If you are considering studying abroad in South Korea, don’t go anywhere without this list of 10 must know facts that will make your life 10 times easier.
Since I just back from Korea two weeks ago and in another week I’m going back for my second semester, I thought I would write a useful guide about the 10 things I wish I knew before studying abroad in Korea for anyone interested in going there as well.
1. Before you go, download KakaoTalk and HelloTalk
KakaoTalk is a really fun messaging app that every Korean in the world uses. From the youngest kiddo on the block, all the way up to your 95 year old grandma. If she’s Korean, she uses KakaoTalk. What makes it fun is all the funky emojis that are unique only to this application. They make texting ten times more fun and you can do everything that WhatsApp has plus more so there’s no reason not to have it.
Download it here for your phone and desktop. It’s compatible across every platform.
HelloTalk is the next guy that you should use. It’s made the same people that pumped out WhatsApp so it’s a solid app. Its whole premise is to connect people from different countries for language exchange. You can speak to people from Japan, Korea, India, France, you name it.
You can use this app to start learning Korean the right way and in a way that is fun. When you speak to natives, they can also correct you and your writing system if it’s wrong. They do this by scratching out the part that’s incorrect and replacing it with the correct version. This way you can tell what you did that was wrong and how to do it properly.
This app is also a great way to make friends for the first time in Korea. I also went out on a few dates using it as well so there is lots of fun to be had here.
You can check out more about HelloTalk and download it here.
2. Bring a normal towel and a hand towel
This may sound obvious to most people but it was not for me so I thought I would share it with you. I didn’t bring a body towel and a hand towel with me when I went to Korea because frankly I did not know what to expect.
The good news is that when you get into your dorm or apartment for the semester, you will be given bed sheets. The bad news is that you don’t get any towels what so ever and the ones that I found were tiny. And I mean TINY. They were also thin so get a nice thick body and hand towel before you head out.
3. International adapter
Before I went studying abroad, I bought a big fat ultra socket adapter that was extremely huge and annoying. It would also sometimes not fit into some of the sockets just because of how big it was. I got it at Best Buy for around $40 but I found a better since then.
This little guy is super cheap, super small and you can get it on Amazon for only $7 so I would definitely recommend getting it. It’s about x10 better than the one that I have so don’t make the same mistake I did.
4. Converting SKW to USD made easy
Speaking of fees and money, let’s talk about converting South Korean Won to US Dollar. I don’t know why but so many people make the conversation process sound so complicated. When it comes to the exact conversion rate, it’s 1,000 SKW = 0.87 USD. Now if you put that into basic terms, just think of 1,000 won is equal to $1. That’s it. It might not be penny to penny accurate but it will make your life about ten times easier as it did for me.
5. Credit cards work… well sort of
Here’s the deal with credit cards. Most of them will work but will charge around 1% transaction fee so it’s not a big deal. If you want to buy street food though or go to some of the tasty mom/pop shows, you will need cash. When it comes to cash, you have a few options.
A) The first is to withdraw from the ATM which will cost you 3,000 won ($2.6) and you can only withdraw up to 100,000 won total ($87).
B) The second is to find a special ATM at the banks that does not charge you transaction fees.
C) The third is to set up a bank account with one of the banks, transfer money over from your home bank and use their ATMs for free.
So those are your three options about cash and your knowledge about credit cards. You can either go totally plastic or if you don’t wana miss out on the street food madness, then you have plenty to choose from when it comes to cash and saving money.
6. Subways, T-Money Card and Subway Korea App
When you arrive in Korea, you will most likely land in Incheon Airport and in order to get to your hotel or hostile or apartment, you need to either take the bus or the subway. You’ll be taking the subway all over Seoul and a train when you travel around Korea so there are a few things you need to get to make your transition smooth.
First know that subways in Korea are some of the best in the world and THE absolute best that I have had the experience of being in. They are super clean, easy to use and there are sings all around the subway which tell you where you need to go. There are also TVs inside the each individual train as well as a voice operator that tells you (in English, Korean, and sometimes even Chinese) which stop you are approaching. The cool thing is also that there is a funky tune that is played every time you can transfer to a different line so its super easy to tell.
Having that said, you need a T-Money card to use the subway. You can get it inside the subway. It’s 10,000 won or around $9. You have to pay for this card one time and then reload it as many times as you want. Normally the subway costs around 1,200 won which is around $1 so it’s super cheap.
After getting the T-Money Card and loading it with money, download the Subway Korea app (it’s both for Android and Apple). This is one of the coolest and most simplest apps that I’ve ever used. You can push on your destination, add your departure and the app will do the rest. It will not only tell you how to get to your destination, which lines to change, but will also tell you how long it would take to get there and how many won it would cost. FYI the cost depends on distance in Korea.
So that’s covering the subways, T-Money Card and the Subway Korea App. With this, you should be able to get around and go anywhere without any problems.
7. Sim card and your cellphone guide
I kept hearing that in Korea, you don’t need to worry about wifi at all because it’s everywhere and it’s free. That’s not quite true but it’s definitely better than a lot of other places. For the most part, it’s the same as back home with the nice exception of having free wifi in the subways which is a bomb. Obviously you will have wifi around your university as well so that’s a nice small bonus.
Having said that, if you want to get a sim card and actually have data to always be connected (especially when you’re lost and need Google Maps) then here’s what you need to do.
A lot of international universities have their own cellphone provides. These provides are still part of the top three companies that run Korea so don’t worry about it being low quality. The providers at your universities will most likely be the only ones that will give you any contract. This is because most other providers outside your university will only give contracts for a minimum of a year. You also have to speak pretty good Korean or bring a Korean friend because their English might not be all that great. Think of it as back home. Most providers want a contract for at least a year so that’s why your university is your best bet.
In my case (and maybe in yours too) the costs were not that high. You get a one month contract that you can renew every month. They only take cash so withdraw from the ATM. My first moth was around 60,000 won. This included all the activation fees, 1 gigabyte of data and texting, calling and some international calling as well. My second month (and all the other months) was around 19,000 won. This included 2 gigabytes of data and all the other jazz. So the first month is the most expensive and after that, it’s smooth sailing.
8. Fassion: why you will feel bad
When I first came to Korea, I didn’t really care that much about what I wore but I quickly realized though that everyone else did. Most Koreans (especially the younger ones) really care about their image. Self image is one of the most important things in Korea and especially in Seoul. Korean drama and music heavily influence that and if you do not dress well, you will feel very much out of place.
For example even when girls wake up for their morning class, they will do their hair, full makeup, high heels and so forth before they take their first step out the door. What should you do? Just dress well and look fresh. Don’t wear your flip flops and Hawaiian shorts everyone you go like I (sort of) did.
If you do take care of yourself, dress well, shave often and cut your hair, you’ll fit in quite nicely. Not to mention, you’ll make better Korean friends if you do
9. Making new friends
Speaking of friends. If you come one or two weeks in advance and don’t have any amigos as of yet, use meetup.com. This site is bomb for making new friends (along with HelloTalk). There are constant language exchange meetings where foreigners and Koreans get together to chat, speak different languages and just have fun. I’ve met quite a big number of friends that way. It’s also a great way to meet the gals and I’ve taken some really beautiful girls out on dates that I met at these exchange meetings.
If you’re in Seoul, there are two main ones. One in Hongdae and one in Gangnam. They literally happen every day so you can go to one every night if you want. It costs 10,000 won (around $9) to get in and it usually lasts 2-4 hours. You can leave anytime you want obviously and during the weekend it gets the most interesting. But go anytime you like because I met some of the coolest people during just random days in the week like Wednesday (who knew anything exciting happens then eh?).
So use this site (and HelloTalk as described in #1) to make some friends so you fit in and get along much easier. If you do it enough, pretty soon this place might start to grow on you and feel like home.
10. It’s super safe
Yep, that’s a thing. Even though it’s got the New York vibe, it’s got none of its crime. Seoul (and Korea) as a whole is one of the safest places to be in. It’s even rated to be one of the safest places in the world (if you don’t count North Korea lurking just around the corner). Some people worry quite a bit about North Korea but you shouldn’t. There are actually tour agencies that can let you go into North Korea. One of my classmates did that and it was a one of a kind experience.
The point is, in my time here (one semester and second in the process), I’ve never felt in danger. I can walk home at 4 A.M. and feel totally fine without worries. You can leave your stuff (although I wouldn’t) and pretty much guarantee that it will still be there if you need to run out a real quick (unless it’s a cellphone). So for the most part, you won’t get robbed, your stuff is fairly safe and you can just relax and enjoy yourself like you honestly should.
This was a pretty long and detailed list (I know) but I wanted to make it as informative as possible. Do you have any other questions about Korea? Do you have other things that I missed that you wish you knew? Leave a comment below and let us know. Also share this article if you found it useful so your friends and other people can benefit as well.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.