What it’s like to live in South Korea during the Corona outbreak as a foreigner

I have decided to write about what it’s like to live in South Korea during the Corona outbreak as a foreigner. Obviously this is my experience, not what everyone else here might experience. But I read so much negativity and some stories that are outright not true about South Korea, that I felt the need to share my story.

I have lived in South Korea for more than half a year. I work here as a model and I study Korean at a university. When the first few cases of the Corona virus appeared in South Korea, there was immediate action as a means to prevent both panic and spreading of the virus. The message to wash your hands thoroughly, wear a mask, and to cough in your elbow were to read and hear everywhere, and still are. They also shared a special phone number you can call in case you show any symptoms. In subway stations you can hear this message in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese. Bottles of hand sanitizer popped up at every station. My school informed everyone, and so did my work. I felt really save. People were just starting to take precautions. I definitely didn’t feel alone, which you might expect in a situation like this when you’re far away from home and there is a lot of uncertainty.

A lot of foreigners come to South Korea to study Korean, and since there had just been the lunar new year celebrations, many of them had travelled. My school felt responsible for all of us and decided to close its doors for one week to have meetings and come up with a plan. All students were advised not to go to crowded places and to meet as little people as possible. We had to report our health status to our teacher, who could help us if we needed. After one week class resumed. Everyone wore a mask, and if you didn’t have one, you could get one from your teacher. Again we were all encouraged to wash our hands really well. Because there was one week of no class at the end of the semester, school changed it rules a little bit so no one’s grades would be affected. The holiday between the two semesters has been extended from 2 weeks to four weeks.

After what happened in Daegu it’s impossible to watch the news without hearing about the Corona virus. I get emergency texts every day, which inform the reader about new cases. Sometimes I get only one, sometimes many. To me, this is a little bit weird, as I think something like this could never happen in Europe because of the strict privacy rules. But there is no way you can feel like you’re left in the dark.

For my work I normally travel all around Seoul to attend castings and I meet a lot of people every day. When I have a job, there is a big team working with me. My agency has a responsibility for the models (and the staff), so even if the virus is not that dangerous, there are some new rules to prevent infection. The amount of castings has been reduced, most of it goes through email and kakao talk now. Makeup artists have been reminded to clean their brushes well. And anyone who goes inside the building has to use the hand sanitizer. In fact, almost every building (usually near the elevator) and office that I have been to lately has a bottle of hand sanitizer for the visitors to use.

I’ve had a delivery driver hand me my food while standing as far away as possible from the front door. But the next day another one helped me put the six packs of 1 litre bottles of water inside my hallway. Some people are very wary, others act more down-to-earth, but I think that’s no different than anywhere else at the moment. The sentiment I get is that there is no harm in being careful. If you’re not scared of the virus itself, then you’re careful just because you’re not looking forward to be in quarantine or out of respect to others. I read things like “streets are abandoned”, but people are just staying inside more. Many workplaces allow their staff to work from home. I’m also not really going outside these days unless it’s for work. It’s getting a bit boring, but I just use this time to watch a lot of Netflix and read books.

Some people have asked me if I want to go back to The Netherlands and my answer is no. I feel more save here than in I would in The Netherlands in this case, even though that might sound weird to others. There are patients in The Netherlands as well now. Last week my mom told me she went to the hospital with my sick neighbour. After 2 hours in the hospital, my mom stopped a doctor and said something along the lines of “By the way, both me and my neighbour haven’t been to the city where there has been a case of Corona virus.” The doctor answered something like “Ah, right. I need to ask those kind of questions now.” Meanwhile I went to get my wisdom tooth removed and the three times I went to the dentist (consultation, the surgery, and aftercare) my temperature was checked before taking a seat in the waiting room. Even though they recognised me, they took no risk. Everyone here is alert, and if you need to get tested, you can. No need to call from hospital to hospital. I watch the news here every day and they show the people who work really hard to take care of the patients, and the people who do the tests. It shows that wearing those protective suits and the long days they make are definitely no joke. So I feel like my health and those of others is taken way more seriously here than it would be anywhere else in the world.

Never have I felt real panic here, or felt like I was left alone in this foreign country. I can still go to work, I’m updated daily, and the supermarkets are still fully stocked, only masks are hard to get. Everyone is doing the best they can and laying low. To be honest, the only thing that has been bothering me is the ridiculously loud alarm my phone blares when I get one of those emergency texts, which I can’t seem to turn off. I guess if that’s all, then I’m good here in South Korea.

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