Making Your Home Your Home in Korea
Especially for those arriving in Korea for the first time, 3 things become quite clear very quickly:
- In order to get the most out of your experience, a sense of adventure is essential
- The number of unknowns in your daily life can be overwhelming at first
- Creating a space for yourself that feels like home in the midst of a new life overseas is invaluable
I remember the early morning arrival into my new apartment in Korea. It was an overcast rainy day. I was jet lagged. The air-conditioning had been left on, my sink was full of cigarette butts and the make shift curtains made from old sheets sagged across the dirty windows. My fridge contained half eaten food and the few dishes that had been left behind were in a pile by the sink.
I sat down in the cold dark space that didn’t feel, smell, or look anything like home. I wanted to unpack, but I didn’t want anything I valued to fall on the unclean floor. So, I scoured the town, phoning my one Korean acquaintance for advice on where I could find cleaning supplies (I was lucky enough to have a phone the first day, which was very impressive to my new expat friends. Due to immigration procedures, the process of acquiring a cell phone in Korea for foreigners often takes 3-6 weeks. The Arrival Store, mentioned below, allows new arrivals to have a phone waiting for them when they arrive).
For an expat, this can be a difficult time. After you find a place to shop most essentials are labeled in Korean, making soaps, detergents, sprays and disinfectants hard to decipher. Finding essentials like deodorant, soft bed sheets, water purifiers, electronic power converters, oatmeal and other things can be a struggle.
Fortunately, there are a few resources for expats.
Some of the best I found:
- The Foreign Food Market in Itaewon (Seoul). Here Foreigners find a collection of foods that are imported from abroad, as well as calling cards and other shops near by with foreign goods. Buying foods like macaroni and cheese here can be exciting for foreigners missing the tastes of home, but many western expats agree that the over priced items sold here (often past their expiration dates) aren’t worth the long trip into the center of Seoul.
- Emart, along with several other chain department stores, can be a good place for finding certain essentials, including cleaning products. However, there are challenges for most new arrivals using department stores to meet their needs: Locating a store and then mastering the public transport system to get their can be quite overwhelming during your first month or two in Korea, and depending on where you live, may be prohibitive. Also, once you do find an Emart, figuring out what to buy can be difficult, in part due to the language barrier and product selection. Blankets purchased in stores like Emart are often expensive, scratchy and uncomfortable for foreigners. There can also be the added frustration that after you stuff everything you can carry into the shopping bags you buy, you must make the often-long trek home.
- The Arrival Store is by far the best option for Expats. Started by former English teachers, the Arrival Store combines low shipping costs and fast service with a good return policy and a well developed selection of goods that can’t be easily found in Korea. It’s online too, which means expats can place orders prior to their arrival and have their orders waiting for them when they arrive (now including home cleaning kits!). I was fortunate enough to have shopped at the Arrival Store. I had a cell phone, comfortable sheets, pillows, a down comforter, power converters, a water filter and English language maps and informational documents waiting for me. It was awesome, and helped me turn a cold apartment into a warm place that soon felt like home. While some products the Arrival Store carries are a little bit more expensive than back home, as one considers the price of shipping from home, the limited luggage space, and the fact that it often takes weeks to get things shipped from over seas, the immediacy of the arrival store (usually shipping 24-72 hours), its high quality products, great customer service and the sheer fact that it provides teachers with peace of mind upon arrival (They even allow their customers to defer payment without interest until they receive their first pay check) makes it the best option for expats. Many teachers, including myself, continue to order items from the Arrival Store for the entirety of their time in Korea.
With the adventure and exciting unknowns that await, establishing a comfortable home in which to rest and relax is essential. Whatever you do before arrival in Korea, make sure all your bases are covered. Do the right research on life as an expat there. In order to hit the ground ready, nothing will be more important than the immediate peace of mind that a comfortable home can bring.
About the Author
James Rempt (1.5 years teaching in Sanbon, South Korea) graduated from Trinity Western University in 2007 with a degree in International Studies and spent a year and a half living and working in South Korea as an English teacher. He currently lives near Seattle Washington where he works doing non-profit community development work.