Getting sick in Korea

This week I developed one of the more intense colds I’ve had since coming to Korea. I’ve only had a handful of them (which I’m sure would be a different story if I were working in elementary), and they’ve never been an impedance to my general routine.

On Saturday evening I could feel it coming on – the dreaded sore throat. My boyfriend and I ate the Korean version of chicken noodle soup (닭 칼국수) for dinner, which was absolutely perfect:


Chicken, thick chewy noodles, 김 (dried seaweed), zucchini. mmmm

On Sunday the virus hit me hard enough to keep me in bed basically all day, surrounded by various electronic devices, eating Haagen-Dazs (which recently made a miraculous and pricey appearance at the convenience store), and watching Big Hero on TV (in Korea they change Hiro’s brother’s name from Tadashi Hamada to Teddy Armada because Japan is bad, rabblerabblerabble). My boyfriend also brought me 죽, which is rice porridge and something basically all Koreans eat when they’re sick. (Have I mentioned Koreans are excellent caregivers?)


Picture from this travel site. I was too sick to remember to take a picture, and besides, theirs is much prettier than mine would’ve been.

Monday was survival mode. After one of my kind co-teachers witnessed my voice give out on me multiple times while I tried to teach the 3rd graders about Thanksgiving (at one point helplessly gesturing towards the turkey on the PPT and whispering, “What is it?”, which everyone found hilarious), she bustled me down to the nurse’s office, where I received Ssanghwatang (also called Ssanghwa Gold):


This traditional Korean herbal medicine drink first tastes faintly of molasses and orange peel, then very abruptly tastes like tree bark and dirt. I don’t know how much good it did me but I suppose it can’t hurt!

The nurse also gave me a Lifesaver-shaped eucalyptus lozenge and a vitamin C pill. Koreans don’t do pain relievers. Good luck finding ibuprofen around here, even in the pharmacies.

Today, Tuesday, my voice decided to leave the building (err, my throat). For each of my classes today, I told the kids that they would have to listen very carefully. Their reactions to hearing my scratchy voice were very sweet, as many of them burst out with the textbook expression “That’s too bad! I hope you get well soon!” One class yelled “AWWWWW!” when I tried to raise the pitch of my voice and achieved only a squeaky sound. hahaha. And later, as I was walking around, one of the kids said, “Teacher, are you okay?” in an I know you said you’re okay for appearances’ sake, but are you REALLY okay? tone, which was cute.

On the downside, disciplining is much harder when you actually can’t raise your voice and you sound like a mouse.

In summary, while being sick in Korea certainly has its unique cons:

  • sick days aren’t really a thing – I mean, you have them, but unless you’re on your deathbed you should really come to work feeling like death just like everyone else, you lazy bum;
  • outside of Seoul, you probably need a trusted coworker or friend to come with you to the doctor / pharmacy to translate;
  • and if you’re really sick and need to visit the hospital, just… make sure you wash your hands… a LOT… if you can actually find soap and hot water… and don’t touch anything… and watch out for people carrying around their uncovered Dixie cups full of urine that could spill everywhere at any moment;

… it also has its pros:

  • everyone will try to take care of you (if you let them know you’re sick);
  • if you need to see a doctor and get some medicine, it will probably cost you less than $5, and if you’re good enough at acting and learn a few key Korean words, you might not even need a translator friend;
  • if it’s cold outside, you can come in and turn on the ondol floor heat and lay on your delicious warm floor.

Thankfully I was ahead enough on my lesson planning that I could afford not to do anything the last few days except focus on teaching class and getting through the day. But now that I’m recovering (except for my vocal cords), it’s back to the grindstone.

Stay healthy, everyone!