Yay! You finally made it to Korea! You are ready to hit the ground running whether that means exploring Seoul or looking for a place to live. Either way you are jet lagged AF and barely more than a zombie, running off of pure adrenaline and excitement.
If you don’t know (yet), most westerners get sick when they get here. I have tried to google what it is, but there isn’t any good information out there. Most sites say that the Korean Crud, the nickname for getting sick when you get here, is like having the flu, but that is not really all there is to it, and I will tell you why:
WELCOME TO REAL POLLUTION:
When you get here, you may notice your throat and eyes are burning. Some people get a running nose and thick phlegm in their throats. Some blogs will claim that the Korean Crud feels like the flu, not so much… you have these pollution/allergy issues, and other issues named in this blog. There are a few reasons why the pollution is so bad. It is also kind of up for political opinion. You will get different answers depending on where you look and who you ask. Some blame China and their pollution problem. Some will blame China for cutting down so many trees, so now the yellow dust is coming over from China. This seems pretty likely, if you are the type that likes to have a “fresh air” breeze through your home in the summer, expect to be dusting constantly, and the dust IS yellow. You will also find reports that say that South Korea has increased coal use ten fold in the last ten years. Whatever the actual cause, there is a good likelihood that you have never experienced anything like it! Some days you cant even see the apartment complexes in your own city.
So what do you do? You can start with getting a breathing mask. Yep, tons of people wear them around here. They are really easy to find and buy, and some of them are cute! Some people are more sensitive than others, so if you need to wear a mask, rock the mask! Don’t let people mask-shame you! I was more sensitive when I first got here. There are days when the pollution is really bad, and there are clear days. Listen to your body… and there are tons of apps out there that will give you information about what the pollution is going to be like that day. I check it like I check the weather report. At this point it is a part of normal, day-to-day life.
The other option, if this isn’t enough, is to get on an allergy medicine that is specifically for respiratory allergies, like Singluair. That is what I have been taking, it’s definitely helped.
Germs and Bacteria
Real Talk: Korea has more germs and bacteria than we are used to in the US. Some of the cleanliness standards that we are all accustomed to just aren’t a consideration here. For instance; you will be surprised when you find soap in a bathroom, but shocked if you find pump soap. Ugh, using bar soap in a public bathroom is sooooo gross! Even grosser to have no soap in a bathroom at a restaurant.
When Koreans clean they like to just wipe down an entire room at once. In fact the bathrooms have a drain in the middle of the room rather than the middle of the shower. In my experience this also means using the same rag on various surfaces! I can’t say that I have seen it in a restaurant, but we have has some people cleaning in our house before, and that is not a method that would be accepted in the states.
Finally, and most importantly, the water is contaminated. The water that your fish swim in, the water that your veggies are watered with, etc… no matter what you do, the contaminated water is going to get into your system somehow, and you will feel the effects in your gut initially.
Guess what extra bacteria, that you are not used to in your gut, means to you… you guessed it! Dysentery! Might show initial symptoms of “food poisoning” but then it lasts much-much longer! This was a fun introduction to Korea for me! Luckily the hospitals here are all first-rate and take really good care of their international customers!
If you are suffering from “bubble guts,” diarrhea, cant keep food down, you have to do everything you can to hydrate! And drink water bottles… read the next section for more information on why. Eat plain foods like white rice, white bread, and crackers. See a doctor if is lasts more than two days. Go to the hospital if your develop and unbearable headache due to your dehydration. They will hook you up to an IV, just like they would in the states, and hydrate you that way.
Aside from taking care of your hydration, and eating bland food, you NEED to get some good probiotics in your system. If you go to the hospital, they will likely prescribe them to you, but this would be a good time to go ahead and spring for them at you local GNC otherwise. This is an important step. Don’t get too freaked out, your body will adjust and you will be able to eat out at restaurants in no time! You just have to give yourself time to adjust… don’t give up, Korea is worth it!
More about the water: Every rental agreement in Korea is required to include a water filtration system. We have one of the best water filters on the market, and when the water is left out over night, you can taste the chlorine in it the next day. Your body is not used to this amount of chemicals in your water supply, so you will naturally have a reactions to it. At first I felt as if I was thirstier from drinking it, but I have since been able to adjust. I do prefer to drink water bottles, but I still use our filtration system. I always use the filtered water to cook with as well… don’t use the tap.
When I first got here I had a very flakey itchy scalp. It turned out the chemicals/chlorine in the water were drying out my scalp. To offset this, I am using super moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, and I have been conditioning my scalp… which I don’t usually do. I have heard of some women saying that they have suffered some hair loss, most vulnerable are African American women. You can also use coconut oil as a “pre-poo.” You put it on your scalp/hair for 30 mins prior to shampooing. I recommend trying it first on a weekend to see how your hair reacts. You don’t want to show up to work the next day looking like Kristen Stewart after her break up with Robert Pattinson.
There are filters that you can hook up to your shower head, which I highly recommended. You can get them on Amazon, but you will get it faster and cheaper if you get it off of GMartet, which is the Amazon of Korea. Not only will this save your hair but the skin on the rest of your body will not be as dry and itchy either.
As far as your clothes go. At this time, I have not seen any notable negative effects on my clothes from the washing machine. Still, you will want to get a detergent that is “moisturizing” and you will want to use dryer sheets.
Power Through IT
This may seem like a lot ,you guys, trust me, there were times that I was questioning my decision to come out here. Going home crossed my mind too. Some people don’t go through any of this at all… but a lot of us do. I think it takes about a month for you to adjust. Korea is an amazing place to live. Learning to live in a new culture has many different obstacles that you will have to overcome… but you can do it! If you can power through the first month, the experience will be worth it! I promise you!