- The ARC (Alien Registration Card)
Part of the fun of studying abroad is getting to travel around the region—but, unfortunately, it’s a bit harder than you might think! In order to get a visa to stay in Korea, you have to go through a long process of applying online, taking an ID photo, and getting fingerprints. Then, you have to wait 6-8 weeks for your visa to be processed. During this time, you can’t leave Korea. So, it may be a few months before you can travel anywhere outside Korea, like Japan, Vietnam, or any other places you might want to go. Don’t worry, there are tons of places to visit in South Korea! But with that in mind…
- Flights & train tickets will be booked up and can get pricey during holidays
My friends and I really wanted to go to the Jeju Islands during Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving), but, sadly, all the flights there were booked. We looked into going to Busan instead, but most places to stay were booked or were way too expensive.
- Fruits and vegetables are expensive :(
The pears here are delicious, but they will cost you a fortune. Vegetables are slightly less expensive than fruits, but they are still kind of a lot of money. Other food, though, is pretty cheap, like noodles, fish, meat, tofu, etc.
- Cafes are EVERYWHERE
East Asia is famous for their tea, but coffee is king in Korea. Iced Americanos are so common that Seoul is basically the world’s capital of cute cafes, and one of the most fun activities to do here is cafe-hop. Lots of cafes are themed, and almost all of them are beautiful and well-designed. They typically serve coffee and cake. Some serve pastries or bread (but generally the bread here is much sweeter than you’re used to).
I went to another cafe later in the week in a traditional Korean building (called a hanok) which had a small lake and a garden. Here, two friends and I split this huge matcha foam cake and I had a matcha latte. Clearly, I’m a big fan of matcha—if you like matcha, come to Korea because it’s everywhere. I also went to a salt-themed cafe which literally had salt mounds inside of it (and I also had some really good salty bread).
- The clothing style is different from the U.S.
As you probably know, Seoul is a great place to shop for clothing, jewelry, and skincare. The best place for shopping, in my opinion, is the Myeongdong neighborhood. You can spend hours here just browsing through stores and not get bored.
But the style is pretty different. I would say that it’s a little more cute-sy than the US, though there is a “street style” too. Generally, as a women, you’re not supposed to show cleavage and few tops even show your shoulders. Mini-skirts, though, are common. A lot of the shirts have some really funny English translations, and it’s common to wear shirts with somewhat random English words. Expect to see pretty much everyone wearing jeans.
- Convenience store meals are a thing
There are whole meals at the convenience store. You will find ramyun, onigiri (triangle rice balls), and lunch boxes at practically every convenience store. Some of the stores will occasionally have bibimbap, too, my personal favorite.
- Korean University attendance is strict.
If you miss 1/3 or more of your classes, you will fail. Classes will take attendance every day (even the big ones) and mark you down for each absence. If you miss class for an illness, it won’t be excused—unless you have a doctors’ note. COVID-19 is only an excused absence if you get an official test. So, make sure to attend class whenever possible. This also means that traveling the region is harder logistically because you probably have classes that you can’t miss.
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My name is Sarah and I'm a student at Rice University. I'm a double major in history and anthropology, and I love to read and write. My favorite hobbies are walking around cities and trying new coffee shops!