Just because you know how to sing all the latest K-pop hits doesn’t mean Korea is the place for you.
Rome Korea, do as the Romans Koreans do.
Moving to a completely foreign country like Korea requires a few years of preparation, and still you can never be too prepared. Both Singapore and Korea might be Asian countries with a somewhat similar economic development story, but the similarities end there.
Korea, with its unique community, culture and lifestyle, takes a lot more to adapt to than simply learning a few Korean words and/ or K-pop ditties.
I made the decision a few years ago to head out of Singapore, and I chose Korea as my destination. I have been living in Korea for almost two years now.
Like it or not, I had to face the consequences of that choice, and there were a number of difficulties I faced when I first arrived in Seoul.
Here are the 5 of the most difficult problems I encountered and solved one by one by one, — alone — in a completely new environment.
The very first hurdle I had to overcome was the language. Coming from a country where the majority is effectively bilingual, you’d think it’d be relatively easy to pick up another language, right? Wrong.
I started studying the Korean language in 2010, about two years before my move, and then I spent another six months in Korea picking up intermediate Korean. Basic conversational Korean managed to help me get around and order food, but that’s about it.
I needed a higher level of Korean proficiency if I wanted to live comfortably in Korea. Things got exponentially easier once I was able order food beyond bibimbap, shop for my own groceries and get around the city in modes of transportation other than the subway.
I had to deal with several important administrative matters where all information is almost exclusively in Korean — like signing a lease for a rental room, contracting a mobile phone line, and opening a bank account. A good command of the language, both written and spoken, helped greatly in navigating these matters.
The real estate market in Korea is expensive, and there was no way I would be able to rent an apartment. I searched several websites like Craiglist and some Korean websites to find a suitable room to rent, and it took at least two months in Seoul before I found a more permanent place to stay.
I soon found out that there were studio apartments called one-rooms that I would be able to rent at reasonable prices, and set up appointments to view these places. More often than not, I was disappointed with them — they looked nothing like what the pictures on the websites showed. Space was an issue, and some of these one-rooms were in such bad condition and had no windows.
I started to think out of the box and searched websites like Airbnb. Most listings on such websites would only rent to travelers or those on short-term stays, and I had to learn to convince (usually in Korean) the home owners to rent their rooms to a poor student like me for at least a year.
There is a lot of delicious food in Korea, and for a while, I enjoyed myself trying out all the different foods the country had to offer. Everything tasted delicious and authentic, and cost only a fraction of what I had to pay for Korean food in Singapore.
But we don’t call Singapore a food paradise for nothing. I started missing the diversity of flavours I took for granted back home. You can classify all Korean food as either spicy or bland. And while I am a fan of spicy, spicy Korean food doesn’t even get close to sambal belachan.
I wanted to cook some simple Singaporean food — Yong Tau Foo, Laksa, Chicken Rice — but I couldn’t get the ingredients I needed for these dishes. No non-sticky rice, no coconut milk, no tau pok available at even large supermarkets like Lotte and E-Mart.
I had to rely on my friends coming to Korea for travel to bring some ingredients — like pandan leaves for Nasi Lemak — whenever I needed to satisfy my cravings.
4. Administrative Matters
No one likes to deal with administrative matters — they’re long drawn hassles, and you sometimes have to deal with unreasonable staff processing your documents.
Getting my D2 Visa to study in Korea seemed like a simple enough process, except that I needed a long list of official documents ready before I could actually apply for it. Certain visas qualify a foreigner to apply for an ID (called the Alien Registration Card in Korea), and without it, I would be ineligible for a number of essential services like a bank account and a mobile phone line.
Of course, tied to these services are deadlines and requirements (you need to have an eligible visa to apply for an ID — which you have to do within 90 days of entering the country — an ID to apply for a bank account, and a bank account to apply for a mobile phone line), which I had to figure out on my own, after several wasted trips to the embassy, immigration center, bank and telecom store.
When I made the decision to move out of Singapore, I also wanted to make sure that I made it out on my own. This was an extremely difficult issue, because higher education is costly. I saved up for a number of years before I was ready to be financially independent.
My full-time MBA course is partially financed by a scholarship provided by the school (which means I have to watch my grades), and am currently holding three different part-time jobs to help me to cover my rent, bills and expenses.
It has not been easy juggling being a full-time student with so many other responsibilities, but I’m determined to make this venture work out.
When I moved to Korea, it took me a lot longer than I initially thought it would to know the ins and outs of getting around the place. Sometimes I got frustrated and most other times I’m exhausted from the sheer effort I had to put in to make things work.
Patience and resilience became my two new best friends — and I’ve learnt to always keep them close to me whenever I encounter any difficulties living in a foreign country.
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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via www.mothership.sg on 17 May 2014, and was republished with prior consent. Mothership.sg is a Singaporean digital news agency.