How to NOT get sick in Korea
Any foreigner that comes to Korea, especially as a teacher, will quickly find out that Koreans do not cover their mouths when they yawn, cough, or sneeze. And frankly speaking, it’s the most disgusting thing. There was a flu outbreak at my school and you would think that would be a bit of a wake up call right? Sick = germs. Germs can spread by not covering your mouth. Prevention = COVER YOUR MOUTH!
But no. I’ve been told that Koreans believe that they cannot get each other sick. Along with that, I have realized that when it comes to wearing face masks, people do not choose to wear them until after they are already sick. I figured that out when I went to ask for one and my co-teacher looked at me like I had about three heads sitting on my shoulders. He was deeply confused as to why I would want to wear a face mask if I wasn’t sick. The concept of prevention seemed to go right over his head.
As I proceeded to wear my mask for the rest of the week, I was asked by countless students and teachers, “Ohhh sick???” and when I said no, they would give me the same exact confused look that my co-teacher gave me. But I didn’t care. I refused to catch the germs that my students and fellow coworkers were spreading.
I share an office with three other teachers. Every single one of them have gotten sick this semester. One of them even got sick twice this semester. I knew it was bad when our school festival got postponed due to too many students catching the flu. I actually dreaded going to school every day because of all the coughing, sneezing, and mucus hacking that was going on. Mix all that with the fact that Korean students are extremely physically affectionate with each other. They lay all over each other, eat and drink off of each other, hold hands, sit on laps, share make up, and the guys like to kiss each other and grab faces for whatever reason. Now top all that off with the fact that there is no hot water in the bathrooms and no soap. When there does happen to be soap, it’s the infamous “universal bar” that everyone uses. My school is literally a breeding ground for germs and sickness.
So I will share with you six things that I did to keep from getting sick in Korea.
This will probably sound like common sense but WASH YOUR HANDS. Bring your own soap if you have to. I am grateful that there is a sink in our teacher’s office. Even though it takes a while, the water actually gets hot. I will wait for the water to get hot even if it takes 5 minutes so I wash my hands thoroughly and all the way up my wrists. I also keep a large bottle of hand sanitizer at my desk and use it after touching a student (students like to shake my hand and give me high-fives).
Clean your desk space! If you don’t have a desk cleaner, use some cleansing wipes. If you don’t have cleansing wipes, then use a paper towel and soap and water. And if you don’t have that, then squirt some globs of hand sanitizer over your desk and wipe it down with a paper towel. Whatever way you have to do it, CLEAN YOUR SPACE. I witnessed my head teacher sneeze at his desk without covering his mouth, spewing spit all over the keyboard, and not even 2 minutes later, a student came in to ask to use his computer to print something. Head teacher said yes and the student proceeded to touch the keyboard and mouse that the teacher had just sneezed all over! I wanted to scream. Clean your desk space people.
Wear a face mask or a scarf. Like I mentioned above, Korean seems to not wear face masks until they are already sick. But I feel that if people around me are getting sick, there is no way I’m going to wait until I am too to wear a mask. Wear the scarf or mask to help block the germs flying from every direction when everyone around is sneezing and coughing without covering their mouths. My main co-teacher loves to turn his head into the open atmosphere and just let out a huge, wet sneeze. You know it’s wet because he always has to sniff or blow his nose afterward. It’s the grossest when he uses his hand or arms to swipe any moisture off his lips. Or better yet, when he goes to the teacher’s sink and snot rockets into it. *gag*
Try not to touch people. Like I said before, there is no soap and hot water in my school bathrooms. If your school or workplace is like mine, don’t touch people! You have no idea if they found a way to clean their hands.
Drink plenty of vitamin C. One of the things that I like about the little grocery store near me is that it sells these little vitamin C drinks. You can even buy them in a large case. Vitamin C is one of the things you need when you get sick but it doesn’t hurt to take it when you aren’t yet sick. I drink two to three a week during this “flu season” and was drinking one per week before the germ infestation took over my school. If you don’t have vitamin C, drink tea. Lots of ginger and honey, or green tea. Stock up, peeps. You’ll need it.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to use your heating system. As a foreign English teacher, I’m sure most of us are on a tight budget. Whether you have school loans or just want to save your money, many of us don’t have money for extremely high bills. One of the things that can get expensive is your heating bill. Korea has a heating system where homes are warmed through pipes under the floor. This can be very expensive, especially since it takes so long to actually heat up the apartment.
There was a month where my bill was $86 and I would only use it for around 4 to 6 hours a day. Enough to heat up the room then I would turn it off. I can’t imagine what my bill would be like if I had the heat burning all day so that my apartment can be warm when I get home at the end of the day. My bill would be through the roof!
If you don’t want to burn your heat and pay that bill, then invest in a space heater. Whatever you do just stay warm in some way. It’s easy to get sick when your body can’t get warm and trust me, it’s darn near impossible to get warm. My school is freezing and there are days where it’s actually colder in the school than it is outside. How? I have no idea. I just know that I’m tired of having frozen toes, purple fingers, and having to wear my coat and scarf all day long. My body wants to be warm!
Well that’s all the tips I have and so far they have worked for me. I have finally made it to my 3-week long winter break so I can sleep and stay warm in my germ-free apartment. I’m not trying to bash Koreans and their customs or anything, but not covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing…I just can’t get down with that.
How are you guys staying healthy this winter? Let me know 🙂