Korean Apartments: Back To Basics
You’ve got your plane ticket in hand, you’ve said all your good byes for the time being, and you’re now staring at the empty suitcases you need to pack for your year in South Korea. On your list of things to pack, you’ve already got the usual items jotted down. You know to take a thick winter jacket and summer sandals. You’ve already bought a year’s supply of your favorite candies and comfort foods. After you check off clothes, treats, and deodorant, however, you’re left wondering what exactly you should expect in your new Korean apartment. Is there even any point in taking microwavable popcorn? Will you even have a microwave in Korea? What about the cute new oven mitts you bought last weekend? Will you have an oven in Korea so you can use them?
Moving halfway across the world is scary enough, but it’s even more nerve wracking when you have no idea what city you’ll be living in or what your living space will look like. As the rule applies to most questions concerning the EPIK program and teaching in South Korea, your living arrangement will also be solely dependent on luck, fate, and circumstance. You might be a luck dragon like myself and find yourself situated in a brand new apartment building, or (and this tends to be more true for those teaching English in Seoul or more populated cities) you might find yourself living in an apartment smaller than your first college dorm room closet.
Hyperbole’s aside, the size of your apartment will vary, and along with it, so will the furnishings you will have. Below is a list of common furnishings you will be given or have to live without in a typical Korean apartment. However, keep in mind that your EPIK contract is the firm list, and the list below is a rough example of what most expat apartments contain. What you will find will definitely depend on how lucky you are when it comes time to move to Korea.
1. No BathTub
In America, my cure-all remedy was an extra bubbly, steamy bath, especially after particularly difficult days of teaching unruly middle school children. Since moving to Korea, there have been one too many afternoons I’ve skipped home dreaming of bubbles after a long day of teaching, only to come to a devastating halt when I remembered that Korean apartments don’t have tubs. Your new, tub-less apartment is no reason to kiss your long baths goodbye in Korea, though. If you are in desperate need of a hot soak and the idea of public nudity doesn’t freak you out, then you can always head over to a jimjilbang (Korean sauna) for a day of hot tubs, cold tubs, and steam rooms. Personally, I love Korean saunas. While they in no way replace my favorite form of self-indulgence, they really can work wonders on those achy muscles and pounding headaches.
2. Heated Floors
Not all Korean apartments will have this, but I’ve found that a majority of expats I’ve spoken with have these wonderful heated floors in their apartments. These floors are operated just like a regular heater. You simply punch a few buttons on a control pad and you can turn your heated floors on and off and even control the temperature. They’re perfect for those winter mornings when you don’t want to get out of bed and walk around on your freezing floors. A few nights during my first winter in South Korea, I cuddled up on a few blankets on my heated floor to stay warm and toasty all night without the fear and paranoia that comes with sleeping on an electric blanket. I’ve never slept happier or cozier than the nights I spent curled up on my heated floor.
3. No Oven
Another favorite after work stress reliever I used to adore back home was baking. Fellow bakers can back me up on this and agree that nothing relaxes frazzled nerves quite like the feeling of beating a big bowl filled with cake mix and eggs or shamelessly licking up the lingering batter on a spatula. The disappointment that ran through me when I walked into my apartment and realized I was going to have to survive a year without a proper oven was too great to relive or share here, so I won’t rehash my initial depression when I found I couldn’t bake a pineapple upside down cake for Thanksgiving or make peanut butter cupcakes when I was feeling homesick. After sulking over one too many unfamiliar Korean pastries, I decided it was time to figure out a way to bake in Korea. The answer to my dilemma was so obvious and easy to obtain that I nearly broke my laptop’s enter key when I hit the “add to cart” button to purchase the saving grace that would be my oven alternative during my time in Korea. A toaster oven! It’s the next best thing when you’re craving baked homemade goods, and the small appliances can be found anywhere in Korea.
4. A Bed And Basic Furnishings
You’re guaranteed a bed in your contract, but what you’re most certainly not guaranteed is a comfortable bed. Korea loves firm mattresses, so you need to fully prepare yourself if you’re the type of person who prefers to sleep on a cushy, plush, marshmallow-like bed. Be ready to shell out a pretty penny for thick mattress toppers, pillows, and comforters. Along with a bed, your contract will grant you other basic furniture such as a writing desk, clothes drawers, and a refrigerator. Depending on your particular school, you could end up with an ultra furnished apartment or you might receive the bare necessities. Don’t pout if you fall into the latter category, however, because you can always find a Facebook group for your city or a Craigslist page to scour. Departing expats are always selling or giving away their old furnishings, so don’t worry.
5. A Washing Machine
My washing machine is one of my favorite items guaranteed by my contract in my Korean apartment, but the fact that its counterpart, the dryer, is not given to me is one of my least favorite things about my Korean apartment. Most studios come with a drying rack for your freshly washed clothes. While the absence of a dryer is a definite energy saver that probably saves me more than a few bucks on my bills each month, I can’t help but still miss the convenience of a clothes dryer. Typically in the more humid months, there is so much moisture in the air that laundry can take an entire day, sometimes two, for clothes to fully dry. Purchasing a dehumidifier worked wonders for me, so I highly recommend it and suggest you make the splurge as well.
There are many other items that your contract will guarantee for your Korean apartment. Be sure to read your contract thoroughly, and keep it stored somewhere safe. Keep an open mind and don’t let the fact that you don’t know what your apartment will look like stop you from moving to Korea. I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it once more. You’re not moving around the world to experience the beauty of a Korean apartment. No matter what living situation you’re given, make the best of it and have fun. You’re in a new country, after all!