Today was supposed to be the first day of classes at my school here in Boryeong, South Korea. Over the winter break I worked to prepare lessons for the new school year. But today the school is pretty quiet.
As of this writing, there have been over 3,500 confirmed cases in Korea, primarily centered around the city of Daegu to the east of me. Most of the historical sites, museums, and other places have been closed to the public to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus).
So far, there haven’t been any reported cases in my area. While the students aren’t here, the other teachers and I still come in each day and it’s fairly normal aside from the daily temperature checks to make sure that we’re not sick.
I’ve been staying in Boryeong for the most part and limiting travel to other cities. When I have gone out, you can see the impact that the coronavirus has had on cities like Seoul. Trains and buses are less crowded and there’s less people out on the streets.
At major train stations like Yongsan Station, heat cameras were set up to detect passengers that might be sick and my phone was sent semi-regular text updates on neighborhoods that had new confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
For the time being, it means that many of my planned trips have been postponed until the outbreak is under control. I know that some new teachers have already gone home instead of teaching this year, but I plan on staying in Korea as of right now.
The Korean Government is being proactive while handling COVID-19 and has one of the highest healthcare rankings in the world. For the most part, people are recovering from their illness and there are treatments in development/testing on the way.
Should you travel to Korea?
Short answer: No. Right now, the US Center for Disease Control and the Department of State advise unnecessary travel to Korea and a list of other countries. Most of the tourist sites are closed and you could be subject to a quarantine once you return to your home country.
If you’re on your way to teaching in Korea or are planning to in the fall, I still recommend doing it. With the delays to the school year and other disruptions, schools are going to need English teachers.
Many of the public school postings will be out in the rural areas and in general, the cases have been lower in these areas. Simple health precautions can help protect you from getting sick.
Washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways to protect yourself. The CDC recommends using soap and water for at least 20 seconds; alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good alternative in situations where you can’t wash your hands.
The US Department of State has a full list of prevention recommendations from the CDC on their travel advisory page for South Korea.
Face masks are in short supply throughout Korea and other countries as people have bought them up in large amounts. Stores that I’ve visited have had empty shelves and the prices online are high at times.
These can provide some protection from the virus, but the best thing to do is stay healthy. Get plenty of rest, eat healthy food, and avoid public places as necessary. If you do feel sick, you should avoid contact with other people and contact a medical professional on the next steps.
Ideally the coronavirus will have little impact on the rest of the year, but realistically this could be around for the rest of the year or beyond depending on how it’s handled. I still want to visit new parts of Korea and share my experiences and will keep everyone updated as best as possible.
On a positive note, this gives me the opportunity to take a second look at what’s here in Boryeong and I want to explore more about cooking different types of food in Korea. At some point we’ll start the new school year and I’m excited to share that experience as well.
For those interested in teaching in Korea, I’ll post an article on Wednesday about the English Program in Korea (EPIK). Applications for the fall 2020 semester opened on February 1st, so now is the time to get your application in before spots fill up.