Korean carvings

Tips and Advice for Moving to South Korea

Korean carvings

Carvings in South Korea
Photo by Claudine Williams

I’ve gotten a few contacts from people who are moving to Busan or South Korea in general to teach! You all want advice and tips for moving and you want to know what it’s like in Busan.

If you have already applied, read on!

I am glad to help by giving you my point of view.

What is it Like in Busan?

Right now it’s cold here. It’s 39 degrees F, according to weather.com. Busan is listed under Pusan, South Korea, by the way. It was colder earlier in the week, in the 20s and low 30s. There are some richer areas in Busan, like near Haeundae, where one of the most popular beaches is located. Everyone wants to live in Haeundae, near the beach. I did, too! In fact, I told all of my friends and family that I was going to live near the beach in Busan. Please understand that very few teachers in EPIK who were placed in Busan were actually placed in Haeundae, but most areas in Busan are near the beach anyway. A 45 minute subway ride, and you are there.

Centum City is probably THE richest and nicest area in Busan. The area is glitzy, and although I have never been to Beverly Hills, it has the glamorous feel of Beverly Hills money.

I also like Seomyeon because it has a fun, clubby feel to it, with big buildings,  bright lights, and awesome shopping. I think that Seomyeon reminds me of  Manhattan. On Saturdays, the streets are filled with young people, and the music is pumping, but I don’t hang out there like that. I just pass through once in a while. I have only been to about two clubs since I’ve been here, and I hadn’t been clubbin’ in years back in the U.S. I’m not the stay-out-all-night-drinking kinda girl. I hate being around all of that smoke, and it gets in my hair!

Busan Train Station

Busan’s Train station is really huge and modern. I can walk to the station and catch a train to Seoul or other areas in South Korea, so that’s nice.

I am located near the train station in Busan, and although it’s not one of my favorite areas, I like it here. I live in the same area as China Town, and there are a lot of Russians in my area, too.  My school moved me recently; I was a lot closer to this area. It’s a little further from me, but still walking distance now.  If you read the top guidebooks on Korea, Frommer’s or Lonely Planet, they will mention an area with the Russian mafia. That’s the general area where my school is located. The Russian people don’t bother me at all.  I know that if I go down a certain street at night, I’ll see Russian prostitutes. The area feels safe to me, but it is not the cleanest. People throw trash on the streets, and sometimes I can smell a funky sewage odor. I’m not sure if that is throughout Busan or Korea or what, but I don’t like it! I don’t smell it in the wealthier areas, but I am not down there all the time, so…. I do like my area now. It has a real urban flavor, and the people are working class, real, and are curious about black  foreigners. Understand that if you are coming to teach in South Korea through the English Program in Korea, EPIK, the program will place you with a school, and unless you decide to choose your own housing, the school will select your apartment. So, it may be a better deal to choose your own apartment!

 

neighborhood in Busan

 

Apartments in Busan

I moved only about a week ago, and I did not like my OLD apartment at all. It had black mold in it, and it smelled like a sewer sometimes.  It was clean. It just smelled. Some days it would be fine. Some days, the smell would wake me up in the middle of the night. I think that it was coming from the pipes.  Well, here other things about the apartments in Busan  that I wish that I knew about before coming here:

  1. You can get an old villa-style apartment with roaches and/or a bad smell. I didn’t have ANY bugs or roaches but I have friends who did. Villas are about four stories and are cheaper than hi-rise apartments with elevators. Some of the hi-rise apartments are really, really, nice with marble floors in the lobby and elevators and keyless entry on the doors. You use a code to get in.
  2. Your apartment may be in an older neighborhood. Not all areas are bright and shiny in Busan. Don’t believe all the pics! I’m posting some real pics, and video.

    China Town in Busan

    I live near China Town in Busan, it is also a shopping area

  3. Understand that even in the older, poorer neighborhoods, Korea is not the same as the U.S.; I haven’t seen or heard of any guns since I’ve been here, and no talk of drugs. The crime rate here is low. Don’t get it twisted. I lock all doors and watch my purse, but most people have told me that they feel extremely safe here, and if they lost their purse it is recovered, with money intact. That’s word of mouth… Drunk people, Korean and foreigners, can get rowdy so, that is something to be aware of. The alcohol flows like water here.
  4. Your apartment may or may not have an air conditioner. We stayed in brand new dorms for our orientation, 10 days at Jeonju University, and went many nights without air conditioner, because they cut it off at night. It was hot as Hades!!! Humid and sticky, hot. I thought my roommate was going to kill me she was so crazy in the heat. That girl was crazy, too! Thank God that orientation was only 10 days, and I never had to see her again. My school does have air conditioners in the classrooms.
  5. In the winter, you may not have good heat in your apartment. In the older apartment that I stayed in, I was told that the floors heat up, but there was no heater. The floors did warm up (hardwood floors) but it was freezing, cold in there, even when I turned the floor heat all the way up. The windows didn’t close well, and I wore my coat in the house and bought an electric blanket. The electric blanket was the BEST thing that I could have bought because I was toasty warm in bed. In my brand new, just-built-a-week-ago-apartment the floors heat (almost hot) and the place is toasty warm. The windows close well. In fact, I’m hot right now! I’m so glad that I moved!

No One Told Me that the School May Be Cold

At the school, it’s freezing cold! The floors do not heat at school. One of the classrooms near mine has a heater unit, and it works well for that classroom, but I think that not all rooms have heat. Some do have heat. Some are heated through a central heating unit, and in some rooms the heater does not work.  Even if the heater is on it’s still probably cold, here’s why. The hallways are not heated in my school and the kids, and the teachers leave the classroom door open, and the windows in the hallway may be open. The Korean teachers also have a thing about opening windows when it’s cold. So, they may have the heater on, and have the windows wide open. The heat isn’t good for their skin, they say.

So, a lot of foreigners wear coats, gloves, scarves, everything inside.  It could feel just as cold inside as it does outside at your school. Bring a good coat with you as though you are going to the arctic. I’m serious. I bought a coat on the street for about $35, but I came here in the fall. If you are coming during the winter, February, bring your coat with you, and bring plenty of sweaters that you can layer.

Packing for South Korea

Shoes

In Busan, I had a hard time finding ladies shoes size 8.5. There are some to be found, though. I did buy a couple of pairs. The shoes here, even larger sizes, like an 8.5 U.S. are made for small, narrow feet. Ladies, pack your flats, because there are a TON of stairs and steep hills everywhere, and your feet are going to hurt in heels, or you may go rolling down a hill. You will have shoe envy, because the Korean shoes are soooo cute, and sexy, so bring shoes that you love, too! Keep in mind that you may have to learn to walk all over again in them, due to the steep hills and stairs. Korean girls learn to walk in heels young, I think.

Black Hair Products in Busan

There are no black hair products in Busan, so bring a good supply. Well, I haven’t seen any black hair products around, anyway. Yes. You can order stuff online from the U.S. and have it shipped, but I found that it costs at least $40 to ship even one small thing. So, set up something with your family and friends to ship stuff to you, and make sure that they know what you need.

Deodorant

I think that they sell deodorant, but it’s not the kind that keeps odor away. I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t trust it. I bought a year’s supply of deodorant back home, and I’m glad that I did! Other stuff, lotion, mouthwash, toothpaste, I can find American brands in the stores, no problem. There’s a 7 eleven nearby, and they have Johnson’s products, I think.

Medicine

Bring headache medicine, stomach medicine, probiotics, vitamins (here but expensive) to last you.  Understand that there are plenty of pharmacies but the information on the labels is in Korean. The people in the stores probably won’t speak English to help you. So, it’s easier to have what you know!

I brought only two bags, and my mother shipped some things to me (hair products, boots, and another coat). Your size makes a big difference in how much you should pack. The clothes here are small, extremely small. Ladies, I was a size 8 when I came here, and I was considered plus sized. If you are a larger sized person, you should pack so that you have maybe two weeks of whatever you need for the season. Hey, also remember, that you may have to lug your own luggage up four or five flights of stairs to your apartment…

I didn’t know what to expect when I came here, so I hope that this post helps people who are thinking about visiting or moving to Busan. You will not starve here. I just came from Burger King and had a regular tasting fish sandwich and fries. I was craving it. Here are some other pics of food places you will find in Busan.

Dunkin Donuts in Busan

Dunkin Donuts is here. There’s also a Krispy Kreme in Busan. DD is everywhere.

Baskin Robbins in Busan

I think that the Baskin Robbins was the first American restaurant that I spotted when I got here.

Lotteria in Busan

Lotteria is a fast food restaurant like McDonalds in South Korea. Lotte is a huge company with a department store and a baseball team in Korea.

Here are some links to video that I took!

A Look Around My Neighborhood

Near Busan Station

23 comments

  • Gabi

    Hi!

    Thanks so much for all of your useful information! I just got my first EPIK acceptance letter today, I have to decide whether or not I want to pursue the program for the September departure. My only concern is, living in rural Korea, how easy is it to be in touch with other westerners? It must be beautiful, and a great experience, but I can’t help thinking that it would get a bit lonely if you are living by yourself, and no one you know is nearby. How often do you see other people from EPIK? Is it difficult to meet other native english speakers?

    Thanks so much for your input!

  • Excellent question! In EPIK orientation, you will be grouped according to your geographic area, so that’s the best way to meet people. The people in Busan exchanged e-mail addresses with each other and with friends we met in other areas. We started a Facebook group for people in Busan, and I met a lot people through Facebook. While in our groups, in orientation we attended classes together, so we had a chance to interact with each other. We also went to our field trips in our groups. When it was time to go to our individual areas, we rode the bus together to a single school where our co-teachers met us. With all that said, I think that it can get lonely if you are in a real remote area. Even in Busan, I am the only foreigner at my school. On the day to day basis, I don’t usually see people I know from EPIK, but on Facebook, people are always posting get togethers and chatting. I could see EPIK people every day if I wish, but I’m introverted by nature. 🙂 Oh, and there is a group called Adventure Korea in that meets in Seoul, and has several activities tours and stuff throughout South Korea several times a month.

  • neverknowsbest

    how do i pick my own apartment before i move there? do you mean you can have the chance to pick the free one, or opt for the monthly living stipend and pick one when you get here? my recruiter discouraged me from opting for the monthly rent money, cuz he said schools don’t like it and they have problems when teachers who don’t speak Korean live there. if something happens or they get evicted, the school has to deal with finding them a new place to live in the midst of the school year.

    i’m just worried my place won’t be so nice, and i’ll have to tough it out for the rest of the year >.< how do i make sure my place is a good one in Busan?

  • Your recruiter makes a good point, but you don’t know if your school will help you translate what the landlord says if you pick your own apartment. Once you have been here and you have Korean friends, it’s easier to handle, I suppose. I don’t really think that you can pick it before you move to Busan, because you have to see the area and the apartment. You also don’t know where you school is located if you are going through EPIK. You don’t want to have a long commute by subway to work.

    First off, let me say that I opted for my school to select the apartment, so I have no personal experience in the option where you pay via the stipend. Yes. I believe that you can opt for the monthly stipend and choose the apartment when you get here. I don’t know how long it would take you to find a place if you waited until you got here, but there are hotels just about everywhere. Unless you want to fork out the money for a hotel until you find a place (which could take days, weeks or months, I don’t know) there is no guarantee that you will be in nice place. I was thinking that your co-teacher at your school could help you visit some places and talk to the landlords if you were to choose the stipend. Again, that would depend on the person/co-teacher, and the school that you are chosen to go to. There is no way to request a good place in EPIK. You can, however, tell your school that you are not satisfied with the apartment that they put you in, and hope that they will move you soon. A friend of mine was moved within a week. Another friend was moved within a few months. It took five months for me to move, because we had to find another renter to take over the lease.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  • neverknowsbest

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for your valuable advice!!!! i’m just going to go and hope my apartment isn’t too bad, and if it is i will talk to my school and cross my fingers. we will see what happens! i’m starting to pack and everything and your blog has helped me so much >.<

  • Pingback: Questions for Teaching in South Korea | Korea-Diva

  • A friend of mine taught english in South Korea for over a year. I’ve been considering doing the same. Thanks for the information.

  • This is also one of my problems if me and hubby will decide to take a vacation in korea especially during winter season because I only have a little tolerance on cold. I will be needing water heaters and room heaters too. Not to mention the thick jacket that will keep us warm. Foods won’t be a problem because I’m flexible to that but on cold weather? hmm that is something that we need to consider ;D

  • Thanks so much for your advice. I will refer this to my friend. He will be having a business trip to Korea on August and may be staying there for longer time to for some projects.

  • Your article is very much informative! I really appreciate people who gives an overview of the places they live in may it be their hometown or just the place where they work. I heard that South Korea is a nice place to stay but has high cost of living, next to Japan.

  • Your article is very much informative! I really appreciate people who give description and overview of the places they live, may it be their hometown or just their workplace. I heard that South Korea is a nice place to stay but has high cost of living, next to Japan.

  • Great article! Thank you for sharing all these tips. It is really difficult to move to a place where you have no clue what it’s like. It is true that a lot of people are moving to Korea to teach. This article can surely help them.

  • South is much more pretty than North. It’s just a big difference on them.

  • I don’t think there are people going to the North to teach. South is more open and free.

  • No… not North Korea. Sometimes I write about Seoul as being in the northern area of South Korea. Busan is in the southern part of South Korea.

  • Thank you for sharing this informative article.There are still many interesting things to do culturally and it is a great jumping off point for travels to Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. It also is one of the highest paying countries to teach English in, especially for inexperienced teachers.

  • How many people are just randomly moving to Korea that you need this blog?! I don’t know that many people who go to korea, but I guess for the few that do go, this would be helpful. And at least they have Baskin robins so we can get our mint chocolate chip milkshakes. My cousin just fed me some Korean food that he learned how to make while with some Korean people in Canada.
    .-= Energywise´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

  • Hmm, this is one place in southeast Asia I hadn’t considered. I’ve always thought Bangcock was cheaper and more exciting?

  • I really appreciate people who give description and overview of the places they live, But I can’t help thinking that it would get a bit lonely if you are living by yourself, and no one you know is nearby. Thank you so much for your valuable advice.

  • jim

    Koreans are generally gregarious and great socializers, so most expatriates don’t have much trouble meeting locals. A lot of initial friendships are formed through work, places of worship or school (or the children schools, in the case of parents), but the best way to meet people with similar interests is to get involved in some kind of activity. Language exchange programs, volunteering, local crafts and martial arts are offered, even in smaller cities. In places like Seoul or Busan there are dozens of clubs with a healthy mix of foreign and Korean members that focus on things like hiking, sailing, public speaking or Buddhist studies. Unfair as it is, drinkers may find meeting and bonding with people easier than those who abstain.

  • Informative and interesting article. Busan looks so high-tech city. How much population it has?

    Planning to visit this great country and is already scheduled in my plan since long time 🙂

  • Such great inputs! I’ve been to this part of the world just once, when I was sixteen. I’d love to go back, now that I have a better appreciation for cultural diversities.

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