When you come to work in Korea, you have to wait for a lot of your basic amenities like internet, banking, utilities, and phone. In order to get these things, you have to have a little card, called an Alien Registration Card. This card takes 2-3 weeks to get to you, and that's if you're lucky to get co-teachers who take you to the embassy on your first or second day of arrival.
The point is, this little piece of plastic gives you a lot of stuff.
One of the best things was the phone. After not having a phone for a while, getting lost without anyone to call or ask for directions, the phone can become a lifeline. Especially with smartphone, which can be used for translators, maps, directions, bus schedules and routes, subway routes, and most importantly, a link to your family and friends.
So what happens when you lose it?
In America, it's pretty simple. You go to your phone company and pay for a new phone. Everything is the same. You shell out a bit of money for the replacement phone and there you go. Simple as that.
Could it be that simple in Korea? Short answer: hell no.
Here's the deal:
I went out with a few friends for a birthday celebration. We went to a festival in a large park. The festival was packed, we had fun for about 15 minutes (mostly standing in line), then decided to get out of there. We sat down in another part of the park, ordered chicken, and had a good time talking about nonsense and meeting teenagers dressed as ghosts (but that was for a different festival at the same park at the same time).
When we got to that "other" location, I discovered something that both frustrated and terrified me: my phone was gone.
Shortly after I dumped my purse on the ground
How was my phone lost? It was in my bag, was it stolen? Try calling it. Where was I when it was gone? Try calling again. When did I last have it? Ugh, I checked the time around 7:30. Try calling. When did I last have it? Yeah, 7:30. Try calling. Who would've stolen it? This is Korea! Where did I last have it? Somewhere in the fray, try calling. Where? I'll go back. Try calling. I'll go. Where? It was in my bag. When did I have it last? 7:30ish, call it. Where was it? If I knew, I'd probably have it. Seriously, Korea, you don't steal things. Who has it? I'll go look, try calling. No one's picking up. Ugh, how do I even start? Who can I contact? No one knows? Okay. Try calling. No, I didn't find it. Where is it? What do I do?
And that was the end of it. I looked for it, couldn't find it. In fact, a friend of mine went back with me the next day to look for it, asking around for it, to no triumphant high-five. Police station said it was probably in Hong Kong or China by then, and I'd never see it again.
So, a couple weeks passed. I couldn't get a cell phone by myself because my Korean is no where NEAR good enough for that, so I had to wait until one of my co-teachers felt like helping me out. (Hint: most of the time, they don't really want to) Turns out yesterday was the day.
In Korea, you make a phone contract like you do in the US. However, with this contract, you are obligated to use the PHONE for two years, not the company. On top of that, as a foreigner, you can't have more than one line. Thus, when my phone was lost/stolen, I was in breach of contract. Therefore, I had to pay the remainder of my phone contract. This was a two year contract, and I had used four months of it.
About an hour and a half and $900 later, I have a new phone, new phone company, and three boxes of tissues as a present. (They give gifts here for buying a new phone. Something like tissues or toilet paper, usually. Sometimes bigger things like carts or even bikes)
Now, for the clincher. Turns out that my phone plan would replace my phone for free if I had had it for six months. Someone might say, "Well, I would've waited two months and gotten it for free!" Um, no. I don't think you realize how much these past two weeks have sucked. My co-teachers have been needing to call me about things and not been able to get a hold of me. Friends wonder where I am when I get lost (which is often), and can't call to make sure I wasn't kidnapped. Family back home wonders why I haven't messaged back. It's been awful.
But I'm okay now.
TLDR; Don't lose your phone in Korea. If you do, it's blasted expensive.