For foreigners, help is often just a homepage away

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For foreigners, help is often just a homepage away

Finding Skippy peanut butter is not always easy in Seoul. For a foreigner, neither is buying a mobile phone, choosing a school or meeting people with the same accent. With a little help, however, all of these tasks can get done.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has recently made an effort to help expatriates and short-term visitors as they settle into one of Asia's largest cities. A healthy dose of English (and Chinese) signs now graces subway stations and street maps, while most taxis offer a phone translation service thanks to the World Cup. Several government resources and private institutions also provide services that can assist foreigners with everything from obtaining a visa to tracking down a soccer team or a couch. Whether expatriates are new to Seoul or 20-year veterans, these resources can help them find or do just about anything.

Guidebooks provide a good start for any newcomer. Both Lonely Planet and Moon guidebooks offer a helpful overview to Seoul, but they fail to answer the more day-to-day questions.

"FOCUS on Living in Seoul," a 290-page manual on city life, addresses all of the basics from domestic matters to medical care. The Foreigners' Community Service (FOCUS) Web site, together with the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, produce the book, which costs 50,000 won ($40) and can be ordered online at www.focusonseoul.com, or by calling the American Chamber office at 564-2040.

Web sites are by far the most accessible and extensive source of free information about life in Seoul. Townmax.com provides news, community information and social listings for the city's foreign community. It supplies both a resource pool by which to find goods and organizations as well as bulletins that allow expatriates to find each other.

"Seoul from A-Z" is one of the most useful features of Seoul.asiaxpat.com, supplying information on everything from nightlife and banks to fitness centers and bowling alleys. If foreigners can't find what they're looking for under that listing, they can post their question using the Web site's "Ask an expat" section. Seoul.asiaxpat.com also has a classified listing and a practical guide for living in Seoul.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government runs Seoulnow.net, a guide for expatriates and visitors. The site provides information about Seoul as well as advice on daily living, but its greatest attribute is the Seoul Yellow Pages, which provides local business directories in English, Chinese and Japanese.

Another helpful government program is the Seoul Hotline, available from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 080-731-0911. English-speaking operators will field questions about anything, although patrons might have to wait for a call back while the operator tracks down the answer.

For some extra guidance, relocation agencies are abundant. Most real estate agents provide services that will help clients with their paperwork, housing search and cultural adjustment. Dreamland Realty is one of the most popular, with offices in Gangnam and Itaewon. Call 02-794-0811.

The Delaney Agency is Seoul's most prominent relocation services firm, providing prearrival orientation, homefinding services, continued in-country support, document assistance and cross-cultural training seminars. A full service package costs about $3,600, but Delaney promises to be there for its clients so long as they're in Seoul. For more information call 02-563-3077.

Some things, however, will always be difficult, like figuring out Seoul's underground system or learning to use chopsticks. But there are some things that foreigners just need to figure out for themselves.

by Daniela SantaMaria

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