Seoul is nothing like you have ever experienced before.(Connexus is located in a suburb just east of Seoul) You will see a country at the crossroads between traditional Confucius ways and the new powerhouse nation that Korea has become. There are thousand-year-old temples and gates surrounded by forty story skyscrapers. You can buy fruit and vegetables on the street or cross the street and shop at Cost-co or Walmart. Tiny, weaving, criss-crossing streets are packed with the latest Hyundae SUV's.
If you think Toronto or New York are big cities, be prepared. The greater Seoul area has a population exceeding 12,000,000 people. The buses, subways, trains and streets are constantly filled with people. Standing on an express bus going 90Km/hr, having your face crushed into the person in front of you, like sardines in a can during peak subway hours become daily living in a city this densely populated.
While in Seoul you can purchase a transportation card good for busses, subway, express busses and soon taxis! With the card a single ride is between 800-1400won and you can transfer from subway to bus (within 30min) for free. The public transportation system is extensive and very convenient. Taxi's are a steal of a deal in Korea.
The food is spicy; "the spiciest in the world" if you ask any Korean, but not everything is too hot to handle. The main staples are still rice and Kimchi (traditional fermented cabbage with lots of garlic and red pepper flakes). There are many forms of Kimchi including cucumbers, radishes and various roots.
In the evenings the streets are filled with people eating Kalbi (BBQ'd port or beef wrapped in lettuce), or standing at street stalls eating ddok bok ki (pounded rice noodles in a hot sauce). But don't worry, the streets are also littered with Pizza Hut, McDonald's and other Non-Korean food (although it's a good deal pricier).
Be warned: Korean food grows on you until you crave it! Bottom line is: if you want it you can probably find it. There are black market food stores that carry almost all foreign goods, from food to toiletries.
The weather is pleasant. Winter begins in mid-December and can dip down to -15C at its lowest. Spring begins in mid-March with the cherry blossom festival and Shindalay brightening the countryside. Rainy season begins in July, which consists of never ending heavy rain followed by a month of stifling heat (35C+) in August. The heat breaks in September and a gorgeous fall continues until the end of November.
The Korean people are kind and very helpful. If you are lost just open a map and at least 2 people will want to help you. They are very proud of their history and culture and want to share it with others. You can eat a traditional Korean meal or take in a concert.
Seoul is a city that never sleeps. You can find a place to cut your hair at 2am but good luck finding a hairdresser open at 10am! There are many concert venues scattered throughout the city with shows varying from traditional royal court music to the latest Korean pop star to Eric Clapton.
There are PC rooms (about $1 for 1 hour of computer use) popular with elementary kids. There are game rooms (play the latest board game with your friends), DVD rooms (rent a DVD and watch it in a small private room) and the infamous No Rae Bang (singing or Karaoke room). This is a popular place for families, friends and colleagues. Sing your heart out in the PRIVACY of a room with only your friends to hear you.
The Korean medical system has specialized itself. There are clinics for skin, teeth (dentist), ear, nose and throat, eyes, internal and external ailments. There are also many large hospitals, which often have an International clinic. And for an adventure there are traditional Chinese medicine clinics.
While in Korea you will have medical insurance, which will cover most minor problems. A trip to the doctor will cost around 3,000 won. If you need antibiotics the clinic will give you a print out which you can take to the nearest pharmacist. A prescription will be about 3,000won. The pharmacist will give you a whack load (15 or so) of pills all in individual doses. Take them as directed, BUT the doctor will usually only give you a 3 day prescription so you should go back to get another 3 day prescription. You can ask the doctor to give you a 6-day dose on your first visit.
WHAT TO BRING
For the most part you can find what you need FOR A PRICE. If you have some products that you absolutely can't go without, BRING THEM, otherwise come to Korea, scope out the city and decide and send your parents a wish list! Note: shipping care packages from Canada to Korea take about 2-3 months
--Medications. If you require specific items bring a supply or write us in advance to see what similar item is available here. This also applies to preferred medication for head colds or allergies. If you are on a specific medication bring an extra prescription from home, and talk to your doctor about ways to contact him or her if the need arises.
--Sunscreen is hard to find. If you want skin whitening cream, this is the place to be!
--Bring any vitamins you cannot live without. Vitamins are becoming more available but are quite expensive.
--Tampons are also becoming more available but you might want to bring a stash.
--If you require larger or taller sizes for clothing or footwear, you may want to bring extra clothing in your size. There are some places to get larger sizes but the selection is more limited than in North America.
--A camera or digital camera. You are sure to see and experience things here that you will want to have visual record of.
--Gifts for friends that you will make and your host family. This is a gift giving culture and you will have moments when you will want to reciprocate or express your gratitude. These need not be expensive nor large. They can be representative of your family, your hometown, a piece of art, something edible, homemade, etc.
--Pictures of your family and hometown for you to remember them by or to show your new friends here.
--Some of your favorite music and books. However, there are music and book stores (with extensive English collections) in Seoul and KAC also has a growing library.
--Comfortable walking shoes that are useable all year round. You will find it beneficial to have shoes that you can quickly take on and off since all homes and some restaurants only permit stocking feet.
ITEMS THAT ARE CHEAPER HERE THAN AT HOME
--Eye glasses. You can either bring your prescription from home or get an eye test done at the glasses store. Contacts on the other hand are no cheaper.
--Dental work is much cheaper in Korea. A cleaning is around 50,000won and removing your wisdom teeth can be as low as 15,000won.
While working at Connexus you will be living in your "own room" with a Korean family in a home stay situation.
This gives you the opportunity to learn more about Korean family life and culture. Many Koreans live in apartments (condominiums) located either in high rise complexes or in 5 story buildings called "villas."
Traditional houses are seen less and less in the cities, but can still be found in more rural areas.
Hangul is the alphabet Koreans use. It is comprised of phonetic "letters" (10 vowels and 14 consonants) that are then grouped into syllables. Learning to read the Korean alphabet is not difficult. However, the vocabulary is NOT derived from the latin or greek languages and thus effort will have to be made with learning vocabulary. Sentence structure is also different (usually subject -object - verb) than English and grammar is challenging but follows fairly consistent rules.
While at Connexus you will have the opportunity to study Korean with a tutor. This is an excellent way to better understand Korea, develop relationships with new friends, and give you skills that will help you. Concerted effort will often be richly rewarded in ongoing interactions with friends and people that you meet.
Korea is very technologically advanced. Virtually everyone has a cell phone and they are relatively inexpensive to obtain and use while in Korea.
You can purchase pre-paid international phone cards, making calling home cheap and convenient.
Most homes and offices have a high speed internet connection and internet cafes (known locally as PC Bangs) are inexpensive and found all over the city.
Mailing letters or packages from Korea to Canada or the USA is relatively cheaper than your family sending something to you in Korea.