A Week In Daejeon, South Korea, On A $25,000 Salary

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Today: an English teacher who makes $25,000 per year, and spends some of her money this week on an ice cream bar. Editor's note: All prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
Occupation: Guest English Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 24
Location: Daejeon, South Korea
Salary: $25,000, plus a bonus at the end of my contract
Paycheck (Monthly): $2,000
Additional Tutoring & After-School Class Income: ~$500
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (Per my contract, my employer pays my rent, which is about $375/month.)
Student Loan Payment: $1,297.67 in federal loans. (Some are in my name, some are in my parents' names, but it's all my responsibility.)
Health Insurance: I have national health insurance, which covers general doctors, dentists, and optometrists. Half of the cost is covered by my employer, and the other half (about $30) is deducted from my income.
Phone: $38
Internet: $0 (It's included in my rent.)
School Lunches: ~$60
Utilities: $50-$80
Building Maintenance Fee: ~$35
Netflix: $0 (Thanks, Dad.)
Savings: $100 (If I'm good that month!)

Day One

7 a.m. — After ignoring my alarm for the last hour, I finally crawl out of bed. I usually like Monday mornings; I like waking up at 6 a.m., working out in my apartment, having a nice breakfast, and starting the week off right. But after being sick for an entire month, this is not one of those Mondays. I barely make it out of bed to wash my face (I'm deep into Korean skincare) and heat up oats, which I mix with peanut butter and chia seeds. I also have a much needed cup of coffee with almond milk to try to turn myself into a person who can entertain tiny humans all day. I take a multivitamin, a turmeric capsule, and a fiber supplement. They're a bit costly but my body needs the extra help right now.
8:30 a.m. — I arrive at work (a 12-minute walk from my apartment) and again try to shake myself into being prepared for the day. I really like my job most of the time, but as an introvert, teaching wipes me out and being sick is not helping. (It's not a normal type of cold, either, but this strange dizziness I've been feeling constantly.) Thankfully, I only have three classes on Mondays and they're all third grade, which is honestly the easiest grade I teach. I can do this.
12:10 p.m. — Lunchtime, finally. Korean school lunches are fantastic. Today's is multigrain rice, kimchi, shredded potatoes, seaweed soybean soup, and breaded chicken with green onions. The cost of lunch is roughly $2.70 a meal, and it's taken out of my paycheck each month. I take another fiber supplement with lunch.
2 p.m. — Thanks to the aforementioned dizziness, I leave work early today to talk with my doctor. He tells me the blood work I had done last week came back clean. Then he does an ultrasound on my back, since I have some bumps that I want to get checked out, and takes a couple of X-rays. Neither provides any insight into what's going on with my body. Over an hour later, I leave frustrated and with essentially no answers. He does prescribe medication that he thinks will help, though, plus antibiotics for a small infection in my throat and probiotics for my constipation. Picking up prescribed medicine is always easy in Korea because in every commercial building there's at least one clinic and one pharmacy. Usually, you get prescribed enough medicine for three days worth of treatment, which then gets divided and packaged into breakfast, lunch, and dinner sections. $28.76
3:45 p.m. — On my way home, I pick up a couple of things at the store: bananas (I like them in my morning oats) and crackers for a taste-testing activity I'm doing at work tomorrow. $4.67
6 p.m. — I like the idea of cooking but I haven't matured enough to the point of taking the time and money to do it well, so my meals are always simple. Dinner tonight is my go-to stir fry: tofu in sesame oil and soy sauce, bean sprouts, bell pepper, spinach, and multigrain rice. I also take my fiber supplement again, plus the cocktail of drugs the doctor prescribed, and chocolate afterward.
8 p.m. — I usually go to sleep around 10 p.m. but I'm so exhausted I go to bed much earlier. At night, my Korean skincare routine really comes out — cleanser, toner, essence, vitamin C serum, eye cream, and moisturizer. It sounds excessive but I can honestly see how much brighter and happier my skin is because of it. After my routine, I write in my diary and go to bed with Trevor Noah's Born a Crime.
Daily Total: $33.43

Day Two

6:40 a.m. — I get up early today to shower before work. (Showering is something I'm willing to put off for a day, but not two.) After my shower, I put on toner, face moisturizer, argan oil hair essence, and then heat up my usual oats. I drink coffee and take my multivitamin, turmeric, fiber, and medicine from the doctor. It's a lot of pills. I feel like I'm 87.
8:30 a.m. — I'm back at work, not feeling like the medicine has done much of anything, but that's life. The doctor's pretty sure I have a type of vertigo that I'm just going to have to wait out. My fifth graders have been learning words to describe the taste, and today we're going to be taste testing various foods. It's going to be a long day, so I've got to pull it together.
12:10 p.m. — I truly love lunch time. Today is kimchi soup with tofu, multigrain rice, radish kimchi, a green root vegetable I still can't identify, and a small cheese omelet. It's enough to keep me going through my last class at 1 p.m. I also take my fiber supplements and medicine again.
2 p.m. — After finishing my last class, I'm at my desk with a free cup of coffee from my office. We used to have a lot of snacks at work that we'd all pitch in for, but the times have changed, and coffee and tea are all I get now. I watch YouTube videos for a bit and then plan my classes.
4:30 p.m. — I like to go for a walk after work but I'm really not up for it today; being dizzy constantly is exhausting, so I just walk home and tidy up. My laundry's been hanging up in the middle of my kitchen for a bit too long now.
6 p.m. — For dinner tonight, I'm having an omelet with two eggs, cheese, ham, and spinach, with a carrot on the side and sweet potatoes with jam for dessert. And chocolate. Oh right, and my fiber and medicine. I know they say you're not supposed to watch TV when eating, but I'm a rebel and turn to Netflix for the rest of the night.
8 p.m. — It's time again to wind down with my skincare routine and to brush and floss my teeth. I switch off the main lights and turn on my fairy lights so my brain relaxes more naturally before lights out.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

7 a.m. — I go through the motions and figure out what to wear. I can't explain it, but I seem to care more about what I wear when I teach sixth grade than other grades, which I will be doing today. I put on a blazer before grabbing my umbrella and heading out into the rain.
8:30 a.m. — Wednesday and Thursday are my longest days of the week: I have five classes before lunch and an after-school class from 6:30 to 8 p.m., which I teach alone and make all of the materials for. I haven't yet made any materials for my class tonight, nor did I have time to pack a snack or lunch, so today should be fun.
12:10 p.m. — We have the usual multigrain rice and radish kimchi for lunch, plus tofu with soy sauce, a root vegetable covered in a sweet red sauce, and some sort of soup with beef, egg, and noodles.
1 p.m. — It's time for my afternoon coffee, which I make after downing my many pills and a substantial amount of water. A small part of me worries that the acid in the coffee will disintegrate the pills I'm taking but I always drink coffee anyway. I need the caffeine to focus and plan the class I have to teach this evening.
4:50 p.m. — Since I didn't pack dinner, I'm walking home tonight to eat before going back to work. It's nice to go home and watch a little Netflix, eat my leftover stir-fry, and take my fiber and medicine in the privacy of my own home, but it does make going back to work harder. At least the rain has stopped.
8:10 p.m. — I manage to make it through my after-school class in a good mood thanks to the sweet and hardworking girls I teach. On my way home, I stop at a convenience store for an ice cream bar. $1.87
9 p.m. — I do my skincare routine, write in my journal, and make it into bed by 9:45, only to stare at my phone for a while. It's literally the opposite of relaxing even though I do it with that intention. I really need to fix this habit. I fall asleep around 11.
Daily Total: $1.87

Day Four

6:30 a.m. — I wake up a little bit earlier today — a sign that I'm feeling somewhat better — and hop in the shower. On Thursdays, I like to use a quick hair mask because my hair's really over-processed and needs all the help it can get.
7:20 a.m. — I've run out of oats and have to improvise for breakfast. I heat up sweet potatoes to put jam on, grab a banana, and crack open a hard-boiled egg. I eat the oats more out of necessity than desire (I'm struggling with IBS, thus the fiber supplements), so it's kind of nice having a change of pace. I take my usual supplement load, still feeling 87 years old.
8:35 a.m. — I get to school a little late, but I honestly don't care with all of this dizziness going on. At least I'm showing up. Today, I teach sixth grade for three periods and then third grade for two, followed by lunch. Thankfully these are my nicer sixth graders (not to say I have favorite classes or anything, but there are definitely some that are easier to teach...). I can do it.
1 p.m. — I hoped a miracle would happen that would give me early lunch again, but I have no such luck and have to wait it out until 1 p.m. Feeling dizzier than usual, I make my way to the cafeteria, where we have rice, kimchi, rice cake soup, kimchi pancakes, a pork and vegetable mixture, and apple slices.
1:30 p.m. — After lunch, it's time for my fiber and medicine. Since I was only given three days worth of medicine, this is the last dosage I have left. I'm not sure if I'm going to go back for more we'll see. It's also time for coffee, planning my classes, and preparing an article for my weekend tutoring session.
5 p.m. — I walk home for dinner again because I did not have enough time this morning to pack food. Tonight, I'm mixing tuna, bean sprouts, and carrots with multigrain rice for what is probably my simplest meal yet. I'm running out of options and need to go grocery shopping soon.
9 p.m. — With my after-school class finished for the week, I feel so relieved. It's a nice way to make a little extra money but it's definitely a commitment. Now it's time to wind down again. The lights are down, my various essences and serums are have been applied, and I sit down with my diary and laptop. I can't stop watching interviews with the Avengers: Infinity War cast. I'm so excited for this movie! I think I'm going to try to see it this weekend.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7 a.m. — I didn't even pretend I was going to wake up early today; my alarm was set for 7, and that's about when I got up. Still dizzy, but managing. TGIF. I gather my combination of sweet potato, jam, hard-boiled egg, banana, and coffee, grab my supplements, put together an outfit, and happily leave for work.
8:35 a.m. — I've stopped caring about being a few minutes late at this point, especially on Fridays. I saw a fifth grader who was just as late as me run down the street to school, and I couldn't help but laugh. At least he cares. (Students have to be in their homerooms by 8:30, but I don't start class until 9.) Today, I teach four classes of fourth grade and one of fifth before lunch. All of these classes are quite well-behaved, so I'm feeling much better about life today. Things are on the upswing.
1 p.m. — I cannot properly convey the bliss I feel when I sit down for lunch every Friday. I have made it through the week! It's truly a special time. Today's lunch is spaghetti (which I have learned to eat with chopsticks), chicken and rice soup, radish kimchi, kiwis, and something they call pizza that is actually a tortilla wrapped up with cheese, cubed ham, and corn inside. It's not the best-tasting thing to come out of the kitchen, but the kids like it.
2 p.m. — It's time for fiber and coffee. The fiber I take is in the form of psyllium husk capsules, which I get online because it's the only kind of fiber supplement known to not aggravate IBS. I should be planning classes today, but I'm just going to sit at my desk watching more interviews with the Avengers: Infinity War cast until I finish at 4:30. I've made plans to go see the movie later tonight with my friends.
6 p.m. — Joined by three of my closest friends, I get on the bus ($1.17) to head to the movie theater. It takes us about 30 minutes to get there from our part of the city. I'm not a very social person during the week, which is mostly due to how exhausted I get from teaching, but on Fridays, I always try to see my friends. $1.17
6:45 p.m. — We go to the theater early to get tickets and are all surprised by how cheap they are. (We're all foreigners living in Korea.) $11.24
7:40 p.m. — Eating out in Korea is a community event; portions are rarely intended for one person. We find a chicken place near the movie theater (fried chicken in Korea is so much better than American fried chicken, and I'm ready to fight about it) where we devour a platter of crispy fried chicken and a side of cheese balls. We split the cost. It's typical to have fried chicken with beer here (there's a Korean word specifically for that), but we plan on having soda and snacks at the movie and thus decide against the beer this time. It's so nice to get together on a Friday and enjoy good food and good company as we share our horror stories from the week. $6.24
8 p.m. — My friend and I decide to each get sodas and then share candy and popcorn, and it only costs us about $10 total. $4.75
11 p.m. — Wow, that movie was fantastic. I definitely enjoyed it a bit more than my friends did, as they'd only seen a couple of Marvel films in the past, but they still had a good time. We hop in a cab, which ends up costing $7.86, and my friend is generous enough to cover it. I walk around with my friend for a little after getting back home (it's plenty safe to do that here, even surrounded by drunk businessmen), and then we go home.
11:30 p.m. — I remember that I don't have chocolate in my house and even after everything I've eaten today, it seems important, so I stop by the convenience store across the street for a bar of chocolate and generic egg cookies (think Nilla Wafers). I eat as I obsessively look up all of the theories about Infinity War and try to get information about similar things that happened in the comic books to give me an idea of how the next Avengers movie will go. I wipe my face with a cleansing cloth and go to sleep around 1 a.m. $2.80
Daily Total: $26.20

Day Six

11:45 a.m. — I woke up around 9:30 today but didn't get out of bed until 11 or so. I'm just now sitting down for my first meal of the day. I still need to buy groceries but I'm putting it off, so my meal is a bit of a mixture of things. I eat a banana and the rest of those egg cookies with peanut butter. Then I fry up the last egg in my house and put it on slices of ham with cheese. It doesn't make much sense, but it's enough to take my vitamins and fiber with. After, I go back to lying in bed, watching Infinity War cast interviews and reading theories about the movie. I lay in bed until 6 p.m.
7:15 p.m. — After walking around for an hour to get in a bit of activity on my very sleepy Saturday, I stop by a nearby Paris Baguette for a salad, pastry, and juice. I eat the food at home and go back to watching videos before I eventually wash my face and go to sleep around 10 p.m. $7.50
Daily Total: $7.50

Day Seven

10:20 a.m. — I wake up to a message from the girl I tutor on Sundays saying she'd like to change our usual time from 3 p.m. to 1 p.m., which is fine, except it means I have to leave my house in two hours. Despite the time restriction, I take time cleaning my floors, dishes, and drains, still with enough time for my two showers. (On Sundays, I hop in the shower to shampoo, then towel dry my hair, apply an argan oil hair mask, do things around the house as I leave that on for 20-60 minutes, and then hop back in the shower to wash it out.)
11:30 a.m. — Running out of options for breakfast, I make a smoothie with what's left of my almond milk, banana, chia seeds, frozen pineapple, blueberries, and protein powder. I have almost nothing left in my fridge but I don't have time to worry about that. I have to get dressed, put on my makeup, and run out the door.
12:15 p.m. — Everything about my tutoring sessions is lovely, except for the fact that I have to take the bus for 40 minutes to get there ($1.17). Thankfully, it's my only expense today; the woman I tutor buys me coffee and even surprises me with salad and a sandwich for lunch from a nearby bakery! She's lovely. $1.17
3:47 p.m. — I'm trying not to buy so many products these days, but I can't help it — my nighttime moisturizer ran out! I go into Etude House because I've been curious about their collagen night cream. I consider getting the essence...but I resist. Just the moisturizer for me today! The lady at the store gives me free samples and a poster of a Red Velvet member; she said I was randomly selected. I love how much free stuff I get here. $15.91
4:20 p.m. — I'm pretty proud that I only bought moisturizer. I take the bus home. $1.17
6 p.m. — Dinner is what is left over from lunch and of my tuna and rice combination from earlier in the week. I'll go grocery shopping tomorrow; for now, I just want to watch Grey's Anatomy.
8:30 p.m. — It's time to wash my face (I love my new moisturizer!) and wind down for the night. The dizziness is getting better but it still hasn't gone away, so I want to make sure I get enough sleep. I end up texting my friend until 10:30 and don't fall asleep until 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $18.25
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