Things I wish I knew before moving to Korea

As I’ve been reflecting on the last year in Korea I can’t help but think about the move here and what I would have done differently if given the chance. The whole process of PCSing to a new country was brand new to me as my Hubby and I have only been together for barely three years now. The first big move of my life was after the wedding when I packed up all my stuff and moved from California to Texas. Then barely a year and a half later we were getting ready to move to another country. Before that I had never moved more than 40 minutes from the town I grew up in. So doing a huge move halfway across the world was a big deal to me and we didn’t have a lot of time to do in.

We had been dealing with rumors of moving for months on end. First it was Georgia, then it was New Mexico, then it was Georgia again, and then the idea of Korea was tossed around, possibly Italy, back to Georgia… It went on for the longest time I wasn’t sure what to expect anymore. Then, during the last half of June of 2017 we were given the official papers for PCS to South Korea. (Yay!) Our arrival date was set for August 3th. (Crap.) That gave us a little less than a month and a half to get everything set up: pack the house, make travel arrangements, get our cat ready and leave. The second biggest move of my life and I had so little time to prepare. Through the whole thing I felt like I was being constricted by anxiety and stress, so once everything was said and done it was nice to be able to breath and relax again.

Had I known then, what I know now, I would have planned things so much differently! So here are 5 things I learned PCSing to Korea:

  • Put 90% of your belongings in storage. That’s right. Pack it all up and store it. Except clothes and the basic of basic furnishings you really don’t need it, trust me. You think you do cause you want to make your new place homey but really, you don’t need to. If you’re anything like me you’re spending most of your time exploring the surrounding areas. Plus anything you think you need can be borrowed or bought second hand from base.

When I started working on the packing I made two lists. One list for what was going to Korea with us and one of what was going to go into storage. The “going to Korea” list consisted of basic furniture: bed, couch, desk, bookshelf, and nightstands. I honestly should have left it there but hindsight’s 20/20. I added a small bookshelf with a selection of reading material I thought might keep me occupied in down time, everything needed for our office, all my camera gear, extra clothes (not counting what was going in our suitcases) and a selection of art to decorate our future home. Over the year we’ve collected more books and local art that will either have to be sold before we move or shipped back to the states out of pocket since we are already at max on our weight limit.

  • Book hotel stays at residence inns if possible. Once all you’re belongings are packed up and you’ve cleaned the place out you probably have to return the keys to a landlord, rental company, or the next homeowner. This means, unless you managed to book your flight perfectly you’re probably hanging out for a bit till its actually time to leave. To save some money and your sanity, spend the little extra money on a residence inn that has a mini kitchen in the unit so you can still cook for yourself. This saves your sanity, your wallet and whatever diet you many be on.

Our flight was set for bright and early Monday, July 31 so we had to get everything cleared out of the house and return the keys by Friday afternoon to stay in line with our rental company. To make it more difficult I had to have a last minute surgery on Thursday so we ended up getting everything done by Wednesday, returning the keys 5 days early and checked into a hotel  close to the airport. This was just the beginning as we didn’t get to move into an apartment until late August, so it was restaurants and fast food everyday for a month. The first home cooked meal after being in hotels for so long was a like drinking water after getting lost in a desert. It’s also taken me forever to lose all the weight I gained during this time.

  • Pack light for traveling. You’ll thank me for this one. Don’t be afraid to pack the basics of the basics. Capsule wardrobes are your friend and the less you have to pack, the less you are carrying around with you. Your home goods will get to you  faster than you think. Use hotel laundry services or a nearby laundry mat if you need to wash clothes. It’s better than dragging around overstuffed suitcases.

By the time we finished packing we had one suitcase each of clothes and necessaries, one carryon each with the our important documents for ourselves and the cat along with a some extra clothes just in case the suitcases went missing, two backpacks with entertainment for the flight and then a huge duffle-bag with all of my husband’s military gear that he would need for the next month or so while we waited for our home goods to get to Korea. It would have been pretty easy to manage had I not been on strict post surgery rules where I wasn’t allowed to do any exercise or heavy lifting for at least two weeks. This meant my poor husband had to carry almost everything while I used one of the four wheeled carryons as a walker and holder for the cat carrier.

  • Research your future base. This will help you find out what’s on the new base as well as what’s around it. It wasn’t until after our arrival that I learned you could borrow furniture and some basic home stuffs from the loan closet on post. There are also plenty of people who are trying to sell second hand goods while they prepare to PCS out while you are arriving. Buying cheap on arrival and then reselling or donating on the way out saves you a little money and a lot of stress during these big moves.

This info might be old news to some people in the military but to a couple of newlyweds it was amazing. After looking at what was avail to borrow from the loan closet I looked at the things we could have just put in storage. The kitchen in our Korean apartment could best be described as miniature with out oven/microwave barely big enough to fit a single 9×13 pan. Half of my kitchen goods could have stayed in storage and in the last year I have mastered the art of one pan meals to cook on the stovetop.

  • Don’t be afraid to take your time house hunting. In Korea you go through a real-estate agent to look at apartments and houses. There is a list of approved agents you can work with and it’s perfectly ok to go to a few offices to see what they have available before you make a selection. Don’t let anyone, even yourself, push you to make a rushed decision.

After several delays and a couple weeks we finally completed in-processing and got to our assigned base. We checked into our fourth hotel (that’s a story in itself) and started to look at apartments with a real-estate agent who was suggested to us from a new acquaintance. Unfortunately the agent only had a couple apartments available to us, two of which were in the same complex. Because of so many delays in our arrival we had already pushed our current hotel stay to the max and if we didn’t find a place and get the paperwork done by the end of the week we would have to go to another hotel. Stressed about the idea of having to pay for another hotel and our poor cat who was already over all the traveling we made the choice to settle on a unit that was partially furnished so we wouldn’t be sleeping on hardwood floors until our home goods arrived. While I do enjoy our current residence sometimes I feel like I settled too quickly before really thinking it out completely.

  • Use  the resources available to you. In your research of your future base you probably learned about a whole lot of resources you have available to you besides the loan closet. Things like relocation readiness classes, language classes, and even tour trips. You maybe be moving to a new country but you aren’t alone.

It’s really important to have a support system in a big move like this and one thing I’ve learned to appreciate about the military is that there are people here to help you out. Our new unit sent us a welcome party upon arrival to the base who helped us with our luggage and even brought us the first home cooked meal we’d eaten in over a month. They gave us maps of the areas, recommended apps for our phones to help us with translation, travel, and on post activities. It was a really stark difference from the last military bas we were at and I was actually pretty overwhelmed by how much we had available to us and just how awesome our unit was.

It was a rollercoaster getting here and to sit back and thing about it a year later I can’t believe everything we went through and still managed to make this place our home. I’m hoping that other families that have to PCS to Korea learn from my mistakes and have an easier time in their plans getting out here. And remember, this is a big opportunity for your family to experience something new and you aren’t alone.

For The Love Of Science

For the last couple of days we’ve had some amazing weather. Its been warm out, almost up to 60 degrees, and as I’ve said previously, I’m loving it. This last week we took the time to go to the Gwacheon National Science Museum. I’ve been feeling very nostalgic for home and back in the city I would always spend afternoons at the museums in Golden Gate Park. I know some people might find that really boring but thankfully my husband and I love learning about new things and it’s exciting to walk around and see the exhibits.

It’s very easy to get to the museum. We took the subway from Pyeongtaek train station to Seoul Grand Park and there was only one transfer from Line 1 to Line 4 at Geumjeong station which happens to be on the same platform. No having to run up a flight of stairs and across the station from one platform to another and then have wait a while for the next train (cause the one you wanted just left the moment you arrived). This time we actually lucked out because both trains happened to arrive at the same time and we literally got to step off one train, walk across the short platform, and step onto the next train. That never happens. (At least not for me.)

Once at the Seoul Grand Park stop we exited the empty station right into the park itself. The sun was warm, the breeze was light and the Museum was almost imposing. Seriously, you exit the station by staircase/escalator and at the top of the stairs there is a large path directly to this massive building. It’s the most impressive building I’ve seen as of yet since arriving in Korea. Inside the main building there is a basic science hall, natural history hall, children’s hall, Korean traditional science hall, advanced science & technology hall, science future and fiction hall, and a creation hall. There is also a special exhibition area, a restaurant, and souvenir shop. And that’s just the inside! Outside, throughout the park are different exhibits including an insectarium, an observatory, a planetarium, dinosaur park, wildflower garden and several playgrounds for kids to run around and play on. You could easily spend an entire day here and not see everything it has to offer and we were very excited to see what we could see.

 

 

 

We bought our tickets and decided to start off with lunch. After placing our jackets in the free lockers offered on the main floor we headed up stairs to the restaurant for food before taking in the exhibition halls. The restaurant is very nice and has a variety of foods offered. After we ate we headed to the traditional science hall and as we walked through we noted that unless the display was a larger item there were very few translations. This became more and more apparent as we moved from hall to hall and the more we saw, the more our enthusiasm for the place started to wane. It really was sad because there are so many interesting things to see but unlike art, with no explanation you honestly have no idea what is going on. And let’s be real, science isn’t exactly a place for interpretation. There was a lot of displays that I really would have loved to know what was going on such as the natural history hall and the Science Fiction and Future hall.

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One of the displays in the science fiction and future hall that was discussing possible jobs of the future. I do believe I found my future job: Plant psychology! Although I would have loved to read what the rest of what it said.  I love my green babies and already talk to my plants all the time so this is my calling.

Either way, it was a great day and I’m glad that we took the chance to check it out. Also, as of writing this, I learned they offer English-speaking tour guides for 2,000 won per person. So, we are definitely going back!

Hello, Spring? Are you there?

I can’t believe it’s March already. I feel like February flew by and I really couldn’t be happier. There was a moment of panic for a bit where I had to freak out over the “lost” time but I’m actually really glad because spring is almost here!!!

If you haven’t realized this by now, I’m completely over winter. I’m done with being so cold all the time. Done with the poofy jacket. Done with freezing my face while attempting to walk to check the mail. Just done. And it’s finally starting to warm up!

Well, sorta. While the temperatures are starting to rise, that wind chill is real. Today I went to run errands and decided since it was mildly overcast with the promise of sun I’d walk. Stepping out my door the hallway was actually a little warm so I was really excited.  Walking through the lobby of our building and out the front door I was feeling that warm spring vibe. I had a skip in my step and was ready to get blast my headphones and enjoy a nice long walk. Three steps away from the front door and out of the front patio and that arctic wind slaps me in the face. I was seriously ready to second guess my life choices but went ahead and braved it out.

Despite the freezing wind I did manage to have a good day and got a lot done today. I’m hoping to keep up the productivity this month and get out of the winter slump. I’ve got a couple of adventures planned out this month and some fun projects I hope to complete. Lets see if I can keep this going and get stronger by the time spring gets here for real.

(Almost) Surviving Winter in Korea

Before moving to Korea I did some research on the weather. I took a look at the seasonal averages and thought I’d be prepared.

As you can guess… I wasn’t.

Korean’s winter is typically December through February with the coldest month being January. Temperatures can average between minus six degrees and three degrees Celsius. This was there I took my first wrong step. I’m so used to thinking of temps in terms of Fahrenheit that when I looked up the averages I was reading 21 to 37 degrees. So in my mind I was thinking, that’s doable, I could totally do this. Visiting areas that are prone to snow were not new to me. I once lived a few minutes away from Tahoe for awhile. There was one winter in Texas that was so cold everything froze over. Not to mention the several winters spent going to the mountains for sliding adventures. I could totally do this.

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Lucky us, this year turned out to be the coldest year Korean has seen in 20 years! There were several days where it dropped close to -20 degrees Celsius. That’s three times lower than the average! As you can guess… I wasn’t ready. I spent most of the winter inside our apartment because it was just too cold to leave. Snow jackets and boots were not enough.

Now that winter is coming to an end and the slightest hint of spring is in the air I’m wondering if there was anything I could have done different. Was there more I could have done to starve off the winter boredom and depression? We tried to make the best of what we had, trying out new cafes and still getting out to new areas to explore despite the freezing temps. I’m also very proud of the amount of books I read thanks to all the down time.

Although, I won’t lie about the fact that I can’t wait for this winter to officially end and for some warmth to come back. To get out of this winter funk and start moving around some more without having to done layer upon layer of clothing just to go to the corner store for some extra milk.