If you read this post then you know that my original plan was to study in South Korea for 6 months. However, after the end of my first semester, I decided to go home to visit because I had a 2-week break (which eventually turned into a month because of the rising COVID cases in Korea) because I missed my family so much. During my stay in the US, the rise of Coronavirus cases started to escalate around the world and my university kept pushing back class dates which effected my student visa as well so I decided to just cancel my second semester until it was safe to travel again. At this point, I don’t know when it will be able to travel again so all my plans to go back to Korea are on hold. But I can talk about what living in South Korea was like for 3-months
This was my first time traveling on my own for this long. I was really nervous that I would end up getting lost or missing my plane or something but I was wrong! Traveling was a breeze! Whenever I’ve traveled with other people I would get super stressed out and shut down but because it was just me and all I had to worry about me was myself I actually enjoy my independent traveling adventures.
The only thing I didn’t like about traveling on my own was that I had to carry all my own luggage. I packed for 6 months which meant I was packing for 2 seasons, Winter and Spring, and I packed with no intentions of returning to the US until the end of June. I had to carry two suitcases and a backpack which doesn’t seem like much but my biggest suitcase was very heavy due to the number of sweaters, a pair of boots, and a winter coat. Let’s just stay I struggled to navigate through the streets of Seoul with two cheap suitcases.
I stayed in a Goshiwon which are tiny dorm-like rooms where you share a communal kitchen and/or restrooms with other people, some are co-ed but you can also find some that are only-female, Depending on the price of the room you can choose to get a full-restroom or half-a-restroom. I invested in a full-restroom because I’m not a fan of restrooms with strangers.
The neighborhood where my Goshiwon was located in was a popular area where many foreigners stayed at because it’s in the middle of a city where many shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars are located at and a close walking distance to a few universities in the area. I originally thought this would be a perfect place to stay at but I quickly learned that it wasn’t because of all the noise! The Goshiwon where I stayed at was extremely noising because it was across a street where many bars were located at so during the weekends (sometimes every night) I would hear many drunkards after 8 pm to 5 am being loud and obnoxious. The cleanliness of the Goshiwon I stayed at wasn’t the best and the noise really bothered me. Next time, I’m looking for places to stay in Seoul I will try to look for an area that’s not near any bars.
Let’s talk about school. My Korean language class was divided into 3 parts, 1-hour reading, 2-hour speaking, and 1-hour listening, we had a different teacher for every section. Classes ran for 4-hours, from 9 am-to-12 pm. I did this every morning from Monday-Friday. My classroom had 15 students from people all over the world, I had classmates from the US, Europe, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Italy, and Thailand which was really cool! The classroom had four tables so that we could be divided into different groups, we would practice Korean within these groups. We were encouraged to sit in different seats every day so we could practice Korean with different people. We were also encouraged to speak Korean during class but the class was level 1 so we weren’t speaking much Korean the first couple of days. I won’t go into how my classes worked because I feel like this post is already going to be super long so maybe I can write another post about my experience taking Korean classes in the future, Let me know if you would be interested in that.
My regular routine was like this, I woke up, went to school, got out of school around noon, eat, take a quick nap, spent the rest of the day doing homework or studying, and finish the day with a shower. If I had to run errands I would do that after school or on the weekends. I would also be more adventures during the weekends by exploring neighborhoods or hanging out with friends unless my friends had a packed schedule, in that case, I would go on whatever day they were free because sometimes I felt like I needed some social interaction.
When I wasn’t at school, I was out shopping and explore Seoul. I wasn’t too comfortable using the subway at first because I was scared I would get lost but as I made friends and rode the subway with them I got more comfortable using the subway. The subways in Korea are the cheapest way to travel through Korea because rides are less than $2 but subways usually ran from 10-11pm. Beware because depending on the time of the day subways can get really crowded. Buses and taxis are less crowded but more expensive. There were a few times when I would be out all night and have to ride a taxi due to subways being closed but I was able to communicate with the Taxi driver with the very little Korean I know. haha
Speaking of subways, nothing makes you feel like a foreigner more than the subways in Korea. Chances are if you’re a foreigner on subways some Korean (if not multiple) will be staring directly at you. I’ve discussed this issue with some of my friends who are also foreigners and they agree that this is a thing! Once, I had to ride the subway for an hour and there was a woman who was sitting across from me and she was staring at me the entire time! Not only that, but there was also an older man sitting a few seats down from her who was also staring at me! And it’s not just a specific age group or gender. I’ve had older, younger, men, women, teens, not children though because I didn’t normally see children on subways.
There are a few apps you can use to navigate throughout Seoul like KakaoMetro, Seoul Metro Subway Map, KakaoMap, NAVER Map, etc. I recommend trying out all of them until you find the apps that work best for you. I also recommend using the AirVisual Air Quality Forecast because of the air quality in Seoul, the pollution from China is so bad that it affects the quality of air in the countries near China, which is why many people in Asian countries where masks (even before Coronavirus). On days when the air quality was really bad, I would avoid going out but if I did I made sure to wear a mask.
The first month I would just explore the city where I lived by walking through the streets. When I didn’t feel like going out (I am a homebody after all) I would look for cute cafes or shops around my area on Instagram, input the address into a map app and force myself to go out and explore more. I found it scary at first to explore on my own because #1 I have major social anxiety and #2 I was scared of the language barrier and #3 being alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love hanging out with myself but there is something about being in a foreign country where you aren’t fluent in the language that just makes you feel even more alone.
When I did get lonely, I would ask friends if they wanted to hang out. There are a lot of foreigners living n Seoul, especially in the city I lived in. However, becoming friends with other foreigners was tricky. I managed to find some groups online and where they held events for people to meet up and make friends. These meetings really made me super anxious but I was desperate to make friends so I went to a few meetups. Thankfully I was able to make a few friends. I was also lucky to find a blogger who was based in South Korea which was really cool! I hope I can meet more blogger friends in person in the future, maybe in South Korea! If you’re a blogger based in Seoul let me know!
From what I read online South Korea is a very safe place to live, and I agree that it is. There are a lot of 24-hour places that you can visit in Korea. Many of my friends had experiences where they stayed out all night with nothing bad happen to them. However, again my social anxiety likes to tell me that everything isn’t safe so when I would walk alone at night in the park I felt anxious even if it was completely safe. However, there was one time, it was a Friday, I had been out shopping and had a wonderful time exploring a new part of the city and as I was nearing home when this random drunkard man came up to me while I was waiting to cross the street and started saying “I like you” in Korean to me. He was clearly drunk and I had my hood up so he probably couldn’t tell I was a foreigner. I moved away from him still waiting for the red light to turn to green. When the light finally flickered to green, I quickly weaved my way through a crowd of people to hopefully confuse and lose him. I was only a few streets away from my home but didn’t want to give him the chance for him to follow me so I took another way home which involved me walking through a shopping area, hopefully losing him. When I finally did reach my home, I decided to go to the convenience store closest to me and browsing for a few minutes just to make sure he didn’t follow me before going home. Minus that incident, I didn’t have any other “dangerous” moments in Korea. Just be vigilant at night because you don’t want to find yourself in a similar situation. People in Korea do go extra on the drinking just like the Korean dramas, I thought the drinking in dramas were exaggerated but, no, you can find several drunks on the streets any time during the week.
What was the worst part of being in South Korea? Being homesick. I did expect to be a little homesick but I ended up being much more homesick then I imagined. It didn’t help that I was leaving at the peak of the holiday season either, I literally left a few days before Thanksgiving! I missed many events like Thanksgiving, my sister’s baby shower, Christmas, my mother’s birthday, the birth of my nephew, New Year’s Eve, my younger sister’s birthday, Valentine’s day, etc. I would get pictures from my family celebrating these events but it made me feel worse because I felt like they didn’t even miss me, which I know is a lie but the photos didn’t help.
Another thing that made me depressed was missing Lucy. Leaving my dog was by far one of the most difficult things I had ever done. I would literally cry every night because I missed her so much! I remember one time I heard someone say something along the lines of “You can tell your family where and when you’re coming back but you can’t explain to your pets why you’re leaving and when you’re coming back. Your dogs have no idea where you’re going as soon as you leave that door.” this has really stuck with me and haunts me to this day. To this day, I get sad thinking of when I have to leave her again.
Because I’ve spent so much of my quarantine locked up at home I’ve been thinking a lot and wished that I would’ve done more in South Korea instead of just stay coped up in my small room. When I do travel to Korea next time I hope I have more courage to do more things instead of dwell on my sadness. I know it’s probably normal to have felt homesick but I feel like I made it worse by just looking at pictures and missing home. I could’ve done more and I will do more, next time I get the chance to visit South Korea.
Have you visited South Korea?