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.