Getting through (and enjoying) Winter in Korea

As a Canadian born in the heart of a snowstorm on cold January night, I am something of a professional at winter. People gawk at me when I express my love of snow, the cold, snowshoeing, and all the other wonderful things that come along with my favourite season. I’ve heard this season can be particularly difficult in Korea, with it’s frigid temperatures (haha try Antigonish in February then tell me it’s frigid here) and poorly insulated homes. So I’m here to share some of the ways I find joy in such a beautiful season!

1. Stay Warm (Duh).

I know. Staying warm is the most obvious way to get through winter with a smile, or at least with less of a frown, on your numb and pink face. But not everyone knows how to stay warm without getting smacked with a huge heating bill. Insulation is key when it comes to heating your apartment in Korea. I have two balconies that are “enclosed” though I use this term loosely. My apartment is super drafty, even when I lock my windows down, so I lined them with bubble wrap. It sounds, and looks crazy (like maybe I live in a decaying grow-op?), but it works. Large rolls of bubble wrap can be purchased cheaply from lots of local stores like DC Mart (I got more than enough to insulate my entire apartment there for 10,000 won), Emart, and any other place that sells home products.

Bubble wrapping my windows.

Another, highly economical solution to beating the winter blues is throwing together a couple of “magic bags.” These can be purchased relatively cheaply, but can also just be made at home for about 2,000 won. Just pour a couple cups of rice into a long sock, tie the end, and throw it into the microwave for two minutes. You can get a little fancier and sew up some cozy flannel, which I like to do with the copious amounts of cute fabric my mum designs. I heat it up as I’m brushing my teeth and stick it at the foot of my bed a few minutes before I climb in.

Love this pattern my mum designed from Northcott Silk!

Another way to keep your bed cozy is to purchase and electric blanket or heated mattress. These can range anywhere from 20,000 won to over 100,000 won, but are definitely worth the investment if you want to keep heating bills down. Check out Gmarket or a local market to purchase one. Electric space heaters are also an option, but I would not recommend it as they increase the electric bill significantly. 

Elecrtic blanket between sheets.

Finally, there is Korea’s famous undo heating system which consists of heating the floor through water pipes. While instructors raved about this system at orientation, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about efficiency and cost of undo. I’ve just started turning mine on at night time as temperatures dip below freezing, so I cannot comment from personal experience at this point.

The “undo” system. I’m sure every dial is different, but if yours is similar, you can use the top dial to control temperature, and the bottom dial to control the frequency it turns on (i.e. “5” would turn it on every 5 hours). The “thermo” option will just maintain the set temperature at all times – but can be very pricey. “Outing” is supposed to maintain a minimum temperature to prevent pipe freezing, though it does not work for my house. And “hotwater” is only for, well, hot water.

2. Cozy-fy your house

On the theme of staying warm, spending a couple bucks on making your apartment feel cozy can go a long way. After scouring pinterest for ideas, I came across a few helpful tips for making this possible. Add a couple extra blankets and pillows to your living room or bedroom. Fleece blankets can be purchased for under 10,000 won at Emart or on Gmarket. Lighting is also key. Using lamps, twinkly lights, candles, or anything else alternative to overhead lights creates a nice warm glow. Lastly, having plants in your apartment is also helpful. In a season that’s pretty much devoid of any green, having a couple plants really brightens up a room.

Twinkly lights make every room 67% warmer. Scientific fact.

Cozy couch with cozy blankets and a cool flag.

3. Find Consistent Activities

While the idea of winter often induces images of barricading oneself inside their apartment and watching Netflix 24/7, it’s important to find a routine that involves some activities outside your home. Though it may be dreaded, finding something that you enjoy doing outside, particularly while its still light out can make a huge difference. Skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or even just going for a walk to your favourite cafe can make the cold seem so much more inviting. High1 Ski Resort is known as one of the best ski resorts in the country and offers cheap rental prices.

Aside from winter-themed activities, just joining some kind of club or group is also a great way to beat the winter blues. I’ve joined Tuekgong Moosul, a mixed martial art including Taekwondo, Muy thai, and kick boxing. Badminton, Korean Lessons/language exchanges, or gyms are other great, and accessible options.

4. Learn a few really good recipes… and freeze them.

One of my favourite things to do during winter is cook colossal batches of my top comfort foods. There’s nothing better than standing over a hot stove and breathing in heavenly aromas  of hearty stew or spicy curry. Soups and casseroles are also great options. Here are a couple of great recipes for cozy foods that will keep you warm through the whole season:

Potato and Pea Curry (I have a huge stash of this in my freezer now!)

Tomato Sauce – I like to also add roasted zucchini to thicken it up!

Roasted and Carrot Squash Soup – I like to spice it up with curry powder! Acorn squash, which is a lot more common in Korea, also works perfectly.

5. Find things to look forward to

Of course, even if you manage to stay warm and find lots of activities to keep you busy, you may find yourself (frozen) in a rut. So try to find things to look forward to. The most obvious would be winter holidays. Whether your heading home or somewhere hot, planning for the holidays can distract you from the cold. Try to find festivals and events that happen throughout the coldest months and plant them in your calendar every few weeks so there’s always something on the horizon. Not only will this make your winter more fun, but it will go by a lot quicker if you always have something on the go.

If you’re also in Gangwon-do, there are plenty of winter activities on the go. Taebaek Mountain offers a snow festival which kicks off in the middle of January. You can also check out some Winter Olympic event trials, held in Pyeongchang. Many of the events are free! Namiseom Island is also a popular place to visit over the colder months because it was the filming location for the famous drama “Winter Sonata.”

I hope this post helps you enjoy the greatest season of the year! Or at least hate it less…

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