My Korean Apartment

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As I wound my way around the final flight of steps, I pushed open a humble door that granted me access to the top of the roof.  I panted frantically as I was exhausted from hauling my two suitcases chock full of all the belongings I packed from home that I deemed necessary just 24 hours ago prior to departing from Canada.

I looked at the structure my Korean director was eagerly waving me towards and immediately thought internally, “No way.  This can’t be it.”

What was directly in front of my eyes was nothing more than a makeshift shack, a temporary housing structure situated on top of this residential roof.  Its crumbling white siding led way to a sliding door that was caked with dirt.

As I dropped my suitcases off and finally caught my breath the reality of the situation was finally starting to sink in.

I will be living in this place for an entire year while teaching English in Korea.

What on earth have I gotten myself into?

A farmer nearby a rice field that overlooks my high rise apartment in Korea

My most recent apartment in Korea (Not the shack on top of the roof)

Aaaaah, it sure can be fun to look back in hindsight to laugh at yourself.  What I described above was my Korean apartment (er…Shack on top of the roof) that I lived in during my first ESL teaching stint way back in 2005-06.  On days when my morale was high and I was in a peppy positive mood I would consider it to be my crumbling artists loft; however, on days that weren’t quite as rosy and stellar the reality was that I was living in a shit tin can on top of a roof.  Korea, with its brutal winters and impossibly hot and humid summers, nearly did me in that year as I often resorted to extreme measures (electric blankets & heat fans in the winter; 3-4 cold showers & wearing nothing but my undies in the summer) to cope with the predicament I was in.

I’ve learned a lot since that time.  First and foremost, I’ve requested; NO, I’ve demanded  since that initial teaching contract to actually ‘see a photo’ of the place I’m signing my life away before putting my signature on paper. The truth is that I’ve loved all of my apartments in Korea since that initial debacle of a place has long since been in the rear-view mirror.  Having my own free apartment and sense of autonomy and space has been one of the main reasons I’ve loved living in South Korea over the years.

With all of the jobs I’ve had in Korea over the years my apartment has always been provided for me as part of my contract.  I’ve lived on top of a roof, on the 17th floor of a high rise apartment & in an officetel.  Each experience has been radically different aside from one unifying factor:  they’ve always been tiny places compared to apartments back home.

Korean shack on top of a roof

My Korean apartment on top of a roof – circa 2005-2006

Views from my apartment on top of the roof in Korea

More views from the humble shack on top of the roof 🙂

In this video I’m giving your a tour of my most recent Korean apartment.  From views of the rice fields from the entrace of my front door to an up close and intimate encounter with my bathroom, nothing is spared 😛  You’ll notice my bedroom that is surprisingly bare.  I take you into my kitchen where I’m running low on condiments, bread and orange juice.  Not exactly the bounty of Korean food you likely expected from a high rolling ESL teacher eh?  Normally I head out to grab a bite at a local Korean kimbap places or occasionally a Korean fast food joint.   Finally you’ll get to see what a typical ‘wet’ Korean bathroom looks like; however, not without first putting on flip flops.  Come check out Audrey’s apartment in Korea for a completely different tour of an officetel.

A Korean crane in flight nearby my apartment in Korea

Some of my friends and family have been truly shocked by my the size of my apartment.  What do you think?  Could you live in a place like this?  It’s where I’ve called ‘my home’ for the last 10 and a half months.  It’s humble and certainly nothing special but in some ways I’ll be sad to leave when I pack up my bags six weeks later and head home to Canada for the holidays.

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  1. Certainly brings me back!! Are those containers of kimchi I see sitting on the balcony? I think the coolest thing about living in korea is that densified living is the norm because most people live in apartments, even in the country. Not much urban sprawl outside of the big cities.

  2. says: Mark

    Your refridgerator reminds me of college. Oh, the days of having some condiments and water. I’d love to hear an update of how everything is going thus far.

  3. Sure it’s small, but I imagine you spend more time out and about than cooped up inside anyway (especially if you’re mostly eating out). We’re definitely fortunate/spoiled in North America and forget that most of the world lives in little shoe box apartments!

    1. says: Samuel

      That’s definitely true Reena. One of the main advantages of having a smaller place is that it encourages you to go out more and it is also easier to clean 😛

  4. says: Jimmy

    Try teaching in Abu Dhabi. The accommodations and pay are probably among the best in the world, not to mention the incredible sights that the UAE offers. But I like this place you got here and “the humble shack” looks pretty awesome as well.

  5. says: Abby

    You guys are adorable. Well, believe it or not, both apartments look a great deal bigger than the place I lived in in Costa Rica! A couch? What luxury!! Although, at least I got to open my front door and be outside… Even if I had to shower out there, too, since there was no room inside!

    1. says: Samuel

      It sure does feel like a palace in comparison! I suppose the best apartment I’ve ever had was back in University and at the time I thought it was small…lol

  6. for this, I can trade my house and the view, this is just awesome. I am a short man so I can fit into this perfectly fine and find solace. Now, my question is how secure it is from fire and how do you get out of your shack from the 17th floor? That one had me thinking though I was imagining a good cable ride across the building will do just the trick but that one has to be considered too.

    Its great you had this one featured. My sister and her Canadian hubby used to teach ESL in Korea too and its great their apartments are just fine and cozy, Korea i supposed prefers smaller spaces 🙂

    1. says: Samuel

      Hahaha, I wish I had a cable car escape route. In my current apartment they have several staircases I could go down and a three elevators but I’ve always felt a bit nervous being high above ground level.

  7. says: Bessie

    That’s one of the most pimp apartments I’ve seen in Korea! You’ve got great space. I think you should have Twister parties in your spare roomm. Most of my friends in Korea had apartment resembling your first rooftop spot, complete with mold. Mine had a bedroom exactly the size of our bed. I miss the heated floors though!!

    1. says: Samuel

      I agree with what you’re saying. I think ‘small apartment’ sizes in Korea encourage people to go out more to socialize and since I’ve been here it’s been rare to be invited into a home.

  8. says: Michaela

    Aren’t learning experiences great? LOL! Hopefully, plenty of future ESL teachers are reading this and taking notes. And, I could deal with a smaller place. I think the politically correct term is “cozy”. 🙂

  9. says: Margyle

    Ah man that is brutal! My buddy is over there right now and he actually lucked out in accommodation despite him thinking it was terrible (he has ridiculous expectations sometimes haha). It’s good that you’ve learned from that experience though!

    1. says: Samuel

      Thanks Margyle, I’ve met a few people who complained about their apartments as well even though the place was 99% better than what most ESL teachers receive.

  10. says: Marco

    I think it’s all about what you make of it. There’s always that “adjustment” phase but after it passes, the home slowly takes on your character and feels more personal

  11. says: Laurence

    That shack on the roof sure looks character building 😉 And your apartment seems about the same size as where I lived in London. Turns out we don’t really need that much space after all 😉

    1. says: Samuel

      It is quite cheap to eat out Paul. I honestly can’t be bothered to cook my own meal when I can get one for $3-4 USD which includes a main, sides and a soup.

      1. says: Paul

        I suppose it’s hard to argue with that. You’d probably easily spend that (and potentially more?) in ingredients and electricity. Plus then you’d have more washing up, too… not good!

  12. says: James Abroad

    Great window views! How do you like teaching in Korea? I’ve read there’s some significant differences with their culture and western education, and that suicide (even in children) was a problem if they don’t do well in school?

    1. says: Samuel

      Hi James,

      It certainly can be challenging at times but I’ve found it rewarding. The Korean education system is far more strict and stringent than back home. The pressure is turned up at a young age to get into a good middle school which leads to a top high school which leads to a top university. Suicide rates are definitely high amongst students. I hope this aspect of their culture changes in the future but unfortunately things just to seem getting more competitive in recent years.

  13. I think it’s perfect! I remember finding space limited pretty much everywhere when I was in Korea… but we Canadians are spoiled! And anyway, you get used to a place, no matter its size. It’s all part of living abroad. 🙂
    Also, you have fabulous hair.

    1. says: Samuel

      I couldn’t agree with you more Colleen. I think if I moved back home I’d be ‘annoyed’ by having to clean a bigger place 😛 Thanks for the compliment regarding my hair. I think I ought to get a cut soon though as it’s getting Wolverine-esque awfully fast.

  14. says: David Bennett

    Laughter in the face of problems is good medicine. 🙂

    (You might want to check ‘chock-full’ versus ‘chalked full’)

  15. Nice apartment! We went through the same thing about 4 months ago looking for an apartment here in China. Saw some really dingy ones, a couple with mould and one where the roof was caving in a bit! Luckily we ended up with a nice one. We got to choose so we were lucky but even other teachers who chose just took the first one they saw and man…. did their places suck! Haha, have fun in Korea and thanks for the tour.

    1. says: Samuel

      That’s interesting to hear about your experiences in China. It’s so hit or miss when it comes to teaching contracts, working conditions and living conditions with your typical ESL gig in Asia.