For those who have read my Blogger Introduction: Jennifer Ma will know that for a semester I did a student exchange to Hanyang University. So here are my 10 tips that I would give myself if I were to do the exchange again. These are the things that really helped me during my time abroad. These tips are more focused on studying abroad in Seoul. Some of the tips can be also useful for those who are visiting Seoul.
1. Download KakaoTalk App
Majority of South Koreans use the instant messaging application called KakaoTalk. If you have not heard of KakaoTalk, the concept is similar to LINE, Messenger, WeChat, and WhatsApp. During my time abroad, I never use text messaging – everyone would say to me, “What’s your ID?”. I would recommend it if you want to communicate with friends and peers. This is also a handy application to avoid purchasing a texting plan and if you want to communicate with anyone around the world during your time abroad using WiFi or data.
2. Download KakaoMetro App
KakaoMetro is a subway navigation application. This application comes in really handy in knowing how to get to one station to another. There are 9 main subway lines and 12 additional lines in the Seoul and nearby area, so it does get a bit confusing (I am coming from a city that only has 2 lines). But with this application some of the main features are when the train is arriving, and which is the fastest, or the shortest route at real time to get to your destination.
3. Learn Some Everyday Korean Sentences or Phrases
I think this a given tip. Not everyone will know English or another foreign language. I would recommend learning some everyday Korean sentences or phrases to communicate. You can also download applications that can help you know some everyday Korean sentences and phrases. I personally did not use any applications since I learnt sentences and phrases in my Korean language class. However, I used my S Translator or Google Translate application sometimes. This is useful if someone is talking to you in Korean or you want to try to say something in Korean. This allows you (or the person you are talking to) to type or speak to the phone and it will translate to your language.
4. Eat Together with Friends or Peers
You are probably thinking, “Why is this a useful tip?”. A lot of the time, restaurants in Korea require you to at least order two portions. This rule is more so applied to BBQ restaurants. This happened to me many times when I was alone and I felt like having BBQ – I would have to pass on the restaurant. So unless you can eat two portions at a restaurant, I would recommend going to eat with friends or peers.
5. Join Any International Student Field Trips
I believe the majority of universities that have a lot of international students coming into exchange will provide some form of activities. These trips are not only good to make friends with fellow exchange students but to explore places and do activities that you may have not even thought of doing during your time abroad. My experience with international student field trips consisted of going to 전주시(Jeonju),남원시(Namwon), and 거창군(Geochang). I got to pick pears, learn how to make Kimchi and stay overnight in a 한옥(Traditional Korean House) during these trips. If they are provided from the university, I definitely recommend joining them!
6. Make Some Travel Time to Visit Outside of Seoul
Unless you have other commitments, I would recommend making some time to visit outer areas of Seoul, and nearby countries. When visiting areas that are nearby Seoul, you can take either train, or bus. There is so much more to see outside of Seoul, so why not explore?
7. Make a Bucket List
Prior to your study abroad experience, I would recommend researching places you want to visit and experience. This is a good way to have list of things you would like to do during your time abroad.
Here was some of my bucket list plans:
- Eat at a restaurant that serves more than ten 반찬(side dishes)
- Visit an amusement park (Lotte World)
- Visit a water park (Caribbean Bay)
- Visit at least twenty different cafes
- Watch busking in 홍대(Hongdae)
- Watch a Korean movie at a theatre
- Eat at a street food stall at night
I think this a staple to have even for tourists that visit Seoul and nearby areas. T-Money is a rechargeable smartcard. You can purchase these cards and reload cards at convenience stores such as GS25, 7-Eleven, and Ministop, etc., and at subway stations. This card is pretty much what I used on a daily basis. It is used for transportation such as buses and subways, payment for taxis, and purchases at convenience stores and other stores that accept T-Money. This is handy to reduce the need to carry coins and cash when using the bus and subways. It also reduces the time – all you do is tap your card on the sensors to pay!
9. Buy Fruits and Vegetables from the Street Markets or Local Grocery Stores
I found that fruits and vegetables at large chain supermarkets cost slightly higher. So if you are on a budget, I would recommend going to a street market or local grocery stores to purchase some fruits and vegetables. It is also a good excuse to visit the street markets. Make sure to note what fruits are in season, this will also determine the prices.
10. Cultural Awareness
I think this is very important to know and should be for any country you visit. As a foreigner to another country, it is in best interest to have a sense of cultural awareness, and to respect their local social norms. The purpose of studying abroad or visiting another country is to learn and experience a different way of doing things that may be different from your perspective in your own country. This also will help in preventing doing actions that could be offensive to others. One of the things I adapted was people would not sit (unless needed) in the priority seats regardless if the subway was not full. In comparison to my city I live in – you can sit in priority seats but you would need to move if someone that needed it. So please do your research prior to visiting.
I hope some of these tips were helpful!
Leave a comment below if you have any other tips that you would give others if you have done an exchange before, that helped you during your time abroad, or what you wish you knew before going!