Struggles of a Student in Quarantine

This post is dedicated to the endless frustration I felt during quarantine, and still feel now to an extent. Although being in a foreign country can help you realize what your home country lacks in certain cultural or infrastructural aspects, there are still many struggles to be experienced abroad no matter where you are.

In quarantine, I was not allowed to leave my little goshiwon (something similar to a small student studio that’s a more affordable alternative to dorming at times) for two weeks. Of course, I wanted to buy everything I needed in quarantine because I had packed lightly and didn’t exactly feel “settled” until I obtained some items that I considered daily necessities. Now, having been slightly familiar with buying things from Korea in the past I didn’t expect the online landscape to be this difficult to navigate. And I’m not necessarily talking about website design (although some Korean websites could really work on their readability and navigation, in my opinion), but rather, accessibility. Of course this is really only more of an issue if you have to quarantine, because otherwise you could buy these necessities at a Daiso or convenience store easily.

My goshiwon, Stayforyou’s Hongdae location (which I quite recommend by the way as 3 meals are provided a day during quarantine), did provide a complimentary roll of toilet paper and a small amount of hand soap, but provided overpriced amenities beyond that. If you’re like me, you wouldn’t want to live in your own filth and would want to save money, so you’d go on a cleaning-supply shopping spree. It’s not like I wanted to buy anything crazy either. I wanted some sponges, gloves, bleach cleaning products, a toilet bowl brush, a broom, Clorox wipes, hand soap, a small broom, paper towels…..the works. I also bought bottled water because I was only given a complimentary 12 liters for my quarantine period.

***pro tip*** Some commonly used bathroom/kitchen cleaning brands in Korea are Homestar (홈스타) and Yuhan Clorox (유한크로락스). Keep in mind that Korean cleaning products/bleach products are much less harsh than American brands.

I noticed early on in my search for shopping websites that you need a Korean phone number 100% of the time. So, if you’re a student that’s going straight into quarantine after your flight, I’d recommend purchasing a Korean SIM card before arriving in Korea so that it’s ready to use right away.

South Korea has many popular online shopping platforms but many of them, like Amazon’s Korean equivalent, Coupang, require a Korean citizenship number or alien registration number (arc) to use. They would usually request an I-Pin or a mobile number attached to a local phone plan, which are both methods that can verify a domestic identity and can be obtained if you have an arc. However, if you’re an exchange student like me you’ll have none of these things and will only be able to obtain your arc months after arrival. So it may be difficult to access the majority of services that Korean people enjoy, whether it be other online shopping sites like yes24, 11st, Interpark; or popular food delivery services like Baemin or CoupangEats. So this was hurdle #1, and trust me I tried signing up on many Korean websites for hours without success.

On the websites that did allow me to sign up I was often stopped at check out, which introduces hurdle #2. Many of the Korean websites that do allow you to sign up only allow domestic credit cards and bank accounts at payment. So this was a problem for me who could not sign up for a bank account as I was in quarantine.

Hurdle #3 was that if these websites accepted foreign credit cards it often was rejected, even if the platform explicitly accepts “for foreign Visas or Mastercards”. I would definitely advise to not come here without a Mastercard or Visa, because other cards such as are rarely, if at all, accepted over here. I would estimate 30% of the time my American credit card or debit card would work. However, there is hope!! If a site offers Paypal then it will 100% go through. I would often yell out of relief whenever I saw the Paypal symbol, when I was browsing the web in quarantine.

A checkout page where mainly Korean payment methods are offered.
Seeing this red box became a familiar occurrence to me as it was a payment method that always offered foreign card payments but always rejected my Mastercard credit card or my Visa debit card.

An important point I want to share is that although many of these platforms will not work for foreigners most of the time, some do have global versions of their site that are in English and offer Paypal or accept foreign cards as alternative paymnet options. These global sites are definitely what saved me during quarantine, so I would definitely recommend using Global yes24 or Global Gmarket and not trying to sign up on sites outside of that to save your sanity and time.

At the end of the day, I did eventually get my cleaning supplies haul from Global Gmarket, Ha. I do wish Korea made things more accessible to foreigners. I wasn’t used to the way their platforms operated, given that I’m not forced to input my social security numbers whenever buying things online back home. However, I took this as a global learning experience and am happy to share my tips with anyone who may go through a similar situation!

A Message from the Office of Global Engagement:

The safety and security of Drexel students is a priority for the University. As part of the efforts to support Drexel students that are studying abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Global Engagement has conducted a rigorous review of programming and provided additional support to participating students with customized pre-departure orientations and regular check-ins during the required self-isolation period and the term.

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