This is an introductory post to an apartment series I am working on – so stay tuned for video tours of apartments in rural South Korea! For now, hopefully this post will answer some of your questions.
What’s considered rural?
That’s pretty debatable. Some people would consider anything from a small city to a small island town rural. I can tell you that visiting one of the more ‘major’ cities of Jeollanam-do (Yeosu, Suncheon, and Mokpo) certainly does not feel ‘rural’. Though maybe it would to someone who has only lived in Seoul.
So for the purpose of this series I will use a broad definition of rural and focus on anything outside of the 7 major metropolitan cities; Seoul, Incheon, Daejeon, Daegu, Gwangju, Ulsan, and Busan.
Of course I will focus mainly on Jeollanam province. It’s of course where I live and I feel there is a lack of information (in English) on. I will try to make note of estimated population sizes so you can gain a better feel of how big the city or town really is.
Why do apartments for Native English Teachers (NETS) vary so much?
Good question. When trying to write about apartment expectations for new teachers it was obvious to me that there would be some difficulty in describing apartments when they can be quite different. Some are new, some are old. Some have a separate bedroom, some have 3 rooms, some are one room. The reality is that choosing an apartment is done by your individual school. This is why your apartment might be completely different from your friend’s apartment – even if you live very close.
Things that might be different* in your new apartment
*what is different is based on my experience living in apartments in Toronto, Canada, as well as my general knowledge of apartments (typical) in Canada and the United States. Some of these things might be completely normal to you depending on what country you’re coming from!
One room bathroom or “wet room”
Wet rooms are pretty popular in Korea, it’s something I knew about before arriving but have never myself encountered in Canada. In Canada, even in the tiny studio apartments I’ve lived in, the bathroom always had a separate shower or shower and bathtub combo.
In Korea, especially in the smaller studio apartments that most of my friends live in, it’s really common not to have a separate shower (and bathtubs seem rare!) Basically there is an attachment on your sink that when turning a knob feeds the water through a hose connected to a shower head above the sink or toilet. Essentially your entire bathroom becomes your shower. Of course the floor has a drain where the water goes. Usually you can point the shower head in a direction (or hold it) that prevents everything from getting soaked, but for the most part expect things to get wet!
I don’t mind my wet room; in fact, I think it keeps my bathroom looking cleaner since it basically gets hosed down every night. It can be annoying when a few hours after I’ve showered the floor is still wet and I get wet socks, but having some sandals outside of your bathroom at all times takes care of this issue. I also recommend remembering to put your toilet seat down while you shower, or else later you’ll forget and get a wet butt when you … well you know…
Kitchen and counter space
Again, this really depends on your individual apartment, but I have noticed that in general counter space is not plentiful in most apartments here. Most smaller apartments have what in Canada we refer to as a “kitchenette”, where you’ve got a small, bare bones kitchen space to utilize. Most commonly in smaller apartments there will be a fridge, and then a small section of cupboards and a sink, and then likely a space just big enough for a two burner gas stove. If you’re someone who loves to cook I recommend getting a cutting board that will fit across your sink, or a kitchen table that gives you the surface area you need.
Ovens are not common either but a microwave oven works great and they aren’t very expensive.
In Canada most apartments do not have laundry in the apartment itself, that would be considered a luxury! Typically, you’ve got a laundry room in the basement of your building that is either coin or card operated and shared by all tenants. This kind of laundry room almost always has both washers and dryers.
The good news is that your apartment in Korea will almost 100% have its own washing machine – which I find great because I never have to leave my apartment to do laundry or worry about having enough spare change. However, most apartments will not have a dryer so you’re at the mercy of a drying rack to get the job done. This is not a big deal unless like me your apartment is a little too humid. During the winter months I found it would take a few days for my clothes to dry. In the summer they seem to dry within a few hours.
Keys or lack thereof
Another thing I’ve noticed about apartments here is that they use a number code instead of physical keys to enter the apartment. In Canada some places have this but I’d say it’s still more common to have a physical set of keys. Here you’ve just got to memorize a code and you never have to worry about forgetting your keys!
Again, this is something that exists in Canada but is definitely not common. Most Korean apartments use in-floor heating (“ondol”). I found it took a little while to heat up at first but made my apartment super warm once it got going. It’s great if you sit on your floor a lot or have your mattress directly on the floor.
These are just some differences I’ve noticed, again these things could be totally normal for you depending on where you’re starting from.
Be open to variables
I wanted to start doing some apartment tours to show how much they can vary in rural South Korea. I think it’s good to have expectations grounded in reality before you move here. Your apartment might have two bedrooms but it’s more likely to have only one room (studio or bachelor). It’s good to be ready for anything. Most of my friends are very happy with their apartments, of course there are always little things but overall I’d say things are pretty good.
Apartments for Public Schools vs Private (Hagwons)
This is just my own observation, but it seems there are more issues with apartments when you work private opposed to public. If something is wrong with your apartment and you work in public school, your school should help you deal with it. However, if they are being unhelpful there are higher-ups that you could contact that would help. (I, for instance, would contact the Jeollanamdo Language Program co-ordinator) Working privately however you do not have the same safety nets. If your hagwon doesn’t want to help you with apartment issues it might be difficult to have things addressed. Don’t let this scare you though, I know many people who work in hagwons and have no issues with their apartment(s)!