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    Jjimjilbang Korean Bath House

    To be honest, I’ve been hesitant to write about Korea. There are SO many expats here and nearly as many blogs and resources. Living abroad in Korea doesn’t feel as much of a novelty as living in the Middle East was. Plus, we are still figuring things out here and I don’t feel anywhere near qualified to share information! And on that note… maybe this post will break that cycle.

    We went to our first jjimjilbang (찜질방) this weekend! A jjimjilbang is a bathhouse. We adored the hamam in Turkey and were excited when we heard bathhouses were also popular in Korea. We were told before we moved here they were more intense than hamams because you’re completely naked! (No towel or swim bottoms in the bath area!)

    We met two friends this weekend to celebrate a birthday and they showed us the ropes. We took the subway to Ohmokgyo (오목교), had dinner at Burger Joint in the Hyundai mall, and then walked a short ways to Paragon Spa.

    First, we checked in and got our numbers, two small towels (three for the boys for some reason!), and clothes for the commons room. We took off our shoes, put them in our locker assignments, and got our keys. From there, the boys and girls split off to their separate quarters. There was a large locker area where we stored our bags and stripped down to nothing but our keys.


    Jjimjilbang braclet num ber


    Then we went into the bathhouse room! There were four different pools at four different temperatures. My friend said her family used to go to the 찜질방 once a week. Most Korean houses and apartments don’t have a tub, so they visit the 찜질방 for a good soak. There were massage jets in the second to coldest pool. The coldest had a waterfall jet from the ceiling that felt really good on my shoulders.

    There were also scrubbing services (to remove dead skin), which I did not do, but David did. He said it was a lot more up close and personal than the scrubbing at the hamam! No towel over certain areas. Ha!

    The spa included free soap, scrubbing salt, and toothpaste. You could pay extra for scrubbing, massages, manis, and pedis. There were also saunas. We peeked inside, but left quickly. I couldn’t breathe in the wet sauna. The dry sauna was slightly more tolerable, but it was 88 degrees Celsius (190 Fahrenheit)! I missed out on the cold sauna room.

    After about an hour of hopping between the tubs and showering off, we put on the spa clothes and met the boys in the commons area.


    Paragon spa clothes


    David and Leah in front of bamboo wall


    Bamboo reed wall


    I was amazed by how much was offered! TVs, a computer room, a play area for kids, a restaurant, a snack bar… Our friends had brought a board game and we hung out on the provided mats and played it. We also got some food from the snack bar. The plum juice was so good! Instead of using cash, we gave the cashier our bracelet and it recorded our purchases in their system. We paid at the counter before we left.


    Snack area




    I thought we looked a little like inmates in the spa clothes:


    Leah at Paragon Spa


    I loved the commons area. It felt like a really huge living room! Everyone was lying around and relaxing. There were also sleeping rooms for guys and girls, but unfortunately we couldn’t stay the night because of a cross country meet in the morning. We left around 11pm, but a large group of people were just arriving at that time! This city seems to never sleep.


    Common room


    Water feature


    We loved it and hope to go again sometime soon!

    Address Info:
    Mokdong Paragon Spa and Sauna/Jjimjilbang
    917 Mok 1(il)-dong, Yangcheon-gu, Seoul
    Phone: +82-(0)2–2654-3387



    Korean Money

    Korean currency is called the won (KRW). Bills are available in 1000, 5000, 10000, and 50000 increments. When we shop, we try to think of ₩1000 as about $1 USD.

    The expat abrev, so we’ve been picking up, is to say something costs “5 thou” or “34 thou.” The zeros have really been throwing me off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handed a cashier the 5 thou bill thinking it was the 50 thou bill. Oops. I need to remember the lady is on the 50.


    Korean bills and coins


    The exchange rate is not exactly even. Today, ₩1000 is equal to $0.85.

    It’s strange not having a 20 or 100 bill. Unless you specify, the ATMs usually spit out 10 thou bills, which can get bulky if you have a decent amount of cash on you. There are also 1 and 5 won coins, but I haven’t come across any of those. They’re not widely used, and most items are rounded to the nearest 10 won.

    These coins are worth about 50¢, 10¢, 5¢, and 1¢. Just knock off a zero:


    Won coins


    The art on the bills is very pretty:


    Won bill art


    Korean Won Detail


    Aside from cash, we’ve found credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.

    The cost of living is higher than the States and Turkey. The price of food kills me. (We spent less than $200 a month in Turkey on groceries!) But we’ve also found that eating out can be super cheap when you have a big group of people sharing heaping communal plates.



    First Days in Seoul

    Here’s a glance at our first few days in Seoul. (We haven’t taken a lot of photos yet. Most of them have been of food.)

    We flew into Incheon Wednesday afternoon. It’s a beautiful, modern airport. Everything was efficient, clean, and quiet. People systematically got into lines and there was no pushing or shoving. Now, I’ve been told that’s not always the case on the street, but it made clearing customs and retrieving luggage easy. We did have a problem that delayed us a few minutes. The embassy put 25 years on David’s visa rather than 25 months. Officials had to change it in the system before they let us through.

    People from the school met us at arrivals. There was a big group of new teachers who were on our same flight. We kept our overnight bags, put stickers on the rest of our luggage to be delivered to our apartments, and went to Hotel Capital for the night. It was nice to not have to worry about getting unpacked right away.


    Incheon airport


    Luggage truck


    Thursday morning, we did paperwork at the hotel, then they took us to our apartment. We live in a nice two-bedroom apartment. (I’ll write more on that soon.) Three teachers showed us around that afternoon. We took a bus to a mall to shop at a department store called eMart for home supplies.

    Friday, David had his first day of new teacher orientation. He saw his classroom for the first time! This photo looks crowded, but there’s a ton of space behind and to the right of the desks:


    David's classroom


    David had Saturday off. Our friends we met in Turkey (who are Korean) were in country. They were so sweet to drive two hours to visit us! It was a joy to see familiar faces and spend time with them. We walked the Insadong area. We also stopped in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace and visited the (free!) museum of King Sejong, the man who invented the Korean alphabet.


    Gyeongbokgung guard


    King Sejong


    Touring with friends


    Sunday, we attended church Gangnam style (in the Gangnam area) at New Harvest. It was an encouragement to worship with other believers and to meet some new people.

    After church, we walked our neighborhood. Our streets are VERY hilly! We also braved the subway and bus system by ourselves. We made it back to eMart only to find it was closed. Several of the large chain stores are closed two Sundays a month to give mom and pop shops a chance. Fortunately, a store called Modern Home was open, so we were able to grab a few essentials like pillows and coffee mugs. We’re hoping to get to Ikea soon to finish furnishing our apartment.


    Neighborhood view




    What We’ve Eaten

    No need to worry – we will NOT go hungry in this country.

    • We had our first meal at KKanbu Chicken. We ate some delicious chicken that came with pickled onions.
    • On Thursday, our tour guides took us out to Craftworks.
    • A Thai restaurant.
    • Another fried chicken place. We laughed at their menu. The land of Korea – where technology flows like milk and honey and discarded iPads are recycled into restaurant menus. (They put paper under the screen.)
    • Our friends treated us to our first Korean BBQ! You grill the meat yourself.
    • Patbingsu… Our friends also introduced us to shaved ice topped with red bean paste. It sounds weird, but it was good! The bean paste tasted a little bit like peanut butter. The texture of the ice was different than American snow cones. They also ordered a coffee style version that had granola and ice cream over it.
    • New York Brick Oven Pizza. Made delicious because there is pork in this country. Amen.
    • Boba (bubble) tea! We love the tapioca balls.
    • On The Border mexican. There are a lot of international restaurants in our district!


    Friend Korean chicken


    iPad menu


    Korean BBQ




    Bubble tea


    Other First Impressions

    • Holy humidity. Thank goodness for air conditioning and dehumidifiers. Granted, we moved to Korea during the rainy season. We looked it up, and apparently a normal humidity level is 40. Our dehumidifier read our rooms at 81!
    • There are a lot of churches.
    • Even more than churches, there are a ridiculous number of restaurants.
    • Groceries and home supplies are expensive. ($5 for a bottle of hand soap!?)
    • Clothing is super expensive. (A pair of mens pants at H&M in Turkey cost 30TL, which was about $11. Here, they are ₩50,000, which is around $43!)
    • Recycle all the things! Recycling is required and huge here. We could have upwards of 5 trash bags: paper, plastic, glass, food waste, and trash.

    I think I will explore some on my own today. Pray I don’t get lost!



    Facing Transition

    Moving abroad and cross-culturally is hard.

    We’ve been in Korea since Wednesday afternoon. (!!!) Even before we left the States, I started making a mental list of things I wanted to be intentional about during our transition.

    I’m a list maker and a self-acknowledged Type A. When we traveled with David’s family around Turkey last month, I’d often be several feet ahead of our group. David told his dad it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying myself but “it’s because she’s goal oriented.” And so, I’ve created a list of reminders for myself. If you’re preparing to expatriate, maybe they can help you, too.


    Six transition tips for moving abroad. |


    1. Approach life abroad as a learner.

    Everything is new to me. The alphabet, the language, the cultural expectations, the food, the history, the public transportation, the roads. Essentially, I’m a child starting at square one. Now is the time to be a listener and an observer. When that doesn’t answer my questions, I can ask the locals and other expats. (It’s beneficial to learn from both!) Having lived overseas once before, I’ve observed how a humble and willing attitude goes a long way in the learning process.

    2. Be flexible.

    Flexibility is a part of the learning curve. Initially, everything will take a lot more time. I will get lost and miss buses and subway connections. Communicating with the locals in the handful of words I know in Korean will be difficult. I’ll have no idea which brands to purchase at the grocery store. Factor in a little extra time for errands and know they might take longer than expected.

    It’s also good to remember that processes and transportation can change over time. Cities are constantly growing and evolving. What might have been true a year ago might be completely different now. What I learn today may change next month!

    3. Comparison is the thief of joy.

    This is something I learned the hard way when I moved to Virginia after college. I met some very sweet people, had a great time, but in my mind I unfairly compared them to friendships I had for years and years. I left that night discouraged and sad. David helped me realize how ridiculous my disappointment was. No two friendships are ever the same, and that is not a negative thing! Relationships take time to develop.

    David and I also want to be careful about comparing Korea to Turkey. Sometimes, making a comparison is logical. It is our most recent point of reference and a culture we loved. Of course I will make connections to previous knowledge as I navigate the unknown… but I don’t have to verbally express every thought. I don’t want to be “that person” who constantly talks about the last place I lived. I want to experience Korean culture for what it is. Will some things be the same? Yes. But it would be unfair to constantly measure Korean culture against another country.

    4. Be patient and gracious.

    This is one of the hardest. Transitions are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically challenging. It’s a stressful process to find our new normal. It all takes time. I need to be patient and gracious with myself. I also need to be patient and gracious to my husband as he adjusts, too.

    5. Do not fear. Be brave.

    In addition to my Type A personality, I tend to be something of an introvert. With David working at the school, I could easily be content to stay at home most of the time. I need to be — and I’m telling myself right now to be — brave. Get out there, get lost, learn the streets. Be brave with the language. Yes, I will pronounce everything incorrectly and say the wrong words too many times to count. Practice anyways and welcome correction.

    6. Cultivate community.

    Cultivating community is an essential piece of adjusting to a new home. In an ideal situation, the new community will welcome you with open arms. They will help you learn how to use transportation, teach you survival language basics, and readily invite you into their homes and their lives. This may or may not be the reality. (Keep in mind, they may still be grieving their friends that left days or weeks before you arrived.) If the community doesn’t reach out to you, sometimes you must actively seek and foster community yourself. I think one of the best ways to do this is to invite people into your home. Going out to eat is fun too, especially in the first few weeks of living in a new place when you’re learning how to shop and cook. In the words of one of my college professors: “There’s just something about having everyone’s legs under the same table.” Reach out to others, both the new expats and old expats.

    7. Finally, and most importantly, trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.

    The Father is good and loving. He is faithful and He provides (Matthew 6:25–27)! Be in the Word, put Him first, and eventually, everything else will fall into place. Will that make the process easy? No. But I can find contentment and trust in His calling for my life.


    I hope that writing these out will help ingrain them in my memory!

    Do you have any tips for adjusting to life in Korea?