04 November 2008

What to do if you get sick while teaching in Korea:

Go to the hospital. Once you have your alien registration card and your physical you are registered into the country's mandatory medical insurance plan. I pay about 37000 won per month out of my paycheck (employer pays the other half) for the coverage and it is well worth it. I have been sick twice since I got here and both times I got fast and effective medical treatment. Today during lunch (this is why I am writing about this) I went to the hospital across the street with a bad cold. I was examined at the door and sent directly to the doctor who diagnosed me with an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) and wrote me a prescription. I had that filled at the pharmacy down the street and I took a dose and lunchtime isn't even over yet and I feel better already. I can breath at least.

Moral of the story: get your alien card and physical as soon as possible after you arrive and if you get sick (and you will) go to the doctor immediately. I started working on my alien card fairly quickly and it still took almost a month to get everything back (you have to enroll in the medical plan after you get your card and that takes a minute as well). Also, bear in mind that immigration will be holding your passport while they process your alian registration. I had to adjust my travel plans for the first month to compensate for not having a passport. I arrived at the end of June and the school closed for the last week of July and I would likely have gone to Japan if I was sure I would have got my passport back in time.

And at these prices there is no use trying to medicate yourself with over-the-counter meds. The doctor's visit cost me 3500 won and the prescription, which included six doses of four and a half pills each, don't ask me what) cost me 1400 won for a grand total of 4900 won. That is $3.81 in the current exchange value.

Which sadly brings me to my second topic: the exchange rate. I have tried in this blog to avoid any negativity about my experience here in Korea, and there has been very little of it. My job is hard sometimes, but my jobs at home were as well. I love Busan, my beautiful adoptive hometown, and the rest of Korea (what I have seen) is a gem. The people here are wonderful and kind, and there are many other things I could say about this wonderful experience...but there has been one big downside for me.

Korea sends a major portion of their exports to the United States and as a result of the US financial crisis the won/dollar conversion rate has tanked. Since I started watching it last January it has dropped by about 30% against the dollar. It is still very cheap to live here and there is very little inflation to erode my standard of living (which can't be said of other ESL hotspots where I read that you may go from comfortable to desperate in the course of a one year contract) but I have financial responsibilities and waiting till the currency rebounds (which it almost certainly will eventually) is not an option for me. If you are in the same situation, bear that in mind when looking at your contract: if you need US currency look at the current exchange rate when contemplating a budget. Of course, there is not way to predict what will happen in six months, but is is worthwhile to see what you are working with if you have an immediate need for dollars.

Here is a link to the English language website of the Korean National Health Insurance Corporation (turn down your volume before clicking or you will get blasted with a special video message that's set to stun).