How To Spend Your First 48 Hours in Korea

Follow this checklist (in no specific order) to make sure that your first 48-hours in Korea will set your entire adventure off on a positive note!

After multiple moves to live and work abroad, I’ve developed a sense of how to make the best of the first 48 hours in your new home in order to begin settling in, stay curious, and ease your way into a new culture.

1. Take a look at your new home!

Once you’ve been taken to your new home (or perhaps a temporary home), notice what you have (if you’ve ordered a TAS arrival package, you’ll already have a water filter, pots & pans, dishes, bedding, towel, basic cleaning supplies, trash can, etc. waiting in a box when you arrive. Go you!) But there are still some things you’ll need: food to eat for breakfast the next morning, toilet paper, soap, other toiletries. If you don’t have any of those things, take stock of your apartment and prioritize these items so you know which essentials you’ll have to find ASAP.

2. Explore your neighborhood & purchase the essentials!

Take a walk outside, exploring the few blocks surrounding your apartment.   If you haven’t done so already, find an ATM and take out enough cash to get you through your first few days.  Find a local place to enjoy your first meal.  If you’re intimidated by the thought of walking into a random restaurant and blindly ordering from the menu, keep your eyes out for a Kimbap Chunguk (hanguel) for some tasty local cuisine.  Be sure to pick up “the essentials” including toilet paper, snacks, soap, milk, eggs, etc from a local store. Oh, and be sure to unpack your arrival package filled with everything you need to get settled as soon as you land (bedding, towels, power adaptor, cell phone, etc.)! Get yours here.

3. Find a local coffee shop that you can see yourself frequenting!

I learned this “life hack” from the blog established teacher and Adventure Teaching placement coordinator, Tess Bercan.  She explains that finding a local coffee shop is a great way to make your new neighborhood feel like home.  Try different drinks on the menu and discover your favorite. Tess says that, if you’re lucky, you may earn yourself a few free drinks in the future!

4. If you will be staying in your current living situation long term, start making it your home!

Unpack, decorate, and get cozy!  I totally recommend bringing tapestries, small pictures, and a few small trinkets from “home” to make your new “home” feel like “home” too.  If your current living situation is only temporary, you can still make it feel like “home,” but focus more on exploring your surroundings, getting to know your “home” in a broader sense of the world.

5. Get in touch with someone who cares about you back home!

Being able to talk to someone back home who cares about your and supports you is invaluable and especially crucial during your first 48-hours.  One of my fondest memories from my 48 hours is Skyping with my BFF, simultaneously crying and smiling at the same time!

6. Socialize!

If you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll get an e-mail from 2 coworkers while you’re boarding your flight to Korea inviting you to grab drinks with them upon your arrival!  If not, it’s likely that you live in the same building with your coworkers.  Dont be afraid to knock on their doors or leave them notes! It’s almost like university all over again!

Having trouble getting in touch with people?  Get on Facebook and search for all of the groups geared towards expats in your city.  You’ll probably find a few, some more general like, “Expats in Busan,” and some geared more toward specific interests such as, “Busan Yoga & Meditation”, “Expats in Seoul”, or a “Goh Travellers“.  Skim through the pages; there are often events going on that are open to all expats.

Be open, and I guarantee you’ll meet welcoming, helpful, cool people!  Added bonus: you’re likely to be working for a good, honorable company, especially if you used one of these recruiters.  However, meeting other expats and learning about their jobs will allow you to gauge what’s “normal”, avoid trouist traps, be aware of red flags, and know what to do in less-than-ideal situations.

7. Get some R&R!

We often forget that travelling, moving, acclimating to a new city, culture shock, and making new friends are EXHAUSTING tasks!  Your body is working so hard right now, so remember to give it that rest and relaxation it deserves.  Find a quiet place where you can relax and recharge!

8. Prep for Work!

Figure out how you’re going to get to work on your first day.  Do people take the subway?  Do people take buses?  Will you take a taxi?  Can you walk there?  Which stop do you got on at and where is that stop?  Which stop do you get out at and which exit do you take?  What do you do form there?  How do you get into the building where you work?  How much money will you need for transportation and food on Day 1?  It’s a good idea to have the contact info for at least 1 co-worker who you can contact in case of an emergency.  Find out the dress code at your school and make sure that you have a suitable outfit. And, most importantly, make sure that you have a way to get coffee and breakfast on your first day!

9. Get a cell phone/SIM card if you haven’t already

Being able to use the map on my phone at any time has become a necessity for me.  Not just that, but being able to call someone if I’ve running late or lost is good. Though purchasing a phone plan in Korea is easy and will ensure that you have sufficient minutes and data, phone plans can be expensive. I simply found my local Olleh/KT store, walked in (with my passport & some cash) and explained that I wanted a prepaid SIM card.  Ultimately the salespeople called a translator and I was able to purchase a SIM card that gave me enough minutes and data, plus the capability to connect to WiFi routers all around the city. Eventually I got a working phone, but if you want to avoid the hassle and have a relatively cheap, functional phone with English support, check out The Arrival Store’s phones/plans. Bonus!: it gets delivered right to your apartment or to the airport so you have it when you arrive.

10. Stay grounded.

If you already have daily routines, make sure to keep up with them!  With work, often self-care gets pushed to the wayside. For me, it’s essential that I keep up with my daily morning meditation and journaling in order to stay positive and determined.  Whatever it is for you, find a dedicated time to keep doing whatever makes you, you!

11. Learn a few words in Korean.

When you move to a new place, you should put some effort into learning the language; locals appreciate any effort that a foreigner makes to speak the language.  Not to mention, it’ll make your life easier if you can communicate with the locals whenever necessary.  At the very least, you should have “anyeong,” “anyeong-haseyo,” “anyeong-hashimnigah,” and “kamsamnidah” down by the end of your first week. Here’s a great guide to 15 Korean phrases that will make your first 48 hours a breeze.

12. Do at least 1 touristy thing.

Start LOVING your new home.  Be proud of where you live and remain humble about the fact that you’re one of the lucky ones: not everyone has the opportunity to live and work abroad.  Being a tourist in your own city will help you to appreciate this lifestyle you’ve chosen to live and will undoubtedly put a smile on your face, even on your toughest day!

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