One of the many quirks experienced while living in Korea is the variety of apartment issues that come with a typical Korean apartment provided to a foreign English teacher. Problem #1 is usually the itty-bitty size of the apartment. I was super lucky coming to Korea with my boyfriend because we were given a two bedroom apartment, so space wasn’t an issue. Others aren’t so lucky. I will say that we were very fortunate to be given the best and the biggest apartment in our building. In fact, after we left Korea, the director of our school moved into our apartment. I’m not sure he knew what he was getting himself into though… I think he was accustomed to a higher end of living, so I wonder how he’s handling all of the issues that come with living there. For the current teachers, I think they can add having their director as a neighbor to their list of nightmares. Here’s a list of the apartment troubles we did have to deal with and the ones our director is probably currently struggling with. Maybe he’ll actually fix them now that they’re his problem.
This must sound like an odd one to complain about, but it was a very serious problem for us in the winter. Our windows would become so covered with condensation on the inside of the apartment that water ran down our wallpaper and pooled on the floor. Our walls condensated so much in places that the wallpaper started to peel back. And at one point we even found the electrical sockets in our bedroom where our clock was plugged in, covered in condensation. Yeahhh…that was a fun discovery.
The dreaded black mold of Korea. For whatever reason, Korea seems to be plagued with a horrendous mold problem. I think only brand spanking new apartments are able to avoid this headache. Our aparment was only about two years old and mold was already a problem. The condensation certainly didn’t help with this too much, but mold would also grow on any piece of furniture that had its back to a wall. We had to pull all furniture a few inches away from the walls to avoid a scary black mold takeover. A few times a month we would spray the wall paper with a mold spray that would temporarily relieve our walls of the nasty growths.
I’ve heard countless stories of folks who get stuck in mold infested apartments in Korea. Sometimes it takes them getting seriously sick for their school to finally take care of the problem. Thank goodness our mold wasn’t that bad. The ESL Teacher Gods were very kind to us.
YUCK. Our first room in Korea was thoroughly and permanently infested with cockroaches. I have memories of waking up at O’dark thirty, while jet lagged, to hundreds of the little buggers crawling on the floors and counters. I started hitting everything I could with the nearest shoe. Turns out the previous teacher was a total pig and we couldn’t seem to trick the cockroaches into leaving. All food was kept in the fridge/freezer (including all food waste) and roach traps were put everywhere. One night while watching a movie in bed, a cockroach was discovered climbing up Dave’s shirt! Eeek!! He hit it so hard that the thing died upon contact with the wall. After a month in Roach Hell we moved to the big clean apartment. I don’t think I could have lived a whole year like that.
#4 Cold Showers in Winter
We had a month of showers where the water would be warm for no more than a minute before it would turn to ice water. I’ve got tangly curly hair and it takes me much more than a minute to wash my hair. I was miserable. It was just in our shower too. Our kitchen sink produced warm water, so I started washing my hair in the kitchen sink and taking minute showers a couple times a week. Ice cold showers in winter are just too hardcore for me. I preferred to develop a neck kink from bending over the sink rather than freeze.
This was nearly impossible to fix until the head teacher/saint returned and convinced a Korean staff member to actually help. Before that my complaints fell on deaf ears.
#5 Broken Stovetop
This is probably only frustrating to me since I cook daily, but let me say this… Two burners is hard enough to be limited to, but to have one of those burners only be able to boil the hell out of things is a challenge. It certainly charged me to be highly creative in the way that I cooked. Even now I forget that I have access to four burners that all work because I got so accustomed to the new type of cooking style I developed.
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It’s incredibly rare to find yourself in a decent problem-free apartment as an English Teacher in Korea. I’m sure good apartments are out there, but schools don’t pay the big bucks to stick foreigners in those places. The best you can hope for is one without roach problems and one with minimal mold.