roofs or “giwa” that could be found on both modern and older buildings, the green spaces that were spread throughout the city, the ease of calling a taxi or renting a Kakao bike.

(Traditional Korean giwa roofs)

Charting a Course: Exploring Career Options

I struggled for the first half of the year, telling myself that it was natural to miss the place I’d spent the last two years in. I pushed through it, trying to figure out a plan for the next few years in Canada. I looked into everything: getting my Early Childhood Education degree, going back to school and getting a Masters in Education, and some other options completely unrelated to teaching. For about six months, I worked at a seasonal cafe that opens for tourists in the summertime as a way to make some money. I didn’t mind being a barista there; my coworkers were great and the job wasn’t hard. My favourite part about it all, though, was meeting people who were visiting from all across the world. 

 

Through these interactions and practicing my French language skills (since French is abundant in Canada, I studied it in school and love to speak it), I came to realize that what I love the most, what makes me the happiest, is being able to understand other people and cultures through language. And I love that through teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), I can help students grow their abilities to thrive in what’s swiftly becoming a multilingual world. Being able to communicate opens so many windows of possibility, and I love being able to teach that to young, curious minds. With this new revelation, I began to look at other countries I could possibly teach in across both Asia and Europe, but none of them seemed as appealing as Korea.

Embracing Change: Making the Bold Decision to Return

After my birthday in August, I knew I had decided where I wanted to be. I knew what job I enjoyed, and I knew that, simply, I missed being in Korea. Why did it have to be any more complicated than that? My whole life, I had always been told that I should be settled down by 30, but I never understood that mindset. There’s so much world out there, so why not go where you want to go and do what you want to do, regardless of age? It’s just a number! 

In light of this revelation, I booked a couple of interviews, found a school that works for me, and signed a contract – all within a matter of weeks. Off I go! I’m so excited for this next chapter, and can’t wait to meet my new students, make new friends… and eat Korean BBQ straight from the source.

21Mar

Unlocking the Gateway to Adventure: Traveling Asia as an English Teacher in South Korea

Hey there! So, you’re gearing up for an exciting journey to South Korea to teach English – congratulations! Get ready to dive into a world of cultural wonders, delicious cuisine, and unforgettable experiences. But guess what? Your adventure doesn’t stop at the borders of South Korea. Nope, in fact, it’s just the beginning of a whole new chapter of exploration in Asia!

First things first, let’s talk about South Korea itself. From the bustling streets of Seoul to the serene landscapes of Jeju Island, there’s no shortage of sights to see and experiences to be had right here in Korea. Whether you’re hiking up picturesque mountains, sampling mouth watering street food, or immersing yourself in ancient temples, you’ll never run out of things to do.

But wait, it gets even better! Living in South Korea opens up a world of travel opportunities to neighboring countries in Asia, and trust me, you won’t want to miss out. Let’s take a look at some exciting destinations and what you can do there:

  1. Japan: Hop on a quick flight from Incheon Airport to Tokyo, and you’ll find yourself in a world of bustling streets, ancient temples, and futuristic wonders. Spend your weekend exploring iconic landmarks like the Senso-ji Temple, indulging in sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market, or strolling through the quirky neighborhoods of Harajuku and Shibuya.
    Travel Time: Approximately 2 hours by flight from Incheon to Tokyo.
  2. Thailand: Escape to the Land of Smiles for a weekend of tropical bliss. From the vibrant markets and ornate temples of Bangkok to the pristine beaches of Phuket and Koh Samui, Thailand offers a perfect mix of culture, adventure, and relaxation.
    Travel Time: Approximately 5 hours by flight from Incheon to Bangkok.
  3. Vietnam: Immerse yourself in the rich history and natural beauty of Vietnam. Explore the ancient streets of Hanoi, cruise through the stunning landscapes of Ha Long Bay, or indulge in mouthwatering street food in Ho Chi Minh City.
    Travel Time: Approximately 5 hours by flight from Incheon to Hanoi.
  4. Philippines: With its breathtaking beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant culture, the Philippines is a tropical paradise just waiting to be explored. Swim with whale sharks in Oslob, island-hop in Palawan, or explore the bustling streets of Manila.
    Travel Time: Approximately 4 hours by flight from Incheon to Manila.
  5. China: Embark on a journey through the ancient wonders and modern marvels of China. Visit the Great Wall in Beijing, marvel at the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, or explore the futuristic skyline of Shanghai.
    Travel Time: Approximately 2.5 hours by flight from Incheon to Beijing.
  6. Taiwan: Discover the hidden gems of Taiwan, from the bustling night markets of Taipei to the stunning landscapes of Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake. Don’t forget to indulge in some mouthwatering street food along the way!
    Travel Time: Approximately 2 hours by flight from Incheon to Taipei.

So there you have it, folks – a glimpse into the endless adventures that await you as an English teacher in South Korea. Whether you’re exploring the cultural delights of Korea or jetting off to neighboring countries like Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, or Taiwan, your journey is bound to be filled with excitement, discovery, and unforgettable memories. So pack your bags, buckle up, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime! Safe travels, adventurers! ✈️🌏

21Mar

Cherry Blossom Chronicles: A Friendly Guide for South Korea’s Newest Teachers

Welcome to South Korea, future teachers! So, you’re gearing up to teach in South Korea – how exciting! Let me tell you about one of the absolute highlights you won’t want to miss: cherry blossom season.

Picture this: late March to early April, when the air is filled with a sweet, floral aroma and every corner of the city bursts into a riot of pink and white petals. Yep, you’ve stumbled upon one of the most magical times of the year!

woman, on a beautiful outfit sitting on stairs under cherry blossom trees

Now, here’s the scoop – you don’t need a treasure map to find these beauties. Nope, they’re sprinkled all over the cities, turning even the simplest streets into breathtaking scenes straight out of a fairy tale. But hey, if you’re looking for the cherry on top of the cherry blossom experience (pun totally intended), let me introduce you to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae.

Oh, Jinhae – it’s like stepping into a painting. Imagine strolling through avenues adorned with cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see. Yep, that’s what awaits you. And the best part? It’s not just about the visuals. Nope, they’ve got you covered on all fronts. Gift shops? Check. Street food stalls? Double check. You’ll find yourself amidst a vibrant tapestry of colors, flavors, and experiences.

Cherry Blossom Streets
cherry tree on busy street

Let me share a little anecdote from my own adventure. Back when I was living in Busan, I decided to spice things up and joined a tour group called Enjoy Korea (nope, not sponsored, just spreading the love!). And let me tell you, it was a day for the books. We kicked things off with some good ol’ strawberry picking, followed by a delightful session of decorating chocolate-covered strawberries.

After all that, we made our way to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae. Iit was everything I’d hoped for and more. The vibrant hues, the buzzing atmosphere – it was like being in a dream. And the best part? I got to share this incredible experience with friends.

friends under cherry tree

Now, I know what you’re thinking – do I really need a tour group to experience all this goodness? Well, the short answer is nope. You can totally DIY your way to cherry blossom experience. A quick bus ride here, a scenic stroll there – you’ll get there just fine. But hey, hear me out – joining a tour group isn’t just about convenience (though that’s a big plus). It’s also about the people you’ll meet along the way. Trust me, there’s something special about bonding over cherry blossom sightings and shared awe.

cherry blossom map

So, there you have it,  – a little sneak peek into the wonder that awaits you in South Korea. And hey, if you’re curious about when and where to catch those cherry blossoms in full bloom, I’ve whipped up a handy-dandy prediction map for you. Yep, consider it your personal guide to cherry blossom paradise.Safe travels and happy cherry blossom hunting, friends!

20Mar

10 things I love about South Korea

Of course, I can’t write an article about 10 things I hate about South Korea without balancing it out with a list of 10 things I love about South Korea! There are so many things that I adore about life in this country and that I will miss when I head back to the United States.

I’ve been in Korea for a grand total of 5 months and while some aspects have been challenging (as would any move abroad, I think), Korea is such an amazing place to live and I will always sing it’s praises and encourage anyone to move here if they’re on the fence or considering it. It has been such a life changing experience, and I’m not even halfway through!

Whether you’re coming to visit or coming to live for a period of time, I hope you love Korea just as much as I do.

1. The Cafes

I know I complained about how the cafes here don’t sell savory food in the list i wrote about things I hate about south Korea, but in reality – Korean Cafe Culture is absolutely insane and I LOVE it (I just have to remember to eat a real meal before I go to one). The cafes here are as if they were made with Instagram in mind. They’re always so aesthetically pleasing and the desserts are absolutely gorgeous. Even if coffee isn’t your thing, all the cafe’s I’ve been too have refreshing tea options as well. 

It’s a running joke that now, when I Facetime my friends, they ask me how many cafes I’m visiting that weekend instead of what my plans for the weekend are. There are so many to see and too little time! I like to justify it by calling it blog research LOL gotta find the best of the best for you all!

aesthetic looking korean cafe
korean baked goods

2. The Food

If you read my post about the time I spent wasting away in quarantine, you’ll know how apprehensive i was about Korean food. I hadn’t had a lot of experience with it prior to coming, but what I did eat in quarantine had me worried for my survival here in Korea, especially with me having to eat all the school lunches. 

In a fabulous turn of events, however, Korean food has turned into one of my favorite parts of living here. I LOVE Korean cuisine. From the infamous Korean BBQ (which really is as incredible as they all say), to Shabu Shabu (my personal favorite), to rice cakes and hotteok, Korean food just does. not. miss! I’m completely obsessed with it and am terrified for the day when I can’t find a barbecue place on every single street when I move back home.

korean bbq
korean food

3. The Honor System

Another thing about Korea that I had heard rumors about before coming but convinced myself that I would need to see it to believe would be the honor system thing they have going on here. Crime here is SO LOW; people just don’t really do bad things. They don’t take what isn’t theirs. 

One time I left my Lululemon water bottle at a bus stop for four hours, and I came back to find it sitting exactly where I left it. I can leave my laptop out in a cafe and run somewhere for food or snacks from the convenience store and come back without a single doubt that it will be right where i left it. Sometimes people leave their wallets outside the grocery store (idk why but i’ve seen them lol), their umbrellas outside the restaurant, and their shoes in the cubbies at the front of the establishments that require you to wear socks, and people just leave your stuff alone! 

Although there are always kind people wherever you go, I’ve gotten my fair share of property stolen back in the United States or in Europe, as have all of my friends! It’s just not the same anywhere else I’ve been to.

4. Movie Theaters

Okay this might be a little bit of a cheat because of course I can’t speak to all movie theaters across Korea, but the only ones I’ve ever been in have full on beds instead of chairs, or even reclining chairs, and it’s just so fabulous. 

I’m not even a movie person, but I will never say no to a movie here – the seats can be adjusted three different ways, everyone is so spread out, your butt doesn’t get sore from sitting 2.5 hours in the same spot (movies these days are so long amiright?) and I will never be able to go back.

5. Public Transportation

Okay so hear me out. I don’t know if I’ve just never lived in a big enough city, or I’ve always just been blessed enough to have a car available to me, but public transportation in South Korea is NEXT LEVEL. Between the subway, the city busses, the inter-city busses, the KTX high speed trains, and the insanely cheap domestic flights, but you can always get wherever you’re trying to go for CHEAP. A swipe on the subway costs about a dollar, as does a bus ride. 

Taxis are also something I will miss so much when I go home to America. I’ve heard stories of my friends paying 40 dollars for an uber to take them 10 minutes away- and I just revel in the fact that 40 dollars in a taxi could literally take me 3 hours away from my starting destination. 

While I miss driving back in America, I do not miss paying car insurance or the increasing prices of gas – I’ll stick with my dollar metro swipes that can take me all the way across town in about an hour. I really don’t know how I’m going to go back to the way it was before — Definitely ranks very high in the top 10 things I love about South Korea.

woman wearing mask and gracefully sitting in front of korean temple.

6. Safety

The majority of the response when I announced that I was moving to South Korea was: “Is that safe? How close will you be to North Korea? What if the two countries break out in nuclear warfare. Do they get tsunamis there? What are you going to do – Dye your hair?” 

But for real: I feel safer living here than I do back at home. I don’t know what it is about America that is so conducive to crazies but I live on an unlit street in a really old apartment building, and never once have I felt uneasy walking home in the dark. I’ve never had a strange encounter on the subway (Looking at you New York), and while people stare (I am the only natural blond in probably a 3 mile radius), everyone keeps to themselves. 

Like I said before, crime is very low, CCTV is everywhere, and I feel so safe living here.

7. Nature to City ratio

I’ve always loved nature, but I’ve always labeled myself as a city girl. The best thing about living in South Korea, and Busan in particular, is that it is the ~perfect~ ratio of city to Nature. 

I get all the perks of living in a city – the public transportation, accessible shopping, hip and trendy restaurants and cafes, the connection to all other major cities and activities, but I have countless beaches in front of me and towering mountains behind me. I could go hiking and surfing in the same day. It is IDEAL. 

Sometimes all you need is a little nature to rejuvenate you when the city becomes a little too suffocating – but on the flip side, you always need the liveliness of the city to balance out the calm and relaxation of nature. When I can get both in a day, I am a happy girl – and I can’t wait for summer to roll around to I can actually start living my best beachy life.

blonde woman with brades looking over geological formation
some mountains next to the sea

8. Convenience Stores

Although America has convenience stores on every block, one of the things I love about South Korea is how NEXT LEVEL their convenience stores are. You can buy handles of liquor, soju, a whole meal, fully cooked sweet potatoes, fried chicken, you can cook your ramen, make your iced coffee, and even eat there at the tables and chairs they usually provide. 

They have anything and everything you could ever want, and if you’re on a budget and visiting Korea, just know that you can always do one convenience store meal a day to keep the budget in check!

The guy at the convenience store I go to for coffee every day is basically my bff and gives me all the one-day-expired treats for free — and that may sound gross but who cares LOL.

9. The Fashion

I thought that I had decently good style before coming here, but it’s just like I talked about HERE, if you’re moving to Korea to teach English, to study abroad, or even just to visit for a while, don’t pack as much as you think you need. The shopping here is out of this world, and Koreans are so perpetually put together that even in your pre-planned outfits you’ll feel frazzled when you stand next to them. 

There is a plethora of areas to shop in any given city in South Korea, between boutiques, western stores, and the underground/subway shopping malls (it’s a strange concept but those 5 dollars sweaters don’t miss), you’re completely covered in the fashion department. 

One thing I love about Korean fashion is how baggy everything is. They’re not overly obsessed with showing skin or having a perfect fitted shape and it makes the fashion look so effortlessly cool and is so so comfortable. 

Also, I simply will not wake up in the morning and wear color; that’s pretty much the vibe here too and it makes shopping an absolute breeze. On the other hand – if you’re a fan of color, you might be out of luck!

Ft. me trying my very hardest to stay on par with the fashion – I promise it’s better than this but im trying my VERY HARDEST to save my money okay you can do better than me I know it.

blonde woman, wearing ICONIC clothes. Very fashionable.
woman wearing revealing, yet dignified outfit. She looks like a fashion model.

10. Health Care

And last but not least: I swore to myself that I wouldn’t make this a point on my list, as literally everyone who’s ever written a post like this does, but I recently had a run in with a horribly infected cartilage piercing that had to be surgically removed and it was so seamless and cheap that I have NO CHOICE but to add it into my list as well: the health care. 

I was initially terrified when I saw how swollen my ear was and how difficult to get out my piercing was proving to be, and I was SO SCARED to go to a doctor that didn’t really speak English. Also I had no idea how far back this was going to set me.

So you can imagine my surprise when the doctor completely cleaned out my ears, calmly removed my piercing, bandaged me up (an ear bandage?? who would’ve thought) and sent me on my way after taking no more than 25 dollars from me. 

AND THEN I went to the pharmacy to pick up the literal 48 pills this mans prescribed me, once again terrified at how much it would cost. After all, one time the pharmacy back home tried to get me to pay 800 dollars for a cream for rash, because insurance wouldn’t cover it. 

The pills cost $2.38 – and the pharmacist APOLOGIZED that they weren’t completely free. OMG. 

It’s amazing. I’ve definitely been fortunate to not realize what a struggle it can be for people in the United States, but I 100% understand now. It’s insane, and something I will have to RELUCTANTLY give up when I move back.

And that’s a wrap!

I know this mini-series started off on a little bit of a bad note – although complaining about all of the things I struggle with was all in good fun, it has definitely concluded on a good one. 

Although there are a lot of challenges that come with living here, or even visiting for the first time – and that come whenever you move or travel anywhere new and out of your comfort zone, I have found so many things to love about this place. I know I still have a solid 7 months left here but I already know I will miss all these things when I go.

14Mar

The Ultimate Korea Bucket List

No – this isn’t Rome, it’s one of Korea’s many cafes that seem to have been MADE for instagram – there are so many for you to add to your Ultimate Korea Bucket List!

If you know anything about me, it’s that I have the worst case of FOMO you’ve probably ever encountered. Because of this, whenever I go to a new destination, I obsessively plan everything out so that there’s no chance that I miss the opportunity to do something, especially if it’s seasonal. So when I moved to South Korea to teach English for a year, I went full type A and made a list of everything I needed to do in the calendar year, fittingly naming the note in my phone: The Ultimate Korea Bucket List.

Whether you’re living in Korea for a year to teach English, or simply trying to decide the best time of year to visit, I’ve decided to publish this Ultimate Korea Bucket List for your convenience. It isn’t a travel itinerary, and is definitely geared to people who are either studying or teaching here for a year! After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to live somewhere for a full year, and not take full advantage of it? For convenience’s sake, I’ve started with September, as that’s when most English teachers arrive to Korea, but feel free to skip to whatever month you’re arriving (or visiting!) in. Let’s dive right in.

The Ultimate Korea Bucket List:

Whether you’re living in Korea for a year to teach English, or simply trying to decide the best time of year to visit, I’ve decided to publish this Ultimate Korea Bucket List for your convenience. It isn’t a travel itinerary, and is definitely geared to people who are either studying or teaching here for a year! After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to live somewhere for a full year, and not take full advantage of it? For convenience’s sake, I’ve started with September, as that’s when most English teachers arrive to Korea, but feel free to skip to whatever month you’re arriving (or visiting!) in. Let’s dive right in.

The Ultimate Korea Bucket List:

September

Exploring your new home!

Because you’re probably just settling in as an English teacher or a student, chances are you won’t be super adventurous, as you’ll be so preoccupied with surviving your first month in Korea. In light of this, I just suggest doing some of the main tourist attractions in the city that you’re living in. This also helps you familiarize yourself with public transportation and build confidence in doing things alone. Whether it be Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, or a smaller city in Korea, there are lots of things to do no matter where you are.

Personally, I chose a job in Busan so that I could live in a city and be by the ocean, and I’ve not regretted my decision once! My first month, I Hiked the Igidae Coastal Trail, visited Gamcheon Culture Village and explored the famous temple by the sea, Haedong Yonggungsa. I hauled my tripod with me, as I hadn’t made friends yet, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me!

Chuseok Holiday

*** Also something to note is that the Korean Thanksgiving holiday (called Chuseok) happens in September, and I had a 5 day weekend! This would be my third longest break as an English teacher, and even though I didn’t have friends, I made the trek up to Seoul and explored on my own! I took advantage of this time to wear a Hanbok on a traditional Korean holiday – and wearing a Hanbok is, in and of itself, an item that should be on your Korea Bucket List! Traveling alone was very freeing, empowering, and a travel opportunity that shouldn’t be missed if you have holidays off at your job or school. If you’re based in Seoul, Consider coming to Busan, as the weather would still be warm enough to relax on the beach!

Another great location to spend Chuseok during September is Jeju, as the flights are cheap and the weather is still definitely warm enough to lounge on the beach and play in the crystal clear water.

 

October

Ulsanbawi hike – Seoraksan National Park

If you’re into hiking, October in Korea is a dream. if you’re not into hiking, it’s still a dream and you’re just going to have to give hiking another try! The main hike that I was dead set on doing was the Ulsanbawi hike in Seoraksan national park. It is a beast of a hike, and although not long, was straight up stairs the entire time. The view at the end, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in Korea, and if you have the opportunity to take a weekend and spend in in Seoraksan National Park, it will be well worth your time.

Nami Island

Another thing I knocked out in the same weekend, was visiting Nami Island. Since, I’ve been two more times, and although I’m a bit “Nami’d” out, it is still a really special place to see, especially in the fall. The Ginko trees (all the little leaves that I have all over my blog are Ginko leaves!) turn Neon yellow, and although I went to early for the leaves to be covering the ground as well as the trees (timing is tricky!) it was still an incredible day trip.

I took a tour with the company Enjoy Korea (the best tour company in Korea ever), and we knocked out Nami and Ulsanbawi in the same weekend. They made it very accessible and they’re definitely something to check out if you want to take all these adventures but are intimidated by logistics.

Daedunsan Hike – Cloud Bridge

A hike that I was dying to do in October was Daedunsan Mountain. They have an incredible suspension ladder as well as a suspension bridge they’ve nicknamed “The cloud bridge”. The fall foliage that time of year is absolutely incredible, but by the time I had a free weekend to visit, the trees were already bare and It didn’t seem worth it. I’m still hoping to get this hike checked off the ultimate Korea Bucket list before I leave, but the weather is warming up and it’s not looking like it’s going to happen!

November

Naejangsan National Park

This is something that you’d want to accomplish either in October or early November, as the main draw for this is, once again, the fall foliage. Once again, figuring out the transport logistics would’ve been crazy, but I looked into it and there were tons of tours offering day trips from my city! Defnitely check out Viator for some affordable options if this is something you want to do. I didn’t end up making the trip, and I’m kicking myself for it, as I won’t be staying another year!

It’s definitely hard to fit in everything you want to do, and while I did my best there’s still boxes left unticked 🙁 Do a better job at planning than me!

Temple Stay 

Another perfect thing to do as the weather is cooling off but before it gets too freezing, is to attend a temple stay. Living with real Buddhist monks for 2 days and going through their daily routine is an incredible experience that you shouldn’t miss!

I have yet to do this, and summer is approaching, so I’m definitely going to be sweating profusely for my two days, as I’m not entirely certain of the state (or existence) of the air conditioning in Buddhist temples to be completely honest.

Still, it’s something I’m not willing to leave Korea without doing, so I will complete this tick this item off the Ultimate Korea Bucket List and report back shortly. Stay tuned.

December

Christmas Break

Chances are, you have at least a week off for your Christmas break. What you do with this is completely up to you! Because I was visiting while there was still a mandatory 14 day quarantine upon entry to Korea (meaning I couldn’t leave the country during my holidays:( , I didn’t venture too far! Again, I was based in Busan, and had only been to Seoul once, so I used this time to really explore Seoul deeper than I had been able to over Chuseok. Oh, and I had friends with me this time, which definitely made things better!

One thing that I didn’t get to do that you should NOT miss is to visit the DMZ! you can actually set foot inside North Korea, and I’ve heard great things about the tours – plus you get bragging rights LOL!

Use this time to either travel somewhere tropical, or if you want to stay in Korea, go somewhere new! There are plenty of cities left for you to explore, or even day trips to be taken from your home city. December is a choose your own adventure kinda month!

January and February

Lunar New Year

Obviously, South Korea has some pretty brutal winters. There’s not that much that you can comfortably do in January, besides trying out lots of new restaurants, going to all the aesthetic cafes that Korea has to offer, or going to different exhibits and galleries! There’s nothing pressing for you to do in January, to be quite honest, except towards the end! Typically, the Lunar New Year holiday falls towards the end of January or the beginning of February, and most schools give you a long, typically 4 day weekend. With this short little holiday theres a few things I suggest you doing:

Garden of the Morning Calm

This is probably the best place to see Christmas Lights in all of South Korea! The Garden of the Morning Calm is the biggest private Garden to put on a light show like this, and although the weather at night when the lights turn on is absolutely freezing, all you need to do is grab some spiked hot chocolate to keep you warm while you take in the beauty! It really feels like you’ve fallen into a magical fairy forest with all the lights everywhere. It’s something I’m really glad I didn’t miss!

Ski Resort

Korea is famous for being an extremely mountainous country, and between that and the brutal winters, it makes for some really excellent skiing and snowboarding! There are many to choose from, but I personally went to YongPyong Ski resort through a tour company, and it made getting there and renting gear super easy! I had never snowboarded before, but they gave me a small lesson and the bunny slopes made it really easy to learn!

YongPyong has a few olympic hills that you should definitely try out if you get the chance, and regardless of you’ve ever done anything like that before, I think it’s definitely worth a shot while you’re in the country.

March

Weekend Trip

While the weather is still pretty cold in March, you’ll probably get a fake little spring where you get a really warm weekend! When I was here in March, we took advantage of that by going to Daegu for the first time, and it was awesome! It’s definitely important to get out of your comfort zone and go experience something a little different from the usual routine, so I say take as many weekend trips as you can while living in Korea! Whether you visit Pohang, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan, or even Seoul for a weekend, the odds of you coming back to Korea after your study abroad or your teaching contract are probably slim so it’s important that you don’t let opportunities like this slip by.

Jjimjilbang

Another thing that’s perfect for the tail end of winter is going to a Jjimjilbang. a Jjimjilbang is a traditional Korean bathhouse, where there are loads of different saunas, pools, hot tubs, and areas for you to relax. The real kicker of these bathhouses is that you generally have to strip naked for them! Although it sounds intimidating, it’s just the way things are done so no one really looks twice.

If you happen to be in or near Busan, there is a massive Jjimjilbang in Centum City called Spaland, where they have at least ten different sauna rooms made of different materials, ranging from mosaic tile to pink Himalayan salt blocks. They have cold plunge pools and hot tubs, and you can even pay a little extra to get scrubbed head to toe. This activity is perfect for winter, as it’s super relaxing, it warms you up, and it adds in a little self care during the months that are a little bit extra hard on all of us.

April

Jinhae cherry blossom festival

Without a doubt, the greatest thing to do in South Korea, and maybe top item on the Ultimate Korea Bucket List, is to see the cherry blossoms come to life. There are so many different places you can do this, and there are incredible places to view the cherry blossoms, especially in major cities like Seoul and Busan, but if you’re committed to the cause, the 100%, hands-down, best place to see these gorgeous flowers is by attending the famous Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.

I’ve never quite seen something like that in my life, and while it was very crowded, everyone was very respectful of everyone else’s photos and experiences, and there were so many iconic places to capture views of the cherry blossoms. If you can make it happen, as it is fairly out of the way, definitely do so; you won’t regret it.

May

Biseulsan Azalea festival in Daegu

Although I missed my chance to visit this festival, I’ve heard incredible things about it! Flowers in South Korea are absolutely no joke, and during the springtime, it seems as if every two weeks another gorgeous flower seems to overwhelm the entire country, and in May, azaleas blanket not only the countryside but also the cities. There are a few mountains just outside of Daegu that are completely covered in azalea shrubs, and for two weeks in the beginning of may, it turns the mountains completely purple.

Still kicking myself for missing this one, but it is truly an incredible sight to see if you get the chance!

Buddha’s birthday

Another absolute TREAT that happens in South Korea during the month of May is Buddha’s birthday. It is a national holiday and a nearly month long celebration, where cities hang up lanterns along major roads and Buddhist temples absolutely COVER the grounds with scaffolding that makes it seem as though you’re walking through tunnels that are made completely of colorful lanterns. Wherever you are in Korea, be sure to visit your local Buddhist temple to partake in the festivities, but if you happen to be in Seoul or Busan this month, some of the best temples to see are Beomosa, Samgwangsa, and Jogyesa.

June

Beoseong green tea fields

One of the greatest things I go to see in Korea, and definitely something that you should add to your ultimate Korea Bucket List, regardless of how far away it may be from you, is to see the Green Tea Plantation in Boseong. You can see these mountains covered in lush green tea bushes between the months of late May to August, although I recommend going in the first few weeks of June before the intense heat that is so characteristic of Korean summers rolls in. All the different shades of green were just absolutely LUSH, and as my favorite color is green, I was living my very best life.

Obviously, be sure to try not only the green tea itself, but also the green tea ice cream, and whatever you do, ~DON’T~ skip out on the green tea churros.

Temple Stay

Another thing you should be sure to tick off your list before leaving Korea is participating in a temple stay. You can do this at most Buddhist temples for a fairly inexpensive price, and I’ve heard it’s some of people’s absolute favorite things to do while in the country. Apparently it’s a really eye opening experience: getting to participate in rituals and Tai Chi and having tea with Buddhist Monks sounds like an unforgettable experience, and while I haven’t been able to experience it just yet, I’m hoping to squeeze it into the three months that I have left in South Korea – and if I do I will be sure to update you!

July and August

Beaches and Boats

If you aren’t already familiar with the climate in South Korea, the summers are SWELTERING. The humidity is very high, and some parts of the country get unusually hot. It’s difficult to do a lot of things outside, unless you’re at a beach – so that is just what you should do during the summer. It definitely helps if you’re living somewhere that you have access to a beach, but if not, be sure to make the most of your weekends by traveling to places that do! Take surf lessons, go paddle boarding, or my personal favorite – charter a boat! As long as you have a big group, chartering boats in a place like Busan is very simple, and it’s a fun, inexpensive way to elevate your summer experience.

This is also another great time to visit Jeju island! Crystal blue water, waterfalls, more green tea fields, and pristine beaches can be found all over the island of Jeju, and if you’re not traveling internationally for your summer vacation from work or school, Jeju is the perfect place to unwind and relax.

That concludes the Ultimate Korea Bucket List!

Of course, there are endless things to do in South Korea – especially if you’re really into hiking! I don’t have a lot of hikes on this list, because although I am very into hiking, I know a lot of people aren’t! And I haven’t found many friends that also enjoy hiking so that’s definitely put a damper on my exploration of the mountains here. Additionally, there are so many more smaller cities that have so many hidden gems that are just waiting to be discovered.

Whether you’re trying to decide what month to visit South Korea, or trying to figure how to maximize your time as an English teacher or a student living here for a year, hopefully this comprehensive bucket list helps organize your schedule and gives you ideas for how to explore this lovely country.

18Feb

Essential Apps for Your Move to Korea

Are you gearing up for an adventure teaching English in South Korea? Moving to a new country can be exhilarating yet daunting, especially if it’s your first time. But fear not! With the right tools at your fingertips, navigating your new life abroad can be a breeze. Here’s a curated list of must-have apps to download before you hop on that plane:


Papago: Bid farewell to language barriers with this handy translating app. While Google Translate might be your go-to back home, Papago is your new best friend in Korea. Its accuracy will make communicating with locals a breeze.


KakaoTalk: Think of KakaoTalk as your lifeline to the Korean world. This texting and calling app is a staple in Korean communication culture. Get connected with colleagues, friends effortlessly.


Kakao Maps and Naver Maps: Say goodbye to Google Maps – in Korea, it’s all about Kakao and Naver Maps. Whether you’re exploring Seoul’s bustling streets or navigating the subway system, these mapping apps have got you covered with accurate, up-to-date information.


Kakao Taxi: Need a ride? Skip the hassle of hailing a cab and opt for Kakao Taxi, Korea’s equivalent of Uber or Lyft. With just a few taps on your phone, you can summon a ride to your doorstep and zip around the city with ease.


Kakao Metro: Navigating Seoul’s extensive subway network can be intimidating at first, but fear not – Kakao Metro is here to help. This user-friendly app provides detailed maps, real-time train schedules, and essential travel information to make your commute a breeze.


Coupang Eats: When hunger strikes, satisfy your cravings with Coupang Eats. With a plethora of food delivery options at your fingertips, you can indulge in delicious Korean cuisine without stepping foot outside your door. It’s a game-changer for busy days or lazy nights in.


BucaCheck: Avoid the dreaded “insufficient funds” scenario with BucaCheck. This handy app allows you to check the balance on your T-money card – essential for seamless travel on public transportation. Simply tap your card on your phone, and you’ll know exactly how much credit you have left.


With these essential apps in your arsenal, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the ins and outs of life in South Korea. So go ahead, embrace the adventure, and get ready for an unforgettable experience teaching English abroad!

10Jan

What to Pack

Hey there, fellow adventurer! So, you’ve made the bold decision to pack up and jet off to South Korea for a year-long adventure. Before you start envisioning all the bibimbap and K-pop concerts awaiting you, let’s talk about the essentials you’ll need to bring along for the ride.

When I embarked on my own South Korean escapade, I thought I had it all figured out. Two checked bags, a carry-on bursting with vacuum-sealed clothes – I was ready to conquer Seoul with my entire wardrobe in tow. But little did I know, South Korea had a shopping scene that would make any fashionista weak at the knees.

So, here’s the lowdown on what you really need to pack:

  1. Starter Outfits and Lounge Wear: Bring along a few outfits to kickstart your South Korean journey, especially if you’re headed straight to work. Don’t forget some comfy lounge clothes for those lazy weekends. But trust me, save your money for the shopping extravaganza awaiting you in your new city.
  2. Universal Converters: Your electronic devices and hair styling tools will need some love too. Pack more than one universal converter to keep your gadgets juiced up and ready to capture every moment of your adventure.
  3. Travel-sized Toiletries: Leave those bulky shampoo bottles behind. South Korea’s got you covered with an array of skincare and beauty products that’ll make your head spin. Embrace the local brands and indulge in some K-beauty magic.
  4. Face Makeup- I had no idea how limited the shade range would be in Korea. Every time I went to Olive Young, I came out looking a little bit like a mime:/ I found myself going into Chicor (western makeup store) way too often. I recommend bringing a few foundations in your shade from home! 
  5. Self Tan- If you are a self tan enthusiast, definitely bring a few bottles from home because you will not be able to find it in Korea.
  6. Heat Protectant- If you are someone who frequently uses heat styling on your hair, I would recommend bringing a couple bottles of heat protectant from home. I was not able to find any the entire time I lived in Korea. 
  7. Deodorant Stockpile: Now, here’s a pro tip – bring along a stash of your favorite deodorant. While Koreans seem to possess a magical anti-body odor gene, us mere mortals might need a little extra help staying fresh. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
  8. Towels: Don’t underestimate the power of a good bath towel. In a land where bath towels resemble hand towels, having a couple of full-sized towels from home will feel like a luxurious embrace after a refreshing shower.
  9. Consider Your Size: If you’re taller than 5’9″ or larger than a medium US size, you might find it challenging to shop for clothes in South Korea. The “free size” trend, which typically fits S/M, dominates the fashion scene. Consider investing in vacuum seal packs from Amazon for your larger-sized clothing items to ensure you have options that fit comfortably. Also if you have a foot larger than a US womens 8 or US mens 9 you might want to bring a few extra shoes with you! Luckily, I decided to bring a carry-on roller full of my favorite shoes.

And here’s what you can leave behind:

  1. Tampons: Contrary to popular belief, South Korea does have tampons. I am not sure if this is a new development, but I never had an issue finding any.  Save yourself the suitcase space and rest assured that you’ll find all your feminine hygiene needs catered to.
  2. Tons of Cosmetics: When I went to Korea I brought a ton of eyeshadow, mascara and blush. I ended up throwing it all away and buying new products from Olive Young. The products are so cheap and of great quality in Korea. Save the space in your luggage. 
  3. Birth Control- Birth Control: If you’re on hormonal birth control, consider leaving your stockpile at home. Surprisingly, the contraceptive pill is available over the counter in South Korea, offering a convenient solution for those in need. You’ll find a variety of brands to choose from, and the best part? It’s often much cheaper than what you’d pay back home. Simply visit any pharmacy and ask the pharmacist for the contraceptive pill. Don’t worry if you’re nervous about the language barrier – a quick Google Images search for the product can help you communicate your needs effectively. So, save space in your luggage and rest assured knowing that reproductive health care is readily accessible during your South Korean adventure.

So, there you have it – the ultimate packing guide for your South Korean adventure. Embrace the unknown, dive headfirst into the vibrant culture, and get ready to make memories that’ll last a lifetime. Who knows, maybe you’ll return home with a whole new fashion sense and a suitcase filled with treasures from the streets of Seoul. Safe travels, fellow explorer!

03Jan

What I wish I knew Before Moving to Korea

So, you’re thinking about making the big move to South Korea, huh? Buckle up, because I’m about to spill the tea on all the things I wish I knew before jetting off to the Land of the Morning Calm. Trust me, hindsight is 20/20, and I’ve got some juicy insights to share with you.

  1. The Cost of the Process:

Alright, let’s talk money. While using a recruiter to smooth out the moving process won’t cost you a dime, there are other expenses to consider. You’ll need to cough up some cash for things like background checks, document apostilles, health waiver appointments, visa applications, and postage. The prices of these things vary based on what location you call home.  Oh, and don’t forget about covering your flight upfront (but hey, you’ll get reimbursed later).

  1. Say Bye-Bye to Your Old Style:

Listen up, fashionistas! Your wardrobe is about to undergo a serious glow-up. I wish someone had warned me about this before I stuffed my suitcase with clothes I never ended up wearing. Between all the walking and healthy eats, I shed pounds and my fashion sense did a complete 180. Pack light and get ready to embrace a whole new look.

  1. Welcome to Your Empty Apartment:

Picture this: you land in Korea, excited to start your new chapter, only to find yourself mattress-less on a Saturday night. Not cool, right? Don’t make the same mistake I did. Use websites like Gmarket to order essentials before you arrive. Pro tip: splurge on a comfy mattress—it’s worth every penny for those precious ZZZs.

  1. Navigating Daily Life:

Let me save you some major headaches. Ordering delivery food or online goodies without your ARC card number? Total nightmare and basically impossible. Get familiar with Gmarket because they will let you order things without an ARC number. Get ahead of the game and download essential apps like KakaoTalk, Papago and Naver Maps before you touch down. And don’t forget to snag a T-money card for hassle-free public transportation. You can buy a T-Money card at the subway station or in the nearest convenience store.

  1. Trash Talk:

Okay, so here’s the lowdown on trash etiquette in Korea. Familiarize yourself with the rules ASAP to avoid any drama. Trust me, getting fined for tossing recyclables in the wrong bin is not a vibe. Snap pics of those trash signs in your apartment complex and use translation apps like Papago to decode them. Oh, and keep those food scraps in the freezer to keep things from smelling. You can buy bags to throw out your trash at any mart or convenience store. You will have to ask the clerk for them (scary, I know) just use Papago if your not familiar with Korean just yet.

 

Alright there you have it—my ultimate guide to navigating life in South Korea. Moving abroad is an adventure packed with twists and turns, but armed with these insider tips, you’ll be ready to tackle anything that comes your way. So go ahead, seize the moment, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

08Dec

Learning the Language

Moving to a new country can be both exciting and overwhelming, especially when it comes to setting up your new home. After living in South Korea for two years, I’ve learned firsthand the importance of certain essentials to make your transition smoother. Here are the first things you should consider purchasing upon arrival:

  1. Quality Mattress: One of the first things you’ll notice upon moving into your apartment is the empty space waiting to be filled. Investing in a good mattress is crucial for your well-being, as quality sleep is invaluable. I recommend browsing Gmarket for a comfortable mattress that suits your preferences. If budget constraints are a concern, start with a bed mat temporarily and upgrade once you receive your first paycheck. Trust me, a good night’s sleep is worth it.I recommend ordering this as soon as you receive your address. 
  2. T-money Card: Upon landing in Korea, one of the first tasks on your list should be acquiring a T-money card. Available at convenience stores or vending machines at subway stations, this card is essential for navigating public transportation seamlessly. It’s a convenient way to pay for buses, subways, taxis, and even some convenience store purchases.
  3. Shower Filter: Hard water is a common issue in Korea, which can lead to hair fall out and skin irritation. Save yourself the hassle by purchasing a shower filter from Daiso or a local store. For a super low cost of around 5,000 won, you’ll protect your hair and skin from the harsh effects of hard water.
  4. Trash Bags and Recycling Bin: Korea has a strict recycling system, and proper disposal of waste is essential. Head to the convenience store to purchase specific bags for disposing of non-recyclable items. These bags are necessary for using communal trash bins, and you’ll need to ensure you have the correct type for your city. Additionally, consider investing in a small bin for carrying recyclables to make the process more manageable.
  5. Drying Rack: Korean apartments typically don’t come equipped with dryers, so a drying rack is a must-have item. You’ll be hanging your laundry to dry, so pick up a drying rack from Daiso to make this task more efficient. It’s a small investment that will save you time and energy in the long run.

By prioritizing these essential items, you’ll be better prepared to settle into your new life in South Korea comfortably. From ensuring a good night’s sleep to navigating the intricacies of the local trash system, these purchases will streamline your transition and help you feel at home in your new environment.

Learning Hangul:

Hangul, the Korean alphabet, was a game-changer for me. I took the time to learn it before moving, and am I glad I did. Being able to read things like subway stations and signs when I arrived made life so much easier. I even found that sometimes English words were spelled out in Hangul, so knowing how to read really came in handy.

I learned Hangul by watching a YouTube video that broke down the characters and their sounds. It’s been years since I watched it, but the lessons are still burned into my brain. If you have the time, I highly recommend giving it a go. Here the video Learn Hangul 한글 (Korean Alphabet) in 30 minutes – YouTube

Moving Beyond Hangul:

Once I got the hang of Hangul, I started using apps like Duolingo to expand my Korean skills. But until you’ve mastered the basics of Hangul, I wouldn’t recommend diving into language apps just yet.

Language Exchange:

One of the best decisions I made was jumping into a language exchange program once I arrived in Korea. Not only did I get a tutor to help me improve my Korean, but I also made some incredible connections. Making Korean friends can be tough if they’re not your coworkers, but language exchange opened up a whole new world for me.

Survival Phrases:

To help you get started on your Korean journey, here are some survival phrases to get you through those first few weeks:

  • Hello: 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo)
  • Thank you: 감사합니다 (gamsahamnida)
  • I’m sorry: 미안합니다 (mianhamnida)
  • Yes: 네 (ne)
  • No: 아니요 (aniyo)
  • Where is the bathroom?: 화장실이 어디에 있어요? (hwajangsil-i eodie isseoyo?)
  • Do you speak English?: 영어 할 줄 아세요? (yeongeo hal jul aseyo?)
  • Help: 도와주세요 (dowajuseyo)
  • I’m okay: 괜찮아요 (gwaenchanayo)

Remember, learning a new language takes time and patience. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and enjoy the journey!