Tips and Advice for Moving to South Korea
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!
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
Here are some links to video that I took!