You see, bad first impressions can be a curse and the way my Korean co-teacher described my Singi-dong neighborhood, you’d think I were nested in the slums. Maybe I am in an area, where family incomes aren’t as high, buildings are older and “apartment” buildings aren’t a colony of skyscraping tombstones (see the second photo down) . But I’ve seen slums and Singi-dong is not it.
The more I got used to my apartment and discovered my Korean neighborhood of Singi was in fact, charming, convenient and ideal, the more I realized as an EPIK teacher, I have it pretty good.
But first thing’s first~ what I have isn’t really called an “apartment”.
What is an apartment in Korea?
Much like the phrase “going to the doctor” is actually rephrased as “going to the hospital“ in Korea or glamorous means slutty, my apartment isn’t really what Koreans consider an “apartment”.
Usually, they’re non-descript looking skyscraper apartment buildings grouped in a cluster. In most cases, they’re owned by large recognizable Korean brands such as LG, Lotte, Samsung, etc… and the way you tell your apartment building from others is by the number painted on the side of it. When you drive through the country, you’ll notice these unnatural concrete crops deforming a beautiful land in lump sums. Yup, they’re apartment that Koreans love living in.
Many Koreans actually prefer this type of lifestyle over houses or lower-leveled buildings and Koreans with good incomes live here.
Still when you’ve been raised in a house like I have, the concept of being raised in an apartment can be a stretch. But as one of my co-teachers said, a house has a yard and stuff that needs to be maintained. You don’t need to worry about that with an apartment.
My apartment is really called a “villa”. It’s a lower-leveled building.
I actually prefer these types of buildings and I like walk-ups It’s closer to what I used to have in Manhattan. My apartment room is on the second level.
My apartment is very spacious and I love it. It’s not as large as my Los Angeles apartment, but bigger than my New York shoebox and it’s been one of the best things about living in Korea! Unlike my evacuation from my New York City apartment, leaving this apartment will be sad.
Life in Korea | If you’re an EPIK teacher, what type of apartment will you get in Korea?
I’m pretty lucky.
Not every foreign teacher’s apartment is the same. You can see a hundred of photos of apartments and in the end, it will all depend on upon your school.
I’ve heard horror stories about EPIK teacher apartments having mildew, roaches, washing machines which flooded their apartment …a lot of things. It’s all the “luck of the draw” as to what you get in an apartment, a school and co-teacher. I stayed at one hagwon teacher’s Seoul apartment once and it was literally a studio shoebox the size of a small hallway! There was a twin-sized bed, mini fridge, compact stove, sink and washer all crammed in one. If I lived there, I’d definitely feel claustrophobic. I’d not be happy, one iota. Some of his colleagues had larger apartments, but complaints were about mildew. You win some; lose some.
Hagwon teachers generally like hagwons because they feel like working for private academies, their apartments can be luxurious. A friend and her fellow English colleagues were put up in hotel with laundry service. Pretty stylin’ right? Her drawback was that she didn’t have a kitchen or refrigerator. Would you be able to do without that for a year? Forget shopping for groceries at Costco.
Life in Korea | What does the inside of an EPIK apartment in Korea look like?
My EPIK apartment is quite spacious. It’s a one bedroom with a shared living room and kitchen. I have a separate area for my washing machine and a small bathroom. There is a mini room for my washing machine and a mini foyer at the entrance where I leave my shoes.
Life in Korea | Inside my apartment in Korea
Life in Korea | Inside my apartment in Korea
What makes my apartment in Korea feel like a Korean one?
1. Ondol heating (and controls to turn on hot water)
In my 8 Ways I Stay Warm During Winter in Korea, I spoke a bit about the heated floor system (aka Ondol) but you can also control hot water from this same heating unit. Koreans believe in conserving energy and thus, every time I take a shower, I must turn on the hot water.
2. The sink-shower control
Both, sink and shower are attached and share the same pipe. The way to direct which spout the water comes from, there’s a knob-like switch on the sink, which I turn. Many foreigners who are new to this device, occasionally forget to change the shower back to sink and often shoot themselves in the face. This is a problem when you do this just before going to work… I’ve shot myself in the face many times.
3. The Korean bathroom: All-in-One bathroom ( requiredL bathroom slippers)
Being an Asian bathroom, there are no partitions between shower, sink and toilet. One drain the middle of the room takes the water from the shower down. It has it’s perks- from shaving your legs by propping them on the toilet to brushing your teeth, showering and spitting on the floor. Best of all, it’s easy to clean.
Of course, this is why the bathrooms tend to be ceramic and also, why keeping your articles dry is part of the challenge. My bathroom space is small so generally, I have to hang my dry clothes outside my door knob. Most things in the bathroom will get wet when I shower.
But I love this. Some apartments have normal showers which have doors, but they still might have the one drain on the floor, making cleaning one’s bathroom easier.
Cons: During the winter, the all ceramic tile is a fabulous conduit to cold. So, during the winter, my bathroom is the icebox of the apartment. I have to remember to close my bathroom door or I’ll feel the crisp breeze of winter coming in. The shower slippers are something you’ll want to use during any season, when it comes to protecting your feet from cold ceramic tiling.
Advice: Buy a pair of bath slippers sold at Homeplus, Emart or Daiso.
4. The Korean Washing machine (and where’s the dryer?)
The washer is nice to have, but I’m limited in knowing what each function does.
No one actually explained how it worked (no Korean teachers have come over) and because it’s all in Korean, I can only guess. There’s no dryer, per se.
In Korea, many folk have a drying rack or set up a clothes line to dry their clothes. I have a metal drying rack and my clothes generally dries surprisingly, within a night.
5. “Suregi” : How Koreans deal with trash
In Korea, trash is often separated and coded. It’s mostly for recycling purposes.
In my building, trash is separated by regular trash, perishables and with cardboard boxes I just leave them outside. Some buildings also have a separate bin for plastics.
The red pail is for the perishables and a you need to purchase and insert coins in order for them to be picked up by the garbage collector . The coins aren’t expensive but there have been a few times I’ve found a neighbor’s perishables rudely thrown into my bin after my bin was unloaded by the garbage man. I had my co-teacher write a note in Korean and then taped it to the bin. It read something like “Don’t put your waste in this bin or I’ll hunt you down.”
The bags for throwing out my regular waste also need to be bought and it’s colored specifically for residential trash. Stores, restaurants and commercial vendors, etc… are color-coded. I can’t use plastic bags I get from grocery stores.