MALCOLM KAM WRITES — With the COVID-19 crisis, South Korea remains open to most incoming travelers as long as they participate in a 14-day quarantine. So if you are planning to visit South Korea, it is recommended that you check online for official information regarding the quarantine process (short-term foreign visitors can be issued exception certificates. Information for travelers arriving from the United States can be found through the U.S. Embassy & Consulate in the Republic of Korea.). If you plan to stay — resident, student, whatever — plan to quarantine.
Brendan Char, an American international student pursuing a degree at Hanyang University in Seoul shared his thoughts and experiences.
What was it like when you first arrived in Korea?
Brendan: After arriving in Korea on the 16th of September, I underwent standard COVID-19 screening and had to provide a point of contact in Korea. I also had to install a tracking app. Through this app, I recorded my temperature and provided information detailing whether I was displaying any COVID symptoms twice a day. The app would send an alert to the government if my phone remained stationary for long periods of time during the day. I think that this was done to ensure people wouldn’t leave their phones behind to sneak out of quarantine.
How was the transportation and housing?
Brendan: I think it depends on your visa. If you come on a student visa you might be provided transportation and housing through a private corporation. As a student, I was housed at a hotel under government oversight. I was also able to get a car ride through a transit service. Since I was staying in Seoul, the hotel was about 45 minutes away by car.
What was provided at the hotel?
Brendan: You are supposed to receive water, a thermometer, masks, and sanitation materials upon arrival, but since I arrived late at night, I did not receive these things until my first COVID test the next day. You are required to get tested for COVID twice, once when you arrive at the hotel and once when you leave. Basic amenities like soap and shampoo were provided in the room. Frustratingly, my facility had a rule that trash couldn’t be taken out until the end of the two weeks. By the end I had three large bags of trash sitting in my room.
How were the meals?
Brendan: Three meals were provided each day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I selected my preferred meal type on a google document, once per week. The options were vegan, vegetarian, and standard. Honestly, the portions felt small to me. Luckily, there was also an option to order additional food and have it brought to you the next day. I ordered instant noodles, but the noodles I ordered didn’t arrive until a few days later. Additional order-able items included yogurt, toilet paper, and shampoo and conditioner. Before I arrived, I paid around $1,500. Part of that fee was refunded after the two weeks were over. The costs of the extra food and amenities I ordered through the provided service were deducted from that refunded amount.
What did you do for two weeks?
Brendan: The internet was down during my first week at the hotel, so I wasn’t able to do much. When I did have internet, I spent my time watching Netflix and playing video games. Keeping in contact with friends and family also helped to pass the time. Honestly, I enjoyed being obligation-free for two weeks.
How did things proceed after the two weeks were over?
Brendan: From what I have heard, many facilities are supposed to provide transport to your school. This didn’t happen in my case and I was left on my own after I was released from quarantine.
What are your thoughts on how South Korea is handling the pandemic?
Brendan: I think that they are handling the situation very well. They have a lot of protocols in place and are actively testing people and maintaining information on where people have been. There is also more compliance compared to America.