Most schools in Korea provide their western teaching staff with single studio style apartments, sometimes referred to as bachelor style apartments in the West. Due to the limited landmass and mountainous terrain housing developments in Korea are primarily high rise apartment complexes which consist of 5 – 20 buildings per development. Although apartment architecture has improved over the past decade the majority of apartments in Korea still have a uniform look and feel. In 2010 it was estimated that more than 80% of the Korean population lived in apartment buildings ranging from 5 to 35 stories.
We receive numerous complaints from new teachers each semester regarding the size of the apartments that the schools provide. We’d like to point out that apartments in Korea are quite small (urban areas are extremely dense) and getting yourself mentally prepared for this transition is strongly advised. Homes and apartments in South Korea are measured in pyeong (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyeong). One pyeong translates into roughly 35 square feet or 4 square meters. In most instances teachers will receive a single studio apartment that is around 9 pyeong, or 300 square feet; although apartment sizes do vary based on location. Larger cities such as Seoul, Busan, Daegu, etc. generally have smaller apartments while less populated areas usually have slightly larger apartments.
Most of the apartments that Korean schools provide will come with the following furnishings:
Can I move into my apartment as soon as I arrive? Upon entering Korea, public school teachers are required to stay at the training and orientation venue for the first 6-7 days. Orientation usually takes place at 1 or 2 of the major universities; therefore, teachers are expected to stay at the dormitory, or on campus residence, during this period. Once the orientation period is finished teachers will be brought to their respective working location and apartment to settle in. Note: Teachers are NOT required to pay for their accommodations during the orientation period – everything will be paid for by the government.
Whether private school teachers can move into their apartment right away depends on the situation of the school. In some cases new teachers can move into their apartments right away but in other cases new teachers will be required to stay at a nearby motel for the first 4-7 days. Why? Because the current teacher (the one you’re replacing) will still be employed during your training period – there’s a brief overlap period when the new teacher and old teacher that’s being replaced are working simultaneously. Example: You’re replacing a current teacher who’s set to finish their contract on August 31st, you will begin your contract on September 1st; however, the school needed you to arrive 5 days earlier (around August 26th) in order to complete the school training. Between August 26th and August 31st the school will have 2 teachers for 1 apartment. As a result the new teacher would stay in a motel near the school until the current teacher finishes and departs. Once the old teacher departs the new teacher (you) can move into the apartment. Note: Employers will cover the motel costs during the brief overlap period.
Korean bathrooms are noticeably different then western bathrooms. All teacher apartments will contain a western style toilette; however, the shower is usually the bathroom area itself – not a bathtub or shower stall with curtains or glass walls. Due to the limited size of apartments in Korea bathrooms are usually configured with a shower head that comes directly out of the wall. The floor will be angled towards a drainage unit and when the shower is on, you’re essentially using the bathroom itself as a showering stall; meaning, when you take a shower your entire bathroom gets soaked. It’s nothing to worry about though, the bathrooms are completely waterproof and getting the walls, floor and evening the sealing wet is perfectly fine!
Never walk into someone’s home with your shoes on, it’s incredibly rude in Korean culture. You will notice that most apartments in Korea will have a wall unit in the entrance area. The wall unit is NOT a bookcase, it’s a storage space for shoes and Koreans will expect you to use it. Please remember to take your shoes off when entering someone’s home in Korea.
Schools provide teachers with rent free accommodations; however, utility bills are the teacher’s responsibility. Please expect to pay for your heat, hydro, internet, etc. each month. Monthly utility bills usually amount to 120,000 KRW – 170,000 KRW. Note: Keeping your heat cranked up or keeping your air-con turned on while you’re away will drastically increase the cost of your monthly heating and hydro bills. Note: It’s not uncommon for apartment buildings in Korea to charge a monthly building maintenance fee – this fee is part of the teacher’s monthly utilities (if applicable to your apartment building).