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Traveling Between the USA & South Korea During COVID-19
Written by: KJ Schultz
Last Updated: April 6, 2020
My situation is a little bit different to everyone else's and luck has been on my side. I left Korea on February 27th - school and classes had started getting cancelled that entire week and I had to be back in the USA for a wedding on the 29th. The week leading up to the 29th is when a giant Coronavirus outbreak occurred in Daegu which shot South Korea’s numbers way up on the list, causing some uneasiness amongst people in Seoul. I was able to move my flight forward without any cancelations and made it back to the States where COVID-19 hadn’t really hit yet.
Flash forward a couple of weeks and the start date for my school back in Korea was pushed back until March 20th. I spent some more time in the States and by the time I was gearing up to head back to Korea, things in America started to get crazy. I was in California at the time and that’s when they started to shut down everything and ordered people to stay indoors and self quarantine, much like Illinois, New York, and other states.
I still flew back to Korea on March 20th because at that point, my school was expected to re-open on the 23rd. By this time, Korea had a grip on the virus, had flattened the curve, and was handling everything leagues better than anywhere else on the planet. Upon arrival at the airport, most things were pretty standard except there was a COVID-19 area you had to pass through. Here, your temperature was taken, and if it was higher than the standard, you were sent into another room where I'd assume they would take the necessary precautions and go from there. Luckily, my temperature was normal and as a next step, I was required to download an app where I could monitor any symptoms I may experience while in self-quarantine for the next 14 days. If you failed to check off your symptoms on the app each day, they would text you reminders or even call you if you still failed to respond. In the app there were help lines you could call, locations to get tested, and other useful information one may need if experiencing symptoms.
Like most, my return to school start date has been delayed quite a bit but I’ve been lucky enough to still be working. We’ve been completing projects, preparing materials for the upcoming year, and just this past week, we moved to online teaching. It’s all been moving very fast, but I’ve been getting paid and we’ll be continuing online teaching until face to face classes can resume. Depending on the lingering effects the coronavirus has on everything, it seems like a mix of online teaching and face to face classes could become the new norm.
As to when we will go back to in-person classes, it is still kind of all up in the air. I’ve had friends that have already started teaching at their hagwons, but I think it all depends on the school. My school starts online teaching on April 12th and we’ll be doing that until the Ministry of Education gives the green light for bringing students back in the classroom. I’d anticipate school will resume like usual by the start of May.
My experience in quarantine so far has been fine. I’ve been able to work from home, put together my new apartment since I moved, and still talk with friends and family like usual. I’ve been a little stir crazy, but who hasn’t? I've been keeping myself occupied by watching a ton movies, completing some puzzles, drawing, spending too much time with my phone in my face, playing video games, reading, drinking and snacking like crazy, and trusty ole Netflix.
My advice to you - stay indoors and tell those who think this is a joke to get real! Being in both Korea and America when it's been bad, Korea has handled everything so well and has made me feel incredibly safe. Emergency updates are sent to our phones, access to coronavirus tests and help is easy and doable, and it’s not going to cost an arm and a leg in medical bills.
Stay safe and good vibes only!
For more comprehensive information regarding your TEFL options during COVID-19, please read Coronavirus FAQs: TEFL & Teaching English Abroad or Online - What Are My Options?
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KJ completed his TEFL certification through ITA in 2016 and moved to South Korea in 2017. He's been teaching and traveling ever since! KJ lives in Seoul where he teaches kindergarten and elementary students. After visiting Japan in 2014, he left his Chicago job behind and headed to South East Asia in hopes to experience new cultures, meet new people, and discover more about himself. Outside of living abroad and traveling as much as possible, he enjoys watching and reviewing movies, watching basketball, and going out with friends.
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