A few noobs from the Gyeongbuk EPIK 2013 Spring intake asked me a few questions. Some of these may have been covered before, but it’s just easier to keep them together. If you have any other questions, be sure to comment and I will answer them to the best of my abilities.
Drinking water in Korea
Is tap water safe to drink in Korea? Well… that’s debatable. Many Koreans drink the tap water and the Korean Ministry of Environment swears the water is safe. I’m not a health Nazi. Really, I’m not. I might go to the gym (when I feel like it) and I eat pretty healthy, but on weekends I also like my Carb Comas. The one thing I’ve inherited from my dad, is that I absolutely hate drinking/eating things that are basically poisons. This sounds dramatic.. What I mean is, that instead of taking a pill for a headache, I prefer just taking a nap or drinking lots of water. I have to be really sick before going to a doctor or taking any meds. I feel the same way about tap water. This is what the Korean Ministry of Environment has to say on their “My friend, tap water!” webpage:
It smells like a medicine. Is it safe?
The origin of the smell of tap water is chlorine that is added in the water-purification treatment process. Chlorine plays the role of a protective membrane that keeps tap water from the attack of germs while it goes through a water supply pipe. Tap water goes through a thorough water-purification treatment process so you can drink it on spot without boiling it. Boiling water means the unnecessary waste of water. When you turn on a faucet, you may see the water is white. It is a temporary phenomenon that the air in the water becomes bubbles to look white. You might have experienced that when you put tap water into a fishbowl, the fish in it dies, the reason for which is that the fish is weak against chlorine. However, take tap water in a bowl and leave it untouched for a day, and chlorine will all disappear. At this time, put fish into the bowl, and you will see the fish swim healthily.
Say whaaat?! Just wait for the fish to die then you can drink it. Ok, I’m overexaggerating but my point is this: Surely this can not be good for you. Honestly, in Korea, do what the Koreans do. My teachers won’t drink the tap water, so I won’t either. You can boil water and store it, or you can buy water at the supermarkets. It’s pretty cheap. Most schools / restaurants / supermarkets etc. have water dispensers anyways, so you only need water for your apartment. Some teachers take a big bottle to school and just fill it up there for free. ;)
Another solution is to get a water filter. These are pretty easy to find. I thiiink someone mentioned buying them at the big supermarkets (Home Plus, Lotte Mart, Emart). If not, ask your co-teacher to help you set up a GMARKET account once you have your ARC and buy them online! (Gmarket is a shopoholics nightmare… don’t say I didn’t warn you – you can even get LAYS and COLGATE on there!) Click here for a link to my very quick Brita search results.
Bleeeeeeeeh. Probably the stupidest thing I packed… The bed sizes in Korea are weird… I have a single bed but it’s massive. I had a double bed before and it looked like a Queen. In my personal, very friendly opinion, teachers who “can’t find bedsheets” are friggin blind. They sell them in supermarkets AND they have massive bedding stores. Sure, they may be a bit more expensive, but really now… how many do you need?! Plus, chances of you arriving to an apartment with enough bedding: 85%. It really isn’t necessary. Some teachers do have trouble finding nice ones, so if you are worried about the colour of your sheets, or you don’t want to sleep on the previous teacher’s bedding, bring one. If you decide to bring one, bring a non- fitted sheet. Your single fitted sheet probably won’t fit on the Korean single and you might end up having a double bed or someting. Really, bedsheets should be the least of your worries. Then if you really can’t find a nice sheet, you can always have someone send you more from SA)
Let’s get physical
Good news! There are gyms EVERYWHERE. It might not be Virgin Active or Planet Fitness, but they’re fine. They don’t always call them gyms. Some just call them “Health” (for health club). They have the standard equipment: treadmills, bikes, orbitrek, circuits and weights etc. Some of the bigger ones have pools too. Gym prices average between 30,000won and 60,000won a month, with a small discount (usually) if you sign up for 3 months at a time. (No contracts like in South Africa – yay!) Some gyms will let you pay per visit, but it works out a bit more. Good if you’re not going to go there on a regular basis. One thing to know: You can not wear your gym shoes outside… They usually have lockers for you to store your gym shoes in, but yes, you have to wear different shoes when walking to gym. :P Small towels are usually available at the gym.
Incheon Airport Regulations:
Incheon airport regulations are pretty much the same as any other airport. They have the right to search any bag they want. Sometimes it’s just random and other times it’s because something looks suspicious. Since this is a girly post: Apparently tampons (when screened) looks like heroin capsules. Who knew?! This doesn’t mean that if you pack tampons they WILL open your bag. I just mean that with screening and airport security, look at it this way: It might be a little inconvenient if they want to rummage through your things, but better safe than sorry. I remember when I first arrived the guy who sat next to me on the plane got his bag in a massive plastic bag! It broke in transit, so they just put it all in a big plastic bag. So make sure you pack your bags securely! Plastic wrap them at the airport in SA if you can. (Just to keep them safe) If they do want to search your bag, don’t freak out, the Korean airport staff are really friendly. :)
We have been told to take tea over as gifts. Should we do this or should we buy it in Korea?
Tea is a really nice gift, simply because Koreans like hot drinks and it’s something you can share in the teachers’ room. Sharing food or drinks is a big thing here. Korea has many different teas available and they pride themselves on Korean products. You will often hear them say: “We will go to (city). It’s famous for ___” That is where we have an advantage: Rooibos. Rooibos is a really nice gift and it’s cheap! If you don’t have a lot of space, buy small boxes of rooibos for the Principal and Vice Principal and maybe one of those cheaper “value packs” (the ones in plastic??) for the teachers’ office. You don’t HAVE TO bring it straight away. You could always have someone send you some. Costco sells rooibos, but you might not live near a Costco. (Costco is like Trade Center and they sell a lot of foreign foods). If you can only bring small teas for the P and VP, you can always go to your local supermarket and buy boxes of juice bottles. They come in carry packs of about 10 and are about 9,000won per pack. Just buy a few of those and give each teacher a bottle of juice. I know it sounds silly, but be here for 3 months and see how many little bottles of juice or vitamin drinks you receive! They love it!
Ah glorious orientation You will take the EPIK bus from the airport to your orientation location. (Gyeongbuk, that would be Jeonju University – and Jeonju is reaaaally nice!) You will stay there with a roommate or two.
You will have your health check at the orientation, which is an experience in itself (getting an x-ray in a random van!) but it’s pretty painless unless you haaaate needles. It’s really not bad at all and nothing to worry about.
Most of the time you will be in classes. They’re not hardcore. It’s mostly classroom strategies / surviving in Korea / lesson planning etc. You will also have a chance to open a bank account at orientation. I’ve talked to some new teachers about this: They will (most likely) get you to open an NH bank (Nonghyup Bank) account. Sorry, I HATE NH bank. I really do. Still, it’s easier to at least have an account! So you can either open that account anyways (so you at least have one) and then open another account once you’ve had time to settle in, or you can ask not to open a bank account and visit the Jeonju KEB branch (they really are the most foreigner friendly bank in Korea!) to open your accounts. For more info on this, do a KEB search on this blog. **I have contacted KEB to find out if you will be able to open a bank account with them with only a passport, so please don’t take my advice until I have heard from them ** Some orientations actually had KEB as the bank of choice when setting up new teachers’ accounts, so if they do that this year, go for it. The whole KEB/NH thing is only my opinion though.
**KEB UPDATE** I’ve heard back from KEB and this is what they had to say:
Yes they can open a KEB account with a passport only, although they will need an ARC to register for Internet Banking.
If they do open an account(s) with a passport, when they later get their ARC, we advise them to show a teller their ARC, when they return to the branch so s/he can convert their passport-based account to be under their ARC. This is so all their accounts are uniformly ARC-based for the sake of convenience. – KEB
So there u go
You will also have a field trip during orientation. Jeonju orientation will probably visit the Traditional Hanok Village in Jeonju and you will participate in a few traditional events. :) Enjoy!
I think that is all for now! If you have any other questions, just post it in the comments section below and I will get back to you!