I belong to several KakaoTalk group chats and groups on Facebook for Expats and specifically Expat Women in Korea. Recently the topic of some gentlemen within the foreigner community being less than faithful to their counterparts has left me feeling a whole bunch of emotions. As someone who has recently dated a big ol’ phoney-bologne, I feel a sad sense of kinship with these women. I usually feel like ignorance is bliss. I would rather be ignorant to the truth and happy that someone wants to parade me around and ask me about my passions, my interests, and quite simply my day. When reading about others who are experiencing things like pregnancy and STI scares, it hit me that if I were in those shoes I wouldn’t just want to know, I would need to know.
When I was growing up in Canada we had regular sexual education classes. It always struck me as strange when the teacher would rhyme off how often you needed a Pap Smear and how often to be checked for Sexually Transmitted Infections. They’d always add “more often if you engage in risky sexual behaviour”. Isn’t all sexual behaviour “risky”? I mean, even if you are in a committed relationship now, nearly everyone has baggage. It’s important to look out for your physical (and mental) health as well as that of your partner’s.
Last Sunday I went to the KHAP – the Korea Federation for HIV/ AIDS Prevention for their Free and Anonymous HIV/AIDS & STI screening. This is available to all foreigners living and working in Korea regardless of visa status. They offer a variety of languages as well. The website is available in English, Chinese, Mongolian, Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog, Indonesian, and Korean, and it states that services are available in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Korean. While they offer screenings without a reservation from time to time in Itaewon, I went ahead and booked my appointment here. I loved that it was available online (who has time for potentially uncomfortable phone calls, really?) and within a few days I had a confirmation e-mail. I booked nearly 2 weeks ahead of time, so if you’re worried and on a time crunch I would suggest you call to ensure you get an appointment.
My confirmation e-mail:
Greetings from Korea Federation for HIV/AIDS Prevention(KHAP).
This is a KHAP Seoul center.
Thanks for your reservation. It is available HIV rapid or STD testing or both.
Your appointment is at 11:40am (It is Free and Anonymous; your number is *******-06) /Please don’t be late.
(STD test available : HIV, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Urethritis)
The test result of HIV rapid is within 20minutes, and STDs takes 3~4days later.When you need to cancel your appointment, please call or email us.
When you arrive at KHAP, please tell us your number and/or nickname. Other forms and identificationa are not necessary.
The test requires about for 30 minutes. Appointments are rigid, so please be on time.
If you have trouble finding us at the test day, call us at 02-927-4322.
Thank you for your cooperation.
You may have noticed that there’s no mention of infections such as chlamydia,herpes, hepatitis, or the other slew of potential things one might contract. There is a clinic in Itaewon which offers a variety of different packages (some inclusive of pap smears and blood drawing). The cost is high in comparison to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), but isn’t your health and your peace of mind worth it?
I found the KHAP incredibly easy to find. I walked out of Gireum Station (Exit 7) and walked straight. I crossed a bridge, passed a gas station, and was there. I had hoped to buy some water along the way as it’s typically tough to find a big enough vein with me. I donated blood regularly in Canada and always came out black and blue on both sides. Drink water before you go! Upon arrival, you’ll be presented with a paper cup and a plastic sample vial. I immediately started guzzling cup after cup of water (they’ve got a cute little corner with information, free condoms, and some candy surrounding the water cooler) and almost thought I’d be faced with performance anxiety. My veins, on the other hand, played their regular hide-and-seek game.
After the urine sample I was directed to a small room with a doctor and someone whom I believe to be a nurse or a technician (sorry guys – I have no medical background and totally let a stranger in a lab coat draw my blood). The rapid-HIV test was administered by pricking my finger and drawing blood. The results were provided within 15 minutes. Less than one full vial of blood was taken for the remaining tests. I was shown and talked through the new gloves and new syringes which were being opened in front of me. We had a rough start finding a vein, but after a couple of tries it was pretty quick and easy. After I was told that I tested negative for HIV, I was given a small piece of paper with my sample number, my alias (you use an alias when booking your appointment to remain anonymous), and that I would be able to call and receive my results over the phone after July 20th. You’ll be pleased to hear that when I called yesterday I was informed that I tested negative for everything that was tested and that “everything’s good”.
If you visit the KHAP and can afford to donate I would really encourage you to do so. This is an invaluable service for all foreigners in Korea, and I’m sure not everyone can afford this type of medical care. Let’s look out for one-another and keep services like these alive in a country where sex is both taboo and in your face (more on that as this “Sexual Healing” series continues).
If you or someone you know has been tested at another facility while living abroad, please be sure to mention it in the comments section! I can’t stress how easy it was to have this screening done and how professional my experience was getting tested for HIV & STIs in Korea.