Everyone has different living situations in Korea. The popular phrase passed around here like candy on Halloween is “every situation is different.” These are just a few different living situations I know about within my own (large) village.
Sharing a Home/Business
The ‘oldest’ foreigners in my town (and by that I mean the people who have been here the longest) share a home with a Korean family. There is a separate wing/floor and so they don’t exactly have to see the host family everyday. One is an actual home; the other is a Sporting Goods store on the bottom level and the home is behind and above the store. I do not envy these two.
Your Own Apartment
Two ‘new’ foreigners, one who arrived around the same time I did and another who arrived about a month ago, were given an apartment. One of the two apartments is a very run-down studio apartment. The tiles were falling off in the bathroom and it was really dirty. After requesting for a better apartment, a marginally better apartment was issued. It is still old and a bit run run-down but not as filthy. The other foreigner received a 3 bedroom apartment. The apartment is owned by Koreans who temporarily moved for the year. They left quite a bit of their belongings behind. It, too, is an older apartment, but it is nicely maintained. Most of my friends that I know in EPIK are issued “one-room” apartments; this situation seems to be the most prominent in Korea. That said, there are still quite a few ‘lucky’ ones in larger accommodations (where the bedroom is its own room).
My Living Situation
So far, I’m the only EPIK teacher I know of that has had to live on school campus in a dormitory. I first arrived and was told that there were no apartments available in my town. They told me I could choose to stay in the dormitory or wait for an apartment (which could take up to a month). I got to the dorm, thought it looked clean and nice and said I’d stay…not realizing the full implications of living in a dormitory filled with high school girls (who only go home every other weekend). The school is open until 10pm for study hall and these students can only enter the dorm from 10pm to 11pm. They are usually awake until at least 1130; I know this because their voices echo through the hallways. My dorm room shared a wall with the girls’ showers (it’s a public shower) which was another catch 22: my floors were always warm after the girls showered and my water was instantly hot, BUT the girls shower from 10pm-11pm and from 630am-7am. 630 is early, right? That’s what I’m saying; but I know they wake up because I did too–everyday at 630am when a K-Pop alarm song resounds through the dormitory.
My New Living Situation
After four months, I decided that I would try my luck and request an apartment. This was quite an ordeal; it was almost painful. First they wanted to put me in an owned 3 bedroom apartment and I would only have access to one of the bedrooms. This was acceptable, HOWEVER, the catch to the apartment was that the owner would visit once or twice a month on weekends. (Oh, hell no…) So, I asked if I could move to a nearby city with about a 50 minute commute each way (with buses running close to the times I need to arrive and leave). This was the painful part: they wanted to make sure I could live outside of the town. Once they scoured my contract and there was nothing against it, then they started making up excuses that it would be too dangerous and they would be worried about me if I got sick or injured. (Really!?) THEN, there were excuses that I would have to pay a very expensive deposit of 2,000,ooo KRW (or about $2,000) and that maybe the school wouldn’t give me the housing allowance issued by EPIK (the program who hired me and placed me in their school). The first part was partially true: I did have to pay for a large sum for the deposit; luckily (and I mean LUCKILY) they said they’d pay me the housing allowance. (I’ll find out in two weeks with my next pay check.) Fortunately, my head co-teacher and her husband located a 1-bedroom apartment in my requested city with only a two-minute walk to the bus terminal. I AM SOOO GLAD that it all came together at the end. I had to buy a bed, but I bought it on the internet for under $100 and it was delivered in 4 days.
UPDATE: I renewed my contract and I am now placed in an even smaller studio apartment.
UPDATE 2: For my 3rd contract, I chose my own apartment and opted for a bigger place. ^^