I have been in Korea for a few days now and there are a million things that I have been trying to accomplish in preparation for the few months that I am here. All of my life, I’ve lived in the suburbs; where everyone has to drive and own a car because everywhere is so far away from each other and there is limited public transportation. Having to learn, navigate, and use the transportation system in Seoul, which serves the world’s 2nd largest metropolitan area, is extremely intimidating for me. I am not even good at using the public transportation in New York City when visiting!
Similar to the reloadable cards used in New York City, public transportation is accessed with a “T-Money” card. This can be used for buses, subways, even taxis in Seoul and the surrounding areas. Money is credited to the card which can be reloaded at most subway stations, convenience and corner stores, as well as online. I also have to purchase a Korean SIM card or rent a cell phone for the duration that I in Korea so that I can be contacted domestically, but I use Skype for all international communication.
Over the weekend, some KADS living here at the guesthouse showed me where the local grocery store is and so that I could buy a few things that I didn’t pack. I noticed that items imported from other countries, especially American products and name brands are very expensive. For example, a regular size container of Skippy peanut butter costs an average 16,000 Korean Won (KW) which is almost 15 in U.S. Dollars! Other things like honey, soda, cheese, and American brand personal care products are hard to find and very expensive here (I heard because of foreign taxes). But I find it really hard to complain about America importing cheap goods from places like China as I pay $15 for peanut butter here.
Not really related to social work, but I learned that it is actually cheaper to go out to eat at Korean restaurants than it is to buy ingredients to cook at the guesthouse. On that note, I have been enjoying ethnic Korean food almost every day.
Other than going to the market and out for food, I haven’t had much courage to go out and explore the city by myself yet and I feel bad asking others to escort me everywhere since they are busy and studying. I feel pretty small and helpless which is very different than what I am used to feeling at home and in my comfort zone. I am literally afraid to leave the guesthouse because I have a limited ability to speak Korean. I don’t really know how to get around or where anything is and I do not have a working cell phone in Korea yet so it would be really easy to get lost and stranded without a way of contacting someone.
When I initially made the commitment to an international field placement in Korea, I was eager for this new experience in a foreign country! It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and completely out of my comfort zone, but it is much harder and scarier than I thought it would be.
Tomorrow will be my first day of field with KUMSN! I haven’t actually tried to get to their office yet, but I searched and wrote down directions using Google Maps. It is very confusing and making me anxious, meaning my first day in field will be another adventure, I promise!