In preparing for my move to South Korea, I readied myself to have a studio apartment the size of a shoebox. The size of my potential apartment didn’t bother me as much as my biggest concern of an open apartment where everything smelled like my cooking all the time. Upon walking into my Pocheon apartment, I was shocked not only at how big it was, but by the delightful surprise of having a closed off area as my kitchen/laundry room.
While my apartment is definitely less than 150 square feet, it’s massive compared to many of the apartments I’ve seen in the larger cities like Seoul, Busan and Daegu. In the Goldilocks version of Korean apartments, mine is just right. Not too big, not too small. Not too old, not too new. I am also extremely fortunate (I can’t stress that enough) that my school actually let me pick out new items for my apartment to make it feel like home. Every public school has a native English teacher budget for their apartment needs, but many other English teachers I talked to said their schools simply denied their requests for the basic items that are included in our contracts. Within a few months of moving in, my school furnished my apartment with a new bed, desk and chair, rotating fan, dining table set, rice cooker and toaster oven.
My bathroom is a very traditional Korean bathroom in which your toilet and shower are all together in one room without a wall or curtain separating them from each other. Naturally, everything stays wet all the time. I’m very much a neat freak when it comes to bathrooms, scrubbing furiously to make sure there’s never mold or mildew building up. However, this is something you’ve just gotta surrender to in Korea. As my AC unit’s condensation pipe drains directly into the bathroom and the shower is in the bathroom, the constant state of moisture guarantees the bathroom will have mildew and mold, no matter how often and how hard you scrub away at the tiles.
My kitchen doubles as my laundry room. The small washing machine sits snug under the electric cook top. It’s perfect for me, as I can fit about a week’s worth of laundry in one load. Much like the other countries outside of the U.S., a vast majority of Korean apartments don’t have dryers. Thus, we have two choices in drying our clothes. During the summer months, I hang them up on a drying rack in my apartment. When the weather’s cold and I have the ondol (Korean heating that heats up water in the pipes underneath my apartment floor) on, I lay out my clothes flat and they’re dry by time I wake up the next morning. If you’re going the ondol way, make sure you’ve swept and cleaned your floor. Otherwise you now have dry, dirty clothes!
Even though I was initially excited to have a sliding glass door separating my kitchen/laundry room, I quickly realized this wouldn’t be practical for the amount of cooking I do and the lack of counter space in said kitchen/laundry room. I cook all over my apartment. I knead out bread and prep meals at my desk. I use the toaster oven and microwave over by my fridge across from my bed. I use my slow cooker on top of my electric cook top when I’m not using the electric cook top. Cooking is a huge part of my life, so I make do with what I’ve got. Like many of us, you innovate and improvise with the materials you have and make it happen. The longer I’ve lived here, the more I realize how silly it was to be concerned with such a trivial thing like having my clothes and apartment smell like food. I’m lucky enough to have the accessibility, appliances and capacity to cook what I like, so if I smell like food, who really cares?
What are some of the creature comforts you crave when you travel or live abroad? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below! Stay updated with my latest recipes, adventures and eats by subscribing to my blog and checking in for my regular posts over on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.